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Michael Bush at BeeSpeakSTL, part 3 | Speedkin

Michael Bush at BeeSpeakSTL, part 3

Part 1 here.  Part 2 here.  Part 4 here.

My favorite part of the presentation!  If nothing else, I am lazy, lazy, lazy!  I’m forever tweaking things to make for the least amount of work.  By the time we’re old & feeble (some of us are getting there more quickly than others!), I want this place to be a lean, mean, food-producing machine.

Lazy Beekeeping

“Everything works if you let it.”  <– I love this quote!  I didn’t jot down who said it but it’s probably in the “Lazy Beekeeping” presentation on MB’s website.

Michael Bush spends the same amount of time working 200 hives these days and he used to on 4 – 8 hives.  Below are some of the changes he’s made.

Top Entrances

Skunks were the reason Michael Bush tried top entrances in the beginning but he soon found many other reasons to switch over.  No more cutting grass around the hives to keep bottom entrances clear.  No more shoveling snow for the same reason.  No need to use mouse guards as the mice don’t bother top entrances.  Better ventilation.  They’re easier and cheaper to make.  It’s safer in the winter when dead bees can clog up bottom entrances.  You can have your hive lower to the ground which we all know means it’s much easier to work the hives..  Less condensation within the hive.

To make his top entrances, Michael Bush merely used a normal, unmodified medium box with a flat top.  Onto the bottom of that flat top, he glues & staples shims onto each side.  The fat ends leave an opening along the front where bees can enter & exit.  Since the shims are angled, the back end gradually drops until the top is flush against the box along the backside.  Let me see if I can find a pic on his site to help you figure this out…  Here’s what the front looks like.  Here’s a good view of the side.  Here you can see the shims attached to the sides of the top cover.  I hope that helps more than my explanation!

We started in with top entrances for our hives last year but, as usual, I completely overthought it.  Doh.  I’m so glad I got to see his much simpler way and we’ll be doing that from now on.   Steve’s honey-do list just got shorter.  :-D  

If you go to top entrances, just remember that you still need a small exit at the bottom for the drones to escape if you use an excluder.  We also left a little bottom exit for the bees to be able to clean house easier (hauling out dead bees, garbage, etc.)

Uniform Frame Size

“Friends don’t let friends life deeps.”  <— Another great quote I forgot to jot the owner of!

When all of your boxes and frames are the same depth, it’s easy to swap out parts from/to anywhere.  Michael Bush has switched to all mediums, no deeps or shallows at all.  You can move a frame of brood up or down a box for bait to get bees to move.  You can feed a frame of honey at any level when needed.  When brood boxes get congested, you can take out a frame and move it up, down, or do a split.  If you find brood in a honey super, you can move it down to the brood box where it should be.  You can swap anything anywhere, based on your need at the time.

It also means — and this is not as superficial as it sounds — that the boxes are lighter, saving your back.  Deeps are heavy suckers.  Mediums are much more manageable.  If you want to go even lighter, you can switch out to some 8-frame boxes.  It’s easy to modify 10-frames boxes to 8-frames yourself but all bee supply houses have them, even if they don’t list them in their catalogs. To modify, simply cut down a 10-frame box to 13 3/4″.   You can mix up the 10-frame boxes with 8-frame boxes with a little piece of board laid to cover the gap and the bees will quickly propolise it to seal.

Foundationless Frames

This was touched on earlier in the “Natural Comb” section so I’ll not over that again.  to very briefly sum it up, it’s a time saver and helps the health of the bees due to contaminated wax used on foundations and allows them to choose natural cell sizes based on their needs at the time.  I did just remember one thing that didn’t make it into my notes:

Foundationless frames means he doesn’t have to go crazy with storing his empty frames away from pests until they’re needed again.  Scrape them down and just leave them in the boxes until needed again.  No worries about wax moths there.  (Obviously you wouldn’t leave these empty boxes & frames on active hives as that would give them too much territory to defend.)

No Artificial Feed and No Chemicals

No more buying and mixing up treatments.  No more getting treatments into the hives and removing them when finished (for those that need removing).  No more buying sugar and making syrup.  No more buying corn syrup.  No more trudging back and forth to the hives for feed.  Just leave enough honey on the hive for them to eat and you don’t even have to bother harvesting it, storing it, and getting it back out to them in feeders.  (Although, having a few honey frames as back up is a good idea, I don’t remember how he handles storing back ups.)  Bonus?  The bees are healthier for having real honey instead of feed substitutes and that cycles back into less work for you treating diseased hives.

Splits

When all of your equipment is the same depth, it’s stupidly simple to make splits.  Deal the frames like cards:  a frame of honey into Nuc #1, a frame of honey into Nuc #2.  A frame of brood into Nuc #1, a frame of brood into Nuc #2.  And so on until you have things dealt evenly and your splits made.  Whichever hives didn’t end up with a queen will raise new ones.  Easy peasy.

Winter Prep and Chores in General

Since you have everything now sized compatibly, you can go through box by box.  One hive needs a boost?  Snag a frame from a strong hive and toss it in the weak one.  Consolidating for winter?  Swap as needed until your hives are as compact & stocked as you need, and take the rest to storage for next year.

Carts

He touched lightly on the usefulness of carts in toting equipment around.  He has used carts from Brushy Mountain, Mann lake, and Walter Kelley.  The cart info is on his website.  (For whatever reason, I didn’t take notes on this part since it’s not yet important to me.  Or it might have been because my hand was cramping from taking too many notes.  LOL)

Stop Doing Unnecessary Things

Leave burr comb between the boxes.  It makes a handy ladder for the queen and it’s a great mite monitor.  Unless it’s causing crooked comb, just leave it.

Leave the propolis.  Some people go crazy about scraping the hives, keeping it “clean”.  The bees put the propolis there for good reasons so, unless you need to remove it to work the hives, just leave it.

Stop cutting out swarm cells (unless you are grafting them for queen rearing).  If the hive is wanting to swarm, do a split or put a frame with cells in a nuc with a frame of honey.  <–Which is a way of doing a split so I’m not sure if I didn’t hear him correctly or if my note taking just sucked.  I’m betting on the latter.  ;-)   If the queen cells are already capped, the hive has probably already swarmed or very, very close to it and you won’t stop it.  If there are a bunch of swarm cells, that’s an indicator of a strong hive.  Remember, a hive’s instinct is to reproduce and that is what swarming is.  So, swarming = good, except it’s not.  Heh.  Anyway, catch it before the queen cells are capped and do a split.

Stop fighting the bees.  Give them the resources they are likely to need (or remove excess, such as too much space to defend) and let them solve the problem.  Remember, “First do no harm.”

Don’t wrap the hives in the winter, nor provide artificial heat.  Cold has no harmful effects on healthy bees.  Indeed, it has been shown to be beneficial.

Don’t bother painting equipment.  It may or may not last as long, depending upon your climate.  Even if it doesn’t last quite as long, was it worth the expense of paint & brushes and your time?  Many have noted that painted hives tend to mold while unpainted do not.  As an aside, Michael Bush has been dipping his in a 2:1 wax:sumac resin heated mixture.  I didn’t catch whether or not it improved the lifespan of the boxes but I got the idea that he just wanted to experiment a bit.  I’m sure the results of that are on his website somewhere. 

Stop switching hive bodies.  It just makes more work for the beekeeper and the bees then have to rearrange the brood nest.  (If the bottom is completely empty, go ahead if it floats your boat but, otherwise, it disrupts more than it helps.  He did mention that it will keep them busy with the aforementioned rearranging so that, should they be in the initial stage of thinking about swarming, it’ll distract them for a bit.  And that whole “bees only work/build up”?  Let to their own devices, bees will build in either direction.

Don’t look for the queen.  It’s a good skill to have to feel free to do it but don’t feel that it’s necessary to do.  Just look for eggs and brood.  You can still do a split and not worry about where the queen is.  The only reason (other than your own education) to look for the queen is if you have a hot hive and need to pinch her.

During those rare times when you do need to artificially feed your hive, do it with dry sugar.  (Faced between letting a hive die because you have no honey banked for them and feeding them sugar, I think the choice is pretty clear to all of us.)  It greatly simplifies the whole thing.  Just put an empty box on top of the hive, toss down some newspaper, and dump dry sugar on top of that.  Spray some water on it to make it clump so it doesn’t all run out the bottom.  Voila.  The bees will eat it.

Enough for today.  Next up:  Swarms & Prevention.

Part 1 here.  Part 2 here.  Part 4 here.

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