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Probably a mite problem

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Uwe in USA
Guard Bee

Joined: 08 May 2013
Posts: 69
Location: Arlington, Virginia, USA

PostPosted: Sun May 14, 2017 9:49 pm    Post subject: Probably a mite problem Reply with quote

Hi . My name is Uwe Heidrich and I live in Arlington, VA, USA. I started keeping bees about three years ago and haven't been able to keep my bee hives for a longer period of time. I do have two Top Bar Bee hives. I thought this Winter they would survive because they were both strong going into the Winter season and both bee hives were full, I even didn't take honey from them and fed them as long as I could. But came March they were all dead. Today Sunday May 12 , I received two new packages and I talked to the bee keeper that sells packages and he said that actually Top Bar Bee Hives are not good for this area and it is a myth that they survive or manage better the Mite issue having them build their own smaller comb hexagons. He said they died of the Mite and he said I should treat them. Well I do not know how to treat them in a Top Bar Bee hive. Any idea or help would be appreciated. He also suggested me building a different bee hive so I made some plans to build Warre hives. What is your opinion on them? Well thank you ahead of helping me with some suggestions.
Unfortunately I have no experienced bee keeper near by to mentor me.
I am not giving up because we need the Bees.


Uwe Heidrich
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PostPosted: Mon May 15, 2017 12:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Uwe

I'm not sure what your climate is like in Virginia, but people have had success with Top Bar hives from Canada to Central America and probably South America too, so I'm not sure the hive itself is the problem. Many conventional beekeepers who use Langstroth hives find it easy to blame the TB hive for winter failure when they have no actual experience of the hive type themselves. There can be a number of other factors that are causing your colony failures and without seeing the colony and doing a "post mortem" examination, we can only guess at the reason.

What I would say, is that the TBH in itself is not some magical design that enables bees to be free of, or resistant to, varroa mites. There are many factors that affect the bees ability to deal with mites and the hive itself is not one of them in my opinion.

I think you may have misunderstood the quite complex issue of small cell brood being resistant to mites and how small cell comb is achieved. Firstly, whilst it is known that varroa mites prefer to breed in drone brood (which is larger than worker brood) there is no scientific data that I am aware of to back up the belief that small cell worker brood will in itself combat varroa.
Secondly, bees that have been raised on modern standard cell size foundation (ie. your packages) cannot suddenly build small cell worker comb just because you allow them to build their own comb. It takes several generations for them to reduce it down to what is considered small cell and even then, some bees may not be able to achieve it. Unfortunately it sounds like yours have not been surviving long enough to be able to achieve any reduction in cell size.

So, the beekeeper that is supplying your package bees may be correct that varroa is killing your bees. However, that does not mean that the TBH is unable to sustain a colony in your area. There are a number of things that you can try before giving up on the hive and I would suggest that starting with a swarm or nucleus colony of locally adapted bees would be the first step I would take.
There are many problems with commercially produced package bees particularly in the USA because of the nature of your vast mono crop agriculture and migratory beekeeping/pollination services. Most package bees are produced from these colonies that are shipped across the country from crop to crop, living off a diet of just one type of pollen at a time and being exposed to pesticides on almost every crop. These bees are therefore not the strongest, healthiest bees to start with. Add to that, they are shaken together from multiple hives and given an unrelated queen that is often artificially inseminated. Then they get shipped off across the country to their new home which is almost certainly a completely different climate to the one they have just come from and fed sugar syrup. They often try to replace the queen via supercedure after a few months, perhaps because artificial insemination cannot compete with natural mating where only the strongest, fittest drones get to fertilize the virgin queens.)

So you start out with a package of bees that are most likely stressed, have been brought up on an unhealthy diet, exposed to pesticides, probably have a poorly mated queen and many are not related to each other and non will be related to the queen.... it is a Frankenstein's monster as far as a colony of bees is concerned.... and you are using this as your foundation stock. Then you expect them to build small cells, survive untreated and be resistant to varroa mites.... I'm afraid you are expecting too much!

Package bees survive in conventional Langstroth hives because the beekeepers using them follow conventional beekeeping practices and regularly treat their bees with chemicals to kill the mites. When these same package bees fail to survive in TB hives it is easy to assume the hive is at fault, which is why it is the first thing to be blamed.

If you compare this to the natural alternative, which is a swarm from a local colony, the bees are all related to each other and the queen, the queen will most likely be naturally mated with only the strongest and fastest locally adapted drones, they will have been reared on a balanced diet which consisted of pollen and nectar from many varied flowers, which will each contain different nutrients and hopefully many of those flowers will not have been treated with pesticides. They left the hive as a unit specifically to set up a new home and they filled their bellies with honey before they left to sustain them whist they build their new home, so they don't need sugar syrup. These bees are adapted to the local climate and flora and are already used to working as a team, because they all came from the same hive.... they are family, they speak the same language.

I appreciate that it is not always possible for people to obtain local swarms and ordering a package is a simple guaranteed option of populating a hive in a given season, rather than waiting and hoping a swarm will turn up, but you are spending money and setting yourself and the bees up for failure by doing so.

Other options are finding a local, reputable beekeeper who will supply you with a natural swarm, a shook swarm (essentially a package but produced from bees that are locally adapted, ideally from a single hive and with a related queen) or a nucleus colony from their own bees. The problem with the latter is that it usually comes on frames which then need to be chopped and cropped into a TBH, which some novice beekeepers find a daunting task.

I think you may need to either research all these issues a little more thoroughly if you wish to keep bees more naturally or follow the conventional route of framed hives and treatment, at least until you have more experience and understanding. I started this way myself so I am not knocking it and it has stood me in good stead for the more natural approach and treatment free system I now operate.

As regards the Warre hive, I personally do not recommend it for beginners as it is a difficult hive to inspect and manage unless you use frames in it and then you might as well use the standard Langstroth framed hive that most other beekeepers in your area will be using, so getting support and getting started with a nucleus colony will be much more straight forward.
Also some states in the US have regulations that specify that hives need to have combs that can be inspected. Of course some people ignore such restrictions, but personally I would rather have a hive that I can inspect, even if I choose not to, than a hive that I cannot inspect on that odd occasion when I really need to. I also think it is a responsible thing to do. If rules are to be flouted, then it should only be done by people who have the skill and experience to deal with any problems that arise.

That is my take on your situation. I know it is very long winded but there is no simple answer.

Best wishes

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Joined: 31 May 2010
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Location: Cambridge, UK

PostPosted: Mon May 15, 2017 9:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Uwe,

I would certainly echo that a top bar hive of whatever flavour is no magic answer to the varroa mite or any of the other problems associated with keeping bees. I have not fed my bees for several years now on the basis that there will barring exceptional circumstances be enough food for them to gather themselves though in poor years I might take little or no honey from them for myself. I do not believe I have lost any colonies to varroa mites since I stopped treating and am pretty certain, all the losses I have sustained are due to colonies going queenless or queens being poorly mated. (That was in a year where following swarming there was a prolonged period of very wet weather. Obviously as Barbara says, impossible to be sure why they died out at this distance but certainly a possibility is going queenless or being inadequately mated which would lead to nothing but drone laying once the queen runs out of sperm from mating/fertilised eggs.

I recognise that where you live, package bees may be the only option. I have only ever populated hives from nucleus colonies or swarms. If you get swarms you know that the bees are at least to some extent adapted for your local area. This may not be true with package bees. If at all possible find a local bee keeper that you can get swarms from would be my advice.

The one point I would disagree with Barbara on is the ease of inspecting Warre hives. I have found that after separating the boxes, I just use a standard hive tool to unstick the comb from the sides of the box and the comb then lifts out on the bar to inspect. I have had no problems with comb crossing several bars such as I have had with horizontal top bar hives when I haven't inspected them regularly so if you are not able to inspect regularly to keep on top of this I would rate the Warre as much easier to manage. However we are getting into the realm here of the saying, "Ask two bee keepers a question and you get three different answers!"
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Uwe in USA
Guard Bee

Joined: 08 May 2013
Posts: 69
Location: Arlington, Virginia, USA

PostPosted: Mon May 15, 2017 2:37 pm    Post subject: Verroa Mites? Reply with quote

Thank you both for your time to respond to my problem. Unfortunately so far I was only able to get package bees. have to see if I can find a local Beekeeper in Arlington. The climate is wonderful for bees here, I believe. We have at least 300 days sun shine and from may to late October we have temperatures always above 72 F in Summer month 90-100F. not long rain periods. I also do not take much Honey from them just some Rent from them for the hive they are living in. I will put up some arrows around my house and area pointing into my garden so a swarm might end up in one of my extra hives I am building. LOL. I was looking on Facebook how to build a Warre hive and I thought it would be a better setup. I was told that bees like to build their combs vertical plus I can inspect my hive building observation windows as I have done on my Top Bar Bee Hives. I made some plans by myself on how to build those Top Bars fro the Warre hive that they can be retracted without a tool. I just attach on the top bars vertically a short frame that will be positioned towards the observation window and a long frame on the other side so the combs wont be stuck to the box. I didn't know that Bee keeping was becoming such a science. I said to myself the bees cannot be that picky if they build in chimneys, as I saw. I also didn't know that the bees need some time to be able to build smaller hexagons. I thought they would do this immediately when they have to build their own combs. I had two hives that swarmed and I caught them and they also didn't make it. I don't want to give up because it is so nice to see the bees working in my back yard. Better then watching TV. I will see now if I can find a beekeeper in my area. Is it possible that the bees died because they go to other gardens around my area which are treated with chemicals. people here want the best grass here. I guess that is a problem as well. too much chemicals because most people want a perfect garden. I like mine natural with out chemicals and my grass looks like @#$%^ but again its just grass. Thanks both of you again for your time and answers.
Best Regards

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Quality Top Bar Hives by Andrew Vidler

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