The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor – July 2020

- July 1, 2020 - (excerpt)

Painted bee hive
Howdy folks!

I am a beginning beekeeper from Georgetown, Kentucky and got this magazine from Dadant and Sons in Frankfort. A big shout out to Natasha to giving me a tour of the warehouse and giving great advice and a couple of freebies! The pastor of my church was instrumental in getting me started. Here’s my hive which was a lot of fun to build. The artwork was done by my wife, her sister, and my son’s girlfriend. Looking forward to becoming a proficient beekeeper.

Scott Roller

Hi Scott,

What a cute hive! I especially love the tower with the flag. The “Innie” and “Outtie” entrance/exit holes are a nice touch too, though I have my doubts about the bees following that advice.☺


The 11th Commandment?

I am writing in response to the letters in the May ABJ in which two readers discuss their belief in God and the role of God in the creation of the honey bee. I respectfully suggest that ABJ writers and readers alike follow what l call the 11th Commandment: Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.

Tom Chester

Tucson, AZ

Synthetic comb and Educating the Public

 I’m always excited when I pull the latest ABJ from my mailbox. Having dabbled with trying this new product, I was especially intrigued by the featured article on “Synthetic Comb: Pros and Cons,” by John Rintoul, hoping to learn clues to how and when our honey bees accept or reject it. Instead, I became increasingly troubled by comments linking a “food grade” product to adulteration of both honey and beeswax and the author advocating for an early and open discussion of the potential issues within the industry and with the consumer public.

I am troubled not from a need to be closed about the topic, but troubled because of the magnitude of the challenge to educate the public. With a career in developing new products for the food packaging industry I am very aware of how the non-scientific consumer readily rejects scientific facts about food products and emotion carries the discussion. Recall the recent TV ad where a person is offered water containing lead at well below the established safe level. The water is refused with the comment akin to “Lead is poisonous. I’m not drinking that!” Being scientifically safe lost out to emotion. Similarly, after sand blasting the internal surfaces of my antique extractor, all honey contacting surfaces were painted with a certified “food grade” epoxy coating sold for exactly that purpose. If I were to advertise my honey as being processed this way, I would have to endure the death spiral conversation about epoxies and cancer-causing BPA. (The flawed scientific background for this assertion is left for another day.)

My bottom line is that as a citizen and as a scientist I trust the FDA. The man-made “comb is approved as a food grade synthetic wax.” This means the FDA has determined that the components in synthetic comb are non-toxic and are safe for consumption and will not cause adverse health effects if ingested either in food or in permitted pharmaceutical formulations. Regarding “pure beeswax,” the author raises for discussion the adulteration caused by co-mixing with synthetic comb. I am more concerned about the known adulteration from accumulation of pesticides and herbicides, toxic by design. These are very detailed and complex topics! In preparation for discussing with consumers, our industry must be prepared to educate the non-scientific community. Otherwise, emotion will trump good science again and a potentially very worthwhile new product may be rejected by the consuming public. This is a monumental task.

Ken Bowman

Apollo, PA

Pollen Subs May Produce more bees, but are they better?

As with all of his articles, Randy Oliver’s description of his experimentation of adding a sterol and zinc to pollen patties was detailed and practical. I was a little surprised that Randy measured the performance of the diet only in terms of colony growth. Quantity of bees is significant, yet so is quality. I wonder if diet could affect metrics like the size and weight of individual bees, as well as their resistance to diseases, pests and pathogens?

This is coming from someone who chooses not to feed his bees at all! Fortunately this area has reasonably reliable pollen sources for nine months of the year, and as Randy stresses, “there is scant or no benefit from feeding pollen sub when there is a natural flow on.” I am concerned too as to what we are doing to the bees when we feed them refined white sugar in the form of a syrup.

For the past year, and rather than feeding, my choice has been to leave more honey in the hives for the girls. My over-winter survival rate last winter was 85%; I know it is a small sample and a short period, complicated by having converted to Tom Seeley’s Darwinian recommendations, yet I plan to continue not to feed and to monitor the results.

I would be interested in reports from others who are more scientific than I as to what sugar syrup offers the bees nutritionally; my hunch is based only on what we know of sugar and the human condition. My concern is that our actions are too often based on what is convenient for the beekeeper rather than what is good for the bees.

Jeremy Barnes

Seven Valleys, PA

Randy responds:

Thanks for your question Jeremy.  Collecting data from large field studies can be quite time consuming. A number of researchers, such as myself, have concluded that the final calculus of colony health and performance can be measured by two simple metrics — colony weight gain and cluster size. If there are disease or other health issues, they will be reflected by those two metrics. And from a beekeeping standpoint, they reflect the two main sources of income of interest to beekeepers — weight gain (honey production), and colony size (for pollination services or bee sales).

Regarding the feeding of sugar syrup, growing up in the ‘60s, I long had an aversion to feeding my colonies any “unnatural” sugar. But one day a commercial beekeeping friend, John Miller, commented that he didn’t know whether feeding sugar syrup was “natural” or not, but that his colonies sure did well when provided with a gallon of syrup. So I let go of my own personal biases, and found that indeed there were times when a gallon of syrup simply worked magic in a hive, and other times when it could save them from starving. Since then I’ve seen no reason to be concerned about feeding sugar syrup judiciously, especially during drought years in California.

You are correct that in areas with good forage and favorable weather, the feeding of sugar is generally unnecessary. But if you wish to remove a honey crop, or if there has been a dearth, or if the late-season stores consist of honey or …