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?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hornet season has begun

And just when I thought the Wasp Queens season for nesting has ended, new monster has arrived!!! This time MUCH BIGGER!!! Hornet Queens looking for nesting sites!
I feel that all Earth's creatures have their place under the blue sky but NOT UNDER MY ROOF!!!

Hornets give me creeps! They are the size of a miniature bird for bees sake! I'm happy we don't have the Japanese Hornet which is 2 times bigger than our European Hornet. But these Hornets invading our cottage at this time are no Forager Hornets but Queens which sure are big! Like Wasp Queens so do Hornet Queens search for nesting sites in late Spring. This is the right time to keep their numbers low around the household ... and around the Apiary :) I don't want my ladies to have much hussle in life.
My weapon of choice is a Badminton racquet which is very effective.
I use thick rubber gloves and a beekeepers anorak when pursuing Hornets. 
They are huge! My finger is thinner than the gloves. She is as big as 2 thirds
of my little finger!
I have evicted one Hornet Queen just a few days ago from a hollow tree only 10 meters away from our cottage. Today I killed the one in the pics and as soon as I took off the anorak and the veil and placed the racquet behind the door I saw another one in front of one of my Top Bar Hives. She entered the hive and I immediately dressed again and ran out armed with my badminton racquet. She flew out of the hive obviously not willing to risk her life since she has much to risk; existence of her entire Hornet colony rests in her abdomen.
She flew pass me and that is when she met the racquet face on! BANG!
In the last couple of days I killed 3 Hornet Queens. I wish these are the last ones to visit. May they be in peace ... someplace else.

All forager bees returning home before the rain

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bees flying in the rain

New plant for my bee garden

I had a few Tomato plants too many and thought to give them to my neighbours who were very helpful in the past. They were happy about the tomato plants and we talked a bit in their garden. I noticed one very unusual flower and I asked about it. My neighbour didn't know much about it except that its a perennial plant and grows like a weed and added that I can take some if I want to :) of course I took a bunch and am hoping to create a large flowering patch with it :) I didnt knows its name and after a long search through my books I found its called Centaurea montana or Mountain Cornflower (in Swedish Blåklinta).

I was happy to read that it flowers from May to August and I've seen Bumble Bees feeding on these flowers. I understand that Honey Bees aren't generally interested in just a few flowers because Scout Bees usually are much more interested in those flowers which dominate their environment (in a 3km radius).

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Seasonal continuum of the biodiverse ecosystem

Last year I was learning mostly about Honeybee biology and top bar hive natural beekeeping. This year is different; the Honeybees are teaching me about our ecosystem. I'm observing the flowering plants, bushes and trees. I'm observing what what crops my neighbouring farmers are growing and what bushes and trees do they have in their yards. I'm observing the seasonal continuum of this biodiverse ecosystem. The nature is in constant flux. The Honeybee made me see nature with open eyes for the very first time :)
Dandelions bloom has ceased and the flowers became seeds
My neighbour has 3 huge old Horse Chestnut trees which are blooming like mad :)
so many flowers. I see my bees bringing back to the hive orange and red pollen.
I'm sure the red one comes from the Chestnut flower
A Bumblebee working the Chestnut flower
Lilac is blooming heavily but I see no Honeybees pollinating it,
only Bumblebees. Not sure if Honeybees like it ...
Comfrey has begun to flower
Dead Nettle is in full bloom at this time. I see no Honeybees on it
rather only Bumblebees work its flowers :( I hope my bees didn't choose
to collect nectar and pollen from the nearby Canola (Raps/Rape) field
which is not organic :(
I'm hoping to see the Raspberry bloom soon. I've heard from my local bee inspector that bees prefer Raspberry over Canola and we have lots of wild Raspberries around this area :)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Empty Queen Cups

Che Guebee Apiary

I have split my hives on the 18th of May, which was 6 days ago. The Queenless hives had 3 days to move less than 3 days old eggs into the Queen Cups. I decided to open those hives today and see if the Queen Cups are occupied with a growing Queen larvae.

I first opened the weaker hive and found a few empty queen cups and only 1 occupied Queen Cup which was very long and frosted from the sides. I'm sure they will cap it in the next day or two. I was surprised to see this colony deciding to only make 1 Queen - ??? They usually make several Queen Cells in case of emergency. Anyway, that Queen Cup looks very long and I'm sure they will raise a very nice Queen.

The stronger Queenless hive had only several empty Queen Cups but none with a larvae in !!! Alarm !!! This was not good at all!
I expected to see at least 3-4 valid queen cups with developing larvae in them, but nope, none had life in it. I'm just guessing that I made the split at exact time when the whole brood nest was occupied with developing larvae. Most of the brood combs are dark and seeing the tiny eggs through the veil is very difficult yet Im almost sure I saw eggs when I made the split.

Bees note in a very short time that the Queen is no more in the hive. Their Queen Pheromone is gone and they immediately switch to raising a new Queen. They do this because the eggs must be less than 3 days old to develope into a Queen (less than 3 days old eggs are fed with Royal Jelly). More than 3 days old larvae is fed with Bee Bread (pollen, water and nectar) instead of royal jelly and this very diet decides whether the larvae will become a Queen or a Worker Bee. The Queen larvae is exclusively fed with Royal Jelly.

So I had to act NOW so they have a chance to make a Queen. They needed a comb with freshly laid eggs and I took this from their original Queen which was split into a new hive. I swapped it with a fully capped brood comb which the Queenright hive got instead.

Now the Queenless hive can "move" the fresh eggs into Queen Cups and raise new Queens.
I will check this hive in 5-6 days to see if the Queen Cups have larva and if not I will have to combine the two hives which are related and let them build swarm cells when they feel it right time for it. I will keep an open eye to make a split before they cap the Queen Cells. But lets hope they use these new eggs wisely this time :)
I've got new gloves. These are much thicker than the yellow rubber gloves
used in households and the bees cant sting through it. Two bees tried to
sting me but the sting couldn't penetrate the thick rubber. These gloves are made
for those handling pesticides and have two layers. They are fairly flexible and I can
easily go through the entire hive with sensitivity. I can feel the top bar very well. 

I have placed a clay water pot I found in our local second hand shop near the
hives. The stone and the sticks make sure not many bees get drowned.
They work this pot a lot. This pot was filled to the top yesterday and it already
sunk considerably. Some of it must be due evaporation on such warm day.
Its good to teach bees where to get their water, otherwise they might drink
from the dogs or chicken water bowl instead, or even your neighbours
dripping tap ;)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Wasp Queens moving into empty bait hives

I'm not sure if other beekeepers have the same experience as I do but I just keep kicking Wasp Queens out of my empty bait hives EVERY two to three days!!! I mean one of them even managed to lay the first eggs and I do make sure to open the hives every so often! I did kill a few and have destroyed the started nests. They don't manage to build much but still they seem to LOVE my hives :(
I posted this image a while ago, showing a Yellow Jacket Queen which started building a nest in one of my empty Top Bar Hives. We sure had thousands of them last year under the roof of our cottage and the garage, they even seem to have nests in the ground :(

I can't expect to see a bee swarm move into a hive occupied with angry Wasps! So I wonder what do other beekeepers do to avoid this and what do they do with bait hives which get Wasps in?

I even had a Hornet Queen move into a nearby hollow tree just 10 meters away from my Apiary which is placed behind our cottage and those huge monsters have absolutely nothing to do so close to our bed room window! So I took my bee suit on and thick gloves and rubber shoes and an extra hat under the veil ... AND a badminton racket >:( I have lit the smoker and went into WAR!

She flew out as soon as I started smoking the entrance and escaped the racket by an inch. So I thought that she was probably just scanning this tree and didn't just yet begun to build her nest.

So I went to make some coffee and relax a bit but then I saw the very same Hornet flying into it again! So this time, instead of the smoker I used the BBQ starter tube (made of metal and used in Scandinavia) and filled it with egg crates. The huge thing started smoking a lot :) so I placed it under the tree hole making sure the smoke gets in. It was a huge hole near the ground so this was easy to erange. The Queen flew out once again but this time the badminton racket hit the target.
She fell on the ground still very much alive, so I hit her again and again but she just kept walking and buzzing with wings.
While I was attacking the Hornet Queen (I swear I never saw such huge Hornet before in my life) the BBQ starter tube went on fire !!! No more smoke only huge flame !!! AND the tree started burning from the inside since all is dry in there!!!

Me still stamping on the Queen which refuses to die (who would blame her) and with one hand trying to extinguish the flaming BBQ tube !!! (this was a funny scene I bet, but I wasn't laughing trust me).
Once she stopped moving I ran to get the water house and made sure to stick it deep into the hollow to extinguish the fire. I checked on the tree after half an hour and it didnt smoke anymore.

I then sat down and enjoyed a cup of coffee. Sorry for no pics I was just waaaayyyy too excited about all the drama that I forgot. She was THE Queen and I'm sure she would made a HUGE family near our bedroom window.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Orientation Flights

Red Pollen

After yesterday's rainy and cloudy day the Bees seem very eager to work :) It is sunny again and the temperature is 24'C. Perfect for collecting lots of pollen and nectar. But this time I've noticed Red pollen going into the hive and of course I took out my camera and hunted for the perfect shot;
I'm not sure where this red pollen comes from?
Yellow, red and orange pollen
Could this red pollen be from the Red Non-stinging Nettle maybe?
Returning home with precious nectar. Our dear ladies are very busy today :) 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rape/Canola/Raps is the No.1 Bee Killer in Sweden

Please make sure to buy only Organic (Ekologisk) Canola Oil (Rapsolja). Canola is the No. 1 bee killer in Scandinavia but also in the rest of the world. Even though EU Parliament has voted for the ban of Neonicotinoid pesticides on crops pollinated by the bees including Canola the danger of Neonicotinoid poisoning isn't removed entirely because the Parliament failed to realise that Neonicotinoids remain in the soil for more than 1200 days and can enter crops sown in the following years. That is not all; since our farming soil is left naked the wind blows enormous amounts of soil dust to the nearby grass fields, bushes and trees! The soil dust contains Neonicotinoids which can now enter those flowering plants/bushes/trees and further poison the pollinators. 
Swedish national crop called Raps is the No.1 bee killer in Sweden. This photo is take only 2 km away from my apiary  I hope our bees will find other kinds of flowers to collect nectar and pollen from away from this plant infused with Neonicotinoids ... this is a fools hope :(
Neonicotinoid pesticides are systemic pesticides which enter all parts of the plant making it poisonous to all insects and we still don't know how they affect us humans (some studies point to cancers and infertility in humans due to Neonicotinoids). They affect Bees nervous system and the bees can't navigate back to the hive. Those who return drop in front of the hive and walk like drunk until they die.
If you see dead bees with pollen on their legs in front of your hives you can be assured they have died from pesticide poisoning. This happens when nearby crops have just been sprayed.

Neonicotinoids applied to the seeds before planting them do not kill bees this way. They work slower and hit the colonies immune system exposing them to secondary viral infections (Varroa, etc). They also affect the bees coordination within the hive. Honey Bee colony is a super organism which communicates via pheromones, vibrations, sounds, and such is greatly reduced in colonies poisoned with Neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoids enter into the plant's nectar and pollen which bees collect and bring back into their hive feeding it to the brood. You can imagine what this means!

My local bee inspector told me that each time a local beekeeper has a farmer nearby growing non-organic Canola/Rape/Raps many bee colonies die in the winter. This can be due to Neonicotinoids affecting the insects ability to create body fats which winter bees need to survive the cold weather. Without fat these bees live much shorter and such colony is doomed.

Banning Neonicotinoids partially and only for two years is not the solution at all! They must be banned completely!!! As the member of the Danish EU Parliament Dan Jorgensen said in one interview "all pesticides should be banned".

By buying non-organic Rapeseed Oil (Rapsolja) you directly support bee killing! Please don't do this and make the change TODAY and start buying Organic Bee-friendly Rapeseed oil :) We need the bees ... all life needs bees.
Be aware and spread the awareness.
Thank you :)

Inexpensive and simple Wasp Trap for any household

Wasps are part of the ecosystem as every other creature and deserves its place in the Earth's biodiversity. On occasions Wasps can become a nuisance to us humans and to honey bee colonies we keep in our apiaries. Some years are worse than others but Wasps remain present nonetheless. I personally can't tolerate   Wasps nesting under the roof of our cottage. We had a strong nest just 1 meter from the main door last year which had to killed. So to avoid having to tangle large nests I decided to build this inexpensive wasp trap which is very simple to make. Even I can make it :) so simple it is.
Cut the top of any soda bottle with a sharp knife and push the top into the bottle so it forms a funnel.
Fill the bottle with diluted cordial or some sort of juice and add a drop or two of a unscented washing up liquid but make sure not to fill all the way to the funnel because the wasp might escape through it. Do not use Honey in the mixture or sugar syrup; this might attract the honey bees. Hang the trap on the wall or just under the roof so no rain can fall into it.
Wasp Queen trapped. The drop or two of washing up liquid removes the water tension so Wasps can't walk/float on water but rather sink into the solution and drown.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Apple Trees Blooming and Misumena vatia hunting Honeybees

The Apple Trees are blooming like mad this year :) What a marvelous spectacle  Honeybees, Bumble Bees, Wasps and myriads of other pollinating insects are gorging themselves with nectar and pollen from these beautiful blossoms.
Poetic Apple Blossom
Honeybee eagerly collecting pollen from apple blossoms
scanning the apple blossom
Misumena vatia captured a Honeybee
I was walking down the road with my dear dog Bailey and saw a Honeybee sitting still on a Dandelion flower which was very strange. Bees are usually very busy collecting nectar and pollen but not this bee, so I went down on my knees to look closer. I pushed it a bit with my finger and she moved ... she moved without moving her legs !!! So I looked even closer and saw a yellow Pea-like thing in the centre of the flower. I looked even closer and noticed that this yellow Pea has legs and a head and is holding the bee. I made a photo and found on Wikipedia what this hunter is called; Misumena vatia or Goldenrod Crab Spider which can change colors from white to yellow depending on the flower colour it uses to hunt from. Very good disguise indeed. It feed on all sorts of pollinating insects including Wasps.

Splitting my honey bee colonies

I was talking to my local bee inspector (who sold me 2 colonies this year) and he told me that its ok to do splits as soon Dandelions start to bloom and there are a few emerged Drones in the hive and the Drone cells are capped. Since Dandelion flowers are exploding all over the landscape and the hives have Drones and capped Drone Cells I decided to make splits today. This is the very first time I did splits :) The temperature today was 27'C without wind.
All 4 of our long top bar hives are now occupied with Honey Bee colonies :)
Late Spring time is Swarming time! This is the best time to increase the colony numbers in our apiaries by making splits or by catching swarms since bees are anyway planning to split. I decided to make splits since my Queens have clipped wings and can't fly (most conventional beekeepers in this area do this as swarm prevention. I'm against this brutal method) so letting them swarm and then collect them could result in the Queen being lost somewhere in front of the hive.

I've split both colonies by moving 3 combs of capped brood and 2 cobs of honey and pollen together with the old Queen into a new Top Bar Hive. This is how a typical split is done around here at this time of the season. The brood combs are placed in the middle and on each end there is one comb of honey. I made sure no swarm cups are present on those combs. The original hive got mostly uncapped brood in various stages and some capped brood too as well as unripe honey and pollen. Both colonies have 3 swarm cups build which have no eggs in it. The worker bees will move an egg into it which is maximum 3 days old to raise new Queens. The colony will realise very fast that they have no Queen in the hive since her so called Queen Pheromone is gone. Bees don't waste time and I'm sure they will start making new Queens by nightfall. 

I can see 2 swarm cups through the window on one of my hives which I can observe without disturbing the colony. Will make updates as the Queen Cups turn into Queen Cells :)

Natural swarming can be very risky as Dr. Seeley explains in his book Honeybee Democracy. Large amounts of feral swarms don't make it through their first year due to various reasons. Even splitting has its risks! The Queenless colony will raise new Queens which will emerge as Virgins meaning they must fly out of the hive to mate with local Drones. This can result in the Queen being eaten by a bird or if the day turns rainy she might fall onto the ground and chill to the point of not being able to fly again, etc ... Last year we had a very rainy and cold summer and many beekeepers reported failed Queens, Queens that never returned to the hive. In this case buying a new local mated Queen would be the best choice since that Queen can start immediately laying new eggs. Lets be reminded that worker bees live maximum 6 weeks and many will die until the new Queen start laying eggs so time is critical in this case and the nicer the weather the better results one can expect. Lets see how this goes :) I wish them well!
I have build last winter 4 more hives for making splits and catching swarms. I hope to see at least one swarm move into my bait hive :)
This log hive is also set up as a bait hive. All bait hives are primed with Lemongrass Essential Oil, Propolis and Beeswax to attract swarms.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Bees are "Bearding" in front of the hive

In summer time the inside of the hive can become too hot and too much CO2 because of the growing population and too much humidity due to honey production. So to cool the hive, reduce humidity and lower the CO2 levels the bees fan with their wings and many others simply exit the hive and hang around the entrance until the hive atmosphere reaches the desired levels again. Then they get back into the hive.
This "bearding" is easily mistaken for swarming. When bees swarm they literally RUSH out of the hive in HORDES :) as if the hive is on fire, clouds of bees flying all over the place until they settle near by on a tree branch or else. During "bearding one can always note a few bees fanning with their wings infront of the entrance to help with ventilation.

I spoke to my local bee inspector today about when its the right time to do splits and he said I can do it now because the Dandelions, Maples, Cherries, Sloe are blooming heavily. Even the Apples are starting to bloom now. So I decided to do the splits tomorrow.
Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dandelion bonanza and a pleasant surprize

The Dandelions are exploding into bright yellow flowers all over the landscape :) so nice to see them. This is the time when bees start swarm preparations and by the time the Apples start blooming the swarm might leave the hive ... if the weather is sunny and warm that is, because on rainy cold days flowers don't produce much nectar. Today was 24'C ! Nice and warm but with some strong south wind.
Bailey running through the flowering filed
 Buckfast Bees drowning in pollen and nectar :)
 "Please get me out of here! Too much nectar and pollen, aaaaa!" :)
 Of course no one can imagine this bonanza without the fat'n'hairy Bumble Bee ;D
And now about the pleasant surprize :) look what I've found in the field :) ...
 ... a totally black bee ...
 ... very black indeed ...
 ... I had to look many times before I dared to whisper ...
... Black Nordic Bee :)) 
Since all beekeepers here exclusively keep Buckfast which has yellow and black rings on the abdomen Im assuming that this bee comes from a feral colony which came down South from the colder parts of Sweden. Or, could this bee be a Buckfast Bee with anomalie? I have seen old Buckfast bees turning black but not totally, rather only the bottom part of the abdomen which is not the case in this entirely black bee.
I have set up 5 bait hives in hope to catch swarms. Lets see if this colony moves into Che Guebee Apiary :) I honestly wish they do :)

Top Bar Hive Inspection day 2

I have inspected the second top bar hive colony today and here is a short video about it;

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Nectar is flowing

The nature is booming with blooming :) Bees have lots to do around here!
 Sloe and Cherry is blooming heavily
 Dandelions have just begun
 Maple trees are buzzing loudly from all the Honey Bees and Bumble Bees
 Not sure what this one is but the leaves look a bit like Comfrey
Red Currant blooming and Gooseberries too
 I bought two Fuchsia plants which bees adore
I also bought two Scented Pelargonium which smell of citrus, just like Lemongrass. I wonder if one can use these leaves as a swarm lure ... I have seen a few bees resting on its leaf.

Swarming on the way

Yes! Swarming season is around the corner and now is no time to sleep since my bees will swarm any day now ... or in a week the most I feel.
I inspected one hive today and found a few Queen Cups which are polished and they have started to frost them at the ends. Sure swarming sign!
 Here is one Queen Cup being polished by one bee from the inside
 A few bees are working this one cup
 Queen Cells usually point downwards. This cell points sideways so Im guessing its a drone cell.
 Look who came to check the queen cup :) her Majesty the Queen :) You can see in this photo one of her wings being clipped. I mentioned this before but I am against this brutal technique no matter what conventional beeks might say. Its far from natural thats for sure.
This hive is boiling with bees. Im sure its will swarm very soon. I must make a split before they do so to increase my colonies. I will inspect the other hive tomorrow because it started being windy today.