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?

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 :)


  1. Enjoyed the review of your beekeeping season!

    I have a question for you, though. My queen is unmarked, and I have a very hard time spotting her. In fact, I've only ever seen my queen once during an inspection all summer. You seem to be quite good at finding them, though. Do you have a trick for doing that? Thanks!

    1. Unless im making a split or re-queening I never search for the queen. I look for queen presence signs like eggs, larvae and capped brood. If I look for a queen I use periferal vision. I dont focus trying to scan the comb.
      I do know that there is almost always empty space behind the queen or there is a circle of bees around her grooming her. I also call her :) aloud, nicely asking her to show herself to me :)
      There are times i dont see the queen during inspection and as i already mentioned that matters little since Im more interested in the signs of the colony being queen right (eggs,larvae in al stages, capped brood)

    2. LOL! Ok, I guess the next time I open the hive, I'll coo to my queen.

      Agreed, I generally just look for signs that the queen is active, too, but next spring, I'd like to be able to split my hive, so finding the queen will probably be something I need to learn how to do. Looking for an empty space is a good tip. I'll try that. Thx!