Pittsburgh beekeepers avoid colony collapse

Mark Bedillion of Bedillion Honey Farm & Market in Hickory hasn’t seen many incidents of colony collapse, and neither have the clients of Stephen Repasky, master beekeeper and president of Burgh Bees. 

The strange disappearance of entire bee colonies was dubbed “colony collapse disorder” in 2006 when they were attacked by a combination of pathogens, causing them to abruptly disappear. The rise of colony collapse disorder has caused alarm and speculation as to causes and effects on the food system. Colony loss remains a problem, caused by the erosion of habitat or viruses affecting 20 to 30 percent of colonies.

Mr. Bedillion says his bees remain healthy because he makes sure there’s little stress on the colony, they have limited exposure to pesticides and they’re not surrounded by monocrops. 

He also practices a range of natural remedies to mitigate the effect of varroa mites, which are impossible to eliminate from a colony.

The mites were first reported in Florida in the mid-1980s and have since annihilated thousands of colonies by weakening bees and transmitting viruses.

Both experts use natural remedies to keep colonies healthy. Mr. Repasky suggests coating a board with vegetable oil and placing it in the bottom of a hive to check the number of mites that fall in a 24-hour period. More than a dozen requires treatment.

In Burgh Bees classes, he teaches what he calls the natural sugar shake. For new hives and in the spring, he recommends coating hives with powdered sugar every week for four weeks, followed by once every month. The powdered sugar causes mites to fall off, and it induces bees to groom. 

Mr. Repasky calls them ghost bees as they’re covered in powdered sugar. Lucky for these agitated bees, the white coats don’t stay on for long.


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