Natural Beekeeping

Top Bar ApiRevolution has begun! Lets make some inexpensive Top Bar Hives and let them be pesticide free on their own natural comb! Che Guebee is a rebel bee fighting for the survival of the Biodiversity we all depend on and which is seriously endangered by deforestation and mono-crop agriculture! What kind of teaching have you got if you exclude nature?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Great News !

Fantastic news!  Our new farm is in the Danish province called Stevns Kommune and this province decided that Pesticides are NOT ALLOWED to be used by farmers YES!!! All the yellow and orange provinces are the ones prohibiting pesticide use and the red ones use pesticides. My bees will be relieved when I tell them this great news:)

Friday, December 6, 2013

My beekeeper doesn't understand me!

I have found this illustration on facebook and I like it even though it is a bit misleading. Bees deserting the hives is known as CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) and is caused by pesticide poisoning. Pesticides responsible for CCD are called Neonicotinoids.

What I like about this illustration is the little bee saying "My beekeeper doesn't understand me". So what does this little bee actually refer to?

Conventional beekeepers are focused on profit. This is the starting point of conventional beekeeping. The whole world seems motivated by profit so why should beekeeping be different. To be able to make lots of honey the conventional beeks use all sorts of methods:

1. Swarm Control

- They do this by clipping Queen Bees wings so she can't fly. In case the colony swarms they soon realise they don't have a Queen and they return to the hive.

- They super the hive with empty boxes over the brood nest. Bees dislike empty space above their heads so they, instead to swarm, are building new comb and filling it with honey. They force bees to produce more honey which bees otherwise would not do!
Dr. Seeley is a famous scientist researching swarm behaviour. He found that a swarm of Apis mellifera always choose hollow space which is approx 40 litres, even if offered larger space. So if bees are preferring 40 litres hive the conventional supering method is disrupting their biological clock.
What is colonies biological clock? The bees have Spring, Summer and Autumn to do all their biology requires them to do and that is:

Harvesting pollen and nectar, propolis and water - they do this throughout the whole warm season

Raring worker bees and Drones (males) - they need Drones to mate with the virgin queens.

Prime Swarm - old Queen leaves the mother hive with half of the worker bees and finds another cavity. This is the natural procreation of Honeybees.

Raising Virgin Queens - making several Queen Cells

Cast Swarm/s - when Virgin Queens emerge some of them might leave the hive with a small force of worker bees to find a new cavity. Cast Swarms are much smaller than prime swarms and have less chance to build up before winter.

Mating of Virgin Queens - to be able to mate successfully a virgin queen must mate with dozens of Drones on her nuptial flight

Brood Break - is something bees don't get often in conventional hives. Conventional beekeepers usually suppress swarming by supering and re-queen the colony once the virgin queens have mated. So they simply take the old queen out, kill her, and place a newly mated Queen into the hive. Like this there is no Brood Break since brood production is continuous. Varroa mites can breed only if there are brood larvae in the combs. Without brood they cant multiply. And conventional beekeepers wonder why they have so much issues with Varroa in their hives. Brood Break creates a break in Varroa breeding also resulting in less Varroa. There is also the possibility that bees do other thing within the hive during the brood-less cicle like grooming one another maybe?

2. Varroa Control

Conventional beekeepers treat their hives against Varroa with all sorts of chemicals and organic acids and by doing this they are standing in the way of Bees and Varroa finding the way to co-adapt to each other. The treatments seem to be only creating more virulent Varroa mites and weaker bees otherwise how can we explain conventional beekeepers still having huge winter loss?

Drone Culling - for me culling Drones is the most stupid and cruel thing beekeepers do to their bee colonies. The bees invest large amounts of energy to raise Drones. They need Drones to mate with Queens. Only the most fit Drones mate with Queens. There is no way to tell if we have culled the strongest Drones. Then they wonder why their Queens are not mated properly.
It is true that Varroa prefer to breed in Drone cells which are larger and the Drones metamorphosis takes longer than that of a worker bee enabling the Varroa to multiply more. Treatment free beekeepers have noticed that bees still survive even if they don't practice Drone Culling, and many conventional beekeeper's colonies still die even if they practiced Drone Culling.
Just for the record; I don't cull Drones and my hives have a Brood Break. My colonies evict Drones already in July and refuse any Drones from entering the hive after that. Like this there is no way Varroa can enter the hive via Drones from other colonies in the area. The reason my colonies evict Drones this early is maybe due to uninterrupted biological clock. In conventional hives the beekeepers remove/cull the Drones and bees must raise them again which takes time and disrupts the biological clock of the colony resulting in later drone eviction.

3. Migratory Beekeeping

Migratory beekeeping coupled with mono-crop agriculture and the use of pesticides is the main source of CCD (colony collapse disorder). Bees from all over country intermix on pollination stations and spread disease to one another. Pesticides weaken the bees and the mono-crop offers only one source of protein food weakening them even further. What I don't understand is how come this is not labeled as "ANIMAL ABUSE"?!!! Ask your politicians!

4. Mono-cell size Wax Foundation

Conventional beekeepers use wax sheets known as foundation which have a mono-cell size of 5.1mm- 5.3mm cells. If bees are allowed to build their own comb they clearly demonstrate large variety of cells size ranging from 4,6mm all the way to 6,5mm. Only bees know why they do it, we don't.

It seems this little bee has right to say "My beekeeper doesn't understand me"

I could go on but I feel this is enough for now. I will say that opposing to the conventional beekeeping stands Natural Beekeeping where bees are largely let do their thing, naturally.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Time to plant bee frienly bulb flowers and trees

This is it! :) The perfect time to plant all sorts of bee friendly bulb flowers, shrubs, trees and even flower seeds.

Bulb Flowers: Snowdrops, Eranthis, Anemones, Siberian Squill, Daffodils are a few bees adore.
Snow drops bloom very early, end of February and beginning of March
Eranthis is another early bloomer
Siberian Squill starts flowering after the Snowdrops
Daffodil is another early spring flower
Autumn is the right time to plant all sorts of flowering trees. I will be planting Cherry trees, Black Locust, European Spindle, Siberian Pea Shrub and Apple trees. It is possible i will go around local nature and get some Rowan, Maple and Linden trees and plant them at this time.
I will be stratifying Quince seeds in pots outdoor since they need to be in cold to be able to sprout in spring time.

Many self seeding flowers can also be planted now.

At this time of invasive mono-crop agriculture it is of alerting importance to plant bee friendly plants as much as we are able to. Lawns are useless unless covered in Clower. It is best to create large flower islands on a large lawn. This also means less need to mow the lawn = less petrol needed to feed the grass cutting machines.

Friday, November 8, 2013

European Spindle Tree (Euonymus europaeus)

Another good bee shrub is European Spindle. The flowers are green and bloom in late spring.
Flowers turn into rose colored pods which break and expose orange seeds. This shrub is a fine display in Autumn. I have collected a handful of seeds to plant on our new farm. Note; these seeds are poisonous to humans so make sure to explain that to your kids!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Che Guebee Apiary Summary 2013

Che Guebee Apiary in Autumn 2013
Those of you who followed my last years beekeeping journey through my other blog called Chop Wood Carry Water Plant Seeds know that I gave my 2 top bar hive colonies to the course of Self-sufficient Householding Kretsloppshuset.
Thanks to this the course got an actual teacher of Top Bar Beekeeping :) This is the first official course in top bar beekeeping in Sweden. This course is part of the Klarälvdalens Gymnasium. Im so happy to have played a role in this! Goodness knows the bees need it and so do we, a more bee-friendly approach to bee-keeping.
A good friend of mine, Patrick, who keeps bees in top bar hives is the teacher. He also runs a blog called Småbruk på ett berg i Värmland (in Swedish).

After finishing the course last year I moved to our summer house in south of Sweden. In May I bought 2 strong colonies from a local conventional beekeeper. They came on 12 frames each. Both colonies had 2 year old Queens which was perfect for me. I was after survivor stock.

During the 2012-2013 winter I have built 6 top bar hives. A few days after I've got the colonies I made 2 more splits and after the mother colonies developed Queen Cells I made 2 more smaller splits to make use of the extra Queen Cells.

The top bar hive Che Guebee 1 (CGB-1) housed the 1st mother colony which was on 12 combs. A few days after transferring the frames to this hive, using chop'n'crop, I made the first split. I took out the old Queen, 3 combs of cupped brood and 2 combs of honey and pollen and placed it into the CGB-2 hive.
I also brushed 2 combs of house bees into the new hive to ensure there are enough bees in it to care for the brood.
CGB-1 hive started building queen cells as soon they figured out the Queen has left the hive, but they figured this out too late. For some reason they didn't notice the queen is gone and they passed the 6 days window to raise a new queen. Queens can be only raised from larvae max 3 days old. After that the eggs have hatched into a worker bee larvae. 
When I inspected this hive after a week I could not find any Queen Cells! I immediately borrowed one comb of fresh eggs from their original queen which was placed into the new split and after a few days I could see Queen Cells in making :) 
Soon enough they cupped 8 QC'c. I left 4 QC's in this hive and removed 4 to make new splits. I placed 2 cells in a new hive called CGB-5 and 2 cells in the CGB-6 top bar hive.
The new virgin Queen emerged and killed the other 3 queens which were still in their cells (cells chewed on their sides), mated successfully and begun laying eggs. This colony had no other issues during this season. It developed very strong and I even harvested a few kg of honey from them.

CGB-2 hive is the split made from CGB-1 hive. This hive has a 2 year old Queen and this is her 3rd year. Fantastic egg layer. This colony had no issues. Growing strong all season. They started off with 5 combs.

CGB-3 hive is the other mother colony which started on 12 combs. I made a new split from them by moving the 2 year old queen, 3 brood combs and 2 honey combs into the CGB-4 top bar hive.
This hive immediately raised couple of Queen Cells. 
I inspected this hive and found a new large queen which was laying eggs :) so happy I was, but after a couple of month I noticed that this hive is starting to be less and less active. I inspected it again and found the queen still laying lots of eggs but there were no larvae and no cupped brood cells which was indicating that there was something wrong with this Queen.
My local bee inspector re-queens his hives almost every year and he kills the old queens so I asked him if I can get one of his old queens. He was happy to give me one of the best one sin his opinion, so I re-queened this hive I think in August. The young queen I took out and killed her instantly and after 6 hours I placed this new, 1 year old Queen, in the hive. She was inside a cage with 3 attendant bees. After a couple of days I checked if she was released and found her still in her cage, so I removed her by hand and placed her on a comb. The colony took her in immediately and a couple of weeks I found eggs, larvae and some cupped brood too :) Happy days. The colony developed nicely afterwards.

CGB-4 hive is the split I made from the CGB-3 mother colony. This hive got the 2 year old queen, 3 capped brood combs and 2 honey combs to start with. This colony grew strong this year. This is the only colony showing small amount of aggressiveness. They refuse to go down into the hive when I try to close top bars. I tried to spray them but they ignored this, so I had to push them down with the dull side of my hive tool (normal bread knife). I will see how aggressive they are next year. In case they show much of it I will no doubt re-queen.

CGB-5 hive is a short TBH. This is one of the small splits which ended up on 8 combs before the cold autumn weather. I had a very interesting issue with this hive. After I gave it 2 Queen Cells and inspected it in a couple of weeks the cells were chewed on their sides and I could not find a virgin queen in it. No eggs, no signs of a queen, but the worker bees were calm. I read in many books and web site that if the queen cell is chewed on its side the queen has been killed so I assumed this hive is queenless. 
I immediately gave them a new comb with fresh eggs from their mother hive but after inspecting this hive in a week I found no Queen Cells!
And then I saw the new Queen laying eggs :) She was not killed as I first thought. Lesson learned :) cell chewed on its side does not necessarily mean a killed virgin queen. Apparently bees can re-seal the queen cell after the virgin emerges and then start destroy the queen cell by chewing its side off.
After this the colony developed nicely.

CGB-6 is another short top bar hive. This hive got eggs from the CHB-1 mother colony and combs from CGB-3 colony. This colonies virgin Queen looked very short so I presumed she is an Intercast Queen raised from a larvae older than 4 days but after a month I could see her abdomen being very long and she gave birth to a very fine colony.

All colonies got sugar syrup in September. I fed them in total 88 kg sugar syrup. This is just far from being sustainable so next year will try to do something different. I have created a new hive design with a super on top called Bee-friendly Super Top Bar Hive. Will blog about it next year. All colonies will be moved to our new farm in Denmark next April.

The bee suit is hanging patiently on the wall waiting for the next season :)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Once upon a time ...

Once upon a time - not so very long ago - all farming was 'organic'. The soil was fed with manures and compost; pests were managed by multi-cropping and rotation; crops were grown according to their suitability for the local climate and soil type. Farming and food were the focus of seasonal celebrations, and haymaking brought everyone into the fields.

     In those days, the air was alive with multitudes of birds and insects, each with its ecological niche,  dependent on one another and ultimately on the living soil, full of bacteria, fungi and myriad creatures that silently maintained its fertility. Farmers knew that healthy soil was everything; neither plant nor beast could thrive without it.

     When mechanization made it possible to plough faster than a horse, farmers were encouraged to rip out hedges to make bigger fields. Instead of a few acres of a variety of crops, they began to grow hundreds of acres of the same crop, attracting insects and birds that found a monoculture of their favourite food irresistible. Chemical manufacturers found a new market for poisons that could be spread on the fields to kill these 'pests' and crop rotation fell out of fashion in favour of the 'modern' way: short-term fertility induced by drugs, turning farmers into junkies at the mercy of agri-chemical pushers.

     Now, there are many fewer farmers and almost none who knew farming before chemicals. They sit in air-conditioned tractors, high above the soil, heedless of the lack of life below. Or they sit in front of a screen, viewing satellite images of their land, looking for patches in need of yet more artificial fertilizer.

     Where there was  once a thriving community of worms, nematodes, beetles and countless other creatures, there is now a sterile wasteland incapable of supporting life. Soil has become merely a support medium for plants, which are utterly dependent on synthetic chemical inputs, supplied by the same companies that manufactured poison gas for the Nazis.

     Bees, once integrated into the farming economy and respected and nurtured for their pollination of orchard fruit and hedgerow, now struggle to survive among the systemically-toxic crop plants. Insecticides are now added to the plant's vascular system by means of seed coatings - like putting a nicotine patch on your arm - so every part of them is now poisonous to bees and any other creature that dares to nibble a root, a leaf, a stem, or drink its nectar or take its pollen.

     For the sake of glossy, out-of-season fruit and vegetables on supermarket shelves year-round, we have put at risk the very survival of the species on which we - and the health of the planet - ultimately depend. If we continue to allow a handful of super-rich, trans-national corporations free rein to peddle their poisons, regardless of the devastation they cause, then we will be held as culpable as they when our grandchildren ask why we, knowing what was happening, sat back, watching TV, while their planet slowly died.

Phil Chandler

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Major Atlantic Storm Hits Parts of Europe

Some parts of Europe have been hit by a very strong Orcano storm. UK, France and Holland as well as Denmark have been stormed heavily. The part of Sweden I live in less so but even though it was not as bad the wind was so strong that I had no desire to go out and walk my dog.

I knew about this storm so I made sure to fasten all bee hive roofs. The wind was blowing from South-West which is hitting directly at my hives. The biggest threat to both my hives and our house roof was the hollow tree only a few meters away which, if the wind was strong enough, could fall down and cause much damage.
This did not happen.
The hives are still in place undamaged by the last nights
strong Atlantic Storm.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

October Orientation Flight

Strong buzzing came from Che Guebee Apiary today. All 6 colonies are performing orientation flights. The hives were very quiet for more than a week now since we had some frosty weather followed by rainy days. Today its sunny and warm and the new-born winter bees are performing orientation flights. How do I know this; well, their flying pattern is in a form of a figure 8 and they seem to fly higher and higher in the same pattern scanning the surrounding.
One lovely fuzzy winter bee decided to rest on my finger for a while telling me "see you in the spring ol' chap" :) May you be happy at heart little bee and may your colony prosper next year :)

The Bee and The Pesticides

I flew out of the darkness of my home
Into the morning Sun
So bright and warm

Spreading my buzz
Into the wet morning air
Pollen and Nectar is all I'm to wear

I fly so high
Into the vast blue sky
Bathing in the light breeze
Rushing my wings with ease

I lend on the flower
So golden so sweet
It gives me such power
To feed my Queen's fleet

I'm drinking from the flower
Unaware of its lure
Filling my body with nectar
which isn't so pure

My body falls to the ground
Wings grow cold and still
My sisters will join me in the grave
The poison had made its kill

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Is Mono-crop Agriculture Killing the Bees?

Hallo friends,
for all of you who care about the future of our children and future generations as well as all other living beings sharing this planet with us I beg you to actually see this short but highly insightful speech by bee biologist Marla Spivak. Bees are in deep shit all over the planet and its time we understand why that is. Marla explains it well.

I'm afraid its come to the point to totally abandon our "american dream" kind of life style and adopt a more sustainable one, which is based on "less is more".
Mono-crop agriculture is the original sin of human kind. Because of it pesticides are developed, biodiversity is destroyed, insects are disappearing, birds are disappearing, ... Lets not fool our selves! Our modern day consumerist life style will be our doom. Each time we choose to buy food from supermarkets which is grown on mono-crop fields we are killing our childrens future. It matters little if you buy organic food made in same mono-crop fashion. Mono-crop agriculture remains Devoid of Biodiversity! Bees can't survive on one pollen source which is in bloom for only couple of weeks!

Our politicians are short sided; they only think as far as taxes. Maybe its time we stop waiting for them to change their minds and take action into our own hands.

I hope you take Marla's talk seriously and if, share with as many people as you can. And dont forget to plant flowers for bees. Each flower count!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My actual teacher

I read many beekeeping books, forums, blogs and web pages. I even joined my local bee club and even though I've got much insight from all these sources none of them became my actual teacher, rather they have been a deep ocean of views to cut through.

... my actual teacher seem to be the honeybee colonies in my hives which are not teaching me through my conditioned mind but instead seem to be teaching me through my heart as if they are clustering around it and turning it into white warm wax filled with honey, pollen and brood.

They seem to be throwing a large net from that heart of mine into the environment resulting in a wide glowing awareness shining over the degrading Earth.
They are not showing me how to manipulate the hive, light the smoker or how to harvest honey. No. They are showing me my human greed and ignorance which is destroying the life on Earth and how, through heart, I can heal it.

But then I see the dark abyss entirely made by the perverted mind of ours and my heart gets discouraged. The bees sense this and whisper into my heart " do not get frightened by the darkness. There still is hope ... the shining Sun had told us so"
Their deep buzzing vibrates in my heart, echoing from it AUM mantra into the sleeping world, and together with the Sun awaking us all, out of the enchanting dream.
I believed that I caught this swarm of bees last year and placed them into a hive, but just now I come to realise that it was them who caught me ... and have moved into my heart.

Monday, October 7, 2013

October Apple Flow

I see my ladies being very interested in the apples from our orchard, especially those damaged and those eaten by our Hens. There must be lots of fructose sugar available there. I see their proboscis sucking sweet apple juice with zest :) May they bee happy!

Holma Forest Garden building their first Top Bar Hive

Holma Forest Garden near the city of Höör (Sweden) had an open family day yesterday with many activities including: covering their permanent beds with straw, building a stone wall for insects and solitary bees, pressing Apples, harvesting forest garden fruits and seeds and building a Kenya style Top Bar Hive.

They invited me to do the top bar hive workshop and I was delighted to do it. I was truly surprised how many people showed interested in top bar beekeeping, such a joy for me indeed :)
 More than 60 people showed up :)
 lots of kids too learning about permaculture and natural top bar beekeeping
 food was organised ...
 large group of visitors joined in building this top bar hive

 finished Kenya Top Bar Hive
they will use an old aluminium aquarium stand for hive legs.
This was a very rewording day. We even had visitors who came down to Skåne from another province called Småland just to be involved in this top bar hive workshop.
We also had a couple of conventional beekeepers who would like to start top bar beekeeping.

I want to thank everyone who was involved and who is considering to start natural beekeeping in such hives where Honeybees needs are more important than honey production.
Another top bar hive in Sweden is about to start Buzzing :))

Thursday, October 3, 2013

3rd Super TBH joined the Che Guebee Apiary family

I have finished today with building another Bee-friendly Super Top Bar Hive. Since I use any material I can find my hives don't look the same. That matters little. What matters is the idea behind it and I cant wait for the next season to test them and see if my ladies like them.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Aster; The Autumn Star

Fantastic plants which gives so many flowers which bees adore. I call these daisy-like flowers Aster because they are in the same Asteraceae family but not all are called Aster. Not sure of their actual name though but it matters little. What matters is what my lady bees are telling me :) They are saying "propagate these fine flowers so we have nectar and pollen in Autumn". I will do so.
One interesting thing I observed yesterday; I saw a honeybee on a Solidago plant! Solidago was flowering very strong all the summer and I could not see even one honey bee on its flowers only hover flies. Now I saw one plant with a few honeybees working its flowers :) I don't think honeybees like this flower that much but now there is little to be found in the nature so they are using all they can find.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Bee-friendly Super Top Bar Hives got legs

I have made tall enough legs for my Bee-friendly Super TBHs so I can work without bending my back. I find this very comfortable indeed and will always have this feature in my apiary.
Now that they have legs I hope they wont run off ;)
In case you wonder why I didn't paint the top bar hive body with red paint 
its because I already varnished them this summer with Linseed oil and beeswax.
The red paint is the left over from painting our cottage.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Stop killing Varroa! Instead let Varroa and bees co-adapt to each other!

Thomas D. Seeley 

Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA

(Received 21 January 2006 - Revised 23 April 2006 - Accepted 23 April 2006 - Published online 29 November 2006)
Abstract - Feral colonies of European honey bees living in the Arnot Forest, a 1651-ha research preserve in New York State, were studied over a three-year period, 2002 to 2005. This population of colonies was previously censused in 1978. A census in 2002 revealed as many colonies as before, even though Varroa destructor was introduced to North America in the intervening years. Most colonies located in fall 2002 were still alive in fall 2005. The Arnot Forest colonies proved to be infested with V. destructor, but their mite populations did not surge to high levels in late summer. To see if Arnot Forest bees can suppress the reproduction rate of mites, colonies of Arnot Forest bees and New World Carniolan bees were inoculated with mites from an apiary and the growth patterns of their mite populations were compared. No difference was found between the two colony types. Evidently, the stable bee-mite relationship in the Arnot Forest reflects adaptations for parasite (mite) avirulence, not host (bee) resistance.

Prof. Seeley is the leading expert in swarm behaviour and feral bee biology. As you can see from his study above Varroa and bees can develop a stable relationship with each other if we let them do so. But if we disrupt it every year by trying to kill Varroa with so many different methods we only breed a stronger, more virulent mite.

Study in Kenya showed that most colonies had Varroa in the hives yet not even one beekeeper EVER noticed any issues. So we can conclude that it is not Varroa that is the culprit but the virus introduced through Varroa presence. Not all Varroa mites are virulent as both the Kenya case shows and Seeley too.

Many experienced "treatment free" beekeepers have come to the same conclusion. The more one treats against Varroa the more virulent it gets. A perfect example are beekeepers who treat every year yet many of their colonies die anyway! Is this not so?
My last years mentor treats every year with Oxalic Acid as most beeks do around Scandinavia yet last winter he had 50% losses and year before that 80%. One treatment free beekeeper in his area didn't have any losses in the last 5 years.
I know of others who treat every year and still lose colonies every winter.

Whats great with feral colonies is they are free from human manipulations. No one ever opens their cavity. Instead of wax foundation with mono-cell size they build natural comb with various cell size. They can have as many Drones as they feel like yet still as the study shows Varroa and bees co-adapted.

There so much wrong with conventional beekeeping I don't even know where to begin! Drone culling, mono-cell size wax foundations, "religious" anti-varroa treatment every year, overworked bees for honey gain, migratory pollination of mono-crops, sugar feeding, swarm suppression, artificial insemination of queens, etc etc etc ...

Its all about our own deformed perspective really. We humans seem to be the ones behind all major issues on this planet. We are to treat our own minds with something rather than Varroa. We have indeed disconnected from the Natural with our "American Dream" lifestyles. I dont know about you but Im ready to re-connect. I will let my bees lead me back home, I'm sure they know the Way.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt - marvelous error! -
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

- Antonio Machado
(1875 - 1939)

Honeybees feeding on Apples

Honeybees don't just feed on flowers. They are also known for feeding on the Honeydew from Aphids but also on ripe fruits like Apples which are rich in fructose. Since Honeybee mandibles aren't as strong as those in Wasps or Hornets they feed on apples which have fallen to the ground and are broken.
Honeybees feeding on a ripe Apple in September

Pollen creates Vitellogenin fat reserves for the winter

I am learning alot about bee friendly plants, shrubs and trees this year. Bought some books, read web pages, planted some, tested some but the greatest teacher so far are the bees, showing me the flowers they prefer in nature. I let some of my kitchen garden veggies go into bloom so to get seeds for the next year and bees seem to like some of these.
Amongst them are Radishes and bees seem to love their flowers.
Radish flowers are great source of nectar and pollen in Autumn
Radishes are easy to grow and I will collect many seeds this year for the next season. Brassica family is another late bloomer. Our Mizuna Cabbage is blooming now as well as Broccoli and I see bees pollinating their flowers. 
Aster is another plant which flowers in Autumn. Not to forget the fabulous Himalayan Balsam which seeds I started collecting big time :)
Honeybees on Aster flowers at the end of September (shade temperature 9'C)
Autumn is the very last train for bees to collect pollen and nectar before the cold of winter. For that reason I will focus a lot to plant what's blooming between the August and October. According to some studies bees which have good Autumn source of pollen are the ones best fit to survive winter. Without pollen bees can't "fatten up" for the winter. 
"Bees not only store pollen and honey in the combs, but they also store food reserves in their bodies. This is done mainly in the form of a compound called “vitellogenin.” vitellogenin is classed as a “glycolipoprotein,” meaning that is has properties of sugar (glyco, 2%), fat (lipo, 7%), and protein (91%) (Wheeler & Kawooya 2005). Vitellogenin is used by other animals as an egg yolk protein precursor, but bees have made it much more important in their physiology and behavior, using it additionally as a food storage reservoir in their bodies, to synthesize royal jelly, as an immune system component, as a “fountain of youth” to prolong queen and forager lifespan, as well as functioning as a hormone that affects future foraging behavior!"

Thanks to Vitellogenin bees can live long throughout the winter. No wonder that beekeepers have huge winter losses in apiaries close to mono-crop agriculture using Neonicotinoid pesticides. Such pesticides affect the bees ability to create fat reserves. Without fat reserves in their bodies they have very little chance to overwinter successfully.
So its not just honey/sugar they need to overwinter but ample amounts of pollen too to build up fat reserves in form of Vitellogenin. Can bees find enough pollen in Autumn if surrounded with mono-crop fields which give no pollen at all at this time of the year? I don't think so! And because of this it is of great, ney, alerting importance to plant for the bees as much as possible personally but also to try and make our politicians understand how important it is to create a sustainable biodiverse environment. Farmers will not change their habitual perspective of only thinking about profit so we must have a program to assist farmers to plant around their fields bee friendly plants, shrubs and trees to sustain the bees throughout the whole year. Large scale mono-cultures as seen in California Almond fields is to be banned in my opinion. They represent Eco-cide on grand scale and are showing us year in, year out that they are nothing more but deserts for the insects and birds.

So join your local environmental group and try to make a difference in your locality, your village, town, county. We are on the verge to destroy life on earth as we know it! Lets not fool ourselves by ignoring this fact and running away from it into our TV shows, PC games, various hobbies and other entertainment, etc ... Even if you choose to ignore them, facts still remain (I think Huxley said that).

Read more about the importance of Vitellogenin HERE

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bee-friendly Super Top Bar Hive

As I already mentioned in one of my earlier posts I'm designing a new bee hive one that in my opinion suits well the bee biology and my needs as a householder. I'm not after large amounts of honey otherwise I would be keeping bees in those conventional hives which overwork bees, making 70-100 kg of honey. Im more after a modest amount of around 10-15 kg per hive. But first and foremost Im into giving my bees a cavity which suits their natural biorhythm.

The main starting point in my personal beekeeping is the fact that bee swarm prefers to settle in cavities which have a volume of 40 liters. Dr. Seeley's study of swarm behaviour demonstrates that swarms, if offered cavities between 15 to 100 litres always chose 40 litres cavities. There must be a good reason for that and Im intending to respect that preference. Im not sure what the exact volume of my short Top Bar Hives is but there are 10 top bars and each can hold a comb with close to 2 kg of honey so Im assuming it is around 40 litres because Seeley noticed that swarms in such a cavity can collect around 20 kg of stores before winter. 

Supered hive is not a new thing. Far from it. It was used for decades. Most beeks these days keep bees in such supered vertical hives. They are designed so to give as much honey harvest as possible. Design for the benefit of humans rather than bees. In such hives bees are obviously overworked by filling all these empty supers above their heads. Bees dislike empty space and will do their best to fill it with combs and stores. I would not say that the colony is trying to make a surplus of honey but rather they are trying to thermo regulate the entire cavity. The honey comb is not just their food but also a material which is very good at preserving heat, so we might say bees heat up the wax comb which preserves the heat and reflects it back onto the colony keeping them warm. Hive is a wind break and a protection from predators and rain.

I also mentioned in my earlier post that one swedish beek tried this design and got good results with it. He got 24 kg of honey from his super top bar hive but Im sure its because he had frames in his supers so he could easily extract the honey and return the empty combs for the bees to keep refilling them so to harvest again. Im more into crush and strain where honey comb is crushed entirely to extract the honey. For this reason I will harvest only once a year.

You might wonder why Im testing this design since I keep bees in horizontal TBHs which are already bee friendly. Good question :)
Yes they are indeed bee friendly and for that reason I have chosen to keep the top bar hive model for the Primary Colony Body/Cavity.  As mentioned above Im trying to give bees a cavity of about 40 litres (Dr. Seeley) and all horizontal Top Bar Hives are much larger than that. Yes one could make them smaller with the follower board but where will the bees store the surplus honey then?

You see, bees do feel their cavity/body size and act/plan according to that volume. My local inspector overwinters small splits on only 2 combs every year. These small splits seem to adapt to this small cavity and raise just enough bees and store just enough honey to pull them through the winter until the first pollen and nectar source in early spring. His small splits survive the winter on 2 combs. Fact.
But swarms do prefer 40 litres cavities and that is my starting point in designing this new hive (new for me that is).
That said bees in the regular size Top Bar Hive can sense that large space and will begin raising a lot of brood which is to fill that space with comb and stores. And here is my dilemma; how do I know what is the surplus honey that I can harvest for my own needs? You see, bees can store the same amount of honey on 10 combs as on 15 combs. On 10 combs they will store maybe 2/3 of the comb with honey and on 15 combs 1/2 of the comb. Bees always store honey in the upper part of the comb leaving some empty space at the bottom part (brood raising?). So if I believe that bees need only 10 combs to survive the winter I will very likely have to feed extra since the hind combs are the ones with most stored honey, hence called the honey area. These combs can be filled entirely with stores, not so in the brood area. So how do I know for certain that bees have enough stores if I harvest the combs with most honey in them? Bees sure arranged the whole cavity/body so its set up for the wintering yet I took away that which I believed was surplus.

A colony in a 40 litres cavity will raise less brood than those in a conventional hive and will very likely backfill the brood nest faster than those in conventional hives and for that reason will very likely go into swarming preparation much earlier. That is fine with me since early swarming also means more time for the new colony to build up before the winter.
Bee-friendly Super Top Bar Hives
 So why do I call this hive "Bee-friendly Super Top Bar Hive"?
1. its a top bar hive where bees have freedom to build natural comb with various cell size
2. the colony is not exposed to the super above since the top bars are not spaced as is the case in framed hives, and hence is not forced to fill it up with comb and stores pronto
3. there is no queen excluder
4. when the super is removed the brood nest atmosphere is preserved because the top bars aren't spaced
5. the bees feel there is a primary larger cavity and there is smaller/shallower secondary cavity. They will choose the larger (40 litres) cavity and will make sure to organise that cavity so its ready for the winter (filled with enough stores). This cavity will also dictate to a certain extent the swarming urge and the amount of brood raised during the flow and before the winter (less brood).
The secondary cavity (super) can be closed off by propolising the two 1 cm slits (second photo bellow) or if Receiver Bees (which receive nectar from foragers) decide there indeed is some surplus honey they will store it there. Im sure the bees will have more choice in such a design. If bees decide that they have better things to do than to fill that secondary cavity with honey they can easily close it off with propolis.
6. the primary cavity is never changing in volume. Supering, Nadiring and Spacing (comb manipulation in most hives) changes the hive volume all the time which forces changes on the colony level. I will do no spacing manipulation in this kind of hive.

Even though some people believe that we humans and bees are "One" (and this can be true in a mystical and spiritual way) Im approaching this hive design as if we humans and bees are not "One" but rather two different species entirely. For that reason I find it highly appropriate to have two separate cavities, one for the bee colony and one for the wretched human, my-little-self :) so none of us get confused with my hive management.
One hive with the super off and one with a super on. You can see that I placed
planks on top of the super. I will use no frames nor top bars. Bees will be able
to build wild comb in there. The planks are not fixed to the super box so its to
remove them when harvesting/cutting out the honey combs.
I have made a frame on which to place the super so bees cant propolise
the super to the top bars. The frame is 1 cm above the height of the top bars.
I decided to create 2 slits, one before the first top bar and one after the last top
bar. The grey top bar to the left is the follower board. The entrance is on the
right side of this photo.
As you can see from the back the supers are shorter than the top bar hive
so I placed another plank behind it to close the cavity. The roof is long
enough to cover the entire hive. The super is shallow only 16 cm tall.
Shallow super will discourage Queen from laying in it. Bees seem to prefer
having the brood nest in deeper spaces. Hence no need for the queen excluder.
All of the written above is simply a hypothesis of a simpleton (me) which started keeping bees last year (2012), not a scientist, not an experienced wise beek, so please if you are getting an idea to try this design take into consideration that this all might just backfire and turn into a fiasco :) I will test this next year and update you via this blog of mine. Make sure to stay tuned!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

My bees collect Urine and Blood

While some worker bees collect nectar, pollen and propolis other collect urine. Yes urine :) human, dog, cow, horse ... any urine they can find. Many beekeepers have noticed this but to this date no scientist ever came to the idea to test why (at least I don't know of such a study). I have even seen my bees licking fish blood from the outdoor table I use to clean the Pike I catch during the fishing season (salts, Iron ?)
Worker Bees collecting something from the urine from our composting toilet
We have a composting toilet in our summer cottage which releases the excess urine onto the ground. This is the area where I see daily at least several bees collecting urine ... or collecting something from it. I never see them collecting the liquid itself but rather licking something in the vicinity of it. Many assume they are after the salts also known as electrolytes. These include Sodium, Potassium and Chloride.
In human bodies their function is this:

  • Sodium helps digest proteins and carbohydrates and keeps your blood from becoming too acidic or too alkaline.

  • Potassium is used in digestion to synthesize proteins and starch and is a major constituent of muscle tissue.

  • Chloride is a constituent of hydrochloric acid, which breaks down food in your stomach. It’s also used by white blood cells to make hypochlorite, a natural antiseptic.
While some assume salts are being collected others say its the minerals. Urine indeed is very mineral rich.
Human urine properties are these:

Alanine, total ..... 38 mg/day
Arginine, total ..... 32 mg/day
Ascorbic acid ..... 30 mg/day
Allantoin ..... 12 mg/day
Amino acids, total ..... 2.1 g/day
Bicarbonate ..... 140 mg/day
Biotin ..... 35 mg/day
Calcium ..... 23 mg/day
Creatinine ..... 1.4 mg/day
Cystine ..... 120 mg/day
Dopamine ..... 0.40 mg/day
Epinephrine ..... 0.01 mg/day
Folic acid ..... 4 mg/day
Glucose ..... 100 mg/day
Glutamic acid ..... 308 mg/day
Glycine ..... 455 mg/day
Inositol ..... 14 mg/day
Iodine ..... 0.25 mg/day
Iron ..... 0.5 mg/day
Lysine, total ..... 56 mg/day
Magnesium ..... 100 mg/day
Manganese ..... 0.5 mg/day
Methionine, total ..... 10 mg/day
Nitrogen, total ..... 15 g/day
Ornithine ..... 10 mg/day
Pantothenic acid ..... 3 mg/day
Phenylalanine ..... 21 mg/day
Phosphorus, organic .....9 mg/day
Potassium ..... 2.5 mg/day
Proteins, total ..... 5 mg/day
Riboflavin ..... 0.9 mg/day
Tryptophan, total ..... 28 mg/day
Tyrosine, total ..... 50 mg/day
Urea ..... 24.5 mg/day
Vitamin B6 ..... 100 mg/day
Vitamin B12 ..... 0.03 mg/day
Zinc ..... 1.4 mg/day
(Your Own Perfect Medicine? - Natural Health and Longevity Resource Center)
The following are the average quantities of various substances, in 100 milliliters of urine as reported in Introduction to Biochemistry by Dr. Pharon:
Substance Milligrams
1] Urea nitrogen 682.00
2] Urea 1459.00
3] Creatinin nitrogen 36.00
4] Creatinin 97.20
5] Uric acid nitrogen 12.30
6] Uric acid 36.90
7] Amino nitrogen 9.70
8] Ammonia nitrogen 57.00
9] Sodium 212.00
10] Potassium 137.00
11] Calcium 19.50
12] Magnesium 11.30
13] Chloride 314.00
14] Total sulphate 91.00
15] Inorganic sulphate 83.00
16] Inorganic phosphate 127.00
17] N/10 acid 27.80
Some other important urine constituents are:
Amylase (diastase).
Lactic dehydrogenate (L. D. H.).
Leucine amino-peptidase (L. A. P.).
Catechol amines.
Adenylate cyclase.
Sex hormones.

As you can see urine is like a shopping center for the bees ;) lots of goodies to find there. What does this tells us? Do bees find all the minerals they need in the natural nectar? I'm not sure they do even though there are small amounts of minerals in nectar. Lets not forget that bees raise brood which needs much more minerals and electrolytes for bodily cell production than a grown up bee for consumption.

Many beekeepers also assume that feeding sugar syrup is wrong since it lacks minerals found in natural nectar. I agree with the part that bees are to feed on their natural diet but lets assume for argument sake that bees enrich the sugar syrup with all these minerals and salts found in urine. They maybe even enrich the natural nectar with it. This is possible. I dare to think so because I can see my ladies spending lots of time every day on this urine from our composting toilet. There must be a good reason for that since we all agree that bees are highly resourceful creatures and do not waste time on what is not needed.

So next time you say with confidence that you never tasted urine, please do remember that teaspoon of honey you just ate for the breakfast ;)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My bees have a white stripe on their back - Himalayan Balsam

I see at this time of the year on beekeeping forums new beekeepers asking a question like "My bees have a white stripe down their back. They look like ghosts. Are they sick?" :) Far from it :)
As you can see in this photo the white stripe comes from the Himalayan Balsam pollen :) thats all, 
no big deal :)
The ladies dig the blondie look at this time of the season ;)
 Most countries find this plant specie "invasive". I have no clue what they
are talking about since they a TERRIFIC source of nectar and pollen for 
both our Honeybees and Bumblebees. I find mono-crop agriculture highly 
invasive yet our governments aren't doing much about it.
 That said, I will be propagating this fabulous plant which is 
flowering so late in the season when very little is. They are 
priceless for the bees. I started collecting seeds from it :)
I'm guerilla, invading the planet with bee friendly plants ;)
These seed pods explode on the touch and for this reason
I gently close the pods into my palm where they explode, otherwise
they scatter all over the place.