Getting back to a natural state of affairs will require some work and time. We will not undo 150 years of negative influence overnight. The good news is that we are not too late; we know this by observing bee building comb when there is no (1) foundation present. When bees are allowed to build a nest with no obstructions they always build smaller cells than the foundation they were previously on. What does this tell us? First they are not predisposed to build the cell size WE want and second they want smaller cells.
Why do the bees want smaller cells? We may never know all the reasons but we do know that smaller cell size directly impacts the bee’s ability to handle the Varroa Destructor Mite. We also now know that bees build different size cells fore different purposes. We also know a natural nest can survive mites without pesticides and a nest built on foundation cannot!
Great now that you are convinced that a natural nest is the way to go we are going to tell you how to get there!
You must start with a clean hive, it does not matter which one you use but I will tell you Abbey Warre and TBH are much more conducive to natural nests than a Lang is. It is a good idea to use some sort of (2) starter strip. Now add bees, (it does not matter where they are from) and a feeder and let them build the nest the way they want. Use a good mite (3) monitoring method throughout the season, a good (4) IPM program, a good over wintering method and your colonies should make it through winter.
You see the first bees flying in spring, Congratulations! You made it through the winter.
Next Step: (5) Shake down
Smoke the bees- we want them to take as much nectar as they can with them to the new hive.
Set up an empty colony next to this one.
Start by harvesting all remaining capped honey into a clean bucket with a lid.
When you get to the brood nest find the queen and cage or isolate her to prevent hurting her.
Cut out a section of brood comb and place it (6) upside down in the (6) rear of the hive.
Start shaking the remaining bees into the new hive one comb at a time.
Capped brood can be placed in the rear of the hive upside down you may push sticks in it as legs to support it so the brood has room to hatch.
When you are done you may hang the queen cage like a new installation or just release her.
Remove all the old equipment and comb until the colony reestablishes itself.
The object is to get all the old comb out and start new so the bees build a natural nest it may take several seasons.
Not Done Yet:
Take all the comb back to wherever you work be sure to have a piece from the center of the brood nest empty if possible.
First crush the honey and feed it back to the colony via baggie feeders.
Next measure the cell sizes through the colony and record results.
Render all the wax and save it for future starter strips.
Start it all over again!
When the colony has a variety of cell sizes to include 4.9 and smaller AND the mite drop remains at a constant average that does not call for treatment. You are at a sustainable status, Beware you will always have to monitor mites because any event could come along which will throw the balance in favor of the mite. The good news is that a treatment here and there will do the trick!!
1. Foundation= wax sheets imprinted with a specific cell size.
2. Starter strip= small strip or bead of wax on the top bar to guide comb building.
3. Monitoring method= described in more detail in FAQ section of this site.
4. IPM integrated pest management also described in more detail on this site.
5. Shake down = method of forming a new colony from an existing one.
6. Placing comb this way prevents the queen from laying more eggs in it so it can be removed from the colony after the brood hatches out.