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  1. #1
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    Default Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    With increase of Colony Collapse Disorder, there have been many advocates for a return to nature's way of beekeeping (organic beekeeping). The methodology employed allows the bees to live in a more natural environment mirroring how they would live in the wild. I am in support of such strategies but I am also in the business to turn a profit. Does anyone have ideas on how to make this happen?

    Some beekeepers are using 3 to 4 brood chambers but it seems that it requires more time and maintenance. Does anyone have experience with this and if so whats your experience? Is there any beekeeper using both organic and inorganic strategies and therefore can compare the productivity of the bees vis a vis expenses/inputs?

    Is anyone using TBHs? How do they stack up in light of the issues raised above?

    Is there a way to use organic strategies and be as productive as farmers using inorganic practices?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    What definition of organic are we going to go with for this thread?

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    Since organic covers a wide swath of definitions, lets say for this purpose, beekeepers who are
    1 not using chemical treatments for pests, do not use supplemental/substitute feeds, and are allowing the bees to mirror more natural conditions including but not limited to smaller bees and cell sizes
    2 who are not using chemical treatments for pests but are using supplemental feeding including sugar and essential oils to manage pests and increase productivity
    3 using an integrated pest management system that does not utilize chemicals

    I know this is broad but since these groups i believe represent the minority of beekeepers, I want to hear what their experiences have been. Hopefully we can learn from each other while respecting the choices that each person has made pertaining to their business.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    In the US many beekeepers have to contend with the area their bees forage on having a variety of agricultural chemicals used. It is very rare to find an extended area that could be certified as organic; I am not aware of any such areas here in Maine.

    So it seems that what you are talking about follows closely but not completely the Certified Naturally Grown model.

    There are beekeepers who have elected to follow the standards and those who follow the standards but rely on customer purchases to affirm that the beekeeper is doing things properly.

    You raise the subject of top bar hives - they have a niche in the US - and are better suited to some climates than others. They require skill (and luck maybe?) to over winter especially in my area of Maine. And yields (from what I gather) are more suited to personal use rather than commercial production.

    The big issue with conventional hives (using 2 deeps for a brood chamber in this area) is Varroa. I see a spectrum of managed hives: the hives are fully "resistant" or able to coexist with Varroa without suffering economic damage; the hives have some resistance to Varroa and don't need as much medication/intervention to keep economic consequences at bay; and those hives that have little if any resistance to Varroa and require substantial medication/intervention.

    A major difficulty is acquiring a stock of bees that will allow you to be successful organically. For most bees (in the US at least) Varroa resistance is all over the map, and bees the survive well without treatment in one location don't do well in another. Local conditions and bees vary widely.

    If you start with a single package of conventional bees and treat them as organically as you can you will most likely end up with a dead hive; If you start with 10 packages you may have one or two survivors to breed from; If you live in an area where there are true feral survivor bees and catch swarms you are ahead of the game. If you are buying bees that are "treatment free" you need to be aware of the sellers' need to market their bees and take into account resistance in one area doesn't guarantee resistance in another.

    At this time I see efforts being made to establish stocks of bees that require fewer treatments but I'm not seeing big commercial success with those bees yet. Do I hope to? Certainly.

    In other threads I have argued that control over bee forage areas is going to become vastly more important. I see it as commercial honey producers needing to either lease or own the areas that their bees forage on; I see Farmers requiring pollination services needing to take on bees/native pollinators as another thing to manage permanently on their farms; I see the days of the large migratory commercial bee operations as numbered.

    Bringing this back to the practical - I have had no consumer demand for a drug free or otherwise more natural product. Some of that is probably due to consumers trusting their honey supplier to have done "the right thing" and some is probably due to consumer oblivion regarding beekeeper practices and agricultural practices in general.

    I am trying to evolve my keeping of bees to a more organic approach because I think it is the right (and prudent) thing to do and not because I see an immediate return on my investments in stock selection.

    I am a hobby beekeeper with 40 hives - as much as I like money, I don't keep bees for profit. I try very hard not to cast aspersions on other beekeepers and farmers who do have economic realities to deal with.
    Master Beekeeper (EAS) and Master Gardener (U Maine CE) www.beeberrywoods.com

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    Great points in general. As it relates to the forage area, i did not factor that in even though it is a major consideration. I am thinking that for the sake of this discussion we may have to ignore the forage area issues for now. I think the bigger issues prompting pseudo-organic practices have been the disease resistance of the bees to many of the treatments that have been used over the years coupled with the impact of the neonicotinoids. Recent research now suggests that these chemicals may impact children similar to the way nicotine affects a pregnant woman so there is alot more concern now that the discussion is shifting from just presevation of the bees and the food chain to the health of the human race. Its early yet but I would not be surprised if this drives greater demand for organic/pseudo-organic bee products.


    TBH is not as widely used in Jamaica but it is gaining popularity as the need for wax products grows. We have a shortage of foundation right now so there is growing interest. There is general agreement that it will not produce commercial quantitites of honey nor would it facilitate efficieny in production of the honey given that the honey is extraxtected by destroying the comb.

    Pests as you have so aptly stated is of growing concern since the concentration of pests and the type of pests will negatively affect honey output. Your suggestion of incorporating beefarming with other agricultural enterprise is a great suggestion but may be daunting to the farmers who dont have bees since its cheaper to lease bees than to keep bees and they are all about the profit. That said, it seems that there needs to be a conversation about how to maximize production without sacrificing organic and pseud-organic practices. One area that needs to be explored in a bigger way is the by products of beefarming: propolis, pollen, and wax. Some people are also doing meade wine and other secondarily produced products using honey as the sweetner. I am not sure what percentage of the beefarmers in the US or in Jamaica are enagaged in production of these products and therefore can speak to the productivity and costs pertaining to them.

    I hope our collective thoughts stimulates movement towards sustainable practices for the bees and the beekeepers economically. What are your thoughts?

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    >The methodology employed allows the bees to live in a more natural environment mirroring how they would live in the wild.

    In many ways you change this by putting them in hive. In many ways you can't change this because of the wild nature of bees.

    > I am in support of such strategies but I am also in the business to turn a profit. Does anyone have ideas on how to make this happen?

    There is a long running thread on treatment free commercial beekeepers. There are not a lot of them but there are some.

    >Some beekeepers are using 3 to 4 brood chambers but it seems that it requires more time and maintenance.

    No. Actually it requires less. They are less likely to swarm with more brood space, but then brood space is a relative concept.

    > Does anyone have experience with this and if so whats your experience?

    www.bushfarms.com/beesulbn.htm

    >Is there any beekeeper using both organic and inorganic strategies and therefore can compare the productivity of the bees vis a vis expenses/inputs?

    It's not hard to figure expenses of treating and feeding and compare them to not treating and not feeding. Treating does not make them more productive. Obviously replacing honey that would have been consumed with sugar syrup will make more of something and some people will call it honey...

    >Is anyone using TBHs? How do they stack up in light of the issues raised above?

    www.bushfarms.com/beestopbarhives.htm

    It is difficult to run outyards with top bar hives and have them be productive. You have to make too frequent of trips and the gas and time to get there becomes problematic. I won't say you can't run a commercial outfit with top bars, but I find Langstroths much easier in the outyards.

    >Is there a way to use organic strategies and be as productive as farmers using inorganic practices?

    IMO, absolutely.

    >1 not using chemical treatments for pests, do not use supplemental/substitute feeds, and are allowing the bees to mirror more natural conditions including but not limited to smaller bees and cell sizes

    If you keep bees you will need to feed them sooner or later. I try to not have feeding as my managment plan, but rather my backup plan when a flow fails and the bees need to be fed. Some people steal all their honey and try to feed them enough syrup to get through the winter. That's what I try to avoid.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    Just a passing thought, but I wouldn't even try to label honey as organic unless you just happen to own everything within a 5 mile radius of the hive.

    "Organic" has a legal definition, and it applies to more than just what you do to the bees themselves. If you go labeling your honey as organic and the feds test it and find anything in it that violates the legal definition for organic, they aren't going to care that your bees flew somewhere you didn't expect, they're going to see a pesticide trace in the honey and fine you for it.

    Better that you use some other pointless buzzword that uneducated people don't really understand but think means quality that doesn't have legal backup. Like "Natural".
    Beekeeper since 2013. Read my bee blog at:
    http://harrisonbayhoney.blogspot.com

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    Note that the OP is in Jamaica (and not the one in New York state ). Most likely regulations there are different than the US.
    ultracrepidarian >> noting or pertaining to a person who criticizes, judges, or gives advice outside of his expertise

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    Oh whoops, so he is, my mistake!
    Beekeeper since 2013. Read my bee blog at:
    http://harrisonbayhoney.blogspot.com

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    Thanks Michael. Great articles. Can you post the link to the thread regarding organic commercial beekeeping? I am going to try ULBN. I have not restricted my colonies but they invariably keep the brood in two deeps and store honey in the third. I only use deeps. They also store honey in the brood nest so going forward i will pay more attention to those frames to move them up and replace with open frames of comb or foundation. By the way, the hives are in the tropics so wintering the hive is not an issue for us. Is it still necessary to have honey frames to the outside of the brood nest to insulate the brood or can all the honey be kept above and all the frames below be reserved for the brood nest thereby creating more space for the queen to lay?

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    The term Natural is a good suggestion even though i may open a can of worms in terms of the debate surrounding what is natural or unnatural. Interestingly i live in Bronx NY but the apiary is in Jamaica, West Indies. You are correct. Jamaica is behind by about 10 years in terms of regulations and practices but since they are behind in practices they are generally producing natural honey.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    The only way to prevent a queen from laying in the supers is to use an excluder. This can be seriously counterproductive.

    IMO, you will run into issues with mite tolerance that will take several years to resolve. Treatment free sounds great in principle, but in practice, it is a minefield in a sea of moon craters. Lots have tried, some have succeeded. I have been treatment free for 8 years.
    DarJones - 44 years, 10 colonies (max 40), sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 11 frame broodnest, small cell

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Dewey View Post

    I am trying to evolve my keeping of bees to a more organic approach because I think it is the right (and prudent) thing to do and not because I see an immediate return on my investments in stock selection.

    I am a hobby beekeeper with 40 hives - as much as I like money, I don't keep bees for profit. I try very hard not to cast aspersions on other beekeepers and farmers who do have economic realities to deal with.
    Andrew, I like your style. You make several excellent points. I like money, and I like what it can do for me, remembering what the Good Book says about the "love" of money. I keep bees for the economics and I recognize that abusive, toxic management practices are just not sustainable. I have some hives which are 100% treatment free, per the criteria set forth in the Treatment Free forum on beesource. I confess these are treatment-free due to their remote location and my neglect. But, darn it, they keep on living!

    I have a majority of hives which benefit from some level of "natural" assistance, but there's nothing natural about powdered sugar being dusted through the brood nest. Some of these hives live, some die. We split and move on.

    I like foundationless frames. I like manipulating the colony toward an artificial swarm to create a brood break. I like raising my own queens from survivor stock. I trap a number of feral swarms each year and use these colonies for the base of my queen rearing, readily admitting I may be trapping someone's chemically-addicted swarm. IPM sorts these issues out. I set my hives close to cattle pastures and CRP ground with very little chemical pollution. I truly believe we can work around the perceived necessity of toxic, synthetic chemicals. Pesticides seem to be another challenge.

    I own a TBH and it is horribly humbling and frustrating. I've murdered/evicted six or seven swarms. I'm a failure. For all the noble intentions of TBH and Warre hives, I just do not seem them accommodating our intensive agricultural requirements for pollination in a monoculture production system. But I agree, this kind of system of migratory pollination can't continue much longer.

    We are living in an intesting time of transition whose end has not yet been fully revealed or realized, kind of like looking in a mirror dimly. That's what makes beekeeping so interesting for me, and I've been around since before varroa was spoken in every conversation beekeepers had with each other.

    Grant
    Jackson, MO https://www.createspace.com/4111886
    Beekeeping With Twenty-five Hives: https://www.createspace.com/4152725

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    >Can you post the link to the thread regarding organic commercial beekeeping?

    Organic, as mentioned by others, has been taken over by the USDA. Treatment free is about as accurate as you can get to describe beekeeping naturally. Here is the link:

    http://www.beesource.com/forums/show...ial-Beekeepers

    It gets quite long winded toward the end, and I would probably skip that... but there is some discussion of several people who are commercial and treatment free. You will quickly discover whose posts to just skip...
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    Michael:I read to page 4 and agree with you that the arguments are round about in most instances and at the end I was no clearer on who was doing what and with what level of scientific success. One thing is clear TF means different things to different people. I have 30 colonies, I feed 1:1 sugar solution with honeybhealthy liquid and grease patties using vegetable oil, essential oils and the liquid sugar solution, fog with mineral oil and have about 50% screened bottom boards. I do not use any of the marketed chemicals to treat mites or anything else. I have not lost a hive, started with 5 and have grown to 30. In the eyes of some I am already treatment free but to others I am not. It is also clear that going TF carries significant risks especially for large operations and is better suited to stationary yards in hotter geographic regions. I have one hive that has never been fed or treated in any way and it is doing well. I am plannng to slit from it and see what happens. It seems to me at the end of the day the jury is still out on how to successfully make this work any where in the worrld with whatever genetic pool you may have and regardless of forage and climate. Its good that we are talking and experimenting, we are definitely moving in the right direction. I hope at the end of the day we will have some sustainable results that can be replicated regardless of the size of the operation and whether migratory or stationary. I am still optimistic that it will happen and will continue to do what I can to experiment, document and share the results. Thanks for being so liberal with information from your experience and your vast knowledge interacting with other beekeepers.

    I am also reading that having boxes that are rough on the inside thereby encouraging the bees to coat it with propolis will further enhance their ability to fight off mites and deal with other diseases.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by Edymnion View Post
    "Organic" has a legal definition, and it applies to more than just what you do to the bees themselves. If you go labeling your honey as organic and the feds test it and find anything in it that violates the legal definition for organic, they aren't going to care that your bees flew somewhere you didn't expect, they're going to see a pesticide trace in the honey and fine you for it.
    You can label you honey as organic if you follow the Federal Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

    In brief, "Organic" as define by the USDA amounts to a somewhat vague management system or approach to food production. Obviouly there is paperwork that needs to be filled out documenting that you follow this practices and that you dont use certain pesticides (the use of some pesticides are allowed). There is no national testing program to ensure that organic labled foods are pesticide free and there are no fines; that is not what it is all about. It is a certification program.

    Whether we as beekeepers agree with the this definition is another topic, but if you want to lable your honey as organic, you can.

    In order to avoid the referencing of internet know-it-alls and organic gardening blog sites, I give you 7 CFR Part 205.

    http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getf...TELPRDC5087165

    It is the federal law in all it's glory; it is the real deal. I suggest everyone participating in this thread read and study it.
    Honey Badger Don't Care ಠ_ಠ ~=[,,_,,]:3

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by Nabber86 View Post
    You can label you honey as organic if you follow the Federal Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

    In brief, "Organic" as define by the USDA amounts to a somewhat vague management system or approach to food production. Obviouly there is paperwork that needs to be filled out documenting that you follow this practices and that you dont use certain pesticides (the use of some pesticides are allowed). There is no national testing program to ensure that organic labled foods are pesticide free and there are no fines; that is not what it is all about. It is a certification program.

    Whether we as beekeepers agree with the this definition is another topic, but if you want to lable your honey as organic, you can.

    In order to avoid the referencing of internet know-it-alls and organic gardening blog sites, I give you 7 CFR Part 205.

    http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getf...TELPRDC5087165

    It is the federal law in all it's glory; it is the real deal. I suggest everyone participating in this thread read and study it.
    Thanks for your clarification. I will follow the link and become more educated. I was aware that one has to be certified to use the term organic. My frustration comes from no clear guidelines within the beekeeping community to define it in terms of our practices of course this is when compared with the definitions for "natural beekeeping".

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by janyfarmer View Post
    My frustration comes from no clear guidelines within the beekeeping community to define it in terms of our practices of course this is when compared with the definitions for "natural beekeeping".
    Exactly. We should at least have the Federal definition understood so we can get that out of the way. It has obvious flaws and now we can continue to discuss the specifics of how it should (or should not) apply to beekeepers.

    Does anyone have a problem with me selling honey labeled as organic if I am certified and abide by the program? (Hypothetical of course, I treat my hives with OA). If so why? How do we resolve this?
    Honey Badger Don't Care ಠ_ಠ ~=[,,_,,]:3

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    Well, I have BeeWeavers, and they say they practice organic beekeeping.

    Dee Lusby is an 'organic' beekeeper and keeps bees out in the desert.

    I often see honey labeled as 'organic' in the health food store.

    I suppose the most important part of organic beekeeping is keeping adulterants/pesticides out of the hive.

    Are there any organic farmers where your hives are located in Jamaica?

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Honey Productivity and Organic Beekeeping

    There are some but if you asked they they would say they don't know. The cost of chemicals is prohibitive for many of the beekeepers in Jamaica and so creative natural means of solving the problems that plague the bees are found. Of source some strategies do not work and replacement is sometimes necessary. The advantage is that we have much less of a problem with CCD and Foulbrood that beekeepers here do.

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