Saturday, April 5, 2014

LESSON 151: Beekeeping Classes Are Paramount 217-427-2678

Hello from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms.

Route663Finally, it seems for us that winter is letting up. We are officially into spring and we hope the weather finds that out too.  My circle of friends and acquaintances include brilliant people who spent their lives researching and raising honey bees. At conferences and during the week we often talk about new research that might be helpful. We also talk about the impact that new beekeepers may have on colony survival. Sometimes we express our concern over the number of beekeepers who start keeping bees with little to no real knowledge about the challenges facing bees today.  We talk about what is being taught in some beginner classes and whether it is enough to really help get a newbie off to a good start.   Today I want to share 4 lesson to be learned from not taking a beekeeping class and in so doing hopefully contribute to better winter survival for next winter. But first let me share some things that been going on around the farm.

Route661 Sheri and I traveled to California with Leah to see our son, Seth, return safely home from Afghanistan. We spent 4 days driving along Historic Route 66 toward Twenty-nine Palms, Ca. Last year Sheri and I studied a few books about Route 66 and planned a trip out west but our schedule never worked out.

route664 This was our first time to see the Grand Canyon. It was unbelievable and as breath taking as everyone says it is. We were following along Route 66 somewhere in Arizona through a tight and winding mountain road when we started wondering if we’d ever find another gas station. Then we rounded a corner and found a small town bustling with people, stores and donkeys. It was Oatman, Arizona. It’s a restored goldmine ghost town.

Route667 The town is mostly for tourist now and it was fun. There was a make believe gun fight out in the street and everywhere you walk there is a donkey in the way. Apparently when the gold mine closed they didn’t know what to do with the donkeys so the workers just let the donkeys free and now they simply roam the area and hang out in town. It also helps that you can buy small blocks of grass to feed the donkeys.

We finally made it out to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twenty-nine Palms, Ca. We got on base about 11:30pm California time and waited for the arrival of 3/7 India company which finally arrived around 3:30 a.m. They marched out and family and friends cheered, filled with joy that they were home after their 6 month deployment in Afghanistan.

We are thankful that Seth is back from the combat zone and on base. He will be back on the farm in May for a few weeks of post deployment leave. Then in August Seth and Leah will be married and move back out to California. He will deploy again in 2015 but hopefully not to a combat zone.

Route662 It was great to take a vacation especially in a warmer climate. All our family and friends did a great job covering for us while we were gone. Now it’s back to work!


This winter was one of the hardest winters on record. I believe for Illinois it was our third worst winter and the bees suffered. It will take a while for surveys to shed light about winter losses but it would be surprising if it is not much higher than usual.

The million dollar question is what could we have done differently. As I have said before, sometimes we can do everything right such as having low mite levels and a strong queen and a strong population of bees but viruses can simply overtake the bees in the winter. Varroa mites vector viruses. Those viruses can weaken and cause the colony to perish in the winter. Varroa mites can cut the life of bees in half. So  you can see how a long winter can take it’s toll on bees.

class3 There is a reality that many beekeepers start beekeeping without taking a solid beekeeping course or class. I did when I first started. And I lost my first hive after a few years because I made mistakes and didn’t really know up from down. Taking a class does not guarantee success but it certainly increases the chance. Of course it is still up to the beekeeper to put into practice what is learned.

I’ve noticed that when doctors and nurses take our classes their bees do really well because they care for their colony like a patient. It really does require careful and deliberate care to keep a colony healthy. I know there are plenty of YouTube videos on how to raise bees. I have some online. But there is nothing like spending a day with a knowledgeable beekeeper where you can ask questions, take notes and have it all come together.

Here’s a sure way for your colony to die. Pour in your package, put the boxes on and do nothing. Oh, occasionally a colony can survive and do well, but that is a rare exception. To keep that colony strong it takes a knowledge base and skill level that you are best able to grasp by taking a class.

Institute4 It may sound like I’m promoting our classes we offer. Of course I am! I’d be a fool  not to because I’ve worked hard over the last decade to learn everything about bees and become a certified master beekeeper. If you want to see what it takes to be a certified master beekeeper check this link out and you’ll see what I had to accomplish. In 2010 I became a master beekeeper so that our beekeeping classes would be spot on with solid teachings to help beekeepers learn as much as possible.

Take a look at our upcoming courses:

April 13 Basic Beekeeping - 2 Seats Left

May 23-24 Advance Beekeeping

Beekeeping Institute:

June 9-13 Beekeeping Institute – Sign Up For The Whole Week

If you cannot make it to all classes during the institute, sign up for a single day by clicking on the class below you wish to attend.
  June 9th-Basic Beekeeping, Tues June 10th-Practical Beekeeping, Wed June 11th-Advance Beekeeping, Thur June 12th -Queen Rearing and Fri June 13th-Insect Photograph

June 27-28 Queen Rearing Course

October 3-4 Basic Beekeeping

October 25 Basic Beekeeping

We are gearing up for the 2014 beekeeping year and as you can see from above there are plenty of classes to participate in. Please take advantage and learn as much as you can. So what did we learn from the winter of 2013-14? It might seem like the wrong time of the year to plan for winter, but actually, what you do now will lend to successful overwintering of your bees. You must start now controlling varroa mites, making sure you have a great laying queen, and make sure you colonies are very populated all year.

1. Winter Survival Begins With Controlling Varroa Mites

NS14 I simply cannot stress this enough. You might even be tired and bored of me repeating this time and time again, but if you choose not to do anything about mites, the colony will eventually perish. Maybe not the first or second year but eventually. We all love the occasional survival hives that have mites and yet still do great. These rare hives intrigue all of us who raise queens. We want to reproduce those traits. But even this is not a proven science. So we must fall back on some methods of reducing mites. Some of our links below will take you to a more descriptive lesson for the method.

a. Start now using green drone comb.

drone foundationUse drone foundation to lure the mites. Mites prefer drone cells because the foundress mites have a full 24 days to develop their prodigy since the drone is the longest in the cell. So, you can lure the mites from worker cells by placing drone foundation on the outside edges of your brood hive bodies. We sell a one piece drone foundation plastic frame. The cell size is for drone cells so the queen knows to lay only unfertilized eggs producing drones. Then, your mites run to these cells and after the comb is capped, you pull the frames out and freeze them overnight and your mites are dead. Scratch open the cells and place it back in hive for the bees to clean out, and they will! They get rid of all the mites and dead drones. These frames are a bright lime green so you can easily identify your drone frames. We sell these frames for $4.99 each, much cheaper than chemicals.

b. Powder sugar dust your bees. See

c. Use screen bottom boards to help mites fall out of the hive.

I used to be a staunch solid bottom board fan until I experimented with a screen bottom board. Wow! I immediately converted all of my solid bottom boards over to screen bottom boards. When mites fall to the bottom of a hive with a screen bottom board, they are gone, and cannot make it back in. On a solid bottom board, they simply wait for the next passing bee to get on and ride back up to infest the hive.

d. Break the colony’s brood cycle once the hive reaches a strong population. Review my lesson on breaking the queen’s brood cycle at:

2. Winter Survival Preparation Means Having A Strong Queen In The Fall

It is important that you know the health of your queen at all times, especially in late summer and early fall. She should be laying really well all the way into fall. Throughout the beekeeping year monitor your queen. If she is not laying lots of eggs, replace her immediately. It is certain failure to over-winter with a poor queen.

3. Winter Survival Means Having A Large Colony In The Fall

It seems that a strong colony has a much great chance at survival that a colony that is weak in numbers. Obviously for winter survival more bees means more heat that can be generated. If a colony is not strong in numbers going into winter it probably means that a problem already exists and that winter will be the final straw.

4. Winter Survival Means Trying Everything Else 

I think if we all knew that this winter was going to be this hard we might have tried a few extra methods and tricks. Even not knowing if they work, maybe they couldn’t have hurt? It’s hard to know for certain. But here’s some thoughts:  Wrapping is always a consideration. It doesn’t always help and hives still perish that have been wrapped. But it might be worth a try.

Winter-Bee-Kinds are viewed as emergency feed, top insulation to cut down on moisture developing at the top and an upper vent to provide a sooner opportunity for bees to defecate outside the colony during winter. Hives with viruses and other problems can still perish with a Winter-Bee-Kind. But it is certainly worth a try.

A wind break is always a good thing . Imagine yourself either in the cold wind or behind a wind block. It’s always better out of the wind.

In summary the key to winter survival is to keep mite levels down, strong numbers, a strong queen and plenty of honey and pollen in the hive prior to winter. So, start now to prepare your hive for next winter.

We appreciate you doing business with us! Take advantage of our many offers on hives. Here’s our best deal.

Two Full Size Hives, fully assembled and fully painted. He hive consists of a Screen Bottom Board, two deep hive bodies with wooden frames and foundation, one medium super with wooden frames and foundation, an inner cover, a top cover with metal covering and also comes with two entrance feeders and two different sized entrance reducers. One to accompany your entrance feeder, and one to stand alone. We recommend starting with two hives. Click for more information.

Swarm Are you ready to catch that swarm?  It’s swarm season. Have that extra hive ready when you get that call to collect a free swarm of bees. If you’re not ready to collect the swarm, they’ll fly away before you have something to put them in. Order an extra hive now.

Thanks for joining us for another lesson! See you next time!

David & Sheri Burns


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