Some good advice

Through the Facebook Beginner Beekeeper group I came across this link to recent advice by Andy Wattam, a UK National Bee Inspector.

“Could I ask you please to put out a reminder to all of the District Secretaries about members looking at the food levels of their bee colonies, and also highlight Varroa Management at this Critical time.

I have been out inspecting quite a bit recently and almost exclusively have come across bees which are starving, some to the point where their demise was only hours away – I have even taken to carrying syrup in the car with me, as, in general terms beekeepers have nothing in stock for contingency feeding. In some cases I have had to pour syrup into empty Comb and onto the top-bars for the bees to feed to get them going again as they were at that ‘creeping’ point which signs almost imminent demise of the stock.

A very sad state of affairs I am sure you would agree? – These are not Isolated incidents, but on some days are reflected in every site we visit.

Also in many cases I am seeing increased levels of Varroa – this becomes more and more ‘visually’ evident in colonies whom are short of food as the brood nest diminishes and the mites move onto the bees themselves. Again in some of the cases the Beekeeper had neither thought about, nor prepared to carry out any sort of Varroa controls, or doing much in the way of monitoring. Can I emphasise again that where insert boards are used with Open Mesh Floors the boards must be made sticky before use, otherwise a consistently low mite count will be realized, as the mites will simply walk off! Often back into hive to continue their quest.

I am seeing in lots of cases of people using icing sugar as a ‘Varroa Treatment’. It should be borne in mind that Icing Sugar is to be seen as a complimentary Technique to other forms of Integrated Pest Management. As a standalone it rarely has sufficient knock-down to achieve the full controls on its own, unless it is done regularly, skillfully and with the correct Open Mesh Floor in place, IE: With sufficient drop beneath to ensure that the mites cannot return to the Hive, and sufficient cover onto the bees – the value of just sprinkling icing sugar onto top bars is very questionable, although in some cases it has helped to keep the bees alive! By giving them something to eat!

Again something else which rears its head regularly is where a beekeeper has taken delivery of a Nucleus – filled up the compliment of the Brood Chamber with Foundation and provided no supplementary feed – the bees are sitting there, just surviving on the drawn comb with no hope of expansion to survive the winter.

Please Please – Heft hives to check for Weight, Look inside and see what is happening, Feed now to ensure winter survival unless hives are so heavy you can hardly lift them.

Keep an eye on the wasp situation and reduce entrances / set traps where necessary.

We are now approximately three weeks into a dearth of nectar, unless you are within flying distance of a specific crop which is providing something of value, and from what I can see in most areas a minimum of 10 days before the Ivy comes properly into flower to be of use. The link below will take members to the Fact Sheets Section of Beebase where they will find information on many of the subjects outlined.

Many Thanks and Kindest regards

Andy Wattam
National Bee Inspector.

Head of Bee Health Field Inspection Service for England & Wales.”

It’s sad to think of bees starving when the problem is so easily solved. Emma and I have been feeding our smaller hive this summer just in case. Our bigger hive has not needed it, but will receive a final feed of the year when we do Fumadil B treatment.

Must try to remember to bring vaseline to smear on the boards to trap the mites, I know I’m sometimes guilty of forgetting to do that. For varroa treatment we did the shook-swarm in March, are doing Apiguard at the moment and will do oxalic acid in December. Last year the varroa count on the monitoring board got really bad in November/December just before the oxalic acid treatment – over a hundred dropping a week – so that will be something to keep an eye on.

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
This entry was posted in Colony management, Disease prevention and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Some good advice

  1. Many of the commercially available Varroa floors are badly designed as they don’t leave a large enough drop between mesh and tray. Dr Jeff Pettis of the USDA Beltsville Lab did some tests and found that with a half inch gap all the living mites that fell through the mesh made their way back into the hive but with a 2″ gap none did, with a graduation between those extremes.
    Don’t just count the fallen mites. Look at them through a magnifying glass. Are they alive or dead? Mature or not? Have they been damaged by the bees? What else has fallen through the mesh? Pupal body parts may be an indication that the bees may be doing something about the mites by detecting affected pupae in their cells and digging them and their mite load out. Bees that do that are worth propagating as they may lead towards bees being able to cope with Varroa without our assistance.
    Have your bees been tested for Nosema and been found to have it? If so, by all means use Fumidil, but if not, don’t as routine feeding of antibiotics is as unwise for bees as it is for humans as it is a quick way of developing resistant organisms. If you do have Nosema, Fumidil alone won’t cure it as the bees will be reinfected from cleaning up soiled comb, so, if used, it should be followed up with transferring the bees onto fresh comb/foundation/starter strips and the old comb either fumigated with 80% acetic acid or else made into candles or firelighters.


    • Emily Heath says:

      I like the idea of inspecting the mites with a magnifying glass. How would I tell if they’re mature or not? Are younger ones smaller?

      My bees haven’t been tested for nosema. It has affected a lot of hives in the apiary before and the more experienced beekeepers in charge of the apiary like everyone to treat for it routinely in the autumn. I’ll ask them about the possibility of this developing resistance in nosema. I did a bit of reading on the web and some people seem to think that a simple fungus organism like nosema wouldn’t be able to mutate enough to develop resistance and still survive. I don’t understand the science enough to know whether that would be true or not. Beebase seems to support your point of view as it says “Instead of using medicines for treatment of Nosemosis, beekeepers should aim to maintain their colonies in good health and apply good husbandry practices; such as maintaining strong well fed colonies headed by productive and disease tolerant colonies headed by young prolific queens.”


  2. Pingback: The secret beekeepers | Basil and bees

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