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  1. #1
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    I had a thought the other day and I would like input and discussion from anyone who has something to say.

    The thought is not completely formed yet - but it goes something like this:

    1. Swarming is the bees' strategy for perpetuating their species.

    2. A swarm, having found a new home, will, in almost every case, work flat out to build a nest and populate it rapidly with fresh brood.

    3. Early swarms, having usually superseded the swarm queen (if old) with a vigourous younger model, are best placed to over-winter.

    4. Swarms - in my experience at least - rarely carry diseases, or if they do, they rarely manifest any symptoms.

    5. Swarms will carry some phoretic mites, but most will be left behind in the old nest.

    6. Beekeepers, by and large, do their level best to prevent bees from swarming.

    7. This (6) was not always the case. Before moveable frame hive became the norm, swarms were at least tolerated, if not actively encouraged.

    8. In those days, brood diseases and troublesome parasites were all but unknown.

    Could it be, therefore, that we should revise our 'modern' techniques to allow - even encourage - our colonies to swarm, on the grounds that:

    a. this would greatly increase the number of feral colonies, creating the conditions where bees may be able to re-develop their own defenses against (esp) varroa?

    b. assuming we could catch many of these swarms with baited hives (or by knocking them off branches), could we not easily maintain our hive numbers using the bees' agenda, as against our (usually useless) attempts to prevent them swarming?

    As I said, this is a sketchy thought train right now, but what do you think?
    The Barefoot Beekeeper http://www.biobees.com

  2. #2
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    For some elaboration of the above argument in support of feral colonies, I just found this http://www.beesource.com/pov/wenner/varroaabstract.htm
    The Barefoot Beekeeper http://www.biobees.com

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
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    Des Plaines, IL
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    Plausible. I have heard a similar argument discouraging the combination of a weak hive with a strong hive.
    Somebody must have done research on the survivability of a swarm versus the old hive. If the swarm is significantly more likely to survive you may have a point.

    Somewhat unrelated to your points but it reminds me of our american business model, which seems in a continuous "swarming mode". Maybe that is why it is relatively successful.
    5-8 hives

  4. #4
    Join Date
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    Tom Seely in his study of feral bees concluded that their survival was not due to any change in the bees. That left,for him, two other possibilities. The unlimited swarming that went on and the possibility of mites that had become non-virulent.
    I had the thought that it could be the new wax. The process of regression requires a lot o new waxmaking. So does frequent swarming. I just read that in Scandinavia comb is rotated out frequently. AHB, who do well with the mites also swarm frequently. Add to that, that research is going on studying the presence of 2-Heptnone in wax as a potential ally in the mite war. Apparently the bees add it when they work the wax. Perhaps it fades in old comb.
    Wouldn't it be a fine joke if small colonies that swarmed often was the answer. Goodbye commercial beekeeping!

    Dickm

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Location
    North Texas, USA
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    For the backyard hobbyist, the event of a swarm
    originating from their property, would not be a thing
    most beekeepers would want to deal with.
    “It is only as the intelligence of man moves along harmoniously with<br />the laws of Nature, that any improvement can be expected.”<br /><br />G. M. Doolittle

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
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    You forgot number 9, swarming requeens the beekeepers colony providing a young vigerous queen which is known to aid greatly in the health of the colony.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
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    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
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    I love swarms when I catch them. I hate them when I don't. [img]smile.gif[/img] If you want the bees to swarm, that's easy. Don't do anything. They will swarm almost every year. [img]smile.gif[/img]

    Of course, I think the feral bees aren't surviving because they swarm, they swarm because they are surviving and they are surviving because we haven't forced them to build unatural comb.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
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    Jamesport Long Island NY
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    Michael,

    I agree with you. Swarms build natural size cells. They also break the brood cycle.This seems to help with the varoa mites. They leave behind all of the build up of bad stuff in the old wax as well. The only thing I am not sure of is does swarming help with the t mites at all?What a concept, let nature teach us how to do it!

    Bill S

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
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    Jamesport Long Island NY
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    Forgot to add:
    The best bees I have are from a swarm that just moved into some empty boxs I had. They are dark in color. I don't know of any one keeping bees less than 5 miles away, so I think they were from a feral hive. They produce more honey than any other hive I have(Ihave 4).They winter well too. They were hard to work when they first showed up. At Michael's suggestion I killed the old queen and let them raise a new one. They are calmer now and still good producers.

    Bill S

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
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    I understood the question. I just don't think swarming is the answer. But a break in the brood cycle, a new queen etc. can be simulated with a cut down split, AND you can get more honey. [img]smile.gif[/img]

    I admit, if I was retired and the hives were all in my backyard (I'm not, but most of them are) I'd probably be more prone to let them swarm and catch them because I love to catch swarms and they do have the vigor you're speaking of.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  11. #11
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    Dec 2004
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    Yes, I appreciate the difficulties of swarms and neighbours - and the propensity of bees to swarm at times when we don't happen to be around to catch them - AND their love of gathering 30 feet up a tree.
    So maybe at least part of the answer lies - as Michael suggests - in developing ways of artificially swarming them such that they THINK they have swarmed naturally - or, at least, can be persuaded to behave AS IF they have swarmed naturally, i.e. retain that wonderful swarm vigour (Brit. spelling).
    The trick here must - I think - lie in the timing.
    The Barefoot Beekeeper http://www.biobees.com

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
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    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
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    &gt;swarm vigour (Brit. spelling).

    I read a lot of books by British authors growing up and the British spelling always looked right to me. [img]smile.gif[/img] But I got tired of my teachers counting them as mispelled.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  13. #13
    Join Date
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    &gt;&gt;I read a lot of books by British authors growing up and the British spelling always looked right to me.

    But of course, my dear chap - it IS right!
    The Barefoot Beekeeper http://www.biobees.com

  14. #14
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    DickM -
    &gt;Tom Seely in his study of feral bees concluded that their survival was not due to any change in the bees. That left,for him, two other possibilities. The unlimited swarming that went on and the possibility of mites that had become non-virulent.

    And the third possibility, that their survival may have been due to the LACK OF INTERFERENCE BY BEEKEEPERS!

    Of course, if we call ourselves beekeepers (the kind who like to get a crop of honey) we will have to do some 'interfering'. What we need to be ever-watchful of is the NATURE of our interference, i.e. are we doing procedure X with due regard to its full ramifications within the colony?

    In the UK right now there is a new TV series by the wonderful David Attenborough, which uses the very latest hardware to film the tiniest creatures, whose behaviour has literally never been observed before. I wonder how much more would be revealed about honeybees by such technology than even we suspect goes on in those boxes?

    I really think we have to 'get back to basics' and rethink 'modern' beekeeping if our bees are to survive and prosper.
    The Barefoot Beekeeper http://www.biobees.com

  15. #15
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    Naturebee,
    &gt;You forgot number 9, swarming requeens the beekeepers colony providing a young vigerous queen which is known to aid greatly in the health of the colony.

    Absolutely right - and they choose when to re-queen, and they select the egg/larva themselves.

    MB,
    &gt;they are surviving because we haven't forced them to build unatural comb.

    I think this is the other key: bees NEED to swarm (or feel like they have swarmed) and they NEED to build new comb to their own specifications. If we can facilitate these two key behaviours within our management plans, I think we will be 90% of the way towards sustainability.
    The Barefoot Beekeeper http://www.biobees.com

  16. #16
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    &gt;&gt;&gt;&gt;And the third possibility, that their survival may have been due to the LACK OF INTERFERENCE BY BEEKEEPERS&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;&lt;

    Buckbee,
    Good to get your input and to know you are watching us!

    I couldn't agree more. The trouble is that there really can be nothing natural about beekeeping. If left to nature many countries wouldn't even Have bees. New 'keepers are taught how to reduce swarming and increase colony size, first thing. Skep beekeeping may have been more "natural." I put 11 packag3es on small cell foundation last spring. Included was a lot of starter strips. I think of a package as a swarm. If what they built was a natural size, then there's a lot we don't know about bees. I've certainly got a mixture of cell sizes.

    Dickm

  17. #17
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    Jul 2004
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    Well yes, interference is a necessary evil if you have any kind of harvest objectives.

    The swarm vigor certainly seems to prove the swarms ability to quickly draw comb. Does that mean the recruits for a swarm are the 12-17 day old wax-producing bees? It would make sense that the swarming bees are of a certain age and not just a cross section of all ages.

    Secondly, can somebody cite a scientific study showing that swarms are more likely to survive than the original hive they came from?
    5-8 hives

  18. #18
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    &gt; The trouble is that there really can be nothing natural about beekeeping.

    Well, there's the rub, as Shakespeare might have said. I would contend that there CAN be quite a lot MORE natural about it than current practice allows or encourages.

    For example:

    - we could allow bees to build their own comb, whether in frames or on top bars

    - we could allow the bees to decide when and whether they want to swarm and time our interventions accordingly, e.g. artificial swarming

    - we could use hives that allow bees to build the size and shape of comb that they prefer (the Langstroth shape is particularly poor in this respect)

    - we could keep hives per apiary down to less than a dozen - maybe less than ten - to reduce robbing and competition in times of forage shortfall

    - we could use bees that have adapted to our locality and climate, instead of importing 'superbees' from all over the world

    That's for starters. I know the commercial guys will say I am being a purist (or worse) and I'm not suggesting that everyone does all of this right now, but I do think that this is the direction we should head if we want our bees to regain their natural state of health and vigour (or vigor, even).

    The plain fact is that what we are doing now is pretty much what beekeepers have been doing for a hundred years or more and the bees are telling us that it ain't working. The fact that it appears to have worked at all is more a testament to the adaptability of the bees than to the skill of beekeepers.

    One definition of madness is to go on doing the same thing and expecting a different result. If we don't change our way of relating to bees, there is only one possible result, and it is staring us in the face.
    The Barefoot Beekeeper http://www.biobees.com

  19. #19
    Join Date
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    er, sorry guys, that turned into a bit of a rant
    The Barefoot Beekeeper http://www.biobees.com

  20. #20
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    May 2005
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    &gt;er, sorry guys, that turned into a bit of a rant

    And a darned good one at that Buckbee. I need to ponder what you said for a while.

    George-
    Dulcius ex asperis

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