The Way Back to Biological Beekeeping, Part 11
Decontamination: What Will it Involve to Clean Up My Combs?
We have gone over some of the background as to why decontamination is necessary for beehives, if beekeepers today are going to retrogress their colonies back onto a natural system of beekeeping, without the use of chemicals, essential oils, and antibiotics in their field management. We know from articles published that decontamination is not easy and will take several years to accomplish. Further, that it has been noted by Scientists at the Specialists meeting of the 34th Apimondia Congress that a return to non-residue wax is possible after the next 50+ years, assuming that an almost complete lack of chemical usage commences immediately (this was written in 1996). Of course we know that this stoppage across-the-board will not happen in countries throughout our world. But it can happen one beekeeper at a time, willing to say enough is enough, and willing to make the long journey back to biological beekeeping.
Decontamination cannot take place without cessation from the use of chemical, antibiotic, and essential oil treatments. Herein lies the problem: How to best get off of the “CHEMICAL TREADMILL. There is no way to help individual beekeepers as a uniformly handled industry to proceed, as each has varying needs and personal economic thresholds, relative to liquidity of their beekeeping operations, that must be considered. Further, since it is possible to fix a limit for the allowed quantity of residues in wax without having dangerous effects on honey quality, some beekeepers may not want to decontaminate all the way back to non-residue detection parameters.
NOTE: While this would allow the sale of filtered clean honey, it WOULD NOT have bearing on other STILL CONTAMINATED products of the hive, namely: beeswax and propolis. Still further, some beekeepers may want to decontaminate all the way back to non-residue detection parameters, but due to the size of the beekeeping outfit they maintain, they may not be able to make it in one decontamination stage due to 1) either the type or amounts of chemicals, essential oils, or antibiotics they have used, and 2) the amount of time (number of years) they have been treating, or 3) whether or not their bees in their hives have HIT-THE-WALL by crashing in numbers or becoming totally resistant. These beekeepers will have to decontaminate in stages, by reducing the level of contamination concentrations by addition of uncontaminated wax, until they reach the level of non-detectable residue levels (Maybe 3+ recyclings of their hives, combs), while in the interim selling filtered clean honey, until the level of selling natural biologically clean honey can be achieved along with that of clean beeswax and propolis.
It should be obvious that the smaller beekeeper here has the advantage in that 1) there are less combs to replace making it easier to acquire uncontaminated beeswax on the open market or decontaminate the hives he already has, and 2) his livehood is not all at stake as his sole source of family income (or a major part thereof).
Commercial beekeepers can probably be broken-down into four distinct groups, each which will have differing decontamination capabilities and needs. 1) Those that are small family beekeeping farms, self-contained in their workday needs, and 2) Those that are large beekeeping farms, employing outside help in their workday needs. 3) Those that are part-time migratory sometime during their beekeeping year, and 4) Those that are full-time migratory throughout the beekeeping year.
SMALL FAMILY BEEKEEPING FARMS: Most mom and pop beekeeping farms run anywhere on average from 300 – 1200 colonies, and like the name implies, mom and pop do the work. These beekeeping farms should estimate retooling approximately the equivalent of 5 deeps for every hive operated, not counting extracting supers used to rotate the yearly crop of honey from the field. In an operation like this you could easily expect to retool (decontaminate) over 60,000 frames. If retooling involves melting-down and changing-out frames to new processed uncontaminated foundation bases, estimate now half this much again to draw-out foundation right, with decent culling of misdrawn combs. Then estimate how much your bees can successfully draw-out each year conservatively. Then figure out how to separate extracting clean honey from decontaminated frames, from extracting honey from non-decontaminated frames, as in the future, it is sure to have great bearing on honey marketing with the new food safety laws coming into effect. If possible, figure two separate extracting lines, in lieu of washing down extracting equipment to keep end products separate and distinct.
High-grade selling hive products where you can, while you salvage with a packer what you cannot that needs decontaminating filtering (think about sending honey from non-decontaminated frames to a packer for purchase and/or filtering (contract work), unless you have the necessary equipment to do the job yourself (with the new food safety laws being written, figure filtering out any floating contaminated wax, pollen, and propolis particles). Figure retooling combs one entire beeyard at a time. Do not try to hodgepodge or you will soon lose your place and have to start over due to co-mingling. Figure depending upon the number of colonies owned taking an average of 10 years to complete (less for closer to 300 colonies maintained and up to 15 years for closer to 1200 colonies maintained). If possible to reduce costs, suggest the purchase of a hand-crank foundation mill or even a motorized foundation mill to self-contain, along with a Kelly wax-press to have fuller control of decontamination of wax, and the processing of recycled wax into foundation, so you know exactly the nature of the wax you are working with product-wise, and where you are at, at all times.
LARGE BEEKEEPING FARMS: Most larger, beekeeping farms run anywhere on average from 2,000-6000 colonies, figuring approximately 1,000 colonies maintained for each worker hired. Figure approximately the same number of frames (60,000 + 30,000) to be retooled per 1,000 colonies over the course of 10 -15+ years. Now figure hiring 1-2 extra workers to do nothing but retooling of frames (especially the closer to 6000 colonies you maintain). If you wish to self-contain to maintain control of decontamination of wax and the processing of recycled wax into foundation, suggest the purchase of a motorized foundation mill or even a small foundation assembly-line. As most larger beekeeping farms probably already own their own wax melting/processing equipment, suggest now an extra Kelly wax-press to have fuller control of decontamination of wax.
(The other two beekeeping groups I am not going to go over, as information needed can be retrieved from either of the two groups already gone over).
PREPARATION FOR THE WALL: There will come a time when all beekeepers who are treating with essential oils, chemicals, and antibiotics will be forced to make a decision, for the treatment of parasitic mites and secondary diseases, due to their hives being on oversized bigger-is-better combs. At that point many will throw-up their hands and without family-support, go out of the farming business! You will know you are getting close to the WALL when your broodnests collapse from oversaturation (absorption) of treatments, built one upon each over, during the course of several years of treatments, breaching the sterility of the broodnest. When your broodcombs will no longer support life, you have a choice: THROW YOUR CARDS ON THE TABLE AND WALK AWAY, OR PICK UP THE PIECES AND RETOOL CORRECTING THE PROBLEM BY WALKING AWAY FROM THE OVERSIZED COMBS, CHEMICALS, ANTIBIOTICS, AND ESSENTIAL OILS WITH YOUR HEAD-UP.
At this point, since retooling is mandatory, and decontamination with salvage of your combs is the only way out, consider now taking the longway back to biological beekeeping without all the quick-fix gimmickry to get yourself off the treatment treadmill. If you are serious about staying in the beekeeping farming business you might consider striving to get your outfit 25% converted to biological beekeeping before the wall hits, because the drawing of new foundation combs is the hardest process to accomplish after decontaminating and recycling your wax. With 25% of your outfit preconverted, and combs drawn-out to a minimum of 3-4 deep supers with accompanying bees, you have a chance to split to take-up numbers when your outfit hits the wall, because not all of your other colonies hopefully will not all collapse at once. Here, separation of extracting lines and equipment in the field will pay big dividends as to whether or not your beekeeping outfit goes another generation or not. Fore-warned is fore-armed as to what to expect and anticipate! (Third Option:- You could stay on the treadmill, rotating oversized combs and treating and treating as if in a time-warp until you give up, bankrupt, or pass the treadmill onto your own next generation, to either continue or make the decision to get-off and go back to traditional biological beekeeping methods.)
Signed: Dee A. Lusby, Amado, Arizona, USA