Friday, May 29, 2009

Beekeeping 101

I have spent the better part of this year preparing to become our full time beekeeper. I have attended several seminars and webinars, also. What I have learned is this....for as many beekeepers as there are, there are just as many opinions on how best to keep bees. This past weekend I attended a seminar at Bjorn Apiaries. Mike Thomas, a former State Bee Inspector and full-time beekeeper/breeder spoke on the subject of Sustainable Beekeeping....a More Natural Approach.

His philosophy is different from that of old time beekeepers, and his ideas were fascinating to me. In previous seminars, I had heard beekeepers talk of medicating their bees to help control pests such as mites. Protocol dictates that medication is done prior to the bees gathering nectar. However, tests have shown that those medications and pesticides end up in the honeycomb....and potentially in the honey. As an inspector, Mike had often seen beekeepers that failed to remove the medications even after beginning honey collection....a practice that he was unable to do anything about. There is presently no regulating body for the inspection of honey production. State Inspectors' responsibilities are only to the health of the hive.
We do not use medications with our bees. To me, it just doesn't make sense. Personally, I always worried that the medications would eventually end up in the honey. I would rather ensure that our honey is as pure and natural as possible. Mike (Bjorn Apiaries) gave us a few great ideas for naturally controlling and minimizing mite populations, without jeopardizing the environment or our health.....ideas that I plan to try with my own bees.

Another point that I found fascinating was Mike's opinion about Colony Collapse Disorder. Because Pennsylvania is one of the epicenters of research on this subject, he had the most recent information. It seems that researchers believe that it is not one single thing that is causing the demise of our bees, but rather a combination of many factors. The use of formic and oxalic acids to combat mites might change the pH of the bee's digestive system, thereby making it more susceptible to harm by current "organic" pesticides such as Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis) which is used in large-scale spraying for control of certain pests, such as caterpillars. Although Bt is, by itself, safe for bees....perhaps the fact that the bees are exposed to such a chemical soup makes exposure to one more chemical the "straw that broke the camel's back". It is just an idea, but it sure makes sense to me. Just one more reason that natural beekeeping seems like the way to go.

I know that a certain amount of bees will not survive....I will lose hives from time to time. But as they say....the strong survive. And perhaps this will help to ensure a stronger genetic strain of bee in the long run.
As with most things in life, I don't always choose to follow the rules, but try to do what feels like the "right" thing. Natural beekeeping feels right to me.


  1. Hi Bev,

    Thanks for this post. I'm a first year beekeeper in Seattle and medicated my bees for Nosema..well, frankly everyone said it was the only way to do it. I'd be very interested in hearing about your future experiences, as a non-medicator. We have screened bottom boards in our hives and that seems to help with the mite problem, at least for now. I spot a few when I clean the boards but it's not a huge infestation.

  2. what will you do to control varroa and tracheal mites? I agree about the different techniques. It is so confusing for new beekeepers. I feel so lost. The more people you speak with the more varied the answers.

  3. My grandparents were beekeepers for decades. Wish I had cared about it when they were alive so that I could just keep it going like they did. Can't wait to see how they make out this year at your place.

    Love the pictures of the dead-looking horses!! I was scared for a second!!

  4. Way to go Bev! Love your approach to beekeeping. You are learning from the experts, then doing what feels right for you and your bees. Best of luck to you! Love your pics. Joyce

  5. I'm a fellow first-year Beekeeper, also from Seattle ( I am pretty sure my bees came pre-medicated from the distributor, but since I have had them (early May), I have not administered any medications.

    I would like to avoid the various antibiotics if possible, though if I see signs of severe Nosema, I'm not sure I'd be willing to just let that go. I only have two hives.

    I am interested in natural / non-manufactured-chemical treatments. I plan to use the powdered sugar dusting method against varroa mites (Dadant sells a cool bellows-type device to efficiently dust your entire hive). Menthol crystals against tracheal mites seems natural enough to me as well, that I might consider using them.

    I also use the Honey-B-Healthy supplement mixed into the syrup, which is supposed to increase the bees' ability to fight off disease.

    There is an apiary on the Olympic Peninsula, here in the Pacific Northwest, that breeds Queens of local "survivor stock" - lineages of bees that have specifically adapted to the local climate and conditions, so I am considering re-queening in late summer to switch my bees over to the local variety.

    It will be interesting to see what happens!

    Cheers, Daniel


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