Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lesson 159: Will Your Bees Die From You Being TOO “Natural”? 217-427-2678

Drawn Comb

Are you so “natural” in your beekeeping practices that you are actually killing bees? Hi, we are David and Sheri Burns. We operate Long Lane Honey Bee Farms located in east central Illinois. In today’s lesson, I want to discuss the dangers in how being too natural could be the cause of colonies dying in the winter.

There is the reality that the increased number of new and inexperienced beekeepers may be contributing to the increase in numbers of winter losses. This may be especially true with the number of new beekeepers who opt not to use chemicals against mites but also fail to use any non-chemical methods either. In other words, being so natural as to do nothing is not good.  For example, as humans we know that washing our hands can help prevent the transfer of viruses. We’d never tell our children to stop washing their hands before they eat so that they can be more natural. Let’s talk more…

Before I continue, let me share that I’m excited about our website revamp. We are making our website so that the main front page is filled with tons of practical beekeeping tips, tricks and other helpful information. If you need to quickly go to our online store, you’ll see our Quick Help links on the left hand side. You can jump right into our online store which is opened 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Here are a few examples from our website:

How to remove bees from the honey super so you can harvest the honey.

How to make creamed honey.

Which is better a nuc or a 3 lb package of bees?

How to prevent swarming.

You are currently reading our blog/lessons. Enjoy these lessons but be sure to go to: for more information and beekeeping supplies.

Lee We had great visit from Lee and Wei from the University of Illinois. Lellen Solter is an insect pathologist and is doing work on nosema, looking into competition between microsporidian species for host tissues, taxonomy of microsporidia, molecular relationships between closely related microsporidia, physiological effects of microsporidia on insect hosts, host specificity of microsporidia, disease in beneficial insects (bumble bees, honey bees, predators of hemlock woolly adelgid) and microbial control of the gypsy moth. Wei-Fone Huang is a Postdoctoral Research Scientist and recently published his work: Nosema Ceranae Escapes Fumagillin Control in Honey Bees.

Lee and her husband took one of our Beginning Beekeeping courses earlier in the year and started a few hives. It was great to chat with them about the negative effect that Fumagillin may be having on honey bees.

We have hive kits with 2015 packages available online now.

Finally, A Beekeeping Class Specifically Addressing How To Get Bees Through The Winter.

wraphive We have worked hard over the last 8 years to flood the internet with trusted, reliable and thorough beekeeping information. Beekeepers lose countless hives due to a lack of education. Specifically, many beekeepers are uninformed about best winter practices. The winter of 2013-2014 was very hard on honey bees. Thus, a lot of colonies perish in the north each winter.

We are working to curtail these loses by offering free online beekeeping information, on site classes and more. 

Maybe you lost some colonies. It can be confusing trying to figure out why your bees died. They may have had plenty of stored honey yet still died. Maybe they had a great queen and were very populated but still died. Join me for an extensive 6 hour course on common reasons why bees die in the winter and what you can do to improve your hive's chances of survival. This class will cover topics such as: fall preparation, mouse protection, mite reduction, wind blocks, wrapping hives, heating lamps, winter feeding, insulation, moving hives into buildings or shelters, the biology of fat bodies, the timing of a new queen, pros and cons of double walled hives, dynamics of both Langstroth and top bar hives in the winter, the winter cluster and more.

wraphive3 Our Saturday class (Sept. 6th 2014 9am-3pm) has only two seats remaining, BUT we have added an additional class the next day to accommodate the additional interest.

You need to do all you can to fortify your colonies to be ready for another long and hard winter. Even “natural” beekeepers must take the necessary steps to ensure honey bees kept in domesticated equipment (this includes top bar hives and traditional Langstroth hives) are in great shape going into winter.

The price of this class could possibly save you the cost of several packages next year. Click on the Saturday or Sunday class links below:

Getting Your Bees Through The Winter Saturday Sept 6, 9am-3pm central time (Two seats left)

Getting Your Bees Through The Winter Sunday Sept 7, Noon-6pm central time.(Just placed online with 15 seats available)

At these classes we will actually evaluate several hives and determine why they may or may not overwinter well. We will also show how to manipulate frames for maximum food distribution during the winter. We will also build wind breaks, wrap hives, place on Winter-Bee-Kinds and more. This is a “must take” class for the serious beekeeper who is tired of replacing bees every spring.

The Eastern Apicultural Society Conference will be held at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky. I’ll be taking in the most recent scientific discoveries as well as assisting with certifying future master beekeepers. If you are a new beekeeper or very experienced this is a great conference to attend. Consider attending by clicking here. I’ll be there Monday through Friday. If we’ve never met, but you see me, please introduce yourself.

HiveTalk While I’m at EAS, Jon Zawislak and I will be doing a live HIVE TALK podcast. We will be broadcasting Thursday morning, July 31 at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. If you’d like to watch or be on the air with us, email me ( so I can let you know where we will be. Don’t worry, if you are not there, you can still join us and ask questions on air. The number to call is: 1-724-444-7444. When you call in you'll be asked to enter our SHOW ID which is: 129777 followed by the # sign. Then the automated system will ask you for your Pin number which is 1 followed by the # sign. At that point, you'll be on the show with us so you can ask your questions. You will be muted unless you press * 8 on your phone and that will allow us to unmute you so you can ask your question. Call in around 10 minutes prior to broadcast, at 10:50 a.m. eastern time.  If you want to just listen from your computer, go to:

If you use a smart phone you can add the Podcast App and have our shows sent to your mobile device every time we produce a new one. Just go to iTunes and search for Hive Talk, scroll down to podcast and you'll find us there.

Or listen to our past episodes by clicking here or by copying the link below and pasting it into  your internet browser.

Okay students, time for class. LESSON 159: Will Your Hive Die From You Being TOO Natural?

Generally most of us want to be as natural as possible. We don’t like the thought of pesticides on our fruit and vegetables. We don’t want antibiotics or growth hormones in our milk or meat. I even roast my own organic coffee beans. It just sounds better, even though I know that the bean is surrounded by the fleshly part of the seed which is thrown away. The bean is soaked in boiling water, fermented, dried, then I roast it at over 400 degrees (F). It’s hard to believe at that point that the bean would have any chemical residue. But, I still drink organic coffee.

Natural beekeeping is huge. The idea of dumping chemicals in a hive where honey is eventually harvested should concern us. We would all prefer honey from a colony that has never been exposed to any chemicals at all. Beekeepers raise justifiable concerns over farm chemicals such as neonicotinoids and imidacloprids. These are not just used by farmers but found in flea collars and yard sprays and many commonly used household pest control products. The impact that our chemical filled environment is having on the decline of honey bees is being pursued more aggressively, even by the White House.

Big chemical companies aside, what about going all natural as a beekeeper? Is this good for bees? If all natural means not using harsh chemicals in the hive, then natural sounds good to me. But if going natural means doing nothing at all and expecting the bees to flourish, then you might be surprised to find out that “natural” killed your bees. Doing nothing is harmful to bees. 

This approach might work if we did not have things like varroa mites, small hive beetles, nosema and viruses. Occasionally, we meet the human extraordinaire. You know, the person who never exercised, ate bad food, smoked and consumed too much alcohol, bacon and eggs every morning and lived healthy into their 90s. Same is true with colonies. Occasionally there is the extraordinary hive that we never do anything to and they are perfectly healthy in every way. This is not the norm.

Being “natural” should not be confused with being cheap and lazy. Sometimes we just don’t want to take time to inspect the hive again. So we conclude that we are going to let nature take its course. Sometimes we are being cheap. We don’t want to buy a new queen or a beetle trap or green drone comb to trap varroa mites. So we conclude that we are being natural.

treepropolis We need to realize that honey bees need our help. We have removed them from their natural habitat and placed them into our domesticated hive equipment. It’s not bad, but it’s just not a tree. Here’s a tree I removed bees from and as you can see it is sealed with propolis. Propolis acts as part of the colony’s immune system, killing dangerous pathogens such as viruses in the hive. The rough wall of the cavity inside a tree is covered with propolis by the colony.

I am currently experimenting with coating propolis inside hives like that of a tree to see if bees do better. If the inside of a colony was not so smooth, bees would smooth it out with propolis. My point is that when we remove bees from their natural habitat and place them into Langstroths or top bar hives we must still provide proper management techniques to simulate as much of their natural habitat as possible.

But even then, this is not enough because even hives in trees die from varroa mites transmitting viruses throughout the hive. We can talk about how cold and bad the winters are but wait! The reality is that not all colonies died. What did those surviving colonies have that the dead colonies didn’t have? If you had 10 colonies and 8 died but two didn’t, it begs the question, “What do those 2 surviving colonies have that the other 8 did not?”

It is nearly impossible to analyze a dead colony and discover what happen. But it is very possible to examine a surviving colony and draw some concrete conclusion. This is very important. If you kept detailed records of your hives that survived winter, then you can look back over your findings and discover answers as to what these hives had that the dead ones did not. Pollen, honey, mite loads (viruses), populations, age of queen, location, amount of propolis in the hive, etc., all can provide data to help us find keys to overwintering colonies more effectively.

But if all you are doing is nothing, being natural, then you really do not have any information. Minimally, you should be logging information about your natural approach to help you determine your level of success or failure. No one buys a new dog and refuses to feed it or water it and hopes it will naturally survive. If you pull ticks off your dog why wouldn’t you pull mites from your bees?  Even organic gardens are watered and weeds are pulled.

There is a difference between natural beekeeping and hands off beekeeping. The two are not the same. What should you do now?

1. Reduce you mite load! This is a must. If you do nothing, viruses will overtake your colony this winter.

2. Provide food for your bees. They need protein (pollen) and honey. Between now and fall, your bees need to be well fed. But many beekeepers do nothing and during the late summer and early fall bees weaken from a lack of nutrition. We re now entering into the period of dearth coupled with honey being harvested from hives. They go into winter hungry and weak. At the Heartland Apicultural Society conference someone told me that their friend had 10 hives and she put our Winter-Bee-Kind on 9 of her 10 colonies. The only one that perished was the one without the Winter-Bee-Kind. More than just food, our system provides top insulation to reduce excessive condensation and provides an upper vent for bees to defecate out side the hive more often during the winter. 

3. Re-queen. If your queen is more than 2 years old, she is likely to fail you during the winter. You cannot buy new queens next spring in time to save your colony. Re-queen within then next few months.

4. Simulate a colony’s natural habitat as much as possible. Coat the inside with propolis. Use screen bottom boards to simulate the distance between the bottom of the comb and the base of the tree cavity so that mites can fall out of the nest area.



Be a natural beekeeper but not at the neglect of meeting your bees’ needs.  Bees need your help in fighting off varroa mites and small hive beetles just to name a few. Rather than spend your time looking for a better queen or a better package or nuc provider, focus on becoming a better beekeeper. At our overwintering class we will talk in more detail about these things and more such as how to simulate the thicker wall of a tree in your Langstroth hive.

Also, Jon and I will be speak on the subject of this lesson on our next HIVE TALK at EAS next week.

That’s all for this week, enjoy your weekend and bee good to your bees,

David and Sheri Burns
M-Thu 10am-4pm central time
Fri 10am-Noon
Sat By appointment

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