Swarm Control Made Very Easy – Apparently

Swarm Control Made Very Easy – Apparently

Dr Roman Linhart, the inventor of the Thermosolar Hive describes a method of swarm control on his website that I had never heard of before.  I’m going to try it next year.  Worst case: I lose some swarms.  Best case: I’ll only lose a swarm 1 in 25 years (based on having 4 hives and his method being 99% effective, as he claims).

Again – I would really appreciate any thoughts from beekeepers who have used this technique or might have some data or experience of this theory.

Roman Linhart and Jan Rája with Thermosolar Hive
Roman Linhart and Jan Rája with Thermosolar Hive

Anti-Swarming Theory & Research

His theory and research is based on a colony focusing on spreading its genes through producing many drones (to spread genes) rather than through the colony swarming. The colony then supercedes when the Queen is damaged or old, often in later summer when the queen is typically two years old.

He has written a University Paper, published in 2011: Anti-Swarming Behaviour

In this paper, he claims that the “described method of suppression of swarming mood was successfully tested on 60 honey bee colonies over seven years (2003–2009”).  In the paper he also claims “Honey production in non-swarmed colonies has increased approximately by about 30%”.

He also claims that now hundreds of beekeepers in central Europe are already using this method.

Claimed Benefits Of The Method

According to Roman:

“Vast amount of time and effort saved. By establishing drone rearing in two visits in spring and not entering the brood chamber for the rest of the season, the beekeeper saves a great amount of time s/he would otherwise have to invest in swarm control. When applied correctly, this method absolutely eliminates swarming, as the swarming fever never occurs.”

“The second benefit is increased honey production (30% more).  Drones feed on protein-based food (pollen), not  on the honey. Adult drones do not consume honey on a large scale. They leave their colony only for short trips to mating sites and take their stock of honey in their crop. This loss is, however, minimal. It is compensated for by the fact that with their large biomass that is clustered on the combs, drones help warm the brood up and thus release thousands of foraging bees to work on flowers. Based on my [Roman’s] observation, the flight frequency at the hive entrances increases with drone rearing 2.6 times. I came to this conclusion by comparing the air traffic at the entrances of hives with swarm control drone rearing and a control group of 10 neighboring hives. In bee colonies with drones, there is a much higher flight activity of the worker bees even when the weather worsens. This is a very valuable feature, increasing honey yields. It has been confirmed by other beekeepers testing this method. And the benefits of drone rearing continue.”

The following statement is quite interesting too: “Many beekeepers try to cut out the drone comb to get the colony rid of the Varroa mite. And they are afraid that drone rearing would increase the number of mites to a level that would endanger the colony. But the opposite is true. As long as there is drone brood present in the colony, the Varroa mite holds only to it. Thus the drone comb reduces the parasite’s pressure on the worker bee caste.”

How To Do It – 14×12 Brood Box

  1. You need 3,920 cm2 (608 square inches) of drone comb. This means 4 brood frames in 14×12 brood box.  This also means that to create enough worker bees you need to put a super below the 14×12
  2. In early spring (year 1) place 2 drone frames with flat foundation in the centre of brood box
  3. When they are full of drone brood, you take 2 new frames with flat foundation and place next to the drone frames in the centre of brood box
  4. In Autumn, you put the 4 drone frames on the outside
  5. In early spring (year 2 onwards) you move 2 drone frames (now drawn) from the outside of hive to the centre and when they are full of drone brood either add the further 2 drone frames that have already been drawn from last year, or add 2 new frames with flat foundation

How To Do It – Double Brood Box

  1. You need 3,920 cm2 (608 square inches) of drone comb. This means 6 brood frames in standard National brood box.  This also means that to create enough worker bees you need to be using a double brood system.
  2. In early spring (year 1) place, 3 drone frames with flat foundation in the centre of lower brood box
  3. When they are full of drone brood, you take 3 new frames with flat foundation and place in the centre of the upper brood box. Note: Roman produces new drone comb in the upper brood box using a strip of foundation.
  4. In Autumn, place the 6 drone frames on the outside of the hive
  5. In early spring (year 2 onwards) you move the 3 drone frames (now with drawn comb) in the lower brood box from the outside to the centre
  6. After they are full of drone brood, you take the 3 frames (now with drawn comb) in the upper brood box from the outside to the centre.

How To Do It – More Info

Roman uses a strip of foundation to allow the bees to create their own drone comb and changes the comb every two years. In practice this means each year he creates new comb in the upper brood box and then in year 2 he places this year 1 comb in the lower brood box and creates new comb in the upper brood box. Etc.

He has more instructions on his website: Anti-swarming instructions

And further information on his blog

Calculation For Number Of Drone Brood Frames

  • 14×12 brood frame is 1,070cm2, hence need 4 of these frames with drone foundation
  • Standard brood frame has area of 655cm2, hence need 6 of these frames with drone foundation

Thermosolar Hive – Further Answers & Video

Thermosolar Hive – Further Answers & Video

Conversations With Beekeepers

I am really interested and open-minded about this hive.  As a result I have engaged in conversations with the Thermosolar Hive team, beekeeping forums and leading honeybee experts to see what others think.

Thermosolar Hive - Ceiling & Sensors
Thermosolar Hive – Ceiling & Sensors

In summary, some beekeepers are hopeful and others are sceptical.  Some are very happy that inventors are looking at ways of combatting varroa without chemicals and some have concerns it will harm the brood or sufficiently heat the brood to kill the varroa.  I asked the Thermosolar Hive team about the concerns on harming brood and have added this to the expanded Q&A in the original Thermosolar Hive post.  There is also a video below of the frames holding together perfectly at 47C.

My key takeaway from all the conversations is the same as Professor Ratnieks, Labatory of Apiculture & Social Insects (LASI), leading expert on honeybees.  He needs to see the published University research and evidence before being more convinced by this new hive.

The research and paper have been produced by Palacky University in cooperation with University of South Bohemia, Czech Republic. The article has been finished and is now in the review phase. It should be ready later in 2016.

Four Minute Video By Jan Rája

Jan is a keen beekeeper and has been working closely with Roman for 16 years.  More about Jan here.  He has kindly made a special 4 minute video, below, for the readers of this blog if you would like to watch a video summary of the Thermosolar hive.

This video defaults to a small size on my blog, but there is a button to expand the view.

Interesting Videos On Thermosolar Hive website

When I get interested in something I like to dig into it.  Understand it. The videos below are indeed exciting in the results they appear to deliver.  The videos are good demonstrations of the hive in action.  Despite my excitement, the videos are anecdotal and we need to see the results of the University research.

This video demonstrates no varroa on brood of Thermosolar Hive:

This video demonstrates hive in action and no impact on wax and frames:

This video demonstrates 100% higher yield of honey production:

Read More

Thermosolar Hive – Kills 100% Of Varroa Mites

Thermosolar Hive – Kills 100% Of Varroa Mites

There is a very new, very innovative, potentially very exciting beehive currently looking for crowd funding (closes 25 June 2016). It’s inventor and team claim this hive can kill 100% of varroa mites without chemicals – and I’m inclined to believe them.  I would be very interested to know what you all think – please comment.

Thermosolar Hive
Thermosolar Hive

Thermosolar Hive – How It Works

  1. Varroa mites are killed at temperatures above 40C.  Honeybees, their brood and the frames are not affected at this temperature
  2. The beekeeper removes the outer cover of the hive and the thermosolar ceiling is exposed to the sun and heats the hive.  The required temperature is reached for a 2 hour period using this ceiling, a specially designed hive body and sensors that tell you the temperature reached in the hive
  3. All the varroa on brood get killed as do varroa on house bees (this represents high proportion of the varroa).  Varroa on flying bees or bees outside the hive, do not have a long life (3-5 days) , these varroa go to reproduce and then get trapped under the capped brood and hence the second treatment 7-14 days later ensures 100% of mites killed (you will want to treat all hives in apiary at same time to ensure varroa transferred between hives get eliminated in treatment 1 or 2)
  4. I.e. no chemicals are used to kill the varroa, only the heat from the sun
Thermosolar Hive - Ceiling & Sensors
Thermosolar Hive – Ceiling & Sensors

How To Use It

  1. With 2 treatments spaced 7-14 days apart, they claim 100% of mites will be killed
  2. Each treatment involves heating the hive to 40C-47C for a 2 hour period
  3. It is recommended that this is done twice a year.  Before you put supers on for the honey flow and then again after the supers have been removed for harvesting
  4. More information: Thermosolar Hive

Thermosolar Hive – The Evidence

  1. 100 beekeepers have tested the hive in different environment conditions and there are case studies on their website that the hive works and kills Varroa with great success. Link to case studies.
  2. A university has used 5 Thermosolar hives and compared the results of thermotherapy with other hives where the thermotherapy was not done. The research is completed and their article is in review phase in scientific journal. Roman assures me that the results are excellent
  3. The Thermosolar Hive team provide evidence here: Research
  4. Furthermore Dr. Roman Linhart has good credentials: 25 years as a beekeeper (some of that as a professional), a doctorate and 10 years developing this hive.  More about Dr Roman Linhart
  5. I have also written more about this hive at Further Answers & Video

I am not here to promote this hive – I want to know your thoughts.


If you want to help this team fund this new beehive, please go to the crowdfunding site: Indiegogo.  This page also allows you to buy one (or more) of their hives.  It also has a video on this hive.  Worth a look.

Other Important Information

I had a whole load of questions when I read about this hive, a lot of which are answered on their website. Here are some of the key facts, that might save you time from hunting on their website.

  • You need to buy their hive, you can not simply put the thermosolar ceiling on your hives
  • You can buy the hive now from the crowdfunding site: Indiegogo.
  • First deliveries estimated to be December 2016
  • This hive has other claimed health benefits for the bees – please visit their website
  • The FAQ page will answer many of your questions
  • Company based in Czech Republic

In Conversation With Dr. Roman Linhart

Dr Roman Linhart
Dr Roman Linhart

I have been in email conversation with Roman, the inventor and founder with respect to answers I could not find on their website. Here is a sample:

Q1. Are your hive boxes more insulated than standard cedar frames?

They are insulated more, insulation of the hive is equal to 6 cm of polystyrene, although polystyrene is not used for it (special foils are used). The only place where the polystyrene is used is the outer cover which is outside the hive.

Q2. What material are the hive boxes made from to make it more insulated than standard hives?

Boxes are made from 3 segments: wooden outer part made of high-quality wood (very important because some wood can be damaged if the temperature during treatment went over 40°C); special thermo-foils reflecting temperature back to the inner parts of the hive; inner segment used for preventing the bees of getting into contact with foils.

Q3. What do the windows do?  Help warm it up generally? To allow one to look in?  But bees like dark space?

It is not only a window made of glass. It is more complicated device containing glasses, coatings, insulation and active layer. It is not possible to see inside and there is no light entering the hive this way, so it is dark inside as in classical hives. They are used to slightly help with thermal support of the colony and also help during the thermotherapy, when the main source of heat is activated. Main source is thermosolar ceiling placed under the outer cover (roof). However, it is usually used only two times per year. Windows are used permanently with the exception of very hot summer days (above 35°C) when they can be shaded. They help during the winter, with early spring development of the colony and it thermally support the brood, part of honey used for heating the brood is saved (there is significantly higher honey yield, especially in the spring). Most importantly it limits the reproduction of the mites, because only slightly higher temperature above normal brood rearing temperature damage the mites (36 – 38°C for a long time is already a problem for Varroa). Many of the beekeepers who have tested the hive have zero mites fall after the thermosolar treatment at the end of summer or in the beginning of autumn. It was caused by the long term thermal support by the windows, because mites have been already eliminated even before thermosolar treatment itself (but it does not happen in all cases, so the thermosolar treatment and the device for it is necessary). Long term thermal support with slightly higher brood temperatures damaged them and prevent their reproduction. It also helps the colony, according to our experience and also experience of the beekeepers, colonies in Thermosolar hives are usually strongest in the apiary.

Q4. I use 14×12 nationals.  Is your brood box available in this size?

Thermosolar Hive can be manufactured in any dimension, however, we recommend that the brood box is higher than 20 cm. So 14×12 is ideal.

Q5. Is your hive compatible with racks of Ross Rounds?

We haven’t got experience with Ross Rounds. But as I see, they are used in the honey boxes, so there should be no problem with it.

Q6. Can I just put regular supers on top of the hives or my Ross Round racks?

Thermosolar hive is special construction, there are many parts that are necessary and there is also insulation. It is therefore compatible with the frames, but not with supers of regular hive. So you can’t put classical super on the thermosolar super because their dimensions are different. We provide Thermosolar hive with 3 supers. They are used as brood and honey supers. You can use your Ross Round racks without any problems in the thermosolar super used as the honey super.

Q7. This treatment cannot be started until external temperatures are 20C.  In the UK, most beekeepers would have a super on by this point, even with a 14×12 brood box. I assume you would need to shake the bees off the super and then start the treatment?

There are two treatments in the spring, which are optional and two treatments at the end of summer, which are important, because you need to protect long living winter bees. So only the treatment in the late summer (usually August or beginning of September) is necessary. I hope you have at this time day high temperatures over 20C. This does not mean that you need to wait until outside temperature reaches 20C to start treatment, but you can start in the morning if you know that temperature around noon will be higher than 20C. Treatment is done at the time when no honey supers are mounted and the season is over, you don’t need to move bees from honeys super to the brood box. It is also possible to close the hive entrance and this measure is often done in the early spring when outer temperatures are not high enough. However, this measure is not ideal for beginners, it is better to start with an easy thermotherapy.

Q8. What temperature kills small hive beetle?  Maybe 40-47C is enough to kill this parasite too?

I am not sure about small hive beetle. I don’t know any studies or experience with its elimination by heat. Also we don’t have this pest in our country, so our experience is limited only on the literature.

Q9. Do these temperatures kill other parasites?

We are sure that it helps on Nosema Apis problem, thermotherapy is one of its solutions.

Q10. When is the university paper coming out?  Which university?

It is Palacky University in cooperation with University of South Bohemia. We are not sure about the exact date.  They have told us about the results (which are good) and that the article is finished and now in the review phase. It might be a few months.

Q11. Can one use a normal queen excluder and clearer boards with your hive?

Yes, queen excluders are no problem, the clearer boards are the same. You just need the right dimensions and you can apply it normally.

Q12. I have read and emailed you the research paper that says brood can be killed above 40C. What is your evidence that this is not the case?

I have read the same article you emailed me some time ago and have a knowledge of other similar themes. In the paper you sent, strong and long-term deviations from the normal brood rearing temperatures are what is damaging the brood. In the paper, the brood was at the higher temperature for 24 hours per day, day-by-day of its rearing. The Thermosolar Hive thermally supports the colony and this can raise the temperature to 36-38ºC on hot, sunny summer days. However, this temperature is maintained for only a few hours per day, usually about 2 to 5 hours. And not every day – it can be cloudy or outside temperatures can be lower to achieve this. So in normal summer in England, it can be in average 2 or 3 days per week, so lets say approximately 4 to 15 hours per week. This is a huge difference if compared with 168 hours per week in laboratory. This slightly higher brood temperature a few times per week damage the varroa mites and disable their reproduction. That is why there are no mites at the end of summer in most of the hives even without the 2 hour thermotherapy treatments at 40-47C. If we talk only about the thermotherapy treatments, it is done only 2 (or optionally 4) times per year and higher temperatures are maintained only for few hours. Another important point during thermotherapy is humidity. Humidity is much lower than normal. It is the same effect as if you go to sauna. There can be temperatures even higher than 100ºC and you can enjoy it. Humidity is the key, because there is a very low humidity in the sauna. If the humidity would be high, you can’t survive 100ºC. It is the same with our thermotherapy: short term heating with low humidity is without problem. Young house bees stay on the brood at temperatures between 40-47ºC, because they don’t have hardened cuticle and can cool themselves as we do in sauna. The rest of the bees with hardened cuticle is in lower parts of the hive with lower temperatures. However, practice is the most important for us. We and beekeepers who use the hive know that the brood is not damaged and the bees in Thermosolar hives are very strong and have higher honey yields. This is probably the best answer from practice. If the hive would damage the brood, the opposite would be true.

Q13. And what about hot countries and states?  Is the Thermosolar Hive relevant to them?

States like Texas are completely ok. If there are very hot sunny days over 35C, it is better to shade the windows. Hive is insulated, so is better suited against hot weather than classical hives (heat does not enter the hive thanks to insulation). Only the windows (oriented South-South-East) can make the difference. In the summer they work best in the morning until the noon. Around 12:00 sun is high on the sky and only small part of sunrays shine on the windows. In the afternoon this situation deepens even more – sun goes slowly down, but it moves to the west, so energy from the sunshine is minimal. Therefore sunny days with temperatures around 30C are ok. And when there are very hot days reaching 40C, beekeeper needs to shade the windows. It is easier for bees to cool down this hive than if it was a classical thin-walled hive.

In Conversation With Professor Francis Ratnieks, University of Sussex

I have been in email conversation with Professor Ratnieks, Labatory of Apiculture & Social Insects (LASI), leading expert on honeybees.

He needs to see the published University research and evidence (mentioned above) before being more convinced by this new hive.  And this will not be available until later in 2016.

He pointed me to a 2010 review “Biology and control of Varroa destructor” [link opens the PDF] by Peter Rosenkranz, Pia Aumeier & Bettina Ziegelmann and particularly to Table 2 where it says “… application of heat to isolated brood combs or whole colonies … is effective (especially on brood mites in treated brood combs) but costly on a time and material basis”.

Conversations On Beekeeping Forums

I have been onto a few beekeeping forums to gather opinion. This is evolving. In summary, some people are hopeful others are sceptical.  There is a level of debate, often laugh-out-loud and humorous, some happy that inventors are looking at ways of combatting varroa without chemicals and  some with concerns it will harm the brood.  I asked the Thermosolar Hive team re this concern on harming brood which is in the Q&A above.

Interesting links provided on forums:

My Conclusion

I agree with Professor Ratnieks – we need to see the University results – out later in 2016.

Dear readers – grateful for any questions and comments.  You never know Roman or Jan might come and answer some of them.

Read More

Flying Bees, 3,200 Varroa & Beesuits

Flying Bees, 3,200 Varroa & Beesuits

Flying Bees

“Hello, it’s me”.  It’s been 4 months since my last actual beekeeping post.  I’ve missed you all  Let’s start with the good news.

On some of the warmer, sunny days in February I have seen up to 20 bees at any one time flying into and out of one of my hives (middle hive) and even though the other hive does not appear to be releasing flying bees, I can see a cosy cluster when I peer through the narrow entrance.

The varroa boards also showed some decent activity in the hive, though more debris on the middle hive board, suggests more activity inside the hive.

Varroa mite board - 25 Feb 16
Varroa mite board – 26 Feb 16 – Near Hive
Varroa mite board - 25Feb16
Varroa mite board – 26 Feb 16 – Middle Hive

3,200 Varroa & How To Manage?

I’m looking for advice and thoughts on this part of my blog post, so please comment.

I treated my hives with Apiguard in August and then due to a high varroa count (calculator estimated I had up to 600), strong colonies and warm temperatures, I treated with MAQs in mid-October. All the details can be found in My Apiary Notes.

I did not treat with oxalic acid this winter for two reasons:

  1. Very mild winter and hence, higher levels of brood and oxalic acid less effective
  2. Scientific article on 5th January 2016 in which Professor Francis Ratnieks, Head of Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI), University of Sussex, said “… beekeepers should cease using the other two methods (“trickling” and “spraying”, in which a solution of oxalic acid is used) as they are harmful to the bees and less effective at killing Varroa”. Article: Scientists determine how to control parasite without harming bees

The sublimation technique, which is effective, requires expensive equipment and has to be used carefully, so as not to be hazardous to health.  I am not planning to use oxalic acid at all from now.

Counting the mite drop on the varroa board, the National Bee Unit varroa calculator is giving me a very broad estimate of varroa numbers from 400-3,900 and that I need to treat now or within 2 months.

My plan to reduce varroa ASAP, but I need to wait for warmer temperatures:

  1. If temperatures consistently above 15C and there is not a honey flow: Apiguard
  2. If temperatures consistently above 10C, colonies strong and honey flow: MAQs
  3. If colonies weak and temperatures low … I guess I’ll use Apiguard or perhaps just 1 MAQs strip.

I have Bee Cosies on my hives, so this increases the temperature in the hive, so perhaps this will help with the efficacy and early use of Apiguard or MAQs?

Thoughts on the strategy above much appreciated.

Bee Suits

It’s something I have been meaning to do but not got round to … but have finally put my bee suit through the washing machine.  It has a detachable hood, which is the only way to put a bee suit through a machine wash.  Any new beekeepers wondering what bee suits to buy I highly recommend Sherriff Bee Suits. These are hand-stitched in Cornwall, probably the best quality suits and the company has a really interesting story.  They are one of the sponsors of this blog and I have previously written about my experiences in finding a bee suit.

Hive Insulation & Bee Cosy

Hive Insulation & The Bee Cosy

September is a crucial time for me in the Apiary. This is my make and break month in terms of getting the bees through the winter and then having honey producing colonies next spring and summer. I had a disastrous winter earlier this year and hence I am doing everything I can to reduce my bee colony losses over the winter.

Chris Wray, inventor of the cutely titled “Bee Cosy” is mentoring me and writing a few guest posts to help readers get their bees through the winter. The modern hive is pretty cold compared to the hollow of a tree. Hive insulation reduces the amount of stores required by bees and increases colony survival rates.   The Bee Cosy is “the world’s first breathable waterproof insulating hive cover”. He’s on a mission to increase bee colony survival rates. I recommend reading every page of his website because it is all interesting and useful.

Bee Cosy
Bee Cosy

I mentioned I had a cunning plan for this winter and this is it. Chris is providing me with mentoring and a couple of Bee Cosies and in return I bought a further couple of Bee Cosies and am providing some publicity.  Let’s hope this works.

In his first guest post, Chris discusses UK winter losses compared with the Bee Cosy losses.  In his next post, he’ll go through a checklist to get everything ready for winter.

Bee Cosy Winter 2014 Losses Of Only 2%

By Chris Wray, Bee Cosy Inventor

The BBKA’s winter survival survey for winter 2014 showed losses across the UK of 14.5% with losses of 15.5% for the North East where most of our Bee Cosy sales have been made.

As for winter 2012 and 2013, we surveyed all Bee Cosy users on the same basis as BBKA – i.e. colonies in place at 31 March. Although our sample is not large as the BBKA, we achieved a fantastic 98% survival rate from all the beekeepers who responded using a total of 40 Bee Cosies.

Bee Cosy Winter Losses 2014 / 15
Bee Cosy Winter Losses 2014 / 15

As you recall, the winter of 2014 was not as bad as forecast. Bad weather was confined to fog and icy roads in December, storms and strong winds in January, and some snow in early February. The Met Office’s statistical summary showed that, across the UK, “the average winter temperature was 0.2 degrees higher than usual for 1981-2010. There were 25% more hours of sunshine than usual, and slightly less than the usual 33 days of air frost ” Despite 2014 being a mild winter, BBKA statistics showed that UK colony losses still increased to 14.5% from 9.6%.

As seen in the graph above, with 3 years of survey results now in, the Bee Cosy does seem to be making a difference. Whilst there may be a small positive bias in these results in that the Bee Cosy may attract a more assiduous beekeeper, there is also an element of negative bias in that beekeepers may be choosing to put Bee Cosies on their weaker hives.

Overall, I believe the results show a good case for the merits of the Bee Cosy.

Read More

  • Bee Cosy website
  • My Apiary – My notes show my preparations for winter. The small swarm has perished due to wasps leaving 3 good colonies. Apiguard treatment finished. Feeding in progress.  Extra roof insulation added.

BBKA News: Which Is More Complex – Keeping Bees Or Children?

BBKA News: Which Is More Complex – Keeping Bees Or Raising Children?

Raising a fully functioning child who isn’t addicted to Peppa Pig, Hula-Hoops and screaming ‘no’ to perfectly reasonable requests not to engage in life-threatening behaviour is undoubtedly more stressful than managing a bee colony. My two kids are to blame for my overly salted hair and not the bees.

Beekeeper & Baby
Beekeeper & Baby

However, as I look at the two books currently residing beside my bed (Toddler Taming and Beekeeping: A Seasonal Guide) I realise each of the disciplines have a claim to being the more complex.

Both bees and small children refuse to follow the rules and often fail to understand that we are trying to help. That said, they are usually happy to get on with it whilst we observe.

Still, we-who-love-them hope that one day, by reading the right books, talking to the right people, finding the ‘secret’, we will finally get them sussed.  Yes, one day we will get them to sleep through the night and to produce lots of honey.

So as I continue to research the theories behind child-rearing and bee-keeping, I wonder which is taking more toll on that grey matter of mine. And to work that out, I devised a completely non-scientific comparison study.


Bottle or breast. Baby-led or purees. The blue spoon or the impossible-to-find pink one. Feeding a child can be tricky, with militant campaigners on either side. The older generation seem to think us lot are insane with our Annabel Karmel recipes books (yes, she teaches us how to mash broccoli) but we need to put our £30 baby sized food mixer to good use. My mum says it wasn’t that complicated in her day but now of course we know how dangerous food can be! Whole grapes (choking hazard), nuts (allergy) – quite frankly the kitchen is a danger zone for the first 18 months.  Child Brain Toll (CBT) rating: 3/5

Ideally bees won’t need any feeding but weighing the hives and calculating how much stores they need for the winter does take a bit of thinking.  Making the fondant or syrup is my kind of cooking.  I might have over-fed bees my bees last autumn and I’m sure this contributed to my dismal survival rate. Bee Brain Toll (BBT) rating: 3/5


With kids you get them vaccinated and try to make sure grandparents don’t get them addicted to chocolates and ice cream. At the first sign of illness, the wonder drug that is Calpol comes out. We now buy magnums of the stuff.  CBT: 1/5

Bee health is extremely complex.  We have to be the doctors and nurses. We have to diagnose and treat.  Ideally – even a general inspection should be done to the same hygiene standards as open heart surgery. BBT: 5/5


This is when rituals can become complex.  A lot has been written about getting babies to sleep and it’s a hot topic.  With our eldest, we had 12 months of “bouncy time”, involving up to 30 minutes of jumping on the bed between bath time and reading, followed by a song and rocking.  She never slept in the cot during the day meaning that when we were exhausted we still had to take her out in the pram for her daytime naps. Luckily our second child read the instruction manual and has been much more compliant. Nine months in we even get the odd night when he actually sleeps through the night.  CBT: 4/5

OK, bees don’t sleep, but I’m going to include over-wintering in this comparison.  This activity involves a varroa treatment in August; in September checking the bees are disease free, have a laying queen, are a strong colony, have enough stores and fed as required; in October providing insulation and a mouse guard.  You only need to do this once per year per hive (compared with 3 times a day per child) but it’s more complex than “bouncy time”. BBT: 5/5

Development & Play

I must have said “da-da” to my children 10,000 times before getting any reward.  I definitely wore out a pair of jeans with each baby as I helped them toddle around the house. And play – they got that all by themselves!  Not complex, just repetitive. CBT: 1/5

Bees go through the cycle of house worker to forager all by themselves without any input from the beekeeper. I’m not sure if bees play, perhaps the drones, but they do dance! BBT: 1/5


If my eldest does any more moaning, I’m going to sign her up to the next series of Loose Women.  Whilst child experts on TV can make improving behaviour look simple, it’s an issue for all parents.  From trying to get your infant not to drop the spoon again for you to pick up, to the benefits of sharing, these are difficult messages to get through. Persistence and a firm voice is key – as are threats of a CBeebies-ban.  CBT: 5/5

Bee behaviour is fascinating. Preparing to swarm, swarming and the social aspect of storing honey for the winter for future generations.  But they get on with this all by themselves.  I can’t train them not to swarm, or to lay comb in straight lines. In a way it’s easier knowing we cannot take responsibility. BBT: 1/5


So, the unweighted “Brain Toll” totals from above are:

  • Children: 14/25
  • Bees: 15/25


Bees might have just won this complexity battle but both disciplines are equally worth the effort. Both bring me joy, challenge, a smile and pride.  And with all this external focus, they might even be helping me to “regain my sanity”.

Read More

Supering Up & Supering Down

Supering-Up & Supering-Down

Supering-Up – What Is It?

Supering, or supering-up, is when beekeepers add supers (the small boxes for honey) on top of the brood box.  This is where the worker bees store the honey that we can then harvest and extract.

How Many Supers Do I Need?

Beehive packages usually come with 2 supers. An average honey yield in the UK for a hobby beekeeper is the equivalent of 1 super, so in theory 2 supers would be enough most of the time.

However, in a good season you might have 3, or even 4 supers, on a hive (though probably not every hive). You could manage on less if you harvested and extracted during the season.

I now have 4 supers per hive.  This is based on the advice of Ian McLean (National Diploma In Beekeeping), 40 years experience and who has written for the “in the apiary” section of the BBKA news.  In turn, his advice is based on his experience and research by “Rinderer & Baxter” who gained 30% more honey with the practice described below as compared with the 2 supers approach.

His advice also appeals to the optimist in me.

Bee Hives - Mid July
Bee Hives – Mid July

When Do I Add Supers?

In advance of the Spring nectar flow – which is approximately mid-April in the UK.

The standard advice is to add another super when 7 of the 10 frames in the super below are covered in bees.

Ian’s advice is to add 3 supers at the start of the Spring nectar flow. The theory is that the bees use all the space in the 3 supers like a drying room, allowing the water to evaporate off the nectar and thus produce more honey.

What If I Have Flat (Not Drawn) Foundation?

  • If all your supers are flat foundation – use 2 supers. This will encourage them to draw them out
  • If you have one super that is drawn and one super that is flat – put the super with flat foundation on top

When Do I Remove Supers?

You can remove supers and extract them at any time so long as the comb is capped.

In areas of oil seed rape, it’s pretty much essential to do an extraction after the first nectar flow before it granulates in the comb – about the end of May.

Many beekeepers do one extraction at the end of the Summer nectar flow – about the first week in August in the UK. I aim to remove the supers in the last week of July so that the bees still have surplus nectar to forage whilst I add Apiguard and then they forage on ivy in September/October.

The 4th super is used when you remove the 3 supers for harvesting,  You put this super on the hive to give the 60,000 bees the space they need rather than squashing them into a brood box. The foundation can be flat, you are just making space for all the bees. They are unlikely to draw the comb at this time of year.

Variation – Just Using 3 Supers

I think you could try a variation to the method described above. You could put the 3 supers on at the start of the Spring flow, but at the end of Summer you could make up 2 supers of capped honey and leave a super of uncapped or partially capped honey on the hive. I have been advised to place this super below the brood box at the end of the flow so that (a) you can place the Apiguard on top of the brood box and (b) as the bees go into Autumn and Winter the cluster will start at the bottom of the hive and then make their way up giving more stores and better ventilation (see post link below).

Read More

Brood Comb – Photos

Brood Comb – Photos

It’s warming up here in the UK with the temperatures pushing an unseasonal 19C. I am sure many beekeepers have had the excitement of their first inspection of the year. I even managed to find the queen that evaded me last year and marked her for good measure.

It is vital to be able to read the comb and understand what healthy comb and diseased comb looks like. Below are some photos and descriptions. At the end of the page are some links with further information.

Please email me any other photos you would like published on this page.

Healthy Brood Comb With Capped Worker Brood

Capped Brood
Capped Brood
Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright

This is what we like to see. Many of the uncapped cells you can see are following the lines of the wire that strengthens the foundation.

Healthy Brood Comb With Eggs In Cells

Bee Eggs In Cells
Bee Eggs & Larvae In Cells
Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright
  • Healthy: Single egg in centre of cell, eggs in every cell
  • To spot eggs have your back to the sun and tilt the frame

Brood Comb With Multiple Eggs In Cells

Multiple Eggs In Cells
Multiple Eggs In Cells
Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright
  • Cells with multiple eggs or eggs at side of cell or spotted pattern of egg laying means you have a poor/old queen, drone laying queen or laying workers. Laying workers eggs are unfertilised and develop into drones; the signs are similar to those of the drone-laying queen, except that the brood pattern is often less compact. Also there will be multiple eggs present in some cells, often on the side walls as well as at the bottom of the cell.
  • Treatment: Older queens  or queens running out of sperm – re-queen.  Laying worker colonies are best destroyed.

Healthy Brood Frame With Eggs & Pollen

Honeybee eggs and larvae
Honeybee eggs and larvae

Super Frame With Capped Honey

Frame Of Capped Honey
Frame Of Capped Honey

 Capped Drone Brood

Drone Brood
Drone Brood
  • This was drone comb created below a standard brood frame which I then culled as part of varroa management. Drone brood is slightly wider and stands out more than worker brood.

Brood Comb With American Foul Brood (AFB)

American Foulbrood (AFB)
American Foulbrood (AFB)
Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright
  • Bacterial disease
  • I find it helpful to remember that A in AFB is for “After” and E in EFB is for “Early”. “After” because the signs are visible after the comb is capped.
  • Signs of AFB: cappings sunken, perforated, might look wet; spotted brood pattern; foul smell. Insert a matchstick into a suspect capped cell and it comes out a ropey, gooey mass

Brood Comb With European Foulbrood (EFB)

European Foulbrood (EFB)
European Foulbrood (EFB)
Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright
  • Bacterial disease
  • Larvae die before they are capped (unlike AFB which die after capping)
  • Signs of EFB: twisted larvae in base of cells, larvae light brown colour, sunken cappings, a our smell (but not as foul as AFB)
  • Matchstick test does not work

Chalk Brood

Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright
Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright
Chalkbrood Dummies On Hive Floor
Chalkbrood Dummies On Hive Floor
Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright
  • Fungal disease

Wax Moth Damaged Comb

Wax Moth Damage To Comb
Wax Moth Damage To Comb
Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright

Deformed Wing Virus

Deformed Wing Virus (DWV)
Deformed Wing Virus (DWV)
Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright

Damaged Comb Due To Varroa Mites

Damaged Comb Due To Varroa
Damaged comb or unfinished brood capping can be an indication of high varroa infestation
Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright

 Varroa Mites On Honeybees

Varroa Mite On Honeybee
Varroa Mite On Honeybee
Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright


Nosema Apis - Dysentery On Frames
Nosema Apis – Dysentery On Frames
Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright
  • Protozoan disease affects intestinal tracts like dysentery in humans.
  • Signs: slow build up in spring, bees aimless in front of hive, dysentery inside and outside hive
  • You can only be sure you have Nosema is by identifying the spores under a microscope. Read more at my recent post Nosema – Advice Required.

Bald Brood

Bald Brood
Bald Brood
Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright
  • Signs: small patches of normally developing larvae with uncapped or partially capped cells.

Read More

  • Bee Hygiene: Gives more detail on honeybee diseases, including some PDF downloads from NBU and how to avoid spreading disease from hive to hive
  • Varroa Management Guide
  • Catch up on events in My Apiary – it’s been a disastrous winter – but I’ve learnt a lot

Best Bee-Friendly Flowers (Evidence-Based)

Best Bee-Friendly Flowers (Evidence-Based)

Spring is in the air and many gardeners are beginning to think about what to plant.

But beware – many cultivated garden plants have been carefully bred for their colour and flower size not their pollen and nectar loads and the results is that many are sterile and no good for bees.

Echium vulgare (vipers bugloss)
No. 1 – Echium vulgare (vipers bugloss)
Photo courtesy of rosybee

So which garden plants are best for bees? Which flowers produce the most nectar and pollen per square metre over the year?  These are the types of question that rosybee (online plant nursery in Oxfordshire that sells plants for bees) set out to answer and the results were published in the March 2015 edition of the BBKA News.

Borage (Borago officinalis)
No. 2 – Borage (Borago officinalis)

This research ranked garden flowers by taking the average number of bees observed per square meter and multiplying this by the number of weeks the plant was in flower.  Of the 45 flowers tested the research ranked Echium vulgare as the best plant for bees and the next three were Borage, Hyssop and Helenium autumnale.

Helenium autumnale
No. 3 – Helenium autumnale

Below is a snap shot of the results but the full report is well worth a read (link to research).

Best Bee Friendly Flowers
Best Bee-Friendly Flowers (rosybee research)

I think the borage will work best for me (photo further up) and I have tracked some down. It can be used as a herb too.  I’ll take photos with bees on it in due course and encourage neighbours to take cuttings.

Hyssopus officinalis
No. 4 – Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) – Photo courtesy of rosybee

Read More

  • If you live in the UK and want some bee-friendly plants delivered to your door, then the rosybee website and plants are well worth a look.  It is also inspiring to read about their creation of a 6 acre bee haven using sustainable methods – a dream of many beekeepers!
  • Internal page on Bee Friendly Plants & Flowers

MAQs Strips Or Apiguard?

MAQs Strips Or Apiguard?

This is the kind of question I ponder in my search to create the Ultimate Beekeeping Calendar. But it’s also a question I can’t find an answer to on the Internet, so I thought I would ask you guys.

If I don’t get swayed by any comments to this post I’m going for the MAQs strips.


There are a number of interventions I am using to reduce varroa.  In summary these are:

  • April – Drone culling
  • August – Either MAQs strips or Apiguard
  • December (if it has been a cold winter, <5C for 3 weeks) – Oxalic Acid

I have written more about Varroa Management on pages highlighted at the bottom of this post. There are also links to the products I am discussing.

MAQs Strips & Apiguard – Pros & Cons

MAQs Strips

  • Active ingredient: Formic acid.  Formic acid is a natural component of honey and is found in the venom of ants
  • How it works: Kills varroa where they breed, i.e. in the hive and in the capped brood
  • Effectiveness: Reduces varroa population by 90% and also kills tracheal mites
  • Application: Temperature needs to be above 10C but less than 29C, treatment takes 1 week
  • When: Typically used from April – August, when have honey supers on
  • Other benefits: It evaporates completely, leaves no residue in the comb
  • Side effects: Randy at Scientific Beekeeping (link below) reported few side effects as compared with previous formic acid treatments. The MAQs website says “background colony health issues, such as queen frailty, may be exposed”
  • Advantages: can be used with open mesh floors and without closing hive up (as required with Apiguard)
  • Disadvantages: one year shelf life; don’t use if above 29C
  • Cost: £6/hive


  • Active ingredient: Thymol. Thymol is a naturally occurring substance derived from the plant thyme
  • How it works: Kills varroa in the hive (but not in the capped brood)
  • Effectiveness: Reduces varroa population by 93% and also kills tracheal mites
  • Application: Temperature needs to be above 15C, treatment takes 4 week, requires 2 treatments. Cannot be used with honey supers you want to extract
  • Timing: Typically applied from mid-August (in UK), can also be applied in spring
  • Side effects: can sometimes make the queen stop egg laying for a short period; brood may be removed by the workers.
  • Disadvantages: Because you need to remove any honey supers you want to extract and you cannot feed at the same time, I struggled to feed and use Apiguard at the same time (a colony starved last year). Hence, why I am considering MAQs strips
  • Cost: £5/hive


  • Both treatments are similarly effective, priced and side-effects
  • Apiguard has the advantage of being applied a month later, hence, could result in a lower mite count over the winter and spring but it’s used at the same time as when I feed the bees
  • I currently favour MAQs strips for the following reasons:
    • No complications with feeding (as described in paragraph above)
    • More efficient – it is one visit rather than the two visits required to deliver the two Apiguard doses
    • More efficient – I don’t need to spend time sealing up the hive

Read More

UK Beekeepers Needed

Anna is a student at the University of Bristol and is conducting research to understand the impact of beekeeping practise on honeybee decline.  There is more information below and Anna’s contact details if you want to be included.  I understand she needs 5 more beekeepers for her study.

Anthropological Analysis Of Beekeeping Practise In The UK

What is the purpose of this study?

Honeybees have suffered serious declines globally. Research has concluded that there is no single explanation for the rise in mortality, and that it is most likely a combination of many direct and indirect stressors. One such area of this debate is beekeeping practise, which is what this study will be exploring. The aim is to speak to 30 beekeepers over the telephone or on Skype about their bees, their experiences since becoming a beekeeper, and their thoughts on the decline of the honeybee in general.

What does participation entail?

You will be required to commit to one short telephone or Skype interview lasting around 10-20 minutes. During the interview, I will ask you about yourself, about how you came to become a beekeeper, what you do with your bees now and how you do it.

Why have I been invited to participate?

This invitation is open to all beekeepers, new and old, commercial and sideliner, and is available to be passed on to recommended friends should they also wish to speak with me. As my work is essentially an exploration of views, I am interested in talking to beekeepers from all walks of life and with varying opinions on the debate. This is a chance for you to have your voice heard and be among the first to contribute towards an analytical debate surrounding yourself and your bees.

What are the possible benefits of taking part?

There is no direct benefit to the participant as I am not in a position to advise on best practise; however, you will be lending your voice to a currently underexplored but very important area of research, therefore the indirect benefits to taking part are plenty.

There are no known disadvantages to taking part in this study.

What should I do if I want to take part?

Taking part in this research is open to anyone and is voluntary. If you do decide you would like to be involved, please call, text or email me on 0771523856/ai0098@my.bristol.ac.uk and let me know. I will get back to you as soon as possible and we can arrange a date and time for the interview. I hope to finish the interview process by the end of February.

What will happen to the results of the research study?

The results of this research study are for my dissertation topic. The final piece of work could be published but will most likely be used in concurrence with my postgraduate research project. If so, all participants will be informed of this. You are welcome to request a copy of the finished piece once it has been completed. I have provided both my university and my home email address so that you can keep in contact with me should you wish to order a copy after I leave University.

Who is organising and funding the research?

I am conducting this research as an Archaeology & Anthropology undergraduate student for my dissertation at the University of Bristol. There is no funding for this research. This research has been approved by the University of Bristol Research Ethics Committee.

Contact for Further Information

Anna: ai0098@my.bristol.ac.uk/a.ignatieva91@gmail.com/ 07715238567

Useful Links

What is your attitude to beekeeping? Please vote.

Quarterly Beekeeping Attitude Survey

01 January – 31 March 2013

I was surprised when I started beekeeping, how many beekeepers were frustrated and fed up with it.  Fed up with the effort, fed up with the bad weather, fed up with all the bee mites and parasites.  But history records that beekeepers have been planning to give up beekeeping since at least the 1600’s due to the challenges of beekeeping and the weather; and there is hope for the future.  There are efforts to select more hygenic bees which are better able to live with varroa.  There is more information about beekeeping good practice.  And the weather, surely cannot be as bad as 2012. (OK – it probably can).

So, with this in mind I thought it would be interesting to run a Quarterly Attitude Survey to see how people are feeling about beekeeping as the seasons progress.  Is the first quarter of 2013 to be the Beekeeping Winter Of Discontent or Winter Of Hope?

Please vote in the survey below and encourage your beekeeping mates to do the same.  I’ll write up some conclusions and keep running the quarterly surveys.

What is your attitude to beekeeping at the start of 2013?

  • A. Negative - I am planning to give up (1%, 1 Votes)
  • B. Neutral - I will see how it goes this year (6%, 7 Votes)
  • C. Positive - I find it very frustrating but will continue (12%, 13 Votes)
  • D. Very positive - I love it and plan to continue for the rest of my life (81%, 89 Votes)

Total Voters: 110

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I am most likely to stop beekeeping, because:

  • A. Generally it's too frustrating and too much effort (2%, 2 Votes)
  • B. Varroa and other baddies take the fun out of it (10%, 9 Votes)
  • C. The weather is not good for the bees (2%, 2 Votes)
  • D. My colonies got wiped out (8%, 7 Votes)
  • E. I am not producing much honey (3%, 3 Votes)
  • F. My back is now aching (4%, 4 Votes)
  • G. It's too expensive (2%, 2 Votes)
  • H. My bees keep swarming and annoying neighbours (2%, 2 Votes)
  • I. I am allergic to bees (3%, 3 Votes)
  • J. Nothing could put me off (55%, 51 Votes)
  • K. Other (please comment below) (8%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 92

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What is the single most important reason you enjoy beekeeping?

  • A. I am a commercial beekeeper and it makes money (3%, 3 Votes)
  • B. I love honey (1%, 1 Votes)
  • C. I like working with bees (48%, 48 Votes)
  • D. It connects me to nature and grounds me (26%, 26 Votes)
  • E. The challenge - I don't like to give up or be beaten (12%, 12 Votes)
  • F. I want to save the planet (4%, 4 Votes)
  • G. It gets me out of the house (2%, 2 Votes)
  • H. Other (please comment below) (3%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 99

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How many years have you been a beekeeper?

  • A. 1 year (21%, 22 Votes)
  • B. 2-5 years (45%, 46 Votes)
  • C. 6-10 years (10%, 10 Votes)
  • D. 11+ years (24%, 25 Votes)

Total Voters: 103

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Any further thoughts or feedback on the survey, the questions or the results, then please comment below and I’ll aim to improve on this first attempt.

If you want to receive future posts and conclusions of this survey, you might want to subscribe.  Or before you subscribe, you might want to check out some of the posts such as The Honey Jubilee – But Where’s My Queen.

Conversations with bees – an opportunity to unleash all your crazy ideas

I first heard about the “Conversations With Bees” project via an email from the Bristol Beekeepers Association and since then I have seen articles and adverts in the honeybee press.  In essence, they (Brunel University, The Honey Project, researchers, designers, do-gooders and young-media-trendy-types) are looking for beekeepers to engage in a conversation about honeybees and a collaboration in designing a beehive.  I am not quite sure what is in it for them and I was even less sure what was in it for me but it felt like a worthwhile and interesting project to respond to.

Their covering letter is fill of social media jargon which didn’t make sense to me.  “The principal aim of the project is to research the environment of beekeeping from an ethnographic standpoint … We are examining the effectiveness of currently available digital and fabrication technologies for the potential of creating a mini-revolution in user-led open design and the ways in which products and services are designed and consumed.”  After reading two more pages along these lines I was still none the wiser but luckily the actual questionnaire was fun and included amusing cartoons which was akin to my sensibilities.

The questions have an emphasis on stimulating our imagination through considering what we would like the bees to be able to tell us and how we would use sensors inside and outside the hive (touch, smell, sight, sound, taste).   I saw this project as an opportunity to unleash my madness and put down every crazy idea I have had about beehives.  It also made for another reason not to build flat packs (due to the housemove).

This is the advert I saw and has their contact details:

Conversations with beesPostscript: I am now conducting Beekeeping Surveys.  What is your attitude to beekeeping?  Please vote.

EU Honeybee Surveillance Programme (Visit 1 of 3)

I do, I do, I Scoobie do

No sooner had I signed-up to the National Bee Unit’s, BeeBase, than I was rewarded for my enthusiasm by receiving a letter asking if I would like to participate in the “European Union Pilot Surveillance Programme for Honey Bee Health”.   Crikey!

My apiary (of two colonies) was one of 200 apiaries (out of 32,000) from across England & Wales randomly selected from BeeBase and they were going to inspect my hives three times over a year, starting in August.  In this programme, they are collecting baseline data on colony losses and honeybee health from across the EU.   Not only did it sound very worthwhile it gave me some relief that whatever I did during June-August, at least a bee inspector would have a look and perhaps give me some pointers.  It felt like some kind of insurance policy, so I immediately replied with an “I do, I do, I Scoobie do”.

The Bee Inspector

I wasn’t too worried about what the bee inspector would find.  I was just really excited about what I could learn about my bees.

She came last week.  Within minutes she was stroking the bumble bees in the lavendar at the bottom of the garden.  Hmmmm.  I would try and impress my wife and friends with similar displays of affection and try and convince them that I had a deep connection with bees.  Whilst I would be sham, I was convinced the bee inspector knew her stuff.

When it came to inspecting the hive she asked where my smoker was.  I haven’t used smoke for the last couple of months and as a result they have even been more friendly.  She seemed OK with this but she wanted the smoker to hand just in case.  We didn’t need it.

Bee Inspector studying my hives for the EU Pilot Programme

 Bee Inspector from National Bee Unit

Diseases The Study Is Looking Out For

An EU Paper (link at bottom of page) explains ” The focus [of the pilot study] will be on the following main honeybee diseases and/or pathogens: varroosis (V. destructor), American (P. larvae) and European foulbrood (M. plutonius), nosemosis (N. apis, N. ceranae), chronic bee paralysis virus (CBPV) and the two viruses strongly linked with V. destructor (Deformed wing virus (DWV) and Acute bee paralysis virus (ABPV)). These are known to be present with relatively high prevalence and/or impact in Europe. Additionally, the two following notifiable pathogens will be also searched for: A. tumida and Tropilaelaps spp. (currently considered absent from Europe).”

Basically, this means the inspectors are looking for the baddies.

The Inspection

She started out by collecting some dying bees around the outside of the hive and put them in a sample jar with ethanol (I think it was ethanol).  When she got into the hive, she took a couple of bees with Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) and put them in another sample jar.  She put a couple of dodgy looking larvae into a jar.  She also took a frame of bees, shook them into a washing bowl and put a couple of hundred of my workers into a fourth sample jar.  She did this for both hives.  See video below.

She looked for my Queen but could not find her but she could see eggs and larave in my first hive.

After the inspection we had a tea/coffee and she asked me a few questions.  I told her about the history of swarming and high varroa counts.

Sample of honeybees

European Union Pilot Surveillance Programme for Honey Bee Health

Good News & Bad News

Despite the dying bees and couple of bees with DWV, she declared the hives looked healthy based on a quick visual analysis.  However, the bad news is that my hive that swarmed six weeks ago is Queenless and no sign of brood or eggs.  She reassured me that this was common this year.  She also let me know that her honey production was 60% down on last year and my three jars was not untypical.  So as a result of having a Queenless hive she advised me to combine the two hives using the newspaper method.

So I will shortly be down to one colony … lets hope this one makes it through the challenges of autum and winter.

I will get the results of the tests in a few weeks time and will post the results.

Juggling priorities

So I need to reduce the varroa count, feed the bees AND combine the hives.  Somehow I have to juggle the following:

  • Four weeks of  Apiguard treatment whilst it is still above 15C (I’ve done nearly 2 weeks now)
  • Feed the bees before the end of September, but do not feed whilst treating with Apiguard
  • Combine the two hives – I think I can do this when I want (any advice on optimal times to combine hives welcome)

Basically, I am keeping my fingers crossed that it remains warm until the end of September in order to achieve all the above.

Read More

“Look, no smoke” & a Varroa problem

I thought I would try and be a bit more of a natural beekeeper and not use smoke (or water spray) this time I opened my hives.  It’s harvest season and the bees definitely have something to defend, so I was not sure of the wisdom of trying this approach at this time of year, but what the heck.  If it got tough, I’d go back with smoke.

Well, there was no noticeable effect of not using smoke.  The bees were no more aggressive, perhaps less so, as I received no stings and was not even aware of any high pitched squeals, or vibrations on my gloves or clothes that would have meant a bee was trying to sting me.

This might be an exception and I might have friendly bees.  It was definitely not because I am a bee whisperer.   I will keep going with my non-smoke approach.

Update on my hives.

Hive A / Original Hive

One super was pretty full of nectar.  About 30% capped.  One super seemed to have some mildew?  I called one of my beekeeping mentors and he advised leaving the super on until the start of September and hope that the bees cap the rest of the honey.  The risk is that they will eat it though!  Is this what other beekeepers would do?

Super with capped honey and nectar – hope they cap the rest?

Capped honey

A moldy super?  Will the bees clean it up?

Molder super

There was some nectar in one frame of the 2nd super.  But I just removed the whole lot so the bees focused on capping the honey in the first super.  Not sure if this was the right thing to do?

I had put the Varroa count board under the open mesh floor 24 hours before.  I counted 15 Varroa mites on the board, some of them were obviously alive and walking around.  From reading the FERA National Bee Unit guidance on Varroa we don’t want more than 1,000 Varroa in our hives otherwise there is the risk of colony collapse.  You can roughly calculate the number of Varroa in your hive by taking the daily mite drop and multiplying as follows:

  • November to February: daily mite drop x 400
  • May to August: daily mite drop x 30
  • March, April, September and October: daily mite drop x  100

There is also a handy Varroa calculator at Bee Base …  It would have been best to do a count over a week, but I can do that in a few weeks time.  Essentially, it seems like I have about 500 Varroa mites and this will grow rapidly over the next few weeks.  Crikey.

A Varroa mite (middle, middle)

Varroa mite

I have looked through the FERA guidance.  It’s too late in the season to undertake further biological controls beyond my open mesh floor (essentially, drone brood culling and artificial swarms) and it seems I am in a pyrethroid resistant area.  The oxalic acid treatment sounds a bit rough on the bees and one of my bee buddies killed all his bees when he tried it one year.  Hence, I am going to try Apiguard which is described as a natural product and thymol-based.  From reading the Apiguard instructions it seems one has to close the open mesh floor to keep in the fumes of the thymol.   I hope it’s OK just to put my Varroa board in.  Should I tape up the back of the hive as well?  Feedback welcome from beekeepers.   I plan to do this after I take the honey off at the start of September, and I plan to feed them 4 weeks later, after the 4 weeks of Apiguard treatment.  Will the bees be OK if I don’t feed them until October having robbed their super of honey?

Hive B / Swarm I hived in June

No honey or nectar or anything at all in the super.  They have drawn out 7 or the 11 frames in the brood box though.  They swarmed 2 weeks ago and I could not see any eggs or uncapped larvae.  Varroa destructor mite count 5 per day.

Healthy looking 14×12 brood frame – but no eggs or larvae yet

14x12 Brood Frame

You can see bees hatching out in this photo

14x12 Brood Bees Hatching

Plan:  Check this hive again at the start of September and hope to find eggs.  Add Apiguard at same time as Hive A.  Feed in October after Apiguard treatment.

Again, welcome any thoughts on this plan.

If you just want to watch the bees, here is a video clip I took before opening the hives.  You can see the yellow pollen they are bringing in on the backs of their leggs.

Read More

Varroa Management – A how-to guide

Evidence-Based Beekeeping

Reading The Barefoot Keeper, inspired me to do some further reading of scientific papers on honeybees with the aim of trying to understand how I need to adapt the classical methods I had been taught on courses and in beekeeping manuals.

One of the key issues raised in The Barefoot Beekeeper was the use of pre-printed wax foundation.  In his book, Philip states that, given the opportunity honeybees will “build slightly smaller worker cells than those dictated by the preformed sheets of foundation, used in framed hives”.  Philip goes on to say “according to the observations of a several long-time top bar beekeepers, these smaller cells appear to be less attractive to Varroa mites.”

Crikey.  If this is true, that’s important to know.  But was there any rigorous, scientific research into these issues?  I am shifting my reading from beekeeping manuals to science papers.

Scientific Papers

So where does one find the evidence?  I made contact with a leading academic in honeybee health and he pointed me in the direction of Google Scholar and SpringerLink.  The ApiNews Beekeeping Research page publishes new research every week.  The International Bee Research Association publishes research.

I have only had a limited amount of time, but my searches on keywords like “varroa destructor” and “brood cell size” have already yielded interesting papers (like the ones described at the end of this post).  What I have read so far led me to understand:

  • Dusting honeybees with icing sugar does not reduce varroa destructor (Whoa!! I was not expecting this.  Numerous experts had told me this was effective – and this evidence has been known since at least 2009.  See papers below.)
  • Natural selection in some wild colonies has helped improve mite resistance (not forgetting that many wild colonies have died due to varroa infestation)
  • Small-cell combs do not inhibit varroa mite reproduction

Evidence-Based Beekeeping

So, what does this initial research mean for how I keep bees?  Is there enough evidence here on which to base my beekeeping practices?  I’m not sure.  But if you want to join me on this journey, follow this blog (top right of screen) and you’ll find out what happens.  In the meantime, read on …

Dusting Bees With Icing Sugar

I might as well stop.  The evidence is pretty clear and on reading the FERA guides on varroa again, I notice there is no mention of icing sugar.

Natural Selection

It seems that if I don’t get involved in artificially selecting the Queen then my colonies might become better at resisting or living with varroa. But that said, how much can I (novice beekeeper) influence gene selection of my honeybees? Not a lot.


  • Perhaps at some point in the future look into Queen breeding for positive characteristics such as: productivity, not swarming, naturally resistant/hygienic to varroa mites – but not for the time being

Natural Comb

I like the idea of natural comb in the brood box.  I like the idea that the bees make their own sized cells, but evidence suggests this does not impact on the level of varroa infestation.  In The Barefoot Beekeeper, Philip, suggests that it is possible that there are less pesticide residues in new comb, as opposed to the recycled wax in foundation that we buy.


  • None

Summary Of Research

My reading of scientific papers has only just started.  I have only “read” Seven so far, two in full and five abstracts.  So in the scale of things, this is very little.  If there are other useful scientific papers you think I should read, please let me know.

Here is a summary of the seven papers including links:

2012 Paper (link / pdf of full article): Host adaptations reduce the reproductive success of Varroa destructor in two distinct European honey bee populations; authors: Barbara Locke, Yves Le Conte, Didier Crauser, Ingemar Fries (Ecology and Evolution, Volume 2, Issue 6, pages 1144–1150, June 2012)

A key sentence in this article is “Besides suppressing mite reproduction, both Varroa resistant European honey bee populations in this study also share the fact that they have been unmanaged, enabling natural selection (as opposed to artificial) to shape the evolution of their mite resistance. This is an important consideration since it highlights the impact that apicultural practices otherwise have on these host–parasite interactions (Fries and Camazine 2001), suggesting a human interference in coevolution between species.”

There is a good reading list at the end of this paper.

2011 Paper (link): Small-cell comb does not control Varroa mites in colonies of honeybees of European origin

I have not paid for the full article but the abstract concludes, “We suggest that providing small-cell combs did not inhibit mite reproduction because the fill factor (thorax width/cell width) was only slightly higher in the small cells than in the standard cells (79% and 73%, respectively).”

2010 Paper (link): Brood-cell size has no influence on the population dynamics of Varroa destructor mites in the native western honey bee, Apis mellifera mellifera

I have not paid for the full article but the abstract concludes, “there is no evidence that small-cell foundation would help to contain the growth of the mite population in honeybee colonies and hence its use as a control method would not be proposed. “

2010 Paper (link): Brood cell size of Apis mellifera modifies the reproductive behavior of Varroa destructor

I have not paid for the full article but the abstract concludes, “No significant correlation was observed between brood cell width and number of offspring of V. destructor. Infertile mother mites were more frequent in narrower brood cells.”

2009 Paper (link): The efficacy of small cell foundation as a varroa mite ( Varroa destructor ) control

I have not paid for the full article but the abstract concludes, “We found no evidence that small cell foundation was beneficial with regard to varroa control under the tested conditions in Florida.”

2009 Paper (link): The efficacy of dusting honey bee colonies with powdered sugar to reduce varroa mite populations

I have not paid for the full article but the abstract concludes, “Within the limits of our study and at the application rates used, we did not find that dusting colonies with powdered sugar afforded significant varroa control”.  I.e. It had no effect in the conditions they used.  Crikey. Now there’s a surprise.  The researchers dusted every two weeks for 11 months with 120 g powdered sugar per application. They treated by sifting icing sugar over the top bars of the brood nest and then brushing it between the frames. That’s how I’ve been doing it!

2001 Paper (link / pdf): Effectiveness of confectioner sugar dusting to knock down Varroa destructor from adult honey bees in laboratory trials

I have attached the full paper.  I thought it worth including this paper, as it is probably the origin of all the icing sugar dusting that has been going on.  It seems that in lab conditions varroa are knocked off but please see the 2009 paper above for evidence of what happens in real life conditions (or at least conditions similar to how I have been treating varroa).

There are also some interesting papers on using biological plants extracts and essentials oils to reduce varroa but this area needs more research:

  • Repellent and acaricidal effects of botanical extracts on Varroa destructor (2011): link
  • Biological activity of some plant essential oils against Varroa destructor (2011): link


I am going to start developing an Evidence-Based Beekeeping page.  I will rely on blog readers to improve my amateur notes.

If there are any other useful scientific papers, please let me know.  I will read them and see what conclusions I can draw or we can all draw.  Alternatively, please let me know what the conclusions are!

If you would like to be one of the first to receive this new page, please follow this blog.

The Barefoot Beekeeper

I’m a sucker for old ways of doing things, new ways of doing things, different ways of doing things, so I was always going to have a soft spot for a book like this.  And despite advocating natural beekeeping methods, there was no mention of feeding honeybees chamomile tea.

So what did I make of this book?

The Synopsis

Philip is very concerned about the traditional Langstroth hive, conventional beekeeping methods and the use of pesticides.  He’s made me concerned too!

Philip is an advocate of the Top Bar Hive (TBH).  The key reasons for this, is that he believes, the thicker material makes them easier for honeybees to maintain their colony temperature and he likes bees to make their own wax foundation to their natural specifications.  He also believes they are more ergonomic due to their height and they are cheaper and require less equipment than the Langstroth. He uses a horizontal TBH (hTBH) as opposed to a vertical TBH, which is the Warre Hive.  I’m learning!

Philip is an advocate of “natural beekeeping” which means lower, but adequate, intervention, not smoking the hive and not doing things like clipping queens.  It also means taking less honey and spending more time observing the bees.

I also understand that barefoot beekeeping allows for the use of swarm management techniques and feeding the bees when they need it.  It also allows the use of sprinkling them with icing sugar and use of oxalic acid (if needed).  But hopefully, if you get the rest right, the bees will be in better health to look after themselves and hence less intervention is required.

More research is needed into the health of honeybees and how conventional methods might be having a negative impact, and hence the book is based on a mix of ideas and facts.

One of the authors’ objectives is to challenge the conventional approach to beekeeping.  This is a big task.  From a personal experience, all the courses and books and most of the beekeepers I have so far been exposed to are the conventional type.  (Conventional in terms of beekeeping, unconventional in terms of personality).  I had taken it as fact that I needed to smoke my bees and use wax foundation.  Who was I to challenge this?

The author can consider himself successful in his impact on my thinking and behaviour:

  1. He has made me curious about natural beekeeping
  2. I am going to experiment with doing a few things differently with my Nationals immediately
  3. A TBH would be an interesting addition to my hive-mix and I will consider buying one
  4. I am going to further research any scientific papers available to help me make decisions based on evidence

I have already done some reading and am in the process of writing a post titled “Evidence-Based Beekeeping”.  If you would like to be one of the first to receive this post, please follow this blog (top right of page).

Will I Use A Top Bar Hive?

Making a TBH as cheaply as possible seems to be an important part of the initiation into being a barefoot beekeeper, though the author does talk about using champagne corks from his cellar to plug entrances as required.  Corks from our wedding have long gone and I don’t have the tools, skills or innate ability to take a hive plan, some bit of wood and make a hive.

But Yes, I will definitely consider buying one.  I love wild comb and I believe in focusing on bee health as a way to creating honey.  The only thing putting me off is that others have said they have tried to use one with limited success.  So before taking this step I will investigate more and also I need to think about where I can put more hives.

Read the Dave Loveless review of the Top Bar Hive for more information.

Will I Be A Barefoot Beekeeper?

In writing this blog and researching hive types, I had started to pick-up on this fringe of natural beekeepers so some of the ideas had already started to infiltrate my psyche.  These included:

  • I wanted to focus on the health of my bees as a route to honey production
  • I located my hives in the countryside with plenty of flower and plant diversity, no rape in sight and fields devoted to live stock rather than crop (hence less pesticide I think)
  • I had bought a 14×12 brood box as I felt this would give the bees more space for brood and to store their own honey for winter
  • I was also planning on insulating the hive in winter so they used less honey during this period
  • I had considered a beehaus for their insulation properties and ergonomic height (though natural beekeepers will shudder at the use of plastic)
  • I already had no intention of clipping Queens (though this might have been more to do with my fears than for natural beekeeping reasons)
  • I wanted to have fewer and faster inspections than advocated in many books as there is a direct impact on honey production
  • At every chance I speak to fellow allotmenters about the bees and explain swarming so as to reduce anxieties

As a direct result of reading this book I am going to try the following:

  • Not using smoke or anything else when I inspect the hive
  • With future National hives experiment with using wax starter strips in the brood box to at least give the bees some chance of creating the cell sizes they want

I will let you know how it goes! I might discover for myself why people use smoke and wax foundation!  Any thoughts before I embark on this experiment?

Reminder of some useful links

If you want to buy The Barefoot Beekeeper, or other natural beekeeping books, please click here.

As I have said elsewhere, whilst building your own TBH is to be encouraged (it’s part of the initiation process), if you are like me, this is not an option. These links below might be helpful.  A particiapant in a beekeeping forum says “don’t faff about with a 3′ hive, go for 4′ “.

3’ TBH with viewing window

4’ TBH with viewing window

(US Link)

Reading this book led me to Evidence-Based Beekeeping.  Note: evidence gathering is still in progress!