Why We’re Starting To Treat Our Bees

Until yesterday we had never treated our bees with any chemicals. I’m proud to be able to say this and I am still not a fan of treating, but I wanted to make a post acknowledging that we now treat our hives and provide an explanation.

Within the beekeeping community there is a pro-treating vs. anti-treating debate, and it’s divided many beekeepers here in Philadelphia and around the country. The debate has become heated because of the drastic losses that every beekeeper has experienced in recent years. These losses have been attributed to something call the Varroa Mite, a small mite that attaches itself to a bee and will feed on it’s blood, weakening the bee. These weak bees become more susceptible to viruses and in large numbers these mites can have a huge impact on the colony and can cause it to collapse entirely. Varroa Mites are now thought to be the largest contributor to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

This past winter our family lost three out of our four hives, a 75% loss. I tend to be on the anti-treating side of things but with our highest losses ever, we as a family decided that we had to be doing something differently. We still want to have as little impact on our bees and their honey as possible, that’s why we’ve chosen to treat with an organic chemical called Oxalic Acid. This chemical is found in small amounts in many plants including dark leafy greens. Plants produce oxalic acid as a defense mechanism against small insects. In small doses it is not harmful to us and it has not proven to be harmful to the bees, it is deadly however to the Varroa Mite.

To treat we scoop 1/2 a teaspoon into a special Oxalic Acid vaporizing wand and insert it into the base of the beehive. When the wand is connected to a battery, it begins to vaporize the oxalic acid crystals inside the hive. This vapor temporarily fills the hive, killing the mites while the bees continue their duties.

Now that treating with Oxalic acid is becoming more popular, more drama is on the horizon for our community of beekeepers. Many “beeks” are of the mindset that those who are not treating are making the problem worse by harboring mites and allowing them to re-infect the colonies of their neighbors who have already treated.

While I still like the idea of not treating, we hope that long-term this will be best for our bees. In addition to treating, we are sourcing queen bees with mite-resistant genetics as well as sourcing local bees for our apiary, meaning that our bees will be best suited for the challenges of our climate.