Beekeeping methods Landrace The Driest The Wageningse Eng Varroa mite

The year 2023

Sun and frost on The Driest.

The year 2023 has been a good year for bees and beekeeper alike. All 11 hibernated colonies have survived, but one had been seriously weakened by chalkbrood. Therefore, I had to eliminate this colony.

There was a lot of rain this year. This was not only beneficial for nature, but also for the main honey flows in spring and summer and on the heather. Only a dry period from mid-May to the end of June caused a break in the development of the vegetation.

Due to the warm autumn, the colonies continued to breed for a long time, which resulted in high Varroa pressure, which had to be reduced by using oxalic acid in almost all colonies in December, during one of the rare cold mornings. This year I did not perform three-day mite counts on the Varroa board in autumn, but only monthly counts. This is certainly less accurate and does not allow for the construction of mite drop curves, but it is considerably less work…

All young queens on The Driest are locally mated. I didn’t bring any virgin black queens to the Neeltje Jans mating station this year. This had to do with the fact that I had created a lot of brood splits to relax the production colonies and thus suppress the swarming mood. As a result I had obtained many small splits. What also plays a role is that I have some doubts about the quality of the breeding material from Texel: the colonies are selected exclusively based on morphological characteristics but not on behavioral characteristics. The result of the local mating was very good: only 1 of the 14 young queens was not fertilised.

I have not made any temporary splits: all young colonies have been made by tapping bees and brood. This resulted in many small splits, but these can easily be united in autumn into colonies that are strong enough to hibernate.

This year we grew summer barley on our plot. The drought in May-June resulted in the crop remaining very low. When it started raining again in July, the weeds quickly started overgrowing the barley. This made it a bit of a challenge whether the quality of the grain would be sufficient, as the barley barely became dry enough. In the end we harvested a mediocre, but qualitatively acceptable harvest.

We sowed winter rye in October. Let’s hope that the heavy rain of winter 2023-24 will not throw a spanner in the works…

Beekeeping methods Dark bee Landrace The Driest The Wageningse Eng

The year 2021

Every year is different in beekeeping. This was no different in 2021. Spring started cold and remained cold. Consequently, there was no honey to harvest from the fruit trees. Contrarily to previous years, there were good rains during the summer of 2021. Very good for the Wageningse Eng, which is very drought-prone, as we know from experience.

The summer crop was average. I have to mention, though, that I haven’t migrated the bees to the lime trees this year and no doubt this has had a negative effect on the production.

On the plus side, the heather crop was very favourable this year. Thanks to the good rainfall in July the heather was in great shape. The ancient Dutch skep beekeepers knew that a wet July is a precondition for a good heather honey harvest. Temperatures in August were mild and the weather generally sunny.

Gathering Holland’s finest honey…

The transition of the colonies to the dark bee has been a priority this year. I have produced a fair number of pure-bred black queens, that have mated at the breeding station of Neeltje Jans. This mating station on an artificial island in Zeeland is run by De Duurzame Bij (The Sustainable Bee). There are only pure-bred drone-producing colonies on Neeltje Jans, which guarantees racial purity to a high degree (but maybe not completely).

Some 62% of the young queens I produced this year have been fertilised and went into egg-laying, slightly more than the long-term average. A lot of nuclei had to be produced to accommodate all these virgin queens, which required a lot of bees and hence has gone to the cost of the productivity of the colonies.

All in all, my apiary now has 75% of reasonably pure-bred dark queens. This is slowly becoming quite remarkable for Dutch conditions, for the dark bee is seriously threatened, here as well as in the rest of northern Europe, by continuous hybridisation provoked by introgression of foreign genes. Producing a 100% pure black queen, while at the same time avoiding inbreeding, remains a challenge and will require many more years of arduous selection.