Introduction

Oh, the simple life of a beekeeper. That peaceful, relaxing closeness to nature, enjoying bees and all their benefits. What could be more simple, calming and uncontroversial?

Well - beekeeping!

You have probably already discovered this but few things are as simple in beekeeping as they first seem. The "golden rules" of beekeeping include "there are no golden rules".

There are certainly no magic bullets. Even the most experienced of beekeepers cannot be assured of success with any particular hive. There are so many variables that even beekeepers with decades of experience are surprised by what they see and they are constantly learning.

Every beekeeper has their own stance...
This means that it is your responsibility as a beekeeper to find your own philosophy. There will always be an opposing view.

Read about bees. Talk about bees. Watch bees. Respect experienced beekeepers. But most important, form your own opinions as you learn more about beekeeping.

Here we look at why. We have taken a number of areas where there is seemingly widespread agreement - and, as an illustration of the "no golden rule" rule, explained a contrary view taken by many beekeepers.

Note that all of these alternative perspectives have thoughtful reasoning behind them. Take it all in. Then start forming your own opinions.

If your bees get in trouble, don't treat them

Of course, this thinking comes from a natural beekeeping perspective.

There are many treatments available when bees are hit by mites and diseases. Most beekeepers will identify the issue and rush to the store to buy their save-the-bees treatment.

Let's be honest, many treatments can indeed help in the short term and we do indeed have various options for treating mites in our beehives. So what is the point if we are simply going to ignore what we find? That's where the debate begins.

Bees swarming

The idea behind treatment-free beekeeping is that the application of treatments means you are selecting for mites that are resistant to the treatment. Each time you administer a treatment you are likely to see some success. But there will also be mites that survive. The theory is that an ongoing regime of treatments will eventually narrow down the mites to those that happen to have a resistance to the treatment.

Natural selection, non-naturally.

Parallel to this thinking is the idea that some of the bees will survive, even if you don't treat. Those that do will have shown a capacity to resist the mite or the disease on their own.

So let them. Over the course of a few generations, a resistance to mites will build up in the bees.

Natural selection...naturally.

It is accepted by treatment-free beekeepers that some losses will occur and the statements above are a simplification of complex and controversial debate. Losses can be tough to take. But the long-term strength of your colony is more important. For natural beekeepers, the avoidance of treatments is perceived as a difficult but essential decision in eventually having bees that can withstand mites and disease, without human interference.

Of course, we're just touching the surface here. But as you start out as a beekeeper, think hard about what you are trying to achieve when you treat bees and whether natural - and treatment-free - beekeeping is something you would like to consider.

There's no need to add medications proactively

This is the proactive equivalent of the previous issue. Many beekeepers place medications in their feeders, as a mechanism to avoid issues later. This is often done in the spring, as a way to boost the bees as they recover from the cold of winter and to provide a platform on which they can gain strength.

Many of the same concerns exist here, as with treatment-free beekeeping. But another factor, relevant to both medications and treatments, is the impact on the comb in the hive and the honey produced.

Many treatments and medications, by design, introduce non-natural chemicals into the hive. While this is obviously done for a reason, those chemicals find their way into comb. They can also potentially find their way into the honey that you will someday harvest and eat.

Again, this is part of a broader discussion but many beekeepers avoid the use of medications.

Bees are great, but beekeeping takes a ton of time

"Beekeeping is 24 x 7 - to be a good beekeeper and do it right, don't expect to have a life".

Yes, someone actually told us that (for the record, this was not a commercial beekeeper)! At this extreme level, we have a simple response.

That's simply wrong, even in its spirit.

Beekeeping is enjoyed by a great number of people throughout the world and, for many, it is a relaxing and fascinating hobby. It does requires attention but doesn't suck up every last waking moment.

Multipe Hives

But behind that (extreme) view there is a valid point. We respect our bees and their incredible capacity to take care of themselves. As a general rule, we serve them best by leaving them alone whenever possible.

But the other side of this coin is that we have a responsibility, as beekeepers, to be there for them. We took these bees and placed them in a man-made box, so that obligation exists.

What does this mean in terms of time and effort? That is very much down to the individual beekeeper. What we will suggest is that it is an obligation of every beekeeper to continue to learn, on an ongoing basis.

Colonies react differently, even when side-to-side in the same garden. Every beehive has a story. Learning how to understand and interpret what our bees tell us is important. That does take time.

But you can still have a life...

Don't tell the neighbors you are going to set up a beehive

In considering beekeeping and the neighbors, it's important to consider how to bring up your plans with neighbors and how to educate them about bees, where there is misunderstanding.

Another perspective is to simply not tell them!

Beehive in urban garden

Let's start with the easy part. Make sure it's legal first. Regardless of whether you plan to inform the neighbors, if you do so in a location where it is not legal (which is rare) then you are simply offering an easy target to the angry neighbor who finds out after the fact. So, just make sure you have the legal right to keep bees in your location first.

Assuming that, then you do have a decision to make. Some beekeepers make an intentional decision to just install bees, without telling the neighbors. The philosophy is that neighbors are uneducated about bees, overreact and are going to fight it regardless.

We think this is a harsh oversimplification, at least most of the time. Most neighbors will be open to listening and many will take a genuine interest. That's a best-case scenario - neighbors who both understand and want to enjoy your bees with you.

Neighbors and bees...
The one situation where not telling the neighbors might potentially be OK is where your bees truly are out of sight and not close to where humans congregate.

But generally, PerfectBee has confidence that most neighbors will listen to you and be interested in your new hobby.

Don't hang the queen between two frames

When discussing package bees, the common wisdom on introducing a package of bees is to isolate the queen. This is done by hanging the queen cage between two frames for a few days, on the basis that the rest of the bees don't yet know her and will kill her if they could get to her.

Virtually all new beekeepers do this when they introduce a package of bees, because it's what they read (including at PerfectBee) and seems to be an accepted truth. If that makes you feel comfortable then it makes sense to do just that. There is not a lot that can go wrong specifically because you had the queen hang around for a few days!

Removing candy from queen cage

But many experienced beekeepers feel this practice is overstated and unnecessary. One drawback put forth is that the existence of the cage, between two frames, messes up "bee space". This often results in comb being drawn in an ugly and messy manner between the frames and around the cage. This is an early and tricky problem for the new, fresh-faced beekeeper to address.

Some of the "evidence" from bees killing a queen may actually come from an unanticipated queen existing with the other bees anyway. In this situation there will be two queens introduced into the hive. The colony will only support one, which means they will likely kill a queen. Though rare, this can happen. When it does, the natural conclusion is to assume that the bees "didn't take to the released queen" when, in fact, the colony was just following the natural order of things in a colony (one active queen).

Queen excluders suck

The queen excluder is a somewhat controversial piece of equipment, certainly more so than one would expect of a simple grate of metal or wood! As a reminder, its purpose is to ensure the queen cannot move from one box to the one above it, leaving upper boxes brood-free (since the queen cannot lay eggs there). The holes in the queen excluder let workers and drones through but are intentionally sized to block the larger queen. The thinking is that this avoids the messiness of boxes with a mixture of brood and honey, especially when it comes time to harvest honey.

The problem that many beekeepers have with the queen excluder is that even though workers can pass through the holes, it still creates a challenge. This slows them down, which is precisely what you do NOT want to do if you are looking to create boxes filled with honey! In fact, even if they can move through just fine, they may not want to do so. It's an obstacle or them, not matter how you view it.

For this reason, queen excluders are sometimes facetiously called "honey excluders".

The new beekeeper has an easier decision. In PerfectBee's opinion, a new beekeeper should not be entering the first year with a view to harvesting lots of honey! The first year should be ALL ABOUT THE BEES!

Let them get established and give them all the support they need to get through the winter. Taking honey from them in the first year, at least in significant quantities, is contrary to that singular focus on the bees.

So leave they honey for them, don't worry about queen excluders and consider that something to think about in the second year.

6 thoughts on “Contrarian positions every new beekeeper should consider”

  1. Will it be possible to release queen from little cage at same time putting bees into hive? Any video of that method? I understand if she flies off I am in big trouble

  2. Richard Donovan

    Do we change ideas each an every year. All that I just read makes more sense than any thing Ihave been learned over the last five years. Thank you ?.

  3. I really like the idea of no queen excluder during the first year so that the bees can work and build unobstructed for their first winter together.

  4. Hello Marie, Very simply put, crystallized honey will not harm your bees. After all, it still honey and honey is what bees eat. They may leave behind some of the larger crystals but there is no harm letting them eat it.

    What may be confusing the issue here is fermented honey. A small amount of it is probably alright and I imagine the bees encounter it in nature on a somewhat regular basis. The problem with fermented honey is that the alcohol is poisonous to bees, just as too much is poisonous to humans.

    The alcohol is readily absorbed by the hemolymph and it quickly impairs the bee. An impaired bee may lose its way home, or more easily become a meal for birds or insects. A few cells scattered throughout the hive wont make a difference but frames of it could harm the colony.

    Frames with fermented honey will likely appear bubbly or even foaming. A good shaking will likely rid the frame of most of it, but as with anything when it comes to keeping our bees healthy, if you are uncomfortable giving them what you find on a frame then don’t do so.

    To summarize – crystallized honey is not a problem. Fermented honey can be poisonous to your bees.
    Thank you for the question.

  5. Marie-Hélène

    Hi
    I am new in beekeeping. I was told not to let the autumn honey for the bees because it will cristalise very fast and kill my bees. I live in Québec and there is buckweat in our fall honey. Is that accurate?
    Thanks
    Marie-Hélène

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