Category Archives: Playing with bees

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.


Herding Bumblebees

In some ways doing bumblebee rescues is just as challenging, if not more so, than honey bees.

Part of the challenge comes from the sensitivity of the bumbles. The nest can be more fragile to relocate.  The bumbles themselves are erratic flyers and avoid capture like airborne acrobats at times.

Bumblebee photo by Paul Gray Gallery

Bumblebee photo by Paul Gray Gallery

Like honey bees, they like to locate their nest in some of the most out-of-the-way and inconvenient places.  Most times, catching bumblebees can be fun, if not exasperating. Then again,  as long as they have a nest to defend, they can be the most aggressive and persistent defenders.  They can really make you regret taking them on.

It takes time, and more often than not, a zen-like state of calm patience, waiting for the bumbles to come around to the nest and capture them.  It often works best doing it early in the day as they are just getting out and about or about sunset when they are all returning to the nest.

The more I work with bumblebees the more I love working with them.



Beekeeping is a compromise

I refer to myself in regard to beekeeping in a variety of ways.  Master Beekeeper, Professional Apiarist, Bee Conservation Technician.  I personally put a lot of meaning into bee conservation.

I believe that it is ideal as a beekeeper to work and manage only so as to facilitate the bees being able to successful on their own terms.  Because we are putting bees into places they may not h,ave selected themselves, we are obligated to make sure to do some work to ensure their self-sustainability.

At the same time, we are beekeepers because we want something.  Honey, wax, pollen, propolis, a sense of peace and satisfaction, etc…  Because of our intent, we manipulate hives to maximize those outcomes.  There’s nothing wrong with that as long as we are not compromising bee health and a sustainable hive.

We coerce the bees into creating more than they might normally produce.  It is coercion because it is often an artificially created set of circumstances or environment that we create in order to achieve production from those hives they might not have produced left to their own decisions.

Bees need to be healthy and have certain necessary resources made available to them.  We need hive structures that facilitate our ability to work with hives.  Therein lies the compromise.  Beekeepers who lean more to the bees needs consider themselves to be organic or natural.   Beekeepers who lean more towards achieving their own production goals are more conventional.

I personally lean to the organic and to the extent where I prefer to nadir boxes and go no treatment inside the hives.  However, I am also practical and realize that according to my physical health and range of abilities that nadiring is not practical for me to pursue any longer.

So I continue to compromise.  I still use 5 frame boxes and no treatment inside the hives.  I still pursue scientific organic goals.  However, I will go forward this season not nadiring but supering instead.  It is less physically challenging to me to super the boxes.

I believe still that it is more organic to nadir hive stacks as that mimics their natural behavior.  I also believe that it is proven after 150 plus years that supering does not harm bees necessarily or prevent them from self-sustaining behavior.  It does mean that I need to bear in mind my manipulations and observe more closely when I do inspections.

All in all, it’s a reasonable mutual agreement the bees and I have.  I will manage their hives as responsibly as I can to achieve my production goals and they will sting me to let me know when I screw up.mybees1