A View To A Different Style of Beekeeping

Recently I attended a great presentation on the basics of “Being a Pollinating Beekeeper”, by George Hansen (Foothills Honey Company, Colton, Oregon). The Washington State Beekeepers Association, District 1, put this together.

I am not and never will be a pollinating beekeeper.  That, at very minimum, requires trucks, forklifts, contracts, and pallet after pallet of bees.

bee hives for pollination 

Not to mention the need to keep all those thousands of hives up to full strength from February to season’s end, which can be October.   During the presentation, Hansen stressed that there was a great difference in needs, methods, and demands upon pollinating beekeepers versus honey beekeepers.  This must be the understatement of the year.

That being said, the talk was fascinating, and I left the meeting with new knowledge, some of which I can apply to my operation – more on that in a second.  First I’ll just climb up here on my soapbox.

POLLINATING BEEKEEPERS –
WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT THEM

Pollinating beekeepers are vital to keeping industrial agriculture going in the U.S. Without these beekeepers, agriculture here would come to a roaring stop.  People would go hungry.  Granted this is due to the ill-advised manner in how we manage our agricultural areas in the US: miles and miles of the same crop, which are death zones for native and nonnative pollinators.

View from plane of California agricultureCalifornia Fields by Chrishonduras

 

There are few if any interplantings, hedgerows or connecting biozones to provide year-round feed for pollinators in these areas.  That aside, let all of us in the US (and those in countries that import US grown food) take a moment to thank the pollinating beekeepers and the drivers of the trucks that haul these bees. Without these beekeepers the farmers US could not produce the qualities of food needed to feed our population.

However (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), I do think some of the methods used by Hansen are doing a disservice to the development of honeybees that are resistant to pests and pathogens from varroa to American Foul Brood. His response, understandably, seems to be: if I don’t do it this way, my bees die.  If my bees die, my company dies.  My company dies, I have no job, neither do all the people who work for me, and there are fewer bees for pollination.

SAME SITUATION, DIFFERENT OBSERVATIONS:

I found it interesting that Hansen does not use natural treatments because he finds they don’t work for him.  The pollinating beekeepers whose honey we carry at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, except one, have moved on to natural treatments because they work better than synthetic chemicals.  As I’ve said before, beekeeping is both local and personal.

All the above takes me to my next soapbox:

WE CAN LEARN FROM PEOPLE WITH WHOM WE DON’T AGREE

During Hansen’s great presentation, I was able to 1) glean bits of information that actually do affect the way I keep bees and 2) gain a greater understanding of the point of view of many pollinating beekeepers who keep bees in the same manner as Hansen.

WHAT I LEARNED:

QUEEN REARING TIP FROM AGES PAST:

Best time to start queen rearing in the Willamette Valley (Oregon) is when the native trailing blackberries bloom.

Rubus ursinus by Walter SiegmundTrailing Blackberries by Walter Siegmund

 

Hansen’s mentors (now in their nineties) shared this with him, and he shared it on.  I’m a few hundred miles north of the Willamette Valley, but our foliage is somewhat similar.

I’m going to check  my years of foliage notes to mark when that bloom occurs.  Perhaps this can improve my queen rearing.

A DIFFERENT TEST FOR VARROA MITES:

Hansen tests 5% to 10% of his hives for mites each year.

At present, he is using an alcohol wash .  But it would appear that he’s not overjoyed with it.  He noted that 1) about 300 bees die in each hive tested and 2) the bees selected for testing probably don’t represent a true selection of bees from all over the hive.

His preferred method is Oxalic Acid with a sticky board. Hansen places a sticky board under the hive, then drizzles the proscribed amount (see the last link) between the bars, taking care not to get much liquid on the bars.   Oxalic acid on the bars would be a waste, he points out; it needs to be on the bees.  24 hours later he checks the sticky boards.

Hansen admitted that he used to count the mites.  These days he would be more likely to just look at the board and say “low count” or “that’s a lot of mites, better deal with that.”  After all, he’s been doing this for a while.

Between the two methods, my bet would be he’d go back to oxalic acid with a sticky board if it didn’t take so much more time and man power.  Time is vital in any large operation; each minute worked has a definite monetary price.  Just like every other business operation.  Hansen did point out that he is using oxalic acid to count mites not control them.

CARROTS:

Carrots are one of the crops that Hansen pollinates.  The field which he highlighted (if I have this right) is planted with 2 types of carrots.  One type produces no pollen – “miracles” of modern breeding. The other type does produce pollen. In this situation the usual pollinators, the pollen collecting bees, have no interest in the pollen-free carrots.  So, it’s the nectar collectors who actually pollinate these fields.  I found that interesting.

SIMILARITIES IN HONEY PRODUCERS AND POLLINATING BEEKEEPERS METHODS:

Wrapping hives.  Geesh, the year I decide that maybe that’s wrong, a fellow with thousands of hives in an equally rainy, damp area says he’s taken to wrapping his.  But at least I don’t feel so odd having wrapped mine for years.

Rotating Frames Out of Service : Hansen rotates his frames out every four years for the health of his hives.  The downside?  He does this by putting them in the nucs he sells.  I am going to assume that he tells the buyers that the frames are four years old and from hives treated with chemicals and antibiotics.

The chemicals and antibiotics lead me to the dissimilarities:

DISSIMILARITIES: (Back on the soap box again.)

VARROA TREATMENT:  In general, I think that if we continue to use the synthetic chemicals to deal with varroa, we will 1) never “win” because the mites will always adapt to the “new” chemical, and 2) it will simply delay or retard the impetus and funding for the breeding of honeybees that can resist / coexist with varroa.   Varroa are not going to go away.  We need bees that can survive with them.

In the US we are now on our 4th (possibly 5th) synthetic chemical to deal with varroa.  We have so many synthetic treatments because the mites adapt to them, just like other animals have adapted to repeated poisoning (check out Myxomatosis and the Australian rabbits)

In addition, the chemicals that are used are not leaving the hives.  They stay in the wax, building up over the years, one on top of the other.  This creates a very dubious chemical mix in which the bees live.  
I was hoping to put in a link here to a recent article in the November issue of Bee Culture from some of the folks at the Managed Pollinator CAP (Coordinated Agricultural Project) about chemicals in the hive.  But I couldn’t find it on the web.  If you can get a hold of the issue, it’s worth a read.

FOUL BROOD TREATMENT:  Every hive in Hansen’s operation is treated every year with the antibiotic Tylosin.  He feels this has resulted in his bees’ survival.  Perhaps it has, because it means that his treated bees can better survive in a hive infested with American Foul Brood.

It does not mean that that his hives are AFB or EFB free.  In fact it means that he could well be transporting infected hives throughout the areas he pollinates.  Antibiotic treatments do not kill AFB or EFB spoors.  The treatment only affects the bees (and will do so only until AFB and EFB become immune to the current antibiotic, which they will, just as they have adapted in the past).

TO CONCLUDE

George Hansen’s presentation was truly informative.  I learned some things.  I heard his point of view.  And although I don’t agree with much of what he says, I applaud his honesty in staying forthrightly what he does and his reasons behind it.

Honest discussion is part of the way forward in all situations.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls, Washington.  Any good presentations occurring out your way?

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2 Responses to A View To A Different Style of Beekeeping

  1. Fascinating post, thank you.

    Was there any discussion of Colony Collapse Disorder and pollinating beekeeping?

    • bean says:

      Not so much about CCD – I think most commercial guys are pointing a finger at Neonicotinoids. As for pollinating beekeeping – yes. Which was really interesting, especially the bits about the carrots (for me). He had a wonderful slide/music show about the moving of bees which included the truck going over, the bees getting put back together, and working away in a field (I like visuals). A very good piece about pricing, and an encouragement for pollinating beekeepers to ask for realistic prices. As I said, he had an honest explaination about what treatments he used and why. Much of what he talked about I had been aware of as I’ve helped Bruce Bowen prep bees and load them for pollination. What was very nice is that he made it clear that the needs and demands on pollinating beekeepers are different than those on honey producing beekeepers. It’s always good to bear in mind that different business models often have diverse demands on their time and money. He’s a good speaker – I very much recommend.

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