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


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