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.

Bees

Its been a little while since I wrote a blog, a combination of an extended kayaking trip around Scotland and the weather means I have been waiting to see what happens, waiting for Spring to start.

I have a bait hive up and ready (Most important is for your bait hive to be off the ground, between 6’ & 10’) but have not added any additional boxes to our Warre beehives.

I did not take any honey last year due to the wet 2012 and also the uncertainty of what Spring 2013 would be like.

Today whilst many beekeepers around me are losing colonies in these cool conditions, our hives still have ample stores; I trust these will continue to support the bees until better weather conditions arrive. (Fingers crossed)

Talk about the weather is a topic for everybody, its seems here in Cornwall that the seasons are mixing into one ongoing Temperate climate that the wildlife will have to adjust to in order to survive.

My philosophy for many years now is to treat the bee hive like a bird box, leave alone as much as possible, and let the bees adjust to the conditions without continual intervention and adding of chemicals and sugar. (Please note, responsible beekeeping means your hives should be regularly monitored, any unusual behaviour or lack of activity might suggest an internal inspection is required.)

My Warre beehives apart from one which was a late swarm have received no sugar feed or chemicals for Varroa, I have taken no honey, this I believe should become a more standard approach to beekeeping. There is possibly an argument to say beekeepers should start to tender some of their beehives in this way, this would strengthen bee stocks, with bees being more suitable and adaptable to their local environment and unseasonable weather.

Best regards,

David

 

 

Bees

All the bees are doing well in our apiaries. This winter I have only fed one bee hive that was a late swarm in August last year and needed a slight help. Our policy is to avoid feeding.

If you are new to beekeeping now is the time to start gathering equipment and if you’re going to populate your new hive with a nucleus of bees these should now be on order with a local bee breeder. Please see our previous bee blog.

Please do use our unique Natural Beekeeping Help Line Tel 01736 785777; we will be pleased to help.

Best regards,

David

For information, I will take the mouse guards off our bee hives this coming weekend.

Beekeeping Preparations for Spring 2013

Now is the time for the natural beekeeper to prepare his or her beekeeping equipment for the bee season ahead.

Apart from ensuring all your beehives are clean and sturdy, enough top bars and waxed, it’s also the time to consider if you wish to expand your apiary.

The options for additional bee colonies are- Swarm, bait hive or purchase a nucleus. If the latter you need to place your order now, this will ensure your bees arrive as near as possible to the start of the spring nectar flow and have maximum time to build a strong colony for the winter ahead.

Bees should be purchased from a reliable source, and be local to your area. Ask if your local bee breeder will allow the bees to build a nucleus on their natural combs in a Warre box and on Warre top bars. See www.norfolkhoney.co.uk or www.webdoor.co.uk as an example of this.

As always any questions do please call our Natural Beekeeping Helpline we are here to help as many natural beekeepers as possible.

Best wishes,

David

2013 Happy New Year Natural Beekeepers

Here in Cornwall it’s a suddenly a bit like Spring. The bees are out flying, actively flying; it’s about 13 deg C here locally. (Sunday 6th January 2013)

Nice as it is, I feel this is a bit confusing for the bees. Last year (2012) I took no honey off the hives at all. Now viewing through the inspection window of what I call my bench mark Warre bee hive I can see two boxes full of honey.

This is a reassuring sight and I am as confident as can be that this hive and other Warre beehives of the same format (the hive is three boxes high) will have adequate supplies until and throughout spring 2013.

It’s worth mentioning that 2012 has seen a number of our Warre beehives only reaching three high in boxes rather than what I have experienced to be an average of four boxes for an established colony.

None of our hives have received sugar feed at any time during 2012 season, or any treatment for Varroa. This has been the case now for 3 total seasons; ‘touch wood’ we seem to have what nature would wish for: bees adapting to their surroundings, weather and cohabitation with the Varroa mite.

Back to checking stores, I do have one Warre hive a relatively late swarm that is in a two box configuration, they started on the light side and this hive I will now feed a winter candy. I try to avoid feeding, however sometimes you have to make a judgement call, and this being our lightest colony I if feel is at risk of starvation.

Via “The Natural-Beekeeping Helpline” please do continue to let us know how you are progressing. It is always good to share natural beekeeping and Warre beehive information and ideas.

Best wishes,

David

Christmas Gifts for Beekeepers

The most popular beekeeping Christmas stocking fillers for the Natural Beekeeper are:

Topbars

Cedar with central groove. Approx 318 x 25 x 10mm

Sold in packs of 8 off.

Price £7.50 plus £2.25 postage

Castellated Topbar Position Holder  

Sold as 4 off pairs

Price £12.00 plus £3.75

Please see our shopping page or call if buying multiple goods (to save on postage & packaging) or wish to pay by cheque.

We have also a stock of ready-built Warre Beehives; again a super Christmas present for natural beekeepers new or already beekeeping. (Free Natural Beekeeping Helpline with every beehive order.)

Happy Christmas and New Year,

David

Bee Update- Pre Christmas 2012

Are your Warre beehives ready for winter? Ideally when viewing honey stores through the inspection window / hefting you should see 8 top bars full of stores which should equate to approx. 12kg in stores weight. This I would consider to be a minimum stores quantity.

Also you should now have in place your mouse guards. Please do inspect these as they can become blocked and be a major problem if not cleared.

The configuration of your hive should be two or three boxes high. The deciding factors are the number of boxes you leave on the hive with available stores, plus whether the bottom box is full of comb or only a few bars. If the latter or empty, I remove the bottom box for the winter.

This arrangement means the Warre beehive is compact for the winter, the volume of air to be maintained warm being smaller. Also it eliminates the possibility of partial completed comb in the bottom box becoming mouldy over the winter.

You can actually rotate your Warre bee hive so the top bars / comb run at right angles to the entrance; this further reduces drafts. (I no longer do this as I do not wish to disturb the bees, plus this would not happen in the wild).

If you should have any questions reference your own Warre beehives in terms of judging stores, hive position, requiring new top bars / “New” position strips etc.  please do not hesitate to call.

Best regards,

David

PS Free delivery for beehives in November, please call. (Tel 01736 785777)