Letters to the Editor – January 2018
Year-round water for my bees
I leave feeders in my hive entrances most of the year. Occasionally I’m feeding syrup and the rest of the time the jars contain plain water. The standing water will eventually erode the metal of the lids as well as stain the jars with rust.
Using the tiniest size of drill bit in my set, I drilled holes through plastic lids. Then I used tin snips to clip 1/8” long cuts around the edge of a traditional feeder and used pliers to bend the edges up – effectively enlarging the opening enough to accommodate the larger plastic lid. I also started putting a few rocks under the lid which has prevented the drownings my bees used to experience. I envision them climbing up on the rocks to more easily reach the liquid.
Keeping Bees without hard chemicals
Many thanks to you and author Alison McAfee for “Breeding a Better Bee” (Nov. 2017, page 1195). An affordable test to help select for mite and disease resistance traits would be amazing. It would also allow queen breeders to advertise the traits in their lines, which would be helpful when choosing new queens.
My small, dozen-hive apiary has thrived without chemical treatments since 2011, while producing Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) honey as well as nucs every year for other beekeepers. I’ve used queens from breeders selecting for resistance, timed brood breaks (lately via cut-down splits per Michael Bush with excellent results), comb culling per CNG guidelines, and quick re-queening of any puny hives with nucs from my own yard. Writings and classes by Bush, Ed Levi, Michael Palmer, and Randy Oliver have been invaluable as well as experienced local mentors like Joe Capps, who have been wonderfully supportive of my endeavor, even if we choose different management paths.
Just wanted to send words of encouragement to backyard beekeepers wanting to keep bees without hard chemicals: It can be done, but it will require active and attentive beekeeping as well as sustained cultivation of your knowledge and skills. An experienced, successful, local mentor (even if your management styles differ) as well as ongoing (and wide-ranging) study, added to dedicated hands-on practice will get you there. Avoid those who say it cannot be done as studiously as you avoid those who say it’s all about ‘this *one* technique/method.’
Finally, in reference to Jerry Hayes comment in the same ABJ issue that he doesn’t think the nutritional value of natural pollen has decreased from the past (p 1173) — Research in 2016 by Lewis H. Ziska, Jeffery S. Pettis and others documents otherwise. Testing of a collection of goldenrod pollen at the Smithsonian dating back to the mid 1800’s and comparing it to current goldenrod shows a decrease in protein of about a third in that time, a change they correlate with rising CO2 levels in the same period. (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4843664/)
How I fed wax to my bees to jump start my first hive
This was my first year of beekeeping with 10 frame Langstroth hive equipment, and I stumbled on to what I think is an easy way to give a new package of honey bees a head start on comb making.
The following describes what I did to feed my new bees, in addition to the standard 50/50 sugar/water mix. I fed them wax. I believe this let them get a leg up on drawing new comb onto bare “Plasticell” foundation. The basic idea is to add softened beeswax to save them time hive building. Making wax is a high energy effort by the bees, and this new method consisted of simply adding mechanically shaved beeswax in a pile up at the feeder level of the hive, next to the Mason jars filled with the sugar water.
I had purchased hive bodies and had everything ready before a 3 lb. package arrived. The foundations of the frames inside the new supers were thinly coated with wax, but some were not. So I purchased a small unscented 100 percent pure beeswax candle from the local grocery store, melted some of it, and brush painted thin layers onto the foundation of the 10 frames of the first deep box.
This worked ok, and so I put the hive body out in the backyard, ready to receive the package which soon arrived. After a soft installation on 4/2/17, the bees dove down into the hive and they got busy.
The installation went well and I added an empty medium super above the first deep to make a volume of space to place the Mason jars with sugar water. That worked just fine too, but I still had most of a big candle of beeswax sitting down in the garage. I have a shop down there too, and so I chucked up the beeswax candle in the metal working lathe and started shaving it down into a plastic container. The yellow wax of the candle turned white after the machining process and was much softer. So I stored this wax for a few days, and the next time I inspected, I simply pitched an uncompressed handful of it into the empty spacer next to the mason jars. To my surprise the worker bees swarmed on it. The 1/2 cup of shavings, uncompressed, was gone in one or two days. So I made more. This was in week one of the new hive.
They took this additional wax down into the hive and immediately began drawing comb. And the new workers also made some very nice random burr comb which was removed from time to time.
The bees were taking the wax in just about as fast as I was refilling the 3 to 4 pint sized Mason jars of sugar water. By 7/2/17 we were able to harvest our first 4 pounds of honey from this new hive and it was wonderful. In the meantime, the wax was still being fed to the top of the hive, and they were still bringing large quantities of pollen in from the surrounding neighborhood, and things were going very well. We harvested our next 4 pounds of honey in the fall on 9/24/17.
As the pollen flow slowed, the bees began ignoring the wax shavings. And then they all started balling up with the cooler temperatures of fall.
The last inspection before the fall weather arrived here in