Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lesson 124: The Minimal Beekeeper

Welcome to autumn from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms! Yes, it is fall and time to think about getting our colonies ready for bed, prepared to ride out winter.
We are David & Sheri Burns, owners and operators of Long Lane Honey Bee Farms in central Illinois. We love everything to do with bees. We have been chemical free for years and raise and sell our own queens that we call the Illinois Pioneer Queen. We believe the stock of queen, especially local stock, can make a big difference. We also work diligently to encourage more and more people to start keeping bees.

We are passionate about beekeeping. It is a hoot! We love it. Everywhere we go we promote beekeeping. We need honey bees for our food. One out of three bites of food is from the pollination of a honey bee. If you are reading this and are not presently keeping bees, then you have come to the right place.
WebWe’ve added a new feature to our website. Now you can log in to our website through your iPhone or other smart phone and our website will detect it is a mobile phone and make the website larger and easier to navigate. Just log in from your smart phone to: and check it out. We listen to our customer’s suggestions. 240 million Americans shop on smartphones. 75% of smartphone shoppers never get past the first page of any site that’s not mobile friendly.  People are 51% more likely to purchase from business that have mobile friendly websites.
We are not a big beekeeping box store. Rather we are real beekeepers who manufacture beekeeping equipment, sell equipment, bees, queens and teach beekeeping classes so students can be responsible and successful beekeepers. Our classes are renown and fill up fast. My husband, David, is a master beekeeper, certified in 2010 by the Eastern Apicultural Society of North America. He knows bees. Every class he teaches shows his knowledge and passion for the honey bee. Before David shares an important lesson today on the “Minimal Beekeeper,” let me share with you what’s been going on here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms and with our family.
Newbuild3Here’s our 5 year old son, Christian, inspecting the newly poured concrete. Several years ago, we built a bee lab-store-classroom. However, while it seemed large enough at the time, we’ve outgrown it. Now we are adding a much larger building to hold our beekeeping classes.
Newbuild2Construction is underway! We are joining our two buildings together by adding a new building between them. This new addition is larger than any building we have now. This will allow us to have more students attend each class.
NewBuilding4We feel it is crucial for every beekeeper to take a thorough class on beekeeping prior to keeping bees. Our new building will give us much more space for classes and special projects. We hope to have it completed in one month.
David has several speaking engagements coming up in the next few months in the surrounding states. We’ll keep these posted on our website ( for those nearby that want to attend.
Candy board Mass ProductionWe are now into full production of our popular Winter-Bee-Kind candy board. We have installed larger production equipment to try and keep up with demand. If this is your first time to hear about our Winter-Bee-Kind candy board, it is a way to feed your bees sugar and protein during the winter, and it provides an upper vent and entrance slot as well as a sheet of insulation to reduce winter water condensation in the hive. The insulation can also assist in holding in heat that is often lost through the top of a hive. For more information click here or go to:
Those who have used our Winter-Bee-Kind in the past and would like to give us a testimonial that we can use, please drop us an e-mail:
Thanks Sheri. One other part of our business that has kept us busy is removing bees from homes, buildings, trees and various structures. Look at some of our recent jobs. Click on images to enlarge:
Concrete porch
BeesInA Tree
Bees In Column
BeesIn TreeFalls
Today, I want to share a beekeeping lesson that I’ve entitled the “Minimal Beekeeper.”
LESSON 124: The Minimal Beekeeper
To many people, beekeeping is a fun hobby. To some it is a business, a livelihood. Whether a hobbyist or a commercial beekeeper, we all want to see our bees succeed with minimal help from us. However, bees do face many challenges which requires more of our help than was required 50 years ago.
Today there is much more to offer the beekeeper in the way of tools, hive medication, chemicals to kill mites and beetles, not to mention battery powered mite zappers, traps, solar powered cooling systems, fancy hive tools and the list goes on and on. Like any hobby, there are hobby tools and accessories a beekeeper can buy. Some of these work well and even prevent the hive from perishing. Others gizmos show little sign of improving colony health.
Most of us want to find the minimal that we can do to help our bees. We want to buy the minimal, treat and interfere with the hive minimally.
DSC00096An ultra-minimal approach can be detrimental though. For example, a prospective beekeeper may decide to save a few dollars and buy used equipment. The danger in using old equipment is that it could be contaminated with diseases such as American foul brood, European foul brood and Nosema. Spores can become dormant in old equipment and “come alive” again when bees are added. It really isn’t worth the risk. It can lead to loss of time and money.
IMG_7278Many new beekeepers jump into beekeeping hoping to save money by building their own hive. For someone who has good carpentry skills this can be enjoyable. However, a slight mis-measurment can lead to a violation of bee space. Any time bee space is violated, it can be detrimental to the hive. Bee space is the space which bees allow for travel. If it is too large, the bees place stray comb to fill the gap. If it is too small, the bees will add propolis to seal it off. Bee space must be monitored throughout the entire hive when building your own equipment.
Foxnews9Others take a more “affordable” approach and build a top bar hive from scrap wood. Top bar hives are fun to experiment with for the experienced beekeeper. However, they can be frustrating to a new beginner. Harvesting honey cannot be accomplished the traditional way of uncapping and spinning the honey out of frames in an extractor. A TBH requires pressing or draining the honey from comb. Because a TBH is a horizontal hive, winter survival is risky because the colony cannot move up into the warmer honey above. TBHs are more successful in tropical climates.
At the other end of the spectrum are the beekeepers who throw everything at the hive, chemicals, medications and new gadgets, but don’t really achieve better results.
I’d like to answer the question, “What is absolutely necessary to keep bees?”
Minimal or Natural?
I like the thought of being a minimal beekeeper. Some might think I’m talking about being a natural beekeeper, but I like the term minimal. I like for my hives to get along mostly without me. Sometimes this is possible for several years, but at other times, they need my help. When a hive replaces a queen but fails, they need my help to give them a new queen. Once they no longer have young larvae, they cannot raise their own queen. We must intervene.
Minimal Feeding
beeflyingI like to minimally feed my bees. Often I hear beekeepers complain that their hive has become dependent upon the sugar water at the entrance of the hive. They often say their bees seem lazy and not so willing to go out and forage. Bees are opportunists. If the sugar water is close, why go farther? Another reason I try not to feed my bees much is because it does cost. Sugar isn’t cheap, nectar is FREE! I only feed my bees when I determine they need my help. For example, maybe a new package is installed on a cold week in April. It rains all week so the new hive doesn’t have anything in the comb and no way to fly because it’s cold and rainy. They need fed. But once the weather turns around and flowers are blooming, I stop feeding.
Some of my hives demand minimal assistance. Not because they are defensive, but because they are so large and doing so well. Doctors don’t treat healthy people.
Minimal Equipment
Equip SpecialWhat is the minimal equipment needed to keep healthy hives? Smoker, hive tool, hat and veil. These are a must! A hive and one or two extra supers for honey. If you only have one super, you can wait until it is full and capped, remove it, extract it and put it back on in the same day. Doing this only requires one super. However, most of us need two or three supers, because we might not extract the same day we remove a super. So if we have two or three, we can pull one off and spend a few days extracting it while the others are on the hive getting filled up.
For extracting honey, minimal equipment is needed too. Essential tools are a knife to cut the cappings open, and an extractor to spin the honey out. Certainly crushing the comb or letting it drip can work, but not as much honey will be harvested from the comb as with an extractor. Hot uncapping knives are a luxury.
beetleblasterSmall hive beetle traps are a must. Screen bottom boards for mite reduction is a must. Green drone comb for mite trapping is a must, one per deep hive body.
Maximum Education
classdanvilleSuccessful beekeeping is born in the classroom. 50 years ago, beekeeping was easier since there were no mites, small hive beetles, CCD etc. But now, an educated beekeeper is a more successful beekeeper. It is vital to attend a beekeeping class taught by an experienced beekeeper with good credentials. Not everyone has to be a master beekeeper to teach a class. However, a first year beekeeper cannot possibly have the experience and knowledge necessary to teach a beekeeping class. That said, there are some veteran beekeepers who are asked to teach a class because they have 30+ years of experience keeping bees, but haven’t expanded their knowledge of beekeeping since 1972. You may want to watch out for these beekeepers, too.
If you are considering becoming a beekeeper, take a class. It is best to start with a thorough beginners class and then an advanced class. Throughout the year we offer these two important classes.
Some of my friends in the bee business will not sell queens or bees to new beekeepers until they have taken a class. I’m not quite that firm, but I do highly recommend all beekeepers take a beginners and advance course.
Pouring a large concrete pad for your hive is not necessary. Use more affordable concrete blocks.
A huge smoker is not necessary if you only have a few hives. Large smokers are for working a lot of hives at one time. A small smoker works just fine for 10 hives or less.
Lesson89jRefractometers are used to measure moisture content in honey. It is accurate and very useful, but again it is a luxury. The best way to know you’re extracting honey at the right moisture content is to wait until the honey is sealed.
Chemicals can be helpful sometimes. But, chemicals are expensive and may not always save the day. Using chemicals and medications should be carefully thought out.
Fancy log books and software to keep beekeeping records are fun if that’s your thing. But a permanent marker for notes on top of a hive is pretty affordable.
So, before you get head over heels involved in beekeeping just remember you don’t have to buy all the fancy stuff. Start out with the minimal: A beekeeping beginners class, smoker, hive tool, hat and veil, a hive with a super or two and a package of bees. Things will probably go just as well for you as a minimal beekeeper.
Check out some of our more popular lessons:
-How to harvest honey
-Wax moths
That’s all for now and thank you for joining us for another beekeeping lesson! Please let others know about these lessons and our business. We appreciate you spreading the word! TipJarYour donations help us continue our work and research on the honey bee, such as our recent development of our Winter-Bee-Kind. These lessons are free and will provide you with as much if not more information than you would find in a $30 book. So consider making a $30 donation so that we might continue these lessons, CLICK HERE TO DONATE $30 or go to:

Thank you in advance.
David and Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
217-427-2678 Website: facebooktwitter iconYoutube

Monday, September 3, 2012

Lesson 123: How To Keep Healthy Bees 217-427-2678

Hello from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms in east central Illinois. I’m so glad you found us so that you can learn more about the honey bee and how important honey bees are to our food supply through pollination.
If this is your first time to meet us, we are a beekeeping farm family and have been playing with bees since 1994. Our hobby went wild and became Long Lane Honey Bee Farms, first selling honey, then selling equipment that we manufacture.  Next we started adding to our business things like beginner classes, queen rearing classes, advance beekeeping. Finally we grew into becoming queen producers also. So anything to do with honey bees we do it!
FratHouseWe even remove bees from structures. This has kept us really busy this year. We remove one a week, sometimes two. Last week we removed a colony from a FRAT house at the University of Illinois. Click on this link to see us on the news.  It was in a large wooden column about 20 feet high. We have three  more scheduled to do right away.
LESSON 123: How To Keep Healthy Colonies
easlogo_smallThe Eastern Apicultural Society was the best I’ve attended. It’s always great to listen to new findings and work that Tom Seeley, Marla Spivak and others are doing. Hearing experts speak about their recent discoveries either points me in a new way or confirms my own way of doing things. I’m amazed at how much information is coming forth on how to keep healthy colonies. I spend thousands of dollars each year attending conferences and subscribing to various journals to stay up to date so you don’t have to.
MitesStill the number one effort that we must all be focusing on is reducing varroa mites. We removed a colony from an apartment building in Hoopeston, Illinois and in this photo we tore the comb exposing a drone pupa with four varroa mites.  A carefree, oblivious approach to mites may eventually lead to a colony’s death. There are more and more chemical free methods to reduce mites. First there was powder sugar dustings, then came screen bottom boards, then came green drone comb, and then I wrote about a powerful blow to mites a few lessons ago by breaking the bee’s brood cycle.
Now new studies show that by keeping hives further away from each other there is less drifting of bees, thus reduces drifting of mites. Not everyone has the space to do this, but during the cold days of winter, you should consider moving your hives at least 30 feet apart.  This work was recently done by Tom Seeley.
swarm12During Tom’s presentation he showed a graph comparing mite infestations among colonies that did and did not swarm. Of the ones that swarmed the mite count was significantly lower. Again, this was probably due to a break in the brood cycle. When a colony swarms, the old queen leaves shortly after the new queen cells are sealed, producing a break in the colony’s brood cycle.  See my recent article on breaking the brood cycle.
I cannot stress enough that to keep healthy colonies long term, we must reduce the number of varroa mites in a hive. Varroa mites spread viruses and these viruses shorten the lives of bees.
Throw every non-chemical weapon you can at the varroa mite. Do not give up. Have your mite level as low as possible going in to winter!
Pioneer QueensSeptember is a good time to replace your queen. So many beekeepers mistakenly think all is well with their queen, but she may die during the winter. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to obtain a good, early queen in March or early April when you need her most to build up the over wintered colony. Why take that risk? Replacing your queen in September ensures you will have a strong laying queen for next spring.  To break the brood cycle, you can remove your old queen this week but be sure you can receive a new queen the second or third week in September. This will give you a 2-3 week break in the brood cycle to reduce varroa mites. Then introduce your new queen. This makes for a healthier colony going into winter.
Now that it is September there are several things you must do to keep a healthy hive. Once you’ve harvest your honey, you must remove your honey supers unless they are full and you have chosen to leave them on for the bees to enjoy over winter. That’s fine, but REMOVE THE QUEEN EXCLUDER!  Never leave a queen excluder on a hive during the winter.
5610 269Mouse proof your hive. Seal up broken corners and holes big enough for mice to enter. Restrict the opening of the hive with the entrance reducer or some sort of mouse guard. Mice can kill your colony during the winter. I  seal my colonies from mice no later than September 15.
Provide winter venting. The internal heat of the colony contrasts with the outside cold temperature and causes excessive condensation to accumulate inside the hive. This cold, dripping water can kill bees. Upper ventilation is essential for over wintering colonies. Our Winter-B-Kinds provide upper ventilation.
Check to see if your bees need fed during the fall or winter. You must make sure your bees have plenty of winter food, both pollen (protein) and honey or sugar (carbohydrate). Hopefully the bees have stored surplus amounts of honey and pollen within the hive. If you need to feed your bees DO NOT use an entrance feeder. Bees rob other hives during the fall, and an entrance feeder will usually attract robber bees. Use a top feeder or frame feeder and use 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. The heavier syrup can be store more quickly by the bees prior to cold weather. There is less water for the bees to dry out of the syrup as with a 1:1 mixture.
winter1If your bees have failed to store adequate amounts of pollen and honey to make it through the winter, you should consider placing one of our Winter-B-Kinds on your hive. Our Winter-B-Kinds provide needed upper ventilation as well as top insulation and sugar and pollen for winter food in one piece. Click here for more details on our Winter-B-Kinds or go to:
Wind protection. Is wind protection necessary? Why not! Honey bees have much to contend with so let’s do all we can to give them a better fighting chance. Certainly it is not necessary for a large, healthy hive. But not every beekeeper’s hive is large and healthy so wrapping up a hive will not hurt. However, we strongly recommend upper ventilation because the added wrap may cause increased moisture in the hive in real cold weather.
Another way to block the wind is to place some sort of barrier around the hive. Do not place straw or hay  bales right against the hive. The bales will draw and retain moisture and could cause too much moisture near the hive. Place straw bales three feet away from the hive. But you can use any type of material to block the wind. Be creative.
Work carefully now to implement these important steps in keeping a healthy colony. Thanks for joining us today!
Check out some of our more popular lessons:
-How to harvest honey
-Wax moths
That’s all for now and thank you for joining us for another beekeeping lesson! Please let others know about these lessons and our business. We appreciate you spreading the word! TipJarYour donations helps us continue our work and research on the honey bee, such as our recent development of our Winter-Bee-Kind. These lessons are free and will provide you with as much if not more information than you would find in a $30 book. So consider making a $30 donation so that we might continue these lessons, CLICK HERE TO DONATE $30 or go to:

Thank you in advance.
David and Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
217-427-2678 Website: facebooktwitter iconYoutube