Becoming a beekeeper is a rewarding yet challenging choice, as it comes with various benefits and many responsibilities. Although you’ll get to enjoy fresh, raw honey from your hives, you must also diligently care for them to maintain healthy colonies. Typically, weak colonies are less likely to produce as much honey as their stronger counterparts. Check out this helpful beekeeper’s guide to integrated pest management (IPM) to keep your hives healthy and strong.
What Is Integrated Pest Management?
Integrated pest management is an approach that includes various methods for keeping pest populations at bay in your beehives while being aware of environmental and economic risks. This approach emphasizes prevention as the best possible option, but also notes that monitoring pest infestation and taking action when it comes to vital treatment are sometimes necessary for beekeepers.
IPM came about as a result of the vast overuse of pesticides in the world of agriculture; many people use them on schedule despite any actual need for them. Using a combination of IPM techniques may reduce the damaging properties of pests among your bees. Furthermore, using pesticides only when they are truly necessary can decrease the chances of local pest populations becoming resistant to them.
Many people best recognize the concept of IPM through the use of a pyramid—understanding and identifying pests is the foundation of this pyramid. Therefore, grasping that foundation is the best way to ensure prevention is the first line of defense. Follow along to learn more about each level of the IPM pyramid.
Now that you know what IPM is, it’s time to learn more about the types of pests your colonies may struggle with. As a beekeeper, it’s your responsibility to maintain your hives and protect your bees’ overall health.
Varroa mites are one of the most serious threats to honeybee colonies because they attach directly to the bees. These destructive parasites feed on the nutrition of bees’ bodies, which weakens their overall health. Beekeepers should count varroa mites during every hive inspection to ensure the mite population isn’t multiplying at a dangerous rate.
Small Hive Beetles
Small hive beetles are another common but destructive pest in honeybee hives, and they can take over a colony within a few weeks. These beetles are about one-third the size of a bee, black or brown in color, and covered in fine hair. If their population increases rapidly in a hive, the beetles can cause significant damage to the honey supply, kill honeybees, and force the colony to leave their hive.
Honeybee Tracheal Mites
Honeybee tracheal mites are another variety of parasites that attach directly to the bees’ bodies. However, these specific mites live in adult honeybees’ tracheas, thoraxes, abdomens, and heads. Tracheal mites puncture breathing tube walls and feed on honeybee blood, which can quickly diminish bee health.
Greater Wax Moths
Greater wax moths lay their larvae inside beehives, and they can cause substantial damage to the honeycomb. These moths are more likely to be successful in their attacks if bees don’t guard the combs. That said, weakened or dying colonies are the most susceptible to greater wax moth attacks.
Environmental or cultural controls are the next level of the pyramid; they are the most encouraged methods of IPM because they disrupt the pests without causing many changes to the colony. These techniques may include heat shock to treat for varroa mites or putting your hives in direct sunlight to get rid of small hive beetles. Additionally, using beekeeping best practices when it comes to hive splits, combinations, and requeening are some of the best ways to prevent pest infestations.
Another level of the pyramid involves the tangible controls of IPM, which include improvements, modifications, and active mechanisms that trap pests inside the hives. These controls include physical and mechanical concepts.
Physical controls are strategies that take advantage of the pests’ physical limitations to rid the hive of them. These principles may include keeping your hives in good condition by repairing any gaps or damages as soon as you notice them. Other physical controls can include freezing honeycombs infested with pest larvae to prevent them from developing into adult pests, which helps slow pest population growth in the hives.
Mechanical controls are active techniques used to reduce the number of pests inside a hive. These might include the manual removal of individual insects or setting traps inside the beehive to separate any pests from your bees. Also, adding screen bottoms to your hives will cause fallen mites to exit the hive involuntarily, which can reduce their population growth.
The Top of the Pyramid
After learning a few helpful controls for pests, you should also know more about the top of the pyramid. Because these controls are the smallest tiers, they should make up the smallest part of your potential prevention and treatment methods for pests in your hives.
Biological controls consist of using natural biological processes and natural enemies to reduce pest activity in beehives. For instance, many beekeepers opt for bee varieties that can resist or tolerate the presence of mites in the colony. In addition, nematodes are a natural enemy of small hive beetles, so introducing nematodes to the surrounding soil is an effective way to prevent small hive beetles from approaching the apiary.
Chemical controls are at the very top of the pyramid. These consist of both organic and synthetic chemicals, and beekeepers should use these sparingly. Be sure to read all labels thoroughly and choose treatment options that are less toxic for bees and very specific to pests. As a beekeeper, it’s in your best interest to fully understand how each pesticide works within the hive and to choose those that don’t leave behind much residue.
With this beekeeper’s guide to integrated pest management (IPM), you’re on the path toward naturally healthy hives. If you’d like to add to your apiary, consider local bee nucs for sale in Billerica, MA, for the highest-quality bees. Beekeeping is a rewarding experience, and using natural treatment practices will help you maintain your primary goal of keeping healthy bee colonies.