Bee Landing Blogs

Nature is quite forgiving

Monday, August 9th, 2010

I walked to the back 40 this morning with my two teenage sons and our very excited family dog to pick blackberries. As I reached into the thorny bush to gently massage a clump of juicy ripe berries, I was struck with the thought of how quickly nature heals herself if we let her.
Several years ago, one of our neighbors had a bulldozer come in and make 3 large piles of logs and brush out of 6 acres of beautiful native forest. I grumbled about it to my wife on more than one occasion and was excited when they wanted to sell. We bought it, and forgot about it. I’m sure our other neighbors grumbled about us not brush hogging it like a responsible land owner does.
This year we have a bumper crop of wild blackberries covering the land. You can’t even see the ground, as the brush is so thick. Where there was once disturbed soil, there is now fertile and productive growth. The microbes and worms in the soil are recovering nicely and the erosion has stopped.
Unless we interfere, over time that area will once again be an old growth forest with tall majestic trees.
What does this have to do with honey bees?
Nature is quite consistent. She never gets discouraged and always recovers.
The honey bees are recovering from our ignorance and interference. There are beekeepers who are prospering. They are the ones who listen to the bees and respond with as little manipulation as possible.
But what about the beekeepers who have been taking the government handout/bailouts? I suspect that if we were to look closer we would find that those beekeepers aren’t working with nature but against her. The irony is… they are being rewarded for over managing or even mismanaging their hives.
At Beelanding were not offering bailouts but rather, information, ideas, workshops, hands-on experience, and a bee friendly bee hive. What we are doing here takes work and experimentation. I’ve been thinking what kind of handout I can offer. Hmmmmm….. seems like the best I can do is to offer you a cool glass of blackberry mead, when you pay us a visit.

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How I define Sustainable Beekeeping

Monday, August 9th, 2010

An 89 year old man attended our beekeeping club several months back, and didn’t say much, so after the meeting I pulled him aside to visit with him. I asked him about his bees, and he told me that he had two hives and has been keeping bees for over 50 yrs. I asked him how they were doing and with a bit of embarrassment and more like a confession he told me that he really didn’t medicate them, and that he just left them alone other than to harvest in the fall. So I asked him if his bees were surviving, and he said that he had all the honey that he and his friends could eat, and when one of his colonies died out, he simply catches a local swarm to repopulate the hive.

This is what the natural beekeeping trend is attracted to. Small hobby beekeepers who can supply friends, family, and maybe a farmers market, with delicious local honey, and enjoy the great hobby in the process.

The beekeeping process has become an industrial process, and I will briefly run through the list here, with more in-depth explanation in later posts.

Shipping queens and package bees from the southern states, rather than working with local genetics.

Feeding refined sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup rather than letting them keep and eat their own honey.

Making the bees live in a toxic environment.

Moving the bees around the country for pollination.

Placing the bees in a thin box rather than a hollow log environment.

And last but not least…they make the bees larger than nature intended.

All of these changes have consequences, and all these added together are weakening the colonies which attract mites and other pests, and the bees are dying. So…what do the commercial beekeepers do about it? They cry about this mysterious disorder and label it CCD, and then they stand in line for the government bail outs.

Now before you get as depressed as I often do about the situation, read my blog post from The Honey Bee Conservancy that may give you hope.

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My journey from a monoculture farm to a homestead beekeeper

Monday, August 9th, 2010

I’m greatly honored to be a guest blogger for Mother Earth News, and would like to introduce myself.
Some of my earliest desires to live sustainably on the land were fueled in my early 20’s by reading Mother Earth Magazine and books by Gene Logsdon, Masanobu Fukuoka, and others. These readings planted a desire in me to live the country life in a different way than I had been raised.
I grew up on a 2000 acre mono culture farm, and at one time my family owned an egg farm with 6,000 laying hens. Let’s hope I never have to tell stories in the blog about those chickens. It was not healthy for the chickens and it was not healthy for my young mind.
Reading Gene Logsdon made me think about sustainable agriculture, and the many joys that accompany that lifestyle. I caught a glimpse of what living closer to the land might look like. And so I began to dream. During this time I drove a truck on the Uranium haul in Arizona and I imagined the good life.
I bought my first bee hive about the same time. Like many first time beekeepers, I closely followed the advice that the professionals recommended, only to see my bees contract every disease out there. Of course, the professionals quickly informed me about all the medications and chemicals I needed to dump in the hive. Funny thing is, I tried the chemical approach and my bees still died. I quickly realized that beekeeping was commercialized, and required medications and manipulating to keep up with the latest pests. I lost interest in bees for a time.
I like to tell folks that this down economy has been a blessing for me and my family. It is, in essence, forcing us to live the good life. What was a hobby, has now become my passion. With my wife, Nikki, and our five kids we now keep bees in a sustainable way on our 35 acre homestead that we call Beelanding. We enjoy showing others how simple and rewarding keeping bees in your back yard can be. Yes! You can keep bees without any medications. You can work with nature, and watch as your colony of honey bees grows before your eyes, and enjoy the benefits of fresh raw honey and wax.
I have done a lot of tinkering and research into bees and beehives. I like to experiment and think outside the box. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make the ultimate beehive for the back yard enthusiast, and more importantly for the health of the bees a better beehive. You can see my ideas and designs at www.beelanding.com. My kids have helped me get all up to date and you can follow what we are doing on Facebook and Twitter. I’d like to incorporate your comments and questions in future blog posts. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Converting a frame from a conventional hive to a top bar hive

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

This post is a response to a question from Lou (a customer in West Plains, MO) who is wanting to take a split from his regular box hive and start them in his Homestead hive.
The video link below shows me explaining that I can send special top bars that you can fasten with screws to the frames from your other hive. You will need to cut the ears and frame from your existing top bar and mount under the one I send. I hope this makes sense to you, and that you will ask any questions you may have. converting comb from conventional hive to the Homestead top bar hive

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what is CCD? “colony collapse disorder”

Monday, July 19th, 2010

What is it about that title?
Hmmmm…….. ED Erectile dysfunction, RLS restless leg syndrome, ADD Attention deficit disorder.
One thing I have noticed about human nature is that we need to identify, label and vilify the “disorder” so that we can blame someone else, create a patented wonder drug complete with research funding to solve the problem, and of course get bailout funding.
Take for example, the other day I’m in Wal-mart sitting on a bench waiting for my lovely wife. I can hear on the pre-recorded background noise coming from the pharmacy that “dry mouth is a treatable condition”. I was shocked to hear the announcer say that “it might be treatable by sipping water or using [their product].” Go figure!
Let me say that I realize we all have our disorders, from trouble in the bedroom- to me not being able to pay attention for more than 3 seconds. However I’m a bit disappointed in how quickly we are lured into drug or chemical treatments, rather than looking to nature for the answers.
A little about myself. I am not a formally educated guy (my ADD and ADHD prevented that) however I am a student of nature and human nature. I keep bees and teach sustainable beekeeping workshops on our 35 acre homestead in the Ozarks that we like to call Bee Landing. So take me for what I am, knowing full well that my research is because I am intensely curious and not because I am funded by big industry and big government.
So….what is CCD?
In my opinion, it is our monoculture society and mentality. We have altered the honey bee and the bee hive to a degree that we have weakened them and made them more susceptible to diseases that they could normally fend off themselves. To add insult to injury, we have sent them out to gather pollen and nectar in a toxic environment– like orchards with insect disorders that need to be sprayed with pesticides, fungicides, and other cides.
How have we altered the bee and hive from what nature intended? Here are my top 3 concerns:
Super Size Me Disorder: In commercial beekeeping the bees are substantially larger than they are in nature. On my blog you can see a more in-depth article on this subject. To summarize, larger cell size has allowed mites (another disorder) to run rampant through the hives of the world. Incidentally, you can guess what is used to combat this problem—not common sense or a studying of the bees but a miteicide.
Thinking Inside the Box Disorder: The hive is designed more for the convenience of the beekeeper than for the bees. We have taken them out of their hollow log, rock crevices, and other found habitats and confined them to square squat boxes. Which means they can no longer build their long and elegant catenary arched styled comb which can be measured in feet, not inches. I’m still trying to learn how confinement affects the bees.
Kissing Cousin Disorder and/or Geographically Challenged Disorder: The bees are mass bred (artificially inseminated) in the southern states and dispersed around the country. This reduces genetic diversity and creates a situation ripe for disaster. Weakened genetics, I feel, are a large part of our current bee “crisis”.
So…what am I doing and what do I recommend you do about it? Stop doing things for the bees! Just stand back and watch nature. Stop all chemical treatments, and let the bees live or die on their own. The bees that live are your breading stock, the bees that die are no longer in your gene pool.
Go local! If you are not into keeping bees, then get to know and support your local natural beekeeper, and if you are a beekeeper buy your bees from an existing natural beekeeper as close to you as possible.

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The Honey Bee Conservancey of New York has asked me to be a guest blogger

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

That’s right! you can see my first blog here.

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Forum for aspiring beekeepers

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

I have started a yahoo newsgroup for the purpose of swapping swarm info in southern Missouri; but I think we can expand the idea nationwide to include “starts” and mentoring among beekeepers.

Starts: when you take comb from an existing hive that contains eggs, brood, honey and pollen and place them in their own hive. They will immediately realize that they are queen-less, and make a new queen from one of the eggs.
Packages: is usually 3 pounds of bees that come from various colonies and are shaken into a box. A queen is then put in a holding container and then inserted into the bee box. There is no comb, no brood, no eggs, no pollen, and no honey.

We all want to get our starts from a local natural cell source. However, all too often, newbie’s have to order a package of bees from a factory farm in one of the southern states. All too often the colony absconds because there is no brood to keep them in the hive, and more often the newbie will make a major boo boo and kill the bees.

So I thought, “What if there was a news group dedicated to the exchange of bee starts, swarms and mentors??”

What if someone posts that they are looking for a start and possibly a
mentor? They live close to me, so I correspond with them and we make a deal. Ether they pay me for 4 frames of brood/honey/pollen or they barter with me in my apiary doing odd jobs to pay for the start and they get mentoring.

The natural beekeepers can market their bees with this forum.

If you can only have one hive, and you need to make a split to prevent swarming, you can find a happy recipient to take the split.

The news group is simply an exchange of contact info, and the deals are all private.

So here is a link http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/beelanding/

James A Zitting

www.beelanding.com

Join my facebook page with the link below.

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bee-Landing/380313103678?ref=ts

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Why do my bees swarm?

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Bees swarm to reproduce and to spread to new territories. Swarming is a natural reproductive function of nature utilized by both healthy and dying colonies. This can be frustrating for beekeepers.
When bees swarm, they take the old queen, and about half the bees with them. The bees that remain have to shift their focus to reproduction for survival and honey production is no longer the priority. At this point many beekeepers throw up their hands due to the reduced honey flow. We must stop looking at swarming as a disaster and take advantage of the swarming situation to start working with the bee’s natural instinct.
In commercial beekeeping, they often cut off one of the queens wings to prevent swarming. I find this practice, not only ridiculous, but it doesn’t work! It is not the queen that decides to swarm, it is the colony. When they decide it is time to swarm, the queen will usually fall on the ground and eventually die. Another trick commercial beekeepers use to prevent swarming is to check the hive once a week and kill all the queen cells. This is devastating to the colony. Often the hive will have a hidden queen cell that the keeper missed and they will swarm anyway!
There are several reasons that bees swarm. One of the reasons is overcrowding; something a savvy beekeeper can prevent. With my hives, I add empty top bars in the brood chamber during spring build up. This will give the queen more room to lay, to build up a larger colony, so when the nectar flows they can handle it. Sometimes during the flow, they bring in so much nectar that they plug up the brood chamber. So the queen is forced to slow down her laying. This is another opportunity to add top bars to the brood chamber.
After giving the hive plenty of room and they still want to swarm, then let them. Our goal is to try to catch the swarm when they do. Last week we had a swarm, and it was as exciting to my family and myself as when we have baby chicks hatch. We almost got hit by lightning, but I’ll have to save that story for another time.

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Queen rearing

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Sustainable beekeeping tips and tricks.

Open breeding vs artificial insemination. (the birds and the bees)

In nature, the queen breeds only one time. Her mating flight consists of her flying about 50 ft up in the air, and the drones that are fastest get to mate with her (about 20 drones). Drones are like teenage boys, they drift from colony to colony. So when a queen in my apiary goes on her mating flight, she’s got the top guns from every colony making a beeline straight to her. This is nature’s way of selecting the best local genetics to pass on to the next generation.

In commercial beekeeping (the guys that are screaming about all the dead bees), it is standard practice for the queen suppliers to use artificial insemination to breed the queen. (They breed them with tools, how rude is that?)

The problem with their system is: they do not have a diversity of genetics that are acclimated to the geographic location where the queen is shipped to. Thus the genes of just a few lines of queens are spread throughout the entire U.S. This drastically reduces the diversity of genetics that nature would create. Diversity equals life. Maybe this is why natural beekeepers, over time, have less losses!

Queen rearing is surprisingly simple when you are working with nature. At Beelanding, I got my start from a fellow natural breeder just south of us in northern AR. Using a regional queen, I am open breeding with the local genetics (meaning breeding my own bees and finding swarms). It takes time to weed out the weak genetics, but over time, we are creating strong bees. We are allowing diversity to happen by letting nature takes it’s natural course.

I continue to be overwhelmed with requests for nucs to buy. (Nuc is short for nucleus, which is a small working colony with a laying queen that will grow to a full size one). To that end, I have decided to have some top bar nucs for sale in the early spring of 2011 . We will have a limited amount to sell, so I will let my hive customers have first choice. So now is a good time for me to build your hive and get on the waiting list for your own queen and her top gun’s offspring. You will be able to buy a hive with your bees already in it!

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bee-Landing/380313103678?ref=ts

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What is natural cell size and why does it matter?

Friday, June 4th, 2010

In the natural bee hive you have varying sizes of cells, and the size of the cell is what determines the size of the bee.

In commercial bee hives, they install machine imprinted foundation that only has one size (5.4 mm) that is supposed to fit all. The cells were designed larger with the intent of having larger bees to bring in more honey. This also allowed the beekeepers to eliminate or drastically reduce the number of drones (because they use artificially inseminated queens and thus don’t need drone production because they feel it takes away from honey production.)

In nature, bees will build comb with different size cells for different reasons. For instance, the brood cells are approximately 4.9 mm, drone 6.5 mm etc.

Why does cell size matter? Like all of nature, everything is balanced, so if you change something there are usually consequences. In this case, by making the cells larger, the bees take 24 hrs longer to cap; which adds one day to the gestation cycle of the mites.

Some commercial beekeepers have realized this and have changed to smaller cell size (4.9 mm) foundation. Switching to a smaller size helps, BUT it is still a one size fits all mentality.

So with this in mind, I like to let the bees determine what size cell to make and for what reason.

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