In 2008 I had the opportunity to help some Haitian beekeepers manage their bee colonies that were suffering from varroa mite infestations. During my 3-week visit, we focused on identifying varroa, measuring the efficacy of treatments, and reducing mite damage with an integrated pest management approach. This was a USAID Farmer-to-Farmer project managed by Partners for the Americas.
Here are some photos from this project:
Beekeepers in Haiti use Langstroth style hives almost exclusively. In the photo at left, Benito Jasmin shows beekeepers how to inspect a brood nest. Benito was my interpreter and driver during my project, but also works with bees.
The main purpose of my trip was to help beekeepers manage parasitic varroa mites that were reducing honey production. I also trained beekeepers in some modern beekeeping techniques.
Most beekeepers had between 10 and 50 hives. Some of the hives were in poor condition (right) but managed fairly well.
The honey bees in Haiti (right) appear to be a cross between the Italian bee (mellifera ligustica) that has a golden abdomen, and the black bee of northern Europe (mellifera mellifera) that is banded but mostly black.
Nearly 20% of the hives I examined contained frames but no wax foundation. Foundation is expensive and often hard to find. Without foundation, the bees build their comb according to their own plan, making it impossible for the beekeeper to perform normal hive inspections and frame manipulations. These hives were being managed as simple box hives, similar to how bees were often managed in the U.S. until the last hundred years or so.
Some beekeepers did not understand the concept of 'bee space'. Some boxes had some frames with properly drawn comb, but often also with a lot of burr comb due to incorrect spacing of frames. During the training sessions, I stressed the need to space frames between 35 and 38 millimeters (1 3/8 - 1 1/2") apart to reduce burr comb..
Benito and I demonstrated how beekeepers could install the 'natural' comb into frames using rubber bands or string. Rubber bands are best because the bees will remove the bands within a month or so, after the comb is attached to the top bar.
This method of installing comb in frames is also effective when transferring a bee colony from the wall of a house or a tree into a managed hive.
The beekeepers are just now learning to manage varroa mites. Fortunately, varroa isn't as deadly in most tropical countries because the bee population doesn't decline as dramatically after a nectar flow.
In most temperate climates, the mite population builds up in the spring and summer as the bee population grows. Then the bee population declines in response to a dearth of nectar or the upcoming winter. The mite population does not decline as quickly, so the mite-to-bee ration increases and overwhelms the bee colony.
We instructed how to identify mites on adult bees and on brood.
We tore open drone brood to check for the presence of mites.
The 'sugar-shake' method of measuring mite infestation was demonstrated in several locations. This involved putting approximately half a cup of live bees in a jar along with approximately 1 tablespoon of powered confectioner's sugar. The bees were tumbled in the jar to coat them with sugar, causing the mites to fall off. The jar was fitted with a screened top that allowed the mites to be shaken out while keeping the bees in the jar. Counting the mites from the half-cup sample of bees provided a rough estimate of the severity of the infestation.
A microscope was used to get a close-up view of the mites. Interesting, but not of much practical value to the beekeepers.
So, how to manage the mites? A screened bottom board was recommended as one way to reduce the mite load. Many mites naturally fall off their adult bee hosts. Using a screened bottom instead of the normal solid bottom allows the mites to fall to the ground, from where they will not be able to find a bee host.
Chemical mite treatments were not readily available to beekeepers. However, they did have pesticides available in agriculture supply shops that could be adapted to safely kill mites on honey bees.
We began creating a treatment based on fluvalinate, the most widely used mite treatment in the U.S. My trip ended before we could finalize the testing and deployment, but another Farmer-to-Farmer beekeeper was to follow on with this work.
Chemical mite treatments in Haiti must be (1) safe for the bee and humans (beekeeper and honey consumer), (2) effective in reducing the number of mites, and (3) inexpensive.
In addition to the work with mites, I taught the value of 'bait hives' or 'swarm traps' to catch bees to increase one's colonies.
The bait hive at right in a breadfruit tree is almost ideal. One deep hive body is a good size, as bees have been show to prefer this size. It is in a shady wind-protected location, and more than 2 meters (6 feet) off the ground. The entrance is shaded and reduced to approximately 10-25 square centimeters (2 square inches).
Among the basic beekeeping concepts I shared were the ideal criteria for apiary location, and how to divide, or split, bee colonies to create new colonies.
Using sticks on the ground (at right), I explain how to organize frames in the split colonies.
I described how to identify good quality queens from their brood patterns. A queen that fills almost every cell on a frame, and that has concentric circles of similar-aged brood, is a good queen (left). "Spotty" brood such as the frame at right is usually produced by an old or poor queen, and the hive will not produce much honey.
Benito shows beekeepers how to provide water to bees from a soft drink bottle. A small hole is made in the top. Filled with water, the bottle is inverted and left outside, preferably in the sun. The water will only drip out as the air inside is heated by the sun, slowing providing water to the bees.
Towards the end of my trip, I was the guest on a radio program, discussing beekeeping.
I want to thank Partners of the Americas for the opportunity to work with Haitian beekeepers.
My photos of Haitian culture.
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