The state of health of the honey bee in Germany is unsatisfactory, but contrary to public perception it is not threatened with extinction. The problems of the honey bee are manifold: lack of biodiversity, farming methods including the large-scale use of herbicides and pesticides, careless handling of the same plant and insect poisons by the population, parasite infestation (especially the Varroa mite), the elimination of natural selection and last but not least beekeeping methods and the lack of species-appropriate housing have worsened the condition of the honey bee in recent decades. Due to the large number of these negative influences, the solution to the problem will not lie in eliminating individual negative influences. We beekeepers can however quite turn at some screws around the health condition of the honey bee to improve.
Studies have shown that host and parasite adaptation in untreated bee colonies (resistant bees) takes place. We just don’t know who adapts: the host, the parasite or both. However, there are more and more indications that the basic condition for this adaptation is to allow natural selection. The current study “Norwegian honey bees surviving Varroa destructor mite infestations by means of natural selection” on untreated colonies in Norway also comes to this conclusion. It also seems logical and corresponds to what we know about nature. From this understanding the model of Darwinian beekeeping has been born recently. David Heaf is a pioneer in non-treatment and an advocate and co-founder of these ideas for this kind of beekeeping. In his article about dealing with Varroa he gives an insight into the development of these ideas. The mentioned studies/articles are linked under Downloads.
Preventing natural selection is probably not solely responsible for the difficulties of honeybees in dealing with Varroa mites. Intensive artificial selection itself is also likely to have increased the problem. So it is obvious that breeding for maximum honey production ties the working time of bees in excess. As a result, there is a lack of time for important work that is beneficial to bee health, such as applying propolis and grooming.
Hollow trees, the natural habitat of honeybees
In addition to allowing natural selection, it is most likely beneficial to bee health to offer bees the properties of their natural habitat. For the incredible 45 million years honeybees have been living in tree caves. It is a long time to adapt and benefit from these conditions. However, we do not yet know very much about these conditions and the more we learn, the more complicated it becomes. Thus we know of different tree hollows with partly different conditions in which bees survive. It is now important to find out what these caves have in common and to make the properties resulting from these features available to bees. An own project to study the climatic conditions in tree caves has already started: Tom´s Tree
Beekeeping with book scorpion
We can also help the bees by enabling them to live together with a symbiont. Though the book scorpion is not the cure for the various problems of honey bees and modern beekeeping it can – in a suitable habitat – effectively combat the parasites. Not only the Varroa mite is on its menu. It will also suck out bee lices, small hive beetles, and wax moths with pleasure. Having book scorpions within bee hives signals natural beekeeping and an intact hive climate. Extensive information about these great animals can be found at Torben Schiffers homepage.
As a beekeeper and civil engineer I work on the construction of bee hives and their building physics. On this website I present a part of my work. The main focus is on the integrating of book scorpions in bee hives, the calculating of building physics for classical hives and natural tree caves, the installing of infrared video systems in bee hives, the installing of measuring stations to collect climate data from the hives and the realizing of all findings in the form of new hive constructions.