Further development of the G.M. Hive 2001-2003

The principle of containing the brood nest of a colony within a volume 9" square and 18" deep as a method of controlling varroa mite reproduction has already been evaluated in the "Varroa Experiment" A method of containing the brood nest of a colony within this volume by the use of queen excluder has also been documented in "The Development of the GM Hive".

Photo 1
Photo 1

This report is a continuation of that development. A swarm was placed in a "GM" hive on the 21st June 2001 and its progress recorded by taking weekly varroa drop readings and photographs of the comb development.

The object of the experiment was to see whether bees would store honey in frames suspended either side of the queen excluder cage when housed within a conventional hive body.

Photo 2
Photo 2

As one might expect the colony filled the 9"x 9"x 18" cage during 2001 and successfully survived the winter to commence 2002 in good health. (Photo No1, showing the cage removed from the hive, refers)

Photo 3
Photo 3

During 2002 the colony expanded into the 6" space below the entrance (Photos 2 and 3 refer) before deciding to draw out and fill the back to back frames hung outside the queen excluder cage. (Photo No4 refers).

Photo 4
Photo 4

The colony swarmed on the 19th June 2002.
Unfortunately these bees built downward until they met the floor before expanding outside the constraints imposed by the cage. This is a pity because maintenance of the 6" space between the underside of the comb and the floor may be of some importance. One difficulty of housing bees in HT and GM hives is their life expectancy.
The actual duration of feral colonies is difficult to ascertain as bees will hang about an abandoned nest until it is eventually recolonized.

The life history of swarms housed in HT and GM hives since 1997 is shown in Fig 1.
None of the colonies perished due to varroa infestation but as no treatment of any sort had been given, such periods of existence question the validity of such apicultural management. Back in the 1850s the reduction of the size of bees reared in very old comb was considered to be significant and undesirable due to the reduction of stamina and carrying capacity. They were considered to be dwarfs and unproductive. Swarms from very old stock and bred in contracted cells were generally found to be of small size and insignificant in numbers. Skep housed bees were observed to become small and unproductive in as little as 3 years.
One method to overcome this was to cut out half of the comb one year and the remainder the next. One stock treated in this manner is said to have been kept for 60 years. (Source-Beekeeping New and Old)

Duration of Colony Life 1997 to 2004
Fig 1. Duration of Colony Life 1997 to 2004

The production of natural comb in quantity each year therefore may be a requirement for healthy bees and was lost when moveable frame hives were introduced.

Awareness of bee diseases also increased at this time. Although the queen excluder cage system within a conventional hive worked with a certain amount of success, close observation of the brood comb was not possible and the yield would always be low.

No matter, the brood nest shape, the position of the entrance, the sizeable gap beneath the comb, the use of natural comb, produces healthy and disease free bees, or as the disease testing man puts it "The sample that you sent me was free of etc, etc". So, let us proceed in an even more simplistic manner. We will harvest only natural comb and adopt a system of renewing the brood comb each year to increase colony life expectancy, make inspection for AFB and EFB unnecessary and allow bees the opportunity of containing all those other diseases by providing them with a stress free environment.

An idealistic world? - not at all, the system is currently under evaluation, it even has a name, "Biannual Beekeeping". This form of apicultural management avoids the cost of medication, the need for elaborate equipment and provides cut comb.

Beekeeping could once again become a profitable and a pleasant pastime. Needless to say a report on "Biannual Beekeeping" will be made available in due course.

Copyright 2003 Ian Rumsey ianrumsey@hotmail.com