Calling all activists, animal lovers,
growers and gardeners and people with mothers,
all neighbours and nanas, all friends and all strangers,
it’s time to stand up: the varroa mites’ in danger!
Our little destructor, our tiny red friend
is suffering abuse that no law will defend,
each autumn and spring comes a chemical craze
and most wee mites die within hours or days.
But fear not, friends, there’s more, for the ones who survive
Pass their genes on to the next lot of little mite lives
and bit by bit they build up resistance
while the beekeepers grasp for the next round of pistons.
Blinded by profit we just cannot see:
There aren’t too many mites, but too many bees!
Nature is trying to bring back the balance
and us factory-farmers take that as a challenge.
The mite ain’t the problem, the mite is the symptom
of a seriously sorry sad-sack of a system
that acts as if one day the mite will be beaten
oh yeah? how will lions survive when gazelles are all eaten?
If varroa kicks the bucket then what will be next?
Nosema or foulbrood or bee-eating insects?
CCD ain’t a new thing like everyone thinks,
one way or another nature irons out the kinks
Why fight it, my friends, even on a bee-loving basis?
Each treatment steps away from homeostasis.
Forget “fight the mite,” let’s boost bees instead,
and give them a real chance in life up ahead.
I wonder if this is what it is like to be a first-time parent with a newborn baby??
Suddenly, you are in charge of LIFE, of another being that sort-of plonks, mysterious, into your world, and nine different aunties tell you ten different tales about how to care for this cryptic creature; how to satisfy it’s natural instincts, how to protect it from this mighty mean world, how to know what it wants – and you think, blimey, why did I get knocked-up by curiosity in the first place?
And newborn babies don’t come with five thousand venomous bottoms.
I have been on the bee-team (which, as it happens, is way cooler than the A-team) for six months, apprenticing myself under the wonderful Christy & Cody Kerr – our favourite Kentucky-fried couple with a bit more than a passion for our fuzzy buzzy friends. My intro to beekeeping was hardly your happy hands-free powerpoint situation – we had everything from laying workers to relentless robbing to varroa infestations – indeed, I look forward to the day when my beekeeping style resembles more that of Pooh-bear off to a picnic than Mad Max in a moon-suit with a semi-smoking canister of twigs and a question-mark floating over my head.
I jest, I jest – it is less often lack of confidence with bees that gives me my sometimes underwater feeling than it is my mountain of awe at their nature. They know what’s what – it’s not hard to feel like a fumbling hooligan in the midst of such exquisite architecture and super-social genius. I begin to realise just how important it is to hit the balance between mothering them through all the abuses they are subject to, from pests or humans, and letting them work it out themselves. The bottom line is to build colonies of honeybees that do not rely on drugs or sugar for their survival, like some poor patient on life-support, but are naturally strong and resilient to all the ever-changing environmental pressures in their (that is, our) world.
Allow me a quick plug? On the weekend of April 19-20 we are holding a top-bar beekeeping workshop
in our wee apiary at Koanga. Great chance to get your head around the buzz, and your hands too. It’ll be theory and discussion (and happy powerpoints!) on the basics – colony structure, seasonal hive management, pros and cons of different hive designs, problem-solving etc, along with plenty of time getting into the hives themselves and having a serious nosy around. We’ll build a top-bar hive from scratch, monitor some varroa, play with some beeswax, watch a doco or two in the evening, and generally have a rollicking good time, I reckon.
Spring is a busy season here at Koanga! As the ground warms up, trees begin to blossom and the birds begin to sing, every indication is that it’s time to get out there and keep up with the pace of the season! If you’re having a bit of trouble finding the motivation to get your act together, perhaps a lesson from the bees will help. That’s right, bees!
Here at Koanga, we’ve all been inspired by watching the bees flit and fly about, busying themselves with nectar and pollen collection to bring home. They’re out setting the example for us that it’s time to get out and garden! Just recently even, we happened upon the fortune of a local beekeeper who was kind enough to sell us a swarm from his apiary that we could install into a newly built top bar hive.
Top bar hive, you wonder? Well, it’s quite simple really. Some may be imagining the square bee boxes that stack vertically into the air, often seen from a roadside drive past a local bee yard. A top bar hive is a different style of hive with it’s own benefits and advantages. It’s a system that provides easy management for the bees and beekeeper. Some of these benefits we’ve already reviewed in our most recent introduction to beekeeping (the top bar way) workshop.
For those already into conventional beekeeping and wondering how to add a top bar hive or even make the transition to only top bar hives, there are many ways to do so. In fact, the swarm we just installed came from a square style box with frames and we placed them into a “V” shaped top bar hive with ease. They’re now living happily in the Urban Garden here at Koanga and we’ll be using the hive for honey and wax production as well as pollen collection. Yep, you can even place a pollen trap on a top bar hive!
The goals for the bees this season here at Koanga are several, among which include:
- Building strong colonies to winter over on their own
- Not overharvesting honey
- Genetic Selection for hygienic and pest resistant bees
If you’re interested in learning more about top bar hives, we’ll be doing some more lessons regarding hive management, colony installation and even some hive building. Even if you’re not sure about top bar hives, you could still join us for the lessons because most of the information we’ll be learning is applicable to any style of beekeeping. So take a lesson from the bees. Get out here, get busy with things and join us!
by Cody Kerr