Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lesson 22: Should We Medicate Our Hives?

Hello Folks!  Beekeepers around the country are busy getting equipment ready, and I spoke with one beekeeper in Georgia and he reports that out of 7,000 hives he only lost 3! Sheri and I are praying that our 40 hives are wintering well, but we won't know until February and March how many many have perished. A 20% loss is common and up to a 50% loss would not be a shock to us because we captures many swarms and removed some hives from structures late in the year, and they didn't really have too much time to build up for winter. We'll see.

Here in Illinois we have received lots of rain, and much warmer weather the last few weeks. Warmer weather puts my hives that are short on winter stores at greater risk of starvation. Why? Because when it warms up, they eat more. I moved some of my hives into a less windy area, and what I thought was high and dry ground, but look at this! Some of my bees just joined the Navy and have gone to sea. Normally in Illinois we don't have flooding in January, we have snow!

Should We Medicate Our Hives?

Currently, I am healthy. I do not take any medication (other than a couple of gulps of honey a day) because there is no need to. I am not taking preventative medicine, nor am I taking any antibiotics just in case. Well, that's how I look at my bees. Why would I medicate a healthy colony?

The pat answer you'll see in bee books and probably what you'll learn from other beekeepers is to dump Terramycin, Tylan or Fumagilin-B in your hives as a preventive measure. Here's the theory that I disagree with. Dump Terramycin in the hive prevents American Foul Brood. Actually, in my opinion, if AFB is present, Terramycin treatment will only mask the disease. Once the treatment is stopped, the disease will explode. There is no treatment for AFB. Terramycin does not destroy AFB. Nothing does. Most states require that the hives bee burned and buried when AFB is found. And, this sort of treatment has probably led to a strain of AFB that is resistant to antibiotics. Even with humans, too much antibiotics can actually weaken our immune system, not to mention the destruction of good bacteria.

AFB is best kept out of the hive by changing old comb out and replacing it with new foundation every 2 or 3 years. Keep your hive clean on the inside. Remove clumps of old burr comb and propolis. If you suspect you have AFB, call your state inspector and find out for certain. Do not treat just in case. Remember, there is no treatment for AFB. It is a deadly disease that spreads, so drastic measures must be taken and that means burning the hive and putting it under ground. The spores of AFB can live 50 years in old comb and resurface. This is why you never want to buy used equipment!

Nosema is a disease that can be treated with Fumagilin-B. The drug does not kill the disease, but it can keep it from growing. There is certainly good merit to treat for Nosema if there has been a positive identification of the disease. Otherwise, forget it and stop worrying! In most states it is free to send a few dead bees to your Dept of Ag, and request to see if disease is present.

In my opinion many of the medications being given to the colony are being absorbed into the wax. Eventually, the toxicity level within the comb becomes alarming to both humans and the bees who must live and raise their young on such wax.

You'll have to make your own decision but weigh everything out carefully. By all means, PLEASE follow directions if you do choose to medicate. Some applications are confusing, so be sure you mix your medicines correctly. And, follow the labels regarding how long you have to wait after treatment before you can place honey supers on your hives.

I was buying honey from a beekeeper and thought I was getting pure honey. However, I found out that he was leaving harsh chemicals in his honey supers! If we are going to keep bees we must be responsible.

I like telling my customers that we do not use chemicals in our hives. Everyone appreciates that! I am certain that it makes more work for me and costs me the loss of some hives. But, to me, it is the right choice not to medicine on bees that are not sick.

What About Mites?

In 2006 we battled mites and lost a few hives because of the mites. However, this year, no mite problem to speak of. It was great! We use a natural treatment for mites and that is the powder sugar drop. One of my past teachings addresses this. It is very important to use screen bottom boards on your hives. Mites fall through and find it hard to get back in. There are many medications that beekeepers use to combat mites and many if not all of them have some effect upon the hive.

Hey, if you have some questions that you'd like me to answer in these lessons, email me at I'd love to address your questions about beekeeping.

We take a lot of phone calls every day from beekeepers around the country and we'd welcome your call too. Feel free to give us a call between 9am - 5pm Central Time. 217-427-2678 and if you haven't ordered your supplies, well get to it! We are swamped with hive orders, so please don't wait until March or April and want your hives yesterday. Once you place your order, it takes us about 15 days before we can ship. And that will be 21 days in March, so order in advance of a great beekeeping year.

I just thought of something. Why not tell a friend about beekeeping. Introduce someone to these lessons and encourage them to join the hobby with you! We need more beekeepers!!

See you next time, and remember,
BEE-Have Yourself!

David & Sheri Burns