Berlin's Bumbling Beekeepers Leave Swarms Without Homes

The Guardian Kate Connolly in Berlin August 9, 2019

Inexperienced hobbyists force bees to search often in vain
for suitable habitat across the city.

Schwarmfängers to the rescue? There are now about 10,000 bee colonies in Berlin, which is causing habitat and food shortages. Photograph: Evan North/Getty Images

Schwarmfängers to the rescue? There are now about 10,000 bee colonies in Berlin, which is causing habitat and food shortages. Photograph: Evan North/Getty Images

Humans are not the only ones in Berlin struggling to find accommodation. A beekeeping boom has led to swarms of bees forming novel new hives using anything from motorbikes to balconies in the German capital.

Germany’s beekeeping association has been forced to dispatch a growing band of swarm-catchers – or schwarmfänger – reachable via telephone hotlines, to deal with a deluge of incidents in which thousands of bees cluster round objects while scout bees go in search of suitable homes, such as a tree hollow, more often than not in vain.

“Many people are concerned about climate change and the dying bee populations and want to do something about it, which is great,” said Benedikt Polaczek, the chair of the Berlin Beekeepers’ Association. But he cautioned that the rise in the city’s bee population meant there was now a lack of adequate habitats and food.

He said: “We now have around 10,000 bee colonies in Berlin alone.”

Nationwide the German Beekeepers’ Association has grown by a quarter in the past six years from 92,000 members in 2013 to more than 120,000 today.

The number of Berlin beekeeping enthusiasts has increased, while offices and hotels are among those putting beehives on their rooftops, and beekeeper courses are oversubscribed. But the accusation levelled at often inexperienced hobbyists is that they do not always understand how to care for the bees.

The Berlin association now has over 50 schwarmfänger volunteers who offer a round-the-clock service to capture the several thousand bees in each swarm that are typically found enveloping everything from car roofs and bicycle frames to traffic lights and balconies.

Jonas Hörning, a bee-loving volunteer who has already saved 100 swarms, said the number of incidents had increased as the number of beekeepers soared.

He said: “The bees like to congregate in house entry ways or in other cavities. Balconies and window sills are also a favourite place.”

Swarm catchers are typically equipped with a breathable box, a sheet or tarpaulin, a bee brush and lemongrass oil to lure the bees into the box. Protective clothing is recommended for all but the most experienced schwarmfänger.

Berlin Kreuzberg, A swarm of bees cluster on a motorcycle. Photograph: Agencja Fotograficzna Caro/Alamy Stock Photo

Berlin Kreuzberg, A swarm of bees cluster on a motorcycle. Photograph: Agencja Fotograficzna Caro/Alamy Stock Photo

Hörning said: “The trick is to catch the majority of the colony together with the queen, and then the rest of the bees will usually follow.”

The method involves moving the cluster into the box while ensuring the queen, usually in the centre, is among them. If the swarm is on a tree branch it could be cut and put into the box with the bees on it, if the swarm is on an object – such as a bicycle or a lamppost – it could be sprayed with a mist of sugar water and then brushed gently into the box.

Colonies that are not caught will usually die, so there is a sense of urgency about the task.

The news magazine Spiegel recently reported that swarm catchers across Germany were in constant demand this year. It is not usually difficult to find new homes for captured bees because of a swarm exchange website where experienced or wold-be beekeepers can register their interest in taking over a rescued swarm.

Polaczek said it was possible to prevent colonies from swarming, by removing all the queen-bee swarm cells. He said: “Some people think they’ve managed it, but if you’ve overlooked just one swarm cell the bees will swarm anyway.”

The swarming season – usually late spring to early summer – is now over for this year. But concerns about the welfare of the bees are more acute than ever. Polaczek said: “There are so many bees they often can’t get enough food.” Some beekeepers are forced to feed their bees with sugar syrup to enable them to get through the winter.

Ideally beekeepers should spend five years in training, according to the association, although very few do. The organisation is critical of the fact that beekeeper starter kits are easily available online encouraging too many people to set up hives on a whim.

LACBA Beekeeping Class 101 Class #5: Sunday, June 9, 2019, 9AM-Noon, at The Valley Hive

beekeeping class 101 register post.jpg

Sunday, June 9th, 2019
9AM - Noon

The Valley Hive
10538 Topanga Canyon Blvd, Chatsworth, CA 91311

Actual Location for this Class: Details will be emailed to registered participants prior to class.
Parking for Class: Details will be emailed to registered participants prior to class.
Time: Check in open @ 8:30am. Class Starts @ 9am
For more info:
Class SIgn Up:



This class will take place in an apiary, therefore, protective equipment will be required.  If you do not have proper protective equipment you will NOT be able to participate in class and refunds will NOT be issued (all money collected for classes were a donation).

Rearing Honey Bees Responsively Requires Education and Careful Management to Help Stop the Spread of Disease

Bee Culture - Catch the Buzz By Matt Robinson March 20, 2019


Small-scale beekeeping has bloomed in recent years as amateur apiarists have taken to cultivating honey bee colonies of their own to help boost the ranks of pollinators under pressure around the globe.

But more is sometimes not better, and experts like Paul van Westendorp, a provincial apiculturist with B.C.’s Animal Health Centre, are warning that backyard honey bees that aren’t carefully managed can contribute to the spread of disease, undermining the well-intentioned efforts of those who keep them.

“Ironically, while beekeepers can be a highly independent lot and very individualistic … honey bees are completely communal in everything they do. So the misery that is experienced by one colony is often shared with other colonies, and the misery is often in the form of disease,” van Westendorp said.

B.C.’s honey bee colony count, at roughly 52,000 in 2018, is the highest its been since at least 2010, according to the results of the province’s annual beekeeping survey, and there are more colonies across the country than ever before, said van Westendorp. Urban interest in beekeeping and corresponding local bylaw amendments have helped foster the spread of honey bee colonies into cities and towns.

But what some who keep bees may not be aware is that honey bees were introduced to this continent and are best thought of as a form of livestock, distinct from the hundreds of species of domestic pollinators in Canada, like bumblebees and orchard mason bees, van Westendorp said.

He warned people against keeping bees without first learning some basics on seasonal management, or what to do in spring, summer, fall and winter. Also key is recognizing bee behaviour and the health of the brood, and understanding how bees reproduce, he said.

“By having an insight in that, that will enable the beekeeper to also detect possible diseases that may be present and … when you do find a disease, what kind of practices or techniques can you use to control these diseases.”

Stan Reist, the Canadian Honey Council rep for the B.C. Honey Producers’ Association, said he believed some people may be avoiding crucial procedures that can help colonies around the province stay healthy.

We’ve got people out there who do not believe in treatments. Well, they’re not doing themselves any favour and they’re not doing us any favour,” he said. “If you had a dog and it had mange, would you treat it? Sure you would. If your kid came home from school and had head lice, would you treat it? Yeah, sure you would. So if your bees have got mites, why wouldn’t you treat them?”

Reist said he believed those who neglect treatment are typically beekeepers with a few hives who “haven’t been in it for long enough to understand the dynamics. … They had the attitude that they want to save the bees, and they’re actually doing more harm than they are good.”

The provincial government offers introductory beekeeping classes that regularly enroll to capacity. It also offers a free webinar version open to anyone, and a master course for beekeeping veterans.

There are other beekeeping courses offered around the Lower Mainland as well, including those at the Honeybee Centre, which are geared toward hobbyists, and a program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, aimed at commercial keepers. Carolyn Essaunce teaches at both.

Essaunce said sometimes there is “contention between commercial beekeepers and hobby beekeepers” and if a hobby beekeeper’s hives get sick they blame the commercial beekeepers, and vice versa. She thought it was important to bridge the two industries because all of them have the same goals and raise bees that fly around.

“I think there’s a bit of misconception about what commercial beekeeping is. I think there’s an idea out there, not that everybody has it, in the hobby beekeeping industry that it’s sort of this mass production industrial farming. But I teach basic beekeeping for hobbyists and I also teach commercial. And we actually teach the exact same management methods,” she said.

In the broader picture, the societal pressure that humans place on the environment has been problematic for bees, van Westendorp said. Industrial monoculture agriculture, the widespread use of farm chemicals and the loss of agricultural land to development are just a few examples of a large societal footprint that has contributed to a widespread “depressing effect” on the natural world, he said. Honey bees — even though colonies now appear in Canada in greater number than before — have suffered from that and native pollinators are suffering even more, he said.

“We may have managed to maintain a quantitative presence or a relative abundance of pollinators. … Where the biggest fear is, is that we have a qualitative decline. And that is a decline in species diversity.”

Anyone looking for a low maintenance way to help pollinators could consider setting out mason bee condos or planting “bee forage plants,” van Westendorp said. That includes flowers like lupines, lavender, bigroot geraniums, hyssops and a host of other plants that bees like to visit.

Rearing Honey Bees Responsibly

You may also want to check this out: Keeping Backyard Bees - Home Sweet Home for Mason Bees

Urban Beekeeping: What's the Buzz About?

KCET SoCal Connected  Air Date: Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - 8:00PM

For the first time in more than a century, the Los Angeles City Council officially legalized urban beekeeping in single family homes in October 2015, catching up with cities like Santa Monica, New York, and Santa Barbara in permitting backyard beekeeping.

But now, what will it take to create a new generation of beekeepers? Can computers and smartphone apps help make the traditional task of beekeeping more inviting?

There's no question that backyard beehives face multiple challenges. One expert, Kelton Temby, calls them the four P's: Pests, pesticides, poor management, and pathogens. He has come up with a high-tech monitor to gauge the health of beehives remotely. What does this technology have to offer aspiring beekeepers?

In this segment of "SoCal Connected," reporter Cara Santa Maria introduces us to beekeepers from Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and finds out what backyard beekeeping is doing to support the honey bees of Southern California.