- Natural Beekeeping
Traditional ways of beekeeping, in many ways, are outdated and are no longer viable approaches to keeping colonies strong. Prior to the early 1980s beekeeping was much easier. Varroa destructor and small hive beetles had not entered our country. With these two pests, colonies had a much higher survival rate. Once varroa mites were introduced in the US and spread rapidly, colonies perished rapidly and the landscape of beekeeping changed dramatically demanding a paradigm shift in how we keep bees.
Chemicals were first used to kill mites but not until the mites had taken their toll. The approach to "pre-mite" beekeeping is so established that it is challenging to make a shift in beekeeping approaches. Around 2006, Colony Collapse Disorder dealt another blow to the beekeeping industry. Colonies begin to dwindle down and perish. Beekeeping seemed to be at its lowest. However, the silver lining was that CCD actually actually had many positive impacts in beekeeping such as...
- An acceleration in beekeeping research not only gave answers to the cause of CCD, but the answers to many other beekeeping issues as well.
- A huge influx of new beekeepers wanting to save the bee population began keeping bees for the first time.
- The local food movement increased the demand for honey bees to pollinate more naturally grown food.
- Beekeepers no longer felt comfortable pouring poisonous chemicals in their hive to kill mites, and began looking for more natural approaches to kill mites.
For example, CCD studies identified the nutritional needs of colonies. Prior to CCD the old paradigm was driven by only feeding bees sugar or corn syrup. However, we began realizing that colonies would perform poorly with a protein deficiency. We also began exploring ways to kill mites without the use of harsh chemicals. Green drone comb, powdered sugar treatments, screen bottom board and breaking the queen's brood cycle became natural approaches to control varroa mites. Within the new paradigm of beekeeping we now know killing mites twice a year is not effective. The old school of thought is to kill mites with chemical treatments twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. However, now we know that it is not so much the mites that are the issues as much as the viruses that they spread when the bite bees. Under the old paradigm, treating once in April and once in September left May-August a breeding ground for mites to spread their viruses within the hive.
The new paradigm of mite control requires the beekeeper to test for mites every 30 days and to keep mite levels below 3%, or less than 3 mites per 100 bees. Keeping mite levels low all year means viruses are kept low all year, not just once in April and once in September. Yet, there are so many beekeepers stuck in the old paradigm, living in a world of beekeeping approaches as if mites do not exists.
Nutritional needs of colonies demand protein and lots of it! Bees do not perform well on a sugar diet only. The beekeeper needs to constantly be aware of the protein needs of the colony. Bees gather pollen from plants and this pollen is the protein bees desperately need. However, the grown of monocrop farming and the expansion of cities have reduced the amount of available forage for bees, thus reducing their variety of pollen or protein. Now, the new paradigm demands that the beekeeper feed their bees protein any time there is a nectar dearth.
In summary, keeping a strong, laying queen in the hive, along with mite control and nutritional supplements are essential in the new world of beekeeping.
For more information on how to implement the new paradigm of beekeeping, check out our online beekeeping courses taught by our EAS Certified Master Beekeeper, David Burns