Category Archives: Keeping Bees

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

Beeing a Facilitator

BBE-Tech Apiary Services exists to help beekeepers be more successful in their beekeeping efforts.  It’s an opportunity for me to make the skills, knowledge and experience I have and continue to accrue available to others who are looking for resources to get a good start in beekeeping or to get assistance in doing things that will improve their beekeeping efforts.

As an offshoot of that, the Bee Smart beekeeping project exists not so much to provide “hands on” support like the main effort but to make information, communication and assistive resources available for the person who is trying to do it themselves but needs access to specific things put on “the table” so they can find what they need and use it as they will.

Everyone that I provide direct services to via BBE-Tech through is a DIY type but even the most capable Do-It-Yourself-ers have learned the value of having an extra set of experienced hands and eyes to get certain tasks and objectives achieved the way they want it done.    My clients through BBE-Tech Apiary Services aren’t looking for someone to do it for them.  They are looking for someone to help them achieve success as they client has determined for themselves.  I can only respect and admire people like these who know what they want, know they need access to more than they currently have and have the gumption to get the help they want so as to get what they want to achieve accomplished.

The Bee Smart side is for the same clients and others who are looking for information, motivation, inspiration and organizational tools and resources to continue doing things to achieve their own goals.

It is for you courageous and relentless achievers that the downloadable resources are put up.  It is for you that I have brought together some of the wisest, most experienced, and self motivated bunch of Beehooligans together to share our experiences with everyone on the podcasts.  It is with you in mind that the website forum page is there to provide a place to ask questions and get ideas from each other to bee more successful.

You are my heroes, all of you who overcome fears and challenges to become beekeepers.  You, who will not allow things like lack of knowledge and resources but search them out for yourself, are my inspiration.  All of you who never give up, who shrug off failure and are more determined to come back successful, you are my role models.

You are the reason I continue to keep learning and teaching. It is because of you that I work harder to make your success more achievable.  When you succeed, I succeed.  When you fail, I fail.  I will not accept failure except as an opportunity to learn to improve and I will not accept failure for you either except as an opportunity to learn and improve.

I can bee better, you can bee better.  I work harder so that we can all bee better. 

I beelieve in you.

Planning: Pt 1 – Goals

I really beelieve that successful beekeeping beegins with proper planning in place from the beeginning.  Every plan starts with a goal.  What is your goal?

“Why are you a beekeeper? What do you intend to achieve?” That is what you need to answer to set your goal(s).  Be as specific as you can.  It’s ok to have more than one goal, just don’t overwhelm yourself especially if you’re just getting started.

Your goal is your purpose.  It is what motivates you to start and continue every day with your beekeeping.  If what you end up accomplishing, if you find yourself accomplishing something is what you state as your goal, you have something to measure your success by.

So often I work with people who either have no clear goal or didn’t set the right goal for them.  Unfortunately, this more often than not leads to the beekeeper with feelings of failure, disappointment and not achieving anything.

Set the right goal based on why you are motivated to be a beekeeper to beegin with.  What inspires you, motivates you, makes you excited about beekeeping?  How do you see that ending up?  What do you see in your mind as really doing when you imagine yourself as a beekeeper?  That is your goal or at least the right path to follow to your goal.

For example, my goal is to be a conservation focused beekeeper.  I want to help keep bees alive and thriving.  Especially those bees that might otherwise be killed due to extermination or choosing a wholly unhealthy or inappropriate place to live.  I want to “rescue” successful, locally adapted bee colonies and build up a source of thriving “survivor” genetics.

That’s my goal.  It’s not everyone’s goal and even others who share that goal will find themselves diverging from me as we move to the next steps of a beekeeping plan such as objectives, strategies and tactics.

Good goals have certain things about them…

  • Realistic.  It needs to be something you can actually do.
  • Reasonable.  It needs to be something that falls into the “Probable” side out of the “Possible\Probable” odds.
  • Achievable.  Is it something “you” can do with what resources you currently have available or can obtain without creating a major upset in your life?
  • Measurable.  Don’t be vague.  If honey production is a goal, make sure you specify something like producing honey to sell or to give as gifts or to keep your cupboard stocked, etc…  Perhaps a goal would be to produce enough surplus honey to give some to every family member at the next Thanksgiving Day get-together.  Something like that.

In the next Step we’ll talk about fine-tuning those goals into strategies that will help focus more specifically on achieving those goals.

 

Don’t Leave A Buddy Hangin

Bee colonies, like many living creatures, experience times in their lives ranging from “thriving” to “distressed”.  Far too often, our bee colonies are near or in a “distressed” condition these days.

I think of it this way, bees are getting dogpiled by the number of stress vectors assaulting them.  They face parasites, predators, pathogens and even poison.  It’s kind of like a person being jumped in an alley by 20 ruffians at once.  I don’t care how tough you are because of surviving Natural Selection, 20:1 odds means your getting it handed to you.

I don’t subscribe to the notion of “all or none” beekeeping, especially where treatment is concerned.  If one of my buddies gets dogpiled, I go start pulling attackers off and busting heads to help out.  It doesn’t stop there for me though.  I hang around and help my buddy out.  Get him a few bandages, maybe some stitches.  Get some medicine in him, even if it’s a shot of brandy to help settle him down.

The point is, what I don’t do is just pick him up, dust him off, then leave him hanging.  “Ok pal, I’m gonna take off now, you got this?  Cool, See ya later.”

That’s not cool in my book, where I come from.  But that is the attitude of a lot of no-treatment or organic beekeepers.  No treatment, no how, no when.  You’re on your own bees. 

I help a buddy while he’s down.  I help him get his strength back up.  I help him get back on track.  All the while, I test and check him to see when he says, “it’s ok, I’m good, I got this.”  When he tells me that and I see it happening with my own eyes, I stop helping out.  Then I can walk away after weaning him off my assistance and taking care of business on his own.

I do the same for my bee colonies.  I check them when I “rescue” them from a wall or roof or fallen tree, etc…  how bad did they get banged up?  Mite checks, SHB  population, diseases, who knows what could have been beating them up.  Then I get them moving on a plan and path to self sustainability.  I let them tell me when they are ready for no more treatment.  That’s the goal of course.

Our bees are getting dogpiled.  It’s not cool to just pick them up, dust them off, sit them in a chair, put a drink in their hand and tell them you’re out of there and they’re on their own.

I won’t leave my bee buddies hanging.

What Can Apprenticeship Do For Your Beekeeping

I am a huge proponent of being an apprentice beekeeper for one’s first season before getting their own bees if at all possible.

I realize it’s not practical for everyone and there may not always be someone available that either needs or wants an apprentice or knows how to utilize and train an apprentice.  Having said that, if you can, I think that being an apprentice BEFORE or at the same time you begin your own hives will help a beekeeper be much more successful sooner.

I apprenticed to a beekeeper I assisted at first,  He was a honey producer, having about 500 hives.  He was very much a conventional, treatment all the way, prophylactic treatment whether they needed it or not, kind of apiarist.

For anyone who knows me, I am most certainly NOT a conventional methods beekeeper.  I see myself as a conservationist, organic, scientific beekeeper.  I kind of like to think of myself as a “Apiary Engineer”.    In my own practice though,  so not conventional treatment.  

I did have to learn to go about doing conventional beekeeping though.  By apprenticing to a conventional beekeeper and helping him manage his hives, not mine, I had to do things his way with his bees.  I learned at his side the hows and why’s he did what he did.   I may not agree but that didn’t matter, I still needed to know.

Do you know when I told him I didn’t want to do conventional beekeeping but that I personally wanted to go in an organic management direction, he never once mocked me or put me down.  He said every beekeeper has to go about it their own way but he did believe that if I started out Organic, I would eventually end up conventional because in his view, everyone eventually “came around” to that end.

Well, I’ve only gone more Organic and I see no end in sight.  I respect all of his effort teaching me and training me and his being open minded enough not to be bad attitude about things.  For a grumpy old farmer, he was a great guy.

Now I not only manage my own hives organically, but I teach beekeeping classes at the local community college, I do private coaching and I run retreats and workshops to help educate and train beekeepers.  I do NOT mock or ridicule them for their beekeeping choices.  I teach them what they want to know, what they need to know to be the most successful beekeeper they can be using whatever approach they think will work best for them.

I give an objective (or try to) approach with pro’s and con’s, best practices, least effective outcomes, etc.. as I can to help people be prepared for whatever approach and methods they choose to use.

I chalk it all up to the apprenticeship I went through.  Because I had to learn about beekeeping in ways that I personally didn’t want to work my own bees in, I am experienced and well versed enough to be able to educate and train beekeepers in many other ways to help them bee successful their own way.

I believe apprenticeship made me a better beekeeper overall and have a respect for all beekeepers regardless of their approaches and choices.  I don’t have to agree with them to teach them.  I figure If I teach them proper ways of treatment chemical application at least they will be better off than having poor or no training or knowledge at all.

So yes, if you get to apprentice to another beekeeper for your first and maybe more seasons before and when you first get your own bees, I think it will only make you a much better beekeeper than you would be without that experience.

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.