Medicating honey bees or not – a bold decision

Varroa mite

Varroa mite

I realize that I haven’t spelt out in blog-words the conclusion I have come to regarding medication and honey bees.  I am not going to do it.  (Medicate that is, not save you from my blog-words).  I think that’s a fairly bold decision to make but I have thought long about it and finally have resolved it in my own mind.

To backtrack a little: I was a homeopath for 12 years and wouldn’t take any sort of orthodox medicine myself.  Well that’s almost true.  I took some Aspirin once for sinusitis because it was so painful and I just wanted relief from it for a while.  While we’re confessing I took another painkiller for recreational purposes – I played in a tennis competition that lasted all week and by the Thursday I ached so much I was useless.  I took Neurofen to try and beat Isle of Man – but it was too late by the time I could move properly and we were beaten. That’s it since 1997.

My experience of treating people has given me the confidence to know that medication stops the body resolving symptoms itself.  The symptoms will go away but they will return when the body has the strength to try again.  The resolution can be painful, difficult, unsightly but to go through to the other side means ‘problem solved’ and there should be no reason for it to return (unless it has something to remind you of).

Back to bees!  Varroa has caused a real problem for honey bees.  It was imported to the UK from Asia in the 90s and as with any threat that hasn’t been met before there’s a learning curve of how to deal with it.

It’s hard not to wander off on this subject but I have to recommend this book – it’s available as a Used copy on Amazon for a penny and it’s one of the best books I’ve read, had a huge impact on me!  It explains about that ‘learning curve’ and how childhood diseases are that for a reason…

Bees.  It’s a scary process to stand back and watch the suffering that accompanies the (potential) resolution of symptoms.  You know the maxim ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.  Well that’s it!  A fundamental law of healing nicely rolled into a pat phrase that we carelessly fling about.  And for honey bees it is entirely possible that the preventative medication they are being given to help them fight Varroa is weakening their ‘vital force’.

The mite is developing resistance – so getting stronger, while the poor bees are getting weaker.  Maybe we need to let nature take its course in order for bees that can deal with Varroa to evolve.  That means the brutal fact of letting weak colonies die out so the genetic material gets stronger and with it their coping mechanisms.

A Swindon beekeeper was the first to report that one of his colonies was successfully housekeeping – removing the bees that were infested with the mite from the hive.  I think that gave hope to beekeepers that were at a loss of what to do to help their bees after seeing so many colonies dwindle and die.

New beekeepers who have just become proud owners of a single colony have a tremendously difficult decision to make if they lean towards a more natural beekeeping approach but start to see problems emerge.  What should they do?  Risk losing the colony they may have spent over a hundred pounds on?

As a homeopath I had tools to help people resolve their symptoms but this is a whole new area of expertise and there’s certainly no easy remedy solution I can suggest.  Despite this and having only two (bloody expensive!) colonies myself I am going to allow nature to take its course.  Luckily one of my colonies appears to be very strong (no interference for a year) and I hope they will breed and spread their genes around.

On the subject of genes, breeding ie swarming, queen rearing I am no expert but am determined to try and understand this complex subject better.  But that’s for another time…

Click here to see David Heaf, experienced beekeeper and scientist, explain his views

Click here for more on Varroa resistance and account from an experienced beekeeper about how he chose to stop medicating (although I don’t go along with his breeding suggestion)


8 Responses to “Medicating honey bees or not – a bold decision”

  1. Jennifer on

    I’ve read your post with interest as I too, have decided not to medicate my bees. I had used thymol strips last year but because of the weather, was not able to us them to best effect anyway. I have one colony which is badly infected but I’m hoping that by interfering with them as little as possible (ie not opening them up) they will be able to focus on keeping themselves healthy. Apparently new comb discourages varroa so I am giving them empty frames to fill out when they swarm.

    Good luck with your approach, I hope it works out for us and our bees!

  2. admin on

    Lovely to hear from you – I think it’s important that beekeepers who take this approach communicate with and support each other. I’ve just hived my first swarm, no comb in the new hive, just top bars (in a National). This time I have an observation window which should be helpful. Likewise good luck and do keep in touch.

  3. Mark O'Sullivan on

    Hello – thanks for this post. I’m also a beginner beekeeper and practicing Homeopath here in Dublin. For the past six months I’ve been researching the use of Homeopathic remedies on bees to treat issues like Varroa and Nosema and have heard of several Varroa success stories using the remedies. Do get in touch if you’d like to know more as this info is worth sharing.

  4. admin on

    Dear Mark
    I am interested in your experiences of remedies with bees – would you like to post on the subject?
    Sorry for the very late reply , I haven’t been seeing comments!

  5. admin on

    Not tried any for a long time. I’ve been concentrating on the housing and diet – leaving all their honey pretty much. The remedy I gave may have helped – the bees I gave it to lasted four years and then died out. The last few bees left in the hive were removed by an incoming swarm!

  6. Ian Cullen on

    Started keeping bees three years ago with natural and homeopathic approach. Sold 5 strong hive last year and now building up more stocks with 60-80 jars honey each autumn. I am eager to share experience. Also began with two very expensive hives and was nervous risking it all. But if homeopathy has worked for 20 years with our family then it’s worth trying.

  7. admin on

    Great to hear! I’ve given very few remedies over the years. No diseases as such although some colonies have failed for various reasons. It’s better when you’ve more hives as you aren’t so fearful of losing them all! Then you feel the strong are the survivors and the ones you want to go forth and multiply.

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