Thoughts on Beekeeping – A Friday rant

Picture of myself and Ken. I bought my first two hives from him. He was a bee encyclopedia.  He was riding the train of feeding and treatment.  He has left beekeeping.

Today I was going to post about a new observation that I have made in swarming behavior.  It is exciting and  I feel it is important, but I will post it on Monday.  I had been thinking about something yesterday and a phone call in the afternoon compelled me to change mid stream.

A new beekeeper AND friend (Mike) called stating he had caught his third swarm in a trap he built based upon the directions I had given him.  Originally his neighbor, who has been keeping bees for years, told him to purchase packages.  Mike was told the same thing that I have heard time and time again, “there are no more feral bees!” and “That won’t work!”

Mike asked if he should begin feeding his newly caught swarms.  I told him NO and from his hesitation I could tell he had already heard differently.  I told him, that I had not fed anything in two years and my beekeeping world did not end.  If you refuse to feed, some colonies will die, but those bees are Welfare Bees.  If you feel the need to feed them go ahead.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Feed them now and you will feed them in the fall.  Then you will need to feed them next spring.  It is a losing proposition.

If you are interested in beekeeping take the time to observe bee behavior from outside the hive.  Don’t just get your knowledge from books and bee forums.  You owe it to your bees to improve upon what older beekeepers and current bee literature have to offer.  I have had the same experience with gardening as over time subtle cues become a form of communication.  If you see blossom end rot your tomato plant is telling you the ground lacks calcium.  All of nature communicates in similar ways.  You need the appreciation and perception to understand.  A large component of communication is just making the effort to “listen”.  You cannot get that from a book about bees, and you don’t need to go pillaging through your hives once a week to know if they are alright or not.  Just LetMBee!!!!!!

Unopened crap I bought.  I couldn’t bring myself to use it on my girls.  Treatments beget more treatments.

What my bees tell me is that they want to be left alone.  When I first began keeping bees I had a mentor (Ken) who instructed me to feed as well as prophetically treat for varroa and nosema.  I began feeding sugar syrup and my bees began to spot on the front of their boxes.  I was at work when my wife called explaining that there were brown streaks all over the front of the hives.  I was beside myself.  Two weeks into beekeeping and my bees were already coming down with something!!!  Ignorance strikes again!  Bees are not supposed to eat sugar dissolved in water, placed in a feeder close to or inside their hive.  They are supposed to accumulate small amounts of nectar from across vast expanses.  Nectar is NOT the same as cane, beet or God forbid high fructose corn sugar.  Human digestive tracts give similar results when exposed to extremely rich and unnatural forage!  I stopped feeding and the spotting stopped.    I have not fed since.  So don’t tell me it cannot be done.

So what can you do?  At times you will need to seek advice from other beekeepers.  Take that information and be respectful, but don’t just blindly follow advice without first thinking about it and asking others.  If you ask about something and immediately are told “THAT WON’T WORK!”, ask why!  It may have never worked for them because they never tried it.  If you don’t get a satisfactory response experiment on a small scale yourself.

Let bees be bees!  If you provide them a home and allow them the ability to do what they need to do without frequent molestation , they will survive and produce for you.  I have been growing more and more frustrated with bee documentaries as I have stated in previous posts.  They play depressing music and act as if all is lost.  A common theme is to place blame on other industries and individuals.  Yet they refuse to expose current beekeeping “standard of practice”.  This needs to be re-evaluated.  They do show migratory beekeepers  slamming boxes of bees around and other beekeepers dancing around half naked with frames exposed to open air.  That is not allowing the bees to do what comes natural to them.  See my earlier post Where do bees come from?  as well as Genetic Gambling.  No wonder bees are having problems as a species.

This is getting a little long for a blog post so I had better wrap it up.  All of us need to have a little faith in bees as well as ourselves.  Allow them to do what they need to do and try to stay out of those boxes unless you have a good reason.  From time to time you will have losses, but if you are having them already how is it any different?  If common practices in beekeeping continue to give bad results why do people continue those practices all the while telling those with new ideas “that won’t work”?  Go ahead tell me it won’t work.  I am going to continue this blog to show you that things can work if you let them.

Do you disagree?  Leave comments or ask questions a question.


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20 Responses to Thoughts on Beekeeping – A Friday rant

  1. Sam says:

    hmm, Before reading this I would feed very sparingly, in most cases simply to counteract something I did like a cut-out in july, this case I would probably still feed during a flow to get them started. Since I am now making a few nucs I think I will try not feeding them since we are into our big dandelion flow. I think feeding without thinking is really bad, most commercial ops feed by ridiculous amounts, and treat everything for anything ect. I have heard the same thing “ferals are extinct or nearly so” then I hear about this or that colony living in a house barn ect for ten twenty years.. Their numbers are down and this is an expected response to a disaster event like the introduction of verroa, given time I think they would recover but this is probably being slowed down due to “cultured imported treated” bees being the overwhelming stock by numbers.

    • Jason says:

      In a cutout I may feed a little I suppose, but would probably try to use honey. If this trapout continues to work as well as I think it is my cutout days are over.

      I think Italians “need” feeding more because they are bigger feeders over the winter poorly utilizing their limited resources.

      Tell you what instead of NOT feeding all of your nucs do as you normally would on all but one or two of them. Then compare results. Langstroth and all those other beeks from the 17 and 1800’s learned by experimenting. Give it a shot and see.

      I am just reporting my findings. I want to tell the world because I love honeybees and I want what is best for them. I want them all to live, but know some just can’t.

      All of this stuff is my theory, and I will report when I do something and things don’t pan out. I owe that to anyone who is willing to visit this site. I am not selling anything here…. 🙂

  2. Anita says:

    Observing bee behavior outside the hive is very important and you can learn a lot without even opening up the hive.

    While I do agree in general feeding can cause more problems than it’s worth, I have to disagree with your “Never Feed” stance. There are a lot of backyard beekeepers who have only one or two hives and have put a lot of money and effort into trying to become beekeepers. If feeding their bees is necessary to keep them from starving I think for these type of hobby beekeepers it is okay to feed. Losing bee colonies is very discouraging when you only have one or two.

    Also while catching swarms is best, it is not practical for everyone and since bee packages are completely unnatural they need to be fed to help them get going. Letting the bees just die is not a good answer for every beekeeper.

    No one wants “welfare bees”, but all bee colonies are different and sometimes bees may need a little help. Feeding only to help them get through a tough winter or whatever is much cheaper than buying new bees.

    One other thing – while you should always have a reason to go into the hive, I think it is extremely important and necessary for new beekeepers to go into the hive as often and as much as they want to in order to feel comfortable around the bees. The first year of beekeeping is as much about you becoming a beekeeper as it is about the bees. Going into the colony and observing the bees is the best way to learn.

    I think there is not one answer for every person everywhere who keeps bees. There are no wrong ways to keep bees, just different ways, for different people who have different reasons.

    I guess that’s why there is the old saying ask 10 beekeepers a question and get 10 different answers.

    • Jason says:

      I have always heard that if you ask 10 beekeepers about something you will get 11 answers. 🙂

      I must apologize for getting a little inflammatory in today’s post, but it was for a reason. I am passionate about beekeeping and I want to spawn comments and dialog. I agree with all of the points that you made and am glad that you are not the type of person to disagree with me and just go to a different blog and forget about this fledgling website.

      I know you are awaiting chickens and don’t have time to build a swarm trap right now. I just got thirty birds today and just am sitting down after applying petroleum jelly to all of their vents to prevent the evil “cake butt”.

      Do you have any extra deep boxes a lid and a bottom board? I would like to send you Trap09 if you have the ability to use it this season. It is currently occupied and I am going to be hiving it tomorrow, giving the bees to one of my wife’s friends. The box will be HOT and has a good chance of attracting a swarm if put out.

      I have a couple of conditions.
      1) When you get this thing don’t hang it in your apiary. Think of a friend that lives in a place close to a large drainage out in the country and hang it.
      2) If you catch bees in there you can’t feed them no matter what. Fear not.
      3) After you hive the bees as they fill the combs and build up I would ask that you place empty boxes underneath it allowing the bees to build DOWN.
      4) If you have enough equipment you allow them to build up to three deeps before you put honey supers on.
      5) You can’t feed them… 🙂

      That’s it. I will send you everything you need to get going and will be here to answer any questions you may have.

      I know that new beekeepers want to observe what is going on in the hive. I did it my first year. I also lost 3 of my first 5 hives.

      The reason I am so passionate about NOT getting into my hives is because I feel it puts stress on the bees and I love my bees. I liken it to a new surgeon wanting to practice on one patient every week. Cutting them open observing their beating heart, then stitching them up only to cut them open next week to see what is going on. No one would be surprised if that patient sooner or later died from complications. Humans can tolerate invasive procedures as long as they have plenty of time to heal. I look at my bees the same way.

      I visited two hives today to check on them. One was caught the last week of July last year, the other the first week of August. Both boxes overwintered in one deep hive body. Even I was contemplating feeding. After mulling it over for about two weeks I decided to let go and stick to my principle of letting the bees do what they needed to. This spring they were alive, but they were so light I was checking them about every three days, wanting to take the hives apart before moths got in there. That was mid March. I put two deeps with foundationles frames under the light as air colonies and watched and waited. Today I put supers on BOTH of them.

      I didn’t take the boxes apart, but could tell by the lack of bees and old cappings in the top deep that the majority of hive activity was going on WAY down below. They did it and other peoples bees can too.

      What do you think? Will you give it a shot? Mull it over and get back to me.

      I need to get out in the garden before it gets dark. I took a picture today confirming what I was told by a YouTube subscriber. Bees evidently don’t need starter strips in order to build on foundationles frames. EXCITING!!! I can use my wax to make candles now.

      Sam if you are reading this….. Don’t get mad at me!!!

      • Anita says:

        Thanks Jason! I’m always up for a good experiment. 🙂 Let me see if I can find a place to put it first.

        • Jason says:

          You let me know. I want to make a slight modification to the box, but it won’t take me but a couple of minutes.

          If you are asking around be sure to tell them YOU WON’T NEED TO USE A NAIL TO PUT IT ON THE TREE. Even if they aren’t worried about that it has opened up the door to many a hesitant host for me this year.

          • Anita says:

            How far “in the country” do you advise it being? I know a spot in the woods near a stream that is a few miles away. Is that too close?

          • Jason says:

            It doesn’t need to be totally out in the middle of nowhere. This year I am getting a sense from my bees that swarms pass over areas where there is a high colony density. I had three freshly caught colonies here at the house in swarming season 2011. Four swarms came right in. This year I have three BOOMING boxes and last week a swarm passed through the the yard even though I had 5 traps setting around waiting to be swapped out for full ones. My wife and daughter were out in the garden and were in the middle of it. It passed all around them. It headed on North of the house. I believe it went to the woods.

            I don’t know for sure, but I am starting to think that is why people fail with trapping. They put the trap right inside the same apiary where strong hives are already present. It isn’t that you would never happen I just think it would increase your odds of a catch and I want you to succeed.

            If you have a place in a woods that is a start and you can try it out. This year I am getting more evidence for something I observed with some traps from 2011. It appears that my traps are more successful if they are in a tree that is in someones yard in the middle of mono-crop hell. I “feel” they just find it better. Yards are normally sparsely treed around here even if they are close to a woods. Trap09, Trap18, Trap07, and Trap 15 all fit this pattern. As I have stated in some of my posts this is just like fishing. If you observe a pattern then repeat it you will increase your likelihood of success.

            All of this needs to be in a bee-likely spot. Either somewhere you have had reports of bees, or a swarm call perhaps. I don’t know how your area is, but around here I am finding that pretty much everywhere I put up traps…… I catch bees. Not all, I still have some new locals that haven’t produced, but it is only 5/12.

            If you have any other questions just ask.

      • Sam says:

        Mad at you? I use starter “strips” (I use popsicle sticks painted with a little wax) to get straighter (meaning a bit straighter, not even sure if its straighter enough to warrant using them) comb, bees will build comb regardless of what I want. The nuc I made seems to be doing well, it takes a few days for them to start foraging since most of the bees are nurse bees, all my feeders are leaking so it was more of an I didn’t have time to improve my feeder thing then an ideological thing. But I agree with your take on feeding, especially what most commercial beeks are doing, they take all the honey supers then feed heavily before winter (its a money thing) then they wonder why their bees are pooping everywhere and dieing THEN they start treating for nosema.. Kinda ridiculous.

        I have seen a feral colony overwinter in a house wall (outside wall) with only about three frames worth of comb, was astounded when I saw it.

        • Jason says:

          I don’t want you to get peeved because I am going to send Anita a trap. I will make it up to you man.

          I feel the same about your observation, “it’s a money thing”. That is why I think that the only hope for bees is if MANY people keep a few colonies allowing them to survive and thrive. That is why I want a swarm trap and beehive(s) at everyone’s home!!! 🙂

          I will be the first to admit that my bee operation is not paying its own bills YET, but my daughter isn’t either. I love her and don’t expect it, she is a kid. She plays an important part and having her around is worth more than money. Some day I will expect her to pull enough weight to make it on her own just as I expect my bees to make it on their own. I think given the proper management my bees will at least be self sustaining if not profitable.

          I too have seen the feral colonies that are purported to have been present for up to 20 years IN MONO-CROP HELL!!! Here they are in the trees too. I love it.

          • Sam says:

            oooh lol here I was thinking I was misunderstood or insulted someone lol, thats alright about the trap I have about six strong hives and a new nuc, plus three traps up atm, I am using warre boxs so the dimensions probably do not fit your traps. Also I am building as fast as I can to increase the number of hives I have to 20… (10 more complete hives, boxs, lids, bases, stands), I gave up gluing + screwing the boxs together and am just screwing now, not sure how much good glue plus screws are outdoors, takes a tenth the time to assemble though 🙂

  3. Mil says:

    Interesting observation. I’ve always compared you to my teacher, Serge Labesque, and that is what he says too. Of course, that is for an earlier swarm. If I caught a very late swarm, I heard of a swarm in October around here, I would feed.

    At the Bee Symposium, Serge said that most beekeeping books are written by commercial beekeepers, and so the info has just been passed on. I have seen for myself how the prevailing wisdom is not always right. The solution seems to always depend on the bees themselves, locality, season, forage, and circumstance.

    Luckily, I’ve never given the girls any treatments, although I have fed, even though I don’t personally like it.

    Great rant!

  4. Monica Kowal says:

    Amen, brother! Amen!

  5. Bill says:

    Love the rant! Even if (as a newbee) I don’t completely agree with 100% of it, I love the passion and the sentiment behind it.

    I too love my bees and would prefer not to feed them. But to Anita’s point, I’m a new hobbyist with only 2 hives (started with 1 package and caught a swarm) and taking chances on loosing my bees is not something I can afford at this point. If I had more hives then my story would be different.

    Also, various climates can make a difference with the bees’ needs and beekeeping practices, even for us “let em bee” proponents. I live near Portland Oregon where we are still getting a lot of rain. We had our first big break in the rain for about 5 days last week where temperatures got up as high as 81 degrees! (I know, I actually got to wear shorts outside.) This month’s high was 85 degrees, with an average high of 68.5. In May the high was 88 with an average high of 67.9. It’s been a miserable spring and a lot of the beekeepers in the area are really complaining about how this is such a bad year for honey.

    I feed my package hive for a few weeks until it looked like a nectar flow was on, and they did great until a couple weeks ago when I found they had no honey stores at all, so I feed them for a week to give them a boost. They probably would have been fine without it because we also had great weather that week. But my inexperience got the better of me and I didn’t want to take any chances.

    I’m still feeding the swarm I caught 3 weeks ago. I probably could have not been feeding them at all, but then they wouldn’t build up as fast and I’m not sure how long our summer is going to last (or when it’s even going to start). I’d rather have 2 strong hives going into our long winter then risk things with 1 or 1-1/2.

    Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is I’d rather not feed, but I have had some reason to.

    • Jason says:

      Bill, I like you man, and I am going to bring you over to the “dark side”. 🙂 There was a time when there was a fear of being burned alive for professing the earth went around the Sun. I have directions on how to build a swarm trap on this site. If you can find an old deep hive body make one. If you begin catching bees from your area they will have an added edge when it comes to dealing with your climate.

      I am not going to thow my hands up if someone feeds. I used to do it. Look at it this way. I think it is far more cruel to pruchase bees from hundreds or thousands of miles away and expect them to survive than to NOT feed bees caught locally. I know that where you live is prone to wacky weather, but I live in the midwest…. Crazy weather is our way of life especially in spring. It is just different than what you experience. That being said, any bees overwitnering there and swarming will be one step closer to sustainabiltiy in your area.

      Do you know anyone you could get an old deep from to make a swarm trap? If not let me know.

      P.S. – I know where you live now… We probably won’t be able to get together for honey spinning. I do have a relative out there though that may be able to help you find an extractor. I will get back to you on that.

      • Bill says:

        I only use mediums on my hives so a deep swarm trap would be incompatible. I built a couple swarm traps of my own design that fit 10 medium frames in 2 layers and put them out earlier in the spring. I didn’t catch anything but I got 2 swarm calls. My first swarm died because of queen issues (long story short), but my second swarm is doing really well. The swarm traps have been retrieved and I’m not interested in catching any more swarms this year. But I’ll be looking for more next year.

        I would like to make the point that a swarm isn’t necessarily a feral colony. In fact you don’t know anything about where it came from. It could have come from a beekeeper that treats and feeds. And at this point in the season it may not even be from a colony that over-wintered in the area. It could be from a package that built up fast and the beekeeper was unprepared and it swarmed or even absconded.

        But I’ll make you a deal, tomorrow I’ll take the feeder of my swarm colony. 😉

        • Jason says:

          I have a source for old mediums. I am going to make a couple of trap out of them just to see how they work for next year.

          I am aware that some of my swarms probably come from my hives or someone else’s. I have come to know my area pretty well. Through talking with land owners and getting to know my neighbors I know where there are beekeepers, for the most part. I try to focus my trapping locations in spots devoid of other people’s hives. I have been finding bee trees and I put traps near those spots. That is with the exception of one beekeeper I know. I put a trap close to him just so I can rib him every time I catch one of his swarms. 🙂 I caught one off of him last year in late July. I didn’t feed them, they overwintered in 1 deep and they are a powerhouse hive this year. I always have traps fairly close to my different hive sites in case I send out a swarm.

          My trapped bees very well could come from a place where they are fed and treated. If I knew that were the case it would only further weight my case that neither are necessary. 🙂 Since I do neither and have colonies doing just fine.

          Don’t get me wrong I lose one every once in a while, but people die every once in a while too. I hate it when it happens, but they are living creatures, the down side is sometimes they are going to die.

          I will not condemn anyone for feeding their bees. I just want to let people know there is another way, it just takes having the stomach for it when things don’t work out.

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