Category Archives: Keeping Bees

When and how we are doing things like inspecting hives, feeding bees, taking steps to solve hive problems

Why I name my hives

I consider myself an organic beekeeper.  My beekeeping efforts prioritize conservation and sustainable hive management.  Because of these things, I spend a great deal of time and interaction with each hive.

A hive itself is only a shelter for the nest of a colony of honey bees.  Honey bees consist of three types of “castes” of bees that cannot exist without each other.  They depend on each other for survival.  The colony is itself a “super-organism”  that in my experience has shown that as a colony, expresses a singular identity and even it’s own personality.

Every colony having it’s own personality and seen as such is easier for me to identify with.  Because bees usually build their nests inside enclosed void spaces, like those made by beekeepers, seeing the hive as one entity is, for me, easier to make a personal connection with.  I see each hive sort of as a representation of one creature.  As in, there’s a dog, a cat, a deer, and look, a hive of bees.

That’s one of my hives of bees.  I have interacted with her, I refer to all of my hives as a “her”, and watched her over a period of time.  I have seen her sick and attacked by pests.  I have seen her strong and healthy and vibrant and alive.

She has a unique personality.  Just like each of my other hives.  Because of these interactions and truly, building a relationship with these hives the way I built a relationship with my dog, I give my hive a name.  I give every hive a name.

That’s how I approach being a beekeeper.

 

Organic Beekeeping is harder, not easier, than most people realize

I’ve been fortunate enough to do a number of speaking presentations for groups of beekeepers and potential beekeepers lately.  During each of those discussions, the topic of organic or natural beekeeping comes up pretty frequently.  I love to see that people are thinking about being an organic beekeeper myself.

Having said that, it seems that many people do not fully understand the biological definition of “Organic” (which really must be the definition we beekeepers should be adhering to).  Even more, of the people who do express an interest in Organic beekeeping, there seems to be a rather large misunderstanding of what that really is in terms of application.

The notion that organic or natural beekeeping is functionally “easier” than conventional beekeeping is a myth that I find myself having to educate on more often than not.  It seems there are a number of people who think that by keeping bees Organically or Naturally that they don’t have to engage in the number and type of hive manipulations and treatment activities that the “conventional beekeeper would typically seem to do.

Oh no my friends, this is as far from the truth as we can get.  Organic or Natural beekeeping DEMANDS that said practitioner be very well educated in the natural biology and behaviors of the colony as a Super-Organism and individually as well.  As much if not moreso than the unfairly maligned conventional beekeepers.

Not only must Organic beekeepers be as well or better versed in biology and behavior but they must pay much closer attention to their hives, ready to take necessary actions in the hive (hive manipulations) to prevent or minimize activities or issues that conventional beekeepers might otherwise reduce or account for as part of said conventional beekeeping practices.  

Organic beekeepers face higher rates of swarming, absconding, pathogenic and environmental stresses  and even other issues because of the different options they choose to use to address these issues as compared to conventional beekeeping.  Organic beekeepers must learn how to use IPM, especially prevention and early intervention processes to it’s greatest potential.

Organic beekeepers face colony die-outs and other issues as a part of their choice to use an approach that by definition, “…attempts to mimic or emulate the successful, natural behaviors, traits, etc… of other, like  creatures”  as opposed to using synthetic chemicals or avoidable toxins of any kind to treat as a prophylactic, preventative or as an intervention.  In this case, the “like creatures” we are basing on are successful wild or feral honey bee colonies.

Because Organic beekeepers have thus elected to restrain ourselves thusly in our beekeeping endeavors, there can often be a very high level of stress and feelings of being unsuccessful as a result.  There is a saying that nearly 50% of all new beekeepers quit beekeeping within the first two years, mostly due to feeling unsuccessful.  I would venture to say that there is likely a 75% or higher “drop-out” rate of Organic beekeepers in comparison.

No beekeeping happens by “Magic”.  Somehow, there are people who have gotten the impression that Organic or natural beekeeping somehow “magically” is not subject to the same biological laws that all bees must adhere to.  Organic beekeeping is different beekeeping.  It requires an extraordinary amount of preparation, effort and resilience to be successful doing it. 

Organic beekeeping is not “automatically” easier or “nicer” to bees than conventional beekeeping.  Anyone who says so is only lying to themselves.  Someone thinking that Organic beekeeping means not having to manipulate hives, pull honey, or that bees will just “magically” do everything just fine all on their own if we just leave them alone is delusional.  Beekeeping is a combination of craftsmanship “art” and science.  Organic or natural beekeeping even more so.

Organic beekeeping is not for the lazy or ignorant.  I say that not to insult anyone but to put it out there for anyone wanting to be successful as an Organic beekeeper.  You will lose bees often as an Organic beekeeper.  That is a given.  Organic beekeepers often experience a higher hive loss rate than conventional beekeepers.  Partly due to Organic beekeepers intentionally including “Selection” (natural or Beekeeper motivated) instead of toxic treatments.The intended trade off is to let weak genetics be removed from the gene pool leaving the strong to survive and thereby creating more successful bee colonies in the region to be locally adapted and bringing out successful survival traits as opposed to weak or dependent ones.

Organic beekeepers forsake short term success for long terms gains.  It requires an outlook of investment of time, effort, energy, and more instead of perhaps one of financial investment.  Certainly not a venture to undertake lightly or without full appreciation of the “Big Picture”.

Do you want to be an Organic beekeeper?  Terrific!  I would love to help you be successful doing that if you would like professional support to do so.  If you are in my service area (the greater Omaha/Metro area in Nebraska) please know that you can count on me to do everything I can and use my collected experience and knowledge to your greatest advantage.

Tony “Big Bear” Sandoval

402-370-8018

Big Bear’s Bee Colony Temperament

I like to tell people that every bee colony, as a unique super-organism, has it’s own personality.  Some colonies run somewhere in a range of more aggressive defensive behavior and less aggressive defensive behavior.

I typically categorize their defensiveness in the following order, from least defensive to exceedingly aggressive…

  1. Mellow.  These bees seem as though they actually care about you enough to go out of their way not to so much a give you a warning bump.  You almost don’t need to use a smoker at all with them though maybe they wouldn’t mind as they are that laid back.
  2. Docile. Really nice bees to work with.  You might get a bump now and then but it seems mostly for show.
  3. Tolerant.  Good bees.  They’ll put up with most of your visits as if they really couldn’t care less about yo getting in the way but don’t get clumsy or they will tag you if for no other reason than to tell you to get out of the way.
  4. Ornery.  These bees are mostly tolerant but have “moods” where they just don’t want you hanging around or like to remind you who’s really the boss once in awhile.   Personally, this is how I prefer my bees.  They have just enough “personality” to show some gumption toward storing honey and managing their nest for pests without being untenable.
  5. Mean. I almost gave them the title of “Un-amused”.  They won’t make you miserable but they definitely want to make sure you know they don’t appreciate your presence.
  6. Nasty.  These girls will light you up like a Christmas tree for just standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Think of a colony like this as like the neighborhood grump who only comes outside and interacts long enough to yell at the neighborhood kids to “get off my lawn!”.
  7. Pissy.  If the Nasty bees are the neighborhood grump, then these bees are the buttheads in the neighborhood who think it’s funny to let their snarling and ravenous looking Pit Bull off the chain just as the neighborhood kids are walking by on the way home from school.  These bees need to have an attitude adjustment in the way of being re-queened, like, yesterday.

What Kind Of Beekeeper Are You

When I am coaching new beekeeping clients, I always start off by asking the question, “Why are you keeping bees?”  Actually, it’s one of many questions I ask at the very beginning.  I ask other questions like “What is your purpose?”, and, “What are your goals and objectives?”

Knowing the answers to these questions allow me to help my clients prepare to be successful beekeepers.  It allows them to know what kind of equipment to get, what kind of bees, how much to obtain and so on.

For example, I show you my answers to this process.

Why are you keeping bees?  Primarily to to obtain products of the hive for use in the home and the sense of satisfaction I get from working with bees.  One word to describe this is “Homestead” beekeeping.  It describes contributing to a lifestyle of self-sufficiency.

My secondary purpose is to make a living as a professional service provider working with bees.  Many people make a living or contribute to how they make a living to some degree with beekeeping.   Not always in the same way.  Most are “Producers” of hive products. Honey and beeswax being the most common with pollen and propolis coming in after that.  They sell those items or they use them to make other items such as candles, health food supplements, baked goods, soaps, lip balms, lotions, etc…

Other ways to make a living is as a pollinator of gardens, orchards and crops with gross honey production as a secondary.  Yet another way is to sell the bees themselves.  Making queens, packages, nucs, etc… to sell to other beekeepers.  Then there are those who make and sell beekeeping supplies and equipment.  There are those who are involved in live removal of bee swarms and bee nests in structures.

As you can see, there are many inventive and creative ways to make a living, part or even full time as a beekeeper.

As for me, I see myself as a Conservation beekeeper in that sense.  I work to accumulate and build up strong genetic lines of locally adapted bees in which to use in my homestead purpose and to make available to other local beekeepers.

The next major consideration in beekeeping for me is How do I want to do my beekeeping.  As I have already decided that I want to bee a homestead beekeeper and a conservation beekeeper, it seems to stand out most strongly to me to use “organic” and non-toxic methods of hive management and hives that facilitate that approach.

So now here I am, a combination “Homesteading/Professional, Conservation, Organic” beekeeper.

This tells me that I am going to want to use hives that are most conducive to a “bees first” approach.  So I mostly use Warre “type” and horizontal top bar hives in my Homesteading and horizontal and 8 frame Langstroth hives to suit my Professional/Production  objectives.

I use methods that put the bees first, don’t include toxic products and allow for Natural selection as part of the overall IPM program I have in regard to hive management.

I tend to build and assemble my own equipment as much as possible because these types of hives typically aren’t mass produced or low cost in general.

This is all information I now have going in to help me figure out what purchases to make, and how to get started and how to sustain my beekeeping once I have reached my goals as to how many hives I want to have.

Of course, this is just the planning for one beekeeper.  There are a variety of purposes and gals and combinations of them as there are beekeepers. The point is, by identifying your purpose, goals and objectives at the beginning, it will help you be more decisive going forward.

One more thing to touch on in relation to forward planning is how far forward.

I typically advise my “Producer” oriented clients to make an outline of a 5 year year plan.  Kind of like this very abbreviated example;

Year 1

  • Purchase and assemble equipment for (in this example) 4 complete hives (account for honey super boxes as part of each hive).
  • Purchase 4 nucs of bees to get sooner start on honey production.
  • Locate hives in forage rich environment near farm, orchard, gardens, etc.. with blooming flowers throughout the season.  Make sure this first apiary has room for growth to accommodate organic (making splits of surviving hives) expansion in year 2.  ie.. apiary should be able to provide adequate, ample forage for at least 8 hives
  • At Fall prep in late Summer, identify hives looking “weak” that can be combined to better survive Winter.

Year 2

  • Based on Previous Fall assessment, in late Winter, early Spring, based on overwintering observations, assess hives that have died or likely to die out.  Make plans to purchase splits from surviving hives to replace those.
  • Expansion plans call for doubling of colonies.  Based on plans for organic growth to replace losses, make plans to purchase nucs to increase number to get to 8 hives.
  • Based on expansion plans, prepare to obtain hive equipment for at least 4 more hives similar to Year one plan.
  • Current apiary accommodates up to 10 hives, start seeking a second apiary location or 2 more apiary locations to accommodate growth for doubling total hives into year 3.

You can see where this is going.  By having a forward looking plan in place, your “on-the-spot” decision making has been minimized and you will find yourself better prepared as you go forward and being surprised or out of necessary equipment or resources will be reduced.

If you plan to pursue “Conservation” focused beekeeping, this type of forward planning becomes even more important, even necessary, toward your success.

What About Feeding Bees

Bees Make Their Own Food

Technically speaking, beekeepers don’t need to feed bees generally because bees forage for and make their own food.  They gather nectar and pollen and water to bring back to the nest.

They use the pollen as-is and to make “beebread”.  They eat nectar and convert nectar into honey which is their primary food.  Honey bees have been doing this for millennia.

The bees maintain these food stores inside their nest year round.  Given enough space and forage sources, they will make an over abundance that could last for months, perhaps even years under the right conditions.

Looking at it in this bigger picture, we don’t”feed” bees. They feed themselves and each other especially in regards to the queen, drones and larvae.

beeshopping

When There Is No Food

While honey bees are usually great at providing for themselves, sometimes situations arise in which circumstances beyond their control result in the non-availability of forage resources and/or the drastic reduction or loss of food stores.

When the weather is too hot, too cold, too wet, etc… for forage to grow, be available or be collected, bees survive only on what has already been stored.  If they have been consuming their stores rapidly or perhaps have not had enough resources, time or opportunity to forage for enough to build adequate stores then the bees are facing hard times.

Things Beekeepers CAN Do To Help

There is always the notable distinction between what people can do and what people should do.  I’m not here to tell other beekeepers what they should do.  Your beekeeping decisions are your own.  Here are some things beekeepers can do to help bees when they need a hand.

  1. Plant lots of bee friendly flowers in the immediate area for the entire growing season.
    1. Plant flowers within 100 yards of the hives.
    2. Plant a wide variety that are known good sources of pollen and nectar.
    3. Plant flowers that will bloom from early Spring to as late in the year as possible.
  2. Make and have “backup” food available for them.
    1. 1:1 sugar syrup in the Spring and 2:1 in the Fall.
    2. Add “extras” to provide nutrients and keep the syrup “Fresh” and clean for as long  as possible.
  3. Make and have “Emergency” food ready to go for them.
    1. Having fondant and hard “candy” ready to supplement food sources if bee are low during cold times in Winter so as to keep bees from starving.

Some things to consider about “When” and “How” to introduce food.

When

  • After a cut-out/trap-out/swarm is newly hived is helpful as the bees haven’t the honey stores built up yet or had them recently removed.
  • During times of “Dearth” when environmental and climate effects reduce or inhibit availability of forage.
  • In Winter, if bees have had to work harder to stay alive, resulting in faster consumption of stores.

How

  • Syrup inside the hive is usually recommended by many experienced beekeepers  to provide food until the bees can forage and store enough that they will ignore the syrup made available.
  • At external feeding sites more than 100 feet away which dramatically reduces robbing activity. (External feeding sites and the discussion about how they work will be discussed in an upcoming article.)
  • Fondant and hard candy inside the hive, at the top of the hive.  Especially in the late Fall and Winter.
  • Feeders at the entrance seem to have gone down in popularity and use as new methods of introducing food above the nest have increased in availability.

As noted in other articles, beekeeping is a practice in stewardship and is a serious responsibility.  There will always be specifics that will be debated among beekeepers as to how greatly they should be seen as a necessity.  This often comes down to the purpose and intent of the beekeeper and the type of beekeeping they intend to engage in.

 

How Serious Are You About Your Beekeeping?

Beekeeping should be fun.  Beekeeping should be a successful experience.  They say about 50% of all new beekeepers quit within the first two years.

Why?

Because they aren’t having fun and they don’t feel successful.  That’s why.

You can enjoy beekeeping and take it seriously at the same time.  Beekeeping requires patience, diligence, persistence and personal integrity.

No one is going to hold your feet to the fire to stay on task in your beekeeping if you don’t.  The bees won’t leave you notes or knock on your back door to remind you to do inspections or perform timely hive manipulations.

It’s all on you.  But, you don’t have to do it alone.  You can have a professional on your side.  Someone to be an objective extra pair of eyes and hands.  Someone to show you new tricks and guide you in getting important beekeeping tasks done right and on time.

You have me.  I will help you learn to be the best, most successful beekeeper YOU can be, according to your goals and objectives.

Then you can be successful.  Then you can enjoy beekeeping because you don’t feel lost or like a failure.

Hire someone to be on your side and bee successful.

Hire me and let’s have some beekeeping fun.

How Hiring A Beekeeping Coach Can Make A Big Difference

I get asked now and again what is the difference between the beekeeping coaching services I offer for a fee and beekeeping mentoring that might be gotten for free at a local bee club or association.

It’s a fair question and I believe my answer will make a lot of sense when you read it.

I offer free mentoring as a Master Beekeeper with the Omaha Bee Club.  Have done it for over 5 years and I will continue to do so in some form.

The free mentoring through the bee club is limited in scale, depth and scope because I have to work for a living.  So I mentor at the Omaha Bee Club Teaching Apiary two Saturdays a month.   I answer questions, teach hands on skills and generally provide guidance as beekeepers practice their beekeeping skills on the bee club’s hives.

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In the beekeeping coaching I offer through my business, you are paying for my time, so I can now be flexible to your schedule.  I can travel to your apiary and help directly with your hives.

By paying for this service, you are getting my full, undivided, professional attention to help ensure your success.  By paying, you are most likely making me earn my money by making sure you have all the questions you’ve been wanting answers to ready to ask and you will be paying your fullest attention so as not to waste your investment.

When working with people as a free mentor, it often becomes apparent that they are not paying full attention or sometimeeven taking it very seriously.  It is often a situation of being taken for granted because if something is forgotten, they can always get that the next time.

People are human, it happens.

Not only are you getting my professional advice and instruction by hiring me, you also get work done with my assistance.  Two sets of hands working on getting things assembled or painted or set up, etc… instead of just doing it all by yourself.

Volunteer mentors give you only what they have and are prepared to give you.  They are not obligated to do anything beyond what their sense of integrity and available time says they should.

I honestly believe that by hiring an experienced, professional beekeeping coach, like me, you get the most out of the experience.  You want to get your money’s worth and I want to ensure that I have provided the service I described in a way that leaves you as a customer satisfied and considering to hire me in the future because I earned your trust as a client.

Let’s bee successful together.

3 Ways To Reduce Unnecessary Stress On Your Bees

Ventilate Properly

Depending on your location, humidity affects hives differently.  We know honey bees prefer a hive (the space they build a nest in) that is defensible and dry.  The more bees have to fan to remove humidity from a hive, the less resources they have to focus on the nest and being hygienic.

By making sure your hives are properly ventilated throughout the year, you allow the bees to focus their numbers and energy on taking care of the nest instead of taking care of the box.

Feed Honey

Honey contains more than carbs, which is energy for bees.  Honey also contains beneficial enzymes, essential nutrients and even naturally innoculates bees against diseases and environmental factors that are brought in as a result of foraging.

In the Winter, far too often beekeepers do not keep enough honey on hives and frequently resort to feeding sugar syrup when bees run out of honey too early.  Make the first honey super of the season a box the same size as the brood chamber and stash it away after it is full of capped honey until Fall.

If bees don’t backfill the second or upper brood box by the end of Fall, you pull out the first box that was stashed away and fill in frames in in the hive to go full into winter with.  In late Winter/Early Spring when you check stores and they are low and at risk of starving, use the remainder of those frames of honey instead of sugar.

Maintain Bee Population to Hive Space Proportions In The Hive.

If bees have to work to hear or cool the hive because there is too much or too little space, then they are using valuable resources unnecessarily.  Keep the population to space proportionate and the bees work less hard, consume less food, go through food more slowly and focus their energies on managing the nest and foraging.

The more bees focus on the nest without wasting energy, the less stressed they are and can build and practice hygienic behaviors.  As the beekeeper, your job is to take proper care of the hive so the bees can take best care of the nest.

Many hive stressors are unnecessary and avoidable if we as beekeepers pay better attention to our job instead of trying to tell bees how to do theirs.

Help For Other Beekeepers

Hey Omaha/Metro area beekeepers, Being a beekeeper is a blast. It’s challenging yet relaxing. It’s rewarding while making you earn it. It has it’s causes for concern also.
 
Beekeepers can injure their backs lifting heavy honey supers. Beekeepers can injure themselves with hammers, nails, and other tools when assembling beekeeping equipment.
 
Beekeepers can get stung and suffer from severe to acute venom allergic reactions, including developing Anaphylaxis which can send you to the Emergency Room.
 
In many cases, these things can cause you to miss work. In some cases, insurance through work won’t cover a hobby or non-work incident. What do you do then?
 
Don’t worry, not only am I a Master Beekeeper and professional Apiarist, I am also an independent AFLAC Associate and can help you learn about programs that can help you in situations such as those I described above.
bigbearbeeboxes

Big Bear (me) inspecting hive boxes for Spring expansions.

 
I am a beekeeper, I know what beekeepers deal with and I am here to help beekeepers to be successful, even when beekeeping gets them ill or injured.
 
Contact me, you’ll bee glad you did.

Big Bear Is Teaching Beekeeping Classes At Metro Community College

Well, it’s pretty much all set now. I am teaching 3 classes and leading one “traveling class” at Metro Community College Fort campus beginning this the summer quarter this June.

The first class is “urban beginning beekeeping”, a six week course that is recognized by the Omaha Bee Club as meeting the classroom requirements of the “Certified Beekeeper” program.

The second class is “Organic Beginning Beekeeping” focuses on using top bar and other alternative hives and organic hive management.

The third class is “Honey; from the kitchen to the coffee table” which teaches participants to cook with honey, judge honey quality and presentation (for personal use not honey competitions), pairing honey with other foods and identifying honeys by variety and appearance. I expect this to bee a really fun class.

The fourth is a “travelling class” in that we visit notable apiaries in Omaha as a group to learn what goes into setting up and maintaining an apiary and a look at how how it is being done in various settings. places currently include a college campus apiary, a teaching apiary and bee gardens and a rooftop apiary on a historic building near the Old Market.

You will be able to find these classes listed in the Continuing Education section of the Summer catalog for Metro Community College.

I’m excited to be able to teach these classes as I work on assisting new apiary consulting clients throughout the Omaha/metro area. Who knows, maybe one or more of the new business/campus apiaries I help set up will be added to future apiary tours.