This post is based on a presentation by David Feinberg given at a PSBA meeting in 2012. He describes himself as a holistic beekeeper and his goal was to provide a compass point for potential beekeepers.
As a new beekeeper the following are desirable and attainable goals your first year:
1. Research laws regarding location of bee hives
2. Start with two packages or two locally reared nucs
3. Be prepared to feed in the spring
4. Plan and build enough equipment to not need additional equipment mid-season
5. End the year hopefully with a modest honey surplus and leave the bees enough to over-winter. You may need to feed toward winter end.
6. Be prepared to re-queen in late summer and again in early spring because the key to it all is strong queens.
In addition these goals are worth considering:
7. Becoming independent of industrialized package bees and raise acclimated local bees
8. Learn how to propagate your own queens
9. Prioritizing in order of importance to you: collecting honey, over-wintering, being organic, creating local strain of bees
10. Making a profit from your bees
Goals 7 to 10 will be covered next month. Here are details about decisions for goals 1 to 6:
1. Source bees from out of state or locally?
2. Hive located on your property or a host’s?
3. What is the best geographic location for your apiary?
4. How many hives?
5. What kind of equipment?
· Type of hive (Top Bar, Langstroth, Warre)
· Size of wooden ware
· Foundation less or type and size of foundation
· Feeders of which there are several types
6. Will you treat hives?
7. How much honey to harvest?
Decision 1: Source bees from out of state or locally?
Local bees or California bees? Just get started. Don’t fret if all you can get is package bees. Many perform well and if you are planning on propagating queens then you will be re-queening and making local bees in the coming season. Another option is to re-queen with local queens offered for sale. There are some providers of local nucs in 5 and 10 frame sizes. I recommend five frame nucs as a better choice. They build really well, don’t get too big and often make honey the first year. A vigorous over-wintered ten frame colony is harder to manage and may end up in the trees as a swarm.
Decision 2: Hive located on your property or a host’s?
Know the city or county laws for the location of a bee hive. If bees can’t be accommodated on your property according to the law, perhaps someone else will be willing to host who can. The challenge there is to evaluate the travel time.
Decision 3: What is the best geographic location for your apiary?
Just as in real estate it is location, location, location. The most important thing is to place your hives in position to catch the most direct sunlight and to be in a location with the most solar gain and close access to forage.
Bees are like small solar charged batteries. The more sun they get the longer they are active; the longer they are active the more trips they make; the shorter the distance to forage and the more nectar and pollen they will gather. If the forage is uphill they can fly up unloaded and downhill loaded.
David Feinberg reports that his best apiary location gets east and west sun all day long and sits on a blacktop road surrounded by maple and blackberries. The point is to manage location for success by getting as many of these as possible. And if you can drive up to it, all the better. If all you have is a cold wet corner don’t figure on paying the mortgage with your honey proceeds.
Decision 4: How many hives?
Two colonies plus a nucleus colony is the minimum number to be self-sustaining. This size apiary will teach you more than triple what a single colony will AND it will allow you to share resources between colonies to better manage and balance your bee population. It also allows you to view them as a collective whole rather than individual colonies.
Decision 5: What kind of equipment?
· Type of hive: Langstroth, Top Bar or Warre? This is a personal choice that reflects more about how we want to manage our bees than anything else. Langstroth, allows interchangeability with a wide group of beekeepers. It is tried and true and has many variations. Top Bar, a very economical choice, was created for subsistence farmers in Kenya. They make great observation hives and are really fun to watch. It is harder to interchange as there is no standardization. Warre, also known as whole box beekeeping, allows the bees to fully live for their own enjoyment.
· Size/type of wooden ware: this only applies to for Langstroth since Warre have a standard size and for top bar there is no standard. There is no right or wrong choice here. This decision reflects your beliefs, economics, the type of observations and interaction you want to have with your bees and what you believe is best for them. The choices are:
1. deeps or westerns
2. 8 or 10 frame
· Foundationless or type of foundation and cell size: There is a lot of discussion on this. The Top Bar (which are foundationless) people note they see bees build what they need where they need it and even tear it out and build anew as the needs of the colony change. Providing foundation raises discussion about the cell size and the material that the foundation is made of. The small cell group says we have ‘supersized’ our bees and it is a great IPM strategy to let them revert to a smaller size. The chemical free people point out the nations wax supply is contaminated with on and off-label miticides and this ‘synergistic cocktail’ weakens the bees to mites and disease. Questions also abound about the health of using plastic foundation.
· Type of feeder: You can feed via an entrance feeder, division board, wooden hive top, or top jar feeder.
Decision 6: Will you treat hives?
You are the manager of your hives so decide where you stand on treating for mites and diseases. Are you willing to risk high colony losses by not medicating or are you more comfortable with some form of treatment as a means of reducing colony loss? The path to treatment-free bees is typically described as something taking several years to achieve. Short cutting this process could cost you your bees; research this topic thoroughly before embarking on this path.
Your decision on treating can be described as hard, soft, or no treatment. Hard means using miticides and antibiotics; i.e. Fluvalinate and Fumagilin-B. Soft means applying aromatic oils that alter the pH of the colony; i.e. Apiguard. None means treatment free so be prepared to see high colony losses as much as 50%.
Decision 7: How much honey to harvest?
Are you hoping to get honey the first year from your package bees? This is at best a 50/50 proposition.
In the first year, you need to build 30-40 frames of comb and have the bees and the weather in your favor. In Washington State there are three major flows.
1. Spring, the maples (the bees consume this)
2. Summer, the blackberry (our best crop)
3. Fall the knotweed (at least half of which is fall feed)
The best time to pull honey is after the blackberry so the drawn comb can be put back in the hive. If you’re lucky or feed heavily in the fall you can take some knotweed honey too.
NOTE: Drawn Comb is the most valuable resource to manage after total bee/colony quantity. Bees tend to draw most/all comb in the spring up to and through blackberry. After that, unless there is a huge flow they will not draw comb but rather they will fill nooks and crannies on existing comb. If you put an empty box on in August you will increase the amount of space the bees need to guard and actually decrease the honey crop. Pollen and honey are resources so when you take it from the colony the bees either need to work harder due to the shortfall or do without or need to be supplemented with feed and pollen patties. Once again it is a resource issue; do you want the bees guarding empty frames or out gathering nectar and pollen?
Goals 7-10 will be covered in detail next month, stay tuned!