Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hive beetles, beware

So I may mutter unkind words as I swerve around cars double parked in the Q Street bike lane -- ahem, bike lane, not parking spot! And I have been known to let certain gentleman callers know about my propensity for headbutting lest they get any funny ideas about putting a hand somewhere inappropriate on a first date. But overall, I'm a lover, not a hater. I love people, and plants, and animals. Even bugs, so long as they are not cockroaches. (Ick.) And yet there are some critters that have been getting a little too comfy in the beehives I've been helping to tend this year.... I'll give you a hint: it's not the bees that have gotten into my bonnet.

My beekeeping mentor, Kevin, suggested this past fall that we keep an eye on the hive beetle numbers, and squish any of these pernicious pests that we came across while inspecting hives. We also periodically refilled the hive beetle traps with baby oil. (Weird, right? But it works. Drowning in baby oil, what a way to go.) The beetle numbers dropped somewhat, but after finding one hive significantly weakened this spring, Kevin decided we needed to take more aggressive steps. Enter nematodes -- my kindergarten students would be SO excited, but these are different than the nematodes we found in class -- and diatomaceous earth.

I am learning so much about organic pest management this year, I tell you. A key piece of managing pests is understanding their life cycle. (Wow, that sounded very professional. Don't be fooled: I'm still a total novice at this.) Anyway, I learned from Kevin that hive beetle pupae -- the stage after those little jerks hatch -- need soil to burrow into so they can grow into adults, and messing with the soil underneath the hive, where pupae drop down after feasting on honey and bee brood, is the best place to take them out of commission. First, we cleared all debris from around the hives. Then we sloshed a solution with millions of microscopic assassins -- yep, the beneficial nematodes -- all around the base of the hives. Any hive beetle pupae foolish enough to drop down out of THESE hives would die a horrible death. (I won't describe it here in great detail lest I give my readers nightmares, but the short version is that the nematodes enter the pupae, release toxic bacteria, and the pupae turn to goo inside of about 48 hours, at which point the nematodes eat the goo and lay eggs in the corpse. Okay, that was maybe a little detailed. Sorry. Read the comics or something before bed tonight.)

Of course, in order to even get to the soil, the loathsome beetle pupae need to make it past the diatumaceous earth we scattered around the hive. What's that? You haven't ever heard of diatumaceous earth? Basically, it's ground up, fossilized phytoplankton. But the important thing to know about it is that, according to one fairly graphic source I discovered, "When sprinkled on a bug that has an exoskeleton" -- or, like the hive beetle pupae, without a skeleton -- "it compromises their waxy coating so that their innards into teeny tiny bug jerky." Take THAT, hive beetles. And if you make it through, well, we've got some nematodes dying to meet you....

And you thought The Sopranos was violent? Try beekeeping.