Posts Tagged ‘Mike Palmer’

So you want to grow your apiary or maybe you’ve decided to take the plunge and become a beekeeper. Maybe you already are a beekeeper and just suffered some tough winter losses and now have to replace 1 or more colonies. What do you do? Do you import packages from somewhere in the South and expect them to immediately acclimate to a new climate? If they survive summer, will they overwinter? Or do you try to find a local breeder who raises quality queens and overwinters nucs? Hmmmm…. what to do?

A Package vs a Local Nuc

Here comes my rant…I am ABSOLUTELY NOT a fan of packages. Yes, they do have a place in beekeeping (commercial beekeepers adding hundreds of colonies or areas where nucs simply are not available) but for my money, give me an overwintered nuc with a proven queen every time. Unlike a package where the bees and the unproven queen have been together less than a week, are completely unrelated, have just been transported many hundreds of miles and may bring hive beetles or other unwanted problems North, an overwintered nuc is a small viable colony, where the resident queen has been with the colony since the previous Summer. Come Spring, she is the mother of all of the bees in the colony and is laying across 2-3 frames. A frame of honey with pollen plus an open frame of drawn comb complete a 5-frame nuc. It is a completely functioning colony, has genetics that are proven to survive a winter and will rapidly build up in the Spring. In fact, you have to be careful with nucs as, if you are not prepared, they may rapidly outgrow their new hive and swarm. When I hive a nuc, I always add another hive body with a mixture of drawn comb and fresh foundation. This gives the queen a place to continue to lay and the bees will quickly draw out the fresh foundation. Meanwhile, you will have to nurse a package all summer long.

Support Your Local Breeders

If you buy a nuc, make sure you select a reputable breeder who raises the queens as well as overwinters the nucs. As with anything, there are  beekeepers who sell “nucs” that they actually made in the Spring which may really be the equivalent of a package in a small hive body. Your local breeder is your best bet for providing you a high quality nuc. If you are not sure who to trust, ask your club members. Another option is raise your own nucs. It’s not hard and is inexpensive when compared with the options.

Creating Your Own Insurance Policy

Mike Palmer is beekeeping’s best known advocate of local, overwintered nucs. One of his main premises is to take one of your poorer producing hives, split it into several nucs and add a good queen to each. The original bees will help raise the first generation of brood from the new queen. You will then have 3 or 4 new nucs with good queens, young bees and will not have hurt your honey production by splitting a productive hive.

I have done this for 3 years and it absolutely works. This year, I ended up loosing 4 hives that would have cost me approximately $360 to replace with packages or possibly $500-600 if I purchased 4 nucs. Instead, late last June, I split two of my non-productive hives into 7 nucs. I purchased 4 queens and added them to 4 of the nucs. I took a frame of brood from one of my other productive hives and put it in a queen castle. I then took 3 of the cells they made and after placing them each in a different nuc, let the bees raise them. I went into Winter with 7 strong nucs. One nuc died from Nosema and another from what I believe was queen failure. That left me 5 nucs this Spring to replace my 4 dead hives plus a spare to add a new colony. Total cost was $100 for the 4 queens I purchased and I ended up with 5 new hives of local, overwintered bees that are currently pulling in pollen like there is no tomorrow. I know the genetics, I have brought nothing foreign into our community, they have low mite counts and are on track to be productive this year–all for a whopping $20/hive. Now how do packages sound?

Farm Update

The orchard area is now cleared and I’m starting to put up firewood for 2014. Looks like we will have about 3 years worth of wood. As soon as the orchard area dries out a bit, we’ll start on the stump removal and grading. Hopefully starting the barn within the next 30 days.

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Every new beekeeper feels overwhelmed sometime during their first year. It may be the moment you are about to dump 12,000 bees into a hive for the first time or maybe the first time you can’t find your queen or my personal favorite,  seeing a cloud of bees leave your hive and head into a tree that is too high or dangerous to climb. Your moment may have been different but you had a moment–possibly a lot of them! The reality is, you still do! Experience is absolutely the best teacher but it does not always have to be your experience. Humans have been keeping bees for thousands of years and there is a wealth of information out there. The key is having the right information when you need it.

The level of knowledge of beginning beekeepers varies greatly. The day we stood in line at BetterBee to pick up our first package was eye opening. The people behind us did not even have a hive assembled yet and were about to pick up their bees! When we mentioned we had our hives all ready for our bees they were astounded. What in the world was this little hippy couple thinking? Please note: I was a very long haired, veggie, yoga teaching, unemployed student without a car who thought Carlos Santana was god when I met my dear wife of 34 years AND I intend to become one again when I retire! Of course, Carlos has since been proven to be god but that is another story. My point is by the time I was about to accept my care taking role, I had read several books, taken classes and lurked on Beesource.com for at least 100 hours. None-the-less, there was so much I did not know then and still do not have a clue about now. The important part is I realize that and keep trying to do something about it.

As in every part of life, continuing education enhances your chance of achieving success. If you are a new beek and want to read a great book, pick up Kim Flottum’s The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Beekeeping. In my opinion, Kim gets it. He makes starting the hobby very simple from equipment selection through harvesting. Be sure to get the 2nd edition. I’ve spoken with Kim numerous times and he has an incredible feel for what is important for the health of honey bees and, most importantly, our food supply. You can also find Kim at www.thedailygreen.com or as the editor of  Bee Culture magazine.

Dean discusses design of his inner cover

Another great book  is, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. Written by 2 of the country’s top advocates for treatment free beekeeping, Laurie Herboldsheimer and Dean Stiglitz have done a real service to beekeepers like me who believe the best way to raise bees is to put as little into a hive as possible. Personally, I do not believe this is a book for beginners but is very well suited to folks who have kept bees for a least 1 year. Here you will find discussions about the natural microflora of a hive and how even essential oils and feeding syrup can affect pH to raising queens. The book is written in a friendly, straightforward way and is an easy read that makes you think about what you are doing to your bees.

While books are great, especially in the winter sitting in front of a nice fire, nothing is better than attending local meetings or area conferences. Speaking with other local beeks, sharing their experiences–especially if you are able to hear some of the “national voices” in beekeeping–can be an incredible way to learn better management techniques for your apiary and give you the knowledge to actually improve the genetics of your bees.

Sam Comfort and a frame from his TBH

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend for the 2nd time Dean and Laurie’s outstanding Northeast Treatment Free Beekeeping Conference in Leominister, MA. Both years have brought a fantastic panel of speakers including: Dee Lusby (she and her late husband, Ed, did the first small cell studies), Michael Bush (the guru and best website in beekeeping),Mike Palmer (a good friend and if you have ever read any of the rest of this blog you know the impact Mike has had on my apiary), Kirk Webster (one of MP’s mentors and a long time treatment free beekeeper in Vermont), Sam Comfort (www.anarchyapiaries.com and probably the leading advocate for TBHs in the US), Dean, Laurie and others.

Kirk Webster and Mike Palmer prep for nuc demo

This year included demonstrations by Sam doing a split with a TBH as well as Mike and Kirk showing how they split their weakest hives into nucs that then overwinter and explode the next season. Not only are the sessions and demos some of the best educational moments I’ve experienced as a beekeeper, the speakers are all available for conversations during breaks, meals and evening sessions. It is because of this conference I have been able to introduce Mike and Sam to our local club. For me, it has made me a much better beekeeper and let me know there were other people out there that not only believed in holistic beekeeping but were proving it is possible to do. This conference sells out so you have to register early to get a seat. Check out www.beeuntoothers.com for more info.

Regardless of where you live or how long you’ve been a beekeeper, there is always a conference, a local or state meeting or someone nearby who has bees. Reach out and join in! Remember, mentoring is not a one way street. Every time I have someone in my apiary or go to a meeting I benefit and learn something new. That’s time well spent– for my bees and for me.


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