I hate the word treatment in beekeeping

People are getting all in a kerfuffle again about “treatment” or “no-treatment” beekeeping.

By “treatment” the general reference is to applying some type of chemical control inside a bee hive.  However, that word is also used synonamously with “manipulation” or introducing changes in a variety of ways to a bee hive.

First off, do I beelieve in implementing chemical controls into a bee hive?  The short answer is that yes, I do see a possible case scenario for introducing a chemical control into a bee hive.

The long answer is that I see a spectrum of a myriad of possibilities that don’t easily fit into a dichotomy.  It’s more like following an “if-then” flow chart the way I approach it.

In regard to use of toxic chemical pesticides being used as a control tactic….  It’s not likely for me.  I see those as a last ditch, worst case scenario that “might” be usable on a case by case approach.

I am just as likely to terminate a colony in such a situation as try to implement a toxic chemical control.  It depends on a variety of things that affect that particular hive and the apiary and environment that it’s in.

I have total and utter disregard for those who insist on making “treatment” or “no-treatment” a simple and absolute false dichotomy.

I prefer, as I think most do, to have colonies that do not need to have certain types of control tactics introduced such as toxic chemical pesticides.  I implement IPM in my overall beekeeping and apiary planning from the beginning.

I try to have the best understanding of natural bee biology and behavior so as to let the colonies tell me when they need help and then only give the help they need, nothing more, nothing less.

Playing political games of unnecessary absolutes is a waste of thinking people’s time, efforts and resources.

That’s just how this apiarist sees it.

IPM is every beeks friend

There are articles floating around out there quoting hobbyists and prominent bee researchers alike proclaiming a dire necessity to “treat” bee hive’s for mite infestations.  These articles condemn the “anti-pesticides” crowd as spoilers of beekeeping for everyone else and some going so far as to setting up a bully pulpit to show “anti-pesticides” beekeepers in a criminal light.

Being someone who has long-established myself as an “organic” beekeeper, I can certainly appreciate the mistrust of the unnecessary use of toxic chemicals where bees are involved.  However, as a former licensed pesticide applicator, I am very familiar with the situations and conditions in which critical circumstances call for drastic actions.

At the same time, again coming from my education, training, and experience as a licensed pesticide applicator, I am very familiar with the concept of Integrated Pest Management or IPM.  I am here to tell you that with IPM, dealing with mites or any of the myriad of maladies that face our bees does not have to be an all or none scenario.

IPM, in a nutshell, calls for a “big picture” approach to pest control.  A more holistic approach in which we aren’t using  “one or the other” extremist tactics but instead a combination of multiple tactics to prevent and act as an early intervention to avoid pest presence and populations from becoming so bad as to require the use of toxic pesticides if at all possible.

One of the problems that lead the discussion is that by using the strong, toxic pesticides as a prophylactic is that historically, it has always lead to stronger, more resistant pests that are harder to deal with.

On the other hand, I am also an advocate for using the “common sense” view that when the Bee feces hits the fan, we should be prepared to at least consider the responsible use of pesticides that might make a reasonable difference.  I’m not saying it should be mandatory to use those “last resort” treatments but they shouldn’t be discarded from the discussion just because they make us uncomfortable either.

Extremist positions never help in the long run.  We all lose when discussion becomes polarized and minds are closed.  I think it’s irresponsible for any beekeeper or apiarist worthy of the name to be so close minded.

So at every opportunity, I will present, teach and advocate IPM as a crucial aspect of any and every beekeeping plan.  It gives us the widest range of options and educated/informed decision-making available to us to have the most success and viable impact in helping honey bee colonies alive and thriving.

 

Nosema ceranae: Kiss of Death or Much Ado about Nothing? @ Scientific Beekeeping

Here at the Bee Smart beekeeping project, it is one of our goals to help facilitate a successful beekeeping experience.  Being that here in the U.S. are coming into our Spring season, if not already then very soon, it’s time to start looking at the things which can cause bee colonies to die at this point after having made it so far through the Winter.

Note that there are two most widely known types of Nosema, Nosema apis which has been here for a very long time, and Nosema ceranae which is the newer kid on the block of the two but every bit the troublemaker.

The linked article below by Randy Oliver at scientificbeekeeping.com makes a terrific presentation of the situation which rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, we’d rather just point you in the direction of the wheel.

Randy mentions a chemical treatment in the article for situations calling for treatments in IPM plans that include such types of treatments.  However, Organic/treatment-free beekeepers want to pay very close attention to the things that can be done to help prevent Nosema from taking hold in the colony.

If you’d like to find out where the Beehooligans stand on dealing with Nosema after reading this article, head on over to our Forums on this website and sign up then browse through the sections and see where the discussion is.

This is more than a mere academic debate, as beekeepers worldwide are forced to make expensive management decisions, including very expensive antibiotic treatment and the sterilization of contaminated combs.

Source: Nosema ceranae: Kiss of Death or Much Ado about Nothing? @ Scientific Beekeeping

What Are Beekeepers Doing? Using A Smoker

Perhaps one of the most commonly associated pieces of beekeeping equipment used is the Smoker.  It is also one of the most misunderstood pieces of equipment that beekeepers use that non-beekeepers have questions about.

Beekeeping smoker

Most people want to know why is it that beekeepers blow smoke into bee hives on on bees.  Short answer; Beekeepers don’t want to get stung.

The long answer takes multiple things into consideration:

  • Smoke “hides” a pheromone that serves as a combines warning system and “Call in the reserves!” alarm.  Fewer bees to fend off.
  • Smoke is thought to turn bees into “preppers” who stop everything and go gorge on honey in case there’s a forest fire or something.
  • Smoke can be used to “herd” bees into directions away from the direction the smoke is blown at them.  Useful to clear spaces of lots of bodies so as to inspect.

Beekeepers don’t particularly want to stress the bees out.  TO reduce stress, beekeepers usually use things that produce a “cool” smoke that isn’t so hot as to harm the hive or bees.

Nixon lights a smoker.jpg
By StubbsguyOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Beekeepers also usually prefer to use natural things to burn so as not to send poisonous fume into the hives.  Pine needles are a major favorite among beekeepers as it is non-toxic and tends to keep the smoke cool and “thick”.  Thick because then “less is more”.

When using beekeeping smokers properly, beekeepers are better able to inspect hives to keep them free of diseases and pests.  At the same time, the beekeeper is also keeping themselves and others in the surrounding area safe by not agitating bees.  Lastly, By properly using a smoker, beekeepers are keeping bee colonies less stressed and keep aggressiveness down.  Bees that get fired up to defend aggressively can experience high death rates due to many bees going out to defend and sting.  Beekeepers don’t want that.

File:Imkerarbeit.jpg
Working bees low stress. Avenarius at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

There are some other ways to work with bee hives that don’t involve a smoker, but it is tried and true, relatively easy for beginners to use and bee successful and serves as a constant reminder to the beekeeper that going into a hive is not something to do just for fun.  It’s a serious tool meant for doing serious deeds, like keeping bees healthy and alive.

Swarming And Varroa Infestation

In an interview on a German podcast about a year ago, Dr.Tom Seeley made some interesting points during the interview that I, as a self-proclaimed “Organic” beekeeper find very interesting and supporting of some of the points I often make in my own presentations and classes.

This isn’t to say that Dr. Seeley is an Organic beekeeper or that he claims to be, but from a research point of view he has made certain observations which to my mind, certainly seem to support some Organic beekeeping ideas.

One of the points Organic beekeepers make is that when at all possible, we want to mimic or emulate successful practices and behaviors of honey bee colonies that are feral or wild as opposed to doing things that might work contrary to “bee nature”.

Honey bee swarm in a tree. Image by Tony Sandoval

In this particular discussion, Dr. Seeley makes the point that swarming in a honey bee colony can actually have a positive effect on reducing Varroa mite populations in the nest.  This is accomplished primarily due to the exit of the large number of adult bees during the Primary swarm.  It is further impacted by the consequent lack of eggs being laid and there being a period of being brood-less in the hive in between the exit of the prior mature Queen and the beginning of the new mature queen beginning to lay eggs.

All in all, Dr. Seeley says that when a colony is allowed to swarm naturally, approximately 60 to 70% of all the adult bees in the hive depart with the prime swarm.  That number is a result of the facts that about 50% of mites are phoretic, meaning that they are parasitize adult bees instead of being in cells parasitizing larvae and capped pupae.  Of all those approximately 35% of all mites are removed from the nest because of the departing swarm.

File:Varroa destructor on the head of an emerging bee (5048710240).jpg
Varroa destructor on the head of an emerging bee By Gilles San Martin from Namur, Belgium [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
There can be a further reduction in mite population after a prime swarm departure due to the exit of after swarms, grooming behavior of remaining bees and lack of bees to parasitize due to not enough bees remaining to sustain a population of mites.

In terms of Organic hive management, this supports the practice of preferring to do splits in the Spring and Fall to reduce mite populations as opposed to using chemical treatments be they toxic or non-toxic chemicals.

Another interesting comment he made was that the practice of beekeeping by humans is contrary to the natural evolution of honey bee colonies which have evolved to excel in two areas due to Natural Selection.  Those two things being survival and reproduction which obviously go hand in hand.Beekeeping by people, by and large according to Dr. Seeley actively works to inhibit reproduction and suppress swarming.

Beekeepers tend to try to control reproduction and inhibit it by controlling drone populations (one of the common methods of controlling Varroa) and by inserting already fertilized, inseminated queens.  In regards to suppressing swarming, it is a common practice among beekeepers to manipulate hive boxes, especially in the Spring, to try to minimize or eliminate the chances of colonies swarming out so as to keep the hive population large for obtaining a larger honey harvest over the season.

Suppressing swarming is also a method used by many beekeepers as a way to try to keep larger populations inside the hives, thereby keeping more bees present to “work” the nest and keep pest populations down through the bees own nest behaviors.

It’s certainly some interesting information from a very well-respected and trusted bee researcher.  Even if one doesn’t consider themselves an Organic beekeeper, the knowing how swarms affect Varroa populations in the hive can certainly bee good to know about.

Listen to the “Radio Milkwood”podcast for more of the roughly 12 minute interview with Dr. Tom Seeley.

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