Over the last few months, I’ve noticed something every time I’ve opened my hives.
At first it wasn’t a big deal – I’d only see one or two, and they’d be running from a swarm of attackers who were unhappy with sharing the same living quarters. But… Lately…
Yeah. They’re everywhere. In almost every corner of every super, there’s a mound of them. Interestingly, they’re gathered together because the bees are shoo-ing them into the corners, putting them in time out. I watch them do it – if the beetle isn’t running, the bees curl around it as if they’re planning on both eating it and stinging it at the same time. I don’t think they do either, but it’s fascinating.
One of the first Nashville Area Beekeepers Association meetings I attended was about pests, and for some reason I felt like that was something I wouldn’t have to worry about until a couple of years down the road… Fewer bees, fewer pests, right?
Apparently, the stronger a hive is, the better a colony will be prepared to keep the small hive beetles at bay – and if a colony is weak, the beetles reign supreme. They damage the wax, honey and pollen, and – if there are enough of them – can cause the colony to abandon the hive. So – more bees, fewer pests, then?
Well – not really. As my bee numbers grew, so did the number of these little punks. It’s just that as the hive grew stronger, they were able to coral them better. Almost every time I peeked into the hives, I saw this:
At the bottom of my hives I have screened bottom boards, which basically means that the structure itself is open, with only a screen covering the bottom. (“Screened Bottom Board” is a great name, then, eh?) I’ve had corrugated plastic slipped in since the beginning to basically seal it shut, because I’ve been told that the bees like to draw out comb in the dark. They’re done drawing out comb in the first super (otherwise known as a brood chamber), and it’s been pretty hot, so I could probably leave it open. (I literally just realized that as I was typing this)
However, besides ventilation, the screened bottom board is there so that the bees can push anything they don’t want in the hive out of the hive, without dragging it to the entrance. There’s plenty of trash that they’ll have to drag to the entrance, but hive beetles are small enough (and numerous enough) that it’s convenient to drive them to the bottom of the hive and let them drop through the screen.
Until recently, I’d see just about the same amount of small hive beetles on the plastic and I’d kill as many as I could before they flew away. But the problem is that if they’re just sitting on the plastic, just an inch away from the screen, there’s nothing stopping them from crawling back up into the hive after they catch their breath. So – even though I was seeing around the same number when I pulled the plastic out, the truth is that there were most likely a bunch that came and went when I wasn’t looking.
So – I bought some lunch trays online (had to get them online to get the right size), and they arrived a few days ago. Why? By replacing the plastic with the lunch trays, I can pour in a little cooking oil into the tray, so that when the beetles fall in, they get stuck and die. (I didn’t come up with this idea)
I suited up, including my new ankle guards, protecting me from the curious bee:
All I could find in the kitchen was olive oil – which I know is much more expensive than most cooking oils, but… I used it anyway, with a very thing layer. Don’t tell my wife. Success!
In about 24 hours, more than the usual amount of small hive beetles were stuck in the oil! There were also a bunch crawling around on it, telling me that my thin layer wasn’t going to cut it. Luckily, I ran to Kroger while I was running errands earlier that day and brought back a big jug of canola oil and filled them both up after dumping the first batch out.
So… Another 24 hours later…
Booyah! With more oil, I have less beetles!
Wait – that doesn’t sound like a win, does it?
It does to me. Because I got so many the first day with a thin layer of oil, and then far less the next day, that means the numbers of the beetles had already drastically lowered. As I said before, every time I pulled the bottom board plastic out, I had a consistent number of beetles – which says to me that the bees were dumping a consistent number out through the screen at regular intervals. Before, if I shooed them off the plastic and came back the next day, I’d see the same number. Because the little buggers now drop into the oil, they couldn’t get away – so seeing less hopefully means less overall.
I was away on vacation for a week, and I checked them again yesterday. (If my present/past/future tense gets a little crazy in this blog, it’s because I started it before I left, and am finishing it now that I’m back)
I did not dump out the previous bath of beetle-juice (I had to fit that in somewhere), so everything above includes the old amount. There isn’t that many – which makes me very excited!
You can also see a whole lot of pollen that fell through the screen, which means that they’ve been busy little bees during the week, too. There were also some moths and moth larvae in there, so the trap is doing double duty.
Regrettably, there are also a handful of bees in the bath. However, I’ll bestow honor on them, and say that they gave their lives in the line of duty, corralling the invaders to their death. Truthfully, they can’t fit through the screen, so they probably didn’t follow them into the oil… It’s more likely that they were on the underside of the screen when I slid it in place – but I think I’ll tell the other bees that they’re martyrs, so that they don’t come at me angrily next time I pop my head in.
I always hate losing bees – but since a good colony has more than 50,000, and the bees only live for about 6 weeks during the summer, it’s happening all the time. Still… I’d prefer not to be the reason that they go gently into that good night.
On another note, I added a honey super, because they’ve drawn out all of their existing comb! I still won’t get any honey this year, because they need to be set for winter, but they’re on a good path to hopefully be self-sustained. (Instead of me feeding them sugar water to get them through) I’m hoping there will still be enough in bloom for them to fill that super up – and I actually planted a few perennial flowers around the hives, so that next year (or possibly this year), they’ll have some pollen close by.