I had a particularly lively and curious set of classmates in Jo Miller’s Journeyman class. We frequently ranted that in the 150+ years of local beekeeping, not only has no one come up with a general template of how to run local bee colonies, but many basic questions remain unanswered. Questions to do with the most simple aspects of bee physiology, bee behaviour, and basic management.
So I have started this list. Perhaps against the day I get back on the academic treadmill and need an MSc. topic of my own. Meanwhile, you little bee scholars you, if you take up one of these topics let me know what you find. We’d all be interested, and grateful.
I am deeply skeptical that in the PacNW…or anywhere else cold/wet/snowy/rainy for months of the year…that the bees actually need more than a front door to use for cleansing flights. And I am concerned that in cold weather areas, providing both upper and lower entrances causes so much heat loss in the hive over winter that bees need extra food to stay warm and alive. And if you do use an upper entrance in winter, do you put it on the same side as the lower entrance, to minimize strong cross-draughts (particularly in breezy sites)?? Who knows? This is a critical piece of management information, and the debates over ventilation are endless. We need clarity.
Oxalic Acid: How does it kill Varroa Mites??
We still have no clear idea of how or why oxalic acid (either in dribble or applied as a vapour) actually kills mites. I’d sure like to know!
There is still no consensus on how and when winter bees are created. Are they raised in late summer? Early fall? Winter? Are they raised differently, fed some special diet as larvae? Or do late summer adult bees just shift their physiology based on environmental cues (waning sunlight? pollen dearth? dropping temperatures? reduced brood amounts?).
If, as I did in 2017, you plunder big colonies for bees and brood to give to newly mated queens, do you thereby plunder all the winter bees out of the hive, dooming the original colony to a winter death? Or will they raise another crop of winter bees? How long would that take?
In spite of the fact our local winter weather (gloom and torrential rains Nov-April = 6 months), there is no consensus on what method of wrapping is best for our bees. Some use tarpaper, some bee cozies, I experimented with Reflectix this year, do you keep the summertime upper entrance or not, put on emergency rations, and/or insulation over the cluster? You will hear a bunch of “recipes” and while microclimate comes into this, what is the best way to wrap particularly if your site is less than ideal??
Feeding Pollen Sub
There have been some interesting observations on the whole art of feeding pollen sub. One study suggested winter bee raising is cued by a fall pollen dearth…so should you remove all pollen sub before September? If you are building small, late summer colonies (as I was in 2017, thanks to a late and surprise queen rearing run), does feeding them up with pollen sub to push brooding ruin their winter prep? Randy Oliver feels pollen sub helps in the short run but hurts the colonies in the long run…he speculates that pollen sub has a missing mystery Factor X. Or does it have something already in it that slowly affects the colony over time, sapping vigour (like a constant hangover effect)?? Soy flour has been implicated as a bee toxin when fed over time….
Sugar Syrup Additives
People like to add all kinds of things to their cane sugar syrup, which in our biozone is an essential feed in the long dearths we have in early spring and late summer. I have heard of people adding Rooster Booster, thymol crystals (my bees would not touch THAT syrup!), essential oils, Honey B Healthy, etc. ad infinitum. My own sense is that they do best on straight white sugar syrup. Do floral nectars have anything in them past sugar and water that the bees need? Some small suite of micronutrients? Or do they get all they need from the pollens they collect?
What hive design and/or box config is best for bees? This year our club is experimenting with the single box broodnest approach used by the University of Guelph. Some of our members are trying horizontal hives of all sorts, and Warré hives (note: not only are Warré hives illegal in Canada as their frames are not removable for disease monitoring, they are a PITA!!! I have been helping a local beekeeper with one for several years…my advice is run in the opposite direction!). Are the larger frames and larger boxes like the British National hives better for bees and/or beekeeper? Which config best supports increased vigour and honey harvests??