Original discovery of feral bees co-existing with varroa

A 2007 study by Seeley looking at the honeybee population of the feral bee population of the Arnot Forest showed a stable host - parasite relationship with the varroa mite.

An interesting part of this paper is that it describes how survivor bees co-existing with varroa were taken out of the Arnot forest and inoculated with mites from another apiary. As mite growth in inoculated colonies occurred at a level consistent with control colonies, we might guess less virulent mites have evolved in the unmanaged bee population of the Arnot forest.

The paper can be downloaded here: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/file/index/docid/892236/filename/hal-00892236.pdf

An audio lecture covering the research in this paper can be heard here:

Research examining what advantages feral bees may have in the battle against varroa

In years following that paper, Seeley has spent time investigating some of the factors present in feral colonies that differ from what is typical of managed colonies.  Word is that experiments that involved spacing colonies out at a large distances from each other, thus reducing drift and robbing, and bees kept in smaller hives that swarm more often, thus experience a break in the brood cycle, have shown promising results in terms of reducing overall mite load.

Genetic analysis of the Arnot forest survivor bees

In 2015 Alexander S. Mikheyev, Mandy M.Y. Tin, Jatin Arora & Thomas D. Seeley published a study showing that the mite resistant bees living in the Arnot forest are genetically distinct from the bees in the nearby apiaries. They also compared genes of current bees with museum sample of Arnot forest bees from the 1970's. This comparison shows there was likely a genetic bottle neck, and Arnot forest bees have evolved distinct traits as compared to the bees living in the forest prior to varroa. It also suggests that some influx of some amount of new genetics has occurred in the population, including those associated with africanized bees.


Last year a unique situation occured that allowed us to verify the comb spacing and cell size claims made in regards to naturally built comb.

natural comb extending two brood boxes

We hived a swarm while short on frames, by the time we returned it had prolifically built a few large combs extending into a second brood box. We added frames to the sides but left the wild combs on the inner cover all season.

natural comb built on inner cover

The comb spacing on the Hoffman frames typically used in the langstroth hive is about 35mm (1 3/8") and the cell size of standard foundation we use is 5.4mm.

large natural comb on inner cover

A quick glance at this hive was enough to make me feel the bees had decided on a much tighter spacing in some areas of their comb than our frames provide.

bee space 5

Unfortunately, the hive didn't make it through the winter, but this did give me the opportunity to measure a comb design little influenced by top bars, frames, starter strips or foundation.

comb spacing measurement on wild comb

First I measured the comb spacing. The above photo shows the distance from one comb's mid-rib to the next comb's mid-rib to be approximately 31mm. With the space between combs somewhere between 7-8mm.

The portion of the comb measured in the photo above is indicated by the white square in the following photo:

wider context of comb measured

With cell size it is often suggested to measure ten cells across and average the result, as bees tend to build cells of variable sizes. The following was measured in the lower-mid section of brood comb.

cell size on wild comb

I've heard many claim that bees coming from a hive with standard foundation will build 5.1mm cells in their next generation of combs. This experience seems to confirm that.

It is of course important to remember that comb spacing varies according to use. With honey and drone combs being wider than brood combs. The spacing used in a standard langstroth hive is really an attempt at averaging out the differences. I've been contemplating what frame spacing to use all winter while building hives for next season. Though I've seen the langstroth spacing work well enough, I'm tempted to see what advantage may come from using a variable spacing. It's become popular in the top bar community, where one can not rely on foundation for straight comb, to use 32mm (1 1/4") for the brood nest and 38mm (1 1/2") for honey combs. There is a great deal of speculation about the advantages of small cell bees and a corresponding tighter comb space. For me, the fact that bees seem to want to build cells and comb at various sizes when given the chance, seems like reason enough to set up the hive in such a way as to make this possible. Wish me luck.


Organically Managed Beekeeping Podcast and Forums

Informative podcast produced by Craig in Southern Maryland with a focus on sustainable practices. To date he has already interviewed a number of notable beekeepers such as the backwards beekeeper, Phil Chandler, Ross Conrad and a bunch of others.

In his last episode of 2012 Craig the host revisited different aspects of his approach, his recommendations for beginners and how his ideas have evolved over the years.

Definitely worth going through the whole episode library.


PDF of Abbé Warre's Beekeeping for All

The full 12th edition translated into english by David Heaf (one of the more prominent modern day users of the the warré hive.)

The book covers a bit of beekeeping basics, Warré's analysis of some of the different hives of his time, a few interesting observations of bee behaviour in addition the specifications and rational behind his own hive design. Many interesting things in here even if you are an experienced beekeeper with no interest in using a warré hive.

If you assume it's not possible to put natural comb without frames in an extractor have a look at page 63.

In the 5th edition warré discussed the option of using frames in his style of hive.

There's another video in which David Heaf goes through the different pieces used in this hive and some of his construction methods that is worth watching as well:


Opening keynote address by Phil Chandler at the 2012 Natural Beekeeping Conference

Phil does a bit of talking but it quickly changes from a speech to an interesting open discussion.

Topics touched include: comb size/space, normal colony drone levels, varroa preditors,