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, October 31, 2014

Warmest October in more than 100 years

Yes, this whole year was the warmest year in more than 100 years in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. As a matter of fact I read that even UK and other EU countries say the same.
2 days ago it was 17'C which is END of October and I was out in a T-shirt and the bees were foraging like its Summer time. The climate change is most differently NOT a MYTH :) For the first time we are getting some serious flooding in the coastal areas of Denmark, so serious that the government is making plans to build protections around the coast. Soon we will look like Holland ;) and Holland ... well if the sea continues to raise will have to be evacuated!
 Honeybees foraging on the Mexican Aster

Bees gone missing ???

I was visiting my father-in-law this week and we went to check on his bees in the out-apiary. He has 3 colonies there together with another beek who has 2.
We opened 2 hives and found many bees in there, very strong and healthy looking. Then we opened the 3rd one and we were faced with a life-less hive :(
No bees between the frames. No buzzing, no life :(
He treated these hives in september so he is sure they were very strong and looking good, lots of brood and lots of stores as well as pollen. He is puzzled. We opened the hives of his fellow beekeeper too and found that one of his hives is also empty of bees! Lots of pollen, honey but no bees at all!
There are no dead bees nor chewed wax on the bottom board which would indicate robbing or even disease. Its most defently no CCD because in that case there would still be some dead bees in there or even a Queen with a small amount of house bees.
I checked the brood comb and found many small white spots, which are Varroa feces, in the cells indicating high Varroa load. There are also a few capped brood cells which I have checked for AFB but that was not the case. My father-in-law thinks they have absconded because the Varroa load was too great. This is the only colony he never culled drones from (integrated pest management). I told him that I never cull drones and for the last 3 years I did not have such issues.
The hive had plenty of stores. Not sure why the ladies left so much food just to swarm into certain death? We also considered that someone stole these colonies but after inspecting the frames we quickly realized that is out of question because all frames were propolized and braced with wax. If someone did steal them the propolis and wax would have been broken. One of his hives was stolen from this place last summer which was the reason we suspected someone stealing them.
We are both very much puzzled with this mysterious bee disappearance 

On the positive side I am soon turning 40 and he gave me one of his traditional Danish bee hives as a birthday present :) sweet!
This horizontal hive is traditional in Scandinavia and is called Trugstade in Danish and Trågkupa in Swedish. It is a very well insulated hive.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cell Size

I have got a few pieces of feral comb from a hollow tree. Some comb was for brood and some for honey storage. The photo beneath shows a honey comb with extremely long cells :) Some cells are up to 35mm deep !!!

 I did not photograph the brood comb but the cell size is 5,3mm-5,4mm.
Cell size in my hives is 5,1mm in the brood. When it comes to small cell Im sure Africanized bees build small cell naturally but this might not be the case with European Honeybees. Its known in Sweden that Dark Nordic Bees build 5,1mm in the center of the brood nest.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Honeybee Super-organism is not a "Colony"

When we think of Honeybees we mainly picture Worker Bees, Queen Bee and Drones but is that all there is to this being we call the Honeybee "Colony"?

First and foremost we are approaching this organism from a wrong perspective; we think of them as a "colony". But are they really a colony? If Honeybee Super-organism is a colony then our very human body is also a colony.
Our body is made of millions of cells and bacteria, all sorts of microscopic phenomena like neurons and atoms forming molecules which all interact with one another and all that without our will or control. Of course our body is not a colony but an organism.

Now, if you place dozen humans into a collective they would be a colony. If we place dozen Honeybee families together that too would be a colony (we call that an Apiary). But unlike humans those separate "colonies" do not help one another as humans would do in a colony.

That said, Honeybee "colony" is rather a Super-organism made of many "cells" we call Queen, Workers and Drones but that is not all of it. We know today that various beneficial yeasts, bacteria and mites are part of Bien (Honeybee Super-organism).
Bees can not survive without yeasts because they are the ones creating the so called "bee bread" which they feed to their brood and which is made from pollen-honey and is fermented by the yeasts.
There are over 8000 bacteria associated with Honeybees and over 170 different kind of Mites like the beneficial Stratiolaelaps scimitus which feeds on Varroa mites.
Stratiolaelaps scimitus mite
Worker bees are very much like our cells feeding and building the body and protecting it. Queen and Drones are like our sexual organs. None of the mentioned can survive on their own. Humans can leave the colony and still survive but if a Drone, Queen or a Worker bee leaves the "colony" they sure will perish very fast. Hence "colony" is not the name for them since it is misleading and creating so much confusion about Honeybees today. One of the confusion are the Treatments against Varroa mites. By trying to kill the Varroa we also kill beneficial mites and micro-biome hence creating unbalanced condition within Bien.

Wax Comb is another aspect of Bien; It is their very skeleton, womb for raising brood, storage for Honey and Pollen, it is used for thermo-regulation and bees use it as a telephone line to communicate with each other via vibrations. Take out the wax comb and bees will not be able to survive.
The hollow cavity is their protection from predators and ever changing weather. The hollow conserves the so called hive scent and is used to condense the humid air into water which is used by the bees. It also helps thermo-regulate the inner atmosphere. The hollow cavity is very much like our own skin.
Jurgen Tautz, a very well known Honeybee biologist from Germany (book; Buzz About Bees) compares the Bien to a mammal rather than a colony of individuals for a good reason.

So next time you approach your hive try and look at it as a complex organism rather than a "colony" and see what happens in your mind.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Top Bar Hive Workshop with Che at Makvärket in Denmark

Makvärket is an old abandoned brick factory which is now occupied by a passionate group of visionary people. People who believe in sustainable living on all levels; forest garden, permaculture, natural beekeeping, etc ... 
They are investing a great deal of creative energy into this place
 This place is huge! So much potential!
 The conference room
 They are making their own pressed apple juice which they sell. They dont have an orchard but instead they go around the neighborhood and collect apples which people dont want to use. Smart :)

 Out door pizza oven made from Cob, nice one :)
 Art studios

 In case I didnt mention :) this place is HUGE!

The conference room
I was asked to run a Top Bar Hive workshop to help them start their first Natural Apiary. They plan to have 5 hives in total. 
 New top bar hive beekeepers in action, building their first top bar hives
One hive got legs :)
I will very likely hold a power point presentation about top bar hive beekeeping in February next year and in Spring we will try to start the practical beekeeping part.
 And the vegan food they make here is so tasty :)
Eating in a fine company
We talked a lot about bees of course and in the midst of discussion one young lad said that they have bee colony inside of their wall! I was so excited since this is the first time I have witnessed a feral colony :D In this image above you can see the red circle marking the very small entrance in the wall. The hole is no bigger than 2cm. And sure, the bees were flying in and out of the wall :)) If this colony survives the winter we will make sure to catch it and hive it into the Top Bar Hive. Feral colonies which survive on their own are great candidates for treatment free beekeeping. 
6 meters under the entrance there were a few old bees crawling on the ground. They sure are feral Honeybees :) So exciting!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The never ending flowering of Heutchera Firefly

I am truly amazed by how long this marvelous plant can flower :) Its name is Heutchera Firefly and it started blooming in Spring and still doing so now in October ! :) I am truly amazed and so are the bees it seems :) I must buy some seeds and get them growing on our farm next year!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The newly sown White Clover is growing strong

We have sown 1 Hectare with White Clover and grasses for our Sheep and Bees. Im happy to see it is growing very well and I can expect some serious nectar flow next year. White Clover flow never really fails because Clovers need humid climate to be able to make enough nectar and we always have humid summers.
Some Clover has already started to bloom :)
 Field on the South side of our young forest
and field on the West side. In this shot you can see a long row of Willows :) my bees will be so glad when they discover those next Spring :))

By the way this land was used for mono-crop agriculture for a few decades and Im sure there are some Neonicotinoid pesticides still active in the soil. I hope Im not doing more damage than good for my dear bees. I could have waited 2 more years and then plant because it take 3 years for them to break down. Time will tell. Any who this land of ours is to become a Bee Sanctuary from now on so all the local Bumblebees and Solitary Bees as well as Butterflies and Syrphid Flies can find refuge here.
A nearby farmer has sprayed his field with Roundup before plowing it. When you see the plants changing color from green to reddish-yellow its Roundup for sure. How come this can be legal. Im not sure I trust our politicians anymore.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

DIY inexpensive two frame honey extractor and wax strips as comb guides

Another reason for me deciding to go with shallow frames in the supers is the DIY 2 frame honey extractor which cost almost nothing to build;

I have cut grooves into the top bars of the frames to be able to insert wax strips which will act as comb guides. I will use this technique to make the starter strips

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

(Non)Nature is changing my beekeeping

It is interesting how nature can influence change. I mean the nature is in constant change, it is its very nature after all. But in case of my beekeeping it is not the nature which is causing changes but the non-nature, the "nature" turned into mono-crops by our modern agriculture led by the idea of "progress".

As I already mentioned in my previous posts, it is not possible keeping bees naturally in an unnatural environment. Our flow lasts only from April to Jun and after that there is not much blooming. So if bees are let to follow their bio-clock and swarm as they should they will miss the opportunity to collect enough honey for the winter. I simply can't imagine feeding bees sugar (which cost money) and have no honey at all, not even for them. So I have to do something about it. I will have to super the hives to force the bees upwards so they delay the swarming and keep on making honey during the 3 month flow.

I have already started building supers for my nucleus top bar hives. I didn't know how tiring it is to build frames, oh boy! So many small operations to make a frame and so much more materials needed. Without a table saw there is only the option of buying ready made frames which are expensive in my opinion.
It took me several hours to build 12 frames; to cut the bars, cut the groves for the wax strips and to nail them together. And this is only for one super. I need frames for at least 16 supers :(

Messages From Bees - Japanese documentary on Pesticides

Small Hive Beetle has arrived in Italy thanks to the Import of fruits from other continets

Small Hive Beetles

I have read about the bee pest called Small Hive Beetle (SHB) on US forums and it seems this pest can heavily damage a bee colony.
From Wikipedia;
"The small hive beetle can be a destructive pest of honey bee colonies, causing damage to comb, stored honey and pollen. If a beetle infestation is sufficiently heavy, they may cause bees to abandon their hive."
Small Hive Beetle larvae

Here is a video from Italy showing SHB in inspected hives;

All Italian hives with SHB in are burned on sight. The officials are trying to stop its spread.
There are 20.000 German hives wintering in Italy for the pollination services and these might well spread it fast around Europe. I am so much against migratory beekeeping which is spreading fast pests and diseases!

I asked treatment-free beekeepers from US what they do about SHB and this is the answer I've got:
"Keep a strong hive, and make sure you have enough bees to cover ALL your protein sources. And remember, your protein sources include pollen, pollen patties, brood, larval cocoons, even dead bees. If you don't have enough bees to cover all these, you need to remove some protein."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Building supers for my nucleus Top Bar Hives

I have started building shallow supers for my nucleus Top Bar Hives. My hives have 10 top bars space + follower board. I never planned to have any supers when I have built them but it seems as it perfectly fits the Langstroth frames lengthwise.
I have trimmed the top bars as well to 24mm wide so there is a bee space for the bees to pass up into the supers. There will be a queen excluder placed on top of the TBH to keep the brood nest on 8 combs only. I will do this to keep the brood nest a bit tight so the queen can keep the brood nest free from nectar back-filling during the flow. This way they will not go into early swarm preparation and will focus on filling those supers with honey instead. I am doing this because we have a very short flow from April to Jun and after that in this part of Denmark there is not much flowering thanks to huge expanses of mono-crop agriculture. This year I let the bees be express their biology and they have swarmed early. The swarms have had enough nectar to build wax combs but then the flow stopped and they could not fill it at all. It seems that one can not keep bees naturally in an unnatural environment. For that reason i have to manage them from April to Jun to make enough honey on which they can winter. Of course it would be great if they can make excess honey for our household too.
I find building frame hives very difficult. There is so much more to it than in a Top Bar Hive. All the need for correct bee space and comb spacing and fitting the queen excluder and the supers must fit onto one another perfectly to avoid gaps, there is need for much more materials and time ... etc ...
I have decided to go with shallow frames/supers. Actually these are even smaller than the shallows. I think they are called Comb Frames. They are only 12 cm deep (inner frame depth is 10 cm). This way I can also use comb honey and apparently bees readily go up into shallow supers.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The time of the Ivy

Time of the Ivy has arrived and the bees are not loosing time. They are swarming the Ivy flowers and collecting one of the last nectar and pollen of the season before cold of the Autumn closes in. Ivy bloom is pretty much closing down the flowering scene for the year. The bees will soon cluster tight to keep warm and will not break the cluster until the Snowdrops and Crocus flowers blossom.