Thursday, September 22, 2016

Beekeeping Show and Tell

I just got back from a show-and-tell at my daughter's pre-school. I came with my bee suit and a nucleus hive and some combs that I let the kids poke at. I gave a very short and simple talk about beekeeping and answered all the kids questions.

In engineering school, they taught us that we had a duty to our society to be involved with the public and teach people about what we do, and I apply that to beekeeping as well.

If you have one or more years of successful beekeeping, I suggest that you make yourself available to everyone that asks. I have had numerous opportunities to make presentations to elementary school classes and other places. By doing this we can get in early and promote good beekeeping practice before people get indoctrinated to the "conventional" beekeeping model.

Remember to bring some honey, and an observation hive really helps.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Stop Supporting Commercial Beekeepers

Dear treatment free beekeepers,
Please stop buying bees from commercial treating beekeepers.
It's like refusing to buy cheap plastic Chinese junk. Most people are still going to do it because it's cheaper and They are going to get cheap plastic junk. But I know there are many in this group who are much more conscientious than that.
When you buy packages from treating commercial beekeepers, you do one or more of the following:
You waste your money.
You perpetuate the problem of weak bees.
You show that the Commercial Beekeepers are right, that you're just a beehaver buying replacements for dead bees because you don't have any idea what you're doing.
You prop up a system of beekeeping which is bad for the environment.
You prop up a system of agriculture which is bad for the environment.
You prop up a system of beekeeping which is bad for the bees.
If you think you're "helping the bees" you're actually doing the opposite.
You feed a beekeeping philosophy which is intellectually bankrupt.
You hold this movement back by supporting its opponents.
You slow the progress of adaptation and evolution.
Look, we're gonna win. One day I will change the name of this group to "beekeeping" because treating won't be a thing anymore. But we need your help.
Buy only TF bees.
Better yet, don't buy bees at all. Invest in swarm traps.
Let no swarm call go unanswered.
Split from your own stock. Split early. Split often.
This movement requires we change the status quo. The last time I bought commercial treated bees was 2003. I will never do it again.
Most of all, do your job as a beekeeper and mentor someone. Tell them not to buy packages or queens from treaters. Show them how to catch swarms. Teach them how to split, raise queens, make new hives.
This is happening. You can push us forward or you can hold us back. I am one person. The ball is in your court.
For those of you looking four sources of treatment-free bees, check out this map.

For those of you who have TF bees and services to sell, send me your contact info and a list of products, and I will add you to the map.  Email me at Solomon W Parker at G mail.

Permanent home of the map is at Parker Bees.


The Commercial Conundrum

If you're familiar with my work, you know that I am strictly against "magic bullet genetics." One of the things that bugs me about all the so-called research is that they never seem to actually consult those of us that are already doing it. No stock available? Hardly, just not widely accepted by the scientists. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-science or anti-medicine as is admittedly common in this group. But when for instance, I read studies on small cell foundation, I can see almost instantly that these people not only have no idea what they're doing, they obviously hasn't asked for help from anyone who does!

This is a huge point of frustration for many of us in this movement. Bee scientists and commercial beekeepers absolutely refuse to do anything differently. They just apply our methods half heartedly and point and laugh when they fail. Of course they fail! You didn't actually do what we suggest!

I actually have made the point that commercial migratory beekeeping may be impossible due to the fact that bees are fundamentally not meant to move and be exposed to that much disease that often. But commercial stationary honey production absolutely is and there are already a handful, if not dozens doing it.

Breeding bees with specific traits like ankle biters and VSH is ultimately a futile effort. I have been saying for years that the only ultimate solution is to stop treating and let it work itself out. And it does. However, few if any commercial beekeepers can actually let that happen or they go bankrupt. I get that.

We have a major problem with newbees making a mess of things on the forums. But there are a lot of us doing this. And there are parts of this country where almost everybody is TF. The commercial conundrum is something that is going to have to be worked through for many years to come.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Freshman Beekeepers Dispensing Advice

There is something I've been thinking about lately.
I recently had to boot somebody from my Treatment-Free Beekeeping group who kept making incessant mentions of the fact that one might do something about one's problems, but one couldn't mention it because this is the treatment-free group. That's trolling.
At any rate, he (or maybe she) complained once booted that he/she had followed the rules, "I answer the questions on the page correctly when people ask about how you accomplish your mission, by brood breaks and selective breeding etc."
Here are the issue I have with this sentiment:
1. If you do not practice what you preach, then you are not answering correctly, unless you put with your statement a disclaimer that you actually don't know what you're talking about.
2. By advancing ideas that you do not practice, you are subtly introducing error into these ideas. You don't know what you're talking about so you don't know when you are in error.
3. Others will undoubtedly see these pronouncements and take them to heart, not knowing that they are actually forming an unknowing link in a game of Telephone.
4. The end result is that people go forth with ideas that are not quite correct and may end up with failing results.
You can see that as an educator who focuses on new beekeepers, this is absolutely the last thing that I want, people going forth with incomplete or erroneous information and having a bad time beekeeping. I don't want your hives after you've given up after one season of unsuccessful beekeeping (especially if they are 8-frame).
The fact is, I do not accomplish my treatment-free beekeeping practice through brood breaks. I just don't. It's not part of my program. And while I believe it can be very helpful for many beginning beekeepers, it should not be considered a long term strategy. The long term strategy should be building up hive numbers (either as an individual or as a collective) so that when losses come, they will push you back to a number you're more comfortable with rather than drag you back to a number from which is hard to recover.
When you listen to my podcasts, you may notice that I am very careful to buttress my remarks on topbar hives with disclaimers that I do not keep topbar hives and that the information I am passing on is gleaned from more knowledgeable and experienced beekeepers in that area. And this is incredibly important. It is vital that experienced beekeepers pass on accurate information to new beekeepers.
So when a treating beekeeper offers advice like this to this group, realize that they are just as inexperienced as any other freshman beekeeper. They are not qualified to dispense information. And I ask those of you that are new beekeepers and just learning this stuff, please do not offer advice to those asking if you have not likewise already done the things you are talking about. I know you are eager to share what you have learned, but please please, be eager instead to share what you have done.
I have seen countless examples of first year beekeepers trying to tell seasoned commercial beekeepers that they are doing it wrong. This is unfathomably counter productive. Please don't do it. It really puts our movement in a very bad light, and galvanizes opponents to our cause.
Thank you for your time,

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Feeding dry sugar:

I ONLY recommend feeding dry sugar if feeding is necessary to accomplish YOUR goal of keeping a hive from starving. Let me be very clear that the proper way to keep bees in the TF concept is to let an established hive die if it refuses to gather enough honey to survive the winter. They are not pets. They are not rabbits. You don't need to dump food in their home. Their very purpose is to go out, get food, and bring it back to you.
That being said, sometimes when you're just starting out, or starting with packages (not recommended) or the first winter with a swarm or a split, feeding might be necessary to accomplish YOUR goal of the hive not dying. I find syrups to be very risky because they cause robbing and bees will refuse to take them in the winter. Pollen substitute should never be fed for the simple reason that the best way to stimulate hive to make brood in the spring is to have bees well adapted to your area. Feeding dry sugar has the benefits of: minimal amount of work, not stimulative, will not cause robbing, cannot be fed except in winter when needed, and will not end up in next year's honey crop.
How to do it, Follow these steps:
1. Open the top of the hive.
2. Find the cluster.
3. Remove empty boxes above the cluster. (If you have boxes of honey above the cluster, then you don't need to feed. Only do this if there is not enough honey left to survive the winter).
4. Place a paper towel on the top bars right above or on top of the cluster. Those shorter sheets work well because three of them are about the size of the box.
5. Pile sugar on the paper towel. If bees are flying, you may want to moisten it. I recommend not doing this until well into winter so bees aren't flying.
6. Place an empty box on the top of the hive around the sugar. The shorter the box the better. My favorite is the bottom three inches of a box sawed off a deep box to make a medium. But a medium or shallow or even deep will work.
7. Put the lid on.
8. As needed, open the top, lay down another paper towel, and pile more sugar on. The bees will only use what they need.
9. At the end of winter, remove chunks of sugar and store for reuse next year.
That's all there is to it. But remember, if you have a sufficient number of hives to absorb losses, it would be better to let poor performers pass on and replace them next year. Better yet, go into winter with more hives than you want or need so your losses will actually help your accomplish having the number of hives you want rather than work against it.