Before embarking on our journey to beekeeping, we did a lot of research. We attended meetings, met with mentors, read scientific studies, and devoured book after book. When it came time to pick up our bees, we felt quite prepared. And we knew exactly what to do!
Our goal was to raise healthy honey bees. We were going to solve the mite issues and started developing protocols, devices, and plans. We worked hard to provide quality bee habitat – selecting a property that was “chemical-free” and surrounded by acres of forest and wetlands.
And then our Bees all died……
We thought we did everything right. We checked for mites. We treated for mites. We fed syrup when there was a dearth. Our bees still died.
Which brought us to a tough realization:
Remember the 1992 elections? It’s the Economy Stupid was the catchphrase. Okay, maybe we are the only old people who remember the 90s, but the truth is – when it comes to beekeeping. It all comes down to the environment.
We built our apiary in the sand plains of central Minnesota. Why? Because it was the only affordable acreage available that was isolated and within an hour from our home. We took a chance. We thought it was a “clean” area and there were plenty of trees and wild plants.
We were wrong. Our bees ultimately died from parasitic mite syndrome, even though we regularly treated for mites. They had trouble building up their numbers, even though the queen was laying and they had access to supplementary syrup. They did have mites, but at a low concentration (the highest shake was 3% pre-treatment and 1% post treatment.)
In essence, they got sick because they were unhealthy. They were unhealthy because they were undernourished. They were undernourished because the environment did not provide “enough.”
Here’s what went wrong:
- Our property is surrounded by forest and wetlands….and large commercial farms. These farms are dead zones for bees. No flowers and plenty of chemical sprays.
- Our 12 acre prairie has been slow to develop. Of the 48 species planted, 29 are up and growing – few of them beneficial to honey bees. 3 years later, we are still waiting on the honey bee plants like asters, new jersey tea, lead plant, coreopsis, milkweed, goldenrod, and many more to make their appearance!
- Our property is in the sand plains….this means beach sand. It means desert but with a high water table. So we have wetlands with some flowering trees and wild flowers. But the rest of the area is bone dry. Plants sizzle up and die in July. Most flowering trees can’t live in the sand. Most of the flowering trees we have planted have failed to thrive. Our number one tree is the oak tree, not the best tree for bees.
- Our city regularly mows ALL of the roadways so there are no wild flowers along the acres of farmland.
We will try again, one last time. Then maybe we will have to go through the painful transition of selling the property and hunting anew. Price is still a limiting factor and it’s unlikely we will find an affordable piece of quality, isolated land. Why isolated? We want to have as much control over the space roamed as possible. We want to ensure quality forage and colony separation (for mite spread and for breeding purposes.) The goal is still to solve the “honey bee puzzle,” though the key is looking quite clear. As in humans, the environment matters. Without quality nutrition and freedom from toxins, nothing else really matters.
Time will tell what the future holds. But if you are getting started in bees, be very selective of the property you choose. When we have more time, we will link some key articles that show urban/suburban environments being healthier places for bees and that those colonies living in healthy, lush areas do exponentially better.