Colony Collapse Disorder made its first appearance in the California almond orchards this year. Well, it probably did, since the rules that define it, though fairly straight forward are still a multitude number of shades of gray. The symptoms are pretty well defined ...
a rapid depopulation of the colony that is, in only a few days to a week or so a large, well populated colony loses most to all of its adult bees (the collapse part)
left-behind brood, often lots of brood
a handful of very young bees (just hatched, so they are light colored and still fuzzy) tending the queen
lots of honey and pollen still in the hive
When samples are taken in-hive pesticides to control honey bee pests are found in the wax and maybe the honey; ag chemicals are found in the wax, honey and pollen; and examined bees tend to have a plethora of problems, but not all the same, and not all the time. Several viruses have been found that are as lethal or worse that that Israeli virus and others not-yet identified have been discovered. Of course the evil varroa mites are found, sometimes, too, but not always, and not always in great numbers. Then theres that new Nosema that shows up almost all the time, but not all the time, and not in great numbers some of the time.
Too, there seems to be an absence of all the usual suspects, those scavengers that normally come in and rob out the honey, any dead bees, and even the pollen form a colony that has died of causes other than CCD. These include ants, small hive beetles and wax moths. Eventually, though, these opportune thieves arrive and start to work if the colony hasnt been picked up and put somewhere safe.
Thats the classic case. And it happened in almond orchards this spring in lots of operations affecting lots of colonies. It wasnt quite so dramatic this year because there were lots of reinforcements in California ... lots ... so there were ample recruits to fill the gaps of those that fell in battle.
What Im hearing now is that for the most part the battle has been waged, the fallen retired, the almonds pollinated and now its on to new battlegrounds elsewhere. Those that didnt have a problem before or during the month of conflict seem to be doing fine and have moved on to apples and other crops in the Pacific Northwest, crops in California, or else they are headed back home to get ready for the next pollination job or to make honey.
Those that fell are questionable, though, arent they? What do you do with a hive when the bees died of CCD?
The not-very-old rule of thumb here has been, "Once Infected, Always Infected," so putting more bees back in those boxes is a sure death sentence. And an expensive one, too, because when you put bees in a box like that they require food (honey or sugar syrup and pollen supplement or substitute), other medications and probably new frames and foundation, too. And then theres all the labor involved. When a beekeeper should be making honey hes tied up babysitting these new colonies. And then the bees die anyway, sometimes, without so much as a pound of honey to show for the work that it took to get them going. Well, thats the rule of thumb anyway.
Airing them out was suggested, and may still work ... if you can leave them long enough. But, how long? Maybe the measure is to leave them be until the wax moths, small hive beetles and ants think its OK, and they go back. If its safe enough for them, maybe bees, too, eh? But not using some percent of your working capital, as it were, is expensive too. A beekeeper either has to run fewer bees or buy new equipment while he waits. That gets real expensive.
So while the world worries about the loss of bees, the pollination crisis and a reduced supply of food, theres this other little drama going on: What do you do with the dead?
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