At the time of the year when most beekeepers have completed their honey harvest and migratory bee hives are stationed for the winter, many state beekeeping associations hold their annual conferences. Rita and I attended the state-wide meetings for Arkansas and Tennessee, two states where we maintain bees. The meetings always afford an opportunity to renew acquaintances with beekeeping friends and to keep abreast of matters involving the beekeeping industry. But most importantly, conferences provide educational programs that put beekeepers in touch with beekeeping experts and researchers studying today’s honey bee health issues. Often I leave these meetings armed with more information but overwhelmed by the growing number of pests and pathogens attacking honey bees. However, I left this year’s events encouraged by details of recent studies and by reports of the resiliency of honey bees. Analysis of stored bee hive pollen and beeswax reveal the bees live in an environment filled with chemicals. Peace Bee Farm participated in several of these studies by sampling bees and comb.
Honey bees in the US are exposed to numerous bee diseases. Honey bees in South Africa, by contrast, are exposed to more predators; however, they are affected by fewer diseases. When parasitic mites decimated honey bee colonies in the US, beekeepers responded by treating the hives with miticides. The mites rapidly became resistant to the chemicals. Varroa mites were identified in South Africa in 1997. Chemical controls were not employed, and within seven years the mites were reduced to an incidental pest. Many beekeepers in the US are moving toward reduced reliance on chemical treatments. The analysis of chemicals in honeycombs reveals that legal miticides become highly toxic to honey bees when they are present with other commonly used chemicals. For example, fluvalinate becomes 1000 times more toxic to honey bees exposed to fungicides regularly used on cropland, orchards, and home gardens. Beekeepers are learning to avoid the harsh miticides. We must use chemicals sparingly. Today’s photo: bitterweed, a common fall wildflower.--Richard