It has been a gloomy week here in the Piedmont-Triad. It has rained, rained...and then rained some more. I can only imagine how bad it is in Georgia where they're getting flooded by heavy rains. And since it has been so rainy, it has given me some time to think about my colony and whether I should take preventative measures and medicate it before winter. The question that keeps playing over and over again in my mind is...should I or shouldn't I?
As I've mentioned before, I want to keep my colony as natural as possible, and I prefer to use all-natural methods to treat my bees. When the state apiary inspector came to inspect my bees, I spoke to him about medicating a healthy colony. In some books, like Beekeeping for Dummies, it recommends that you medicate hives in the fall and the spring, and it is best to treat your bees much like you would treat your pets...you should use preventative methods to keep your hives from becoming ill. Kind of like you would treat your dog to keep them from getting heartworms or rabies. The books recommend you be a proactive beekeeper, not a reactive beekeeper.
But Don Hopkins, the apiary inspector, didn't seem to be too quick to recommend proactive colony treatments. While he didn't rush to tell me yes or no, he did give me a clear indication that if a hive is healthy, you should keep a watchful eye, otherwise leave it alone. And my hive is doing really well and I want to keep it that way, especially with winter on the horizon. But should I put chemicals in a healthy hive? Some sources say yes, others say no. It truly is mind boggling and confusing for me as a new beekeeper.
I read conflicting information about Honey B Healthy. Some swear that it is a miracle potion that bees go nuts over and makes them thrive in the hive. Others say it is a total waste of money, or to be more blunt, that it is a form of "snake oil" for honey bees. It runs in the neighborhood of around $20 bucks for the smallest container, and for that price, I would hope it would do something miraculous. I found the recipe for Honey B Healthy online, and when I called the vitamin store to price the key ingredients to make it at home, I discovered it would cost me more to do it that way and it would be cheaper to buy it ready made. Since I didn't speak to a single soul that's used it and found great success, I decided to forget about it. Maybe I'll try it in the future, but for now, no.
Apiguard. The one thing I don't have is a problem with varroa mites. I did a three-day test using a sticky piece of corrugated cardboard, and I couldn't find enough mites to do a decent count. I've already done a powdered sugar dusting in the hive and after I finished...it looked like whirling snow storm of honey bees. While I'm sure that Apiguard does a fine job for hives with a varroa mite problem, I don't think mine would benefit in the least from a treatment. And besides, many sources say that mites develop a resistance to varroa treatments over time, and the last thing I want to do is run out of options before there was a problem to begin with. So for now, I'm saying no to Apiguard.
One thing I would consider using in my hive is menthol crystals which is used to treat tracheal mites. I know a guy who lost his colony to these invisible mites. They basically get in the breathing tubes of the bees and suffocate them. The most recommended treatment for tracheal mites seems to be bags of menthol crystals (which comes from oil of peppermint). It is recommended that you put a bag in the hive when the daytime temperature is over 70 degrees. The crystals slowly evaporate and give off a gas which the bees breathe in and cause a decline in the mites. While it won't eliminate the mites, it will cause their numbers to drop. I am still mulling this one over since it is a natural way to treat the bees.
I don't think I need Fumagilin-B. It is an antibiotic used for the treatment of Nosema, an intestinal disorder of the honey bee. Usually if a hive is infected, it will have yellow or brown streaks on the front of the hive or the bottom board which comes from a form of bee diarrea. Nosema usually infects adult female workers. And sources say it rarely infects drones or the queen. It is recommended to use Fumagilin-B in the fall and spring and with with all newly installed bee packages. Since I haven't noticed any outward signs that my bees have a tummy disorder, it doesn't seem sensible to treat them for something they don't have. I will keep it in mind though. Beekeeping sources say that Nosema is more prevalent in overwintered colonies, so who knows what this coming spring will hold. Thank goodness I'm one hour away from the Chatham, Virginia, branch of Dadant & Sons in case I need a bottle.
I could go on and on, but the more I think about it, I really believe that I should leave my colony alone medication-wise and just keep an eye out for any possible problems. While I'm fairly confident that I'll leave my girls alone, I've also learned to never say never. I plan to continue my research to see if I'm making the right decision, but since we're already in autumn by the calendar (and the weather on some days too) I have to hurry. But I think I'm going to ride it out.
I would love to hear your ideas on medicating colonies and whether you do it or not. Please feel free to share!