Don't Stop Bee Leaving
Last year I decided I REALLY wanted to become a beekeeper. Our local extension office offers a fantastic and affordable beginner’s course at the start of every year and, being the eternal student I am, I jumped on the chance to sign up. So, every Tuesday for about eight weeks, I hung around Opelika until it was time for my class. It really is a fantastic class – you learn about life cycles, and best practices. They teach you how to use your smoker and you even build part of your hive in one class! They make sure to give you all the skills you need to maintain your first colony. I was even able to order my package of bees from them and have them brought from Georgia to Opelika with everyone else’s in my group.
I couldn’t keep my hive where I was living at the time and a friend from work graciously offered me a spot on his property. Bees are fairly low maintenance, and this was a great solution for me. I could have my bees, check on them once a week or so, and let them do their bee things.
Even from my first hive inspection, I saw a couple of hive beetles crawling around on the frames. I thought it was strange that they’d found their way in there so quickly but didn’t think much more about it. By the summer, however, my poor girls were overrun with them. I put several traps between the frames to try and catch these pesky critters, but nothing seemed to work. I went out of town for about a week and when I returned home to check on them, my bees were gone.
The first thing they teach you in your beekeeping course is “If you can’t handle failure, this hobby isn’t for you.” I did not heed that advice, and I was frustrated and sad by my loss. Who would have ever thought I’d get so attached to thousands of little fuzzy insects?
After a lot of studying, Kevin and I decided we wanted to try the beekeeping thing again this year. We have ordered two packages and are awaiting them (rather impatiently I might add). We learned a lot about the life cycle of the hive beetle and we designed our new hive table to combat these pests. Last year, my hive was on a table. It provided me with a nice work space to place my tools, smoker, and the boxes. However, the solid surface under the hive provided a nice place for the beetle larvae to evolve into fully mature adults without ever leaving the hive. This year, we are building the table so that the area under the hive is open, allowing the larvae to fall to the ground. Since we are doing two hives, Kevin made a space on each end for the boxes and a table top in the middle, so I got to keep my work space. He’s great at understanding my concerns and wants and creating something that works for us.
Next, they like soft, loose, sandy soil and will burrow up to 4 inches while they develop. We have cleared the ground, put weed block down, and will cover the area under the table with gravel in hopes of limiting how many larvae reach maturity. Also, I have beetle traps left from last year and I plan on putting them in the hive from the start. Their effect on honeybees is negligible, so there’s no downside to it! Plus, it will give us an easy way to monitor for any infestation. Finally, we will be getting beneficial nematodes as a means of natural pest control. These little guys feast on the larvae of everything from grub worms to moths and will hopefully munch on any larvae that make it past the gravel and into the soil.
I’m hoping that the combination of all these things will reduce (or maybe eliminate!) our small hive beetle problem. It seems to be the biggest and most common problem beekeepers here in the Southeast face. With the combination of earlier monitoring, in-hive traps, and external environmental steps will give our new colonies a nice new home to bee happy.