Friday, June 17, 2011

LESSON 105: Best Advice In Beekeeping ( 217-427-2678)

Hello from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms in central Illinois. We are David and Sheri Burns, beekeepers helping beekeepers enjoy beekeeping. Thanks for joining us today for our 105th lesson in beekeeping.
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms is a family operated beekeeping farm business. Rather than being a large box store or warehouse of parts, we are a hands on, personal beekeeping business/farm. Folks who return to do business with us do so because they like the personal and friendly atmosphere and the accessibility of information through a master beekeeper. And since we have less overhead as a family farm business, we can offer great pricing.

While beekeeping is easy, it can go much better when you are armed with knowledge and experience. But, we all start out lacking some degree of knowledge and experience that only time can bring. During those early years when we are trying to figure things out, we make mistakes or fail to manage our hives correctly. Often, beekeepers do not want to admit their mistakes or neglect and want to blame the bees, the weather or point the finger at having been sold a poor queen or package.
Lesson74iFor example, recently I have become more uncomfortable using marked queens. I don’t mind marking them…it’s kinda fun. But, off and on over the years I’ve heard beekeepers suggest that a mark on the queen might cause the queen to be viewed as having a infirmity. Thus, they might replace her. I can’t say I’ve seen that. Occasionally the queen is missing, but how can I be sure it was because she wore a blob of paint on her thorax?
Marking A QueenBeekeepers like to have marked queens. Why? For selfish reasons of course. We want to find her faster and easier. But, does a farmer paint his female cows? There are some things about being a beekeeper that we just have to learn, develop and improve upon as we gain more experience, and finding the queen is one. I have not found any research to prove that a marked queen is more quickly superseded, but I hear that often. One thing that I have noticed is that the queens retinue, those bees surrounding the queen, work at trying to remove her marking. This bothers me greatly. Instead of feeding her, and allowing her lay continually, bees are picking at her marking. Twice I’ve noticed this activity caused her thorax to cave in. Though we do sell marked queens upon request, I don’t run marked queens in my hives, simply because queens are not marked in nature.
So I have narrowed down my best advice I can give into two:
1. Take responsibility for the welfare of your bees.
good broodCertainly you can rely for a while on fellow club members, these lessons and books. But when it comes down to it, you have to know your hive and the biology of bees well enough to make decision which are best for your bees. If your bees aren’t building up fast enough, should you move them to a place that has better nectar sources? Should you feed? Maybe you need to requeen.
I was inspecting my hives yesterday and became concerned that several hives showed low pollen and honey stores for this time of the year. If I choose to do nothing, brood will diminish. So I will have to decide if I should feed them, or wait to see if a flow will pick up soon. Or I can choose to do absolutely nothing. But if my decision results in my bees not building up good, then it’s my responsibility. My management style determines the welfare of my bees. If a provider gives me a package, nuc or a queen, I cannot blame them for poor stock if my management style is poor.
Lesson74hWhen you see or don’t see mites, but you have them, you have to make a decision if you are going to do something or not. We have to accept responsibility of our choices. If we have mites, and choose to do nothing, our hives are less likely to build up or survive the winter. Our management style caused our hive to die in the winter.
2. Keep A Strong Colony! 
lesson74bAs I travel and attend various conferences on beekeeping, I keep hearing over and over that keeping strong colonies is the answer to everything, and I believe that to be true! Strong colonies keep out small hive beetles, wax moth, and many other pests and diseases. But, let a colony become small, and the battle begins. Beekeepers are responsible for colonies becoming small. For example, if a queen fails, the beekeeper should quickly identify that and take immediate action. Discovering a failing queen too late now means the colony is failing.
Lesson1fIf a beekeeper allows a colony to replace a queen that was accidently killed or a queen that simply failed, then it will take 30 days for the queen to emerge, mate and start laying. That’s 30 days without new brood. A queen lays around 2,000 eggs a day, so in 30 days, a decision to let the bees requeen the hive lost 60,000 bees! You could have purchased a queen and maybe only lost a week of laying instead of one full month. To keep a colony strong the beekeeper must always have a very strong queen in the hive.
It’s not uncommon for beekeepers to struggle at keeping hives strong. With today’s challenges it takes extra care, attention and work to keep colonies strong. There are several basic requirements in order to keep strong colonies:
1) Keep varroa mite levels down. As beekeepers, we must take responsibility and become aggressive in keeping mite levels down. Green drone comb, screen bottom boards, powdered sugar dustings and briefly removing the queen to break the brood cycle are non-chemical approaches to controlling the varroa mite. Formic acid is becoming an effective treatment if conditions call for the use of chemicals.
2) There must be an ample amount of a variety of nectar and pollen within 2 miles of your colony.
Bee On FlowerThe more nutrition and variety of nutrition available to your bees, the healthier and stronger they will be. Of course the weather must cooperate in order for the bees to be able to forage and gather nectar, but there is little the beekeeper can do about that.

3) The colony must have a very prolific queen at all times.
broodviabilityWith queens mating with 15-20 drones, no one can control genetics to the point of making a perfect queen. We can certainly improve upon certain qualities, but we must continually monitor our queens and replace them the minute they start to fail.
4) The colony must have room to expand into additional frames preferably, drawn comb, as opposed to undrawn foundation.  This is another important aspect of beekeeping…knowing when to add additional frames for the bees to expand onto. If too many frames are given too soon, the bees seem to stall and not expand. However, if additional frames are not given soon enough, the bees can become crowded and congested and swarm, thus greatly reducing the numbers in the hive.
Finally, I’ve created a FREE inspection sheet for you to use when inspecting your hives. It’s a .pdf file that you can download and print off as many as you need. Use this inspection form to gather and use information on each hive to help you make good and responsible decisions on what to do next.
Thanks for joining me today or lesson 105. Remember you can have these lessons arrive in your Inbox of your email FREE. And as always, you help us greatly when you tell others about these free lessons and about our business. We appreciate it.
David and Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms

1 comment:

kihonmomma said...

Great advice, Dave. I'm just 2 months into my first beekeeping year, and I'm having a blast, but also find it very humbling because I know so little right now. One thing I am happy about is not having a marked queen. I found I really had to learn how to spot her and now her image is imprinted in my mind, rather than relying on a dot which would have been the image imprinted. So while at first it was overwhelming to find her among all those workers, doing so gave me a level of confidence through a simple success. I know I'll have many little failures as well. And the point of those is learn all you can from what didn't succeed. Thanks to your and Sheri for helping me start the journey in beekeeping.