All organisms, including honey bees, balance the resources and effort dedicated to three primary aims: Survival, Growth & Reproduction. For the honeybee, the latter includes the production of drones and their dispersal for mating activities. A colony will start the necessary drone comb production as one of the first signs of maturity, long before Queen cells start appearing. This activity marks a developmental milestone, but how do bees determine this moment?
After a series of practical field experiments using enlarged display hives, it seems that bees are capable of assessing their own population density; so "squeezed up" bees make more drone comb.
One memorable experiment involved mechanically stroking the bees with slowly rotating tickling sticks. Though Ken Dodd would certainly have approved, the bees remained unaffected. Tickling is not their thing! Also, large, dense colonies produced more drone comb. Michael Smith then remarked that worker bees default to making drone comb when there is no active laying Queen.
It is remarkable that after centuries of beekeeping experience we still need to find good answers to such simple questions about honeybee behaviour.
The recording can still be viewed with passcode: M#^98!xN
Jennifer placed the temperament of the Queen as the most important aspect of choosing breeding stock, something that I think most of us would agree with. She also emphasised the importance of developing good drone lines as well as good queen lines in our breeding programmes. She advocated inserting a frame of drone foundation into each good colony to ensure a plentiful supply of drones from these colonies. I think that many of us just assume that "there will be drones up there" rather than actively producing good drones.
One of the attendees at the meeting was Julia Common from the University of Vancouver, who had delivered one of our previous talks. I found it fascinating that we, as a small bunch of beekeepers in the UK, were able to facilitate a live discussion between a beekeeper who had kept bees in a Georgia jail, and a beekeeper who had kept bees in an inner-city area of Vancouver!
A recording of the talk can be viewed using the passcode rh!LR76f at:
David Capon 7/1/20
Martin then played acoustic recordings from three different activities: Queen piping, an alarm reaction termed "whooping", and the classic von Frisch waggle dance.
By simultaneously recording with a high frame-rate camera it was possible to identify individual bees responsible for the higher frequency (340Hz) whooping alert. The normal 250Hz wing movement is constrained by air drag, so to achieve 340Hz the bees use a rotational wing movement in place of the usual flapping. Two dimensional frequency plots highlighted the vibrational changes.
Honey bees appear to communicate more through substrate vibration than acoustic air waves. Indeed, they may not have any "ears" at all. They react by freezing all activity when subjected to higher energy vibrations. This was compared to the anecdotal accounts of beekeepers singing to calm their hives and beating saucepans ("tanging") to force flying swarms down to earth.
The prediction of imminent swarming was also an aim of this research. The indicators from vibrational data required an extended analysis over a period of time for this to be of practical value to beekeepers.
The talk was universally acknowledged to be fascinating and has stimulated several members to kit up and try their hands at vibrational analysis!
The talk and discussion can still be seen using the following URL with an entry passcode: vDWH8&9M.
Julia then went on to talk about large scale pollination with her bees and especially inside 6 hectare greenhouses where the bees were tasked with pollinating strawberry plants. Her honey bees were being used where the farmer had been unable to get the usual bumble bee pollinators. Julia now has this as a regular arrangement as her honey bees worked so well.
Finally Julia talked about beekeeping using nucs only and how she was focusing on this as it involves far less heavy lifting and the bees are doing as well for her as they did using full size hives. Hopefully this will be a topic of another talk for us in the future.
Julia’s talk was recorded and can be viewed at this link:
Propolis is the apicultural term for plant resins that many species of honey bee collect and then lay down inside their nest cavities. The prophylactic property of propolis has been recognised and exploited by humans for many centuries. Both fungal and bacterial agents can be inhibited. Several active chemical components have been identified, but these vary according to the season and plant source. There is no clear, single molecular component providing the anti-microbial performance but flavonoids are significant in all types of propolis. Honeybee colonies have been shown to perform better if they are allowed/encouraged to lay down a full propolis envelope on the inner walls of their home in the same manner as wild bees. Roughening the internal walls of a wooden hive will encourage the bees to provide a propolis coating. Whether beekeepers should now refrain from flaming their spare brood boxes to kill pathogens, and so burn off all the protective propolis coating, was still an open question. Besides reducing the opportunity for infections to develop across the colony, it has been discovered that the internal microbiome, contained within the bee's gut, is healthier when a protective coating of propolis has been extended throughout the hive.
Early detection and removal of infected pupae is essential to avoid spreading spores throughout the hive. Both AFB and chalkbrood have an early "non infectious" phase before spores develop to spread the infection. Immature varroa mites simply need to be released from the pupal cell and exposed to predation. Honeybees use their probosis to detect dead or infected pupae, including those afflicted by mites and microbes, so uncapping and removal can then take place. Oddly, drone pupae seem not to be included in this hygienic behaviour, only worker brood.
The usual method of beekeepers assessing the level of hygienic behaviour expressed by a colony involves sacrificing an area of worker brood by freezing with liquid nitrogen and seeing what percentage of the dead pupae have been removed after a fixed interval. The correspondence between detecting dead pupae and those living but hosting mites is not perfect, but the freeze-killed brood assay has been judged a good way to screen colonies. Alternative experimental assay methods which avoided handling liquid nitrogen were also described. To breed bees to maximize hygienic genes, it is considered necessary to use instrumental insemination techniques. Just relying on wild drone insemination of chosen queens is not sufficiently effective.
Interestingly, Apis cerana, the eastern honeybee, does not collect and use plant resins but demonstrates vigorous hygienic behaviour to control varroa mites. It also has adopted the strategy of sealing in the infected pupae in such a manner as to prevent them emerging.
A very thought provoking and well presented talk, many thanks to Marla Spivak!
Lynfa has been keeping bees since 2005 with her husband and currently has approximately 30 hives. In 2015 she became a Master Beekeeper after working her way through the modules and practical assessments and then in 2019 she achieved the National Diploma in Beekeeping (NDB). Lynfa enjoys teaching beekeeping and is passionate about helping new beekeepers to learn the skills required to keep bees healthy and productive. Covid-19 might have curtailed many activities but Lynfa has adapted to this and regularly gives talks via digital platforms. She also regularly writes articles for beekeeping magazines. Lynfa is a member of the Welsh Beekeeper's Association (WBKA) Learning and Development Committee and has delivered courses for the WBKA as well as being a tutor for the NDB short courses and contributing to workshops at the BBKA Spring Convention. In her day job, Lynfa is a Knowledge Exchange Manager on the Farming Connect programme in Wales.
3. Don't name your Qs or grow too attached to them. Culling aging Qs is a necessary part of the beekeeper's job.
4. Cover over the escape holes in crown boards to stop the bees entering the roof space. This gives you extra time to assess the hive, and more roofs, acting as bases, to stack supers on.
5. When assessing advice from other beekeepers take into account their "hive years" of experience. Try to increase and broaden your own experience by assisting your colleagues.
6. Bees generally flourish whatever the beekeepers think they should be doing.
7. Don't forget to clean your tools and gloves in the handy bucket of washing soda. Also have a container with lid for the hive wax debris.
8. Are mouse guards really necessary?
9. Float a piece of wood in the water trough or feeder container to prevent bees drowning. An old tea towel can serve the same purpose.
10. Refill your honey jars!
The annual display of our best apiary products, with competitive categories including: clear and set honey, cut comb, home baked honey cake and biscuits, candles, and mead, took place on Saturday afternoon at Churchill Memorial Hall. David Capon kindly acted again as Judge and Commentator, with an audience of around 20 members taking notes as he progressed through a record number of entries for all the categories.