Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Chemical-free treatment against Varroa mites

At this time of year, a colony of bees will naturally start to produce males in readiness for the swarming season so it is a good moment to use a simple, chemical-free method of Varroa control.

In the photo below which was taken yesterday, you can see the domed male cells on the upper part of the frame and the flatter worker cells below.

Capped male cells on the upper part of the frame, worker cells below

One way of reducing the number of Varroa mites on honey bees is to encourage the colony to produce lots of male larvae and then to remove the resulting pupae before they emerge. Given a choice, Varroa females will lay their eggs on male bee larvae because these take longer to pupate inside their cells so giving more time for the Varroa to reproduce.

Yesterday, I opened one of my hives to put in an entire frame of male cells which had already been drawn out last year. This morning, on the tray underneath the hive I saw piles of debris where the bees had spent the night cleaning up the frame ready for laying by the queen.

Debris on the collector tray from the newly inserted frame of male cells

At lunchtime today, it was warm enough so I opened up the hive again to see what was happening on the frame and sure enough, there was the queen laying eggs in the newly cleaned cells. These cells should be capped by the worker bees in nine days’ time and I will then be able to remove the whole frame and with it, a good proportion of the Varroa mites in the hive.

The queen inspecting the cells to see where she should lay. Eggs (like small grains of rice) can be seen in the bottom of the cells in the clear area where there are no bees.

The queen laying an egg. She has her abdomen pushed right down to the bottom of the cell where she will stick the egg. Notice how all her attendants have formed a circle round her as they watch her progress.

If I do this three times in quick succession, I should have removed sufficient Varroa mites to avoid having to treat the hive in any way until after the honey harvest in August.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Neanderthal bees

Finally, I decided to use the cave method for moving three of the hives. The weather forecast was so bad for the first half of the week that I reckoned that the bees would not be flying in any case so they would not be missing out on foraging. I put them on the stand on Sunday evening and will bring them out after dark on Wednesday.

Cave bees

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Hive moves and first lambs

In order to change the positions of some of my hives I am going to have to take them to a place 20 kilometres from here so the bees forget where they are living at the moment. In a week or so, I can bring them back and put them on their new stands without having them try to fly back to their original position. It sounds a lot of effort, but bees are so good at remembering where they live, you can’t just move a hive from one spot to another without losing quite a lot of the older bees in the colony.

There is another way of achieving the same thing and that is to place the hive in one of our caves for a few days. With no reference to the sun for the time they are in the dark, the bees become disoriented and can be safely moved to a new place. I hesitate to use that method at the moment because the colonies are in full spring build-up mode and need all the flying time they can get in order to bring pollen in to the hive. Four days in the dark would not help them in their efforts.

This week has seen the arrival of the first two lambs of the year. Unlike last year, the air temperatures are quite mild so no problems for them keeping warm.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A little January sun brings out the bees

Statistically, last week was supposed to be the coldest of the year but it looks like we are experiencing the same false spring as we had last January. There are hazel catkins in abundance and dandelions, snowdrops, mahonia, and daffodils all beginning to flower. I notice that the leaf buds on the rose bushes are growing which is not a good thing. Last year we lost all of them when we had some real winter in March. It took a long time for everything to get going again and we never had the first flush of rose flowers we normally enjoy in May.
A week ago, I treated all my hives against Varroa mites by dribbling oxalic acid in sugar solution on to the clusters of bees. I must admit, I think I left it a bit late in the case of some of the hives. You are supposed to carry out this treatment in the depth of winter when there is no brood. That way all the Varroa are out of the comb cells and attached to bees. I think that some of the hives have already started raising brood so the effectiveness of the oxalic acid might be reduced.
I read a very interesting article about this form of protection against Varroa and I have placed a link to it at the bottom of this post. One of the observations that the author makes is that the bees seem ‘peppy’ after the treatment. Well today the sun came out at lunchtime so I made a quick visit to some of the hives to see what was happening. I placed a camera at the entrance of one of the hives to record what was going on and watch it later at my leisure.

Here is a little video I made up from what I recorded. The bees look in fine form, really clean and bright and if you look carefully, you will some bringing in some yellow Hazel pollen and a little orange Dandelion pollen. Remember this is January 25th! I have a feeling that this hive is going to need a lot of attention if I am to stop its bees swarming in the spring.

 This article is well worth reading: