It started with a question…

A certain topic has been brought to my attention on many occasions recently.  After speaking to people at stalls, via email, on the telephone and face to face, this topic has continued to arise and it now needs to get out of my head.

This topic can be controversial, which has led to some interesting, open minded and sometimes heated conversations, and it all started with this simple, almost innocent question.

“Do you have any honey for sale”?

I am a beekeeper, I am not a commercial beekeeper, a conventional beekeeper or a natural beekeeper or any other name given to label a person who follows a set of goals or beliefs.  I firmly believe that I am and therefore anybody else who provides a home to a colony of honey bees is in fact a beekeeper.

This year we have gained several new colonies.  What I mean by this is colonies that are within their first year inside a hive with us, albeit collected by swarm collection, artificial swarm or have changed their landlord.

These colonies became our garden neighbours or non-paying tenants throughout the year, which to us means they are all in different stages of size and cycle of life.   It is often quite a challenge to ascertain how they are doing and if they are feasible to survive on their own accord.

Last year (2014) I removed 30kgs of honey from our hives.  The honey was sold very easily with a demand for even more eagerly seeking my attention; we even managed to keep a couple of jars for ourselves.  We ensured that the colonies had more than enough honey to get them through to this year.  But it got me thinking and asking myself many questions.

How much honey should be left inside the hive for them?
How much honey do they need to survive until next spring?

My usual answers to these questions were swallowed up quickly and needed recalculating by a load of what if questions

What if we have a really mild winter?
What if we have a prolonged spell of bad weather in spring?
What if they hadn’t made enough honey for themselves this summer?

This got me thinking about…

Do some beekeepers unintentionally take too much honey from their colonies?

Instead of answering this question I let it rest within the murky depths of my mind.

This summer we went to a beekeeping convention where one of the speakers, a respected and experienced beekeeper was presenting to a room of non-beekeepers, I sat in and listened to this different perspective.  The talk was holistic yet scientific and presented in such a way that stopped me in my tracks and brought to my attention my previous questions.

Basically what was suggested was…

A honey bee colony will create surplus honey to provide food for their colony to survive situations which include periods of bad weather and dearth of forage.  This we already knew but what was new to me was the proposal that we should dismiss the usual approach which measures honey production on a seasonal and annual basis and adopt the theory that the bees produce honey that may be needed across more than one season or year. Each eusocial organism endeavouring to ensure that the colony survives what nature throws at them, reduced nectar flow, extremes of temperature and weather without the measurement of a 12 month cycle as we understand it.

This leads me to considering that Honey Bees and Humans have different understandings of the term surplus. So there may be enough for them to survive this winter, but what if we have another cold and frozen 5-6 weeks until May like we had a few years ago? Say that was followed by 2 months of low temperatures and then six months where the rain did not let up… Extreme I know, but worth a thought.

Therefore do they ever really have surplus honey at any one time, maybe not, as they may not need the entire surplus to get through the winter and into Spring but may need their hard worked reserves the following year or year after that.

This different perspective has made me stop and think.

I looked back again to when people say Honey bees started having problems, then added when humans started moving more and more colonies of honey bees out from their chosen homes and locations and into man made hives.

I have considered how our climate and weather has changed over the past 200 years, and took into account the different rates that Bees and Humans are evolving and the current argument which debates whether our two species are evolving together at rates that are compatible and sustainable for both to survive?

The melting pot of arguments only scratch the surface and each needs further research and explanation, however, I am now asking myself as an individual beekeeper.

Should I be reviewing the way I keep my bees?…  Where I live the weather doesn’t fit into the seasons as we traditionally would expect it to…

Are we asking too much of them if we take any of their honey at all? Should we take little and often?

So when I am asked this year “Do you have any honey for sale”?

“No, I don’t sorry”… I have to admit the jury is out on this one today. Tomorrow I might know more to inform my final decision, but for now I will take my cup of tea out to the paddock to watch the bees while I ponder further…

Talking about all things natural to Teifiside Beekeepers

Talking with the Teifiside Beekeepers

Recently I was asked to attend the Teifiside Beekeepers Association as a guest speaker to talk about Natural Beekeeping and using the Warre beehive.  It was decided to make a full weekend of it so we spent our time based out of a Yurt over looking Cardigan Bay during a weekend of  what the best West Wales coastal wind could throw at us.

On Sunday 2nd February we travelled to Coed-y-Bryn near Llandysul and Newcastle Emlyn and arrived early in preparation for the talk.

The welcome we received upon our arrival was wonderful, helpful, friendly and were offered tea and home-made cake (always a winner for me).

So to the reason for why I was asked to be there.  Some of the members of the Teifiside Beekeepers wished to explore some alternative beehives to show the many ways that people provide homes to Honey bees.  They had done their research well and took it in turns to provide short presentations themselves on using the Rose hive, Warre hive, Horizontal Top bar hive and briefly touching into Sustainable beekeeping.  After their presentations and a short tea and cake stop it was time for me to step to the front of the room.

Talking with the Teifiside Beekeepers

My talk was tailored to how we can all keep Honey bees more naturally regardless of hive choice and by giving a full demonstration of the Warre beehive that I produce.

After explaining my previous history in both the conventional and natural beekeeping worlds, I wanted to talk about natural comb, use of foundation and how to check on the condition of your colony by utilising your senses without disturbing them.  The audience was ever so attentive and were a pleasure to talk to.

Time went by so quickly, 1 hour and 15 mins later I had finished, it is always a joy to talk about topics that I am so passionate about.  After some questions it was time to get going, so after saying thank you and goodbye to as many people as I could it was time for our return journey home.

I wish to say a big thank you to not only the Teifiside Beekeepers, but also to the people we met in West Wales for a friendly, fun and wonderful short break and not forgetting the opportunity to talk about Honey bees.

Newbees found in the run up to Christmas

In the run up to the Festive period, we took our Warre Beehives to various Christmas Markets throughout the South Wales and English Border area, from Swansea through to Lydney.  A wonderful time was had speaking with all sorts of people, topics mainly included:  talking about Honey bees, Bee hives, trying to identify what bees they had living in their shed over the summer and how they would like to help.

This led to a surge of people who put their names down to attend one of our courses.  Once the festive market chaos was over, it was time to turn to our courses.  Due to the overwhelming lists we have facilitated full day workshops on the 18th January and 25th January.

Warre Beehive workshops

These workshops have been attended by such wonderful inquisitive people.  Our time was spent teaching a Beginners level on using the Warre Beehive to provide a home to some lovely little Honey bees.

So after lots of talking, answering questions and demonstrations, we have more people with the knowledge ready to start caring for a colony of their own.

Good luck to you all

Ian

Here is one way to make wax starter strips for top bars

This summer I had a little visit from the Bee inspector, we spent a lovely hour or so going through our hives, both National and Warre Beehives.  On looking at the Warre hive it became apparent that there was “cross comb”.  This means that the lovely ladies have built their comb across many of the top bars.  This made a thorough inspection difficult but the bee inspector made do with what was on offer.

The only advice that was given was to provide the top bars with wax starter strips, to encourage the lovely ladies to built straight comb.  This is only helpful for us humans, if we need to remove the comb for inspection or harvesting.

Personally I thought that the ladies had done a beautiful job which still brings a smile to my face.

Whilst figuring out the easiest way to produce wax starter strips, I came across a video on Youtube which can be found by using the link below

moulding Beeswax starter strips foundations for top bar bee hive – YouTube.

Bee Alert from Phil Chandler

Dear friends,

Whether you are a beekeeper, a conservationist, an ecologist, a food-producer or a parent – please take half an hour to watch this new American video documentary about the global death of honeybees, bumblebees and other pollinators.

This is NOT just about the death of entire bee populations around the world, it is about the potential loss of 30% of our food supply and an all-out assault on the ecosystems of the world: insects, birds, amphibians, bats, fish – everything is threatened by the global distribution of hyper-toxic, neuro-toxic pesticides being applied to over 200 million acres of corn and crops in North America alone.

These systemic neurotoxins are present in just about every single plant of maize, wheat, barley, rice, oilseed rape, peas, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, almonds – you name it.  Hundreds of millions of acres of food crops, lawns and wildflowers now contain neonicotinoids in their pollen, nectar and fruit – which is why bees, bumblebees, butterflies and pollinators are  dying by the billion.  Government knows full well what is going on, as does the pesticide industry; indeed, they have known this since 1985 when they invented neonics; but the sums of money involved are colossal – enough to ‘buy’ government agreement, regulatory surrender – and to silence any critics in the wildlife and beekeeping sectors.

http://www.linktv.org/video/8123/killing-bees-are-government-and-industry-responsible

This hard-hitting film lays the blame for this global ecological crisis, firmly on the doorstep of the government regulatory agencies in America and Europe – working in collusion that verges on open conspiracy with the giant pesticide companies.  The film has been produced by Earth Focus in the USA, working closely with PANNA – Pesticide Action Network North America, Beyond Pesticides and a variety of independent beekeepers, notably Tom Theobald and Dave Hackenburg.

CONSPIRACY AND COLLUSION
The implications of this are staggering; this is the ‘big Tobacco’ story all over again. From the 1960s onwards, independent scientists highlighted cigarette smoking as the cause of tens of millions of cancer deaths, world-wide.  However, ‘Big Tobacco’ fought this analysis successfully for over 20 years and kept the profits rolling in, despite the untold suffering and mass-deaths of millions of people on every continent.  The weapons which they used in that battle were:

  • Disinformation: the spreading of doubt and counter-information
  • Corrupt Science: falsified science studies funded in universities around the globe
  • Government Collusion and the corruption of regulatory agencies

This film documents how, in the case of global bee-deaths, the same techniques are being used to castrate the regulatory watchdogs; to spread false information about the real cause of bee deaths via press, radio and television, and how national beekeeping agencies have been infiltrated, bribed and co-opted to meet the needs of the pesticide companies.

Please watch this crucially important film and forward this to every beekeeper and environmental organisation that you know, via email, Facebook and Twitter.

http://www.linktv.org/video/8123/killing-bees-are-government-and-industry-responsible

Many thanks,

David

Bees in Trees: Unmanaged Honey Bees in the US

This is the title of an article that appeared in the BBKA News incorporating the British Bee Journal. Issue March 2012, written by Dr Deborah Delaney, University of Delaware, USA. I have added my own thoughts to this feature, from a natural beekeeping perspective.

Well, first of all, good on the bees for escaping and living free “Unmanaged”.

It seems that the unmanaged bee population particularly in the forests of Eastern North America with plenty of ideal cavities to nest has a more diverse genetic gene pool than the managed honey bee by US beekeepers.

The story goes that the feral Western honey bee, Apis Mellifera, success is also due to nest site suitability (Tree), natural breeding and the bees ability to thermo-regulate the nest.

To confirm these claims the feature also gives us a history of the introduction of the honey bee to Americaby the “New World” European settlers, this being relevant to confirming the counting and recording of the US unmanaged bees. Their DNA analysis makes it possible to distinguish unmanaged bees as feral bees from the original European introduction, rather than recently escaped swarms via the “modern” beekeeper.

Figures showed the managed population of honey bees in the US to be in decline, close to 35% in the winter of 2007-2008, 29% in 2009. Scientists also estimate that a feral bee colony life span would be between one and four years with the presence of Varroa destructor.

However, it is now felt that the feral bee population in the US has not only survived but also rebounded. 

In 2009, the Feral Bee Project was started. Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA markers are used to assess ancestry and genetic differentiation, or in other words confirm that sampled bees were in fact feral, truly unmanaged.

This project further concluded that feral bees were persisting in spite of the Varroa mite and the unexplained die-offs in managed honey bee populations.

In the feature it says other studies also highlighted that whilst it was found feral honey bee colonies were infested with Varroa mites the “Varroa mites in this forest have developed a stable coexistence with them” the bees. Natural beekeeper comments- Surely the “bees” have adapted and are able to have a coexistence with the Varroa mite. It’s worth noting that if you regularly / routinely add chemicals to treat your bees for Varroa you are slowing down this process of coexistence between parasite and host! A study inFrance evidently reported that unmanaged bees were able to survive for up to eleven years!

The feature continues by saying “Hopefully the Feral Bee Project and off-shoot research will lead to the identification of true “survivor stock” here in the US that could be used to develop sustainable breeding programmes”. Natural beekeeper comments- Surely a bee breeding programme, we will never keep up with natural selection and its own success.

Thankfully, the report also says it wish to “Identify mechanisms and traits that enable feral colonies to coexist with various pests and pathogens”. Natural beekeeper comments- Natural comb, higher temperature in the hive, less stress and natural selection of the strongest queen and drones, diversity of forage, density of colonies  will be found to be critical elements!

Then the feature says, “Most beekeepers cannot afford to simply let nature take its course”. Natural beekeeper comments- Well here is one of the route causes of poor bee population health: factory farming by man, by stripping bees the status of wild insects!

The next step in the Feral Bee Project is to integrate colony health measures with survivability and to understand the mechanisms that are allowing these unmanaged honey bee colonies to flourish in spite of large scale decline in managed bee colonies. Natural beekeeper comments- I will simply keep providing, as near as possible the ideal nest environment, minimum interference, allow the bees to build their own comb and swarm naturally… I believe the Warre beehive and Topbar beehives and the natural beekeeping philosophy offers prevention to the decline in bee health and population. Seeking cures from the scientific body will only result in temporary improvements before the next man-made crisis due to manipulation of the honey bee.

David Johnson
Natural Beekeeping

Catching a Swarm with a Bait Hive

Many of our natural beekeepers are using bait hives to catch a swarm, and are using their new Natural Beekeeping Warre bee hives to help them do this.

Here are a few guidelines to help you be successful in catching a swarm with your very own hive / bait hive – (Yes, Scout bees do actually have a shopping list and your ideal home needs to be up to scratch on all points.)

If you’re using your new Warre hive, it should be in the two box format. Do wax the top bars, just add the top box bars only. (When the colony is settled add top bars to the lower box.) This will give you an estimated volume of 36 Litres, approx the average size of cavity the bees are looking for to inhabit.

The box height is important, ideal being between 6 to 10 feet.

Best locations are loan trees (navigation trees for bees) edge of woodland and with a nearby water supply.

The bait hive also needs to be in dappled sunlight at mid afternoon so the hive does not become too hot, the canopy of the tree is excellent for this.

Always ensure the entrance to the hive is clearly visible and not blocked from view by branches for example.

Your hive should also have the correct smell. Use Lemon Grass Oil for example. Smear on the inside of the hive. Additionally use a cloth soaked in Lemon Grass and place in a zip up bag, like a food freezer bag. Leave just a very small gap so the smell is released slowly (and the bees cannot get in). Old comb, previously used hives are also preferred by the scout bees. (Do check the condition of comb; destroy immediately if it becomes damp etc.)

If you are catching a swarm from your own apiary I would suggest using several bait hives, placed 300 meters or more from your hives. After catching your first swarm do replace the bait hive to catch the second (bold) swarm and even a third / fourth swarm.

Do monitor your bait hives visually at least weekly. I would suggest giving your swarm approx a week to settle in the bait hive; during this time they would have started building comb and brood and will be less likely to abscond when you relocate the hive to its desired position. Double check the bees are orientated to their new location and have not returned to the bait hive original location.

Tips for fixing bait hives to trees, use wire strop with plastic protection, if using nails these must be aluminium.

Trust this information helps, any questions as always do call.

Best wishes,

David

Modified Warre Beehives with Varroa Floor Option

We now have for sale Varroa floors for Warre Beehives. The methodology is the Varroa falls off the bees by their cleaning activities, then fall through the Varroa mesh and therefore cannot climb back up the hive and into the brood.

It will also allow you to carry out a Varroa count more easily by simply sliding the bottom tray out. (With solid floors I simply sweep the floor contents into a dustpan, the contents I then spread out on white card making inspection of the floor easier. The main advantage of the Varroa floor therefore is eliminating those Varroa that fall to the floor of the hive.

Our main Varroa tool in the Warre hive is however the higher temperature that the hive is maintained at, this being about 35 deg c. Varroa breeding activity above 33 deg c is reduced / limited.

If you like, this methodology is the natural beekeepers integrated pest management system. (For traditional beekeepers asking how we manage bee health- As a natural beekeeper I practice regular monitoring rather than inspection. If landing board activity, noise, behaviour or smell is not as expected then I would consider an internal inspection of the hive).

My current experience is that for the last two years I have neither sugar dusted nor chemically treated my Warre beehives for Varroa. Each hive has Varroa, the count has gone up and down, but each Warre beehive has expanded and wintered successfully.

Whilst my personnel experiences are not scientific, they are factual and I believe promising. I hope other natural beekeepers are finding such success and I welcome hearing from you.

To request your Varroa floors, please telephone or email (I will add to the shop very soon) they are available for £18.00 each plus £5.00 post and packaging.

Best wishes, David

To all Natural Beekeeping Warre Beehive Beekeepers

For many of our Natural-Beekeeping Warre beekeepers this will be the end of your first or second season of beekeeping.

Experience will be gained, more questions raised: Practical procedures for wintering, judging winter stores, spring build up…

Please do let us know how you are getting on, shared experiences, and practical natural beekeeping questions, do feel free to email or telephone me.

Happy Christmas,

David

Relocating two of our Warre Bee Hives

Relocating Warre beehive, very early one summer morning
Relocating Warre beehive, very early one summer morning

With the help of a few friends we relocated two of our Warre Beehives to a quiet corner of an organic farm. Many thanks for the kind generosity we have received.

We moved the bee colonies in the early hours of last Saturday morning; in fact I was out of bed at sun rise! approx 4.30 am to quickly staple in place a bent section of verroa mesh over the entrance of each Warre beehive before any bees started foraging for nectar and pollen.

Now both these bee hives have been doing really well, hence they are four boxes high. This meant they would only just fit into our beehive delivery van with the pitched roof removed. Therefore, we removed the roofs and taped plain lining paper over the top of the quilt box to help maintain the temperature. Then we strapped the whole bee hive firmly together with a ratchet strap. Through the top of this we slid a carrying pole and then lifted the bee hive. The hive remained perfectly upright and we walked slowly to the van.

As a precaution we did dress in our bee suits, but I am thankful to tell you the whole operation went smoothly and I would use this method of slinging the Warre beehive the next time I have to move any beehives.

If you should have any questions reference the positioning of your beehive, or relocating a Warre beehive please do not hesitate to call.

Best regards,

David