First, the crown of the tree is removed so that the tree grows in girth. Traditionally, after a further 70 years, the third generation of tree beekeeper makes the hive.
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Ideally the tree needs to be at least 80 cm in diameter. The family line then manages the hive for years. When done correctly, the tree is not harmed; indeed, it is believed that making the cavity invigorates the tree. In this tree hive management system, the top one third is respected and always left undisturbed for raising brood and for winter stores. If there is any spare honey it is harvested from the bottom two thirds of the hive. Typically 10 kg is harvested in a normal year. The hives are opened just twice a year: once in spring to check if the hive is populated, and then in the autumn for the honey harvest.
This infrequent opening maintains the medicinal hive atmosphere. The hives are not treated for mites with acid washes or pesticides and yet remain healthy.
They can only do so if they are left to manage themselves, i. Tree hives naturally populate at a density of three hives per 1km2; however this varies greatly depending on the weather. The low density of hives greatly reduces the problem of disease spread whilst matching forage level to bee density. By allowing the weather to test the bees, the weak colonies fail and only strong colonies propagate their genetics. Tree hives being static allow bees to build long term bonds and connections between the environment and other colonies.
We can now look in detail at the construction and dimensions of a hive, but remember this is tree beekeeping and the dimensions are approximate. The slot is typically cm long and 12 cm wide. The internal diameter of the hive is around 35 cm and has a volume of approximately litres. This leaves thick walls of at least 5 cm to insulate the hive. A cavity is normally left open for a year to let the wood season.
When the hive is occupied, the bees will gradually cover the walls with protective propolis. A carving axe is used to create a long tailed plug that fits inside the entrance hole leaving two vertical 1cm x 8cm slots either side of the plug. The tail of the plug goes into the cavity and marks the point above which the beekeeper must never disturb the colony. Honey may be harvested below the tail of the entrance plug. Inside the cavity two sets of two spales are arranged in a cross that fit above and below the entrance plug.
Each spale is approximately 1 cm x 0. The length is adjusted to be a tight fit inside the cavity with the pointed ends digging into the side walls. Spales are not necessary if the hive is not harvested for honey. The final internal components are eight thin hardwood spikes used to fix 8 cm x 8 cm bait comb to the top of the hive. The welcome comb is arranged to encourage the bees to build comb parallel to the door, which simplifies inspection. A carving axe is used to make the internal components and this also doubles as a hive tool.
More recently, tree beekeepers use chainsaws to speed up the process of making the hive and working platform. The process takes one to two days. This is cut into the bark at the base of the tree. The mark shows ownership, and was once also used for tax collecting purposes. But just how well do tree hives match the natural preferences of bees? What would bees do if we did nothing at all? Only when we know this can we judge if our interventions are supporting them or not.
For more understanding, we therefore look to the bees in the wild and how they live. The study of bees in the wild is difficult and there are very few large traditional non-commercial forests with large trees. Additionally, spotting a colony high in a tree in a forest is hard, and studying one is even harder. In one of his lectures in Switzerland in , Professor Seeley outlined differences between how wild bees live compared with those in a typical apiary, as shown in the table below.
I have included a tree beekeeping hive column and additional parameters, though I appreciate not all the apiary traits are common to all beekeepers. Clearly there are many differences between tree hives in the wild and their ground based apiary cousins, but do these affect the health and vitality of the bee?
Professor Seeley firmly believes the attributes of natural tree hives have a measurable and significant positive effect on hive health. The Arnot Forest bees he studied had adapted to the deadly varroa mite, and no signs of foul brood diseases were found in forest studies spanning 33 years. But could more extensive tree beekeeping with its minimal inspection or the introduction of unmanaged tree hives be a problem for conventional apiaries?
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Papers by Miller 4 , Bailey 5 , and Goodwin 6 all indicate that wild bees do better than managed colonies concerning disease, and the main threat to wild colonies are local dense populations of poorly managed colonies. This may not be a surprise when we consider that horizontal transfer of pathogens, not seen in wild hives, is common in beekeeping. We also know that the microbiota of honey bees can be damaged for several decades by the use of antibiotics 7. Furthermore, it is well established that the effects of sugar on the gut of bees compromises their immune system 1.
In the UK it is likely that many conventional apiaries already exist close to wild hives; in the Andover Wiltshire, UK locale alone there are reportedly over 80 wild bee sites, many house strong colonies continuously inhabiting their hive for many years. So, there is a picture emerging of wild colonies retaining vitality through normal selective pressure.
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The fear that they are a potential pathogen reservoir is not borne out by studies, or anecdotal evidence. It has worked for millions of years, and rather than shun this natural wisdom, we could do well to embrace it by creating tree hives. With the resilience of wild bees in mind, it is no wonder that tree beekeeping has caught the imagination of many beekeepers across Europe. The Natural Beekeeping Trust 8 , Gaiabees 9 and Free The Bees 10 promote tree hives, and new organisations such as Bractwo Bartne 11 and Tree Beekeeping International 12 have formed to teach tree hive making and tree beekeeping skills.
In Germany, habitat forestry initiatives are attempting to increase forest biodiversity by incorporating tree beekeeping. I believe that tree hives, which draw closely from the innate preferences of the bees in the wild, can offer new directions to apiculture.
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Recent hive designs, such as those by Lazutin, Somerville and Haverson 13 , have mimicked the high insulating properties of tree hives. This is supported by the work of Mitchell Increasing numbers of beekeepers are rejecting treatment of bees, and the practice of leaving enough honey for overwintering bees and rejecting the use of sugar is becoming more common.
Bees have suffered from catastrophic loss of quality non-toxic forage, genetic and mechanical manipulation.
Drone: The male that starts out as an unfertilized egg. Its only purpose in the colony is to mate with a virgin queen. They live to mate with the queen, but not more than one in a thousand get the opportunity to mate. On average, a worker bee in the summer lives six to eight weeks. Their most common cause of death is wearing their wings out. In that short lifetime, they fly the equivalent of one and a half times the circumference of the earth. The peak population of a colony of honey bees is usually at mid-summer after spring build-up and results in 60, to 80, bees per colony.
A good, prolific queen can lay up to 3, eggs per day. Drones fly on United Airlines. This is a corny joke amongst beekeepers because of the way queens and drones mate. When a queen is five to six days old, she is ready to mate. She puts out a pheromone scent to attract the males and takes off in the air. The males from miles around smell the scent and instantly volunteer in the mating chase, which is performed in the air.
Basic Beekeeping Basic beekeeping simplified is having: New, viable queens Feed natural or artificial Good, sound equipment Disease-free hives good medication program or integrated pest management When processing honey from a beehive, a good rule of thumb is for every 60 pounds of honey produced, one pound of beeswax will be made 1 to 60 ratio. In order to manipulate population dynamics, the timing of hive management is critical, such as the splitting of hives just prior to swarming season. Also, feeding syrup and pollen supplement at least 21 days prior to a pollination inspection or honey flow induces the queen to lay eggs.