As the festive season approaches, hopefully those among you who make mead will raise a glass without needing to wait for a sting, as Brother Adam (of Buckfast bees) recommended. The old beekeepers used to give their bees a Christmas present of fondant, but hopefully you ensured your bees were well fed in the Autumn as they are best not disturbed at the moment!
One of the advantages of Covid has been the rash of online webinars and zoom meetings about beekeeping. How our tech vocabulary has increased, along with, hopefully, our technological confidence.
Professor David Evans' talk in November about bee sheds, prompted a lot of thought. Our rather damp windy island weather has always been a challenge to beekeepers, but as David pointed out, Scotland, with double the rainfall of that in Warwickshire, faces even more challenges when inspecting bees on a regular basis. His solution is to look towards the practice in parts of Europe, to keep bees in an adapted shed.
I recalled seeing a trailer housing ten colonies of bees in the Czech Republic, and thinking what a good idea it was to transport bees to fertilize orchards or crops without having to strap up heavy boxes and load and unload them. Far easier to hitch the trailer to a car or lorry and be on the way!
David is a virologist and is working on Chronic Bee Paralysis and Deformed Wing Viruses (CBPV and DWV). He pointed out that evidence of these viruses in a colony means that there is a high varroa load and rescuing a colony which is badly affected requires drastic action, such as carrying out a shook swarm followed by treatment with a miticide such as Apivar, which deals with the phoretic mites, while discarding the brood, deals with the remaining 90% of mites present in the colony. Failure to deal with the problem will inevitably result in the death of the colony as the diseases will shorten the life of the bees.
There is a lot of work being done by Prof Steve Martin and other scientists on varroa resistance and limiting the use of miticides which may build resistance, however, when bees are heavily infected with a virus, clearly drastic action is required.
Once again I am impressed by the need to always think about what we do as beekeepers. There are no easy solutions and blindly following the same processes we were told to carry out in the past without having regard for the specifics of our bees, our location, the climate, and the current knowledge from research, is poor practice.
David Evans stressed that the strain of bees was important in how to deal with bees and disease, and that there was some evidence of a CBPV disease link to imported bees and queens. Again this shows how important it is for beekeepers to understand the consequences of importing bees and to understand the differing characteristics of different bees.
This also came up in the Branch Zoom meeting where the question was raised about how to overwinter a strong colony on a double brood box. If you have prolific bees it is difficult to get them into one broodbox. The Native, or near native Black bees are less prolific and easier to manage and survive our climatic vagaries better, so maybe we should all try to select for smaller, darker queens rather than the large yellow queens which indicate a larger portion of imported DNA?
Another crucial point was raised at the Branch Zoom meeting - remember to remove queen excluders if you are overwintering with a super. The bees will not move onto the food and leave the queen behind, so they will starve with food available, or if they do move onto the food, the queen will be left behind outside the cluster, and freeze or starve.
Those of you who are interested in again supporting Crackerteria, The Rugby charity, go to their website where you can volunteer to help, or order a take-away Christmas dinner during December.
Regards, and stay safe and well,