Bee and beehive Diseases Part 3

Organic Beekeeping methods for the control and management of healthy bees


When reading much of the available literature from beekeepers who are claiming success in there fight with Varoa Destructor it becomes very clear that nothing works perfectly from day one and getting back to a sustainable organic treatment free method of beekeeping will take a bit of persistence over several years to get it right.


So here is a list of some of the things I believe will go a long way towards having treatment free beehives.

The Main Points to consider;

  1. Use small cell foundation on all your hives 4.8mm or 4.83mm or 4.9mm
    1. The best size is 4.83mm but this is not available at this point in time so use Apis Cerana 4.8mm foundation from Asia or 4.9mm if available from your local supplier

                                                    i.     Demand small cell foundation from your local supplier

  1. Not all bees will be able to draw out the new comb properly in the first or second year

                                                    i.     So pinch the queen and let bees make a new queen.

                                                   ii.     Repeat pinching of queen every 6 months till you get a queen and workers that are ok with the smaller cell size.

                                                  iii.     For colonies that just will not draw out the small cell sizes properly you may pinch the queen and introduce a queen from the bees that did draw out the comb correctly.

  1. Remove ventilation from the top of your hives
    1. Use a flat lid with no ventilation and no cavity space on the top of your hive

                                                    i.     Lid can be insulated if need

  1. Bees like a constant temperature of 32c to 35c and top ventilation means the bees have to work constantly to heat the brood wasting energy and effort that could be used elsewhere.
  2. Cooler temperatures in the hive allow Varoa to breed better
  3. Remove tin or fill gap with insulation from the top of the hive as tin heats up to much and can cook the bees on really hot days
  1. Give your hives a really good forward tilt to allow any condensation build up in winter to flow out the front of the hive and not drip on the brood chamber
    1. Good strong hives will quickly clean up any mould from winter as soon as the temperature warms up and hive numbers increase in spring
  2. Don’t move bees around
    1. Find ways to have bees permanently located rather than constantly transported
    2. Orchard owners etc. who have bees permanently on their properties will be forced to manage there orchards in a better way when they have to consider the health of the bees on there property
  3. Don’t feed sugar to bees
    1. Never feed bees unless you absolutely have to because you truly believe they will die of hunger

                                                    i.     Always leave honey in the hives over winter

                                                   ii.     Leave more than you believe they need as it’s better to leave more rather than less.

                                                  iii.     Collect pollen from your bees and if need feed it back to them in times of dearth.

                                                  iv.     Feed only honey to your bees.

                                                   v.     Use the honey you took and make pollen patties.

  1. Plant herbs such as Borage around the hives to give bee’s access to a variety of pollen and nectar types that help protect bees against disease such as Foul brood.
    1. Commercial beekeepers should ensure they over winter in areas with a large mix of herbs for winter and spring forage to ensure maximum health of the bees.
    2. Fields and areas devoid of flowers and herbs encourages disease
  2. STOP using poisons in the hive like miticides and fungicides
    1. There will be a transition period from large to small cell size
    2. During this time only treat hives that show wingless bees DWV
    3. Better to let them die and restock from those that survive because in the long run this will give you the best bees

Here in Australia we have an amazing opportunity to make the transition back to a smaller more natural bee before the Varoa mite arrives and if beekeepers around Australia can do it we are unlikely to suffer from the massive bee deaths that would occur today if Varoa arrived here today.

The issues mentioned here are just the start of a process that will take many years to make the transition to smaller cell size bees that are more naturally resistant to Varoa and other diseases.

Other points to consider

  1. Frame spacing is another problem because when we transition down to a smaller bee the frame spacing needs to be different.
    1. Although this is not critical in making the transition it will become an issue over time and we need to do more study to determine the best new spacing’s for smaller bees.
    2. Possibly around 25mm to 26mm
    3. Once we know the correct spacing it should be easy to remove a smidgin of the side of frames to bring the spacing a little closer. Or simply replace all frames with new frames of the correct size.
  2. Hive Timber thickness
    1. Whilst we continue to use overly thin lightweight timbers we will always have greater disease issues in bees
    2. What is the best timber thickness to use has yet to be determined but thicker I am convinced it should be.
    3. Commercial beekeepers will not like to use heavier boxes so maybe smaller boxes are required to keep the weight down combined with light weight timbers
    4. Maybe 7 frame boxes with thicker timbers would make an ideal match and still be compatible with current boxes.
    5. More research is required to determine the optimal timber types and thickness for bees
  3. The use of rough sawn timber for beehives to allow helper insects to establish colonies in the hives
    1. Making grooves and finding ways to incorporate helper spp insects such as pseudoscorpions to live in the hives with bees and help bees just a little to control pest spp like wax moth and hive beetles.
    2. More research is required on beneficial spp that are able to live side by side with bees
  4. Apiculture clubs and government authorities need to take seriously the issue of small cell size and its impact in controlling disease
    1. All beekeeper clubs need to start informing there members about the use of small cell bees and the process involved in transitioning to smaller bees
    2. Governments need to encourage beekeepers to make the transition and to fund more studies on the best ways to make the transition
  5. Commercial beekeepers who transport bees for pollination services and chasing honey flows in native forests will be the hardest hit by the introduction of Varoa into Australia
    1. A failure of these people to transition now to small cell bees when we still don’t have this pest will see many of these operators go out of business as they are likely to lose 100% of their bees in the first and second years of Varoa infestation
    2. The importation of Varoa resistant Queens from the EU and the USA must start now and combined with a transition to smaller bees will guard against economic ruin of the Australian Honey industry
    3. Varoa quickly develops resistance to miticides so it’s important to do all we can to develop bees that do not require any chemical imputes to control this pest spp.
    4. By the time Varoa arrives in Australia it is likely that they will be completely resistant to all chemical control methods
  6. Develop ways to encourage symbiotic relationships
    1. The use of chemicals in the hive breaks down the symbiotic relationships available to bees from helper spp even if there is little evidence of their true value at this stage.
    2. Many forms or Bacteria and Fungus are required by bees to ferment pollen to make the protein available for there digestion so when we use chemicals that disrupt this process it’s like humans and penicillin. We need to take probiotics to replace the bacteria in our systems after using bacteria killing drugs or we become unhealthy and bees are no different.
  7. Asia does not have most of these issues
    1. If you are looking for evidence of disease resistance based on size just look at all of Asia where they have little or no issues with mites on there bees. Even there Mellifera spp bees use the 4.8mm cell size the same as the Cerana spp as many beekeepers in Asia simply retained the bees in there natural size and just don’t have many of the issues we have.



Have I answered all your Questions?  J

Probably not but I hope I have shown the possibility of having healthy bees free from chemical manipulation. I will attempt to document my own adventures as I also need to transition my bees over to small cell foundation this coming September and will start selling small cell foundation within the next few months as I start the process of replacing all my foundation with new small cell foundation in preparation for the springtime as it’s now too late in the season for any major manipulation of my hives.

All beekeepers are responsible for the health of there bees and ignoring cell size as a major contributing factor in the health of bees and doing nothing about it is simple negligence. It’s not the only way of dealing with Varoa but it’s the only chemical free way of dealing with Varoa that has been utterly proven to work. The only issue is how long will the transition take? And will I get all my bees fully adapted back to small cell foundation before the Varoa Mite arrives.


Just one final note is that after researching and writing all this information I realised I had never actually measured the foundation I have been using. The foundation I had been using appears to have come from my local supplier but was not purchased by me and I was utterly shocked by the size and you can see the pictures below. At 5.85mm to 5.87mm cell size I was shocked to see just how big the cell size was that I have been using as starter comb. I am now very glade that I have only been using it as a strip of starter comb no more than 2 inches wide. I believe this is the standard size being sold here in Melbourne Australia so anyone using this size comb is in for a very rude shock when Varoa comes to Australia as this size comb will encourage Varoa Destructor spp to bread at unprecedented rates and the kill rate will be shocking. I will be replacing all this wax very shortly. It will be melted down and re-printed into a more bee friendly and healthy 4.8mm or 4.83mm or 4.9mm cell size which are the only proven cell sizes that truly work for the bees fighting against pests and diseases

Every comment I have made is based on information freely available on the net and I have spent the past year trying to discern truth from exaggeration

If you read this far I would love some comments and feedback on this interesting subject. Have you tried small cell size would you like to try small cell size foundation? If you’re in Melbourne give me a call and I am happy to talk about this and any bee related subjects any time

Send me an email via the contact page or Facebook or give me a Call  (Steve 0450562021)