Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Honey Quality and Control of Pests in Beehives

Honey Quality and Control of Pests in Beehives 11/22/06 By Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA For a decade our American beekeepers have suffered from a plague of mites, which are tiny bugs that infest beehives. They have helplessly watched as a certain percentage of their hives die off every year (sometimes as many as 80%), with the main alternative being to use long-lasting chemicals that can affect the quality of their honey. Neither one is a completely satisfactory option for a nature-loving beekeeper. Mites are believed to have originated in South Africa prior to 1977. Loss of hives and weak hives do affect pollination rates, which in turn affect the size of harvests. For example, during one recent year in one German region, the size of the cherry harvest declined by nearly two-thirds and the apple harvest declined by 25% as a result of mite infestations destroying beehives, according to Dr. Josef Heine, a veterinarian and bee specialist working for the Animal Health division of Bayer HealthCare. Common chemicals used to control mites are fluvalinate (Apistan®), coumaphos (Bayer’s CheckMite™), and formic acid. These are often applied by hanging strips in the hives that release fumes for several weeks. Even most Integrated Pest Management techniques include the use of chemicals; warning that if a beekeeper doesn’t use any chemicals, he or she will probably lose some hives: One mite-control technique is to use a food-grade mineral oil with an added plant oil fraction called thymol (from thyme leaves), dispensing them by means of a propane fogger to create a mist. Here is a link to more information on this method: Some beekeepers are now treating beehives with acetic acid, which is basically like a concentrated form of vinegar. This natural chemical is vaporized by a specialized piece of equipment that blows the vapor into each hive entrance for only 30 seconds once a week for three weeks in a row. That’s all it takes. A friend of mine (my former beekeeping partner some 25 years ago) reports 100% survival of his over-wintered hives for the first time in ten years simply by utilizing this method! He is thrilled with once again having mite-free bee colonies without resorting to the use of chemical agents. If you are a beekeeper and want to get more information about this new process, please contact me with a comment to this posting. This report is intended to increase awareness of the issues and options involved for controlling mites in beehives. Please note that I cannot specifically endorse any of these techniques or companies, and that honey used in many food products undergoes screening by Quality Control specialists utilizing modern equipment and techniques to avoid adulterants.

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