Bee Chi, a discipline for the art of beekeeping

Tai Chi is a form of martial art that is used in modern times to help the practitioner with self discipline, self awareness and exercise.

It’s more than that though.  Tai Chi also, in the course of doing it, increases and establishes muscle memory via movement repetition so that performing various moves becomes second nature to the practitioner.  The movements become ingrained so much so that the practitioner performs them almost without thinking about them.

This allows the practitioner to maintain mental focus on the entire situation and be better aware of their surroundings as well as staying in control of themself.

The form and function of Tai Chi relate very well to beekeeping.  However, where Tai Chi relates to a martial art, Bee Chi relates to beekeeping.

The mental and body disciplines are the same.  Beekeepers need to concentrate on movements that support having the body strength and flexibility to work with bees and hive equipment.

Beekeepers also must be in control of every movement.  When working with bees a beekeepers must remain calm, cool and collected at all times.

Confidence in action and deliberate slow, controlled movement help to keep bees calm in the hive.  It is the control over their thoughts and emotions that keep beekeepers able to work in a hive steadily and fluidly.

Bee Chi’s movements are the movements of working at the hive instead of the movements of self defense.  The flow and repetition of Bee Chi’s movements help the beekeeper perform tasks relating to moving and handling hive equipment ingrained and instinctive to the beekeeper.

By allowing the muscle memory to “take over” the routine movements, the beekeeper is then better able to focus their mind on the “what and why” of their work in the hive.  The “how” is being built into them through repetition.

Yes, the name “Bee Chi” might sound a little silly to some people.  It is based on very successful methods and application strengthening.  It can help beekeepers of all ages to improve their beekeeping activity, use their movements and muscles more wisely and improve their self control while working with bees.

I will begin offering instruction in “Bee Chi” in the Omaha area soon.

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Little Bee Deaths.

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Everyone is talking these days about bee deaths, hive mortality, colony collapse, etc..  The large scale death of bees.

Let’s talk for a bit about little bee deaths though.  I was asked recently at an information booth by a woman who wanted to know which bothered me more, to see individual bees die or to see a large number of bees die.

As a beekeeper, I don’t want to see whole hives die out.  That’s an indication of a major problem.  Looking at bee deaths on a day to day scale though, bees have been dying by the dozens, even hundreds for millions of years.

Speaking in an evolutionary way, honey bees have been adapting to predators such as birds, spiders, hornets for a very long time.  They have also had to learn with the natural deaths of large numbers of bees from the colony at the same time.  Old age, being worked to death, picking up something bad and not making it back home.  Even worse, picking up something bad and making it back home to affect other bees.

Beekeepers who study biological history, evolutionary history, of bees, understand that these daily deaths of bees is one of the reasons queens lay eggs in such prolific numbers.  In order to keep the colony functional when they have bees dying in the hundreds, she’ll have to lay as many or more every day to maintain or grow that colony.

Recently Randy Oliver commented in one of his American Bee Journal articles that testing for mites with an alcohol wash was the best way to monitor accurate mite counts even though it required the death of about 300 bees.  For those who were unwilling to kill bees, next best was the sugar shake/roll in a jar.

That got me to thinking about why do some beekeepers, like myself, prefer to not kill what seems to be a paltry number of bees when compared to the overall hive population.  After all, colonies can lose 300 bees in half a day or less in some cases, just on “natural” causes.

For me, I take the position toward bees that supposedly doctors are supposed to take toward patients…”First do no harm.”

While it’s true that those 300 bees might not bee much in comparison to the whole hive, I say, “Why cause bee deaths unnecessarily?”

If a sugar roll can get close enough to an accurate count for mites without killing the test bees, then what’s the point of killing them to get a single digit improvement in test results?  300 more bees in the hive is three hundred more to alleviate pressure on the rest.  By not unnecessarily killing bees, I have to think that those 300 bees are reducing stress on the colony and making valuable contributions to the hive.

I know that there’s little I can do to stop predators from killing dozens of bees a day.  There is little I can do to stop bees from dying of old age, overwork, isolated poison or disease.  It’s going to happen regardless, no point of stressing out about it.

Having said that, what’s the point of causing more “small” bee deaths, if it can be avoided?  I choose not to.  my bees face enough “Natural” threats in a day, I don’t need to be in on the dogpile.

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Help Others To Help You

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In just about every hobby community there is an unspoken rule.  if you ask a question, prepare to be questioned on your question.  Sometimes, that can take the form of sarcasm and even mockery.

In beekeeping, it is no different.  There is such a diversity in experience levels among participants that it’s easy for people, especially beginners, to feel picked on.  In some cases, they actually are being picked on.

I have been involved in both Linux communities and beekeeping communities for about 20 years now.  I have to say, beekeeping communities are much friendlier.

One of the reasons for snarkiness in responding to questions is that many people feel that some of the questions are being done as so called “cheats”.  This refers to a person not wanting to do their own homework, but look over the next guys shoulder, etc… instead.

Another reason is that, well, some people are just buttheads.  For still others, the question seems funny because at their level of experience, it just seems obvious.  It’s a knee jerk reaction.  First thing that hits them sort of thing.  They don’t intend to be mean or anything.

If you’re going to ask questions in a hobby community, you have to have a thick skin.  You also have to know how to ask for help in a way that will reduce the opportunities to get sarcastic or other non useful answers.

When asking for help online, you want to give as much information as to why you are asking, describe the situation.  This provides context for the potential helpers and removes a lot of the sarcastic answers from folks who think you are not doing your due diligence and just taking the “easy route”.

This is very much something in beekeeping because knowledge is such a big factor as a beekeeper.  Many “basic” (and basic usually means first year stuff) questions are easily and most often answered in beginning beekeeping types of books.  They are the first things taught at bee clubs and covered by mentors.

When someone asks a “basic”  (first year stuff) question online, many people wonder why someone who should have already read or been told about that is asking such a “basic” question online.  This is where giving the reader more context than just a simple, single sentence comes in.

If you post something like,

“Should I feed the bees when I get them?”,

many, if not most, people will see that as a “basic” question and you will get a lot of snarky, sarcastic and even rude responses.

It is not a dumb question, just poorly worded.  It left the reader to assume you want easy answers without doing your own homework.  Perhaps an incorrect response, but a common one none-the-less.

Perhaps the question might have been given more context.

“I just bought a 5 frame nuc from a beekeeper and he told me that I don’t need to feed this hive because they had a lot stored.   I read that bees should be fed sugar syrup when gotten in the Spring.  Should I be feeding these bees this Spring?”

Now that question gives readers something specific to work with.  It fills in the blanks and doesn’t leave one to try to read your mind as to what prompted the question and what the context of the question is.  This question will get a lot fewer snarky and sarcastic answers.

With the wide variety of types of people on the web, it doesn’t help anyone to be easily offended.  Some people happen to have a sarcastic sense of humor and genuinely thought their response was hilarious, not meaning any disrespect.  Some people will just assume you are trying to get something for nothing and not be very nice at all about mocking or being otherwise rude about it.

You can help yourself out a lot by knowing how to ask better questions and not having a thin skin.  Instead of taking a snarky answer personally and being offended by it, use it as an opportunity to clarify and provide that context for your question.

A buddy of mine likes to say that there are folks who like to “tease hard”, meaning, have thick skins and talk a lot of sh*t because that’s the way their mind works.  I admit, both he and I are “tease hard” types.  We’ll give each other and just about everyone else a hard time in the spirit of having fun.  Delicate feelings need not apply.

Beekeepers are largely notorious for being a outdoors guy types.  Given the influx of a lot of new people who are women and not so rough and rugged personality types, it’s still largely a “get er done” mindset for a lot of folks.    We tend to take our course humor everywhere with us and we’re still getting used to the idea of “playing nice” with others.  Not an excuse, just the way it is.  It takes time for folks to adapt.

In the meantime, help others to help you when you ask for help.  Don’t expect the reader to be a mind-reader in order to best answer your questions.

It also might not hurt to crack that beginning beekeeping book first as well.  you might already have the answer you’re looking for right at your fingertips.

 

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The Most Important Tool in Beekeeping

There is a lot of technology in beekeeping.  Most people probably have little idea just how much is invested in beekeeping technology by beekeepers and companies related to beekeeping.

Frame of newly drawn comb already in use by the bees.

All the time there are new types of hives, hive tools, hive “accessories” such as frames and scales and covers, etc… that are being modified and introduced.  Different materials to make hives and hive parts are being developed.

Information is perhaps one of the most rapidly developing areas of beekeeping technology.  Teaching beekeeping by books, DVD, online, remote satellite classrooms.  There are blogs and online magazines like this one.  Chat-rooms, social media groups and communities.

All of these things are in a continuous flux of development.  All of them aiming and claiming to help make better beekeeping.  While all of these things are great.  Well, most of them are.  Sometimes bad ideas are just bad ideas.  There is one thing that simply cannot ever be replaced or removed by any of these technologies.  Experience.

I’m not just talking about experience as in how much time you accumulate doing beekeeping, although that’s right up there.  No, I’m talking about “the” experience.

You can read all the books you want, watch all the videos, talk to as many people as you can.  There is nothing that can replace actually getting your hands in there to feel the frame in your hands.  To feel the bees brush past your fingers.  The various scents of the hive.  The different sounds bees make.  Trying to identify the types of bees on the comb.

Those are all things beekeepers truly learn by doing it.  It’s kind of like me trying to describe the taste of honey to someone from a place who has never had honey.  There are no words to replace actually tasting it for oneself.

Any tool or hive that is designed to remove the beekeeper from that experience is a bad tool.  There are products out now that boast of how much they can minimize a beekeeper’s exposure to the bees.

It’s one thing to talk about minimal intrusion to the nest.  That’s simply a fact of bee biology.  The more the nest environment is disrupted, valuable hive resources are lost and cause confusion and stress to the colony.  I’m not talking about that here though.

I’m talking about someone pitching a new part of a hive and telling beekeepers how much “easier” it will make beekeeping for them.  I’m talking about invention of things to actually try to replace the bees themselves.  There is nothing out there that removes the beekeeper from the bees that is a good idea.

Bees can be very forgiving in many ways.  They don’t really care what type of hive you put them in, as long as it is dry and they can defend it.  Bees don’t really care where they are as long as there is forage available to them.  Bees don’t care what type of hive tools we use.  They don’t care if we use frame grips or not.  They don’t care if we give them wax foundation or no foundation, or even plastic foundation.  They will make their wax comb for their nests how they will.  If it doesn’t turn out the way beekeepers want it, that’s our problem.

One thing many people don’t “get” though is that beekeeping is a trade.  It takes experience, knowledge and a level of skill to be able to keep bees alive and produce the results we want at the same time.  Beekeepers go through various “levels” as they go through their beekeeping life.

Perhaps the hardest part of beekeeping is the beginning where new beekeepers arm themselves with books and information and begin working with bees.  There’s a lot to learn at the beginning.  After the first 2 or 3 years, they get the basics down and their familiarity with the bees has expanded.

After that, it’s all about refinement of skill, keeping up with new information, and accumulation of experience.  Accumulation of experience is arguably the most important aspect here.  Because bees are living creatures.  One of my favorite pieces of advice to give any beekeeper is to always remember Rule #1 of beekeeping:  Bees are crazy.

We have written thousands of books on beekeeping since beekeeping began.  The bees haven’t read any of them.  No matter what we think we know.  No matter how long we have been a beekeeper, the bees will always find ways to do something we are not expecting.

You won’t see that or learn those crazy things they do in a book or a video.   You can read the words here about it as I write it but it won’t really mean anything as long as you aren’t continuously working with bees.  It’s the experience that is ultimately the bottom line in beekeeping.

You know nothing about bees and beekeeping if you aren’t in the hives constantly (and no, I don’t mean opening a given hive up every day).  Should the day come when you sit back and think you have got it all figured out.  That you know pretty much all there is about bees and beekeeping, then you missed it.  You might as well get out now.

Because the bees don’t even have it all figured out.  Bees are constantly learning and adapting themselves.  Every colony has it’s own personality.  Every colony goes about things a little differently.  Every colony has the potential to show us something we haven’t seen before.  Why, basically because they are making it up as they go along.

We can have all the tools and toys for beekeeping possible.  We can have every book or video ever made.  Without those things, we can still be good beekeepers because if we are patient and wise enough to pay attention, the bees will teach us the basics themselves.

Without the experience of getting in where the bees are and working with them regularly it won’t work.  Getting to know the feel of the bees as you grab a frame and knowing not to squish one when you feel it brush your fingers.  Smelling a different odor as you approach the hive and knowing it means something isn’t right in the hive.  Seeing the crazy, daredevil flying stunts of bees that are orienting over the hive and knowing that it is different flight from bees getting ready to swarm.

Experience is the most valuable thing we have as beekeepers.  Everything else comes afterward.  Or we’re not really beekeepers, are we?

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Lucy, you got some ‘splainin to do

I just took possession of a colony of bees that we trapped out of a tree near 84th & Maple in Omaha.

It took only three weeks to complete the trap-out, one of the fastest completed trap-outs I have done.  I used a 5 frame nuc box that I borrowed from a bee buddy of mine to trap them out with.

I got the nuc brought to my “nursery” apiary so I could re-hive the bees before I take them to their new, permanent home.

When I went to open them up today, WOW were they feisty.  They wouldn’t even let me grab the frames with my fingers so I had to use a pair of frame grips.

You’ll see my son Tomas in a couple of these pics, he’s my bee henchman.

got the hive open to remove the bees.

Got the hive open to remove the bees.

You can see the new hive box by my feet that the bees will go into.  The second box is next to that but out of the way.

Frame 1 into the new box

Frame 1 into the new box

Got the smoker going with some good, cool smoke.  Which, by the way, these girls are NOT fond of.  Normally I wear just a white, Omaha Bee Club ball cap to work hives.  Nope.  Not these girls.  They made me get a veil.  What the picture above doesn’t show is me taking a sting on my left arm just before transferring this frame over.

Frame 2 into the new box

Frame 3 into the new box (sorry, the camera fuzzled on frame 2)

Well, frame two went a lot better than frame one.  In the pic above, I am putting frame three into the new box after having to scrape some bridge comb from the top bar.

Frame 4 in the new box

Frame 4 in the new box

The pic above shows frame four in the new box and I was putting the smoker down after herding the girls on frame five down.

Frame 5.  all the frames are into the new hive.

Frame 5. all the frames are into the new hive.

Finally got the fifth frame transferred.  The girls were behaving slightly better but at that point, most of the work was done.  Figures.

All that’s left to do now is put the new boxes together and let the girls on the walls of the old box creep into the new box.

All put back together and the girls have a lot more space to work in.

All put back together and the girls have a lot more space to work in.

There she is.  This is Lucy, the name that got the most votes in the poll I put up yesterday on multiple social media sites.  “Lucy” comes from the song, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” by the Beatles.

Lucy will go to a new bee yard in the next couple of days after she has had some time to calm down a bit.

Posted in Cut Outs/Live Removals, Environmental, Survival Beekeeping | Leave a comment

The Adventures of Pedro and Jethro or “Tales of the Beetarded”

For those who aren’t sure, I have come to have certain people call me “Jethro”.  it’s a medium length story, but not one I’ll tell you right now.  Ask me another time to tell you about it.

That's me, Jethro, being beetarded

That’s me, Jethro, being beetarded

My longtime bee buddy Lynn Danzer (AKA “Pedro”, another special story) and I have been roaming around the Omaha/metro area for years now working together on swarm captures, cut-outs and trap-outs.

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Pedro, my fellow beetard

Well, today we took off to look at a colony in an apartment building in West-central Omaha.  Specifically, Pedro wanted me to tag along with the bee club video camera so that we could get a close up shot of where the bees are entering the building up on about a 4 story building.

We got there,  I set the camera up and zoomed in on where the bees were entering and sure enough, we could see that they were going in under the soffit.  This was what Pedro hoped for because it meant they weren’t going into the side wall projecting out from the building.

This means that this job is 95% likely to be done as a cut out. Pedro much prefers cutouts to trap-outs.  He’s impatient that way.

Having said that, I’m a broken beekeeper and Pedro isn’t exactly a spring chicken.  Working high projects like this aren’t exactly what either of us are best suited for anymore.

So, he decided to get some scaffolding and have his young protege, mentee and henchman Matt help him do that removal.  I might tag along and video record the whole thing.  Just for kicks and to be the ground hand.

With that mission accomplished, we decided to check out a call I got this morning about a swarm of bees that landed on a roof, near the gutter.

After getting lost in West Omaha (because West Omaha is stupid with circles, aves, ave circles and circle aves, UGH!) for about 10 minutes, we finally found the house.

We found the bees flying to and from  a spot near the wall and roofline  (and the gutter) in what has to be the most hideously cramped spot the bees could have picked for us to get to them.

This required the use of the fold up ladder.  We both keep one handy through the Spring and Summer because, bees.

So, we unfold and fully extend the ladder and lean it as close to the area we could fit it in.  I held the ladder while he climbed up (someone PLEASE remind me not to look up while Pedro is climbing a ladder.  There are some things we just can’t un-see.)  and he spotted the entrance in the worst possible place for a couple of old and broken beekeepers to try to get to.

So, naturally,  I had to climb up next to see what I thought of the situation. (my wife HATES when I climb ladders now.  She’s afraid I’ll get a spasm in my back whilst climbing and hurtle down 12 feet to my instant death. but hey, I’m beetarded and that means, when I see bees,  I climb the ladder, death by falling totally forgotten.)

Yep, those little stinkers are way out of reach for either of us.  so,  I climb back down the ladder, carefully avoiding getting a chunk of cement in the butt as I climb down past the brick wall immediately behind as happened to Pedro.

Safely on the ground now, we hashed out who was going to do the trapout, because trap-out it would need to be.  We ruled out either of us of course.  However, we both are mentoring young, fit and adventurous twenty and thirty somethings so we are at no loss of youngun’s to send up to do the “apprentice” work.

Pedro decided to again bring his henchman Matt to do this one as well seeing as how both of those removals were out in Central-west Omaha.  Fine by me.   I am behind schedule on about 5 trapouts already.  Not to mention all the calls from mentees and bee club members who have asked me to stop by and help them out with a variety of tasks.

I’ll still probably end up helping from the ground on both of these anyway.

Next time, I’ll make sure to post pictures of us as we make our way around town doing bee things and being beetarded in our own, special way.

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Beekeeping For Old and Broken People

On being old and/or broken

While I don’t consider myself old yet (though my kids seem to think so).  I have to admit to being broken (that’s what happens when you fall off the back of a semi trailer).  Beekeeping being the flexible, open activity that it is, can still be something for folks who don’t move around so well or have limitations that can interfere in many other aspects of day to day life.

In our bee club, there is a man in a wheelchair.  He has found ways to stay involved in beekeeping and make it accessible for himself.  Then there’s me.  I’m not as physically challenged as my friend mentioned previously, but I do face challenges I didn’t face ten years ago.

My situation is that I can’t bend and lean and lift from the ground level without paying a terrible price.  For me it has to be more of an upright and easy movement kind of thing or I’ll be wracked with muscle spasms, the shock of pain from pinched Sciatic nerves and an inability to walk for anywhere from a few hours to a few days if I’m not careful.

two nuc boxes

So, I have modified my beekeeping to keep it do-able for me, much as my wheelchair bound friend has done for himself.

Hive Types

First let’s look at the type of hives that are really good for folks such as myself who don’t like to lean or get down to ground level.

One of the best types of hives in this situation is the Horizontal Top Bar Hive.  It stays level at whatever height your establish for it whether you use a stand or have legs cut for it.  Another plus for this hive is that the top bars that we work are very light as compared to having to lift and move a whole box of honey laden frames just to get a look at the brood boxes.  I like to use htbh’s when I can.

One of my horizontal top bar hives

One of my horizontal top bar hives

Another hive I like to use is my “Nig Bear Conservation Hive”.  Don’t get excited, this is just a nuc box system that incorporates many aspects of the Warre hive management approach.  The boxes are lighter than 8 or 10 frame hives and using the Warre management  methods, I find it easier to take care of.

Hive Height

Regardless of what type of hive you use, for most broken folks like me, working at ground level is a no-no.  Using hive stands is always a good idea.  It limits how far I have to bend or lean to work a hive making it that much easier to work.

top bars only. no follower boards in this htbh

hive stand is just a couple of sawhorses.

 

Personally,  I typically stack two cement blocks at the front and back and set the hive on the stacks.  Two high, four total.  Not only is this a good height for me to work at, it keeps the hive entrance off the ground, minimizing exposure to excess moisture from the ground.  It also forces animals like skunks, who like to eat bees at the hive entrance, to stand on their hind legs and expose their bellies to allow bees to defend the hive better.

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Use Better Planning

I find that trying to set things up ahead of time really can make getting things done a lot easier.  Planning out what to do for a bee yard ahead of time allows me to get everything ready and have an order to things so that when I get there, I’m not making unnecessary moves or taking unwanted stresses on if at all avoidable.

Bee Buddies are great

I often have a helper with me if I can.  Someone to be an extra pair of hands or an extra set of eyes is invaluable during inspections and moreso when harvesting.

bee helpers

Bee Buddies are invaluable.

A Bee Buddy is also great to have around just to share the experience with.  It’s like going to see a movie with someone else who likes the same type of movies.  you can talk to each other, comment on how cool something is or just point out things as you go along to each other.

All in all, even if you are a broken or old beekeeper, there are many ways to continue beekeeping for a long time if you you use your wits and think ahead.

By the way, if you are not currently a broken beekeeper as I am, using the suggestions here might help prevent having it happen to you.

Enjoy your bees.

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Bee Flexible

All too often, we all see the requests for help and advice on how to do some beekeeping task by another beekeeper.

That’s a good thing.  It shows initiative on the beekeeper’s part in that that are getting out there, looking for solutions instead of waiting around to be rescued or the bees die/abscond.

I notice though, that many folks, when looking for information, are wanting to get a singular answer.  As if there might only be the one “right” way to do this.

I encourage beekeepers to always keep in mind that there is usually more than one way to get something done in beekeeping.  Depending on the circumstances one way might work best in that situation, but as situations change, so must the beekeeper be ready to roll with that change.

Learning one way to do something and thinking that it will be “good enough” is a trap we are setting for ourselves.  Things change all the time, especially in beekeeping.

For example, you might have a hive doing pretty good, then at a next inspection, you find they are queen-less and dwindling. There are many things that could be done to “fix” this situation.  Your finances, access to resources, and equipment on hand will all combine to push you to narrow down your choices to solve it.

One possible solution could be to grab a frame of eggs from another hive and change the box the bees are in from a larger one to a nuc box.

Another solution is to buy/beg/borrow/steal a mated queen and put her in to the hive ASAP.  Depending on how much the colony has dwindled, you still might transfer them to a nuc box.

Yet another solution might be that you have no money or no access to a queen seller to replace her.  Then you might just take those bees and combine them with a another colony.

Here’s another scenario; feeding.  What if you find a beekeeper asking you how to feed their bees without disturbing them?

There is the old entrance feeder which allows you to change or re-fill a feeder without opening the hive.

There is also “super feeding” which basically amounts to putting an inner cover just above the bees and setting and empty box on the inner cover.

Now you can place just about any kind of feeder you have in the open box.  Better yet, you can open the lid and re-fill that feeder just about anytime because the bees are still hidden below the inner cover.

What if they say, “but I have a horizontal top bar hive.”  OK then, we can put a follower board behind the colony that has a 3/8″ to 5/8″ hole in it that allows the bees to get to a feeder you place in the empty space behind the board.

The point is that there is more than one way to accomplish most beekeeping tasks.  The more of these different ways we learn, the better prepared we are as beekeepers to successfully solve our beekeeping problems.

One of the worst things we can do to ourselves is to limit our knowledge and experience working with bees.  It may be convenient or easier to use one way across the board but eventually, the bees will change it up on us, because that’s what bees do.

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On “Good” Bees

I have had discussions over the years with people of varying levels of experience on what makes bees “good” bees.

To put this discussion in better context,  I have a number of people who will tell be that they find my bees, without regard to location, hive type or genetic background, to be “well behaved” in terms of not being very mean and ornery to those of us in their proximity.

I have also fielded many comments on how well many of my hives are at taking care of their hive environmental conditions.  meaning that my bees seem to do well in keeping pests out of the hives and in seeming to stay relatively healthy.

I would love to stand and take credit for all that my bees do.  Of course, I can’t really, it’s the bees doing it, not me.  I’ll keep taking credit for it anyway though as the bees don’t seem to care at all about such things as credit and feelings of accomplishment.

What I do focus on though is keeping the bees in a position to do what they do best best.  My job is to keep the bees low stress as much as possible.  When bees are not in stressed conditions, they are able to do their best and make me look really good.

mentoring

these bees are relaxed and low stressed

Because of the results, I like to say I have “good” bees.  They are healthy, productive and pretty much ignore me and those tagging along as I inspect or am around the hives.

“Good” is a subjective term though because it really depends on what a given beekeeper thinks of as good for their situation.  For example, Some beekeepers might only consider themselves as having “good” bees if the bees are producing large amounts of honey.  What I might consider an appreciable amount of honey would likely be an insult to this honey producing beekeeper.

To someone else, temperament might be the determining factor.  I might tolerate a bit more orneriness than another beekeeper who expects much more docility than I do.

As for me, I place my priorities for “good” bees in that earlier order.  health first, productivity second and temperament third.  Bees that are able to keep themselves healthy first and foremost are my main determination of “good”.   I focus most of my beekeeping efforts at facilitating an hive environment that allows the bees to most readily keep a healthy hive.

For me, this results in lower stressed bees and consequently, less ornery bees that are not a problem to work with.

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Starting a Captured Swarm

Hello again folks.  This time ole Big Bear here wants to let you in on how I go about taking care of a fresh caught swarm.

Actually capturing a swarm is something different all in itself.  There are a lot of variants in how swarms land, their condition as to the point of capture and more.  I’ll talk about capturing a swarm in the next article.

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Let’s assume for the time being, that you have a swarm caught in a box.  Terrific!  What do I do next?  Well, if you are me, I want to get them the best start possible.  In my way of conservation beekeeping, that means setting them up so they can do what they need to do themselves in the best way possible.

Let’s take a look at honey bee biology for a moment.  I have a theory about bee colony population vs void space.  The bees need to be able to adequately guard their new nest to keep pests and predators out while also having enough active bees to manage the comb and send out foragers all at the same time.

In my own experience, this is almost always (almost, there are exceptions) satisfied with putting the bees into a single five frame hive box, also call a “nuc” box, at the start.

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Obviously, referring back to the population to space ratio, there may be some swarms that exceed the space a 5 fame box would provide.   The next thing that could be done with such a large swarm is to use an eight frame hive box or a 10 frame hive box with dummy boards reducing it down to a better fit for the time being.  Dummy boards can be removed as bee population needs grow.

What happens if you put a swarm of bees into a space too big for them?  One of the first things I see is that other critters want to get in on the action.  Ants and wood roaches are some of the worst offenders here.

The colony is too small to adequately defend the nest so they stick to the actual combs they have first taken up on.  The ants and other pests smell the goodies and troop on in as they might.  In a hive with a positive population to space ratio, there are plenty of bees to keep the presence of those other insects either completely out or at a manageable level.

At a negative population to space ratio, the bees stay together on their combs and the pest populations grow unchecked.  Often to the point of nest building inside the hive itself.  Over time, they will overwhelm the colony to the point of abscond or die-out.  Not good.  Start them off right by letting them do what they do best and not put them at a disadvantage from the beginning.

Many people will feed a swarm or a split (and what is a split but an artificial swarm?).  IF I am going to feed bees, and it’s seldom that  I feed inside the hive, but if I do I add an inner cover and a second deep to the top.

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This allows for a couple of things.  First, by putting the inner cover over the bottom box where the colony is, they now automatically have cover if I feel the need to open the top of the hive.

The inner cover now acts as a floor where I can place a syrup feeder or a pollen patty, etc…  The bees will come up through the hole in the inner cover as they choose to to access those things.

If I need to re-fill a syrup feeder or remove a trash, etc… at almost any time, I can do so without exposing the whole top of the nest because the inner cover protects it.  Even on an overcast, drizzly, day I am able to re-fill food stores without harming the bees below.

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Once the bees have gotten the five frames drawn out and mostly filled up, you can move them to a larger hive if so desired.  The point is to add space to protect the population/space ratio.  I simply add another 5 frame box.  Others will transfer to a larger box hive.

Adding space is necessary, but beware of adding too much space.  We’ll be right back where we started with leaving the bees in a bad spot.

After about two weeks or so, depending on the weather and forage availability, most colonies will likely stop taking syrup in favor of locally found nectar sources.  That’s when the empty super and feed materials can be taken off and place the top cover on the inner cover again.

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