by Kevin Kearsley, Honey Purchaser at Hummingbird
It is that time of year again for honey to be on the minds of our customers. One of the most common questions we see each year surrounds hive management. More specifically, how do our beekeepers manage the Varroa mites in their hives and what chemicals are used?
This is a question that needs a little explanation upfront. First and most importantly, what is a Varroa mite? The simple answer is the Varroa mite is a parasite that feeds off of live honey bees. Being a parasite, it is generated from within the bees themselves, and if not managed they would devour the hive alive. It was first known to exist only in Asian honey bees but has since spread worldwide. Without intervention from beekeepers commercial beekeeping, commercial pollination, and in many ways commercial agriculture would not be possible. Our hard-working honey bees pollinate our global supply chain of fruit, tree nuts, and many varieties of produce.
Another kind of question you will likely hear is, "How do the beekeepers manage these mites?" Well, that is not such a simple answer. There is a wide range of "chemicals" that beekeepers and veterinarians use to control Varroa mites. Some are more "natural" than others.
Hummingbird specifically partners with beekeepers who use plant-based treatments to proactively treat their bees and prevent Varroa mites from getting a hold on the hives. Oxalic Acid is the strongest naturally occurring compound that is safe for bees and toxic to the mites. It is found in many kinds of every day plants and vegetables like garlic, onions, and countless leafy greens. This is the compound used by our primary beekeepers.
By definition Oxalic acid is: "an organic compound found in many plants. These include leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, cocoa, nuts and seeds. In plants, it's usually bound to minerals, forming oxalate." This oxalate is extracted and manufactured into a salt like crystal that is then diluted into water and added to the hive via fog/vapor or applied directly to the hive panels in a sugar /syrup mixture.
Another question you may hear is, "Do you sell any honey without chemical treatment?" This is a hard question to answer because technically, water is a chemical! And since we already know that the crystalline plant extract is added to water and applied to hives, the technical answer is no.
However it is the spirit of the question that is important: "Is anything harmful to bees or humans used in the hive treatment?" And that answer is no way! Nothing artificially created like a pesticide or antibiotics are used in the hives that make our honey.
Again, we would not have commercial honey, and most commercial agriculture if the hives were left to collapse from mite infestation. Even hobby beekeepers with one or two hives must treat them each year or their hives would fail. The key is to manage proactively (on a schedule) and use naturally occurring compounds to treat the hives.
If you have questions about our honey that you are not sure about, always feel free to comment below and I'll do my best to help!