When my first Warre hive was threatening to swarm, I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t want any more hives but I wanted to give it to someone who would really appreciate a prime swarm. I found out about Vernon through the new bee keeping network of Oregon South Coast Beekeepers Association…he had just built a Perone hive. He wanted a swarm rather than package bees. That was me a year ago. The bees swarmed on Mother’s Day, May 12, 2013. We handed him a bucket of bees a day later, but I didn’t want to leave it at that, I had never seen a Perone hive before and wanted to see how big it was…I wanted to make sure our bees had a good home.
He sent me these photos and his details…
The plans I used to construct my hive are on-line:
The authors are from Chile so the useful dimensions are in metric. Perone insists that the internal dimensions of the brood box be 57 X 57 X 57cm, which is 184.5 liters. Each of his supers is 32.5 liters. Whenever I converted to English units I adjusted the measurements slightly for convenience. My brood box is built of 1 X 6 inch lumber, which of course actually measures 3/4 X 5 1/2 inches.
The height of my supers is 4 1/2 inches rather than the 4 inches recommended by Perone. I measured my bars in metric (24 cm height and width, which is about 15/16 inches) and cut them on a circular saw from 2 inch cross-section stock.
Perone insists that the brood comb bars be 9mm apart because he feels this helps the bees maintain optimal brood comb temperature to fight infestations. Also, that spacing is preferred by the queen, so an excluder isn’t needed to keep her in the brood box.
I asked Vernon if he would consider shooting a video of the bees…
This video was shot on May 23rd about 9 days after installation.
Some updates below…
On Aug 3, 2013, at 10:50 PM, Vernon Strength <email@example.com> wrote:
Today I removed the super from my Perone hive and had a chance to look down through the brood box grid bars. The attached photo shows that the bees have been building weird comb: rather small, all in the southeast corner, cross-combed to the extreme, and the comb cells between the bars are oriented “up.” After almost three months the population of the hive seems about the same as the original swarm.
Obviously, my inclusion of a super from the beginning was a dumb idea. The colony isn’t going to come close to filling their brood box by winter, much less a super. My only defense is that I believed the South American beekeepers’ claims of rapid proliferation in the first few months.
Now the roof lid is directly over the brood box bars, almost touching them, so maybe the bees won’t be able to move over the top of the bars so easily to produce vertically-oriented brood cells. That might reduced cross-combing, too. Still, it’s already August and I don’t think there is time before winter for the bees to change their ways and build enough aligned combs towards the center of the grid. They will have a hard time increasing their numbers significantly in their present nest, which may also be hard for them to heat in winter. I can’t think of anything else to do now that I’ve removed the super. Unless you have any suggestions I’ll follow the Perone philosophy and let the bees figure it out.
On Aug 26, 2013, at 12:42 AM, Vernon Strength <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
The population of the Perone hive colony seems to have increased significantly in the last few days, based on the unprecedented numbers entering and leaving the hive entryway. Maybe they’ve increased their numbers for a last big food gathering push before winter. It’s still a mystery what they are foraging on; they still fly straight up and over some big trees and disappear when they leave the hive, and they return from the same direction. Lots of bumblebees have foraged around my house, but zero honeybees.
Last time I gave you an update I was concerned that there was so much cross-combing, and the comb was smaller than I’d expected. It appears that the oddball comb has produced lots of brood though, the comb is ugly but functional, so I’m going to follow the Perone approach and leave the bees to gather their own supplies. If this colony doesn’t make it through the winter I’m going to feel like a murderer.
I’ve started building another Perone hive using lessons learned from this first one. The main difference is a 11in X 16.5in observation window. I’m going to mount the new hive on the same platform with the first one, but probably the entry will face in the opposite direction so the bees won’t get confused about which entry to use.
November 26, 2013…I took my new & improved Perone hive to the beekeeper’s meeting in Gold Beach last Thursday and got a lot of interest. In fact, Del is thinking of using something similar while he’s in the Peace Corps. The new version has two large picture windows so I won’t be completely in the dark about activities inside the hive the way I am now. The day-before-yesterday I checked the first hive when the weather was damp and in the low-to-mid 50’s and there were no signs of life. I put my ear to the side wall but could hear nothing, so I lightly rapped it with my knuckles and three bees came out to see what was going on. I concluded that the hive was simply hunkered down inside due to foul weather. Really, I’m not sure what the temperature was outside, though I have two thermometers that weren’t cheap. It’s nearly impossible to find a mercury thermometer anymore: The alcohol substitutes are safe but inaccurate. When I compare thermometers at a store they always show different readings (i.e., two different thermometers of the same make & model may have readings over 5 degrees apart). The Italian bees we are keeping are apparently notorious for taking the day off when it’s coolish outside. My friend Steve Sottong of Eureka recovered a swarm he claims was about 3X the volume of mine. His bees are little and black, probably the species native to Great Britain, and they forage when it’s in the high 40’s.
Del suggested again that I feed my bees. His idea had some appeal: Hang a Christmas candy cane from a top bar using a string or thin flexible wire. Of course, once I do that I no longer have a “pure” Perone experiment going, so I’m torn. Maybe the foragers are still finding nectar. Lots of ivy grows around my neighborhood, and some weed flowers still persist.
November 28, 2013…Well, my (inaccurate) thermometer reads 61 damp degrees and my foragers are out in moderate numbers, moving verrrry slowwwly. The bees appear healthy so I’m attributing their lethargy to the cool moist weather and perhaps advanced age. I can tell the bees I’m seeing are all experienced veterans because they approach the small entryway so accurately. The inexperienced foragers I observed in mid-summer came in crazy-fast and usually crash-landed on the runway, sometimes banging their heads against the hive walls or landing on other bees. Anyway, nothing worrisome to report regarding the colony.
January 24, 2014…The Perone bees are busy foraging this morning, taking advantage of the unseasonable 64 degree F. (17.7 C) temperature. I’ve still never fed them. Hopefully they are finding nectar someplace (the myrtle trues seem to have buds).
Solarbeez says…Hi Vernon, I’m so glad you decided not to feed. I’ve been reading Michael Bush’s book, “The Practical Beekeeper.” He talks about the pH of the hive. When you feed sugar, it raises the pH of the hive which makes it more susceptible to nosema.
The only hive I’m feeding is the Warre, but I’m going to discontinue that. I never took any honey, but I CAVED IN to the temptation to feed them dry sugar. The other two hives are not getting fed and they seem to be fine.
Here’s another Michael Bush quote you won’t see anywhere else… On Page 435…
Even some seemingly pathogenic organisms such as Aspergillus fumigatus which causes stonebrood, supplants worse pathogens, in this case Nosema. Or Ascosphaera apis which causes Chalkbrood but prevents European Foulbrood.”
Thanks for the update.
February 19, 2014…Drove to Crescent City this afternoon and Queen Anne’s Lace weeds were blooming all along the road.
February 22, 2014…The foragers are out today in about the same numbers I saw during the summer. It’s likely the colony considers that Spring has arrived. A few dead or dying workers were on the ground below the entrance, probably over-winter bees that have been replaced by the next generation. I believe the queen started laying during the mid-January warm spell. About 20% of the foragers are bringing back golden-yellow pollen, which Carla believes comes from Myrtle trees. Odd that our west coast winter has been so mild while the east coast has been frigid and stormy.
March 27, 2014…
I’m hoping to finish my second Perone hive this weekend. Will send photos when I do. I also want to write a summary of my conclusions after taking a Perone hive through the winter without feeding or treating or helping them in any way. My friend Steve in Eureka lost 5 of his 6 Langs, including the one that housed the huge swarm I wrote you about (small, cold-adapted black bees from northern Europe). He’s looking into setting up a horizontal hive.
Of course I’m in need of a swarm. Please let me know if you hear of one available.
March 27, 2014…Pat’s reply
My congratulations on getting through the winter without feeding or treating. I welcome your conclusions on that. I understand your second hive will have an observation window. You’re going to love it.
My log hive has bees that are fanning. I think they might be getting crowded. Last year the first swarm was on a hot 80˙F day on March 31. If the weather settles down, that could happen again this year. The first swarm has been promised away for a swarm swap. I’m debating whether to keep it (if that person’s hive isn’t ready) or give it away to try to get different genetics. I’m hoping my other log hive will attract a swarm without me interfering.
If Vernon sends photos, I will post them here.
April 26, 2014 Lessons Learned
Last May I introduced a swarm of moderate size into a Perone mk2 hive. The colony survived the winter and appears to be thriving. Since the hive has no observation windows I infer colony condition by watching the numbers and behaviors of individuals who venture out.
The hive is located in mixed woodlands on the northern California coast, USDA plant hardiness zone 9b. Winter was warmer than usual this year, with only one hard freeze. While it may be argued that survival through a mild winter isn’t an adequate test of the Perone design and philosophy, it remains that beekeepers in my area with carefully-tended Langstroth hives reported roughly the same high losses this year as previously.
Hopefully the success of my hive will encourage others to try Perone hives. I strictly followed the Perone approach of benign neglect.
- I never fed my bees. They were industrious foragers and didn’t appear to need any sugar water. At times it was difficult to resist feeding, because experienced beekeepers I respect advised me in the strongest terms to either feed my bees or watch them die. They cited seasonal stoppages of nectar flows (while flowers were in bloom) and pollen production (when pollen.com warned allergy sufferers in my area of high pollen counts). Swarms were represented as particularly vulnerable to starvation. My bees proved the experts wrong. Apparently feeding is so strongly entrenched in our beekeeping culture that it will persist superstitiosly no matter what.
Hive inspections. I never opened my hive to check the condition of the comb. Typically beekeepers open their hives at least monthly to check for diseases, monitor comb development, and discourage swarming.
Disease treatment: I never observed disease syptoms in my Perone bees. Of course they were given the “preventative medicine” of a Perone hive. The design of the Perone hive discourages disease through a more natural, healthful, undisturbed environment, and the relatively large populations of Perone colonies encourage thorough hygiene and robust reactions to parasite infestation. However, I do kill every yellowjacket I see.
Monitoring comb development: The only apparent benefit of monitoring comb is that it’s fascinating for the beekeeper. The removeable frames or top bars of more traditional hives encourage maniputation of comb positions. For example, one of my colleagues found that some of his Langstroth hives were “honey bound.” These hives had a few brood frames located between frames of mostly honey, which he said inhibited the development of more brood. In response he moved the honey frames to outside positions to encourage more brood nearer the center. My colleagues often switch frames between hives. For example, if a hive is producing more brood and less honey than what is considered optimal a honey frame is brought in from another hive and exchanged for an “excess” brood frame.
Drone cells and queen cells are often destroyed, as they consider worthless. Most destroy the “swarm cells” of developing queens to avoid population reduction in their hives due to swarming. Many “re-queen” (killed the queen and introduced a new one) when brood development doesn’t meet their expectations.
These are the same beekeepers who report 30-40% losses or worse over the winter and attribute the survival of my colony to luck. I never inspected the comb in my Perone hive—for all I know it may be “honey bound” and full of drone and swarm cells—but it seems to be working.
The value of swarms: The swarm introduced into my Perone hive appeared very organized from the beginning. Foragers quickly set out in all directions, returned in an excited state, and congregated for waggle-dancing on the landing platform in front of the hive entry. After the first day the foragers I observed always left my yard and returned from the same direction. From this I infer that the foragers quickly found an optimal feeding area and returned to it regularly thereafter.
Last week I introduced a 3 pound package of purchased bees into a second Perone hive. So far these bees appear disorganized compared to the swarm. It took several hours for the package bees introduced inside the hive to discover and regularly use the single entryway, compared to about 20 minutes for the swarm. And I never saw the package bees waggle dance. Now, after a week, the foragers continue to meander around, each in her own direction, without urgency.
My theory is that a swarm is more specialized to establish a new colony than most beekeepers appreciate. The swarm population seems to be made up of an appropriate number of workers specialized to perform each of the needed functions. It’s known that individuals carry enough supplies in their bodies to begin the processes. By contrast, package bees are shaken off frames pulled from established hives without regard for the functions the workers are currently performing. Then they are packaged with an unfamiliar queen and shipped off with some syrup to eat. What an awful start for a colony! In this first week I’ve observed a disturbing number of dead bees from the package bee colony.
Other hive maintenance. My hive is mounted on concrete foundation blocks that settled over the winter. The hive is no longer level. After some consideration I decided not to level the hive. There are no rigid frames in a Perone hive, so the bees are free to angle their comb building to adjust for settling. Returning the hive back to level would require the bees to readjust.