By: Kim Flottum
You’ll notice there’s a lot of paper devoted to queens in this issue. That’s on purpose. Nowhere in today’s world of food production has the pressure of modern chemistry been more detrimental, and had a more serious effect than on pollinators in general, and especially on queen honey bees. It’s a tough world out there.
Almost every queen you purchase from a commercial producer or even the local supplier down the street, is, from day one as an egg until their too-early demise in your hive, subjected to a lethal swamp of agricultural chemicals both in and out of the hive. There are some, though, that are not. Seek them out whenever you can. But never has the toxic side of agriculture reached into so many places and touched so many people, animals, insects and soil and water organisms as it does today. Queen honey bees are only one of those touched. And te damage is subtle, unnoticed until fatal, but certain.
Most queens purchased today are raised in a world of parts-per-billion poison, spending their entire childhood surrounded in a beeswax world seeped in beekeeper applied miticides used to control Varroa mites. And add to this the chemicals brought back to the hive that have been added to or absorbed by pollen and nectar, plus what’s on the bodies of foragers from the outside world. Only parts per billion mind you, only parts per billion. Hardly any at all.
This is what our environment is, you know. We are daily touched by traces of toxins in our water, air and everyday world. Not enough to kill, even to make us ill, but a constant stress our systems must negotiate to remain stable.
To this, add Varroa to our honey bee’s world. Actually, the physical damage caused by a Varroa to a single honey bee is minimal. Not nothing, but minimal. However, the simple act of piercing the integument of a honey bee and feasting on the protein components of her internal organs immediately challenges her immune system. And even that wouldn’t be lethal if that’s all that happened. As this mite feeds on our bee she leaves behind as many as a dozen viruses that our now-immune-challenged bee has to battle. Just that alone shortens her life, by as much as half. So now our hive has damaged bees, living shorter and shorter lives, trying to care for our queen.
But wait, there’s more. Each season there is less and less available food for our bees to eat. Every year there are more and more sterile lawns, parking lots, roads, buildings, and agriculture. Especially agriculture. There’s more land in corn and soybeans in this country than there is land in Texas. And corn and soybeans don’t feed bees.Yet our bees are always nearby feeding on what flowers are available alongside these fields that are awash with herbicides to keep the weeds away, fungicides to keep disease away, and insecticides to keep insects away. And, unfortunately, this toxic cocktail doesn’t stay exactly where it is put. It blows away, it washes away, and it soaks into the ground water we all have to have. It is everywhere. Only parts per billion, mind you. Only parts per billion. Hardly any at all.
So all of this comes home. Our bees must navigate through this to find not enough food to eat. And some of what they find is tainted. So not enough tainted food eaten by damaged bees shortens the life of the bees we have, and the queens they have. Queens, as powerful as they are, are really quite fragile when it comes to these challenges. And they do not live as long as they should.
Your colony can not survive without a queen, and queens do not do well unless protected from the world we provide out there. Take care of your bees, and your bees will take care of their queen. Provide clean, fresh water. Provide clean, nutritious food. Put them in safe places. Long live the queen.