The problems that have led to the decline of honey bees, and all bees, are evident even on a small, seemingly innocuous scale. It is relatively easy to keep one or two colonies on a small farm or in a city or suburban lot alongside a garden and some fruit trees. The bees from these colonies will forage a mile or two from their colony and will help pollinate the neighborhood fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Urban beekeeping is a wholesome and helpful hobby and should be strongly promoted. But what if the neighbors decide to treat their garden plants with insecticides to kill off the unwanted insects? What if these chemicals have the potential to kill wanted insects —the beneficial bees?
How do we kill off pest insects while protecting bees? It may be impossible to convince your neighbor to let grubs kill his trees rather than using an insecticide. It also may not be possible to encourage the neighbor to use some bio-rational or other control measure that would not harm the bees. Reading the label on an insecticide to try to encourage our neighbor to choose a safe compound may or may not be helpful. Some very toxic insecticides that are sold to home gardeners do not include a warning that the chemicals are harmful to bees (and other beneficial insects). This lack of warning on insecticide labels for home and garden use is an alarming current state of affairs and should be remedied immediately.
Although a hobby beekeeper may avoid chemical use in his or her garden, bees fly far enough to pick up insecticides outside the garden or small farm. Sometimes bees bring back pollen into the nest that is contaminated with an insecticide. They may store this pollen and then eat it at a later date, suffering consequences months after the pollen was collected. In high doses, bees can suffer neurological damage from some insecticides, and in worst cases, they can be killed outright.
What if a colony contracts a disease? Should the beekeeper not control the problem, even if it may kill the colony and be transmitted to colonies located within foraging distance (1 to 3 miles, 1.6 to 4.8 kilometers) of the sick colony? It is imperative that all beekeepers be trained to detect symptoms of disease and pests to prevent the spread of these problems to other colonies. If a colony becomes diseased, it is very important that the beekeeper take measures to control the problem. However antibiotics and pesticides should be treatments of last resort because they interfere with the development of bees’ natural defense mechanisms. Good beekeeping practices and cultural control measures should be the foundation of disease and pest control strategies. The second line of defense in maintaining bee health is the use and propagation of bee stocks that can defend themselves against diseases and parasites. More information on this is included throughout the book. Appendix A provides detailed preventative measures for managing diseases and parasites. Appendix G describes integrated pest management strategies for controlling these problems.