Advanced Bee Culture
In 1911, an ailing William Z. Hutchinson, age 60, published a third edition (The second edition was in 1905) of his awesome 1891 beekeeping book that wasn’t a beginning beekeeping book. Instead, it was targeted directly at the beekeeper who already had a couple of years or more under their belt and looking at “the next step”. Sadly, it was his last as he passed the same year.
It’s always fun to go back and read the older tomes to see what is still relevant and what has changed since then. Here is my own happy little synopsis of Hutchinson’s “Pro Tips” as gleaned from his book, “Advanced Bee Culture”.
Get More Hives
The end all, bee all to Hutchinson’s advice is to get more bees. get as many hives as you can afford to get, then get some more. In a lot of ways, what he is saying here is to work the law of averages, I think. Every beekeeper will experience low producing hives, die-outs, and miscellaneous other problems in their apiaries. In a smaller operation, the lowered production or die-out of just a few among a few hives can be catastrophic. However in an operation with more hives, the relevant impact is distributed among a larger set. In other words, losing five hives out of ten is a devastating loss of 50% of the hives. However, losing five hives out of one hundred is only a five percent loss and is easier to load balance production in.
Only Do Beekeeping
W.Z. was utterly convinced that, in my own words, “Halfway is half-assed”. Meaning, of course, that by doing anything but work that directly r indirectly related to beekeeping was just a wasted of time, effort, resources, etc… if you are meaning to be a successful professional apiarist. He advocated NOT to be a Farmer or a bookkeeper or a shopkeeper or anything else. It’s an “All In” kind of thing to him and if if you want to split your efforts thinking you are supporting your beekeeping by having some other income generator, then you might as well just quit beekeeping except as a hobby.
Education Is Most Important
He suggests that the very foundation of successful beekeeping is knowledge and experience. We should gain the first, knowledge, by reading all of the beekeeping books, magazines, and given today’s technology I’d include web-based articles as well.
As to the experience, he tells us that undertaking an apprenticeship of at least one year with an experienced beekeeper to be the ideal, two years is even better.
Buy and Raise Localized Bees
William felt very strongly that the bees one starts out with is also a part of that bedrock of a successful beekeeping business. Strong, localized stock is his first and foremost preference for obtaining bees not resulting from one’s own splits. Find a local beekeeper with good stock and obtain bees from them.
Finding and getting local feral colonies is also high on his list. He is particularly fond of setting out bait hives to capture travelling swarms. He notes that areas nearer to woodlands will be likely to find more good bait-hive locations in the periphery of the woods and tree-lines. For areas which are more open, setting bait-hives up om top of structures and poles is more likely to net positive results.
Ultimately, he suggests to the budding professional apiarist that raising hardy bee stock, raising queens and inserting them into splits from that hardy stock is the best way.
Keep Track of Successful activities AND of mistakes made.
Mr. Hutchinson somberly warns us that it bodes a man well to keep track of the things he does right. It bodes even better for the man who also tracks what he goes wrong. Learning from one’s mistakes is one of beekeeping’s best teachers he tells us.
What are some mistakes he takes the time to warn us against?
Jumping in with both feet and no instruction. Yes, it can be done, but it makes an already hard row to hoe twice, perhaps thrice as hard to overcome.
Remember it is best to follow only one Master. He advises us against trying to mish-mash multiple systems or methodologies simultaneously. Find one and stick with it. He thinks it is still better to run with a poor choice of system than to try to throw a bunch in together.
More Bees Is Always Better, But Not Too Quickly. W.Z. opines that this may be the ultimate “Newbee Killer”. Start smaller, especially if you haven’t the advantage of doing an apprenticeship first and then grow slowly. Grow, by all means grow. Only, grow at a pace that is able to be reasonably managed and not going to put you n a position to fail.
The last one I’ll mention here, there are more dandies much worth reading in his book, is to not choose a hive system that is too complicated or costly to reasonably manage. Bells and whistles are great….For hobbyists. If you plan to be a professional, “making a living at it” apiarist, then easy to manage and low cost to obtain and maintain is where you ought to be thinking when it comes to bee hives.
Beekeeping Is Dependent On Locality
The ever-successful habits conscious Mr. Hutchinson also reminds us that you keep where where your bees are kept. Do NOT manage bees in Nebraska the same as you would in Arizona or New Hampshire. If you do, you might as well hang it up right then. The successful , professional beekeeper always has his focus on where his hives are and let’s go of where they were.
To Sum It Up
I won’t dare to try to sum up everything in his book. I can’t express more that I highly recommend this book. I liken it to a well-aged bottle of Scotch. It’s overall value has only increased with time. He goes into much more detail and has more to offer than the paltry few bits I have tucked into this insufficient, small corner of the Web. As with many things over time, technology has advanced and made some things obsolete and our environment has changed as well, requiring adaptations like Integrated Pest Management, new pests and diseases, etc…
Yet and still… There is tremendously more to retain in this book than there is to discard. If I were to have just the opportunity, I would jump at the chance to invite the esteemed William, Z. Hutchinson to sit in on one of the Bee Smart weekly podcast episodes and just let him take over the show for the day.
The book itself is now in the public domain and is able to be had freely. This being the case, I have attached a direct link below to the PDF version of it here so that you too will bee able to become savvy to that which is “Advanced Bee Culture”.