David Heaf's Warré hive experiment

April 2011

10 out of the 12 colonies present in October 2010 were wintered. Of these 10, only 4 survived, making a loss rate of 60%. The loss rate for my Nationals was 89% -- the worst winter losses since I started beekeeping.

Very high losses were experienced by other beekeepers locally. One lost 10 out of 10 and another 40 out of 94, both beekeepers using frame hives. The high loss was put down to the unusual conditions in late autumn of 2010 in this district. It had been a mild autumn with brood rearing continuing at a high level late into November. Then on 23 November there was a sudden drop in temperature to -7C at night, with midday temperatures staying as low as 2C for about ten days. After a warmer spell of about the same length, temperatures fell to around zero for a fortnight. It turned out to be one of Britain's worst winters in living memory.

It was surmised that those beekeepers who experienced such high losses had colonies that were unprepared for winter. A survey of local beekeepers at the time showed that those with very few colonies had the highest survival rate.

An additional background factor could be the Varroa burden. All my colonies are untreated. The beekeeper who lost 40 out of 94 was also not treating for Varroa, or treated at a very low frequency. 

Spring & summer 2011

Two new apiaries were added, failed stocks replaced and the total number of stocks increased from 5 to 16 by late summer.

Sep-Oct 2011 -- Summary of Warré hive records

The following table summarises the status of the project. No Varroa treatment has been applied at any time since the project started.

Hive Location
code
Date populated How populated/
bees weight kg
(if recorded)
Winters
seen
Boxes
of comb
Honey
boxes
taken
Boxes
of comb
wintered
Weight
of honey
box kg
Stores
kg
Feeding
sugar
kg
Notes
1 TyN 29.4.11 Cutout 0 3 1 2 16 kg 5 6 Plas Gwyn Nursing Home, bees taken into bee vac after initial cutout. Must have had queen. Given comb from previous deadout.
2 TyN 5 May 2007 Artificial swarm 4 0 2 - 11 - Survived four seasons without Varroa treatment. A vigorous forager this season. Small swarm united with it on 8 June 2008
3 T 15.6.11 Swarm YG 0 3 0 3 - 5 3 Bees to floor.
4 C 15.6.11 Swarm YG 0 3 0 3 - 6 3 Bees to floor.
6 D 23.6.11 Swarm YG 0 1 0 1

(+1 mt)

- 2 6 Probably a cast. Took its feed well. Most defensive of all Warrés.
7 C 27.6.11 Swarm Tw 0 2 0 2 - 4 5 Swarm to Trefan wall bait hive. Origin unknown.
8 T 28.6.11 Swarm TyN 0 1 0 2 - 3.5 6 No comb in box 2 by September. Wet floor. Cleaned and re-levelled hive.
9 B 3.7.11 Swarm YG 0 2 0 2 - 5 4 YG Pigsty bait hive.
10 C 4.7.11 Swarm TC 0 2 0 2 - 3.5 5.5 Ty Croes bait hive.
11 TC 11.7.11 Swarm from house eaves 0 ½ 0 0 - - - Colony removed from a Pwllheli house eaves a day or so after its arrival there.
12 TC 2.7.11 Swarm 0 0 2 - 7 2 Swarm to Glascoed Pwllheli bait hive.
13 PG 13 July 2009 Swarm 1.8kg 1 0 - 8 - Drawn only ¾ box of comb this season, Took one comb of honey on 2 September (Comb 2 from north side).
14 YG 7 June 2010 Swarms 1 0 - 6 3 Had given vertical top bars in second box, but as the combs were growing through the gaps this experiment was discontinued and the colony given the usual horizontal top-bars.   Plenty of ivy pollen coming in in October.
15 YG 17 June 2010 Swarms 1 0 3 - 3 6 Comb in box 3 very irregular. Plenty of ivy pollen coming in in October.
16 TyN 19.7.11 Cutout 0 1 0 1

(+1 mt)

- 5 9 Cutout from Abersoch chimney. Swarm probably arrived on 21 June. Fed steadily from small contact feeder from 19 July. 5 kg stores by 23 Sep. 9 kg feed in total by 5 November.

Apiary PG is at 183 m (600 ft).

Of the 16 colonies in Warrés in the summer, only 15 were wintered. As it had been a poor summer after a very good spring that allowed restoration of stock numbers, the amounts of stores on most colonies were very low. The decision was taken to make up the shortfall with sugar.

One hive was harvested, and that was an old box from the previous winter's deadout. It yielded 9.3 kg of honey at a moisture content of 20%.

It was another very mild November with temperatures about 5C above average for the time of year. Foraging on ivy continued well into November. On 2 December 2011 the UK Meteorological Office reported that the autumn of 2011 was the warmest on record.

April 2013

Hive Location
code
Date populated How populated/
bees weight kg
(if recorded)
Winters
seen
Notes (Mostly made Oct 2011)
1 TyN 29.4.11 Cutout 2 Plas Gwyn Nursing Home, bees taken into bee vac after initial cutout. Must have had queen. Given comb from previous deadout.
2 TyN 5 May 2007 Artificial swarm 6 Survived four seasons without Varroa treatment. A vigorous forager this season. Small swarm united with it on 8 June 2008
3 T 15.6.11 Swarm YG 2 Bees to floor.
4 C 15.6.11 Swarm YG 2 Bees to floor.
5 D 25.5.12 Swarm YG 1  
6 D 23.6.11 Swarm YG 1 Probably a cast. Took its feed well. Most defensive of all Warrés. Failed late autumn 2012. Did not take autumn feed.
7 C 27.6.11 Swarm Tw 2 Swarm to Trefan wall bait hive. Origin unknown.
8 T 28.6.11 Swarm TyN 0 No comb in box 2 by September. Wet floor. Cleaned and re-levelled hive. Failed late autumn 2012. Did not take autumn feed
9 B 3.7.11 Swarm YG 1 YG Pigsty bait hive. Queen failure August 2012.
10 C 4.7.11 Swarm TC 2 Ty Croes bait hive.
11 TC 11.7.11 Swarm from house eaves 2 Colony removed from a Pwllheli house eaves a day or so after its arrival there.
12 TC 2.7.11 Swarm 2 Swarm to Glascoed Pwllheli bait hive.
13 PG 13 July 2009 Swarm 1.8kg 3 Drawn only ¾ box of comb in 2011, Took one comb of honey on 2 September (Comb 2 from north side). Queen failed Aug 2012.
14 YG 7 June 2010 Swarms 3 Had given vertical top bars in second box, but as the combs were growing through the gaps this experiment was discontinued and the colony given the usual horizontal top-bars.   Plenty of ivy pollen coming in in October.
15 YG 17 June 2010 Swarms 3 Comb in box 3 very irregular. Plenty of ivy pollen coming in in October.
16 TyN 21.5.12 Swarm TyN 1 (W16 of 19.7.11 from Abersoch failed in 2011-12 winter.) Queenless March 2014.

April 2014

Hive Location
code
Date populated How populated/
bees weight kg
(if recorded)
Winters
seen
Notes (Mostly made Oct 2011)
1 TyN 29.4.11 Cutout 3 Plas Gwyn Nursing Home, bees taken into bee vac after initial cutout. Must have had queen. Given comb from previous deadout.
2 TyN 5 May 2007 Artificial swarm 7 Survived six seasons without Varroa treatment. A vigorous forager this season. Harvested 1 box honey Sep. 2013
3 T 16.6.12 Swarm PG 2 Shook out existing queenless colony.
4 C 15.6.11 Swarm YG 3  
5 D 25.5.12 Swarm YG 2  
6 D 27.6.13 Swarm TyN 1  
7 C 29.6.13 Cast YG 1  
9 B 9.7.13 ? 1  
10 C 4.7.11 Swarm TC 3 TC bait hive.
11 TC 17.6.13 Cast TyN 1  
12 TC 2.7.11 Swarm 3 Swarm to Glascoed Pwllheli bait hive.
14 YG 7 June 2010 Swarms 4 Had given vertical top bars in second box, but as the combs were growing through the gaps this experiment was discontinued and the colony given the usual horizontal top-bars.   Plenty of ivy pollen coming in in October.
15 YG 17 June 2010 Swarms 4  
17 B 10.6.13 Swarm 1 Hived itself. Source unknown.

July 2015

Hive Location
code
Date populated How populated Winters
seen
Notes (Initially made Oct 2011, updated  Oct 2015)
1 TyN 29.4.11 Cutout 4 Plas Gwyn Nursing Home, bees taken into bee vac after initial cutout. Must have had queen. Given comb from previous deadout.
2 TyN 12.7.15 Swarm 0 Previous 8-year-old colony had queen failure in Spring 2015. Shook it out. Repopulated with swarm from Warré-format bait hive by transferring the colony on combs to a standard Warré. Left one box of new comb from the previous (failed) colony.
3 T 26.6.12 Swarm PG 3 Shook out existing queenless colony.
4 C 16.6.11 Swarm YG 4  
5 D 25.5.12 Swarm YG 3  
6 D 17.6.13 Swarm TyN 2  
9 B 9.7.13 Swarm 2 Source not noted.
10 C 4.7.11 Swarm TC 4 Swarm came to TC bait hive.
11 TC 4.6.15 Swarm TC 0 Previous colony started 17.6.13 had queen failure in spring 2015.
12 TC 2.7.11 Swarm 4 Swarm to Glascoed Pwllheli bait hive.
14 YG 8.6.10 Swarm 5 Had given vertical top bars in second box, but as the combs were growing through the gaps this experiment was discontinued and the colony given the usual horizontal top-bars.   Plenty of ivy pollen coming in in October.
15 YG 26.6.15 Swarm 0 Queen failure May 2015. Removed/harvested top box. Repopulated, with bottom box of previous colony, with swarm from Tir Bach bait hive.
17 B 10.6.13 Swarm 2 Hived itself. Source unknown.

Summary of Warré hive winter loss rates since 2007

Winter Colonies wintered Colonies survived Percentage loss
2007/8 6 6 0
2008/9 11 6 45
2009/10 12 10 17
2010/11 12 4 67*
2011/12 15 13 (W9 & W13 failed in Aug) 13
2012/13 12 12 0
2013/14 15 14 7
2014/15 14 13 7
2015/16 12 9 25
Column

TOTALS

109 87 20 (Average)

* Very severe winter. Some in the locality reported 100% losses.

 

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