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Chemical Free management


by Ashley Watson


Pest control without the use of chemicals:


While some beekeeping methods aim to eliminate pests within the hive with harsh chemicals, there is a more holistic approach using integrated pest management. This approach eliminates the use of chemical miticides and involves methods of pest control that creates a healthy environment within the hive without risk to bees or their keeper.


The varroa mite is a common pest in the hive that every beekeeper must address or the mites will eventually weaken the bee population and destroy the entire hive. Varroa mites are nearly always present in beehives, but the goal of the beekeeper is to keep the mite population to a level where they don’t pose a threat to the hive. A heavy mite infestation causes stress to a hive, leaves them weak and susceptible, and can lead to Deformed Wing Virus, where the bees hatch without properly formed wings and do not survive. The severity of your infestation can be monitored by using an icing sugar shake. Shakers are available at your local beekeeping supply store or make one yourself by using a mason jar and hardware cloth. If you count more than ten mites in the icing sugar, then you have a serious infestation. Avoid using the alcohol method that some beekeepers practice as this method kills the bees and the powdered sugar method does not. Why kill the gentle worker bees if you don’t have to.           


To treat a varroa mite problem, an icing sugar dusting can be very effective. First, use a screened frame in the bottom board. Underneath the screen, place a sticky paper or a piece of cardboard covered with a layer of shortening. Very lightly dust all the top bars with approximately one cup of icing sugar and brush the sugar down between the frames. During a routine inspection you may want to dust each individual frame as you check it, being careful to dust just the bees and avoid dusting any open cells. As the bees clean each other, the mites lose their grip, falling through the screen and sticking on the paper. Begin treatment in the spring when you open the hive. Dust with icing sugar once a week for six weeks, stop for two weeks, and repeat. Continue until November when you wrap the hives for winter. Icing sugar dusting can even be done during a honey flow, just don’t dust the icing sugar directly into the honey supers.     


Another method of trapping varroa is to use a drone brood frame. The varroa mites prefer to lay their eggs inside drone cells. By utilizing a drone brood frame you can capture many mites within the capped cells and remove the frame from the hive before the drones emerge carrying the mites on their backs.


Essential oils are another useful tool given to us by nature. Mint oils in particular have been found effective against ridding bees of varroa. These can be administered effectively through grease patties. These patties can help fight against both varroa and tracheal mites as the grease makes it difficult for the mites to attach themselves to the bees. Here is a recipe for making a grease patty: ¼ cup vegetable shortening, ½ cup white sugar, 2 tablespoons honey or sugar syrup, 10 drops peppermint or wintergreen essential oil. Mix together and form into a patty. Place in hive on the top bars of the brood chamber in the fall after the honey supers have been removed.    


Disease Prevention:


In modern beekeeping, disease prevention for foulbrood and nosema generally includes the use of antibiotics. However some beekeepers choose not to use routine antibiotics as they can eventually result in antibiotic resistance. Deciding whether or not to use these precautions is a personal decision based on your approach to beekeeping. If you choose to use preventative antibiotics be sure to always follow the manufacturers guidelines for safe application and never medicate when there are honey supers on the hive. Regardless of your decision to use antibiotics, everyone should consider the following tips to help keep your bees healthy and strong to aide in warding off viruses and diseases:


Never feed your bees honey or pollen from an unknown supplier. Foulbrood spores can be present in honey and pollen and while this will not have negative effects on humans, it will infect your hive. Furthermore, never buy second hand equipment unless the supplier is free of disease.


When selecting your hive site, choose a dry, sunny place and provide the bees plenty of ventilation by using top and bottom entrances. Cold and damp locations can encourage nosema.     


Provide bees with access to a wide variety of plants that will flower throughout the season. Plants contain different proteins and minerals in their pollen and nectar therefore the diversity will fulfill their nutritional needs. Bees foraging on only one food source can become malnourished and have weakened immunity towards pests and diseases.

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