Question On Medications

Haven't had bee hives for at least six years now and much has changed regarding meds.

We have pkg. bees from BeeWeaver coming in April. Should we use any meds or pollen substitute when installing the new hive?

Thank you,
Joanie Breihan
New Haven, MO


Hi Joanie,

This is kind of a tough question, because I almost hate to advise you one way or the other. I don't like treating my bees with medications or chemicals, and I no longer do so (though I have in the past).

My philosophy is to accept a certain amount of loss rather than treat the bees with chemicals. I believe that both bees and beekeepers will be better off in the long run with this approach.

In my opinion, relying on medications and chemical controls breeds bees that are dependent upon these. And I rather hate to even state this opinion, since I know many people vehemently disagree - and I also know that many strongly agree.

In the end, only you can decide which course you prefer. Certainly, though, bees have survived and thrived for millions of years without the dubious advantage of chemical assistance from mankind.

And of course, I'm just a hobbyist beekeeper. If I lose a hive, I'm willing to accept the loss, and start another. I recognize that commercial beekeepers don't have the same luxury to cavalierly accept losses. And many hobbyists don't have the temperament to do so, or would consider that approach to be sloppy, irresponsible beekeeping.

All of that said (and that can of worms opened!), in your first season with a new colony started with a package from a reputable supplier - and assuming you're not using used equipment - odds are pretty good that you won't have any problems with diseases.

But here's a brief overview of the major problems that can effect honey bees. You can Google each one to find images, descriptions, and more info about the recommended chemical preventative or treatment if you wish to go that route (I'll eventually have more detailed info about these on my website).

-Chalkbrood: This is one that I've only heard of, and never actually experienced myself. My guess is that you don't have to worry much about this one. But it does exist, and all beekeepers should be aware of it.

-Nosema: An intestinal disorder (parasite) that can be harmful. I've never had much problem with this, but there's a new strain of Nosema called Nosema Ceranae that bears looking out for. The medication that is used as a preventative for Nosema is called Fumigilin-B. I've also heard of using natural herbal extracts and essential oils to combat this malady, but I have no experience with same.

-European Foulbrood: You're not likely to see this in a strong, healthy colony. But again, every beekeeper should know what it is.

-American Foulbrood: This is the big baddie. If your bees get this, you've got trouble. But it's relatively rare. All beekeepers should know the indications of this disease, and if they suspect one of their colonies has an infection, should get professional assistance (like from a state inspectors office) for a positive ID. Infected colonies should be destroyed. Terramycin is an antibiotic that can be used as a preventative. I used to treat my hives with Terra, but no longer do (and haven't seen a case of AFB in many, many years).

-Tracheal and Varroa mites: I no longer worry about Tracheal mites. There are miticides available for Varroa mites if you want to use them. But there are also cultural practices that you can use to reduce mite populations, such as screened bottom boards with sticky traps and brood comb traps. Remember, too, that the BeeWeaver bees are bred to be mite-resistant. BeeWeaver hasn't treated their bees for mites for several years.

-Hive Beetles: These can be quite a problem in some parts of the country. (And this nasty little critter might be new to your area since you were last keeping bees). Chemical controls are available, as well as traps. From what I've read, I think that the traps might be more effective for hive beetles than chemical controls. My area has hive beetles, unfortunately, and so far I've done just fine relying only on traps.

Pollen substitute: I live in the south, and today (March 3) my bees have been bringing in pollen for nearly a month. So whenever I've purchased package bees in the past, they've always arrived when plenty of pollen was already available to the bees as forage, and I've never provided pollen substitute. If pollen is available in your area when your bees arrive, my opinion is that supplemental pollen is not necessary. Otherwise, it would be a good idea to provide supplemental pollen.

Hope this gives you some guidance, Joanie, and best of luck with your bees. Just the fact that you're asking this question tells me that you'll be a responsible beekeeper!

The chemical vs. natural issue is a topic that is almost as incendiary and divisive as religion and politics. So if anyone wishes to comment with a different viewpoint, feel free. Just keep it civil, please!

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