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I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I am beginning my 19th year of beekeeping in April 2024. Now there are more than 1300 posts on this blog. Please use the search bar below to search the blog for other posts on a subject in which you are interested. You can also click on the "label" at the end of a post and all posts with that label will show up. At the very bottom of this page is a list of all the labels I've used.

Even if you find one post on the subject, I've posted a lot on basic beekeeping skills like installing bees, harvesting honey, inspecting the hive, etc. so be sure to search for more once you've found a topic of interest to you. And watch the useful videos and slide shows on the sidebar. All of them have captions. Please share posts of interest via Facebook, Pinterest, etc.

I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here.Master Beekeeper Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.

Need help with an Atlanta area swarm? Visit Found a Swarm? Call a Beekeeper. ‪(404) 482-1848‬

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Gonorrhea and the Varroa Mite

Today in my iPhone news source this article appeared. I read the whole article with interest because of my interest in the varroa mite and the "treatment" that is regularly recommended - no, pushed with great guilt-induction down new beekeepers' throats.

The title of the article is

Wherever you are in the world, time is running out for treating gonorrhea

The point of the article is that bacteria that cause gonorrhea are growing increasingly resistant to all drugs available for treatment. In the United States, the article says, cases of gonorrhea rose 50% between 2006 - 2015. And at the same time, the bacteria are growing more and more resistant. The future does not look good for new gonorrhea cases.

Beekeepers keep treating the varroa mite and it doesn't go away. Instead, we are developing a stronger and stronger varroa mite. As we proceed to treat the varroa mite ineffectively, we are in grave danger of finding ourselves with a SuperVarroa Mite. And the varroa mite will be just like gonorrhea with NO EFFECTIVE TREATMENT.

As treatments are tried, the varroa mite gets stronger and the treatment no longer works. So now everyone is encouraged to use oxalic acid. It's bad for bees (the only truly safe time to use oxalic for the bees is when the hive is broodless - and do you know any beekeepers who actually only treat in December?) and bad for the varroa mite (everybody loses - including the beekeeper who has to be extremely careful with the toxic "treatment"). Meanwhile, the varroa mite gets stronger and stronger as it lives through these efforts to obliterate it. 

I have bees that survive without treatment. Mind you, all of my bees do not. My bees that die are usually swarms I catch or bees I purchase (which I do rarely) from beekeepers who treat. I do lose hives when they don't go into winter strong enough - that may be caused by varroa. I don't have confidence in the survival of a hive until it has lived through two winters. But when my bees die, it's usually beekeeper error that I can trace and tell you what happened. I am only interested in my bees that do survive because that means they have the genetics to live WITH the varroa mite.

I have kept bees since 2006 without treatment. However, I lost bees when I moved in 2011 and they didn't get moved well. I lost my very best survivor hive last summer when I made mid-summer splits too late; the splits were robbed out the day I made them and the queen was accidentally killed in the original hive. Beekeeper error, not varroa, caused the loss of that, my best hive.

Right now I have bees from a swarm I caught four or five years ago that are thriving, surviving every winter and producing honey. I made a split from that hive this spring and I hope it does just as well. I have two hives on the roof of an Atlanta elementary school that were previously kept by a beekeeper who did not treat and are now my bees. Those two hives are overflowing with bees and have been alive for at least four years with no treatment. I made splits from those bees and gave away queen cells to a friend of mine so we can have continued treatment free bees.

I also have a swarm in a top bar hive. The swarm came from a hive that had not been opened, much less treated, in four years. I have great hopes for them. If they make it through the winter, I'll make a split from them next year. 
At Young Harris last week, I went to a very good presentation by Geoff Williams of the Auburn bee lab. His subject was "When chemicals and pathogens collide." My favorite part of the lecture (maybe because I answered a question and won a t-shirt!) was when he explained the relationship between chemicals and pathogens. There are many relationships - he had an entire chart. The relationships are defined by who profits in the relationship - the pathogen? the chemical? neither? both? 

But the relationship that seems most functional to me when I think of the varroa mite and the bee is mutuality (number one on Geoff's chart). We need a bee who can live with and tolerate the varroa mite and a varroa mite that can't destroy the bee, but can still reproduce itself. That is not going to happen as we continue to help breed a stronger and stronger varroa mite. 

I wish the universities would focus on how treatment-free hives manage to survive. I wish they would work on developing the strong genetics of those bees and that they would quit engaging in a process to develop the SuperVarroa mite, which is what they are doing now.

But you and I both know where the money comes from for university research. It's from Big Ag and not the backyard beekeeper. So the focus of university research is on bee survival for pollination of the almonds and other crops at whatever cost, rather than looking at balance in the beehive.

I went to another talk at Young Harris entitled The Top 10 Best Practices in Modern Beekeeping. The speaker began talking right from the start about varroa mites. More than midway through the talk, he never had moved into whatever the other nine practices were. 

I left when he did what many speakers do today - blame the treatment-free beekeeper for the strength of the varroa mite. I've heard so many people say that the treatment-free beekeeper has hives that are bringing the varroa mite into the hives of those who treat through a "varroa bomb" and we should be strung up on the highest tree (or at least that is implied). 

It would be encouraging if interest were expressed in why surviving hives make it through the winters rather than employing shaming toward people who are trying to take care of their bees in a way that works for them and for their bees. 

Instead, the top ten practices of modern beekeeping that are encouraged are 1. Treat varroa; 2. Treat varroa; 3. Treat varroa; 4. Treat varroa; 5. Treat varroa; 6. Treat varroa; 7. Treat varroa......I don't know what 8, 9 or 10 are because I walked out.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Where do your bees forage?

This map will draw a map of where your bees forage! This was posted on my bee club's Facebook page:

When I asked it to calculate a 2 mile radius circle for where my bees are most likely to forage, here is what it showed:

I've known that they are likely to forage at the Botanical Garden since it's only a couple of blocks away, but it's fun to see where they might gather nectar and pollen. Since bees can go about 3 miles away, you can imagine the boundary extending even further, but if I were my bees, I'd stop at the Botanical Garden!

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