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Tips for healthy permaculture bees?

 
Elizabeth L'Abate
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We have an organic farm, and would occasionally loose a hive, due to a queen dying, or hives re-locating...But this year we lost 3 of our six, at least one, maybe two, from colony collapse. The early spring that made usual blooms available for nectar bloom early, and not later when needed, and 106 degree temperatures also placed extra stress on our bees, and we have been supplementing them with sugar water, though I'd rather give them honey water....Any permaculture bee-hive health solutions? I know permaculturists tend to put hives in the middle of the farm, so that they get most of the bee poop distributed around crops...THANK YOU!
 
Aranya
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Location: Seaton, Devon, England
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Hi Elizabeth,

I'm certainly no expert on bees as I've never kept them, though know several permaculture folks here that do. My favourite bee book is 'The Buzz about Bees' by Jurgen Tautz, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Buzz-about-Bees-Biology-Superorganism/dp/3642097502 in case you haven't come across that one. Beautiful and fascinating with lots of amazing close up pictures!

The weather here has been very difficult for bees this year, with a very wet spring in Britain. Many of our apple trees have no crop as the bees and other insects weren't able to fly in the heavy rainfall.

Bees I believe like to seek out hollow logs, which we tend to find in pretty stable sheltered conditions. Warmth is important, but the temperatures you've been seeing over there sound really harsh.

One possibly helpful perspective (I always like to seek these out) is that your surviving colonies will be especially hardy to such conditions, which may in the longer term be an important thing.

Have you tried different hives like the Warre?
 
Elizabeth L'Abate
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The Warre? We have plain white boxes, with inserts of plastic honeycombs for honey...though some folks who've kept bees for generations swear by color-coding them...
 
Burra Maluca
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Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
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Elizabeth, check out this thread - Beekeeping - where to start?.

It has lots of info on the various different types of hives and the pros and cons of each.
 
diane drinkwater
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Unless it's their own honey to feed back to them then stick to sugar.
Read up on the different ratios of sugar:water for different times of the year.

There's a branch of beekeeping which aims to be more natural - top bar hives or warré and forums dedicated to those.

 
Elizabeth L'Abate
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Thank you Aranya, Burra, and Diane! I'm interested in the herbal teas Biodynamics recommends for bees, too! And their ideas about when to open the hives....
 
Rick Larson
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Location: Manitowoc WI USA Zone 5
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My qualifications for giving advice comes from reading books and handling bees since May of 2011. Lots in the mind, not much for experience. Plus I am not afraid to lose so off the wall ideas come from that kind of attitude.

I have some strange idea that the bees can adapt, but this might mean you will get less honey and or lose your bees!

Here is what I have set up to combat the weather and pests, always in keeping an organic system in place.

1. Buy replacement nucs/queens from a hardy local stock that fits your beekeeping style (my best bees have been Russians from Iowa).
2. Save enough of the lighter summer honey capped combs for the bees to eat in the winter (feeding sugar is not local or organic IMO and should only be used in an emergency).
3. Take the queen away from a peaking hive and start her over with enough nurse bees.
4. Allow peaking hive to requeen and clean the hive, if they have some mite cleansing capability, they will kill all them too.
5. I am now experiementing with a lemon juice mixture to kill mites going over with the queen, the hope is to help those bees out naturally.

In your case, if you want to overwinter six, split and double your hives to twelve in May?
 
James Colbert
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Your problem may be your hive. Sounds like a langstroth hive. Langstroth hives do not allow the bees to build their own comb. You reuse the same comb over and over and as such environmental toxins build up. This also lowers the quality of your honey. You will get a big yield (because the bees don't have to build their own comb and can focus on honey production) at the expense of hive health. Look into either Kenyan top bar hives, Warre hives, or Perone hives, all of which allow the bees to build their own comb and are healthier for the bees. They are also a lot cheaper and all are pretty easy to build.
 
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