The Book Everyone Who Loves Bees Should Have

I have been working with bees professionally for about 8 years now.  I am involved in education, conservation, training and “infotainment” all having to do with keeping bees healthy and thriving.

I talk to countless numbers of people who tell me they love bees and want to help bees but don’t want to be a beekeeper, what can they do?

You can do any one or all of these three things but if you’re only absolutely only going to do one of them, do the one that helps bees directly first.

The three things?

Buy local honey from local beekeepers.  That honey money is often the only thing that allows them to keep at what they do.  You’re not just getting awesome honey, you are helping beekeepers keep bees alive and healthy.

Become a Patreon patron of my Bee Smart beekeeping project at my Patreon page” p.  You are getting beehind the scenes access to information and activities while helping ensure that we can rescue local bees instead of them being exterminated. You are helping to make sure I can continue to do more and improve on the podcasts, videos and live presentations about bees, beekeeping and bee conservation.

Buy the book, “The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees” by Joseph Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril.  Read it.  Use it.

This book does much more than just show you multiple types of bees and how to identify them.  It shows you how to make your yard an attractive habitat and a safe place for bees.

 If you only do one of these things, BUY THIS BOOK!

Then do the other two things anyway.

Building Bee Approved Bait Hives

According to certain notable bee researchers and authors, there IS a way to build bait hives that are more likely to be a preferred destination for wayward honey bee swarms.

In a co-authored Cornell Extension publication (#187), “Bait Hives for Honey Bees” back in 1989, ROger Morse, Tom Seeley and Richard Nowogrodzki gave us some valuable tips to capturing those wayward swarms in ait hives to put them into our own apiaries.

The twelve recommendations to build a better bee bait hive are:

  1. Height: about 15 feet (5 meters) above the ground.

  2. Shade and Visibility: well-shaded, but ighly visible.  Bees avoid or abandon bait hives in direct sun.

  3. Distance from parent nest: not important.

  4. Total entrance area: about 1.5 to 2 sq inches (10 to 15 cm²); a circular opening about 1 ¼ inch (3.2 cm) in diameter is suggested.

  5. Entrance shape: Not important

  6. Entrance position: near the floor of the hive.

  7. Entrance direction: facing south preferred, but other directions are acceptable.

  8. Cavity volume: about 1.4 cubic feet (40 liters) This is about the volume of one standard ten-frame Langstroth hive body.

  9. Cavity shape: not important.

  10. Dryness and airtightness: dry and snug, especially at the top.

  11. Type of wood: Various types acceptable; many types of trees have been occupied. Bees may avoid new lumber.

  12. Odor: the odor of beeswax is attractive. However, putting in pieces of comb is not advisable, as comb aso attracts wax moths and can harbordisease organisms.  If a hive body is used as a bait hve, agood solution is to insert a few wired fames, each containing a strip of foundation. Commercially available chemical lures that smell like lemon grass and apparently miic the scouts’ communication scents work well and can be used in bait hives of any shape.

The First Step To Rescuing Local Bees Is

Hi, my name is Tony Sandoval, AKA, “Big Bear” and I run the Bee Smart beekeeping project.  It’s all about bee conservation, beekeeper hands-on experience and increasing public information.

The local bee conservation is a big part of the whole thing.  Can’t train beekeepers or give the public unique learning experiences without bees.

Every year, there are calls made by home owners, property management companies and others to have bees, usually honey bees or bumblebees, gotten rid of.  Only some of those removed actually don’t need to be moved, they’re not in a place to hurt anyone, the people just aren’t wanting to tolerate them.

Still others have chosen inconvenient nest locations that result in unfortunate interactions that might be public safety or health issues. Such as when they move into the wall or roof of a house or building.  They might have chosen a ground nest location where there is a lot of human and animal traffic.

Most of these unfortunate situations are resolved by extermination.  What’s really sad is they don’t have to be exterminated.  They can usually be removed and relocated alive.

Why don’t people choose relocation more often?  Cost is one factor.  It’s actually a pest management issue.  The Bees have moved into a location that puts them at odds with people thus being considered pests.

When most people think of “pest management”  they think of extermination first.  However, pest management is more than extermination.  It’s prevention, it’s relocation, it’s release.  Extermination is usually the last resort if there is no immediate, mortal threat.  Yet it’s usually the first choice by people who don’t want the bees there.

Bee rescue begins with public education and is quickly followed by people choosing live removal instead of extermination.  Bee rescue starts before I get a phone call.  You have to want to keep the bees alive.

In Nebraska, by law, any bee removal from a building, any building, includes complete removal of the nest.  Most pest control companies are great at killing bees but rarely, if ever, remove the nest.  They’re supposed to, but they don’t.  It’s easier to apply a pesticide and let them die where they are.

In a live removal though, the entire nest is removed.  When I do a live removal, not only is the nest removed, the space is treated to prevent attracting new critters and filled to prevent re-inhabitation.  To top it off, I consult the contractor on how to properly seal the repair so it isn’t an entry point again.

Most people have no idea how poorly their houses and buildings are sealed to allow pest entry.  Modern, rushed, construction methods and old, settling buildings have hundreds of entrance points for small things to get in.

I work with contractors and bring apprentice beekeepers to get the bees, remove the nest, leave the nest site better than it was before and take the bees somewhere they can have unharmed and productive lives.

You have to make the decision to call me instead of an exterminator before any of that can happen though.  Which, when you do call me, makes you the hero.  You made the important decision, I’m just carrying it out.

Bee a hero, choose bee conservation instead of extermination.  The bees you save could be pollinators to the local farmer market produce you eat.  They could be the producer of the next jar of honey you buy.  They could be the inspiration and teacher of the next generation of beekeepers.

You can make that possible.  Bee a hero and choose live removal.

You can get a free inspection by calling me at 402-370-8018.  Ask for Tony.  We’ll come to an arrangement where every one wins, the bees, you, and the community that needs them.

 

 

Bee Spotting with the Bee Smart beekeeping project

While most of the attention goes to those honey producing, easily managed primary crop pollinators the honey bees, there is a growing awareness of the wide diversity of native bees in North America.  Those under appreciated eusocial and solitary bees that are fantastic and often crop specific pollinators such as bumblebees, mason bees, squash bees, headquarters and many, many more.

Now the Bee Smart beekeeping project is setting up a new adventure called “Bee Smart Bee Spotters”.  The goal I’d to teach people how to identify these incredible native bees, know more about their habitat and share the experience of seeing them work their fuzzy, winged magic.

The best part is that becoming a Bee Smart Bee Spotter is no cost to you.  All you need is some time, an adventurous spirit, a phone or other digital camera and a member account on the Bee Smart beekeeping project website forums page.

Then, you’re a bee spotter.  What Bee Spotters do is upload their own pictures of local bees and provide information about the photo of the Bee.  Where was it taken, what kind of Bee is it.  When was it seen, what season, etc…

Even if you don’t know what type of bee it is, you can post it in the “ID The Bee” sub-forum and we can help you figure out what kind of Bee you spotted.

Do you want to know more about how to identify native bees and their habitat?  There will be classes offered at MCC and Lauritzen Gardens to help you do that starting this Summer.

It’s like bird watching, but more exciting!  Bee Spotting is for any one, any age, whether you are a beekeeper or not.

Come on over and sign up on the Bee Smart beekeeping project website Forums page today and help us build the Bee Smart Bee Spotters community.

Why My Bee Smart Classes Are Full of Awesome

I teach a number of beekeeping classes through Metro Community College here in Omaha, NE.  I try to get it so the basic classes start over every quater, that way, if you missed the opportunity to take one during one quarter, you can take it the next quarter.

I teach beekeeping classes to provide in depth information about various topics.  Each class is three hours of presentation of information, discussion and Q&A to gt the most out of each topic area.  Taking classes should be more than having a bunch of information shoved at you.  It should give you the opportunity to make the information relevant specifically to you and your needs.  That’s why I make sure to include plenty of opportunities for participants to ask questions that matter to what they have in mind.

I make sure that every participant gets a printed copy of the class booklet that I wrote to accompany each particular subject.  This way, participants don’t have to worry about taking copious notes of everything and can focus on discussion, Q&A, and making notes of specific info from the discussion and Q&A as it helps them be most effective.

I also make sure that each participant gets a crossword puzzle that created specifically from terms and ideas in the class it was made for.  This helps participants to reinforce the terminology and concepts that were discussed but hopefully in a way that is little more interesting and fun than by rote memorization.  Having even a little more fun helps to remember things than being bored to tears and forgetting most of it.

I want to help new and current beekeepers expand their capacity to be successful.  To  build their knowledge base and to understand just a little better these crazy insects we have fallen in love with.  The better informed we can be about our bees and our craft, the greater potential to be successful and enjoy doing it.  That’s what it’s all about.

Bees at beekeeping classes

So I have verification that beginning this April I am teaching basic level beekeeping classes at Metro Community College this Spring again.  There’s a full line up of in depth classes that include plenty of opportunity for questions and discussion in each one.

We’ll hold the classes at the new MCC location on North 30th St just somewhat North of Cummings St. If I recall hearing correctly.  I’ll post the specific address when I post the actual class line up in the near future.

While I liked the location at DoSpace, this location will allow me to bring a live observation hive to each class for up close inspection and demonstration of each topic as we’re discussing it.  I wasn’t able to bring the live bees into the building when the classes were at DoSpace due to building management concerns.

So, beekeeping classes, check.  Live bees at classes, check.  Wide variety of topics covered related to apicultural success, check.

I am looking forward to providing information and camaraderie to fellow bee people this coming Spring.  Hope to see you there.

Let’s Talk About Torpor In Honeybees

What is torpor in general?

Torpor, is generally scientifically defined as follows;

Torpor, a state of lowered body temperature and metabolic activity assumed by many animals in response to adverse environmental conditions, especially cold and heat. The torpid state may last overnight, as in temperate-zone hummingbirds and some insects and reptiles; or it may last for months, in the case of true hibernation and the winter torpor of many cold-blooded vertebrates.

"Torpor". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2018. Web. 05 Jan. 2018
<https://www.britannica.com/science/torpor>

Basically “torpor” is a physical response to changes in temperature in a number of animals.

We’ve talked about torpor before in a previous article but not quite in as much detail.  Here I’d like to get a bit more specific.

What is torpor in regards to honeybees?

Torpor is not effected identically across the board between mammals, lizards, birds and insects  Unfortunately, all too many times, people will try to apply the understanding of torpor to honey bees as it applies to mammals.  That is to our disadvantage.

In regard to bees, torpor is a point in which the temperature has the effect of causing bees to be unable to sustain an inner temperature that allows bees to stay mobile and active.

I’d like to quote directly from the well respected book, “Honey Bee Democracy” by Dr. Tom Seeley in the description of bee swarm/cluster temperature regulation.  He cites Dr. Bernd Heinrich research in about 1980.

Heinrich discovered many marvelous things about temperature regulation in honeybee swarms, all of which are key to understanding how a swarm prepares to fly to its new home. First, he found that a swarm does indeed precisely control the temperature of the cluster’s core so that it stays at 34– 36 ° C (93– 97 ° F) regardless of the ambient temperature. He also found that a swarm allows the temperature of the cluster’s mantle (outer layer) to vary with the ambient temperature, but that it keeps the mantle temperature above 17 ° C (63 ° F) even if the ambient temperature falls to freezing (0 ° C or 32 ° F). This means that the outermost bees, which are the coolest, keep themselves warm enough to stay active on the swarm. If they were to cool below 15 ° C (59 ° F) they would enter “chill torpor” and easily fall from the swarm. They would also be too cold to warm themselves back up by shivering.

Seeley, Thomas D.. Honeybee Democracy (Kindle Locations 2025-2032). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

I highlighted some pertinent information as to the effect of torpor on honey bees above on the effect of torpor on bees in a cluster.

Bees resist Torpor

In effect, torpor is something honey bee colonies actively work to prevent.  Bees in the cluster work to generate heat that warms not only themselves but is trapped within the cluster by the outermost layer of bees (the “mantle”.  Those bees in the mantle don’t just take it as a given that being exposed to the cold, they must enter torpor.  They will work to retain their own effective body temperature and move to the inside of the cluster to preserve that temperature if possible.  Honey bees actively resist torpor.

…when the ambient temperature falls below 17 ° C, and the mantle bees start to feel too cool, they crowd inward, causing the swarm cluster to shrink, its porosity to decrease, and its heat loss to diminish (figs. 7.2 and 7.3). In this way the mantle bees skillfully trap inside the swarm cluster the metabolic heat generated by the thousands of resting, immobile bees, and they also keep themselves sufficiently warm. It is only when the air temperature falls below about 10 ° C (50 ° F) that the mantle bees must take the extra step of raising their metabolic rate by shivering.

Seeley, Thomas D.. Honeybee Democracy (Kindle Locations 2037-2041). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Honey bees have figured out how to maintain over the Winter

 

Thus Heinrich discovered that the bees in a honeybee swarm have an effective means of conserving their energy reserves. The mantle bees, those most exposed to low temperatures, minimize their need for active metabolism by doing two things when the air becomes cool: (1) letting their body temperatures drop to just above the chill-torpor temperature rather than working to maintain a higher body temperature, and (2) keeping their body temperatures above the chill-torpor temperature mainly by huddling rather than shivering. Of course, these energy conservation measures mean that most of the time the outermost bees in a swarm are too cold to fly, something that is easily demonstrated by skimming a spoonful of mantle bees from a swarm and shaking them into the air. The bees tumble to the ground rather than fly away. So before a swarm can take off to fly to its new home, the cool bees in the mantle must warm their flight muscles to the flight-ready temperature of 35 ° C. And not just in theory! When Heinrich made continuous recordings of the temperatures at various locations in a swarm cluster from when the bees settled to when they departed, he found that during the last hour or so before takeoff, the temperature in the mantle did indeed rise to match the 35 ° C of the core.

Seeley, Thomas D.. Honeybee Democracy (Kindle Locations 2045-2050). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Again, I’ve highlighted pertinent text that affirms that honey bees avoid or resist torpor because for honey bees, it does not have the same effect as it does in mammals.  Topor in mammals is beneficial to their survival for short term temperature changes in conserving heat and energy.  For mammals. It’s a short term solution whereas hibernation is for long term survival in extreme changes of temperature.

Not so for bees.  For bees, torpor is a state that can lead to death due to failure to maintain just enough self generated heat.

How is torpor important in honey bee colony management?

For many apiculturists, Winter is a nervous time.  We try to send bees into Winter with plenty of stores to sustain energy specifically so that they can continue to generate enough heat to prevent torpor.

We also use mechanical, environmental and other methods to make the hive more efficient in heat retention.  By making hives more heat efficient, we allow bees to expend less energy to maintain sustainable temperatures in the cluster.  Conserving energy also helps the colony to retain their food stores for a longer period of time, preventing starvation.

Causes for concern in beekeepers

In recent years, we have seen an increase in concern and interest in methods being used to check the conditions of over-wintering colonies.  Unfortunately in many articles and videos torpor and it’s effect on bee colonies is not accurately explained or understood.  Sometimes it is even suggested to be a normal or “good” thing that bees enter a state of torpor in cold weather.  These misunderstandings have caused colonies to be lost unnecessarily.

  • We can use efficient hives that are insulated naturally, or if necessary, adding extra insulation.
  • Ensure that hives are well ventilated.  Keeping hives dry can’t be overstated.
  • Use effective pest presence restrictors.  Entrance guards or different sized bottom boards perhaps.  When we try to do whatever keeps predators and scavengers from getting into hives. Colonies can be depleted or have their resources consumed before they can access them.

 

Apiculture isn’t “just” beekeeping but a trade with adventure

What’s in a word?

Apiculture and beekeeping.  Two words that are synonymous of each other and yet not exactly the same.  Many words often refer to something similar  yet every word also retains it’s own special definition.  Each word isn’t exactly the same as other synonymous words.

Words have meaning.  Apiculture refers to beekeeping, yet it means something more distinct.  Yes, apiculture and beekeeping both refer to the practice of maintaining honey bee hives.  Yet, while one term, “beekeeping”, is obviously more generic, “apiculture” suggests something more refined.

Apiculture as a trade

I know that I am not the only one who looks upon and goes about my efforts with bees as a hobby or even in a “commercial” approach.  Apiculture as a trade exists in a place somewhere in between the two.

One one hand, it is a specialized, professional endeavor.  A process through which a person has undergone formal and informal education.  Apprenticeship and working with and alongside a person who has made a living with bees and all they provide.

It is, in part, setting goals and objectives for productivity and profitability.  We establish and follow objective measures and a course of action to be planned and followed.

As a trade there are technical issues and aspects we must identify and practice.  We develop a mastery of skills and knowledge and never cease to build upon it.

Apiculture is also a passion

This path also requires a philosophical approach, if not an artistic one.   Apiarists are guided by a sense of design and purpose.  There is purpose from the initial stages of preparing the grounds and putting together hives to selecting the type of bees and the management methods to achieve the goals of the apiary.

As an Apiarist (or Apiculturist) there is a connection we feel not just to the bees but to the apiary and to the work as a whole.  It is in it’s own way a Holistic enterprise.  We are always trying to achieve this balance.  We want to work toward a symmetry of sorts between the immediate environment, the bees and our purpose.

Apiculture is equal parts practicality and ideology

If we bring all the parts together, we get a grand purpose.   It’s both a career and a passion.  For so many, it becomes a part of their essential identity.  It’s a part of who and what we are.  The term, “Labor of love” is heard from apiarists fairly often.

This in no way slights either hobbyists or commercial operators.  The interactions they pursue in those avenues are admirable in their own ways as well.  Still, there is indeed a difference.  There is a difference economically and philosophically.

The Bee Smart beekeeping project

Bee Smart beekeeping project is to provide information and insight for anyone and everyone who wants to know more about bees and beekeeping.  You could say it is an enterprise of apiculture passion.  I want to share with people not just knowledge and information about bees.  It’s also about sharing the experience, the enthusiasm, and the opportunity that bees and beekeeping presents.

Everything posted here is an effort to share all of those things and have fun and keep people interested while doing so.  From the puzzles and article posts to the podcasts and occasional videos.  It’s all about sharing the experience of apiculture.

Let me share with you the world of bees and beekeeping that I and other apiarists I am lucky enough to call my friends can show you.  See you in the forums.

Notorious Beekeepers: Warwick Kerr

You may not know Warwick Kerr by name, but he is the much maligned researcher whose work unfortunately brought us the media scare-fest, the “Killer” Honey bee.

First of all, Warwick Kerr is a Brazilian Entomologist and Geneticist whose work in studying honey bee genetics, particularly genetic sex selection goes back to the early 1950’s.

In fact, in the mid 1950’s he was contracted to try to help Brazilian farmer’s improve pollination seeing as western honey bees weren’t showing the same degree of successful adaptation to the tropical/sub-tropical environment in South America.  What did they opt to do?   Why they brought in a known successful sub-tropical adapted honey bee from Africa to inter-breed with the historically well managed western European honey bees.

Things were actually going well in the research until a day in 1957 when some of the African honey bee Queens being worked with escaped the confinement area and began to occupy and breed with European bees out in the un-managed open areas of Brazil.

African bees, due to their nature and adaptation to a tropical environment, breed rapidly and aggressively to take over other established colonies in a region.  This led to a new mix breed of honey bee we now know as the Africanized Honey bee.

I refer to Dr. Kerr as “notorious” because he has been treated rather poorly in the media and through history being in charge of the experiment gone awry.  The man has since continued to contribute a great amount of research and study to the study of bees and is somewhat a victim of the politicization of science.  He has published well over 600 various research articles on various related topics over the years since then.

Warwick Kerr, due to his bee genetics research and his historic blunder, if you will, of the introduction of the Africanized Honey Bee, is undoubtedly one of the most significant beekeepers of the 20th century.

What’s in a Genus name?

Yes, it’s still honey bee taxonomy week here at the Bee Smart beekeeping project.  Just a cool FYI  for those following along.

Did you know that in the taxonomy of the honey bee the name “Apis” is not the complete name?  That’s right, there’s more to it.

Technically speaking, though we only ever really refer to honey bees as Apis mellifera (Genus Apis, Species mellifera), the full Genus is “Apis Linnaeus”.  Carl Linnaeus is the distinguished gentleman in the picture accompanying this post.

There’s a very cool PDF on updated taxonomy of the honey bee called “The Taxonomy of Recent and Fossil Honey Bees” by  Michael S. Engel, on our Download page that you can download and read, courtesy of KU ScholarWorks

Currently used scientific name was given to honey bee by Linnaeus (also known as: Carl von Linné) in 1758

(Tofilski A. (2012) Honey bee. Available from http://www.honeybee.drawwing.org.)