Bee Smart: Buzzed About Bees

Starting Saturday August 12 9:30 -10:30am at Chick-Fil-A in Bellevue, NE.  Every second Saturday of each month afterward. Come on down and talk to a professional apiarist.  Ask your bee related questions.  Find out about beekeeping, honey, pollination, beeswax and anything else that has to do with bees that you’ve got on your mind.

Sit down with Tony “Big Bear” Sandoval from the Bee Smart beekeeping project and the Beehooligans podcast to talk about anything and everything bees.

Want to get started in beekeeping?  Come on down.  Have questions about cooking with honey?  Come on down.  Want to know about making beeswax crafts?  Come on down.

Got a story to share about bees?  We want to hear it.    Get a little something to munch on or drink, and sit down with us to get all the buzz on everything bees.

Cicada Killers; Menacing Predators or Ugly Butterflies

This is the Bee Smart website but you won’t beelieve how often I get asked about other flying critters.  That’s OK though.  Most of the time it leads to some very cool teaching opportunities about bee conservation.

One of the most trepidatious questions involves the Cicada Killer Wasps.  Yes, they are actually wasps and they are really big, really ugly and really aggressive.  They scare the beejeebers out of most people.

The female is the larger of the two and also the predator.  She is a hunter of other big, ugly insects that most people don’t want around.  She does have a stinger but it’s pretty much reserved for prey.  It’s a rare thing indeed to hear of a female Cicada Killer stinging a person or animal unless they were actively trying to make her sting them.

The males, those wild flying acrobats that seem to dart aggressively at anything near them?  They couldn’t hurt you if they wanted to.  They are males and as such, they are born without a stinger.  They couldn’t hurt you if they tried.

Yes, the female is a devastating predator, only to other insects, and the males are aggressive acrobats that are pretty much not much more than ugly butterflies.

When you see them, don’t bee afraid.  They are pretty much harmless to people and animals.  They also put on a great aerobatics show.

Beekeeping should bee fun

If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Burn out in beekeeping is one of the most common problems beekeeping as a practice has to contend with.  Whether it’s due to frustration with bee dilemmas, dealing with other beekeepers, access to or lack of access, to research and quality information, it can get to you.

You need to make it fun to have longevity as a beekeeper.  Bees can be ornery stinkers, foul tempered and obstinate just as easily as they can be industrious, docile and endearing.  I like to encourage people to engage with the colonies like you would a dog or other animal.  I admit to the habit of talking, even arguing with my bees.  Why?  Because it’s fun.

Being a professional apiarist can be even more stressful.  There are expectations of you by the customers and clients who are paying you.  You likely have pretty high expectations of yourself knowing how your actions and advice can influence and affect others.    Take my advice, keep things low key.  Build being a relaxed, and humor having type of personality with your base.  Your attitude will set the pace for everyone else.  If you keep things relaxed and low stress, others will tend to follow along.  After all, you are the expert.  Lead by example.  It works the same with people as it does with bees.  If you stay calm, they will too in most cases.

Regardless of whether you are a professional or a hobbyist, let your passion take the lead from time to time.  Let yourself be excited and enthusiastic while working  on beekeeping “stuff”.  It’s fine to be stoic and straight-laced when it’s called for.  You are involved in one of the world’s oldest and oft considered “wildest” activities endeavors.  This almost demands that you allow a bit of your eccentricities off the leash unless entirely inappropriate (like at a funeral or a bank loan meeting).

And truly, don’t let stupid suck you in.  There will be people, there will ALWAYS be people, who feel the need to contradict, argue, nag, be contentious, etc… that want to make your life a drag, especially in front of others.  That’s how they build themselves up, by bringing others down. Even in beekeeping, walk away from the stupid.  You can’t fix it, it will not only win, it will try to get it’s hooks into your head too.  Just learn to let things go and just like live bee removals, you can’t save them all.  It’s hard, I know, oh boy, do I ever know.  My truck…. start telling the horniest, worst bee puns you can think of.  Just see how bad you can make them.  Once you’ve gotten yourself to make or even laugh at yourself over those, you’ll be OK.

Beekeeping should be fun.  Bee classes, bee clubs, bee meetings etc… should all be fun.  If not, someone’s doing something wrong.

The “point” of professional bee removal

There is a purpose and a point to being differentiated as a “professional” live bee removal specialist.  That being that it introduces the person as someone who is doing this as a means to make a living and that they will complete the task to the needs and requirements of the customer.

Most hobbyist and amateur live bee removal people are in it for themselves to obtain more bee colonies.  That’s fine as long as everyone involved understands that.  The amateur/hobbyist fills a need in the marketplace for low cost or even no cost to the customer removals.  They generally take the “low hanging fruit” or the less challenging stuff.  That’s a good thing.

Being a professional though requires bringing more to the table.  Proper tools and equipment, liability insurance, sometimes having certain required or desirable certifications or registrations, etc…  these are all overhead that need to be covered.  The cost of doing business if you will.

The paying customer needs someone who can de-escalate a potentially unsafe situation with bees.  They need someone to, at a minimum, remove the nest whenever possible and prepare the voidspace to prevent re-habitation by future swarms.  Also, there is a need to prepare the newly emptied space to be closed up again and repaired properly.  This is important whether doing the repair yourself or if someone else will follow up afterwards.

The professional live removal specialist has to accept that not every colony will be able to be saved and finish the job as best as possible regardless.  It’s not just about getting bees to take home.  That’s not guaranteed.  Getting the job done right should be the first focus for the professional.

Live removal professionals often end up taking the more challenging jobs because they have the experience, time, equipment and resources necessary to do so.

You have to bee honest with customers about what you can do.  If you bite off more than you can chew, your setting yourself, the customer and likely the bees, up for failure.

Live bee removal as a professional service specialty is still a burgeoning area.  More and more pest control companies are reluctant to kill bees and in some jurisdictions, is even illegal or highly discouraged.

In many situations, insurance companies or localities require that work be done on buildings and other structures by an insured, professional service provider.  In many of those situations the bees do often end up being killed because there are no professional live removal specialists around.

There’s no need for animosity or negativity between hobbyists\amateurs and professionals in this area.  As awareness grows and urban sprawl continues to take harborage away from nesting bees, there is plenty to be done for the industrious and self initiating bee person.

Podcast Peculiarities

Hey folks,  I apologize that the podcast hasn’t gotten posted for a bit.  I’m working on a tech glitch that doesn’t want to go away.  I should have the next episodes up shortly that will be available regularly again.

I always try to remind folks, we’re professional beekeepers here, not professional podcasters so there is still a bit of a learning curve.  Thanks for sticking with us though.


Plastic Foundation, It Has It’s Place

Plastic foundation used in frames of bee hives has been an on and off hot topic for decades.  As usual, it is often presented as a false dichotomy of should use or should not.  The reality as most of us know lies in each situation in the objectives of the beekeeper and the needs of the colony.

We should know pro’s and con’s of plastic foundation and when it’s inclusion is an asset and when it’s not really contributing anything of use or actively working against objectives and/or needs.

Some colonies have been known to actively resist drawing out comb from plastic foundation.  Other times, bees seem to go right to it, working with it ideally.

Plastic foundation offers good purpose to beekeepers in that it doesn’t blow out like less supported combs can during extraction.  It also can encourage bees to draw combs neatly inside the frame structure and reduce or inhibit cross comb development.

Plastic foundation can resist or avoid “slumping” in high temperatures in a hive which essentially is a partial collapse of comb.  In that case, bees can be killed, including the queen.  “Slumping” can also lead to forage resources spilling onto the bottom board and drawing pests such as ants, wasps, SHB and more.  Plastic foundation, properly drawn out, can avoid those situations.

Plastic foundation can also work as great guides to help bees keep new combs straight.  Add to that the rapidity of drawing out cells in high need scenarios such as installing a package, swarm or trapout that needs to get established ASAP.  Having plastic foundation installed can get the queen laying eggs sooner and forage stored more rapidly.

I’ve listed some “pro’s” of plastic foundation and situations which benefit from the inclusion of it.  So what are some “con’s” of plastic foundation and not practical or ideal use situations?

Some colonies just resist drawing out plastic foundation.  Some ways to make it more appealing to bees that I know of are to heavily wax by rubbing it or applying melted beeswax onto it.  Spraying a sugar syrup on it has been effective in some cases to induce drawing out comb, but not always.

Sometimes bees will make a tremendous mess of things by drawing out wax perpendicular to the face of the frame resulting in cross-combing and difficulty in pulling frames during inspections.

There are those who say that it just isn’t “natural” for plastic foundation to be in hives.  One could argue that being in hives with removable frames isn’t natural either.  Also, bees will draw out comb from a number of parallel surfaces from other combs regardless of what is made from.  After doing countless cutouts, I have seen comb drawn on glass, wood, plastic, and metal.  Bees don’t care, as long as they have someplace to build comb.

Most plastic foundation is embossed with entirely one cell size.  There are various cell size foundation sheets that can be ordered now.  “Small cell” which is the size bees “naturally” produce under otherwise un-influenced situations, regular or common cell size which runs slightly larger and drone cell size is available as well.

Many natural beekeepers argue that bees will draw out multiple sized cells on each comb to meet various colony needs.  This is correct.  With some planning and manipulation, using at least two sizes of cells on plastic foundation can be workable.

Keep in mind, I am not necessarily arguing for or against the inclusion and use of plastic foundation in beekeeping.  I simply want to help make the decision about it’s inclusion as informed as possible.

Do I use plastic foundation as a self described “organic” beekeeper?  In some situations, yes.  Mostly to get cut outs and swarms started as soon as possible.  Occasionally to get combs started straight.  If they have good comb I can transfer of already have straight comb drawn out, then I won’t bother with foundation.  I see it as a facilitation, not a replacement or default setting.

As long as the effort is made to keep the plastic cleaned every so often to have clean wax drawn on it, it is a good tool.  Personally, I wouldn’t rely on it for every frame in every hive.  Then again, my beekeeping goals and objectives are somewhat different than the conventional beekeeper.

Bee Tech: Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

As a professional bee tech, part of my job is to bee prepared to do the job.  Whether the job is coaching a beekeeper working their hives, leading an applied beekeeping skills worker or do a live bee rescue, having the appropriate PPE on hand is important.

When we’re talking about beekeeping PPE, that includes hats, veils, jackets, gloves, eye protection, cuff straps, etc…

The primary reason to wear gear is to keep yourself calm, in control and not distracted.  The more you are able to be those things, the better you will do at keeping bees calm and perform higher quality work.

I hate to wear gear.  It makes me hot and uncomfortable.  If I find that I don’t need it, the situation doesn’t call for it, I will keep it handy but not put it on.  As it is, because I do wear it so often, I have a ventilated jacket.

Having said that, if I even suspect that there might be a call for wearing gear, I suck it up and wear the gear.  Personal comfort is important, but not at the risk of getting yourself or others hurt or bees distressed.

If nothing else anymore I almost always wear a hat and evil.  The bees seem to hate my hair.  They fly by, get tangled and sting my head.  Not fun.  So, at least that much.

Wearing cuff straps over shirt/ jacket sleeves and pants legs can be invaluable to keep bees from marching into clothing while working bees before sunrise or after sunset.  If you have no cuff straps, tucking cuffs into boots and gloves can work also

Eye protection.  This may seem redundant when wearing a veil.  However, especially when working a cut-out, debris can blow through the screen of the veil and get into your eyes.  Not a good scenario when your full attention is necessary.

Beyond the safety reasons, especially when being a professional beekeeper or technician, people have expectations as to what a “professional” they are paying (sometimes a lot of money) should look like.  As it is beekeeping related, they expect to see the hat\veil and at least a jacket.

Personally, I beelieve that making a professional appearance is important to encouraging people to take live bee removal services as a viable alternative to extermination.

Keep in mind though that most of my clients are property management companies and private business properties such as camping venues, etc… whose business insurance requirements necessitate they contract with a professional service.

You know the old saying about dressing for the job you want.  They want a professional beekeeper.  They expect to see one that they can recognize as such.

The PPE you have and use is just as valuable to you as any smoker, hive tool or hive equipment.  It can mean the difference between a positive beekeeping experience and an unsuccessful, frustrating beekeeping experience.


IPM Controls – Exclusion

As a professional “bee tech”  I am big on including Integrated Pest Management controls both in my beekeeping as well as in my bed removals.

One of the most effective and cost efficient strategies is exclusion.  That is, to prevent pest entry into the “protected” space we are working with.  There are several tactics we can implement to establish and maintain a preventative, exclusionary strategy

There are a variety of controls that are available to implement according to the different categories.

  1. Regulatory
    1. set rules about conduct and handling tools and equipment to prevent cross-contamination and spread of pests, diseases, environmental issues, etc…
  2. Environmental
    1. Introduce specific parasitic and predatory animals that control populations of pests that threaten bee hive’s.
      1. Bat houses.  Bats eat moths such as greater wax moths.
      2. Parasitic wasps.  Certain wasps can be introduced to kill pests such as Small Hive Beetle larvae that pupate in the ground around hives.
  3. Mechanical
    1. Screen mesh can block entrances yet allow ventilation.  Especially useful in preventing robbing during dearth and having to close hive entrances during transportation and seclusion during nearby pesticide applications.
  4. Chemical
    1. “Soft” chemical applications such as cedar oil in and around the hives can help as a repellent to hive pests and resist environmental conditions such as mold, mildew, etc…

These are just a few potential exclusionary tactics that can bee implemented to prevent and reduce pest populations in and around hives.  They can be implemented independently or in conjunction with others.

By working to exclude pest presence, we can reduce and perhaps eliminate the need for stronger and preventable control tactics down the line.

I hate the word treatment in beekeeping

People are getting all in a kerfuffle again about “treatment” or “no-treatment” beekeeping.

By “treatment” the general reference is to applying some type of chemical control inside a bee hive.  However, that word is also used synonamously with “manipulation” or introducing changes in a variety of ways to a bee hive.

First off, do I beelieve in implementing chemical controls into a bee hive?  The short answer is that yes, I do see a possible case scenario for introducing a chemical control into a bee hive.

The long answer is that I see a spectrum of a myriad of possibilities that don’t easily fit into a dichotomy.  It’s more like following an “if-then” flow chart the way I approach it.

In regard to use of toxic chemical pesticides being used as a control tactic….  It’s not likely for me.  I see those as a last ditch, worst case scenario that “might” be usable on a case by case approach.

I am just as likely to terminate a colony in such a situation as try to implement a toxic chemical control.  It depends on a variety of things that affect that particular hive and the apiary and environment that it’s in.

I have total and utter disregard for those who insist on making “treatment” or “no-treatment” a simple and absolute false dichotomy.

I prefer, as I think most do, to have colonies that do not need to have certain types of control tactics introduced such as toxic chemical pesticides.  I implement IPM in my overall beekeeping and apiary planning from the beginning.

I try to have the best understanding of natural bee biology and behavior so as to let the colonies tell me when they need help and then only give the help they need, nothing more, nothing less.

Playing political games of unnecessary absolutes is a waste of thinking people’s time, efforts and resources.

That’s just how this apiarist sees it.