Honey Farming

R.O.B. Manley, 1946

Northern Bee Books
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West Yorkshire, UK

April, 1985

This is not the complete book only selections from the reproductions with additional comments in bracketed [red] from us.


The writing of this little book about bee-farming and honey reduction was suggested by the many letters I have received during the past ten years, since the book Honey Production in the British Isles was published. I have tried to make it as useful and interesting as I can, but I am very well aware of its imperfections. To write an interesting account of technical operations and methods of working is not always easy.

Honey Farming is not written for the novice, and in writing it I have assumed some considerable experience on the part of the reader; but I am now working on another book intended expressly for the beginner who wishes to take up the business of beekeeping as distinct from making a hobby of it, a rather difficult thing to do.

I have to thank those friends who have assisted me with the photographs used in this book, especially Mr. C. P. Abbott who did most of them. The drawings were made by Mr. R. W. Ford of Reading.

R.O.B. Manley




Acarine Disease

When I first began to keep bees 'foul brood' was about the only malady that anyone seemed to consider of any serious account. We used to hear about dysentery, May pest, etc., but nobody seemed to bother much about any trouble of mature bees. It was not until the first few years of this resent century that we were all roughly awakened up by the epidemic of 'Isle of Wight disease'. This ailment is now called Acarine disease, and it is pretty thoroughly understood to-day. For years investigators spent their energies in exploring the digestive system of bees, where they found plenty of germs of various kinds, but it was not until fifteen years had been spent in hunting for the causal agent in the bees' alimentary tract that the brilliant idea occurred to someone, Dr. Rennie, I think, to look somewhere else. So the breathing system was examined and the mite that causes the trouble was, of course, found without difficulty.

It has always been a mystery to me why this little creature was not found ten years earlier, for it is so very easy to see, that one would have expected that some amateur with a microscope or lens would surely have stumbled on it when examining the anatomy o bees. Well, it was found; first by Miss E. Harvey, in December 1919, I believe. The research was first conducted by late Dr. Rennie and financed by the late Mr. Wood, after whom the species was named Acarapis woodi. The whole report was published in 1921 by the Royal Society of Edinburg in a large, beautiful illustrated and printed pamphlet, at nine shillings a copy, one of which, autographed by Rennie, I possess.

Acarapis  woodi is a very small mite which lives within the breathing tubes of the bee, called the tracheae. Only the pair of tubes that open into the thoracic spiracles are affected. The mites live by sucking the juices from the tracheal walls, which they puncture with their piercing mouth parts. Let us suppose that a pregnant female mite has gained access to the trachea of a bee. She feeds on the bee and lays her eggs. These eggs hatch within a very short time, producing a larval form of the mite which has only six legs, against the eight of the adult. The larva in due course is converted into a mature specimen, either male or female. These mate, of course, but I don't know whether they do so before leaving their first home or not. Miss Betts thinks they do, though this, if general, would seem to imply very intensive inbreeding. When the food supply provided by the unfortunate host bee is becoming exhausted, or when the fast-increasing family of mites is getting crowded, females leave their home and go out in search of new pastures. Probably they are already mated when they do this, though I suppose mating is possible outside the bee. Anyway the migrating female looks out for a tender young bee that has just emerged from her cell, and as this bee comes into contact with the one whose spiracle she has just left, the mite clings to the hair of that bee and pushes through the spiracle into the trachea, where she presumably first takes some refreshment and then proceeds to lay an egg.

Now the following fact is very important to us beekeepers. It is only into very young bees that these mites penetrate.[not necessarily true] This discovery was made by Dr. Morgenthaler in Switzerland, to whom we owe much. I don't know why the mites never enter older bees, but I have thought that the reason may be that the fringe of setae that guard the spiracles may be soft and pliable at first, but become stiff after a few days; anyway, it is an ascertained fact that bees after five days from emergence are immune to attack BV A. woodi. Therefore, although the mites can increase within a bee's tracheae, they cannot pass from bee to bee unless there are newly emerged bees in the colony. It thus follows that if we can find a means by which the mites can be prevented from migrating while breeding is going on among the bees until all mite-carrying bees have died out, we have got rid of the trouble.

During winter, when no breeding of bees is going on, the mites can only stay at home and breed there, but they cause great discomfort to their hosts, and stocks so infested never winter well and often don't winter at all. The winter symptoms of the presence of acarine disease are unseasonable activity of bees, warmth over the cluster, and entrances smudged with excreta. These signs may indicate other troubles, but in four cases out of five the cause of them is mite infestation. In the active seasons its signs are the wellknown 'crawling' or inability to fly. As almost all diseases of adult bees have this symptom in common, microscopic examination is necessary before one can be certain whether the trouble is acarine disease or not. A small dissecting instrument with an aplanatic lens having a magnifying power of fifteen diameters is very suitable for this purpose. With its aid, together with a couple of mounted needles and a razor blade, anyone can make quick and certain examinations, after having been shown how to do it by someone who knows. I would advise all those who intend to become bee farmers to see this operation carried out: it is a perfectly simple one.

To an experienced person it is fairly easy to judge by the appearance of the bees whether the trouble is probably acarine disease or not; there is something about the look of the crawlers that indicates what the trouble is, though, of course, no one can be certain without using a microscope or magnifying glass. There is, however, one sign that is very nearly conclusive, and which any beginner may note: it is almost certainly acarine disease if bees are seen flying before their hive with one of their small wings immovable and sticking out as if dislocated. Such a bee will now and then give a kind of sideslip or stagger in the air, and when this is seen acarine disease may be diagnosed with a very high degree of probability.

I know of only two ways of dealing successfully with this trouble on a bee farm: stocks can be treated with what is known as the 'Frow' mixture, discovered by R. W. Frow, or with methyl salycilate, a synthetic preparation similar to oil of wintergreen, the remedy suggested by the late Dr. Rennie. Both treatments are successful up to a point. [We have used methyl salycilate and oil of wintergreen with success against both tracheal and Varroa mites.] The safrol-nitrobenzene-petrol mixture of Frow is applied with the purpose' of killing the mites within the bees' tracheae, and it is a very wonderful fact that it actually does do this in the majority of cases when suitably administered under the right conditions. It is not, as one might expect, by any means always to be relied upon to destroy all the mites. I believe, myself, that in a large minority of cases not all the mites in all the bees in the colony are destroyed, and I have given a full treatment many times and found the mites as lively as ever a month later. The Frow treatment has the extremely serious fault that is very apt to cause wholesale robbing. No matter whether all the stocks in an apiary are treated simultaneously or not, if the weather is warm enough for bees to fly at all freely, robbing will start; and if the weather is not fairly mild the treatment is likely to fail because the drugs do not evaporate as they should.

The Frow treatment was a perfect godsend when it was given to beekeepers by its discoverer, and we can hardly be grateful enough to Mr. Frow for what he did; but in working a large number of colonies in many apiaries I have found it such a nuisance through its setting up wholesale robbing that for several years I have not used it. It is troublesome to administer when your bees are away in far apiaries, and its effectiveness is rather uncertain. After all, it is a really marvelous thing that this combination of drugs can and generally will kill these mites without doing the bees any harm.

Frow treatment is usually administered by giving small doses of about 20 or 30 minims on a felt pad daily for six or seven days, and withdrawing the pad on the tenth day; but this plan is, of course, out of the question on a bee farm where apiaries may be many miles from headquarters. There was, however, at no time any reason to suppose that this system had any special virtue, in fact I think that the result of these daily doses is frequently bad. If the weather is cold the drugs evaporate only very slowly, and the adding of a small daily dose merely provides for the accumulation of a heavy one, which, on a change to mild weather, will occasionally provide, by rapid evaporation, far too rich an atmosphere. I have found it better to give a single dose of about 70 to 9o minims and to let it go at that, removing the pad at the end of ten days or so. This I have found to be equally as effective as six or seven daily doses, and it is possible to practice it on a bee farm.

Since it is not practicable to make microscopical examinations of samples of bees from hundreds of stocks each year, the bee farmer is obliged to have recourse to preventive general treatment, and to dose all his colonies once a year. In using the Frow mixture I found it absolutely necessary that this should be done with the bees confined to their hives. This seems to do them no harm, though they often struggle to get out of the hives if the weather turns sunny and warm during the treatment. At first this worried me, but I found that the bees were none the worse for it in the spring. On one occasion an apiary was left confined for almost eight weeks through a mistake or confusion of some sort; but that apiary turned out one of our best in the spring. My friend E. W. D. Madoc has had a similar experience with confinement. In any case, with a warm spell during treatment when bees are not confined, a furious robbing bout is, in my experience, inevitable, and the damage to the bees is generally very serious when this occurs. I think that February is the best time for this treatment. If done early in winter bees may not get a flight for months after it; but done in February they are pretty certain to fly well within a month.

For some years, now, I have been using methyl salycilate as a preventive treatment instead of the Frow stuff. Since I have Systematically applied this drug we have had no serious loss through acarine disease; less, in fact, than when the Frow mixture was used in the same way. We certainly do have a few cases every year, but these are insignificant in proportion to the total number, and they are probably to a large extent accounted for by the fact that we have been experimenting to find out the best method of administering the treatment. [We have not had any losses of bees to tracheal mites for at least three years using the wintergreen grease patties, the patties also control Varroa during broodless periods. The overall health of the colony improves with the use of Methyl salycilate and oil of wintergreen.]

I think there can be no doubt at all that in methyl salycilate we have a substance that will enable us to control acarine disease once we have discovered the Proper method of application, and I know of no other way of finding that out except by trial and error. [not only acarine but Varroa and honey bee pathogens as well - Methyl salycilate and oil of wintergreen are a complete control for both Tracheal and Varroa mites when used properly during broodless times, the only problem is getting the oils into the brood cells during nectar flows, which we a currently working on] Methyl salycilate has the very great advantage over the Frow treatment of not tending to induce robbing in the slightest degree; in fact it has rather the opposite effect. It does not appear to have any undesirable effect on the brood either; or on the bees, when used in moderate quantities. [In our experiments we have found that the more of the essential oils our bees consume the healthy they become at the dosages used]  I keep a small bottle of it with a wick, or a small flat tin with a perforated lid, in each of my 4 frame mating nuclei all the year round without causing any inconvenience to the bees, that I can see. It requires no repeated applications, no confinement of the bees under treatment, and it can be left in the hive indefinitely.

Probably the most effective way of giving the methyl salycilate treatment as a general preventive course, or for definite purpose of getting rid of the disease in stocks known to be infested by mites, is to use a small bottle holding about one ounce. This bottle must be fitted with a wick of soft cotton such as may be purchased in balls, like string. You will need to take about four or six strands of this cut in lengths of about four inches. Tie a loose knot near one end of it to prevent the wick from slipping into the bottle: fill the bottle nearly full of methyl salycilate, introduce the wick and stand the whole thing behind a dummy on the floor of the hive at the rear. If the hive will have to be moved about while the bottle is in it, the overturning of the bottle can be prevented by cutting a piece out of the rear corner of a dummy so that the bottle will be held in the recess so provided. A comb is taken from the hive, the bottle stood in the rear corner of it, and the dummy is then lowered into its place instead of the comb so that the recess in it will correspond to the bottle. The bottle, then, cannot be upset.

Another method of giving this treatment is by means of flat tins; such as shoe polish is sold in. These may have a number of large holes about three-eighths of an inch in diameter punched out of their lids and be filled with cotton-wool which is then saturated with the drug; or they may have a wide slit cut in their lids which is fitted with a piece of lamp wick. I have used this plan extensively; but have now abandoned it. It was found that at least three or four of these tins of methyl salycilate were required to make sure of ridding an infested colony of mites. That made the treatment too expensive in both time and material, for we have virtually proved that ' one bottle with a wick is equal to- four- tins as a mite-controlling agent.

Methyl salycilate is not of much use between September and April, [Not true, wintering bees cluster around and consume the wintergreen grease patties which kills at least 90+%, if not all of the mites.]although its presence in a hive even in winter does sometimes have a beneficial effect. I have more than once known an infested colony treated with methyl salycilate in October, to come out perfectly free of mites the following spring; but generally speaking, methyl salycilate is only to be depended upon when the weather is warm and the bees active. That at this time a one-ounce bottle with a spreading wick will rid a stock of mites, I know, for I have seen it happen many times. Even quite late in-the autumn I have got rid of mites that way; but the flat tins are quite useless except in warm weather, for evaporation seems to take place much more slowly from them.

In our apiaries we tried a rather extensive experiment in 1944.

I would have liked to get the drug into the hives a little earlier, but shortage of labour prevented our getting everything ready until a little later than I consider ideal. We divided our bees into three sections and to one-third we gave one flat tin of methyl salycilate, to one-third we gave two tins, and to the remaining third we gave a one-ounce bottle with a spreading cotton wick. About eight apiaries were treated each way, and the whole of the colonies treated amounted to many hundreds. In the early spring following, only in one apiary where the bottles were given was any sign of acarine disease noticed, and in that several stocks were known to be infested heavily when the treatment was applied. In this apiary the treatment was applied rather too late in the fall, I think, and it is probable that the infested bees found in the spring, were old bees that had survived. In the apiaries treated with two flat tins, only a few cases of infestation were found, but in those that had only a, single tin of methyl salycilate given to them, quite a number showed the disease in the spring, and several died out from it. [Hives need to be treated with treatment of choice by late August or early September to allow for at least two healthy brood hatches for wintering.]

Such experiments have value and are possible only for the extensive bee farmer. They are, of course, not scientifically exact, but they give pretty clear indications of the best way to control this serious trouble, and until some better method shall have been discovered, I propose to use bottles with wicks, placing, them in the hives in spring and early autumn. [We have better methods; grease patties and syrups.]

We now have to find out the best way of applying the methyl salycilate treatment, and with this in view we should bear in mind that all parasites of this character have stages in their life cycles during which the continuity of their species is exposed to greater risks than ordinary, and it is at such times that we should try to destroy them. [Use wintergreen grease patties in winter clusters when they are most vulnerable.] Now it has been shown, as pointed out earlier in this chapter, that only young bees are vulnerable to the attack of mites, and it is pretty certain that the presence of methyl salycilate in the hive prevents migration. Bees cease to breed in October, as a rule, and begin again in January or February; there is, therefore, a period every year, of two or three months, during which no young bees are present in the hives. During this interval mites cannot extend their footing by leaving their present hosts for others, so that while infested bees may suffer an increase in the number of the parasites they carry, the latter are in a rather precarious position; for should the host die, all the mites infesting it must die too; and furthermore, the more these mites breed and the more they injure the bee's tissues on which they feed, the more probable becomes the bee's death. It is a fact that on a mild winter day, when the sun shines warmly after a cold spell, diseased colonies may be seen to have hundreds of heavily infested bees crawling about in front of them, and unless the beekeeper has been silly enough to provide one of those long sloping boards to help flightless bees back into their hives, all those crawlers will die, and all their parasites with them.

Infested stocks that survive until breeding again begins will have all their mites concentrated in the old bees that were infested at the close of the breeding season, and such bees will not live long; therefore it behooves the pregnant female mites to get a move on quickly if they are to escape disaster and carry forward their kind at all; and so directly the first young bees emerge, these old mites must transfer to them without a moment's loss of time. And they do it, unless hindered by the action of the beekeeper. This is where the introduction of methyl salycilate into the hive comes in.[Use the wintergreen grease patties during the winter months and there will not be any noticeable mites; Varroa or Tracheal until the following fall. With a ball of bees around a wintergreen grease patty in the winter moving in and out of the ball the oil gets all over the bees. There may be a 100% kill of all mites during this time of the year.]

Dr. Rennie [The forerunner of essential oil treatments of honey bees] considered that there might be some specific scent or some attractive emanation connected with the thoracic spiracles through which the mites enter their chosen homes, and he suggested that the smell of some drug might, by counteracting or smothering this hypothetical odor, so confuse the migrating parasites as to prevent them from finding the spiracles of which they are in search, and he suggested oil of wintergreen or methyl salycilate for this purpose. Certainly this is effective; but I am myself inclined to think that its odor may act by preventing the mites from finding out there are young bees present in the colony. [Both Tracheal and Varroa mites are blind and use their acute sensory receptors to function]I think it unlikely that pregnant female mites leave their hosts indiscriminately at any time; but rather believe that the presence of bees of a suitable age for new infestation may make itself felt by the mites that are awaiting an opportunity to transfer themselves to such bees, by some influence, perhaps scent; perhaps something else; but at all events some sort of influence that the fumes of methyl salycilate counteract. Whatever the truth may be, it seems clear to me that the break in the continuity of breeding of the bees is the period of danger for mites to which we should direct our attention.

Most of the bees that will carry a stock through the winter months will be those that emerge during the period between the end of the honey-flow and the cessation of breeding; so that if we can save those from becoming infested we may say that we have in all probability rid the colony of mites. Hence the reason for inserting the methyl salycilate at the close of the honey season. [Placing wintergreen grease paties in the hive through fall and winter with no brood present seems to kill most all the mites] Again, if the treatment is repeated early in the spring, should any mites remain, the first emerging young bees will in like manner be saved from their attacks, and unless we are entirely mistaken in supposing that this treatment is of use, it would seem almost certain that the incidence of acarine disease can be, for all practical purposes, eliminated by careful work along these lines. There is plenty of room for practical experiment, of course, but I cannot help hoping that we have now in our hands a real solution of a very difficult problem.

It will be seen by those who have considered the matter with care, that if the fumes of methyl salycilate can be maintained in the hive continually, no acarine disease can get a hold on a colony. If, moreover, those fumes can be kept present from any given Point of time until all the bees then present in the hive have died out in the ordinary course of nature, then, since no young ones will become infested while the drug is present, the colony must be free of mites by that time. Now the difficulty is to arrange matters so that the fumes do remain present for a long enough time, while being maintained in sufficient strength to be effective. I have found the bottles, as described, more satisfactory than anything else tried so far, but I have been rather puzzled to understand why the whole ounce of the methyl salycilate will often evaporate in a couple of weeks in some cases, while in others the process may take eight or even ten weeks. [Temperature and hive activity such as fanning at high outside temperatures affect evaporation] But I found, quite by accident, that the protruding end of the wick should be rather short, so that when it becomes wet with the rising of the drug it shall not fall over and touch the side of the bottle neck, for when this happens the liquid is conducted down the bottle sides after the manner of a syphon. This causes rapid, evaporation, and should be guarded against.

There is another aspect of this question that it is very necessary that I should touch upon. It is considered by some people that it is wrong in principle for us to attempt to control disease by curative treatment, that even preventive treatment should be avoided, and that we should rely on breeding bees for constitutional resistance to disease. I feel very far from scoffing at this theory, but frankly I do not quite understand how one can carry out this breeding for disease resistance as a specialty. There are so many other desirable characters that we require in our bees that it is my opinion that the best way to manage the breeding of bees is to try to produce strains that get a good lot of honey and are not vicious. If you keep on systematically breeding for those two traits, I think that you will probably produce a fairly sound strain of bees in every other direction. Bees prone to disease, as undoubtedly some strains are, will not produce very good yields of honey; of that you can be certain.

The idea is, of course, that what Darwin called 'natural selection' will weed out the unfit; but it seems to me that a good many of those who write to the bee-press advocating this course of action, do not realize as clearly as they should, that natural selection can only operate under natural conditions. There is no doubt whatever that there are strains of bees that will not survive long in this country, but which become infested with acari very quickly. These strains, at least those that have come my way, are all imported from the United States. Acarine disease is unknown in the New World, so far as I know, and this probably accounts for the bees from there being very susceptible to acarine infestation. ' This does not apply to European bees which are all survivors of acarine attacks at some time or other, I expect, and French and Italian bees are just as liable to carry the mites as are British. I think it probable that were mites to get into the apiaries of North America, there would be a holocaust that would put our past experience into the shade entirely. [He was right!]

I have been keeping bees for a long time now, and remember the days before the Isle of Wight epidemic. I have also read a good deal of matter dealing with bees, as they were understood long before my time. I may, of course, be quite mistaken; but I do not believe that the Acarine mite we are familiar with is a new species as a bee parasite. A new species it certainly cannot be, of course; but it has been suggested that its parasitism on the honev-bee may have been a new development early in this century. I don't for a moment believe this myself, though I cannot prove that I am right any more than those who think the reverse can prove the correctness, of their views. My idea is that this mite has been parasitic on honey-bees for ages past.

If you read up old books on bees and beekeeping, you will find that, while there is hardly any mention of any other trouble of the adult bees, dysentery is very frequently described, and seems to have given a good deal of trouble in the old days. Now we have most of us had colonies of bee's die out in winter from acarine infestation, and a common symptom of this is dysentery. When you go round your bees in the early spring to see how things are, you sometimes find a colony with a number of spots and smudges of excreta around the entrance of the hive, and on opening the hive and turning back the quilts or lifting the inner cover, you see splashes of excreta on the frames and combs. When this is seen, you know that in all probability that stock, whether alive or dead, is a bad case of acarine disease. I think that the dysentery we so often find references to in the books of old-time beekeepers is nothing less nor more than the dysentery that is such a common sign of acarine disease.

Why did the mites suddenly spread far and wide with such devastating consequences? 'I don't know; but my guess is that this trouble is liable to produce sudden epidemics of the kind, for there are references to such in ancient records, I believe. The outbreak of thirty-five years ago may have been much assisted by the importation of some strain of bees that was susceptible, or it may have been brought about by deterioration in the British native stock, for we all noticed how quickly the native black bees disappeared at that time.

My opinion, after a good many years of experiment, is that we should try to prevent the mites from getting hold of our bees by the use of prophylactic treatment of not to drastic nature, and that any stocks that do not readily prove amenable to such preventive measures are best dead and done with; if they don't die out themselves they should be destroyed or at least re-queened before any further attempt is made to rid them of mites. It is here that I think methyl salycilate may be better for us and our bees than the more drastic Frow treatment. [Methyl salycilate and oil of wintergreen used in grease patties and syrups acts as a fumigant, contact killer and poison to both mites when they ingest the hemolymph of the bee and larval food. It acts as a three fold killer] The latter's purpose is to kill the mites within the bees of course; but its weak point is simply that it fails to kill all the mites in all the bees in all the hives treated. I am almost certain that I have here stated a fact, though others may dispute this. I am open to be convinced that I am wrong, for we ought to always to be ready to change our views on any matter in face of proof that we are mistaken, [AMEN] but at present I think I am correct. Now it follows that unless we destroy all the mites in a colony, those not killed will be the ones that can resist the poison best-the most effective mites, in fact. I think readers will find that when Frow treatment is used, the colony that is still infested some weeks or months after treatment will always die out. I have treated many times when it has appeared, by examination of samples of bees, that all mites were dead, but a few months later the disease has been found quite extensively distributed through the stock. I have not yet noticed this when methyl salycilate has been used. We are all rather in a fog here and should keep an open mind while conducting as many experiments as possible.

The idea of simply letting the disease rip has been advanced by some enthusiasts who believe that by this means natural selection would give us a resistant strain, as it doubtless would. What these gentlemen don't tell us is what we are to live on while this process Join course of action. If any domesticated stock is let go wild like that, we certainly get a hardy strain; but the trouble is that hardy wild strains are of no use to us for domestic purposes. Probably, the fundamental fact is that it is impossible to produce a strain of any domesticated animal having those characteristics especially developed which make that strain particularly useful to civilized man, without at the same time sacrificing to a large extent the qualities that have enabled that species to exist in a state of nature. Natural selection will promote those variations, which are useful to a species under wholly natural conditions, while selection, as practiced by man, chooses, out those "qualities that are most useful to him. Let us not too hastily decide to rely upon natural selection to produce the type of bee we want.

[We have tried to raise super hygienic queens from our stock for the past three years with disappointing results. We end up with almost no hygienic behavior at all (about 10%) from the daughter queens. To develop a dominant hygienic gene in honey bees may take many years of breeding. The ideal would be to use essential oils with super hygienic bees for total consistent mite and disease control.]