The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Classroom

The Classroom – July 2017

- July 1, 2017 - Jerry Hayes - (excerpt)



In the April 2017 issue of American Bee Journal (pp 361 & 362), there are a couple of letters for which I would like to add my comments to your answers. No doubt your computer has a delete button if you doubt that my comments are of interest.

Firstly, Marlin asks about producing cut comb without using foundation. Here in Western Australia several of the beekeepers who produce cut comb regularly do so in full depth supers using full depth frames to which a grooved center bar has been added. Starter strips are fitted in the top and center bar grooves and the bees usually do an excellent job since they have only about 4 inches depth to build in each half. Once the first harvest is taken about 1/4 inch of comb is left as a starter strip for the next fill. Because handling narrow strips of foundation in warm weather is difficult (unless allowed to work at the dining table under the air conditioner!), some insert ice cream pop sticks or similar into the grooves and give them a coat of wax.

Having a few woodworking machines, I have cut many thousands of the center bars for others and myself.

Secondly, Ron asks about darkening honey by heating it and a picture of a plastic bucket fitted with a heating band is shown. Back in 1972 my wife and I took on the distributorship in Western Australia of bee goods we brought over from Queensland. And, we would pack a lot of our honey in buckets to rail to customers. Also we bought buckets for retail to other beekeepers. We were often asked about heating bands for buckets, so I enquired from the company that supplied us with ones for 200 liter drums. After a while we received the reply that they were available, but must not be used on plastic containers holding foodstuffs because they can heat the plastic to the point where it gives off toxic fumes which may be absorbed by the food. This was about 40 years ago and maybe the plastics have been changed. Or maybe more research has shown the story to be a fallacy. I don’t know, but we have never used them.

Kindest regards,
Stan Taylor

Q  Controlled Burn….Better Beekeeper Now

Well, this spring’s problems with a control burn of land around me and all that smoke that I thought was hurting my colonies have led to me checking my hives more often this spring, like every 3-4 days. But in doing so I am more aware of my hives’ conditions– hive beetle numbers, queen productivity, swarm cells, etc. My hives are all looking good; only one appears to be without a laying queen. I add a frame of brood every so often to keep things going until new queens will arrive. I normally split and/or requeen every year to keep from having a lot of swarms and have had success with preventing swarms, though not really having an increase in hive numbers.

Question: what is the best way to do splits? Move old queen with a frame or two of brood and put new queen in old hive body; leave old queen in hive and put new queen in nuc body with some brood, honey and pollen; kill old queen and put new queen in hive (not really a split). I have done splits a lot of different ways in the past. If the old queen is still relatively productive, I’m thinking, just move her to a nuc until she wears out and try a queen cell take over as she dies out.

I suffer from what I call “pilot error” and always seem to be able to achieve this at least once or twice a year during my requeening/splitting process. Jamie Ellis had an article in the American Bee Journal–3 reasons for colony loss, but he left out —“Pilot Error” or Beekeeper Malfunction.

Bob Limbird


Jamie just assumed Pilot Error as the foundation of losses to be built upon by the other three reasons. First, I want to thank whomever was responsible for the ‘control burn’. If it led you to becoming more of a beekeeper rather than a bee-haver, bless their heart. That is the best outcome ever.

The cool thing about beekeeping is that the bees compensate for our “pilot error” most of the time as we monkey with and manipulate them. They are survivors and they have proved that ever since our ancestors targeted them for free food.

This is what I do with either a caged queen or cells. My rationale is that the original queen is already laying and has a head start on a caged queen or cells. I would agree with your first selection, “Move old queen with a frame or two of brood and put new queen in old hive body.” Leave the old hive in the same location so they have the advantage of all of the foragers returning and jump-starting the new queen. Take as many young bees as you can on the 2-3 frames that you take for the split. Those bees and the emerging brood, along with the already laying queen, should keep all things good.

Enjoy the adventure. Take care. Jerry

Q More bees, but less bees

As a new beekeeper I am confused about what I keep reading that honey bee colony numbers continue to rise despite high overwintering losses. What am I missing? What’s going on?


This is true. Commercial beekeepers who have a business position cannot sustain 30%+ losses and meet contract demands and/or honey production goals. Honey bee biology allows one to take a live colony, artificially divide it and make two colonies. If those colonies are fed, they will build up population. Commercial beekeepers have taken this replacement loss strategy an additional step by not only using this technique to replace dead or dying colonies, but to do it preemptively and build in extra colonies as ‘insurance’ from expected losses. If you know you are going to lose 30%+ of your business inventory, you build in what may appear as excess inventory to cover expected losses. So, colony count numbers rise in response to anticipated losses.

The wrinkle here for me is that because this technique has allowed beekeepers to meet pollination contract requirements and the grower gets the results yield they require, honey bees are looked on as a production overhead–no different than irrigation, fertilizer, crop protection tools, harvesting, etc.

If commercial beekeepers are busting their butts to keep their business going and they fulfill customer demands, the grower really doesn’t care how they are accomplishing this. The beekeepers show up every year, so what difference does it make to the grower? They are getting what they want. This is the awkward dichotomy.


I’m not sure if you remember me, but I attended one of the bee meetings you spoke at a couple years ago. I have a friend who’s looking for a source for a fair amount of locally produced beeswax for beard products. We briefly chatted about quantity and I believe he was looking for about 100 pounds a month. Do you have any suggestions?

Jon Riley,
St. Louis, MO


Whoa, this is the best question I have gotten in months! Beard products…..I have a beard is that why you contacted me.

No one locally will have that type of consistent quantity Jon. There are no commercial beekeepers in the immediate area who would be creating that volume of beeswax or be sitting on that amount of valuable inventory.

What I would consider is the beekeeping supply company, Dadant & Sons, Inc., about 3 hours north of St. Louis in Hamilton, IL They buy beeswax from commercial beekeepers in the United States for producing beeswax foundation for colonies and they make beeswax candles for the Catholic market, beautiful decorative candles, and supply for medical uses, etc. All that to say, the quality is good and they can supply various grades and colors in 100 pound quantities all day long.


I have an opportunity to put a bee yard in an otherwise good location (flat, sunny, easy access), but the owner also is planning on putting in a large generator (50 kW) within 100 feet or so of that location. The generator will be running 2 hours every day; day in and…