Treatment vs. Treatment-Free Beekeeping

There is a lot of debate among beekeepers whether you should treat, or not treat your hives. The primary argument for treating your bees is that you’re helping them survive; while the primary argument for not treating your bees is that bees have stayed alive just fine without human intervention. In talking with beekeepers in every camp, it’s important to say that some treatment-free beekeepers will NEVER intervene while others are open to interventions like food for nutrition and to prevent starvation as well as monitoring behaviors and traits in order to requeen the hive with a stronger genetic line.

When deciding what to do with our bees, these were some of the biggest factors we used to work through what our philosophy would be. I’ll add the disclaimer that we are not the type of people to get our ways “set in stone” to begin with, but at the same time, it’s nice to have some guidelines to start with.

I’ll add that since this is a career for us, longevity, sustainability, and practicality are all very important factors. We love our bees and want them to do well both short and long-term.

The Catch 22

Treatment:

  • There’s only a handful of things that bees struggle with and as a beekeeper you can control most of them for your bees – this gives them a much higher rate of survival, at least from season to season.

Reasonably Treatment-Free:

  • Providing everything for your bees creates weak bees and hinders the genetics of your apiary. Could lead to a larger crash down the road rather than from one year to the next.

This is the hardest one for us – we want our colonies to live long and fruitful lives and we are willing to do some of the more manual controls that treatment-free requires like splitting heavy to give brood breaks, requeening weak hives, and an pest management approach that gives our bees a better chance at handling pests without chemical intervention. The flip side is that we’ve inherited hives that are crippled by Varroa and need intervention – they were commercially bred queens that were not made to sustain a treatment-free apiary. So what do you do?

A reasonably treatment free approach seems to be a growing group of beekeepers. This consists of beekeepers that default to no treatment but if things are out of hand or the bees need help, will intervene to do what they can to help. The theme here seems to be that whatever chemicals or medications are used should be naturally occuring and only applied when there’s evidence the bees need it.

The perfect example of “reasonably treatment-free” is the Varroa situation I mentioned earlier – in this case, only hives crippled by Varroa would be requeened, monitored and then (maybe) treated. If treatmeent was necessary (or decided upon by the beekeeper) to ensure survival and a naturally occurring chemical like Oxalyic Acid would be used in order to make sure there are no harmful trace chemicals left in the hive. There are strong, less natural approaches to attacking Varroa – taking the least chemical path is the least we can do.

We’ve learned to be open-minded and accept advice from beekeepers of all thought camps in order to continue learning and make good decisions for our bees. There’s no right or wrong answer although there are certainly “best practices”.

There’s a theory called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) that gives you a hierarchy of treatments from mechanical (non-chemical) to chemical treatments depending on the ailment. Similar to what happens to humans when they consume too many antibiotics – the bacteria builds a resistance to the antibiotic and becomes stronger, makes them sicker, and can even become untreatable. With an IPM method, you wouldn’t jump straight to antibiotics and medications and you would only use them when necessary, not as a blanket treatment.

My biggest takeaway in talking with all beekeepers is that although it may seem easy to do blanket treatments, it isn’t a very sustainable approach to beekeeping and therefore is not, in my opinion, a best practice. The larger beekeepers know which yards are struggling and what hives are struggling and can usually spot when a Varroa related collapse is happening – what do you think, should they do something about it?

 

Cooking With Local Honey

Going local is always a good idea – not only are you supporting people within your community, but you’re also enriching your diet with more natural, fresh foods that don’t have to be unnaturally kept fresh during packing and shipping.

Local honey has the added bonus of giving you local, seasonal pollens that can help you throughout the year. The bees work hard to collect pollen and to make honey from the nectar of local flowers. So, if you’re looking for a great way to enjoy this in the most delicious ways possible, here are a few tips.

When substituting sugar with honey use these tips:

  1. The Rule: For every 1 cup of sugar, substitute 1/2 to 2/3 cup honey.
  2. The Rule: For every 1 cup of honey you’re using, subtract 1/4 cup of other liquids from the recipe.
  3. The Rule: Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for every 1 cup honey used.
  4. The Rule: Reduce the temperature of the oven by 25°F.

Honey is a more digestible form of sugar and can help in regulating blood sugar. We have a lot of friends and customers that choose to use our honey to substitute sugar out of their diets.

I’ve curated a list of delicious honey recipes that will enhance your life and are totally worth checking out:

Honey can be a simple enjoyment too – here’s a handful of “Two Minute Tips”:

  • Slather it on a piece of peanut butter toast
  • Enjoy in your warm coffee or tea
  • Enjoy on a banana or apple slices
  • Add to a blended smoothie
  • Add to a cheese plate for some extra pizazz
  • Drip on top of yogurt or oatmeal
honey cheese plate
Photo Credit: http://camillestyles.com/living/weekend-notes-156/

 

Farmer’s Market

Well, we did it, we finally became members of the local farmer’s market and we’re out selling honey and wax and the products made from our honey and wax.

If you’re not into bees and honey (you probably wouldn’t be reading this) but there are plenty of other things for you to grab at the Downtown Bryan Farmer’s Market. From native plants to personally mined quartz to home-made soaps and olive oil. It’s a great group of people and we’re excited to be a part of it.

So, come visit us at the local Brazos Valley Farmer’s Market in Downtown Bryan every Saturday from 8am-12pm and grab some Aggieland Honey and some of our Prime Bee cool treats!

Honey: The Super Skin Food

Naturally delicious is just the tip of the iceberg. Honey is a unique super food that can be used in so many applications. Specifically, as an amazing skin treatment and by tweaking the recipes, you can have a honey salve that works for any skin type and just about any skin situation.

  • Acne Treatment – apply and let sit for 10-15 minutes, then rinse.
  • Bath Soak – add a couple of tablespoons to warm water and add to your bath to help moisturize. Honey also helps with eczema.
  • Exfoliant – add to baking soda and a splash of water, apply to skin in circular motions and rinse.
  • Shampoo Booster – add honey to your shampoo to help regulate moisture and strengthen hair follicles.

I’ll continue to add special recipes and tips to use honey in your daily life so stay tuned for more Honey Maker and Market Tips in our blog!

 

Hive Maintenance – Sanitation

Keeping your hives clean is the start to a healthy, productive apiary. This aids in the biosecurity of the hive and promotes overall health for your honey bee friends.

Methods:

  • Brood Comb Culling – Honeycomb is very absorbent and can hold chemical residues over time. Removing old comb and replacing it with fresh, new comb can increase overall colony health. This can be done on a 5 year rotation being careful not to remove too many frames in one colony at a time. You want to help the bees, not set them back.
  • Hive Location – Keeping your hives in sunny locations and away from Northern exposure can help the bees regulate temperatures as well as humidity levels to maintain a clean hive.
  • Sanitizing tools – Keeping tools isolated to each apiary in order to isolate any diseases from being transmitted from apiary to apiary or hive to hive is a good practice and can help keep your hives healthier overall.

These are the three main methods for keeping a clean operation and helping your bees to be more productive and healthier.