Friday, May 24, 2019

Introduction to Beekeeping Class Notes

Introduction to Beekeeping

This class is NOT enough instruction to allow you to be ready to keep bees. This is just to point you in the right direction of where to learn more. I recommend learning as much as you can during the rest of this year including finding an opportunity to open a hive to experience it, and maybe even get stung, before deciding if beekeeping is for you. If so, order your bees this fall. I highly recommend Italians for their gentleness. Though many a new beekeeper got started by catching a swarm, I don’t recommend it since you never know what you’re going to get and very well could end up with extremely mean bees.

A note about stings: Many people say they are allergic to bee stings when they’re really not. Normal reactions to a sting are severe pain, swelling, redness, fever, and itching in the sting area lasting for a few days. A true bee allergy involves signs and symptoms that show up away from the sting site and is a true emergency. These occur in only 5% or less of the general population - fatal allergies in only 1% of children and 3% of adults.
Beekeeper’s Wife Allergy: Long-term exposure to the dried venom while not being stung can bring about an allergy. Usually, being stung keeps this from developing, but sometimes can actually bring about the allergy.
You never know when or if a true allergy will develop, so be aware of the signs and symptoms in case this happens to you. When in doubt, call 911, then head for the hospital.

Colony’s Social Structure: Workers, Drones, usually one Queen.
Life cycle: Egg, Hatch, Larvae, Capped brood, Emergence, Nurse Bee, House Bee, Guard Bee, Field Bee  (See more below)

Colony: The group of bees themselves. Consists of mostly workers, drones, and usually one queen.
Hive: What the bees live in.
Apiary: Beeyard.
Hot” hive: MAD and agressive bees. Any bees can be aggressive, even docile European types.
Foundation: Pre-formed sheets made of wax or plastic with honeycomb pattern stamped on. Thought to give the bees a head start in building comb.
Foundationless beekeeping: Letting the bees build all comb.
Natural Cell Size: What the bees build naturally. Usually smaller than standard foundation size.
Bee space: 3/8” - The space between combs, which must be that specific width or bees will build burr comb.
Burr comb: Sideways or otherwise “out of place” comb.
Nuc: “Nucleus”- a small but complete colony with four or five frames of brood and honey, bees of all stages, and a queen.
Package of bees: A “box o’ bees” containing one queen in a queen cage and a few thousand bees. They are usually sold by the pound, with about 3,ooo bees per pound. The more bees a package has, the more workers, therefore the faster it will build up large enough to make a surplus of honey.
Queen: The only bee that lays fertile eggs. She can sometimes be identified as the one with the longer abdomen, though in winter when egg-laying slows severely, her abdomen can shrink, making her harder to spot.
Flow: When flowers are blooming and bees are making a lot of honey.
Dearth: When flowers aren’t blooming and bees aren’t making a lot of honey.

Basic equipment: A smoker, a veil or suit, a hive tool, and a hive – cost ranges from $200 to over $2000. Cheaper: building a top bar hive and wearing thick, light-colored clothing that covers every inch of your body, along with a purchased veil. Not as cheap: purchasing a Langstroth hive that consists of two or three hive bodes (“boxes”) filled with frames, along with one bottom and one top (top can be a simple piece of plywood, so long as it seals along the top edge).
Notice no extractor. Small beekeepers can crush and strain, use gravity extraction, or borrow their club’s.

Types of Hives:
Langstroth – the white boxes.
Pros: Most common, so very easy to find parts to borrow/buy, including resources to strengthen a weak colony. Much easier to find a solution to any problem (feeding, excluding, robbing, etc.). Also easier to get advice.
Cons: Expense, weight (10-frame deeps can weigh 80+ pounds when full of honey, though you can use all mediums or even 8-frame mediums.
Top Bar –
Pros: Cheap and easy to build (Les Crowder’s plans are online for free). Easy to work if you have problems bending or lifting. Not being able to exchange equipment with other hives can stop pest or disease infestations.
Cons: If you have only one and need a frame of brood, you can’t just “borrow” one from a fellow beekeeper who has Langstroth. Some problems are hard to find a solution for, such as queen excluding should you need to.
Long Hive – a long (3-4’) box that Langstroth frames fit in. Sort of a top bar and Lang hybrid.
Pros: Much better for beekeepers with a bad back.
Cons: Can’t find available retail easily, so will likely have to be home built.
Flow hives – A recent innovation that allows the honey to be harvested without opening the hive. Still unknown if it’s practical over the long haul. All other beekeeping practices are the same – doesn’t lessen any beekeeping work except harvest.
Pros: Lessens work during harvest.
Cons: Expensive and untested.
Observation hives – A hive with a “window” in the wall to see inside. (Also, a glass/lexan “box” that you put frames of bees in temporarily.)
Pros: Incredibly interesting teaching tool. Interesting for those wanting to see the inner workings of their hive. Inspections are very easy since there’s no need to suit up completely and use a smoker – you can just look in.
Cons: Expensive to buy. Heats up too hot if you forget to close the cover.

What I use and why: Both 8-frame and 10-frame Langs (mediums and deeps) and a couple top bar hives. I prefer Langstroth 8-frame mediums because they are easier to lift, and having all the same frames means I can move any frame to any other box/hive in the beeyard. 8-frame boxes also make great nuc boxes for starting small colonies.

Timeline of work (Beekeeper’s Calendar)
I constantly watch them come and go from their entrances and notice what flowers are blooming when.
Spring: Inspect for stores (honey and pollen both), brood buildup, queen cells (indicator of swarming), make splits if needed, and test for mites, then treat. Monitor flow and add super (extra box on top) if needed.
Summer: Watch for dearth and install robbing screen. Inspect stores of honey and harvest if there’s a surplus. If low, feed through summer. Test for mites and treat before September.
Fall: Most times we have a fall flow when flowers bloom again. This is usually left on the hive for the bees to eat during winter, though at times there’s a surplus that can be harvested. Test for mites and treat.
Winter: Feed if they run out of stores. Test for mites and treat.  Fix equipment, order/build more.

Site selection for the hives: Preferably facing east or south, morning sun, and sheltered from the north winds.
Inspections (things to look for): stores (amount of honey and pollen), brood (capped, larvae, eggs if you can see them), queen cells (to know if they will swarm soon or if they’re replacing a queen), and signs of disease or pests (varroa mites, viruses, small hive beetles, wax moths, EFB, AHB). Each of these things would mean you would intervene to help solve the problem noted.
Feeding bees – Use only refined pure cane sugar, not organic sugar since it contains impurities. May need to feed pollen substitute as well at times. And water. With salt can be good.

My favorite sites:
Natural Beekeeping:
Les Crowder – top bar hives
Local resources:
Tanya Phillips:
Tara Chapman:
Austin Area Beekeepers Association: – Florence, TX, just north of Georgetown – bees and some supplies – free shipping if you spend $100 – also free shipping if you spend $100

Colony’s Social Structure
Queen: Only fertile female member of the colony. The “Mother of All”. Lives for a few years or more.
Workers: Infertile females who do all the work in the colony except laying eggs. Live six weeks or so in warm season, longer during winter. They hatch, then become
Drones: Haploid “males” who develop from an unfertilized egg. Their only purpose is fertilizing queens from other colonies.

Life cycle of a worker bee 

Days 1-4: Egg
Days 4-8: Hatch, Larvae
Days 9-15: Capped brood
Day 16: Emergence
Days 1-11: Nurse Bee
Days 12-17: House Bee
Days 18-21: Guard Bee
Days 21-death: Field Bee

Colony Reproduction
In spring, new queen cells are made and new queens reared. As soon as the first queen cell is capped, the old queen leaves with a group of workers to find another home. Sometimes the first queen to emerge from a queen cell leaves the hive with more workers – this is a secondary swarm led by a virgin queen. Once this type of swarm find a suitable home, the queen goes on her mating flight.

A queen mates only once in her life, within a couple weeks of hatching, and hopefully with many drones.  A few days after hatching she flies to a drone congregation area and breeds, usually many times over a few days, then comes back and never leaves the hive again unless she leaves with a swarm.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Baker Creek Seeds Supports Racism

As many of you know, I teach seed saving and seed starting classes at The Natural Gardener and elsewhere.  One of the sources of heirloom seeds I used to recommend is Baker Creek Seeds.  I won't be doing that any more because they have decided to host Cliven Bundy as a speaker at their spring planting festival this year. [UPDATE: They have since uninvited him and taken down their entire speaker list. At right is a screenshot of what it did look like earlier today.)

If you don't know who Cliven Bundy is, Google him.  He is a racist thug who has said black people were "better off" when they were slaves.  He and his family and friends destroyed Native American sacred spaces and artifacts when they decided they didn't want to pay the grazing lease fees they owed "because they had ancestral rights" to the land, so they took over a wildlife sanctuary and bulldozed Pauite burial grounds that were there.

Saying Cliven Bundy is a "land rights activist" is like saying there were "good people on both sides" in Charlottesville.

So unless Baker Creek Seeds de-invites him and puts out a sincere apology to people of color and Native Americans, I will never again recommend them.  Quite the opposite, I will tell people NOT to buy from them, and will also tell them why.

Other good sources of heirloom seeds are 
and especially Native Seeds Search.


I sent an email to Baker Creek about this issue.  Below is the email I just got in reply.  Note no apology to any kind of people of color.  No apology at all actually.  Just words about how they were "naively unaware of the controversy surrounding him".  I find that hard to believe since they posted this story on their website about an ancient Native American watermelon that Mr. Bundy also grew, including how they visited him in prison to interview him, and even writing about why he was in prison.  And look - here's a video of the story even, with some of it shot right outside the prison.

So yeah, I ain't buyin' their story.

Hello Linda,

So sorry for the slow reply. I have just been given this information by our management team.
Cliven Bundy will not be appearing at our Spring Planting Festival next week. After a long discussion, both Bundy and Baker Creek staff agree that his presence could cause a safety issue and other concerns for all participants.

We thank everyone for sharing concerns and thoughts about our speaker lineup. We recognize that many of you have passionate concerns on many sides of issues that have come forth. We appreciate the information and many points of view that people have shared about the situation. A few Baker Creek staff members became acquainted with Bundy while researching an heirloom seed variety, and we were unaware of many of the controversies surrounding him. We are committed to thoroughly researching the issues raised by our friends and customers during this discussion.

Baker Creek is a supporter of diversity. The company was founded on the idea of saving the diversity of seeds. We believe just as strongly in the diversity and equality of all people. We would never consciously do anything that could be construed negatively toward any culture, color, religion, etc. The Gettle family itself is a multicultural American family, with Hispanic, Chinese, German, and Jewish heritage. We celebrate diversity in both our family and our business. We strive to include many cultures in our speaker lineup, our catalogs, and other publications, because we believe a diversity of cultures and ideas is what makes this nation great. In recent years, we have substantially supported humanitarian work in many nations with out regard to people's religion, culture, or color.

A staff writer met Bundy while visiting farmers in Nevada. Several told her that she needed to talk with him because he was the longest-running organic farmer in the area. He had been commercially growing heirloom melons for over 40 years. That was our only connection to this farmer, who told our writer many stories of his past seed saving and plant breeding practices, and about his work in the valley to preserve the local seeds of the area. He volunteered to speak about his seeds and dry farming practices at one of our events.

Our staff thought these sounded like great topics, and we invited him to participate in our Spring Planting Festival. As is the case with all of our speakers, he volunteered participation without receiving a stipend or honorarium. Although we had seen a few news clippings over the years, we were naively unaware of the controversy surrounding him. We do believe in rights of free speech and letting people be heard, even if we disagree with their ideals. But at this time, due to security and other issues raised by many of you, all parties think it would be better to research the situation, read the information that has been sent to us by customers. We apologize for any ill feelings this has caused, this certainly was not our intention.

As the festival date approaches, we will be updating our speaker schedule with other changes.

The Baker Creek Staff

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
2278 Baker Creek Rd
Mansfield, MO 65704


So Baker Creek said they uninvited Bundy because a group of protesters were "threatening their vendors"?!  I saw that post on Facebook - a woman said she and some friends were planning on bringing some signs to protest outside their planting festival if Bundy was allowed to speak.  How in the WORLD is that "threatening their vendors"?!  I'm so done with Baker Creek.  SO. DONE.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Pruning: WHACK IT!

I recently taught a couple classes on pruning with the wonderful Stacie and the fabulous David, both from the grounds crew at work.  They were a hit!  We got some wonderful feedback on both of them, especially the Saturday one.  It was a blast!  I love teaching, especially when everyone is really engaged and learning, including me!  (Yep, I often learn things during the classes.  LOVE that part!)

During both classes, two things came up repeatedly: the question on just how much to cut back, and then surprise at the answer of most things get cut to the ground!  At least once I even heard audible gasps.

I know it's scary.  Terrifying even to some.  So I cracked jokes to put people at ease: "Know how to fix your fear of cutting it that hard? Shot of bourbon." ... "Get in touch with your inner Red Queen and off with it's head!" ... "It's okay, y'all. It's not going to die, but even if it did, it's not a puppy." 

Even so, I still sensed some reticence.  We explained that half the plant was underground, so cutting off the top really wasn't that big of a deal.  We explained about the energy transfer that goes on when a plant goes dormant - as each cold snap hits it, a plant slowly transfers it's growing energy into it's roots for winter, where it stays stored until it sprouts back out in spring, so you're really not cutting off anything of great importance.  And we explained that most of the stuff above was dead anyway, and even what wasn't would be hard pressed to sprout leaves anywhere but the top, and that would lead to the plant having to push all that energy aaaaaaaallll the way up those spindly branches, wasting a lot of it in the process.  But still, many found it hard to digest that you really do cut most things all the way to the ground. 

In an attempt to show everyone that it really will be okay, here are some before and after photos of our butterfly garden at work.  The before ones were taken last fall when it was rockin' in there.  The after ones were just last week and they show exactly what the garden looked like this time last year.  I'll try to remember to get a few of what it looks like this fall and post them as well, just to show that everything really is okay.

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And one last one, the most dramatic of the bunch.  See that 5+ foot tall 
firebush just behind the clump of grass?  It's gone!  Mama Nature's 
Winter took the other one further down the path with it.

This is all that's left...

So don't be afraid!  Grab some gloves, some pruners, and some bourbon, 
and head on out to WHACK SOME STUFF!  Later this year you'll be 
really glad you did.

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