Keeping healthy bees in these extraordinarily challenging times requires an understanding of sustainable practices and Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
We use an IPM approach in our beekeeping to deal with the wide variety of pests and diseases we encounter.
We also believe in breeding honey bee queens that can adapt to our local conditions. We want our bees to be robust, industrious and hygienic producers. They have to have the ability to detect and defend themselves against serious biological threats such as the varroa mite.
We want our bees to live as naturally as possible, and to give us the best honey they can produce.
From time to time we import specially-bred honey bees and queens to add to our genetic diversity and assist in our goal towards a locally-adapted bee.
Our IPM program is based on a scientific approach that involves monitoring for pests, and then treating our hives through a graduated system of controls.
Those controls range from biological, to cultural, to mechanical or physical, to chemical. For instance, we use brood breaks, drone-trapping and wasp screens and traps. We use seasons and the bees’ own cycle of life to help us combat problems.
Our use of chemical controls largely involves two naturally-occurring compounds, formic acid and oxalic acid, which are sometimes applied in non-honey-producing periods to assist in mite. These compounds do not affect our bees, honey or waxes and are recognized as some of the most effective means of reducing mite loads. (Formic acid, for example, is found both in ants and in honey.)
We prefer not to use man-made or synthetic chemical compounds, the harshest alternative, for mite reduction. On occasion, however, when a hive is threatened and no other alternatives are available, we will use such compounds to save the colony. We do not use these compounds during honey flow or collection, and they are targeted only to the brood nest. We use rotational methods to ensure no hive is exposed repeatedly to such chemicals so as not to create resistance.
While there are some antibiotics available to treat hives infected with American Foul Brood, we prefer to depopulate such hives and destroy the comb, which can contain highly-contagious spores. Such spores can retain life for years, increasing the accidental reinfection of our hives. We do not treat any of our hives prophylactically with antibiotics. We work with certified veterinarians when a colony’s health demands it.
We also submit our bees, queens and hives for inspection by the provincial bee inspection service, as required under B.C.’s Animal Health Act.
We do not agree with the fad of “treatment-free” beekeeping where absolutely nothing is done in the misguided expectation that should an infected colony survive it will result in a stronger genetic base. This attitude only results in the creation of “varroa bombs” that infect neighbouring hives when the diseased hive finally succumbs. We use the analogy that if our dogs came home with fleas or our children had head lice, we would not insist they go “treatment-free”.
However, we understand, support and use the use of mechanical efforts to reduce varroa mites and other pests, such as brood management, nucleus creation, mite-trapping drone comb and other non-invasive methods.
Our baseline philosophy is that mankind’s careless spread of honeybee diseases and the inadvertent introduction of Asiatic parasites such as the varroa mite and small hive beetle now requires that we undertake a program of IPM intervention to give our bees their best chance at survival.
Here is a good definition of Integrated Pest Management practices, as defined by the University of California’s Agricultural and Natural Resources Department.