Episode-970- Natural Bee Keeping with Conventional Hives and Inland Storm Prepping

Issac's Projected Path

Issac’s Projected Path – Click for Larger Image

Today we have a two parter.  I begin by answering a question I have gotten a lot lately.  That is, “what am I personally doing to deal with what will be tropical depression Issac when it passes for all intents and purposes directly over my house”.

The answer is, well not that much different then the typical things I am always prepared for but there is a basic checklist, some travel adjustments and a simple mindset that we are putting in place to be ready for the remnants of this storm.  While those far inland such as myself won’t have 90 MPH winds and storm surge we run the same risks of any severe weather event.

Additionally Issac is moving painfully slow (6-10 MPH ground speed) so we will likely have sustained winds in the 2o MPH range for 8-12 hours and heavy rainfall for a lot longer then that.  I think anyone in the path of this storm needs to be prepared for loss of power and flooding in low lying areas.  If like me you are on a ridge 900 feet above surrounding low lands you might not flood but your access to services may be cut off.

Mil Apostol

Mil Apostol – Beekeeper, Organic Gardener, Chef

We then turn to today’s main subject, natural beekeeping with langstroth hives.

I think that since the first two bee keepers in our beekeeping series were top bar folks some of you got the impression that I am against what could be called a “conventional hive”, I am not, in fact I am a bee keeping novice to say the least, that is why I lined up a series of people using various methods.

Today’s guest is Mil Apostol.  Mil has been keeping bees in her backyard since 2008 when she got her first hive.  She studied with master beekeeper Serge Lebesque and keeps her hives chemical-free.

Mil believes in learning from local wild bees about how to be a better beekeeper. She has an organic garden, worked as a chef for many years, and also is an avid forager of wild foods.

She joins us today to answer questions like,

  • How do you get started in beekeeping?
  • What basic gear do you need to start beekeeping
  • What are the start up costs of setting up a system properly?
  • How much work is involved in beekeeping over a year?
  • How can you be a chemical-free beekeeper?
  • How many hives should a beginning beekeeper start with?
  • Expected honey yields and pressing equipment?
  • Is maintenance free beekeeping an option?

Additional Resources for Today’s Show

30 Responses to Episode-970- Natural Bee Keeping with Conventional Hives and Inland Storm Prepping

  1. Don’t take this little storm too lightly! While I have four or five leafs get blown out of my tree, the “land mass between Alabama and Louisiana”, also know as Mississippi has been experiencing several tornados today…… On a side note, it sure felt good already being prepared for this storm….. ;-D

  2. Hey Jack,
    Thanks again. I also want to say that I’d be happy to answer any questions about here.

    Oh, I was also thinking about another honey recipe. I was thinking of roasted duck with a reduced red wine and honey sauce. Pair that with some bitter greens (broccoli rabe?), and it would make a fine meal.

    The cheese that I was talking about for the dessert I mentioned with the nuts and fruit is the Fromage Blanc from Cowgirl Creamery.

  3. Very interesting. I am mourning the loss of my third hive this season. Last fall I bought a split, and it did well all winter and into the peach season but then after a week of rain, there were no bees. I cried, of course and couldn’t figure it out. Before that I had ordered two more packages for April and read more and talked to other beekeepers more, but by July, they were gone, too. I am still so grieved that I can hardly say the words, that my bees are gone. I started in 2005, but when I got an opportunity to go to China , I asked a beekeeper friend to tend them while I was gone. Sadly, he died while I was away so his kids sold all his animals including my bees. I just haven’t had any luck, and am scared to sink any more money into bees. I loved working with them, not afraid, and didn’t mind the occasional sting. I so admired my beekeeping grandpa, and it was one of my life dreams to also keep bees. How can I muster the courage to try again??? It really breaks my heart. Hundreds of dollars, no honey and no pollinators for the gardens, no friendly buzzing sounds. Was it me, or the univeral problem of colony collapse? Thank you for today, Jack, It may be just what I needed to get me back out there.

    • Hi hillhag,
      I know how you feel. We lost our Italians, our first hive that I talked about, last winter. We think it might’ve been queen failure or else an error on our part. I was pretty bummed out because they were such a sweet and gentle hive.

      Do I assume correctly that you don’t have any more equipment? Hive bodies, hive tools, bottom board, etc? If you do, then that’s a start!

      One piece of advice: I don’t know where you got the packages from, but is there any way you can get more local bees or even a swarm? Our first swarm is still with us (we collected them in March 2009), and they are prolific. Your local bees are more adapted to your locale and would have a fighting chance to make it.

      I also don’t know where you are in the learning curve with your bees. Can you get a beekeeping mentor to check in on your hives with you especially before winter?

      I hope you will try to keep bees some day. I can tell from how you write about bees that you are a beekeeper at heart.

      Best wishes,
      Mil

      • thanks Mil, for your help. The hive I got last fall was from a local guy. . He called the other day and I told him my sad tale, and he suggested I leave my next hive at his place and come there to tend them until we are both comfortable that it would be o.k. to move them to my place. He’s about 20 miles from me. I have enough boxes and supers for several hives and all the tools. My dream is to have about a dozen hives.The last beekeeper to be on this podcast suggested putting lemon grass oil in boxes to attract a wild swarm. I intend to try that. Also someone suggested getting nucs. What do you think?

        • Hi hillhag,
          I’m glad that the beekeeper suggested the same thing. It would be good to get a second opinion until you get the hang of your bees. I had to learn about the hives’ personalities before I could figure out how to interact with them.

          You can also get other opinions from beekeeping forums like beesource.com or beekeepingforums.com. The folks at the second forum are really nice!

          Anyway, I think a nuc would be great since it would be more of a hive with brood and comb. These bees would be more of a family rather than a package of bees. Apparently, a package is a bees from different hives just weighed out with a bred queen. Maybe that would be the ticket!

          Let me know how it goes! :)

    • Nancy Kosling

      To Hillhag: I do not have bees. Our neighbor bee keeper died and because he had prior exception-status, at his death, Corpus Christi, Texas revoked his status and his daughter had to move the bee boxes out of the city limits. Your email gave no clue where you live. Dallas, Texas and nearby towns has been aerial spraying for mosquitos for a week. New York Manhatten is soon to be sprayed. The chemicals are Duet and Anvil. The major components are sumithrin and prallethrin, both chemicals are known highly toxic neuropoisons that target mosquitoes, bees, bats, fish, crickets, other animals and insects, even our pets and livestock and humans. In humans it is shown to damage kidneys and liver and linked to liver and breast cancer. Dallas city counsel is telling the public that the sprays are safe. THEY are liers! What is unconscionable is the spraying does not decrease exposure and is ineffective and unsafe in trying to stop West Nile virus. Pyrethrin chemicals cause severe reactions and cause more injuries and human and animal death than the WNv. Is your city or township downwind to mosquito spraying?

      • Hi Nancy,
        Why did Corpus Christi do that? Were his bees under the wire and then they enacted a no bee ordinance? Or was it a neighbor that didn’t like them and complained? Too bad.

        That’s a good point about the pesticides. Hillhag, were there a big pile of dead bees at the entrance? That’s usually one sign of pesticide poisoning.

  4. Haven’t listened to the entire episode yet, but I have to second (or third?) the storm prep advice. Up here in IN, I’ve had my eye on it since yesterday because we’re supposed to get a LOT of rain with the potential for severe weather. Gas prices have already started to go up here too. What concerns me more though is the fact that in 3 months, my homestead has gotten about 2″ of rain. If 10″ comes pouring down over the weekend, we’re gonna be in BIG trouble with all this drought-parched earth around here. About 35mi north in Indianapolis, they’re at the 6th wettest August on record. (They’ve received 6.5″ in Aug where I’ve gotten a shade over 1″ this month.)

    My thoughts are with everyone who’s going to be dealing with this storm.

  5. Another good bee show, I may get some yet!

    Check out the Meade recipe in this Bill Mollisen book:
    The Permaculture Book of Ferment and Human Nutrition

    • Hi Katunk,
      I’ve been looking at mead recipes, but didn’t know the Bill Mollison had a mead recipe. I would still like to make it that this librarian had told me about, with the wax cappings. I think that would be way cool. Thanks.

  6. Still getting pounded here in southern Louisiana but doing well. Rain, rain, and more rain. One medium sized tree down, but no biggie. Amazingly, we still have power but I expect it to go out anytime. Only final preparation I needed to do on Tuesday was ice. I understand there are others not doing so well. Hopefully, they’ll get some relief tomorrow. Take care.

  7. Jack,

    I’ve been working with bee since I was 14, but only recently started keeping them myself. Finally got permission from the wife to have hives closer than the far end of the property (about 400 yards). I’m keeping two hives, and although this is my first year, I’m looking at harvesting around 100 pounds of honey from each hive (and no, I’m not starving the bees).

    As to the cost, I just looked at the catalog from one of the largest bee supply firms here in Ohio and came up with the following basic startup costs:

    Basic hive setup consisting of two deep supers with frames (this houses the brood and provides the bees pantry for honey storage); and two medium frames (to collect honey for the humans); a bottom board (stand); and a Telescoping Cover.

    Approximately $170 with some assembly required (nails and glue)
    Approximately $210 assembled.

    The equipment needed in my opinion would be pretty much what Mil mentioned. Jacket & Veil, Gloves, Smoker, Hive tool, and Bee Brush. Total cost approximately $120.00.

    To fuel the smoker, you’ll need some newspaper and some cedar chips. A quick trip to your local farm supply (like TSC) will buy a 10 year supply of the stuff for less than $10.00, unless you’re also using it for gerbil bedding.

    As for getting started, a Google search for beekeeping association or clubs should find something in your area, and many of the clubs put on beekeeping clinics or seminars. I attended a 1 day seminar and not only learned a lot, but made contacts who I can call with questions. If you have a local bee keeping supply (local here may mean 2 hours drive) they can also be a great source of information and advice.

    If you decide to keep bees, prepare to be stung a few times, but all in all these critters just want to be left alone to do what they do.

    As for keeping bees and not harvesting the honey, it would depend on how you did things. If you provided adequate storage for the honey (extra supers) then the bees would fill them and the honey would essentially go to waste. If you didn’t provide the extra space, then the hive would eventually get overcrowded and split off with a swarm. Not a bad thing in itself, since it’s how bees handle overcrowding and propagate their kind.

    I personally find beekeeping fun and the more you learn about the bees and their life cycle, the more fascinating they become.

    • OhioPrepper:
      I agree with everything you have said with one exception. If you keep bees and don’t harvest the honey it will NOT go to waste. It will be good for a pretty indefinate amount of time.

      I did a cutout this spring. It was an old house that was going to be burnt down. The bees had been living in the house for approximatly 20 years. We cut almost 6 five gallon buckets of honey-filled-comb out of the exterior stud walls. I am certain that the surplus had been accumulated over several years. If you have been around bees very long you know they don’t know what the word “waste” is. :) We humans need to remember bees didn’t start making honey because we like it….. They make it because they are smart enough to store food.

      Here is a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfssEf7yl4Y

  8. Cranberryrose

    Aaugh! Santa Clara County bee guild- mentor sign up available free. Join them, dues under $20, and in the spring, go swarm catching -3 times-get a local hive-FREE!!! We want to save swarms from the pest control companies.
    In San Francisco Area-San Mateo bee guild-check there for mentoring, too.

    • The SCCBG also has extractors you can check out and use for a few days (jsut return them cleaned!). This is great perk of teh club
      The Mentor program is also great, I found my Mentor (Fuzzy) thru that program.

  9. Hi Ohio Prepper,
    Thanks for that update on the costs. I haven’t bought equipment in a while, and thought that maybe I had undercut the cost. Was this from the Dadant or Mann-Lake catalogs? They seem to be about equal, cost-wise.

    Hi Cranberryrose,
    You are lucky you have a good beekeeping association. My local beekeeping association is not so good. Lots of infighting and bickering that it’s kept me away from them, bit otherwise I have heard lots of good things about other beekeeping associations.

    • Hi Mil,

      The prices were from the Simpsons Bee Supply catalog (here in Ohio), but I assume these are all distributors who purchase from the manufacturers, so the prices should be in s similar range.

      The things you remember after you hit submit.

      Packaged bees to setup your hive this past year ran $85.00 for 3 pounds (about 9,000 bees) with a queen. A four pound package with a queen is about $105.00. I used the 3 pound packages with great success.

      One benefit of the Langstroth style hive over the Top Bar hives for both the humans and the bees has to do with the post harvesting of the honey. In a Langstroth you decap the comb and extract the honey via gravity or a centrifugal extractor. You then replace the frame and the bees will clean up any excess honey, refill the cells, and recap them. In the Top Bar hive when you break off the comb, the bees have to reconstruct the comb from scratch before filling it with honey. Yes, bees do make both wax and honey, but the only reason they make wax is to have a place to store the honey. In the Top Bar they have a lot more work to do.

      Also, the price of the centrifugal extractor runs from $350-$1100, but a search on the net for that term will give you numerous DIY projects if you’re a little handy. Also, some bee associations have extractors they loan or rent to members.

      • Hi Ohio Prepper,
        I guess prices are all over the place! I just looked at Dadant, and they have this beginner’s kit with tools (gloves, hive tool, veil), one complete hive body with frames, smoker, and smoker fuel for $150, but I don’t like the components. I don’t use plastic hives and/or frames.

        I saw someone selling a package of bees for $200 here, but then a lot of stuff is expensive here! :)

        I’ve always been curious about a Top Bar hive, actually. Like my teacher said, there is no perfect (man-made) hive. Some people I know in my area have a problem with moisture with the TBH. To me Langs vs TBH: it’s like the Republican/Democrat dicotomy!! I, and it seems you, can see more clearly the advantages and disadvantages of each.

        Wow, so how long have you been working with bees then, Ohio Prepper?

        There are also some smaller beekeeping supply companies that will rent out honey extracting equipment too.

  10. I just listened to the podcast this morning and enjoyed it very much. I even took some notes. I’d like to make a couple of comments. But I should preface them by saying that I have kept bees since 1973.

    Mil’s recommendation about a mentor is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. I have never met anyone who has become proficient with bees without a mentor. Also, a good beekeeper ought also be willing to mentor others. It’s so very important.

    When she mentioned 8 hours of work for 8 gallons of honey. I jotted down, “too slow,” and thought, “too little.” But after thinking about it, I realized that I made the very mistake that some others, listening, might make. Eight gallons doesn’t sound very impressive. But that’s about 96 lb of honey! At local prices, for run of the mill honey, that’s worth $960 here in NE Oklahoma! At organic prices, last I checked, that’s worth $1500! Eight gallons is nothing to sneeze at!

    Neither of the two main mites, affecting our bee populations, in North America, naturally co-existed with the European honeybee until modern times. So we really are trail blazing in this area. Upon request I can provide a 7 or 8 page summary of the development of bee mites/diseases as well as the African bees.

    Regions and climates greatly affect beekeeping. But in many locations, if one starts right, in the early spring, a package of bees can make at least 50 lb of honey in its first season. But if a beginner strikes out on their own, that’s probably not going to happen.

    Finally, here’s a great blog about beekeeping. The author, Ken Davis, uses essential oils to control mites. Ken has only been keeping bees for seven or eight years. But he has dedicated himself to it tremendously, and has a terrific mentor. He’s the most innovative beekeeper I’ve met.

    http://littlecreekbeeranch.blogspot.com/

    • Hi George!
      That’s a long time to keep bees. I’ve read older beekeeping books before the mites, SHB, and some other diseases. It sounded a lot easier back then.

      We’re still getting the hang of honey harvesting, so we are slow, but we’re getting faster each time! :) Actually, the numbers I gave for my last harvest was not the final for that hive. We ran out of boxes to harvest the bee-less honey frames into, so did not take out all the honey frames. That 8 gallons is from 16 deep frames and 6 mediums, and that hive is 8 boxes (deep and med) tall!

      Are the tracheal mites the same ones that affected bees on the Isle of Wight in England in the early 1900s? I was amazed when I read that in Brother Adam’s book. I would be interested in your paper about bee mites and diseases.

      I’ll have to check out Ken Davis, especially if he is a chemical-free beekeeper. I think you might appreciate my teacher, Serge Labesque, too. He’s a great teacher and very innovative too.

  11. George McLaughlin

    Oops. I’m not so good on weights and measurements. I could find run-of-the-mill honey around here for $10 a quart. I believe, at that price 96 lb would sell for $320. In 2009 I heard that organic honey was selling, in the city, at $16 per pound.

  12. Honey prices in my area are considerably higher. At Whole Foods (yeah, I know–Whole Paycheck) sells a pint jar of local honey for about $17.

    When I read the Regional Honey Price Report in Bee Culture magazine, my area consistently has the highest prices.

  13. Yes Mil,
    I believe it was the trachael mite which hit England back in the early 1900s. As I recall (from reading) it wiped out the native English brown honey bee, which, by the way, was the original American honey bee. Some have suggested that this was a blessing in disguise, as that brown honey bee was truly bad tempered and no fun to work with. Later, in North America, beekeepers basically agreed to replace it with the Italian. Remnants of its genetics probably lingered on until the 80s or 90s, when mites almost completely wiped out the feral bee population in North America. Anyway, here’s a link to that paper I mentioned. It’s not a true research paper. I was asked by a friend to write on my experience with bees, and this is what I came up with.

    https://dl.dropbox.com/u/63178561/bees10_2011.doc

    Yes, Ken Davis is chemical free. I have been, as well, since 2002. But truly, for a decade or so, many beekeepers knew of no other option than to medicate. It was, in my opinion, a stop gap measure.

    Concerning prices in your area: my son and his wife moved out to Washington State about two years ago. He has mentioned, that if we were to live out there, and produce the things we do here, in Oklahoma, we could probably make a living at it ;) Prices are indeed higher on the West Coast.

    George

    • George:
      Just to clarify, if Mr. Davis is using essential oils do you still consider his methods chemical free? I consider an essential oil a “chemical”.

      Not trying to start a ruckus. We just need some form of standardization in the beekeeping world. I hope Jack’s Agri-True idea takes hold.

      I consider my bees “Treatment Free”. As in – They aren’t fed and they aren’t treated with anything.

  14. Jason,
    Your question is a good one, and, I believe I need to be open to correction and the possibility of learning something “out of the box” for me. Perhaps I didn’t understand the term “chemical free.” But then, perhaps there is kind of a continuum for the term. I consider, for instance, apistan, to be a chemical, as it is specially formulated as a form of pesticide, to kill mites. The substances in essential oils are simply concentrated from naturally occurring sources: for instance, mint. Mint oil is used more than any other in essential oil treatments. Strictly speaking, of course it contains chemicals. When I drink a cup of mint tea I am drinking chemicals, in the strictest sense. Yet I generally don’t think of it in those terms.

    Still, your question has merit. Essential oils are concentrated and can be harmful if not handled properly. If they should leave a residue in the honey that would not be preferable. Ideally, it would be best to raise bees without any such aids. I did that this year, albeit inadvertently (too many irons in the fire).

    You don’t feed? I’d be interested in your reasoning. I assume you believe it’s better for the bees.

    Incidentally, my personal observation is that the greatest boon of all, apart from improved genetics, in dealing with varroa, is the screened bottom board. You wouldn’t happen to have any other tricks up your sleeve?

  15. I use screened bottom boards also. I think my main trick is that I source all my bees locally though swarm trapping and swarm calls every year. I also use 3 deep hive bodies as the brood chamber.

    I don’t feed because the substance bees make from sugar syrup IS NOT honey. The pH is different and the make-up is NOT the same. In my experience if you feed this year, you must feed next year. I fed some years ago and had problems with spotting and dysentary. Since I have quit feeding my overwintering success has been better.

    I do lose hives due to lack of stores from time to time, but I no longer lose hives that upon opening in the spring containing a bunch of sugar stores and dead bees.

    Some bees will work while others will perish. It has been controversial on my blog. :). I believe sometimes it is better for my apiary if the laggard bees go the way of the dodo so I can replace them with better genetics.

  16. George McLaughlin

    Jason,

    I did a little reading and some thinking. I believe I should experiment with this idea of not feeding sugar water. Kelly’s just put out a PDF news letter which addresses this. The reasoning certainly seems good.

  17. Lovin all the beekeeping info coming my way Jack like that you are talking to people with all kinds of hives will be setting up a top bar myself and baiting it to attract a swarm. Not interested in sinking tonnes of money which I don’t have into something that I may or may not be successful in. Honey comes when it comes not really thinking of selling any or buying all that expensive extractor equipment which just seems like so much time and effort. I’ll have lots of pollinators for my fruit and veggies propolis to make me healthy and maybe some wax and honey to boot. It’s a long term project doing lots of research cos no one has any top bars around here so I’ll more than likely be going solo on this little project. Will try and get some bee handling experience first but will more than likely be winging it the rest of the way.
    Thanks for your shows Jack always learning something new :)

  18. Hi Pierre,
    I am interested in setting up a Top Bar hive some day. I know you said you are not interested in honey, but my observation about Top Bar hives is that if you have prolific bees such as my Hive 2, if you do not take some honey out to make room for the bees, they can swarm to find more room elsewhere. Our Hive 2 is eight boxes tall and very swarmy. I have to keep up with them space-wise.

    I have done the crush and strain method of honey extracting, but in my experience, it takes longer than with the extractor. Plus, trying to find containers and strainers to let all this comb sit and drip was hard around my house.

    Like it said, I pretty much winged it too. I made a lot of mistakes, but I’ve learned a ton along the way. It’s been a great ride! Good luck.

    Best wishes,
    Mil