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Does honey removal affect colony survival?

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Tuffers 

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Hi, Newbie here. I've been avidly reading up everything I can find on the net about beekeeping and I'm planning to join my local association in October.

Obviously, there is currently a lot in the news about the number of bees being lost and I know the possible causes arouse strong views on all sides.

One thing I'm interested to know (and haven't been able to find the answer on the net) is has anyone tried not removing any honey to see whether it has a positive effect on survival rates?

The obvious riposte to this question might be why bother keeping bees if you don't remove the honey, but I'm currently considering buying several acres of orchard and the purpose of getting into bees would be purely for pollination purposes.

If this has been tried with success then as a secondary question, does adding fewer supers result in the bees working less hard and also surviving better?

Finally does the use of Top Bar Hives result in the bees constructing as much comb as they want or will they use every bar they are given? In other words, do top bar hives result in bees only working as hard as necessary to produce enough honey for themselves and therefore reduce stress and increase survival rates?

As I said my main priority is pollination and as I'm not bothered about honey production. I'm therefore quite happy to do whatever gives the colony the best chance of survival even if that would normally be bad practice because it reduces the honey crop.
 
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I'll throw my penny worth in to kick it off.

There are some honeys which are generally not considered ideal for over-wintering the bees. The ones that spring to mind are heather and ivy. The former has been linked with dysentry but I have not heard of any explanation. The latter sets solid in the comb and the bees have to fly out in winter to collect water in order to use it. In very cold weather they could possibly starve if unable to fly.

The Soil Association guidelines for overwintering only allow feeding sugar in exeptional circumstances. Also, some beekeepers use large frames or double brood boxes and do not winter feed at all, only taking off the surplus honey above the large brood area.

On the other side of the coin, I know of bee farmers who extract as much honey from their bees as possible and feed them sugar in return and they suffer very low rates of winter loss.

In my view there is nothing wrong with sugar and it is the overall health of the bee colony which is vital for winter survival. Plain old supermarket sugar works fine. There are those who prefer cane sugar as they are concerned about pesticide residue but the evidence for pesticides in beet sugar is pretty weak.

Adding fewer supers is likely to cause the bees to swarm, so they may well survive but not unfortunately in your hive. If they don't swarm they will fill the brood chamber with nectar and give the queen nowhere to lay. This will result in a weak colony for the winter.

Finally, if you want bees for pollination you may be forced to feed. If there is a field of oil seed rape within a few miles of your orchard the bees will go there in preference to your orchard. The conventional solution to this is to site the bees in the middle of the orchard and feed them sugar syrup. Then they only need pollen for breeding so go to the nearest flowers - the ones in the orchard hopefully.
 
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oliver90owner 

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The main priority of any organism is to reproduce. Bees are no different. Swarming is the natural way to increase the numers of colonies.

Various reasons for when swarming might take place. Space is one of them. Another is general size of colony. Another is levels of stores. Any one of these and several more, or combinations of factors might lead to a colony swarming.

Does that answer your questions?

Regards, RAB
 

Tuffers 

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The main priority of any organism is to reproduce. Bees are no different. Swarming is the natural way to increase the numers of colonies.

Various reasons for when swarming might take place. Space is one of them. Another is general size of colony. Another is levels of stores. Any one of these and several more, or combinations of factors might lead to a colony swarming.

Does that answer your questions?

Regards, RAB
Rooftops, Thanks for your reply - very interesting.

RAB, er not really as my question was about colony survival unless your reply was designed to demonstrate my ignorance of the fact that the two are inextricably linked...
 

oliver90owner 

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OK, if I must spell it out:

does adding fewer supers result in the bees working less hard and also surviving better

Not Necessarily _ read my reply. They work to swarm. They don't just sit around waiting for oblivion. Workers die after about 5-6 weeks in the summer. The overwhelming urge that drives them on is colony reproduction. The one aim in life - for all flora and fauna, perhaps with the exception of man is just that. If they don't reproduce there will be no next generation, no future generations - extinction!

result in the bees constructing as much comb as they want or will they use every bar they are given?

Yes. It might be all of it, it might not. They will use as much as they can/need then swarm. You may have read on the net that bees will only construct and use so many combs in the horizontal, so you are not likely to see TBHs 4 or 5 m long.

has anyone tried not removing any honey to see whether it has a positive effect on survival rates?

If it is a strong colony, it will swarm. If it fills the space, it may swarm. 2 colonies has a better chance of one surviving than one?

Survival rates

Bee ancestry can be traced back about 250 million years (not as honey bees, of course). Honey bees have been around millions of years and survived without any interference from man (homo Sapiens arrived ,what, 80 - 100 thousand years ago?

It is our interference which is endangering them now, isn't it?

By the way there are some very good books you might read. Often much more useful than relying on the net.

Unfortunately simply keeping bees is not quite the same as understanding their needs and natural urges. Many say the bees will do what they want, not what the beekeeper wants. Not true, if the beekeeper understands their needs and what is driving their natural instincts. A beekeeper will not expect bees to change their successful formula, for continued life, just to suit him/her.

Remember space, size, food, reproduction. Yes, they are all interlinked. Have you read that swarms in nature have a quite low rate of survival? Have you wondered why? It is generally poor selection of home, lack of stores, or a less than ideal swarm due to space (and therefore size).

Removal of honey is obviously going to affect the survival rate. Not enough stores will mean death of the colony in winter. Won't it? Not removing honey must leave them with more for the winter? Removing honey and replacing with some sugar is not the same as leaving them with more than ample stores for the winter. if they do not have enough honey to get through the winter they would die anyway, without the intervention of the beekeeper.

RAB
 

Tuffers 

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Thanks for the more comprehensive reply, RAB. I presume the acerbic tone results from your having answered these questions a number of times before?

So, in conclusion, giving bees more space is a good thing and taking all the honey (provided we replace it with sugar syrup) has no adverse consequences for the bees.

I'm surprised a contributor to an internet forum considers the net such a poor resource. Is there a particular book you would recommend for a bonehead like me?
 

Rosti 

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Book Rec

Is there a particular book you would recommend for a bonehead like me?
Tuffers you are going to get someone telling you A Guide to Bees & Honey by Ted Hooper is No1. I don't have the knowledge to disagree but as a relatively inexperienced keeper I found that he wrote with an assumption of prior knowledge in his readership that I simply didn't have, so his wisdom was lost on me.

My recommendation >>

A Practical Manual of Beekeeping by David Cramp. It has given me the confidence to undertake most inspections and manipulations of my colonies during the first year and just as importantly, when I have returned to other texts - Like Hooper I have then understood the text and taken the benefit. That may be a combination of practical experience as well as prior reading but I recommend this book for a structured, approachable, informative and at times amusing style. I have read fairly widely now and for me this book rates No1 for new to intermediate readers as a good all round reference and introduction.
 

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Play.com do A Practical Manual of Beekeeping by David Cramp for £ 11.49 delivered
 

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Cie,try and drop an image link into the forum like that again and I will not hesitate to ban you.

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Cie 

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Excuse me?

Sorry to hijack the thread... but having just searched the FAQ and for any stickies, there's nothing to suggest I should post linked images, or links to any other sites.

Could I ask you to tell me what exactly I've done to warrant your threat?

I'm sat in the chat room.
 

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The image had a direct link to the front page of the Biobees website.

Its called link dropping on the internet as it looks like a hidden link that is behind an image.

Its a very sly trick that often goes unnoticed.

It may of been an accident on your part but it set off the alarms on the forum spam filter.
 

Cie 

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Sly trick? It's common practise as far as I'm concerned, normal html stuff.

Ho-hum, I'll not do it again if that's the way you like it.

:)
 

oliver90owner 

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Which books? No real recommendation. I have about two dozen around. New and old. As well as Beecraft, BBKA and a few odd publications. The DEFRA publications etc, etc. You just need to read the old ones understanding the recent bee maladies. When you understand the different eras you are beginning to get an overview of the developments. Not much new been invented in beekeeping, just new diseases mainly.

The Beehaus is not new either, only the materials it is made of, and it will be a matter of record in the future whether it was a worthwhile development or not. Later generations or derivatives may prove to be advantageous, but usually the first editions are soon improved upon, if there is any future in that line of development.

OK, I particularly like Wedmores 'Manual of Bee-keeping'. My copy is presumably a 1948 reprint and it cost 18 bob when new (I got it second, or even umteen, hand). Nothing actually wrong in it, just old fashioned and no mention of varroah, and lesser understanding of some of the other bee diseases.

Hooper is good but I don't like the layout particularly, as a reference book. Dartington is interesting as well.

I use the library and the internet as well, of course. A wealth of useful tips on this forum alone.

We don't have a goggle-box in our house, so that probably helps.

provided we replace it with sugar syrup

Makes extra work for the bees, is not a complete replacement (no protein), we only give them enough (and as little extra as possible) so maybe less insulation for the colony, greater risk of the cluster being separated from the stores). Probably alright for colony energy supply but it may be lacking in something for spring build-up, who knows, I certainly don't.

Re: food reserves

You need to think of practical examples. Take one National hive and place one super on top. How long might the colony survive? Take one colony in a cavity in a substantial building with lots of possible expansion . How long might that last? How often would both swarm, how strong might those new colonies be? There will always come a time for renewal. Those colonies will die out, but hopefully they will have passed on their genes to one or more surviving offspring, and they will do the same. I know, not fair comparing a wooden box with a brick-built home.

giving bees more space

Not necessarily a good thing. Good for the beekeeper? Yes. The bees may have been better having adequate space and swarming when appropriate.

the net such a poor resource.

I don't think I said that. I think books are often underrated by the younger generation.

I have had a lifetime of collecting information. Experience and hind-sight (after mistakes) are valuable for making future decisions. I rarely look at anything from only one perspective.

I know that 'in conclusion' is a great way to finish off an experiment, but that one experiment rarely ever leads to a 'Theory', like Einstein (or Newton's Laws before him). With bees you may conclude but they will still do as they have been conditioned, over the past millennia. Remember, too, the bee space wasn't really invented by Langstroth only discovered and adopted for keeping bees in a different way to before. The bees had been using it for a very long time.

Regards, RAB
 

JCBrum 

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One point that I might tentatively mention is bee breeding and our recent better understanding of genetics, DNA, etc. IMHO this will lead to bees with specific characteristics which did not appear previously.

Cattle breeding is one arena which has developed along these lines.
 

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