Beekeeping: A lesson in adaptation

Maggie Monast

My husband and I have kept honey bees for a few years now. We’ve learned, through a combination of trial and error and beekeeping classes that bees are susceptible to pests and disease. As a result, we learned to test for pests like mites, and would buy pesticide strips at our local bee store whenever we found them in the hives.

Last year, we finally got enough bees through the winter that we had more honey than we could eat ourselves or give away to family and friends. Our neighbors up the road have a small farm and sell some of their produce, and they graciously offered to sell our extra honey. We quickly received a lot of interest in our honey, and I excitedly joked to my husband that we had started our own little agribusiness!

The very next day, my husband told me that one of our interested customers called him with some questions. She asked whether we used chemical mite control, and suggested we use some alternative treatments instead, which she said were better for the environment.

My first reaction was indignation! “Who does she think she is?” I thought. “We’ve been keeping bees for two whole years!” I then took a step back and reconsidered. I work on agriculture for EDF, and much of what I do is focused on helping farmers adopt practices that are good for the environment and for their bottom lines. I decided to keep an open mind, in the same way that many of the farmers we work with are open to learning new information and incorporating it into their farm management.

My husband and I invited our customer over to see our hives, explain what we do, and listen to her. This year, as a result of that conversation, we switched from chemical mite control to a non-chemical method called “drone comb trapping.” We’ll keep an eye on the hives, and hopefully this will keep our mite problem at bay. We may not be able to eliminate chemicals entirely, but we will continue to learn and adapt our management, just as the farmers EDF works with do.