Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hope, Change, and other Plagues

There are those that can and those can’t. And those that can’t, teach. I am fearful that I come in the last category destined to be a professor of last resort. I grew up hearing this “can and can’t” saying of old and it’s troubling to have put so much effect in to something I love so much, but still be unable to make everything work the way it should. I am rambling about Beekeeping after spending much time and work in the hobby that has become my obsession, it seems. I think I know less now than I did 30 years ago.

Taking into account the changes beekeeping has undergone in these 30 years, we may all be a little behind. There are at least two new kinds of mites, new species of hive beetles, dangerous pathogens both new and old, not to mention chemicals, which are now thought to be the cause of a new sort of hell on the poor honeybee. Not to be dramatic, but plagues of biblical proportions have been experience by both the honeybees and the bee keepers.

You may ask why someone so distressed would not just move on to something less stressful, like raising chickens. My wife said I couldn’t. Enough said.

Now that all the gloom and doom is out of the way, let’s get on with this article that is supposed to give hope to old and new bee keepers alike. The aforementioned warning is something a prospective new beekeeper should consider before buying their first bees. Once they get past all of that, let me tell them there is no other hobby or vocation that can give so much back to them in the way of satisfaction as bee keeping (and I have tried a few).

In light of sparking new excitement for beekeeping, I would like to list some of the joy I receive from beekeeping, or rather a listing of “Greg’s Favorite Things”.

· Making queens (my favorite)

· Working with Nucs and Splits

· Finding swarms, catching swarms, keeping swarms and figuring out why they swarm and dreaming up ways to prohibit swarms

· Wintering bees (this is most difficult)

· Experimenting with survival queens

· Harvesting and eating honey made by your own bees

· Just sitting and watching the bees go about what bees do and have for millions of years without us

Yes, it is worth my time and yours, if you are one that can enjoy just one of Gods greatest creations.

In closing, let me say I think one main trouble honeybees face today is PPB (Piss Poor Beekeeping). I’m guilty and I am sure many others are as well. Let’s all pledge to start the New Year with a promise to ourselves to learn more, do the best we know, and teach the little we do know to the next generation of beekeepers, in hopes that they will see a renewed love for the art of beekeeping.

Goodbye 2010!

Here is a holiday letter from our Bee Master here on the farm. Warmest wishes to you and yours for a blessed new year.

December is almost over. Our hives are all closed up with mouse guards in place, upper ventilation installed, and supers stored. We have done everything we know to help the bees survive another winter, except use chemicals for mites and other pathogens. I haven’t used chemicals in several years for a variety of reasons. One, because I think if you raise your queens and bees from survivor stock, the bees will work it out, like they have for millions of years before we started helping. Another couple of reasons could be stupid and stubborn and may do more harm than good, but with beekeepers moving bees all over the country, importing bees and pathogens the world over, plus bad beekeeping, what could we expect? Of course, all this high minded thinking has cost me lots of money and, at least for the short run, kills a lot of bees. I hope I live long enough to see beekeeping as it was when I first started fooling with them. For sure the hobby has been interesting for the past few years, as well as expensive and sometimes heartbreaking.

We have purchased some poplar lumber for supers, built them, and are now waiting for more lumber. I love working with it. We are also ordering frames and foundation, so this is a busy time for everyone here at Holt Bee Farm (of course that is just me most of the time).

Nucs have been ordered from Jennifer Berry, some for Tennessee some for Athens, Ga for our daughter Jess’s new bee yard. I am excited about that, She has been good help for me most of her life; I think she will make a good Apiarian.

Today is the last day of the year. It’s been about 60 degrees and the bees were out. I did not look inside, but everything looked great from the outside. We have had the coldest December I could remember, but the girls seem to have fared very well. I suppose I can breathe easy now. I got a call from Cousin Dwight and he reported the same; his girls were out and looking good. This is his first winter of beekeeping and I think he was worried they were all dead, even though his bees looked well when he put them to bed.

Every year I try to lay out new ideas I have put together from reading, studying, and experiences from the previous bee season. Then I try to put the ideas to use for the new year. Most of the time I find out I was wrong. The new idea for this year has to do with nucs and queen rearing for replacement of poor or missing queens, to replace dead outs, and even producing queens and nucs for possible sale. I think one should have a nuc for every full hive you own, just in case something goes wrong at the hive. My plan is that all these components work together: the hive, nuc, and queen rearing. You build the nuc up by taking brood from the hive, plus a queen. You can build a hive by simply making a nuc strong, and of course, you use the nuc and the hive to make a queen. By the way, in case someone doesn’t know, a nuc is just a hive in miniature.

I’m sorry if I have not made this clear, but it has taken me thirty years to come up with this idea. It is nothing new, but rather it is just a way to make everything in the bee yard work better to maintain healthy bees at less cost and to be more self-contained and less reliant on outside resources. A beehive is a super organism and my plan is to work within that mindset and back up our investment.

I have a special thanks and wish for a happy new year to my favorite and oldest follower Tom Pruitt of Georgia, for his support, friendship, and advice. Tom has done much for this beekeeper, as well as for the beekeeping community. He is like a brother to me. Thanks again to Tom and of course his lovely, "trophy" wife Debbie Sue.

All in all this has been an exciting year in beekeeping and life, since the two are the same for me. Jess and Adam have been able to spend some time with Carolyn and me over the Christmas Holiday and we are thankful for that. We now look forward to starting a happy new year as we wish everyone the same.

Bee Happy,