Friday, 1 November 2019

Visiting Virelles.

Hello readers,

Weather Report:  

Winter is coming!  Today (1st november 2019) is the first day I saw almost no activity near my hives.

Hive Report: 

It's about time I gave you an update on how I'm faring this year.

Apiary 1:

My Simplex Nuc, now called the MC 2018 is still alive and is going into winter with only 10 frames in one box.

My SS 1 2018, now called the LL 2018 is also still alive, it is going into winter with 2 boxes of 10 frames, but the bottom box is not fully drawn out.

ZP 2019: A swarm I caught in my home town, it is now on 2 boxes of simplex.

AC3 2019: A 6 framer (Zander) from a queen rearing project, one of two left from 11 larvae.

AC4 2019: A 6 framer (Zander) from a queen rearing project, the second one left.

ZIC 2019: Not actually my hive, but it's on my apiary, it's supposed to be the first hive of my friend, but he can't place it at his place.  It's on 2 boxes of Warré, one on frames, one on only topbars.

Apiary 2:

SD2018: I hardly inspected these in 2019 and they are going into winter on 2 boxes of 10 frames.

LL2019: A split from LL2018, is in 2 boxes Simplex, both have 10 frames.

MC2019: a split from MC2018, is in 1 box Zander, with a bad lid, it has 10 frames.

ZLL 2019: A swarm I saw come out of the LL2018, on one box of Zander that was actually supposed to be a swarm-lure.

Apiary 3:

ZS2019: A swarm on 2 boxes Simplex for overwintering, but the bottom box is empty.  I also need to protect this hive further from the sheep that are on these grounds.

Apiary 4:

ZPD2019: Foraged in Anzegem, but is now overwintering in Olsene on 2 boxes simplex.

ZE2019: Foraged in Anzegem, didn't build up very fast; Is now overwintering in 1 box simplex.

General thoughts:

I did not make good on my attempt to get to 15 hives this year, although I tried with the queen rearing project (I was at 20 hives at one point).  
All the hives seem to have very high varroa pressure, but then again that was to be expected.  Let's see how they deal with the little devils over winter.

Visiting Virelles

As a member of Mellifica, and staying close to Virelles, I wanted to visit the aqua-scope.

The aqua-scope has taken upon itself to combine tourism, education and protection of the environment.  They want to keep attracting tourists whilst aiming to educate them with a minimal impact on the natural site.
This is of course not the main reason I went there.
The main reason for my visit is of course bees!  Mellifica has it's mating area here and I wanted to see what it looked like.

The picture above shows the apiary and the entrance to the mating yard.  The sign translates to 'The Bees, my passion in nature'.  If you look closely you can see a wire close to the ground in front of the apiary shed and in front of the entrance to the mating yard.  That's to keep wild boar out!

Since we're all wintered in there isn't much to see in the mating yard itself, apart from the stands you can put the mating nucs on.  But when you turn your head to the right, you can see the hives in the apiary!

The temperatures were around 8°C so it's no surprise not a lot of bees are active.  As you can see the hives are sent into winter on one box.

Before leaving the site I opened up a small door in the wall to find an observation hive!  I didn't spot the queen, but I didn't look very closely, since I didn't want the bees to cool down to much.  And I imagine her majesty isn't going to be on a frame very much during the day if humans keep opening and closing that door to let daylight fall onto the bees.  I wonder wether the bees are kept there all winter?  I suppose not, but if not, when will they be transfered out?  And where to?  And if they stay there, have they been there for multiple years?  I'm inclined to think not.  Hence my assumption they'll not overwinter in there.

A bit further down the road (if you follow the map they give you at the entrance) a billboard with information about the new 'Black Bee House' that is being built can be found.  I hope to visit the new building once it's operational (without having to pay admittance to the grounds this time)

 That's all for today folks!

Bob Out

Monday, 21 October 2019

Days of Honey in Pardubice 2019

Hello readers,

Today I'd like to give you a report of my visit to Czech Republic!

Days of honey in Pardubice


Thanks to the relations between the cities of Waregem (Belgium) and Pardubice (Czech Republic),
I was given the opportunity, as a beekeeper and citizen of Waregem, to attend the annual event
called ‘Days of Honey’.  An invitation that was also, and with gratitude, accepted by my wife and
another beekeeper from Waregem; Steven Vandebuerie.

Pardubice is the capital of the region with the same name in the Czech Republic. 
It’s about 100 km to the east of Prague and located along the Elbe. It has been mentioned
first at the end of the 13st century and developed from small village into the industrial city it is today.
Pardubice was first ruled by the Moravians, a noble family called
Pernstejn, and had numerous battles.  One of these battles forms
the basis of the coat of arms of Pardubice, a half-white horse on a
red background.  Legend has it that the horse was chopped in half
during a battle in Italy whilst storming a castle; The defensive
troops cut the rope that held up the gates of the castle when the
castle was stormed by the troops.  The fence is said to have fallen
on the horse, directly behind the rider, cleaving it in half. The
knight who rode the horse in battle fought fiercely and survived the battle, and carried the front half
of the whorse back to Pardubice where the rulers paid tribute to the knight and the fallen horse by
putting the white half of the horse on the coat of arms on a red background as a reminder of the

From 1526 till 1918 Czech Republic, Maravian territory and Slovakia territory were part of the
Austrian Imperium, after that Czechoslovakia was declared independent, but it never was very stable
as a country.

In the 20th century the area was occupied by the Germans during WWII.  After the liberation they
could not speak of salvation for long, as early as 1948 Moscow claimed the area as part of the East
Block (as were Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, …)and had a big influence on their

After throwing off the shackles of the iron curtain the country ‘Czechoslovakia’ had a peaceful split in
1993 and was divided into Slovakia and Czech Republic.

This makes Pardubice a city rich in history, with its own Pernstejn Castle, but vibrant with the
dynamics of a young city.

The Receiving committee

A short flight of 50 minutes, thanks to favorable winds, brought us from Brussels Airport to Prague,
where Vaclav Janovsky, chairman of the bee association in Pardubice, awaited us.  As our Czech is
almost non-existent, and only grew into a limited ‘good day’ or ‘dobry den’ and a ‘Cheers’ or ‘Na
Zdravi’ (used to raise the glass on ones good health) over the time of our stay, we had to resort to
English which did not facilitate communications.

The Chairman’s knowledge of languages consisted of some english, but this language barrier was
more than compensated for by the warm welcome and enthusiasm of the man, owner of a good sense of humour.
We were driven to a sports bar, where the employee of the city of Pardubice -Tomas Cabrnoch-
awaited us.  We raised a glass (or two) prior to our meal (and during) and were given our schedule
for the weekend. We were also introduced to our guide for the remainder of our stay
- Milos Kaspar - , as the chairman had responsibilities to attend to.

Milos turned out to be a very amiable, intelligent and well-travelled man, an educated chemist who is
fluent in German and knows how to express himself in English very well.  His travels took him to
Germany, America and even Amstelveen (Holland). Waregem is wel known to him because of the
relations between the cities and through his other hobby: running marathons.

Days of honey

On saturday morning, October 12, 2019, we were picked up at 08h30 to join a parade, from the
square, past the town hall to the provincial halls and to the place of the event; ‘the honey house’.

The parade counted about 30 to 40 people and was preceded by 2 policemen on horseback and 2
policewomen in charge of stopping traffic to ensure smooth passage.  The two beautiful black horses
were impressive and matched wonderfully well with the setting and atmosphere of the event.

Two ‘honey-girls’ in bride-like white dresses with a high pointed hat and veil followed the horses
carrying a basket with numerous products related to the bees: Honey, mead, gingerbread - typical
for Pardubice- and many other products.
Together with the chairman, a delegation of
Polish beekeepers, us Belgian beekeepers
followed the girls closely.  Then came the
Pardubice beekeepers themselves, dressed in
traditional costumes, a white shirt with red
ribbon around the neck tied in a bow and a
golden yellow sleeveless jacket with red hems. 
Some also had an emblem on this jacket,
probably indicating their function better, but the
meaning of the words remain a mystery to me
because of my lack of knowledge of the Czech

The Beekeepers in turn were followed by a folkloric band, dressed in medieval clothes with curly
pointy shoes, the bagpipes and drums were the dominant theme in the music and supported the
mood of a real folk event.  It was a real pleasure to be part of this parade.

A first stop was made at the town hall, where, as
far as I understood, we were received by the
deputy mayor.  We were pushed forward and
introduced to the man in flawless Czech, but as
to what was said, I did not understand an iota of
it until the sound ‘Belgian’ was heard.  After this
short interlude on the square, where many stalls
were set up, it was like a real christmas market,
but on a radiant summer’s day - it was more
than 20°C -, the parade set itself in motion again
towards the provincial government building.

The second stop was at the provincial house
where a councillor with a friendly glimmer in his
eyes pushed each of us a shot glass in our
hands and after speaking to the beekeepers in
the -for me unintelligible- Czech language,
raised this glass.  I can tell you it was not water,
it left a burning sensation in our throat as we
continued our hike towards the honey-house.
Later it was brought to my attention that the
money flow towards the beekeepers association
flows through this provincial house.

Once we arrived at the honey
house, we saw a room with a
stage.  In front of the stage a
number of tables were placed in
U-shape where local beekeepers
could sell their products and local
artists and hobbyists could show
their skills.  I counted many people
with honey products, propolis
ointments, pollen, mead and so on.

There were some workshops, one where children could roll candles, one where women were
weaving baskets and one where some woodwork was done.  A
local goat farmer sold his goats cheese (and we all know goats
cheese and honey are delicious togheter)

An information stand gave the common man an insight into the
operation of the bee, its biology, all of it in Czech, fortunately with

In the centre of the room, you could taste no
less than 51 jars of honey, 2 of which from
Belgium, one from my colleague Steven
Vandebuerie, and one I brought.  We were
promptly appointed as members of the jury and
a list was given to us. The topics that had to be
judged were
made clear to
us, but 2
Czech words
were both
translated as
‘clarity’.  We understood that one of them should be ‘colour’ and
the other how ‘clear’ the honey was. In addition there were points
for taste and smell. These points added up to a total score for the jar of honey.

The difference in culture was blatantly visible after a few hours; The children present frequented the
jars often for tasting and the level of the darker coloured honey - a wood-honey - dropped faster in
level than the multi-flowered ones, the kind we know and love over here.

The expectation not to win any prizes with our Belgian ‘flower honey’, no matter the very good taste,
bright golden yellow colour and sweet-sweet smell, silently took hold of us.

On stage was a screen with a projector showing pictures of previous events, showing there was
once a Scottish beekeeper in the parade, neatly in front of the parade as we had been, dressed in a
kilt.  Doesn’t seem very handy to work the bees in those garments and sheds a different light on the
question ‘what do Scots wear under their tartan…’

On this same stage we were greeted once again and introduced to the audience present. 
I was asked in advance to write down a bit about
beekeeping in Belgium and to talk to the
audience about
what I had
written down. 
It was clear the
crowd did not
follow my English
explanation so
I was glad Milos, who was appointed to translate
for me, took over and recited from my writings. 
In one of the moments where I did get to speak myself I took the opportunity to thank the deputy
mayor for the extended invitation and handed out presents to show our gratitude.  Some presents came from the city of Waregem, others we had brought ourselves.

After the formalities we were given ample opportunity to visit the stands and by extension visited the city centre with Milos as our guide.

Beekeeping in the Czech Republic

Number of Beekeepers

The Czech Republic has been a member of the EU since 2004, and thus also benefits from
European money for beekeepers.  The Czech Republic has a similar population to that of Belgium,
but has 2,5 times the size of country. Nature in the Czech Republic is more unspoint compared to
Belgium, which may explain why there are more beekeepers there. (About 50.000 to our 7200-ish). 
Or maybe it’s the way the association of beekeepers is organised? The Czech Republic only has
one association of beekeepers, divided into regions. The president of Pardubice region has more
than 2000 members to look after!

As I understood, a beekeeper pays a small contribution per hive as a membership fee to the region
where his hives are effectively installed, and not to one regional association where he might live.
The European money, or at least part of it, goes directly to the beekeepers, that is to say, starting
beekeepers.  If you want to start beekeeping, you contact your local municipality or city council
(through the regional beekeeping association).  Then you are given a form which must be signed
and sent to the local department of the beekeepers association where the chairman take the
documents through an administrative process, resulting in the immediate registration of the new
beekeeper.  After the completion of those formalities the new beekeeper is given about 12000 CKZ
(about 460 EURO). Knowing that the materials there are a bit cheaper (a complete hive is just over
100 EURO in purchase), this amount is sufficient to buy the basic equipment and a bee colony.

I imagine a lot of beekeepers here in Belgium would applaud such a system, but a side note to make
here is that the Czech Republic has to deal with the same phenomenon as Belgium;  Many
beekeepers stop their activities after 2 to 3 years. And thus the seasoned Czech beekeepers see all
that ‘beginners money’ go to waste and deem it ‘not so well spent’.

Types of hives / beekeeping methods

Although a lot of hives are used the most common type is one known by the name: Adamec.  It has
frames size 390 by 240 mm. As the seasons are comparable to what we have in Belgium the
methods are very much alike.  The wintering of the hives is slightly different as some beekeepers
prefer to use 3 boxes instead of 2. The bottom box is largely empty and is used as a buffer zone for
cold winter air.

What can also be seen here, but not on every hive, is the boxes with a hole in it, closed of with a
cork or a turntable.

Most hives are set up at home or at the edges of a forest in apiaries similar to how we do things. 
Percentage wise the number of beekeepers traveling with their hives to better forage areas is
comparable to what we have.

Gestation area and harvest

A big difference in my opinion is the gestation area; As I mentioned earlier, the Czech Republic is
richer i nature and larger than Belgium, on top of that many farmers sow Rapeseed to produce the
additive that enriches ‘biodiesel’.  Where we have to work with crops like ‘Maïs’.

Another plus is the abundance of forests.  These forestarea’s are resulting in a dark wood honey it
has a rather acidic taste to it and hints of caramel that we don’t immediately associate with honey.

An average harvest per hive is around 20 kg with exceptions of beekeepers claiming to harvest more
per hive (50kg to even one person claiming to get 100 kg per hive).  I believed this 20 kg to be in the
lines of what we can harvest in Belgium and said so.

Bee-breeds and varroa

A well organised structure of the Beekeepers’ Association is undeniable, lead by the government it
controls the allowed methods and rules that are to be followed by all beekeepers in the Czech
Republic.  A mark left by being ruled with iron hand for so long? It is the government that
determines which bee breeds you can keep, and that list is limited to ‘Carnica’. Some daredevils are
said to have introduced Buckfast bees, but this seems to be kept quiet as it is outside the law.

The government also tells you when and what products to use to combat the varroa, also present in
the Czech republic.  These products may vary from year to year. I heard there are beekeepers that
ignore those product-regulations and stick with formic acid, as it will work into the closed brood,
where most other products do not.  What the government recommends are chemical products that
only improve the resistance of the mites against these products, a trait that does not count for formic
acid. The beekeeper defended himself stating that treating with the wrong products will only mean
you end up without bees.

This made me think of a lecture I attended in Kalmthout (Belgium) presented by Erik Gooris (a
known ‘naturalistic beekeeper in Belgium), and I explained what his lecture was about.  The main
statement was that bees cannot digest pollen on their own, they need bacteria to start the digestive
process for that. This also means that when applying a treatment that kills the mites will almost
certainly also kill the bacteria needed for this process, thus putting your bees in a period of ‘digestive
problems’.  To this the response was a pair of hands thrown in the air admitting there was no clear
solution to the varroa-problem.

I had more discussions and as a result was labeled as ‘bee-philosopher’.

Visiting an apiary

On sunday, October 13, 2019, the festivities ended in the afternoon.  We bought some honey wine
from a local beekeeper, based on sunflower- and multi-floral honey.  We were also overloaded with
gifts, local beer, local honey and homebrews! I knew then that traveling back I would be more heavily
leaden than coming here.

To top it all off, I was told the honey I entered in the competition had won a gold medal.  The
certificate would be sent by post. I could not believe it!

While the local beekeepers, under the leadership by their chairman, were cleaning up the exhibition
we were taken to a local tourist attraction: the gingerbread house.  Upon arrival this turned out to be
closed, but that was not a problem since we were advised of that prior to leaving for our real
destination that just happened to be in the same place: an apiary.

We were welcomed by a mischievous looking man, and if you ask
me he has some Italian blood streaming through those veins, who
was presented to us as the owner of the place.  On the domain
there is an educational beekeeping apiary with 7 hives, all on 3
boxes of the standard Czech Republic size. I noticed the bottoms
did not have boards like ours do, that slide out from underneath
the stand, instead there was a mesh floor behind a small door.  All
hives had this open ventilation at the bottom of the hives. I
explained that we worked with boards that slide out and had a piece of paper on them to help spot
the varroa. I was told they also use a piece of paper, but they just place it on top of the mesh inside
the bottom of the hive.


The turntables in each box were fully opened and the coming and going of bees on this lovely day of
yet again 20+°C was a sight for sore eyes.  On 4 of the hives, it was around 15h30, some sun was
hitting the front of them, you could spot younger bees on their orientation flights. The hives fully in
the shade did not have that.

One hive was opened, under the roof there was some insulation
and an inner cover made of plexi.  I was already hovering above
the hive when this plexi was removed, I didn’t realize this would be
taken off.  As a result I was greeted by 3 worker bees that, as do
some of my bees, immediately fell in love with my beard.  Getting
entangled in the hairs they started buzzing and burrowing towards
my skin. 2 of them I liberated before they stung me, the 3rd was in
too deep already and before I could ask for assistance I felt the
sting.  I beat it’s not breaking news, but Czech bees also sting… (After telling the chairman later in
the evening he advised me not to bother freeing the bees as it is more efficiënt to just swat them
before they can sting you)

After the sting-incident the beekeeper attending the hives gestured me to take it easy around the
hives, he clearly wasn’t at ease and was probably hoping I wouldn’t get tagged again, but I ignored
the warnings and armed with my camera I took some pictures from up close.

I asked whether the children are allowed to work the bees, but this was not the case.  They only
assisted in extracting honey and other jobs without the danger of getting zapped.

Oh, I forgot to mention, there were indeed warning signs placed here and there around the apiary!

Visiting the Chairman at his house

After the visit to this apiary we were expected at the chairman’s home.  We were greeted and lead to
the back of the yard where a beautiful apiary in the form of a 10m long shed was built.  The shed
now only had 3 active hives put in them but there was a time there were a lot more. Now the ‘free’
space was used for storage.

There were a lot of materials there, a press to make his own wax-sheets was
one of them.  As he explained us how it operated he advised to use
milk as a from of grease to enable loosening the sheets again.  The
smell on the device was clearly that of sour milk, so he wasn’t
joking! He did remark it wasn’t needed to use “whole fat milk”.

One of the beehives was set upon a digital scale, with the option to
connect it to a processor for data processing.  He hadn’t connected
it as of yet and only made notes during his hive-inspections.

There were a bunch of nucleus boxes, DIY-style, made out of insulation boards.  The roofs were
covered with plastic (similar to his larger hives).

The next home made device was a barrel with a valve to let the honey flow out of after it was
cleared.  The top was sealed of with plexi with a motor mounted on top for stirring the honey.

The honey-extractor was also self-made, also a
plastic container, with a manual system to spin
out the honey, for more control of speed at the
start.  We gave it a spin and it was very sound
and stable!

At the very end of the garden, the chairman showed us 6 smaller hives, some of which he would use
to unite with his 3 larger colonies during winter.  He unites the hives without precaution measures
(like putting a sheet of paper between the hives or removing one of the queens) He says he hasn’t
had any problems with htis method yet and in 9 out of 10 times the younger queen wins the fight.

I asked the chairman about what happens to swarms that people call in.  I was amazed by the
answer: Catching swarms is forbidden in the Czech Republic.  The wild populations in the forest are
thus isolated. It is not allowed to take a swarm and place it in your apiary because this way the
interference of genes between ‘wild’ and ‘domesticated’ bees can take place and this is not the
intention.  Swarms are exterminated by the figher fighters as if they were wasps.

This lead me to ask a question about breeding queens yourself and mating them in your own apiary. 
It turns out the cultivation of queens is in the hands of appointed beekeepers. They apply selection
criteria, set by the government, to select colonies to breed from.  I didn’t ask, but I deducted this
means breeding your own queens is against the law.

Closing Words

Although beekeeping in itself is very similar, I prefer our way of working, where we can each do our
thing, and all we need is a little respect for each other in order to get along.  It might make things a
bit more difficult, by the multitude of methods, especially for beginning beekeepers that need
guidance towards their own way of beekeeping.

One thing that would make things more easy here in Belgium is to have but one Beekeeping
Association. One structured way of training new people that is the same all over the country, but all
in all, we don’t have it bad as a beekeeper in Belgium!

I think we need to set some common goals: Working towards varroa resistant bees, moving away
from pesticides, insecticides and other poisons and to help all people create more biodiversity.

I’m so glad the bees here in Belgium are allowed to swarm, it is in their nature!  In the city it should
be avoided, of course, but even then I believe more can be achieved by providing information than
by over regulating the beekeeping world.

After the visit to the chairman we ended with a last supper, a penultimate pivo (beer) and a good
conversation among beekeepers and newly built friendships.  It was a real pleasure for me to be
able to be a part of this experience!

Thank you Pardubice and it’s beekeepers for inviting us!

Thank you City of Waregem for this opportunity!

Thank you reader for making it to the end!

Can we toast to your health now?

Na Zdraví !

Björn Lefevre


 Bob Out

Visiting Virelles.

Hello readers, Weather Report:   Winter is coming!  Today (1st november 2019) is the first day I saw almost no activity near my hives. ...