It’s a constant topic of discussion among my beekeeper friends: Colony Collapse Disorder. It’s the mysterious combination of diseases, pesticides and pests that causes our bees to die or — somehow worse — simply disappear, leaving behind an empty hive.
One of my coworkers lost two of her three hives last year; another lost one of eight. We’re all working to keep our hives healthy, and while many of the beekeepers in my local groups do use chemicals to treat hives (especially the big guys who depend on their hives to pollinate crops), the hobbyists I know tend to raise their bees using as few chemicals as possible.
It’s part of the reason we lose hives — and according to this article, this sacrifice may be part of the reason bees ultimately survive.
Our reluctance to use chemicals on our hives is building a stronger strain of bees. And when these bees mate with bees that are less genetically diverse, they get stronger, too. Genetically diverse hives have fewer pathogens and more good bacteria.
During a recent fall, I had varroa mites, plus the worst outbreak of hive beetles ever. I hung oil-filled beetle traps in the hive and treated for the mites with uber-stinky (and naturally occurring) formic acid. I’m researching alternative miticides, like thymus oil and powdered sugar. I’m also looking into alternative hives — like top-bar hives and skeps — that let bees build comb in natural shapes (instead of on a wax foundation), which is supposed to strengthen the hive. I like imagining that these little things will help bees thrive. (Of course, it’s all just one big experiment…with honey!)