Free Shipping On Orders Over $20
The Thursday before last I got a phone call. A pleasant gentleman told me he had a beehive in his barn that he needed a beekeeper to remove. Now, I receive these calls at least once a month. In nearly all cases people misidentify hornets or wasps as honeybees. You see, there are very few, if any, feral honeybee colonies in the Northeast. Mites and the pathogens they transmit, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals, and declining nectar and pollen forage all plague honeybees. These factors led to the nearly complete eradication of feral honeybees in the Northeast. I listened politely as the gentleman told me about the bees. He lived in Wethersfield, and I was going to be in a nearby town the next day, so I agreed to stop by, fully expecting to see a wasp or hornet nest.
I arrived at his home the next day, and we chatted. He told me the hive had been there at least ten years, which further led me to believe that it was not a hive at all, but a nest of hornets or wasps. For the hive to have been in the barn for ten years, this colony would have had to survive the worst of the Colony Collapse years. Years when thirty to sixty percent of honeybee hives died annually, even while beekeepers did their utmost to keep their bees, and livelihoods, from perishing. These bees would have had no beekeeper intervention to manage mite levels or keep them away from pesticide applications. He took me to the hive and as soon as I glanced I shivered. It was a bustling colony! Not only that but the hive showed telltale signs of being a mature hive, as the comb was dark from all the little honeybees walking on it.
This is a huuuuuge find. Most regional beekeepers I talk to were of the opinion that feral colonies were gone. Sure, a swarm may establish itself over summer and perhaps even survive a winter. However, the conventional wisdom held that the hive would soon succumb to mites, pathogens, and agribusiness chemicals.
Apparently, this wisdom has a small asterisk, and it resides in a nondescript barn in Wethersfield, CT. These bees have the genetic makeup to survive on their own, which is what beekeepers have been seeking since the Varroa mite jumped from the Asian honeybee to the European honeybee decades ago. Bees that survive on their own don’t require treatment with miticides. Even if the miticides used are natural and do not build up in honey or wax, their application is still highly disruptive to the hive and expensive for the beekeeper.
These bees have the genetic makeup to survive on their own, which is what beekeepers have been seeking since the Varroa mite jumped from the Asian honeybee to the European honeybee decades ago.
So, what to do? As it is mid-Fall and increasingly cold, I asked if we could leave the bees untouched till the spring. Moving them to a hive would disrupt their winter preparations, and they might not recover before the cold. He agreed. As much as I want this queen and her genetics in my apiaries I offered her to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, which runs a program breeding survivor bees. You can support this innovative effort, led by Dr. Richard Cowles and state bee inspector Mark Creighton, by purchasing Drew’s Honeybees products. As always, 20% of profits and much time, thought, and sweat goes to honeybee research, education, and advocacy.