25 Apr 2015

Small hive beetle - the clear and present danger

Small hive beetles (SHB) had arrived in Victoria.  Actually they did arrive some time ago but they get more visible over time.

SHB seem to be the gift of Olympics 2000.  First detected in 2001 around Newcastle, it since spread over NSW and Qld.  It favours warm and moist climate so it was slow to move south, but now it is in Victoria.  If you see inside or outside a hive a black beetle the size of a ladybird - this is it.

When SHB overwhelm a hive, they makes the bee colony abscond, looking for a better place.  In USA it is called "September swarming", as it usually happens in the second part of the year.  On 13 April I have received a call to remove a bee swarm.  I could not believe it - bees DO NOT swarm in Melbourne in April, but the caller sounded knowledgeable and was insistent.  I went there and here it was - a proper swarm on a roof, with scouts etc.  SHB are the only explanation I can think of.

USA beekeepers from southern states claim that for them SHB are worse than varroa.

I have no direct experience with SHB, but I saw them already in a few hives.  No losses as yet. Here is the summary of a search on available SHB info:

1. SHB can easily enter hives, bees cannot stop them even if they try.  Indeed they do their best but to no avail.

2. Once beetles are in, bees have no natural way of removing them.  They cannot kill them, they cannot kick them out.  Conclusion - beetle numbers in hives tend to grow over time with no natural limiting factor in sight.  This is really scary!!!

3. Bees chase the beetles, try to contain them in tight spots ("beetle jails") and keep them there.  They can do it, but then the beetles have sneaky ways to make bees feed them.  Keeping beetles in check keeps a number of bees away from useful work and may be a feasible strategy only up to a point.

4. Beetles themselves do not cause any damage but if a number of them lay eggs, the larvae quickly overwhelm the hive and turn it into a slimy stinking mess.

5. Hive inspections and manipulations cause general chaos and let beetles get out of jails.  This often allows them to lay eggs and to bring down the hive.  Another possible trigger for a catastrophe is if the number of beetles inside is simply too high for bees to control.

SHB are claimed to be of little concern to beekeeping in Africa, where they came from.  African bees are known to have the tendency to abscond at a drop of a hat - maybe this is their way to shake off beetles and limit SHB damage?

 These are the known strategies to fight SHB or at least minimize damage:

- beetle trapping outside hives.  Traps resemble wasp traps.

- denial of hive entry by hive design, with or without trapping, see www.beetlejail.com.  Also alternative designs may be possible, taking advantage of differences in bee and beetle size and legs length.

- beetle trapping at the hive entrance.  For current designs refer Mrs. Google.

- beetle trapping inside the hive.  Numerous traps are on the market, again refer Mrs. Google.  Traps require periodical emptying.  Some traps allow emptying from outside, some require hive opening.  Overall efficacy of traps is unknown at this time.  Traps are unlikely to get all the beetles and the question is - to what degree the beetles not trapped are capable of bringing a hive down.

Possible additional strategies:

- hive designs that leave no room for beetles to hide.  Langstroth hives seem to be a beetle paradise with numerous small tight spots.

- floor mesh with openings large enough for beetles to be pushed out.  If it works, this may allow bees to remove beetles and bees indeed try to do it.  However, it may work only if beetles cannot enter a hive from below.  Beetles can land on a horizontal surface and most likely on a vertical one as well, but surely not upside down.  It is unclear whether they could walk upside down on a reasonably smooth surface.  Possibly metal or plastic may not offer enough for beetles to hold on to so a bottom mesh say #6 (3.5 mm opening) with metal/plastic collar may just do the job.

The above is just a summary of what I could gather so far.  The April swarm really made me worry.  Please comment if you can.  If you have more information, please send a message.  Let's tackle the problem jointly.


15 Apr 2015

The flow hive - the discussion continues

I posted my reservations re. the famous (infamous?) Flow Hive in the previous post.  These reservations were sort-of ideological so maybe not convincing for many.  With this post I am trying to go a bit more down to earth to look at nitty-gritties of beekeeping with the the Flow Hive.

The Flow Hive looks very attractive but my concern is that many ignorant people with no bee knowledge will go for it expecting honey with no work involved. Something for nothing. It always looks attractive but seldom if ever works. The ignorant ones will expect that all they need to do is to crank the handle and every time they will get honey flowing out. This is what the promo videos promise, don't they? In reality they are likely to instigate robbing, breed varroa, promote SHB infection, wax moth and swarms that will annoy and irritate neighbours.

 Overharvesting is a real risk.  If all you do is to crank the handle, how will you know that comb is ready for a new harvest?  There is no need to look inside the hive or whatever, one can get stung, let's just turn the handle and see what comes out. Cranking the handle while bees are refilling the comb may yield something else than honey flowing out - bits and pieces of bees.

Responsible beekeeping (the nasty word again) requires that the hive be managed to minimize swarming.  The hive needs periodical check for diseases or a failing queen.  SHB is a new and VERY real problem.  Varroa is on a horizon, it is just a matter of time before it comes.

There is more to responsible beekeeping than pinching the honey.  I stress the word "responsible".
Promises of something for nothing are dangerous and usually end in tears.

I see the "invention" to be a dangerous concept.  But I may be badly wrong and if so - I will be the first to admit it.  Time will tell.

24 Feb 2015

Flow Hive

The Flow Hive concept created quite a stir in the general community and even more so with beekeepers.  Here is a point of view I personally subscribe to.  It comes from Natural Beekeeping Trust blog (naturalbeekeepingtrust.wordpress.com).  I submit it for your consideration without any further comments:

We start with an extract from a piece that appeared on this blog a while ago:
In 1609, Charles Butler, in The Feminine Monarchy, wrote:
‘Of all insects, the bees are chief, and worthily to be most admired; being the only things of that kind which are bred for the behoove of men.’
Thus it has been ever since: bees are judged not by their intrinsic worth, nor by reference to their role in wider nature, but solely with reference to their utility to man.  The needs of the bee are subjugated to the needs of man.  Two hundred and fifty years after these words were written, just when the Victorians had outlawed the making of men into slaves for other men, allowing slaves to throw off their shackles, a clergyman named Lorenzo Langstroth invented a new shackle for the bee: the so-called moveable frame hive. Thus came about a perversion perpetrated on the bee that has been visited upon no other animal: the very body of the creature, the comb and internal organs of the Bee are henceforth to be constructed in the equivalent of a set of files in a filing cabinet, with each file capable of being withdrawn by the beekeeper at will .  The Bee thus becomes an animal dissectible at will, the equivalent of making the heart, lungs, uterus and so forth of a dog removable, and examinable, at the whim of the owner rather than only under dire veterinary need.
To continue the same line of thought, the comb that makes up the internal structure of a bee hive is made of wax, secreted from the bodies of the bees themselves. The wax is shaped into cells, of varying sizes according to the needs of the Bee. (By ‘Bee’ -with a capital ‘B’- is meant the colony as a whole, made up of individuals bees, bee brood, waxen combs and so forth.) In Victorian times, a decision was made that the variation one sees in natural comb was a waste of energy, and wax was moulded artificially into uniform patterns to ‘encourage’ the Bee to dispense with this essential variability in its internal structure. All in the name of efficiency.

In recent years, plastic has been substituted for the wax; entire combs are nowadays made of plastic! After all, why should the Bee make its innards from its own natural secretions when artificial materials can be used. Never mind that the comb forms the actual internal organs of the Bee. Anyone for a plastic heart, or a plastic uterus?

But man’s perversion of the Bee life form does not end there. We now see the invention of plastic combs that have embedded within them little rotating cams, such that, at the turn of a handle, the comb separates and out pours the honey. This invention is termed the Flow Hive and is the current rage of internet bee discussion forums. The argument goes that honey can be harvested with minimal disturbance to the hive. Setting aside questions of whether the hive will work in practice (for example: how long before the bees gum the intricate mechanism solid with propolis), what effect will this invention have on the Bee organism as a whole? The combs are, after all, an integral part of the Bee, properly created by the individual bees from their own wax. If for those combs we substitute plastic in which we embed the equivalent of a food grinder, that opens up the combs and allows their contents to ooze forth, what is the effect on the Bee?

Intensive animal farming has invented many contraptions in the name of efficiency, battery chicken cages come immediately to mind, but there are many others.  What stands out about all of these inventions is that they fail completely to see or respect the animal concerned.  Instead, the poor creature is seen as being no more than a machine, an unfeeling, mechanical contraption, there solely for the production of a foodstuff at the lowest possible economic cost. The cost to the animal counts for nothing, but cost there is, paid in silence.  It is well past time that we, as farmers and consumers, realised that animals will only thrive and remain healthy when they are allowed to be fully themselves.  How, for example, can a battery chicken be fully itself when it is prevented even from moving by the extreme confines of a battery cage?

We treat animals like this when we see nature in terms of separate elements that can be manipulated like pieces of machinery rather than as a complex whole, where all the parts matter, big and small.  As such, we miss the essential interconnectedness that exists between the elements and the whole and, in consequence, we cause great and unwitting harm.

The Flow Hive is a prime example of seeing nature in a mechanistic manner, treating the Bee as a machine to be manipulated and adjusted at will.  Thus, instead of thinking of the entire hive as a complex organism, one that includes the comb as an essential functioning part, the inventors see only a box of insects that can be manipulated to suit their desire for profit and efficiency. Their invention inserts machinery into the whole, into the body of the Bee to create a chimera, a hybrid. But, unlike the Greek myth, this is not a hybrid of two naturally occurring creatures, this hybrid is part natural, part mechanical, something literally monstrous, a cyborg.

That the inventors think of a hive as a box of insects, of individual bees to be manipulated for ease of robbing is one thing. That they pose with organic gardening magazines in their PR materials about the hive suggests they care about the earth. However, that they clearly aim at the burgeoning ‘bee-friendly market’ by suggesting that the hive promises less disturbance of the Bee, seems, to those who see the whole organism, to be a deceit. Yet, they look like nice chaps; no doubt they are. The detachment of the intellect from the heart is not a condition unique to them. It is the disease of our time, and there is no easy cure for such maladjustment.

What weighs heavily is this: a new invention in the world of beekeeping has caught the imagination of beekeepers, the public and the media in a veritable frenzy. The frenzy of easy returns, of greed. Even beekeepers of holistic repute either endorse the hive or sit on the fence, for now. This spells moral disaster, a total breakdown in our relationship with the Bee. Do we, collectively, really have no concept that the creature in our care is a complex organism that consists of the whole contents of the hive? Have we forgotten our indebtedness to this exemplary form of life, so intimately connected with our own lives, our sustenance?

The modern boxes we provide for bees have nothing to do with the needs of the Bee; they are simply the product of our materialistic way of thinking. Our goal is rationality and profit, and this has become a global problem of our times. We often fail to realize what we are actually doing when we wrongly apply our atomistic way of thinking to certain areas and, in so doing, misappropriate them.
We must change our way of thinking; we must view life holistically and not interpret it as simply the sum of its constituent parts, added together without any heed for the interdependencies and properties that come with complexity. Having done so, we, comprehending, will once more be able to revere life in all its manifestations, and this will include reverence for the Bee.

If the Bee is to recover from the onslaughts of our devilish inventiveness since the dawn of materialism, we need to help it find its way into the collective heart and mind of all humanity. We need to work together as one heart and one mind. We need to stay focussed. We need to aspire to love for the Bee and express this love, together with our understanding, in all we do.

It makes us sad therefore to see, by the responses of millions of people to the Flow Hive, that the Bee in its wholeness and beneficence exists neither in their minds nor in their hearts. It is dead to them. If beekeeping continues along these lines, if it fails to truly see the whole, the Bee will, in the not too distant future, be dead to us all.

 The Trustees of the Natural Beekeeping Trust

Please read it and consider.