Posted by: Pam B. Newberry | March 23, 2011

A Hard Knock Life…

In previous blogs, I’ve been very enthusiastic about the life of the honey bee and I’ve been able to  make a few parallels to human life. This particular blog I’ve been struggling to write. I guess it is because it is about the horrors of life — for the honey bee and sadly, us, too. And, as before, there are parallels.

The honey bee is plagued with its own fair share of troubles. The Mid-Atlantic Honey Beekeepers Pest Management Guide of 2008 states,  “Currently, the most serious arthropod pests of honey bees in the mid-Atlantic states are varroa mites and small hive beetles, although the latter have not been as prevalent in recent years. Minor pests include tracheal and external mites, bee lice, wax moths, and other nuisance pests, such as ants, other bees, dragonflies, earwigs, hornets, roaches, termites, and wasps.” 

And, we haven’t even mentioned the long list of diseases or huge animals, such as the bear and humans, who rob the honey from the honey bee after its long labor.

During our last beginner’s class, our instructor shared some general management activities that occur at different times of the year depending on the location of a colony and its requirements. The management duties typically include disease and parasite control, swarm prevention, adding additional honey supers for surplus honey storage, honey collection and processing, colony splits, re-queening, and colony winterization. In late winter and early spring, the apiarist’s chief concern is ensuring colony survival. It is vital that the colony grows rapidly in the spring, but does not swarm.

In early to mid-summer, supers should be added to encourage surplus honey production. Finally, in the late summer and early autumn, beekeepers should replace the queen (if necessary), treat for mites and diseases, and help the colony prepare for winter. A lot to do to help the honey bee make it.

The most daunting of all the duties is that of pest management and disease prevention. Every experienced beekeeper I’ve discussed this with has said to take it slow, not to worry about what you can or can’t do, stick it through, and basically keep the chin up. Sounds like a good coaching talk just before you go in for battle. And battle it is…

The following is another exert from the Pest Management Guide:

“Pesticides are usually administered to treat honey bee diseases or parasites in early spring, late summer, or early fall. Most pest control measures are centered around mitigating Varroa destructor, the exotic ectoparasitic mite of bee brood and adults. Varroa mites are typically controlled in the late summer or early fall using pesticide strips (e.g., Apistan or Checkmite+), which are hung in the brood chamber and pose little risk of pesticide exposure. However, strips must be removed after approximately 50 days and at least four weeks before honey production. Chemical-resistant gloves should be worn when handling the plastic strips.

Two other pesticides, ApiLife VAR and Sucrocide, are used to control varroa mites with variable success. Although Sucrocide is harmless to humans, goggles and waterproof gloves should be worn when applying ApiLife VAR. Small hive beetle adults may be controlled at any time during the year by placing Checkmite+ strips under a piece of plastic cardboard on the bottom board of the hive. In addition, the soil surrounding the hives may be treated using Gardstar 40EC to control pupating hive beetles. Apiarists should follow label directions and wear chemical-resistant gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and waterproof shoes to avoid pesticide exposure.

 In the early spring or late fall, colonies may be treated with the antibiotics oxytetracycline and fumagillin to control foulbrood diseases (both American and European foulbrood) and nosema disease, respectively. Potential hazards to antibiotic-sensitive workers should be recognized and may be reduced by wearing personal protective equipment. Tracheal mites are controlled in the late summer or early fall using menthol crystals contained in screen packets on frames at the top of the hive. There is little risk from exposure to menthol, but gloves should be worn as a precaution. Currently, tracheal mite treatments are recommended only if analyses indicate a mite problem.”

Amazing. I wonder if I should acquire a degree in chemistry. The above is important for a beginning beekeeper, as my self, to know. But, I find myself extremely saddened by the realization that the honey bee is one step away from total wipe out by all that want and need its food supply or want to feed on its body. I’m saddened that it takes powerful chemicals to keep some pests or diseases at bay. I’m saddened that many times the honey bee looses out. I’m saddened that some beekeepers do not practice good pest management and it has resulted in the rest of us having to deal with the consequences. Kind of sounds familiar doesn’t it? We humans reap the rewards of ill-fated or ill-gotten goods all the time.

Unfortunately, since living on this planet, I’ve learned there are groups of humans who are out for what they can get at any cost in many areas of our world today. It also seems that there are other humanitarians trying to save the planet, sometimes at any cost as well. I read a great line in regards to the advances made with technology and science. It went something like this, “Should we, just because we can.”

Should we, just because we can. What a profound statement to consider. It reminds me of the Golden Rule. You know the one I mean, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” With these two mantras at our beck and call, I wonder how the world would change if all of us truly practiced the meaning behind the words.

Current research is showing that the honey bee is able to adjust its life duties based on the needs of the colony. Remember how Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, gave his life. He said as he lay dying, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” and Kirk responded, “Or the one.” The honey bee always takes care of the colony. How many humans take care of the whole population? How many humans take care of their single family? How many humans take care of only themselves?

Honey bees must work against a lot of different events that work against them, yet they persist. And, now humans are taking a step into the realm of replacing the loyal honey bee with “Robo Bees.” Yep, you read it correctly.  The following is from the Micro Air Vehicle Project at the following website

“INSPIRED by the biology of a bee and the insect’s hive behavior … We [Micro Air Vehicle Project] aim to push advances in miniature robotics and the design of compact high-energy power sources; spur innovations in ultra-low-power computing and electronic “smart” sensors; and refine coordination algorithms to manage multiple, independent machines.

Coordinated agile robotic insects can be used for a variety of purposes including:

    • autonomously pollinating a field of crops;
    • search and rescue (e.g., in the aftermath of a natural disaster);
    • hazardous environment exploration;
    • military surveillance;
    • high resolution weather and climate mapping; and
    • traffic monitoring.

These are the ubiquitous applications typically invoked in the development of autonomous robots. However, in mimicking the physical and behavioral robustness of insect groups by coordinating large numbers of small, agile robots, we will be able to accomplish such tasks faster, more reliably, and more efficiently.”

 My response: Should we just because we can?

It really is a hard knock life!


Update on Preparation for the arrival of our Honey Bees

Hobbit King and I took a break from working on the beehives and spent the last two weeks building a new greenhouse. We are very proud of it. Hobbit King has worked hard to get it ready so we can start our seeds for planting a vegetable and flower garden.

View of greenhouse and garden - March 19, 2011

Several of you have been very kind at passing along links to articles. I’ll spend this next week doing what I can to read over them. Thank you so much for your interest and support!

Here’s hoping your spring brings you great joy, more laughter, and fewer worries about where our world is headed. Here’s hoping the honey bees have a truly wonderful year! 

Honey Cheers,
Hobbit Queen


  1. Wow, this really gave me a lot to think about. And a whole lot more respect — and fear — for honeybees. You and Hobbit King are true “avengers” to be taking a stab at bettering things for bees, and the planet — despite the odds and chemical formulas you’re dealing with. Your bee devotion almost makes me want to curl up and snuggle with the little guys and gals. I respect and applaud your admiration of all they do and how they do it! Keep on truckin’ as we used to say back in the day. Janet


    • Oh Thank YOU!!! Janet you are such a loyal spirit! AND, THANK YOU for your wonderful blog…Everyone…if you haven’t read Animals Our Everything…you should! Great blog for sure!!!

      Happy Spring!
      Honey Cheers,
      Hobbit Queen


  2. nice job wife


    • Ah…Thanks Hobbit King!!!

      Honey Cheers with special Smiles,
      Hobbit Queen


  3. Should we, just because we can? This question has so many applications in our society today. In what we do and how we do it, what we say and how it makes others feel, in how we leave this planet and who and what we hurt along the way…another example of nature having practical application in day-to-day life.


    • HI Ms. Rosa…

      Thank you so much for your comments. It is an interesting question to ask, and one I hope everyone will embrace. It could indeed change how we make decisions if we really would take the time to think of the trade-offs or consequences of a choice. Small idea — Big impact!

      Have a glorious spring day!
      Honey Cheers,
      Hobbit Queen


  4. A very thought-provoking article. Here’s the thing though. There are diseases and dangers in just about every endeavor…cow hoof and mouth disease (whole herds destroyed), Dutch elm disease (whole forests wiped out), potato blight (country-wide famine in ireland), and so on. It’s sad that the little bee has to work so hard, but I also think it’s great that there are devoted beekeepers like yourselves who also work hard to protect them and make them as safe and as well as you possibly can. In return you share part of the “fruits” of their labor.

    Bees are totally essential to the world because…

    One of the things that the bees do that is absolutely essential to health and prosperity of nations is pollination so that food can grow.

    The way I see it, unless I am missing something, is that if the robo-bees can handle the pollination, that will leave the honey bees free to do what no other creature on earth can do…produce raw, nutritious honey. Here’s a snippet I copied from the Wikipedia article on varroa destructors:

    Bee rental for pollination is a crucial element of U.S. agriculture, which could not produce anywhere near its current levels with native pollination alone. U.S. beekeepers collectively earn much more from renting their bees out for pollination than they do from honey production.

    Researchers are concerned that trucking colonies around the country to pollinate crops…helps spread viruses and mites among colonies.

    Therefore, using robo-bees for pollinating crops would seem to eliminate the concern about spreading viruses and mites, and would relieve the stress such traveling much inflict on the honey bees.

    I think it may be a good things, but of course this technology should be used with care and due regard for the real bees’ territories.

    The new greenhouse looks splendid. I think you and Hobbit King are very clever and skilled in working with the materials you do to create such useful and decorative objects and buildings.

    I hope you both have a fruitful and happy year, learn tons about your beloved bees, and help them to one of their most fruitful and relaxed years yet.


    • Thanks Sandra for your great comments. You raise an important misconception about honey bees. They are not the only pollinators. They are, however, the only ones that have been “agriculturalized” into doing the job in a very systematic, mechanical way. Bumble Bees, flies, and even birds, such as humming birds are also important pollinators that are overlooked by the fact we mainly hear about how important the honey bee is to pollination of huge agricultural farms.

      In the early settlement of the U. S., the honey bee was not a native animal. Many plants and vegetables were pollinated without the honey bee. The honey bee was brought over by the settlers for the sweetness factor. Since then, it is has been manipulated into servitude. The robo-bees will indeed be a good reason to leave the honey bee alone. For that purpose, if that is all they will be used for, I am thankful for their invention.

      However, my fear is the misuse of such a technology as the robo bee and the unfortunate track record of the human.

      We are very proud of the fact that last night after a very strong thunderstorm with hail and wind, the greenhouse made it through. Thanks Sandra for your kind words about our crafts. We do enjoy making and building.

      Here’s hoping you have as fruitful a spring time as possible…See you on the blog…

      Honey Cheers,
      Hobbit Queen


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