Too few mites to study? Naturally!

Dr. Mangum in the American Bee Journal.

Dr. Wyatt Mangum has been keeping top bar hive bees and writing for the American Bee Journal for years. The June 2010 issue, page 581, is an interesting read. It’s his “Fourth Annual Report on the Coexistence of my North Carolina Bees with Varroa”. From the Article I gathered the following points:

  • untreated top bar hives have survived with varroa for 6 years (through 2008)
  • 628 varroa/hive average in June
  • 398 varroa/hive average in August
  • for all but one hive, brood infestation rates were less than 10 percent

Dr. Mangum thought the Varroa Sensitive Hygiene(VHS) genetic trait might be responsible. But there weren’t enough mites in his natural comb, untreated top bar hive to test for this trait!

The rest of the article describes the machinations he used to concentrate those few mites onto a single brood comb so he could test for VHS.

Dr. Mangum is another beekeeper, in a long list of natural beekeepers, whose bees are no longer destroyed by varroa mites. He concludes:

“While the 2009 field results suggest that these bees are disrupting varroa reproduction by VHS, other factors could be involved to maintain the host-parasite equilibrium. For example, the varroa mites (themselves) may also have lowered their reproduction rates or increased their phoretic (nonreproductive) period, becoming in essence less virulent, helping colonies to survive. These other factors need to be understood to see if  and how they contribute to maintaining the equilibrium between these bees and varroa.”

A Decade Ago

Natural beekeepers have experienced the same results and have suggested these same kinds of mechanisms for more than a decade. Back then, only a handful of natural beekeepers existed. And those that dared shared their results were mostly met with arrogance, scorn and derision. A search for small cell, natural comb, etc. on the old Bee-L List will quickly detail what most of the “enlightened” beekeepers thought of natural beekeeping.  And it will also show that much how much speculation was attached to natural beekeeping.

Natural beekeeping discussions quickly generated more heat than light.

But those few natural beekeepers kept bees without treating. Maybe they didn’t know exactly why their bees prospered. But they certainly knew how to make it happen.

Today

Not much has changed since then. Some of the same actors from the Bee-L days continue to cast doubt, under the guise of an open mind, as illustrated in this recent BeeSource discussion. It’s been a decade since most were first exposed to the concepts of natural beekeeping. And that’s more than enough time for even the doubters to try it out. But I guess there are those who get it and those who don’t. And there are those who can and those who won’t, or maybe can’t. Natural beekeeping isn’t for everyone.

And much of the wild speculation attached to natural beekeeping has vanished. Many natural beekeepers, using different bees, equipment and living in a variety of climates world-wide,  are experiencing the same kind of dramatic results as Dr. Mangum. They are living a pesticide free beekeeping reality that was only dreamed of a decade ago.

For some, natural beekeeping is a great adventure to discover the why’s. For others, knowing how to keep bees chemical free and healthy is enough.

This new generation of natural beekeepers is smart, energetic, and they let their bees show them the way. The old paradigm, which is typified by the traditional, commercial agribusiness focus, has little to attract this new generation. And not much to offer it either.

These natural beekeepers love what they’re doing. And they love to share their experiences. Few waste their time in endless discussions that generate more heat than light.  Now, there are more natural beekeeping blogs, websites, etc. than I can keep track of.  And that’s a great thing, because I quickly learn something from every new site I visit. And unlike the past, always enjoy the experience.

-bwguy