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?

Friday, May 30, 2014

The swarming apiary

The swarming apiary
I have caught another swarm a few days ago :) Both swarms are very likely from my hives because each swarm was hanging on a tree near the apiary. Both swarm are settling nicely. They have already built a few combs and are very busy. Since last year the apiary has grown from 6 to 10 colonies. 

The weather is glorious! Sunny 20'C with some wind. Bees are flying strongly and them Drones are buzzing loudly all over the place :) This is their mating season. So many Drones and so few Virgin Queens. Tough competition  ;)

After catching those 2 swarms I ma more than certain that in the future I will only be catching swarms and will stop making man-made splits. They are absolutely no match to the natural swarm.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

First swarm and a laying worker

 I've caught my first swarm yesterday :) My wife was the one who told me that a few bees tried to get into the house yesterday and even into our car. I immediately suspected Scout Bees searching for a new home. We were inside the car on our way to do weekly shopping so I thought to check the hives later but my wife insisted to do it right away and so I went into the apiary to check ... 5 seconds later I was running back to the house to get my swarm catching basket :)
Bees fanning at the entrance, sign that the Queen is inside

One of the 6 colonies which came out of the winter had no Queen. She probably died during the winter which can happen. I decided to give them an brood comb with eggs from another colony in hope they will make a new Queen. I inspected the hive yesterday and all I could see is Drone brood and several eggs per cell! Sure sign of a Laying Worker! This colony had issues last year as well. I gave them a chance to get on with new eggs but even now they seem not able to do the right thing. I will very likely destroy this colony since they are only getting weaker, not many bees left.

Monday, May 5, 2014

2 Queens in the same hive

I decided to split my hives and took out the old Queen from the first hive and place it into a new empty hive with house bees, 3 combs of capped brood and 2 combs of honey.

After a few days I saw no activity and decided to open for quick inspection. The hive had only a handful of workers and the old queen laying new eggs. But most of the capped brood seems not doing well (cell caps falling in). Then I realized that I forgot to shake 2 more extra combs of bees from the mother hive to ensure many house bees end up in the new split (stupid mistake).

So I decided to shake some more bees from the mother colony. When I opened the hive I saw newly laid eggs in their cells which made no sense to me. Newly laid eggs stand erected in their cells.
I looked at the second comb and I saw a Queen. This hive had 2 queen all winter and I cant understand why they let the old queen be present? I know which is the old queen since that one came with colony I bought from a conventional beekeeper and she is marked and has one wing cut off.
The old Queen was split last year in May so they never went into swarm mode.

Could it be a virgin queen flying back from her mating flight into a wrong hive since another colony of mine came out of the winter without a Queen? Is this maybe their Queen? (Impossible to answer).
Top Bar Hive Colony

Friday, May 2, 2014

The great dilemma of mine

In 2012 I purchased my first bee colony in form of a split which came with a 2 year old Queen and bees on 3 combs of capped brood and 2 combs of honey. After a month I was blessed with the experience of catching a prime swarm from this very colony. This experience in itself was enchanting even though I've got stung 5 times and got a fever from it the next day to the point of staying in bed all day.
My very first prime swarm
That swarm was placed into an empty top bar hive and in just 2 weeks they have built 12 sparkling white new wax combs :) No man-made split has the urge to build that fast. A swarm is composed of forager bees which are very experienced. They have all the experienced scout bees to find new pastures quickly, and they have bellies filled with honey from the mother colony before the departure which will provide lots of energy for comb building in their new home. But most importantly they have that strong sense of urgency knowing that they must build sufficient amount of combs before the winter.
Shaking the collected swarm into an empty top bar hive
On the other hand there is the man-made created method of splitting hives where the old queen is transferred to a new hive on 3 capped brood combs and 2 honey combs and all the bees that accompany her are young house bees which did not start flying just yet. Sure do they get a great start with 5 combs and brood in them but they are missing the great ingredient called the sense of urgency. They develop much slower in comparison to a swarm.

The good side about splits is that neighbors will not be agitated with swarms hanging around their house or moving into their chimney :) and the beekeeper will not lose a colony. When bees swarm they hang as a cluster close to the mother hive and are waiting for the scout bees to find their new home. Sometimes they hang there for 2 days but at times they can fly of to the new location on the same day. 

Both ways have their pros and cons when it comes to human perspective but when it comes to the colonies perspective swarming is the only option. So if I'm to respect the bee biology swarming is to be encouraged as much as possible. There could be something more about swarming than just the urgency. Maybe some vital energy is being formed within the colony when allowed to swarm? I mean bees have swarmed for more than 40 million years. There could be more to it than just propagation?

From my experience it is easy to fall into a habit of splitting hives if one has hives with movable frames/top bars but not so if one has bees in lets say Skeps or Log Hives. In such hives with fixed combs there is NO OTHER CHOICE but to develop a habit of letting them swarm and then collect the swarm. 
Old day skep beekeepers let their colonies swarm and then collect them
I don't know about you but letting the bees swarm and then try to collect them before they fly to their new location resonates much better with my inner feeling than making man-made splits which look sluggish in comparison to an energetic swarm.

I've already split my colonies and now its too late to try natural swarming but next year I will try to do just that.