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  1. #1
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    Default benign beekeeping?

    consider these frequently touted 'isms:

    well, the bees have been taking care of themselves for millions of years......

    or,

    look at the feral colonies, they are getting by just fine without any intervention......

    or,

    i'm just letting them sort things out on their own.....

    ect., ect.


    these points of view are usually offered up as part of the (groan) treatment vs. (groan again) no treatment discussion.

    i am interested in your opinion as to how much or how little man keeping bees in a hive affects the colony.

    when compared to a feral colony (assume living in a tree), a kept colony (assume the hive gets inspected ocassionally and honey is harvested):

    1. has a less insulated space to deal with
    2. is torn apart from time to time
    3. might have comb, brood, and/or resources taken from it
    4. might have increased competition from more hives nearby
    5. might have increased exposure to diseases and pests from more hives nearby
    6. might have less than optimal nutrition if it is fed
    7. might be moved from time to time
    8. you get the idea

    any thoughts?
    Last edited by squarepeg; 11-14-2012 at 07:44 PM. Reason: grammer
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
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    Canton, Texas USA
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    533

    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    While I can say I believe in doing as little outright care as possible so as not to disturb my hives, I must say the bees do reap some definite benefits from being taken care of. They do not starve out during the winter and early spring. They have us to provide assistance with disease and other insect predation. ...I have found, from time to time, the remains of feral colonies that did not make it for reasons we might have prevented.
    I will also say that you make a good point about the drawbacks of packing too many hives in a given location. This does lead to competition and conflict. The strongest hive that I ever had was a feral swarm that I captured years ago. They made plenty of honey year after year, until my neglect allowed wax moths to get established in the hive. That's a good example of too little care and poor management. It is embarassing.
    LtlWilli

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
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    Worcester County, Massachusetts
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    3,572

    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    Most of the talks I've been giving recently begin with the basic needs of the bees, and then compares the treatment free approaches of Kirk Webster, Dee Lusby, and "the natural model (what the bees would be doing without us).
    Everything we do as beekeepers has a cost as well as a benefit. Every gain we make with management (or treatments, for that matter), should be measured against what the bees do without the beekeeper (don't forget, that without a beekeeper, there is no "surplus" honey, as it is never harvested).
    Here are some of the slides I've used recently on this topic:
    Dee Lusby:
    Desert Environment
    Unique Genetics
    90% Genetic Bottleneck
    Swarms/Feral Stock
    Walk Away Splits
    Unlimited Broodnest
    Small Cell Comb
    Self Contained
    Lack of Isolation Yard To Yard (AFB)
    Lean and Resilient Business Model
    Kirk Webster:
    Vermont….Further North
    Aggressive Splitting
    Overwintering Nucs
    Focused Breeding Program
    Low Overhead
    Largely Self Contained
    Smaller Comb Size
    No Feeding Of Production Colonies
    Nature:
    Smaller Colonies
    Foundationless Comb w/ Original Broodnest Intact and “Unexpanded”
    Plenty of drones
    Prolific Reproduction
    Hard Selection to the Environment…Boom And Bust
    Hives Rarely Breached
    Does Not Produce A Surplus
    When we are teaching new beekeepers, we first outline the "the bee's needs", then move on to how beekeepers exploit the behavior of bees to redirect their reproductive energy into production of surplus honey. We try not to give a recipe for how to keep bees, but an understanding of what they need and what they are doing....oftentimes one's instinct is to try and stop the bees doing what they are trying to do, when helping them accomplish their goals is often a better option.

    deknow

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Rowan County NC
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    347

    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    I feel that the beekeeper may or may not help the bees. It all depends on the situation. Wild hives are the coveted bees for a lot of beekeepers. So how does it affect the bees when you remove them from a tree or house or where ever after they have been thriving for years?
    A fiend got gifted a hive that has been ontouched for 6 years. No manipulation what-so-ever. So it would seem like these bees are genetically gifted. He tried to do splits and other such things to promote the genetics, but he has ended up with two hives with Georgia queens and one that is the original queen. In my opinion, he messes with them too much and may end up killing the hives all together.
    Would the hive been fine left as is? Probably so...are they better off in his yard? probably not.

    But I have captured a small swarm late in the years that was probably destined to failure...With proper feeding, they turned out to be a prosperous hive.

    My ideas are my own, I believe them and have no science to back them up, but I believe that it is over-manipulation, and lack of diverse genetics has been the bee problems in the last several years. I believe too much medication plays a factor in honeybee demise, but does that mean you should not treat them? I don't, but who's to say it is right?

    All beekeeping has a learning curve and I would hope that the last twenty years of bees dying would be a lesson for bee keepers.
    "You have to put down the ducky if you wanna play the Saxophone!" Mr .Hoot

  5. #5
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    Nov 2012
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    Columbia, Maryland. U.S.A.
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    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    Deknow,

    Couple of items in your nature slide I was hoping you could expand upon :

    - Smaller colonies - Having watched a ton of videos, (Thankx JP), and done a few myself, I wonder how this conclusion was reached as it has not been my experience.
    - No surplus - If surplus is defined as more than they will consume through winter, again, not my experience, I removed several colonies this season that netted honey in the hundreds of #'s. My feeling is that they will pack it away as long as there is space.

    Understanding that my experience is strictly anecdotal I am interested in the science.

    Cheers,
    Drew

  6. #6
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    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maryland Beekeeper View Post
    Deknow,
    - Smaller colonies - Having watched a ton of videos, (Thankx JP), and done a few myself, I wonder how this conclusion was reached as it has not been my experience.
    If we are to believe the work the Tom Seeley has done, given a choice, a swarm will choose a cavity about the volume of a single 10 frame deep box. In nature, it is very unlikely that this cavity will get any bigger while the bees are in occupation....thus, they will fill the cavity and swarm before they have produced 100lbs of honey....there is no room for it.

    Much of this natural habitat (large, hollow trees) don't exist anymore...and instead, bees move into human made structures....which tend to be bigger in volume.....the bees simply don't have a choice in many cases. In a larger cavity, they do build larger colonies, and there may well be honey that is stored for several years.....but this is really because the cavity size they prefer is less available. The goal of a colony is not to live for 3 years or 7 years, it is to reproduce as quickly and as successfully as possible....they prefer a smaller cavity so they can fill it and swarm.

    I've done removals in Florida....although you do find large colonies in walls, there are more small colonies in water meter boxes (built into the ground...a bit bigger than a nuc box), and in telephone pedestals (a small cavity in PVC pipe).

    We tend to see larger colonies in removal videos because they are more dramatic. It is very (very) common to find empty spray cans of pesticide at the site of a removal (an effort to kill the bees without calling a beekeeper or exterminator).....large colonies tend to survive this, and an expert is called...a small colony is probably more likely to succumb to the spray, and an expert is never called.

    deknow

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
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    jackson county, alabama, usa
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    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    many thanks to all for these excellent replies, and i agree with all that has been said here so far.

    it's hard not to acknowledge that we put our bees at somewhat of a disadvantage as compared to their feral cousins. but at the same time we do offer some advantages through sound husbandry.

    dean, i am absolutely intrigued by your approach to teaching beginners! i wish we had something like your course around here. i have been playing with the idea of teaching intro to beekeeping at our local community college. may i borrow from you?
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
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    St. Paul, MN
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    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    I think you touched on one of the biggest things people have done to affect the average bee colony.

    Transportation.

    Nature has a balance and part of that balance is maintained by the proximity something can travel. Humans have designed all kinds of crazy ways to travel around the world far faster than our legs would ever take us. As we did that, we brought honeybees with us, with the honeybees came with their diseases and pests. As a result we have hives that are coming in contact with diseases and pests from all around the world. Nature never intended to cause that kind of burden on one hive.

    non intervention beekeeping has always sounded to me like "We screwed up, Mother Nature, can you fix it?"

  9. #9
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    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    Beekeeping is a compromise between the honeybees and the beekeeper.

    I think it is obvious that bees are kept in less than their ideal conditions so we are able to benefit from their hard work.
    I think it's important we all keep asking ourselves these questions squarepeg poses so that as we can make beekeeping less of a compromise for the bees and still be fortunate enough to share in the fruits of their labor.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
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    Utica, NY
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    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    Quote Originally Posted by Joes_bees View Post
    non intervention beekeeping has always sounded to me like "We screwed up, Mother Nature, can you fix it?"
    Mother nature will fix it but the fix could be extinction followed by something to replace it. The unknown is how long will the replacement take? There are very few beekeepers that are not looking for something in return. In most cases it is not for the bees benefit.
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
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    Denver, Colorado
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    5,071

    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    i am interested in your opinion as to how much or how little man keeping bees in a hive affects the colony.
    It affects them in a number of ways of which I will explain a few, and many ways I will not or that we have no knowledge of. It's kind of like quantum theory, if you observe it, you have changed the outcome (this is a simplistic understanding of course).

    We decrease reproduction, perhaps slowing adaptation, but certain genetic lines we expand far far beyond what is possible in nature, therefore we influence the genetics of the population.

    We prop up many hives that would die normally, leading to more of the above. I don't know if it is true, but I've heard it said that 90% of swarms die their first winter. Swarms we catch, we try to coddle at least through their first winter, significantly increasing that survival rate.

    We keep hives in much closer proximity to other hives than found in nature, possibly leading to increased disease spread. Good for adaptation, but not so much if you treat.

    We move hives perhaps thousands of miles, which I have found is extremely stressful, leading to dieoffs. On the other hand, if the bees are moved the same places every year, the effect may be minimized.

    Hives are routinely requeened. To my eye, if it's been requeened, it's not the same hive. It interrupts any adaptation that might have been achieved with successive generations of the same family line.

    That's all I have for now, perhaps I will chime in again later with more.

    What's the opposite of benign beekeeping, malignant beekeeping?
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Washington County, Maine
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    2,761

    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    This thread is starting to feel like we are hearing religious statements as opposed to statements about practical beekeeping.

    On my own land I "get" that quality habit and forage are of prime importance. I have a field of wild blueberries somewhere between 5 and 10 acres and I think it important to have it be a healthy place for my bees to visit and good habitat for native pollinators. But (you knew there was a but coming) desiring balance is not the same thing as achieving it. The Blueberry field is slowly being taken over by sweet fern, wild roses, goldenrod, white pine, tamarack and alder. Biannual mowing isn't keeping the field free of these plants. Burning may be an option if I can be assured that it won't cause difficulties for the native pollinators.

    At my local club meeting last night more than a few people were singing the praises of roundup. I don't want to go there but obviously I know it is available.

    My point is that if I am determined to keep natural succession from happening and the field productive (as a blueberry field), I need to take action. To me it is the same as beekeeping. I like having honey to sell and in this climate if a hive swarms it generally does not have the population necessary to make surplus honey for me to harvest. So I do things - like open up the brood nest - to try and discourage swarming.

    I don't think opening the brood nest to prevent swarming is evil although I wouldn't be surprised if some who have contributed to this thread think it is.

    I try to be a good steward of my bees. Sometimes that means taking action (medicating) to keep them from dieing. Sometimes it means sliding a box back to provide additional ventilation and another entrance.

    I can't think of any beekeepers who enjoy using miticides and other medications on their bees. We'd all like to be completely treatment free - but there is the age old quandary - bees in a hive represent an investment: I can either keep livestock, or I can look at deadstock (and cry.)
    Master Beekeeper (EAS) and Master Gardener (U Maine CE) www.beeberrywoods.com

  13. #13
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    Utica, NY
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    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Dewey View Post
    My point is that if I am determined to keep natural succession from happening and the field productive (as a blueberry field), I need to take action.
    Logic would suggest that you wouldn't keep bees. You would mulch up the blueberries and hire someone to bring in bees to pollinate. That is how they are doing it in my area. Blueberries tend to attract bears, another issue with cultivating blueberries and bees.
    Also, between the rows they nicely mow so people can come pick the berries easily.
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

  14. #14

    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    In the late 60’s, long before varroa reached the US, Tom Seeley studied new feral bee colonies. As I remember it, he determined that new colonies, the product of feral swarms had about a 25% chance of surviving until the next season. 75% failed….and this was before mites! My point is that feral bees live a pretty precarious existence in the best of times..
    Dan www.boogerhillbee.com
    Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards

  15. #15
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    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Dewey View Post
    This thread is starting to feel like we are hearing religious statements as opposed to statements about practical beekeeping.
    We are not talking about a religion, I don't think people are even trying to deem things "evil" in this thread. As far as statements about practical beekeeping I don't think that's the subject either. It's more about comparing "beekeeping" to... bees being bees?

    And in case anyone else didn't pick up the (groans) I doubt he wanted to start another treatment vs non-treatment thread.

  16. #16
    Join Date
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    Canton, Texas USA
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    533

    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    That is so true---we do NOT need another pro and con debate. Thus far, I have to say that this has been a most congenial disposition. It is good to read such well-written responses with civil tones being the main discourse coloring. We have all maybe gone past the argumentative state and dwell now upon well stated points thoughout . I applaud your reluctance to argue vigorously.
    LtlWilli

  17. #17
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    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  18. #18
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    Evansville, IN
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    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    I see beekeeping as a system of providing the bees conditions conducive to the production of honey and wax while propagating hives I like and not propagating hives I don't.

    This requires considerable knowledge of what the bees are doing, why they do it, and of what is required to get them to store honey rather than swarm.

    Obviously the less they are disturbed the better, but it's necessary to both understand how a hive works and reproduces and to intervene when "bad" things are happening (disease, unwanted swarming, etc). I've heard stories of people doing deep inspections several times week all summer, which I think would be rather deleterious to the hive (so say nothing of the risk of squishing a queen!), but never inspecting is also bad, since you are likely to miss something that needs intervention.

    Regular checks for space, proper brood production, good health, and hive pests with whatever action is necessary to keep the bees "happy" is what I prescribe -- might be a simple as lifting the top cover to see if the supers are full, might be as much as a full frame by frame inspection if the hive isn't behaving properly. Hard to give an exact schedule, but I left mine pretty much alone this year. I'll need to fix some bad comb next spring (they didn't draw some foundationless frames well, lots of bridge comb as a result) but otherwise no major problems. I'll be removing one frame from one hive because the foundation bulged badly, I've fixed that since all brood frames are now cross-wired.

    I do NOT recommend tossing some bees in a box and waiting to collect honey, though -- "bee having" ain't the same thing as beekeeping, and everyone I know who's tried the "hands off, bees know what they are doing" style of beekeeping in this area has been severely disappointed. It's a real struggle for new hives to get through the summer dearth without help, and hive losses due to starvation are a real problem if the hive doesn't take off really fast in the spring. All that dry weather in July, August, and September (and occasionally into November) results in no stores for winter if one does not feed, and at least two of my friends have quit beekeeping due to starvation losses several years running. Never did persuade them bees can starve on their own....

    Peter

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
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    Panama City, Florida, USA
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    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    Quote Originally Posted by deknow View Post
    I've done removals in Florida....although you do find large colonies in walls, there are more small colonies in water meter boxes (built into the ground...a bit bigger than a nuc box), and in telephone pedestals (a small cavity in PVC pipe).

    deknow
    My calls for cutouts in NW Florida are usually for medium size colonys. Anything from bees in walls, under trailer floors, etc. I did have three water meter calls this year. Had one in a 12" x 16" x 12" block. All were first year colonys. Did not recieve any calls for colonies that had been present for multiple years. The larger ones were usually underneath a floor (crawlspace, etc) These interestingly enough always seemed to be combs about the length and depth of normal deep frames. Makes me think that Langstroth had his dimensions about right. None had more than about 30 pounds of honey stored, not surplus be total stored.

    Also responded to a call where the hive had succumbed to SHB and was being robbed out. We may be seeing a AHB type adjustment in colony size and absconds due to SHB pressure. Also had three open air hives this year, they also seem to be around more often.

    So I tend to agree with deknow, natural hives tend to be small to medium size. But colnies that have been there for years may be larger.

    Here are a few examples from this year: http://www.flickr.com/photos/4507886...7632017442629/
    Last edited by jbeshearse; 11-15-2012 at 05:09 PM. Reason: added link

  20. #20
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    Default Re: benign beekeeping?

    Beekeeping takes control of the reproduction aspect of a hive. The most obvious way is by preventing swarms and producing splits at a convenient time for the beekeeper.

    Another way the beekeeper does this is by using foundation which promotes worker sized cells and deters drone production. This natural ratio of workers to drones is necessary for a hive that is trying to increase it's presence in the gene pool based on it's success.

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