A return to Friday posts

Due to a mention from BeverlyBees last week I suspect that some new people may visit this site.  Before I become known as the “cruel guy that doesn’t feed his bees”, I want to make some declarations and explain WHY I conduct my operation in this way.

There was a time that I did feed.  When I started beekeeping I read a lot of what everyone does, American Bee Journal, Bee Culture along with several books on the subject.  I took the same message from all of them, whether that was their objective or not.  They instructed me as the backyard beekeeper in the same methods used by large beekeepers.  One of the things common in large beekeeping operations is feeding.  In fact it is common in both of those journals to see readers being instructed to feed their bees when any of a number of problems arise.  I read and re-read them each month, sometime writhing as I do so.

What all of these publications fail to mention is that losses are still a reality whether beekeepers feed or not.  I liken it to the old saying about when your only tool is a hammer everything you work on looks like a nail.  If this is wrong – feed, if that is wrong – feed, catch a swarm – feed, make a split – feed, on and on and on it goes.  If feeding truly was the answer to all of the problems faced by bees and beekeepers why are people still losing bees?

I began to think about what I might be doing when feeding sugar syrup to bees.  Sugar syrup does not equal nectar, a HUGE portion of bees natural forage and nutrition.  Bees will eat sugar syrup just like my daughter will eat Snicker bars.  It seems odd to me, if I were to only feed my child snickers bars for weeks at a time people would say I was a horrible parent.  They would be right!  Yet the current standard of practice in beekeeping is to feed bees this unnatural forage for extended periods of time.

We live in a world where sugar is ridiculously cheap.  This has not always been the case and as a result feeding wasn’t the easy fix for beekeepers that it is today.  They lived, some died and life went on.  Many people are going into beekeeping today and that is a GREAT THING!!!  The world would be a better place if every person had a couple hives.  For many it is their first go-round with any form of animal husbandry.  When you have animal life around you must be prepared to experience losses from time to time.  It doesn’t make you a failure.  As long as you use it to learn and become a better beekeeper things will be just fine.

If you really want to feed your bees become an evangelist for weeds and diverse landscapes.  Try to have your bees in locations where they can find good varied forage throughout the course of the year.  That is the only true way to FEED your bees and be giving them what they really need.  I have seen many estimates, but according to Wikipedia a source I am not afraid to quote…..

The first Apis bees appear in the fossil record at the EoceneOligocene (23-56 Mya) boundary, in European deposits. The origin of these prehistoric honey bees does not necessarily indicate that Europe is where the genus originated, only that it occurred there at that time.

They are amazing resourceful creatures that have found ways to cope and survive for a long time.  They can make it without us providing sugar syrup.

If you only want to have a hive or two GREAT do so.  Also look into building a swarm trap or two to replace any loses you may experience.  Sourcing your bees locally, whether they are truly feral or just swarms from other local beekeepers will keep you in the game.  I will do everything I can to assist you along the way.  Living in a Northern latitude and having bees from Georgia will pose many problems just as keeping an Emperor Penguin as a pet living in Florida.  Humans as highly mobile creatures sometimes forget that other forms of life have trouble adapting as easily as we do.  Bees can do it, just not with the rapidity of humans.

As I have explained to others I am not a bee sadist.  My reporting is honest (SEE HIVE OBITUARIES).  Since I have quit feeding AND TREATING losses as a percentage of total hives have decreased.  I still lose a hive every once in a while.  From time to time a person you know will also pass away.  Everything that is living eventually dies.  Before I am classified as a crazy person, or persecuted for being “mean” remember how the first persons were threatened for proposing that the Earth was round, or that the Earth went around the sun.  I am not proposing that I am the first to question feeding and treating, or that I am right and everyone else is wrong.  All that I am saying is that I will never find out if I don’t try something different.

Have a nice weekend and leave a comment.  I am planning to be using a bee-vac this weekend so come back next week for some pictures and hopefully a good story.


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12 Responses to A return to Friday posts

  1. Anita says:

    I think this qualifies as a rant – love it!

  2. Randy says:

    Well put rant. I rarely feed myself. Good luck with the bee vac! I need to get mine back from a friend.

    • Jason says:

      Just got home. I was there at 6 a.m. and it is now 11:30. Just like always it turned into a bigger job than normal. Unfortunatly I didn’t get any pictures. I walked in the house to get a drink of water and a cup of coffee and thought to myself…. “why didn’t you take any pics?!?” I hate it when I do that. I get so caught up in doing the job I forget to take pics. I was under the house the whole time with honey all over my gloves, veil, shirt, pants and shoes. I think I must have gotten stung at least 30 times. My wife has been giving me crap saying that my right arm looks like I have muscles (I’m a beanpole). I had them crawling up my pantlegs crawling in the tops of my gloves… What a morning. This would have been a real disaster without a bee vac. I must build one. Congrats on not feeding. No one fed this hive and I have NEVER seen so much brood in my life. There is no way all of the comb I cut out of there would have fit in two deep boxes.

      • Randy says:


        The guys that do cut out around here are now charging $65 an hour to do them. Hope they paid you for all that hard work. So far this year I did 2 for a total of $400 and 2 for free, big and easy.

        • Jason says:

          Well story of my life, I got screwed again…. 🙂 I was talking about that today with Mike, the guy that has the bee vac and helped me with this project. It was a freebee for the person who ownes the house. He’s a nice guy, but I don’t see him shelling out any cash for this. I know I got 6 to 8 pounds of bees, 8 frames-worth of brood/larvae/eggs with honey and pollen around it, 2 five gallon buckets of empty comb, dirty comb and drone brood, and 1 five gallon bucket of honey in clean comb.

          Just got back in from crushing the dirty honey filled comb. I drove it about a 1/4 mile from the house and left it out in some poly hive lids with non crushed comb mixed in to reduce the chance of drowning. Hope you were sitting down, cause yeah, it’s feeding. It’s honey though.

          This one wasn’t “easy”, but it was big. I am regretting placing the hive here around the house. The Latin name for this hive right now would be Apis-toffa betterfeara. It’s about 45 yards from the back door, and you better not go out without a veil on! En Mass BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE! God help them if the magazine peddlers stop in to try to sell us something today…. 🙂

  3. Sam says:

    lol the cruel guy 🙂 I had to pinch a queen a few weeks ago so they would requeen It felt awful.. I can’t believe I was that attached to a single queen, I rescued her from a friends house. (I wanted to requeen this hive because they have trouble with chalkbrood, so I’m trying the all natural method). So far so good they have a new virgin queen, will watch for pollen now.


    • Jason says:

      Have you ever fed the chalk brood hive? Do you remove the affected combs?

      I have suffered no brood disease as of yet. I know it will come up at some point.

      • Sam says:

        Yea I did feed them last year because of the chalk brood and because they were a late cut out, feeding seemed to temporarily cure the “evidence” of chalk brood. I felt bad pinching the queen, she had an amazing laying pattern, but with that much chalkbrood they were always going to be held back. And this is a good way to selectively adapt, since I don’t treat all my drones have to overcome diseases to fly. My feral stock is doing much much better then those two italian hives I had from last year.

  4. Anita says:

    Hi Sam,
    I know this sounds crazy but several people around her swear up and down this works for chalkbrood. These are the directions for a Langstroth hive but I’m sure you could modify it. You take a 1 1/2′ rim board and put it on your hive. Then you take a banana cut it in half and put it on the top bars inside the hive, skin down. Leave your hive alone for one month. Do not peak! One month later the banana will be dried up and the chalkbrood will be gone. Although this works, there is speculation about if it is the banana that helped the Chalkbrood or the chemicals used on the banana, so if you try this with an organic banana and it works please let me know! You can read more about it on my post http://www.beverlybees.com/mass-bee-field-day-2012/ under Honeybee Diseases. Good luck!

    • Sam says:

      Now that is something I have not heard before, very interesting 🙂 So far only number 1 and one of my bait hives have chalkbrood issues, number one was the worst, I might give this a try is they continue to have issues. It is extremely helpful to have some sort of tray or slab right under their entrance, I wouldn’t be able to see the small evidence of this problem without my patio stones. Since number one is so hygienic they keep their hive very clean.

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