REPOST Importing Bees: High Demand Creates a Huge Dilemma

Great article by Melanie Kirby of Zia Queen Bees in the Green Fire Times this month. Please read and share.

IMPORTING BEES: High Demand Creates a Huge Dilemma.

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Beekeeping is not for everyone. Educate yourself first.

Being a novice beekeeper is challenging. The constant feeling that you don’t know what you’re doing is compounded by your sudden responsibility to these small creatures swarming in your backyard. As Zen-like and comforting as beekeeping is, there’s always that hint of stress induced by your wanting to do right by these little insects that give you loads of sweetness and joy.

Before I even considered buying a hive I read books about beekeeping. Lots and lots of books. The first one was “A Book of Bees” by Sue Hubbell. My husband bought it for me. Then it was “Sweetness & Light” and “Robbing the Bees.” These were by no means “how-to” books, but they did give amazing detail and insight into what it meant to be a beekeeper. I also found a mentor — Ken Hays of Hays Honey & Apple Farm — who’d been keeping bees for 25+ years. We talked often and he allowed me to shadow him on his daily yard inspections. He was patient, joyful, inspiring, and encouraging. He said I would be the best type of beekeeper: loving, nurturing, and serious. It was only after a couple of months of this research that I finally bought my first hive. I continued to read. I called Ken and another mentor, Jerry Anderson, regularly to ask questions. They were always eager to help.

At this point, Albuquerque had a decent community of hobbyist beekeepers — beekeepers with 1 or 2 hives in their backyard. Now, seven years later, there are an estimated 400 backyard hobbyist beekeepers in the city. A group of energetic and well-meaning volunteers have gotten the Albuquerque Beekeepers group to a functional organization that provides workshops, mentors, forums, and other resources for beekeepers of all levels.

Still, it’s disheartening and somewhat alarming when you hear one of these newbie beekeepers ask basic questions like, “What do eggs look like?” “What does the queen look like?” “What’s a wax moth?” “My bees are all dead. What happened?” In my opinion, this is essentially the equivalent of giving birth to a child and then asking someone how you identify whether its a boy or a girl.

There’s basic knowledge that fledgling beekeepers should have before even starting a backyard apiary. Knowing how to spot the queen, workers, drones, larva, eggs, swarm cells, disease, pests, etc., are all included in that essential information. To start keeping bees before you can answer and identify these issues is irresponsible at best and egregious at worst. I have seen some hack beekeepers around these parts. One person had their hive in the 3-foot wide easement between his house and his neighbors, in full slight of the street. When we visited, the bees were pouring out the front for lack of space in the hive, and they flowed out onto the gas meter, which was right next to the hive bodies. He seemed not to be alarmed by this at all. Once when a swarm landed in our neighbors yard, a man showed up, walked right into her backyard without asking or introducing himself, hacked away at her bushes only to get about 1/3 of the cluster, and left without saying a word. More recently, the threat of Africanized Honeybees has encroached on our peaceful existence, and still we have beekeepers who know not the warning signs or causes for AHB or how to deal with them. The beekeeping community should not have to encourage them to send their unusually aggressive bees to the extension office to be examined for the AHB gene. They should know to do this.

Beekeeping is an amazing experience. Even now after seven years I’m still educating myself. I’m still learning every day. I’m working toward my master beekeeping certification, and love to share my knowledge and time with anyone who is interested in this mission that is so essential to our own survival as human beings. As urban beekeepers, we cannot take this lightly. Read, read, read, and read some more before you go out and snag a swarm or mail order a box of bees. Yes, the bees are operating on millennia of instinct, but that doesn’t absolve us from our responsibility as partners in this endeavor. Lack of knowledge and a willful refusal to educate yourself BEFORE you get your bees only makes it more difficult for the other beekeepers in your community.

Queen/Mating Nucs

As part of Ryan’s queen-rearing project, he created these “mating nucs,” which, in effect, are little queen nurseries (Ryan jokingly calls them brothels because they’re purpose is to house the queen until she’s mated). He took a deep hive body box and split it into four sections using clear plexiglass. He takes a viable, unhatched queen cell out of his queen-rearing box and puts her in with one frame of honey and one frame full of brood (eggs, larva, and pupa), so each box contains four nucs-in-the-making. Each section has it’s own entrance (see holes in front) so that when the queen emerges she can come out and do her mating flight.

 

The Launching of HolidayParkHoney.com

It’s official — we now have our own website. After several months of debating whether it was worth it, Ryan and I decided it was time to put our presence on the Web even though we are still a very small beekeeping operation.

For those of you who are not from Albuquerque or New Mexico it is important to know that urban beekeeping has taken off in this city and state over the past several years. The number of hobbyist beekeepers is amazing. There are also the larger commercial enterprises and then there are those who, like us, are in-between — that is, those who have more than one or two hives in the backyard but significantly less than those who have 100-2,000 commercial hives. Those are the folks who make their whole living off of bees and honey.

What has become the real big business here is beekeeping “schools” — businesses and individuals who make their living off of teaching others how to keep bees. Often times, they charge upwards of $400 for a week-long workshop. While we appreciate their efforts, we at Holiday Park Honey are of the belief that teaching people about beekeeping should be a cooperative effort that is less about making money for the individual and more about sharing knowledge through education and community service.

In most states, these types of services are offered by the County Cooperative Extension Office, which is in turn supported and sponsored by a state-run university. In tandem, these two entities share resources to interpret and extend relevant research-based knowledge into an understandable form to community members and to encourage the application of this knowledge to solve the problems of the beekeeping practitioner and other stakeholders. This cooperative effort serves the beekeeper, the community, and university researchers. In short, it makes for better and smarter beekeeping practices. New Mexico has no such effort. There is no master beekeeping program in this state. Most efforts to learn about healthy and sustainable beekeeping practices have a price tag attached to them, as such efforts are offered only by commercial enterprises.

As a result, Ryan and I are pursuing our Master Beekeeping Certification through Washington State’s Master Beekeeping Program. Our main focus is beekeeping education and awareness by:

  • Increasing public awareness about honey bees and beekeeping,
  • Encouraging mentorship and outreach, and
  • Supporting best-management and consistency in beekeeping practice

In order for us to achieve our goal of becoming master beekeepers, our commitment is to community service and outreach. We believe that this effort serves everyone’s best interests and makes for healthy people, healthy communities, and healthy economies. Please visit our site when you get a chance to learn about our beekeeping practices. And whether you’re seriously interested in beekeeping or just want to stand back and watch, we are always happy to have visitors.

Preparing for the Honey Harvest

Ryan putting together all of our new honey supers. He’s preparing for the harvest, and getting some hive bodies for the new nucs that he’s creating.

We are Langstroth beekeepers, which means we use the stackable box hives as opposed to top-bar hives, and instead of using the shallow honey supers we use regular deep-hive bodies for the honey supers as well as the brood boxes. We didn’t do this for any¬† particular reason, just a matter of choice. There’s only one disadvantage to using deep-hive bodies for our supers: our extractor only fits three deep frames, whereas if we used the shallow supers it would take six at a time. It just makes the harvest take a little longer.

We’re eager to rob our girls!

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Swarm, Catch, Scratch

Wednesday was an interesting day for beekeeping.

At about 2:15, Ryan emails me to let me know that his queen-rearing experiment has succeeded. He opened the box and found that he had mis-timed the extraction of the queen cells by a day. Some had hatched, which meant there were multiple queens in the box. In all he counted about 16 broken cells, which means that about 50 percent of what he grafted were reared successfully. Now, where the queens went, we have no idea. They may have slowly battled it out until the mightiest took reign. It’s a bit sad to think that we missed out on so many healthy queens, but at least we know that we don’t have to go out and buy our queens elsewhere.

He did find one queen crawling around the box and deposited her into one of our queenless colonies. She immediately began fluttering her wings to spread her pheromone throughout the new hive. Amazing.

Then at 3:15 Ryan emailed again and said that we’d had our first swarm from a split that he had created a couple of weeks ago. He said he and Charlotte watched as the cloud swirled and buzzed and landed on our neighbor’s basketball post. When I got home they were still there (see photos below), thankfully, and I helped Ryan get a box and balance it above the swarm. True to form, they were so docile he worked them in shorts and a t-shirt with no problems. Then he smoked them from the bottom, and up, up, up they went into the box. Shazam! A new colony.

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THEN…

Ryan decides to check the hive that swarmed to see what’s up. Again, he’s out there in his shorts and T-shirt looking in the box and then he hears this scratching noise on the frame he’s looking at. He brings the frame over and asks me if I hear it. Sure enough, we look closely and there’s the new queen emerging from her supersedure cell. I guess the old queen knew it was time to go, so she swarmed with half the colony.

The beauty of it all is that we got this video of the queen emerging from her cell. (Sorry for the slightly fuzzy zoom moment.) Enjoy!

The Beekeeper’s Spring

As you can guess, springtime poses the greatest challenges for beekeepers. It’s a make-or-break time when you could easily lose a colony to cold snaps or starvation or swarming. This spring has been a particular challenge as Ryan has discovered that three of our colonies have become queenless in the past couple of weeks. Normally, the colony will notice if their queen is on her way out by her sparse laying pattern (or no laying at all). Their instinct is to rear a new queen so that she can begin laying eggs and building colony strength and numbers in preparation for the nectar flow. You don’t want your colonies to go queenless for too long, as it weakens the hive over a very short period of time. We’re not too certain what happened to these queens, but Ryan has instituted a queen-rearing project and hopes to have at least five new queens within the next couple of weeks. It will be interesting as this is the first time he will be doing this. As usual, he’s the consummate beekeeper — always equal to the task and ready to help his girls in any way he can.

On a lighter note, this spring has been a presentation spring for us. We were called upon to do a beekeeping presentation for Marissa Hamilton’s second-grade class at Hawthorne Elementary School here in Albuquerque. Ryan has been planning to make an observation hive for some time, and this was the perfect motivation for him to get the project completed. It was so great to see the looks on the childrens’ faces when we brought in our “glass” hive with the bees hard at work inside. Of course, I forgot the camera. {Post sad face emoticon here.}

We do have photos of another presentation we did for the Albuquerque Urban Beekeepers Association (ABQBeeks). Chantal Forster and Jessie Brown, co-coordinators of the group, invited us to the Spring Maintenance Meeting, where Ryan and I talked about maintenance of our Langstroth Hives. My presentation was pretty straightforward, but Ryan did a great talk on how he over-wintered a very weak colony by placing it on top of a stronger colony with a screened bottom board to allow for the warmth to sustain the weak hive during the coldest months. He also introduced his two-sided nuc hives, which were a great hit.

We hope to do more of these types of educational programs in the future, as we are both working toward our Master Beekeeper certification through the Washington State Beekeepers Association (New Mexico does not have such a program).

The greatest hit of all was the Observation Hive. Below are photos.

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Too long!

It’s been too long since I’ve posted anything on this. TWO YEARS! Totally unacceptable. Lots has changed. Married, five hives, ABD doctoral student, and a baby daughter. Will post new stuff soon!

XXOO

Monica