Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reflecting on Oliver's "Rules" for Successful Beekeeping

This month's American Bee Journal (July 2011) contained an important article, "Rules" for Successful Beekeeping, by Randy Oliver. I have always liked reading Mr. Oliver's works whether in a bee publication or on his website. Oliver approaches beekeeping as an empiricist, subjecting beekeeping "wisdom" to experimental verification. Over the few short years I've been beekeeping, I know that his writings have influenced my practice and have always forced me to ask, "Why am I doing this?"

Besides containing general suggestions for our beekeeping regimen, this month's article includes an assessment and critique of the field of beekeeping. In this world of the internet, new beekeepers are faced with a barrage of misinformation,  "slanted" and more "faith-based" than empirical. Oliver lays some of the blame for this on 2nd or 3rd year beekeeping bloggers (ooops, that's me!) who portray themselves as experts but lack the knowledge that comes from years of beekeeping. According to Oliver, these individuals spread misconceptions which are picked up on by newer beekeepers just starting out.

I think there's a great deal  of truth to this critique and I am probably as guilty as anyone of doing this. I started blogging about bees before I had them! I have expressed strong opinions on things occasionally, though generally, I have attempted simply to describe what is going on in my apiary. I have attempted to bring the insights of sociology (the discipline I am trained in!) into the discussion of beekeeping and have always been (at least in my own mind) tentative in anything I've written. I always try to be critical of what I've written and willing to revise my ideas as evidence comes in. I apologize to anyone who might have been led astray by things I've said. I try not to confuse my models of reality with the reality of my models.

I think my boldness in stating my opinions strongly in this blog comes from living and working  in the field of academics where the young hot shot  with new ideas often has more capital than the old-timer. The new academic can make a name for him/herself by shooting down holders of the old paradigm. Experience, in itself, is not given very much authority in this world.

Having said this, I wonder if the field of beekeeping is a little more complex than either Oliver or I see it. My experience as a newbie to beekeeping has been rather different than Oliver describes. When I entered beekeeping I was often faced with deciding which old-timer should I believe. One of these experienced,  well-known beekeepers demanded total, unquestioned allegiance, ridiculing those who asked honest questions about her practice. I steered away from that and found healthier places (e.g. to learn where I could still question, and, yes, sometimes disagree. The humility, challenge and support of  Phil Chandler's website has kept me in beekeeping, even though, Chandler and his colleagues may have fewer years of experience than other "experts".

I agree with Oliver's discussion of the misuse of the  term "natural" in connection to beekeeping. I would add one other point however. 

I do not think it's possible for me to manage bees "naturally" since the world in which my bees forage is not natural. My bees collect pollen, nectar and resin in a world of "pesticided and herbicided" golf courses, weed free lawns, open garbage pails at local convenience stores, and a city where there is a "noxious" weed ordinance. These realities mean I may need to remove comb from frames every three years, feed pollen supplements at certain times of the year,  or control mites periodically. None of these are "natural" apicultural activities.

I have always preferred to describe my practice as long term sustainable beekeeping rather than "natural".

So what are your thoughts on Oliver's article? What can we all learn from him and each other?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Top Bars, Nucs, and Swarm Cells

Today's entry is a "catch-up" post. With my busy schedule this week, I neglected to report on Sunday's inspections of my two top bar hives. I will also report on today's inspections of the "walk-way nuc" I created a few weeks ago, and my examination of Bee Glad...

Sunday, my grand-daughter Taylor and I inspected the two top bar hives. From all appearances these two hives are doing so much better than any of the langstroths I maintain. (Whether this has anything to do with being top bar hives remains to be seen.)

Both top bars are strong with great, solid brood patterns. The bees have brought in a good deal of nectar and pollen. The queens look healthy. There were no signs of swarm or superseder cells as well. I am very pleased with their progress in this cool, rainy June we've had here in Winona.

Today I inspected two hives. First I opened up Bee Glad..., a langstorth hive; the only one to survive the winter.

Bee Glad... seems moderately strong, though its brood pattern is too spotty for my liking. I also discovered 10 or so swarm cells not yet capped but containing brood. This was unexpected.( I probably placed too much faith in my first attempts at checker boarding.) I pulled some capped drone comb for mite prevention, as well as two frames of capped honey which I placed in the nuc. I will watch Bee Glad... over the next week.

The walk-away nuc I created a few weeks ago is doing fine. I saw the new queen though no sign of her laying any eggs. I placed two frames of capped honey on either side of the nucs broodnest. I will watch this hive closely as well.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Photos: Taylor and the Bees, Part I

Friday, June 24, 2011

Chalkbrood Continues, Mite Count Is Minimal

I did an inspection today of the langstroth hive, Worker Bees... and the chalkbrood problem has returned. I suspect the unseasonably damp and cool weather is partly to blame. The chalkbrood problem probably accounts for the spotty brood pattern in the hive. I will try to keep the hive strong by feeding some supplemental pollen patties. I may look to requeen from Bee Glad...

As far as mites, the 24 hour mite fall was 1. That's something to be thankful for.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Video: You Can Lead a Bee To Water...

In between activities, I was able to film a bit of Beelandia bee activity at their chief watering hole, Lake No-Bee-Gone.

Who'll Stop the Rain?

We've had 4 straight days of intermittent rain and unseasonable cold. It has not only kept me from inspecting the bees but has kept the bees "indoors". Like last summer, the bees have not had the chance to forage as much as the "should".

I plan on placing some sticky sheets under the hives today in order to test for mites.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Top Bar Inspections

I inspected the two top bar hives at noon today. I didn't think the weather was going to allow this but the cloud cover broke up and the bees decided to cooperate.

Plan Bee... is doing very well. I did not see the queen but I saw evidence she's there and healthy. There were all stages of brood in the hive and the brood pattern was solid. The bees are storing much nectar and pollen.

Metpropolis is doing well though, it seems, somewhat behind Plan Bee... The same healthy brood pattern (and I did see the queen here) but less bars drawn and less nectar stored. I am not necessarily worried about this as it seems, overall, that the honeybees are doing well otherwise.

I placed two empty bars in each hive, one on each end between the brood nest and honey storage area. I opened another entrance on each.

I also took the entrance reducers off of each langstroth.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Some Photos on the "Front Porch"

Here are some excellent photos taken by friend and fellow beekeeper, Greg Smith. She got back into beekeeping this spring and decided to try her hand at top bar hives. The bees are hanging out in front of the entrance during today's rain storms.

Yesterday's Inspection

Yesterday I inspected all Beelandia's langstroth hives along with the nuc I started last week.  The weather was sunny but rather cool for a mid-June day.

Not much to new to report about the hives. In the hives installed this spring, the bees are working in the second deep box. The queen is laying eggs in  the top box, and the workers have stored or moved nectar up on the edges.

The walk-away nuc I created last week seems to be doing fine. I peeked in the top and saw queen cells capped and ready to hatch. I was a bit concerned about the number of workers in the nuc. I should've shook in more workers when I created the nuc. I will wait and see whether this creates any problems.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I Almost Forgot:: Disease Prevention

I have been trying to document all those bee management activities I use. Unfortunately, I've forgot to mention a simple apicultural activity suggested by Marla Spivak that might serve to prevent some diseases developing in the bee hive. De. Spivak suggested "roughening up" the inside of hive boxes before using them to house bees. The "roughening up" encourages honeybees to "propolize" the walls of the hive box to a much greater degree. This simple management technique may lower the chances of some bee diseases gaining a foothold in the hive. Dr. Spivak has asked woodenware manufacturers to sell boxes in such a state.

"Roughening up" does not take much doing. Just take some steel wool and lightly scour the inside of the box.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Yesterday's Top Bar Inspection

Another scorching day in Beelandia yesterday where I inspected the two top bar hives: Plan Bee... and Metpropolis. Again the weather was hot and muggy with very little breeze.

Both hives were in a similar state.

I had worried needlessly two inspections ago about the state of Plan Bee... and the nature of its brood pattern. I am happy to report that things are going well in this hive. Plenty of brood, good pattern, and the bees have begun to store away honey on the edges. The queen looks fine. I did accidentally break some comb in the hive but wired it together a bit. The bees should repair the rest. I did add two undrawn bars to either side of the brood nest.

The same report can be made of Metpropolis minus the breaking of comb. The queen is laying well, good pattern, and the bees are starting to store away honey on the edges. I also added to undrawn bars to the hive.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Yesterday's Big Inspection in Beelandia

Yesterday, I spent late morning and early afternoon working in Beelandia on all the langstroth hives.It was not the most comfortable day to be bundled up in "white armor" however. The temperatures were in the high 90s (Fahrenheit) and absolutely no wind to speak of. The sun felt scorching.

I put second boxes on both Worker Bees... and Lib-BEE-taria, along with drawn drone comb frame as part of my mite management plans. I took the 3, 5 and 7 frames out of the bottom box and moved them up to the second and put drawn frames in their place in the bottom box. I left both with a pollen pattie.

I did a walk-away split on Bee Glad... I've never done this before preferring to create nukes from queen cells I've grafted or were given. I am an experimenter and want to see if there is a significant difference in results in my local area. I will report the results as they come in.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Today's Mite Count

I just checked the 24 hour mite count for 4 of my 5 hives. Here are the results:

  1. Plan Bee... - 3 mites.
  2. Worker Bees... 0 mites
  3. Lib-BEE-taria 0 mites
  4. Bee Glad... 0 mites
The sticky paper I placed under Metpropolis fell out during the night so no count was taken.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Article: Swarm in New York City

An article, with slide show, about a swarm in Little Italy in New York City. I love these stories and the relative calmness of all those involved. We might yet be able to live with bees!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Video: Chalkbrood

I found chalkbrood in front of the entrance to Worker Bee of the World Unite. This isn't all that surprising given the intermittent cold and rainy weather we've had up until recently. I am not too worried. The hive seems to be taking care of itself.

Last Tuesday's Inspection

Last Tuesday, I inspected all the hives in Beelandia. While it was sunny and reasonable warm, the wind was very gusty. I have caught the bees foraging Dutch White Clover, chives and mint on my property. I was a bit concerned about the bees since we had rainy and unseasonably cold conditions the previous week.

All the hives seem to be doing well. Plenty of larvae in all stages of development. They are bringing in pollen and the queens look large and healthy.

Drones have hatched in Plan Bee..., the largest top bar hive. I did not see any in the other hives.

I took off the top feeders but did leave a pollen patty in each hive. They have been consuming it and, with the rain and cold, I have worried about the bees diet.