The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

More causes of honeybee declines

Queen beePJ Chandler argued that the Langstroth hive is the root of many of the problems currently facing beekeepers.  Michael Bush agrees that honeybees are in trouble, but instead traces the ills to:

  • Raising sickly bees.  Bush argues that the modern methods of pouring chemicals into the hive to keep pests at bay ends up selecting for resistant super-pests...and for wimpy bees that wouldn't be able to survive without chemicals.  In addition, since most honeybees now come from only a few beekeeping companies, we've restricted the gene pool so much that we're raising only a few inbred strains of bees, none or few of which have the ability to live in a chemical-free hive.  These bees have also been bred to use less propolis, which might make it easier for the beekeeper to pry the hive apart, but also makes allows viruses to thrive among the bees.
  • Foundationless frameUsing foundation that makes bees sick.  I've written before that using foundation in your hive makes your bees create larger celled comb than they naturally would, which helps out varroa mites.  But did you know that the foundation you put in your hive is processed beeswax from someone else's hive...who almost certainly treated with lots of chemicals?  The wax is impregnated with pesticides, which causes drones raised on that foundation to be less fertile and queens who mate with those drones to fail nine times faster than a healthy queen would.
  • Upsetting the natural ecology of the hive.  A healthy hive isn't just a couple of thousand bees; it also includes beneficial fungi, bacteria, yeasts, mites, and insects.  It's helpful to think of a bee hive as a bit like our stomachs --- the beneficial critters help "digest" (ferment) pollen while keeping the hive from getting sick by crowding out pathogens.  Using chemicals in the hive is like taking antibiotics every day --- you kill the good microorganisms along with the bad, so the system doesn't work as well.  In addition, feeding sugar water (pH 6.0) instead of leaving bees enough honey (pH 3.2 to 4.5) creates an enironment that helps the pathogens thrive.

Michael Bush's solutions --- while they can be hard to implement --- are very simple.  He says we have to stop using chemicals in our hives, even if that means many of our colonies die and only the strong remain.  Deleting foundation allows bees to build clean wax at a natural cell size.  And we must make sure that our bees always have enough honey rather than stealing too much and then feeding sugar water.  More on the specifics of his beekeeping method in tomorrow's post.

Start your backyard flock off right with tips from my 99 cent ebook.

This post is part of our The Practical Beekeeper lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Hi Anna,

Kathie writing this time from Blossomland. We are in the midst of beginning a new launch on classes and discussions called Blossomland U, the site for which will be up in a few weeks. Come July August we are going to start some web bee meetings called Hive Chats for information sharing. Perhaps you will join us at some point. Until then passing along your blog to our FB

Keep up the good work! Kathie

Comment by Kathie Hempel Sat May 24 21:17:17 2014

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