Viewer mail

Steven in Tennessee writes:

When you start a new colony of bees, do you ever use a nuc or package?

I'm starting a colony in the spring and will be getting 2 nucs from a local beekeeper associated with the university of Tennessee.

When I start these nucs they will be on foundation, can I place the starter strip frames around those and it be ok?

Thanks. Any info on this topic would be great.


Kirk replies:

For the newbees out there who are wondering what a nuc is, here's the definition.

Kirk also mentions that you can join The Backwards Beekeepers group on Yahoo.

And here's our video on how to make starter strips:


Video: What works, and what doesn't

Here's another video that Kirk found on YouTube. It features Jacqueline Freeman, who has an upcoming book about beekeeping. The video is a bit long because it also includes interviews with two commercial beekeepers who use chemicals and who (not surprisingly) are having lots of problems.

Jacqueline hits all the points that are the basis of Backwards Beekeeping:

—Chemical-free beekeepers aren't seeing any collapse in their hives.

—Using foundationless frames to let the bees draw their own comb makes the bees healthier and lets them regulate themselves.

—Putting chemicals on bees (as virtually all commercial beekeepers do) gives you nothing but weak bees and strong pathogens.

—Using local bees whose queens mate in the wild gives you healthy bees with broad genetic diversity.

—Trucking bees around the country to pollinate monocultured crops stresses the bees and makes them weaker.

—Let your bees keep enough of their own honey over winter so you don't have to feed them sugar water.


Artisanal LA re-cap

Amy, Kirk and I had a great time at the Artisanal LA festival this last weekend. We talked to hundreds of people who were fascinated by the idea that they could become beekeepers; I think we'll see a few of them at this Sunday's Backwards Beekeepers meeting.

Lawndale Backwards Beekeeper Dennis (of The Buzz In The Dale) donated an observation hive to the club, and it was a huge magnet that brought both kids and adults to the Backwards Beekeepers booth.

Everyone wanted to taste honey from chemical-free bees. Once they did, they definitely got the message.

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.

You can watch the video in full-size HD here.

Video: Re-queening a mean hive

Kirk found this great video made by TheOhioCountryBoy on YouTube.

Very occasionally a hive will turn mean to the point where the bees become unmanageable (it happened to Amy and me earlier this year). This video shows an elegant method of re-queening such a hive from brood with calmer genetics. It's a step up from Beginner's Beekeeping and requires you to put up with the mean bees for several weeks, but it has the great benefit of eliminating the bad behavior without losing the hive.

Next meeting: Sunday, October 31st!

Photo credit: Peter Bennett

Here's the plan for our next Backwards Beekeepers meeting.

When: Tomorrow! Sunday, October 31st at 11am
Where: Under Spring outdoor space at Farmlab in downtown L.A.

    Come on down! Everyone is welcome, whether you're a newbee or not.

    Kirk will be doing an inspection of Farmlab's two hives, so if you want a close look, bring your protective gear!

    We'll also have Backwards Beekeepers t-shirts for sale—including size XXL! All shirts cost $15.

    Click here for directions to Farmlab.

    You want to follow the above directions most of the way, but park on Aurora and walk through the alley (under Spring) to the meeting.

    Check out this view to see what it looks like from the street.


    Backwards Beekeepers at Artisanal LA

    Kirk, Russell and I will be giving a talk about beekeeping this Saturday at 1pm at this weekend's Artisanal LA event. We'll also be manning a booth all weekend, so come on by to try some honey, learn about beekeeping, buy a t-shirt, check out the observation hive (!) or just say hi. We're excited to meet some like-minded locals.

    We'd love to see you there!


    Roberta's big tree trap-out

    LA Backwards Beekeeper Ruth writes on our Yahoo group:

    Roberta took me, Yvonne, and our high school student Julian on a challenging trap out on Saturday. We watched and helped as she expertly directed the flow, and a massive hive of flying bees turned into a controlled movement from tree to box.

    Julian is writing his 12th grade term paper on CCD.

    By the way, that wooden nuc box is hand made from actual coffin-wood from a cemetery!

    Click here to view pictures of the trap-out.


    Roberta adds:

    This is our team (Yvonne, Ruth and Julian) that came out to take care of this old tree that has had a big hive for over a year.

    We set-up the trap out and went back after a week to remove some of the bees. We replaced it with another box with comb and eggs to trap out some more bees. Chris, the homeowner, has alot of respect for bees. He works at Hatfield's Restaurant, where they're well aware of the importance of bees; they even have a chandelier in the shape of the hive.

    We got the comb for the trap out from a cut out from a fence hive in Lake Balboa.

    Tod there called us because his landlord wanted to exterminate the bees but he and his family wanted to save them. His son was ready to get in there and give them a "good home." Pieces of honey filled comb came off with the fence. In the end the neighbor on the other side of the tree really loved the bees so we left some for him. Hopefully not so many as to upset the landlord.



    Your Bee Rescue Hotline at work: Carson

    Steve in Carson called the Bee Rescue Hotline this morning about bees in a shed, and Lawndale Backwards Beekeeper Dennis headed right over—as he explains on his blog:

    The shed turned out to be an ancient wooden trailer like they used to haul to construction sites. It is not stable enough for any major deconstruction. It was used by Steve's dad as tool shed and the bees inside had become a concern for Steve when Dad wanted to do a little work now and then.

    The bees had full access from an opening on the West side of the building and were very active. They were not aggressive to us but were active. Click on the picture and you can see columns of comb on the right side. Steve did not think the opening was much deeper than the size of the hole and had no idea how far back it went. Apparently in the past bees were at the other end of the shed and had been terminated. That was not the plan for today...

    "Max's Work At Work" (The Buzz In The Dale)

    As you'll see from Dennis' story, not every bee situation has an easy solution. But it looks like Dennis has helped to make a new beekeeper, and may have found another haven for rescued bees.


    Bees in the 'hood

    LA Backwards Beekeeper Max lives in Mt. Washington, and she wrote a great story for her neighborhood paper about how she and Steve added beekeeping to their lives:

    We sold all forty gallons of honey, in four ounce jar increments, in just one week, making $300. This almost covered all of our start up costs. Since the waiting list for our honey is as long as my arm, I know that we’ll have no problem selling out our future harvests and we’ll be operating in the black as soon as January.

    In addition to making money from the sale of honey and beeswax from our backyard bees, I’ve been hired by a variety of clients – including many of my neighbors, the City of Beverly Hills, a reality television show, and a local graveyard – to remove bee swarms and colonies on other people’s property. Although I treat beekeeping as my hobby job, several Backwards Beekeeping members have started doing bee rescue as their full time profession.

    At a time when the economy is so shaky, I feel lucky that I’ve created a valuable service job for myself that cannot be outsourced beyond the community, doesn’t have to be subsidized by the government or a private financing source, generates next to no trash, doesn’t rely on the exploitation of animals or people, and has such a positive impact on the environment.

    "Beekeeping" (Max Wong in the Mount Washington Association newsletter) (pdf)


    New beekeeper success

    Kathryn writes to our Yahoo group:

    I got bees a couple of months ago from Bill Lewis to inhabit my brand-spanking new 8 frame hive. Along with my sparkling white veil and gloves, shiny chrome smoker and happy buzzing family, I hit the ground running. I read books, watched videos and inspected the hives every few weeks.

    As I looked into the bustling hive I realized -- I had no idea what I was looking at. Were they growing at a healthy rate? Were they making enough honey? So I called up Kirk and asked him to come out and tell me what I was seeing and was it good news.

    So Kirk comes out and assesses my newbee status by the cleanliness of my gear. Wow, I was that obvious? ;-) You got me! My husband peers around the corner of the house from a safe distance shaking his head, "You're crazy!" He won't be saying that when he's getting that honey next year.

    We crack open the hive and he points out the good brood pattern, the nice store of honey and the calmness of the bees in general. They were outside fanning, bringing in pollen -- doing all those things a happy healthy hive will do.

    I get the seal of approval from an expert Backwards Beekeeper!

    So, I'm on my way in this adventure with a clean bill of bee health and relief that I'm getting this thing right so far.

    Looking forward to meeting everyone at the Oct 31 meet up! Thank you, Kirk!

    Looking under the hood of a much-reported study

    A recently released study from the University of Montana, Missoula and Army scientists at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center finds that the widely reported "colony collapse disorder" among commercial honeybees is due to the tag-team effect of a previously unknown virus and a well-known fungus called Nosema ceranae.

    The New York Times picked up the story (and ran it under the breathless headline "Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery"). It has lots of juicy elements, including a high-tech new tool that can analyze samples of dead bees for the presence of viruses. At last—technology and improved chemical treatments are riding in to save the day for bees, right?

    Not so fast, writes Katherine Eban at Fortune:

    What the Times article did not explore -- nor did the study disclose -- was the relationship between the study's lead author, Montana bee researcher Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, and Bayer Crop Science. In recent years Bromenshenk has received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination. Indeed, before receiving the Bayer funding, Bromenshenk was lined up on the opposite side: He had signed on to serve as an expert witness for beekeepers who brought a class-action lawsuit against Bayer in 2003. He then dropped out and received the grant.

    Bromenshenk's company, Bee Alert Technology, which is developing hand-held acoustic scanners that use sound to detect various bee ailments, will profit more from a finding that disease, and not pesticides, is harming bees...

    As for the Bayer-Bromenshenk connection, in 2003 a group of 13 North Dakota beekeepers brought a class-action lawsuit against Bayer, alleging that the company's neonicotinoid, Imidacloprid, which had been used in nearby fields, was responsible for the loss of more than 60% of their hives. "My bees were getting drunk," Chris Charles, a beekeeper in Carrington, N.D., and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told me in 2008. "They couldn't walk a white line anymore -- they just hung around outside the hive. They couldn't work."

    ...The beekeepers tried to enlist more expert witnesses, but others declined, according to two of the beekeeper plaintiffs, in large part because they had taken research money from Bayer and did not want to testify against the company. One who agreed -- Bromenshenk -- subsequently backed out and got a research grant from Bayer. Bromenshenk insists the two actions were unrelated. "It was a personal decision," he says. "I, in good conscience, couldn't charge beekeepers for services when I couldn't help them." He adds, "Eventually, the lawyers stopped calling. I didn't quit. They just stopped calling."

    Homegrown Evolution analyzes:

    I think what's missing in bee research, in general, is a whole systems approach to the problem. Not only are commercial beekeepers trucking their bees thousands of miles, but they are using miticides, not allowing the bees to form their own comb, limiting the numbers of drones, breeding weak stock and exposing the bees to pesticides such as imidacloprid (manufactured by Bayer!) to name just a few questionable practices. All of this bad beekeeping promulgates bees with weakened immune systems. The researchers may find a "solution," but with weak bees some other problem will come along in a few years and we'll be right back where we started. Meanwhile the big commercial beekeepers cling to pesticides as the cause of CCD since this thesis allows them to carry on without addressing all of the aforementioned practices.

    CCD is nothing new--it's happened before and will happen again until we start keeping bees in a more natural manner. To "solve" CCD with some kind of treatment regimen or a hand held detection gadget is a bit like the government propping up those "too big to fail" banks. Everything works fine until the next bubble comes along.

    Meanwhile, as before, feral bees are thriving. Backwards is the new forwards.


    Max & bees on KABC this morning

    LA Backwards Beekeeper Max shows her high degree of media skills in this story from KABC this morning. Well done Max!


    Kirk finds a robbed hive at Farmlab

    Kirk paid a visit to Meredith at downtown LA's Farmlab, the site of our Backwards Beekeeper meetings. Here's his description of what he found:


    Kirk looks in on some slow-growing bees

    Kirk checks in on an Eagle Rock hive, and gives us some bonus tips of what to watch out for now that the weather's been hot and the wild bee forage is dwindling.

    Want to know how to make a baggie feeder for your bees? Here are instructions.