Beekeeping: A lesson in adaptation


My husband and I have kept honey bees for a few years now. We’ve learned, through a combination of trial and error and beekeeping classes that bees are susceptible to pests and disease. As a result, we learned to test for pests like mites, and would buy pesticide strips at our local bee store whenever we found them in the hives.

Last year, we finally got enough bees through the winter that we had more honey than we could eat ourselves or give away to family and friends. Our neighbors up the road have a small farm and sell some of their produce, and they graciously offered to sell our extra honey. We quickly received a lot of interest in our honey, and I excitedly joked to my husband that we had started our own little agribusiness!

The very next day, my husband told me that one of our interested customers called him with some questions. She asked whether we used chemical mite control, and suggested we use some alternative treatments instead, which she said were better for the environment.

My first reaction was indignation! “Who does she think she is?” I thought. “We’ve been keeping bees for two whole years!” I then took a step back and reconsidered. I work on agriculture for EDF, and much of what I do is focused on helping farmers adopt practices that are good for the environment and for their bottom lines. I decided to keep an open mind, in the same way that many of the farmers we work with are open to learning new information and incorporating it into their farm management.

My husband and I invited our customer over to see our hives, explain what we do, and listen to her. This year, as a result of that conversation, we switched from chemical mite control to a non-chemical method called “drone comb trapping.” We’ll keep an eye on the hives, and hopefully this will keep our mite problem at bay. We may not be able to eliminate chemicals entirely, but we will continue to learn and adapt our management, just as the farmers EDF works with do.

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One Response to Beekeeping: A lesson in adaptation

  1. solarbeez says:

    I’ve heard of this method of mite control a few times. I don’t know exactly why it bothers me, it’s better than chemical treatment for sure, but it just doesn’t seem ethical to use drones to attract the mites, then kill the drones. It’s possible that I’m being extremely naive to think I can let the bees build their own comb so they determine what gender bee is to be laid in them. It’s possible they need humans to help them with mite control. But it’s also possible they can adapt the ability to coexist with the varroa mite. I’d like to think so. If varroa came from Asia from the Apis Cerana, which is a smaller bee and has coexisted with varroa, why not try growing smaller bees so fewer mites develop? I don’t think we will ever be able to eradicate the varroa mite. IMHO the best thing is to get our bees to be able to survive and coexist with them.

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