Hive management at heart of Bee Informed Partnership’s research
KEEDYSVILLE, Md. — August’s Twilight Tour, held at the University of Maryland’s Western Maryland Research and Education Center, opened with an update by Kelly Kulhanek, a research graduate assistant in UM’s Entomology Department on the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP). Kulhanek introduced BIP, as an organization composed of “about 10 research universities across the country” including UM, “working with beekeepers in the field to better understand how to manage and keep healthier bees.”
To accomplish that, Kulhanek said, “We have been sending out a survey to beekeepers around the nation each year asking them about hive losses and what management practices they use.” Using the data collected and analyzed from several years of surveys, BIP has begun to “figure out which hive management practices are better than others and which are important to implement.”
In the next step of research, BIP then tested the top four management practices identified by the data against usual beekeeping practices in various Maryland locations as well as four other states. Due to be published sometime early next year, the research found “the theoretical practices improved the bee colony’s health,” said Kulhanek. There was, however, an important caveat to that conclusion: “The best apiaries were not doing significantly different until the third year, cautioned Kulhanek. “It’s a cumulative effect that needs patience.”
The research also pointed to the need for beekeepers, particularly backyard or hobbyist beekeepers, to be more vigilant in monitoring and treating for varroa mites.
“Many beekeepers usually only treat their hives once a year and that’s it,” Kulhanek said.
Instead, she continued, “beekeepers need to monitor as often as possible — at least every month — and treat whenever their varroa levels reach 3 mites per 100 bees.”
Kulhanek acknowledged that there’s a lot of controversy around treatment for mites much less multiple treatments, a point echoed in a later phone interview with Jason Hough, owner of Woodcamp Farm, who has supplied BIP’s research efforts with queens bred to be hardy to the environment of the Delmarva region.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want to treat,” said Hough, “which leave you with two options. The first is you get lucky and your bees have a natural resistance that tolerates the mites. The second is you don’t get lucky.
“Then your hive is going to succumb and the mite infestation is going to spread to all the beekeepers around you.”
Both Hough and Kulhanek equate not treating and not monitoring your hive for mites to not treating a dog for fleas.
“Not treating,” said Kulhanek, “just turns all the neighborhood dogs into flea-infested animals.”
Neighborliness notwithstanding, Hough also pointed out that failing to treat for varroa mites serves no good purpose beyond trying to find disease resistance of the particular bee colony.
Even then, “don’t let them suffer and die,” he urged, noting, “If a person did that with any other sector of animal welfare, you’d be in a world of trouble.”
Instead, Hough encouraged beekeepers to “choose carefully those bees that handle the conditions better” as well as to “change out and don’t propagate with queens” that can’t handle the mite pressure.
During questions at the end of her twilight meeting presentation, Kulhanek acknowledged that whether beekeepers were receptive to the varroa mite management recommendation “depended on their demographic,” and “commercial beekeepers tend to be really tight on the varroa control.”
She encouraged backyard or hobbyist beekeepers, who are “looking for assistance to go to BIP’s website (beeinformed.org) to find information on our current projects.”
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