About Our Beekeeping Practices
Folks often ask us about our beekeeping practices. We'll try to summarize them here as best as we can. We hope you find it interesting.
It should be noted that we view the Certified Naturally Grown Apiary Standards as the minimum bar of achievement for our practices. We are a proud CNG certified operation.
Division of Labor
Todd does most of the digital work, marketing, much of the bookkeeping, and most of the artwork for the business (websites, labels, etc.). He is also the "equipment man". Nearly every hive and frame has been built by Todd. You can call him grunt laborer or drone if you like.
Monica does most of the beekeeping. This includes daily management and breeding. She is also the soap mistress! Soap, lip balm, ..., all of our value-added products. When you call our beeline, she is the one most likely to answer.
We use standard langstroth hives (deeps for brood, and mediums for honey) that we "paint" with either a natural oil-based wood preservative, or with beeswax. When painted with beeswax, it's done with a beeswax / turpentine mix in order to thin the beeswax so that it penetrates the wood. The turpentine then evaporates off leaving the beeswax behind. Note: Turpentine is just distilled pine resin, so, pretty darn "natural".
We are also toying with with top-bar hives. Though interesting and fun, we prefer langstroth hives. They are simply more versitile. And no, top-bar hives are not more natural. They are just a different way to keep bees... and a whole lot of fun! They are cheaper though, and for folks with back or lifting issues, top-bar hives may be something worth checking out. For us, though, we will predominantly stick with old, boring langstroth-style hives.
We use wood, wax, staples/nails, glue and wire. No plastic in our hives (except for a feeder now and again). The bees don't like it, so neither do we. Note to fans of plastic frames or foundation: More power to you. Yes the bees will eventually work plastic, but push come to shove, bees prefer wax. We don't see a reason to argue with them.
We wire nearly all of our frames. We know many many people that don't wire their frames (they use crimp-wire foundation), but let us tell you why we do...
- Wire adds stability to foundation.
- Wire adds stability to comb if no foundation is used.
- When we do use foundation, we use wire-free foundation...
- When comb needs to be rotated, or gets severely damaged (those darn moths!), we cut out the comb and throw the frame back in the hive. The bees will drawn out pristine, foundation-less comb - the stabilizing wire we added is already there, so no more work is needed
- We are always incorporating foundation-less frames into our hive management.
We are on a 3 to 5 year frame rotational schedule. As soon as the bees draw out a frame, we write the year on that frame - yes, every single frame. Yes, it is a bit tedious.
We feed sugar water to our honey bees only if needed. We harvest honey after the primary nectar flow in June or July. All the honey they produce the rest of the year stays on the hive.
Sometimes the bees need more food. If so, we give it to them. Fall is the critical season. Honey bees have to go into winter fat. Fat (well fed) bees are healthy bees.
We are trying to find the right balance. Our goal is to eventually to get to the point that we only rarely have to feed the bees. We are not there yet.
We use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques to monitor and reduce mite issues.
Practices we use
- screen bottom boards (for the most part)
- occasional mite counting
- weak hive culling
- breed off of our absolutely strongest, survival hives
- Genetic diversity - queen swapping - purposeful but limited "other bee" introductions (GA package, some swarms, some feral bees)
Practices we are considering
- queen trapping (brood interruption)
- formic acid treatment (or the like) if it means dodging a catastrophe that would put us out of business
Practices we are unlikely to adopt
- drone trapping: We think this defeats the purpose, and... we like our drones.
- feral hive/swarm incorporation just for the sake of feral hive/swarm incorporation. Why? Because most feral bees are probably not truly feral. We need some evidence that they survived for more than 2 or 3 years on their own. For example, one of our breeder queens comes from a feral colony that has survived for over 20 years.
- toxic chemicals
- small cell - anecdote is not the same as evidence, and the evidence is not compelling. Sorry. Though our bees do get a bunch of foundation-less frames. They draw many sizes of cells, and usually more drones than one would expect. Maybe there is something to the small cell hypothesis, but we'll wait until the smoke clears to see what the real evidence suggests.
All that being said, we are always open to change, and these practice will probably change over time.
Monica runs our breeding program. We select for a strong brood pattern, survivability, hygienic behavior, and gentleness. We have seeded our breeding program with several queens whose colonies we know have survived for many years even though exposed to mites (like all hives now). We incorporate local beekeepers' queens into our genetic pool and add some genetics from a prominent Georgia queen breeder as well.
Monica grafts our queens or makes natural splits when swarm cells are found. The presence of supercedure cells usually spells the end of the current queen. If they are superceding, something is wrong with that queen.
At this time, we only pollinate serious gardeners or small farmers that follow organic, or organic-like, or Certified Naturally Grown, or similar practices. Thing you might fall into that category? Talk to us!
The honey we sell is our honey. We are not packers, we produce our honey. Hence, we have honey from approximately July 4th to October or November. If you find a local beekeeper selling local honey in the dead of winter, ask that beekeeper a lot of questions about how he or she is able to offer a supply year round. Ask them outright: "Is this your honey?" "Is this even local?" It all depends on what is important to you.
Bath and Body Products
Our bath and body products are made with our honey and our beeswax. Always. All ingredients are as close to nature as possible and of the highest quality. No artificial preservatives, no artificial hardeners.
Monica makes all of her soap using the old-fashioned, traditional, slow-process, cold-process techniques. No glycerine is taken out and she has refined her recipes to near perfection over the process of many years now.
Our candles may or may not be augmented with wax from a 3rd party. We simply don't produce enough beeswax. We'd use just our own, but we like beeswax products, as does our client base. We want to be upfront that this is one area we can't sustain in-house - yet! Please note: All other products use The Carolina Bee Company beeswax exclusively!
We hope that gives you a bit of insight into our beekeeping methods and practices. Feel free to contact us if you have any further questions.