A new beekeeper attending an introductory course in beekeeping was surprised by the number of chemical treatments available for the beehive. She asked, “Can beekeepers avoid using antibiotics and miticides and still have healthy bees?” The answer is not simple, for there are several approaches to keeping honey bees. Some beekeepers rely upon chemical treatments for parasitic mites and honey bee diseases. However, over time, the honey bee pests and pathogens develop resistance to the chemical agents. Other beekeepers attempt to tend to bees without the use of treatments. In most cases their colonies dwindle and die within a couple of years. A third approach at beekeeping, which we adhere to at Peace Bee Farm, relies upon a series of integrated pest management steps designed to strengthen the bee colony while lessening the colony’s pests and pathogens.
An IPM approach to beekeeping employs a number of cultural, biological, and mechanical measures. Purchasing resistant-stock queen bees that are bred for hygienic behavior is the first biological measure for controlling parasitic Varroa mites. The hive design affects colony health. Screened bottom boards increase ventilation and reduce the hive’s Varroa mites. Ventilation is important for controlling chalkbrood and Nosema disease. Encouraging bees to preen Varroa mites by dusting the bees with powdered sugar is a cultural control. When the mites fall through the screen, ants eat them, a biological control. Varroa prefer to reproduce on drone brood. Removing and freezing frames of drone brood is biological control of these vectors of honey bee viruses. Parasitic tracheal mites seek very young bees as hosts, but they can be confused by vegetable oil patties placed in the hive, a biological control. Worker bees chase small hive beetles into traps, a mechanical control. These and more IPM measures, when used together, help protect the honey bee colony. Finally, when mite control is necessary, beekeepers should choose the “soft” treatments, such as those derived from essential oils. Today’s photo: partridge pea, a legume. A grasshopper consumes the foliage.