Keep The Bees in the Log

From Tim Heard at Sugarbag Bees
Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to move stingless bees out of a log. Some claim that a colony in a log is susceptible to termites or rot that will destroy it. They even argue that ants in the log will attack and kill the bees. Neither of these arguments hold water in my experience. It is easy to protect a log from rot and termites, simply by raising it above the ground. As for the ant threat, most readers will know of colonies in logs that have survived for decades, usually coexisting with ants. The threat from predacious ants is vanishingly low.

To keep the bees in a log, you do need to take steps you protect the log. Keep it above the ground so termites cannot enter. Keep it dry to slow down decay. Keep the ends sealed up to help the bees defend their nest. Cover the ends with a timber plate for insulation, and maybe an exterior metal plate to deflect water, seal any gaps with a filler such as no-more-gaps. It does not really matter whether you lay the log horizontal or vertical. Try to place it in its original orientation, but if you do not know which way it was, do not worry, they will cope with a change. Do not worry too much about ants, the bees will seal off their space so the ants cannot enter. In fact, ants can help the bees by keeping termites free from the log.
The log may deteriorate and so no longer provide a good home for the bees, but that might take longer than your lifetime! In the meantime, it is the perfect home. Moving them into a box is a risky process even in experienced hands. If it does survive, most of the food reserves are lost as most bee keepers agree that broken food pots increases the risk of pest attack. The loss of years of food storage is a major setback.
Transfer from a log should only be done if absolutely necessary. My own decision tool as to whether it is the right time is this: if you need a power tool to open the log, then it is too early. If a log is robust enough to need a chainsaw or other power tool to access the colony I generally recommend that the bees be left to prosper inside. If the log has reached the state of decay that a transfer is necessary, then all you need to remove a nest is hand tools, such as a wrecking bar or axe.

Many of the more senior members of the stingless bee community started their journey by transferring colonies from logs to hives. It was once the only way of kick-starting our bee breeding activities. But we have taken huge strides since then. We now rear large number of hives using a tool kit of techniques and experience. So I encourage everyone to ask themselves one simple question before opening a log to remove a colony: is it truly in the interest of the bee colony to do so?

Do you have a tip for rearing bees? Please send to tim.heard@anba.org.au

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