Category: Bee Blog

Bee and beehive Diseases Part 2

Organic Beekeeping methods for the control and management of healthy bees


When talking about natural systems (Treatment Free Systems) and bees I have to ask myself is it true and do bees in the wild living in tree hollows and possibly having pseudoscorpions as there helpers actually survive pest species like Varoa Destructor and the virus vectors that they carry?

After scouring the internet and spending a lot of time looking for evidence it appears that when Varoa first enters an area there is an initial die off of colonies but not all colonies die and after some time the bees return and survive quite well without human interference and are fully resistant to Varoa and the various disease that abound in beehives. In America it took around 15plus years for bee colonies in the wild to start returning and now after around 30 years since the introduction of the Varoa mite many areas are seeing increasing numbers of Wild feral colonies that are becoming highly sort after for there Varoa resistant traits. This is in stark contrast to the commonly reported false evidence of all feral colonies having died out as it’s simply not true. There are however some areas that for some reason we don’t know that have remained free of feral bee colonies.

One common comment from those that interact with these feral colonies is they are mostly Very dark and small and reasonably aggressive (Sometimes Africanised hybrids). If this is true that the bees are slightly smaller; then this fits exactly with the research done by Dee Lusby showing that the use of smaller cell sizes for bee foundation has a massive beneficial effect on bees. Dee Lusby showed that when you use 4.8mm to 4.9mm cell size as is commonly reported in all literature prior to 100 years ago you are getting back to a more natural cell size for most Apis Mellifera bees and this has several benefits.

  1. Increased density of brood chamber
  2. More bees produced per frame
  3. Easier to keep worm for the workers
  4. Time from Egg to hatch is shorter by at least 1 to 2 days
    1. This is important as it partly disrupts the Varoa breeding cycle and helps protect from Varoa infestation
  5. More bees frees up bees for cleaning duties
    1. Once there are enough bees this triggers aggressive cleaning behaviour and the bees actively remove all disease and insect infected brood from the hive.
  6. Smaller bees use less energy so more bees can be produced on fewer resources so colony stays strong
  7. Smaller bees live longer with an average lifespan of 8 to 12 weeks compared to only 6 weeks for larger bees so total hive numbers can become very large and colonies of 120 thousand plus are said to be normal for small cell Apis Mellifera bees
  8. More bees equals more honey so much better production can be expected

The biggest question I have is WHY are manufacturers of wax foundation still producing foundation with larger cell sizes? 60% or more of all foundation suppliers worldwide still supply foundation with cell sizes ranging from 6.0mm down to 5.05mm with just a few hard to get foundation suppliers providing wax foundation of 4.94mm down to 4.9mm and nobody is making foundation of 4.85mm to 4.8mm for Apis Mellifera

Natural worker cell size is from 4.6mm to 5.1mm with bees in the tropical climates having the larger reported size of 5.1mm and cold climate bees going down to 4.6mm

The Asian bee Apis Cerana is slightly smaller than Apis Mellifera and it is noted that this smaller size is a factor in its resistance to the Varoa mite and is able to live in harmony with Varoa spp. and its cell size ranges from 4.9mm down to 4.6mm so if you are a producer of wax foundation why would you not double your market and produce all your foundation at 4.85mm or 4.9mm and sell to beekeepers of both Cerana and Mellifera!!!!!!!!!!!

The last time I purchased some commercial foundation from my local bee supplier that has their own roller out back for rolling wax they could not tell me the cell size of there foundation and all they stated is it was a German roller, mmmmm not good when the very people you rely on for accurate information just don’t have a clue.

Now all this looks great on paper and the theory seems logical but people seem reluctant to give it a try. The knowledge of this has been around for 20 years now but nobody is listening and the foundation makers and bee supply shops still keep selling the larger cell size foundation so there must be other alternatives out there – right???


Well maybe?

There are many beekeepers that have lost whole fields of bees to Varoa and with the use of just those 2 or 3 hives that survived they managed to recover and now have bees that are reasonably strong against Varoa. These particular bees have a number of different methods of dealing with Varoa. Hygienic behaviour normally only takes place when there are sufficient surplus of bees that brood duties can be replaced with cleaning duties and some bees have a very strong desire to clean and rid the colony of pests and fungus etc. This cleaning behaviour seems to have become a very important element to the survival of these colonies. Removing infected cells, disrupting the varia life cycle! This combined with super guard duties that will not allow infected bees or mites into the hive means these bees seem to have pretty good resistance to the mites and beetles that can affect them and all without changing to a smaller cell size. So larger bees and smaller hive numbers can work when the bees place a higher priority on cleaning and guard duty but does this equal better control of other pests and diseases as well.

In most cases bees that place cleaning duties as a priority seem to do better than other bees at controlling disease and pests within the hive unfortunately the larger cell size bees still need a little help from man from time to time as they are simply more prone to attach from all the various viruses and diseases and pests of bees. Basically they don’t have the numbers to spare on cleaning duties and they take longer to remove infected brood and to clean out cells after infection but with the use of just a few minor herbal oils in the hive many people are claiming fully organic bees and honey. Organic does not equal TREATMENT FREE.

It’s worth noting that Nobody who has not transitioned to smaller cell sizes has been completely successful at having totally treatment free bees. Or should I say I could find no evidence of such people and certainly no large scale bee farms can make this claim.

Being treatment free means no traps, no organic oils, no acids, no bananas, no antibiotics, no screened bottom boards with oil traps below. No treatments means; no chemicals, oils or potions of any type. Absolute minimal manipulation of the bees!!!!

Wow can this be real and can it be done. Is it really possible to have large and small scale beehive operations that are treatment free and if so what needs to change. What are the prerequisites to successful management of treatment free truly organic bees?