Eric Mader, Pollinator Outreach Coordinator, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Regardless of what bee species you keep, a significant amount of beekeeping involves controlling parasites and disease.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a set of principles used in agriculture to control pests and diseases in the most effective and sustainable way possible.
As a beekeeper, IPM requires that you do four things:
- Constantly monitor the health of your bees— frequently checking for parasites and signs of disease.
- Determine when to respond—it is unreasonable to expect zero parasites in your bee population. Action is only taken when the cost of the potential damage exceeds the cost of the treatment.
- Use the simplest, least toxic treatment first.
- Use a variety of treatment practices to control
Pest-control methods fall into three categories that can be thought of as a pyramid:
Cultural practices are the foundation of the pyramid, and they should be the foundation of your pest control system. Specifically cultural practices are the physical ways in which you exclude parasites and diseases. Examples include using screened bottom boards on honey bee hives to reduce varroa mites; using light traps to control chalcid wasps in stored mason bees; and using new, clean nest materials every year in bumble bee boxes.
Good genetics are the second line of defense in maintaining bee health. Genetics refers to the breeding stock of your bee population. Are your bees adapted to your local climate? If you keep honey bees, are they bred for hygienic behavior? Are you using a univoltine strain of leafcutter bees to reduce chalkbrood? Univoltine strains produce one generation per year.
Chemistry is the treatment of last resort. Chemicals may control parasites and disease, but they also may weaken bees, and they discourage the development of bees’ natural defense mechanisms. Bee parasites may also develop resistance to the chemicals used against them, making them even harder to kill in the future. Canadian leafcutter beekeepers routinely use chemicals like dichlorvos to control parasites during incubation. And many US honey beekeepers are dependent on medications like Fumagillin and Terramycin to control diseases such as Nosema and foulbrood, respectively.
By always using the best cultural practices available, and relying on good bee genetics, chemical use can be minimized.
Finally, remember that stress is the underlying cause of many parasite and disease problems. The types of stress that managed bees face tend to fall into five categories:
- Pesticide poisoning
- Inadequate shelter (poor apiary sites, wet conditions, extreme temperatures)
- Old, unsanitary nest materials
- Lack of food
Control these five stress factors, follow the four principles of IPM for beekeepers, use appropriate pest and disease treatments—and your bees will thrive!