We are in the throes of a heatwave at the moment, with the maximum temperatures ever recorded in the UK being reached – and exceeded.
I went to see the Thermosolar hives as I wanted to make sure they were coping in the heat. We visited in the evening by which time it was beginning to cool off slightly, and wearing a bee suit was bearable!
I checked the first hive, which have finally started making some progress in the super, albeit at a rakish angle:
I saw bees at the entrance of the second hive but there was a lot of milling around rather than purposeful foraging, so I took off the lid. This greeted me:
Wax moth. In quantity! This hive has always had a wax moth problem, and this infestation has occurred because the colony has failed. Bees can keep on top of the moths when they are functioning well as a unit but when that breaks down, the wax moth take a hold.
What might have caused this? I am presuming the bees have swarmed and either the new queen has failed, or, as is becoming increasingly common, the bees have not managed to requeen following swarming or supersedure. In other words, the new queen is a dud and the colony has therefore failed.
The standard beekeeping practice would be to either replace the queen or induce the bees in to producing a new queen by placing a frame of young eggs a healthy hive in to the failed colony so the bees can produce an emergency queen from one of the donor eggs. I couldn’t do this with these bees as the frames are crossed with comb in both the hives, therefore extracting a frame of eggs isn’t possible. It is also a slightly dubious tack to take just because if the reasons for hive failure are not apparent, we are potentially sacrificing a slab of new brood from a healthy hive (which will have an impact on its productivity) to prop up a hive with a questionable future.
There is also the problem of transferring the healthy hive’s individual flora and fauna to a hive with a different genetic make up, and just like we may suffer if we visit another country and consume the – perfectly safe – local food and water which requires its own set of gut bacteria, so introducing a frame from a different hive (even if it is fit and well) can have a negative impact on the recipient bees. It is less of a problem, if you are transferring a frame from one hive to a swarm that you have rehoused in your apiary as there will be a similar biome between the two, but amalgamating totally different bees is asking for trouble.
The bees in this hive are the next-door bees robbing out the honey and propolis to fill their own coffers.
This colony could have been saved but we always have to remember that nature finds a way, and if we don’t interfere with the bees then what happens is a true representation of what is actually going on in the colony. In the same way that we need to start viewing ‘problems’ as indicators telling us what is going on rather than simply something to be immediately solved via the shortest, quickest route.
I removed the top super full of frames as the larvae can eat in to the wood of the frames to make their cocoons, so I didn’t want them eaten completely. I fed the grubs to my hens who enjoyed the protein-rich snack.
I will return to the hive once the weather cools a little and remove the rest of the frames. The inspection board of the healthy hive does have a fair quantity of wax moth detritus so it might be that the remaining hive is similarly afflicted. As I said, it is something the bees should deal with so the fact the moths are overwhelming the colony alongside the lack of progress with building in the super is a sign that they are not thriving.
Non-interventionist beekeeping can result in difficult outcomes, especially when viewed through the lens of traditional beekeeping where producing honey and maintaining functioning colonies is the priority. Conservation beekeeping requires us to rely on the bees to work with the resources they have, as in that way we are not disadvantaging the other pollinators but this does mean the losses reflect a natural system.