Varroa free beekeeping.
The ZEST hive………functionally free of Varroa!
Bee keeping has many pleasures and few problems. However one of the biggest problems is varroa and other maladies and morbidities such as Nosema and Acarine. Varroa, as any beekeeper knows is an external parasitic mite that attacks and feeds on honey bees. It was first found on the Asian Honey Bee in 1904 and has become now a worldwide problem, once it finds its way into the colony it can be its death; a devastating time for any beekeeper. With any of the bee diseases that we now see, we are in need to constantly watch out and protect the bees health.
However, there is some light in this dark tale to the bee population. The ZEST hive can reasonably lay claim to be functionally free of these diseases by virtue of its design and construction, being not a thin walled hive, but one made from aerated concrete blocks usually used for building houses. It is warm and dry.
The ZEST hive lays no claim to heroically setting out to rid the world of varroa. It was discovered by accident when a lady ZEST owner decided not to treat them with the usual chemical treatments and yet her colonies remained free of the diseases. Many more of us ZEST hive beekeepers proceeded to do the same, with the same result. It prompted us to initiate a program of research. We knew that varroa does not enjoy a humid environment, although the precise cause and effect mechanism of this is unknown. We found that the ZEST hive is indeed more humid, (as shown in the diagram) when a ZEST and a wood hive were data logged and compared. (The red line being a ZEST hive, the Orange line a wood hive and the green being the ambient humidity.)
The humidity in the ZEST hive is significantly higher than in the wood hive and the research completed by Derek Mitchell in 2019 seems to provide further evidence as to why the ZEST hive is Varroa and disease free. You can get access to the full research paper here.
Let us share what we have discovered that supports Derek Mitchells hypothesis and a simple summary of the work.
The difference between condensation and humidity is an important one with regards to beekeeping. Condensation is water and kills bees, however humidity is water vapour which bees need to prevent desiccation of the brood. The beauty of the ZEST hive is it does not have inner surface condensation unlike thinned walled hives, another reason to limit the risk to a colonies survival.
Lets' move to the humidity; if air is cooled the humidity naturally rises and if warmed it falls. The bees in the wood hive are unable to control the humidity to any great extent. The humidity in the ZEST however is not only higher, but rises when the temperature rises instead of falling as the ambient and the wood hive does. This infers that the bees in the ZEST hive are able to control not only the temperature, but the humidity as well. From the research, high humidity is implicated as a reason that we can irradicate varroa and other bee diseases.
As you will likely know, a brood needs to be kept at 35 degrees, they do this through a number of ways which I will detail in a further blog on bee behaviours, however for today it is important to simply understand that to maintain this temperature the bees ultimately have to eat honey (otherwise known as 'stores'), however in the thinned walled hives, with cold spots being present particularly at night and inconsistent temperatures we have seen them having to consume more. We all want to find ways to make beekeeping more cost effective and the ZEST hive offers this not only in its production and ongoing yearly materials but also in the reduction of stores required for the bees in the winter months. The ZEST hive, with its thermal insulation and mass in its external envelope is capable of maintaining a consistent bee friendly environment with less use of the stores. Our research completed initially allowed us to understand this. A traditional B.S.National wood hive needs 15kgs. of stores to survive the winter. Between 01/11/2016 until 28/02/2017 less than 4kgs. of honey was used in a ZEST colony. This has been a constant observation each year.
When we provide housing to bees in the form of thinned walled hives we are making the bees work harder, effecting bee health and ultimately negatively effecting their efficiency. We know from our data that the ZEST is a warmer hive, needing only about a third of the amount of winter stores of a thin walled hive as evidenced above. However this has a further effect, it infers that the brood will be warmer and its pupation period reduced. This in turn reduces the amount of time available in the cell for the varroa to mature and hatch. Instead of an exponential increase in varroa it is an exponential decrease.
There has been a global conversation on bee health and the need to save the bees. Like humans we must first start with the basics, have we provided them with a home that allows them to keep themselves healthy, the ZEST hive is that home and the potential answer to remove the bee diseases that threaten the future of our bees.