I am a first year beekeeper and last night had the opportunity to attend a county beekeeper's association meeting. Guest speakers were our state's 2 hive inspectors. I had lots of questions, and was met with the proverbial "ask 12 beeks, get 13 answers" dilemma.
Not one of the 30 or so attendees volunteered advocacy for or experience in keeping bees without chemical intervention. Much time was devoted to reviewing various mite and hive beetle controls. Apparently folks here are now or soon to begin harvest, and the suggested next step was to attend to mites. (I started late April with a package, so will not be harvesting). They did say that Mite-Away (formic acid fumigation) is the only (commercially available?) treatment that qualifies as certification for 'organic' honey.
I asked specifically about sugar-shake treatment and small cell rearing, but the presenters digressed into sampling an inch of bees in a jar covered for several minutes in powdered sugar and then shaken through a screen onto a sticky board for a mite count. One surprise was the recommendation that if, during an early spring inspection (here they suggest as early as January if there is a warm day, which there often is) the count is 2-5, that treatment is recommended. Also to use a frame of drone cell foundation during the season. The scary part was they said a colony could perish within a week in the fall if the mites were left untreated. They did say mites and beetles seem to appear in fewer numbers in hives in full sun than those in shade.
On the question of feeding, they did not think that thick syrup (2:1 or more) as compared to 1:1 had any effect on the nutrition of the stores for the bees. I guess I don't understand the thick vs. thinner syrup; I assumed the thicker syrup meant both more comb production and more nutritious stores.
An elderly beek who had been keeping bees for 50 years had strong opinions: solid bottom board made of red cedar, no feeding at all, whatever it took to kill the mites, etc.
I started with the local advice to use normal wax foundation in double-deeps for brood, which I have done. As I have read of the success of many of you here on the boards, I plan to avoid the chemical route, do the best I can this year, and start another hive with small-cell or top-bar next season.
I guess I need some reassurance that those of you who have chosen the natural routes that, with proper and timely monitoring, hived bees can survive without my having to suit up with goggles and respirators and expensive chemicals. If you've tried both routes, can you offer some data (even if anecdotal) for comparison? Do you know of any controlled studies?
Thanks in advance. Next week I plan to attend a meeting in another county, which I expect to be a bit more on the organic side of things (lots of organic farms in the county). I'm hoping to find some local people with whom to consult on local successes. I don't even know what all to ask yet!
-- eri (aka Jane)