February Meeting

I had the pleasure of hosting the ‘February’ meeting at my house today, March 3rd.  We started by taking a look at my Warré hives.  The overcast skies and temperature of around 6°C meant that only the occasional bee showed her nose at the hive entrance.  So rather than looking at flying bees, we contented ourselves with studying the hives themselves, discussing some of the non-standard features.  These include slightly thicker timber in the construction, and observation windows on the sides of the hive rather than at the back (or front).  The latter give a view of the whole of one face of the end comb in each box rather than a view of the edge of several combs in the standard arrangement.  We also looked at the small supplementary top entrances that I use in winter and the box that covers the main entrance, which incorporates a mouse-proof slot. The hives also have sump floors,  one of whose functions is to make it easier to fix legs to the hive that sit well outside the hive footprint, increasing hive stability.  Another is to allow a place for hive debris to sit, encouraging a diverse in-hive biota.

We were able to check the wood shavings in the quilt box on one hive:Image

And also take a very brief peak through one of the observation windows to see the bee cluster in a corner, before gently replacing the window cover.  It seems that the bees do not consider the window to be cold, so presumably the cover is keeping things snug:Image

We then moved inside to tea and cake and a talk about the natural defence mechanisms that the bee has against varroa.  The talk was based around some modeling that I did a couple of years ago, using varroa data from my own hives and published models of in-hive varroa population dynamics.  The talk combined this with a summary of the published research on the many ways (physical, physiological and behavioural) that bee colonies can potentially restrict varroa numbers. The conclusion was that the degree of natural inhibition needed to limit varroa numbers to acceptable levels is not large.  This is because the control mechanisms that the bees use are continuous, whereas interference by the beekeeper is, by its nature, one-off.  A small level of continuous control turns out to be far more effective than even large levels of one-off control.  For example, chemical treatment (such as essential oils) needs to be over 85% effective to have a significant  impact on varroa numbers.  Daily interference by the bees needs only to be 2% effective to give the same result.  The mechanisms that are potentially available to the bees each need to contribute only a part of that 2%.  I explained my strategy of concentrating on the creation of in-hive conditions that allow my bees to deploy those defences and then standing back and trusting my bees to get on with it.

Gareth, Cotswolds

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3 Responses to February Meeting

  1. Paul says:

    Many thanks to Gareth for hosting the meeting! One of our more intense, technical get-togethers. There were many fascinating insights into varroa: natural evolution of resistant colonies in Gottingen and Avignon left to fend for themselves; how varroa-tolerant feral colonies in the USA become susceptible again once re-housed in Langstroths and “managed”; how managed bees have not yet evolved tolerance in the UK despite 20 years’ co-existence with the mite, whilst the mites have become resistant to the miticides and non-managed bees seem to have become resistant to the mites.

    Looking at Gareth’s hives it struck me that you rarely see two hives the same. Beekeepers are incessant tinkerers.

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    • itsonlyausername says:

      I’m still tinkering with the plans. Just wait until I really get going with the hammers and saws. 🙂

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  2. itsonlyausername says:

    Many thanks to both you and your wife for your hospitality. Very enjoyable meeting and also very informative. Have come away with several new ideas for the Warre hives I am wanting to build plus a much better understanding of the varroa mite mechanisms and what we as natural bee keepers could and should do to combat this problem.
    I won’t say menace or invader despite it being something of both but in light of my own collection of 35+ varroa mites, which for reasons of me minimising intrusion into my top bar hive over the last few months, have accumulated on the bottom board over a roughly 3 month period. They would on the face of it seem to some to be a menace or pest in seriously high numbers especially after the graphs we saw today. Contrary to this high population though it doesn’t necessarily mean my bees are in imminent danger but it does mean I need to be more proactive regarding how I maintain conditions to suit my bees over the coming year. No opening them up regularly for unnecessary inspections but at the same time making sure they are kept warm, dry and happy. Temperature would seem to be key to this process so the mesh floor will be removed and the bottom board made more secure and draft proof. It means the bees will be getting moved into the other hive once I make these modifications on that one and then the original hive will get a thorough flaming (with a plumbers blow torch) to kill off any pests or diseases that may be lingering in there.
    So it would seem I am now in receipt of even more work ahead of me. Including building 4 Warre hives to new dimensions.
    Who’s idea was it to keep bees? 🙂

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