Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Nifty video of some of nature's most prolific pollinators

The video linked was shown at a TED conference. TED is an organization that highlights a number of different things, mostly of a scientific nature but also often of philisophical or humanitarian view points.

Louis Scwhartzberg put together an film called "The Wings of Life" (click here to view the full video and read the attached blog from http://www.ted.com/). As I watched a shot of a field covered in hundreds and thousands of monarch butterflies, I realized how fragile our hold on this earth is. While we think we have a lot of control and that everything will be fine moving forward, we ignore that we pump a large number of poisons into our bodies and thus our environment. Did you know that benzoyl peroxide is used to bleach flour? I can't "diss" the chemical too much as it's the only thing that does a decent job keeping my acne under control, yet I still ponder what a chemical that is related to jet fuel does to our bodies, especially as a food processing additive. We know for sure that it strips flour of most nutrients, otherwise we wouldn't need it to be "enriched" with vitamins and minerals.

In about two months the annual almond pollination season begins. Roughly three quarters of the commercial bee hives in the U.S. will be trucked down to California. The bees will be forced to live off of almond pollen and nectar solely (imagine eating only one thing day in and day out - not a good way to get all the nutrients your body needs). The will be crowded in together with hundreds of other hives in cramped quarters (tenement living seems to be a good metaphor). The bees will spread different diseases and mites to each other (bees are social animals and will happily allow any bee that comes to its hive entrance if it has a gullett fully loaded with nectar). Various pesticides are used to control the mites. Various antibiotics are used to treat the diseases.

The mites and diseases get stronger and the bees get weaker.

The stress of the forced migration to California and then on to the rest of country as the beekeepers follow the honey makes the bees even weaker. Without getting overly anthropomorphic, I think we can a leap to say the same thing about us. As we pump more and more and chemicals into our own bodies and eat more and more corn-based products (high-fructose corn syrup being a leading contender but also from the beef, chicken and pork we eat that eat the all the industrial grade corn being grown) the weaker we will become and the more resistant and stronger the diseases will become.

Colony collapse disorder came to the bees, what will come to us?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Trust your gut

As a writer-kinda-guy, I follow many of the quirks that writers tend to follow. One of these quirks is when I would rather be writing I find myself in a position where I can't (like I'm at work on the phone with someone I would rather not be talking to). Or, when I could be writing, I find myself distracting myself from writing (like right now I have YouTube videos of a band I loved as a teen going and there's this really cool song from one of their later albums that I managed to never hear...or I'm watching one of the few WV shows I feel is worth watching or I'm finding chores to do (crazy, huh?)). To be honest about the blog and dodging writing anything in it is that we've had a hard season with the bees and I really haven't felt like writing about the tragedy of this year.

Though that is a very doom and gloom look at the year and really isn't true. Read on about the 2011 bee season and the lesson John and I learned: trust your gut feelings.

Things looked promising at the beginning of the year. The two hives we had looked like they had gotten through the winter very well and we had found a new home that went in line with our philosophies about organic agriculture at Katy's farm in Strasburg just a marathon's run from my place in Aurora. The first couple of visits looked very promising for a very good year. Then it looked like we caught another cool break and would be on par for tripling our hives: we had plans of splitting the Italians and Sicilians and we had caught several swarms (having no idea that each of them were likely from the same hive and kicking out virgin queens; something that may be a problem next year if that particular trait is not removed through the drones said queens mated with). But the weather that made catching our first swarm so easy - lots of steady drizzling and unseasonally cool weather - would seem to spell the doom that has been the lot of this season.

Our first blow was discovering that the Sicilians swarmed off withouth leaving a replacement queen. So instead of having two splits and 2 feral hives joining them, we split the Italians and merged the last virgin queen swarm with the remaining Sicilians. Again, to be honest we were not entirely unhappy at getting rid of the Sicilians through nature's rhythms, just surprised. We really didn't like them and I think we would have gassed them or some other evil thing if they hadn't been such good producers. Hmmmm...as a complete aside, we had often joked that they were Africanized a bit since they were so easy to upset and tended to follow you long distances when aroused. I just realized that one of the other major traits for Africanized honey bees (often misnamed as the killer bees) is they swarm off quite readily. There's a good chance that the original queen spent time in California as it's difficult to raise nucs and queens in Colorado that will be ready for the April/May demand. My thought on that is "Crap." The nice thing about Colorado is that it's too cold for the typical Africanized colony. What if our limitations only make them stronger in the long run? More than likely, the Sicilians did have a touch of Mafia-like aggression, but it leaves me to wonder at the coincidence.

Anyway, back to the season at large. Our second blow I didn't recognize in time. Trivia question: what does it mean to have a bunch, and I mean dozens, of dead drones outside of a hive? At the time I saw them, I didn't know, but I figured it out nearly too late. The clue is in what drones are notoriously considered: couch potato sex maniacs looking for a handout and a good time before they die (hopefully dying right after they have a good time - unlike spiders, it's guaranteed that a male bee will die after inseminating a queen. Spiders can try to run). While this is an unfair characterization to some degree, because the drones only eat honey and don't help to produce it, when the hive is low on stores their sisters are gonna let their bros die out in the cold.

Here's what I think happened: those spring rains that made it so easy to catch the first swarm also seem to have damned the spring and summer flowers out in Strasburg. Too few flowers bloomed to support the three hives we had and the two or three Katy and the other beekeeper had. In my last post I mentioned my concer. The situation just kept getting worse for them until we moved them back to Aurora. At this point I would like to send out a big "THANK YOU!" to our friends Holly & Andy McGraw (who took in one of the Italian splits) and Dee Dee & Alan Curry (who took in the ferals) for taking a hive each.

Had I trusted my gut, I would have brought them back to Aurora much sooner. Instead I kept thinking that something has to bloom soon. It just has to. Evidently it did, too. Right after we moved the hives back to Aurora Katy let John know that her last hive was suddenly bursting with bees and honey. John is figuring we should have just waited. I prefer to have delusions of charity and believe that moving our girls off left enough food for Katy's. And I'm sticking to that.

So we got them back and inspected them 2 weeks later. Lo and behold, the ferals appeared queenless. No new eggs were present and the brood was at least a couple of weeks old. So I had to find another queen. Which I did from Kentner Farms out in Lakewood.I ran the queen over to the Curry's to get her installed. And, alas, there were tons and tons of brand new eggs. How comic, eh? Another gut instinct that I ignored was to check the hive again to be sure the obviously present queen wasn't just laying off the laying until better crops became available.

The last bit of tragedy came during yesterday's inspection. We placed the other Italian split in John's yard (home again, home again!). We figured we would be rejoining them with their sisters at the McGraw's, but it was too late. It's quite depressing to see several tiny bee bottoms sticking out of their mausoleum-like cells, now dead in a permanent record of their last attempts to survive. We went over to check their sisters expecting the same funereal scene. Instead we were greeted with what appeared to be a vibrant colony. Note: I said appeared.

Having pessimistically left our equipment at John's, we scurried back to get it with a smile on our face. As we prepared to crack open the hive to the hope that they were thriving, I really started watching what was going on. This is a gut thing that I did pay attention to. I noticed that a lot of the activity was focused at the back corner of the hive: quite odd. And a bunch of bees kept flying underneath the hive: odder still. Then I noticed a fight at the front entrance: oddity solved. Our girls were being robbed!

I had John feed both Italian splits earlier in the week or the week before - can't quite remember when as I couldn't stick around to help with it. Using the standard 1:1 sugar water solution that I prepared, John had gone ahead and placed them. With the dead split, I was not surprised that the gallon jar was completely empty as dead bees can't defend a hive. The unusual behavior with the other split leads me to believe that the raiding bees found some spilt sugar water under the hive adn had started a bee line for that. Another smart move we made was to place an entrance reducer on both hives. This made the security of the hive much easier for the Italians as any good commander knows that it's much easier to guard a narrow passageway than a wide open field.

Had we trusted John's gut, we might not have had to worry about robbing at all. Right now is a desparate time for all bees, not just ours. Every hive has to make sure they have enough honey to get through the year and bees will exploit any opportunity they can. So after removing the feeding jar we threw a sheet over the hive to allow our girls to knock off the raiders that were left and give them time to regroup. John later looked for sugar underneath and couldn't find any. It's possible the raiders caught a whiff of the sugar and were intent on getting at it. And, with sudden horror, I just realized that if their hive has the bottom board I think they do, the screen I used is big enough for bees to get through! Crap: gotta go....

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Update on the hives

We've had a couple of really heavy rain storms the last few days - something of a blessing in semi-arid Colorado! The moisture will give a nice midseason boost to the flowers and that will surely help the bees.

I inspected our Strasburg hives this morning and they are coming along nicely. All three have small but strong populations and queens that are laying eggs. Plenty of brood in all stages from just hatched to capped and ready populate the frames. I am concerned that the only hive with decent honey stores is the feral's, but most of that came from the Sicilians that proceded them.

The newly queened Italian hive seems to be getting along nicely. I finally got around to some long overdue housecleaning in their hive. Here's an important lesson to any beekeeper: make sure you have the bee space right! Last year, rather than keeping on top of spacing, we just let them go to town on one of their deeps. Bad idea and I found out why at the end the season. They had built two sections of comb off of one frame. When I pulled that frame up for an inspection, a good bit of comb was left behind. Unfortunately, the comb was loaded with brood, so we couldn't rightfully fix the problem then. I just set the frame back in and we basically had a ten-frame configuration going with nine frames. This year, they had switched that bit of comb (just a bit larger than a normal frame, actually) to honey storage. So I pulled up that comb and put in the upper deep so they wouldn't lose the little that they had. I heard of a trick that you can do with Langstroth frames and loose comb: rubber band it into a frame till the bees secure it more properly. Two things prevented me from doing this. First, no rubber bands. Second, it's kinda old, sad-looking comb. Since this was basically filler comb for badly spaced frames, I figure there's little loss.

The last thing I want to discuss with the Strasburg hives is attitude. Now that the Sicilians are gone (long live the Sicilians!), there's a bit of a difference in the atmosphere around their old hive. The feral hive that we replaced the swarmed-off Sicilians with are really easy to handle. I'd just about call them sedate they're so easy going.

As for the top bar hive in John's yard populated by the other bit of ferals we captured, they seem to be rocking it. And here's another lesson on bee space...maybe it's a theme for this post. In constructing the TBH I missed one incredibly important thing: a bit of wood to start the proper spacing in the front of the hive. Marty Hardison calls this a cleat and it would have helped an accidental harvest. About a week ago John and I did a quick inspection and I discovered my mistake even more quickly. The bees had built the comb for each frame to the front of each frame rather than off the lead. Live and learn, they say.

Unfortunately, this caused them to attach some of the combs to the frame forward of the main frame, thus weakening the connection to the frame. The only way to really correct this problem is cutting off the comb and making them start over. Well, with one of the frames, that's exactly what they'll have to do. As I was lifting the frame, the top half filled with honey and the bottom with brood, it collapsed on me. John's comment: "This is possibly the worst inspection I have ever seen you do, Bob."

This is actually the third time that a frame has fallen apart on me. Last year's collapse was a honey comb. The first one from this year was also a honey comb with some brood that I was able to secure in the upper deep of the Italians with the original queen. Last year's and this latest one turned into accidental harvests. With this year's, I placed the comb that had brood on it toward the back of the hive to encourage the workers to go that way and to make sure they didn't lose any of the work force. I must mention, despite my messy manhandling of their home, they also appear quite easy to handle, though more energetic than their Strasburg sisters.

I must say that the honey from the TBH is mighty tasty! It's a semi-opaque orange-amber color with a touch of cloudiness from the pollen that also was stored in the comb. The honey is sweet, but not overpoweringly so, and has a lovely citrus touch to it. There's good flavor in this part of the season's flowers!

When we did the first inspection, we knew that the hive would be exploding with bees soon as the queen is a prolific layer and much of the brood present was capped. I took a peak at them yesterday and, yep, their population has exploded. The comb that I placed in the back is all hatched and cleared of brood. Now the girls are using it to store honey. Waste not...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

This is just kinda neat!

A few weeks ago an apiarist from France commented on my article, "A Call to Organic Beekeeping." I was astounded that we might have had an international audience for our little blog. But I didn't realize how international we had become until I looked at the stats just now. People from nine other countries, including India and China, have taken at least a peak at A Natural Beekeeping Blog. Most of the pageviews have been directed at my "Call," leading me to believe that this is a subject that is becoming near and dear to people everywhere.

By the averages, it looks like about 15 or so people visit our site every day (and it's not me - this is the first time I've checked it out since my last post - bad blogger!). It's humbling to know that people stop by, but it's empowering  as well as John and I try to do this little bit to help those lovely pollinators, Apis mellifera, and others that are in danger of disappearing off the face of the earth.

One of the other fun stats was seeing where we get views sourced from. In a very early entry I mentioned an inspiration on why it only took me about two seconds to decide to become a beekeeper when John asked if I was interested. That inspiration came from Allen Estrin's journal on honeys that he had tried from around the globe (for those of you who don't know or don't click on the links provided, Allen is the producer for the Dennis Prager Show, a wonderfully smart conservative AM radio talk show host). If you want to get a literary flavor of how many types of honey bees produce and get your palate dying for the amazing substance, read his journal. But the fun thing for me about Allen's journal besides the honey is that if you Google his name along with honey, our blog is the first thing that pops up after the five sites that directly refer to his work. It's kinda like that 15 minutes of fame that Warhol used to refer to.

I want to thank our regular readers and all of our visitors for giving me the feeling that relating what John and I love doing is worth it. I'd still blog about it, but it's really good to know that people are listening!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Busy couple of weeks

A week and a bit ago (the last weekend of May), John and I went out to Farmer Katy's to split the Italian and Sicilian hives . Side by side splits are an incredibly easy way (in theory) of increasing your apiary numbers. It sounds just like it is: you take the top hive body off of a hive and put it to the side of the bottom, add another hive body to the top of each and, viola, you have two hives where you previously had one. The big issue here lays in whether or not you let the hive that suddenly finds itself queenless requeen themselves or install a queen you've procurred elsewhere. Lack of funds from planting a garden dictated the first move for us. But we ran into another problem before we even got that far.


The Italian splits on the right and the queenless
Sicilians on the far left

Two weeks before we planned to do the split I did a quick inspection of the Strasburg hives and found them to be active and well populated. Much earlier in the season we had added honey supers to get them started on production and to easy the potential of overcrowding - something that, if the hive feels it, causes them to kick off a swarm (see "Our first swarm collection" and "And the second…and third…and fourth…" for more info on swarming).


 Everything seemed hunky dory at the time, but I probably should have done a more in depth inspection. As soon as we opened the Sicilians we knew there was something wrong. First, the population didn't seem as large as it was two weeks previous. Second, the stored pollen, known as bee bread, was waxy looking. During a beekeeping class last year at DeLaney Farm, a part of Denver Urban Gardens here in Aurora, Marty Hardison told us a secret he learned a long time ago. You can teel a hive is queenless before you don't see any eggs or new larva by looking at the bee bread. If it has a waxy or glossy look, the queen is gone. Judging by this and confirmed by the lack of eggs and really young larva, and taking into account the smaller population of the mean little...bees, we decided that the old queen had swarmed off with a good chunk of the hive.

Honestly, it was hard to figure out if we should be bummed or do the happy dance. On one hand, the Sicilians produced some great and copious amounts of honey last year. On the other, we know they had put a hit out on us a some point (later, John would get stung six or seven times in the head when one got inside his veil and a bunch others snuck up on him when he was trying to clear it). In the long run, I am glad for the possibility of bringing in a new queen and I'll get to our solution shortly.
 
We checked the Sicilians the rest of the way to make sure that they were queenless and moved on to the Italians. Always more agreeable than their cousins, the Italians were well situated to split. The queen had laid lots and lots of eggs, plenty of capped brood was present, and decent honey and pollen stores were present. So we set up the side by side and hoped for the best.
 
John developed a great idea to build up the Sicilians and requeen them at the same time. We had the swarms we captured the previous week at his place so why not add the smaller swarm to the Sicilians? It was small enough to easily add to the existing population and we knew it had a queen. Plus it cost is nothing - always a good price! The plan was in place, just impossible to execute at the moment, so we planned for the next weekend.

A frame of ferals from the Top Bar Hive
Our inspection of the TBH ferals gave us a large amount of encouragement. About half of the front brood frames had newly drawn comb. At least one of the three queens we had accidentally joined together survived because eggs were aplenty in that new comb. Also encouraging about the ferals was there calm demeanor. They only got riled when I was trying to get the frames back into the hive without squishing any of them. Yeah, gonna need some new technique on that. But the TBH keeps most of the population from being exposed and thus helps keep them calm.

A quick look in the nuc that we had the the fourth swarm in showed that they would do well also. The queen was laying a good number of eggs in the comb her girls had drawn on four of the five frames in the nuc. So we wrapped them in a sheet and put them in my trunk for the journey to their new home.


An inside look of the ferals in the TBH

The trick to building up a single hive from two, I have heard, is to separate them with a piece of newspaper. So that's what I did. I used a spare hive body (one that should have been taken by the Sicilians had they stuck around long enough) and put the frames of ferals in that and placed it on the top of the Sicilians. Now we wait. In theory, the queenless Sicilians should slowly get used to the ferals as they chew threw the newspaper and start to catch the scent of the feral queen. Once they get used to the new queen, they will add their strength to the ferals and vice versa. Most importantly, the Sicilians will be gone in about 6 or 7 weeks: there may be some capped brood, but they will be the last of our little mobsters.

The ferals on the left with their new high rise digs

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wanted to share what's happening on the other side of the Atlantic

Yesterday my "Call to Organic Beekeeping" article was commented on by Jan Michael of the rucher ├ęcole Villa le Bosquet (rucher ├ęcole is French for bee school) in France. Jan shared a link to a YouTube video about his school: http://youtu.be/mYwPAIKZNGA. While he's hoping to get clips in English and German soon, the video is worth watching (especially if you're fluent in French - for which I'm not!). The hives are Warre hives, kind of a cross between the archetypical Langstroth hive and top bar hive. It uses foundationless frames like the TBH, but stacks vertically like the Langstroth. It's a great video and, I'm betting some great honey comes from those hives!

Posted by Bob Nelson

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

And the second…and third…and fourth…


The swarm Bob collected on Sunday







This last week was rather exciting. We learned that Beth and Kent’s house acts as a swarm attractor and that the three clusters we collected were likely not from the same swarm, but rather were virgin queen swarms. As I mentioned in the previous blog, we captured a swarm on Beth and Kent’s backyard awning last Thursday (their backyard backs up to a drainage way, providing a natural path for anything wild to cruise up and down). On Friday, Beth called me to say that her husband, Kent, noticed two more clusters on a pine tree near the awning. I coordinated with John to stop by Saturday morning to pick them up.


The capture in progress - a swift knock or five got most of
the bees in the box
Our initial thought was that these additional bees were just more from the same swarm we picked up on the previous night. We figured more bees to add to the hive meant a better chance for success and it just seemed too coincidental that the same yard would attract three separate swarms. John decided to post the question to www.beesource.com, a forum for anything bees. The response he got surprised both of us as, despite the large number of articles, books, and otherwise we had read about bees, none had mentioned the phenomenon of virgin queen swarms.



Swarms are a natural response by bees to a sense of overcrowding in the hive (a variety of things cause this sense: the population is too big, there are too many new worker bees compared to brood for them to care for, or the hive senses that the old queen is laying less eggs and raises up new queen cells). When the swarm impulse begins, the old queen trims down to prepare for flight by slowing down and then stopping laying eggs. Scouts begin checking out new places to go and, when the time comes, lead about half the hive with the old queen to new pastures, so to speak.


The parent hive raises those multiple queens to maturity. When the first queen hatches, she rushes off to see if she can kill the other queens before they hatch. Sometimes one will hatch out and the two will have a fight to the death to see who gets to rule (though this is a bit of a misrepresentation of the hive and its population: the queen is just as much a slave to her role as the workers and drones, but all work toward the benefit of the hive or the species: survival and propagation is the true king and queen of the bees). However, there are rare instances of the new queens not killing each other off. To cope with this situation, since only one queen can abide in any given hive, the virgin queen and a one or two thousand workers will swarm off (I give this number based on what we saw with the four total swarms we caught in the last week – prime swarms generally are much larger).


Surprisingly calm, but very curious

Not knowing this initially, John and I combined the first swarm with the two swarms we captured on Saturday as they seemed to get along nicely. The response he got to this on the forum was that virgin queens haven’t produced enough pheromones to lay claim to anyone, so the workers that swarm with any given one are just as happy to hook up with any queen. Our guess is that the queens did have a battle royal and that only one is left at this point.

One last thing, I mentioned a couple things that, if you were paying attention, would look like plot holes the size of Mack trucks. Between Thursday and Saturday we captured three swarms (all with no protective gear, must say; swarm collection is awesome bee PR!), but you may have noticed I said that we collected four clusters. While I was working on the top bar hive that we would install the initial three clusters in, Kent called and told me that a fourth had landed in the aforementioned tree. I texted John and we had the same thought that we could put this swarm in a nuc and would have nothing to lose and a hive to gain.


The Sunday swarm is in the nucleus hive on the left

This cluster was larger and yielded a pleasant surprise. While I was showing Kent and Beth the difference between a drone and worker bee, I saw the queen! Before this I had seen a whole of two queens: the replacement Carniloan queen we purchased and a queen from a TBH class that the instructor had pointed out. But here was my third, and a fortunate find at that! She was about 25% larger than a worker and most of that was in her abdomen.

The combined swarms in their new top bar hive


Finding this swarm’s queen made a really good day into a simply fabulous day!


The other thing is why Beth and Kent’s yard was such an attractant to the swarms. About two weeks ago, they had noticed a large swarm in their tree but then it disappeared. The swarm left pheromones behind that made the area attractive to other swarms, plus the yard is likely very close to whatever hive they swarmed from. Second, the swarm never disappeared. Instead, it found a home under a bay window. I’m also guessing it holds an unmated queen as a dozen or more drones were attempting to gain access to the hive and being repelled by workers. Quite an odd sight!

Posted by Bob Nelson



Our first swarm collection

Last Thursday John and I rescued a small swarm of bees a friend of his had spotted in a neighbor’s yard. I say rescued because their ranks appeared decimated by the cold and rain. We found them on the side of an awning over a back porch in two small clusters. The smallest had already succumbed completely to the cold (or so we thought…), but the other (about the size of two softballs) showed some movement and life.

With the help of a timely coincidence – namely John’s wife running into the president of a local beekeeping club who just happened to have a bee vacuum in her car – we collected the swarm with speed and ease. A bee vac is a low powered vacuum designed to suck up bees. This one had been rigged to attach to the top of a small bucket to deposit the bees in and ran off of a car battery jump starter kit. The bees were so chilly that they put up only minimal resistance and only two or three took flight.

And all of this added up to one simple truth: we could not have asked for better circumstances in which two neophyte beekeepers collected their first swarm. We didn’t wear any protective equipment except what we already had on to combat the chilly weather. The neighbors that spotted the hive, friends of John’s from his church and Bible study group, were really excited to see the show and Beth, the renter of the house that harbored the six-legged squatters, was really happy to see them rescued.

The bees have a long trip ahead of them. Assuming the queen is still alive, she’ll need to rebuild a very damaged population – and she’ll have to wait until Saturday to start. While I have most of the top bar hive that we were planning on using to rear captured swarms put together, I still have a bit more to go and won’t have it ready till this weekend. The good news is this: John transferred the swarm from the bee vac bucket to one of the nuc boxes that we had leftover from our bees last year last night and, to paraphrase for gentler ears, they were ticked. However, remember my “or so we thought…” comment? We had sucked up most of the cluster that appeared dead, yet John found no dead bees – not a single one – in the bucket when he made the transfer. Our suspicion is that these bees were so cold they were near death, but not quite there. Once they warmed up they found life again. My hope is that this means the bees still have the vigor to stage a comeback. My fear is that we’ll have another batch of Sicilians on our hands.

Only time will tell!

Posted by Bob Nelson

Sunday, May 15, 2011

It's been wet this week

Colorado usually sports well over 300 days of sunshine every year, making us one of the sunniest states in the nation, if not the sunniest (if you're reading this from another state and are thinking about moving here - do realize that it snows even when it's sunny...really! I wouldn't lie to you to keep you out of my birth state. And when they say Denver is a cow town, it's true: traffic can be held up for hours during a cattle drive, really!) However, this week seems to be putting a damper on those numbers. It rained for nearly 48 straight hours earlier in the week, nearly 1" of precipitation, and has rained or drizzled off and on most of the weekend - snow was even predicted for last night but didn't fall here in Aurora.

Weather like this is good and bad for the bees. Good in that they'll get an opportunity to feast on bunches and bunches of flowers that will spring up when the sun gets back to its work. However, imagine getting stuck in the house with your 20,000 to 30,000 sisters for two days - TWICE in one week. Not only would it likely make you a bit surly, but now you have to eat all the honey that you've been working to store away for the season. If weather like this continued for some reason, a decent chance of starvation rears its head - 15 years ago or so we had 40 straight days of drizzle and rain in April and May, which makes me think of how the bees did then.

Weather like this is also messing with this beekeeper's plans. The bees should be ready for getting split from two into four hives. I did a brief inspection last week and both hives were boasting strong populations and lots of new eggs and brood. And the Sicilians were, how shall I say, spunky as always: even after I had bottled them back up a couple of guard bees followed me back to the car some 50' away and harassed a buddy that wanted to see what the bees were like but was more than 20' off on the other side of the Italians. The Italians were mild-mannered as always, so I have to rule out the possible lack of forage making the Sicilians more defensive over their stores. That all said, I do welcome the timing of the rain. The new blooms will help to keep the split hives well-fed so they can get their population ramped back up.

Our concern with splitting the hives is this: two of the four hives will initially have no queens and will have to create their own.  The new blooms we're hoping for should assist in keeping their spirits up, so to speak, and help push them into creating new queens. Worst case scenario, if one or both don't requeen themselves, we'll just recombine them with their "mother" hive and try again next year. If it works like we expect it to, we'll have lots more honey at the end of the season and be ready to grow evenmore next season!

Posted by Bob Nelson

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Full inspection


One of MANY Sicilians very annoyed at me - notice how she's
drilling straight in for my eye!


When a bee finds its way up a beekeeper's pant leg, it will end badly for the bee, the keeper or both. I found that out the hard way yesterday. As I was ticking off her sisters (see above), one found the chink in my armor. The problem with a bee in your pants is that the only way to get her out alive is taking them off. I don't think the residents of Katy's farm would have appreciated that. Another problem is that if you don't slap the interloper dead the first time, she'll likely make the suicide sting. Yeah, that's what happened. She got me after I didn't quite get her. So I have a good sized swelling on the inside of my right knee. But enough about me.

Despite their annoyance, I'm quite happy about both hives and their progress this year. Unfortunately, John wasn't able to make the inspection and he missed out. The Sicilians' population is booming and they are finding plenty of nectar. The first Italians likewise are doing well. I did discover that we were overly optimistic putting the supers on. While several girls were exploring them, they had not yet built any new comb on them. The first Italians had smartly focused on the frame that I had broken at the end of last year and had about half of it rebuilt.

My big concern is that I didn't see much bee bread. While the bees are finding plenty of nectar, it seems that pollen is a bit more scarce. This could have quite an impact on their growth and health. Imagine a diet of nothing but sugar. That sugar high will wear off...


On to other things: expansion! While I didn't find any queen cells in either hive (I was hoping for sucha discovery and dreading it at the same time - I got a bit of anxiety about how and when to split the hives), their population growth leaves me smiling! A note on population: one of John's theories about bees was heartily shot down. He suspected that bees would reject darker frames and wax (as the wax ages and gets walked on by thousands of bees it gets darker and darker - some of the frames we have are a rich, dark brown, though it's not really asthetic compared to beautiful creamy white of new wax). In the first Italians' hive we have a very dark frame and it had the most larvae and brood of any of the frames I inspected. Admittedly, location means a lot to the bees and this frame was in the center of the upper hive body, perfect for a brood frame.

The reason I mention this comes from one of our goals. We want to start swapping out these darker frames with new ones as we get the feeling that, first, they probably harbor miticides from the dealer (something wax does unfortunately well with pesticides) we got the bees from and that they may have the same capacity for harboring diseases and malignant fungi. At least the girls are getting their use out of it in the meantime!

And I was a busy boy before the inspection, too...these pics are a modification of a design for a Top Bar Hive that I found online (which was a modification of the Kenyan TBH). I spent about $100 on supplies intending to build two. However, I accidentally bought 95% of what I need for three hives. It took me about two hours to build what you see here. So, about than the cost of one two-bodied Langstroth hives I can build three. I am totally digging the business sense of the TBH!

My version of the Top Bar Hive


Another view

To get the same amount of honey as from a Langstroth we'll need to visit the hives more often to harvest, but the advantages more than make up for it. I already mentioned the lesser initial cost, but the maintenance costs will also be much lower. The frame consisits of one bar and a strip of something on the bottom for the bees to build comb on. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to do this but I have a good idea for it. It's quite a bit cheaper replacing a 15" piece of 1x2 than it is replacing all four pieces of custom cut Langstroth frame. All of the cuts I need to do and assembly are easy enough for someone with the same basic carpentry skills as me - and that ain't a whole bunch! Also, since the hives are smaller, moving them will be easier and less strain to the back. Plus they can last years and years with minimal maintenance, unlike the Langstroth which might last 5 years without major renovation.

Consider this low cost, easy way to start a new hobby that will benefit you with the fun (minus the stings!)and the honey as well as benefit your garden or the world in general!



Friday, April 8, 2011

And now for something completely different...

...really! I'm just about finished reading a book by Stepehn Buchman called Letters From the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind. It's a decent book covering ancient honey hunting, Mayan stingless honey bee beekeeping, medicinal use of honey and much more. Buchman also includes a chapter on cooking with honey.

Cooking and eating is near and dear to me as I'm a bit of a foodie. Generally speaking, I'll try anything at least once. For example, when I worked at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, I made the mistake of telling one of the gift shop employees that I would try the chocolate cover insects they had for sale as a bit of a gag gift if someone else bought them. Well, long story short, she told a co-worker and I found out they were kinda bland and the only bad part was when a cricket leg got stuck between my teeth.

In some countries, when a fresh honey comb is offered to you, the author says that even the larvae tastes pretty good. This recipe, however, is very likely to be much more palatable than super fresh food like that. A staple of entertainment during the reign Queen Elizabeth I was gingerbread. This recipe hails from then and might be a bit different than one would expect as compared to modern gingerbread cookies and is quoted directly from Buchman's Letters:

Gyngerbrede

Gingerbread was a popular staple thoughout medieval and Renaissance Europe. The recipe below is not significantly different from those found in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century manuscripts and would have been familiar to the busy chefs of Hampton Court. Gingerbread was traditionally boiled rather than baked and was usually stamped with decorative designs. You may wish to express your own creativity with a cookie or butter press while your loaf is still warm and malleable.

Serves 8
1 cup honey                                                1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon powdered ginger                      1 tablespoon anise (fennel) seeds
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves                       1 3/4 cup dry bread crumbs

Heat the honey in the top of a double boiler. Add all the spices except the anise seeds and stir to blend. Now add the bread crumbs and mixthouroughly. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. The mixture should be thick and moist. Place the gingerbread on a large sheet of waxed paper and mold the dough into small rectangular shapes. Sprinkle the anise seeds on top and press them gently into the dough with the side of a knife. Allow to cook, then cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Serve the gingerbread at room temperature in thin slices.

This will make a nice spring and summer snack since very little stove time is required. I'll be trying it this weekend, I do believe!

Posted by Bob Nelson

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Can I get a small cell with that?


The girls building on a foundationless frame. They make
short work of seamlessly connecting those lobes.

In my last post I hinted at something that is widely becoming important in the natural beekeeping movement: small cells. First, a definition: foundation is a plastic or wax sheet that is imprinted with hexagon patterns and inserted in the frame. The idea is to quicken the bees' ability to produce honey comb (and, therefore, honey) and to make the frames more robust for extraction. While there is some argument about the first, the second defiintely applies. Most beekeepers use a centrifugal extraction process, spinning the honey out of comb. Without the foundation, newer comb can break and collapse, making a mess of an already kinda messy process.



Filled foudationless frame from early last year. The wax would
not be as translucent as this if you looked at it this year. New
wax is a beautiful creamy white to light gold color, but it
darkens as it ages. Fortunately, it also hardens as it ages.

When beekeepers first started putting in foundation for the bees to work on, they also realized that they could manipulate the size of the cells. And the American ideal is bigger is better, so they made the cells artificially large to grow bigger bees (bigger bees = more honey, right?). But there are problems with making something do what it wasn't intended to do.


First, bigger cells attract varroa mites. One physical control for varroa is inserting a drone frame or two into a hive. Varroa love drone cells for the length of time the drone takes to develop (drones develop in about 24 days as compared to 21 for workers and 16-18 for queens--click here for a Wikipedia article on bee development). So the mites will gravitate toward drone-sized cells and the beekeeper can capitalize on this by inserting a frame with foundation sized for drones. After the drone cells are capped so they can pupate, the frame is removes and its contents destroyed, thereby eliminating a generation of mites and reducing an infestation (this method doesn't sit well with me or John as raising a whole frame of brood for the purpose of killing them seems wasteful, counterproductive and unecessarily cruel).

But mites aren't smart enough to to know a large cell is going to be a drone cell, they just gravitate toward them. Hence, the large cell frames used to get bigger bees in general attract varroa mites and most breeds of bees can't detect infested cells. So beekeepers turned to miticides to deal with the varroa, and dealt a blow to their bees in the process (see my post , "A Call to Organic Beekeeping" for a discussion on this and more).
Infested pupa being removed from the hive.
See more at Growing Small Farms.
Second, bees build things differently in the wild. Generally speaking, they build larger cells toward the top of a comb and smaller toward the bottom. Part of this stems from the seasonal use of the comb - the generation that will overwinter is layed in the smaller cells - and part is the need for drone cells, but some of it is just simply a mystery. The thing to remember: bees do not design their hives based on man-made geometry or cookie cutter patterns. An thing of note when it comes to varroa, several breeds of bees, inlcuding Russian and Minnesota Hygenics, can somehow tell when mites are present in a brood cell and will remove the infected pupae. These breeds tend to practice behaviors that help them overcome more than jsut varroa. Hygenic habits such as grooming and evicting sick bees keep the hive healthier overall and more resistant to the problems plaguing the industry.

Third, and the most important from a commercial aspect, many beekeepers have discovered that bees build their comb without foundation faster than they do with. John and I discovered this with our hives last year. Our bees loved building their own comb and could finish off a deep frame in just over a week. For some reason, some hives show reluctance to build on foundationed frames at all.

Last (or at least the last thing I'll bring up here), wax absorbs pesticide residue readily, thus guaranteeing long term exposure to the bees. This is part of the reason we want to swap out the old frames that came in the nucleus hives last year. Likewise, a possibility exists that the wax can harbor diseases. A healthy hive will move when it deems necessary. And, while a hive can remain in the same place for years and years, this is the exception to the rule.

More than a bit ironic to me, the industry has seen the marketing potential for small cells and created foundation to meet the need. I wonder if that will just lead to some other problem sometime down the road. In the meantime, John and I will stick with foundationless and see how the results pan out.

Posted by Bob Nelson

Monday, April 4, 2011

First inpsection after the move

After putting together another hive for when when we split our current hives in a few weeks, John and family and I headed out to Katy Vincent's organic farm out in Strasburg to do an inspection. John met Katy trying to figure out sources to get better meats to eat - specifically non-hormoned, non-antibiotic, free range livestock. They bought a half pig from Katy last year and really enjoyed it. John had talked to Katy about the possibility of having some hives on her land and Katy was more than fine with the idea, especially since she was already hosting another beekeeper's hives and wanted to get more into it herself.

When we arrived, the other beekeper, another John who lives out in the Southlands area of Aurora, Katy and two other gentlemen were just wrapping up an inspection on their hives. Last year they had four hives, but two died out over the winter. Southlands John was happy that one of the remaining hives was exploding. This is his third year beekeeping and, at the moment, he has seven or so hives that are his or he is helping out with. After reading the blog by Dennis Murrell about his losses after commingling his bees with a commercial beekeeper's, I was a bit worried about our decision to move our hives to Katy's and letting them hang out with some unknown bees (ah, I can see English John reading this and making a comment about nanny-ing the bees - but he had the same concerns, too, I'll have you know). After meeting Southlands John and talking to Katy, we're all on the same page about non-natural beekeeping methods: forget about 'em!

Katy's stance reflects her farm. She won't allow any antibiotics or synthetics on the farm and that includes the bees. Add that to the isolation of Strasburg - very few people and probably less bees per acre - and I think we have a good recipe for generally healthy bees. Which leads me to the inspection. We had three big goals for the inspection. First, we wanted to see how the hives were doing in general. Second, we wanted to swap out some of the old, blackened frames that came with the bees when we bought them last year. And last, we wanted to swap out the solid bottom board on the Sicilians with a screened one (see the previous post about the different boards) I purchased at To Bee or Not To Bee, a local beekeeping supplies shop. Due to the strong afternoon winds and not wanting to unecessarily expose the brrod to them, we accomplished everything but the frame swap. Two outta three isn't bad in my book.

We started with the bottom boards. If you've read this blog, you know that our Sicilians are tempermental ladies at best. When we moved them to the farm the week before, we couldn't help but be glad that it was only 28 degrees out as they were more than a bit annoyed at the process. Luckily, the cold chilled their anger nicely! So, knowing windy conditions tend to make bees cross in general, I felt some concern for my hide in having to lift the hive up off the bottom board, exposing a large mass of the girls, to swap it out. To our pleasant surprise, they stayed Jekyll instead of going Ms. Hyde on us.

It continued to get better as we popped off the covers to inspect them: the queen is showing a good brood pattern with both new eggs and nearly-ready-to-pupate larvae and several large drones mingling with the workers. John thinks the bees are smaller this year than last; they looked like bees to me - I'm just taking his word for it. I'll profer a few possibilities for this if it's true. First, because we are not using manufactured foundation in about half of the frames, the bees are free to design their own cells instead of conforming to man-made specs (often larger than natural as to increase bee size: bigger bee, more honey - in theory). The bulk of the girls should be the size nature intends for them. However, the problem with this idea would lay (pun always intended) in whether the brood was raised mostly in our foundationless frames or in the foundationed frames they came to us in. The second possible explanation comes from overwintered bees themselves. To prolong the honey stores, the hive triggers something that causes the brood layed to be winter workers to be smaller than their spring and summer sisters. Many of these smaller bees could still be running around.

Drone, left, and worker bees
The third explanation (and keep this between you and me, okay?) is that John is off his rocker. While I'm not known for my abilities to pay attention to details, they really just do look like normal bees. The difference between the smallest cells a hive makes and the largest is about .5 millimeters. Drones come out of the largest and can easily be distinguished from the workers. Variation among the worker bee cells would be minimal comparitively. Still, it is possible that John has this one right, but you try to get a bee to stay still long enough to take measurements!


Good brood pattern - tight and mixed with
capped brood and newer larvae




The first Italians looked splendid. The queen also exhibited a good brood pattern: lots of it with all stages of development from egg to capped brood. Another thing that made us happy was the presence of fresh honey and freshly capped honey. The foraging workers are finding food and doing a good job of it!

The last thing I want to talk about is honey. Southlands John (this is going to be fun keeping track of all the Johns as Katy's husband's name is John also - oi vay!) told us that they harvested quite a bit of honey last year. It was light but tasty, garnering high praise from a very picky relative of his. The only reason I can wait for harvest season is that it harbinges the coming winter...and I've had enough of that ol' man for a while!

Posted by Bob Nelson

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Antibiotics.

 As Bob mentioned I am in the 'never ever use' camp, I think I should make a statement as to why I am personally against ever using antibiotics for bees;

  • They don’t always work
  • They are not some ‘magic bullet’ that makes everything in the hive better, they only treat bacterial diseases like foulbrood and possibly nosema., and there are a whole host of other non bacterial diseases that beekeepers have to contend with.
  • .They make these bacterial diseases more resistant, causing beekeepers to use larger doses, or having to find different and new types of antibiotics. 
  •  They weaken the hive because antibiotics also kill some of the beneficial intestinal bacteria that bees have naturally in their gut, leaving them in a weakened state and less able to fight off the next round of infection.

As tragic as it is, the death of a colony is really a good thing; it is an example of survival of the fittest. Providing you  raise your own queens from your healthiest hives, keep the hive as stress free as possible, and see the death of a percentage of your hives every year as an acceptable loss, then nature will always prevail.  

This could be trouble...

I was just reading Dennis Murrell's blog "Bee Natural," linked above and in our blog list. First, a note for Dennis: I am devastated to hear about your hive losses and hope you can recover and do it well! Thank you for posting your insights on the issue of virus overload - hopefully folks will learn from them!

The particular blog article I'm referring to is Dennis' reflections on what happened to his hives. He has been raising bees for decades, but has focused on natural beekeeping for about the last ten years. He had placed his hives in a commercial beekeeper's bee yard for safekeeping for a couple of seasons as he headed off to Florida. When he got back, despite the bees being left alone and in near direct contact with treatment resistant diseases and pests, his hives seemed in great health. But the next season they started exhibiting some health issues. Despite antibiotic and other treatments (and I do agree with him that there are times when dosing your bees with antibiotics is a good idea - even though John might not), the bees completely died out over this last winter, exhibiting the signs of Colony Colapse Disorder (CCD).

Not likely CCD since there are lots of bees present -
but it gives you the idea of what happens when a
colony dies out. Also, not our bees nor Dennis'.

Yet it's not the death of his own bees that worries him as much as something possibly more dire. Just by mingling in the area his bees readily caught everything that the commercial bees had (except, interestingly, the mites) and those diseases tore his hives to pieces. Research has pointed to those diseases being easily trransmitted from commercial/domestic bees to wild bees and even other pollinators. And this is what has him worried.  I'll let him explain:
I don’t know whether all my past wishing would have prevented this season’s outcome. Maybe the wild bees, which have also been decimated, were the disease vector my for bees. But I suspect it was probably the other way around. And recent research shows it possible,
It’s one thing for me to loose my bees. But it’s quite another thing for the wild bee population to perish because of my bees.
The implication here is that the CCD problems we face could easily spread to feral pollinators. As I was getting at in my previous couple of blogs, they are inexorably linked, we really need to find a solution and a better way to do things when it comes to our practices both in the realm of beekeeping and agriculture.
Posted by Bob Nelson

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Intuitive beekeeping



Solid Bottom Board with entrance reducer -
as it's name implies, the bottom boards are the base for the rest of the hive

With the first inspection of the season, we found that the underside of the cover of the Sicilian Beehive was damp and peeling. We assume that this was caused by a build up of excessive condensation during the winter. However, the lid of the Italian hive showed no such damage. We have come to the conclusion that this is in all likelihood due to the fact that the Italian hive has a screened bottom board which helped in some way to reduce the condensation, whereas the Sicilian hive has a solid bottom board.  Were the beehives to spend a second winter at the side of my house I think we would have dispensed with the solid bottom boards altogether and would have switched to screen bottoms only. However the bees have been moved to a friend's farm, and the beehives are exposed to more sun and wind now. Perhaps with the change in their environment the bottom board may now be an asset, though we won’t know for sure until they have overwintered for a second season.


Screened Bottom Board - hardware screen allows for easy ventilation
 
 I begin to suspect that a good beekeeper is one that pays attention to the condition of the beehive in respect to the environment it is located in, and that just  like bees, hive design needs to adapt to local conditions, as what may work in Florida may not work so well in Maine.

It will be interesting to see what the lids will look like next spring.

Posted by John Rodgers

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Maybe I was a bit unfair

A couple of posts ago, I basically excoriated the beekeeping industry for practices that hurt bees and that these practices contribute solely to CCD. That is a bit unfair as there are other factors to consider.

Migratory beekeeping has been happening almost as long as humans have kept bees. Egyptians put hives on barges and coasted them up and down the Nile. Other peoples have strapped them to donkeys to follow the flow. When intercontinental rails opened up, beekeepers were there with their hives. Some bees migrate all season long: Borneo beekeepers sometimes migrate with the bees in a small reversal. CCD didn't affect the Egyptians - but those bees had access to multiple flower types along the Nile's fecund shores.

In America, migratory beekeeping is so popular because the current agricultural model is to lay waste to the land, er, rather...plant one crop and only one crop over all surrounding acreage. This monoculture model directly contributes to the undernourishment of the bees. Even if migratory beekeeping wasn't practiced, this lack of biodiversity would likely have some ill effect on the bees, just not to the same degree.

Due to monoculture crops, the land itself is weakened and must be supplemented with all sorts of synthetic fertilizers to nourish the crops. And, due to the lack of full nutrition to the crops, the weakened crops must be supplemented with all sorts of pesticides. Pesticides kill insects indiscriminately; bees are insects. Get the idea? Most of these pesticides do not kill instantly, but rather allow time for the bees to bring them back to the hive, thereby exacerbating the problems inside the hives with existing miticides. And remember, those pesticides are still present when you eat your fruits and veggies. Some of the pesticides are now systemic to the plants: they become part of the plant so that growers need not worry about rain or watering washing off the posion. Pests thus have no way to avoid the pesticide as it becomes part and parcel with the plant. So, that means you can't wash it off, either.

The problems affecting bees will soon be problems affecting us. To a degree, they already do in that the nutrition we get from monoculture crops is a ghost of what it should be and the pesticide residues. A recent study in Spain found that men between 18 and 23 all have significant traces of multiple pesticides in their blood. Many even had traces of DDT, something that I believe was banned before most of these men were born. The study wanted to see if their was a correlation between pesticides and fertilization or lack thereof. If these residual traces do have an effect on humans, what kind of effect do they have on beneficial insects?

So, and this will seem like crazy talk to those who now my conservative viewpoints, my point of this blog is this: a cycle of bad agricultural practices feeds into bad beekeeping practices and will land all of us in a bad spot if we don't change how we view how and what we eat. Will it be easy? By no means. Change rarely is nor is making the right choices. But that doesn't make it any less necessary.

Posted by Bob Nelson

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hello, Spring! We missed ya!

Today is the first full day of spring, and I am ecstatic that it has arrived! John and I showed winter out the door with our first inspection of the hives. I must say, they look lovely. The number of bees surprised me as I would have expected it to be a bit of a slower build up. To my mind, the population looked equal to, if not greater than, what we started with from the nucs last year - roughly 10,000 bees.

The temperment of the Sicilians reflected the beautiful temperature of the day: warm and cheery. Ditto goes to the Italians, though they got a little annoyed when John thunked the inner cover against the pallet their hive rests on to clear of bees so he could scrape burr comb and propolis off. One of the girls let me know of their displeasure and stung me (I wonder if this is the sort of reason most beekeepers are solitary animals).

Both hives contained good honey and bee bread stores. As importantly for this time of year, they both held a good number of eggs, larvae and capped brood. This means that despite not seeing the queens they are active and healthy. Because of the healthy population boom, John and I have set our sights on splitting the hives. Splitting is the most cost effective means of building up one's apiary. And it is just what it sounds like: taking one hive and making two by putting frames with a bunch of brood and capped honey along with plenty of worker bees into another hive. The tricky part is knowing whether the queen remained in the "mother" hive or got moved into the new one. It seems that most beekeepers that do splits just let the queenless hive take care of itself and raise a queen from the brood. However, we have a goal to expand the apiary with different breeds like Russians and Carniolans. So we want to time our splits with having new queens that we order. Judging by the dearth of mail order queens (which reminds me: be careful with searching for Russian queens on the Internet as you get a lot of results that have nothing to do with bees), we might be thinking a bit too early about splits.

Nonetheless, our beekeeping season is officially open and yesterday was a much better day for it!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Natural or organic?

Some of the inspiration for posts comes from email threads John and I have. That's where this one comes from.

If we were to seek "true" USDA organic certification, we'd run into a few problems. First off, everything inserted into the hive, whether sugar or probiotic supplement or smoke from the smoker, would have to be documented. I'm not saying we're lazy beekeepers, but this just isn't us. Second, and much more problematically, is that no true standards for organic honey exists.

Ross Conrad writes about this in his book Natural Beekeeping. Two quasi-standards have been adopted in lieu of official standard. One is the conservative: not only do you raise the bees organically, everything they can get their paws and proboscis on is also organic. That means that every neighbor or crop within 5 miles must be certified organic. That's a tough nut to crack as it desparately limits where a beekeeper can put hives.

The second is the liberal interpretation where the beekeeper raises the bees organically without regard to his or her surroundings. This way, if the honey isn't quite organic, the bees are to blame as the beekeeper has done the best s/he can do.

All said and done, one should know that even if the beekeeper sticks to the conservative definition, non-organic means may still be used on not only bees but every crop or animal that one eats. According to Title XXI - Orgainc Certification, Section 2110 Animal Production Practices and Materials a livestock rancher can still gain certification as long as s/he does not do the following:
So, when the label says "USDA Organic," it ain't what you think it means. If the animal has been sick, medicine or antibiotics have been used. And your organic milk possibly comes from an cow that has only been "organically" certified for a year. I don't bring these things up to suggest that organic farmers and ranchers are running a con on American consumers, but rather that the label doesn't mean as much as we've been led to think it does.

So what does this mean for the bees John and I raise? Because of the location of the hives, in John's backyard on the east side of the third biggest city in Colorado, we could be categorized as a strong sense of the liberal definition of organic beekeeping. Our goal is to raise strong bees that can take care of themselves. If this means that a hive dies out due to a disease, we're okay with it as that suggests something is lacking in their immune system. However, with assistance such as natural probiotics like kombucha and acidophillus and using organic menthols to deal with mites, we aren't just out for survival of the fittest.

So if you want to label us, call it natural honey as we have no intention of seeking the organic label. But I must say (a little biasedly, of course) that our "Suburban Blends" from last year taste better than anything else I've had!