Bee Informed

Falher artist creates innovative works with beeswax

Tom Henihan Spotlight As artist and teacher, Chantal Nicolet lives in Falher, a town that identifies itself as the honey capital of Canada it seem inevitable that she would eventually come to creating works in beeswax. Nicolet, who began working inmedium last spring, says she just decided on her own without exposure to other encaustic…

Source: Falher artist creates innovative works with beeswax

Thieves steal hundreds of beehives primed to pollinate Central Valley almonds

Montana beekeeper Lloyd Cunniff shipped his 488 hives of bees in fresh, new pallets to Northern California in late December, hoping to pollinate acres of almond trees in the Central Valley.

Source: Thieves steal hundreds of beehives primed to pollinate Central Valley almonds

Bee Smart Bee Painting Event Paintings

As promised, there are photos here of the paintings that were made on Saturday January 14th during the Bee Creative event we held at Cheers Paint & Sip studio.

We love all the paintings and we love that people came out to have some fun in the name of bees.  Beelieve it or not, only two of the people in the group are beekeepers themselves.  The others are either indirectly involved or not at all which made things even more fun.

The event was dedicated to the Rusty Patched Bumblebee as it had just been added to the Endangered Species List on January 10th.  It was fitting that the painting was of a bumblebee.

Without further ado, I present to you the very encouraging work of our Apicultural Artists.

Swarming And Varroa Infestation

In an interview on a German podcast about a year ago, Dr.Tom Seeley made some interesting points during the interview that I, as a self-proclaimed “Organic” beekeeper find very interesting and supporting of some of the points I often make in my own presentations and classes.

This isn’t to say that Dr. Seeley is an Organic beekeeper or that he claims to be, but from a research point of view he has made certain observations which to my mind, certainly seem to support some Organic beekeeping ideas.

One of the points Organic beekeepers make is that when at all possible, we want to mimic or emulate successful practices and behaviors of honey bee colonies that are feral or wild as opposed to doing things that might work contrary to “bee nature”.

Honey bee swarm in a tree. Image by Tony Sandoval

In this particular discussion, Dr. Seeley makes the point that swarming in a honey bee colony can actually have a positive effect on reducing Varroa mite populations in the nest.  This is accomplished primarily due to the exit of the large number of adult bees during the Primary swarm.  It is further impacted by the consequent lack of eggs being laid and there being a period of being brood-less in the hive in between the exit of the prior mature Queen and the beginning of the new mature queen beginning to lay eggs.

All in all, Dr. Seeley says that when a colony is allowed to swarm naturally, approximately 60 to 70% of all the adult bees in the hive depart with the prime swarm.  That number is a result of the facts that about 50% of mites are phoretic, meaning that they are parasitize adult bees instead of being in cells parasitizing larvae and capped pupae.  Of all those approximately 35% of all mites are removed from the nest because of the departing swarm.

File:Varroa destructor on the head of an emerging bee (5048710240).jpg
Varroa destructor on the head of an emerging bee By Gilles San Martin from Namur, Belgium [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
There can be a further reduction in mite population after a prime swarm departure due to the exit of after swarms, grooming behavior of remaining bees and lack of bees to parasitize due to not enough bees remaining to sustain a population of mites.

In terms of Organic hive management, this supports the practice of preferring to do splits in the Spring and Fall to reduce mite populations as opposed to using chemical treatments be they toxic or non-toxic chemicals.

Another interesting comment he made was that the practice of beekeeping by humans is contrary to the natural evolution of honey bee colonies which have evolved to excel in two areas due to Natural Selection.  Those two things being survival and reproduction which obviously go hand in hand.Beekeeping by people, by and large according to Dr. Seeley actively works to inhibit reproduction and suppress swarming.

Beekeepers tend to try to control reproduction and inhibit it by controlling drone populations (one of the common methods of controlling Varroa) and by inserting already fertilized, inseminated queens.  In regards to suppressing swarming, it is a common practice among beekeepers to manipulate hive boxes, especially in the Spring, to try to minimize or eliminate the chances of colonies swarming out so as to keep the hive population large for obtaining a larger honey harvest over the season.

Suppressing swarming is also a method used by many beekeepers as a way to try to keep larger populations inside the hives, thereby keeping more bees present to “work” the nest and keep pest populations down through the bees own nest behaviors.

It’s certainly some interesting information from a very well-respected and trusted bee researcher.  Even if one doesn’t consider themselves an Organic beekeeper, the knowing how swarms affect Varroa populations in the hive can certainly bee good to know about.

Listen to the “Radio Milkwood”podcast for more of the roughly 12 minute interview with Dr. Tom Seeley.

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Pitching in: Biologists study development of division of labor among bees

“This variation of the reproductive ground plan hypothesis suggests division of labor – the ways social bees cooperate to complete all tasks necessary to keep the colony running – evolved from ancestral gene networks that function to align a female’s dietary preferences with the nutrients she needs during different phases of her reproductive cycle,” says Kapheim,

Source: Pitching in: Biologists study development of division of labor among bees

We Bee Painting

We had a great time doing bee themed paintings at the event this past Saturday at Cheers Paint and Sip in Omaha, NE.  The painting was of a bumblebee in a field of flowers (for most of us, others got uber-creative) which we dedicated to the Rusty Patched Bumblebees which were recently placed on the Endangered Species list.

Here is a photo of our participants and their excellent works of art.  One of their paintings will grace the header photo of this website for the month of February.  The video and results post will be out soon so you can see all the creative fun that was had in the name of bees.

Image by Heather Bell of Cheers Paint & Sip

Pro Tips According To W.Z. Hutchinson

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”.

W.Z. Hutchinson with grandchildren
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.

Moving hives to better pastures.
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”.

Click on image for PDF


Opportunities Abound

The beekeeping community is a great and open community.  As a Linux “nut” and a DIY guy, I am able to make many comparisons between beekeepers, Do-It-Yourselfers and open source software people.  There is a great general approach to sharing information and making resources available among members of the communities.

At the same time, There are people within the communities who spend vast amounts of time, energy, resources to create and provide materials and support for others who earn any and every penny they can from those they support.

In order to make a living in the beekeeping field, much as in the other areas, there are a couple of ways that it can be done reasonably.

Firstly, A resource/support provider can charge a rate for “direct” support and service.  This falls into the “let me do that for you” category.  While many beekeepers seeking assistance and resources from the beekeeping community in general love to connect with each other to teach and learn, it’s something else entirely to expect someone to take time out to come and do something for someone else.

In the DIY, open-source and beekeeping communities, there are some people who voluntarily become a mentor to others without charging a fee.  Just out of the kindness of their heart and their willingness to help others. A great character trait to be sure and wonderful to find when a person could use a hand.  However, volunteer mentors are exactly that, volunteers.  They usually have a “day job” to pay their bills and they have family and friends they do things with so their time and opportunity to mentor others is limited to what opportunity and time they have left-over from the job and family.  I think everyone can appreciate and respect that.

Someone making a living from their beekeeping efforts is doing so almost always as a self employed person.  The way they pay their bills, take care of their families, etc.. is by making valuable services and resources available at the convenience of the client.  They work on the client’s schedule, coming out to do a particular service for that client at the client’s convenience instead of making the person wait until and if some free time comes up for a volunteer mentor to become available.

In other situations, people live in areas where there are few or no volunteer resources, no mentors available but they still need help to come to them when on their schedule.  the professional apiarist (beekeeper for hire) is able to accommodate those remote clients, providing them the services and resources they need, when they need it.

The second way someone can work as a professional apiarist and make a living (or try to) in their beekeeping is to offer and make available various types of resources and opportunities on an ongoing basis then asking for either donations, small fees to access or in some cases, pull together a group of supporters or patrons who appreciate all the work and effort the pro apiarist is doing and make regular contributions to support that work and help keep it going.

Some pro apiarists do one way, some the other other, some blend the two together.  No matter how they arrange it, it’s no “easy” career path.  It’s a case of following a passion and taking what you can make of it.  No one gets “rich” in terms of money from this though their levels of personal satisfaction and self fulfillment are through the roof.

There those folks in all of those communities, DIY, Open Source and beekeeping, who seem to think they are “owed” help and support for free all the time.  But by and large, most people “get it” and when they really need that experienced caching or just need to step away and let someone with the knowledge and experience to do it right get it done, they go with the paid pro apiarist without hesitation.

No matter what, the beekeeping community just like the DIY and Open Source/Linux communities are filled with endless opportunities to grow one’s knowledge and skills at their activity of choice.  Take what you can, give back when you can and for some, take the next step and become the next creator who makes whole new resources and opportunities available.  There is plenty of room in all those communities for the hobbyist and the pro alike.  The point is, whether you approach it as a hobbyist or a Pro, you are in the game loving every minute of it.

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