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Ethical beekeeping

Keep Newfoundland and Labrador Varroa free. We test for Varroa!

Using the EasyCheck varroa mite washerUsing the EasyCheck varroa mite washer


  At Four Cousins Honey we're committed to ethical beekeeping. Here's what it means:

  • quality honey and other honey bee products that are carefully prepared and are what they say they are (e.g., honey that is "raw," "unpasteurized," "local," "wildflower," and "artisanale." See "We had our honey tested."
  • ethical animal husbandry, that is, keeping our honey bees as healthy as possible with regular inspections, proper winter protection, proper feeding, vigilance with respect to pests and diseases, managing the swarming impulse, etc. Also, trying to minimize squishing and otherwise killing bees during our hive inspections through the judicious use of smoke and other methods;
  • respecting our neighbours so that our honey bees are not a nuisance to them;
  • to the best of our ability, protecting the biosecurity of our apiaries, not only for the health of our colonies, but also to prevent the spread of any pests or pathogens to other beekeeping operations in Newfoundland and Labrador;
  • full support for, and participation in, a provincial Varroa Action Plan. We test our bees for varroa mites using the alcohol wash method as prescribed by the plan. Early detection is the key to survival!;
  • participation in the Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeeping Association's (NLBKA) annual "Colony Loss and Management Survey." This helps all beekeepers in the province plan for the future, manage our honey bee stocks, and in our dealings with governments;
  • no illegal importation of honey bees or used beekeeping equipment;
  • registration of our apiaries with the provincial apiarist;
  • full support for mandatory registration of apiaries and mandatory reporting of honey bee diseases and pests to the provincial apiarist;
  • supporting other beekeepers through Poppy Peter's (Armitage) volunteer work with the NLBKA, mentorship, and other means.  Poppy Peter is on the board of the NLBKA and has signed the Association's "Board of Directors Code of Ethics and Confidentiality";
  • consulting other beekeepers in the Bonavista Peninsula-Port Blandford-Clarenville region with respect to our beekeeping activities, in particular, traffic of bees in and out of our apiaries from other parts of the province;
  • striking an appropriate balance between transparency concerning our beekeeping operations and the need to protect confidential "business" information such as client/market relations, income from our sales, etc.;
  • recognizing that honey bees are part of a bigger ecosystem that includes bumble bees and other pollinator insects. Many of these creatures share the same flowers that our honey bees get their nectar and pollen from.  We accept our responsibility as beekeepers to protect native pollinators from any negative effects of our apicultural activities.

Testing our bees for pests and pathogens

While Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) honey bee stocks are currently free of varroa mite, tracheal mite, small hive beetle, wax moth, American foulbrood, and several viruses, we do have a number of pathogens that can kill our honey bee colonies or make them seriously sick. They include two species of the Nosema fungus, European foulbrood, sacbrood virus, and chalkbrood. This means that NL bees cannot be considered 100% "clean bees." PLEASE NOTE THAT NONE OF THESE PATHOGENS CAN CAUSE INFECTION OR HEALTH ISSUES IN HUMANS.

Currently, our small scale beekeeping operation is not eligible for routine inspection and testing by the provincial government. Only commercial operators with 20 or more production colonies are provided this service.  Their colonies were inspected by the provincial apiarist and samples tested by the National Honey Bee Diagnostic Centre in Beaverlodge, Alberta, as part of the Canadian National Honey Bee Health SurveyClick here to read the 2017 test results


Nonetheless, we had a small sample of our bees tested in August 2017 for Nosema ceranae, European foulbrood, deformed wing virus, and sacbrood virus (at our own expense).  Testing was conducted by the Animal Health Laboratory at the University of Guelph. Here are our test results. These results help us better manage our colonies and let other beekeepers know what we have, to inform their own decisions concerning possible traffic of our honey bees into their apiaries. We provide an interpretation of these results below.


European foulbrood

 Deformed wing virus

Nosema ceranae

Sacbrood virus


Test results interpretation

Only one colony was sampled from our apiary, primarily with the view to comparing test results with those of the commercial operator from whom we purchased it in July 2016 (as a nuc). Therefore, it was not a "pooled sample" from several colonies that would have allowed us to do a more comprehensive testing of our entire honey bee stock.

1. European foulbrood (EFB) - no EFB was detected. Two (40%) of five commercial apiaries in NL tested in 2016 as part of the aforementioned Canadian National Bee Health Survey were positive for this pathogen, but not the vendor of the nuc we purchased to establish this colony.

2. Deformed wing virus (DWV) - no DWV was detected.  This is a very serious virus that is vectored and amplified by varroa mites which we lack in NL.  All of the commercial apiaries tested as part of the 2016 National Survey were negative for this pathogen.

3. Nosema ceranae - this fungus species has rapidly become the dominant one, displacing Nosema apis everywhere across North America.  It was detected in our sample using molecular methods (qPCR) but at such low levels that it could not be quantified.  To date, none of our colonies have suffered from Nosemosis, the disease caused by serious Nosema infection (touch wood).  Serious, symptomatic Nosema infections can be prevented by maintaining strong colonies, requeening, and by using other Integrated Pest Management techniques.  Four (80%) of five commercial apiaries in NL tested in 2016 as part of the National Survey were positive for this pathogen, but not the vendor of the nuc we purchased to establish this colony.

 4. Sacbrood virus (SBV) - SBV was detected in our sampled colony and was quantified.  However, it has never displayed any symptoms of SBV infection and neither have any other colonies in our apiaries (touch wood).  Two (40%) of five commercial apiaries in NL tested in 2016 as part of the  National  Survey were positive for this pathogen, but not the vendor of the nuc we purchased to establish this colony.  SBV can be a problem in some colonies in the spring, and is generally dealt with by requeening.  On the Mainland, a commercial apiary with 100-150  colonies might see a SBV infection in 1-2 colonies each year.  Please note that in general, qPCR values, where the virus levels are quantified as "copies per bee," have not been associated with specific symptoms of ill-health. Quantification remains a scientific work in progress.