A Curious Beekeeper thinks about pesticides

I imagine most have seen the drawing of the bee wearing a gas mask to avoid being poisoned by a pesticide. Gruesome. Thought provoking. In many ways the antithesis of beekeeping.

Ok. I need to make sure I’ve got this straight. Reaching for a bottle straight off is bad because of… more than anything, an untrusting ideology that worries about consequences – primarily unintended – of using anything designed to kill.

In the abstract, that all sounds fine. But then something pops up like the Varroa Mite – and then all the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men need to focus on MY pet problem.

Errr… make that King’s people.

And then I recall that the beekeeping market, while vitally important to agriculture, is pretty small. No one will get rich selling mite treatments to beekeepers, especially not ones that are novel uses of existing inexpensive products. Oxalic Acid, commonly sold as a wood bleach, being one example.

The Varroa Mite is an unusual parasite in that it is out of balance with its host – meaning, it kills its host. Honey bees in general, specifically MY bees. There are those who swear that science will come up with a bee that “deals” with Varroa and there are those that adamantly believe evolution will take care of it. Me, I don’t care who solves the issue, as long as it is solved soon.

I am content with the miticides we have now (pesticides all) and I regard testing and responding to test results as prudent. Though there are times, like just ahead of winter bees being made, when I find it quite reasonable to get mite numbers as low as I can in all hives.

Maybe – says I creating an excuse for myself – I have too many hives to follow either the Treatment Free (TF) or true IPM regimens. Maybe, being a bit more honest, I’m lazy. At times beekeeping is hard work. My wife says I was essentially incoherent when I came in last night. Some water, dinner and time (and today coffee) seem to have revitalized me.

But I digress. I don’t think the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) was such a bad thing for beekeepers. Maybe I’ll feel differently when I want something for EFB and my dog’s vet tells me they don’t do bees. In my area it is darn hard to justify prophylactic treatments for AFB. I hadn’t done them in years. As a new beekeeper, I did what I was told.

(The VFD is a recently enacted prohibition for using antibiotics on livestock that could be used in humans, without a veterinarian’s prescription.)

There was one identified by the state case of AFB in Maine last year. Thanks Jen & Tony (State Apiarists) for all the infected hives you’ve found and destroyed over the years.

Back to Varroa. One of the paths (science or evolution) will work out before too many more years go by. At least that is what I am counting on.

Until then I have several testing jars and I know how to use them. There maybe baby steps along the way. I’m ok with that. I think it was Kim Flottum who wrote something about small increments of stock improvement.

I am big on truth in advertising though. Please don’t tell me that a product is done when it isn’t. I realize that breeders (especially of bees) have to earn a living.

Until then, I’m going to continue to count on miticides (which are pesticides) to do their jobs. But I won’t be using herbicides to keep the grass down on the electric fence, fungicides on my Apples, pesticides in my garden. I hate using anything with a cide in its description, but I’ve tried TF and couldn’t get it to work for me here.

I heard this week that there may very well be 40,000 migratory colonies coming in to the state this year. Most to the county I live in. So much for feral survivor stock.

But – I am conscious that I’m leaning on a crutch, and know too that the clock is ticking. I’m open to ideas (at least the ones that seem sensible to me) though we don’t seem to be getting many new ones.

I don’t think anyone enjoys using miticides to control Varroa. Please let me know of your ideas and thoughts – As we learn more, I’m happy to change up my strategy.

Now how can we make use of a brood break in a short bee season?

Andrew Dewey