It was another rough season for many of us at SIBA with regards to keeping varroa mite populations knocked down to a safe number. Some in the club who have never treated before resorted to trying ApiVar for the first time. Others, such as myself are rolling the dice again seeing if our season’s management is going to pay off.

bush-thumbThe last mite counts on my hives revealed that half my hives were in the green zone, but half are questionable. Since all these hives were started this year, I decided to let things go, winterize and see what the spring will bring me. I’ve told a few people in our club that if I suffer heavy losses again, that I may resort to chemicals myself. Afterall, we can’t be beekeepers with dead bees. That’s a tough thing to swallow. My reputation at the farmer’s market is “chemical-free” beekeeping and pure, raw honey. It’s even on all my signage, cards, and banners. It’s definitely what makes the honey sell and I don’t want to let my customers down. Equally, it’s just as important to me.

A breath of fresh air came when we listened to Michael Bush speak at Clifty Falls. I’ve spent a good deal of time on Michael’s site and even set up a couple 8-frame medium hives when I got into beekeeping around 2009. But what I failed to do was go foundationless. This is a key point that Michael Bush points to as part of his success. Michael makes the case that adding anything un-natural into the hive knocks other things off-balance. When we add chemicals, we not only kill mites and bad bacteria, but we also kill necessary good bacteria, and introduce other things that cause unforeseen problems later. He even shows through his state apiarist hive inspection reports that varroa mites are the least of his problems. He makes a compelling case. Regressing hives down to natural cell takes some time and patience, but the payoff could be grand.

For me personally, it adds some excitement by presenting another challenge I plan to meet next season. During the winter workshops, I plan to alter the frames I have to go foundationless, at least for a couple hives. For me, beekeeping is a personal journey that requires me to test everything and see for myself what works. The notes I keep seem to be disparate and make-shift at best. But it’s beginning to form a basis on my personal style of beekeeping that has yet to come. When we hear our peers like Michael Bush, Randy Oliver and Mel Disselkoen talk about the processes they employ, we wonder sometimes if they’ve found the magic bullet–the answer to all our beekeeping problems. In reality, it is ourselves who have to take these ideas and test them… put them in to practice and ideally, create a process that works for us, in our area, with our own bees. This is what holds my attention, and keeps me excited about the next season. 

This series of videos is posted in the same spirit Michael has about beekeeping–they are free and accessible to all to do what they want with. I hope they charge you up as they have me. Enjoy.