Struggles for the survival of honey bees


SB is a relatively new and dedicated beekeeper in southern Germany. She is interested in different kinds of bees and their place in the ecological system. I asked her to tell her story and her struggles helping her bees to survive and thrive on their own as much as possible without chemicals. She writes:

After watching wild bees for some years I wanted to have honeybees and took lessons given by an organic beekeeper. In the year 2014 I bought my first colony from him. It was a Carnica cross on natural comb, built by the bees without the help of wax foundation. They had been treated with oxalic and formic acid against the varroa. But they were sick anyway!

S Natural comb My first colony was a Carnica (Carniolan) colony on natural comb.

I tried to find a way out of this chemical strategy that seemingly didn’t help. I got some information on internet and started watching how bees defend themselves against illnesses. I don’t want to have them close to other bees. I tried to help them with sugar powder dusting to rid them of the mites sitting on bees. After treatment with formic acid in summer, they had a natural downfall of 30 mites per day. After sugaring the whole hive ten times with 2 days in between the natural downfall of mites were 5 per day. This involved a lot of work and still didn’t do the job. The bees had chalk brood too!

I measured cell size on their natural comb. It was 5.0 mm in the brood area, 5.4 in food area and drone cells began at 5.6. All honey was taken when harvested, so they lived on sugar syrup for a long time of the year. They died in february 2015, not having enough bees to warm the hive!

S AMM queen The AMM queen

I had found some contacts through internet and was able to get 4 hives in 2015 which weren`t treated with chemicals for some years. One was of the dark bee Apis mellifera mellifera (AMM) , three were Carnica (Carniolans). I made some splits and wintered 3 of the AMM origin and 5 of the Carnica origin.

The former owner had a crisis being the victim of a migratory beekeeper whose hives most probably caused reinfestation bringing a lot of mites into his hives. He overcame this crisis combining the weakest of his hives, so they became strong enough to defend themselves. Some survived. In some of these he introduced a AMM variety of queens that had a reputation of being more resistant.

My aim was to follow Dee Lusby`s in Arizona way of beekeeping as much as possible ( Using small cell foundation, leaving with the bees enough honey for food, using so called housel position of the combs, what she calls unlimited broodnest and using no treatment (if possible).

S Carnicas Now I have 11 colonies and high hopes.

All 8 hives survived winter, but in spring 2016 I had to eliminate one of them because its bees were too susceptible to virus (another than DWV). I have made some splits and have now in May 11 hives and high hopes. The bees are my teachers. I want them to survive.

S hygienic The AMM I have are showing hygienic behaviour against mites in the brood. Now I have seen it also in my Carniolan crossings (the picture).

I don’t do drone brood cutting as I want the mite to continue being a drone parasite in first place and not a worker bee parasite. I’m happy to see more and more of hygienic behavior against the mite, also in drone brood. Now also in the Carniolan crossings.

At last I want to quote Kirk Webster (

“Beekeeping now has the dubious honor of becoming the first part of our system of industrial agriculture to actually fall apart. Let’s stop pretending that something else is going on. We no longer have enough bees to pollinate our crops. Each time the bees go through a downturn, we respond by making things more stressful for them, rather than less – we move them around more often, expose them to still more toxic substances, or fill the equipment up again with more untested and poorly adapted stock. We blame the weather, the mites, the markets, new diseases, consumers, the Chinese, the Germans, the (fill in your favorite scapegoat), other beekeepers, the packers, the scientific community, the price of gas, global warming – anything rather than face up to what’s really happening. We are losing the ability to take care of living things.”

We are at big risk losing the ability to take care of living things. Thank you everyone who is helping me to improve myself as a beekeeper.

Container colony kept its promise

A month ago I opened the lid on a pile of boxes with crap combs just enough so the swarm that had landed on the outside could go in and make themselves a new home. They “promised” to clean the combs in the pile.

Two weeks ago I wanted to see if the bees had kept their promise. And if they had a good laying queen I had to move the colony before new brood hatched and they would grow too big to move without too much trouble.

Container2 A foundationless comb built in a gap between two combs.

Container3  The cut out comb inserted in an empty frame with rubber bands to hold in place till the bees had fastened it.

I was glad to see that not all combs were crap combs. The pile consisted of boxes from dead outs and bottom boxes from weak colonies. The combs in the boxes were planned to be sorted out. But the swarm arrived before I did that.

The bees had found the side of the pile with the best combs. On the other side were some dirty combs they hadn’t touched. But in general they had cleaned the 5 upper boxes and lived mostly in the three top ones. The three bottom boxes they had just started to do some research and cleaning in. When I went through the colony, the cleaned combs and the amount of crap at the bottom of the pile I considered that the bees had kept their promise. Well done!

Container4 Cleaned out crap from the combs done by the swarm.

The combs in the bottom three boxes went to the solar wax melter. I sorted out the combs now and put all the combs the bees occupied in three boxes. The bottom one became one with no brood and no food. I planned to move it up above a queen excluder after I had moved the bees to a new apiary. I wasn’t sure in which box the queen was, even though I realized she probably was in one of the upper two.

Container1 I sorted out the combs and put the brood in the upper two boxes in the middle of the three that made up the colony I put together.

The colony now had ten full shallow frames of brood. One of them was a foundationless they had built in a gap between two combs.

HDRtist Pro Rendering - I put the three box-colony back to its place on some empty boxes. Next evening I moved it to a new apiary.

The colony might even be able to collect some honey also for me already this year. If the weather turns good. Otherwise this year might give the smallest crop ever (in average) during my 40 years as a beekeeper.

Wax in the nest

Rüdiger Dietrich made this comment to my recycling post earlier:

I have one question for the wax recycling, but didn’t found a way to post the question in previous contribution. Could you please so kind and arrange this contribution accordingly?
My question is: The goal for the own wax cycle is to have control about the ingredients of the wax, that would be otherwise (if you buy) equivocal as acids or pesticides could be inside the wax or may even come from african feral bee swarms, where these bees have to die just for the wax….
However, if you melt for instance honey combs that had rape honey or even rape pollen insight, then pesticides used from the farmer will be found in your wax as well, woun’t it? How do you control this problem?

Wax in the nest

Your question raises the need for dealing somewhat with this issue. Wax in the nest have a lot of functions for the bees. One of them is to take care of chemicals and even pathogens not so good for the bees and hide them in the wax. With feral bees sooner or later the colony dies for a number of reasons. The Wax moth will deal with the old wax and it will not be recycled as we do, or the bees will finally tear it down and build new wax combs. This is good as when the wax will be too filled with bad stuff it will leak back into honey and brood cells with larvae food and larvae.

We have seen reports of investigations of old wax combs in USA which are holding a lot of residues from agricultural chemicals as well as miticide residues. WIth small amounts in the wax this is not something to be very concerned about, even if we don’t like it. Let me take an example.

Maybe ten years ago foundation wax from organic beekeepes in USA that was recycling their own wax making their own foundation was tested for residues. About 2 mg/kg fluvalinate was found. How could that happen? Not miticieds were used in the operation. Actually the operation was treatment free and still is. But some years before this test a big pack of foundation was bought from a big wax dealer in USA. Of course the most probable explanation is that the Fluvalinate residues came into the operation from the foundation bought.

In spite of these residues the operation has been thriving as a treatment free operation and a big lot of honey that was exported was tested for foreign chemicals and none was found.

What I’m saying is that a small amount of residues is tolerable for the bees and honey. Even if you don’t want it and should do everything you can to avoid it. But you don’t want that wax for making hand cream and lip balm. And probably you don’t want propolis harvested from such colonies. But honey seems to be okey.

Wax for foundation and hand creame

Cappings wax is what you should use for making foundation and hand creame. Cappings wax is a mixture of cappings and the outer part of the cell walls. The bottom part of the cell walls are made with the help of wax from the foundation. The rest is made from newly produced wax by the bees. And the wax is usually clean, if the bees havn’t been contaminated with chemicals from farmland.

Also wax form foundationless frames and Warréhives and TBH is clean  if not contaminated from sprayed farmland.

Old comb’s wax

Wax from recycled old combs you use for foundation if you know it’s clean from pesticide residues. If it’s minor residues you can well use it for foundation as well. If it’s a lot of residues in the old combs you use the wax for making candles. when the wax burns the pesticides in the wax breaks down.

If you’re not sure about the residue content and you really want to know you can have it analyzed. Otherwise you can use it for wax candles.

Swarm draws foundationless combs

Larry, the excentric beekeeper in Indiana, shares with me many of his experiences. Here’s one I share with you readers:

Friday afternoon, 23 May, I just happened to be present at the beginning of a prime swarm cast from my Warré Box Hive Project.

Larry Gren

( ) The existing hive has double deep frames with small cell comb with cells ranging from 4.7 mm to 5.0 mm. I placed the swarm in a second Warré sized hive with eight of my double deep foundationless frames. It will be interesting to measure the comb drawn by the swarm in the new hive once it is firm enough to handle.

Larry kupa

The swarm was hived at the peak of a strong black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, nectar flow. When I checked the colony on Tuesday, 27 May, the bees had drawn comb in all eight frames down to the skewer/spale located eight inches from the top.

Larry kaka

I checked the colony in the morning 31 May. There was one frame of comb on the outside of the box that had a partial collapse. I think it was due to the rapid drawing of new comb, the weight of the abundant stored nectar and the 30° C afternoons. I observed the queen. She is in good condition and laying eggs.

The colony is not drawing comb as fast now as it did during the first four days which could be due to the queens laying and the added labor of pollen collection and brood rearing. However, I am still very pleased with the colony’s progress.

Nine days following the prime swarm the original colony has twice attempted an afterswarm. The first clustered on a tree branch forty feet up for about thirty minutes before returning to the hive. The next day the second filled the air and clustered on the front of the hive before reentering.

Here is a link to a video of the second attempt highlights.

I returned home from my out yard 5 June with 50 pounds of capped tulip poplar/black locust honey just in time to attend a third afterswarm. This time they were more organized than the previous attempts. I was able to place them in a hive.

I was able to cut several nice sections of comb honey from the tulip popla/ black locust honey. The rest I am crushing and straining.

Regards, Larry

The art of beekeeping

EccentricHive HIve of


Of course it’s more natural for bees to build their own combs. But is it the best for bees and beekeepers? There’s been a lot of discussion about natural beekeeping. First let us be clear. Natural beekeeping is an unnatural expression. Any kind of beekeeping by a beekeeper is not natural, for bees anyway. When that is said we have to say there are different grades of naturalness in beekeeping.


Natural enough

I want, and the eccentric beekeeper wants enough naturalness to be able to call our beekeeping natural, or rather natural enough for the bees and thus also for me as a beekeeper.

Even if a bee colony in a hollow tree never will be beneficial for the commercial beekeeper to make him make a living of beekeeping, it certainly will help us understand how close to its natural way of living we can design our way of keeping bees. I’m convinced such an approach will help the small scale as well as the large scale beekeeper – and the bees.

But where do we meet in design, the bees and me? Well, we have to begin living together and we have to find out by learning to listen to the bees and find out what I really need to make a living, small scale and large scale.

Foundationless frames where the bees draw their own combs may well be a good choice. Before wax foundation was invented all beekeepers used it, one way or the other. Langstroth for example.



Today I don’t do it. For a couple of reasons. First, my first goal is to achive bees that can  handle the varroa mite on their own. Until they do, I have decided I want to help them with the cellsize they naturally draw in the core of their broodnest, around 4.9 mm. At my latitude maybe somewhat bigger. I may be wrong, I may be right: whichever It seems my bees may today be developing true resistance, not only tolerance.

The eccentric beekeeper in Indiana, America has decided to arrive at foundationless frames, after taking down his bees to small cellsize. Check out his website:


Mann Lakes 4.9 plastic foundation(frame) cut to fit into small Warré frames.



The bees have usually no problems drawing the foundation correct and use it readily, whichever bees you use.


He uses the standard plastic frame from Mann Lake Ltd to take whichever bees to small cellsize. Then he lets them loose. Some of them even draw 4.7.


Foundationless frames given to the bees, below the other combs, after they have made use of the plastic frames.



Cellsize on the long foundationless frames – 4.7 mm. Pictures supplied by the eccentric beekeeper.

Quick and cheap to small cellsize


Do you want to regress your bees back down to a more natural cellsize in the broodnest? It can take some time and sometimes it’s a little bit tricky. Most often they fail to directly from what’s been most common for years now, about 5.4 mm, or 54 mm over 10 cells over the parallel sides. Down to what’s often talked about – 4.9 mm. There are many different stories. Without mentioning any other way down I go directly to the very quick and thus the cheapest way.

Mann Lake Ltd – –  has a standard frame, their cheapest plastic frame, a good sturdy frame, in yellow or black, in full depth Langstroth or medium size. It happens to be below 5.0 mm, almost 4.9 cellsize. And its cell walls are high enough to be very difficult for the bees to override. So – take your ordinary package bees or whatever bees and give them waxed PF100 (Full depth) or PF120 (Medium). They will follow the pattern and draw nice 4.9 (almost) combs. Anyway I havn’t heard of anyone who has failed yet. After a couple of broodcycles you can add wax foundation if you want to, or use foundationless frames if you want to try that. This beekeeper did that – – he used glued popsickle sticks as starters for the bees to draw comb.


You can use a mold to make your own foundation of 4.9, buy it –  – or make your own mold – – or buy a roller mill –

You can buy wax foundation from Dadant – – another good source is Biredskapsfabriken in Sweden with low residue wax –

If you live closer to Sweden than Mann Lake Ltd, you can buy their plastiv frames from here –

Another good reason for using plastic frames or foundationless is that you can be sure the wax is (almost) residue free. Chemical residues can be problem if it it’s more than just a little. One of parameters behind the complex that kills our bees.