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?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bees working flowers in August

On the river bank this plant (?) is blooming heavily
Hoverfly and a Honeybee working Hawkbit
Another plant is attracting Honeybees with its flowers. Its a low growing
plant with fleshy leaves. Have to ID it. Will try and collect the seeds.
Sisters sharing a Calendula flower

Friday, August 23, 2013

Managed vs Unmanaged Brood Nest

Let me share my thoughts with you;

My neighbour beekeeper which is also our local bee inspector who's bees I bought this year overwinters every year a few small splits on ONLY 2 combs.

This last winter was extremely long for this locality and cold and damp. Yet his small colonies survived the winter growing into strong colonies this year.

He told me not to worry about how many bees I have in the colony but ONLY to make sure the colony has YOUNG bees. The colony needs young bees which can live long.

He will try this year for the first time to overwinter a couple of Queen mating cassettes which have only one tiny comb and a handful of bees with a young Queen in it. He never tried this before and I'm looking forward to see what will happen.

Even though if this fails I'm still reassured by his example of overwintering small splits on 2 combs. Sure he does have 3 small colonies per one box/super which are divided by plywood wall, but still each has its own entrance and each cavity will have the same temperature around the bee cluster so saying that they heat each does not hold water. All they need is protection from the chilling winter winds.

The less bees - less mouths to feed - less stores needed, yet same heat output. Maybe different clustering method than the larger colony but this has to be observed. The fact stays that bees do survive long cold winters on 2 combs.

I am starting to wonder about how much stores do colonies really need if not managed by the beekeeper.

If small colonies can overwinter on 2 combs than why do we repeatedly hear beeks saying that colonies need 20 kg of stores to get them through the winter?

In this case I would like us to look at two colonies:
1. managed by the beekeeper
2. not managed by the beekeeper

The one managed is the one where beekeeper expands the colony body by supering, nadiring, spacing

and the other one is left to build as many combs as they feel they need.

From my quote above you can see that it is possible for a small colony to survive on just 2 combs. No doubts about it. My local bee inspector did this for many decades now with great success.

I know that a Swedish landrace cow can survive without feeding in this nature yet those cows "manipulated" by humans can't. Those manipulated do produce more milk as do managed/manipulated bee colonies.

Manipulated colonies must expand into all the empty space given by the beekeeper, especially in the supered hives. Those hives using nadiring and spacing are less aggressive in this regard but still do force bees to expand horizontally or downwards vertically.

It was suggested already by Jurgen Tautz that the whole cavity/hive is the body of the Bien super-organism.

From Seeley we discover that bee swarms prefer cavities in the range of 40 liters. At least for the European Honey Bee that is.

So what do we beeks do to this super organism by forcing them into a bigger body?

Lets say that bigger body has to build more cells (worker bees) to function. It can't function if the space is empty so it has to be filled with cells/bees/combs/bones.

This manipulated expansion creates a large super-organism which has to create more stores to feed all the cells/bees.

I'm trying to find a way to harvest small amount of honey per colony yet to make sure they too have enough for the winter without forcing them to expand beyond their own biology/need. I just dislike to feed sugar syrup if not absolutely necessary (rainy season failed honey flow).

My layman hypothesis is next; (Im talking about the horizontal top bar hive here)

Bees prefer to keep the brood nest in the largest part of the cavity if there are two on offer. Im talking about the normal TBH space and a 10 cm tall super on top of the top bars.

If so, the colony is allowed to expand in the TBH body as much as they feel like without any sort of spacing.
The 10 cm tall super is applied to the top of the top bars above the brood nest.
The top bars are not spaced to create a passage into the super. Only the first top bar and the last top bar is spaced 1 cm to allow bees to investigate the upper space.
This seems to me less aggressive than spacing all the top bars so they MUST fill the upper space since there is a hollow above the brood nest (the way of the conventional supering hives).

My hypothesis is that the colony will first and foremost look after the large space in the TBH body and after that they might look upstairs if the honey flow is really flowing.
Supering Top Bar Hives in not a new concept. As you can see above this
beekeeper has already done this some time ago.
One beekeeper in Sweden had also tried this method by supering
a top bar hive
... as you can see he placed two framed boxes on top of the top bars ...
... he created only two entrances into the box above which is retaining
the hive atmosphere below when the upper box is removed.
I have also made such hive last year but later gave up on it and dismantled it and made a few
nucleus top bar hives from it instead.
This was another nucleus top bar hive designed by me
but also I gave up on the idea. I do have one colony in this
top bar hive and I'm considering to add one 10 cm tall
super to it next year.
By not spacing them (expanding the brood nest) the colony will not be forced into a large human made organism but will remain smaller and will very likely be more prone to swarming. Swarms can be caught or let free to roam and find their own cavity (bait hives are an option).

With less bees to feed the less honey they will need to overwinter as my bee inspectors case clearly demonstrates.

What I'm after is a way to not force the organism to expand. To expand it is to space the brood nest which they would not do on their own or maybe they would ...

As already mentioned this is just an hypothesis and I will test it next year. Will have to redesign my TBHs a bit.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Hawksbeard and Hawkbit pollen

Bees are bringing in lots of yellow-orange pollen
I looked around the fields what was in the bloom and found lots of Hawksbeard (pic above) and
Hawkbit which very much look-alike Dandelion flowers.

Feeding Sugar Syrup

The bee colonies have already taken in 20 kg of sugar. I've bought 20 kg more. All the hives except one are taking the syrup very fast. The one which does not take it fast is the one I re-queened. I think they are making space for the Queen to lay because most of their worker bees are old foragers and they are in dire need for young bees. They do have have enough of their own honey though so I'm not worried.
I mix 5 parts of sugar with 3 parts of boiling water, mix it until its
transparent and wait until it cools down to at least 36'C before 
feeding to the bees. I use refined beet sugar.
I feed the bees with syrup through inverted jars placed behind the follower board

I dislike feeding sugar to the bees. In case of emergency is fine with me but not if the nectar flow is strong. This year the nectar flow was very  strong and yet the bees didn't make that much honey. Why? Can it be that they don't need as much? Can it be that bees don't need much honey for the winter? If so, is it possible that bees raise less workers for the winter, or less workers during the late summer/early autumn? Less worker bees = less honey consumption. Makes sense.

It is known as a fact that bee colonies CAN survive the winter on ONLY 2 combs. My bee inspector does it every year. Less bees + Less honey = makes sense. He does keep 4 small colonies in a single box divided by thin plywood walls and each colony has only 2 combs. OK, they warm each other you might say and that is very likely so BUT this does not change the fact that THAT THEY DO survive on ONLY 2 combs :) and they develop into strong colonies the following year (my bee inspectors experience).

Lets hypothesise a bit more;
If I feed the bees with lots of sugar syrup in August I create false nectar flow. Bees can feel the amount of evaporation from honey production within the hive and the Queen start laying more eggs to create a stronger working force hence the colony ending up with lots of bees before the winter. We call this a "strong" colony and we beekeepers presume that such colony can survive the winter well.

More bees = more mouths to feed = more food needed.

Lets be reminded that my bee inspector who kept bees for more than 50 years overwinters small colonies on only 2 combs regularly (every year). He also has large colonies of course these small ones are just tiny splits he did or a Queen Bank.

I have noticed in my top bar hives that bees take a short break from brood raising at the end of the nectar flow. Why do they do this? For almost 2 weeks I couldn't see any new eggs nor larvae and then the Queens resumed to lay eggs. What is this break for? Is it hygienic? To slow down Varroa? I also observed bees grooming each other on the last brood comb (observation window).
They also started  evicting Drones in July. Too early you might say, but wait, could this too be a hygienic treat? Less Drones at this time results in less Varroa flying into the hive on Drone backs and less Drone pupae the less Varroa (which prefers the large drone cells) will come to life.

I just cant seem to get it out of my head, the fact that my bee inspectors father had a tiny cast swarm move into one of his empty skeps in July. He left them there assuming they will die anyway during the winter. But to his great surprise they started flying in the early Spring :) When he looked into the skep he saw several tiny combs with a handful of bees on them :) They survived the winter! Its a fact! How? I don't know, but bees sure know how they did it. 

Next year I will try and make a small split and let them develop without any interference on my part. I will give them only 2 combs (1 honey and 1 capped brood) and will not feed them before the winter. They will get a Virgin Queen so I will only make sure to check if she is mated properly. They will be kept all the time on 2 combs by containing them with a follower board. I want to test and see if they can survive the winter this way. 

My hypothesis is that if they know from the start that this is all the space they have they will accordingly adjust their biorhythm to it. Less space - Less food - Less bees raised to be fed.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Successful re-queening and sugar syrup feeding

I'm ought to update on the re-queening of CGB-3 colony.

After a week I inspected the hive and found the Queen still inside the cage with lots of bees inside with her. They didn't want to let her out for some reason. When I inspected all the comb I found the reason for her being kept a prisoner; I found couple of fully drawn Queen Cells!
Since it's already August there is no chance these new Queens would mate properly because all my hives have already evicted all the Drones. For this reason I destroyed the Queen Cells and released the Queen which was immediately accepted by the worker bees.
I checked again on this colony after 5 days and found eggs and larvae fed with Royal Jelly. Will have to look again soon to see if the brood is capped and if there are any new Queen Cells present.
I have down-sized all the colonies to 10-12 combs and removed the rest so to keep the nest as small as possible. Buckfast colony needs max 20 kg of stores to survive the winter. To be on the safe side I started feeding sugar syrup (sugar 5:3 water) behind the follower board using inverted jars.
I strongly feel bees are to winter on their own honey and for that reason I only harvest after the 11th or 12th comb and only once a year at the end of July.
I feed sugar only to make sure bees are going into the winter filled up with stores. Will feed until they stop taking in the sugar syrup. Conventional beekeepers remove all the pollen stores believing that it goes bad but I strongly feel that feral bees keep their pollen stores and if not I will rather like bees removing it, since they know what it is to be a bee colony, I don't ;)
I do understand beekeepers removing all the pollen in localities surrounded with large scale agriculture where pesticides are being used, especially so if Neonicotinoids are being used which are known to cause CCD (colony collapse disorder). Such pollen and nectar/honey is polluted with systemic pesticides, highly poisonous to bees.
In my locality no one use Neonics only Round Up at the end of Autumn. They do this to kill all the Thistles and Dandelions on their grass fields so to get a better quality hay for their horses and cattle.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Re-queening CGB-3 hive

As you can read in my last post I have re-inspected the hive CGB-3 and once again found only eggs and no larvae nor capped brood. Either the new Queen is not fertilised properly or the worker bees are behaving in an unorganised manner not tending for the eggs. Eggs need high humidity not to dry out which was the case in this hive. Once the egg would dry out the Queen would lay another fresh one into the cell until even that one dries out and so on and so forth ...
New Queen in a cage with 5 attendant worker bees to feed her
Two days ago I visited my local bee inspector and told him about this issue. He thought this to be very strange case and suggested to re-queen. He gave me one of his last year Queens to do so. He re-queens his hives every year whether the queen is good or bad. The queen I've got from him was from the strongest of his colonies, a very good queen that is.

I removed the original queen from hive CGB-3 and waited for an hour before I placed the new Queen into this hive. I left the attendant bees in the cage with the queen which is debatable; some say remove them, others say it doesn't matter. My father-in-law did both ways without issues. We will see how this goes.
This hive has only two empty combs for the queen to lay into, so I gave them another comb with capped brood from a strong colony in case they need nurse bees (young bees) and an extra empty comb (once the bees hatch)
I will inspect this colony in a week and update accordingly.
Bees are working Calendula at this time
 Its August and very sunny and warm. The nectar flow is over but most of my colonies are still very busy foraging. Mostly orange pollen is being brought into the hive. I suspect Calendula since I have lots of them in our kitchen garden and many neighbours also have them.

I have seen this flowering plant near the river and I see both Bumblebees and Honeybees working it. Not sure what it is but will try and collect its seeds and plant it in my garden. The Water Lilies are also starting to bloom.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bee Group Mykorrhiza visiting Che Guebee Apiary

Bee Group Mykorrhiza came to visit my Top Bar Hive Apiary yesterday. Besides inspecting a few hives we also had a meeting discussing the future of the Bee Group, mostly our goals and what we stand for since beekeeping today is mostly associated to the most common "conventional" beekeeping we considered changing our name from the "Beekeeping Group Mykorrhiza" to "Bee Group Mykorrhiza".
From left: me, Viktor, Vasiliki, Hans, Veronika and Marco
We all stand for the basic idea to find a sustainable way to keep bees and to protect the biodiversity which all Bees depend on. We stand for giving the bees as much freedom and peace within the hive like building natural comb without the use of mono-cell wax foundation. This will result in bees creating combs with various cell size which only bees know why they do so. Cell size and cell size placement variates a lot from one colony to the next so there is no fast rule about it, hence no way we can find a "one size suits them all"
foundations can be seen as beneficial to the colony in our opinion. We will aim towards not treating our bees nor feeding them with sugar unless there is an emergency. We will try and leave honey to the bees for wintering. Building a strong community within a group and spreading the idea of top bar hive beekeeping which doesn't cost money is another goal. There are other pointers we discussed which I will not go into in this blog entry.
We first inspected the hive which one week ago had only eggs in two combs and no larvae or capped brood at all. Some cells even had two eggs per cell! This Queen hatched in May this year and had lots of time to mate properly so I never suspected any issues with her. As it turns out something sure is wrong.
Click on the photo to enlarge it to see two eggs per cell
As one can see in the photo above some cells have two eggs; one egg is freshly laid and the other is older and withered, dried out kind of. This clearly shows that the egg doesn't hatch into the larvae after 3 days. How is this possible? Can it bee that worker bees can sense the eggs being unfertilised which can only create Drones and they refuse to tend for them? How come the eggs dry out? This colony is not flying much at all, so Im guessing they are not trying to bring in water and since they are not bringing in new nectar there is not much evaporation being produced to keep high humidity level within the hive. One thing is sure, whether the eggs are fertilised or not the eggs can hatch into larvae after 3 days and then it is fed with Royal Jelly by the nurse bees. This hatching never occurs for some strange reason??? Why???
The bees seem to be tending the Queen well and as you can see many bees still have lots of hairs on their bodies indicating not that old bees. They have lots of working force within this hive.
I'm not sure what to do... its already August and if I'm to re-Queen I'm to do it now. It would be easier to decide if all the capped brood is Drone brood but in this case it is the eggs which dry up before hatching into larvae that seems to be the issue .... Will ask on forum and see what they say.
Explaining top bar beekeeping ...
Inspection goes on
Nice brood pattern in a one of the small nucleus hives
We even found time to check on my kitchen garden :)
This was a good day :)