Saturday, May 25, 2013

Survival Bee Keeping - Ups and Downs

Pretty much as I predicted the swarm season came late this year for me but now appears to be well under way even if it is not producing as many new captures as I would like. I have built back up to seven hives once again which puts me under half of where I wanted to be for this year. One of those hives is still barely coming back though so I really shouldn't be counting it yet. I am still nursing it and giving it a small frame of eggs now and again along with feeding it syrup.

I have been analyzing a few things and I believe I may have come up with an important adjustment in my survival bee keeping activities.

When I began this bee keeping experiment a few years back the idea was just to keep a few hives around for pollination purposes. From that it grew into a local source of honey since in a grid down situation sugar would be almost unheard of around here. Adding that to my expectations however presented another problem. Even if honey was able to be produced locally by bees what would happen if I had to keep the bees totally sustainable for years on end to continue to get that honey?

No mail order for frames, feeders, woodenware, medications etc. No outside source for packaged bees or queens. You get the idea.

The thought was kinda daunting at first. Not only did I need to work on my own and my families survival I now had to include every problem that might effect the bees as well. While I have not went so far as to fell trees to make woodenware from scratch I have managed to design and build usable supers, bottom boards and covers myself from scavenged boardsand using only hand tools. I purchase mostly plastic frames because of their durability and the fact they are impervious to pest damage but  have also experimented with foundation-less and top bar frames as well (including wired etc.). All in an effort to be able to keep bees with no external reliance.

This also means I have to use only my own splits or local swarms for hive growth. More importantly it also meant embracing the treatment free philosophy of bee keeping. I will admit here however if it is a treatment I can produce on my own I will try it, so in a sense I am a treatment free beekeeper more because I am a survival bee keeper than because of any other reason.

When going treatment free you run into a few problems namely with varroa mite control. These little suckers can weaken a hive if they get too many of them. Many beekeepers are of the opinion that if you do not treat for these with chemicals the hive will eventually die out. Also many bee keepers blame varroa mites for everything by simply stating that the mites weakened the colony and then they succumbed to X because of the weakness. There are however other bee keepers who insist you can breed for mite resistance and control them without chemicals. By necessity I have adopted their methods, however one must never forget all bee keeping is local when you get right down to it.

One method for controlling and counting mites is to use what is called a screened bottom board. This is a bottom board that has a screen small enough the bees cannot go through it but the mites will fall through. It helps but I believe it also caused me some problems this Winter as it got colder than usual and the bees were less protected. I have been working on my own design that reduces the screened in area and has an insert that fits more securely for cold weather but replacing out the commercial ones I have is a slow process. Other issues with screened bottom boards are that the bees will sometimes get confused and begin living under the screen, the screened in area when closed acts as a safe zone for other pests and sometimes it allows in too much light and inhibits build up.

Right now I am attempting to find the perfect combination to fit my particular needs.

As you can see I have only begun to scratch the surface of survival bee keeping but some progress has been made. That which does not kill off all my girls just makes us stronger.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!


  1. and i am just thankful that before i get into beekeeping, i have the good fortune to have access to all of your experience (i print off all of your beekeeping posts!). thanks buddy!

    your friend,

  2. I am starting to wonder if my using swarm captures isn't resulting in genetics that promote more swarming behavior, and that it is the result of selection for that trait because the swarming cuts the mite load. I managed to catch a swarm today, from the hive that I caught as a feral swarm the end of last May. They built up really fast, and I slapped a super on, but I used an excluder, so they didn't use the super (sigh) - next time I'll just use the super with no excluder and hope the queen won't cross the honey in the upper deep. Thanks for all the thoughts about how to do this without commercially produced woodenware - I hadn't given that any real thought...

    1. XL - I think the swarm gene is in all bees, it maybe more dominant in some breeds but I think it is their natural inclination to swarm. Interestingly enough the hives I had that survived this Winter with such terrible losses have not as yet even made any attempt at swarming and they are now bulging at the seems (all but one of them).

      As for excluders I NEVER use them, at least not for keeping the queen anyway. I try and leave at least one medium honey super on the big hives and yes the queen does lay in them at first but by the time I start harvesting honey she is always back down in the brood supers and the where the eggs were is filled with honey. If I do happen across a frame with eggs or larva in it I just leave it on the hive. I almost never harvest a full super at a time but usually go frame by frame.

  3. We have cool temps here today around 60. I think the weather here is at lest a month behind. Not sure how cool temps affect local bees.

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  5. I can't remember if I mentioned this. I do have some volunteers that seem to have moved into one of my birdhouses. Must be tiny because I never see them go. But if you press on the (movable for cleaning) lower panel so it gives a little the go BZZZ BZZZ BZZZ.

    They aren't very aggressive. One eventually showed up at the little entrance whole to complain (it looked like a slightly fuzzy bumble bee so it may be a wood bee), but it just sat their and fussed.


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