Beekeeping is a funny thing. Humans have been keeping Apis mellifera sp. for centuries, and we have been keeping them in movable frame hives for nearly 200 years, during which time bees haven’t changed much at all, so we know pretty much all we need to about how to work with them.
But. The world has changed around the bees. A lot.
Early in the 20th century, agricultural sprays of all kinds, but in particular pesticides, became integrated into standard farm and greenbelt management practice…not to mention home gardens.
Forage areas are under increasing pressure from development of lands into urban areas…areas that often take no measures to provide forage or habitat for any wild thing, let alone bees and pollinators.
We began to use mobile pollination services as the bees and pollinators died out, which had the unfortunate side effect of allowing farmers to stop thinking of bees at all. They have outsourced their bee needs, and with them any concern for what is good or bad for bees. Bee health is simply not on their radar, or at least not part of their business plan.
Which is an astonishing position to adopt if you run a bee-dependent enterprise. And most farms are utterly dependent on bees and pollinators.
Many mobile pollination operations, pushed to lower their own labour costs, use medications and pest treatments prophylactically, which is to say off-label and often. That drives resistance, so when their bees come to a field near you, they drift into your hive, bringing treatment-resistant superpests and diseases with them.
Pests have jumped from one isolated species into the honey bee population, including our current nightmare, the Varroa destructor mite. Varroa are bad enough on their own, able to overwhelm and kill a honey bee colony within a year or two. But they also vector (carry) a host of viral and bacterial diseases, transferred to the bees when the mites feed upon them. Even small infestations have been demonstrated to reduce colony vigour and with it, honey yields.
So the beekeeper has lots of learning to do now to keep up with the threats to honey bees.
It’s good to begin at the beginning, so whether you are a new or old beekeeper, browse through my Apprentice level beekeeping pages, written as an informal, online textbook for a group of community farm interns in the summer of 2015. I keep it updated as new information presents, and there is a helpful resource page. Enjoy!