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Ten Commandments of Beekeeping

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I'm not sure who wrote these, or I would credit them. But they are so full of outright opinions and in many cases opinions that I disagree with, that I just had to respond

I.

"Thou shalt use only standard beekeeping equipment. The Langstroth hive is the best arrangement of hive body and frames that we have today. It permits unprecedented access to the bees and their brood, and allows for complete interchangeability of parts. The modern hive respects bee space and permits regular monitoring of the colony for diseases and parasites..."

This could be interpreted many ways, including that you should only use ten frame deeps for brood etc. There is really nothing non-standard about eight frame mediums. And if you intend to make all your own equipment and keep your bees only in that equipment there are many alternatives that are not that bad and some that are much cheaper and easier to work with, such as top bar hives which eliminate the need to lift boxes. A wonderful thing if you have a bad back.

"Traditional straw skeps, log gums, and clay pots are not permitted by law because they do not allow this access."

True, but top bar hives, DE hives, BS hives, WBC hives and many others do have movable combs and do meet the legal requirements and some are in common usage all over the world.

II.

"Thou shalt be considerate of non-beekeeping neighbors. Be careful where you place your hives. Though it is legal to keep bees in town in most areas, consideration of your neighbors who might have small children, who are afraid of bees, or who are allergic to bees stings is paramount to successful and enjoyable beekeeping..."

Certainly a good plan.

"...Caution your neighbors if you plan to put a hive in your backyard..."

I wouldn't. Most people imagine that they will be overwhelmed with bees. If you don't "caution" them and they notice the hives about a year or so later they will already (if they think about it) know that their fears have not come to pass.

"...and avoid putting the hive in a place where bee flight paths cross sidewalks and play areas. Provide water for your bees so they don’t bother others. Free honey can help sweeten an uncertain situation."

Of course.

III.

"Thou shalt requeen regularly. Requeening regularly can go a long way toward maintaining productive colonies. Requeening can maximize both brood and honey production, and is helpful in suppressing swarming and certain diseases..."

An awful lot of the Fathers of modern beekeeping would disagree. Most of my queens are two or three years old and some are four years old and doing well and (gasp) have not swarmed. Brother Adam believed a queen does her best work in her second year.

"...It is generally considered best to requeen with stock produced by commercial suppliers of bees as queens produced by your own colonies will rarely result in superior breeding."

Completely untrue. If you keep bees without chemicals and if you pay attention to what you are doing there is no reason you can't raise queens that are FAR superior to those sold by commercial queen breeders. A typical queen from a queen breeder today gets superseded three times a year. So in a short time you'll have your own queen anyway. Why not save the $20 and get a better one to start with.

IV.

"Thou shalt control diseases and parasites. Every beekeeper should get to know his bees and the diseases and parasites that can affect them. Certain bee diseases such as foulbrood can be spread easily from colony to colony which can have disastrous effects. Get to know the signs of the more common bee diseases: American and European foulbrood, chalkbrood, sacbrood, and Nosema. Be aware of the debilitating effects of parasites such as Varroa and tracheal mites..."

Certainly you should be aware of them and even know how to quantify the problems, but you WILL have them no matter what you do. "Controlling" them usually just results in weak bees that can't withstand them and further problems from contamination of the combs.

"...Get to know your medications (Terramycin, Fumadil B, Apistan) and be aware of how one can use grease patties and menthol. Apply these medications according to instructions so that you won’t kill bees, produce resistant diseases and pests, or contaminate honey intended for human consumption."

Yes, you should get to know them well enough to know why you shouldn't use them.

V.

"Thou shalt maximize colony populations before the main nectar flows. It can be an expensive mistake to build up the size of your bee colony on the main nectar flows rather than for the main nectar flows. Requeening, disease control, and feeding sugar syrup and pollen substitute can help achieve this objective..."

Many of the Fathers of modern beekeeping did not believe that any of these things would help with that objective. Most of them did not find that feeding syrup was helpful at all if you made sure they had adequate stores left over from last fall. Many did not requeen regularly and pollen substitute has been PROVEN to make short lived bees that are susceptible to disease. Only 100% pollen is adequate nutrition for rearing brood.

"...Control swarming by keeping young queens, reversing hive bodies during the spring, and supering appropriately..."

Again, I can list many great beekeepers who do not believe in ANY of these manipulations, other than supering, of course.

"...Don’t tolerate marginal colonies. Requeen, medicate, and supply frames of brood to weak colonies, or merge them with other colonies. Remember, one large colony will produce more than twice as much as two half the size."

Probably good advice, but sometimes those "marginal" colonies take right off once they get the chance. Sometimes they just haven't reached "critical mass". If you came into spring with only a few bees it sometimes takes a bit of time to turn things around.

VI.

"Thou shalt super colonies according to their needs. Provide plenty of space for bees to store their nectar before the nectar flows start. This will help control swarming, and encourage foraging..."

Certainly it will contribute to swarm control, but it will not stop swarming to put supers on . You need other techniques. And giving them “plenty of space” when they are still weak and the nights still cold, will be a disadvantage to them.

"...Remove the supers in late summer so that the bees will be encouraged to pack the brood nest heavily with honey for winter."

Or they will be so packed in that they will swarm…

VII.

"Thou shalt take pride in honey and other hive products. Keep your honey-handling equipment clean..."

Certainly.

"...and strain your extracted honey to remove particulate debris..."

Strain, yes, filter, that depends on your customers. Mine want raw, unfiltered honey.

"...Use standard honey jars, and resist the urge to sell or give away your honey in used canning or mayonnaise jars -- such packing looks cheap and unprofessional, and can impact negatively how the consumer thinks about honey..."

Again, your market will drive what works for jars. Some people feel it's "homemade" if it's in a canning jar. Some feel it's "crude" if it's in a canning jar. Mostly my customers love it in canning jars.

"...Use an appealing label, and never let your jars get sticky. Market your product with pride, confidence, and creativity."

Of course.

VIII.

"Thou shalt protect thy beekeeping equipment. Beekeeping equipment can last for years if properly prepared and cared for. Consider using wood preservatives, pilot holes for nails, and a good paint job. Keep your hives off the ground where they can be subject to rotting, and fall victim to pests such as carpenter ants and termites..."

While I'm sure it wise to keep them off the ground, I can list several of the beekeeping greats who believed it wasn't worth painting them. That would include C.C. Miller and Richard Taylor and G.M. Doolittle. I don't want preservatives like cuprinol in my hives. I can do without paint. I do like them dipped and boiled in wax and rosin.

"...Protect your stored combs from the wax moth by using paradichlorobenzene..."

In my opinion this is a horrible idea. I don't want a known carcinogen in my combs and can't comprehend why anyone else would want that in their honey.

"...Store your beekeeping supplies under clean conditions."

If you can.

IX.

"Thou shalt help thy bees through winter..."

I'm not sure what “help thy bees through winter” means, but of course you should make sure you didn't steal too much of their food, and they are ready to keep out the mice and not get stuck on the wrong side of the queen excluder etc..

"...Treat colonies in the fall for foulbrood..."

Never.

"...Nosema..."

Never.

"...and mites..."

Only if the numbers are too high and then I’d plan to requeen those as soon as you can.

"...Make certain that you use two brood chambers for wintering, and that the bees enter winter with a full honey supply..."

Certainly. But with eight frame mediums that would be about three or four boxes. And if you live in the deep South two deeps might be overkill.

"...Reduce hive entrances for the winter, and provide an upper entrance to provide an alternative access and as a means for assisting with the discharge of excess water vapor..."

Or eliminate the bottom entrance all together. But make sure you keep the mice out by either eliminating the bottom entrance or by using a mouse guard.

"...Pack your hives if you anticipate a harsh winter..."

Not me.

"...and always protect them from the wind..."

If you can do so easily, sure.

"...Check your colonies for food supplies in midwinter by hefting the hive. If the bees are running short of supplies, be certain to feed them sugar syrup..."

Why feed syrup in the middle of winter? They won't take it when it's cold so what is the point? I think the person who came up with this one lives in the South. Dry sugar is a better bet in the middle of winter unless you live somewhere that it stays above 50° F (10° C) for several day stretches during the winter.

"...If brood rearing is beginning to take place to a significant degree before pollen is available in the spring, provide your colonies with pollen substitutes..."

Never. Pollen yes, Substitutes? Never.

X.

"Thou shalt join and participate in a beekeeping association. Beekeeping organizations can be exceedingly helpful in your efforts as a novice beekeeper..."

A good idea, but they will often mislead a novice as well.

"...They are often filled with knowledgeable and experienced persons who are most willing to answer questions and lend a helping hand. These organizations frequently have, as a benefit of membership, association rates for publications such as the American Bee Journal, Bee Culture, and The Speedy Bee. Most such organizations also publish newsletters such as the Heart of Illinois Beekeeper and the ISBA Newsletter. Most importantly, beekeeping associations help defend the interests of beekeeping and beekeepers. They deserve your support."

Certainly.

The biggest problem I have is that this is 90% opinion. Very little of it is beyond controversy. Hardly the material that I would list as "Ten Commandments of Beekeeping"

Maybe I should try my own equally prejudiced version of ten beekeeping commandments:

I.

Thou shalt listen to the bees. Don't fight them. Work with them. Help them. Let them succeed. Fighting them includes such things as tearing down queen cells, restricting the number of drones or the amount of drone comb, scrapping off burr and propolis unless it's directly in your way, trying to stop a supersedure etc.

II.

Thou shalt not put artificial foundation in the hive. It will come from contaminated wax, it will be a size other than what the bees wish to build and it will otherwise interfere with the bee's plan and intentions in many ways. You will need some kind of comb guide on the frames to get the combs in the frames.

III.

Thou shalt not buy queens from places with a climate different than yours nor from a place likely to have Africanized genes unless you already live in such a place. The preferred queens for your climate should be from bees surviving in your climate. The feral drones are your best source for stock that can survive. Remember, dead bees don't make honey. For the best quality queens, always raise your own queens.

IV.

Thou shalt not put anything in a hive (with or without bees in it) that would not naturally occur there. That would include such things as Varroa treatments, Tracheal mite treatments, antibiotics, Paradichlorobenzene etc.

V.

Thou shalt not propagate physically weak bees by feeding inferior substitutes for honey and pollen nor genetically weak bees by propping up genetics that can't survive on their own with treatments.

VI.

Thou shalt not use boxes that one cannot lift when they are full of honey. Heavy boxes are the number one health problem for beekeepers and the main cause of them having to give up beekeeping. Eight frame mediums are the most likely candidate to meet this requirement.

VII.

Thou shalt not use more than one size frame in your operation. More than one size is too restricting when managing hives.

VIII.

Thou shalt not use an excluder to keep the queen out of the super. It will only decrease your crop and contribute to swarming. It takes an expert beekeeper to manage an excluder.

IX.

Thou shalt not have a bottom entrance. It will only contribute to mice, skunk, opossum, grass and snow problems. A top entrance only will solve all of these.

X.

Thou shalt not heat nor finely filter honey. It sacrilege to ruin the product of the bees by such things

And I'm sure I could come up with many more…

Michael Bush

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Copyright 2008 by Michael Bush

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