Monday, January 25, 2016

Surviving without Treatments: Lessons from Wild Bees

First thing to do. Put same colors together.
And we'll separate the hives more.
I'm reading an article in the February American Bee Journal about raising bees without chemical treatment. It's interesting and I want to try some of the suggestions in the article, although I doubt our bee yard qualifies as being in a "remote" location even though we're only a mile from the George Washington National Forest. We're also a mile from Woodstock where several beekeepers have their hives. Nevertheless, some of the suggestions seem like they would apply across the board. The article by bee researcher, Dr. Tom Seeley from Cornell, gave this advice:
If you are in a remote place, the following suggestions could work for you -- that's what I'm trying with my bees now.  
First, disperse your hives or diversify them: paint the hives differennt colors, put them aiming at different directions. This way you minimize the number of bees drifting between the hives and lessen the spread of disease, especially mites and viruses.
Second, avoid exchanging combs between the hives, for the same reason.  
Third, perform artificial swarming: this technique involves  making a nuke using the queen of a strong colony and then letting the colony requeen itself. It also serves as swarm prevention. If you have a big strong colony just pull out a two-or-three-frame nuc of brood and some food and the queen; set it aside and just let this colony requeen itself. Almost always it will. You've now produced a nuc, so you've got a new colony, but you've also induced a broodless period and this really seems to help with mite control. It may not be as good as swarming, because in nature when a colony swarms it often afterswarms, so it has a much longer broodless period, and that may be crucial, but this does help. 
Fourth, rear queens from your own survivor colonies -- they help maintain a locally adapted stock. 
Finally, give your survivor colonies -- the ones that just do well without any treatment -- a frame of drone comb per hive body to foster the genetic success of the survivors.
Obviously, we can't put any of this into practice now, but come Spring we'll try it -- especially moving the colonies farther from each other and changing the direction of the entrances. We'll also try putting colors together to make the hives more distinguishable from each other. So now we just need to pray to the patrons of beekeepers that our girls make it through the winter. St. Rita, St. Abrose, and St. Valentine please intercede
for our little beekeeping enterprise to succeed.

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