“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

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!