Monday, May 5, 2014

Chemical-Free Beehives

 We worked in the beehive a few weeks ago, as the bees were welcoming spring.  We were hoping to add the first super earlier than two years ago to hold off swarming.

I think we hit it at a good time.  The brood boxes looked full, but not overflowing.

 We also replaced their bottom board with their screened bottom board that we'd taken off for the winter.  I just bought it last summer.  I've been wanting to get one all along, but our local beekeeping supply place didn't cary them.  So I finally ordered one last summer from Dadant.

It does two really great things.  First it helps the hive to receive better airflow in the summer when it's hot and the bees spend a lot of energy just trying to keep the hive cool enough.  But Secondly it helps keep the varroa mite levels down in a super-easy chemical-free beekeeping strategy.

The mites reproduce by laying eggs on a honeybee larva.  When the larva emerges from its cell so do the new mites.  Very frequently they fall the the bottom board and then crawl back up finding a bee to latch on to.  With a screened bottom, you have a large number of mites that simply fall through the screen to the ground and they are not able to find their way back into the colony to terrorize it.

This is how I honeybee-- rubber kitchen gloves and a mosquito net from the Target dollar spot.  Classy!
 Then we actually help the process in a second way.  We dust the bees with powdered sugar.  This encourages self-grooming among the bees which frequently detaches the mites and makes them fall down (and out), and also the powdery layer make some of the mites lose their grip on the bees and fall off.

Dust sifting through the hen's feathers as she walks away.
The interesting thing is, chickens actually use this same method.  They take "dust baths", laying in the dirt and fluffing all their feathers out and getting dirt all under their feathers, and then they go shake it off, and this is is how they instinctually remove mites from themselves.

So in caring for our bees against this modern plague, we look to long-standing natural methods for integrated pest management (aka: a number of complimentary methods), to help keep the pest levels down in our colony.  It's exciting that our colony has survived through three winters already and we've never had to use any chemical control in our hive.

I don't know what we will do with our hive when we move.  The crazy part of me wants to take them with us!

But maybe it would be ok to sell them--I'm interested to try some additional beekeeping methods such as natural-sized cells and top bar hives like the warre hive, which encourage strong hives without chemical management as well.

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