David Heaf

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since Jan 14, 2013
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Recent posts by David Heaf

R Scott wrote:That picture brings up another point: How do you stabilize these against wind or animals? Not bear-proof, but at least raccoon proof.

That Canadian beekeeper was probably carried away by exuberance of a successful colony/hive in a landscape that produces massive nectar flows. The most boxes I've ever had on a Warré is five. If boxes are being filled like in the Quebec hive, it makes sense to harvest them before the hive gets too high.

My apiaries have had winds gusting to 70 mph and no hives toppled or roofs blew off. My stands are on a recycled paving slab and designed so that each leg is outside its respective corner of the hive. I put one house brick on the roof. We don't have tornadoes here, but Warré beeks in areas that do see tornadoes take the precaution of fitting hive straps. Someone reported that hurricane Sandy passed near them but their Warré hive survived. There was much damage to buildings and trees.

If for some reason, one must go to 6 boxes, then a post could be driven into the ground next to the hive and the hive strapped to it.

Reports of Warrés toppling have reached me from the USA. Some manufacturers make their own Warré hive legs/feet. These are often inside the footprint of the floor and thus less stable than Warré's original design, which is shown on page 47 of his book Beekeeping for All. One toppling that was reported in more detail involved the comb remaining intact. The hive was put back together and the colony carried on living.

In January last hear, an ash tree came down on my apiary. Two hives were knocked over, a National (frame hive) and a Warré. The contents of the National spilled out onto the ground. The Warré remained intact, its two (winter) boxes held together by propolis. When I arrived, the bees were trying to make the best of it. The Warré colony survived, and is still alive today, whereas the frame hive colony failed.

Here are photos of the destruction:

6 years ago
I like to put a recycled paving slab under each hive. If you want the combs to be removable, it is important for a Warré hive to be level, and the slab gives a firm base on which to complete the levelling of the hive stand. I use a spirit level. The slabs are usually 2' x 2', rarely 18" square. The larger slab allows a patch at the front for catching objects dropped from the entrance, e.g. discarded queens. It can sometimes be handy in diagnosis.

The slab is set level with the soil surface and is surrounded with whatever grass/weeds that happen to be growing there. I have 8 apiaries so keeping the grass round the hive under control is a chore in the summer. In the larger apiaries I use a Flymo, and in the others a sickle or shears. The bees can be irritated by the smell of vegetation being cut by the hive. With a Flymo, one is away from a particular hive in seconds, so the intrusion is not too severe.

A beek near me uses a strimmer round his hives. One the bees stopped it by blocking the air intake. It is said that they are sensitive to the electromagnetic field created by the ignition system.

This year, I am considering getting an Austrian scythe, lured by the videos on the net showing the apparent ease with which mowers dispatch swathes of dense vegetation, the mower in one case being a quite young girl.

As for planting forage plants near the hive: it is true that the bee books say that bees forage further away. But I have seen them foraging on plants only a few yards from the hive: bramble (Rubus fructicosus), daisy (Bellis perennis) and snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis). The front cover of Warrés book Beekeeping for All (Northern Bee Books, 2007) shows a clump of snowdrops in front of one of my hives, set up in order to illustrate its various parts. Seeing the foragers on daisy was a first for this year. They wee getting pollen from them. It has been a long cold winter here in Wales, and it still seems to be continuing. The bees were probably desperate for pollen, but because of the cold, could not forage far from the hive.
6 years ago
The roof is indeed a confusing part of Warré s design for beginners. It is an issue that comes up over and over again in the Warré e-group (http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/warrebeekeeping/).

Basically the hive is not a chimney. It happens to comply with what J. Thür called Nestduftwärmebindung, 'retention of nest scent and heat'. If any significant flow takes place through the top-bar cover cloth, quilt contents retention cloth, quilt contents and 'mouse board' (cover board inside the roof) then it must largely be by diffusion. Water vapour can pass through all these layers. My mouse board comprises strips of narrow, thin recycled planking that I happen to have lying around the workshop. The edges are butted but not sealed. I expect that some mass flow of water vapour an air may occur here. Those who use a sheet of plywood in their roofs often drill a number of small holes to allow water vapour transit. They do this because the sometimes see condensate under the plywood. After a particularly cold winter, I checked all my mouse boards for condensate but found none. Nor was there any dampness in the quilt contents. However, please bear in mind that my hives are in a relatively mild maritime climate.

There is something else in Warré's book Beekeeping for All which could be blamed for giving the impression that there is mass flow of air through the quilt. On page 53 he writes:

'Furthermore, the main quality of this cloth is its permeability that the bees can modify, augment
or reduce, adding to or removing from the cloth the propolis that they deposit everywhere. This
propolis allows the bees themselves to ventilate the People's Hive as they did in the old skeps.'

People rightly question this by saying that if the quilt contents are sitting on top of the cloth, how can removing propolis from the gaps in the weave improve ventilation?

In my view, the only ventilation, especially in quilts such as mine, which are filled with shavings from an elctric planer, must be by diffusion only. Anyway, I do not see any unpropolising of top-bar cloths. The gaps between the bars are well smeared with the substance.

The modified Warré hive of Frèrès & Guillaume (http://warre.biobees.com/guillaume.htm), the one with windows in each box, deliberately makes use of the bees' ability to unpropolise the top-bar cloth. Instead of hessian/burlap (old sack material) they use plastic fly screen (moustiquaire). But they have a very different top-of-hive setup from Warrés that allows for mass flow of air.

Incidentally, Jean-Calaude Guillaume is looking for a French to English translator of his book on his 'ecological hive' which now runs to two volumes totallin 800 pages altogether. If anyone is interested they may contact me for his address and phone number via my web site www.bee-friendly.co.uk . He does not use email.

He has recently started to produce a series of 'Chroniques' about his hive, often called in France 'Warré-FG'. I have translated the first 'Chronique' and put a PDF of it at:

http://www.users.callnetuk.com/~heaf/j-cg_chronique_1.pdf .

I attach a photo of an absurdly tall Warré-FG in Quebec that was sent to me by Jean-Claude..

6 years ago

Kerry Rodgers wrote:Hi David...
....could you please spell out what you mean by "when there is a nectar flow", in the context of suburbs?

Lots of bees on plants is only one indication, and then you need to be sure they are nectar foragers, not just pollen foragers. But the clearest indication is: on a warm (10C upwards) sunny day bees are pouring into the hive entrance in good numbers. They are a mix of scouts and foragers for water, nectar, pollen and propolis. 30 altogether a minute is not very impressive, perhaps only 15 are nectar foragers. But 120 a minute is more like it. One person can just about count 120 a minute. But when there is a really good flow it can be as much as 240 a minute. This is hard for one person to count accurately. I count 20 returners. If I reach 20 before 5 seconds pass on my watch, thats over 240/min. The Aebis, father and son, used to divide the hive entrance with a white card and each take a side. They used forager traffic to determine their supering strategy. They were and perhaps still are in the Guinness book of records for the record harvest from one hive. However, in permaculture and natural beekeeping we are of course not in the business of pushing production to the limit.

Other indications are a smell of nectar being dried off when one puts ones nose to the hive entrance. If your hive has windows you would eventually see new white comb extending down the windows. Before that, assuming it's a good swarm, the comb is usually not visible as it is completely covered with bees.
6 years ago

Tom OHern wrote:They were just cleaning out the hive.

Interesting suggestion that I had not considered. In 10 overwintering seasons, I've seen nothing like that. But then all beekeeping is local. John does not mention the type of hive he is using. I would not expect colonies in Warrés or Nationals/Langs to store up corpses in those amounts. But maybe in a hTBH (Kenyan/Tanzanian) the bees crawl into the feeding compartment the other side of the follower board and die there. If so, then in a severely cold climate undertaker activity might be delayed until a warm spring day.

Two factors make me doubt that possibility though. John G would no doubt have spotted piles of dead bees inside the hive waiting to be carried out. The corpses in the photo look very fresh.
6 years ago
What a sorry sight! I've only ever seen photos of piles of bee corpses like that in pesticide poisoning incidents. It is worth freezing a decent sized sample of the bees in case it is later neede for tracing pesticide poisoning. If the bee authorities in your locality take an interest in abuse of pesticides, then they might later find your sample and photos helpful.

However, with sudden death like that there is just the possibility it is starvation, but if, as you say, you had just inspected, you would no doubt have seen if starvation was imminent.

Also, look for signs of diarrhoea which could indicate Nosemosis.
6 years ago
Reading Galen's post, I too was immediately reminded of the Perone hive. I doubt that it would do well here in wild, wet, windy, west Wales with its grassland monoculture and consequent paucity of bee forage. Ohio probably has a climate much more conducive to its success.

Claude Bralet (France), John Haverson (England) and I are running an experiment with a hive which is not very different in principle from Oscar's. The pages about it are


I wanted to call it the 'Bralet hive' but Claude did not want it named after him, so it is the 'ruche sauvage' or 'wild hive'.

It has a 3-deep 'untouchable' brood chamber with no bars or spales. It can be supered. I started one last season with a swarm, but there was something wrong from the outset with the queen, as can be deduced from the photo of the swarm on my page above. I made another this spring and hope to have both populated by the end of May.
6 years ago
My policy on feeding a new colony is to feed if the weather turns unsuitable for foraging soon after hiving. As nearly all my colonies start from natural swarms, they come with a fuel supply for 2-3 days but could starve if they cannot forage beyond that.

I feed honey from my own hives as syrup (2 parts honey 1 part water by weight) in a small contact feeder (honey jar with holes punched in the lid). Honey from another beekeeper is a bit risky unless you can be sure that his colonies are foulbrood free. If you are just starting, sugar syrup would be safer.

I stop feeding when there is a nectar flow and the bees can build up their own stores. Once there is a flow, this happens surprisingly quickly if the colony has started from a good swarm (2 kg). Smaller swarms, e.g. casts (secondary swarms or afterswarms), which are usually later in the season when there is less time left to build up before winter may need a lot more feeding.

If you are working with nature, as permaculture does, then new colonies are being started from swarms at a time when the plant phenology in the locality is generally in the bees favour. Of course, they cannot plan for adverse weather conditions after a swarm has issued, so this is where the beekeeper can intervene to help survival.

The type of contact feeder I use is shown on this page:


6 years ago
Tel wrote "...but what about evidence that is observed outside the hive?"

On the times I've been in the apiary when a swarm has issued there were what are sometimes called mass orientation flights, but which Tautz sees as flights preparatory to swarm issue. Bees are seen 'dancing' in a cloud in front of the hive about to swarm, facing the hive. If a swarm does not issue, the cloud melts away. The latter occurs within the space of up to about a quarter of a hour.

Another useful indicator is scouts appearing at batit hives within range of the apiary. The pre-swarm cluster, that Tel describes, can start looking for a new home before issue.

The pre-swarm cluster is also described by J-M Frèrés & J-C Guillaume in their book 'L' Apiculture Écologique de A à Z'. Their 'ecological hive' is a modification of the Warré, the change so far most attractive to beekeepers being a window in the back of each box. It is from these authors that the Warré with windows is derived. Presumably the reason pre-swarm clusters are not reported in frame hives is that the space is filled to the floor with wood and combs.
6 years ago

Josef Theisen wrote:Never heard of using a goose wing for a brush but what a great idea.

My former mentor drew my attention to this. He saw my nylon bristle purpouse-made bee brush bought from a beek supplies and said somewhat sneeringly 'What you got that for?'. When I sheepishly told him 'for brushing bees' he replied that they hate it, it drives them mad. And on the rare occasions I used it I saw that he was exactly right. The fractal nature of a bird feather is much kinder to the bees as it does not send stiff fibres like little daggers under the bee's tergites. However, I have occasionally had sight of bee brushes that look better designed, possibly made out of split natural fibre. I'm currently using an outer wing from a buzzard found dead at the roadside. My first feather 'brush' was a single wing feather found by a swan's nest. This was the best, but it wore out relatively quickly.
6 years ago