A Curious Beekeeper thinks about the 4 Ps

“Save the bees” is everywhere. I have a problem with that in that I don’t think the bees need saving per se but rather there are situations that need addressing.

The 4 Ps are an easy way to remember what are thought to be the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and even if they are not the root causes of CCD, are factors that negatively effect Honey bee health. The 4 Ps are Parasites, Pathogens, Pesticides and Poor Nutrition. Some substitute Poor Beekeeping (a/k/a a particular type of non-polite poor beekeeping or PPB) for Poor Nutrition.

CCD hasn’t been seen near me in 5 years or more. I thought I was fairly safe regarding the 4 Ps too until I looked at lawns near me on my way to the Post Office. Maybe half the lawns were free of Dandelions! (Darn that dreaded Weed and Feed!)

Tom Seeley’s new book (more later) has bees flying as much as 6 miles to forage (and another 6 miles back.) I’m comforted by this being an extreme case where the bees are in desperate need of the nutrition. This time of year, there is plenty of natural forage available on land I control near my hives, so I don’t have to worry overly about Pesticide Poisoning right now.

I keep Parasites (mostly Varroa) under control using miticides. There is some thought – I haven’t determined if it is research or speculation yet – that colony density and size may have a great deal to do with parasite infestation.

So, for the time being, check.

Pathogens. Like most, I see some of these in my bees from time to time. My dog vet isn’t going to help me out with OxyTet if I find EFB; There are no medications for many other diseases. Maintaining healthy stock to begin with is often the best course of action. A qualified check.

Pesticides. Ugh. Conventional farming seems to require them. A few of my neighbors apparently think they need Dandelion free lawns. I couldn’t qualify my operation as USDA Organic if I wanted to. (And some of the pesticides allowed in USDA Organic are scary, to this beekeeper at least – Entrust anyone?) No check here.

Poor Nutrition. This is always a tough one, especially at dearth time. In the old days, pollen substitutes were not even conceived of. Our former State Apiarist flat out assured me that there was plenty of natural pollen. But this year, my new packages got some, as did my over wintered colonies – though largely as insurance for when the bees couldn't fly to get the natural stuff. This year that policy has paid off!

I have always liked Randy Oliver’s writings in this regard. Essentially, if you’re a beekeeper and your bees are in danger of starving, feed them! Nutrition gets checked. (There’s something about mixing sugar syrup in a trash can with a canoe paddle that I like)

That brings us to PPB. This is something I worry about, especially when attempting to follow some other non-Langstroth management systems that are basically leave the bees alone. This year I plan to be in my colonies at least monthly during the season to do mite washes along with general inspections. As long as my health holds, I plan to avoid the PPB label; so, a check.

Factors that I can contend with all seem to get checks. But there are many that are beyond me. I read somewhere that the recent EPA ban of 12 pesticides wasn’t a ban at all but a court ordered non-renewal of registrations. This is where lawyers earn their money while beekeepers wonder what just happened. Certainly, getting news to have confidence in is not easy. I’m now just confused… while remaining curious.

The four Ps contain things I can control and things I can’t. The US philosophy on a lot of this stuff is go ahead and do it if you can; we’ll ask questions and clean up the messes later on.

I’ll continue to recoil against “Save the Bee” campaigns, believing as I do that they over simplify problems. But then, it is not like there’s a one size fits all solution. I don’t know where to start. Do you?

Andrew Dewey