Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects
Replace those old brood frames!
Using a steam cleaning system that separates the beeswax from the rest, there wasn’t too much beeswax coming from the brood frames!
Unlike super frames that should hold the honey only and have nice white beeswax, brood frames seem to be held together mostly by the discarded skins of old larvae and a bit of propolis thrown in!
It provided a timely reminder to replace brood frames regularly to avoid the build-up of a potential disease reservoir.
Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger
A surprise at the herb farm
Last weekend, my first hive was moved to the herb farm I blogged about last November, but there was a surprise in store.
The abandoned WBC hive in the undergrowth that appeared to be empty last autumn did in fact contain a colony of bees. Oh dear! That will have to be dealt with.
I have never really wanted to manage a WBC. It’s a traditional British hive type invented by William Broughton Carr in the late nineteenth century. It is loved by many, mostly for its pretty looks, but disparaged by others! Don’t even mention a WBC to a beefarmer!
I am told that the WBC was especially useful in the days of nineteenth century austerity because the inner walls could be made from discarded fruit boxes. That would have been very thin, cheap wood which would have been protected by the outer ‘lifts’ made of sturdier, more weather-proof wood. Bee-tightness of the joints was obviously not then a priority. WBCs could keep bees warm in winter, not too hot in summer and condensation was not likely to form within the hive.
WBCs certainly look pretty, but they pose management challenges. And I found out very quickly what one of those challenges might be. The abandoned hive at the herb farm was very difficult to prize apart because the colony had obviously done well last season and had built brace comb everywhere — including between the inner and outer walls. It was a bit like cavity wall insulation, just a tad stickier. Still, the honey looked a very tasty dark-golden colour and that promises well for the apiary.
Since I don’t have the parts to manage a WBC and I certainly don’t want a colony untreated for varroa in the vicinity, something must be done! At a first quick inspection, there was sealed, seemingly healthy brood, but no obvious unsealed larvae and, in the chaos of the sprawling nest, no sign of the queen. Given the cool day, I quickly tried to tidy up, cut out the mountains of brace comb and re-organise the frames so that a more thorough inspection could happen on a better day.
The emerging plan is to inspect the colony thoroughly to ensure that it is healthy, treat for varroa and possibly transfer it to one of my Langstroth hives or offer it to a WBC hive beekeeper. More later …
UPDATE 16 March: We shook-swarmed the bees in the WBC into a Langstroth hive and provided some feed. It was too cold to search for the queen thoroughly, so we hope she is on board. Two Apistan strips were also inserted as an anti-Varroa treatment. Since there is no brood yet, the strips need not stay in for the usual full six weeks of two brood cycles. The colony seems healthy but quite small, so we can only hope they get can get going in the spring nectar flow.
Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger
First aid – Vita style
Vita is full of bright ideas 😉 Here’s how useful a promotional mini torch was to one beekeeper:
Helping a friend move some bees one evening, he thought that the hives were safely settled in their new home and started to remove his bee suit, unaware that there were still a few bees that were not so pleased with their new surroundings. One bee decided that crawling into his ear might be a better place to live!
My friend could hear a buzzing in his ear and started to panic. As it was dusk I used your mini torch to shine in his ear. The errant bee was attracted to the light and safely left my friends ear.
So I now always keep your torch with me – just in case!
The season has started: Bee Tradex
Max, Sebastian and Jon were kept busy at Bee Trade Exhibition 2016 in Stoneleigh, England, last Saturday. They thought it was one of the busiest days they had had at a Vita stand in Britain.
There were lots of enquiries about the Asian hornet trap — and orders were placed and a significant number of repeat purchases. There was good feedback about Apiguard’s ability to control Varroa numbers and Apistan is still being used quite happily by many beekeepers, aware that they need to keep a watchful eye on resistant Varroa.
In a new exhibition hall, there was plenty of room to move around even though there were an enormous number of polystyrene hives on display.
Vita’s next appearance will be at the BBKA Spring Convention on 8-9 April 2016.
Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger
Bees, undercrowding & the Allee effect
Back when I was a young and carefree student, I was occasionally to be found (only after the library had closed, obviously) in one of the local nightclubs. Even in sleepy Exeter, there was always a ‘hot’ place to be, which changed on a regular basis as clubs came in and out of favour.
Recently, I’ve been reminiscing about those heady pre-fatherhood days, as I’ve been reading about the Allee effect and its significance for honeybee colonies.
A nightclub can only thrive when busy – we go to clubs to dance (more fun in a full, noisy room) and ‘make new friends’ (much easier in a crowd, so I’m told) – if the club’s too empty even regulars stop going and it quickly closes down.
In the same vein, Warder Allee, an ecologist, proposed that “undercrowding” can limit population growth in the natural world by, for example, making it too hard for an individual to find a partner for cooperative hunting or even a mate.
So how does this relate to bees?
First reported in 2006, there is a now large body of research into so-called ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ and its possible causes. A strong consensus has built that the phenomenon is the result of a combination of stresses on honeybee colonies. These are typically thought to include Nosema, Varroa and virus infestations, exposure to agricultural pesticides and unnatural experiences such as high hive densities, poor nutrition and regular long-distance movement.
New research, published in the scientific journal PLOS One, sheds further light on the issue and, in my opinion, strengthens the existing hypothesis.
Brian Dennis, professor at the University of Idaho, and William Kemp of the US Department of Agriculture, mathematically modelled colony growth and collapse and showed that population size could be the most important factor.
Dennis and Kemp appear to have confirmed a theory first proposed by Lee Dai, then a physics graduate student at MIT, who discovered in 2012 that when yeast colonies reach a small enough size (which they termed the tipping point), complete collapse is inevitable. Field trials in 2013 confirmed that this effect also occurred in honeybee colonies.
Dennis and Kemp link this with the Allee effect by noting that a honeybee colony functions almost as a single cooperative organism. Sufficient adult workers are required to tend the developing brood, so have a positive feedback loop whereby more adult bees in the hive allows recruitment of more adult workers and an increase in hive population (limited by the rate at which the queen can lay eggs).
Conversely, there is a minimum number of adult bees required, below which mortality is greater than recruitment and the colony quickly collapses. In ordinary conditions, this so-called ‘critical hive size’ is small – a population with as few as 1,000 bees (far less than the 10,000 bees in a typical commercial bee package) can thrive.
Importantly, Dennis and Kemp found that external stressors (including reduced communications or foraging abilities, reduced egg laying, increased stage specific developmental times, increased mortality or decreased cooperative hive protection) can massively raise the critical hive size to above that of a typical colony, resulting in the rapid collapse of previously strong colonies.
Bees, just like students, like a crowd and an “undercrowded” hive will collapse just as quickly as an out of favour nightclub.
VitaFeed Gold is a great way to nourish and strengthen colonies suffering from all kinds of stresses and – unlike the tipple in nightclubs – your bees will still feel great the next day!
Commercial Development Manager at Vita