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Cathryn

Questions

I need to do some real learning about bees but for now can I ask you lot on here.

If I left the bees in my top bar completely alone to get on with it, what are the chances of them building a strong colony, swarming, carrying on and being there for years to come. Are there just too many unknowns in that? I don't want the honey, I want wild bee colonies all over the countryside around here. I do know a bit about bee keeping and bee behaviour so I know this is a kind of huge naive question.
Tavascarow

If you asked me that question ten years ago I would have said they haven't got a hope.
There where few wild/feral colonies around, nearly all succumbed to varroa.
& beekeepers who didn't treat soon lost them as well.
My answer now would be slightly different.
The bees you have might not survive without help, there's no way of telling without trying. But there are many more feral colonies again & many beekeepers breeding from survival stock with zero/minimal treatment.
So if yours aren't survivors & die out your hive might get repopulated with one such, or someone might direct you to a swarm that's better suited to zero management.
Even pre varroa bee colonies didn't last for ever, & many people who think they have had bees in a building for years, sometimes decades might actually have had numerous die outs & re population by swarms.
I think (IMHO) if you want to 'keep' bees in this way you would be better building boxes of the appropriate size, just plain weatherproof, with no mesh or bars & bait them with old comb & propolis to attract swarms.
Fix them on suitable trees, buildings, posts, whatever, & let nature take its course, just like setting nest boxes for birds.
More guidance on suitable volumes & sites in Tom Seally Honeybee Democracy & also internet search for swarm trapping.


One thing to remember is apis melifera has been around for about ten million years, a lot longer than homo sapien, & will probably be around when we go extinct.

Of course conventional beekeeping teaching will say that what you propose is scandalous, & wild/feral/unmanaged bees are vectors for pests & diseases & should be destroyed (some do advocate that), or captured & managed.
My answer to that is most of the problems bees are facing have been caused by human intervention, & it's time we had faith in nature & ditched the outmoded Victorian attitude that man knows best. Wink
Finsky

You have asked something what most beekepers would not even dare to think of..almost no-no situation to even ask within beekeeping communities and would certainly get many going.
Admittedly after reading your post I had to stop and really think hard..letting bees go 'wild' goes against everything that beekeepers are tought...but I'm trying hard here to get my brain working 'other way round'.. Very Happy
I would say..that if you don't have managed bees in the area and you truly have miles and miles of space for bees to habit in wild manner, they should have all the chances succeeding with their natural ways. Usually it is tought that feral bees interfer with managed bees...but it works other way round too...who says managed bees are in perfect healt and they could pass on health problems to ferals.
Tavascarow gave you good advise about how to start with housing..you don't even need to have purpose built hive to house a swarm. In many countries they still use hollowed out logs/tree trunk pieces for traditional way of keeping bees..and for feral/wild bees it would be perfectly adequate..as long as they would have shelter from weather...that's why it would be important that in the area there is trees left standing that maybe dead or partially so that not only birds have some where to 'carve' their nest holes..but bees would be able to use those old nest for themselves too.
So to have feral bees is actually much bigger management issue than just having them go wild..without natural nesting places ferals would look out for man made places and that would become unwanted 'pest' issue.
I believe deseases are not too much trouble..and I let you into my secret now..SHHH...I've purposely kept my bees untreated for varroa for 3 years now, I've had health inspector around to check my bees, and although they weren't varroa free..there wasn't any negative health issues associated with varroa otherwise.. Very Happy Very Happy In two locations my bees are in good health and are manageing their varroa levels well.. Very Happy BUT..I'm waiting for another 2 yrs before I start 'advertising' what me and my bees have been up to..I'm still holding my breath and hoping they carry on being healthy.

Like with everything else..if you don't try, you don't know, it might not end well but teach you lesson and you'll be able to do more good.. Wink
Cathryn

Thank you, I need to qualify this a little as well. My swarm has syrup with it now. I don't think they would have had a hope of surviving otherwise. There has been so much heavy rain. It's not like Kenya and there might be argument to make about having partially built frames to give bees a head start in standard hives.

There is noticeably very few bees in this area currently. Really very very few, I have been watching in a random way for a couple of years now. I doubt that I would catch a swarm with a bait hive. I have been talking to many of my farming neighbours and none can remember a swarm. It's something I think they would notice as well. There must be some and there are lots of bumbles. I don't live in a arable desert so something must be pollinating the flowers and trees but I really haven't seen many honey bees.

You have some very reactionary bee keepers in your area. I will be asking my group and I am sure that they will discuss this thoughtfully. I didn't get such an open response to some of my questions from the bee inspectors though.
Cathryn

I wonder if I could manage these bees for resistance and resilience and get that seen as a valid commercial bee keeping aim. I'm not planning on hoards of hives (I'm not planning on anything, I could give up next year) but in that other countries keep bees with a focus on propolis or royal jelly, hardiness as a main aim could be seen as valid.

I'd have to know a helluva lot more than I currently know so it's unlikely. Smile I think I will say that my aim is to encourage several wild colonies on the farm and in the coastal strip area where I live. (And not register the hive just yet.)
Tavascarow

There are no rules that say you have to medicate your bees for anything.
If you are unlucky enough to get a case of foul brood (EFB & AFB) you are obliged to notify your bee inspector & in the case of American foul brood the bees would have to be destroyed. with European foul brood I've heard of one case where they where treated via a shook swarm (under inspectors guidance) & the combs destroyed & hive sterilised.
Brood disease outbreaks are uncommon & a lottery anyway.
Something to be aware of but not unduly worried about IMHO.
I know of one bee breeder who has bred a varroa resistant bee, & he will only sell bees to people who agree to continue a non treatment regime.
Can't remember his name but he is well known in beekeeping circles.
With the increase in interest there is a definite demand for bees & probably as much money in selling bees as honey.
If you built a few suitably sized swarm traps to catch any bees that might swarm from your hive, but left them alone once in residence.
At the same time you could easily split your KTBH into two or three every summer & once the queens where laying well, sell them for a good profit as nuclei.
This is particularly relevant to top bar nuclei, very few people are producing top bar nuclei.

I don't encourage new beekeepers to go down the zero treatment route as if you only have one or two hives & you lose them it's very disheartening.
Much easier to accomplish if you have many hives & split the survivors to replace the losers.
But at the same time I wouldn't discourage anyone from the path either, as long as they are aware of the risks.
Cathryn

The bee inspector who gave us a talk had treated EFB using the shook swarm method. I think I would want to check them anyway out of sheer nosiness, just not often, out of idleness maybe. Smile ) If the wind and rain ever stop here I am going to check my bees. I am hoping that they won't have taken much syrup, they hadn't a fortnight ago when I took a quick look. I will also learn more easily by being a little hands on at first but I know they're doing alright currently because they are calm and very busy in between rainstorms.

I've noticed as well that although the hedge is full of honeysuckle and elderflower and they are surrounded by brambles all starting to flower, they are still only taking pollen from the dog roses in the hedges. Fascinating isn't it.

I really like the idea of bait boxes all over the farm. Great idea, that should keep him busy. Wink
Tavascarow


I know of one bee breeder who has bred a varroa resistant bee, & he will only sell bees to people who agree to continue a non treatment regime.
Can't remember his name but he is well known in beekeeping circles.

Just remembered.
Ron Hoskins.
Quote:
Swarms not collected and hived will once again survive in the wild to kick-start the revival of British Feral Honeybees, essential for humans and for the survival of wildlife in remote regions where beekeepers do not keep bees.
Cathryn

Very interesting, thank you.
Mistress Rose

We have been using a zero management approach to our bees over the last few years because we just haven't had the combination of time and energy to do much. Most of them, except the swarm that fetched up just outside the back door, and a new one round the side of the house that also just turned up are in the woods, so not likely to bother anyone. Without varroa treatment they seem to be doing very well, so do wonder if combination of treatment and handling may have slight negative effects. I would not at this stage recommend this approach though.

The only downsides I can see are that if you live where there are neighbours, they might not like swarms, and if the bees do die out, or there is an outbreak or EFB or AFB in your area, you should make sure you aren't harbouring the disease.
mochasidamo

...and if the bees do die out then is zero management an ethical approach?
Cathryn

Ah, now you're in a debate without an answer.
mochasidamo

Ah, now you're in a debate without an answer.


Hi Cathryn - it is a big debate, but there is obviously a big difference between bees which are feral in trees or buildings and those under our care in boxes of whatever type when we presumably have a duty of care to them like any other animal or insect.

This season with the continued awful weather many colonies have starved to death, become queenless through eg. poor or non-mating and some of these will also be dwindling and dying and some (in the south from what I've heard so far) have a major pollen shortage and will be unable to rear brood). Although inexperienced beekeepers can sometimes make mistakes with under/over feeding and with interpreting queenrightness or otherwise and dealing with it if need be I feel there is a responsibility to oversee (with as little interference and no "having a look" as possible) the bees in our care (through our choice). Bees spreading varroa through non-monitoring to other colonies in the area (or possibly EFB) is not good for the bees or beekeepers. Varroa arrived here through human action, the huge changes in forage - again human, and the changes in climate are largely our doing too......so helping our bees and other species is our duty.
Tavascarow

Ah, now you're in a debate without an answer.

Hi Cathryn - it is a big debate, but there is obviously a big difference between bees which are feral in trees or buildings and those under our care in boxes of whatever type when we presumably have a duty of care to them like any other animal or insect.
Putting up nest boxes is helps nesting birds.
I don't see the RSPB saying we should be catching them & medicating them against this disease & that pest.

......so helping our bees and other species is our duty. Would you not agree that when Ron Hoskins & friends in Swindon decided not to treat their bees for varroa they where indeed helping the species?
They now have a strain of bee that's self grooming, & requires no treatment.
That wouldn't have happened if he had kept on with the bayvarol or oxalic acid would it?
Or was he being irresponsible by spreading his resistant bee genes into the local population of pampered bees?

Laughing
mochasidamo

Ah, now you're in a debate without an answer.

Hi Cathryn - it is a big debate, but there is obviously a big difference between bees which are feral in trees or buildings and those under our care in boxes of whatever type when we presumably have a duty of care to them like any other animal or insect.
Putting up nest boxes is helps nesting birds.
I don't see the RSPB saying we should be catching them & medicating them against this disease & that pest.

>>>Totally irrelevant as we do not keep wild birds in captivity.

......so helping our bees and other species is our duty. Would you not agree that when Ron Hoskins & friends in Swindon decided not to treat their bees for varroa they where indeed helping the species?
They now have a strain of bee that's self grooming, & requires no treatment.
That wouldn't have happened if he had kept on with the bayvarol or oxalic acid would it?
Or was he being irresponsible by spreading his resistant bee genes into the local population of pampered bees?

Laughing

Many colonies in this country are handled by beekeepers wearing thick protective beesuits, thick gloves - and many of these sadly need to be - and stinging is thought par for the course. Try comparing that with much of the rest of the world.

Keeping such bees increasingly on allotments, in towns and cities is not very responsible surely? Did I mention the increasing call-outs to bees in town vents, chimneys, walls...shall we reduce swarminess too (I do - six drawn cells max). This may be a challenging season but I have logged over 40 call-outs (up 2/3 on last) and dealt with cyclists over the phone badly stung by a well-known beekeeper's poorly sited bees (and worse he denied they were his - um, someone must have pinched his car for that morning's inspection...).

Let's perhaps start by sorting out the importing of queens, messing up of gene pools by random sub-species interbreeding and aim for many more local beebreeding groups producing bees which are a pleasure to work with and adapted to our increasingly hostile climate before we advise beekeepers with one or two colonies to accept the loss of 50% of those in a varroa purge. And hygienic or not they must be able to forage effectively, adapt brooding and produce at least enough food for their own needs. It is quite obvious that bees are becoming used to living with varroa - but not with the viruses transmitted.

Bayvarol? You serious? I have done the LASI course in hygienic behaviour. It is not simple genetically. And RH's bees are not all hygienic - some are, some are not. No magic bullet.

1. Gentle bees
2. Adapted bees
3. Less swarmy bees
4. Healthier mite-resistant bees
5. Start again with SHB (sigh)
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