Our July 1st meeting came chalk-full of practical beekeeping advice from our local experts, as well as some thought-provoking conversations about hive treatment methods and philosophies.
Tour De Hives, PUB’s biggest annual event, was a huge success this year! Thanks to all of the volunteers and hosts who helped make it possible. With this year’s success, we hope to expand next year to be even bigger and better! As such, we are currently looking for volunteers for next year’s planning committee.
Following Glen Andresen’s always popular “What’s In Bloom This Month” Dewey Caron gave his monthly “Do You Have A Plan” presentation. While we were challenging the bees by oversupering last month, this month he encourages us to undersuper with the goal of getting the bees to finish up partially filled honey frames. Dewey also encourages us to continue tracking our mite counts to give context as we move into fall.
PUB supports beekeepers of all methodologies, and this month Bill Catherall gave a presentation on Treatment-Free Beekeeping. He outlined the spectrum of methods, ranging from natural to industrial. He then talked through a number of hive management techniques through the eyes of a treatment-free beekeeper, whose goal is to work with natural selection with the goal of allowing genetically strong bees to prosper while genetically weaker hives die out. Ultimately, he opened up the floor for discussion around a hybrid varroa mite treatment approach proposed by Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, with the Bee Informed Partnership. To read more, check out Bill’s blog post on our website.
On August 29, 2015, Portland Urban Beekeepers hosted the OSBA bee booth at the Oregon State Fair in Salem.
The booth was really nice, with a “Brood Zone” for children to keep busy, an observation hive, a display case with all the honey, wax, and photo entries, and many large photo and informational posters.
Front and center in the booth this year was a new addition: “HIVIDEO” – A display case built to look like a large hive with a video featuring “The Faces of Oregon Beekeepers” running in a loop.
When new backyard hobby beekeepers are seeking out advice and learning how to keep bees, they are often confronted with various models of beekeeping. The 2 main schools of thought are either “natural” or “conventional.” Due to the usual practice of dosing chemicals into a hive, many hobbyists are turned off to the conventional method and instead seek to do things the “natural” way. Unfortunately, the “natural” way also has many sub-partitions. In fact, there’s a huge spectrum of methods and names outside the “conventional” way. Each having a subtle distinction that sets it apart from the others.
“Natural” – Since beekeeping involves putting bees in a man-made box, on the ground, with removable combs, there’s not much that’s really natural about it. But some people practice a mode of beekeeping where they just let the bees move into a hollow log. They basically provide habitat for the bees and don’t do any manipulations to the hive. This is as close to natural as you’re going to get, but it occupies a very narrow band of the spectrum.
“Organic” – This label is often used by many who intend for it to mean, “As nature made it.” It used to mean, “No pesticides.” But the name has lost meaning as “organic” pesticides have come to market and can be used in place of synthetic compounds. In other words, you can keep bees in a log, never touching them, or use naturally occurring, lab-purified chemicals in concentrations far higher than can actually be found in nature, and both can be called “organic.”
“IPM” – Integrated Pest Management. This covers a very wide range of practices, including pest control methods “to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.”(1)
“Treatment-free” – This is the principle in which no treatments are used. That is to say, nothing is introduced to the hive by the beekeeper with the intent to kill a pest or treat disease. Let the bees deal with it on their own. However, this doesn’t mean a treatment-free beekeeper does nothing. And this is different from “natural” for reasons I’ll get into in this article.
In order to fully understand what treatment-free beekeeping is all about, it’s important to understand the pros & cons of treating and not treating. There are benefits and risks to each.
Treatment: Pros –
Stop the spread of disease & pests
All beekeepers actually want to do this, but conventional beekeepers feel the best way to do this is with chemical intervention.
Treatment: Cons –
Propping up weak genetics
Chemical contamination & synergistic affects with other chemicals (2)
Michael Bush goes into great detail about all the problems with medically treating bees and the reasons why this is a bad idea. But to sum up, it’s an unsustainable model. It supports weak bees and promotes stronger disease and pests. Also, many of the chemicals used in the hive can build up in the wax combs and/or magnify the toxicity of pesticides or fungicides used in agriculture that the bees are exposed to. (3)
Slightly off-topic sideline
Let’s take a quick diversion and cover the more popular treatment options and explore their problems from the perspective of a treatment-free beekeeper. Of course, they all promote bad genetics that rely on beekeeper intervention to survive, so we’ll just get that one out of the way.
Powder sugar dusting – Impractical with a large operation or for a beekeeper with a busy schedule.
Drone “trapping” or removal – Will this breed mites that seek out worker larvae?
Brood breaks – No major objection. It would be preferred that the bees do this themselves without assistance.
Screened bottom boards – Many don’t consider this a treatment, but some do. This has questionable effectiveness.
Apiguard (25% thymol) – Lipophilic, meaning it builds up in the wax
ApiLife Var (74% thymol) – Lipophilic
ApiVar (amitraz) – Synthetic; strong synergistic effect with fungicides (3)
Apistan (fluvalinate) – Synthetic; mites are resistant to it now
Checkmite (coumaphos) – Synthetic; mites are resistant to it now
MiteAway Quick strips (MAQS) (formic acid) – no major objection aside from promoting bad genetics
HopGuard (hop beta acids) – shown to not be effective
Oxalic Acid – fumigation is hazardous; drip method is done in the winter and could freeze the bees in some regions
Mineral Oil fogging – causes fires
Essential Oils – inconsistent concentrations & formulations make kitchen chemistry difficult and hazardous to the bees
Back on topic
Treatment-free: Pros –
Breed stronger bees
That’s really the ultimate goal. Instead of trying to help weak bees, the idea is to use natural selection to decrease losses over time with less beekeeper input. The key to treatment-free beekeeping is to artificially increase the natural reproductive process of the hives. This is what sets it apart from “natural” beekeeping. Instead of letting the survivors swarm and reproduce on their own, they are split or queens produced to make more offspring than they otherwise would have.
Treatment-free: Cons –
Spreading disease & pests
These are the criticisms often lobbed over at the treatment-free beekeepers. They are often told, “Your bees are just going to die,” or “You’re infecting our hives with your diseases.” Of course, treatment-free beekeepers fire back with something like, “Your inferior drones are mating with my queens,” and thus the battle rages on. But what can be done to deal with these arguably accurate claims?
Dealing with loss
You’re going to lose hives. It’s inevitable. Of course, treating hives isn’t a guarantee of survival either, but at least doing something about it can make you feel like you tried. So if you aren’t going to apply treatments, then instead plan for the loss. Make more hives than you really want. Plan for about 50% loss, so double the number of hives you want before winter. If you want to have 2 hives in the spring then go into autumn with 4 or 5. Having more small hives is easier to manage than having a couple really big ones. If you luck out and more survived than you planned, then sell the extras. People in your area would love to have a strong hive that survived the winter.
Also, keep perspective on the whole thing. Losses can be hard if you are attached to them. But this is just nature’s way of removing the bad genetics from the area.
Dealing with disease & pests
So your hive gets over taken with Varroa mites, what do you do about it? Well, you can do nothing and just let them deal with it on their own. But there’s a great concern about pest transmission to other hives in the area. This is the main point of criticism with treatment-free beekeeping. It’s not so bad if your hive dies if the disease and pests are contained. But if you live in a densely populated area of beekeepers, the mites that got out of control in your hive might be spreading to the neighbors’ hives.
Can you isolate your apiary? If no other hives are within a 3-4 mile flight radius, you’re probably fine. In an urban area, this may not be possible.
So what can a treatment-free beekeeper do about this?
Treating the hives has a similar negative affect to the neighborhood by “infecting” it with bad genetics. Drones from the treated hives will spread their inferior genes. Is there a middle-ground that will satisfy both groups?
At the OSBA conference in Seaside, Oregon last November, Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, with the Bee Informed Partnership, gave a talk on “Management Practices that Work and Those that Don’t.” Unfortunately the content of his presentation doesn’t seem to be online, but in it he presented a plan that might be a good compromise that would settle the battle between those who treat and those who don’t.
Kill the queens in the treated hives and use the bees for something else
Wait a minute! But this requires treating, which goes against the treatment-free philosophy!
Right. But, the objections to treating are:
It promotes bad genetics
It contaminates the hive
It breeds treatment-resistant mites
1) The queen is getting removed. Her genetic line ends. 2) If a suitable treatment is used that knocks the mites out without contaminating the hive, then no harm done. MiteAway Quick strips (MAQS), for example, may be a good option. It’s formic acid that evaporates away with no permanent residue and has shown to be quite effective at reducing mite loads. 3) If done infrequently or alternating with another type of treatment, there’s little risk to creating super mites.
Once the bees are relatively mite-free and the queen removed, these bees are available to be put to use in other ways, such as queen rearing or combining with a weak hive. Instead of just letting the colony slowly dwindle away and potentially infect your other colonies, the problem can be dealt with swiftly and the work force isn’t wasted.
If beekeepers that practice treatments can also follow the same practice of killing the queens with the high mite loads, then they too will be doing the neighborhood a favor of ridding the area of the weak genetics.
As a treatment-free beekeeper myself, I’m giving some considerable thought to this idea and keeping an open mind. I resisted it at first, but the more I think about it, the fewer objections I have. What do you think? If you are a treatment-free beekeeper, do you have any objections to this idea? Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think.
Our June 3rd meeting was filled with practical information from local beekeepers.
Bill Catherall gave a great presentation on beekeeping record keeping. He’s a big advocate for record keeping so you can do “bee math” in order to plan well by anticipating when brood will emerge. Additionally, record keeping is a great tool to track your hive’s health. Bill showed us all sorts of innovative tracking tools, including using bricks, paper templates, and duct tape. He reminds us that whatever works for us is the right way to do it!
Dewey Caron was back this month with advice on what to do in the hive this month. He reminds us to challenge the bees by giving plenty of super space. He warns that this year might not be a great year to harvest all of the supers. This is an early year, and the bees might need that extra honey to overwinter. Dewey recommends starting to test for mites. Testing early gives us a baseline so that when we take fall mite numbers there’s some context.
Dewey also presented some early results from the Pacific Northwest Honey Bee Survey. Good news shows less loss than last year! To check out the survey, visit http://pnwhoneybeesurvey.com/survey-results/2015-survey-reports/. Dewey and his team are still crunching numbers, so stay tuned for more exciting results. If you find this information helpful, please participate in next year’s survey!
Our main event was a Q&A panel, moderated by Dewey Caron. The panel consisted of three beekeepers with varying backgrounds. Mike card is a fourth year beekeeper with seven colonies. Kerry Jahanne, a beekeeper and orchardist and recent transplant from New York has 14 years of beekeeping experience. While she managed 40 colonies in New York, she’s still looking forward to starting her first in Portland. Our final panelist was a Portland beekeeping fixture and PUB veteran, Glen Andresen, who has 25 years of beekeeping experience and currently manages 80 hives. The questions revolved mostly around the pros and cons of foundation vs. foundationless, and the ways to track and manage mites.
As Dr Dewey Caron mentioned at the meeting last night, June is a good time to get a baseline of your mite load. You may or may not be of the opinion to treat at this time. Or maybe you don’t want to treat at all, but knowing your mite counts and watching for the increase or decrease in the population may be important to you in other decisions you’ll be making. It’s also good information for diagnosing any problems you see or understanding the cause of death, should they not survive the winter.
In the following video, Dr Caron demonstrates 2 ways to get a good count: the sugar roll and the alcohol wash. Sticky boards might be easier and less intrusive, but they don’t give a mite count that can be used for comparative analysis throughout the year. Bee population changes during the season and this can affect the sticky board counts. The sugar roll and alcohol wash give you a more reliable percentage, or number of mites per 100 bees.
It is often recommended to new beekeepers that they should keep inspection records. Upon learning this, some would-be-beekeepers set a goal to keep meticulous notes and journal entries. But once they start working with the hive and juggling everything that goes on during an inspection, plus dealing with the thousands of bees and the euphoria or panic that can bring, record keeping is often forgotten. Or, many beekeepers just don’t know what kind of records to keep. How detailed do these notes have to be and how do they get it recorded with a busy schedule? After a few months of not keeping records at all, they may even fall into the mindset that it just isn’t needed.
Let’s first tackle the why of record keeping.
When you have just one hive and you’re fairly new to beekeeping, it isn’t a very difficult task to remember everything that’s been going on with it. Unfortunately our memories can only recall that information for a finite period of time and then it is soon forgotten. Once you start accumulating more beehives, it becomes an even more difficult task to remember all the details. Or worse, you might get mixed up or confused about the various hives. Just ask my 3 children how good I am at keeping their names straight. So the reason we make notes is mainly to help us remember what we did and saw at each inspection.
These notes are important to helping us diagnose any problems we might see. They can be helpful when planning what to do next. Or when evaluating different methods or treatments, records become critical to understanding the effectiveness.
That brings us to wondering what we should be recording.
At the very minimum, the hive records should indicate the date of the inspection, the health and behavior of the bees, and any changes the beekeeper made to the hive. I recommend also going one step further and recording what needs to be done at the next inspection with a “to-do” date as necessary.
What kinds of “health and behavior” items should be recorded?
Signs of disease? Symptoms or diagnosis?
Brood health or laying pattern?
Any queen cells?
Eggs, larvae, capped brood?
Temperament? Calm, nervous, angry? (Usually the bees, but maybe the beekeeper, if appropriate.)
Optional, but recommended data to record:
Food stores – pollen/bee bread, nectar/honey
The weather – temperature, pressure, etc (software can automate this)
Hive equipment conditions
There are many actions a beekeeper would take during an inspection. Some of the most common would be:
Applying treatments or feedings
Switching out boxes or combs
Replacing the queen
But that’s a lot to record. How on earth do I do it?
This is really a personal preference and no one right way to do it. There are a few tools out there to help you, or you can create your own method. It can be as detailed or as simple as you want. Any effort is better than no effort. Here are some ideas.
Online tools or mobile apps
These can simplify record keeping by prompting you with the things to record and organizing it in an easy to read way. It’s also nice to have the records available to you anywhere you are, whether at work or home. There are a couple popular tools.
Each of these have a simplified, limited free version, but otherwise require you to pay. This year PUB is getting a special offer to use the full version of Hive Tracks for a year for free as we help them test and improve the Groups feature of the software. If you would like to get a free year of Hive Tracks and help us test these new features, please email the PUB officers for details.
Notebook or Binder
If software is too complicated, or you don’t like the idea of getting propolis on your phone, you can just use a simple pen & paper. You can either create your own inspection check sheet or use one of the many that are available in books or online. This is even a good option with software if you can’t enter the inspection right away. (Hive Tracks inspection sheet)
Audio, Video, or Photos
Either a hand-held audio recorder or even a dictation app on your smartphone. Recording a quick sound-bite to send to someone else (a beekeeping partner perhaps) or to yourself for later recording is a great way to make some on-the-spot notes.
Taking photos or even video of the inspection can help in many ways. Digital photos would be time-stamped and can show things that are hard to put down on paper. Video can help us to see mistakes we might make as beekeepers and improve our technique.
Mark The Hive
Some people have even come up with clever codes or short-hand. You can attach cards or even dials on the hive for marking status. If you use a brick on the lid this can also be used to indicate the state the hive was in during the last inspection. The limitation of these methods is that they don’t indicate the date, but there are clever solutions to that. More importantly, it’s not a lasting record that can be referenced in the future. Part of beekeeping is learning year over year. Having records to review what happened the previous year (or years) can prepare us for the up-coming season. But this method can be good for quick notation or communication to other beekeepers who work the same apiary.
One very clever and simple hive marking technique used by Michael Palmer is using duct tape on the lid and writing on it, in his own short-hand, with a permanent marker.
Whatever method you use to keep track of your hives’ health and your interactions with them doesn’t really matter, as long as it works for you and is something you can keep up with. I recommend that beginners start with a check sheet of some kind. As you become familiar with filling it out, you’ll start getting into the habit of looking for the things on it. Once you become more comfortable with inspections and the check sheet, you can start scaling back and only record the things you find helpful and useful to get down on record. Eventually you’ll strike a balance that works well for you.
Our May 6th meeting was the first to be held at our new home, Alberta Abbey. It is a lovely venue which is big enough to accommodate our rapidly growing membership!
Our swarm hotline by Honey Bee Allies is up and running, and very active! To report a swarm call (503) 444-8446. Members can register to receive swarms, or to be a swarm mentor or mentee. If you’re interested, register at Bit.ly/pubswarmlist.
PUB will be hosting a photo and art contest. If you’re interested, start taking pictures or creating your art projects, and stay tuned for further submission details. Judging will take place at our annual winter honey tasting event.
Our Education Committee is requesting donations of fun educational materials. There’s a request for bee or flower hats, games (such as a beanbag toss), an a photo cutout stand. Additionally, we’d like to start collecting samples for an entomology display.
At the meeting, Glen Andresen gave his monthly pollen and nectar report. Speaking of Glen, Dewey Caron wrote a lovely article on Glen in Bee Culture this month called, “Beekeeper, Gardner, Teacher: Glen Andresen.” Tim Wessels, our former PUB president, gave a presentation on “What to do in the Hive This Month”, where he spoke mostly of swarm control and supering.
We proceeded to gather for breakout sessions, divided by beekeeping experience. We had large groups of new beekeepers, which is very exciting!