David Heaf's Warré hive experiment
September 2009 -- project overview to date
The project started with 6 Warré colonies in spring 2007 of which three are still going. Two starved during the winter 2008/9. The 'no feeding' policy was probably applied too rigidly in autumn 2008 given the appalling season we had for forage. A further colony (W1) was clearly not picking up fast enough in spring so it was opened and found with a non-laying queen. There were not enough bees to make requeening an option.
Five colonies were added in 2008 of which 3 starved in the winter of 2008/9. Being forced to move three of these five from a well provisioned location probably did not help.
Another eight were populated with swarms in 2009 bringing the total to 13. Two of the new ones are relatively weak. One is a late swarm, now sited at 600 feet, and has almost nothing apart from heather as forage. Another, is a cast supplemented with a modest queenless swarm.
There has been no Varroa treatment throughout this project. Varroa drop was monitored occasionally nearer the beginning of the project (up to July 2008), but it is questionable how reliable an indicator of mite burden it is.
As mentioned above, on 9 April 2008 the following 9-day Varroa drop was recorded: W1 2; W2 2; W3 114; W4 40. And on 5 July 2008 the following 72h Varroa drop was recorded: W1 232; W2 17; W3 7; W4 27; W5 11; W6 99.
W1 had a non laying queen in spring 2009 and W3, a hive that had to be moved, starved. W5 was slow to build up, swarmed before finishing a second box and starved during last winter.
Now and then, though rarely, bees with deformed wings are seen walking out of a Warré. Chalk mummies are occasionally seen on alighting boards - also rarely. Of the failed colonies, the usual starvation pattern was present: a small cluster of bees with heads in cells. No chalk brood in comb or any other residue of brood disease was seen. On 20 August 2009 three bees with deformed wings issued from W4 (started 2007), but it has been one of the most vigorous foragers during.
The last two seasons -- 2007 and 2008 -- are not likely to give a good indication of Warré losses. At the time of writing, 2009 is looking as though it may go the same way. There have been 8 weeks of poor or indifferent weather since the end of June.
Again, presumably because of the sequence of poor seasons for forage, there has been no significant honey harvest from the Warré colonies. The only honey harvested was a few pounds from W1 which had the failed queen. Good honey harvests from Warrés have been reported elsewhere, for example 200kg from 6 hives in Alberta.
According to estimates by weighing, the average stores were 3 kg and the range was from 0 to 7 kg. As the previous winter losses were largely due to shortage of stores, again after a bad summer, the decision was taken to feed all colonies. As the weather prospects promised a good flow from ivy during October, a minimal feed was undertaken in late September of 1-4 kg of sugar as 2:1 syrup according to weight of existing stores.
The subsequent ivy flow was indeed exceptionally good with huge amounts of pollen being brought in.
12 Warré colonies were wintered.
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