Bees are in trouble. With the ever-increasing levels of pesticides, herbicides, reduced forage variety, diseases, parasites, pests, and the usual weather related issues all combined, the world has seen alarming declines in bee populations through Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Ken Hamilton, of Bio Minerals Technologies, has been very successful over the past ten years in strengthening the immune systems and overall health of numerous cattle, swine, and poultry operations. His fermented nutrition programs and trace mineral additives have done wonders for livestock, so Ken felt he could make a difference with the bees as well.
In the late summer of 2014, Ken sat down with the owners of Slide Ridge Honey, a large, local apiary. Slide Ridge was a good partner to experiment with. Martin and Karla, siblings and head beekeepers for Slide Ridge, have been focusing on bee nutrition and natural remedies for years. They have been researching and working to strengthen their hives by building healthier bees with the concept that healthier bees are better able to withstand and even overcome environmental stresses, including disease, parasites, and environmental poisons.
After those first discussions, Slide Ridge decided to give the active cultures and trace mineral products a try. The concept is that the probiotic cultures will improve the digestive health and enhance the gut flora of the bees and the trace minerals will reinforce the bee’s natural systems and defenses. The stronger digestive system improves the overall health of the bee and healthier bees have greater resistance to disease, pests, and other environmental stresses. These concepts are a natural extension of Slide Ridge’s current nutritional programs.
Slide Ridge took some mineralized probiotic culture back to their operations and started their experiments. The first step was to simply see how the bees would react to it (i.e. would it kill them). To test it, they put some liquid culture in a sprayer, opened up a couple hives, and sprayed it directly on the bees and the frames. The bees loved it! They licked it clean and were excited for more.
The next step was to mix it with both liquid bee food and with some protein patty (pollen substitute). They selected a group of test hives to evaluate with and make sure there wouldn’t be any unknown issues or negative results. When they fed some patty, again, the bees loved it and went after it like a starving teenager. They continued feeding the cultured food supplies to the sample hives through the winter, as needed.
The Slide Ridge bees, in general, did well through the 2014/15 winter. The hives were strong, with very few losses. As they watched the test hives through the winter, they didn’t see any negative effects, and the bees were healthy and vigorous heading into pollination. If anything, the test hives were even stronger than the untreated ones (which were all in great shape). At that point, they decided to use the cultured supplements on all the hives in their spring 2015 feedings. It doesn’t take much to make a difference; an ounce in a gallon of syrup or a pound of patty.
After pollination, the hives came back to Utah for the spring splits. As the hives returned to the holding yards, they were given the enhanced diet with the mineralized cultures through the spring until the weather stabilized and the bees could forage for themselves. With the healthier bees, Martin also saw a very good queen acceptance rate as he divided the hives and placed new queens. His overall queen success rate was 82-83% this year and their laying patterns are strong, indicating they mated well also.
As the hives grew through the summer on their natural foods, the other beekeepers noticed a difference as well. The bees were bigger, they were more content, more active, but less aggressive. Martin commented that he could probably even forgo the bee suit when working the hives, they were that calm (but he didn’t, just in case).
One significant event, highlighting the benefits of the mineralized probiotic cultures, occurred in late spring at one of the Slide Ridge holding yards. The beekeepers had been dividing hives for several days and were just finishing up the spring splits at that yard when disaster struck. It was a windy day and all of a sudden, they hear a spray truck out along the highway. In spite of regulations and policies to the contrary, the state contractor was spraying weeds along the highway in a 30-40 mph wind! Martin says they just stood there and watched the bees fall out of the air, dead!
Of course, they chased down the truck and told them very persuasively to stop immediately, but the damage was already done. Even though the bee yard was ½ mile or more off the highway, the wind still carried the poison straight to them and there were dead bees around all the hives. Since they were just wrapping up spring splits, they had not taken the hives out to their summer locations yet. There were about 1000 hives in that yard at that time, all with dead bees around them.
The spray didn’t kill all the bees, but based on past experience, Martin did not anticipate much of a survival rate for those hives. He was basically expecting a total loss because if they did survive the summer, they would probably not be strong enough to survive the winter. In the meantime, they continued with their spring feeding using the probiotic culture and minerals to try and strengthen the few hives that might survive.
That was in the spring. I visited with Martin in mid-August and asked him how the sprayed hives were doing. He reported an 80% survival rate, with the surviving hives actually producing a strong honey crop! If the hives were weak, there would not be a honey crop, so the presence of the excess honey is a good indicator that they should survive the winter as well! He attributes the resilience of those hives directly to the mineralized probiotic cultures they were fed through the spring.
I recently (November) asked Martin how the 2015 honey harvest was as compared to last year (2014 was a bumper crop). Imagine my surprise when he said they are still extracting! According to his brother Mike who runs the extraction operation, they passed the 2014 total a long time ago! The production numbers of all his beekeeping friends (including several other large producers) are only even with 2014, yet the Slide Ridge harvest is far higher. The Slide Ridge bees are bigger, healthier, and are producing more honey, and again, he attributes the increase to the better nutrition.
Healthier bees, stronger immune systems, greater resistance to environmental pathogens, and greater honey production, all due to a better nutrition program, including Bio Minerals Technologies custom blend of trace minerals and active probiotic cultures. Sounds like a recipe for success!
Slide Ridge is now the exclusive supplier of our mineralized probiotic cultures for the honeybee industry. If you want stronger, healthier bees with greater honey production too, call Slide Ridge to supplement your feeding mix!