Notes from some recent talks by DARG members

Towards treatment-free beekeeping.

Promoting social immunity to varroa. Varroa has been in the Country for about 30 years, and has “not evolved a satisfactory relationship with bees” Clive de Bryun,

Poor nutrition, toxins, cold snaps, and pesticides = stressed bees. Stressed bees are more susceptible to more viruses.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a combination of methods to control pests and diseases – or to keep them below a level where they can cause extensive damage to the bees. “Ensure bees are constantly challenged by mites so that protective response behaviours become evident.” Norman Carreck.

The question of what level of varroa causes harm? This is variable depending on other factors affecting the colony. You need to monitor more, be more aware of colony experiences, and the general colony health, behaviour, sufficient forage, brood diseases, viruses – deformed wing virus, use a floor insert and find evidence of varroa resistance.

Monthly – use an alcohol/detergent wash, 300 bees are killed using this, or a powdered sugar roll, where no bees are killed – to monitor for varroa levels and resistance.

You could use Drone brood uncapping, but that then reduces the number of Drones around, which then causes other problems with poor queen mating.

Treat less, and start using synthetic acaricides. Anything going in the hive will have an effect, upset the bees, and break a brood cycle, which in turn affects varroa reproduction.

Brood Breaks – curtail the queen’s laying area,

Swarming – a period with a queen, no brood for varroa to breed

Artificial swarm – a period with no brood for varroa to breed

Queen frame trapping – curtail the queen to one frame, once sealed, remove it, do the same thing to three frames of brood, and removes a lot of varroa.

Queen trapping – much the same, but the Queen has nowhere to lay and is caged on a frame where she can still be fed, but not lay. See Buchler’s method

Bait hives, Swarming and control of swarming, methods of splitting bees – Taranov method.

Shook Swarm – Once there is sealed brood, shake the bees onto a new comb, and remove all brood, again most of the varroa will be in the sealed cells.

Timings – Shook Swarm methods, early spring, need a strong colony.

Queen trapping – again needs fairly strong colonies, be aware it may cause swarm cells.

Spring/summer bait frames.

July, Queen frame trapping, once the main swarming season is over.

Promoting healthy colonies

Apiary site selections, Shelter, forage, competition, spacing, orientation, no. of colonies, Insulation of hives, Queen selection, Bees.

You need to think of why and how to do manipulations.

There is also the genetic input, local resistant stock, drones pass on genetics, and older queens may pass on some immunity.

Colony behaviour

Workers learn and communicate within the hive. Behaviours can be switched on and off, undermined or supported. How does our management affect or support this? See the Sustainable Beekeeping National Honey Show video of Ralph Buchler.

Allogrooming – bees grooming each other, they may damage varroa during grooming. Does the bee gym have any effect on allogrooming? Does sugar dusting affect allogrooming development?

Some bees can smell unhealthy larvae, either disease or those affected by varroa and uncap and remove them, or does the act of uncapping and recapping them mean the varroa can’t or limits their reproduction?

It is thought that the uncapping of purple-eyed drones is due to the bees detecting varroa damage, if the larva is healthy then it is recapped, if unhealthy, then it is removed. It is thought that 40-60% of the larva is uncapped by susceptible/hygienic colonies.

There is visible evidence of varroa-resistant bees, pupal parts on the tray, uncapped healthy pupae, and mature varroa with missing legs.

Hygienic bees remove infested brood, recap some, keeping the number of female mites down, mite infertility levels are up, overall mite levels go down, and deformed wing virus levels also fall.

To summarise:

Monitor more, treat less

Locally adapted colonies do evolve

Need to be challenged to develop protective behaviour

All colonies have the potential to develop key behaviour

Using biochemical methods in preference to chemicals helps them reduce the load without disrupting the behaviour

Cell uncapping and recapping training begins with brood removal and leads to increasing mite infertility = social immunity.

Varroa and Pollen mites.

Coloured Syrup – how far does syrup travel around the colony?

Clare removes her supers at the end of July/August, the end of summer. Having extracted the honey, the cappings are then given back to the bees for them to remove the honey from them. She also leaves a super of honey on for stores for the winter. This should be enough food for the bees until the spring flowers emerge.

Feeding to keep bees alive is different to feeding stores. There could be times throughout the year when the bees need feeding due to a lack of forage. “Mind the gap” June, August, anytime. You need to be aware of the weather and the state of the colony.

So where do bees put the food we give them?

How much is moved around?

How much robbing goes on that we are unaware of?

Clare gave her bee’s coloured fondant in September and discovered that yes, they stored it.

Some of her colonies had CBPV, so she gave them some garlic syrup coloured red. The bees put it first in the brood box, took as much as they could and filled up all available cells immediately. It was then moved to different cells and kept moving until the bees presumably had removed as much water from it as they wanted and then it was moved and capped for stores originally all over the hive. More coloured food was given, green and yellow. This was treated the same way, but Clare then found most of the coloured syrup was placed around the brood nest, or in the empty cells in the brood nest. As the brood nest shrunk, so the syrup moved inwards, until it was in the middle of the brood nest area. She found it was all used up by the end of spring, as the queen needed more space to lay, so the stores were uncapped and eaten.

How much is moved around? It was moved a lot whilst the bees dried it out, but then all was put in the brood area.

None was robbed, and no colours were migrated to other hives in the area.

One or two of the smaller colonies still have some coloured syrup in them, and Clare is monitoring this to see if it disappears or moves elsewhere.

So, bees will store fondant, but maybe more importantly, syrup given to bees in September is moved around a lot, but then seems to be stored around and in the brood nest for easy access once the bees need it for brood food, and themselves.