Choosing chemical-free bees
When we got started with
beekeeping in 2009, learning the basics of conventional beekeeping was
all I could handle. So I did what my neighbors did and bought
random package bees, figuring they were all about the same.
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Then we started losing
hives and I realized that what I was aiming for --- natural,
chemical-free beekeeping --- isn't really possible with run-of-the-mill
honeybees. We're starting from ground zero again, which gives me
the opportunity to use a better bee.
bees are one
intriguing option. BeeWeaver has been raising honeybees
entirely without chemicals for ten years. They actually started
weaning their bees off the drugs years before, but couldn't quit cold
turkey or they would have gone bankrupt. The price tag is steep
--- $130 plus shipping for a package --- but the real reason I haven't
clicked the "buy" button yet is because the company is located in
Texas. I'm just not sure whether southern bees would do well in
VSH bees are the U.S. government's
solution to chemical-free varroa mite control. The Baton Rouge
Bee Lab discovered a strain of honeybee in which the workers
industriously remove any brood infected with varroa mites. The
Lab has sold VSH queens to commercial apiaries
--- see this map for locations of facilities
selling VSH (and other types of resistant bees.) I'm intrigued by
this option (especially since there are local sources), but I'm not
sure whether being resistant to varroa mites is enough. Will
these VSH bees die of colony collapse disorder or any of the dozen
other bee plagues?
bees came from an
earlier government program that imported mite-resistant bees from
Russia. The main problem with Russian bees appears when they
hybridize with other bees and the offspring turn mean. I'm not
sure whether I'm willing to focus my efforts entirely on Russian bees,
and I don't think it's a good idea to have a Russian hive and a
different type of honeybee in the same area.
bees would be the
very best option since honeybees that have survived without beekeepers
for generations are likely to continue to do so in our apiaries.
However, it's tough to find feral bees at the moment, and when you do
find them, you can't be sure they're not a first year swarm from some
neighbor's chemical-treated hive.
I'd be very curious to
hear anyone's thoughts on these bee options. At the moment, I'm
tempted to order one package of survivor bees from BeeWeaver and one
package of VSH bees from somewhere more local. Thoughts?