The honey harvest is upon us. In visiting my yards, I have found that the optimism of giving plenty of room has paid off in some cases. Some hives have activity in the fourth super. Others barely are doing any capping in their first. So I moved boxes between colonies as necessary and hope they will keep going. The Linden trees are just getting started and should do well in the heat with the rain that we have had.
The disparity between hives is very frustrating but common in beekeeping since the mites have arrived. The 80/20 rule seems to work overtime in the bees. Eighty percent of the honey comes from twenty percent of the colonies and Eighty percent of your work goes into coaxing along twenty percent of the colonies that will never do anything. If only we could know which were which at the beginning of the season.
Honey harvest time is a time of special concern for both professional and hobbyist beekeepers. This is the one time that diseases are very easily spread across yards or whole operations. The honey supers are gathered together, uncapped and extracted, frames are all mixed up and then distributed across all of the hives and yards. Any disease hidden away in one hive is quickly spread across all the hives. This is the insidious nature of the Foulbrood diseases. The disease is not always evident from examining the honey supers but the disease spores are there by the millions.
American Foulbrood is the most disastrous disease of beekeeping in the United States. New York State law requires the killing of the bees and the burning of the bees, honey, and honeycomb. The large wooden pieces can only be salvaged through scraping clean and then scorching the equipment to kill the spores. The feeding of ten spores to a larva will infect it so that it becomes a culture medium for billions of spores that can survive over 60 years. (That is the oldest confirmed sample we have and they are maintaining viability.)
We had seen a decline of the instances of the disease on Long Island after the mites destroyed most of the feral bees. It appeared that the wax moths quickly destroyed the comb in the old colonies so that scouting bees didn't find infected honey and bring it home. Now, however, as escaping swarms reinhabit these nest sites, they clean out the junk and pick up the spores from the residue and walls, thus causing new infestations.
As you pull your honey crop, examine the brood boxes before you throw the supers into the general pool. If you find disease, handle appropriately. If you have concern or question, get someone knowledgeable to check it. This could mean that you leave the honey supers in place and have a more knowledgeable beekeeper check the hives or send a sample of brood comb to the Beltsville Honeybee Lab for testing, a free federal program.
I found American Foulbrood in one of my yards last week when I recognized the signs even though the supers were filling up. Don't turn the joy of the harvest into agony of destruction of all of your hives!