Bee and beehive Diseases Part 1

Organic Beekeeping methods for the control and management of healthy bees

What are the various bee diseases and beehive disease issues?

Wikipedia has a reasonably detailed list of diseases affecting bees worldwide http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_diseases_of_the_honey_bee

Here in Australia we only need to worry about the following diseases and pests but rest assured there are plenty more around the world.

  1. Bacterial Diseases
    1. American Foul Brood
    2. European Foul Brood
    3. Nosema
  2. Fungal Diseases
    1. Chalk Brood
  3. Pests and Parasites
    1. Braula Fly (Currently only in Tasmania)
    2. Small Hive Beetle
    3. Wax Moth
  4. Future Issues
    1. Varroa (Coming Soon)
    2. Asian Bees (Apis Cerana spp Javana)

I have been reading and looking for solutions to the various issues of bee disease and pests and had to ask myself WHY are we experiencing these diseases more today than beekeepers of the past and there is only one answer that stands out from all the material that I have read and that’s the High volume transportation of bees up and down and around the country. Bees do not like being moved and when beekeepers do this it places undue stress and strain on the bees and expose them to many adverse environments that they would not normally be exposed to. If we stopped the mass transportation of bees today many of these diseases and pests would be reduced or disappear from many areas. Once a hive has been placed it should never be moved unless truly required to save the bees from destruction like fire or demolition. After several years in a location the bees will be able to survive and thrive with ease but keep them moving around and they will eventually circom to disease and stress and die if not treated with various chemical controls. Most so called professional beekeepers that transport bees have hive losses of 20 to 50 percent every year and believe that this is normal. It’s not normal and it’s not right. In Asia as an example they have very little mass transport of bees and do not suffer from CCD or many of the issues experienced in Australia or the USA or Europe

 

In the past before the use of chemicals in beehives and mass transport, bees lived in harmony with their environment and more than just bees lived in the hives. The bees lived with both pests and diseases but also survived and thrived because of beneficial insects in the hive such as pseudoscorpions and access to a wide variety of herbs and plants such as Borage for foraging. The pseudoscorpions would de louse the bees and kill the wax moth lava and the Borage pollen would protect from Foul brood disease. Unfortunately current methods of beekeeping do not encourage pseudoscorpions to live in the hive as the timbers used do not offer breeding spaces for the scorpions and most beekeepers know nothing of how Borage as a bee forage can protect bees from foul brood. Excessive ventilation and overly thin timbers used to make beehives today also adds to the bee’s plight. We have created artificial homes for the bees that actively encourage pests and disease and something needs to be done to get back to a more natural way of beekeeping whilst keeping some of the advantages used in beekeeping today like removable frames.

 

Borage Flower
Borage Flower

Borago officinalis

 

Natural Beehives in tree hollows and caves usually have only one small entrance and no top ventilation; they are protected by a thick wall of timber and at least partially shaded. Timber thickness in a natural hive would be at least 60mm to 100mm or more offering the bees a great deal of protection from fluctuating external temperatures unlike the modern hive exposed to full sun and using very thin timber that offers very little thermal protection to the bees from the extremes of heat and cold. Add to this the top ventilation in modern hives and now the bees have to work very hard to keep a stable temperature in there hive. It is a tribute to the bee that despite all the wrong doings of man that bees have been able to adapt and survive but now in a period of less than 100 years (The era of modern beekeeping) the plight of bees is at risk unless we change how we manage bees.

The use of chemicals in beehives breaks down the natural system of controls bees have used for hundreds of thousands of years; so what makes us believe that we can somehow do a better job with chemicals and traps than the balanced natural systems that have been in play for so many hundreds of thousands of years? In just the few short years we have been using chemicals in beehives the very pests we have tried to destroy have rebounded and become stronger as a result of ignoring the available natural systems.