This is the third design in my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design Portfolio. Again I published it before it was final – feel free to comment. First published 3.5.2022 (there will be an edit log in the end of the article). There are quite a few changes in content and structure after we went through the design with my tutor in June. My aim is to finalise the design in autumn 2022.
- My path from Beekeeping to Caring for Bees
- Designing Caring for Bees
- Design Web
- What do we know about honey bees?
- Comparison of different honeybee management systems
- We are the Honeybees: Helps, Limits and Patterns
- Caring for Honeybees: Ideas
- Evaluation of Permaculture Principles
- Darwinian beekeeping principles
- Visions and Permaculture Ethics
- Helps and tools
- Evaluation of the Design Web process
- Sub-designs and implementation
- Design Web
My path from Beekeeping to Caring for Bees
I had bees for a couple of years in the late 1970’s when I was in high school. I had a book and I was mentored by an experienced beekeeper. At that time Varroa was just a word, something that was approaching from the east. Some years later I attended to all beekeeping courses that were available in Helsinki University at the time as a part of my agronomy studies (M.Sc.). In the meantime bees were in my mind but I did not have the opportunity to set up an apiary.
When we acquired Iso-orvokkiniitty in 2014 getting bees was one of the very first things I did. I had agreed with Auli from Helsinki that she would prepare 3 nukes for me into wooden Farrar hives, and as soon as the property was officially ours, I moved the 3 hives from Helsinki to Iso-orvokkiniitty. To some extent beekeeping is like bicycling – you can’t forget it – so I didn’t feel a need to attend to any beekeeping courses. Auli and a local organic beekeeper Hannu Salonen were available on the phone whenever I needed help. Also I read through the main beekeeping manual that is available in Finnish: “Mehiläishoitoa käytännössä”. Parts 1 and 2. 2003. (219 + 316 pages). Marja did take a mainstream beekeeping course in spring 2015.
As a professional in the organic sector and advocate of organics it was clear that our beekeeping would fulfil the requirements of the organic standards and regulations. We even got the bees organic certified for a couple of years but it doesn’t really make much economical sense in such a small operation (I did have 15 hives at most). In any case if we need to buy sugar or wax it is organic. Our location is much better than the organic regulation requires: within the bees’ 2-3 km flying radius there is almost only organic fields, private gardens or forest so our honey is truly pure which has been also proven by pesticide residue analysis of our wax (no residues).
I soon realised that what is called “organic beekeeping” (i.e. according to the EU organic regulation and national interpretation) is fundamentally the same kind of beekeeping as “conventional” mainstream beekeeping in Finland. The differences relate to inputs and materials: sugar, wax and queens that are bought to the apiary must be certified organic, hives must be of natural materials (so wood, not styrofoam). In Finland regular varroa treatment that practically all beekeepers apply is based on acids and thymol which are allowed in organic beekeeping as well. I think it is safe to say that miticides against varroa are not used in Finland – mainly because they are not effective. Organic bees are regularly fed with sugar for winter so there is no difference there either even though the EU organic regulation could be read differently. Organic hives must be wooden (or other natural material) and conventional hives are mostly polystyrene. Queens that are bought must be organic (90%) which generally means that imported queens (from Italy etc) are not used in organic apiaries while non-organic beekeepers widely use imported queens. But nevertheless other than those differences, the strategies used by organic beekeepers are generally speaking the same as all other beekeepers are using. However in recent years there has been strong trends in beekeeping that go against the organic beekeeping ideas, like using plastic wax foundations and artificial insemination, so the difference is widening.
In any case already in 2014-15 I started wondering what else there is out there in terms of more natural beekeeping. In 2015 I stumbled on Ross Conrad’s book Natural Beekeeping which was mainly interesting because it shows how bad mainstream beekeeping is in the USA, but the methods of beekeeping he promotes in the book are pretty standard in Finland anyway. But I was already on my way to a lot of honeybee reading. In 2014-17 I read the following books which gave me a lot of insight:
- Philip Chandler: The Barefoot Beekeeper. 2010.
- Ross Conrad: Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Beekeeping. 2007.
- Abbé Warré: L’Apiculture pour tous. 1948. (Beekeeping for All)
- David Heaf: Natural beekeeping with a Warré hive: A manual. 2013.
- Jürgen Tautz: The Buzz about Bees: Biology of a Superorganism. 2008.
- Gunther Hauk: Toward Saving the Honeybee. 2003.
- Thomas D. Seeley: Honeybee Democracy. 2010.
- Wyatt A. Mangum: Top-Bar Hive Beekeeping: Wisdom and Pleasure Combined.
- Matti Järvi: Mehiläiset ja hoito olkipesissä. 1917. (about keeping bees in straw skeps)
- Kaarlo Vanamo: Mehiläishoidon opas: Lyhyempiä kursseja ja pienviljelijöitä varten. 1911.
- Fedor Lazutin: Keeping Bees with a Smile. 2009/2013
- Phil Chandler: Building a top bar hive.
- Philip Chandler: Managing the top bar hive.
The turning point was finding Philipp Chandler’s book “Barefoot Beekeeper” in late 2014. I started building 3 top bar hives even before I had finished the book and placed nukes in them the following summer. A little later I found Patrick Sellman’s Småbruk website, with a lot of information about beekeeping in top bar hives in Swedish conditions which gave me confidence that it works also in Finland (many beekeepers in Finland at the time were convinced that top bar hives wouldn’t work here). In September 2015 I attended to Patricks weekend course in Sweden and invited him to Finland where he held a course in Fiskars in March 2016 in Swedish. In 2015 we also attended to a Biodynamic Beekeeping course in Helsinki with Erik Frydenlund from Denmark as speaker. There I proposed the words “Mehiläisempää mehiläishoitoa” for Finnish for Apicentric beekeeping, which I have used since then. I was asked to hold a course about beekeeping in top bar hives in Finnish and in April 2016 I held my first beekeeping course “Mehiläisempää mehiläishoitoa” in Karjalohja and after that I have held 1 or 2 courses every year (even once in English). (In 2020-22 online.)
In the winter 2015-16 I also read Abbé Warré’s “Beekeeping for All” and David Heaf’s book about Warré hives and built also Warré hives. So since then I have used 3 hive types side by side which is very interesting in terms of observing and learning how bees behave in different types of hives. On the other hand certain management styles can migrate from one hive type to an other – f.ex. I have not used foundation in the standard Farrar hives for a couple of years. Apparently bees are able to build comb in any type of hive – quite obvious of course. Until 2020 I have used nukes for making new hives, tried to avoid and then catch swarms, used standard varroa treatments (oxalic acid, thymol, formic acid), and fed the hives with organic sugar in the autumn. For the most part I haven’t bought queens, but in 2021 I bought 2 black queens (unfortunately only 1 survived). Most of the honey we have extracted from the Farrar hives (30-40 kg per hive per year) but also some yield has come from the top bar hives and Warré hives (0-20 kg per hive per year).
The last 2 years I have been increasingly doubting if the top bar hives are the ultimate solution for natural beekeeping after all and continued reading and studying the subject.
- Thomas Seeley: The Lives of Bees. The Untold Story of the Honeybee in the Wild. 2019.
Thomas Seeley’s book “The Lives of Bees” is extremely interesting in this respect because it describes the behaviour of honeybees (Apis mellifera) in the wild while practically all other books about beekeeping tell about – well, beekeeping – i.e. about managing honeybees in a box for producing honey. Honeybees are not domesticated animals in the sense cows or dogs are because they are genetically still the same wild bees (although that is starting to change). Also apiaries are totally artificial constructions: in the wild bee hives are not close to each other but rather long distances apart in the landscape. In his book Thomas Seeley describes what he calls “Darwinian Beekeeping” which takes better into account the behaviour and needs of honeybees. Interestingly Thomas Seeley still keeps his own bees in standard Langstroth hives but never has more than 2 boxes per hive.
I also started studying log hives as well as the “Rewilding honeybees” movement. There are various sources of information in the internet describing how people are reviving beekeeping in traditional log hives or tree hives or building these for honeybees for the purpose of rewilding them. One of the most important researchers to look at is Torben Schiffer – see ARTGERECHTE BIENENERHALTUNG. I have also followed the Arboreal Apiculture Salon and subscribed to the Natural Beekeeping magazine for the last 2-3 years.
The earlier part of this story is told in several blog postings in the Iso-orvokkinitty blog which you can read either in original Finnish or use Google to translate them (copy-paste the URL into Google translate, and you will get the whole website translated with functional links – no guarantee of the language though but it is getting better). In March 2015 I wrote about my thoughts in English “Bees at Iso-orvokkiniitty“, in December 2015 “Oxalic Acid Treatment with a Varrox Vaporiser“
Designing Caring for Bees
My purpose here is to do something I experimented already a year ago in the Permapuheet (Permaculture Talks) of the Finnish Permaculture Association: designing from the honeybees perspective. Now I want to take that further and use Looby MacNamara’s Design Web for the purpose. I attended to the CEED – Cultural Emergence Effective Design (January – March 2022) when I started this design.
The Design Web is a non-linear design tool which allows for free movement of thought between the 12 anchor points of the web.
The Design Web is a non-linear process with non-linear outcomes and possibilities. Emergent design reflects the flexibility and unexpectedness of Cultural Emergence. It allows for solutions to emerge that take the design in a new direction. It is organic, responsive, adaptive, fluid, flowing and dynamic. As the design emerges we continue to weave our way between the anchor points. An attitude of emergence enables us to flow and move with what is arising. It recognises that things are not always as they seem, there is more to discover and be revealed. The process is alchemical with surprises along the way.
Designing regenerative cultures is an ongoing process of emergence, not a permanent destination. We are designing for and with living systems that are organic, dynamic and unpredictable. We are setting direction and intentions. It is an invitation for change, rather than being exact or prescriptive.Looby Macnamara in Cultural Emergence
In the CEED course we started the design process from Appreciation, Reflection and Pause anchor points which as a group is called the Elder phase. Starting there is really helpful for getting the Vision right. Here I did a quick exercise in Miro putting down what came to mind about those anchor points in 20 minutes – around a subject that I have given a lot of thought in the past years.
At this point I already have a Vision in mind:
(Re-)wilding bees in and around Iso-orvokkiniitty
Now I would like to keep the vision hypothetical and analyse the points in Appreciation and Reflection in more detail to see if I can find support from the Honeybees for my Vision.
So now I needed to turn the vision around asking what would be the honey bees’ vision. Of course I can’t know that but I will try.
Establishing ourselves – the Honeybees –
in THE WILD around iso-orvokkiniitty in Karjalohja
This vision seems natural: all living creatures want to survive, propagate and thereby spread their genetics wherever they are.
(Human) From peoples’ side there is a lot to appreciate regarding bees. Honeybees are providing us with vital services in terms of pollination of cultivated and wild plants. Indeed the evolution of bees is a co-evolution of blooming flowers and bees that has been evolving for at least 120 million years. Without bees both nature and farming as we know them would not exist. Of course there are other pollinators (insects, birds) but Bees in general (the Anthophila clade) are specialised in pollination and there are globally over 16000 species. There are 9 species in the Apis family where the honeybee Apis mellifera is the best known and the most widely managed species. It is also maybe the most efficient species for generalist pollination.
Apart from pollination honeybees produce and store honey, pollen and propolis but these are obviously not products they voluntarily provide to other species. They store honey and pollen because they overwinter (or get over some other climatic dearth) as a colony.
On top of the practical benefits of honey bees we can just be amazed and appreciate the biology of honeybees as a superorganism.
(Honeybees) Here I am asking what appreciation the bees might have?
The history of human – honeybee -interaction goes way back in history. We know that Ancient Egyptians kept bees over 4500 years ago probably in a very similar way as in the middle east today in traditional cylindrical clay hives. However it is clear that keeping bees in tree hives and other natural nests and harvesting honey from wild hives has been going on much longer than that – probably always. So humans and bees might have interacted longer than Homo sapiens has existed and maybe we came from Africa together. Maybe humans have helped to spread honeybees in a similar way as humans have spread beneficial plants. We can presume that humans and honeybees have interacted for a very very long time.
Honeybees: Maybe there are parts of our common history that we honeybees could appreciate. But there is a lot that we don’t appreciate like robbing honey from our hives, exploiting us and destroying and poisoning the environment where we live.
Honeybees: Closer by at Iso-orvokkiniitty there are some positives that we honeybees appreciate.
- within our flying distance around Iso-orvokkiniitty there is only forest and organically managed farmland. So there should be no risk of pesticides for bees here.
- The lake shores offer lush vegetation during the summer even during droughts.
- There are a lot of gardens around us and at Iso-orvokkiniitty humans are developing a high degree of biodiversity and planting different kinds of plants.
- We think it is nice that they are offering also other bee species (bumble bees, solitary bees etc) nesting places and biodiversity.
I hope the honeybees appreciate that I have brought them here, but I can’t know.
Reflection: What do we know about honey bees?
Sources of information (the Human perspective)
I have kept honeybees here at Iso-orvokkiniitty since 2014 and gradually moved towards a more apicentric beekeeping while keeping bees, observing them, studying bees and beekeeping and teaching about bees. I have read a lot, including the books mentioned above. In 2021 I read Thomas D. Seeley’s latest book “The Lives of Bees. The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild” (Princeton. 2019.) I have studied Torben Schiffers thoughts about honey bees but unfortunately his main book “Evolution der Bienenhaltung” (2020) hasn’t been translated to English yet. I have also listened to the The Arboreal Apiculture Salon with a lot of interesting content from various speakers including Thomas Seeley and Torben Schiffer among others.
I think in order to treat honeybees ethically we need to know the biological and ecological facts about honeybees as well as we can. The purpose of the following is to share with the reader the main points. I will make here several statements about what I think I have learned and understood about honeybees (it helps if the reader has a basic understanding of honey bees):
- The Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) is a Euro-African (Europe, Middle East, Africa) social insect that in a temperate climate nests mainly in trees. As such it is an endangered species in Europe.
- Honey Bees are a social insect where the colony forms a superorganism. The Honey Bee has adapted strategies similar to big mammals: slow propagation, producing food for offspring in special glands, the brood area similar to a womb, stable 35°C temperature in the hive, well developed capacity to learn and communicate (Jürgen Tautz: The Buzz about Bees – Biology of a Superorganism. 2008. (Phaenomen Honigbiene. 2007))
- Honey Bees have at least 60 million years experience in pollination and have co-evolved with blooming plants.
- Bees leave the hive to their offspring (swarming). “We build the hive for those who come after us.”
- Bees communicate with each other with pheromones and by dancing. Where is there a nest for a swarm? Where are the flowers blooming?
- Bees have a decision making process for choosing the nest for the swarm. (Honey Bee democracy. Thomas D. Seeley: Honeybee Democracy. 2010)
- A natural honeybee hive has a certain way of organising itself:
- the hive is normally in a tree cavity that gives efficient insulation and thermal mass
- the tree cavity is always more or less decaying meaning the presence of fungi
- the bees cover all surfaces with propolis which acts as a protective, hygienising antibiotic inner skin for the hive
- bees start to build comb from the top of the cavity building gradually downwards as long as there is space
- as the comb is built downwards the queen moves downwards so that the brood is always in the lower part of the comb
- in late summer the brood area is at the lower part of the hive and that is where the winter cluster is formed. The food storage is above.
- during the winter the cluster eats itself back to the upper part of the hive where it again is in the spring.
- the pollen storage is placed above the brood for easy accessibility (pollen is needed for feeding the larvae)
- nectar is stored above the pollen and transformed into honey
- the entrance is normally in the lower part of the hive
- a healthy bee colony keeps wax moth out of the actual comb
- in the lowest part of the cavity there is various decaying material forming a necessary biome
The Annual Cycle
Naturally honey bees’ lives follow cyclically the seasons. Often it is thought that the honey bees’ year starts in the autumn. The foraging season is over and the hive hopefully has been able to gather enough honey and pollen to survive the long Nordic winter. As it gets colder the bees cluster together in the brooding area and generate heat by vibrating their flying muscles. For that they need the honey they have stored and slowly they eat themselves up through the storage and end up at the top of the comb in the spring. When the first warmer sunny days come in March they will take off for the cleansing flight and empty their intestines creating yellow signs of spring celebration around the hive. At that time the queen starts laying eggs and therefore the consumption of food in the hive increases dramatically. This is the hunger period when hives might die if they run out of food before foraging starts for real. It’s still a long way to go. (Humans used to be in the same situation: spring is here but there is nothing to eat.) First the alder and hazels start to bloom and on a warm day the bees will carry in pollen from those. Often the period is too cold for bees to fly. Next the willows start to bloom and that is giving the bees already substantial amounts of food. Still it is only when the dandelions bloom in late May – early June that the hunger period is over. The beekeeper can help by planting other early bloomers. The spring born honeybees say farewell to the ones who came over the winter.
From there foraging gets intensive and the hive builds storage and gets stronger. 10-20000 bees hatch every week. The colony has felt good about life and the queen has laid also drone eggs and drones appear in the hive. Even more: queen cells are prepared and the queen lays eggs in them in anticipation of swarming. Life gets intensive: swarming and the young queen’s mating flights. Mid summer is celebrated. With no brood to feed the honey storage is soon full. The bees can concentrate on each others welfare. Get rid of the varroa mites.
However the swarm in its new nest has a daunting job to do: to build comb and fill it with food for the winter in just a few weeks. Often the swarm fails but the next year a new swarm will enter the same cavity and benefit from the comb that is already there. The Finnish summer is so short and most of the blooming is over by the end of July when fireweed has bloomed. The beekeeper can help by planting late bloomers. Drones are expelled from the hive, wintering bees are born in August and the hive is prepared for winter. Brooding stops. The cycle closes.
I wrote about Zones in general and at the Iso-orvokkiniitty site in “Evaluation and site analysis 2: Zones“. I put the apiary in Zone 2 which makes sense if bees are managed in a pretty standard way that involves visiting the hives almost weekly during the season. Currently I am moving the bee hives to Zone 3 (places visited on a weekly to monthly basis) as a part of natural darwinian beekeeping.
Honeybees: Here I am adapting the Zones concept to the honeybees themselves.
- The Honeybee Zones:
- Zone 00 is the bees themselves
- Zone 0 is the bee hive
- The bees and structures of the hive make up the honeybee superorganism
- Outside the hive Zone 1 is the close area around the hive up to maybe 50 meters where bees fetch water and resins and tend to fly in cold spring weather for pollen. Also the swarm as it leaves the hive lands somewhere close to the hive for the scouting phase, i.e. for searching the actual nest they want to move to.
- Zone 2 up to 2-3 km is the standard flying zone for foraging nectar and pollen in the main foraging season. Most swarms find their final nest within zone 2.
- Zone 3: Up to 10 km from the hive is thought to be the mating area where the virgin queen can mate with drones.
- Zone 4: Drones can move from hive to hive within large areas.
- Zone 5: Outside the reach of the hive.
Get a yield.
Bees forage mainly nectar and pollen. They use nectar (and mildew) for producing honey which is the honeybees’ energy source for flying and heating the hive. Pollen, containing a high content of protein and other nutrients, is the actual food and used for feeding the larvae. Honeybees also collect resins for producing propolis which is their hygienic protection and they have been observed to collect various other substances from the nature including fungal extracts. These could go into the medicine box. Bees use and value renewable resources. Actually that’s all they have and all they need!
The question of feeding bees with sugar is a key consideration in any natural beekeeping discussion. In Finland it is widely considered a fact that bees can not be kept without sugar feeding and that in fact bees would not be able to overwinter with honey. The logic is that sugar is cleaner than honey. Sugar is pure sugar so it causes less pressure for the bees to defecate and therefore they can sustain a longer winter. A part of this logic is that Finland is not within honey bees natural geographic range. Obviously there is also a huge economical incentive to change the honey in the hive to sugar.
On the other hand it is well known that some types of honey are problematic as winter feed. F.ex mildew, rapeseed and heather could cause difficulties in bigger quantities. In a diverse environment it is not probable that the hive would contain any specific type of honey to a problematic degree.
So far I have resorted to sugar feeding. When striving to minimise or eliminate sugar feeding there are some things to consider:
- Swarms and nukes might not be able to gather enough honey in order to get through the winter. Even in nature 80% of swarms don’t get over their first winter (according to T. Seeley) and this is probably due to insufficient quantity of food in the hive. The ones that survive are not necessarily better in foraging nectar and pollen or better comb builders but they found a nest with existing comb from the previous swarm. Therefore I feel feeding swarms and nukes is justified.
- Managed hives should be checked for sufficient honey store and they could be fed if necessary.
- Honey can be harvested from the hives in May when they have come through the winter and spring. What is left then could be considered something the bees could share with us.
- Log hives shouldn’t be fed so that the full evolutionary pressure is on them.
Usually sugar is fed in excess to be sure that the hive will survive even a harsh winter or a long cold spring. The beekeeper should take the excess sugar out of the hive latest in early June when bees are getting a good flow of nectar from dandelions. Otherwise the sugar will still be in the hive when honey is extracted. There is no better way to guarantee that your honey is 100% honey than not feeding sugar.
Flow of materials
Thomas Seeley has analysed the flow of materials in a honey bee colony (see graph). The whole purpose of the spring development is to transfer the winter storage of honey and pollen as well as whatever can be foraged in the spring, into brood (larvae, eventually bees) so that the hive can produce drones, swarm (propagate) and have sufficient foraging power during the main season to collect honey for the winter. It must also have resources to manage the hive health.
If a colony dies a new swarm might move in and continue from where the previous colony left. Eventually the comb will become black of years of bee colonies and layer after layer of pupa remnants in the comb cells. It is time for a pause. Other creatures like birds, mice or wax moth (or a combination of these and others) will clean up. After cycles of these other creatures nesting in the cavity, honey bees might take their turn again at a later stage. The combination of different occupants in the nest will contribute to the biome.
The honey bee superorganism is a master in self regulation and feedback loops. Through constant internal and external interaction the superorganism knows when to build different kinds of comb, when to clean comb, when to forage nectar or pollen or water or other substances, when to build queen cells, when to lay eggs in them, when to swarm, when to chase the drones out of the hive, among other things. How it does all this is still a mystery. Bees always follow the same patterns but adapt to changing situations.
The comb is the skeleton of the honeybee superorganism. Comb is used for brood, preparing and storing honey, preparing and storing bee bread (pollen) and as a communication platform. The purpose of comb is varied according to need (integrate rather than segregate: one element, several functions).
Honeybees reproduce by swarming but the queen can also be changed silently, or through emergency queen rearing or in the worst case the colony will attempt to spread its genes with working queens that can produce only drones (one function, several elements).
Honey bees use and value diversity. They are generalists that can forage most blooming plants for nectar and pollen as well as many wind pollinated plants for pollen if needed. The plants benefit of pollination which increases biodiversity in the area where honey bees are active. Finally even other pollinators benefit as long as beekeepers don’t artificially maintain an overpopulation of honey bees in the area.
Honey bees are also diverse themselves even in the same colony both compared to each other and in terms of changing tasks depending on their age, experience and what is needed. A queen mates with 10-20 drones and therefore the colony’s working bees have genetic diversity even when they all might have the same mother. Drones are haploids, i.e. they result from unfertilised eggs and have only a single set of chromosomes while queens are diploids. It means that drones are 100% related to their mother (but not identical to each other) and all sperm cells produced by a drone are identical clones. It also means that honeybees that have the same mother and father are 75% related to each other which could partly explain why workers forego their own reproduction in favor of helping their queen mother raise more sisters. http://www.glenn-apiaries.com/genetics.html
Honey bees go through a complete metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa, adult) and as an adult bee through changing tasks and responsibilities.
The honey bee hives interact also with each other.
- Queens never mate with a drone from the same hive. The mating congregation area attracts young virgin queens and drones to the same area from all the hives in the area.
- Swarms look for suitable nesting cavities. They have the best chance to survive in a cavity that has already earlier been occupied (they don’t need to start building comb from zero).
- Drones travel from hive to hive and are always welcomed and fed during high season.
- Working bees can easily go into the wrong hive in apiaries. If their nectar stomach is full they are welcomed. This hardly happens in nature where nests are far apart.
- Honey bees can rob each other. This mainly happens in apiaries but not in natural nests that are far apart.
Honey bees’ life cycle has some patterns that could be imagined as their seasonal celebrations. We can imagine honey bees celebrating
- the start of brooding in the spring
- the cleansing flight
- the emergence of drones
- the new queen’s mating flight
- expelling the drones
- stopping brooding
- forming the winter cluster
As mentioned above the honeybee Apis mellifera is endemic in Europe, Middle East and Africa which means there is a large number of subspecies and genotypes of honeybees that have adapted to local conditions respectively. The subspecies that occurred naturally in Europe north and west of the Alps is A. mellifera mellifera which however has been replaced by Eastern European subspecies by beekeepers, especially the Italian Bee A.m. ligustica. Incidentally those two subspecies have the biggest genetical distance to each other among honeybee subspecies.
It is worth pondering why that replacement has happened and what are the consequences. The main reason was the higher honey production capacity per colony in modern beekeeping. The Italian bee overwinters as a big colony and starts brooding early thereby developing foraging power for the main nectar season. This enables the beekeeping to achieve high productivity per hive – even in Finland over 100 kg honey per hive is not exceptional (average is 40 kg). This strategy requires large winter food reserves in the hive which is not a problem when sugar is cheap and readily available. On the other hand the Nordic Dark bee A.m. mellifera has a different strategy where it overwinters as a relatively small colony and starts brooding late thus requiring much less winter feed. This is the strategy a wild honeybee should follow in order to survive independently in Northern Europe.
Modern beekeeping methods encourages also other behaviour which is not appropriate for bees in natural nest cavities thus creating genetics that can not survive in nature. For example production of propolis is discouraged because it makes manipulating comb difficult for the beekeeper. Honeybees that start building from the wall instead of from the top have been observed and the queen might lay eggs all over the hive instead of maintaining the brood in the lower part of the comb as it should. This kind of behaviour is a result of using foundation wax and queen separators and represents genetics that is not ok in nature.
Comparison of different honeybee management systems
Beekeeping is by definition managing honey bees for the purpose of production for human benefit – usually for production of honey but it could also be production of pollination services, pollen, propolis, royal jelly, venom, queens, bees, larvae etc. If beekeeping is a management system, is natural beekeeping even possible? Honey bees have not been domesticated in the sense that they would be “tame” or dependent on humans. Humans have simply learned how to manipulate these essentially wild animals for his own benefit.
My purpose here is not to go through all beekeeping methods and techniques. Below I use Thomas Seeley’s “Comparisons of the environments in which honey bee colonies have lived in wild colonies and those in which they live currently as managed colonies” (The Lives of Honey Bees. p 279) as a tool to compare different management strategies for beekeeping. For the purpose of comparison I have devised a system of calculating points of (un)naturalness of beekeeping strategies. The comparison can’t truly be objective but it gives direction. I have assessed each parameter in 5 steps and made a calculation of points where the strategy get 0 points if all parameters are as in “Environment of evolutionary adaptation” and 100 points if all parameters are as in “Current circumstances”. [a=0 / points = (b+3c+6d+10e)/2,1]. So 0 points is the best possible outcome and 100 points the worst.
The first assessment is about standard beekeeping in Finland. There are a few points were I think conditions here are better than in Seeley’s description so Finnish standard beekeeping gets 91 points and organic beekeeping an only slightly better 87 points.
There are advantages in top bar beekeeping (50 points compared 83 for organic standard beekeeping) but it is not perfect.
Darwinian beekeeping in standard hives or top bar hives improves the situation again to 33 points. The main difference between the standard hives and top bar hives is the free building of comb in top bar hives. This point is not valued in Seeley’s comparison. On the other hand you don’t need to use foundation in box hives either.
Some of the points in Seeley’s comparison don’t much depend on the beekeeper. Colonies are confronted with the new diseases and pests in all management systems but when the hives are scattered around the pressure is lower. Insecticides and fungicides are in the environment anyway. So 0 points can not be reached.
Natural and Darwinian beekeeping
In “The Lives of Bees” (2019) Thomas Seeley presents what he calls Darwinian beekeeping – a way of beekeeping where evolution can still ensure that honeybees remain a species that can survive in the wild. He has complied a list of suggestions (p.286-290):
- Work with bees that are adapted to your location.
- Space your hives as widely as possible.
- House your colonies in small hives.
- Roughen the inner wall surfaces of your hives or build them of rough-sawn lumber.
- Use hives whose walls provide good insulation.
- Position hives high off the ground.
- Allow colonies to maintain 10-20% of the comb in their hives as drone comb.
- Minimize disruption of nest structure, so the functional organization of each colony’s nest is maintained.
- Minimise the moving of colonies.
- Locate your colonies as far as possible from flowers that are contaminated with insecticides and pesticides.
- Locate your colonies in places that are surrounded as much as possible by natural areas: wetlands, forests, abandoned fields, moorlands and the like.
- When you need additional colonies, acquire them by capturing swarms with bait hives or by making “splits” from strong colonies letting them conduct emergency queen rearing and natural queen mating.
- Minimize pollen trapping and honey harvesting from your colonies.
- Refrain from treating colonies for Varroa.
There are some aspects of “Natural Beekeeping” that are not included in Seeley’s Darwinian beekeeping framework. Below is a “New set of standards for working with the honeybee” presented by Gunter Hawk in his book “Toward Saving the Honeybee” (2002):
- Provide a comfortable home made of natural materials
- Allow natural procreation for queens
- Allow only the best sources of nourishment: honey and pollen
- Permit the autonomous creation of honeycomb to a great degree, thereby permitting as many drones as the colony wants and needs
- Provide an environment free of pesticides, antibiotics, plastic, substitutes for honey and pollen, and unnecessary intrusion
- Respect the colony as an organism rather than a mechanism with exchangeable parts.
As a compilation from different sources I have in my courses described the benefits of top bar hives:
- Bees can build comb as they like and not as dictated by frames and foundadtion.
- Different sized brood cells and smaller than foundation standard cell size (resistance to varroa mites)
- Drone cells: 15-20% of bees in a hive can be drones
- More natural space for queen cells
- Comb is naturally round (hanging chains), not rectangular
- Vibration of the comb: hive communication
- Comb is not put back into the hive after extraction of honey,
- Bees build continuously new comb (like in nature) so turnover of comb is faster.
- Bees have a strong instinct to build comb
- A healthier colony?
- Comb production taxes honey production 1/6
- Only honey comb can be harvested – more honey is left in the hive
- No need to buy foundation or wire
- Less need for hive inspection
Ethics of Beekeeping
I have come a long way from standard organic beekeeping to natural beekeeping with top bar hives to darwinian beekeeping strategies and to advocating arboreal apiculture. I want to reflect on my path because each strategy is based on different ethics. Each beekeeping strategy emerged from the previous because it was not ethically satisfactory.
I think it is important to understand that in a permaculture design beekeeping can not be just an element that can be put somewhere in the design and tick the Earth care box simply because honeybees are pollinators. Beekeeping is a system in itself that must be designed from the Permaculture ethics perspective.
Ethics of keeping or caring for honeybees:
|Standard Beekeeping||– Ethics of exploiting nature |
– Ethics of efficiency
– Our responsibility for the lives of individual honeybees or beehives that are in our care
|Natural Beekeeping||– Ethics of sustainably exploiting nature|
– Ethics of naturalness
|Darwinian Beekeeping||– Ethics of sustainably exploiting nature|
– Darwinian ethics: our responsibility for independent survival of species
|Arboreal Apiculture||– Darwinian ethics: our responsibility for independent survival of species |
– Earth Care ethics: enhance and heal the environment to support the survival of species and ecosystems
It seems that we should go towards a combination of Darwinian Beekeeping and Arboreal Apiculture. How can it be put in the context of Permaculture Ethical principles: Earth care, People care and Fair Share? There seems to be an Emergent path towards Earth Care however allowing for some People Care in the form of also getting a yield, albeit much smaller than standard beekeeping offers. It is Fair Share because it allows everyone to practise arboreal and darwinian beekeeping and get some benefits in the form of honey, pollen and pollination and increased resilience of our living environment. It is also Future Care because it tries to ensure that Honey Bees survive. It abandons the ethics of exploitation and efficiency.
Both the honey bees and the beekeeper has a natural pause in the winter.
In a managed apiary in southern Finland the honey bees have been actively foraging until July. The beekeeper takes the honey from the hives in late July – early August. Taking the honey causes a huge disruption and reorganisation of comb in the hive. After the harvest a thymol treatment for varroa is done in the hive and after that feeding sugar starts. Bees that are born in August or later are the wintering bees. Drones are chased out of the hive. Feeding should be over in September so the bees have a little time to settle for winter. In November – December the beekeeper does the oxalic acid treatment which might be repeated in early spring. That involves opening the frame hive from the top and pouring in oxalic acid syrup on the bee cluster. When it gets cold the bees retreat into a winter cluster – the colder it is the tighter the cluster. Sugar is the fuel for the bees to keep themselves warm (they move their flying muscles to produce heat) and essentially they eat themselves through the sugar combs upwards during the winter. So the metabolism is quite high and one could ask if it is a pause for the bees after all. Brooding on the other hand has stopped in late autumn and starts again at some point in early spring. Normally the box – be it a frame hive or a top bar hive – has thin walls (25-28mm) and the space is much larger than the cluster. The hive is cold and only the cluster is warm. Fluctuation of temperature outside is more or less directly reflected as fluctuations inside. The bees must work hard to keep the cluster temperature stable. In early spring the queen starts to lay eggs and the brood develops. It means sharp increase in the consumption of food including pollen and that the temperature must be higher and stable (34,5-35,5°C). On a warm early spring day in February-March the bees come out for the cleansing flight. Alder and hazel pollen become available and the tussilago, crocus and anemone start blooming. Benefitting from those requires that it is over 8°C which is often not the case. Enough food starts to flow in only when dandelion is blooming in late May – early June. Until then there is risk of starvation for the colony.
How could it go for a wild or feral colony in Southern Finland? If all has gone well for the colony in the summer it has built its cavity full of comb and filled the comb with honey and pollen by the end of June. At some point in June a swarm left the hive causing a pause in brooding which speeds up filling the storage (because there is no brood to feed) and breaks the varroa mite’s population expansion. The storage is full in early July and foraging just needs to compensate for consumption. The brood area is much smaller than in a managed hive because there is simply less comb space. The bees can concentrate on other management tasks, grooming each other for mites, cleaning and propolising etc. They prepare for winter with no external disturbance and eventually go into a winter cluster which in the narrow tree cavity reaches from wall to wall. The thick tree trunk’s temperature gradually decreases but the nest temperature has very little day-night fluctuation because of the huge thermal mass of the tree. This and the smaller colony size decreases energy need. Brooding ends early in the autumn and starts late in the spring to save honey consumption when no external food sources are available. Brooding starts in March-April and fresh foraging bees are out collecting nectar and pollen by the time dandelions bloom.
From the two stories it is evident that the bees need different “sets of skills” in the two different situations. Those skills come from the bee’s genetics and from the circumstances where they live and there could even be some adaptation by learning. In Finland practically all honey bees are managed “by the book” in box hives and the genetics is not adapted to the natural conditions here. The black bee Apis mellifera mellifera has virtually disappeared and other bee breeds from more southern origins (most notably the Italians) have taken its place. In my understanding the main benefit was the bigger colonies with stronger brood development that meant more foraging power during the main season and thereby bigger honey yields per hive. 100 years ago 5 kg would have been a normal yield per hive while now in Finland the average is 30-40 kg and yields exceeding 100 kg per hive are not considered exceptional. The price for this development is increased winter feeding with sugar (25-30 kg per hive) to support the big over-wintering colony and brooding that starts very early in the winter. When the price of sugar is just a fraction of the price of honey this is economically a totally acceptable price to pay. Ecologically maybe not?
The genetics that is optimal for this kind of commercial beekeeping is not optimal for the bees’ survival in nature. So are feral bees based on this genetics possible at all? Does rewilding bees require bringing in genetics from elsewhere (and from where in that case)?
We are the Honey Bees: Helps, Limits and Patterns
- Helps: We can swarm!
- But we also need help:
- We need an environment that is not polluted and poisoned.
- We need biodiversity. We need old forests with natural nesting cavities in trees.
- We need people to help us by building nests (log hives etc) while waiting for the tree cavities
- We need more blooming flowers especially in late summer and autumn
- our genetics are not from here
- we are struggling with Varroa
- they put us in thin-walled boxes
- we can’t find natural nest cavities
- the winter is so long
- we can’t find enough food in the late summer and autumn
- ants attack us in the spring (mainly Formica aquilonia)
- Only our mother the queen lays eggs
- We do full metamorphosis from egg to larva to pupa to adult
- As adults we go through different roles in the hive
- We celebrate
- the start of brooding in early spring
- the spring cleansing flight
- the emergence of the drones
- the virgin queen’s mating flight
- expelling the drones
- when we stop brooding
- retreating into the nest and the winter cluster
Caring for Honeybees: Ideas
The main ideas for the Vision “(Re-)Wilding honeybees in and around Iso-orvokkiniitty are
- Keep bees at Iso-orvokkiniitty according to Darwinian Beekeeping principles in different types of box hives (Farrar, Warré, TBH). This is for maintaining a honey bee population that can be managed for winter survival (feeding) and the apiary is the entry point for new bees and a source of swarms.
- Minimise feeding sugar by harvesting honey in May.
- Build nests for honeybees in the area in and around Iso-orvokkiniitty. These could be log hives made of tree trunks or log hives made of timber. The nests should form a network where nests are available at 50-500 metre distances from each other. Locations farther can be developed but I presume swarms prefer to stay within a few kilometres of the mother nest.
- Involve a local group of rewilding-the-bees-enthusiasts who can put nests on their property, help monitor the nests and look for wild colonies.
Evaluation of Permaculture Principles
In David Holmgren’s terms (3) this design is in the domains of “Land & Nature Stewardship” and to some extent “Land Tenure & Community Governance” and broadly speaking a “Land Based” design with some “Social Design” aspects. The Ethics of Permaculture (Earth care, People care, Fair share) have been taken into account in the Vision and discussed in the Beekeeping Ethics.
In the below I evaluate how the design can meet the Design Principles as outlined by David Holmgren in his book “Essence of Permaculture” (3).
|The Principle||How to realize||Challenges|
|1.||OBSERVE AND INTERACT||The design is based on 8 years of observation, studying and interaction with bees which will continue with implementing the Design. Bees observe their environment and interact with it. With placing Honeybee nests in the landscape we Humans will be in an interaction with Honeybees that is not manipulative or exploitative.||Enabling the honeybees to survive in a manmade landscape.|
|2.||CATCH AND STORE ENERGY||The life cycle and annual cycle of the Honey Bees is about catching and storing energy. With placing Honeybee Nests in the landscape we enable the bees to fulfil that aim.||Are the bees up to the task? Do they have the right skills (genetics)?|
|3.||OBTAIN A YIELD||In the Apiary with a few production hives we will be able to harvest the honey we need for ourselves.|
|4.||APPLY SELF-REGULATION AND ACCEPT FEEDBACK||With the Re-wilding bees -part of the design we venture into the unknown. To succeed we must observe, interact, apply self-regulation and accept feedback. Honeybees as a superorganism are masters in self-regulation and accepting feedback.||Interact and understand how we can help.|
|5.||USE AND VALUE RENEWABLE RESOURCES AND SERVICES||We will provide the bees with resources, mostly local and renewable and we will receive renewable resources (honey etc) and services (pollination, biodiversity etc). External resources and materials will be kept at a minimum.||Inputs are construction material (timber and tree trunks), organic sugar and fuel for the chainsaw.|
|6.||PRODUCE NO WASTE||We use only natural materials. Everything will eventually re-enter nature’s cycles.||The chainsaw.|
|7.||DESIGN FROM PATTERNS TO DETAILS||I have reflected on honeybees natural patterns and adapted the design to them.||Design a hive that matches a natural honeybee nest.|
|8.||INTEGRATE RATHER THAN SEGREGATE||Integrate natural darwinian beekeeping strategies with supporting wild-living honeybee populations with the help of a local community of honeybee enthusiasts. |
Honeybees as a superorganism are masters of integration.
Integrate with the Forest garden design (what plants and trees can help the bees).
Integrate with the Mushroom design (how does the honeybee – fungi interaction help the bees).
|9-||USE SMALL AND SLOW SOLUTIONS||Bees live in annual cycles that can not be rushed.||Designs can be implemented and observed one year at a time.|
|10.||USE AND VALUE DIVERSITY||A diversity of beehives, bee nests and honeybees enables us to observe and accept feedback.|
|11.||USE EDGES AND VALUE THE MARGINAL||Hives and nests are located in edges between forest and field.|
|12.||CREATIVELY USE AND RESPOND TO CHANGE||Yes.|
Darwinian Beekeeping and other principles
Darwinian beekeeping as proposed by Thomas Seeley already was described above. With the table below I analyse what possibilities there are to put those thoughts into practise at Iso-orvokkiniitty.
|Darwinian principle of Beekeeping principles||How to|
|1.||Work with bees that are adapted to your location.||1) in the first stage I plan to buy queens presumably adapted to the region, i.e. Nordic black bees |
2) Let bees swarm or – if necessary make nukes
2) seek drone air dominance i.e. don’t restrict drone brooding
3) create a community of beekeepers around you who employ similar management strategies.
|2.||Space your hives as widely as possible.||We fortunately have enough space to distribute the hives to a larger area.|
|3.||House your colonies in small hives.||Restrict Farrar hives to 3 boxes, Warré hives to 4 boxes and TBH to 40 litres (12 top bars).|
|4.||Roughen the inner wall surfaces of your hives or build them of rough-sawn lumber.||Will do for future hives.|
|5.||Use hives whose walls provide good insulation.||Current Farrar, Warré and TBH hives have 28 mm thick wooden walls. Will design a new hive with thicker walls.|
|6.||Position hives high off the ground.||TBH is at appr. 1 m. Restricting number of boxes in Farrar and Warré makes it possible to raise them higher off the ground.|
|7.||Allow colonies to maintain 10-20% of the comb in their hives as drone comb.||I am not restricting drone comb.|
|8.||Minimize disruption of nest structure, so the functional organization of each colony’s nest is maintained.||I will base propagation on swarming so regular hive inspections are not necessary.|
|9.||Minimise the moving of colonies.||I move colonies only exceptionally.|
|10.||Locate your colonies as far as possible from flowers that are contaminated with insecticides and pesticides.||Our surroundings are forest, gardens or organic fields.|
|11.||Locate your colonies in places that are surrounded as much as possible by natural areas: wetlands, forests, abandoned fields, moorlands and the like.||Pretty much the case.|
|12.||When you need additional colonies, acquire them by capturing swarms with bait hives or by making “splits” from strong colonies letting them conduct emergency queen rearing and natural queen mating.||1) let bees swarm & catch|
2) use splits with free-pairing queens
|13.||Minimize pollen trapping and honey harvesting from your colonies.||Max 10 kg per hive. Harvest honey in May – June when bees have past the lowest point in their honey storage.|
|14.||Refrain from treating colonies for Varroa.||I’m not treating.|
|Gunter Hauk beekeeping principles|
|1.||Provide a comfortable home made of natural materials||Wooden hives|
|2.||Allow natural procreation for queens||= Darwinian 12.|
|3.||Allow only the best sources of nourishment: honey and pollen||Avoid sugar feeding if possible. I have never used protein substitutes.|
|4.||Permit the autonomous creation of honeycomb to a great degree, thereby permitting as many drones as the colony wants and needs||Top bar hives and log hives allow bees to build freely without foundation or frames restricting how they build. I don’t use foundation even in frame hives.|
|5.||Provide an environment free of pesticides, antibiotics, plastic, substitutes for honey and pollen, and unnecessary intrusion||Our environment is as clean as can be and I don’t introduce foreign substances in the hive apart from the occasional sugar feeding. No plastic. Avoid glues and metal in building hives.|
|6.||Respect the colony as an organism rather than a mechanism with exchangeable parts.||Cause as little disturbance as possible in hives.|
Visions and Permaculture Ethics
Two visions evolved from the Design Web – one from the Honey Bees perspective and one from my Human perspective.
Of course we don’t know if Honey Bees have visions. But this vision seems justified because this is what nature does: it tries to expand (spread genes) to new areas if possible. This might also be nature’s vision because honey bees is a key species in European temperate ecological systems and they increase the resilience, productivity and diversity of natural systems.
As a human my vision is based primarily on Earth Care and Future Care and it is justified by what the bees say above. It is also People Care for the same reason: honey bees increase the resilience, productivity and diversity of natural systems. It also benefits our cultivation systems by providing pollination and finally in the best case we can get a precious small yield of natural honey.
Helps and tools:
What are the key needs for realising the Vision? The Honey Bees say:
Find a safe environment where we can thrive.
My conclusion is
Emergence of a community nest (of people) where honey bees can safely rewild.
With the Community Nest I mean a community of people who support the honey bees in developing an environment where they can thrive for the benefit of the whole.
Keep honey bees using natural Darwinian
beekeeping strategies while supporting wild populations.
I presume the history of honey bees was first a co-evolution of bees and blooming plants but later – in the last 30000 to 100000 years also a co-evolution between honey bees and humans. A Cultural Emergence which benefitted both. That is the path we should again find and stop exploitation.
Action (spring 2022)
- Start building a local Re-wilding-the-Bees Community.
- The “Call to Action” will be a gathering for local rewilding bees enthusiasts at Iso-orvokkiniitty this spring (2022).
- Make and set up log hives. A part of the gathering will be making log hives together.
- Before that I should make one test hive.
- Design a natural Darwinian production hive and production cycle.
- Introduce new genetics in the area.
- Plant Tilia sp. trees => Forest Garden design. (blooming at different times?)
- We already have planted Tilia cordata and Tilia platyphyllos.
- We planted Tilia amurensis and Tilia japonica in September 2022
- Erkki keeps his annual weekend beekeeping course drawing from the ideas in this design.
- (Delayed to 2023) World Bee Day 20.5.2023 at Iso-orvokkiniitty
- Erkki’s annual Beekeeping course
- Celebrate the honey bees and the yield they give us when dandelions are blooming in late May – early June. (The World Bee Day.)
- Workshops for the local Bee community
Evaluation of the Design Web Process
I participated in the CEED – Cultural Emergence Effective Design Course in January – March 2022. As a part of the Course I started a zone-00 design which however I did not finalise during the course. At the same time I decided that I wanted to use Design Web for my Bee Design. And I would use two Design Webs – from the Human and from the Bee’s perspective – or maybe they are two Design Wheels of the same carriage.
I think using Design Web will need more practise but nevertheless it worked well for this design in creating new ideas and perspectives and a Cultural Emergence between Natural Beekeeping, Re-wilding Bees and a local Bee-supporting Community of people. I have tried to keep the Human perspective and the Honeybee perspective distinct but nevertheless it has been challenging to follow the logic all the way and it may be confusing for the reader. In the end of the day even the Honeybee perspective is mine – we can’t actually know how (and if) Honeybees think.
However I also feel that at some point it becomes difficult to use Design Web to finalise the design. That is why I want to continue from here with a few sub-designs that the Design Web points to.
In order to do the sub-designs in an efficient way I am switching to using the SADIMET design process which follows the basic sequence of Survey – Analysis – Design – Implementation & Maintenance – Evaluation & Tweaking. The illustration from Chris Evans shows the process in more detail. Much of the Survey and Analysis steps has been covered above in the Design Web but I will touch them also in the Designs as applicable.
Sub-designs and implementation
The Design Web points to a need to make some sub-designs in order to reach the overall targets and the visions of this “Caring for Bees” design.
- We need to make log hives as honeybee nests in order to help honeybees rewild.
- We need to design how to apply Darwinian beekeeping at Iso-orvokkiniitty.
- We need to design a new hive that fulfils the ideas of Darwinian and Natural beekeeping.
- We need to design how to transit to a local honeybee genetics that enable the honeybees to rewild.
- We need a social design on how we can support local honeybee rewilding.
1. Log Hives
Survey and Analysis
A natural tree cavity in an old tree is the honey bees’ natural nesting place in hemiboreal and boreal regions. What is required is old forest and the black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius). The later we have regularly nesting around Iso-orvokkiniitty but big enough trees are rare.
An interesting interaction is that black woodpeckers require a strong population of wood ants for feeding but wood ants are in my experience the worst enemy of honeybees.
The best man-made nest could be a man-made cavity in a living tree and the second best a log hive made from a big tree trunk that is set up at a forest edge at a few metres height – or as high as practically possible. Thick-walled log hives made from timber is also an option as well as log-type hives made from other natural materials that give thermal mass, f.ex. cob hives (straw+clay). Here I will focus on log hives.
There are different techniques for building log hives. The best known type is the Zeidler hive which is the type that was traditionally used in Eastern European hemiboreal forest areas. The cavity is made into the side of the tree or trunk. Even though a chain saw can be used it is quite laborious to do. The advantage is that it can be opened and thereby used for tree-beekeeping where the objective is to harvest some honey.
The second well-known type are the French Cevennes type hives in which the cavity is made longitudinally through the log. In the traditional Cevennes system the hives were placed at ground level on a stone slab in apiaries. A wooden roof could be wedged on top and easily opened again. An other flat stone is the upper roof. Honey could be harvested from the top – which is not a very good solution thinking of the honey bees’ comb building patterns. However this kind of log hive functions well for re-wilding projects where honey is not the objective. With a big chainsaw it is relatively easy to make (see photo). So I am going for the Cevennes type but with fixed top.
It is not clear what is the honey bees preference for the cavity’s volume. Since Thomas D. Seeley’s book Honeybee Democracy (2010) 40 litres has been the common idea but recent experience of free-the-bees log-hive builders indicate that it could be much smaller. It is also difficult to imagine what would create 40 litre cavities in trees in the hemiboreal areas. The most likely culprit for large tree cavities is the black woodpecker which is often said to make 20 litre cavities but f.ex. in a Polish study was found to make only 10 litre cavities (2). On the other hand the bird studies are interested in how big cavities woodpeckers make for themselves, not in how big the cavity might be after f.ex. 10 years of decaying. The same aspen could have 10-15 wood pecker cavities that could also eventually be connected. So quite a few unknowns here.
A 10 litre cavity could theoretically fit max 14 kg of honey while 20 litres would fit 28 kg if totally full. 14 kg could be enough if the Nordic Dark bee follows the strategy (as it should) of stopping brooding early and starting late and overwintering as a relatively small colony.
It is unclear how much honey the bee colony needs in the wild for overwintering? In Finnish beekeeping 25 kg sugar is usually the target in managed hives and to be on the safe side beekeepers might feed even 30 kg of sugar. But beekeepers strive to have strong (=big) colonies that start brooding relatively early so they have enough foraging power at the main nectar harvest period.
Nordic black bees are known to overwinter in smaller colonies and to be slower in their spring development. This is an adaptation to long winters and unpredictable spring weather. Honeybees that are adapted to our climatic conditions could overwinter with a substantially smaller volume of honey.
It is also presumed that honey bees in natural tree cavities or log hives need less honey (energy) to maintain the hive temperature as the hive temperature is not fluctuating during the day due to the large thermal mass of the nest.
As a conclusion it makes sense to experiment and build log hives with different cavity volumes all the way from 20 litres to 40 litres. The basic design of the log hives is shown in the illustrations above.
My design of a log hive: a 20 cm slice of the log is the bottom part. The log with the chain-saw-made cavity is in the middle. The cavity in this drawing is 26 cm wide and 80 cm long resulting in 42 litres volume. On top is again a 20 cm thick slice of the same trunk. The bottom and top are attached with wooden 16 mm dowels (avoid metal in the actual log hive). A 30 mm entrance is at the lower part of the hive and a second 16 mm entrance in the upper part to the side. A separate roof to protect from rain water is set on top.
As a tweak we made the next log hives so that the cavity part was 60 cm long. Thereby the chainsaw reaches the whole way from one side and carving becomes much easier. The cavity volume is appr. 30 litres.
The target is to put up the log hives on forest edges either in Iso-orvokkiniitty or nearby, however within flying distance. The log hives could be set either on long legs or hauled up into large trees. The maps shown earlier in Zones shows the planned locations in and around Iso-orvokkiniitty. The target is that the log hives are available for swarms that come from the dark bee hives we have set up in Iso-orvokkiniitty, Vaunumäki and Lehtoniemi.
I have used almost all the Holmgren design principles in this design. However this design’s target is not to ‘obtain a yield’ in the form of honey or pollen so that principle does not apply very well in this case. Of course pollination and other biodiversity services are benefits of the design. Likewise the Darwinian principles and Gunter Hauk’s principles apply well.
Input – output analysis:
|Large tree trunks||from friends nearby|
|2” by 6” timber||hardware store|
|wood and board material for the roof||recycled wood|
|screws to fasten the legs and roof||hardware store|
|tractor work to bring the tree trunks to Iso-ovokkiniitty||local paid work|
|Chainsaw work and fuel||own chainsaw and workshop|
|Chainsaw jig for carving the log||recycled metal|
|Pulley work||pulley purchased for the purpose|
- Log hives in the forest edges
- Observations about honeybee behaviour
- Potentially a local wild / feral honeybee population
Observations: put a Ruuvi sensor in the log hives for temperature and humidity.
Log hives are made of logs or tree trunks. In spring 2021 I announced in the local Karjalohja Facebook group that I am looking for big tree trunks. Two friends of mine contacted me saying they had some lying around. The other friend had 3 big birch trunks which had been too big for him to chop into firewood. They have a lot of branches which makes chopping difficult. The other one had 4 huge spruce trunks that had lied on his back yard for a few years. I arranged them to be picked up and brought to Iso-orvokkiniitty.
In the meantime I had to figure out how to carve them into log hives. Hannes Bonhoff who has the group “Om vilda bisamhällen” (About wild honeybee colonies) in Facebook has been pondering the same question. He had modelled an add-on to a chainsaw which enables a more controlled carving of the log than can be achieved with “free-hand” sawing. As I understand credit should be given to a Russian guy who produces big bird nests (for owls) with the same technique (I can’t find that YouTube video anymore). I asked my friend Hernan to weld the parts I need from scrap metal.
The video below shows how I carved the first log. With the tool the cavity becomes close to 30 cm in diameter and I made this one 80 cm long so the cavity became 50 litres. This is unnecessarily big but happened because I thought the cavity would be 25 cm wide which would have resulted in a more optimal 40 litres. Making this one 80 cm long caused the additional problem of having to saw the log from both ends and it is challenging to get the grooves to meet. The next ones I’ll make 50-60 cm long to get 30-40 litres cavity volume.
The size of the entrance hole is a relevant question to which I don’t have a clear answer. The entrance a black woodpecker makes seems to be at least 4 cm, so honeybees should be able to defend a pretty big entrance hole. Of course it also means that tits and other cavity nesters can access the cavity. That is a part of the cavity’s natural life cycle. In any case this time I made a 30 mm entrance, which still allows the smaller tits to enter.
So the first log hive was set on legs. For the folowing ones I’ll look for suitable trees in the forest edges where I can pulley the hives and tie onto a branch. That will also reduce the material needed for the log hive (legs).
Unfortunately this log hive was not found by a swarm in 2022. The other ones were carved too late and will hopefully be installed this autumn in order to be ready for swarms in 2023.
While the Biboet hives were strictly speaking not a part of this design I like to add the Bioboet story here. I got excited about the Biboet as introduced by Stefan Breitholtz from Sweden (3) in spring 2021 and built 2 Biboet hives. I set them up on long legs in the forest edge in 2 locations at Iso-orvokkiniitty. No swarms settled in them in summer 2021 although scout bees did inspect at least the other one in June 2021. In the video – filmed in March 2021 – I explain the construction and how I set it up.
In 2022 I sprayed some lemongrass extract into the log hives and Biboet hives in the hope that it would attract honeybee swarms. During the heat wave of June 2022 a swarm found the Biboet at the forest edge between two fields (ours and the neighbours). However apparently the log hive was too hot inside and the bees ended up building their comb under the hive. In August we transferred the brood comb into a Warré hive that was set up in front of the Biboet. I will move it 15 meters to the right in the forest edge next winter and keep it as a honey production hive in 2023.
Actually I pondered about what to do with this colony the whole summer. Clearly the genetics of these bees was not what I am looking for. They made a fatal mistake by building a “naked” hive under the Biboet. They were very nice Italian type bees that let you come next to the hive without any guard bees reacting to you. When breaking down the colony it was obvious that they would not have survived even inside a hive: there was 5 brood combs while only the outer 2 combs were food. We harvested only 4 kg of honey. They would have starved next winter. The queen seemed young and was not labeled. The comb went into the lower Warré box and the upper one I filled with ready built comb from Farrar frames. I fed them with sugar. Next summer I’ll try to avoid swarming in the hive and give them 2 Warré boxes to collect honey.
2. Darwinian beekeeping design
The survey and analysis for the Darwinian beekeeping design can largely be found above in the Design Web and specifically in the chapter about Darwinian beekeeping. In the below table I am showing how the Darwinian beekeeping suggestions are applied in the Design and how they have been implemented in 2022 and plan to be implemented in 2023.
Thomas Seeley’s suggestion for Darwinian Beekeeping
|Design||Implementation actions 2022||Plan for 2023|
|Work with bees that are adapted to your location.||Move to mostly Nordic Dark bees.||In 2022 I acquired 5 Nordic Dark bee nukes from 2 sources. Thereby 5 out of 8 of my hives in autumn 2022 are Nordic Dark bees. There are 3 more Dark bee nukes my partners acquired within 2,5 km.||Continue with the Dark bee genetics.|
|Space your hives as widely as possible.||Set hives in field and forest edges around Iso-orvokkiniitty||There is only one hive left in the original apiary in our garden. The other hives are in the forest and field edges (see Map) Only the 3 Dark bee nukes are now in a row.||Move part of the Dark bee hives.|
|House your colonies in small hives.||Limit hive space depending on hive type: |
– Farrar: 2 boxes for overwintering, add 1 box in early June for honey.
– Warré: 2 boxes for overwintering, add 1-2 box in early June for honey.
– TBH: overwinter with 10 comb, add max 4 combs during the season.
|Design was applied to the TBH.||Design will be applied in all managed hives.|
|Roughen the inner wall surfaces of your hives or build them of rough-sawn lumber.||Applied in new hives including the log hives. Old hive boxes are already very propolised.|
|Use hives whose walls provide good insulation.||Applied in new hives.||Started building a thick walled TBH.||Inhabit the thick walled top bar hive.|
|Position hives high off the ground.||Box hives placed on 2-3 pallets + legs.||Box hives placed on 2-3 pallets + legs.|
|Allow colonies to maintain 10-20% of the comb in their hives as drone comb.||Let bees build new comb in the hive.||Not controlled|
|Minimize disruption of nest structure, so the functional organization of each colony’s nest is maintained.||No regular hive checks for swarming.||1st hive check including brood in the overwintered TBH on 16.6. + nuke made. Harvest on 12.8. but not opening brood. |
= only one time opening the brood
|Minimise the moving of colonies.||Hives are moved only exceptionally.||1 nuke was made from TBH |
2 Dark bee packets were put in Warré hives
3 nukes in Farrar hives
1 swarm transferred to Warré
|Locate your colonies as far as possible from flowers that are contaminated with insecticides and pesticides.||We are surrounded by forest and organic farmland.|
|Locate your colonies in places that are surrounded as much as possible by natural areas: wetlands, forests, abandoned fields, moorlands and the like.||We have wetlands and lakes nearby.|
|When you need additional colonies, acquire them by capturing swarms with bait hives or by making “splits” (nukes) from strong colonies letting them conduct emergency queen rearing and natural queen mating.||We are using splits (nukes) or swarming for additional hives.||See above.||Dark bees are allowed to swarm.|
|Minimize pollen trapping and honey harvesting from your colonies.||Limited harvesting of honey (see above).|
|Refrain from treating colonies for Varroa.||No treatment.||No treatment.||No treatment.|
3. Designing a new hive
I now have practical experience with standard wooden Farrar hives, large top bar hives and Warré hives. My log hives (Biboet and real logs hives) are still empty waiting for swarms. The Biboet hives potentially allow for some honey yield but in designing a new hive I am mainly thinking of a more practical production hive (max 10 kg honey per year) that fulfils the above beekeeping principles as much as possible.
As shown in Reflection and Comparison, there are no huge differences between Farrar-hives, Warré and top bar hives (TBH) from the perspective of Seeley’s environmental aspects if each hive is managed according to Darwinian principles. The main benefit of Warré and TBH, but which Seeley doesn’t address, is free comb building. That comes up in Hauk’s principle 4. even though Gunter Hauk is not a TBH advocate.
A comparison of building comb freely:
|Comb||built within the frame (rectangle)||built from top bars within the box (rectangle)||built from top bars within the box (semi-rectangle – elliptic)||build freely from the top, probably curved|
|Management unit||frame and box||box (managing individual combs challenging)||comb in a single big box||log, small honey super|
|Bee space||between frame and box wall||none between comb and wall||none between comb and wall||none between comb and wall|
|Yield||honey comb, crush or extraction||cut comb or crush||comb or crush||comb or crush|
|Returning comb||possible to bring back emptied honey comb||no||no||no|
|Main strengths||Easy to manipulate and inspect||Vertical, strong comb structure |
Optimal cavity width
|Easy to manipulate and inspect|
Less disturbance when inspecting the hive
|Main weaknesses||The “cavity” is too wide and rectangular|
Need to lift boxes to get into lower boxes
|Difficult to manipulate and inspect||Occasionally collapsing comb||No manipulation or inspection|
- * = without foundation
(I left Langstroth sized boxes out of the comparison. I don’t have experience with them but the bigger frames would be a challenge compared to Farrar boxes.)
- frames increase possibility to manipulate and inspect the hive.
- boxes mean lifting and causing more disturbance
- horizontal TBH should be relatively low (30 cm instead of 40 cm) to decrease risk of collapse.
A good compromise could be to build a deep-framed horizontal hive that has been typical all over Europe (Einraumbeute, in Finland f.ex. the “Suomi-pesä”). This is the kind of hive Fedor Lazutin presents in his book “Beekeeping with a Smile”. Then the question remains, is there some reason to avoid frames? Some of the benefits of TBH that I listed earlier relate to this question.
- More natural space for queen cells
- Comb is naturally round (hanging chains), not rectangular
- Vibration of the comb: hive communication
An interesting observation is made in the book “The Dark side of the Hive” (Moritz, R., Crewe, R. 2018)(p 139): In a natural cavity bees build comb from wall to wall but in a frame hive there is a bee space between the frame and the box wall. As a consequence it is easier for the bees to move from one comb to the next (i.e. from the gap between 2 combs to the next gap) in a frame hive compared to a natural hive. This could be a benefit in the winter. The writers wonder if the honey bee evolution might have taken the wrong path here. On the other hand a frame is too long for the bees to use this possibility in practise in the winter. Also one consequence of using frames could be decreased propolising of the walls.
An interesting discussion about frames or not (and benefits of not having frames) can be found in Biobees here. It shows how some beekeepers have developed vertical supports for Warré top bars.
The main point where all modern hive types fail the darwinian principles is the thickness of the walls. Torben Schiffer puts a lot of importance on the thickness of bee nest walls and how this affects the thermal mass and therefore the dynamics of the hive/nest in terms of temperature and moisture fluctuations. Also important to note that natural cavities are in trees affected by fungi and this also has huge impact on the woods moisture dynamics (the rotting wood binds much more water).
Many log hive practitioners have observed that bees in a log hive or natural tree cavity do not necessarily form a winter cluster. It could be that the winter cluster – which is considered normal bee behaviour in cold climates – is actually exceptional behaviour in the wild.
|Thick walls||Better insulation and thermal mass resembling natural tree cavities||– Expensive|
|Deep frames||– Frames are practical to use|
– Frames don’t collapse
– Vertical walls easier to build
– Deep frames (40 cm) gives enough vertical space.
|– 8 mm bee space needs to be precise: more difficult to build |
– Frames are difficult to build in precise measures
|Top bars||– More natural for the bees|
– Building does not need to be as precise
|– Risk of collapsing comb|
– More difficult to move comb
|The comb could be strengthened with vertical support from the top bar|
|Horizontal hive||– Hive can be higher from the ground|
– No need to lift boxes
|– Not so much space needed in Darwinian beekeeping anyway|
|Narrow width of the hive||The bee cluster reaches from wall to wall||Only moderate tilt of the wall possible in TBH||The box could be narrowed down to 30 cm as in a Warré box|
30x40x50 = 60 litres
My conclusion is to build a thick walled top bar hive (TBH). I value the naturalness of the solution where the bees can freely build comb from wall to wall as well the fact that it is much less precise to build and therefore I can easily use available material. I plan to make the walls of old five inch wall logs that we still have lying around.
I cut pieces of paper to illustrate the walls and the top bar so I could test the measures. I decided the top bar should be 35 cm; slightly more than a Warré top bar. I have Warré top bars with comb which I can attach to the bottom of the 35 mm top bars, so I can get a swarm into the hive and be sure they build straight. I will also experiment with vertical supports for the comb.
The walls will be 60 cm high. Because the lowest part will be the eco-bottom the effective height of the comb will be 40-45 cm, so comb area will be 15-16 dm2. That means appr 25 cm or 7-8 combs gives 40 litres volume to the hive. 8 x 38mm = 30 cm so then the measures would be very close to a Warré hive with 2 boxes. I’ll add space for an additional 6 top bars, with the logic that 2 top bars could be harvested for honey, 1 top bar is the separating wall and 3 extra top bars gives some space for manoeuvring if inspecting the hive. So the length of the wall is 54 cm (16 x 38mm + 8mm).
The entrances ( 2 x 22mm holes) will be in the other end of the hive meaning the brood area will form in that area. The vertical wall on both ends will also be of five inch log. They need to be 55mm long.
The extra space in the hive can be filed with saw dust in the winter. On top of the top bars there will be a box filled with saw dust similar to Warré hives and on top of that the roof with ventilation space in between.
I collected the material (wall logs) and started building but did not manage to get the thick walled TBH ready for use in 2022. I will build it for 2023 season.
Annual bee management cycle
I already described the honey bees’ annual cycle. Natural and Darwinian beekeeping is a management system with a target to get some yield but it should be as off-hand as possible. I plan to move to a management system where the honey is taken from hives in early June. Thereby I am only harvesting honey that the bees did not need for overwintering.
However it is good to notice that we still can’t say that the bees wouldn’t have needed it so we can take it. Some years give a good yield and some don’t. It makes sense for the bees to have carry-over stock in the hive in case they are not able to collect enough that summer.
In the table I describe what management actions are taken in the annual beekeeping cycle.
|August||Check food reserves and feed if necessary||There will be no increase in honey store after early August.|
|October||Check flight||Control that the hives are alive and ok.|
|Winter||Take a look at the hives once in a while||Hives shouldn’t be disturbed by birds or totally covered by snow.|
|February – March||Check for flight on warm days. Have the bees performed the cleansing flight? Is alder and hazel pollen carried in on warm days?||If the cleansing flight has happened and pollen is flowing in, the hive is probably ok and brooding has started.|
|April – May||Is pollen flowing in? Check that ant protection is in place. Have a look at the hives frequently for any external problems.||Wood ants, f.e.x Formica aquilonia easily can kill a hive in the spring.|
|early June||Harvest 5-10 kg honey per strong hive if available. Harvest only hives that were not fed sugar in the previous year.||When dandelion is in full bloom, more nectar flows in than the colony consumes.|
|June – July||Add space for honey|
Watch out for swarming
|A honey super or some top bars can be given to strong colonies for potential honey yield.|
|July – August||Enjoy the flight.|
Beekeeping in 2022
Of the 4 hives I had in the autumn 2021 only 2 came through the winter. It is always difficult to say exactly why hives die but when there is no varroa treatment winter losses can be expected to be high. In April I lost also the other hive that had overwintered – a 2021 nuke that had a dark queen – which made me pretty upset. Ants were able to attack the hive even though I had it protected with its feet in water vessels. So finally there was only one strong hive in a TBH left, so that was the only hive with a full cycle from 2021 to 2022. The queen in this hive is probably next generation of a queen I got from Hannu Salonen in 2019 so they are a local italian type mix breed.
|11.4.2022||I gave the food cakes from the dead TBH to the remaining one but otherwise did not look into the hive.||– Sugar shouldn’t be wasted. |
– It was too early for a hive check.
|8.6.2022||Received 2 Nordic Dark bee packets from Siekkinen and put them in 2 box Warré hives. I gave them 2 combs in each box of which 1 per hive were with food. I gave them the rest of the sugar they had for the trip but did not start feeding. I placed the hives on the field edge about 30 m apart.||– Changing the genetics to Nordic Dark.|
– Giving comb ensures they build straight on the top bars.
– The weather and blooming was good so I didn’t think feeding was necessary.
– Place hives apart from each other.
|10.-13.6.2022||Pollen is carried into the hives so everything should be ok.||– Learn to observe the hive from the flight.|
|14.6.2022||Sprayed lemongrass extract into log hives (2 Biboet, 1 log)||It is said to attract swarms.|
|16.6.2022||First hive check into the TBH: brood and queen was good. |
Made a nuke from the TBH and gave the queen to the nuke. Placed the nuke TBH in forest edge.
|– I didn’t want the TBH to swarm because they are mixed italian.|
– Giving the queen to the nuke means that there is a break in brooding which increases honey yield and helps control varroa.
|3.7.2022||Checked the NDB Warré hives: upper boxes fully built so everything ok.||Building comb means the hive is ok, no need to look for the queen.|
|3.7.2022||Checked the nuke TBH: no queen or eggs to be found. I gave the nuke brood from NDB Warré hive.||Probably something happened to the queen – they can grow a new queen from the larvae I gave. Probably they now have a locally mated NDB queen.|
|4.7.2022||There is strong flight in the aspen in the forest. (The swarm can not be mine.)|
A swarm under the other Biboet (so not inside).
|Check for feral / wild hives.|
|9.8.2022||NDB Warré hives fully built both boxes.||Hives are ok.|
|9.8.2022||Nuke TBH flying and building strong.|
Transferred food cakes to the left side for feeding.
|– Hive is ok, no reason to check brood.|
– In a TBH better to have winter food only on one side.
– Would be good to check if the queen is Dark at a later stage.
|11.8.2022||Picked up 6 ND nukes from Pöyhönen and placed 3 of them in Iso-orvokkiniitty, 2 at Lehtoniemi and 1 at Vaunumäki. 2 box Farrar hives. I had extra food cakes in store that I could give the nukes at ION.||– Changing local genetics to NDB|
– Breeder supplied the nukes in Farrar boxes so could not change now.
– Didn’t need to start sugar feeding yet.
|12.8.2022||Took 8 cakes from mother TBH = 9,5 kg as comb honey and liquid honey.||– Get a yield|
– Couldn’t start sugar feeding other hives before harvesting honey.
|15.8.2022||Transferred the “naked” colony from under the Biboet into a 2 box Warré hive. Lower box full of brood. Upper box filled with empty comb I cut from Farrar frames. Harvested 3,5 kg honey. Young unmarked queen.||– The colony wouldn’t be able to overwinter outside.|
– The genetics is “wrong” so I considered killing the queen and giving the brood to other hives but decided to “save it” and – keep it for honey production 2023.
|17.8.-x.9.2022||Sugar feeding all hives.||– To ensure overwintering.|
|24.3.2023||Spring is late. All hives are still alive.|
Honey bees Apis mellifera are natural in western parts of Eurasia, the Middle East and Africa. The species might originate from the Middle East or Africa. Apis mellifera is divided into several subspecies of which the European Dark Bees A. m. mellifera (Nordic Dark Bees – NDB) is the original subspecies in Europe north of the Alps stretching from the British Isles to the Ural Mountains. However it has been largely replaced by A. m. lingustica and A. m. carnica and other southern subspecies during the last century and the original Dark bees have gone largely extinct. As shown by the graph based on genetic distance the European Dark Bee is genetically quite far from the Eastern European ligustica-carnica sub-species.
Fortunately since 1980’s there has been various initiatives in different European countries with the purpose to save the European Dark bees. They have organised themselves as SICAMM (International Association for the Protection of the European Dark Bee) with member organisations from 17 European countries. In Finland Suomen Tumman Mehiläisen Hoitajat and in Sweden NordBi.
On the Swedish Wikipedia article Apis mellifera mellifera there is a description of the Nordic Dark Bees’ attributes:
- A more robust body, black kitin, more hairy, shorter tongue.
- Smaller winter losses, smaller consumption of honey/sugar in the winter
- Adapted to the vegetation development in nordic climates.
- Slower development in the spring – swarming starts later and gradually.
- Better adaptation with honey and pollen storage to cold periods in the growing season.
- Better adapted to cold climate – flies in lower temperatures.
- Produces more propolis than other subspecies.
- Not so prone to swarming if conditions are not good.
- A tighter winter cluster.
Obviously one would expect the Dark Bee genetics to be better adapted to the Nordic conditions than sub-species from more southern origins. On the other hand the genetic pool is quite narrow and also the Dark Bee genetics have been affected by beekeepers’ aim to produce more honey on the expense of other properties. And again it is probable that even the ligustica – carnica – buckfast genetics could adapt to conditions here if evolutionary selection could do its thing and imported queens would not constantly compromise the genetics.
My conclusion – or hypothesis – is that in the end of the day we don’t need pure Nordic Dark Bees, we need bees that adapt to the conditions we have and are able to survive even in the wild if nesting places are made available. The ligustica – carnica – buckfast genetics is certainly present here locally in the form of drones from surrounding apiaries (even in my own hives). A. m. mellifera genetics can be brought in by buying Dark Bee queens and packages.
Pure Nordic Dark Bees are available from a few queen breeders in Finland. According to information on Suomen Tumman Mehiläisen Hoitajat those have Dark Bee genetics from Sweden and Ireland. Pure Finnish Dark Bees have been lost and in any case originally originated most probably from Sweden anyway (and Estonia).
In order to develop a genetics suitable for our locality we need a larger area. At the moment it is impossible to say how large that area should be, but some things are clear:
- The “rewilding the bees” area should be as big as possible.
- The bee colonies should be connected to each other.
- The influence of imported queens (queens from abroad or from breeders who import queens) should be as low as possible
- We need to start somewhere, i.e. here.
Genetics – implementation
To understand the genetics of the honeybees around Iso-orvokkiniitty it is necessary to survey what apiaries there are in the surrounding area and what management strategies those beekeepers are following.
Beekeepers in our Group
- Iso-orvokkiniitty (us)
- 1 mixed Italian in TBH
- 1 locally mated NDB in TBH (presumed, not checked yet)
- NDB came in 2022
- 2 Siekkinen packages in Warré hives
- 3 Pöyhönen nukes in wooden Farrar hives
- 3 mixed Italians in top bar hives
- 1 Pöyhönen nuke in Farrar hive (2022)
- planning to set up a log hive
- 2 Pöyhönen nukes in wooden Farrar hives (2022)
Other apiaries (this is very preliminary data – I am sure there are more apiaries than this):
- within 1 km from Iso-orvokkiniitty ?
- within 2 km from Iso-orvokkiniitty ?
- within 3 km from Iso-orvokkiniitty: 3 apiaries
- within 5 km ?
- within 10 km: 1 apiary ?
5. The Community
In this design the Honey Bees’s vision is
and my vision is
Both the Honey Bees and I need Helps to realise the Visions. For that we need a Bee Care Community. Initially I will look for people within flying distance (2-3 km from here) who are willing to participate. Fortunately they already exist. The function of the group is to help and support the honeybees (and other bees), exchange information and share experiences. Concrete tasks of the members of the group could be
- Manage 1-3 bee hives according to darwinian natural beekeeping.
- Bring in Nordic Dark bee genetics
- Place log hives to attract swarms in the landscape (on their own property or with permission elsewhere)
- Monitor the honey bees in the log hives and natural cavities
- Map conventional apiaries in the area and promote nordic dark bees to the local beekeepers if possible
I am calling it the “Karjalohja FreeTheBees group” until a better name appears.
Community – implementation
We had the first Community meeting (Karjalohja FreeTheBees group) on 16.4.2022 at Iso-orvokkiniitty when we lifted up the first log hive. Four people (two couples) were present and we started with me telling what I am aiming at and discussing the topic. So there are a couple of locations nearby where log hives can be located.
After the meeting I also found the opportunity to buy more Dark Bee nukes and two others in the group committed to take Dark Bees on their properties. These are also in flying distance from Iso-orvokkiniitty.
More come togethers are planned for 2022 autumn for setting up more log hives.
In addition to implementing the above designs I will continue to advocate more bee centric beekeeping – including TBH and Darwinian beekeeping and Caring for Bees by holding Beekeeping courses and activity is Social Media.
I plan to participate in the Learning from the Bees Conference 2023 in the UK in April 2023.
|Construct Biboet hives||2021||2 hives in spring 2021|
|Get a chainsaw with sufficiently long blade for carving the tree trunks||2021||Spring 2021|
|Get a tool welded for holding the chainsaw when making the cavity||2021||Spring 2021|
|Get big tree trunks for the log hives||Continuous||4 spruce and 3 birch trunks in spring 2021|
|Make and set up log hives||2022||1st log hive April 2022|
|Build a thick waled TBH||2022||started April 2022|
|Start the Karjalohja FreeTheBees group||2022||1st gathering 16.4.|
|Order Dark queens for the Karjalohja FreeTheBees group||2022|
later as necessary
|2022: 8 queens (packs and nukes) from 2 sources ordered|
|Harvest in June:|
– 2 or 3 strong colonies in TBH and 3 box Warré will be left with all their honey and without sugar feeding in 2023 and harvested if possible in June 2024.
|Material for 2 Biboet hives, spring 2021||0 €||Material lying around|
|Tree trunks for appr 10 log hives, spring 2021||154 €||Transport cost|
|Still MS400 CM chainsaw, April 2021||855 €||Can be used for other purposes|
|Tool for holding the chainsaw when making the cavity||0 €||scrap metal and friend welding|
|2 Dark queens, moyhonen, 2021||120 €||neither one survived to 2022|
|Legs for 1st log hive, April 2022||72 €|
|Pulley, April 2022||107 €|
|Material for 1 thick-walled TBH||0 €|
|2 pure Dark queen package bees, June 2022, pakettimehiläiset||370 €|
|3 Dark queen nukes (not 100% pure – käyttöemo), Pöyhönen , 2022||300 €|
Integration of this design to other designs;
- Forest garden: It will take a very long time before any of the trees we plant will form cavities for honey bees. But in the meantime we can plant trees that provide food (nectar, pollen, mildew) and resins. Linden trees is one obvious choice. This will be taken into account in the Forest Garden Design.
- Mushrooms: There are obvious interactions between Honeybees and Fungi starting from the fact that natural bee nests are in tree cavities which are affected by saprophytic fungi. There is also evidence that honeybees collect fungal extracts for their “pharmacy” and some early experiments in treating honeybees with man-made fungal extracts. I will study this further in the Mushroom Design.
- Food: We can still harvest some honey. Honeybees are beneficial as pollinators and thereby enhance food production.
Evaluation of the design
It is late March 2023 and I have just read through the design. I am also preparing for my annual Apicentric Beekeeping course next weekend so trying to get my head in “bee-mode”. And above all, wanting to finalise this design.
In the SADIMET design process the design cycle ends with “Evaluation & Tweaking” where the main question is if the aim of the design was achieved. In some ways it is too early to say, but the design has definitely prompted me to take many important steps towards what I think will be more ethical beekeeping and caring for bees.
In the chapter “Ethics of Beekeeping” I reflect on the ethics of different beekeeping strategies. The bottom-line seems to be that purely from an Earth care perspective honeybees is a positive for the surrounding nature in many ways. From a Future care perspective we should care for honeybees in a way that enables them to survive as a wild species in our nature. From a People care perspective a small honey yield is acceptable if it doesn’t compromise Earth care and Future care. Fair share can be both sharing our resources with the honeybees and sharing with the community around us.
On a more practical level the design process has taken me far ahead of just retrofitting ideas I already had when I started writing it. Since then I have taken several important practical steps in my honeybee path:
- I have built log hives and put them in our surroundings
- I have moved from a “natural” beekeeping strategy that still focused on the honey yield to darwinian beekeeping where honey yield is on purpose limited
- I have introduced the Nordic Dark Bee into Iso-orvokkiniitty and surroundings
- I have started building a thick walled top bar hive (TBH)
- I have planted Tilia sp. and several other late and early bloomers to support the bees
- I have started a “Karjalohja FreeTheBees” group to spread these ideas and Dark bee genetics.
- I am using material and ideas developed in this design in my Beekeeping courses.
How all this finally works out will require several years and feedback loops but it is a promising start! There will be tweaks!
Reflection of the design process
The design started with using Looby’s Design Web as the design framework. The design web led to the need for several sub-designs and it seemed easier to handle those more linearly using SADIMET in each of them. So in terms of design framework this design became a hybrid but I feel it worked out quite well.
The design is “Land Based” with some “Social Design” aspects included. The Ethics of Permaculture play a key role. Holmgren’s Permaculture Design Principles have been used.
Below I assess how the 12 anchor points in the Looby’s Design Web have been taken into account in the design.
|Vision||I formulated a Vision both from the honeybees and my perspective and aligned them.||The Vision itself does not include beekeeping for a yield – it is about rewilding bees – darwinian beekeeping is justified as it supports implementing the vision.|
|Limits||Limits to honeybee success are analysed.||The factors limiting the honeybees success have a key place in the design and become functions of the design.|
|Helps||How bees can help themselves and how people can help bees was analysed.||designers motivations|
|Patterns||honeybees natural patterns |
– the annual cycle
– structuring the hive
– my patterns
|I have reflected on honeybees natural patterns and adapted the design to them.|
|Ideas||The main ideas were solutions to limits|
|Principles||– Holmgren principles|
– Darwinian beekeeping principles
|Integration||– Integrate natural darwinian beekeeping strategies with supporting wild-living honeybee populations with the help of a local community of honeybee enthusiasts. |
– Integrate with other designs (Forest, Mushroom, Food)
|The needs of the honeybees was driving the design more than the needs of the human designer.|
|Action||Action is in the sub-designs and implementing them.|
|Momentum||Events and celebrations in annual cycle. |
|Appreciation||Appreciation of humans regarding bees and bees appreciation (or not) for humans.||Rituals of appreciation?|
|Reflection||Reflection about what we know about bees and how beekeeping strategies affect bees|
|Pause||Is the winter a pause in the bees annual cycle?||The bulk of the design was written during a pause in winter 2021-22 and finalised in early spring 2023 after a second winter pause.|
- The Design Web was made on a Miro board. Screenshots were taken of the Miro board for showing in the Design. Screenshots (instead of dynamically embedding the Miro board) enabled “freezing” the Web to show how it looked at that point of the design process.
- The Annual Cycle was also made on the Miro board.
- Zoning was adapted to “Honeybee Zones” showing where the bees would move in the landscape in different situations.
- Paikkatietoikkuna maps are developed by the National Land Survey of Finland. I have used it to develop maps of the Iso-orvokkiniitty site and surroundings. The maps shown in the design are screenshots but the maps showing hive locations are also live in Paikkatietoikkuna under my account.
- Youtube videos.
- Spreadsheet tables (MacOS Numbers) for comparisons of different beekeeping strategies relative to Darwinian beekeeping principles. Developed a calculation of points for comparison.
- Tables for analysis, Input-output analysis
- Chainsaw and log hive jig and other tools
- PMI (Plus-minus-interesting analysis table)
- Ruuvi sensors to measure log hives inside temperature and humidity
(1) David Holmgren: Essence of Permaculture. 2013.
(2) Ziemowit Kosiński & Łukasz Walczak. 2019. Does cavity reuse affect timing of reproduction and fledgling success in the Black Woodpecker?
(3) Stefan Breitholtz. Biboet Bihållning till Husbehov. Lämplig inom Biodynamisk Odling och Permakultur. 2020.
- June to September 2022 various points edited and restructured based on mentoring session with Andreas.
- Adding a chapter about beekeeping ethics