Many thanks to those of you who completed the survey that I posted on here a few weeks ago. Several people got halfway through then bailed out, which isn’t surprising as it wasn’t the most straightforward thing to fill out; apologies for that – must do better. As expected, most people were from UK & Ireland, and I’m pleased that we also got some feedback from people in North America, Germany, Italy and Finland. I’m grateful to those who added comments; it helped me to sort out the data. I have listed below some of my findings, based on the reader survey results 2022:
Where Are You?
As you can see from the pie chart below, you are predominantly from the UK and Ireland; the wetlands on the edge of Europe.
How Many Hives and What Type?
Later on I’m going to look at some practises split into ‘bigger’ and ‘smaller’ beekeepers based on the number of hives. I have arbitrarily called 1 to 40 hives ‘smaller’ and ‘over 40’ larger. As you can see above, several larger operations responded, including one giant (thanks, Murray). In some countries it’s quite normal for a beekeeper to have 50+ hives but in the UK that information would caused a raised eyebrow; most people have less than ten. I think readers of this blog tend to lean a little more towards bigger hive numbers, because I often try to learn from bee farmers, and that’s where I have a strong interest.
It’s no surprise that National hives dominate here, although I am one of the weird ones that uses Langstroth. I understand that most people use the equipment that everyone around them uses, and that’s Nationals here, although in much of the world it would be Langstroth. I don’t think the bees care, so long as we provide space at the correct time, and the hive is a shelter from rain and predators.
Brood Chamber Size
I asked beekeepers about the brood chamber size that they typically use. Several people said something like, “not depends”, which makes perfect sense, apart from when you are trying to make charts from data. I decided to split them into ‘large’ and ‘small’. Small would be a single National or Smith type of hive, with an excluder above, whereas ‘large’ includes 14 x 12, double National brood, Langstroth and so on, plus anyone who does not use excluders. The result: it’s a coin flip.
Pests And Diseases
I asked people to record their top 3 main pests/diseases, but in some cases people had less than three. Luckily they told me this in the comments, so thanks for that. Varroa came out on top, with 94% of respondents listing the mighty mite as a problem. Of course, this means that 6% did not think varroa was a problem, which is interesting. The top three were Varroa, wasps and wax moths. Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus came in fourth place and was a problem for 21% of you, which is a lot. Hopefully we will learn more about this virus and get to grips with it as time goes by. If I had asked the question in North America I’m certain that bears and skunks would have been big problems, but we don’t have them here. We also don’t have small hive beetles, Asian hornets or tropilaelaps, and hopefully that will continue, but I doubt it.
Many people who do not monitor mites told me in the comments that there is no point as they are going to treat anyway, which is fair enough. Personally, I do monitor Varroa mite levels by looking at drone brood and, at least once a year in June, doing alcohol washes on all hives. The reason I do it is (a) to spot those with high mite loads which need treating before honey extraction, otherwise they will collapse and (b) to help me when selecting queens from which to raise daughters. I kid myself that, in my small way, I can do some good to the local gene pool by breeding from queens that head colonies which manage to keep mite numbers low. If I had large mesh floors with an insert to collect fallen debris, I would also check mite drop, especially after treatment, but that’s not the way of the walrus (my floors are solid with a small area of mesh).
Most beekeepers (over 50%) apply varroa treatments twice per year, and the most common combo is an autumn treatment followed by one in winter. The chart above shows a difference between bigger and smaller beekeepers. There were a few ‘non-treaters’ from the smaller beekeepers category but all of the larger beekeepers used some form of mite treatment. The smaller beekeepers are skewed more to the left (0,1, or 2 treatments) whereas bigger beekeepers are skewed to the right (2, 3 or more treatments). I don’t know what we can infer from these numbers, other than that most people use some form of treatment to kill mites. I suppose people with lots of hives are more likely to be reliant on bees and honey for income, so they need to do whatever it takes to keep mite numbers low.
The chart below shows the timings of mite treatments by season. 100% of bigger beekeepers treat their hives in the winter. People who treat in summer are mostly treating swarms, or otherwise taking advantage of times when colonies go broodless. Last summer I had to use formic acid on some colonies in summer because they needed it, but that was because I had failed to treat them the previous winter. For my type of beekeeping in my area, if I do things correctly, a treatment in August after the honey harvest, followed by oxalic acid in winter, does the job. I sympathise with beekeepers who rely on heather honey; their hands are a bit tied in that so few treatments are approved for use when supers are on, and by the time they come down from the hills a lot of damage has already been done to some colonies.
That’s it for another year. Best wishes to all.