Beekeeping is kind of like parenting, everyone has their own technique. As a consumer, you may want to know what choices your beekeeper is making in caring for the bees that they look after. You will want to personally decide what is most important to you. I respect everyone who takes on the challenge of beekeeping and do not wish to pass judgement on anyone. Below I talk about what I do for our bees at LotFotL. April (farm beekeeper)
- What is your stand on antibiotics? Conventional beekeeping wisdom advises beekeepers
to use prophylactic antibiotic treatments, with the hopes of preventing disease that occurs from weakened immune systems. These drugs build up in wax comb and can eventually cause resistance. Here at LotFotL, we work to build the hive’s immunity by feeding biodynamic herbal tea blends in Spring and Fall. We also ask for our share of the honey early in the season, so that the bees have time to build up plenty of stores for Winter. Because of this, we rarely need to feed large amounts of supplemental sugar water like conventional practices require. With a healthy diet, our bees have a higher chance of fighting disease and we have never had to use antibiotics.
- How do you deal with mites? Mites are a arachnid parasite that if left uncontrolled, can weaken and kill a hive. Conventional treatments used to kill mites can be very harsh and disruptive to the hive. Even natural treatments have negative drawbacks. Thymol is a concentration of essential oil and is an effective way to control mites in the hive. But, it too can be absorbed into the wax and eventually cause resistance. A concentration of naturally occuring formic acid is a treatment that is accepted in organic beekeeping standards, will not build up in the wax, and is safe for the hives. This is what we use here at the farm, if we need to treat at all. We also use other practices to help the bees control mite populations on their own; like having screened bottom boards in their hive, splitting hives and letting them re-queen on their own, and replacing old honey comb regularly. Next year, we are introducing a new mite control technique by bringing in hives with frame foundation that encourage the bees to build comb in their natural cell size, instead of the industry introduced large cell size. What all of this means to the non beekeeping reader, is that we do everything possible to encourage bees to deal with the mites on their own, so that we don’t have to use chemical treatments.
- How do you remove the bees from the boxes when you take the honey? There are many ways to do this and all are effective. Larger apiaries typically use fume boards that are soaked with a smelly substance (some natural and some not) to push the bees out. Other beekeepers choose to use a giant blower that, although somewhat aggressive, will remove the bees without chemicals. Here at LotFotL we use what we feel is the most gentle. This being an escape board, that allows the insects to crawl through one end, but not return from the other side. After about 2 days, there are no bees left in the box with the honey and you can simply take the box away and remove the escape board.
- Do you use pollen patties? Supplemental pollen patties are baby food and are the equivalent of feeding formula to your new born baby. It does what you need it to do, but it is not made of the same thing that the real stuff is made from. Everyone has their own opinion on what is best for their child or in our case…bees. These protein packed food bars are mostly made from soy. Here at LotFotL, we choose not to use them, primarily for this reason. We don’t feed our beef and pigs soy and we don’t feel it is part of a natural diet for the bees either. If we have a weak hive that needs help building up, we look for a strong hive that might donate a frame with lots of pollen stores in it.
- Where are your hives located? Although we can’t oversee every bee and the flowers they visit in the 2 or more mile radius around the hive that they will fly, we can think about what is prevalent in that area. Hives that migrate to orchards or large fields to help with pollination have a higher chance of pesticide and fungicide exposure, in addition to having less diversity in their diet. The hives at LotFotL are not asked to go through the hardship of travel that migratory colonies are. We have created a sanctuary for the hives that allows them to stay in the same location all year. Here on the farm they are surrounded with organic vegetable and hay feilds, marshland, and conservation CRP land.
- Bonus: Is your honey raw? Most hobby beekeepers are not going to pasteurize their honey, unlike large commercial operations or honey imported from other countries. But, there are varying degrees of filtering that can happen or heat that the honey can come into contact with. Some filters are so small that even the pollen is filtered out. Here at the farm our honey is considered RAW and unfiltered. We use a large screen to catch any unwanted debris that might fall into the honey, like wings or leaves, but all of the pollen is able to stay with the honey just like is should. We don’t expose the honey to any heat, not even when we cut the wax caps off the comb to extract the honey from the frames. What you get, is pure unfiltered RAW honey and all of its unbelievable loving magic to go with.