Mites are biggest threat to America's honeybees

Tri-County Beekeepers 35th annual Spring Workshop draws people from across nation

By BARBARA LANG Published:

More than 900 participants and vendors converged at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster for the Tri-County Beekeepers Association's 35th annual Spring Beekeeping Workshop March 1 and 2. This is the largest one day event of its kind in the United States and draws people from Ohio as well as from across the nation.

This year's workshop featured keynote speaker Jennifer Berry, honeybee researcher from the University of Georgia who presented "Practical Natural Beekeeping." Berry also manages a 200-hive apiary. "Varroa mites are the number one threat to honeybees. Varroa's arrival in the United States devastated beekeeping from coast to coast and changed beekeeping forever," Berry said. Varroa mites are brown or tan, about the size of a pinhead and visible to the naked eye. Females lay eggs in uncapped brood cells. The larvae then feed on developing bees and lay more eggs. Mites also feed on adult bees. If left untreated, mites can kill the entire hive in as little as six months. Berry discussed the benefits of various natural remedies for the control of mites. "I don't want to treat bees or give them chemicals until I absolutely have to," she said.

Berry recommended a combination of screened bottom boards, powdered sugar, hygienic bees, good genetics and drone brood trapping which can help eliminate mites before resorting to chemicals. During her presentation, she also discussed other diseases in honeybees including American foulbrood, chalkbrood and nosema, a type of dysentery,

After the keynote speaker, attendees could choose from six workshops in each of the three breakout sessions ranging from topics including beginning beekeeping; urban beekeeping; collecting and processing pollen; mead making; apitherapy, and many more.

Carol Gedeon, an attendee from east Cleveland, was deciding which breakout session to attend next. "This is my fifth meeting. It is not to be missed," said Gedeon. She's been keeping bees for seven years and has had as many as four hives, although she currently has only one.

Barbara Bloetscher, state apiarist at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, led one of the afternoon breakout sessions on wax moths, a pest that will infect a weak hive and if left unchecked, will destroy it, leaving web covered ruined frames. The larvae tunnels through the wax comb in weak hives. A healthy colony will remove the pests before they can cause damage. Bloetscher also talked about the widespread destruction of varroa mites which were introduced from Asia in the late 1980s.

"Before varroa mites there were 30,000 beekeepers in Ohio. We lost most of the commercial apiaries throughout the U.S. The number of beekeepers in Ohio has increased to 4,300. However, most of those only have five hives or less," she said.

Beside learning best practices, the workshop is also an opportunity to see the latest products from some of the biggest names in beekeeping supplies in the nation including Walter T. Kelly Company, Mann Lake LTD, Dadant & Sons Inc., as well as Ohio companies including Simpsons in Danville, Queen Right in Sullivan and Blue Sky in Hiram. They offer everything needed to start an apiary all in one location. The startup cost for a new beekeeper can be as much as $500 for a three-pound package of bees with queen, supers, frames, protective bee suit plus equipment like hive tools and a smoker. Bloetscher warned in her session not to be tempted to purchase used hives as there is a high probability that they carry disease. It is also recommended that anyone new to the field join an established beekeeping association and work with an experienced mentor.

The workshop is sponsored and organized by the 400 members of TriCounty Beekeepers. Membership is $10 annually. Meetings are the fourth Monday each month at 7 p.m. at OARDC except for July and December. For more information on the 2014 workshop or membership, email contactus@TricountyBeekeepers.org.

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.