Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Great Beekeeping Video and Some Basics

I wanted to share this video with y'all. It is a bit long - but even if you don't watch the whole thing, try to watch the first section to see him handle the bees and also to hear some of the explanation of what is he doing and why.

One thing you might notice is that he is not wearing any protective gear and you will also notice that because he is comfortable (I mean, come on, his name is Sam Comfort!) with the bees, they are not really concerned about his presence and they don't bother him. Sam is using what are called "Top Bar Hives" which are a different set-up than the typical rectangular Langstroth hives. I will be using Langstroth hives - which generally look something like this:

Here is another example of a top bar hive - from Michael Bush's website which is an incredible resource:

Another interesting thing to note is that he keeps his bees on what are called "foundationless" frames. The modern beekeeping industry uses frames with "foundation" - which is essentially a thin sheet of plastic or beeswax which has been embossed with the hexagonal pattern of honey comb (see pic below). In theory, this foundation saves the bees work - the idea being that it gives them a head-start in building their comb. But many people believe that bees can draw out their own comb faster without any foundation - hence, the foundationless folks. With foundationless hives, you basically let the bees build their own complete comb as they would in nature - you only give them a bar with a small guide on it (the popsicle stick that Sam Comfort pointed out) in order to give them a place to start building. I plan on using foundationless frames in my hives. Another bonus of foundationless is that it saves you a lot of effort and money because when you use foundation, first of all you have to buy it, and then you have to install it on each and every frame.

Another issue that some organic and biological beekeepers have with foundation is that historically, the individual cells in each sheet of foundation are one size, 5.4 mm wide and they feel that this is an unnaturally large size (the basic idea being that industry made the cells larger in order to increase honey yields). There is a school of thought that feels that, along with overuse of chemical treatments, the larger-than-natural cell sizes have lead to an increase in certain diseases (mainly, infestation with varroa mite). This has lead to the development of what is called "small cell foundation" - which is 4.9mm wide, closer to what bees make naturally (though there is some natural variation in cell sizes based on geography and other factors). This smaller cell size seems to offer the bees some protection from varroa mite infestation by disrupting the reproductive process of the mite. For those beekeepers who want to use more natural techniques but don't want to go foundationless, they can use the small cell foundation to closer approximate natural conditions. Or sometimes using small cell foundation can be a stepping stone towards going foundationless

So, in addition to using foundationelss frames, I am going to use "small cell bees" in my hives - that is, they have been raised on small cell foundation. If you order bees that have been raised on large cell foundation, there is a somewhat involved process of regressing them in order to get them to build the more natural small cell comb. More to come...

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