Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor - December 2013
Raising Queens from Survivor Stock
As the founder of many beekeeping clubs and the North Central Florida Beekeepers Association (www.floridabees.org), I mentor many new beekeepers who are just joining our ranks. This is a good thing and I encourage others to start new clubs in their area to help build up the numbers of beekeepers who are helping to maintain our precious honey bee populations.
Mentoring is a fun thing to do and it comes with many rewards and many more challenges. There are the unending repetitive questions that will always be asked by new beekeepers such as: when do I feed my bees; where should I place the hives, full sun or shade, high on a hill or in a valley? On and on it goes and it never will end as long as we can encourage new beekeepers to take up the craft and help us save our pollinators.
I try to steer new beekeepers away from blogs and internet sites where the beekeeper who has read a book is now an expert and will post some of the most ridiculous things about bees on their sites. Watching some of the videos with new beekeepers dressed in hazmat gear and using lots of smoke professing to be a pro makes me laugh. Watching them smash bees with their gloves or frame grippers is funny and sad at the same time. I guess many of them are embarrassed a few years later when they find out that what they wrote or posted was pure nonsense and his/her “opinion” may not have helped other beekeepers.
I teach new beekeepers that when they hear the “experts” state that if you have 5 beekeepers in a room you will get 20 opinions on any subject, run. This speaker is about to give you their opinion and it is worth what you want to give it.
We need to rely on facts and what has been proven to really work for our bees. For example: look at all the research that was produced in the last few years that told us how great chemicals were to place into our hives (bees) to get rid of pests, diseases, whatever ails you. Now the same researchers are admitting that they were wrong and all we have done is build stronger pests that have become more resistant to the chemicals. So now they say to change up your chemical cocktails until they can find out another “miracle cure”. It won’t
It also fascinates me how many will “invent” a special breed of bees or come up with a “special” bee that will take care of itself and you will never have problems with mites or disease again.
Yes, we have these pseudoscientists in just about every club I am associated with and it amazes me how they can really believe what they say. Some advertise they have the best bees anywhere and they usually try to get a high price for their “special” queens or bees.
Many years ago a new beekeeper told me she had developed queens that would live longer than any others she knew about. She offered to sell me some at a very high price and told me that if I used her queens my hives would flourish for many years. Having heard that from so many others, I challenged her to a test and I challenge you all to do this test yourself. It may save you some embarrassment down the line.
I asked her to let me mark five of her best queens and photograph them. Then, I invited her to mark five of my queens and photograph them. Now we kept track of the queens by emailing photos back and forth with the photos that could be enlarged to see that we had the same marked queens. (It is almost impossible to make two identical marks on a bee). I use whiteout as I can’t justify spending money on a marking pen that will dry out before I could ever use all the paint. They are good for clubs to buy so all the members can share it.
As the years went along, her queens died one at one year, two at two years, and two at three years.
Mine died one at two years, one at three years and two at five years, and the last one died just last year at five and a half years. And this old girl was one that I had used many times over the years in an observation hive doing public schools and other events. She really earned her keep.
Now why did my bees outlive hers? There is no way of really knowing, but managing hives has a lot to do with queen longevity and so does genetics and environment.
My bees come from chemical-free environments (as much as is possible these days) and I use no chemicals in my hives. These queens came from cut outs, trap outs, swarms from who knows where, but they have survived without man putting chemicals into the trees or buildings trying to control pests or disease. I believe my bees have become stronger because they had to survive on their own without anyone trying to help them. The daughter queens of two of the original queens were used in this experiment and they lived the longest.
Scientific research? No, but I cannot argue with the results.
So my challenge to you is to mark your queens and any that you raise and take photos of them. Now you can blow up the picture on your computer and track the ages of your queens and you may be surprised like so many new beekeepers that your “store bought” queens may only last a year or less.
My advice is to find a bee tree where you can get bees for free every year by using a bee vac. You don’t take the queen “usually” and the bees rebound very quickly. The bees you collect can be used to build up weak hives and save you from buying more bees.
When you can collect a swarm or do a cut out or trap out, you may find you have the best queen stock available for your area and now you can start your own research in how long you can keep your queens alive.
Raising queens from survivor stock can help you build up a strong apiary if you are willing to put in the work.
And, yes, you have to consider that you may bring in weak, diseased, or distressed bees into your apiary when you collect feral bees, but having an out yard to quarantine them is the way to go.
I hope you all have success with your bees and please let me know if you can keep a queen alive for more than five years. I am still trying.
PO Box 1895
Alachua, Florida 32616
Promoting Beekeeping Among FFA Members
I think I have something that we can all support and encourage in our own locales, regions, states and world…at least I hope so. One of my goals here is to see if we can get the strong primary educational outreach organization of traditional agriculture the National FFA Organization, previously known as the Future Farmers of America, to recognize more formally managed honey bees as a foundational part of food production and environmental health. In order to do that and make honey bees a recognizable and real part of their world, I have been asked by the FFA to see if “we” can encourage students to actively consider honey bees in their SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience) projects. There are FFA Grants and resources available to encourage FFA students in SAE projects. I have been able to judge SAE projects in the past and the majority are not with honey bees. Last year, as one of many SAE judges, I judged only two.
I have been working to promote honey bee SAE’s in as many places as possible and I’ve personally sent the info to some chapters that I know are specifically involved with honey bees. However, the FFA would welcome any support in getting the word out. As background, the 2013 SAE Grant application was open until November 15. This year it is a web-based form through FFA’s Agricultural Career Network (accessed at www.ffa.org). All grant applications will be submitted electronically. More information can be found here: https://www.ffa.org/programs/grantsandscholarships/SAEGrants/Pages/default.aspx.
Could you find time to share this information with your organizations, peers and collaborators to contact any of your local regional or State FFA chapters and get the word out that Honey Bees are actually part of agriculture? Beekeeping is a large vital industry that is built around honey bees for pollination, honey production, queen production, equipment manufacturing and distributing, research and government. By doing this, you may be encouraging some of the next leaders and strengthening the world we love.