A gentleman came into the shop a few day ago looking for Apistan and Terramycin. When I asked him if he had American foulbrood, or high mite levels, he said no, he just treats in the spring with Apistan and Terramycin as part of his regime. When I didn’t sell him either, he left in a huff, and we probably lost a customer. This got me thinking (again) about what chemicals we carry in the store, what our responsibilities are to our customers, and what our responsibilities are to the bees and the planet.
As beekeepers, we are in a unique position. We see firsthand what the effects of pesticides and other chemicals are. We see it directly in dead colonies when an applicator violates the label and sprays fields that our bees are working. We see it indirectly in increasing numbers of absconding colonies, decreasing queen quality, and many other aspects of beekeeping where we are left scratching our head wondering what happened.
You see, many of these chemicals build up in beeswax over time to the point where the very foundation (pun intended) of the comb the bees raise their young in, store their food in, and spend a large portion of their lives on, is contaminated to the point that it is adversely affecting their health. Two of the biggest wax contaminants, fluvalinate and coumaphos, are applied by beekeepers to control Varroa mites. This is why Kim Flottum, who certainly knows his beeswax, will not use commercially available wax foundations and instead uses only plastic foundation, or foundationless frames in his hives.
In addition, many of these chemicals are bad for us, the beekeepers. Fumigilin-B lasts a very long time in honey and is believed to cause birth defects in mammals (a group to which we belong).
Another, possibly harder to understand or even verify, reason we should think before we act is that we don’t fully understand the complex environment inside a beehive. There are many microbes, fungi, and insects that live in the hive alongside our bees, and while some of them are problematic, many are benign and could even be beneficial. What happens when we apply an antibiotic to a Nosema infected colony? We certainly get rid of the Nosema, but what beneficial microbes are we destroying in the process? What are the alternatives?
As owners of a beekeeping-supply store, we are in a unique position to see beekeeping on a larger scale than the typical backyard beekeeper. We attend beekeeping meetings all over the area and talk with customers from Fort Collins, to Colorado Springs. We even get visits from Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming and New Mexico. In short, we talk to a lot of people about beekeeping.
We also have a unique responsibility. Many people rely on us to answer questions about their bees. From questions about splits, to inspections, to what to do when their bees seem to be struggling. We take this responsibility seriously. We also understand that there are conflicting views about beekeeping, and animal stewardship and we aim to be as supportive of as many styles of beekeeping as we can.
Our goal is to help you raise the most successful, healthiest bees that you can. We don’t care if you run a top-bar hive to help out with pollinating your garden and are only interested in a little bit of honey or if you are a serious sideliner that needs some income from honey sales. Your bees come first. If we can help you do that, we feel that the financial side of the business will take care of itself.
Over the next couple of months, we’ll be sharing our experience, research and opinions on various common pests and diseases that plague our bees. We’ll share with you the conclusions that we’ve come to with regard to keeping your bees healthy when challenged by these things, so that we can start a healthy discussion about what chemicals we carry in the store, what chemicals we do not, and why.
Hopefully, the outcome will be a raised awareness and understanding of pest management, a healthier environment for your bees, and to some small degree, a healthier environment for us.
David and Ashley Baker
To Bee or Not To Bee