The Traveling Beekeeper archive


The Traveling Beekeeper - December 2012

Beekeeping for Profit

by Larry Connor

(full article)

Most of the people I know who keep honey bees do it to make money. Many started out looking for something to do, an activity that would benefit the the garden, help the environment, and provide them with a needed activity. But somewhere along the way they found out that they could make money from keeping bees or from bee products. The home brewers got into beekeeping because they wanted their own honey for home-made beer, mead, fruit drinks and even hard stuff. They wanted to produce their own honey to control the quality of the product, and, in theory, to reduce the cost of one of their raw ingredients.
Oklahoma beekeeper Greg Hanniford will speak at the Serious Sideliner Symposium in January, 2013 on $500 per colony per year. Many profit-focused beekeepers find that a challenge, but it is worth a serious discussion and your consideration in the upcoming year.
We have discussed the concept of Two and a Half Hives over the past year or so, and this is a major focus of my latest book, Bee-sentials: A Field Guide. In case you are new to this conversation, I advise new beekeepers to start with two hives during their first year, using package, nucleus, swarm or purchased bees. This provides them with a quick fix for many of the problems new beekeepers experience, such as replacing a failing or absent queen, a colony that is weak and needs a frame of brood or a frame of honey. It is a simple way to increase your chances of getting at least one hive through the winter, rather than resting all of your new beekeeping talents on a single hive.
From these two colonies, during the first season, you can develop an Increase or Nucleus hive, which I advise you put into a five-frame nucleus colony. Use this small colony to house a queen with genetic resistance, or just as a backup for the two full-sized units. At the end of the season, you may decide to combine the nucleus with the weaker of the two colonies, giving it a boost and requeening it in the process. Or overwinter the nucleus, especially if it is vigorous and has adequate honey or stored syrup reserves. If you do not want to keep a third colony next spring, this overwintered nucleus can generate anywhere from $80 to $250, depending on where you live and what the market for these colonies is like. I personally charge more for overwintered nucleus colonies than newly made nucleus units for the simple reason that it has survived the winter.
It was a good year for my bees at my backyard city apiary this year. From a single overwintered nucleus (just five frames in a polystyrene box), and a purchased package of bees from California, I now have four full-sized colonies and one booming nucleus at the last inspection for the season. The former overwintered nucleus colony is now in three-deep 8-frame brood boxes, and I cannot lift it from the back of the hive because it is crammed with honey. My joy of beekeeping is the fact that bees will grow so well when they have the forage, the weather, and the management that minimizes swarming and maximizes honey production. My frustrations in beekeeping are when I find disease or mite problems, or the weather is very uncooperative, or I am on the road so much that I am not able to take care of the bees.
Back to the economics of the situation, using the overwintered nucleus and the package colony as my starting point for the season, and using Greg Hanniford’s argument, I should generate $1,000 from these bees. Here is how I see my situation:
1. Value of new colonies (book value, as I have not sold them, but could have several times this past season)—
a. Two full-sized double-deep colonies I could sell for $250 each    $500
b. One booming nucleus    $200
2. Honey. With the extracting help of my son and brother, I have 74, 9-ounce hex jars of honey with the Zip 49001 label, promoting the local aspect of the honey. People ask for MY honey, which I sell $8 per bottle or 3 for $20.     $494 to $592

If I were so motivated, I could have removed every frame of honey from each of these colonies and increased my honey production by as much as three or four times more. The colonies would then require heavy syrup feeding. Economics favor this: Costco is selling sugar for $0.47 per pound. But this is work, and it increases the risk to the colony. Also, by leaving the surplus honey, it will be there to help the colonies through the winter, and will be good in the spring, should I want to extract more honey from the combs and money from the hives.
It has been an exceptionally good year in the apiary, the best in the past three years. A potential income of $1,200 from two hives shows me that it can be done. I know my prices are high, but I never undermine the local market. Instead, I try to set the price for local beekeepers and they quite often follow the leader when a price goes up. I know that there are beekeepers who still sell honey for as little as $3 per pound at the local farmer’s market, but most sellers are closer to my prices. I have never found that lower prices increase my sales. Years ago I learned that there are always name-calling bottom feeders who are looking for a deal, but as rude and vocal as these people are about prices, they rarely purchase at any price.
If you do not want to go to all the bother of selling honey, a donation of this honey to a local food bank or kitchen could generate a tax deduction you may want to use. And if you gift your honey to all your friends and family with a jar at the holiday season, consider the savings you made over a purchase of another gift for each person. You have the cost of the container and a label, so you have saved a few dollars, in theory.

Other income from bees
Here are some of the ways friends of mine make money from their bees. Granted, it takes time to learn each of these skills, and not all people are equally suited for some of them, but it should get you thinking about what you want to do with your bee colonies in 2013.

Queen cells, virgins and queens—Northern beekeepers want northern queens without African genes. Texas beekeepers want Texas queens without African genes. A few beekeepers in African areas want queens from African queens that have been selected for less swarming and more honey production. I have written extensively about using mite-resistant and survival stock for queen production, and many readers are in agreement, producing queens for themselves and for sale to other local beekeepers.
Dr. David Tarpy of North Carolina has written about micro-breeders, modeled after micro-brewers. The concept is to have a locally produced product, made from local materials and sold locally to reduce transportation costs. I have embraced this concept, since it is not difficult to raise queens once you get suitable training. It takes time and effort, though, to develop a market for local queens, as strange as that sounds.
Local beekeepers learn new things at their local bee club meeting, if they participate. Most beekeepers at local clubs do not subscribe to a national magazine. Some use the Internet as their sole source of information which explains why they have so many half-baked questions.
Getting to these potential queen users is difficult. Few new beekeepers are able to justify advertising in a publication that local folks are unlikely to read, and I strongly suggest you not get into the shipping of queens until you have lots and lots of experience, since queens will die because of the shipping process.
Our approach has been to go slow, and to gift queens and cells in an effort to promote our efforts. Our best success seems to be from the beekeepers who have obtained nucleus colonies with queens we raised. When they call, email, or come up to you at a meeting and tell you how well the nucleus has done, you can be sure that you have a future repeat customer.
Many new beekeepers are eager to try new local queens, but frankly lack the beekeeping skills to ensure they will be successful at introducing a cell or queen and seeing it through the mating process. As a result, we spend an hour or more with each customer to make sure he or she understands what needs to be done. Just be aware that you must do this or later face the beekeeper’s complaint that your queen was no good.
Sideliner beekeepers, who do not want to raise queens, are a customer you want. Promote to someone who knows a bit more than the new beekeeper, and who is focused on the growth of their beekeeping business. You may want to discount these queen cells, virgins, or mated queens to these individuals because they will increase the volume of your production.

Other income sources
My friend, Sheldon Schwitek, likes to make lip balm, hand cream and other items for sale at the farmer’s market, along with his honey. While these are not unnecessarily complicated items to make and sell, it does take time. However, the markup is often healthy, and there is a possibility to make some profit.
Detroit beekeeper Rich Weiske is making and selling products that contain propolis. Most of us curse the stuff as we are working hives, especially the darker strain bees. But with a little discipline collecting propolis from the hive, you can dissolve the material in 95% alcohol and sell it as a tincture.
Weiske also collects and sells pollen, including a pollen+honey+propolis mixture. While we cannot make health claims about our products, this is a pretty impressive product that requires some careful promotion. I personally do not want to consume pollen from an urban or farming area because of the risk of low levels of pesticide contamination. But if you have a mountain-top apiary, or are situated in an isolated area (like the deserts of the Southwestern United States), then this pollen can be collected, cleaned, and sold as is (but always as frozen), or made into an artificial bee bread as Weiske is doing.
Others do bee sting therapy. They do not charge, but will not refuse a donation to their research fund. I support apitherapy in its many forms, but especially find the venom treatments to be exciting. However, there are risks as well as liability issues that you need to come to grips with before you set up shop across the street from a medical center. Many beekeepers let the venom users come to them, and some have a waver they ask the person to sign before the first sting.

Final thoughts
Some folks will set up a business and offset their expenses against their income. See a good accountant who works with cottage industry clients, as many will dismiss you as being too tiny if you only have a few bee hives. But at $500 per hive, you should think about the finances, taxes and insurance issues as well.
See Greg Hanniford and others at the Serious Sideline Symposium in Hershey, PA on January 10 and 11. Contact the American Beekeeping Federation for registration information.


The Traveling Beekeeper - November 2012

 What I Learned This Summer ...

by Larry Connor


It was an unusual season here in Michigan, and I know that this is true elsewhere. Here a few of many observations I made:

Spring came early
Very early spring weather, following a relatively mild winter, produced some enormously strong colonies in March and April. After a very warm period in March we had a more seasonal period. This grew colonies quickly. The milder winter means that colonies were in pretty good shape in terms of their population.

It seems that bees swarmed every month this year, from March to October—not every colony every month, but it was always some colony’s turn to swarm. New colonies swarmed, packages, nucs, and nucs from nucs. As a result of the warm March and then confinement in April, colonies were under a strong stimulus to swarm, and this urge continued well into June. Then the weather became very hot, over 100 degrees F. for several days—the colonies were put into another set of stresses and stimuli. I made up five-frame nucs in June and took off for Alaska, only to return to find that many of them had swarmed as evidenced by swarm cells, emerged and un-emerged. The virgin queens we introduced had mated, laid the nuc up heavily, and then swarmed. There are swarm colonies around the farm with yellow-marked queens heading the colony. I suspect there are a huge number of purchased and home-reared queens that are in bee trees and related structures right now. We certainly did a great job of repopulating the bee trees this season.

Drought and nectar flows
Many newer beekeepers have asked me about the dry and hot weather and its impact on honey production. They assumed that this would end any nectar flow that was underway, and/or prevent one from happening. Yet, most of the beekeepers I consulted say they had a big honey crop this year, pulling several gallons from each hive once or even twice during the season. Now, I must be clear, we had a moderate drought for part of the summer, not the season-long, waterless conditions others have experienced in other parts of North America. We had rainfall between periods of hot, dry weather. Perhaps this is the perfect set of conditions for nectar production.

For a plant to produce nectar in its flowers, it must be exposed to sunlight for most of the day. This sets up the physiological process to convert solar energy into sugar, and then pump the nectar into the nectaries where it is released to reward foragers. A few past seasons were cooler and very cloudy, and the conditions for nectar production were poor. But with the hot and sunny weather interspersed with rain showers, we had plants that were growing well but perhaps a bit stressed, which seems to stimulate it to allocate more plant resources toward production of nectar.

To simplify, given warm weather, sunlight stimulates nectar production in plants that are tolerant of heat, and that includes trees like black locust and basswood, as well as legumes (clover, alfalfa, birds-foot-trefoil) and herbs like spotted knapweed, goldenrod and aster.


The Traveling Beekeeper - October 2012

Beer, Brats, and Bees: When Beekeepers Come to Visit

by Larry Connor

Pittsburgh, PA, beekeeper Steve Repasky and I met when I was teaching a Queen Rearing class in Maryland in 2011. He is passionate about learning everything he can about raising queen bees, with the objective of producing queens in an urban setting in the city of Pittsburgh. A Penn State graduate in wildlife biology, Stephen is an EAS Master Beekeeper and owns and operates Meadow Sweet Apiaries. He also serves as Burgh Bees Vice President and Community Apiary Director and focuses on the role of urban beekeepers in providing pollination, as well as local honey for a wide range of local residents. His background in wildlife biology somehow makes him the ‘go-to’ guy for urban bee removal.

We swapped invites to speak over the following year. I asked him to speak in Las Vegas at the Serious Sideliner Symposium held in conjunction with the American Beekeeping Federation meeting in January, and as VP of the Burgh Bees club, he invited me to speak at the club. We did an apiary visit for a smaller group of members (in what I call a Twilight meeting), and then a talk for the entire club.

After the meeting and over a beer at a local Pittsburgh watering hole, Steve and I discussed many things, and I apparently made the offer for a group of beekeepers from Burgh Bees to travel to Galesburg, MI to see the bees I write about, and to get a little work done in the process. This idea fermented for a while and Stephen was able to recruit six local beekeepers to make the six hour trip from Pittsburgh, mostly on the Ohio Turnpike.

In addition to Steve, the group consisted of Jeff Shaw, who drove his van, Lynnetta Miller, Leslie Schuch, Brian Johanson, Susie DeBor and Jayne Novak. Jeff has about a dozen hives but the rest of the group are around five colonies and have been keeping bees for a ‘few’ years. They all have other jobs. Brian and Lynnetta were attracted to beekeeping because of their day jobs, at a computer terminal at Carnegie Mellon University and Jayne is in law enforcement. Jeff is a commercial printer (including honey labels and fliers for the club) and was pretty interested in my work in book publishing.

The group arrived about 7 pm from Pittsburgh on the first weekend of August. I had done the shopping for the beer and brats (as well as other items) and the group was well enough organized to cook and prepare meals, with Brian doing much of the grilling.

From Galesburg, Craig Fuller and Cathy King were on hand to help out, and I suspect that Cathy made about 200 trips in her bag-lady golf cart to run home and get something. She was often gone before she heard the entire list of things we needed. No problems, she was always willing to go back. She has started a small equipment business called Bugs Nest West, and has samples of just about everything we needed that I don’t already own.

After morning coffee at my home in Kalamazoo and a quick look at the hives behind the garage, my thoughts of starting with the bees on Saturday morning were outvoted by a trip to the Kalamazoo Farmer’s Market, where sweet corn and a wide range of locally produced food items were purchased for a picnic Saturday night. When we finally did get into the bees, we started with a group of mating nucs that I hope will go into the winter, at least some of them. I had been in Alaska for a few weeks just prior to the visit and the colonies were a textbook of problems of nucs, from laying workers to queens that were produced by the bees (ignoring the virgin we gave them), and some European foulbrood that I link with both varroa mite infestations and blueberry bloom (which was not the case with these bees). Fortunately, most of the EFB was gone by the time the class got to the colonies, but by not hiding anything, I suspect the class saw more in a few hours than they might see in their own colonies for a number of years. There were a few nice colonies, too, and we discussed the possibility of wintering the colonies and how I planned to do this. The nucs were in both five-frame Langstroth wood hives and a few were in polystyrene nucs that hold the same size frames. I stressed the importance, to me, of having just one-sized frame in the operation, and my decision to go to eight-frame deep hives instead of using medium ten-frame boxes for both brood chamber and honey supers.

After a lunch of leftovers and cold cuts, we went into the larger hives, including the colonies we use for grafting and for queen cell production. I was able to put the entire group to work using the whole-colony powdered sugar method to both estimate varroa populations and as a control. Sunday we counted the mite drop on the trays in the screened bottom boards. We discussed the difference between using powdered sugar as a sampling technique and as a control method. A single treatment of one cup of powdered sugar spread on a screen and brushed onto the bees in a strong hive provides a good indication of the mite levels on the adult bees in the colony, but there is no counting of mites in the sealed brood. As a treatment method, we talked about repeat treatment, to capture the varroa mites that are sealed inside the brood comb. This requires repeat visits every three or four days to retreat the colony and capture the mites on the sticky board at the bottom of the hive. Continued for several weeks, it reduces the mite load in a hive when repeated twice a week for four weeks. It seems like  a lot of work, but the actual application of powered sugar only takes a minute or two, plus a few minutes to count the mites.

The method is far from popular and certainly not endorsed by many researchers. The key, as I explained to the group, is the frequency of retreatment. I pointed out that I was headed for another Bee Wellness clinic in Ballston Spay, NY and then a week at EAS in Burlington, VT so when they left, I was on the Ohio turnpike less than 24 hours after their return home. The possibility of retreatment was not an option for these colonies, but could be for beekeepers with small colony counts and more access to their colonies.

Then, we discussed the use of trends in mite counts, and how I hoped to have three or four treatments by fall to see which way the mite numbers were going for the rest of the summer of 2012 and into the fall. This idea is something I read in Dr. Ignemar Fries’ article in a new book edited by Sammataro and Yoder. There, Dr. Fries suggests we monitor the trend of mite levels, up, down or stable, as a predictor of the bees’ tolerance against varroa mites. It is not necessary that we know the mechanism of mite resistance (hygienic behavior, grooming, developmental rate or a physiological mechanism), but that the mite numbers be monitored as far as trend analysis.

The bees in my apiary are colonies developed by bees from Tom Glenn’s breeder queens I purchased in 2011, and have been naturally replaced as a result of swarming in most colonies during the remarkable “swarmy” season of early 2012. To this we have some survivor stock colonies that have made it through at least two winters. Kalamazoo area beekeepers just brought in Buckfast queens from Ontario (under permit), but there has not been enough time for any genetic input from drones produced by these colonies.

Craig Fuller demonstrated grafting, and those interesting in trying had a chance at transferring larvae from worker cells to grafting cups. On Sunday they were able to check their results.

Saturday night was a much bigger production of the brats and beer, plus sweet corn, locally produced chicken, and lots of fresh vegetables. Neighbor Leroy Crabtree showed up with a gas heated turkey cooker to use to cook the corn (in water, not oil). Other neighbors and beekeeping friends were there too. My son and his wife, two brothers and friends of friends were there. Just whisper ‘picnic potluck’ and stand back!

Just a few miles from the farm is a local brewer called Bells Brewery, and the Burgh’s Bees folks were familiar with the many fine beers they sell around the country, even a seasonal honey wheat. Picnickers brought other Michigan brews. There was plenty of ice tea and other beverages for the non-beer drinkers.

Well, for me, this was a lot of fun. It also took a lot of time and effort to get food and other things organized. Some of the visitors stayed in the house and others camped outside. So, the time I saved in not driving or flying somewhere was spent in my attempt at organization. The Burgh Bees members paid me for the pleasure of my company and instruction, plus they were in charge of doing a lot of the heavy lifting as far as cooking, cleaning and organization.

This was also a great concept for developing relationships. Steve was at EAS a week later and was a great help for me in the field sessions I ran, as well as at the book table. Jeff and I are talking about doing a reprint of an American beekeeping classic. The rest of the group is welcome to contact me at any time for feedback. This will give us all a point of reference at future visits.

I had hoped that we would be organized enough to produce a few video programs for use by both Burgh Bees and myself. This did not happen. But there were cameras everywhere, and I know some video was taken. So I have hope that some useful material will come out of all the ‘less than perfect’ nuclei hives I exposed to the group!

Steve reports that everyone had a great time, but there could have been more structure to the weekend. I can only agree. But if we are thinking of repeating some sort of weekend ‘Camp Beekeeping’ with more structure, I know that there needs to be a time period when nothing is structured or planned, because the interaction between different beekeepers and a bunch of colonies has some sort of synergic benefit!

Oh, on their way out, the van stopped at Cathy King’s equipment shop and picked up a few items they could not live without. There was room in Jeff’s van for this.

My thanks to all for helping me with a pleasant weekend.

For the latest in bee books, see, or write Dr. Connor at Wicwas Pres, 1620 Miller Road, Kalamazoo MI 49001.

Make plans to attend the Texas Beekeepers Association Master Class taught by Dr. Connor at the annual convention in November, and make your reservations for the Super Sideliner Symposium to be held in January as part of the American Beekeeping Federation in Hersey, PA.



The Traveling Beekeeper - September 2012


Forty Years

by Larry Connor


Yesterday I hosted a ‘master’ class for seven relatively new beekeepers. We were reviewing some familiar territory—lighting the smoker, finding the queen, picking up and marking the queen, using the hive tool efficiently, equalizing colonies and a lot more. It reminded me of something a colleague said to me the first week of August, 1972.

Forty years ago I was a new associate professor in entomology extension at The Ohio State University in Columbus. After the first week of work, I got a phone call from a colleague from another department who had met me at a new faculty event for extension staff.
“So, how did the week go?” he asked.

I explained that there were some major events that seemed out of the ordinary for extension work, like the accidental death of pest control operator who decided to kill a nest of yellow jackets in a sun-baked and uninsulated attic using cyanide gas without thinking about the risk to himself. It was big news throughout the state, and I had received a few calls for comment.
“And routine phone calls and tons of mail, right?” he asked.

I said yes, especially a lot of mail. Each letter required a written reply on University stationary, with a carbon copy filed and kept forever.

“Just so you don’t forget, you will be answering those same questions on the last day of your job years from now.”

So true, 40 years later, and a long time out of University life, I am still answering the same questions for new beekeepers (I got rid of the pest control responsibilities some time back), and they do follow a familiar trend. There are few items that come by mail, but lots of email requests about articles I write. And cell phone calls, which apparently relieve the caller of any responsibility of looking to see what time it is where they are calling.

That first week in August 1972 my daughter was just three months old, and now she works as an pediatric intensive care nurse in Anchorage while raising her 2-year-old. My son, born in 1975 in Columbus, is in his first year of beekeeping here in Michigan, something I never expected. But there he was yesterday, making his dad proud. Yesterday he helped with the master class as well as listened to me work with the students. I still instinctively ask to have the hive tool to show a simple way to use it for more effective colony management.

But most of the class was based on the students working a hive with smoker and hive tool, and I was there to help, as were the rest of the other students. If you have never seen your queen in a colony, every drone is a suspect. If you are not sure if a colony has eggs, time must be spent to help the students see the eggs, with their back to the sun and getting the light down into the cells.

As the instructor or teacher/trainer/mentor/coach, I know that beekeepers must work the hive themselves in order to gain confidence. If they have never had a small group field experience, it is pretty difficult for new beekeepers to work through all the different things they need to learn, by themselves, and even if they have read and will re-read my books and the words of others.
Things have changed, and they haven’t.

Beekeeping experienced a strong growth period during the 1972-1976 period, fed by the young and young-at-heart hippie movement and others concerned about the importance of bees. There were young people, women, and young families at the meetings at local clubs in Ohio. There were urban beekeepers. In fact, I was once asked to ‘comment’ on a small-lot beekeeper who had 40+ colonies in his tiny city lot—boxes packed so tight you had to squeeze past them. The beekeeper was not a young hippie, but an old immigrant from eastern Europe, and he was trying to duplicate his homeland activity on a much smaller real estate footprint.

As the “love generation” got jobs, married, and moved around the country, many were forced to give up their bees and beekeeping. Not all, of course, as I have visited ‘old hippie’ farms in different parts of the country, where agricultural diversity and living off the grid are standard practice.

Of the seven beekeepers in my class yesterday, four were women, one who keeps bees with her husband, also in attendance. Two of the men had kept bees in their teens or early adulthood and may have had colonies while I was at Ohio State. But college or whatever got into their way, and now they are back, keeping colonies again, trying to build and provide the proper husbandry for their bees that they grew fond of so many years ago.

The couple lives in Kalamazoo, and want to develop a sub-group of beekeepers keeping bees within the city limits, so this has been added to my ‘to do list’. There have always been urban beekeepers, quite often working out of sight of neighbors and ‘officials’. I do not know of any restrictions against beekeeping in Kalamazoo as long as safe practices are followed and water is offered to the bees during hot weather.

Mites were unheard of in 1972, and so was climate change. People complained if they lost more than 15% of their colonies during the Michigan winter.

In July I visited my daughter and family in Alaska and we went to the Portage Glacier south of Anchorage. We got on the boat and traveled for some time to reach the glacier which has receded dramatically over the past few  years. Back home my bees and fellow beekeepers were baking in 105+ degree heat for days in a row. Some argue that the summer of 2012 is the summer when people’s opinion about climate change and global warming have shifted to deep concern, yet some of those 1970’s hippies (and others) turned scientists have been documenting the shift in temperature patterns for decades.

Yesterday we discussed the impact of the early spring and summer in Michigan. The early March heat spell caused many plants to bloom early and the colonies built in number very quickly resulting in a record spring for swarms. The joke is “my swarm swarmed!” It makes it difficult for new beekeepers. Climate change means there will be a strong influence on plants that we reply upon for buildup and nectar.

We discussed the small hive beetles. I had them survive the winter in my hives, but they have not been very apparent during the hot weather. One could argue that the beetles do not like my apiary’s exposed and dry location. Or you argue that the early spring was followed by nearly complete elimination by frost of fruit tree bloom that may provide alternate food and sugary carbohydrates for the beetles. Yet one of the students had a beetle attack, so maybe all these theories are just that, theories.



The Traveling Beekeeper - August 2012


Preparing for an Apiary Visit:

 Varroa Mite Sampling with Powdered Sugar

by Larry Connor

When I was a graduate student in the later 1960’s my major professor, Dr. E.C. Bert Martin, taught his students that only big strong colonies are suitable for wintering. Smaller colonies should be stacked up and combined, so the combined populations would insure winter survival. Bert wanted a minimum of 60 pounds on each hive, and was happy when we could provide 90 pounds of honey. This often meant we wintered in three-deep hive bodies. Winter losses, in these pre-mite days, were between ten and fifteen percent, especially when we supplied upper ventilation on these big colonies.
Last summer I visited with Paul Kelly, the beekeeper for the University of Guelph, Ontario. He routinely winters colonies in a single deep hive body, using Canadian Buckfast queens. True, the hive body is chockablock full of honey, but this is much less than Martin’s two or three hive bodies.
In December of 2010, I visited with Mike Palmer, a northern Vermont beekeeper, who winters ‘double-doubles’. These are ten-frame boxes divided with a solid board, providing room for four frames of honey, bees and a young queen. Another identical four-frame hive is on the mirror side of the hive body. Both hives are then given a second hive body, also split down the middle, so each colony winters on just 8 frames of bees, bee bread, and pollen.
Then, there are the beekeepers who ship bees to California for almonds. Quite often they make splits in the summer and early fall, build them by feeding, and move the colonies to the almonds in the fall, where they continue to be fed as needed.
Let’s discuss some of the aspects of making summer splits.

Mid summer splits have advantages
The second month of summer, from mid July to mid August, is a great time to make new colonies from production colonies approaching the end of their main summer nectar flow. There are a number of advantages of making new colonies at this time:
The worker bees in the colony have finished (or are about to finish) the summer nectar flow. Clover, spotted knapweed, and other plants have ended or are about to end their bloom period. Late summer and fall flowers such as knotweed, goldenrod and aster, are not yet in flower, but will be useful in boosting the strength of the new colonies.
This provides an ideal time for you to replace queens that have served you well (maybe) with a younger queen. The old queen may have overwintered with the hive, or been provided in a package, nucleus or swarm that you added to your colonies. She may be less than six months old, but you plan to replace her.
Locally produced queens, with strong tolerance against varroa mites, with survivor adaptations for your area, are likely to be available from local queen producers.
The resulting pause in the brood cycle will break the cycle of varroa mite reproduction, and reduce the need for chemical treatments.
Starting at the middle of August, all colonies work to focus on their winter needs. In northern states and Canada we know that we need to have heathy vigorous worker bees that will, in turn, produce a strong, healthy, mite free, and well fed population of ‘fat’ or ‘winter’ bees going into the summer months.

There are disadvantages, of course
Making splits during mid summer is hard and hot work. There is no doubt about the vast amount of human energy it takes to perform such a chore. Here is a short list of disadvantages:

•    The work is hot (oh, I mentioned that).
•    In some places the main nectar flow is NOT over (example: goldenrod in parts of Pennsylvania). In that case I would NOT make splits if I wanted the bees to make a surplus of honey.
•    Other locations may experience an extreme dearth (complete lack of incoming nectar) and this is a perfect time for robber bees (workers from other colonies), wasps, yellow jackets, hornet, and other insects to ROB your colonies during and after the splits are made.
•    You seek a balance of reduced nectar income with an opportunity to remove honey and return to the apiary to make colonies for the next season, or for migratory purposes for almond pollination next year.

The chore of finding the queen in a number of colonies
A strong colony in the spring has just a fraction of the bee population of a colony in mid summer. Finding the queen bee in a large colony, in an effort to replace her, can frustrate the most experienced beekeeper. I recall a prominent New York State beekeeper lamenting the afternoon he spent trying to re-queen a dozen strong colonies during mid August. After hours of hot, frustrating work, he found no queens. If you want to remove a queen and make splits, I have three suggestions:

A. Split now, de-queen and re-queen four or more days later
You may be better suited to make the split without finding the queen. At least four days after you make the split, inspect each new split for eggs. The colonies without eggs do not have a queen and you should introduce one. The colonies with eggs have a queen. In this smaller hive, find her and replace her. Instead of inspecting a huge colony, you now may have one-half or one-third of the bee population that the full colony has, depending on how many splits you have made from each colony. Search out the old queen, remove her, and install a young, laying queen as a replacement. At this time of the season, I am reluctant to use virgin queens or queen cells, because of the risks of mating, but they are an option.

B. Don’t look for the queen but install a new queen anyway.
Wow! some beekeepers are quite content to install a fresh laying queen into a split without finding the old queen. When you factor in time and energy needed for some beekeepers to find a queen, it may be efficient to install a mated queen and hope the that best queen wins. There is strong evidence that young, vigorous queens are well accepted by colonies and the old queen is ‘decommissioned’ by the workers in the colony. But there remains some risk. By marking the new queens, you can find out how well this system works for you in your system of management.

C. Bring on the bee blower and queen excluder entrance traps.
Make queen excluder entrance traps for colonies (do this in the winter before if you are organized). These should consist of an insert that contains a piece of queen excluder material.  Or Duct tape or staple a piece of excluder material on the entrance, making sure there are no ‘leaks’. Place the trap on the entrance of each hive or split. Then remove all the frames in the hive and either use the bee blower or shake the bees (shaking is fine for small operators who do not want to spend the money on a bee blower). Direct the bees to the entrance of the hive so the workers, drones and queen will crawl back into the hive. Thirty to sixty minutes later you can search for the queen at the entrance of each hive and eliminate her before introducing a new queen.
There are some beekeepers who combine re-queening with honey removal. This means all the bees in the honey supers AND hive body are completely blown out of the hive and as the honey is removed, a new queen is installed in the hive. This is total emersion beekeeping—like jumping off a ship to learn to swim—but if you are completely beesuited and duct taped properly, you can get a lot done in a short time period.
Add another person, maybe another truck, and you can make splits at this time too. I’d put half the brood and a new queen into each hive body, and then return in the evening to move one box of bees and brood to a new hive stand or pallet and truck them away. Enjoy!

Making the splits themselves
It is your choice how you actually make these summer splits. Again I have several options for consideration:

•    A. Equality—sort each frame so the splits are equal. This is like sorting candy for kids. Each split gets the same number of frames of brood, honey and partially filled combs.
•    B. By the box—simply divide a two or three box hive into two or three splits. Make sure that there are bees and brood in each hive body and equalize if they are out of balance.
•    C. Unequal splits—make five-frame nucs and leave the stronger colony behind. Some beekeepers want their increase splits to be a certain size, like four frames of brood, two frames of bee bread and honey and the rest frames of honey. The rest of the colony may be much larger. You may also combine bees and brood from several colonies to obtain the result you want. It is your decision.

Split management
My bias is to leave these new colonies with lots of frames of honey and bee bread. This is like giving each of your kids a big bank account when they leave home, but unlike your kids, the bees will be pretty careful stewards of their resources. Given the choice, I have found that colonies with surplus frames of honey always do much better than new colonies that are stripped of honey and rely upon sugar and protein feeding. Frames of honey often contain honey-covered bee bread, stored pollen.
That said, continue to feed as needed to make sure the colonies are packed with honey.  If you medicate for Nosema (this is not a recommendation), this is often the time you conduct this treatment.
Spot check a few colonies for varroa mite loads, just to make sure that the levels are low. I use the powdered sugar roll because it does not kill the bees.

Dr. Connor will offer a three-day queen rearing course August 24, 25 and 26 in Galesburg, MI. For information and registration data email him, or register on the website Pre-enrollment is required and space is limited.

Bee-sentials: A Field Guide by Dr. Connor may be ordered from your favorite bee supply dealer or directly from Wicwas Press, 1620 Miller Road, Kalamazoo, MI 49001. The price is $29.95 postpaid in the United States. If you live outside the US, please email for a quote payable via PayPal. Or check out the www. website for PayPal purchase. This full color book is ideal for use in bee classes and training programs, so contact Dr. Connor for quantity discounts to bee clubs.




The Traveling Beekeeper - July 2012


Preparing for an Apiary Visit:

 Varroa Mite Sampling with Powdered Sugar

by Larry Connor


Recently I had just two minutes to gather my thoughts after being asked to give a talk about ‘preparing for an apiary visit’ at a training program.  There are many days when I work bees, but I rarely think much about ‘preparing’ for the visit since I keep bees near the barn where just about everything I hope I will ever need is stored and can be located with a minimum of searching. This sense of security sometimes shatters when I am teaching or visiting in another location, and need to rely upon what I have in my vehicle, or what is on hand at the host beekeeper’s site. Sometimes what I need is nowhere to be found. To prevent this we all need to have a few containers of items we need in the apiary, the contents will vary by the job at hand.

Minimum needs
Most of us MUST have a minimum list supplies when we are in an out-apiary. My list is this:

1. Smoker, fuel and matches or lighter. I have found more and more beekeepers who never use smokers. Yes, I agree that smokeless colony inspections encourage careful hive manipulation technique, but too often I have seen dangerous situations—to bee and beekeeper—when beekeepers don’t use smoke. The most stings I have ever received have been those times when no smoker was lit! Most of the time I don’t win the argument that I can get into and out of colony before the bees notice. Somehow they know someone was messing in their hive and that I was the person doing it. They reward me with venom therapy.
I argue that the proper use of smoke saves bees, as you can use smoke to move bees from the ends of frames as you work a hive, and reduce the piles of bees in strong hives that develop when hive bodies and supers are taken off the hive and later reassembled when the inspection is complete. Rather than crushing hundreds of bees, a little smoke removes the pile of bees and minimizes their slaughter.

Smoke interferes with bee-to-bee communication and stimulates bees to engorge with honey and become less defensive, and thus less likely or able to sting. When I teach I insist on having a smoker lit that is large enough to produce smoke for 45-60 minutes minimum. My three favorite fuels are white or Southern pines needles, untreated bailing twine, and untreated burlap. A roll of wax paper provides a paper product that will light under most conditions (even when raining), followed by one of the three other materials. I avoid cardboard and other products that produce acrid smoke. I know that I have to breathe this smoke, so some dried herbs provide a nice finish to the smoke. There are folks using gas torches and small electronic devices to light their smokers. It’s great to see these new ideas that simplify smoker lighting and guarantee smoke when you really need it.

2. Veil. I use a headpiece veil all of the time. I didn’t always, but lately the bees seem to see my large, balding head and aim for the eyes. When I get stung around the eyes I do a pretty sad imitation of a puffer fish. So now it is easy on and easy off with the veil. A jacket and veil combo is great when the weather is cool. It also provides extra pockets for queen cages, if needed. (That reminds me that I need to soak my veil in a soap and non-Clorox bleach solution over night to get rid of some staining and spotting. I do like white veils!) Why not keep a spare in case you have someone visit who offers to help lift supers!

3. Hive tool
and maybe a spare for your helper.

Yard toolbox or kit
Make up a bucket or tool box to hold a more extensive list of items you may need in the apiary, and will have on hand ‘just in case.’ There are some ‘bucket belts’ sold at home improvement you may want to consider. There are some great tool belts that you could wear around your waist if it doesn’t make your pants ride around you knees.

Here is a list of items that make sense:
1. Water-tight container of fuel and matches
2. Veil, maybe a spare.
3. Hive tools (2) and a small hammer for those well glued hive bodies
4. Empty queen cages, with candy or marshmallow, to confine an extra queen (swarm queen, or any ‘extra’ queen you find).
5. Marking pen for new queens (yellow in 2012).
6. Apiary notebook or clipboard.
7. Permanent marker to record data on hive lid or pencil for writing in your notebook (pen ink often fades when it gets wet, which it will).
8. Plastic bags for samples for examination at home, or to ship samples of suspected disease to the USDA Beltsville Bee Lab for analysis.
9. Bee brush or soft paintbrush to remove bees from comb or queen cells.
10 A hive body and super (if different sized) and frames and ...



The Traveling Beekeeper - May 2012

The First Year: The Bees Determine the Beekeeper's Year

by Larry Connor


In past issues we have looked at honey production and beeswax. Now we look at other hive ‘products’ that supplement many beekeepers’ bank accounts.


Collecting and Selling Bee Pollen
Bee pollen is flower-produced pollen collected by honey bees. Some pollen is removed from the bee in a pollen trap while the rest goes into the hive for food for bees. The collected pollen has many uses, one of which is the combating of local allergies. While beekeepers should not give medical advise, some allergists recommend patients consume local pollen as a method of reducing problems with air-borne allergies.

By using pollen traps scientists are able to monitor most of the flowers bees are visiting within their flight area. Unfortunately, the analysis is intensive and laborious.
Pollen has been sold for human consumption with some purveyors of pollen proposing a wide range of unsupported medical benefits. A number of bee pollen sellers have settled with regulatory officials for making wide-ranging claims about their products without data to support it.

How Beekeepers Should Collect Pollen
Most beekeepers never collect bee pollen. Those who do wish to collect pollen for bee feed or for human consumption must keep in mind the risk of environmental contamination by pesticides as bees collect the pollen from flowers. For human consumption, there is an enormous risk of a customer eating the pollen and developing an allergic response—so start by consuming only tiny amounts.

Ethical pollen providers follow a strict procedure. First, they work with a known group of properly trained beekeepers. Second, these beekeepers know where and when to trap the pollen so they collect select pollen mixtures and third, they avoid any contamination with beekeeper or agricultural chemicals. These pollen materials are kept frozen from the time of harvest, cleaned in a cold room, and packaged for the freezer section of the health food market.

Pollen sold at room temperature loses food value quickly. This is especially important for beekeepers who are feeding disease- free pollen in protein mixtures for bees. Freezing pollen is the only way to handle this produce for animal consumption.

Pollen sold for human use needs to be tested for contaminants, even if used only for personal use. Pollen sold for bee feed must be free of American foulbrood, chalkbrood and any other infectious disease. These diseases are easily spread by contaminated pollen.

Once in the hive, pollen is converted to bee bread by the bees. As the pollen is processed, the bees add honey from their honey stomach that contains a wide range of microbes that ferment the pollen. Fermentation helps preserve the food value of the pollen. A few beekeepers hand-cut chunks of bee bread out of the comb and sell it to select customers, though this market seems underdeveloped.


Worker bees visit tree buds, sap flows and other plant sources to collect the resinous material called propolis, which is used to seal up small gaps inside the hive. The material is used to increase the stability of the hive, to reduce vibration, seal off partial or alternative entrances, prevent diseases including bacteria from growing in the hive, and to prevent putrefaction. Propolis is also a water barrier used to coat the entrance of the hive that is often rough and dangerous. Bees entomb dead animals that wander into a hive with propolis, rendering them odorless.

Propolis resins from around the world vary widely and may be many colors. The bees find the material wherever they can; trees are most popular in the north, but special flowers are used in the tropics. There are resins, balsams, waxes, essential oils, pollen and other compounds in propolis.

Health food stores sell propolis as a traditional medicine against inflammations, viral infections, ulcers, burns and scalds. Traditional uses include lozenges, as well as tinctures to promote heart health, improve the immune system and reduce cataracts.

Based on scientific study, we know that propolis is an antimicrobial agent—some propolis strains show antibiotic and anti-fungal properties. Used as an emollient, it is effective in treating skin burns. Propolis also serves as a dental anti-plaque agent, protecting against cavities. It has been examined for use to inhibit tumor growth by reducing cell development. In 2005, it was shown to attack HIV within t-cells. Propolis has long been associated with Antonio Stradivari, who used it in the finish used on his famous violins.

Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is a special food honey bees use to produce queen bees. All young worker and drone bee larvae receive royal jelly, but only queen bee larvae continue to receive this food in abundance during their larval development period. The royal jelly is secreted by the hypopharyngeal gland of worker bees.

Queen rearing techniques used by beekeepers to produce queen bees are employed to collect royal jelly. When the cells are the right age, an abundance of royal jelly is collected from specially managed colonies using vacuum pumps. The product is kept frozen to maintain high quality, as this is a fragile material.

Royal jelly is collected and sold for human consumption, with a wide range of claims made about certain vitamins, crude protein, amino acids and fatty acids. Because of labor cost, most of the world’s royal jelly production is based in China and Thailand.

A single protein, royalactin, triggers a ‘cascade’, or chain, of molecular events that result in development as a queen. This is an epigenetic effect, where genetic expression is altered by unique nutrition.

Royal jelly has been suggested to have a variety of medical effects on humans and lab animals. Though lacking supporting data, holistic healers and alternative medicine users employ royal jelly for anti-aging, increased fertility and sex drive. Royal jelly is popular as part of skin and beauty care. Allergies from royal jelly have been documented, especially in people with known allergies.


Mead is honey wine produced under controlled conditions. By changing the yeast employed for fermentation, beekeepers produce honey vinegar. This is a specialized beekeeping activity where you may have to read a book or attend a class to have a drinkable product!

Sell Bees

The production and sales of bees and queens is a traditional activity of beekeeping.

Income From Bees
A local beekeeper with a small number of hives worked all summer and fall to collect and extract honey, remove and clean beeswax to produce candles, and made a wide range of honey and beeswax-based products for sale at the Local Community Fall Festival. He rented a booth space, set up an attractive display, and visited with his neighbors and friends. Nearly every year he sold out of all the product he brought to the fair and had orders for more lip balm and hand cream that kept him busy into the winter.

With just a dozen hives or so, he was very successful at maximizing his sales in a short time period, but his biggest fear was that a big storm would cancel the Fall Festival, and his sales with it.

Many beekeepers are good at selling things, and explaining the honey bee to the general public. Fall Festivals, Farm Markets, and Eat Local events are ideal for honey and hive product sales. Review this with your insurance agent and accountant to prevent any surprises.

These events have replaced the old-fashioned HONEY sign on the farm gate and a display where customers used the honor system to pay for their honey. Though these scenes still occur, their absence is the price we pay for the explosion of new venues for honey and hive products.

Queen Cells, Virgins and Mated Queens

Growing numbers of small scale beekeepers are turning to the production of queens, often from survivor queens or instrumentally inseminated breeder bees, for the sale of 48-hour-old cells, ripe queen cells, virgin queens and mated queens. Check out Bee Sex Essentials and Queen Rearing Essentials for how-to instructions, as well as the chapter “Queens” in this book.

Swarms and Bee Removal

Lots of new beekeepers and many small-scale beekeepers remove swarms every season as a means of obtaining lower cost bees (they are never ‘free’ because of time and transportation issues). Some do bee removals, often called ‘cut-outs’, of colonies that are established in trees, rock walls, buildings and other structures.

Swarm removal sounds easy. You simply drive up to a newly landed swarm, shake the bees off the branch and into a container, seal it with screen, and drive home where you dump the bees in front of an empty hive body.

In reality, swarm removal is usually much more complicated. You may need to use a ladder or even a cherry picker to reach the swarm. There is a good chance that the swarm will fly to a permanent location between the time you get the call and the time you get into the car or truck and arrive on the site. Sometimes the swarms are really small and not worth the fuel to drive to pick up the bees. Most swarm capture fees range from $50 to $250 per swarm for removal, or may be done for nothing as a good member of the beekeeping community. Swarm capture can be hit or miss and regrettably, the bees you save may not always prove useful.

If you obtain good access to a swarm, collecting it is just a matter of shaking (or brushing) the bees AND THE QUEENS into the box or container.

If a colony leaves with the mother queen (the one that survived the winter), we call it a Prime Swarm (when Mother cannot fly, a daughter queen will go). It will range from 8,000 to 20,000 or more bees, the equivalent of one to three packages of bees.

The parent colony with sealed swarm queen cells will produce unmated queens that will not fight until the decision is made to produce an after swarm. Un-managed colonies average about one and a half swarms per year, so there is a pretty good chance that an after swarm will be issued and will carry many virgin queens with it. These queens fight to determine the winner only after the swarm has entered its final nesting spot. After swarms are smaller, 4,000 to 10,000 bees, and often contain multiple unmated queens.

Containers Used for Swarm Catching
Whatever container you choose to use, wood or cardboard, nucleus or empty cardboard box, keep in mind that you must be able to shake or brush the bees to capture the swarm. Many of us have left work or the house after getting a swarm call carrying a copy paper box with a telescoping lid. These are great for catching swarms in a pinch, since the lid can be gently slid back onto the box and air holes punched with a hive tool to provide air until the bees can be installed back in the apiary. Consult Ed Simon’s Bee Equipment Essentials for an excellent chapter on swarm catching gadgets.

Care of Swarms
In preparation for swarm installation, I place frames of drawn comb, a frame of food (pollen and honey), and foundation in the hive to encourage the bees to accept the new space. Next, I shake the bees at the entrance to the hive, perhaps on an old bed sheet; so all the bees (including the queens) walk into the box.

The act of walking into the hive is apparently an important piece of biology, as it seems to complete some instinctive swarming behavior. Bees that have walked into a hive on their own power rather than being dumped into the hive seem better able to accept their new home, and providing a frame of honey makes for a fine housewarming gift, an incentive for them to stay in the new hive they’ve just discovered.

Feed swarms with 1:1 sugar syrup for several weeks to a month after installation. This exploits their instinctive urge to build beeswax comb. They will start foraging for pollen and nectar almost as soon as they arrive in the box, so a source of carbohydrate will stimulate more pollen foragers and rapid brood buildup. Once the colony is established, examine it carefully, making sure the queen is laying worker eggs and there is no disease, and then put it into your production cycle within the apiary.

Advantages of Swarms

Swarming bees carry honey in their stomachs to digest for the production of beeswax. A strong swarm can produce a full box of comb in a few days, more if fed sugar syrup. Swarms usually come from vigorous hives and can be a real asset.

Risks of Swarms
There is a small but statistically significant chance that swarms will carry spores of American foulbrood (AFB) in the honey in their stomachs. Some beekeepers put antibiotics into the sugar syrup as a preventative. Rather than do that, I watch the brood combs very carefully for the appearance of any diseases, eliminating the swarm if I see AFB.

In parts of the country where African bees are present, some swarms will inevitably be African or African-European hybrids. Sunbelt areas are particularly at risk, but any area of intense migratory beekeepers increases the risk of getting African bees or genes into your apiary. These colonies swarm, become established in the feral population and, as is the nature of African bees, will swarm again the same season after they become established. Even if your swarm isn’t African, their genes may get into the area population through drones inseminating queens during their mating flights.

Swarm catching by using bait hives is a popular method for swarm detection and removal, especially in areas of African bees. Enterprising beekeepers work under contract to manage a series of bait hives and periodically check the hives for swarms. If found, the swarms are destroyed or requeened with European queens. This is often used in public areas: golf courses, playgrounds, retirement communities, campgrounds, amusement parks, etc. These services are potentially profitable when well managed.

Bee Removals
When swarms become established in empty bee tree cavities, the sides of buildings and other spaces, they may pose a potential risk and need to be removed. Bee removals are an important source of income for many small-scale beekeepers, and can provide a source of bees and stored honey. This honey, obtained during bee removal, is often sold in special containers and at a higher price. These bees can also be a source of good genetic information, as survivors, and it may prove worthwhile to test the daughters of these queens in the keeper’s apiary.

If you pursue bee removal, keep in mind that they are often hard work. Use a minimum fee plus extra time for your quote. I would say the minimum is $350 plus $80 for every hour over 3 hours. Beekeepers talented in both colony removal and structural carpentry can do very well with the colony cut-out business, while building their colony holdings. This is a great source of income.

Sales events frequently lead to invitations for speaking about bees and beekeeping. You may approach this as a honey sales event—like the gentleman who spoke to his Men’s group every year and donated part of the sales to the group’s charity.

Some beekeepers have turned the education of others into a full time business. Most do some talks to groups, and the website is designed to match up the group with the speaker. Speaker fees vary from $100 per talk to $800 or more for a day-long program.

Link Your Hobby or other Interests
From writing for a beekeeping journal, to photographing bees, to creating artwork with beeswax, there are an unlimited number of methods of expanding your beekeeping skills without getting more hives of bees! You don’t have to be a major woodworker to make a few beekeeping supplies that you sell to other beekeepers. Have fun, and keep good records.

Bee-sentials: A Field Guide by Dr. Connor is available for immediate shipping. Order from your favorite bee supply dealer or directly from Wicwas Press, 1620 Miller Road, Kalamazoo, MI 49001. The price is $29.95 postpaid in the United States. If you live outside the US, please email for a quote payable via PayPal. Or check out the website for PayPal purchase. This full color book is ideal for use in bee classes and training programs, so contact Dr. Connor for quantity discounts to bee clubs. This article is drawn from the book.



The Traveling Beekeeper - April 2012

The First Year: The Bees Determine the Beekeeper's Year

by Larry Connor


Individual bees have life spans with ever-changing duties as they age. Entire colonies of honey bees have annual cycles that are influenced primarily by climate and rainfall. In temperate regions climate is largely controlled by the seasons regulated by changes in day length and temperature. At extremes from the Equator the tilt of the earth produces shorter and colder weather in winter and longer and warmer conditions in summer. This relationship for temperate region beekeepers may be summarized as:

Day length → Climate → Flowering Patterns → Bee Activity

Bees and beekeepers closer to the Equator are mostly influenced by rainfall amounts, so they may be expressed as:

Climate → Flowering Patterns → Bee Activity

Successful beekeepers follow the bee’s cycle. Knowing what influences bee colony development is critical. Attempts to drastically change bee behavior off season have been generally unsuccessful because the bees are genetically programmed to follow the seasons. Feeding bees in the late fall and early winter goes against the normal cycle, yet the bees benefit by having more resources in the hive before winter begins.

Spring Buildup and Swarming
When I see the first bee of the season in February or March in Michigan, I realize that bee was probably an egg-larva-pupa the previous September or October. This worker bee has an amazing story. Nurse bees reared in late summer are the bees foraging as winter becomes spring. Though many older bees have died, they helped keep the colony heated during the depths of winter. Our foraging bee worked during the winter months, when it was snowy and cold outside the hive, to keep the colony warm and to produce new bees. There were not a lot of new bees produced in January, maybe a few dozen eggs per day, but by February the queen bee was fed more stored food and stimulated to lay eggs, maybe a few hundred eggs per day, more and more each week. By late March a colony is producing about a thousand or more new eggs a day, which translates into a thousand new bees emerging every day. Think about it: a healthy colony may add seven or more thousand workers a week during March—in part due to the increasing day length, consumption of stored pollen and nectar, and the first taste of fresh pollen and nectar for the season. At this time of year, if the food supply is cut off by cold weather, strong colonies die of starvation.

By late April and early May, there is a dramatic increase in the amount of food available for the bees to gather. Early fruit bloom has started, or will soon. The queen is at her maximum egg-laying rate, 1500 eggs or more per day. This results in nearly a pound of new bees every two days—a remarkable reproductive rate for this social group of insects.

The colony in spring has two genetically influenced instinctual goals. First, they must produce a crop of honey to survive for another year—the bees produced in the late spring and early summer will gather the nectar and pollen from flowers necessary for honey production. Second, as a social unit, the colony has a strong instinct to reproduce itself and split, like a single-celled amoeba, creating two ‘cells’ or colonies where once only one existed. The new unit is called a swarm, and some colonies produce more than one swarm per season.

As an abundance of pollen and nectar, carried by the foragers, flows into the hive and is processed by house bees, all corners of the hive are filled and the finite number of empty worker cells in the colony are occupied by developing bee brood (eggs, larvae and pupae), pollen or nectar/honey. The queen is primed to produce an abundance of new bees, but the colony is unable to satisfy her needs. As the flood of new worker bees are emerging, the queen is stimulated to lay an egg in one or more special cells called queen cups. Once the eggs in these special cups hatch, the bees feed the new queen larvae an all royal jelly diet from egg to emergence to ensure the development of a viable queen. Queen development takes 15 or 16 days, the fastest in the hive, and when she emerges will mate in a few days.

The Traveling Beekeeper - March 2012

Equipment for Beekeeping

by Larry Connor

In 1851 a combination of ideas came together in the mind of Lorenzo Loraine Langstroth, a Yale-trained minister who developed the first movable frame bee hive in Western culture. He took the idea of framing each honeycomb in wood, separated these frames by a distance we call “the bee space”, and placed it into a top-loading box. “The Bee Space” describes the distance between the removable wooden frames that Langstroth observed altered the behavior of the bees within. He observed that if he left a space less then one-quarter (6.4 mm) of an inch to a colony, the bees filled it with propolis (natural plant resins), making it nearly impossible to remove. If there is a space larger than three-eights (9.5 mm) of an inch, the bees will build beeswax comb. Though Langstroth earned a patent on the “first movable frame beehive in America” in 1852, Langstroth was unable to collect royalties even as his design became the industry standard.

Today, deep and medium sizes of Langstroth boxes are commonly used in the Americas and elsewhere. In the photo you see the key features of the hive, modified from Langstroth’s original plans. Most beekeepers keep the immature bees or brood in the lower box or boxes, generally known as the brood chamber. The boxes on top, superior to the brood chamber, form the honey supers.

The standard is a deep hive body, a ten-frame hive that may be repositioned by the beekeeper. Two significant advantages in the Langstroth design are (1) the ability to make new colonies, or nucleus hives, by removing combs from one hive and creating another from the parent. (2) The frames that contain honey can be removed by cutting, or harvested using the force of a honey extractor that acts as a centrifuge, and spins the honey out of the combs onto the side of the extractor where it drains to the bottom and can be drained into containers.

Failure to respect the bee space is the primary hazard of building or buying bee equipment with the wrong dimensions.

Langstroth Variations
The standard Langstroth bee box holds ten frames and is 19 7/8 inches in length and 16 ¼ inches wide. The common deep box is 9 5/8 inches deep, holding frames that are 9 1/8 deep.  Most beekeepers use ten-frame hives, but a lighter 8-frame hive is common with keepers who do not want to lift as heavy a box. Some beekeepers use the deep hive body for both the brood chamber and for honey production. This is the default size of most commercial beekeepers, who place beehives on pallets of four or six hives, and use forklift trucks to move the pallets. Crews work the colonies like one might on an assembly line—to establish new hives, feed, add additional space, harvest honey, and medicate. A deep box, or hive body, filled with honey will weigh nearly 90 pounds, making beekeeping backbreaking work.

The standard medium depth box is 3 inches shorter, or 6 5/8 inches in depth. Many beekeepers use a combination of deep boxes for the brood chamber and the shorter medium depth boxes for honey production. The advantage here is that the honey supers are never used for brood comb, which naturally darken from pigments from pollen and the accumulation of pupal cocoons, and thus affect the color of the honey.

Small-scale beekeepers seeking simplicity use only the 6 5/8 inch boxes for both brood chamber and honey super, giving them just one size box. A few beekeepers use 8-frame hives in the medium depth, but they are harder to find and more difficult to resell.

Which box sizes do the bees like? The answer is that bees adapt to many sized chambers, and will do well in any of these configurations. Some experience the same results with 8-frame equipment as with 10-frame hives in terms of brood rearing and honey production. The 8-frame deep hive body has a strong following by people who are not willing to lift 90 pounds. The author is one of these people, and likes eight-frame boxes because of the reduced weight, and the behavior of the bees to better utilize the space it provides, albeit twenty percent smaller in volume. The use of all 8-frame deep hive bodies encourages me to add frames of honey to the brood nest for feeding.

Kenya Top Bar Hive (TBH)
In the 1970s in Guelph, Ontario a research team working in Kenya developed a hive that combined top bars (used by early Greeks) with a box with sloping slides. The program wanted a hive that provided movable frames to the bee nests made from hollow logs (often hung in trees) used in that country, and could possibly transition to a Langstroth hive plan. The sloping sides produced a comb that is stronger and rarely attached to the sides of the box. This differs from the bee hives I see in the U.S. Virgin Islands where some beekeepers use Langstroth boxes but only a Langstroth top bar. Without sloping sides and the side and bottom bars, the combs are often attached and must be detached by machete to remove the frames.

Top Bar Hives have become quite popular with garden beekeepers and those interested in forcing bees to produce their own beeswax comb without use of potentially contaminated foundation. These hives are not standardized in dimensions, but provide an alternative to beekeepers. They are not as mobile as Langstoth hives, and honey is either crushed or cut into pieces and sold in containers. There is a chapter on building your own Top Bar Hive in Ed Simon’s Bee Equipment Essentials.

I have encountered some TBH beekeepers who think that their hive design is better for the bees, producing better quality honey, and is less expensive than a Langstroth hive. It is true that the home carpenter can make TBH’s from scrap lumber and a bit of effort in the wood shop. Yet there are some pre-made TBH’s that are expensive to purchase.
Top bar hives must convert a considerable part of their honey production to new comb, which is a goal of TBH beekeepers. They appreciate the reduced honey production, the increased production of natural wax, and the ability to leave a lot of the honey for the bees for winter or dearth periods.

One concern is proper comb development on the top bars. With only top bars in a hive it is easy for the beekeeper to walk away from the boxes and the bees build comb across the top bars, defeating the purpose of the movable frame. This makes the comb hard to inspect, and violates apiary laws in most areas. From that observation, keeping TBH’s seems to require even more management and attention to comb construction than completely enclosed frames. One advocate of top bar hives suggests that beekeepers visit the hives every few days to check on new comb construction, and ‘fix’ anything that is not being suitably constructed by manipulation and repositioning. The top bar hive is clearly not a leave-alone hive design during the period of comb construction.

What concerns me is that some of these keepers often believe that this design is immune to bee diseases and pests. All bee colonies require management, can become contaminated by various sources, and are equally subjected to diseases and pests. Any beehive system requires a fully engaged beekeeper who must work to support and provide husbandry to the bees, regardless of their domicile design.

Honey handling with these frames must be done either as cut comb (put into containers or jars and surrounded by the liquid drained from cutting) or mashing the comb to remove the honey. While beekeepers have tried a variety of presses and honey removal methods, the best way to separate the honey from the comb is in a mesh bag, squeezing by hand to extract the honey. Then, the final bit of honey is removed by washing the wax in cool water, and to use this water in mead production. Some people keep this honey water in the refrigerator and use it to sweeten tea, other sweet drinks, and whenever a sweet liquid is needed in cooking and baking. Not needing to buy a comb uncapper and extractor is a huge savings.

Warré Hive
The Warré Hive (the People’s Hive) was developed in France by Emile Warré, and has a key feature: Extra boxes are placed below the ones that have been built by the bees, thereby mimicking the comb and nest construction found in a bee tree. This ‘undersupering’ allows the bees to build down as the colony grows, and then move up as they enter the winter. The top box is harvested, constantly removing the oldest comb and keeping only young combs in the colony. IF you elect to try such a hive design, please use top bars in the boxes to support moveable frames. Warré Hives without such supports would likely be in violation of an apiary law in your area. Warré’s design did not use foundation or frames, but includes a top insulation box which provides moisture capture. Similar hive designs were developed in Germany and Japan. Always keep the colonies well managed so the bees are properly fed and kept with low mite levels as you would in any other hive. Again, though some beekeepers think this design does not require as much work as the Langstroth hive, the reality is quite different. All hives require management to be successful by most beekeeper’s standards! With this in mind, there are free plans for construction of this hive on the Internet.

Because the Langstroth design is the most commonly used hive with tens of thousands of beekeepers who use it and who have experience with that equipment management, this design is the best hive option if only because of the network of potential for support and mentoring. I recommend all beekeepers start with Langstroth hives, at least two, in their first season. As the beekeeper becomes more experienced other hive types may be tried. The Top Bar and Warré hives are niche designs, kept in small, local, close-knit beekeeping communities. Should you move or trends change, you may not be able to find necessary support, leaving you on your own. You will have trouble selling these designs to other beekeepers.

Regardless of the design, however, the bees will do their best in each design when correctly supported by a beekeeper.

Caron, Dewey, Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping, Wicwas Press, Kalamazoo, MI
Heath, David, The Bee-friendly Beekeeper A sustainable approach, Northern Bee Books, ISBN-978-1-904846-60-4
Ed Simon, Bee Equipment Essentials, Wicwas Press, Kalamazoo, MI
Warré, Abbé, Beekeeping for all, Northern Bee Books, ISBN-978-1-904846-52-9

Increase Essentials will help you with nucleus setup and management. Consider Ed Simon’s new Beekeeping Equipment Essentials for nucleus construction (go to the website and click on the bee book store). For the new speaker’s bureau, go to www, and sign up as a speaker, a potential user of the bureau, or both.

Travel plans include the Florida Bee College March 9 and 10, then (with Dr. Dewey Caron) the Kalamazoo Bee Club March 13 and 15, the South-Eastern Michigan Beekeepers Association Bee School March 17, Medina County Beekeepers Association March 18 and 19, Central Ohio Beekeepers Association March 22, and (solo) the South Western Ohio Beekeepers School March 24. In April, look for the program on Two and a Half Hives with Denver Bees on April 21, and the club meeting on April 24. There will be a Queen rearing retreat May 4 to 6 in Virginia. Check out  or sign up for our newsletter at

The Traveling Beekeeper - February 2012

The Half-Hive: Setting Up and Managing a Nucleus Hive

by Larry Connor



  When we consider the possibilities we have as beekeepers to develop a dynamic management plan, I strongly recommend setting up a nucleus hive during the first beekeeping season. There are several advantages for having one or more small hives ready to move into larger equipment at any time of the season. Here are a few:
  • Should a full-sized colony lose its queen, you will have a queen that is already laying eggs and is immediately ready to place into your failed colony.
  • Some new queens are just not what we want for our hive. They may have a low egg-laying rate, suggesting an infection with Nosema, other disease infestation, or a partial blockage from mucus that was passed to the queen from a drone. If there is a mucus blockage in the median oviduct, the queen may not be able to lay as many eggs.
  • Early spring queens often do not obtain adequate amounts of semen during the early mating season as a result of inadequate drone supply, bad mating weather, or mating with drones with inadequate/viable sperm numbers. As these queens lay, they start to produce more and more drone eggs because they are never fertilized. The appearance of a large number (more then 10 percent) of bullet shaped pupae in worker cells is an indication of a depletion of sperm. Check this and remove some of these pupae to see if they have the large eyes of drone bees, or the smaller eyes of worker bees.
  • Should a queen produce a colony that is highly defensive, the use of a spare queen is the best way to requeen this colony. It may be necessary to move the mean colony 15 or more feet so the older (and perhaps more defensive) field bees go to dummy or trap hive you leave at the old site. This increases the chance of introduction success of a gentler queen located in the same apiary.
• First year beekeepers experience many difficulties in establishing bee colonies. If a new beekeeper can set up two and a half hives—two full sized colonies and a nucleus hive—they greatly increase their chances of success as beekeepers.

How to Establish a Nucleus
  L.L. Langstroth, the man who combined the bee space, movable frames and top-loading hives, promoted his hive as an easy way to produce increase hives by creating nucleus hives. From each nucleus a full sized colony could develop, or could be intentionally managed to remain small and become a service or support hive for the strong colonies. Since his bee space discovery in 1851, and later publication of his book, amazing little has changed in the makeup of a nucleus hive.
  1. Assemble a four or five frame hive box that holds regular 9 1/8 inch frames (or use the same size frame as your operation, if different, to maintain standardization). Each nucleus should have frames with foundation or starter strips to be put into the colonies from which bees and brood are removed. Some of these frames will be used to replace the frames removed from the parent hive.
  2. Evaluate your two new colonies, started from package bees, nuclei or purchased hives. In each hive, you should have evidence of a healthy queen as shown by frames of eggs, larvae and sealed worker pupae. During a good spring and early summer each of your colonies should be expanding in size. After three weeks there should be many frames of bees that are emerging or about to emerge. I do not recommend removal of frames for at least six weeks except if you purchased full sized colonies. They may be donor colonies within weeks, depending on their initial strength.
  If you do not see growth in the colony size, or if there is not an expanding range of eggs, larvae, and pupae along with emerging adult bees, you are either rushing the season or there is a real problem with your hive. Check with your mentor or someone who can look at the colony and help you with an evaluation. Most importantly, if there is no sign of brood since you introduced the colony, the queen has failed and other action needs to be taken. Here, the advantage of two colonies comes to your benefit—remove one frame of brood with eggs and larvae and add it to the queen-less colony, right in the center of the bees (take out an outside frame to make room). This will allow the bees to build their own queen, saving the colony 70 to 80% of the time.
Hopefully, your colonies have built in strength so when you find five to eight frames of brood covered with bees in both of your hives, you will be able to removed one or two frames of brood from one or both to make up your new nucleus.
  3. Place a frame of sealed and emerging brood (when young adult bees are crawling out of the cells) in the increase nucleus hive. This may be positioned where you want to keep it in the apiary.
  4. Add one or two other frames from this hive which contain food—pollen and nectar. If you found the queen—it is so much easier if she is marked—while removing these frames, make sure she is returned to the parent hive. Otherwise, you will need to recheck the nucleus for eggs in four or more days, the minimum time period for all eggs to hatch after a queen has been removed. Return the queen to the parent hive so she can continue buildup in that colony.
  5. Introduce a new laying queen into the nucleus. This should be a queen of varroa mite resistant stock purchased from a reputable, and hopefully, local supplier. If you cannot find such a queen, introduce a queen cell, virgin queen or mated queen. Avoid production of a queen from a frame of eggs and larvae, because it takes so long—over a month—to get new bees to emerge in the colony unless other options are not available. This is stressful on a small hive.

The Traveling Beekeeper - January 2012

For the New Beekeeper: Setting Up Two and a Half Hives

by Larry Connor


  January is an ideal month to plan the purchase of bee colonies. For the new beekeeper, it provides adequate time to research various options for colony purchase, assemble beekeeping equipment, and secure a safe location for the colonies where they will be able to gather a nectar crop and produce honey and/or pollinated crops. For the second and third year beekeeper it allows you time to consider options for colony replacement and apiary growth.
There is growing statistical evidence1 that there are heavy losses when beekeepers keep only one hive of bees. As a group, single colony beekeepers lose over 50 percent of their colonies every year. This reflects a lack of experience by the beekeeper, poor varroa mite control, and old fashioned bad luck.
  The solution to these heavy losses is  starting with two beehives instead of one, and during the first season establishing a small hive called a nucleus. Why start out with two and a half hives? Statistically, having a second colony provides you with double the bees and equipment, and this, in turn, will help protect you against bad luck, poor queens, bee mites, and a range of bee diseases and your lack of experience with bees.

   •  By having an extra bee colony in your apiary you can save a colony that has a queen problem or failure. Paired colonies increase your chance of having one colony that is doing well, one that you can use to save the other when things go wrong.
   •  By keeping a nucleus with a laying queen you can quickly replace a queen that is failing or missing. This can make the difference between making a honey crop and no honey crop. It also increases the chances of getting the colony through winter or a dearth period.
  The nucleus hive can be started from the two full sized colonies during the initial season and kept small by removing bees and brood (immature bees) periodically. In this nucleus you will keep a young viable queen (one that has mated and is actively laying eggs) ready to perform her duties in a full sized colony. In addition, many beekeepers have had excellent success wintering these small colonies in cold areas, so it seems like you might have a backup in case one of the big colonies dies over the winter. Consult my book, Increase Essentials for details.
  My goal is to develop and maintain a certain level of new beekeeper confidence as well increase your chance of getting bees through a full year of beekeeping. It is not to increase sales at the bee supply company, but since most of us who keep bees have poured a lot of cash into our beekeeping, we need to face reality if we want our new beekeeping activity to succeed.

Purchase Options
There are three options for a new beekeeper to obtain hives.

   •  Package bees – These are nurse worker bees in a screen and wood or cardboard box containing a newly mated queen in a special cage (to make it easier for you to keep her under control). Packages of bees are sold by bee supply dealers, some (but clearly not all) bee clubs, and independent beekeepers. Some of the producers make delivery of the packages to area drop-off sites. A few beekeepers will still ship the packages by mail, but at your risk of loss.
   •  Nucleus hive – Called nucs or nooks for short, these are miniature colonies, often with five frames of brood and bees removed from a strong colony, and then a queen is added to the bees. This may be done as a queen cell, the pupal stage of the queen’s development, from which she emerges, mates and starts to lay. The seller waits (hopefully) until the brood from that queen starts to emerge and there are plenty of young adult bees in the nucleus that will grow the population very rapidly. A good nucleus hive should have three or four frames of brood (eggs, larvae and pupae), a mated, laying queen, and one or two frames of stored honey and pollen in the comb. The colony should be disease free and have a low mite population.
   •  Full-sized colonies – These are often colonies from local beekeepers who sell bee hives to make money. Look for eight or ten frame hives filled with bees. A second box may be sold with the hive and this equipment should be new comb with copious amounts of brood and food. There should be a young queen, produced within the past year.

  Avoid combs that are old, disfigured, or diseased. It may take an experienced beekeeper to recognize this, as well as American foulbrood and other problems. For that reason it is always useful to have a mentor or experienced beekeeper with you when you purchase nucleus hives or full sized colonies. Refuse to accept any equipment or colonies that are not strong or healthy enough for your operation. If you have done some homework before you buy the bees, you should be able to recognize healthy bee brood, good combs and food reserves. It may take you several months of working with an established beekeeper to learn this, but once you know it, the knowledge will serve you well.
  A growing number of bee clubs in distant parts of the United States and Canada provide a service where existing club members mentor new members and provide a nucleus colony as part of a fee or condition of membership. The new beekeeper works with the mentor to establish the new colony, a valuable learning experience.

Moving in and setting up hives
Package bees – These are the most challenging for beekeepers to install, especially when unfamiliar with working with bees, and if they are working alone, and without an experienced person to help. Installation is really very simple: just remove the bees from the box and put them into the beekeeping equipment you have prepared for them in their permanent location. Some remove the queen in her cage and shake the bees out onto the comb, where the queen is hanging. A cork or plastic plug must be removed from the queen cage so she can get out (I like to leave it in for 3-5 days and then return to remove the cork or cap, giving the bees more time to get established and engorge the queen with lots of food. That gets her unique chemical pheromone production going at a high level, a desirable thing).

I recommend a method that does not require shaking of bees:
   1.  Open the package by removing the lid, feed can (with sugar syrup the bees have used for food during transit) and the queen cage, usually hanging from the top of the opening.
   2.  Place the cage in an empty hive body on the hive stand where the bees will live in your apiary. Use bricks or blocks of wood so the top of the cage is even with the top of the hive body.
   3.  In a second hive body with frames, hang the queen, in her cage, immediately above the opening of the cage. The odor of the queen will draw the bees out of the cage and onto the comb. The comb may be new or used, but must be disease free.
   4.  Place the lid on the hive and wait several hours or overnight.
   5.  When you return the bees should be out of the cage and on the comb. The foragers should be flying in and out of the entrance, looking for food. Carefully set off the top box and remove the shipping cage and the bottom hive body. Place the top box, with the queen and the bees on the bottom board. Make sure there is an entrance reducer in the entrance to reduce robbing.
   6. Put the inner cover on the single box of bees, and the empty hive body on top. Add jars or cans of 50-50 sugar to water mixture. Or use a top feeder. Do not use the entrance feeder often sold with beginner kits – these encourage bees trying to steal food from each other, a process called robbing.
   7.  Return in three or four days and remove the cork or cap from the queen cage, and return it to the colony. This will allow the queen to get out and start laying. Queens in package bees are sold as mated queens. If, in error or by natural causes, the queen is not mated, she will eventually produce unfertilized eggs that develop into drone honey bees. Since they serve to mate with new queens, the colony will die when the worker bees are gone from old age.
   8.  Recheck the hive every week for a month to make sure the queen is laying, and the colony is building. There should be brood sealed in 9 days after the queen is released from the cage. If there is not, you will want to do some investigation into what is wrong.

Nucleus Hives – The bees in these units are already up and running, so there should be no delay in egg laying and brood production, since they should have been doing this for several weeks. Many beekeepers deliver (or you pick them up) nucleus hives in temporary cardboard boxes. The entrance is screened for transport so the bees cannot fly out of the box. The bees must be removed from the boxes and put into your bee equipment.

   1.  Place the purchased nucleus box next to the permanent hive location, where you have set up a hive stand, bottom board, brood box, and cover. Remove the cover of the empty hive and remove a number of frames equal to the number of frames in the nucleus.
   2.  Using your bee smoker or a light spray of sugar water, open the nucleus hive and let them settle for a minute. Many bees may take to the air if they are excited, if it is warm outside, and especially if they have been screened into the box for more than a few hours.
   3.  Using the hive tool, carefully remove the outside frame (the comb) from the cardboard nucleus. Move that comb to its new home. Repeat the process MAKING SURE YOU KEEP THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE COMBS IN THE NEW HOME THE SAME AS THAT IN THE SHIPPING CAGE.
   4.  Check that the box has the desired number of frames, and close up the colony with the cover. Use a feeder if the bees require food (the box is not very heavy when you pick it up).
   5.  To protect her from injury, some beekeepers may cage the queen during shipping, although this is not routine. Make sure the cork or plastic cap is off the shipping cage if you find one, or, with the help of an experienced beekeeper, open the cage so the queen can return to her combs. She should not require any introduction as in the package colony.
   6.  Recheck the colony every week for a month, and provide expansion room (the second box of comb) as the unit expands. When the weather and honey plants cooperate, colony growth is remarkable: A two frame colony made in mid April may have 45,000 workers by mid June, just in time for nectar production in some areas.

Full-sized colony – These are the easiest to set up and often the most expensive to purchase. When you have agreed to the time and location of pickup and delivery of the hive, discuss equipment options (the seller’s or yours) and work out details of the hive swap.

   1.  Make sure the location for the bees is setup in advance. Level the ground, use a hive stand, and have shims available to level the hive once in place. Tilt the hive slightly forward so any rain or condensation will run out the entrance of the hive.
   2.  Position the hive in place and when all is set, remove the screen at the entrance of the hive. Use your veil and smoker if necessary, as confined bees are sometimes unhappy to be locked up.
   3.  Check the hive every week for a month, making sure the queen is still producing eggs, and there is open and sealed brood in the hive. Feed the hive if necessary using one of the feeding systems available to you.
   4.  You will be able to tell when the nectar flow is underway by increased flight activity at the entrance (learn to recognize orientation flight, where newly emerged bees learn the location of their hive by flying around in circles for several minutes). Make sure all the combs in the lower box are nearly filled with drawn comb (where the bees have added beeswax) and add the second hive body. If you purchase your hive late in the spring and the nectar flow is underway, you may need to add the second hive body as soon as the bees are in place. The appearance of lighter colored beeswax at the tops of the frames, and short comb on the top of the frames is an indication that the nectar flow has started and the bees need additional room for honey processing and storage.

Next month we will explain how you can use brood and bees from one of these colonies to set up a nucleus hive, and how to manage it during the season.
For book purchase from Wicwas Press, including Ed Simon’s new Beekeeping Equipment Essentials, go to the website and click on the bee book store. For the new speaker’s bureau, go to and sign up as a speaker, a potential user of the bureau, or both.

The Traveling Beekeeper - December 2011

Bee Speakin'


by Larry Connor

To talk to you about talking about bees I need to talk about me for a bit. Some readers hate it when I talk about me, while others love it. So while some of you need to flip/click to the ads at the back of this publication to see who is selling what, the rest of you can stay on the page.

My speaking career started early, around age 11. I was in 4-H in the 1950s and there was a strong emphasis on giving reports about our various projects. There was also an expectation that you would give a ten to 12 minute demonstration on how to do some part of your project.

At this age I was involved in everything dealing with nature, conservation and science. I could be seen with both a butterfly net and a pair of binoculars. The net was to collect insects, the binoculars was used to watch birds. By age 14 or so I had a life list of over 150 birds, most of them seen within a few miles of the farm.

The project was Bird Study, and I still have the giant notebook I made of dozens of birds. Do I need to say how much work went into that project? Not just me-both parents were behind me, pushing me to get things done. I did enjoy being a birder. It was a great excuse to get outside and wander the woods. Did I enjoy the paper work?

Somehow I ‘signed up' to do a demonstration about Bird Study, so I decided that I would talk about how to make a bird feeder. This is the flat kind that sits on a window ledge and the birds are close to the glass so you can watch their activity during the feeding season.

How to Build a Bird Feeder

The advantage for me, as an 11-year old boy, was that How To Build a Bird Feeder is a sequential story, and I just had to tell the story in the proper order. If I had all the props in front of me, precut, then it was just a matter of lining things up and nailing them together. If I remembered to talk while doing this, it was all the better. Indeed I had memorized a script for this process. Mom helped me write the script on the insides of envelopes.

The key to anything like this is to practice over and over again. I would go through the motions while Mom ironed clothes (who irons anymore?) or canned something. She would listen and make suggestions. Together we edited my script. Then, I did the demonstration for neighbors, people who were most likely to show up, eat chocolate chip cookies, and listen to me for 10 minutes. Then, I went on to the local club. Other kids were polite. I think. A few of the older kids, the junior leaders, made suggestions and comments.

I thought it would all end at the county competition, where other kids presented their demonstrations. I guess I did pretty well, or because of it, people asked if I would present the demonstration at their club, or their gardening group. But the big deal was an invitation to speak at the local Bird Club. I was invited to dinner (catered and served, a first for me), in a nice part of Kalamazoo, at the home of a university professor and local newscaster. It required my negotiation of all the silverware on the starched white linen tablecloth. They were the nicest group I spoke to, I got a lot of positive feedback, and haven't stopped talking to groups since.

Building Your Talk
Lots of groups expect you to have a slide presentation ready to go, or on your computer or on a memory stick, ready to load. Others will expect you to speak in a shed or in the open air without electricity. Always know where you are expected to present your talk, because it tells how to prepare.

Some readers will be in Las Vegas in January and participate in the Serious Sideliner Symposium at the American Beekeeping Federation meeting. This will be the seventh year I have arranged this program, and I like to put in a lot of HIDI speakers: How I Do It! The beauty of HIDI is (a) it is a sequential story and (b) it is your story. There is no concern if you may be outside the mainstream of thinking on a particular process or idea-if that is the method you use, great. Plus, for even the driest professor/researcher, if you give them a HIDI assignment, they become alive, animated, and maybe even fun. Most of the presenters in 2012 are beekeepers with a wide range of experience, and we have a fantastic time with the two-day program.

A. Pick your topic and narrow it down!
Don't try to tell your entire life story in 45 minutes. Select a narrowly focused topic (or negotiate the scope of the topic with your host group) that can be handled well in less time than you have been given. This allows you a few minutes to digress and to answer questions. Examples of some topics that do well with the HIDI topics include: How to assemble a bee hive (sound familiar?), How to install a package, How to find the queen, How to remove honey from a hive, How to make beeswax soap, and How to set up a honey stand at a farmers' market.

Stay away from complicated subjects unless you know the material extremely well. I see this way too often-people trying to discuss something that is either over their heads, or they don't really understand, or they have not practiced the talk. If you are new to speaking about bees, leave the queen pheromone, the advanced bee genetics talks and the world honey market summary to folks who have more experience and knowledge than you do. Give yourself something to aspire to!

Selecting the right topic for you is a big part of the challenge in making a talk. Given a comfortable topic, you will be great. Given a subject you don't like, understand, or have passion about is certain to fail.

B. Collect materials for the talk

If you are giving a slide-free talk, start collecting props for the presentation. People like to see and handle items passed around to them. If you can have a hands-on session (to build their own bird feeder), then set this up with the organizers. That will require a lot of coordination. How many folks will be in the session? How many items do you need to bring? Who is paying for all of this?

Most slide talks don't use real slides anymore, but digital photo files off your digital camera or high-resolution cell phone. Programs like PowerPoint and Keynote (on the Mac) provide templates for you to load photos to build a presentation. Start months in advance taking photos for the talk. If you are not a good photographer, get someone who is who will help you a bit.

The Traveling Beekeeper - November 2011

At The Western Apicultural Society conference:

Rethinking Basic Assumptions


by Larry Connor


The 2011 Western Apicultural Society convention on the Big Island of Hawaii provided me with a return trip to this fascinating place, a chance to conduct a day-long workshop, and to hear some of the talks from the many speakers. Let me say that I do not intend to snub some excellent speakers, but have picked out a few comments that I felt were responsible for causing me to rethink some basic assumptions. So I will concentrate on a few talks.

Some statistics about dead colonies
A new spiral notebook is 2/3rds filled with notes from speakers. There are research reports and more. The small hive beetle, the varroa mite and nosema occupied many of these pages. I’d like to share statistics presented by Dr. Dewey Caron, U. of DE Emeritus professor and past president of WAS. He reported on the Bee Loss Epidemic, using data collected from beekeepers who offered up data on their losses. This, by default, makes this a biased sample. The reporting period was from October to March, which distorts data from beekeepers who lost bees before October and after March, as I did.

• Beekeepers who keep fewer colonies lose a higher percentage of their hives. In Washington and Oregon, commercial and semi-commercial beekeepers lost 21%, 24.6% and 20.8% of their colonies in 2009, 2010, and 2011, respectively. Small-scale beekeepers lost 25.8%, 44% and 29.4% during those same years. Small-scale beekeepers are those who have one to 28 colonies. They average 2 hives, the median number was 3 hives, and the most common number reported was 1 hive, with 29% of all beekeepers having just one hive. While this statistic does not surprise me, we often forget that the most common number of bee hives beekeepers have is just one colony, and that the federal government does not include them in national beekeeping industry statistics.

• Small-scale beekeepers reported 42% with no winter loss, and 58% had loss. That means that 58% of all single hive owners lost ALL their bees, a tremendous blow to the new and more inexperienced beekeepers.

• The commercial beekeepers were most likely to report non-manageable conditions, such as poor queens and pesticides as causes of their losses. Only 7% of these beekeepers reported CCD as the cause of their losses, but this represented 57% of all colonies lost.

• Using package bees, nucleus colonies and purchased hives, beekeepers replaced more colonies than they lost over the sample period.

• There were no greater losses in colonies left in the home apiary compared with those moved to either almonds pollination or fireweed, suggesting that the effects of moving were not of themselves lethal factors for colonies.

Queen quality
Retired Washington bee inspector Jim Bach discussed factors we should use to measure queen quality. Here are some of his more interesting comments:

•You want a queen retinue (the bees around the queen) of 10 to 12 worker bees, with the best queens having 15 workers in the retinue. He considers this a factor of the queen’s pheromone, making her more attractive.

• The noise of a colony increases during queenless conditions, reaching about 85 decibels in a queenless colony compared to 50 db in a midsummer queenright hive.

• For the strongest colonies in the spring, overwinter colonies in three deep hive bodies.

• The lack (reduction) of queen pheromone results in queens being refused food, off colored larvae (a bit grayish like European foulbrood), nurse bees not tending brood as well, and a poor overall brood pattern.


The Traveling Beekeeper - October 2011

Moving Toward Gold


by Larry Connor


For most of North America, October is a transitional period when we start the move toward cold, but are not there yet. It is many people’s favorite time of the year, cooler days and colder nights, a time of beautiful fall color and a chance to fix favorite foods associated with the season. Many of us think in terms of apple cider, pumpkin pies and getting the honey bottled and sold before the first of the year.
As I travel, people are asking important beekeeping questions suitable for their location. My Alaskan and Canadian beekeeper friends are undoubtedly long past their ‘termination dusting’ where the first snow on the mountain warns of just a few days to finish their season’s outside work. Of course, they may have seen that dusting of snow back in August, and now have more than a little snow on the ground. Florida and Texas beekeepers fret about the fall rains—will they have enough soil moisture for fall and winter plants to build the bees to full strength for splits, queen rearing or almond pollination.
Midwestern beekeepers can expect freakishly early snows in October, and, in other years, no significant snow until January. It is a difficult time to make predictions.

By Now
Except for subtropical and tropical beekeepers, the season is changing. The bees are responding to the shortening day length and the reduced food supply and they are making significant changes for winter. What are those changes?

The Traveling Beekeeper - September 2011

Small-Scale Queen Rearing

Something That Could Fit Into a Small Place


by Larry Connor


Sheldon and I got into the small boat in Beaverton, Ontario on the shore of Lake Simcoe to travel 4 km (2.5 miles) to Thorah Island, a 1,450 acre island made up of wooded and wooded-swamp ground. There are clearings for agriculture and recreational use. The main road is essentially a deep, muddy path during our late June visit.

Thorah Island is used as an isolated mating station for Buckfast bees, under the supervision of Paul Kelly who works with the University of Ontario, coordinating beekeeping activities for Dr. Ernesto Guzman, students and staff. Kelly's program was established to promote stock improvement in Ontario. Paul met us in Beaverton along with Bill, a local beekeeper-helper who helps with the bees (and drove the boat).

Buckfast queens have been produced in Ontario for some time now, starting with imported worker eggs and live sperm from England, and most recently mated breeder queens from Denmark, where they are produced on isolated islands. Kelly said that this year they imported more Buckfast breeder queens, under careful Ontario and Canadian government supervision. These queens are not kept on the island, but only daughters of the breeders. There they mate with the Buckfast drones produced by the queens produced in previous years.  Paul grafts and produces queens on the mainland and takes queen cells to Thorah Island for mating. In tests, no mating took place when queens were on the island and drones were on the mainland-there is scientific evidence that bees do not fly over water of this distance.

The breeder queens are expensive to purchase (under permit) and there are additional costs associated with the shipping and regulatory processes and fees to get the queens into the country. Developed by the late Brother Adam of Buckfast Abby, in southwestern England, the Buckfast strain of bees was carefully bred as THE initial survivor stock: survivor ability to acarine mite, renamed the honey bee tracheal mite, when they appeared in North America. From the ashes of the colonies ruined by the Isle of Wight disease in the early 1900's, the Buckfast strain was carefully constructed during years of experimental crosses made on the isolated moor outside Buckfast.

The ‘Bucks', as they are referred to by the Ontario beekeepers we met, are great for wintering in Ontario. Kelly winters the bees at the University of Guelph in single ten-frame Langstroth hives for the winter. The colonies on Thorah Island had queen excluders between the first and second boxes. Conservation of winter stores is associated with a low reproductive rate at the end of the season. But in the spring (May to July in Ontario) the bees produce at least nine frames of brood, are resistant to diseases and are less likely to swarm than other stocks.

The gentleness of the pure stock was quickly noticed when we arrived after a period of intense rain, and everything was wet and the bees were being worked without any protection. The smoker was lit but rarely used. Nobody wore veils. The bees were quiet on the combs and did not run or drip off the frames or move to the bottom board. My old teacher, Dr. Bud Cale, Jr., would have said that they had both a good temper and a excellent temperament.

Buckfast bees have a reputation for being excellent nectar and pollen foragers, and moderate to low propolis users. They reflect their survivor stock origins in being resistant to tracheal mites. But they also have good hygienic behavior, maybe not as much as other stocks, but enough to help against varroa mites and brood diseases. Many Ontario beekeepers continue to use seasonal miticides to insure healthy colonies going into winter.

Use of mini-nucs
Kelly uses Styrofoam mini-mating nucs. They offer temperature protection for a small mass of worker bees and a queen. Being highly seasonal, the nucs are established from bulk bees-like giant packages-shaken from strong bee colonies from various locations. There are three small combs and a feeder area. The ripe Buckfast queen cells are added to the units and allowed to settle. The nuc boxes are painted different colors for several reasons. First, the paint protects the plastic from degrading in the sun. Second, the different colors allow the queens and bees to orient to the correct location when the units are spread out on the mowed areas of the mating yard. Third they are attractive in the yard. They are set right on the ground.

Buckfast drones are produced by the colonies over-wintered on the island. They were strong hives and were being worked to harvest four frame nuclei for early summer increase using some of the volunteers who donate their time and talents to perform an endless list of chores. Paul makes up a list and tacks it on a tree so everyone can see what the work list is for the day. The boat is small, and it can only hold so much weight. There are often many trips made each day to carry people and supplies on and off the island.

Making four-frame nuclei
All the colonies had three or four deep boxes with the queen in the bottom deep hive body confined under a queen excluder. The bees were on a nectar flow from the wildflowers and trees on the island. There were basswood trees as well as hairy vetch blooming, which attracted many foragers.  The colonies had bees to spare and were being harvested to make up new colonies as four-frame nuclei. A four-frame plywood nucleus box appeared to make up nuclei to carry off the island. Les Eccles, the new Lead of the Ontario Tech-Transfer Team, was there with is wife Raquel. With two volunteers, Bill and Jeff, they inspected the colony, located the queen, and carefully removed four frames of nearly wall to wall brood along with bees. The old queen, marked green (indicating she was produced in 2009) and in her third season, was located and caged in a hair-curler cage to protect her from harm. There was a debate about her fate: pinch her after doing a great job but for being old; leave her in the hive to select for queen longevity, or put her into the nucleus. The last option won, and the three-frame nucleus with the old queen was carefully packed up using duct tape and screen to carry off the island on the boat.

Who's who
Paul Kozak is the new Provincial apiary inspector, replacing Doug McRory last year. Paul worked last with Dr. Nick Calderone in New York, running the educational programs there. Paul must have pulled the short straw and was given (or took on) the task of coordinating my visit to Ontario to speak at the June meeting in Midland, ON as well as to visit programs there and several beekeepers. I certainly appreciate his efforts as a great host.
Les Eccles recently moved from the University of Guelph research program of Dr. Ernesto Guzman to the Lead of the Ontario Tech Transfer Team, a program run by the Ontario Beekeepers Association with financial support from the provincial government and grant funds. Two years before taking on this job, Les worked in Mexico on projects run by Dr. Guzman. There he met his wife, Raquel, who is a skilled beekeeper, especially in the queen yard. She works for one of the Ontario queen producers.

Sheldon Schwitek was my traveling companion, a good friend and fellow Kalamazoo resident. A native of western Canada, he and Paul Kozak had a lot to talk about, both being ‘prairie boys' from the flat open prairie of the western part of that country. A small-scale beekeeper in Kalamazoo, Sheldon lived in Toronto for ten years before he met his wife. He helps me out at meetings when I have to be doing two or more things at the same time at meetings. He was eager to return to Ontario and share some of his favorite places.

Influence remains
The tech transfer program was started by Dr. Medhat Nasr, now apiarist in Alberta. Then Allison Skinner ran the program. She is recently married and producing queens of her own.

Canadian Buckfast in the United States
Canadian queen producers have been selling queens in the United States for many years. There is strong interest in the Canadian Buckfast queens, with a large number of individuals working together to produce queens in large numbers. When the Canadian-US border was closed to package bees (initially due to the tracheal mites), many Canadian beekeepers looked at late spring and summer queen production as an alternate to queens from Hawaii and elsewhere. Many Ontario queen producers are set up to ship queens to the United States, and have the experience working with the inspection and import rules and paperwork. With the combination of Buckfast stock and selection for wintering and productivity as honey producers, there is a lot in these queens that beekeepers want in their bees.

By comparison, by driving over the border from Michigan, you must appreciate the differences between the neighbors:

When the border closed, Canadian beekeepers were forced to rely on over-wintered colonies, stocks that over winter well and breeding programs like the Buckfast bees. U.S. beekeepers rely on migratory beekeeping economics and the availability of packages from southern and western states.

Canadian beekeepers have been over wintering colonies in wintering rooms and with outdoor insulation materials while many U.S. beekeepers have experienced enormous colony losses.

Canadian beekeepers are interested in well-bred and well mated queens; Many U.S. beekeepers are looking for a low-cost queens.

Both countries are faced with severe budget cuts, staff retirements and less-than-ideal economic environments. Yet, the Ontario beekeepers have a strong inspection program run by Paul Kozak (with nearly 20 part-time, seasonal bee inspectors), a vigorous research program run by Dr. Ernesto Guzman (assisted by Paul Kelly), and a Tech-Transfer team that takes those essential parts of out-reach/extension work with monitoring, testing and training. There is some overlap with these different groups, yet the three groups are able to kick back and race snails together on a late Friday afternoon.

The snail race
Paul Kelly said that Thorah Island is known for a variety of epidemics of various critters. One time it was mice, when you could not step anywhere without stepping on a mouse. Where I was, there was an epidemic of stripped snails. There were several on the sides of the each bee hive. Paul set up a race, on an unused hive lid, marking the shells with the initials of the participants. Each of us picked out our own snail. I am pleased to report that mine came in second. Sheldon's crossed the finish line when it turned around and the tip of its tail crossed the line in full retreat. It must have changed its mind.

I should point out that no snails were harmed in this race, although thoughts of garlic and olive oil flashed through my mind many times.

Check out my website for the latest bee classes and books on bees and beekeeping. That is

The Traveling Beekeeper - August 2011

Small-Scale Queen Rearing

Something That Could Fit Into a Small Place


by Larry Connor

The widespread concern over queen quality has been made dramatically clear to me during my five different classes around the United States this year, under a pretty diverse set of conditions. In my teaching, as in my book, Queen Rearing Essentials, I demonstrate to beekeepers how to use a starter colony and a finisher colony to produce queen cells using the transfer method as described by Gilbert Doolittle in 1888. This system is one that a small beekeeper can use that involves a minimum amount of equipment (a nucleus box most beekeepers already have), queen excluders, grafting frames and bars, and some simple techniques.

 The starter box is screened to keep nurse bees in and to provide ventilation. We add one or two large sponges soaked with water to insure the bees never dehydrate and are able to produce copious royal jelly. We add a frame of freshly collected pollen and one or two frames of honey, ending up with three frames in the five-frame nucleus box. We select a strong colony and find the queen. Then, we remove all the brood frames and shake all the nurse bees into the box. In a good colony there will be several pounds of nurse bees in the box-all bees of the proper age for royal jelly production. We know that old field bees don't produce the royal jelly newly transferred larvae require to become a queen, so we let them fly back to their colony.

 The starter is queenless and broodless. We set it up and use it overnight and then return the bees to their hive the next day. For less than 25 hrs the brood in the source colony is cared for by field bees and the nurse bees we missed when we shook the bees into the starter.

 We place the box so it is not in the direct sun. If it is cool weather, the starter is placed in a building so the temperature is never cold enough to force the bees to go into cluster, thus abandoning the cells.

 We position larvae transferred (a.k.a. grafted) from a worker brood comb from a breeder queen. We use 12-24 hour old larvae (since hatching from the egg stage), and place them into a cell cup. The cells are on grafting bars that are placed into frames so the cells hang down like a queen cell. We pick up and drop on the ground the starter colony to knock the bees off the combs, and place the transferred worker larvae into the queenless, broodless starter.

 Then, bee magic takes place. The nurse bees, thousands of them, which an hour ago were producing royal jelly for thousands of open brood cells, have suddenly been moved to screened box where there is nothing to feed. When we add the transferred larvae, they are the only larvae they have to feed. They are fed a lot of royal jelly. BINGO, a Queen is born! Or several dozen queens, depending on the size of the starter and the number of larvae that we decided to add.

 The next day the new queen cells are moved to a cell finisher. This is a queen-right colony with two boxes (deep or medium). The queen is kept in the lower box by a queen excluder, and several frames of open brood (eggs and larvae, and maybe some sealed brood), are placed in the center of the box along with frames of honey and pollen in a box above the excluder.

 Inside the cell finisher the young queen larvae are exposed to a lower level of queen pheromone, and this supersedure-like environment promotes good larval feeding of the started queen cells. The cells will be ready for use in the mating nucleus colonies 10 days after being put into the cell finisher. Don't be late moving the ripe queen cells, because one early queen will kill all her sisters and destroy your hard work!


The Traveling Beekeeper - July 2011

National Goal: All Resistant, All the Time (excerpt)

by Larry Connor

Teaching three-day queen rearing classes in four states this ‘spring' I am overwhelmed by the interest by local beekeepers to raise their own queens and propagate local and mite-resistant stocks. If even one out of four of these queen-rearing students is able to develop some sort of queen production program, there will be a significant change in the way queens are bring produced, and sold or traded within local beekeeping communities. In the past year there have been a combination of serious weather factors that have reduced bee colony numbers. The prolonged cold in the northern states and the prolonged drought and cold in the southeastern states (and elsewhere) during the spring of 2011 has been one with a tremendous loss of colonies. Add the flooding along the Mississippi River, and this has been a challenging season.

Many of the students in these classes are relatively new to beekeeping, having started their initial hives after the Colony Collapse Disorder was first experienced. They have installed bees, built them up, and watched them die over the winter, year after year. Other beekeepers have had much better success with their bees, and we need to understand the root of this difference.

Packages vs. Nuclei Colonies
 In one set of data collected from beekeepers in the Mid-Atlantic region there was a three-to-one advantage in survival from nucleus colonies over package bees, with about 75 per cent survival of the small hives and 25 percent survival of packages. These numbers are telling a story, and we need to listen. At first glance it suggests that package bees are less likely to survive because they are packages and lack comb and a queen-colony relationship. The reverse is that the nuclei are better units and their success is due to their nature.
The other explanation is in the queen stock that is in the two colony types. More of the nucleus colonies are sold with mite-resistant queens. We are not talking about the conditions of queen rearing, but the genetic nature of the queens in these two hive types. Nuclei can contain inferior queens, and packages can contain superior queens for survival. Two seasons ago I had sister queens in nuclei, and about half of them were heavily infested with chalkbrood, a fungal disease that should not kill colonies. But these were the colonies that did not make it to their first birthday-they died over winter.

Resistant Queens
 We have finally reached the ‘Tipping-Point' regarding the use of mite-resistant queens in North America. Some beekeepers are ahead of this by over a decade, as they have been using queens that generate colonies with low mite numbers. Some queen, package bee and nucleus colony producers are breeding or buying breeder queens so there are fewer varroa mites in their colonies, and they are able to produce a good honey crop, winter well in northern areas, and have an acceptable set of behaviors. Mite resistance is the key to this entire process. During the past quarter century in which varroa mites have been known to be in the United States, we have seen a large number of bee breeding programs that have focused on producing stock, or queen families, with lower varroa mite numbers. There are different mechanisms of resistance: hygienic behavior, grooming behavior, and reduced mite reproduction (on the stock). There are undoubtedly other mechanisms at work in these bees and the many, many survivor colonies that dot the map with increasing density. Ironically, many of these stocks are in the hands of small- and medium-scale beekeepers who are unable to produce any more queens than they currently do, so they do not advertise or promote their bees outside of a small group of neighbor beekeepers.

The Traveling Beekeeper - June 2011

Small-Scale Pollination


by Larry Connor

Pollination needs drive the economic engine of many professional beekeepers, based primarily on one crop-almonds. For most small-scale beekeepers, the thought of loading their bees on pallets and shipping them to California is usually beyond their reach. Once set up for moving bees for pollination, professional beekeepers are deeply invested in a business model that keeps them moving bees into other crops, from apples to zucchini, and in most parts of the country.

Beekeepers of all sized operations are asked to provide bees for pollination of crops. For the small-scale beekeeper fulfilling these pollination requests can be a challenge. The income from renting perhaps a dozen hives of bees is adequate incentive for cash-starved beekeepers to jump at the opportunity.

If this describes you, we need to have a little talk. Before you agree to any pollination service, please do some research into the crop that needs pollination, and the local pollination market. Find out the costs and the potential income for crop pollination for your area. Find out if most of the pollination contracts are being handled by another beekeeper. Then find out if growers are happy with person's service.

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself before agreeing to move bees from your apiary to a new site:

A. What are the pollination requirements of the crop?
Take time to learn some basic pollination biology. There are the traditional crops that need bees for cross pollination, where bees or other pollination agents are necessary to move pollen from the male flowers to female flowers. Depending on the plant, the different flowers may be on separate plants, on separate flowers of the plant, or the same flower but one that goes through a pollen-producing phase separate by time from the period when the stigma is expanded and receptive to pollen. Some plants have physical flower structures that make it hard to pollinate the flowers. Some blueberry flowers are like this. Other plants produce low sugar content nectar. Pears are hard to pollinate because they produce very low-sugar nectar.

When there is a clear need for bee pollination, but the flowers are not as attractive as other plants, you may need to provide additional colonies to flood the area in order to get positive results. Many small growers may not want to pay for his additional service cost, but will complain if their crop is incompletely pollinated.

The Traveling Beekeeper - May 2011

Lunch with Fred Rossman

(Full Version)

by Larry Connor  

In March I was on a road trip to meet and speak with beekeepers in Georgia, North Florida and Ohio. On the road I was able to visit Rossman Apiaries, Inc. in Moultrie, GA, and arrived before noon so I could have lunch with Ann and Fred. Ann was unable to get away from the telephone, which was ringing constantly. But Fred was able to take some precious time from the day and we were able to get some great Moultrie barbeque at a spot at the large farmers market (the area is known for melon production). After lunch Fred showed me a few of his mating yards for queens using five-frame nucleus boxes.

 The Rossman family has been keeping bees and selling stock for a long time. Established by Fred's father, Joe Rossman, the firm had a long-term relationship with Ohio beekeeper Emerson Long who kept bees in the Moultrie area. Together they were involved in the production of one of the very first and unique queen bee hybrids, the Kelley Island Hybrid. These bees were mated on the Kelley Island in Lake Erie. Long and Rossman propagated these queens for a number of years. The stock has since been lost.

 The Rossman firm continues to produce queen bees, as well as package bees. The firm is one of a very few that also produces and sells beekeeping supplies, with a very extensive catalogue with a wide range of products ( They sell Wicwas Press titles and have a very extensive book list of other publishers as well.

 Woodenware has been manufactured at Rossman ever since the business was incorporated by Fred and brother Phil (now retired). They produce all types of woodenware, but specialize in cypress hives. Their southern Georgia location takes advantage of the supply of cypress lumber and in spite of the shortage of the wood and increasing prices, Rossman continues to manufacture and sell this product. Beekeepers use cypress because it lasts much longer than any other wood.

Queen Production
 Fred and I talked about queen production. He continues to use stock that carries the Cordovan gene, a genetic mutation that changes the black areas of the bee's body reddish-brown, giving the bees an even more golden appearance. Some people call the color orange. The pronunciation is kôrdəvən. A lot of folks like these queens for their gentleness, productivity and ease of finding the queens. The workers are big and beautiful on flowers. [Some bee breeders, like Dr. Joe Latshaw in Ohio, have worked with Cordovan bees using instrumental insemination. Latshaw only sells breeder queens to professional beekeepers, so to obtain his stock you must work through a beekeeper who purchases his breeders (] Of course, the Rossmans would be pleased to sell you queens from their work.

 Fred Rossman has been facing the challenge of the small hive beetles, and has been using more five-frame nucleus boxes that he starts with two frames of bees and brood and a ripe queen cell-one that is a day or less from emerging. In the box is a wooden feeder (Rossman-made, of course) filled only a quarter of the way with sugar syrup to allow the colony to build and grow through the season. We were able to look as some of these nucleus hives in mating areas located around Moultrie. Fred likes to set up the colonies in open pine plantings where the grower has kept the undergrowth under control by burning (in a prior season). The colonies are positioned in rows raked free of pine needles, some in straight rows and others curved, following the trees. The shade is partial, providing some heat protection for the bees and the work crews, but also providing sun protection from the beetles.

 Fred says that the key is to keep the mating nucleus hive strong, with plenty of mixed-aged bees and then allowing the queen to lay the entire nucleus with brood before she is removed to ship to a customer. "I hate to think how much money I've spent (on equipment and labor) to set up these colonies," Rossman said as he walked the mating yard with me. We opened a few without smoke and found queens that were just starting to lay eggs. Fred was pleased to see this, for it meant that the queens would be ready when he starts to shake package bees in April. Fred is following a trend among the more progressive queen producers to leave the queen in the hive longer, allowing her to fill the small colony with brood, but also allowing her body to develop further. This reduces the frequency of queen introduction problems, as well as improves queen longevity once installed in the customer's hive.

 While he still uses mini-nucs-what I have called Spam nucs in other articles- because the beekeepers use an actual spam can to measure out the bees, he knows that they are much more difficult to use with the population of small hive beetles found in southern states. The smaller mating units do not last the entire season the way the nucs with larger frames do, and they are only used to get over the initial pressure of the season.

 Fred also uses half-frame nucs. These are boxes that use a frame that is one half the length of a standard frame. These colonies are a bit better on the queens, but also require careful management for the queen production and mating. There are more challenges in getting these colonies set up in the spring.

 The larger five-frame nucs are part of the answer to these challenges. "I like that I do not have to shake the bees to set up the five-frame nucleus," Fred said. "Our crew is able to pull out frames with emerging bees, young or nurse bees, and some field bees. We like some honey and pollen on the frames, but our primary goal is to make the nucleus strong enough so when we return in a few weeks it is ready for a third frame of drawn comb or foundation." The ripe queen cell provides a virgin queen that will emerge, mate, and start laying eggs in the cells. With proper weather and feeding with the division board feeders, the colonies are ready to use all season. The frames from colonies with queens that do not successfully mate are easily added to other colonies. As the stronger nuclei expand with frames of brood and bees, some of the frames can be removed to make up a new mating colony, or to boost one that is not as strong.

 "Having stronger nuclei means that we can make the colonies easier in the spring, and it will mean that we can start overwintering nuclei so we have queens early in the season and lots of combs and bees already in operation," Rossman added. With the short winter period the chances of getting nuclei through the winter is very good.

 Moultrie is part of a diverse agricultural area where there are a number of important pollen and nectar plants that bloom early and throughout the season. This provides the pollen that is so essential for better buildup of the colonies to make up mating nuclei and for feeding the drones and queens that must mate so early in the season. As we looked at the two frames of brood comb (much of it had already emerged), Fred was pleased to see large areas of pollen stored in the comb, ready for the bees to feed on when the queen returned back from her mating and started to lay. The bees consume this pollen to generate royal jelly, the food fed to the queen bee throughout her larval life. Pollen is also critical for good drone production, necessary in the larval feeding for the development of large testes filled with sperm, and then again in the early adult phase of life when the drone requires protein (from pollen) so the sperm migrate from the testes to the seminal vesicles, where it waits for mating. Then it is rapidly ejaculated into the queen before the drone separates from the queen's body. The Moultrie area makes this easier, since there is plenty of pollen available for the mating colonies and drone-holding colonies so the queens and drones are both well fed. (Further information is available in my book Bee Sex Essentials sold on my website or bee equipment suppliers like Rossman Apiaries).

Package bees
 When I visited in March Fred Rossman had already sold his entire 2011 production of package bees. "We are not a large producer of packages. We have a loyal group of beekeepers who drive to pick up packages, and we give them a lot of personal service," Rossman said. He does not deliver packages by truck, but continues to ship using USPS and other carriers. "If we have a customer who has a problem with one of our queens, we want to hear about it, so we can do something about it," he explained. He is upset with anyone who fails to provide him with feedback about the queens and bees he sells, especially if it is critical. "I want to hear about it," he said.

 One of the big changes Rossman would like to see is for the entire package bee industry to slow down a bit in the spring and stop pushing out queens and packages as soon as the weather in Northern states starts to warm up a bit. "We'd all be better off if we all waited a week or more to ship," he explained, adding that so many of the problems beekeepers have with early season packages and queens would be solved if they just waited for the season to advance and allow for better bee conditions. This would improve queen rearing, brood nest conditions and give the bees a better chance of success. It would also reduce problems with issues of mating due to poor weather and drone issues.

A Busy Man
 We had to cut our bee yard visits short (Fred was the Southern gentleman and asked my permission to return to the office). An area beekeeper had arrived at the office who was picking up queen cells to make splits of hives, and needed some step-by-step instruction from Fred on how to handle the cells and how to introduce them to the new colonies. Fred knows that this is part of the business, and essential to building good will with area beekeepers who rely on him for a lot of support in their beekeeping activities. As I taught a queen rearing class near Monticello, Florida the next weekend, and then spoke at the Jacksonville, FL beekeepers association, many beekeepers mentioned how they rely on Rossman for special favors, instructions on how to do things, and as a supplier of quality wooden goods. As I left, Fred was talking to the beekeeper, placing the ripe queen cells in a towel for protection during transport, and explaining how to use them. Ann was busy on the telephone with a customer who was asking for something not found in the catalogue. Workers were in an out of the office while all this was going on. I suspect it was a typical day of work for them, and the queen and package bee season had not yet started. Then, things must really get busy!

 If you are interested in attending an intensive three-day queen rearing class in Galesburg, Michigan in June, contact Dr. Connor at We will be talking about producing queens to make up losses, growing a business, and/or setting up a local queen bee business. You may email him at . Enrollment is limited and pre-registration is required.

The Traveling Beekeeper - April 2011

Fighting Back:

Olivarez Honey Bees,

Big Island Queens


by Larry Connor

 In late February I was able to visit the Big Island of Hawaii at the invitation of the Big Island Beekeepers Association and hosted by beekeeper Ron Hansen. I was taken around the Island to review the situation with the ‘Perfect Storm' of recently introduced pests to honey bees on the Island: Varroa mites, the small hive beetle, and Nosema ceranae. According to a survey of beekeepers updated Feb. 27, 2011 by the Big Island Beekeepers, 55% of the honey bee colonies reported for 2010 were lost, and 34% of all the beekeepers on the Island had lost all their colonies.

Some argue that the small hive beetle is killing the hives. With an enormous feral bee population and a beekeeper population inexperienced with mites or beetles, the beetles have wiped out so many colonies, and continue to do so in 2011. Others argue that the varroa mite has weakened the colonies so that the beetles are easily able to occupy, generate an enormous number of larvae, and the larvae slime the hive so the bees abandon it and the equipment is ruined.

Regardless of the mechanism, with 55% or more of the colonies on the Island dead in a year, I wondered how some of the commercial honey producers and early season queen producers were surviving under the attack. My host Ron Hansen made arrangements to visit the Olivarez Honey Bee, Inc., facility in Captain Cook, run by Russell Olivarez (Big Island Queens Division Manager) with the help of his father Ray Olivarez, the founder of Olivarez Apairies. The entire operation is overseen by Ray Olivarez Jr. and wife Tammi in California. Ray Jr. founded OHB, Inc, which runs the main booking office for Hawaii out of California. It was Ray Jr. who purchased Big Island Queens.

The Traveling Beekeeper - March 2011



by Larry Connor

How do bees produce beeswax?
After foragers return to the hive loaded with nectar, enzymes are added and moisture is removed to generate honey. During the process, certain worker bees inside the hive take up the liquid from the nectar processors and work as wax producers or remove it from the honey comb and digest the sugar in their digestive tract to produce a complex set of compounds in the wax glands and mirror plates on the underside of the abdomen of the worker. There are eight of these plates, each generating one thin scale of wax. The wax is secreted as a liquid but hardens immediately. Under the microscope the scales appear in layers, reflecting this secretion process. Once the scale is large enough the workers remove it with a spine on their hind leg and transfer it to their mouthparts where saliva is added and the striated scale is masticated into a pliable form so that it may be applied to the places on the hive where comb construction is active. This may be where honeycomb is being constructed, added to brood comb to cap the cells of larvae ready to pupate, or to construct queen cells.

Properties of beeswax
Beeswax is secreted by eight glands arranged in pairs on the ventral (under) side of the worker honey bee on abdominal segments four to seven. The glands are enlarged when the bee secretes wax, but shrink in size when the bee is not. Beeswax is a complex mixture. It is a tough wax, able to withstand great stress and pressure from the weight of honey, pollen, brood and the bees that hang on the honeycomb structure. Heavily loaded wax combs will stretch when exposed to high temperatures. The wax consists of monoesters, hydrocarbons, diesters, free acids, hydroxy polyesters, hydroxy monoesters, trimesters, acid polyesters, acid esters and free alcohols.

Peak wax secretion in bees is at 12 days after emergence, but bees must feed on pollen for the first five to six days of their adult life to be able to produce the fat bodies that are essential to wax production. These bees congregate in areas where wax production is underway, and maintain a temperature of 95 to 97 degrees F. It takes 8.4 pounds of honey to produce one pound of beeswax from 450,000 wax scales. New wax is white, but it quickly takes on the pigments of pollen-the yellows, tans or browns according to pigment color.
Beeswax is valued for its very high melting point range of 144 to 147 degrees F., producing superior burning candles and an excellent resist in both electronics and art production. When exposed to increased heat beeswax bursts into flame at 250 degrees F. Considerable discoloration takes place whenever beeswax is heated over 185 degrees F, an excellent reason to carefully monitor processing equipment to prevent wax overheating and discoloration.

The Traveling Beekeeper - February 2011

Pollen Collection


by Larry Connor

Why collect bee pollen?
There is a strong interest in collecting bee-gathered pollen.  The upper end of the market is for fresh-frozen pollen that is used as a human and animal food supplement. Considerable pollen is sold as a dried product. In the United States there are no clear legal claims anyone can make about consuming pollen, but in other countries, and within the medical community (both human and animal), there are research studies showing the benefit of consuming pollen. It is the riskiest hive product to market, in my opinion, since pollen can trigger the same allergic reactions that folks get when they are exposed to certain air-borne pollens, but in larger concentration. For that reason I like to see customers start out consuming small amounts and carefully increase the amount of pollen they consume to make sure they do not experience any runny eyes, itchy skin, tongue or throat, or more severe symptoms associated with an allergic response.

 Ironically, part of the pollen market is stimulated by this allergic situation, as some allergists and other medical professionals start folks with a small amount of pollen to build up the protective antibodies against the allergens that might cause a reaction and in some cases an asthma attack. These same professionals recommend the consumption of honey that has not been overly filtered or heated, keeping all the pollen in its near-natural state. This is a key argument for consuming locally produced honey. We thus extend that logic to locally produced pollen.

How to collect pollen
 There are several types of pollen traps on the market, each making claims for some aspect about the pollen collection process. Look for traps that do not damage the bees' body parts-sharp edges that while removing the pollen pellets from the legs of the bees might also tear off legs or wing tips. I like traps that keep the natural debris of the hive from falling into the collection area of the trap, although it is not difficult to clean pollen with a series of different meshed screens or in a seed cleaning devise.

 Pollen  traps all use the same idea: make the returning pollen forager pass through a grid or hole that is big enough for the bee to enter, but more difficult for the pollen pellets to pass without being removed. Most traps are not 100% effective at pollen removal, and this is probably a good thing, since it means that there is still pollen entering the colony to support brood rearing and colony growth. Because of the potential risk of damaging the colony by over collecting, many pollen-collecting beekeepers use one of several concepts to collect pollen. Here are a few:

The Traveling Beekeeper - January 2011

The Different Forms of Honey

(Full Version)

by Larry Connor  

Honey is Honey, so some say, but the form of the product varies widely.
Different producers go after specific products


The majority of US-based honey consumers expect honey to be in a liquid state, but if you travel to Canada or Europe you will find that the majority of honey buyers expect honey to be in granular form. A variety of cultural influences support very different markets for a preference of different forms of honey. This is actually an advantage for those seeking to expand their honey market, since it often helps to stand out against a very similar assortment of honey products. If you are at a farm market and have the only granular honey in a sea of liquid honey, you can sell a lot of product with astute customer education, product sampling and old-fashioned sales and marketing.

Let's make a basic review of the forms of honey, how they are produced, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

Honey in the Comb
Do you remember your reaction when you first tasted honey on a comb from a hive you managed, and helped the bees grow in numbers so they could produce the honey? Technically, you did not produce the honey, the bees did, and it is not your honey, it belongs to the bees. But as a beekeeper you have worked very hard to help the bees to do their job. By helping the bees produce a surplus of the crop, you can benefit from the sale of the excess.

It is a great thrill to be in an apiary when a visitor or new beekeeper tastes honey ‘hot from the hive' for the very first time. There is often a struggle to get the honey-coated finger to the mouth because the bee veil is in the way. But once the honey snakes its way into the mouth of the taster, there is a quiet spiritual moment when the person realizes that this honey in the comb is not like any honey they have ever tasted before.

In the hive, new honey is almost always liquid. A few floral sources produce honey that granulates quickly, like canola (oil seed rape). This nectar produces a honey with a high percentage of glucose, one of the two monosaccharides or simple sugars in honey. The glucose molecules crystallize easily, while the fructose molecules are slower to granulate. In areas where honey is fast to go from the liquid to the solid form, the retail honey market often features much more granulated honey.

In the honeycomb, honey eventually granulates, making it difficult to remove. It may be necessary to crush these combs, heat the wax and honey mixture, separating the liquid wax and honey in the process, due to their different densities. Most beekeepers set aside combs with granulated honey for bee feed during the next late winter and spring, offering the bees the opportunity to clean out the crystals. They will need water to liquefy the honey. During this feeding, it is not unlikely to find sugar crystals at the bottom and entrance of the hive.
Combs or sections of honey can be produced in the hive and sold to customers. Volume honey users will purchase frames of honey for table use, cutting out the portion they need and wrapping the comb in cloth or foil. Others store the entire comb in a large plastic container with a tight-fitting lid to keep ants and other unwanted visitors out of the honey. Beekeepers experimenting with Kenya top-bar style hives may want to sell their honey in the comb, carefully wrapped in food-grade Kraft paper to protect it from handling. If the top-bar is still attached the user can hang it between two supports. If the comb has been cut from the top bar or frame, it really should be packaged as any cut comb product.
Basswood sections of honey have been replaced in the marketplace by plastic combs, such as Ross Rounds, Hogg Cassettes and other devices. All of these require a strong hive to draw out the wax and fill it with honey. Consult Killion's Honey in the Comb for suggestions.
The best way to store combs of honey, basswood sections, and the plastic holders, is wrapped and in the freezer at zero degrees F. This prevents wax moths, small hive beetles and a wide variety of common pests from getting into the honey. Because of the nature of honey chemistry, freezing actually prevents the sugar molecules from granulating, because they are ‘super-cooled'. To defrost, remove the honey from the combs and keep it wrapped so the honey does not take up moisture while returning to room temperature.
Of course, small amounts of granulated honey in the comb can be cut out and placed on very hot toast or vegetables. The honey-wax mixture will melt and be enjoyed. There is no nutritive value or harmful aspects to ingesting wax.

Cut Comb
Any piece of honey, from a frame, a bee tree or wherever, may be placed on a wire grid and cut into the desired size, drained, and placed into metal, plastic or glass containers. There are some nice plastic containers that feature the beauty of the wax while the package label holds the lid onto the container, preventing tampering and contamination. A large food-grade stainless steel cutting surface, over a drip tray, will allow the beekeeper to cut several frames at a time and allow the excess honey to drain off the comb. When carefully placed into the container, you have a premium product. Select only the most perfect areas of the honeycomb for cut comb. Avoid any unsealed cells (one or two are okay, but 20 or more detract). Of course, never put comb with brood or pollen into the container-you are selling honey, and just honey. The beeswax is the original packaging!

Left over bits of honey in the wax comb can be squeezed in a cloth bag to remove the honey. The remaining wax may be washed in clean water and the sweetened water used for mead production or as a cooking sweetener (on vegetables, in baking or the liquid in a fruit smoothie). Or the bits of honeycomb can be put in front of a bunch of hungry kids as they get home from school and put onto hot homemade bread. That's a golden memory of my childhood.

Chunk honey
When pieces of well-trimmed honeycomb are placed in an empty jar and surrounded by liquid honey, it creates a very desirable product called chunk honey. To produce this product you must have excellent skills at producing both comb honey as well as liquid honey. Usually the honey surrounding the honeycomb is from the same floral source, but this is not necessary. By careful matching, you can put a darker gold comb honey in the container surrounded by a lighter honey, drawing the eye to the bright comb inside. This also gives you a chance to experiment with floral flavors. I was recently given a jar of chunk honey where the comb honey is from alfalfa, but the surrounding honey is from sweet clover.

This is usually a small production, limited yield product. It should command a premium price. Careful jar selection, label design, and associated marketing should emphasize the uniqueness of the product as well as the sensory taste delights inside. Package and prepare this product as one might a $100 bottle of fine wine!

Liquid honey
As mentioned in the opening, the majority of the honey sold in the United States is sold in the liquid state. The use of Langstroth-style movable frames (and an uncapping and extractor system) provides a simple and effective method to produce a large volume of honey very economically. I recommend that all new beekeepers start with movable frame hives. If they want to produce ‘natural combs' (those produced without starter foundation, beeswax or plastic) they can put a bead of wax on the bottom of the top bars of the frames or use a short starter strip of foundation as an anchor point for comb construction. Of course, it takes much more honey production to produce the wax for this method (I have seen estimates of 8 to 15 pounds of honey to produce one pound of beeswax), but the honeycomb will only contain contaminates (natural and human-made) from a single season of production. These frames produce honey for use as cut comb or as crushed honey. It cannot be put into an extractor. Reuse of drawn out comb built on strong foundation is more economical, but even large commercial beekeepers are adapting comb replacement systems that replace honeycomb every three to five years. This is a huge investment in producing healthier bees that will be better able to withstand the attack of parasites, diseases, viruses and trace amounts of chemicals.

Honey in the comb is ready for extraction when the moisture content has been reduced from an average of 60% water to less than 20% water-I prefer to extract only when honey is in the 18% range, since we want our honey to be lower moisture so it keeps longer. ‘Wet' honey, over 20% moisture, is faster to ferment, producing an undesirable product, since the yeasts involved are not the same as used in producing honey wine, or mead. Fermented honey should not be fed back to bees, since it contains some nasty and indigestible products of this fermentation.

Granulated or Crystallized Honey
Since granulation is a natural process, there are several ways to deal with it:

  1. Put honey into large containers and reliquify them before filtering and bottling. This is where the majority of the world supply of honey goes and how it is processed.
  2. Put minimally processed (screening) honey into small jars and allow the honey to granulate naturally. A label that explains that this is natural, not a sign of spoilage, will help. I add that granulated honey may be used as is on hot toast or biscuits or in cooking and baking when warmed just enough to measure into containers. In the current US market, I see more and more folks seeking out natural products, even at the big box stores. As a local honey producer you can reduce your workload and sell a more natural product if you sell granulated honey. People in Canada and Europe prefer honey in the crystallized state; so many people who have traveled are looking for this product and will pay well for it.
  3. Seed the warm liquid honey with a finely produced sample of creamed honey you produced before or purchased from another beekeeper. While some of these products are labeled ‘whipped' honey, I do not like to incorporate air into the honey, so I mix in a blender at a slow speed so the granules and the warm liquid honey are thoroughly mixed. Immediately bottle and store in a room between 55 and 60 degrees F. This will promote rapid and fine crystal formation. If you want to investigate this process, read about the Cornell University Dyce Process of making Creamed Honey. During preparation and seeding, this creamed honey product is ideal for the addition of freeze-dried fruit, vegetable or essential oil products. Each product increases your market range, especially when you are able to offer product samples.

Visit Dr. Connor's website for a list of the books he writes and sells. Check out the queen rearing courses he will offer in Florida, Virginia, Maryland and Michigan in 2011.

The Traveling Beekeeper - December 2010

So You Want to Live Off the Bees?


by Larry Connor

A visit with a Colorado beekeeper who left a state government position
to develop his beekeeping into a full-time income.

Many beekeepers dream about leaving their job and working bees enough to justify an adequate income. Many of the people who do this have a husband, wife or partner who has a good job with benefits so the beekeeper is in a position to walk away from the ‘unrewarding' position at work and follow their ‘passion' as a beekeeper. This is a visit with a beekeeper from the Denver area who has done this. He is not yet where he wants to be, as are many of the readers-and is in a period of growth and transition.

Matt Kentner is a 40-something beekeeper with a wife, Cathy, who is a music teacher. They have two daughters, aged 5 and 10. They live in a Denver suburb called Lakewood on a lot that is large enough for a horse, but already has too many bees but understanding neighbors. Plus, as you will see in the photos, the city bees are pretty well screened from view. Here is my visit to Matt Kentner of Kentner Farms (

Kentner is from Minnesota and Iowa, attended chef school in Minnesota, and worked as a baker in Steamboat Springs turning out hundreds pounds of bagels every day, plus getting time to ski and enjoy the local recreational opportunities. Then, he went to work for the State of Colorado as a computer specialist. But he walked away from that, and he and his wife are growing the beekeeping business. Early on they sat down and Cathy, the math person in the relationship, figured out how Matt could get the bees, equipment and bee truck by paying cash and not going into debt as he built up bee colonies. When I visited him he had about 75 colonies, with the goal of reaching 400. He produces primarily alfalfa honey packed into an attractive, well-designed jar and label combination that helps him earn a premium price. He recently went through the application process to sell honey through the Denver Whole Foods, a process that impressed him for the chain's passion for food quality and food safety.


The Traveling Beekeeper - November 2010

Honey - An Overview


by Larry Connor

In this issue I will start a discussion about honey; especially honey products I see collected and processed by bees, and extracted or processed, packaged and sold throughout North America and elsewhere. This will allow me to share some stories and photos from various honey-producing operations I have visited, as well as to review this topic in a systemic manner.

Based on USDA Economic Research Service data* for 2009, 2,462,000 U.S. colonies produced an average of 59 pounds of honey, or 144,106,000 pounds. This earned $1.45 per pound or a total value of $208,236,000.00 for beekeepers to pay down debt and treat the kids to $3 movie night. This means the ‘average' hive for the ‘average' beekeeper generated an income of $85.55 if the product was sold at the wholesale level. If sold in smaller containers and with some marketing, this same honey production may be worth five to ten times that amount. This sort of marketing is essential for beekeepers with fewer than five hundred or a thousand colonies, since the cost of operating per hive is so large. Large commercial beekeepers are better able to keep the operational cost per hive lower only through the economies of large scale: large work crews, large trucks to move bees, large pollination income from almond pollination, and huge extraction plants. Some of these beekeepers supplement their income by selling increase (nuclei) hives each year-splitting the hives after the almond bloom or in the late summer after the bees finish their Northern pollination duties. Larger bee operations have much more risk, and when a crop fails to materialize or a new problem arises, they take a huge hit.

New beekeepers rarely produce the government's average amount their first or even their second year of keeping bees. Their inexperience helps keep the national production average low. Experienced beekeepers, from tenured small-scale to large commercial beekeepers, usually produce much more than 59 pounds per year as average production. They are much less likely to put their honey into 60 pound buckets or 55 gallon drums and sell it at prices closer to the $1.45/pound level, or lower than that, as ‘average price' represents.
This honey production is a tiny amount compared to the value of bees for crop pollination. The value of the crops pollinated by bees is a huge number, into the billions of dollars, but the beekeepers who rent bees are getting an income about equal to the income from honey production. No grower is doing pollination fees by shares, or percentages of the crop, unfortunately. If beekeepers took a percentage of agricultural crop production for their paycheck, they might be able to take the kids to a newly released, first-run movie.

The Traveling Beekeeper - October 2010

Variations On New Queens

by Larry Connor

Beekeepers are skillful at finding ways to use available resources in their operations. Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to finding ways to add queens to an existing or new colony. The queen rearing industry and the teachers of basic beekeeping tend to focus on the use of newly mated queens as the ‘correct' way to introduce new queens. I have reviewed the many other options of queen introduction elsewhere and in my books. This past season I have had the opportunity to make further observations on two methods for new queen introduction that are not widely accepted by beekeepers in North America-48-hr queen cells and virgin queens. If you have read what I have written about these two subjects, this is an update.

48-hour old queen cells

About two years ago Dr. John Kefuss of Toulouse showed me the practice of shipping and using queen cells that are two days past grafting. Allowing that the larvae in the cells have a three-day existence as eggs, plus about a one-day existence before grafting, the individual bees in these 48-hr cells are approaching the end of their sixth day of development in a metamorphosis of a total of 15 to 16 days. The larvae are about midpoint in their larval development. John argues that the larvae are large enough to withstand time outside the colony and away from nurse bees, but still small enough so they will not crawl out of the cell when stressed.

 At the three-day queen rearing class taught at the Farm in Galesburg, Michigan in July, one of the students, Dwight Wells of Troy, OH, asked if he could take some of the cells grafted on Friday evening to Ohio to see if they survived. He ended up taking 14 48-hr cells out of the cell finishers and put them into holders inside a small plastic insulated thermos. He did not heat or cool the cells, but put a damp paper towel over the top for a little humidity. (I feel that the royal jelly provided the needed humidity for the larvae). Within five hours he was outside Columbus (in a drive that takes me longer) and placing the cells into a cell builder owned by experienced queen producer Dana Stahlman.

 The attached photo shows the cells that were produced. Of the 14 transported cells, 12 cells were drawn out and sealed. From this point on they were handled as ordinary queen cells.

The Traveling Beekeeper - September 2010

Colony Needs During Winter
(Full Version)

by Larry Connor  

 There is an enormous range of recommendations about getting colonies ready for winter. Some beekeepers recommend every colony have 90 to 120 lbs of stored honey and pollen to survive the winter, while others are able to winter colonies on just a fraction of that amount. Parallel to that is the overwintering of huge populations in large brood nests compared to those who winter bees in four and five frame nuclei. Some people winter colonies with no preparations, and others wrap their colonies in thick insulation materials. This contrast list goes on and on.

Part of this just reflects the adaptive nature of honey bee colonies, and their inherited ability to survive under a wide range of environmental conditions. There are variations on how different races and families of bees deal with wintering, with some with many adaptations for survival and others less fit for winter. The other factor, where you winter your bees, makes a big difference, too. If you have bees in an area where winter is only a few weeks long, your focus will be much different than the beekeeper in northern states and Canada who must prepare colonies for months and months of limited flight.

More and more beekeepers accept the reality that preparation for winter must start before the summer is officially over at the autumnal equinox. There are three focus points all beekeepers need to address at this time of the season: 1. The production of healthy ‘winter’ bees with optimal nutrition stored in their bodies, 2. The management or treatment of colonies against pests and diseases, especially varroa and tracheal mites and nosema, and 3. The colony must be provided with enough food to survive until the reappearance of natural food in the spring.

Prior to the appearance of mite parasites in bee colonies in North America, many beekeepers felt that their biggest problems were American foulbrood and pesticide losses. For foulbrood many beekeepers used a calendar antibiotic treatment program to prevent the disease from appearing in their bees. At the same time a number were strongly against this approach, since the colonies were being medicated with an antibiotic that usually was not needed by the bees. That pretty well reflected the attitudes of the medical and veterinary professions before 1980.

With pesticide losses, beekeepers were far more likely to anticipate losses, and most commercial beekeepers either priced pollination rentals to include some bee losses, or they kept their bees away from the fields or orchards being treated with bee-killing insecticides. Small-scale beekeepers often did not know what killed their bees, and were quick to blame disease, swarming or starvation for bee losses rather than consider a pesticide exposure, unless it was so dramatic that it was hard to mistake for something else.

In this post CCD era, more and more beekeepers are PROACTIVE rather than reactive in their bee management. Rather than waiting for problems to develop and for bee colonies to die, more and more are focused on the sampling and testing of colonies for various problems. Last month I discussed Dr. Medhat Nasr’s proactive testing for mites and nosema in Alberta, Canada. The beekeepers there are encouraged to treat only when necessary, and to treat in the correct manner.
All beekeepers should develop the habit of sampling for varroa mite levels. This is the premiere problem facing most beekeepers in North America, but this is often linked to other issues (hive-based pesticides, bee pathogens, and poor nutrition). Sampling methods range from the ether spray method, the double jar method shown in last month’s column, or using a powdered sugar dusting to count the adult mites that are dislodged by the sugar and fall to a greased sampling tray.

Sampling is one thing, but knowing what the numbers mean is another. A beekeeper spoke of a mite drop of 40 mites. He said it was a natural drop (no powdered sugar or anything else was used), over a three-day period. He thought the number was low. I suggested that it seemed high to me, since I like to see less than 10 mites drop in 24 hours with a powdered sugar dusting. This is the challenge, isn’t it? What do these numbers mean? It is frustrating that most of the time it is hard to get good advise on this.

For me, the lower the mite drop, the happier I am. I like to see well-chewed mites, ones with broken shells and torn legs. Get the hand lens out and take a look! Are your bees grooming the mites off themselves?

Here is what we can sample for in a proactive management plan:
Varroa mites – as discussed above, we can use one of the sampling methods and make decisions based on local practices and recommendations.

Tracheal mites — A few dissections under a lower powered microscope will provide evidence of any possible tracheal mite problems. This is useful in the fall and winter, and during spring buildup.

Nosema — A higher powered microscope (compound scope) is needed to check the spore levels in bees, and this is beyond the finances of small beekeepers. But they should put pressure on State officials for testing, if they do not already provide this service.
General beekeeping awareness should dictate elimination of certain colonies with diseases. Colonies with American foulbrood should be quarantined, and local practices followed for treatment or destruction. Colonies with the general symptoms associated with Colony Collapse Disorder are probably not worthy of any effort to save. Colonies with PMS (Parasitic Mite Syndrome, a collection of symptoms that can include European foulbrood-like brood, K-wing, dimunitive wing, and other virus-transmitted diseases) should be destroyed or put into an intensive treatment program with knowledge that few of these colonies can be expected to survive the winter period.

Feeding program
Even before the last of the late summer/early fall nectar is gathered, many beekeepers begin a protein feeding program with the goal of producing a large number of well-fed worker bees that will serve as the Winter Bees. By feeding, it is hoped that they will be ‘Fat Bees’, endowed with extra proteins, enzymes and other nutritional components needed for brood rearing during the winter. We fed protein patties from mid August to December in 2009, and the limited success we had in wintering bees (after an especially poor season) is credited to the feeding program. We fed thick sugar syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water) in division board feeders. The frame feeders with that had built-in chimneys to eliminate drowning certainly had an advantage over feeders with smooth or rough interiors. We want the protein to go into the bees, with any natural pollen being stored in the cells. When the nectar flow is over our minimum carbohydrate feeding goals are:

4-frame nucleus 3.5 frames of honey (or stored sugar syrup)
5-frame nucleus 4.5 frames of honey (or stored sugar syrup)
8-frame hive  7 frames of honey (or stored sugar syrup)
10-frame hive 9 frames of honey (or stored sugar syrup)

In late October or early November we re-evaluate the food storage levels of colonies and add extra frames of stored honey to those colonies that require them. We do not feed colonies with poor chances of wintering since there is no point if investing the time, feed and equipment in colonies that are sure to die over winter. A better plan is to combine a marginal hive with a strong hive, and let the bees sort out the best use for these themselves. Don’t combine two weak hives, since they are still unlikely to succeed during the winter.

Many beekeepers medicate with Fumagillin as indicated by microscopic testing and spore counts. Follow the directions and use commonly accepted practices when using antibiotics in the hives. Keep records of the dosage, time and frequency of treatment.

Relocating hives
Wind can be stressful and deadly to hives in the winter. While a ridgetop may be a great place for bees to gather nectar during the summer, it may be lethal to colonies in winter. Move the bees to a wind shadow, where you and the bees can comfortably stand on a windy day. Avoid low and wet spots along lakes, rivers, streams, since they are likely to flood in winter and spring rains. Ask property owners how high the stream has flooded before you put bees into a winter location.

Some beekeepers group their nucs and single hives into groups of 2, 4, 6 and 8, depending on the design of the boxes and the pallets they are on during the rest of the season. The idea is to let each colony help the others out with some degree of heat sharing. They may wrap colonies, making sure each one has proper ventilation and flight openings.

Wrapping & Insulation

As you move north or into the mountains, wrapping is more common, increasing the percentage of live colonies in the spring. The simplest method is to wrap colonies with roofing paper (a.k.a. ‘tar paper’), cutting upper entrance holes in the paper to insure both ventilation and flight. During my Alberta, Canada visit, Medhat Nasr showed me the wrapped fiberglass insulation that they use at his facility. A four-inch sheet of fiberglass is enclosed in a heavy plastic wrap around the sides of double-deep hives grouped in fours (the pallet system). One sheet of insulation material is placed on the top of the hives, and tied down. A piece of plywood is put on the top of these four hives, and securely tied down to keep the entire wrapping system from flying away as the Alberta clippers move the snow around the hives.
This same method can be used for groups of five-frame nucleus hives as long as insulation does not block the entrance or reduce ventilation. A south-facing location helps the bees to get in cleansing flights when wind protected and the winter sun allows the microclimate around the hive to permit such activity.
The use of the polystyrene five-frame nuc boxes offers small-scale beekeepers an option for wintering with insulation. The boxes can be used all season long, or the bees and frames from wooden hives moved into the polystyrene boxes at the end of the season and fed heavily. Users like the fact that the bottom of the colony doubles as a feeder, that sugar syrup can be placed at the bottom of the feeder and the bees crawl down the frames to clean it up. In winter the syrup can be warm (100 degrees F) and cause the bees to break cluster before the heat dissipates. This might be something to try on a few colonies before jumping in with all colonies.

Economics of Wintering

If you purchase five-frame nucleus boxes or polystyrene hive bodies with frames to fill them (or pull down the strength of larger hives), raise or purchase queens, virgins or queen cells, and make sure each colony has between 20-25 pounds of stored honey or sugar syrup, the cost of each colony should be less than the cost of the average package bee colony or purchased nucleus in the spring. Locally Sun Belt packages sold for $70 or more, and some nucleus colonies were selling for over $100. In 2011 I expect to see these prices to increase again, as there is no apparent decline in the interest in beekeeping or the demand for bees. Further, many of the new crop of beekeepers is expecting to grow their operation.
In certain markets locally adapted queens in over wintered five frame nucleus hives sold for $150 in 2010, and I expect to see these prices increase. This created a double economic incentive. First, each beekeeper needs to evaluate the cost of packages and purchased nuclei against the cost of doing the summer split and over wintered colony on their own, even with a 50 percent success rate. Second, the smart beekeeper can easily sell strong over wintered nuclei colonies at any point in the season. I will repeat my old maxim: The money in beekeeping is in the bees.
Off to Georgia’s state beekeepers meeting in September. If you have not read Dr. Connor’s book Increase Essentials, borrow a copy or go to his website, to look at all the goodies listed there.




The Traveling Beekeeper - August 2010

An Interview with Dr. Medhat Nasr About Beekeeing in Alberta, Canada

by Larry Connor

As the Provincial Apiculturist in Alberta, Dr. Medhat Nasr brings to the province a wide range of professional beekeeping experiences. Born and educated in Cairo, Egypt, Nasr did his graduate work at the University of California at Davis under Dr. Christine Peng, but also worked closely with Drs. Harry Laidlaw Jr., Robert ‘Rob’ Page, Jr. and Robin Thorp. Prior to moving to Alberta eight years ago, he worked in Ontario with the bee breeding program (searching for resistance to both tracheal and varroa mites) and at Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA.

Describe beekeeping situation in Alberta
The Canadian Province of Alberta ranks second in the size of the beekeeping industry behind California. For the past 10 to 12 years, the number of colonies has increased 5-10% each year; in the past twenty years the colony count has gone from 135,000 to 255,000 in 2006.
During the past three years there has been  harsh winter weather, with about 30% of honey bee colonies dying, which coincided with CCD in USA. However, in Alberta the losses were due to three factors—the general failure of chemical controls against varroa mites, the problems of Nosema and very harsh winters. This caused a reduction in colony numbers to 225,000 in 2007, but with various proactive programs, the colony numbers are expected to reach 265,000 in 2010.
There are 700 beekeepers registered in the province, of which 113 are rated as commercial – having 500 hives or more. This makes up 225,000 hives or an average of 2,000 colonies per commercial beekeeper. The remaining beekeepers are rated as sideliners and hobbyists. Hobbyists usually have less than 100 hives. There are fewer than 50 beekeepers operating between 100 to 500 colonies and they are considered sideliners. This distribution gives a bimodal distribution with one peak around 10 colonies, and the other around 2,000. The smaller beekeeping operations are concentrated around the two large cities in the Province, Calgary and Edmonton.

What is the economic value of the industry?
During the past five years the total income from beekeeping has been 50 million Canadian dollars per year. There were and additional 10-15 million Canadian dollars per year paid for pollination services to the beekeeper for rental for hybrid canola certified seed production. Between 65,000 to 75,000 hives are rented for this pollination, and the beekeepers are paid based on colony strength, between $110 to $165 per colony. For the top payment, a beekeeper has to provide a colony with 16 frames of bees and a minimum of 10 frames of brood. The pollination season for canola is from the third week of June to the end of July. It is possible for individual beekeepers to make over a million dollars a year from canola seed pollination.

The Traveling Beekeeper - July 2010

A Visist with Joe Latshaw

by Larry Connor

Every time I visit with Joe Latshaw he surprises me. In a recent visit to his home outside Columbus, Ohio, he was able to share several new items with me.

Latshaw is a low-key sort of person, but one with an enormous interest and intellect into bees and bee breeding. And that is a starter list. He has been around bees and bee breeding most of his life and can claim a quarter century of beekeeping experience, while being only in his early 30s. The son of a poultry nutrition professor at Ohio State University, as a boy Latshaw would shadow the apiary assistant at the OSU Beekeeping Laboratory, and produced his first queens when he was 12. This has provided Latshaw with a range of valuable experiences, contacts, and most recently a doctorate in bee behavior. He does some contract college teaching, but is not associated with Ohio State University. Basically, he is a beekeeper and a bee breeder, working for himself.

From his modest home and farm sandwiched between four-lane highways and suburban condos, Latshaw keeps bees, raises queens and instrumentally inseminates over 900 queens every year for testing and for release to cooperating beekeepers who use the bees as grafting mothers. His program is for beekeepers needing 1000 to 10,000 or more queens a year, and is clearly not for the typical small-scale beekeeper. Instead, the two lines, one yellow and one black, provide a choice for beekeepers who want production queens for an intensive queen rearing season. Many of the users of these queens are large commercial beekeepers who generate thousands of daughter queens for production hives and for nucleus hives for sale.

Latshaw filled a void left with the absence of an American producer of an instrumental insemination device, and has sold one for several years, the type that allows the operator to pull on the sting of the queen in order to eliminate the use of a hook to move the queen's valvefold out of the way for the syringe. In 2009 he released a newer, and much less expensive devise that will be within the range of serious queen breeders everywhere. Both may be examined at his website Joe's wife has organized another instrumental insemination training program for the fall: the Latshaw website indicates the program is filled for 2010.

The Traveling Beekeeper - June 2010

Stock Improvement in West Virginia


by Larry Connor

In April I was invited to talk on queen rearing and bee management at the West Virginia Queen Producers, a member-based organization that shared meeting facilities in Huntington, WV with the West Virginia State Beekeepers Association. My part of the program ran Friday morning to Saturday afternoon; the State group met on Saturday, with Florida State Apiary Specialist (and The Classroom author) Jerry Hayes serving as the featured speaker. Later on Saturday Jerry and I were able to tour the beekeeping facilities of WV Bee Inspector Wade Stiltner, of Wayne, WV.

For a number of years certain beekeepers in West Virginia have been dedicated to the idea of producing local queens and bees for use within the state. There have been some high and low spots in developing the program, a few setbacks, but with some talented grant-getting, dogged determination and intense dedication, the group has been able to make a significant impact on the production of West Virginia queens for use by West Virginia beekeepers. In 2009, the queen market in the state was estimated at 4,000 queens, and the members of the WV Queen Producers produced and sold nearly one quarter of those queens, providing income for local beekeepers, and more importantly, providing localized, adapted, and hopefully better fit queens for the variable conditions found in that state.

The leadership of the group falls into the hands of Dan O'Hanlon and Gabe Blatt. They steer the group around some dangerous spots while championing West Virginia bees and queens to the elected officials of the state. In fact, the state is the first in the country to pass legislation that indemnifies state beekeepers from lawsuits provided they keep bees using recommended practices. O'Hanlon is chief judge of the Cabell County Circuit Court (Huntington), and is politically connected to a wide range of elected officials, and knows who and when to call in a favor or ask for help from folks in the state. The State's governor sent his regrets that he could not speak at the state meeting because of the mining tragedy that was still unfolding while I was there. He had planned to have a ceremonial signing of the legislation during the beekeepers' meeting.

Any non-Sunbelt state that fills a quarter of its queen market is on the right track toward self-sufficiently and genetic survivor ability. Blatt, O'Hanlon and other beekeepers in the state (and one Ohio beekeeper who lives near the state line), have formed a non-profit corporation to promote and develop a strong queen program. Membership is $100 per year, a fact that selects out the partially committed. The reality is that through grants these beekeepers have received breeder queens, equipment, incubators and training that non-members do not receive. It has been a pretty good deal for these beekeepers. I hope that other states try to duplicate these efforts and reap the rewards of locally produced queens.

The Traveling Beekeeper - May 2010

Catching Swarms and Doing Bee Removals


by Larry Connor

    Lots of new beekeepers and many small-scale beekeepers remove swarms every season as a means of obtaining lower cost bees (they are never ‘free'), and a certain number of them do bee removals, often called ‘cut-outs' of colonies that are established in trees, buildings and other structures.

Swarm removal sounds easy. You simply drive up to a newly landed swarm, shake the bees off the branch and into a box, seal up the box, and drive home where you will dump the bees in front of an empty bee hive body.
Swarm removal, in reality, can be much more complicated. You may need to use a ladder or even a cherry picker to reach the swarm. There is a good chance that the swarm may fly to a permanent location between the time you get the call and the time you get into the car or truck and arrive on the site. Sometimes the swarms are really small, and not worth the fuel to drive to pickup the bees. Then, you charge that up to being a good member of the beekeeping community.
If you have never done a swarm removal before, it is not difficult. If you obtain good, secure access to the swarm it is just a matter of shaking (or brushing) the bees AND THE QUEEN(S) into the box or container.
We define a swarm by the queen that goes with it. If a colony leaves with the mother queen (the one that went through the winter), we call it a Prime Swarm (usually just the old queen, but sometimes daughter queens fly when Mother cannot join them due to injury or some other factor). It is often the largest and will range from 8,000 to 20,000 or more bees, the equivalent of one or three packages of bees. The parent colony has sealed swarm queen cells that will produce unmated queens that will not fight until the decision is made to produce an After Swarm. Colonies average about one and a half swarms per year, so there is a pretty good chance that an after swarm will be issued and will carry many virgin queens with it. These queens fight to determine the winner only after the swarm has entered its final nesting spot. After swarms are smaller, 4,000 to 10,000 bees and often have multiple queens. When I captured a swarm at the Farm, I got one or more queens, but left some behind. It was a large swarm and what I got was a good colony. But part of the swarm reformed on the tree with an uncaptured virgin and flew away after a few days and is established within the neighborhood. The swarm was at the top of an old apple tree and we could get the bed of the truck into the maze of brush to work, but not comfortably.

Container used for swarm catching
If you can lift a nucleus box, cardboard nucleus box, or an empty box of most any sort, this is fine for shaking/brushing bees into. Many of us have left the office after getting a swarm call, grabbing a copy paper box from the copy room with a sliding lid. These are great for catching swarms-in a pinch-since the lid can be gently slid back onto the box and air holes punched with a hive tool to provide air until the bees can be installed back in the apiary.
There are amazingly elaborate boxes in the literature and on the market for catching swarms. Some incorporate vacuum cleaner devices to suck the bees out of the trees and into the box. You certainly can have a lot of fun with these devices, and may become quite proficient at swarm catching by using one, especially swarms high off the ground.

Cost of swarm removal
If the swarms are free, how can they have a cost associated with them? If I drive an hour to get a swarm in a work truck, take off time from work, buy special equipment, and bring a buddy along who needs to stop for food and drink-these are costs. So swarm bees are not really free, but you know they are less expensive than other methods of starting new hives. Finally, you can charge for swarm removal and learn that PEOPLE WILL PAY TO GET RID OF FLYING STINGING INSECTS. Current rates seem to be in the $50 to $100 range. If people do not want to pay, you can give them the name of a new beekeeper, a teenager perhaps, who will do this for nothing and for the experience.

Care of swarms
I use the biological method of introducing swarms into a new home. I shake the bees at the entrance, perhaps on an old bed sheet, so all the bees, including the queens, walk into the cavity. I place frames of drawn comb, a frame of food (pollen and honey) and foundation in the hive so the bees will like what the find when they crawl inside. The bees seem to like being shaken at the entrance better than dumped into the hive and sealed up. Often swarms on foundation fly away because they don't approve of the new home you picked for them. The behavior of walking into the hive is an important piece of biology, as it seems to complete the swarming instinct behavior.
Feed swarms with one to one sugar syrup for several weeks to a month. This will continue their instinctive urge of build beeswax comb. They will start foraging for pollen and nectar almost as soon as they arrive in the box, so a source of carbohydrate is excellent and will stimulate more pollen foragers and rapid brood buildup.
Once the colony is established, examine it carefully for any problems and then put it  into your production cycle within the apiary.

Advantages of swarms
Swarms carry honey in the stomachs of the bees. This is digested to produce beeswax. A strong swarm can produce a full box of comb in a few days, more if fed sugar syrup. Swarms usually come from vigorous hives, and can be and real asset.

The Traveling Beekeeper - April 2010

Biology of Cell Production & Cell Starting

(full version)

by Larry Connor

In spite of some beekeeper's best hopes, queen bees have finite lives, although they are the longest lived of any individual in the superorganism we call the bee colony. As a result of their evolutionary history, honey bees have developed several strategies for queen replacement. Before we discuss queen cell production methods, we will review the conditions under which queen cells are produced in nature.

When a queen fails, the bees notice. There is considerable beekeeper and bee scientist debate about the reasons for failure and the mechanisms the bees use to detect it. The most widely accepted theory is linked to a reduction in pheromone production by the queen-when a vigorous queen starts to produce fewer chemicals that are part of queen pheromone, or queen substance. The bees stimulate the queen to start new queen cells. The most common reason for failure is due to the queen's increasing age and reduced egg laying. If a queen has been producing as many as 1,300-1,500 eggs per day and suddenly produces only 600, we would agree with the bees that it is time for the old queen to be replaced by supersedure. If a bee colony had an infinite life (even superorganisms eventually die), they would still need to systematically replace the old queen with a new queen in order to maintain colony population.
The second queen production strategy occurs when a colony grows strong enough to reproduce itself. Bee colonies, as superorganisms, reproduce the social unit by swarming, when part of the colony leaves with one queen and part stays behind with another.
At times it is difficult to sort out supersedure queens from swarm queens because both are triggered by a reduction in the concentration of queen pheromone per bee. The colonies with a vigorous queen and many bees-conditions we associate with swarming-predictably have brood areas filled with eggs, larvae and pupae. Queen cell cups are often on the edge of the brood area, and for that reason the swarm cells are located on the edge or fringe of the brood nest. We find queen cups at the bottom and sides of the brood combs, and also where there has been a break in the comb (and between hive bodies) or constructed on a piece of burr comb.
If we follow the theory that reduced queen pheromone is responsible for new cell initiation, then the supersedure process is explained in the very same way, only now the colony is often weaker and has a reduced brood area. The queen lays eggs into those queen cups located within the brood nest resulting in supersedure on the face of the comb. There may be empty queens cups outside the brood area that are not used.
The third queen cell production mechanism results when a queen is accidentally killed or removed, and the bees use the emergency response to build cells. Over time colonies have been subjected to extensive predation by mammals, birds, other insects and humans. During these attacks the queen may be killed. When the queen is killed or removed, the queen pheromone drops dramatically, so the cell production response is strong and immediate. Some estimate that colonies know that their queen is missing in as little as 15 minutes. Without the queen the worker bees select a large number of worker larvae and convert their worker cells into a queen cells. They feed the larvae with royal jelly throughout development. The chemical nature of royal jelly changes as the new queen larva matures and is fed by worker bees. This diet provides the biochemical triggers for development as a queen rather than a worker.
The emergency response gives each colony a survival strategy to keep itself alive by producing cells from suitably aged larvae remaining in the comb. In this behavior, many cells may be started, but relatively few are completed.

Cell Starting
When large numbers of young nurse bees are confined in a queenless state with abundant food and water, they will start a large number of queen cells and initially feed them very well. Because they are confined, they cannot sustain this intensity of feeding, so after the second day the number of viable cells drops. In this emergency environment, starter colonies are an excellent way to start a large number of cells, but not to finish them.
There are many ways to make cells in a beekeeping operation. For small quantities, beekeepers can remove the queen from a quality colony, and let the bees raise emergency cells in her absence. A modification of this method is to move open brood and bees above a screen or board with a new, rear entrance placed on the hive to let the queenless bees produce natural queen cells. Charles Mraz of Vermont used this method throughout his lifetime and felt it maintained genetic diversity. If a queen is a good brood producer and the colony is strong and healthy, move her with a frame or two of brood and worker bees to a new hive and let her establish a new colony. The queenless hive can then produce a new queen.

A Simple Starter Colony
To start queen cells we use the emergency response by removing the bees from the queen. In our system, we rely on the colony's biological urge to produce queens from the right-aged larvae we give the hive after the queen is removed. We introduce these suitable larvae to produce a new queen.
My most successful method of starting queen cells has been with a closed cell starter containing the following:

1. The young nurse bees shaken from one colony,
2. A frame of pollen and one of honey,
3. One or two drawn frames for cluster space, and
4. A sponge or towel soaked with water.

The easiest container for this starter box is a five-frame nucleus box with a screen on the bottom, and perhaps on the sides. It should be bee-tight and filled with nurse bees.

The Setup Process
This system was developed by Steve Taber and promoted by Marla Spivak and Gary Reuter in Minnesota. I have used it for over 25 years as a simple method to teach beekeepers how to raise queens. Are there other methods that work? Yes there are, and I have used many of them. However, this method is the most reliable I have found to teach others to produce cells.
The starter box is a four- or five-frame nucleus hive with window screen or hardware cloth fastened to the bottom and/or sides. This is placed on the rim of a bottom board, or two small boards, to provide ventilation. If the weather is below 45 degrees F. place it in a barn, garage or outside room to keep the bees from going into cluster. If the weather is hot, find a cool place to store the starter so the bees are not stressed.
Starter boxes can be made from a hive body you already own. I have used half of a double nuc box to establish a starter. One starter uses a cardboard nucleus box with window screen cut and taped to the sides. An eight- or ten-frame hive body (deep or medium) will work if a follower board (dummy frame), is used to confine the bees into a small area to maintain crowding and the temperature needed for cell production.

After the Graft
We will discuss the transfer (grafting) process later, but the starter colony is most often set up in the afternoon or evening, and the cell cups are placed into the starter colony following an hour or more of queenless confinement. One worker larva is moved-transferred or grafted-into each cell cup. The larvae were removed from a frame of worker brood produced by a breeder queen. The number of cells given to each starter colony will vary, according to the time of the year and the number of nurse bees. As you use this method, you will learn to estimate the ideal number of cells each starter can receive.
Because starters do a terrible job of finishing queen cells, move the started cells into a cell finisher the day after you graft. The starter is only used for 18 to 24 hours. If it has done its job, a large percentage of the cells you placed inside will have an expanded pool of royal jelly with the larvae floating on that jelly. In addition, the bees will have added beeswax to the edge of the grafting cell (either plastic or beeswax), creating a small cone of delicate beeswax.
If you use plastic cell cups, you will be able to look through them and see that there is a layer of royal jelly at the bottom of the accepted cells. Cells may be combined before being placed into the cell finisher.
Adapted from Dr. Connor's newest book Queen Rearing Essentials, which may be ordered at or at your bee supply dealer. He will be teaching three-day queen rearing programs in several locations this summer, including Connecticut and Michigan. Email him for details at or check the website.

The Traveling Beekeeper - March 2010



Ways Bees Are Bred

I am writing this from a campground in South-Central Florida, the week after the ABF meeting in Orlando. This is an area south of Lake Placid described by ecologists as ‘wet prairie' meaning that when the wet season arrives in the summer, it is quite possible to be standing in water. Think of it as a transition area to the Everglades. Don't walk your little yippy dog too close to the pond where the ‘gater feeds. The campground is set up in an oak hammock, with towering water oaks festooned with Spanish moss providing a respite from the hot Florida sun. This month has not been that, quite the opposite actually, with a prolonged cold spell that turned much of the landscape into a shade of brown or grey.

A great horned owl woke me in the night as I slept. Or perhaps it was answering my undirected snore. The sound echoed around the trees and the strong single ‘whos' were followed by a more rapid call, answered by another owl, some distance away. There are bears in this area, and panther too. I was lucky enough to see one years ago when I ran the Genetic Systems, Inc., bee breeding program in LaBelle, about 30 miles away, and we had apiary sites just a few miles from here. It was a young male with spotting, and a long, long tail.

The bee-breeding program is the one started by Dadant & Sons, Inc., with Dr. Bud Cale Jr. They produced two breeding stocks, the Starline and Midnite hybrids. In LaBelle we produced two others, the Cale 876 and the Cale 235, both produced by instrumental insemination. That part of the program ended in 1980.

The Traveling Beekeeper - February 2010



Time for Resitant Bees--Developing A Club or Bee Association Plan

A Model Agreement

   The Beeville County beekeepers, seeking to reduce and ultimately eliminate the need for chemical treatments on our colonies and to improve the overall health of all honey bees in our area, agree to the following plan:

Year one

We encourage all beekeepers in Beeville County, the adjacent town of Pollenville, and an area delineated by a perimeter of six miles around this area (the estimated combined mating distance of queens and drones) to install queens of the following types in their colonies:
1.Queens resulting from the work of bee-breeding programs that have documented reduced mite levels (by known or yet unknown mechanisms of resistance, including hygienic behavior, grooming or physiological reproductive reduction).
2.Local survivor stock that is documented to have been kept without chemical treatment for five or more years.
3.Any colony that shows a low mite level when tested using a standard method.
4.The club will sponsor and promote classes and field days where general beekeeping techniques will be taught, involving queen finding, requeening, queen cell use, and use of swarm and supersedure queens from selected colonies.

Year two
We continue to encourage all beekeepers in the defined area to maintain bee colonies with the above characteristics. In addition we encourage the formation of-
1.Queen rearing classes
2.General instruction on evaluating swarm, supersedure and other replacement queens in an effort to obtain colonies with reduced mite loads.
3.A simple method of evaluating colonies for their mite load, using a standardized test to check for mite levels that does not negatively impact the productivity of the colony being tested.
?  ? ?
If you look over the above plan, it should strike you that this is simple and direct. If any bee club seeks to develop a low or zero level of chemical control in its hives and still have highly productive colonies, it is going to take a great deal of work. It also must have a near perfect level of participation by beekeepers in the area, whether they are members of the club or not. Simplicity is needed to make the program understandable and within the range of beekeeper skills for the area. This may include some over-reaching for many new and under-motivated beekeepers, as such the plan should have a high level of teachability to make it work.


This plan is just a starting point. Each of you will build on this plan. In three or four years you should expect to see a definite change in the colonies, with both lower mite counts and lower levels of American foulbrood, European foulbrood, Sacbrood and Chalkbrood.

In March Larry Connor and Dewey Caron will conduct a four-evening Advanced Beekeeping Course in Comstock, Michigan, (near Kalamazoo). For information go to or Use those contacts for information about Dr. Connor's three books in the Essentials Series: Queen Rearing Essentials, Increase Essentials and Bee Sex Essentials.

The Traveling Beekeeper - January 2010

- Time for Resistant Bees --A Plan for the Individual Beekeeper


Every beekeeper must take on the responsibility of intentionally contributing to the level of resistance to mites and diseases in all colonies. They need to start it this year if they have not already done so, since the sooner we all start this process, the sooner we will be finished. This is not a function of operational size, since a single-colony beekeeper can keep resistant bees just as well, if not easier, than a thousand-colony operator. The change that must occur is in the mind of the beekeeper, with each one of us making the decision to keep bees that do not succumb to varroa mites, American foulbrood, chalkbrood, sacbrood, other viral diseases, Nosema (both species) and more. Like any trip to a new destination, we first must decide what we want to take with us, and for all of us, we must find queens that already possesses some level of natural resistance, and/or we must set up a selection program to develop such resistance.

Finding resistant queens
Many large-scale queen producers and package bee providers do not select for resistance. Period. They make no effort to work toward a resistant stock. The selection criteria they use are the same as those used in pre-mite selection: productivity, fast buildup, wintering ability (maybe) and low stinging behavior (also maybe). There are many breeder queens selected by large producers who select on just two criteria and two criteria only: brood production and honey yields. Sometimes the system involves the placement of a pushpin on the landing board following colony inspection or honey harvest-at a point where the colony impresses the beekeeper.

The Traveling Beekeeper - December 2009

Time for Resistant Bees--A Plan for Clubs

by Larry Connor
Wicwas Press
1620 Miller Road, Kalamazoo, MI 49001

   You have just had a meeting of your local beekeepers club where the members voted to develop a program to put varroa and disease resistant queens (and eventually their worker bees) into every colony in the club's geographical area. That is great news. Like deciding to write a book, you are off to a good start when you decide to get down to
business. Now the work begins.

There are a number of mechanisms of varroa resistance that have been documented or implied like hygienic behavior, grooming and physiological resistance. There are undoubtedly many more forms of mite resistance-the challenge is to find stocks that are able to resist mite development and disease infections BY ANY METHOD. There does not need to be a great deal of concern about what form of resistance you bring into your colonies, since it is a very good idea to have as many types of resistance in your area colonies as you can find. In fact, there are stocks that are resistant to mites and we do not know the resistance mechanism. Let me put it this way: I do not need to know how the Internet works to read my email! But where will you find these stocks?

1. Locally adapted resistant stock
Many beekeepers figure that they can cut out the bees from a bee tree or the side of a building and obtain varroa and disease resistant genetic stock. Not to discourage anyone from doing this, but the critical question is this: Where did those bees come from? Is this a newly established colony that came from a swarm from a Sun Belt package that was installed a few months ago? Time is the test here-at least as a starting point. You will need to find colonies that have survived for five or more seasons without being restocked by another incoming swarm. Bee tree nests are extraordinarily attractive to new swarms, since the empty comb offers a fully build and architecturally perfect home for a new swarm, with a huge savings in the colony's energy output, since the bees will have less comb to build and more resources to be stored for winter.
So, to be somewhat confident about the survivor status of a feral swarm, you need to have some history about the activity of that colony. Did it die out every winter only to be repopulated each spring by non-resistant swarms from beekeeper hives? Or did the bees keep it together for five or more years, issuing swarms and undergoing routine supersedures of queens? We want the latter.
One valid approach is to collect the colonies that are alive after a head-on attack with varroa mites. Dr. Yves Le Conte, a bee researcher at Avignon, France, collected and compared such colonies to control stock and obtained lower mite loads. American-born Dr. John Kefuss did the same sort of thing with his entire beekeeping operation outside Toulouse, France. In his "007, Live or Let Die" breeding strategy, he let the mites work through his colonies for four years before the stock turned around and has been relatively mite free now for over ten years. In the United States Danny Weaver did the same in Texas, letting the mites run their course so the colonies can be productive and free of chemicals. When Drs. John Harbo (USDA, Baton Rouge) and Roger Hoopingarner (Michigan State University) put out a call for survivor stock, they collected queens from colonies that survived the head-on mite attacks. That stock is now called the VSH (Varroa Sensitive Hygienic) stock and in my opinion is one of the least appreciated and most underutilized of the resistant lines of bees available to beekeepers. Why? That is a darn good question.
So it goes. There are a number of sources advertising in the journals, and even more that do not advertise (or do not need to advertise). Your club officers and members are wise to review the articles by M.E.A. McNeil in the March and April 2009 issues of the American Bee Journal for a detailed discussion of the various resistance programs that have had their origins in survivor stocks. We need to stop producing queens from non-resistant stock: All colonies should demonstrate some type of mite and/or disease resistance or be put into a 007 program so that resistance can develop naturally.
It is true that some hives may have been isolated from a high level of mite attack because of geography and low numbers of other colonies. Bottom line-any colony selected as ‘local' must be challenged to see its level of mite resistance. If a colony or its daughter colonies die overwinter they flunked the test. If a colony collapses in the fall months after demonstrating a full range of disease and viral symptoms associated with Parasitic Mite Syndrome, that colony flunked there. You want to obtain queens from a source that maintains low mite levels at all times, based on some standardized testing method. I like the powdered sugar/screened bottom board method of testing. This past season I have seen the ease of getting quick mite counts using the powdered sugar method. From the time you remove the lid of the hive to the final mite count, it only takes my students and I a few minutes (2-4) per hive to apply the powdered sugar and return to count the mites.

2. Stocks adapted for somewhere else
No matter how resistant they might be to varroa mites (and I am not saying that they are), I would not ask my buddy Jimmy in South Texas to send me some of his naturally mated queens. Why?  Because he keeps colonies in an area where there are lots of African colonies, feral colonies in the brush and buildings, and I do not want to bring in stock that I know will cause some problems in a urban and suburban beekeeping territory and might require me to put on a bee veil. I do not know what the fitness of African bees would be in the North, but in my opinion, it not worth finding out.
But if someone in South Florida, South Texas or Arizona has developed a gentler strain of African bees that is both mite resistant and socially acceptable (easily managed without as much concern about stinging behavior), I would encourage Jimmy to get a few breeder queens and produce daughters and evaluate them. It is time we start doing some serious stock improvement with African bees in the United States. What are we waiting for? In Brazil and Mexico breeding programs have significantly improved the manageability of African bees AND made them less defensive.

3. Documented resistance (of any type)
With the well-documented biological advantages of multiple mating of queen bees with a diverse drone population, we benefit by having as many documented varroa resistant lines as we can get within the mating area of our queens. I wrote about this in the last chapter of my book Bee Sex Essentials. Borrow a copy if you must, but you need to be familiar with the concept of multiple drone lines for healthy, disease and pest resistant colonies. Go to the website of Dr. David Tarpy at North Carolina State University and read some of his research papers on this subject.

Developing a Club Plan
Every bee club concerned about improving the stock in its area should form a small group (committee, task force or coffee bunch) that gets together and weighs the information and stock available for their area and have a plan written out they shared with the members of the organization. The plan should be pretty darn simple, but direct. I would like to include these points:
We will evaluate queen stocks by using a simple standardized testing method to evaluate mite loads. I personally think the ether roll kills too many bees, that soapy water technique is too time consuming, and the powdered sugar roll takes more time than it does to test an entire colony equipped with a greased tray in a screened bottom board. My experience with fifteen first-year beekeepers this past season has convinced me that the screened bottom board and powdered sugar method is not only doable, but the beekeepers like doing it (rather than using chemicals) and benefit by doing something proactive for their bees that gives them a numerical comparison of each colony. The bees we used were a generation removed from the Purdue stock that Greg Hunt and Krispn Given developed in Indiana. Our mite counts were variable from colony to colony because these queens were open mated to non-resistant stock. Yet the counts were always much lower than old-style susceptible bees. I noted in last month's article that these were not necessarily hygienic bees (we had a problem with chalk brood in some colonies, and you cannot have hygienic bees and chalk brood). I suspect the Purdue stock possess some other methods of mite resistance. Fantastic. We need to keep up these strategies for resistance at all levels. Queens that produce daughter colonies with extremely high mite loads when other queens have low counts-those queens should be eliminated from our hives. Pinch their heads and throw them into the underbrush with a proper good riddance. We are way past the point of sentimentality.
Every beekeeper in the club should obtain queens from an improved stock using one of a number of methods: direct purchase or gifts of splits from resistant colonies, 48 hr queen cells, ripe queen cells, virgin queens or mated queens. It does not matter what age or form that queen is in as long as she carries the genes we seek for resistance.
In the first year (2010) every beekeeper should be encouraged to put these queens into their colonies.  Some clubs may have  members who are resistant to this concept and in the first year the peer pressure should be turned down. The point of convincing will come from the reports from members. Every beekeeper should report the stock they are using and the mite count (how it was collected if it they used a method different from the club's standardized testing method). In the second season (2011) the club should show the entire membership its collective success, and failures, at obtaining low mite counts. As the second spring arrives, members may report great success in wintering or tremendous losses. Mentors will be needed to coach the new members (and maybe a few old ones) on the practices of swarm control, bee feeding and other basic beekeeping 101 concepts.
Ultimately beekeepers successful with this system should be encouraged to share their bee stock with others, either as a gift to club members or for commercial trade. In a local club there may be 1 to 10 members who are in a position to share resistant stock. But if 10,000 beekeepers nationwide start developing this program in 2010 and their resistant queens are moved around the country, we would take a huge step toward eliminating the genetic diversity gap that has developed since varroa mites appeared 25 years ago.
I would like larger clubs to be somewhat systematic about getting members to obtain queens from every resistant line they can find, putting together a full line of alphabet soup stocks with geographic stocks (foreign and domestic), as well as some cutout queens with remarkable behavior. While I was feeding colonies this fall with my helper Cathy King, we noticed that some colonies were vastly superior to others, even though the queens should be sisters and of similar genetics. On one colony lid she had written "PET ME." These bees were amazingly quiet on the combs and were responding nicely to the feed we had given them. Our season on the Farm outside Kalamazoo was far from wonderful, and we had had more than a few problems and challenges in the hives we set up this spring from Purdue stock nucs. It is nice to enter the winter months with some hope that the bees you have may actually survive the winter, and will be able to produce resistant daughters in the next season. That is the fun part of beekeeping, isn't it?
Dr. Connor finished his latest book, Queen Rearing Essentials, and it should be available for shipping in December or January. With 100 pages and 167 color photos, it will help the members of local bee clubs learn all about starter and finisher colonies. Check for the ship date and place your order at, or contact your local bee supply branch for a copy.

Traveling Beekeeper - November 2009

A Call to Action for All Bee Clubs: Time for Resistant Bees


Wicwas Press, 1620 Miller Road, Kalamazoo, MI 49001 

In the last issue I described some of my visit to California. From there I met with folks in Challis, Idaho about getting started with bees. My brother Jim has lived in Idaho for decades and he arranged a few folks to get together and talk bees. It is an interesting contrast to go from a highly organized beekeeping area like San Francisco to one with just one professional beekeeper with permanent locations and no local beekeepers' organization. The rest of the folks at the meeting are interested in bees because they are involved in a local farmer's market. Human population density certainly makes a difference.
It is time to issue a challenge to bee clubs everywhere. Now is the time to develop a program to convert the entire county or club service area of the organization into a zone where only varroa-resistant queen bees are installed in hives. This may seem to be downright militant or socialist or way too nosey, but there are strong reasons why the local bee clubs in North America (and elsewhere, for that matter), may be the best organizations to develop programs that promote resistant stock.
Why this? Why now? Simply put: We need to work together on varroa resistance. Bluntly put: We are stupid if we don't convert our colonies to mite-resistant stocks, and we could have done this years ago.
So, let me argue my case:
First, we have abundant supplies of tested, some well researched, and quality bee stocks that carry genes for varroa resistance. The USDA has developed two quality stocks: The Russian lines and the VSH lines, both from the Baton Rouge ARS Bee Lab, under the leadership of Dr. Tom Rinderer. I have known Tom since his grad school days at The Ohio State, and I also know he takes a lot of heat for bringing these stocks to the industry (most of the heat is because the bees are not Italian-type bees and are different. Beekeepers don't like different.)


Traveling Beekeeper - October 2009

Micro-Beekeeping: Diversity in San Francisco


Wicwas Press, 1620 Miller Road, Kalamazoo, MI 49001 

Travel in the summer 2009 took me to the three regional apicultural society meetings: the Heartland Apicultural Society in Oberlin, OH the weekend after the 4th of July, the grand dame of summer conferences at the Eastern Apicultural Society in Ellicottsville, NY the first week of August, and the Western Apicultural Society (WAS) meeting in Healdsburg, CA the third week of August. A number of folks were in attendance at two of these meetings, but I think I was the only person who was registered at all three. It was a first for me, and while I had a huge amount of fun, I was both physically drained but mentally exhilarated by the time WAS was finished.

It was a summer of firsts for me. I gave the opening talk at HAS in a huge and historic UCC Church in Oberlin and was then invited to end the week with a Sunday Sermon in that same space with a discussion on the Sacred Bee. At EAS I gave three official microscopy classes (plus one unofficial gathering needed to get the scopes all set up and the lab tested), along with three field sessions and a workshop. This freely strates EAS's propensity towards speaker abuse, at least this one. Finally, at WAS, I conducted a special workshop for local Northern California beekeepers while the other WAS participants were off to wine country to test their enological skills.
Another high point was conducting a workshop the Saturday before WAS for the San Francisco Beekeepers Association. This was a special program introducing introductory queen rearing-not a full queen rearing course (we did not have time or hives available for that). It was not a huge crowd but more an ideally sized group considering the subject matter. This was a group filled with questions, all of them seem to be having a great time grilling the instructor.
San Francisco Beekeeper Association members have colonies on a platform at a neighborhood garden. Bees and beekeepers are openly welcomed in the City, and part of the Eat Local network.
San Francisco is an amazing and fun place because of its diversity of microclimates, neighborhoods and people. This is a huge melting pot of ethnic groups and a pretty accepting area for differing life styles and ual orientations. The president of the SFBA is Karen Peteros, a part-time lawyer and part-time beekeeper who is partnered with Janice, a physician assistant in heart transplant. They reflect the focus of the beekeepers I met in the Bay area-they live there by choice, and sometimes have to make compromises and sacrifice to afford to live in such an expensive city. read the complete article please click here to subscribe


SFBA members Steven Cameron (L) and Karen Peteros (R) flank Cameo Woods, owner of the new store Her Magesty’s Secret Beekeeper.

HMS Beekeeper

Also that Sunday I was taken to a new store, Her Majesty's Secret Beekeeper, a retail bee supply and honey store in the city, claiming to be the first bee supply store in the city (in recent memory at least). It is a trendy, well designed store with the clutter in the back, and eye-catching displays in the front. Honey from San Francisco beekeepers is sold, often with a map of the neighborhood on the label, so locals buy from locals. A one pound jar of Karen's honey was being sold for $24, and the demand had been extremely high. When you consider the income demographics of the people entering their store (often with a dog on leash, and there is a bowl of water for thirsty canine visitors), you realize that presentation, marketing and local production create a unique demand for high-end products.

Cameo Wood, the owner of the store, is a skilled marketer, and she has relied on the talents of beekeepers like Karen to provide advise on what equipment to stock (they selected medium-depth frames for brood and supers both), and to provide classes at the store. Over 400 people have signed up for classes since the store opened in June. If even a quarter of them take a bee class, it will be a huge educational effort.

Karen took me into her back yard and said it was "Larry's Nuc Yard". She explained that she had read my book on Increase Essentials and also attended my lecture on the subject at the January 2008 joint ABF/AHPA meeting held in Sacramento. "I remember what you said, that the money in beekeeping is in the bees, not the honey." She proudly showed me a yard filled with nucleus hives she had made from colonies and had plans to sell them to students at Cameo's store. With strong five-frame nucleus hives getting as much as $150 in this market, Karen was looking at return on her investment in beekeeping she had made over the past few years. She claims to be a student of Nuc-ology, one of several unique terms I heard during the visit (Another is the renaming of the Brushy Mountain 4-way Queen Castle to the "San Francisco Love Shack".

Sunday night SFBA treasurer Steven Cameron and I went bar-hopping in the Castro area of San Francisco's. It was a fitting end to a visit to an amazing and diverse city.

Dr. Connor will host ‘Fun with Bees: A program on Value-Added beekeeping' on October 10 in Comstock, Michigan. Check out for information. Then in November he will be in Texas and Connecticut. The same website has information on these meetings. You can also check out Increase Essentials (not yet renamed "The Complete Guide to Beekeeping Nuc-ology) and his new book, not yet released, on Queen Rearing Essentials.