Vita Bee Health Global Honeybee Health Experts

Blog – bees, beekeeping & other sticky subjects

Sugar rush

The feeder in place. Empty again but there are still bees investigating it.

I’ve often heard it said by experienced beekeepers that feeding bees sugar involves a lot of waste because the bees get so excited they consume lots jut by being excited.

And now I have seen evidence of that in the observation hive.

I had to replace the original super frames because they were becoming so full. As soon as the flow ended the bees rapidly consumed the little that was stored in the replacement frames. It happened with frightening speed and I think I just started feeding in time.

They quickly consumed the first kilo of sugar syrup — but there isn’t much to show for it in the way of stores in the comb. In fact I can’t really see any! But oh did they get excited! I think it all vanished in their sugar rush.

It just goes to show how closely an inevitably undersized colony in an observation hive needs to be monitored.

I’m lucky enough not to have to feed my apiary bees in the autumn. I used to feed them, but never enjoyed the messy process. So now I make sure — one way or another — that they have plenty of honey stores to take them through winter and watch closely to make sure they have enough in the dangerous months of March and April when lots of stores are needed to feed the developing larvae.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

Time for varroa treatments but no time for complacency

Now that the honey flow is coming to a close, it is time to treat for varroa mites. Anecdotal reports from northern Europe suggest that varroa mite populations may be relatively low this season, but it is vital that beekeepers are not complacent. It could be that sustained and regular treatment with approved products over several years is having regional or even national impacts and it is therefore extremely important that  those treatments continue.

Close up of a varroa mite on a honeybee. Photo courtesy BetaTec.

Dr Max Watkins, Technical Director of Vita (Europe) Ltd, explained: “Initial anecdotal reports in northern Europe suggest that varroa populations may be relatively low this season, but we would like to hear many more reports before we can be sure of that.

“If these reports are representative, it could be the result of two factors. Firstly, the late spring may have delayed the breeding of varroa, just as it delayed the development of honeybee colonies.

“But, secondly, it could also be that sustained treatment with regulated products over many seasons is inhibiting the development of large varroa mite populations over the longer term. We know that there are few feral colonies around now to act as reservoir for varroa mites and that some beekeepers have lost colonies through inadequate or no varroa control management.

“We have also noticed that in countries where Vita products are popular, the varroa situation seems under relatively good control. In contrast in other countries or areas where Varroa treatment is spasmodic or with non-regulated materials, colonies seem to be experiencing greater problems.”

The safest way to proceed is clear: treat regularly using approved IPM products and methods.  In the Vita product portfolio that means treating each season alternately with Apiguard and Apistan — where there is no resistance to the active ingredient of Apistan.

Although there has been evidence that regionally some colonies have become resistant to fluvalinate, the active ingredient of Apistan, and some other first-generation varroa control products, there is also evidence that Apistan is becoming effective again in areas which have not used Apistan for a number of seasons. There is a quick rule of thumb test for resistance to Apistan here on the Vita website.

Idleness explained?

What, no drones?

Last week, I commented on the idleness of drones sitting in a bunch doing nothing in the middle of the brood frame in the observation hive. I now think I know why they were behaving like that.

I’ve been away for a few days and today I cannot see a single drone in the observation hive. It would seem that now that the summer nectar flow is over and the colony is preparing for winter, the drones were being prepared, probably by starvation, to be thrown out of the hive as they were surplus to colony requirements.

And I missed the spectacle of the workers dragging out tens of drones through the tube — that would have been quite a sight!

I have seen the end results of drone eviction: a pile of drones outside a hive entrance, but I had only ever read about how they are starved, weakened, driven into hive corners before being driven or carried out. It seems they may have been coralled rodeo-style before the final indignity.

It leaves me curious though that a colony in such a small hive would be confident to go into winter. I had really expected queen cells to be built and some late-season swarming. And I had planned not to try to overwinter them in an observation hive with just one brood frame and two super frames. I’ll re-think that now.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger


Last week, The Guardian newspaper ran a story Government bee scientist behind controversial study joins pesticide firm in which it reported that Dr Helen Thompson will leave the UK Government’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) to join Syngenta, one of the pharmaceutical companies that has been heavily involved in the bee and pesticides debate.

Concern was expressed in some quarters about scientists “zigzagging” between the regulators and industry and the impact this might have on Government policy.

Dr Max Watkins, Technical Director of Vita, who might be expected to be uncomfortable about such switching is in fact very relaxed about this move. “I know Helen Thompson quite well from my contact with FERA over many years. Helen is a prominent scientist in her field, and of whom I have the highest regard. Her professionalism and integrity have never been in question. I wish her the best of luck in her new role at Syngenta.”

The idleness of drones

Idling drones.

I never realised that drones could be quite so idle!

Every day, in the middle of a frame in the observation hive is a cluster of drones, twenty, thirty, sometimes more … sitting or perhaps standing (I don’t know which) doing absolutely nothing — except maybe keeping some brood warm.

Meanwhile, the workers scurry around them, only stopping to bury their heads in cells to clean them out.

The Queen, which I usually see as a fast-mover in an opened apiary hive, ambles about in the observation hive and can be surprisingly difficult to spot. If she happens to be laying an egg, I cannot see her abdomen, so she remains virtually invisible.

Today, the first batch of worker brood has emerged, so the hive is looking much more populous already.

The summer nectar flow appears to be over, so as the hive increases in population I wouldn’t be surprised to see a queen cell or two appear soon.

Update: Idelness explained

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger


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