Tag Archives: natural beekeeping

Moving Day For Bees

March 2, 2014

Last weekend, my son Ross and his friend Jonathon helped me move the bees from Lena, MS, to Pelahatchie, MS, where I now reside.

It was quite an experience, for sure! And, yes, I did get stung. The bees — naturally enough — preferred not to be disturbed.

Regular readers of my blogs and newsletter know that I’ve just moved to Pelahatchie, a little town (pop. 1400) about 30 miles from Lena (pop. 181), where I’ve resided for the past 15 years. It’s really “the big city” for me! There’s a grocery store only one block from my house; my health care provider, Linda, a nurse practitioner, is only two blocks away; and I’m only 30 minutes from my new job in Jackson. It used to take me about an hour and 15 minutes to get to work, each way! So, it’s a lot handier.

Of course, this move also spells the demise of ShooFly Farm. Annette and I operated it at Lena for 7 years. But she has now moved to North Carolina, and I’m not up to farming alone.

Also, my job is quite exciting — advising and consulting on sustainable, natural and organic farming with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (see: ncat,org). I’m also on the road a lot throughout the Gulf States region (MS, LA, AL, GA, FL), giving workshops and seminars, and speaking to farm groups and universities.

It’s quite kind of my new landlady to allow me to keep my bees and put in a garden, and I’m most grateful. The last thing I moved was the bees, last weekend. Here’s a photo essay:

My son Ross and his friend Jonathon prepare to move my bees. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

My son Ross and his friend Jonathon prepare to move my bees. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

First, we all suited up and made our plans. You will notice that I’ve put nets on the hives. Large, commercial beekeepers just pick them up and toss them on the back of a truck, and if they lose a few hundred bees in transit, so be it.

But I’m not a large commercial beekeeper. I practice natural beekeeping, and I love my bees. I try to be as gentle as I can with them and minimize mortality. It’s stressful enough moving them, and something I wouldn’t do if I had a choice.

Each hive is placed on a wagon and gently moved to the waiting truck. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Each hive is placed on a wagon and gently moved to the waiting truck. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

I had tried to move the bees by myself the weekend before, but first, I got my truck stuck, since it had been raining so much, and then, I found that I could not lift the hives. Each weighed about 100 ponds or so. I had thought that since the hives were down to their lowest numbers, it being deep winter, and their honey would just about have been used up, that the weight would be less. I was wrong. It’s possible that they’ve been obtaining more honey from wildflowers or hen bit,  a ground cover which is popping up. I’ll know more in a week or so when I start feeding them.

Ross and Jonathon move the bees about 100 yards to where my truck is parked. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Ross and Jonathon move the bees about 100 yards to where my truck is parked. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

I’m glad I had the young men to help me. I couldn’t have moved the hives by myself — especially lifting the hives to put them on the cart, then on the truck, then from the truck to the cart, then to their new home.

The bees are transported to their new home. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The bees are transported to their new home. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Up until we actually moved them on the truck to their new home, the bees had pretty much stayed in their hives. The temperature was the upper 30s. Generally, bees stay in their hives when the temperature is 48 or below; they stay in the hive and “unhook” their wings, so that they are shoulder to shoulder and “shiver”   — as if they were flying — to generate heat to keep the queen and hive warm. This is how they survive even the harshest winters. Since it was cold when we started, they didn’t much venture out; except for a few scouts to see what in the heck was going on, and they were held close to the hive by the nets.

Bees seem happy in their new home. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Bees seem happy in their new home. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

However, by the time we got the hives to Pelahatchie, the sun had warmed the hives and it was in the 50s. The bees were agitated by the 45 minute drive and upset about being moved. After we placed the hives on concrete blocks at their new home in Pelahatchie, I told Ross and Jonathon to go inside the house. Then, I removed the nets.  Those bees and hundreds more of angry bees came out of both hives at that point. I walked away in a calm deliberate manner, which is normally the best way to not getting stung. Even so, I did get stung. One bee got under my veil (bee in my bonnet! 🙂 and stung me on the neck.

I always tell people who are thinking about keeping bees and are worried about it: If you are going to mess with bees, you will get stung! There’s no getting around that fact. But it’s also beneficial to one’s health to get stung every once in a while, in my opinion; it’s said that beekeepers have a much lower rate of arthritis than the general population; and “bee therapy” or intentionally getting stung has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks. So, while it did sting, it didn’t bother me that much.

Since I was stung on the neck, however, to be safe, I did go inside and take an antihistamine  to prevent swelling (bee venom is a histamine). My neck itched for a couple of days, but that was about it.

I’ve checked on my bees every day since the move (without cracking open the hives; since that could compromise their internal atmosphere) and they seem to be adjusting nicely.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Advertisements

An Exclusive July Fourth!

July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth of July, Everyone!

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

We decided that since our bees have been so productive this year, we’d go ahead and harvest a little honey. Actually, I was going to wait until my normal time, the end of August, but I bumped into a friend at Rainbow Co-op Grocery who is also a beek, and he said he was already harvesting.

I said, “Isn’t it a little early?”

He said that he was running out of supers. I got to thinking about it, and figured, well, why not? I plan to adding the super back, anyway. Just trade it out now and see how they’re doing in the fall. As long as they have adequate honey for winter, skimming some off the top now shouldn’t hurt.

So, I’ve just come back from preparing to harvest a little honey. Not a lot: just a little. Note, we didn’t actually harvest honey today. But we’ll have some, hopefully, in a couple of days. This is just the preparation.

A lot of folks, I guess, think that you just go out to the bees and they give you honey. It’s not that easy. Actually, you have to separate the bees from the honey. And that can be messy — or it can be rather gentle.

Since I’m a natural beekeeper — barefoot beekeeper or whatever you want to call it — I prefer nonchemical, easy and gentle.

In the old days, when I started beekeeping back in the 1970s, we would use “fume boards.” They were stinky arrangements where you dosed a board with a stinky substance that the bees — and beekeepers! — couldn’t abide. That caused the bees to leave the box adjacent to the board, and the beekeeper removed the box.

But somewhere along the way, somebody got smart and developed an excluder board that does the same thing — separating bees from honey — without the stink. It’s a board with a hole in it that’s covered in a screen arrangement, so that the bees can go back down into the main hive at night but are prevented from getting back into the box when they try to return in the morning.

So, today, I put in the excluder. Here’s a step by step.

When you gather pine straw for your bee smoker make sure and gather some extra and keep it in a dry space. At some point,  you may need to smoke the hives and find that all your outdoors pine straw is too wet to use. Photo by Jim Ewing

When you gather pine straw for your bee smoker make sure and gather some extra and keep it in a dry space. At some point, you may need to smoke the hives and find that all your outdoors pine straw is too wet to use. Photo by Jim Ewing

First, you want to gather some pine straw for your smoker. Some companies sell material to be burned in bee hive smokers, but why spend money when there’s a natural substance that’s free? One caveat: I’ve learned the hard way not to just go out to the pine trees and start gathering straw to be used that day. Sooner or later, you’ll find yourself wanting to mess with the bees and the pine straw will be too damp to use.

Rather, I keep a bucket in the garage with gathered pine straw in it. That way, the pine straw is always dry. When the bucket starts to get low (pictured), I just take it with me and fill it up along with as much as I need for that day, and bring it back to the garage when I’m through.

Pine straw works pretty good. Take some newspaper and tear it into strips and put them in the middle of a handful. Light the paper and once it starts burning, stuff it into the smoker. Puff it a couple of times to make sure it’s well lit, then close the top. You should be good for a session in the bee yard. But always carry a lighter, just in case. It doesn’t take but a moment to relight the smoker if it goes out.

As you can see, the smoker is smokin' and we're ready to lift the top off the hive on the right. Photo by Jim Ewing

As you can see, the smoker is smokin’ and we’re ready to lift the top off the hive on the right. Photo by Jim Ewing

Here’s the smoker in the bee yard. Another tip: It it seems to be going out, only lightly use the bellows. Don’t pump it hard. That will almost certainly cause a dwindling spark to go out. Rather, gently squeeze the bellows in slow, long steps. You’ll see the smoke gradually get thicker. Then, if you set it down, it may get thicker still.

We’re going to install the excluder in the established hive (not the swarm hive) on the right. We’ll get back to the swarm hive in coming weeks.

The bees have been busy building new wax onto the frames added less than two weeks ago. Photo by Jim Ewing

The bees have been busy building new wax onto the frames added less than two weeks ago. Photo by Jim Ewing

As you can see, the bees have been busy. It’s only been 10 days since we put this super on the hive, but the bees have built wax all the way to the the end frames and have actually started putting honey in the center frames.

The hive is now open. The newest super (the green one) has been removed, at right. Notice the top box now covered with bees. That's the super we want to prepare to remove for its honey. Photo by Jim Ewing

The hive is now open. The newest super (the green one) has been removed, at right. Notice the top box now covered with bees. That’s the super we want to prepare to remove for its honey. Photo by Jim Ewing

So, I took off the top super off and set it to the right, as you can see in the photo. The top of the hive and inner board are on the ground to the left. Next, I pick up the super that’s now shown as the top one (the one covered with bees) and set it on the saw horses, on the right. I put the newest (green) super where it had been, and put the excluder board on top of it. Then, I put the hive full of honey on top of the green super, with the inner board and hive top on top of that. Here’s a photo:

The brown line at the bottom of the first box is the excluder board. Now, we wait. Photo by Jim Ewing

The brown line at the bottom of the first box is the excluder board. Now, we wait. Photo by Jim Ewing

So, now, the hive box filled with honey — and believe me, it’s filled with honey, maybe 50 pounds — is the top box. You can see the brown line beneath it that is the excluder board.

We’ll come back Saturday and check and see if it’s empty of bees. If so, we’ll take the box and remove the honey. If there are still some bees in it, we’ll give it another 24 hours.

Using the old stinky fume boards was quicker. But I’m grateful that this method has been developed. I don’t mind waiting for honey, or for the bees to very gently be removed from their honey. I think it’s just good energy! Right now, they’ll be focused on filling that new box with honey and will forget about the top box.

Now, we’re ready to celebrate! This EXCLUSIVE Fourth of July, in hopes of sweeter times, still!!!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

Bee Natural

Nov. 19, 2010

Order honeybees now for organic gardens to be abuzz in spring

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

As winter approaches, and Thanksgiving looms, it seems an unlikely time to consider something so quintessentially “summer” as honeybees, but it’s time to order them, if you plan to start a hive next spring, or replenish colonies that are lost.

If you grow organically (and even if you grow conventionally, whether a garden or farm field), honey bees are essential to pollination.

For folks who are dabbling with an organic garden in the backyard, there are actually small “English Garden” hives that can do the job of supplementing local pollinators.

I’m skeptical of “organic” labeling with honey. A bee collects nectar and pollen 1 1/2 miles in every direction from the hive. You would have to certify that no one with a 3-mile radius is using chemicals to kill weeds or bugs or spray their crops, flowers, lawns, etc. Unless you live out in the absolute middle of nowhere with no human beings around, that’s impossible. So, maybe USDA-certified organic honey is wishful thinking. You’d have to check the location.

I messed with bees for commercial production back in the early 1980s and 1990s and have only dabbled with it since. A lot has changed, with new imported insects that prey on honeybees, as well as the unexplained Colony Collapse Disorder that causes hives to die (possibly because of agricultural or commercial insecticides or, some say, the Bt maize cultivar in genetically modified corn; or neonicotinoid-coated corn seeds; no one knows).

To combat the array of threats, most commercial beekeepers today use antibiotics and pesticides in their hives. Many also pasteurize the honey and strain it and may even add coloration or agents to thicken it or thin it for easy pouring and appearance. It’s all legal under U.S. product labeling laws as “natural.” This is one true instance where, in my opinion, it pays to “buy local” and ask how it’s made. (Plus, there are the health benefits of local honey with local pollens to help people with allergies.)

If you want to truly go natural, then only buy “raw” honey that’s chemically and additive free, that has not been strained and has not been pasteurized. It’s available locally or online, if you look for it.

There’s been a movement in recent years for beekeepers to go chemically free, or “barefoot,” practicing what’s called Natural Beekeeping. This requires using what’s called an Integrated Pest Management system, or IPM, which is a fancy way of saying “growing organic,” only in this instance, with bees. The theory behind IPM is that a healthy bee colony can fight off any threat with just a little help, and that help is chemically free.

For example, to fight the varroa mite, instead of using pesticides, you use a screen board for the hive bottom and “poof” the bees every once in a while with (organic) powered sugar. The mites can’t hold on to the bee with the slippery sugar and fall off through the screen to the ground, where they die. The bees lick the sugar off each other and use it in their honey making (free lunch!).

IPM also encourages the use of nontraditional hives, such as “top bar hives,” called Kenya hives (because they were used in Africa in the 1970s for their ease of use in impoverished areas). Or, if using what is considered the standard Langstroth hives, one may order smaller cell foundations for the bees’ honeycombs.

It’s important also, in IPM, to order bees that have not been raised with chemicals, and not use an existing comb that has been used with chemicals; or, because of chemical loading, the bees will be overwhelmed by disease and parasite outbreaks once the chemicals are removed. Also, only order bees that have been bred for mite-resistance, such as Caucasian, Carniolan or Russian hybrids.

One chemical-free apiary I’ve dealt with is BeeWeaver Apiaries in Navasota, Texas: http://www.beeweaver.com. But there are a growing number of chemically free suppliers of bees. You really need to order now, if you want bees to be sent to you in the spring. When the flowers start blooming, supplies of bees disappear fast.

Bees are great for the garden, and the major suppliers, like Dadant and Brushy Mountain, offer beginners kits. Unless you’re handy with tools, you’d be wise to purchase the finished and painted boxes. Also, if you mess with bees, expect to get stung no matter how much you use smokers or bee-resistant clothing.

The good side: beekeepers have remarkably low rates of arthritis, and honey, propolis and the like is excellent health food, perhaps the oldest raw natural and complete food in human history. Honeybees originated in the Middle East and are mentioned often in the Bible. They are not native to America (called “the white man’s fly” by Native Americans), but they are now vital to farming. For example, one study with cucumbers showed that fruit production increased 400 percent compared to plots without bees. It’s believed that if bees weren’t trucked to the almond farms in California, the industry would collapse.

Keeping bees is a wonderful hobby (though it can easily become an obsession), and having one or two hives near the garden is great joy. Around ShooFly Farm, I love to watch “our girls” work, and each year we plant some crops just for them!

On the Web

Miss. Beekeepers Association: http://www.mshoneybee.org

Great blog on bees by a Master Keeper in Atlanta (with Miss. relatives): http://beekeeperlinda.blogspot.com

Dadant beekeeping supplies: http://www.dadant.com

Brushy Mtn. bee supplies & English Garden hives: http://www.brushymountainbeefarm.com

Integrated Pest Management, Cornell University: http://www.nysipm.cornell.edu

Kenya hives (explanation) : http://www.beekeeping.org/articles/us/ktbh.htm

Some Kenya top-bar hive plans: http://www.ccdemo.info/GardenBees/KTBH.html

Are you a beek? Check out our beeks tweets on Twitter: @OrganicWriter

good reads

Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture by Ross Conrad (Chelsea Green, 2007)

Beekeeping: A Practical Guide by Richard Bonney (Storey Publishing, 1993)

Contact Jim Ewing  on Twitter @OrganicWriter or @EdiblePrayers, or Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc.