1/18/09

The Backwards Beekeeping FAK (Frequently Asked of Kirkobeeo)

Got a question about natural beekeeping? Join our Yahoo group and post your question there. It's a big and friendly group of people who are looking forward to hearing from you.

If you have a beekeeping story, or photos to share (not a general beekeeping question—post those on our Yahoo group above), send them to beehumans[at]gmail[dot]com.

Backwards Beekeepers
Who are you guys?
Can I donate to your group? Are you a non-profit organization?
Can I put your logo on my site as a link to this blog?

Beekeeping Basics
How do I get started as an urban beekeeper?
How much space do I need to keep a hive?
Do I need to put water out for my bees?
What do the bees do when it rains?

Starter Strips
What are starter strips, and why do you use them?
How did you hold the wood strips in the frame?
Does the starter strip need to extend the entire width of the frame?
What do you use to melt the wax?
Would a foundation made from a starter strip be strong enough to have the honey extracted in a conventional extractor?
Is there a video I can watch to learn how to make starter strips?

Advanced Beekeeping
My bees have mites. What should I do?
Should I use a queen excluder?

Bee Removal
Help! I've got bees! Will you take them away, and not kill them?
How do you remove unwanted bees, and capture wild ones?


Who are you guys?

We are a Los Angeles collective of small-scale organic beekeepers. We're continually growing as more and more people discover the enjoyment and worth of encouraging our native feral bee population. Our goal is to do right by the bees so that the bees can return the favor.

We're "Backwards" because we rely on observation and natural practices rather than pesticides and other chemicals to keep our bees thriving.

Our Yoda-in-chief is Kirk Anderson, who is himself inspired by the work of Dee & Ed Lusby, Charles Martin Simon (whose "Principles of Beekeeping Backwards" inspired our group's name, and Michael Bush.

The Backwards Beekeepers were founded by Kirk Anderson, Russell Bates, and Amy Seidenwurm in 2008.


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Can I donate to your group? Are you a non-profit organization?

The Backwards Beekeepers are not set up as a non-profit organization, or as any kind of formal organization, for that matter. We like to fly under the radar, and we think we're more effective and influential with our approach than a lot of formal organizations with treasuries in the many thousands of dollars.

So we can't really accept donations as a group. We encourage donations to Heifer International, which works to reduce poverty and hunger—you can even make a specific gift of bees!

We'll also soon have a mechanism for people to make tax-deductible donations to help produce THE BACKWARDS BEEKEEPER, the film about what we do and why.

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Can I put your logo on my site as a link to this blog?

Sure. Here you go:



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How do I get started as an urban beekeeper?

Here are three great first steps for becoming a Los Angeles urban beekeeper:

1. Read this blog, and check out the many videos about Backwards Beekeeping.

2. Pick up a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping—it's a great overview of treatment-free beekeeping.

3. Come to a meeting of the LA Backwards Beekeepers. Look under "Key Posts" in the right-hand column of this blog for a link to the next meeting.

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Judging from Steve's photos, it looks to me as though you are able to keep your bees in a relatively small space. I live in NH, in a small city. I have a fairly decent sized yard, surrounded by houses. I hadn't thought that my yard would be suitable for a hive until this past summer, when I noted that there were bees all over a couple of broccoli plants that I allowed to flower. I love the idea of not using chemicals. So, my question is...how much land do I need to keep a hive?

Kirk says: All you need is a place that the bees can go to and from. Some people put hives on roofs. Steve has a relatively small yard surrounded by neighbors.If you have plenty of flowers, weeds, and trees around that's more important. I'm sure you could have a hive. Send us some pictures when you get set up!

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Do I need to put water out for my bees?

Your bees need access to water so that they can dilute their honey and keep the hive cool. Chances are they'll find it themselves somewhere nearby, but you can help them out by making it readily available.

Bees are lousy swimmers, so they need to be able to get right down to the water without falling in. We float wine corks (always in ready supply at our house) in a small pan, and it's a popular spot whenever the weather is dry.

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Does rain mess up the bees' workday? What do they do when it rains?

Kirk says: Bees like to work. If they can't fly because of the Rain they stay inside.

Never inspect a hive when it is cold and rainy. The bees are grumpy when they can't work. If you want to have a bad experience try and inspect the bees when it is cold and rainy.

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What are starter strips, and why do you use them?

Let's start by looking at what starter strips are a substitute for.

Traditional (non-Backwards) beekeepers put a rectangular sheet of "foundation" in each of their hive frames. These sheets are made of either plastic or beeswax, and each is imprinted with a hexagonal cell pattern for the bees to draw their comb on. What could be wrong with this system?

Well...

1. Bees aren't all that enthusiastic about drawing comb on plastic.

2. The wax sheets are contaminated by the chemicals and pesticides that commercially raised bees are routinely exposed to.

3. Most foundation sheets are printed with a cell size that's larger than what the bees would normally make in nature. These larger cells produce larger bees that are more prone to mite infestations and other problems, which traditional beekeepers try to fix by applying chemicals to the bees.

The Starter Strip is the Backwards Beekeeping alternative. We insert a strip of wood (such as a clean paint-stirring stick) or cardboard into the groove at the top of each hive frame. Then we melt our own clean beeswax (taken from previous harvests) and paint a thin coating along the strip, using a cheap 3" bristle paint brush.

This strip is all the bees need to get started. They draw their own small-cell comb downward from the starter strip, and they do so with great enthusiasm.

You can read more about the benefits of going chemical-free in this post.

Here's a video about how (and why) to make starter strips.

Here's a step-by-step pictorial about how to make starter strips.

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How did you hold the wood strips in the frame? Do you use wood glue to hold the strip in?

Kirk says: Stir sticks from the paint store will fit snugly in the grooves; in fact, you might need to rub a bit of sandpaper in the groove to widen it enough for the stir stick. If you're using cardboard, just let the melted wax get into the top groove, then push the cardboard strip in and let it set.

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My stir sticks aren't as long as the frames, so there will be a gap at either end where the stir stick doesn't reach the side of the frame by a few inches. Will this be OK? Or does the starter strip need to extend the entire width of the frame?

Kirk says: You can do either one. I like to take them all the way if I can; I put a full stick in the frame and then break off a smaller piece of another one to make the strip extend all the way across the frame. I've never found stir sticks of the exact right length--you just have to improvise a bit on this.

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What do you use to melt the wax?

Kirk says: Bees wax melts at 160 degrees. That's a pretty low temperature. I use an old hot pot that I bought at a thrift store. Just add some wax, turn it on low and let it melt slowly.

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Would a foundation made from a starter strip be strong enough to have the honey extracted in a conventional extractor?

Kirk says: Yes it would. Michael Bush (BushFarms.com) answers this question many times a year. He uses starter strips and an extractor.

If you like, you could put wire in your frames also so after the comb is drawn there is wire support as well. This way you can have your cake and eat it too. Put in starter strips, then wire, put in hive—end of story.

I don't wire because I do crush-and-strain, plus I harvest the wax.

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Is there a video I can watch to learn how to make starter strips?

Yes. Here it is.

Also, here's a pictorial guide to another method of making starter strips.

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My bees have mites. The beekeeping books I read all say that I should be very concerned and start treating the hive with chemicals. What should I do?

Kirk says: All Bees have mites. They are in the bee population and they AIN'T going away.

I do what the bees do in nature: I give the bees a starter strip of wood or wax along the top bar of the frame. The bees draw the comb and put bees and honey in the cells. The size of the cells in nature are smaller than the foundation you buy at the supply store. Plus, because a lot of beekeepers treat their bees for mites with chemicals and acids and things, the wax foundation is contaminated with these chemicals. The mites have become resistant to the chemicals and the bees are weakened by the chemicals. So...the treatments don't work.

I think these contaminants get in the honey also. So small cell natural cell results in a chemical free hive, smaller bees like in Nature and bees who can live with the mites. Results: Clean Honey, Clean Wax, Healthy Bees.

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What are your thoughts on using a queen excluder in a hive? Beekeeping for Dummies recommends it, as does much of the established literature about best beekeeping practices.

A queen excluder is a wooden frame holding a metal grid (or perforated plastic sheet) that allows worker bees to pass through, but prevents the larger queen from being able to move into the higher boxes (sometimes called "honey supers") of the hive.

Traditional beekeepers use a queen excluder because they think that pollen or bee brood, to quote one book, "spoils the clarity" of the honey.

Kirk says: I don't use a queen excluder. I practice what's called "the Unlimited Broodnest". That means the queen has all the room she wants. You can do this very successfully without a queen excluder.

Lose the excluder. You can get plenty of honey without one.

Check out the article on Unlimited Broodnest Management at Bush Bees.

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Help! I've got bees! Will you take them away, and not kill them?

Call our Bee Rescue Hotline if you live in LA and have unwanted bees on your property that you would like us to remove. We'll get the message out to nearby Backwards Beekeepers and do our best to help you quickly.

Before you call, please note: If you have bees in a chimney or any difficult-to-reach location, we probably cannot help you. The best idea is to leave the bees where they are, as they're most likely not doing any harm.

If you want to call a business that does live bee removal from difficult spaces, call Queen Bee Removal Services at 310-737-8336.


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How do you remove unwanted bees, and capture wild ones?

If the bees are inside a structure and are using an exterior wall as their entrance and exit, they can often be trapped out. Here's a look at the process.

As for swarm capture or hive rescue, check out this video.

If you want to call a business that does live bee removal from difficult spaces, call Queen Bee Removal Services at 310-737-8336.

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