I can’t help wondering if the lockdown will make people reassess high-intervention beekeeping.
This lockdown is going to exert heavy selection pressure for colonies that can fend for themselves.
Although bees are currently considered as livestock and can be tended accordingly, some apiaries will remain uninspected and untreated for mites because their owners or members of their family are self-isolating. If the bees do OK and the mite counts are low, and a reasonable amount of honey is harvested at the end of the year, it could cause their beekeepers to review their management practises. Comparing notes they may also observe that local bees fared considerably better than colonies requeened with commercial bees. There’s a potentially huge dataset here, I hope someone mines it.
On forums, I see conventional beekeepers worried about out-apiaries in remote areas where “they have a hard time surviving without management”. Yes, a lot of colonies will die. This is selection pressure. For over a century we have been coddling bees and training them to be dependent on us – and some conventional beekeepers have said we leave-alone beekeepers are being ‘cruel’ because we selected for tough bees. It will be particularly illuminating to compare winter survival rates this year. (We run a Spring survey among our group, and compare with the BBKA results.)
A lot of swarms which would normally be caught are going to be left to fend for themselves – we may still be allowed to catch them, but sensible people are going to minimise unnecessary exposure. There are several hundred just in Oxfordshire each year. These are going to found new wild colonies and natural selection is going to ensure the survivors are tough, with low levels of disease and mites.
Untended out-apiaries are going to swarm much more than they usually do because their keepers have not implemented swarm suppression measures. I know I say this a lot, but swarms and the subsequent brood break are an important part of the bees’ natural parasite control.
There will be less moving of hives. I’m not sure what the consequences of that will be.
There will be less feeding, because buying loads of sugar is a bit tricky right now.
I am not knowledgeable about farming. Will farmers use less pesticide? Will there be more weeds and forage?
Let’s see what we can learn from this.