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I've moved!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Reading about Beekeepers

Unlike the references books of the past few posts, these are all books I'd love to see available on the Kindle. They are essentially memoirs of those who have raised honeybees for a living or as a hobby.

First, two from Sue Hubbell, the well known A Country Year: Living the Questions, which details her life on a 100 acre farm with 200 beehives, and her followup book A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them that has more about beekeeping tasks and when to do them, interspersed with her prose. Both are an honest look at the real work involved in having so many bees. And there is some manual labor in even one hive -- honey is heavy and so are the boxes and frames used for your hive; even bees add to the weight when a hive is densely populated, with a deep hive body full of honey and bees topping 90 lbs (fear not, there are ways to avoid lifting anything this heavy). By the second book, her farm has expanded to 300 hives, with some scattered about on other properties. All in all, it's a good description of a typical sideliner beekeeper, which is the title for those who have grown beyond the hobbyist level, but are not yet considered commercial beekeepers (who migrate their bees around the nation on a constant basis).

For the story of a commercial beekeeper, check out Bad Beekeeping. A young man from Pennsylvania buys a honey ranch, then ends up herding his bees from Florida in the winter (where he raises 10,000 queens) to the badlands of southern Saskatchewan in summer. Covering a ten year span, this is a look at one of the few people who have kept bees across the US-Canadian border.

For those more interested in the backyard beekeeper, look to Fifty Years Among the Bees. Although many of the practices are now outdated, this is a classic in beekeeping.

And finally, this one isn't about beekeeping at all. It's an English horror film that predates (1967) the scares of Africanized bees in the US. Keep this one on hand for those relatives that are convinced your bees are dangerous: The Deadly Bees. No matter how yours misbehave, they'll be a lot tamer than the bees depicted here. Don't confuse this one with The Birds, although the group of that name does make a cameo appearance.


  1. Hi Karen--

    I found your blog by following the pollen from mobileread. I have a question for you--we have hummingbird feeders out and every year about this time, the honey bees swarm the feeders and drink it dry. We don't want to hurt the bees obviously, but how do we keep them off? Or will they go away in a couple of days?

    We tried moving the feeder. We tried an insecticide on the bottom only (the smell supposedly would keep them away without hurting them--they laughed and went about their business!) We could take the feeders down for a couple of days, but the hummers are migrating right now and we feel badly that they can't get to their feeders!!!


  2. Hi Maria - welcome to my neglected blog.... Perhaps it too is suffering from CCD this year?

    As to the feeders - it will be a constant problem, depending on the design. If the feeder is truly non-drip and has bee guards over the sipping areas, that will drastically cut down on the problem. Insecticides won't bother them by smell (but low levels could kill off a hive as it is tracked into it, as the pesticides will be retained in the wax and build up over time - a problem beekeepers run into themselves when treating for mites), not to mention such use is actually illegal (yes, any use of these not as described on the label is actually a crime, not just bad behavior).

    One thing I have found that works is to smear as much of the area around the feeding/sipping tube as possible with plain vaseline - they don't like it (but hummers ignore it). You can also put out a shallow birdbath (away from kids/pets) with plain water and they will use that as well (although they will like sugar a lot better). You could try another feeder with just plain water (and no vaseline) for the bees - if they hit that, they are just looking for moisture, not food.

    As to going away - they'll stay there until you stop feeding them or a freeze sets in. An even bigger pest will be yellow jackets. Unlike honeybees, these can be very aggressive near a feeder and may sting people in the area, just on principles.

  3. Thanks Karen. Don't worry, I only dabbed a little of the smelly insecticide on the very bottom of the feeder where they do not crawl. I thought it smelled horrible, but it didn't bother the bees.

    We've not had a problem all summer. Same thing last summer until about this time and then suddenly the bees swarmed the things. I wondered if maybe some other food source goes away about this time.

    My husband read about the oil/vaseline idea. I know that it can "gum up the works" for bees so I was hesitant to try it, but we may go to that method after taking it down a few days. Other articles we've read swore bees have a bad memory and might not come back. :>)

    We do have a birdbath and a cat bowl (we see them more often at the cat bowl--do not worry our cats have water inside as well. We have this crazy cat that thinks he has to lap water at any site where he finds it!)

    We'll also try using less sweet of a mix in the feeder. Maybe they won't find it!!!


  4. What often happens is that another food source is found - so long as it holds up, they'll often skip returning to the feeders. The sweeter it is, yes, the more they are likely to return. There is a sort of "voting" system in the hive, as the scouts return and tell other bees what they found (by sharing a sample) and how far away it is - the majority of the bees then take off for the "best" source, based on sugar value and distance. We see bees in the small waterfall/pond all year. Not so much this year (too much rain), but when a long drought hits, the place looks like Grand Central.

    Vaseline isn't great for them - but if it's there in the morning (after the couple of days off), it can be enough to discourage the scouts from sending the main force on a raid. Bee guards and no drips are the best solution (instead of a straight out pointing hold, the hummers feed from above, so nothing can drip out, plus an internal design that prevents the same).

    In the mean time, just don't try to steal the feeder while the bees are on it - they might get a bit upset (I know yellow jackets will).

  5. Just thought I'd pop back over and tell you...NOTHING WORKED! Argh. We tried vaseline, olive oil, neem oil...moving the feeder, keeping the feeder unavailable for two days...taking all yellow off the feeder...


    Darn bees came back or found the new location (we left the old one up with sweeter sugar water)...we tried everything we could think of. Eventually we took it down. It's possible we could put it up now that it's been 4 days, but since it is the end of Sept the birds have probably gone anyway.

    I blame myself. I pulled up the sprite plant (a melon that is extremely sweet) because I had too many melons/end of season. I'm guessing that with that food source gone, the watermelon and cantaloupe blossoms weren't enough (or weren't sweet enough.) Thus the feeders became their food spot of choice.

    Live and learn. I hope they made lots of honey and I hope I get some!!!