When the theories of atoms started, the thought of comparing the smallest parts of matter to the biggest seemed strange! But here we are – nucleus, sun and orbiting planets, electrons.  I say let’s look at the management of bees.  We’ll look at one of the biggest parasites, the bear, and one of the smallest, the varroa mite. 

Late summer, a hive gets blown over by the wind. The beekeeper uprights it and places a rock on top.  He comes back a week later to inspect and it’s over again.  This time a couple of frames are damaged.  He sets it up again and starts wondering if this could be a bear?  A week and a half later, it’s over again.  This time it’s in pieces, likely to die. The beekeeper could have been proactive and bought an electric fence as recommended at bee school. Instead the beekeeper chose to be reactive and lost his hive!  

The proactive beekeeper learned the beekeeping being taught and fine-tuned it with how bees survive in the wild. He might use smaller equipment to simulate what the bees use in the wild. In doing so, the colony  is forced to be split or it will swarm.  Either way, the population is divided and a break in the brood cycle is achieved, a useful tool to fight varroa.  The proactive beekeeper uses queens that survive their climate.  As an example, these queens know when to slow brood rearing so the colony doesn’t eat all their stores in the summer dearth.  These survivor queens can be used to raise queen daughters and drones, and with proper selection, can create a stock with some form of mite resistance. 

The reactive beekeeper uses two 10-frame deep hives for brood and then uses smaller hive bodies for honey supers.  With a large hive, the big population can be encouraged to increase honey production. One method used is to feed heavy going into the winter so that a larger volume of bees can get through winter. This large volume of bees does not cluster well and uses a massive amount of food and raises brood far into winter. The reactive beekeeper also feeds early in the spring to start brood rearing. He also tries to prevent swarming, the bee’s method of cleansing the colony.  Between feeding and swarm prevention, the bees raise brood almost all year. Mites reproduce in bee brood so feeding and swarm prevention encourage increased mite populations.

When the reactive beekeeper suspects a high mite load, they treat, then continue business as usual. This method does not weed out the bees with no mite resistance. The bigger operations advocate treating prophylactically.  This is a disaster towards mite resistance. They also will feed a colony if it’s low on stores, even during a honey flow. The hive being fed just can’t raise brood or store any of that food, even at 2 gallons a week. So, the hive continues to be fed because “they need it”. 

Many of the reactive beekeeper’s practices encourage the propagation of mites. Do they look at their beekeeping and fine tune it to give bees an advantage over the mites?  Like the bear that comes back because there is no reason not to, the mites will be back. Imagine beekeeping that helps bees fight varroa. It would reduce a chemical dependence and, one day, beekeeping could once again be a natural, healthy pursuit.  In the near future the reactive beekeepers may need to get two bottles with a drip mechanism, one to feed sugar and the other a mite treatment continuously, all year round.   

Michael R. Lund 2/11/2022