Trials and Tribulations of a Bee-Keeper

Nigel is a natural beekeeper. The term doesn’t refer to his gifts as a beekeeper but to the fact that his bees live as near to possible as they would if they were wild. The difference is that, rather than finding themselves a new home in nooks and crannies, such as hollow tree trunks or people’s garages, or roofs as swarms will do when left to their own devices, he has designed and made them top bar hives in which to make their own, somewhat heart shaped comb
- just as they would in nature.  

Bee-keeping nowadays can be stressful affair if you take the health and wellbeing of your bees to heart.

Bees are beset by many health problems, are affected by adverse weather conditions - since they do not gather pollen or nectar if the weather is wet or the temperature below 12 degrees - and are subject to attacks by all kinds of predators who are after their honey.

 And, as if they didn’t have enough problems, modern farming methods such as the radical reduction of hedgerows and the prevalence of monoculture (enormous fields growing a single crop), not to mention the wide use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, have all reduced bee numbers whilst leaving surviving bees struggling to maintain their existence.

Wax Moth infestation on the hive.

Wax Moth infestation on the hive.

Nigel and a comb.

Nigel and a comb.


Nigel has tried to protect them from the winter cold.  His hives are constructed using extra thick Douglas Fir. Even so he has lost colonies when the winter has been exceptionally severe. This he finds very upsetting but - short of supplying them with the heaters you see outside cafes to encourage people to eat on the pavement - there’s not much else he can do.

Commercial beekeepers routinely remove a proportion of the bees’ honey and feed them with sugar instead, but, in making honey from nectar the bees add all kinds of other things which are good for their health. For that reason, Nigel leaves them all their honey for the winter and only removes a comb or two when they are in full production, the hive is packed with comb and weather conditions allow them to continue to make more.

So, if you receive some honey from Nigel you can regard yourself as highly favoured.  As he has only four hives the small amount he takes from each hive goes mostly to the family.

I mentioned predators. Its not only humans who like honey. Much loved fictional characters like Winnie the Pooh and Paddington have made us aware that bears have a sweet tooth too. In countries where there are still wild bears they frequently not only raid hives but push them over in their eagerness to get the honey. And probably be well stung for their thievery.

In this country the robbers are smaller but can do even more damage. They range from mice to other insects.  Nigel has just lost three hives to wax moth.

Wax Moth

Wax Moths, as their name implies, delight in eating wax. They thus pose a great threat to hives because, if left unchecked, they will destroy the brood comb which contains the bee larva.

Like all moths, Wax Moths prefer night time to breed and lay eggs and it is at night that they will enter the hive through any gaps they find or if the entrance has been left unguarded for any reason - for example if a sudden cold spell has caused the bees to cluster together for warmth.

Once inside they lay eggs in tiny cracks. When these eggs hatch the grey larvae start feeding on the brood comb. They leave behind them the white web which you can see in the photo. It resembles a spider’s web but is very sticky and almost impossible to pull apart.

Since returning from France to find three of his colonies destroyed by wax moths, Nigel has researched treatments and ways of avoiding infestation. Here we are sharing an old and very effective traditional method of deterrence– a wax moth trap.

Wax Moth Trap

Take a 1.5 to 2-litre plastic drinks bottle and drill a 1-inch hole on the vertical side of the bottle just below the neck.  Add 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, ½  cup vinegar and finally 1 banana peel. Wait a few days until it starts to ferment, then tie it into a tree close to the hives. This trap will draw the wax moths. They will enter the hole but be unable to get out and will drown in the liquid.

 

Barbara Rustin