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, August 21, 2013

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.


  1. I think they chose to make bees instead of lots of winterstore because of all your splitts.

    1. Maybe. Let me remind you that two colonies had 5 combs in May 3 with capped brood and 2 with honey and a laying Queen yet they chose not to build many combs. 16 combs was the max.
      The question remains ;
      Does a colony really need to be large to survive the winter? Do we humans expand colonies too much by spacing/supering/nadiring creating too many mouths to feed?

    2. Now that Im thinking again, even in a natural cavity the colony will split ... not once but very likely will throw out a cast swarm (or two) after the large prime swarm has departed. So they too split every year. On the other hand my split colonies got a cavity with combs to give them a good start. Are we saying that feral colonies which swarm a few times a year are unable to collect enough stores to survive the winter?
      And if that is the case, is it possible that this too is a way of natural selection of the fittest?
      That said, aren't we humans keeping weak colonies alive and watering down their gene pool this way?

    3. Thats why wild bees prefer around 40 l to be there home. As you maybe remeber I want the bees to swarm and then catch them because there are lots of more power in a swarm then from a split.

      Normally bees swarm in late may or June in our part of the world and they have the best part of the summer in front of them but as the rules of nature says. The Pikes lays around 400 000 eggs /year but one Pike could be quite old. If the lake shouldnt be totaly full of pikes so you can walk over the lake on them there could not be any of the 400 000 eggs who survived any longer time evry year. There colud only be two per lifetime of a pair of pikes who survived.

      The same rule is for bees. In nature the most swarm go under. If the bees shouldnt take over totaly yhere could only be one swarm which survived for evry coolony who didnt make it.

      As you maybe have read there is a hard time for a swarm to make a hollow tree to a good place for them. Its says that the third swarm can survive after taking profit from the two earlier swarms work.

      I think you have an important note then you write that we shouldnt help to weeak colonies to survive. Give them a new queen cell from a beter colony instead.

  2. I think that after the winter in next season you will have more power in your new colonies. Overwintering in not to warm circumstances also will give them the extra power I write about that you can see in a swarm.

  3. I will tell you that I realy enjoy your thinking and thougts about bees. It put my own brain in work :-)

    It is of great value even if it probably not allways is the right way. It seems to be so with thougts but once in a while there will be a very good thougt. The most people didnt try that so the ones who did is very valuable.

    Keep on with that :-)

    1. I only caught one swarm last year. It was a large prime swarm. I have placed them in an empty top bar hive and after two weeks they had 12 combs :)

      If the season wasn't rainy Im sure they would fill those combs with enough honey.

      Im still puzzled about swarms not surviving winters because my local bee inspectors father who kept Nordic Bees in skeps had a tiny cast swarm move into one of his empty skeps. He tought they will not survive the winter so he left them to it.

      In the spring he saw them flying when he lifted the skep he could see a few tiny round combs and a handfull of bees which grew into a fine colony that year.

      How could such tiny cast swarm survive the winter in Sweden, with a Virgin Queen very likely since they swarmed in July.

    2. The swarm have the old queen.

      You have seen your first colony at Södra Viken survive the most of an extra long winter under very bad conditions with just a handful of bees. Now they are at least 15 combs.

      I think there will be a lot of losses of colones under natural, wild conditions. The most of the colones will swarm at least one often several times without years with very bad weather. A lot of the virgin queens will die then they are out flying to meet drones and then the colony couldn't do anything. Its dead. If there is a beekeeper he just give them a new comb with eggs or a queen or cell.

      Its a contract between the bees and the beekeeper. They help each other precisely as the vegetables and the gardener.

    3. Ok I see that a Castswarm is the same as a second or third swarm in a a tight row. They have virgin Queen of course :-)