1/31/09

We need to talk about the bees' drinking.


















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.

1/29/09

Next Meeting: Sunday, February 8th



















Russell and I will host the next Backwards Beekeepers meeting at our home in Silverlake (CA).

We'll mostly be working on getting new folks ready for bees and making starter strips. Odds are, we will also add a box to our hive or find a similar excuse to harass the bees.

Please join the Yahoo Group for details and RSVP if you'd like to come. There's a link to it in the sidebar on the right.

Weird that there is a Sylvia Plath poem called Bee Meeting. I especially like this stanza:

Smoke rolls and scarves in the grove.
The mind of the hive thinks this is the end of everything.
Here they come, the outriders, on their hysterical elastics.
If I stand very still, they will think I am cow-parsley,
A gullible head untouched by their animosity


See you soon!

1/27/09

Bee porn!





Photographer Rick Lieder shoots birds and insects in his backyard, and the results are spectacular. Check out his bee series.

1/25/09

Spring blooms and swarm trap.

Kirk sent these photos from the Solano Community Garden in Chinatown. The peach tree is blooming (Kirk's sign of spring), and there's a swarm trap ready to collect more feral bees for us.



1/24/09

On avoiding chemical treatments and wax foundation.













Beekeeping For Dummies is a great introduction to the bee world and the benefits of beekeeping, and I especially appreciated it after reading a couple of books by apparently humorless, anal-retentive writers who made it sound about as much fun as mopping floors. Still, the chapters on "Diseases and Remedies" and "Pests" in Dummies promote the use of all kinds of chemicals in your hive, from Terramycin to Fumagillin to Apistan--as well as essential oils, menthol crystals, and god knows what else. The book makes beekeeping sound a little like non-stop crisis management (with the answer to each crisis being the application of more chemicals), and equates organic beekeeping with failing to vaccinate your kids.

Once you read the warning label on a product like Apistan and realize that you're going to end up eating it if you put it in the hive, the chemical-free approach starts to get very appealing.

On Kirk's advice, I've added links in the sidebar of this blog to Michael Bush, Dee & Ed Lusby, and Charles Martin Simon--all of whom have extensive writings on the web about the chemical-free, let-the-bees-figure-it-out approach.

Mites are among the top villains in beekeeping books like Dummies, and controlling them with chemicals is presented as the only answer. Here is Michael Bush, writing about his success with a far easier and less toxic stategy:

Most of us beekeepers spend a lot of effort fighting with the Varroa mites. I'm happy to say my biggest problems in beekeeping now are things like trying to get nucs through the winter here in Southeastern Nebraska and coming up with hives that won't hurt my back from lifting or better ways to feed the bees.

This change in beekeeping from fighting the mites is mostly because I've gone to natural sized cells. In case you weren't aware, and I wasn't for a long time, the foundation in common usage by beekeepers results in much larger bees than what you would find in a natural hive. I've measured sections of natural worker brood comb that are 4.6mm in diameter. This 4.6mm comb was drawn by a hive of commercial Carniolans and this 4.7mm comb was drawn on the first try by a package of commercial Carniolans. What most beekeepers use for worker brood is foundation that is 5.4mm in diameter. If you translate that into three dimensions, instead of one, that produces a bee that is about half again as large as is natural. By letting the bees build natural sized cells, I have virtually eliminated my Varroa and Tracheal mite problems. One cause of this is shorter capping times by one day and shorter post capping times by one day. This means less Varroa get into the cells and less Varroa reproduce in the cells.

Bush notes that you can buy wax-coated sheets with small cell sizes. But as Kirk points out, you have no idea where this wax has been and what it's been contaminated with. The do-it-yourself solution is to attach a strip of wood or cardboard, coated with clean wax, to the top of each hive frame.

Here are a couple of shots that Kirk posted on our Yahoo Groups page. This frame started with just a strip of wax that Kirk painted on the top, and the bees did the rest:



























While you might think this forces the bees to work a lot harder (and thus slows them down), Bush says:
In my observation (and others who have tried it), the bees seem to draw comb on plastic with the most hesitation, on wax with a little less hesitation and their own comb with the most enthusiasm. In my observation, and some others including Jay Smith, the queen also prefers to lay in it.

Plus, it's very satisfying to watch your bees make their own comb design without any outside guidance. Maybe they need a lot less of our intervention than the books would like us to think.

Got bees?













The January 2009 meeting was very well attended, with new members added to the waiting list for rescued beehives. We Backwards Beekeepers don't buy bees, we rescue them! So if you have, or know of, a family of unwanted bees that needs a new home, let us know.

(Here's some of us wearing the protective gear to add a 3rd story to the Landa beehive. Actually the little buggers were very mellow, but just in case...)

1/23/09

Ask Kirkobeeo: Rainy days





















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

Kirkobeeo 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.

Got a question for Kirkobeeo? Email kirkobeeo [at] gmail [dot] com

1/21/09

At the bees' front door.

Here's a view of the front porch at Russell & Amy's hive.

Ask Kirkobeeo: What to do about mites?



















My bees have mites. What do I do?
-Lucy in Silverlake

Kirkobeeo 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. In nature the cells are about 4.9 mm more or less. In the commercial foundation the cell size is 5.7 mm. 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 are 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.


Got a question for Kirkobeeo? Email kirkobeeo [at] gmail [dot] com

1/20/09

Backwards Beekeeping Supply List




















You'll need to invest in a bit of gear to get started with Backwards Beekeeping. The good news is the stuff is relatively inexpensive, and you don't need to bother with a lot of junk like sprays and pre-made comb. You should expect to spend less than $200 to get everything below.

FOR THE HIVE
-Top Board
-Bottom Board
-2 Hive boxes (medium boxes are easier to move around than large ones)
-20 Frames (make sure they are the size to fit the boxes)
-Hive Tool
-The cheapest smoker you can find (they all work the same)

You can assemble all of this stuff yourself, or you can pay a little more and have the shop do it for you.

YOUR GEAR
-Some kind of veil/hat get-up.
-Gloves

WHERE TO GET IT
LA Honey Supply should have everything you need. You can call ahead and they will get it all together for you to pick up.

Los Angeles Honey Company
1559 Fishburn Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90063
(323) 264-2383

LA Honey has a limited selection of beekeeper clothing. You can find more choices at Brushy Mountain or Dadant & Sons.

YOU MAY ALSO WANT
-The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping, a book with a lot of useful information and chemical-free orientation
-A magnifying glass to see eggs

1/19/09

Hive Report 1/19

Kirk came by and we opened up the hive this afternoon. Things look pretty good in there ! We added our 3rd box last week and we are going to prep 3 more boxes this weekend in anticipation of a busy spring. We have tons of brood in there and expect our bee population to come close to doubling in the next couple of months.

Kirk spotted the queen when we were putting the hive back together, which was very exciting as that was our first time seeing her. She is rather large (for a bee) and Her Highness seemed intent on getting back into the hive to lay herself silly.

I also finally got my introductory sting, which wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared. Lemon juice made it much less painful.

Looks like the first honey harvest will be June-ish!

Pics soon...

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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1/17/09

Bee removal in Los Angeles.

Do you need bee removal/rescue?

If you're in the Los Angeles area and have unwanted bees, Kirk Anderson may be able to help. He traps swarms and removes hives, then places the bees with a Backwards Beekeeper. Everyone wins.

Please note that Kirk does NOT handle wasps, hornets, yellowjackets, or any other non-bee insects.

For information and pricing, contact Kirk at (323) 646-9651 or kirk[at]kirksurbanbees[dot]com.

You can also call our Bee Rescue hotline, listed on the right side of this page.

1/16/09

Backwards Beekeepers TV episodes.

Backwards Beekeepers TV: Swarm Capture For Beginners

As the Backwards Beekeepers club grows ever larger, more and more people at our meetings tell us that they're ready for feral bees of their own, but they're intimidated by the thought of capturing a swarm themselves.

Well, here is a step-by-step guide on how it's done.

A few things to remember:

• Always wear protective gear! Swarms are typically quite docile, but it's important to always be prepared.

• Take your time and don't rush.

• Re-read your copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping, search this blog (using the box on the right), or post a question to our Yahoo group if there's anything you're unsure of.

• Take photos (with people in them as well, if possible) and send them in to the blog!

You can subscribe to our Yahoo group to get notifications of bees that are available for rescue.






Backwards Beekeepers TV: Hive War

I recently watched one of our hives get attacked by another bunch of bees. By the time I got a hold of a camera, the damage was done—but I had Kirk come over to do his specialized bee detective work.

Here's the result: Hive War! Soundtrack by Black Sabbath, of course.






Backwards Beekeepers TV: Treasure In A Swarm Trap

Here Kirk tells us why a swarm trap is useful, how to set one up, and how to transfer the bees to a hive once they've moved in.






Backwards Beekeepers TV: Swarm capture and hive rescue.

Kirkobeeo visits the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles to capture a bee swarm and rescue a hive. These bees were living in the garden behind the beautiful and historic Union Theatre—home of the Velaslavasay Panorama, which is well worth visiting.





Backwards Beekeepers TV: Smoker and Hive Basics

Especially for beginners, here's Kirkobeeo demonstrating how to light a smoker and take a simple look inside your hive.



If the video playback stutters on your computer, try the YouTube version.



Backwards Beekeepers TV: Bee Housekeeping

The morning after a big rain storm, the our hive's front porch was littered with bee corpses and other debris. But the workers had already started the cleanup by early morning, and before long the place was spotless. Here's a brief look at what they were doing.





Backwards Beekeepers TV: How To Make Starter Strips


Starter strips are the Backwards Beekeepers' alternative to the wax foundation traditionally used in beehive frames; the wax sheets sold commercially usually come from hives that use chemicals and fungicides. Letting your bees draw their own comb also means that they'll build cells that are the size they want, not the size you tell them to build. This means you get bees that are slightly smaller (just like in the wild) and better able to resist mites and other problems.





Backwards Beekeepers TV: The Honey Harvest


Collecting honey is the part of beekeeping that gets everyone the most excited, but how do we do it the Backwards way? Kirkobeeo takes us through the process as he opens up two of his hives in Studio City, one of which becomes very testy in the process. Then he shows us the fast and easy crush-and-strain method of extracting honey, which anyone can do at home with just a few inexpensive pieces of gear.

It's honey time!





Backwards Beekeepers TV: The ShopVac Bees (How to do a Cut-Out)


Backwards Beekeeping guru Kirk Anderson (aka Kirkobeeo) brings a ShopVac-turned-beehive over to Eric & Kelly of Homegrown Evolution..

Once there, he shows us how to do a cut-out, which is a live transplant of a bee hive from a bad location into a good one.





Backwards Beekeepers TV: Principles and Strategies


Kirkobeeo does a video chat on Skype with Danielle, who is president of a beekeepers association in Birmingham, Alabama. She and Kirk talk about the ideas behind Backwards Beekeeping and strategies for getting people informed about them.



We're always looking to make contact with other beekeepers around the world. If you'd like to do a conversation like this one, drop us an e-mail.

1/15/09

Do you want to become a beekeeper?











Here are some good first steps for getting started:

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. We also recommend Michael Bush's The Practical Beekeeper.

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.

4. When you're ready to get started with bees, make sure you're outfitted with protective gear! It doesn't need to be expensive, but it does need to keep you safe from stings.

Protective gear and other beekeeping supplies are available in Los Angeles at:

Los Angeles Honey Company
1559 Fishburn Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90063
(323) 264-2383

Brushy Mountain Bee Farm has an excellent selection online.

1/14/09

Before you ask a question, please read this!


Kirk says:

It is difficult to answer your questions about beekeeping without a Crystal Ball (or having observed your hive directly). So the more specific your question, the better.

Example question: "I got stung by one of my bees. I have been sitting close to my hive for months and never had a problem before. Are they mean?"

Answer: No, but one of them considered you a threat and stung you.

Bees are defensive of their hive. When they are small, they are busy working to get established and they don't have time to worry about a new beekeeper. But as they grow and get stronger, they have more bees and more resources to defend.

So don't underestimate the honey bee's desire to survive. The honey bee is dedicated to the survival of her hive. She doesn't speak English, she doesn't know your name, she can't read your mind. And most of all she doesn't think like a human. So having good beekeeping skills and knowledge can keep your experience with bees pleasurable.

So when asking a question, add where you live and keep bees, what you did, how you did it, and most important, what you observed! This will help me help you. And that is what I really want to do: help everyone succeed as a beekeeper and win at it. I'm not in it for the money.

So as stupid as you may think your question is, always ask it—always. We will attempt to answer it for you all.

Kirkobeeo

Got a beekeeping question? Post it to our Yahoo group.