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IndiBee 

New Bee
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Vosges Mountains France & Cambrian Mountains Wales
I am a beekeeper for over 40 years both in France and now Wales.
In France I kept bees in the Vosges Mountains in the local traditional skep way and then Layens hives (eventually with supers on top). In Wales my bees are in the Hafren Forest on the Cambrian Mountains in 14x12 nationals with shallow supers. The similarities? Neither locations are true mountains (but don't tell the locals!). The local bees? Very similar.
When Varroa hit us in France we had very bad losses, not just in the apiaries, but in the wild as well.
We had no choice when we were hit. There was no medication available. The bigger the hive, the worst the problems, so we went back to skeps, we increased the number of colonies we captured and removed as many stresses from the bees as possible. This seemed to work to the extent that we had far less losses than when the bees were in hives.
In the wild the bees recovered within 10 years or so and as we only took our bees from the forest, we found we survived at home as well. We started keeping the bees in the skeps till they got to the 2nd year. This showed us which swarms would be worth keeping and once transferred was a better line that seemed to prolong the colony till at least a new queen was reared and the hive became what we called 'honey production'. With the addition of the supers on top of the Layens, we stopped interfering with the 'nest' and the bees did even better.
When treatment became available we gambled and we did not change. We found we did not need to.
So the process was: Capture swarm, house in skep for one winter, transfer to hive in 2nd year (bees kept in forest some way from production areas.).
In the end we had almost twice the number of hives than before varroa to collect the same amount of product. But this was of little consequence as the bees were free!
When we moved to the UK we were worried. 'No wild bees!' seemed to be the accepted belief. What could we do if this was the case? We did not want 'lost' swarms from people that had non-local bees. These would die as they had not survived in the wild and required treatment.
So before we moved we set up skeps in trees in the Hafren Forest in Wales. VERY worried! We did not go back for 3 weeks as we were dreading the worst. But on our very first check of the skeps, we had bees! They looked so similar to the ones we were used to in France that we just knew they were not lost bees. These were local bees.
2 years later we started our production hives. All the while filling skeps for future expansion. This year we have 40+ collectors in the trees. I have no reason to think they will not be filled again.
Beeks I talk to have one question - what about swarms? My answer is the same - what about them? You can not prevent a colony in a tree from swarming, why attempt to stop it from a skep? Yes, I do 'tip checks' on hives and move QCs to keep numbers up, but never think I can change the nature of a bee! And without the brood breaks, varroa takes its toll.
Yes, each individual hive makes far less honey than a commercial, treating, swarm preventing operation BUT we spend NO money on replacing dead colonies, buying queens, packages, treatment, feeding etc. So for the same amount of product, you just need more hives - the one thing that lasts a lifetime (unless you move country!). Financially we think we have something that works for us and certainly takes very little 'management' time.
In short, we have spent time building equipment, putting up boxes and collecting product etc. But we have almost zero on-costs.
Many people seem to think that making money from bees is a hard thing to do. Maybe this is because they are spending money with one aim - getting large honey crops from each hive. This is akin to intensive farming of all kinds. You get to the stage where you have to support the animal with medication, feed and management to enable them to survive. Even with this 'supprt' (or because of it), many die and then people spend large amounts of money replacing them - no wonder there is little profit. We find that bees will survive without this input if left to their own devices and left to expand at their own rate.
Last thing for this long introduction. We make more actual money from wax than honey, so the more hives we have the more wax. Also our wax is far more valuable when turned into something - candles being the lowest profit but a good outlet for anything not sold in other ways.
Below a picture of a traditional French skep:
french skeps.jpeg
 

Swarm 

Queen Bee
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Welcome, nice place to live.
 

The Poot 

Field Bee
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Hi Indibee,
You make some interesting points in your post.
Welcome to the forum👍
 

Murox 

Queen Bee
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Hello and welcome ~ very intriguing anecdote. Curious about your use of supers on a Layens, what made you decide to try that ? bigger honey yield ? or were you using too few frames ??
 

IndiBee 

New Bee
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Location
Vosges Mountains France & Cambrian Mountains Wales
I produce more wax products than honey and didn't want to mess with the brood. So I made supers that were shallow and fitted above the Layens for the purposes of easy removal and easy crush and spin (the mush).
Now I use 14x12 and standard shallows on each hive just the same. Works a little better this way I think.
I ensure the brood chambers are full of honey for winter without any risk of strvation as I never feed bees sugar. I occasionally remove a frame or 2 of honey in spring if they have not used all that much and give it to hives that need it.
Brood chamber is private to the bees, they give me the 'overhead' supers as rent.
 

Murox 

Queen Bee
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I produce more wax products than honey and didn't want to mess with the brood. So I made supers that were shallow and fitted above the Layens for the purposes of easy removal and easy crush and spin (the mush).
Now I use 14x12 and standard shallows on each hive just the same. Works a little better this way I think.
I ensure the brood chambers are full of honey for winter without any risk of strvation as I never feed bees sugar. I occasionally remove a frame or 2 of honey in spring if they have not used all that much and give it to hives that need it.
Brood chamber is private to the bees, they give me the 'overhead' supers as rent.
Yes it all depends on your choices and priorities.
 

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