From Gerald in Cullowhee, NC:
So–I am now an organic beekeeper. But am cheating a bit–we have no other bees that we know of within a couple miles so no chance of catching something from other hives.
Glad to hear you are interested in moving to a more beneficial environment for you bees.
Regarding the distance from other known hives. Even without checking Google maps for obvious hives, you are inevitably going to have wild hives in your area. This is a good thing. It gives your queens partners with differing genetic backgrounds which will eventually save your hive from some disaster we haven’t even heard of yet.
Sorry to break your heart regarding safety from mites. Even if you have no wild hives nearby, mites will drop off onto a flower and hitch a ride on a new bee in the hopes of ending up in a new colony. The reality is, you are going to have mites. The question is: Are you creating a situation where the bees are too weak to resist the mites and all of the other problems present in the natural environment?
Are you foundationless in the brood chamber? If not, you have workers the size of drones – the natural target of mites. Foundation was designed by a past era obsessed with the idea of bigger is better. The mites can kill Drones all day. There are plenty of extra Drones in a natural hive. Your Worker population has been raised in over large cells and look like Drones to the mites. When the mites attack the Workers, the hive dies. Workers raised without foundation are ignored by the mites or are groomed off. Let go of your attachment to foundation or it will end in tears.
Are you chemical and supplement free? If not, you are contaminating the wax and feeding the bees at a ph which reduces their resistance to their own natural environment.
The only way to keep your hive alive, productive and mite free is to let the bees build their own comb in the brood chamber, and ideally, throughout the hive. The best science available at this point suggests foundation is the bee killer. This gets amazingly little press because commercial beekeepers, and commercial bee suppliers, are not interested in hearing their methods are doomed.
Contaminated foundation is what weakens the hive to the point that all the other things present in the ecosystem of the hive overwhelm the bees. Since suppliers use contaminated wax to make foundation, the only way to help the bees is get foundation out of the hive.
Your hive is an artificial environment in the best of circumstances. What we’re trying to do is recreate a wild hive in a way which allows us to harvest the honey without destroying the hive. Letting your bees build their own foundation is the minimum you can do to redress the balance. Let your bees be bees!
Full Disclosure: If I seem to be a little hard on Gerald in this post it is because I have helped him open up the hive he is talking about. I have talked to him almost daily about his hive. He is the person who taught me how to keep bees, starting when I was only in fourth grade. He is in fact my father.
Like so many beekeepers of his era, he is still looking for an artificial resolution to the problems his hives face. He needs to look for a natural solution. Wild swarms are making their way just fine. The more you try to intervene, the more you place your hive in danger. As with so many things in this modern world, the giant chemical corporations are not the answer. They are the source of the problems. They are the cause of almost every problem their propaganda suggests they have a solution for. You cannot sell herbicide and compost bins. You cannot sell insecticide and organic honey.
Most Sincerely with Love,
Kevin and Natalie