Bee Landing Blogs

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.

The problem with starting with large bees that you get from most suppliers is that the large bees will build large cells. This is because they measure the cells with their bodies. If you do start with large bees, you can regress them over time to the natural size. With the Homestead hive you can let them start building comb, and then place new bars in between existing comb in the brood area for the bees to build new comb on. This allows the bees to gradually reduce the size of cells and the size of the bees that are born in the cells. Bees only live for 6-8 weeks so in time as you let them build new comb, and cull out the large comb or let the bees use it for honey storage they will stabilize to the natural size.

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Respect the temperatures that your bees work so hard to maintain.

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Your bees maintain 96 degrees in their cluster year round. In conventional beekeeping, it is a common practice to re stack the boxes, by laying them on their sides, while the beekeeper is checking on the colony.

Exposing the thermal mass of the hive (wax, honey, brood, etc) to wind and temperature fluctuations is hard on the hive.

Exposure requires your bees to go into crisis mode. They must frantically cool or heat the hive to bring it back to the correct temperature. The result is that it often kills the brood and they waste time and resources.

On my Facebook page (are you my friend yet?), you can see a video that better explains the importance of temperatures.

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GETTING YOUR FIRST BEE COLONY OR GROWING YOUR APIARY

Monday, May 10th, 2010

It is spring and I have been overwhelmed with requests for small cell bees raised naturally.  It is a little late to buy bee packages from sustainable small cell beekeepers, if they even have any left.

 Most folks get their bees from very large bee producers that have not caught onto sustainable practices.  Some of you may have seen Food, Inc.  Many of those producers approach bees like the mega beef and chicken industries.  

With this in mind, I have some suggestions on how to get your first bee colony or grow your established apiary. One needs to either buy, breed, or catch. (In future articles, I will talk more about some ideas I have about buying and breeding.)

One of the best ways to get survivor stock, small cell bees is to catch swarms.  There are 3 ways to do this:

1- You can call your local exterminators, police station, etc. and get on their list to help with frantic homeowners who don’t know what to do with the large ball of bees in their yard.  The bees can be moved directly to a hive.

2- You can set out a swarm trap, with some lure and entice a swarm into your hive. 

3- You can buy/barter 4 frames of comb from another beekeeper. However the comb must have some eggs younger than 3 days (you can tell the eggs from the larva, as they look like little white specs in the cell) Ideally the frames will have eggs, capped brood, honey, pollen, and most importantly the nurse bees that are accompanying the brood. Also it is good to shake the nurse bees from another frame into the new hive also. I have set up a news group to help connect local natural beekeepers with people wanting starts or swarms.

 Catching swarms is a lot of fun.  It is a great way to find bees with good genes due to the fact that they have been surviving out in nature, despite the current madness of Colony Collapse Disorder.

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