The best strategy for keeping bees healthy follows three deliberate steps: knowledge, prevention, and control. This sounds almost trite, but in fact most beekeepers jump from a little knowledge to a lot of control. Many go straight to the control step irrespective of knowledge. The strategy promoted here puts control last, and so requires human restraint and caution. It is easy for beekeepers to think they need to help the bees every step along the way. Despite our tendency to try to control nature, it is not healthy to fully domesticate bees, to make them reliant on us. Since the introduction of Varroa mites, we have made bees chemically dependent on our medications for their survival, and this is not a wise strategy. Bees really need to evolve their own defenses against diseases and parasites. The best beekeepers follow the bees’ lead, intervening to enhance the bees’ natural tendencies, not to impede them or enslave them. The art of following their lead is the Prevention step of this strategy. Prevention is the missing link in many modern beekeeping practices.
In fact, the strategy outlined below applies to the management of all pollinators, not just honey bees. It is very important to heed the lessons we are learning about keeping honey bees healthy so we can manage alternative pollinators in an ecologically sustainable way.
- Learn about bee diseases and mite pests.
- Be able to recognize clinical symptoms of disease in your colony.
- Know the lifecycle of the mites.
- Use good beekeeping practices to avoid getting and spreading diseases and mites.
- Bee self-defense! Use lines of bees that are resistant to diseases and mites.
- Use cultural / mechanical / nonchemical control techniques to reduce transmission if your bees do have diseases or mites.
- Last resort: Use chemical treatments only when absolutely necessary.