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The lifestyles of wild and healthy honey bees

Thomas Seeley’s article on Darwinian beekeeping has unleashed a fury of discussion among beekeepers. Of particular interest are the ways in which feral colonies handle parasites and pathogens. Feral bees do not have beekeeper assistance, yet many of them do fine without it.

The article, “Darwinian Beekeeping: An Evolutionary Approach to Apiculture” in the March issue of the American Beekeeping Journal, detailed twenty ways in which feral colonies are different from managed colonies. For example, feral nesting cavities are generally coated with propolis while managed hives are not. Feral colonies are left undisturbed while managed colonies are frequently violated. Feral drones are allowed to proliferate and compete while the number of managed drones is often curtailed.

Nest size and varroa mites

But the difference I see cited most often is nest size. Feral honey bees maintain smaller colonies, and to keep them small, the bees swarm often. Frequent swarming seems to have a substantial effect on varroa mites: small colonies that swarm often are able to live with the mites instead of succumbing to them.

Large colony size is an artifice of beekeeping. We all know that one large colony can produce more honey than two small colonies. So naturally we go for the large colony. But, not surprisingly, a large colony also appears to produce more varroa mites than two small ones.

On the surface, it seems that the mite population would remain proportionate to the bee population, but the mite population increases faster than the bee population since each mite mother can produce more than one mite per brood cycle. But regardless of how the numbers work, it is easy to see the results. Every fall I hear the same story again and again, “My biggest and most productive colony died.” Or “I thought my strongest colony would make it but only the weaker ones did.” There are thousands of variations on this same story.

Collapsing colonies spread disease

When these large colonies collapse, many of the bees drift to other colonies, taking mites and disease with them. I read an article recently where all the bees in a collapsing colony were marked with paint and, sure enough, they were soon found in colonies throughout the study area. In addition to varroa mites, drifting bees can spread a wide variety of diseases and parasites quickly and efficiently. Feral colonies, on the other hand, are usually not close together, so drifting is minimized.

Feral colonies stay small by frequent swarming, whereas beekeepers go out of their way to prevent swarming. Obviously, there are many reasons. We don’t want to lose bees we raised, we don’t want to bother our neighbors, and we don’t want to diminish honey production. But if we prevent swarming by adding boxes, checkerboarding, or cutting swarm cells, we end up creating the big colonies that are more susceptible to mites. If we prevent swarming by making splits, we increase the density of hives, which increases disease transmission as well as competition for nectar and pollen.

Eliminating drones weakens the gene pool

Another thing beekeepers do is limit drone production. Drones require a lot of resources to produce and, once emerged, they keep eating. In fact, controlling the number of drones was one of the original reasons for embossed foundation: it encourages bees to build worker-sized cells which, in turn, limits the number of drone cells. Nowadays, we often go a step further and pull drone pupae out of the hive as a way of reducing varroa mites.

But all this drone removal reduces competition for mating among the remaining drones. We’ve reduced the pool of drones without regard to the quality of the ones remaining. Among feral colonies, the fastest, strongest, most debonair drones compete for the virgin, but in managed colonies, the drones that compete are those that remain, which isn’t the same thing at all.

Do magic genes really exist?

I could go on and on, but as I was thinking about these differences, I began to wonder if our perpetual hunt for varroa-resistant feral bees isn’t misplaced. Perhaps the genetics of feral bees isn’t the real key. Perhaps it’s their lifestyle that makes them special: the old nature vs nurture argument.

When we look at human disease, most of us accept the premise that lifestyle has a substantial effect on health. A rich diet can lead to obesity which can lead to stroke. A starvation diet can lead to malnutrition which can lead to heart failure. Smoking can lead to cancer. Workplace toxins lead to all types of ailments. Lack of exercise can be a killer. Of course, all these things have a genetic component as well. So the question becomes which is more important, lifestyle or genetics?

Feral bees know how to live

I think it’s time we asked the same question of our bees. Perhaps feral honey bees don’t have magic genes, maybe they just have good habits. Taken together, everything from smearing propolis, to eating a balanced diet, to living in a small house, to regular swarming, and putting distance between colonies may be the key to robust feral colonies.

Anecdotal evidence can be seen when we move a long-established feral colony from the wild into a managed hive and bingo, it dies within a year or two. What changed? The genetics or the lifestyle? The answer is probably “some of each,“ but as in human health, the question is how much of each? Are we concentrating on the wrong things?

A thought puzzle for future beekeeping

I don’t have any answers, of course. But when you look at the list of differences between feral bees and managed hives, you can see how substantially beekeepers have changed the honey bee environment. If we could figure out which issues are the most important—which changes carry the most weight—perhaps we could start there and try to make things better for our bees.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Natural forage helps make healthy honey bees?
Varied forage and plenty of water helps make healthy honey bees. © Rusty Burlew.

Comments

Philippa Burgess
Reply

Perhaps the frequent swarming of bees means that there are regular episodes of broodlessness which may be one of the reasons for reduced varroa mites and therefore the reduced transmission of viruses – just like the winter broodless period.

On a separate note, one thing that I have noticed is that two of my queens laid many eggs in the drone foundation that I use for honey supers (it was a super left on for their winter stores) after they had used up their stores and I hadn’t yet put queen excluders on. Masses of drones were produced but they didn’t even entertain swarming that year. In fact they are now going into their second year and still no hint of swarming (they have lots of space at present and it is early days! But I have allowed them to produce lots of drones again). I wonder if there is a connection there too – lots of space and the large production of drones = no swarming? I’ll be interested to see what happens this year.

I’ve certainly helped the gene pool these last 2 years!

Rusty
Reply

Philippa,

I don’t know why they haven’t swarmed, but as you say, it’s still early.

WesternWilson
Reply

There is widespread speculation on why the colonies who form survivor colonies fail to thrive when removed from isolation. The prevalent explanation is that it is not the bees who have changed so much as the mites. By definition only mites who are less virulent to their honey bee hosts are going to allow the colony to survive, but when the colony leaves isolation, it is over-run by the local, more virulent mites that drift in.

This points to the hard fact that the mite genome is exponentially more nimble than the honey bee genome, and that our best hope may lie in tinkering with the Varroa genome, not in hoping we can retool the honey bee genome. Or as with the recent issue in one British apiary, make sure the only Varroa in the colony carry benign viruses and bacteria.

Dr. Seeley leaves out the count of feral colonies that fail to survive at all. That strikes me as important information, particularly in northern latitudes. He also side-steps the issue of productivity: if we push the bee genome toward a honey bee that swarms often, forms only small clusters, produces little or no honey or excess bees, and can only survive when separated by 1/2-1 mile from the next colony…we have only created another wasp.

Add to that the risk that such a bee may not be sustainable or, in the end, able to keep ahead of the Varroa and we will have rolled the dice with the bee genome (not to mention our food supply system). It is a big leap to think that native pollinators will fill the pollination gap left if we move to all feral-type colonies.

I am no fan of mobile pollination (or the industry’s practices) but presently it is the foundation on which much of current agriculture rests. What this idea of a feral type suggests is that we should trade our present productive honey bee, which is vulnerable to a pest we infested it with, for a feral honey bee that is not productive and cannot be used for mobile pollination.

I am very interested in the fact that two USA university laboratories now have developed methods of culturing Varroa in the lab. The lack of these culture methods halted research into Varroa: that barrier is now falling. With the new genetic engineering tools we are now seeing, I think our best hope in the Varroa wars is to tinker with the Varroa genome. Until we have determined if we can, with these new tools, alter and eradicate the Varroa threat, we need to protect the honey bee genome.

Rusty
Reply

Janet,

I know it’s simply anecdotal, but I have to wonder why my top-bar hive has survived seven years without treatment, while the rest of my hives require treatment twice a year. They are all in the same apiary, so I know it’s not different mites. Perhaps it’s not due only to the bees, but I think bee genetics and lifestyle are at least part of the equation.

Keith in VA
Reply

Why do you say that your Langs require mite treatments while your TBH does not? Do you count mites in both?

Are you requeening your Langs with purchased queens that come in from another apiary?

Rusty
Reply

Keith,

Yes. I do mite counts every four months and treat as necessary.

No. I raise my own queens, usually from the top-bar hive. No purchased bees of any sort come in.

Carol
Reply

This is so thought-provoking! It makes me wonder how many of the feral bee colony characteristics I can try to provide for my bees.

Shelly
Reply

This is an amazing article! We have 1 large hive (5 supers and a brood) and a small hive (one super, one brood). Do you have any suggestions with how we would become more “natural/feral”? Maybe it’s a misnomer to ask, but in your opinion, is there a way to bring the two together?

Thanks so much for your opinion! We LOVE your page! So much information!

Rusty
Reply

Shelly,

If you haven’t already, I recommend you read Seeley’s article mentioned above. Towards the end, he has a section called “Suggestions for Darwinian Beekeeping” that is excellent. I’m going through the list myself and trying to incorporate as many of the suggestions as I can.

Shelly
Reply

Thanks so much!

Shelly
Reply

This is an excellent article! Thank you! My next question to you is, with attempting to have our hives “more feral”, would you recommend no foundation frames? After our split of a very large hive soon, I’d like to go with no foundation frames in 2 of the four hives. I want to harvest honeycomb as well as honey. Not a massive amount, but some. Your advise is truly appreciated!

Rusty
Reply

Shelly,

I’ve gone to using starter strips. I take a strip of foundation about a 1/2-inch wide and melt it into the top groove with a heat gun. It leaves a line of wax so they knew where to start.

Shelly

Thank you!

Charles Carlson
Reply

Rusty,

A thoroughly provocative article! I think the nurture/nature division is bit weird however. The nurture is coming from human desires, which is probably Seeley’s main point. Given enough time, lots of generations of both humans and bees, a more symbiotic relationship would develop. Basically, bees have big headstarts on what’s best for bees––nurture and nature are one. Humans are bending bee behavior to their own desires.

In the main, drones are a primary vehicle for transmitting successful genetics forward to the next generation. Queens not so much, if they’re not allowed to produce drones. Beekeeping by humans, as currently practiced leads to a retardation in bee evolution.

Perhaps, we should be encouraging feral/wild bees and modifying our nurture. Darwin observed that domestication decreases an organisms intelligence about 175 years ago, and it’s a well established fact of the human bee relationship.

Rusty
Reply

Charles,

Interesting lack of communication—on my part, no doubt. When I mentioned nature vs nurture, I was referring to bees nurturing bees, not humans nurturing bees, which puts a whole different light on it. I was trying to ask, “Is it the nature of feral bees (genetics) or the nurture of feral bees (their habits and lifestyles) that makes a difference in their ability to survive?”

Steve Rodney
Reply

It makes me wonder if the top bar hive we maintain (mostly just for the fun of watching the “girls” work) is more akin to a feral colony. I suspect our one hive is some distance from others (just judging by the lack of evidence of robbing from other bees) and since we live in a mountain community, commercial hives are not very common. Our hive seems to “hum” along nicely and I wonder how much of that is because of the small colony size and apparent lack of competition.

Rusty
Reply

Steve,

My one top-bar hive has thrived for seven years, treatment-free. My Langstroths, all of them nearby, require mite treatment every year. I wonder about it constantly, but I have no answer. When I remove queen cells from the top-bar hive and place them in Langstroths, they exhibit no mite resistance whatsoever.

Garret
Reply

This is something that has interested me for quite some time. I’ve been playing with what Seeley calls Darwinian Beekeeping for just over a decade. Not that I let the bees swarm naturally, rather I manage in a way that simulates colonies swarming. As well, I don’t remove drone brood as a form of IPM. I can say that managing in this fashion is very helpful in allowing the bees to deal with the varroa. My thought: It seems to me that swarming is a very intricate part of how colonies stay healthy and maybe even a vital connection to their immune system generationally.

I did read in one of Seeley’s papers that the Arnot ferals were tested to see which DWV they carried and that it was the less virulent form so this seems to be a major point in why those bees don’t seem to have any special resistance when moved to mainstream managed bee colonies that are carrying the more virulent form. This really begs the question of why the Arnot bees only have the less virulent form of DWV. For me I am looking forward to further research in this area from our excellent bee scientists.

David Starnes
Reply

Rusty,

My observations could not be better expressed. I have been reducing hive size and have been introducing alternate foundation and foundationless (paint stir stick starter strips or wire only) versus embossed foundation in the deeps. I have only been expanding with feral swarms and my splits are going into Langstroth-sized top bars with the same alternating frame set up.

My limited experience is that there is minimal cross comb with this method, bees are building what they want/need…many more drones, fresh wax…knock on wood…no mites. My other thought is bigger screen spacing? Feral swarms are essentially open on the bottom and on the move more often?

In one feral swarm, I kept the pine bough in/for the deep. Interesting build out. Tempted to take bottom out completely.

In my humble hobbyist observation…it’s both genetics, and letting them set up house like they want/need to with minimal disturbance.

Thank you for the article.

David

Rusty
Reply

David,

I would say not all feral swarms are open at the bottom, especially those in hollow trees. There is often just a small opening or a slit for entry and the rest is closed up. Open-air hives, of course, are completely open. My issue with openings that are too large are robbing bees and wasps, and also mammals: mice, shrews, raccoons, opossums, and in some places, skunks. Visitors will vary according to where you live, but I think mammal predation is one reason feral bees like to live high up.

Kevin howard
Reply

I believe this. And the more I read about it, the more I believe we as beekeepers should do more to protect the honey bees. Stop splitting. Put more distance between our hives. Do not take much honey from them. And spend less time in the hive. It may not be a cure all but it might improve. I will do my part.

Rusty
Reply

Kevin,

I agree. I’ve taken the drastic step this season of reducing my colonies to singles. I don’t know if it will help, but I think it’s worth a try. If I can decrease mite treatments, that would be a win.

Sharon Klemmu
Reply

Rusty. I am going to move my whole project to singles this year. My cousin suggested that I use starter strips, no foundation. That would then be ten “frames.” Reaction? Do you have plans for an article on singles only beekeeping? I am going to do my part too.

Rusty
Reply

Sharon,

I really don’t have anything, but since I’m going to singles as well, I will probably write as I go along.

David Starnes
Reply

I agree with spending less time in the colony. Stop splitting? Hmmm. I personally believe we should still split.

If you have responsible farmers, orchards, etc. And they are amenable, why not split and put some distance between the splits? 1.) Increased Genetic diversity. 2.) Reduced mite load???

Splitting is just mimicking nature… better “managed” splits?

Rusty
Reply

David,

But isn’t that the issue? People don’t separate them. In nature, the swarm may move a mile away, but in our bee yards they are placed a stone’s throw away. I admit that I often put mine on the same hive stand as the parent colony. I’m beginning to see this as bad practice.

Garret
Reply

David, It really depends on how you make splits. If we make splits by using combs of brood and introducing a mated queen it does not mimick the natural process of a colony at all. If that nuc was made up from a colony that has a 5% mite infestation you still have a 5% infestation in the nuc nothing has changed. Compared to a simulated swarm you will end up with about 20% of that 5% infestation so a big difference in mite load between the two approaches.

Jeff, bottom of NZ
Reply

I’m on the fence with this one.

Here in NZ we lived for a long while varroa free, when it arrived it decimated both managed and wild colonies. About the only way you see a wild colony now is a “this season” swarm and most often it will not last the winter. Same with managed hives that are not treated, within six months the odds are pretty good the colony will have either died or be well on its way to being dead.

Rusty
Reply

Jeff,

That happened here, too. In the beginning, nearly all the feral colonies were wiped out. But now we are finding more and more colonies in the wild that have lived many years. We got varroa in about 1986 and I think you got them in 2000. I imagine, in time, the same thing will happen in NZ.

Steve Riley
Reply

The natural swarming tendency of feral bees (and lack of space to expand) provides them with a brood break and nowhere for varroa to breed. We can replicate that as beekeepers:- re-queening, artificial swarm control, splits, shook swarming.

If well timed, colonies can be re-united ahead of honey flows.

I have found that varroa levels are considerably lower in the hives that have had a brood break, even though some are not of my planning!

Rusty
Reply

Steve,

Have you read Splits and Varroa by Bill Hesbach? He goes into the detailed scheduling necessary to make efficient varroa-controlling brood breaks.

Alistair
Reply

Interesting article (as always). Have you read Derek Mitchell’s paper on thermal conductance of trees and hives? Essentially, a natural tree cavity has better insulation than a hive by a factor of TEN! The insulation helps bees survive the winter (without clustering), to process nectar into honey more efficiently and, most intriguingly, the bees can keep the humidity in the nest at a level which is good for larvae but not for varroa. I went to a talk Derek gave and then got hold of his paper (from 2015). I have made simple insulation coverings for my hives out of celotex (used for cavity wall insulation). It will be interesting to see if I can see a difference.

Rusty
Reply

Alistair,

I haven’t read the paper, although I’ve heard about it. But I do have a post on how humidity affects varroa reproduction.

Do you have a source for Mitchell’s paper without a paywall?

Alistair
Reply

Sorry, my daughter (who helps me with the bees) was a biology PhD student, so she got the paper from academia. Mitchell refers to the same source as your post (Kraus and Velthuis). There is also some stuff suggesting that the viability of honeybee eggs is improved with high humidity – just as the varroa is struggling. Apparently, this line of research started from the observation that varroa does less well in the tropics. Huang (2012) is quoted as saying that “If there are ways to artificially increase the hive RH to about 80 %, then the varroa mite population will never increase to a damaging level.” Not sure I would trust that just yet! Unfortunately, I haven’t got anything that can measure humidity inside the hive.

I just love the amount of research done into our little friends – it is forever revealing new insights into just how amazing they are!

Sharon Klemmu
Reply

The weather in michigan has been going up and down drastically. One day I think I should take the winter cozies off, the next day I am glad I did not. Maybe I should leave them on? I wonder about it getting really hot in there at high summer.

Alistair
Reply

A point made by Derek Mitchell in his talk to my bee club was that we all know that the bees will keep the brood temperature at 34C. If the outside temperature is less than that (which, in the UK, it certainly is!) overheating isn’t likely to be a problem. Even if the outside temperature is near to 34C, the bees can reduce the internal temperature by fanning and evaporation. Also, my celotex covers happen to have a silvery metalic surface, so they probably reduce the absorption of the sun’s rays compared to the bare wood.

Nancy Ogg
Reply

Hi, Rusty –

Very thought-provoking.

One or two thoughts: if swarming is beneficial, what about splitting? Should we figure out which split method most closely resembles, or creates the effect of swarming? Cutting out swarm queen cells always struck me as a “finger in the dike” strategy.

Next, should we consider not treating for Varroa (flinch!) and letting the bees develop resistance? Thirty years ago a respected local beekeeper said that tracheal mites had the potential to wipe out honey bees.

Or maybe some of us should just sit and feel smug when another keeper boasts about the size of his/her hives 😉
Thanks again!

Nan
Corinth, KY

Rusty
Reply

Nan,

You’re like me: I like to think about the implications, but I don’t really know what to do with them.

Anyway, if you haven’t read my summary of Bill Hesbach’s book, Splits and Varroa. It talks about the beneficial aspects of splitting.

Ken sikora
Reply

I believe Mel Disselkoen, a retired barber, and author of OTS Queen Rearing, has some excellent solutions. Unless we learn how to manage feral bees in a tree trunk, we will have to make due with the methods we have and improve where we can. Mel’s solutions are based on the developments of the early pioneers: Langstroth, Dzierzon, Miller, and Doolittle. Mel’s secrets are in the timing of making splits and giving the bees direction.

Tom Seely, and Randy Oliver, are two other beekeeping pioneers who I strongly admire. And there are others. Great article, Rusty!

Ken Sikora
Green Bay

Rusty
Reply

Ken,

I strongly agree with the idea that we should continue to improve the things we can. We can’t create an ideal situation, but I think we can do better.

Diana
Reply

Rusty, I was wondering if you had an opinion on regressing bee size with regard to mites? From what I have learned which granted I’m just at the beginning of being a beekeeper (2nd year); we enlarged the size of bees around 100(?) years ago. And [long question short] do you think possibly maybe a smaller bee would be beneficial in keeping the mite reproduction cycle more in check?

I hope that question makes sense.

Thanks in advance.

Chris
Reply

Really interesting article, and issues I’m struggling with. I’m a second year backyard beekeeper, and this year I built two top-bar hives with Phil Chandler’s “eco-floors” in them and just installed bees in them last weekend from packages. I’m trying to decide whether to try to incorporate mite control methods, how vigorously to monitor for them, and also speculating about what would happen if we just allowed the colonies to swarm naturally when the time comes. We live in a once rural but now suburban area in northern Colorado where there doesn’t seem to be a lot of natural honey bee habitat available (old hollow trees, etc.) so that’s problematic. Thanks for sharing; though the more I learn, the more indecisive I’m becoming!

Rusty
Reply

Chris,

“The more I learn, the more indecisive I’m becoming!” Yup. That’s me too.

Pedro
Reply

Hi, Rusty,
This is an extremely interesting topic. I love evolutionary biology and I think this falls right into that subject area.
For the sake or argument (and hopefully not being simply argumentative) I am going to disagree with one of your sentences: “Feral bees do not have beekeeper assistance, yet they seem to do fine without it.”
I don’t think this is true. When beekeeper’s weren’t treating for varroa feral bees seem to have taken a extremely serious hit. Now that most beekeepers are treating, feral bees are on the comeback. I don’t think this is coincidental or simply about selection.
As you have pointed out several times, varroa management by a bee colony is a balance. And I think commercial beekeeping treatment for varroa is part of the balance that allows most feral colonies to survive.
This doesn’t mean that all the other factors aren’t important, particularly swarming and brood nest size.
But the reason I mention this is because I have the feeling a lot of feral colonies would not be there if treatment of commercial colonies wasn’t decreasing environmental varroa load. I am not sure if another equilibrium point would be easy to find. For instance, if people stopped treating and tried to go for speed-light evolutionary selection what would happen? Would most colonies collapse and a few survive to become resistant and expand in the future or would all collapse? Would a new equilibrium happen at a much lower carrying capacity, meaning that whenever the number of colonies in a square mile went above a certain number that new equilibrium would be broken and collapse happen again (my suggestion being that number would be much lower than present)?
And finally, is that transition at all possible when it is not undertaken by all at the same time?
I am probably referring to only one of the aspects that you haven’t mention here so much, the idea of not treating colonies. Unless a concerted effort was done (impossible, I imagine), the attempt will be ridden with dangers.
Maybe I am just a pessimist!
Having said that, I think a lot of the other measures make sense and beekeepers need to play with the idea that accepting less productivity of individual colonies – the likely result of these measures – might mean more productivity of all their colonies. They might end up making more by allowing bees to make less.
Anyway, just a few thoughts. I find this subject compelling and you explore it brilliantly.
Thanks,
Pedro

Susan Knilans
Reply

We pass the Darwinian Beekeeping article out at our beginner beekeeping classes. My mentor, Jacqueline Freeman (author of the bestselling bee book, “Song of Increase”) and I have been moving toward Seeley’s models for years now. She is keeping more of her hives in logs, and I am in mostly skeps, so our nest temperatures are very stable. We inspect little, I have no neighboring beekeepers in my “fly zone,” so mite bombs and frequent swarming are no problem. We don’t treat, never have. Our hives encourage heavy propolis envelopes, and are small sized. We populate only from swarms, mostly our own so we’re confident that our bees are not coming from commercial apiary bees. We keep our hives as far apart as possible, and limit the number of hives to just a few.

As I’ve said before, I believe it is backyard beekeepers who have the chalice of honeybee diversity in their yards. In our area (Portland metro) we have a lot of access to local bees and swarms. We small keepers can experiment more with our management practices, and offer the bees what they want.

In a nutshell, conventional beekeeping stresses bees. Perhaps in the past, before varroa and Roundup, bees could withstand the brutal conditions we impose upon them, but not anymore. A stressed bee is a weak bee is a dead bee.

Rusty
Reply

Susan,

Interesting indeed. I have always heard that it is illegal in all 50 states to keep bees in non-movable-frame hives such as logs and skeps. However, I just did a quick review of the Oregon code and I cannot find anything that prohibits it.

Jeff, bottom of NZ
Reply

Rusty, for what it is worth, over here in NZ it is the case. It is illegal to keep bees in non-movable frame hives, so as to allow for complete and thorough inspection by controlling body inspectors.

Mind you, we do not treat for American Foul Brood either. AFB diagnosis must be “treated” here by the complete destruction of both bees and hiveware by burning.

Top bar hives have been begrudgingly accepted, but remain the domain of a few dedicated hobby keepers, compared to the number of Langstroth based colonies in NZ.

WesternWilson
Reply

Rusty, I ran a top bar for two years: it had at least as many mites as my Langstroths. I cannot explain your TBH’s mite free status, but it merits deeper investigation. FWIW, I found the colony dynamics were altered in the TBH (not that my mites cared)…the lack of the ability to exploit the vertical heat plume seemed to cause slower expansion, a smaller final cluster size, less honey harvest, and a propensity to begin swarm prep. And the early TBH’s were not very well insulated and had poor covers so I could never winter in them. Your story points up the critical importance of carefully investigating colonies that seem to manage the Varroa assault on their own.

Derek Mitchell
Reply

Rusty, You could always try emailing the author to see if he could get you a copy of the manuscript 🙂

Rusty
Reply

Derek,

Yes. Good idea.

Maryanne
Reply

Rusty,

As you know, I’m a new beekeeper and I’m continually asking you for advice on how to care for my bees. I’m struggling with the thought of treating varroa mites with chemicles, and read on a Wikipedia website that in the Middle Ages, people used rhubarb leaves as mite control for honey bees because rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid naturally and it’s the acid that kills the mites. Bees remove the leaves that are placed on the brood chamber by taking small pieces of them out at a time, releasing the acid and killing the mites but not hurting the bees. What are your thoughts on this? Has anyone tried or heard about this before? I ran across it by mistake when I was looking up rhubarb recipes on google and thought it was interesting and that I should try it, but I don’t want to do it if it’s going to hurt my bees.

I would really love to be a successful beekeeper, and each year I learn so much more about these interesting tiny creatures! I find myself going out to the beehives just to observe the girls while they are working. It’s intriguing how structured they are!

Rusty
Reply

Maryanne,

Rhubarb leaves won’t hurt your bees, but they won’t hurt your mites either. The oxalic acid in the leaves is a small fraction of the concentration found in wood bleach or other oxalic acid products.

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