Unnecessary Stuff

What's on this page?

This website is about hobby beekeeping.  A hobbyist has different goals than a commercial beekeeper.  A hobbyist does not need to make a profit every year.  A hobbyist does not eat from the money provided by the bees if they provide a profit at all.  A hobbyist is in it for the joy of beekeeping and that is their primary obligation, to enjoy what they are doing.

Understand, I am saying nothing about commercial beekeepers.  I am not disparaging them in any sense whatsoever.  Most of the kept hives in the country are kept by commercial beekeepers.  They keep a simply massive number of hives and each of them has several hundred to tens of thousands.  My point is solely to show that hobbyists and backyard beekeepers should not try to emulate commercial beekeepers because they are not commercial beekeepers.  If you are a hobbyist, you should emulate a successful hobbyist.

The system I advocate is geared toward the sustainability and success of the small scale beekeeper.  Iím talking about beekeepers who are not keeping bees as their primary employment or their sole source of income.  In hive numbers, Iím talking about beekeepers that are managing 100 or less hives.  Personally, at this point, my goal is to keep 20 and to sell nucs, honey, and wax.  My goal at this point in time is to maintain around 20-30 hives throughout the year.  I have another job.  That job is where I make my money and I have no interest in being a commercial beekeeper.  I did once, but now, itís a hobby.  Itís a project, a learning experience.

This page is called Ďunnecessary thingsí because there are a bunch of things I feel are totally unnecessary for the hobbyist beekeeper but are common among hobbyists because of the effects of commercial beekeepers and beekeeping books.

Arbitrary Requeening

A practice commonly done among commercial beekeepers is yearly or bi-yearly requeening.  Rumors abound about twice or thrice yearly requeening, but these are largely untrue.  So donít as a newbee talk about commercials that do that because most of them donít.  Most commercial beekeepers requeen at the most once per year, often once per two years, and generally as needed for specific hives.  Commercials do this for a number of reasons.  They usually have a good source of queens that produce how they want, act how they want, and are consistent like they want.  They also have a large number of hives so eccentricities that do exist are minimized within the population.  They also have budgetary allowance and save money on queens and shipping by buying in bulk.

You donít have the benefit of most of these things.

Ultimately however, the core of this issue lies in what is actually necessary.  You with a handful of hives are presented with difficulties in this area.  Youíll have to pay more for queens and if you have a failed requeening, you have far more to lose than a commercial beekeeper.  The fewer hives you have, the greater percent of the total each of them occupies.

There are a number of very legitimate reasons to requeen.  The first is bad behavior.  If you have a hive that is mean, not only is it an annoyance when the bees are buzzing you, trying or succeeding as stinging you, it is a liability.  Mean bees can kill small animals including children who donít always know that the only solution to a bee attack is to run.  The second reason is poor performance.  If a hive you manage consistently shows that it canít survive for whatever reason, be it disease or inability to gain stores, that hive needs to go.  In my view, if itís not the same queen, or daughter of the same queen, itís not the same hive.  Here again is another benefit to keeping multiple hives.  When you have more, needing to eliminate or requeen one is not nearly the loss as only having one or two.

If you have come to the conclusion that you need to requeen a hive, what should you do?  My recommendation is to raise and use your own queens.  This gives you the opportunity to learn how itís done and to focus on your own locally adapted bees.  If you have a good local source of treatment-free queens, that would be the best second option.  More on requeening on my Queens Page.

Stimulative Feeding

As I have written about on the Feeding page, I am not a fan of stimulative feeding.  Itís done to try to get the bees to build up so that they have a good population for the honey flow.  However, the best way to do that is to have bees that are properly prepared for winter.  Great beekeepers of the past have said that stimulative feeding is far inferior to having a properly stocked hive.  And the best solution to have bees appropriately built up in time for the flow is to breed for bees who do so.  Itís well known that certain breeds of bees range all the way from brooding 100% of the time down to shutting down between flows.  Bees properly adapted to your area will not need help to be ready for the seasons.  But you may not yet have well adapted bees.  Give it a few years, raise a few queens and you might be surprised how well your hives begin to react to and prepare for the conditions.

Rotating Brood Boxes
This is something done commonly in hopes of giving room for the bees to expand upwards in the hive and prevent swarming.  However, it may not be the best idea.  According to Walt Wright doing this actually prevents swarming by befuddling the hive and is ultimately a detriment to honey production.  Furthermore, if you practice unlimited broodnest management or run all mediums, you arenít going to be having two boxes easily switched.  I have found that keeping very large hives, i.e. leaving supers on in the winter just about eliminates swarming.  According to the checkerboarding theory, the bees make adjustments based on the size of the hive to decide how much work needs to be done to fill the hive to initiate swarming.  While this may or may not be objectively factual, itís my experience that big hives mean no swarming.  Finally, like the other things Iíve been talking about on this website, arbitrarily is never a good reason for doing anything for a hobbyist.  You may be getting in the way rather than helping.  And swarming is not the end of the world anyway.  Healthy hives swarm.

Stressing over Swarming
Swarming is natural.  Itís as natural as every time you see a lion or a giraffe or a grasshopper copulating on National Geographic or the Discovery Channel.  It is part of the reproductive urge.  It is the main method of natural procreation and increase in the honeybee world.  Trying to stop it is like trying to tell a dog not to go into heat.  Yes, swarming does decrease the potential of a hive to make honey.  But the correct action is to subvert and manipulate that urge to make honey and more hives and not to arbitrarily attempt to prevent it.  In my experience, the occurrence of swarming in a kept hive is a combination of the genetics of the strain (Ďswarmy beesí) and poor management.  Donít be afraid of swarming though.  Itís natural.  If you find swarm cells, deal with them and use the situation to your benefit.  But you donít need to prevent swarming arbitrarily.  More about what to do with swarming here.

Queen Excluders

Queen excluders have their place, Iím happy to admit.  I seriously doubt that place is in a hive producing liquid honey.  They are certainly useful in some methods of queen rearing, in producing comb honey, and for some other reasons.  However, I have found the Ďqueen excluder is honey excluderí paradigm to be generally true.  As Iíve mentioned, I use unlimited broodnest management.  What that means is that I allow the broodnest to range up and down in the hive wherever the bees decide that it should be.  Capped honey is generally the most natural queen excluder.  Iíve made quite acceptable comb honey in the past by simply placing the comb honey super over the top of already capped honey.  The super itself sits in the honey area, so thatís where the honey goes, no eggs.  However, thatís not to say that the queen will never lay up there.  Things happen.  Bees are wild animals.  Ultimately theyíll do what they want, not what you want.  Your job is to be a skilled manipulator.

Storing Supers Over Winter
Common practice among commercial beekeepers is to remove honey supers and store them over winter.  This can be a number of reasons including but not limited to the following.  First, itís really expensive to haul that many empty boxes around to pollination jobs.  And second, itís expensive and time consuming to haul the supers back out to the hives after they have been extracted after the honey flow.  Think about it, you donít have either of these concerns to be worried about.  Your hives are in the backyard or a few miles down the road.  Itís not much effort to walk them back out to the yard.

On top of that, it is necessary to do something to prevent wax moth damage to the combs while there are no bees to guard them.  So beekeepers use chemicals like Paramoth to drive out the moths while the supers are being stored.  There are other methods of keeping combs, like storing them in freezing conditions, either natural or artificial, and storing them open to air and sunlight.

But what does a hive in the wild do?  Obviously, thereís no one to remove empty supers at the end of the season, but neither is there someone to steal the honey!  There is a natural cycle within the hive.  The bees fill up the upper portions of comb with honey which pushes the broodnest down toward the bottom.  At some point when the hive is pretty well stocked with honey, the colony swarms, maybe several times.  Going into winter, the colony moves upwards as it consumes stores until the process starts again in the spring.  During the parts of the year when wax moths are active, the bees are also active, and they occupy the hive maintaining security eliminating the wax moth threat.  When it is cool enough for the bees to be clustering, wax moths are not active and wax moth larvae die when frozen.

So for the last 11 years (as of spring 2014) I have been simply leaving the comb on the hive.  Comb that is extracted is returned to the hive to be cleaned out of residual honey and then it remains there for the bees to fill as they find ability in the fall.  There are some downsides to this method, but most of them are related to convenience rather than detriment to the bees.  It is a little more difficult to check the hive in the winter, but after freezing begins, you can remove them if you really need to without threat of wax moth damage. 

To answer the question of primary importance: I have not noticed any detriment to the bees in overwintering.  In fact, Iíd say it is a benefit to have more comb above the bees because it deflects water that may drip down due to condensation or leakage.  Another concern Iíve heard is that with a larger hive, the bees will expend more energy heating.  This comes from the misconception that a hive is anything like a house.  It is not.  If it was, it has an open window.  A hive is a hive, and bees are not a central heating and air conditioning system.  This past winter, I overwintered bees in my ten frame nucs for the first time.  For an entrance, they have a 1.5Ē hole in the front of the box.  They also had an upper entrance.  At any time, you could walk out to the yard, stick your face up to the entrance, and see the edge of the cluster of bees just three inches inside the entrance.  You could reach in and touch them if your finger was long and skinny enough.  They have done just fine.  Bees do not heat the hive, they heat the cluster.

At this point, this should go without saying.  If youíve gotten this far, you know this is a treatment free website.  But I want to reiterate this point as it pertains to commercial migratory beekeeping.  At this point in time, there is no such thing as a migratory treatment-free bee.  I have heard rumors, but have no hard evidence at this point.  Commercial beekeepers need to treat.  Moving bees is very stressful.  Stressful enough I believe to push them over the tipping point in being able to successfully deal with disease and parasites.  So they have to treat.  They have no choice because they need to make a paycheck and dead bees do no pollination and make no honey and that means no money.

You are not a commercial beekeeper.  You should be able to stay in one place and if not get treatment-free bees, develop your own by not treating them and multiplying from the survivors.  That being said, you donít need to treat. 

You can if you want to, I certainly wonít stop you, but the things Iíve discussed above are not necessary.  You donít have to do them and donít feel like you need to.  Yes, there are some things I recommend simply not doing.  There are things that I really donít think should be done, for the experience of the beekeeper, for the survival of the species Apis Mellifera, and because they donít work.  As always, do try lots of things.  Trying new things means learning.  Donít let bees become that dog you keep in the back yard and feed and water and ignore pretty much the rest of the time.  That dog really annoys me and Iím really tired of it barking at me while Iím trying to work.