Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Spanish Beekeeping Season Begins

My initial walk around the home apiary now I am back in Spain reveals that only nine of the 22 colonies I left in April have survived.  To be fair, most of them were populated by swarms (15) so poor mating and virgins being taken by bee eaters may have contributed to the losses. I am sure though that the majority of the losses were down to the long hot dearth which I am told was particularly fierce this summer.
I am not too downhearted about it as I now have 9 colonies whereas this time last year I had but 7.
Now begins the horrible job of cleaning out the deadouts and rendering any wax that is salvageable. I have brought my kitchen steamer back with me from Sweden so hopefully it will get a good using in the next couple of weeks. Also scorching out the boxes and boiling the top bars and frames in my huge pan that I set on my gas barbecue. Photos to follow.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Treatment Free Beekeeping for All.

Thinking about my last post and my long term goal to have healthy surviving bees without treatments on an ongoing basis, and the fact that I have adopted a live and let die policy, I have to have a plan B! The ‘what if’s?’ are forever in my mind! So what other strategy could be adopted to absolutely ensure long term healthy colonies without treatments?
I believe that all the very vulnerable genetics have already died out and the ones we have left have some measure of resistance or should I say tolerance to varroa. I have already demonstrated both in Spain and Sweden that bees can now survive for a period without treatments. I have heard it said though  that these bees may possibly crash in their third year. I am about to enter that phase just about now with my Spanish bees so I will see if that is true or not in my case. But, I am more interested in finding a solution to treatment free beekeeping, and that includes the organic acids, for anyone no matter how many or what style of hives they employ. So here is my plan, and feel free to comment and criticise.

Treatment Free Beekeeping for All (example 10 colonies)


To allow sustainable beekeeping in production colonies without the need for miticides or organic acids being put into the hives by using only locally adapted bees and queens which should steadily improve over time in both varroa tolerance and other characteristics.

1st Season

Stop all treatments and monitor monthly mite drops and keep records.

2nd Season

Replace any colonies that dies out with own swarms or splits from survivor colonies.
Height of swarm season raise 10 queens from two best colonies.
Make up nucs from all ten colonies by removing one frame of brood and one frame of stores from each and introduce virgin queens.
Place each nuc adjacent to each production colony and allow to build up to 5 or 6 frames and overwinter.

3rd Season

Using records, assess the 5 best & 5 worst colonies with criteria mentioned in the notes and in early spring combine overwintered nucs with 5 worst colonies in the following manner:-

Move original colony to one side and set frames from overwintered nuc in centre of new brood box but first thoroughly dusting them with icing sugar.  Make up with frames with either foundation or starter strips. Add super and cover normally.
Place ramp board and Queen excluder on entrance. Shake all bees from original colony onto ramp board and dust with icing sugar. Take any sealed brood frames and add them to the undisturbed 5 strongest colonies but mark the frames first with drawing pins.
Destroy original queen that is left on the ramp board.

Later, at height of swarm season raise another 10 queens from best two colonies and start another 10 nucs in exactly the same manner.

4th and subsequent seasons

Proceed as in 3rd season using the best colonies for breeding queens and combining overwintered nucs with the 5 colonies that are two year old.


The purpose of the first season without treatments is to establish if the genetics you have are still very vulnerable to varroa. A better than 50% survival rate is desired.

10 colonies is used as an example but this should work with any number bearing in mind the lower the number the more difficult it is to prevent inbreeding. Someone with just a few colonies may look to combine with another local beekeeper.

No mention is made of how the queens will be raised as there are so many ways to achieve this, even within the production colonies.

The wax is renewed automatically every two years and with this in mind never use the marked old frames for making up the nucs.

Best colony means lowest mite count as well as other criteria of productiveness, gentleness, non swarming etc. This should be qualitative as well as quantative.

The plan calls for starting 10 nuc’s but utilizing only 5, allowing for duds. Any nuc’s left over can be kept for emergencies, selling/giving away or bolstering a weak hive.

The production colonies are rejuvinated every two years.

The powdered sugar treatment which should remove some of the phoretic mites is to prevent fighting and combining.

The 5 colonies that are not requeened with a nuc have a brood boost and with appropriate honey flow timing may lead to bumper crops.

To circumvent inbreeding, within this example 10 colonies there should always be 4 distinct genetics in the queens. Record keeping of the queen origins in the nuc’s should ensure placement of two distinct lines each year.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

2009 Swedish beekeeping season ends

With nothing more to do beekeeping wise here in my last couple of weeks before I depart for my winter in Spain, I can reflect on what has been achieved this year and what I want to achieve in forthcoming years.

I started the season finding out one of my two kenyan colonies had died out. It had a mouse take up residence. Well at least one of them survived without any treatments (I did one sugar dusting in 2008). A first year 50% survival rate is OK for my long term goals. The main decision I have made for Sweden is, because of my lifestyle choice of being absent for 6 months, and because I wish to keep bees as naturally as possible, I realized the best option would be to convert to warré hives. My barn, although providing great protection to the hives and peace of mind whilst I am absent, isn’t in good condition, so the warré beehouse took shape in my mind and quickly became a reality. The swarm I captured in my Svea bait hive and subsequently onto warré boxes has become the first occupant of the bee house. The kenyan still in the barn when I return in 2010 will be progressively walked over to the warré bee house (about 50m) and when sat in front of it, will be split into two in my mini kenyan/warré conversion hives. These will be put directly into the beehouse. I am looking forward to testing my lifting equipment in the bee house (it works perfectly in my head). I have left a full box of honey and more for them to overwinter on and with any luck it should still be there to harvest next year.

Thinking about my long term goals as well as short and medium term ones, I suppose the only long term goal is to have healthy surviving bees without treatments on an ongoing basis. I have already demonstrated in Spain that by utilizing swarms and splits, any non surviving colonies can be made up for quite easily. Therefore I am utterly convinced that a no treatment low intervention regime is not only possible but is easily achievable. I have had bad tempered bees and swarmy bees but my first consideration has been surviveabilty. I have put up with these negative factors and will continue to do so as the seasons progress to cull out the genetic lines that don’t have what it takes to survive. I know it is fairly easy to select out these bad traits and I will eventually do so. Now is not yet the time but when I feel I have a good surviving base, I want to start a queen rearing program with not only the survivability factors but my own selection criteria. These would be in this order, gentleness, non swarming and productiveness.