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Oh, had we but seen this video a few days earlier, in time for Halloween!

A three-minute thesis competition is a contest for PhD students in which they condense their thesis into a three minute presentation comprehensible to an intelligent audience lacking any background in the research area. Doctoral candidate Samuel Ramsey was the winner in such a competition at the University of Maryland and will go on to the worldwide competition. Congratulations, soon-to-be-Doctor Ramsey!

To present his findings even more briefly than the video, we have been assuming that varroa mites chiefly live on bee hemolyph but actually feed mainly upon the tissues in the bee’s abdomen known as fat body, a name that does not do justice to its nine important functions. Denied this food source and fed on only hemolyph the varroa do not live as long nor reproduce as well. So with a slightly strained metaphor we have been trying to stake vampires when we need a silver bullet for werewolves.

So it’s werewolves not vampires. And it’s Istanbul not Constantinople.

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We have written before of our attempts to successfully grow and harvest quince, thwarted first by uninterested pollinators and then by keenly interested pests.

Last year we overcame the first obstacle of pollinator apathy by spraying the blossoms with some forgotten lemony-smelling bee attractant purchased thirty years before. For the first time when the petals dropped, half a dozen flowers left behind swellings that grew into fruit.

Sadly we ran into the second obstacle as the fruit showed much insect damage from the plum curculioPlum curculio, scourge of not only plums but also apples, pears, cherries, peaches, and more including, sadly, quince. We intended to cut away the damaged parts and use what fruit we could but rot set in too quickly.

Looking for a solution for the next season we found that organic controls did not seem promising but we could not in good conscience spray pesticides, especially after luring our bees across the mere twenty or so feet. Then we read about Surround WP, an extremely fine kaolin powder. Mixed with water and sprayed onto fruit it forms a film that is repugnant to insect pests and thwarts penetration by them. The twenty-five pound bag seemed very much more than needed for the expected handfuls of fruits on a dwarf tree but we found no smaller sizes available. Ah, well. It should last us many seasons and someday we may have apples and pears to protect as well.

A backpack sprayer that agitates its contents when pumped is recommended for applying wettable powders and we may buy one someday but not for so few fruits. Instead when this year’s lemony lure again produced fruity swellings we mixed the kaolin powder and water in a clean handheld spray bottle by vigorously shaking it. With the aid of a step ladder we sprayed each nascent quince until it was coated white, shaking the bottle frequently to keep the kaolin in even suspension. We should have repeated the application twice more weekly but our readership will not be surprised to hear that we somehow failed to do so. The fruits grew and the whiteness became less opaque until it is nearly gone now. In spite of our negligence we seem to have undamaged fruits, two of which are shown at the start of this post.

And so to our favorite method of preparing them, a long, low-temperature bake in sugar syrup with no additional spices.

  • Prepare enough simple syrup, equal parts sugar and water, to cover your quince.

  • Preheat the oven to 200°F(93°C).

  • Peel the quince and save the peels. Most of the lovely color will come from them.

  • Carefully quarter and core each quince with a sharp knife. The ripe fruit is still quite tough.

  • Put the quince quarters in a shallow baking pan with lid.

  • Add the peels in between the pieces of fruit.

  • Cover with sugar syrup and lid. The pieces will float a bit.

  • Bake for six to nine hours. Flip the pieces of fruit halfway.

  • When done remove the now soft and rosy fruit and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream or such.

  • Discard the peels but save the ruby syrup for making cocktails.

Our first quince from our very own quince tree pollinated by our very own bees. A very happy milestone.

We have lived in the countryside long enough to become quite accustomed to backyard visits from birds that we rarely saw when living in a city. Last Monday afternoon something of the reverse happened as we spotted a rock dove. Common in huge flocks in metropolitan areas, this was now a rare sighting for us, seeming a bit out of place among greenery instead of concrete. When it turned up again by the barn an hour later we marked that it seemed much better looking and fitter than the birds of our memory. As we continued watching from the house, it steadily marched to the door and up the stoop. We half expecting it to knock when we noticed the bands on its legs and realized it must be a racing bird.

Per instructions found online we were able to entice it to drink some water from a bowl and eat a little bird seed but it eluded our attempts to catch it and read the bands, flying just beyond our grasping hands. We left it in peace whereupon it finished dining and at dusk parked itself against the house near the patio door where we could keep an eye on it and fret over its becoming a meal for nocturnal predators.

Fortunately we were able to contact a friend who had kept pigeons in his youth and he assured us that they were easy to catch once asleep in the dark. Turning off all the lights inside and out this proved to be true. The bird, with wings held against its body, was quite inert as we turned lights back on and copied information from the green leg band, the red seeming empty. It had just begun to stir as we put it into a covered wicker basket which we had ready and shut it in a small bathroom where any mess was easily contained.

The band information pointed us to a club and we were able to contact an official who happened to be the owner of the bird. We learned that the bird had already flown four hundred miles before stopping at our house about sixty miles short of its home. It had only flown up to two-hundred mile races previously. He asked us to feed it again next morning and release it in the afternoon. Should it not fly off then put it up for one more night and he would drive out to claim it.

Feeling ourselves more alert the next morning, we assembled an old dog crate, covered roof and sides with a blanket for shade, and moved our guest from the basket to the roomier accommodations. A quick trip to the pet store provided a few handfuls of canary seed blend suitable for pigeons. When afternoon warmth came we moved the cage outside onto the deck and opened the door. Our guest, disinclined to leave, seemed content to merely loaf around. Hours later we found the bird sitting in a corner of the deck and a chipmunk helping itself to some of the seed. Chasing off the chipmunk we tried to herd the bird back but only succeeded in chasing it onto a pergola out of convenient reach. More hours later we found the pigeon had retired back into the dog crate, which we thereupon closed and took back indoors rather than risk having the bird depart only to not reach home before dark.

The next morning found our guest agitated, stalking and fluttering about the cage. Shifting the cage to face the patio door, we opened both and the bird straightaway took to the skies, rapidly disappearing in what seemed to us the right direction. We called to update its grateful owner and excitedly awaited news of our guest’s arrival.

Sadly we learned that evening that the bird seemed to have not yet returned but the owner would inventory all his birds the next day. The flight home for a racing pigeon is not without dangers, mostly birds of prey, but we had cheerfully ignored the possibility of any such befalling our guest until now when we felt it a certainty. The rest of the night passed gloomily.

Our gloom was lifted next morning by happy news from the owner that he found the wayward pigeon home in the loft and in good shape! A happy ending for our little adventure after all.

 

Seeming queenless is her one weakness.

Dorcas has been confusing us since June when we posted about finding her apparently queenless and broodless but calmly carrying on. Since then we have been able to check on her only infrequently either because we were giving a potential queen time to develop and start laying or because we simply lacked time during spells of suitable weather. When we did check we ever saw neither hoped-for sign of a laying queen nor dreaded evidence of laying worker.

We were able to more frequently observe her entrances and never saw anything amiss there. Traffic was lighter than at Clarissa or booming Beatrix but regular. No robbers. Just foragers going forth and returning, even some optimists heavily laden with pollen. And their numbers did not seem to increase but neither did they diminish. We did once see orientation flights but the timing was such that it could have been from the transplanted comb.

This last Sunday we finally had time and weather to inspect all three hives, beginning with devious Dorcas, the conundrum of the season, to find that she had a queen-in-hiding laying for all she was worth when we were no longer looking. Brood! Capped worker brood! Larvae! Dripping with nurse bees! And that is quite enough use of the exclamation point but we were inexpressibly relieved and elated. At least until we performed a sugar roll and measured thirty-four(34) mites in the sample! Oh, blast. Another exclamation point. You will forgive us when we point out that this measurement means over eleven(11) mites per hundred bees, which Bee Informed Partnership says is a level indicating “Loss of colony likely. Intervention is essential to decrease the threat of horizontal transmission (spread) of mites to neighboring colonies.” We immediately applied Mite Away Quick Strips(formic acid). She will surely need a second dose in a week and we must not be tardy. If weather will not permit time for another sugar roll then we shall simply raise the roof long enough to apply a second treatment and check mite levels again at a later date.

With such a high mite count in Dorcas we expected the worst for Clarissa and Beatrix but counted only a single mite in the former’s sample and none at all in the latter. Almost unbelievable good news. But bees may yet drift between hives so we shall have to remain vigilant against hitchhikers from Dorcas.

Where did the last two weeks go? On the eighth we visited the hives again to follow up on our first mite treatment.

Clarissa – We removed the old MiteAway Quick Strips and performed another sugar roll. The mite count was 7 (down from 16) for 21/3 mites per hundred bees. Not strictly high enough to treat but as we started with such a high count and are going into autumn we applied a second dose of strips.

Unrelated to mites, we spied a pair of bees energetically attacking a wax moth larva on the floor. We assisted by chopping it in twain with a hive tool after which the attackers lost interest. Apparently bees are sticklers for respecting job descriptions and killing intruders is very different from hauling out rubbish even when that includes dead intruders.

Dorcas – She continues to confuse us. No eggs or larvae. No queen spotted but no laying workers either. The brood frames we had transferred showed capped cells and we noticed a queen cell torn open at the side.

Beatrix – We left this hive alone.

Annabelle – Still sitting in the woodshop with only minimal progress towards redeploying her.

And that is the late report. We should have visited them again a week after that but life, weather, the usual. The same things that will probably keep us from inspecting them again as soon as we should.

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