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Michael Bush at BeeSpeakSTL, part 2 | Speedkin

Michael Bush at BeeSpeakSTL, part 2

Part 1 here.  Part 3 here.  Part 4 here.

4 Simple Steps to Healthier Bees, continued

Natural Food

It’s common practice for beekeepers to supply the bees with pollen substitutes (“pollen patties”) now & then.  Studies are showing that bees who get pollen substitutes live short lives.  It’s also known that, most of the time, natural pollen will be available at the times when the bees actually need it.

Sugar syrup (and corn syrup) feeding is another quite common practice among most beekeepers.  While most beekeepers will only feed at times that ensure the “honey” in the combs is actually honey and not syrup honey, it still has a lot of detrimental effects on bees.  The pH of honey is such that it inhibits disease and and has all of the critical micronutrients that bees need to thrive.  Sugar (and corn syrup does not have those needed micronutrients and has a completely different pH.  That pH affects reproductive capability of every brood disease and nosema.  pH also affects the other ecosystem residents.  Again, much of this boils down to that delicate balanced mentioned before.  Syrup disrupts the balance, the pH of the food in the hive & bee gut flora.

Downside of feeding the bees honey?  Of course honey is worth more than sugar but are the unhealthy bees, hive deaths, syrup feeding-induced robbing, etc worth it?  Micheal Bush thinks not.

The upside of feeding honey instead of syrups?  Less robbing, less drowning, less work, less trips to the yard, less brood disease, and a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

Natural Comb

Conventional beekeepers use foundation which means the bees don’t get to use natural cell sizing, they don’t get to choose what size to use when.  The standard 5.4 mm foundation was upsized  by Boudreaux to get bees to have bigger tongues so they could feed on red clover.  This resulted in modern bees being 150% their natural size.  (If you make them raise brood in larger cells, the bees increase in size.  If you let them revert back to natural cell size, the bees revert to their naturally smaller size over a few generations.)  With the bigger bees, their bodies have gotten bigger but not their wings and other vital parts of their anatomy.  (Sorry, I failed to note which parts, other than wings, remained the same size.)

Natural cell size vs. varroa?  If it helps, the problem gets better.  Even if it doesn’t help, you’re not worsening the problem any.  Michael Bush never loses any hives to varroa.

What is natural cell size?  The bees know and will answer that  on their own, depending on their needs, if you leave them to it.

Disadvantages of natural cell size & comb?  Change is very difficult for experienced beekeepers.  Foundation is what they  know and what their habits are built around.  Natural comb is more fragile at first and you must level your hives.

Advantages of natural comb?  Less work for the beekeeper, clean wax, and healthier foundation and hives.  Natural comb is the ONLY way to get clean, pure wax.  (There are “scary levels of nasties” in foundation. <– Quote is directly from my notes, paraphrasing Michael Bush.  I thought the way I put it was funny.  LOL   Vapor pressure equalized from more heavily contaminate to less heavily contaminated within the hive so it all gets nasty.)

There are different ways to build foundationless frames.  You can use a wedge frame and break out & nail the wedge across the top for a starter strip.  You can use groove-topped frames and cram in paint sticks or popsicle sticks.  You can use drawn wax frames and cut out the center, leaving the edges as a guide.  You can stick an empty frame between two drawn frames, as the bees will use the drawn as a guide for building the new.

Yes, you can extract honey from foundationless frames.  (We did this ourselves last fall.)  It is best not to do so on deeps, though, as it’s just too much pull unless you wire them.  Michael Bush now uses all mediums.

Yes, the bees will build drone comb with foundationless but only on the first couple of frames.  If you keep removing drone comb, they’ll keep building it.  It’s something they need to do — lots of drones for mating queens from various hives = genetic diversity & well-mated queens = it’s all good.  Just let them have that drone comb and they’ll be satisfied and begin building other needed comb.

He doesn’t get any more messed up comb built than what the bees messed up on foundation comb.  (I can back this up with our experience last year.)  However, once they build something wrong, they build everything parallel to that.  Moral of the story:  Check their comb building as they begin.  An ounce of prevention…  Fix any mess ups as they make them and they’ll build perfectly from there on out.

You can convert to foundationless as quickly or as gradually as you are comfortable with it.  You can go all out and replace everything at once if you have deep pockets and plenty of time.  Or you can just switch them out as the opportunities present themselves.  Run your deeps through the table saw, cutting them down to mediums while you’re at it.  You can sell your foundations that you no longer use or donate to someone who still uses it.

I think that’s enough for today.  I’ve gotta try to get a room clean so I can start some stinking tomato seeds already!  I’ll continue with “Lazy Beekeeping” and “Swarm Prevention” next time.

Part 1 here.  Part 3 here.  Part 4 here.

5 Responses to “Michael Bush at BeeSpeakSTL, part 2”

  1. Chris March 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    Thank you for posting such detailed notes!! I’ve referred your two posts on the topic to several friends who also could not make the conference.

    On the topic of pollen patties, our club has had a couple of speakers (I’d have to consult my less-than-steller notes to know whom) that have said they’ve watched their hives take apart pollen patties and carry them out of the hive and throw the pieces over the landing board, as the[/their] bees considered it as “trash” and needed to “clean up” the hive.

    I thought that was interesting perspective. I don’t use pollen patties myself, mostly because I’m too cheap to buy them, so I don’t have any personal experience with them. :)

    Part of me wonders if bees do simply “clean up” and remove them, but part of me also wonders if they do consume them. Hmm…

    • Diane March 5, 2013 at 11:24 am #

      I’m glad someone is finding them useful. I’m a note-taking fool.

      Very, very interesting on the pollen patties. I’ve never fed them either. I’d like to think it’s because I’m so holier-than-thou committed to keeping the bees natural but, in reality, it’s because I’m incredibly lazy. LOL

Trackbacks/Pingbacks:

  1. Michael Bush at BeeSpeakSTL | Speedkin - March 5, 2013

    […] Part 2 here.  Part 3 here.  Part 4 coming soon. […]

  2. Michael Bush at BeeSpeakSTL, part 3 | Speedkin - March 5, 2013

    […] 1 here.  Part 2 here.  Part 4 coming […]

  3. Michael Bush as BeeSpeakSTL, part 4 | Speedkin - March 10, 2013

    […] 1 here.  Part 2 here.  Part 3 […]

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