Hi Arvin and Colleen,
I live on about 12 acres, 3 hours north of Springfield. While my gardens are organic I am surrounded by non-organic farmers.
In the last two years I have had wild swarms on my property, so I think it's a sign to start housing these little critters!
I have a few questions:
1) Is the Warre' hive design the type you'd suggest?
2) How can I place the hives so they are safe from the farmers pesticides? We live in a windy area.
3) Are there any books you could suggest on natural bee keeping?
4) Is it possible to attract wild bees rather than buying imported varieties?
If you can point me in the right direction, I'm eager to get started.
Thanks for your email.
Getting started in the winter is the right time. For most folks their interest peaks in the summer and by then it’s too late to get started for the year. First I’ll give you the Illinois State Beekeepers Assoc. web site address. http://www.ilsba.com/index.html Click on the “Affiliated Associations” link to find a chapter nearest you. They more than likely are having bee classes before long, if you would be interested in taking those. Taking the class and/or having a mentor would be helpful in getting you started. Just remember keeping bees is an individual endeavor. As the saying goes, “You ask 10 beekeepers the same question, you’ll get 11 different answers” (and often more than that). Keeping bees in some sort of container is the only thing some beekeepers have in common. There are many different ways to keep bees, and you’ll just have to find the way best suited for you.
1)That takes me to your first question about Warre hives. I’ve never had any personal experience with Warre hives. There are many hive designs being used anymore. Everyone has their own reasons for using what they use. As far as one being that much better than the other, that’s up for a lot of discussion. Much of it depends on you and what you are expecting from your bees. I believe the standard Langstroth hive, the old white boxes, are hard to beat for honey production. If you’re more interested in just having bees in your backyard and maybe getting a little honey and maybe having some beeswax, then a Top Bar hive is good. I do have a couple of Top Bar hives. The design and use of the Warre hive seems to be evolving some from foundationless with top bars to frames. Warre has a different top cover that deals with moisture buildup, but proper ventilation is not hard to regulate in other designs with a little preparation. There is much discussion between Langstroth users about whether to use deep boxes or mediums, whether to use 8 or 10 frame boxes, whether to use large cell or small cell foundation or whether to use foundation at all, or whether to use screened or solid bottom boards, and on and on, etc. I do a lot of removals of wild or feral colonies from trees and structures and that has led me to this conclusion: The design of the hive is more for the beekeeper than for the bees. All that bees need is a cavity large enough to build comb so they can store food, raise brood, and be protected from the elements. They are not really concerned about the shape. Not one is a “more natural” design than the other. I tell folks if I was going to build a hive that would be in the shape of what I find most wild bees in it would be in the shape of a soffit of a house. I’ve removed a lot of bees from soffits. But, then again, I’ve removed a lot from walls, floors, and ceilings, from trees of many different diameters and angles, even a couple of hives from limbs hanging out in the open, and have even removed a colony from a hollow in an old light pole that was below ground level. The comb shape has varied from long, short, wide, narrow, angled, and anywhere in between. All that being said (and that just scratches the surface), all of the following is in my opinion (and I stress ‘in my opinion’): I would recommend starting with a standard Langstroth hive in that they are easier to manipulate and to get to know your bees, and I would start with regular wired wax foundation with wooden frames. I would use deeps for brood boxes and mediums for honey supers, a screened bottom board (it can always be closed), and telescoping outer cover with a notched inner cover. Some folks use all mediums, mostly because of weight issues, ease of handling, and all of your equipment is the same size. You see, I can’t even recommend anything without leaving you a choice in the recommendation, it’s up to you-all of it is entirely up to you. The only requirement of a hive is that it have removable frames so they can be removed and inspected by the state bee inspector in your area.
2) It’s commonly accepted that bees will forage up to a 3 mile radius from the hive. The widespread use of chemicals has made truly organic honey nearly impossible to achieve. I don’t believe there is anywhere in the state of Illinois that could make that claim. Unfortunately, your bees will be exposed to chemicals, you can only do what you can to minimize it. First off, don’t use any chemicals in your hives. The answer to keeping healthy hives is keeping them strong. The bees will do the rest. As far as keeping them safe from pesticides, primary responsibility is actually with the farmers and applicators, but you can’t rely on that. Harmful chemicals all have warnings on them about the correct usage around established bee yards. Only conscientious farmers and applicators follow them. It’s good to try to establish some favorable communication with them when you set up your hives. There is also an organization you can register your hives with, the intent being the applicators would check with the web site before use. http://www.driftwatch.org There again, only works with the ones who care in the first place. Precautions can be taken with hives if you are warned about the applications. I do not in any way agree with the extensive use of chemicals. I was raised on a small farm where if Dad saw weeds in his crop he put the cultivators on his tractor and headed for the field rather than call the local chemical company to come spray it. (Oh, for the good ol’ days) You cannot read anything about honeybees any more with chemicals being mentioned that does not blame the chemicals for killing off the bees. I will not deny they are affected. However, I have kept bees for 10 years in the middle of an agricultural area where chemicals are used heavily and have yet to lose a hive as a result. That doesn’t make them good, nor am I denying that hives are killed, it just says they haven’t directly killed any of my hives. Last year I had to stop a neighbor from spraying a field of soybeans in mid-morning for beetles that was about six feet behind some of my hives here at the house. According to precautions on the label, they are to be used either early morning or late evening around hives to avoid the foraging bees during the day. He returned to spray them that evening. One of the major sources for nectar in our area is soybeans. These beans were blooming and the bees were working them. I had noticed an increase in nectar buildup in the hives for a few days before. After he sprayed the field the nectar intake stopped. It’s just a casual observation, but it appears they sensed the chemical and stopped working the field. The application didn’t appear to kill any bees, it just really hurt honey production. I guess what I’m saying is that there is no way to entirely avoid the chemicals and a certain amount of contamination in our hives due to the chemical culture that we currently live in, but at best, between you and the bees, that can be managed to a certain extent.
3)Can’t really recommend a certain book or books. The internet is a vast source of information. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. You have to be very careful to sift through what you find. It has been the major source for me. I used a couple of bee forums that were very helpful. http://www.beesource.com is a great web site with the Beesource forum link and links to ‘build it yourself’ plans. http://forum.beemaster.com is also a great forum. Both online forums are full of information and opinions (lots of opinions!) Just be careful, sometimes they can be overwhelming and make keeping bees way too complicated. Keep it simple and fun. Don’t ever forget beekeeping is supposed to be fun! Your local beekeeping club can also be a great source for information. More bee clubs are realizing the importance of natural beekeeping. I believe the most important source of information, after you have learned a few basic facts about bees, is your own observation of and experience with your bees. They will continue to teach you if you’ll just keep your eyes open. You will know your bees better than anyone else. After a while you will discover your own style of beekeeping and what fits you and your bees best. Some folks believe in micro-managing their bees, others go to the other extreme in believing they should just be left alone. Too much management can interfere with what they know how to do best, but sometimes they can use a little help. It’s not an exact science. Take the risk. I tell folks that you have to really mess them up to really mess them up.
4)If you already have wild swarms in the area, you are off to a good start. Of course, being able to capture a local swarm or swarms would be the best way. It’s cheaper and you have bees that are already acclimated to your area. Unfortunately you may not be able to catch a swarm your first year. You could do a search online about setting out bait traps for bees. Most bee suppliers sell traps and accessories. But, again, that‘s no guarantee you’ll get bees. Best would be to find someone that is willing to sell you a nuc (short for nucleus colony). That is a small colony of 4-5 frames with an established queen, brood, and stores. Your local bee club would be helpful in finding someone to do that or would be ordering package bees for their new class of beekeepers. Packages are usually 3 lbs. of bees with a separate queen. Our club had about a 30% failure rate with packages last year. As far as the race of bee to start with that will be up to you, what you decide would be best from your research, and what is available. We started with 2 nucs of Russian bees purchased from Tess Arnold in Knoxville, Tennessee because we had read the Russians had a natural resistance to mites and were less likely to require chemical treatments. We had read they could be a little more aggressive than some other bees, but we figured we’d raised teenagers and had survived them so we could probably deal with the bees. They turned out to be very easy to handle. (It’s important to realize you’re going to get stung. It comes with the territory. Do some research on bee sting therapy. Some believe it to be very beneficial.) I have renewed the Russian genetics in my bees since, but because of the bee removals and swarm captures I have mostly feral or local genetics. Many other bees have become available in the last 10 years. Do some reading and ask other beekeepers. (Just remember the 10 beekeepers-11 answers saying!)