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Organic Traditional Beekeeping 101 Methods

 
Chris Badgett
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Missoula's Jacob Wustner just released an Organic & Traditional Beekeeping 101 online video course: http://organiclifeguru.com/course/beekeeping-101-organic-natural-traditional/



Beekeeping 101 was created over the course of a summer in order to capture a full season with the bees including lots of hands-on time in the hive. The course is intended to be a thorough introduction to keeping bees so that upon completion, you can confidently start your own treatment-free honey bee hive. Taught from a permaculture perspective, this course will teach you a wholistic approach to beekeeping that considers the natural ecology of honey bees and agriculture.



Organic Beekeeping is still a possibility these days, and I'm so grateful for Jacob carrying the torch.

With all the news of colony collapse, it can seem more than challenging to start as an organic and traditional beekeeper.

People like Jacob show us the way and have kept the craft alive with high permaculture standards.

What are you doing with bees?

What are your plans for organic beekeeping in your permaculture vision?

 
tel jetson
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which tradition does the "traditional" refer to?
 
Chris Badgett
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Hey Tel,

"Traditional" refers:
  • Pre Industrial Agriculture
  • Treatment Free
  • Small-Cell
  •  
    Chris Badgett
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    Check out this video where Jacob Talks about how to handle the honey beehive



    He sets you up for success when opening up a hive. He talks about how to approach and work around the bees so as not to anger them. He talks about how to do a hive inspection and what to look for. Then Jacob walks you through the process including use of the smoker, taking the top of without crushing bees, pulling out frames and how to recognize capped brood, green brood, honey, nectar and pollen in a frame.
     
    Burra Maluca
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    I wonder if 'traditional' is the right word to describe the course? I know it means different things to different people, but those hives look like modern langstroth types, not like anything a lot of people would consider traditional. And not exactly pre-industrial-agriculture either.

    I wonder if 'natural' would be a better description?
     
    Michael Cox
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    I was also looking at all those hives leaning awkwardly on a slope. Bees no-likey sloping comb!

    Treatment free is definitely possible, but you need to be prepared for high loss rates in the first few years, and need to have a plan for actively replacing lost colonies each spring (ie by making splits) to speed up the natural selection pressure on your bees.

    Best still is to start with bees that are resistant.
     
    tel jetson
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    Burra Maluca wrote:I wonder if 'natural' would be a better description?


    plenty of folks wouldn't consider it natural, either. or organic. just words, I guess. folks have different ideas about words.

    doesn't mean what you're selling isn't valuable, of course, and I don't doubt that Jacob is quite knowledgeable in his style of beekeeping. it's too bad he fell in with the small-cell crowd, but that's a minor quibble.
     
    tel jetson
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    Michael Cox wrote:
    Treatment free is definitely possible, but you need to be prepared for high loss rates in the first few years, and need to have a plan for actively replacing lost colonies each spring (ie by making splits) to speed up the natural selection pressure on your bees.


    "need" seems a bit strong. words again...
     
    Michael Cox
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    tel jetson wrote:
    Michael Cox wrote:
    Treatment free is definitely possible, but you need to be prepared for high loss rates in the first few years, and need to have a plan for actively replacing lost colonies each spring (ie by making splits) to speed up the natural selection pressure on your bees.


    "need" seems a bit strong. words again...


    I guess I'm talking about emotionally prepared for it. If you have only two hives and suffer high loss rates you may lose both hive in a winter. For an inexperienced beekeeper that is not great, and it does nothing for longer term development of good bee genetics in your apiary. Here in the UK we have lots of beekeepers all in a fairly close proximity, all treating, and we have bees that really struggle with mites on their own. Quite a different situation from some remote patch of wilderness with no other beekeepers and a decent feral bee population. I'm going into winter with 8 colonies and I'll consider myself successful this year if I have two in spring.
     
    Chris Badgett
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    How to keep bees and plan for winter feeding (Natural Methods)



    In this video lesson, Jacob talks about how much honey the bees need to get through the winter. He talks about to know if they have enough. Jacob also shares his thoughts on best practices regarding saving honey in frames in case the hive needs more honey at some point during the winter or spring. In addition, Jacob talks extensively about the whys and hows of insulating hives for the winter.
     
    David Livingston
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    I am curious how small cell ( copywrite dee Lusby ) a recent development can be traditional ?

    David
     
    Samantha Langlois
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    I would say that small-cell beekeeping, as Dee Lusby promotes, can be called traditional because it attempts to recreate the ecology of honey bees before it was dominated by conventional agriculture. The one-sized-cell-fits-all-bees is a product of conventional, industrialized agriculture. Before honey bees were industrialized they fit the ecology of their environment. Attempting to return to that natural ecology sounds traditional to me, even if the modern idea of 'small-cell beekeeping' is technically post-traditional. I've heard, and listened, to the perspective of some permaculturalists who don't believe managed honey bees even have a place in permaculture because that represents too much meddling with the system, not to mention the fact that honey bees are not native to many areas of the world. I don't take such a particular approach to permaculture and honey bees. I have come to believe honey bees can be managed as a very useful tool in our landscape and culture in a way that doesn't have to be detrimental to the honey bee. I've learned a lot from Jacob Wustner. He is a very knowledgeable, experienced, and responsible beekeeper.
     
    David Livingston
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    wouldn't it be more traditional to let the bees decide what size they want their comb to be rather than us humans ? They have been doing it for millions of years

    David
     
    Ken W Wilson
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    Is there a downside to small cell? I'm not sure if there is an advantage but don't see what it can hurt? I started with foundation less frames. Now I have about half small cell one piece plastic. I like the plastic much better. Don't like to go into the hive much to fix comb. Plastic is far from traditional, I know. I've never treated except to feed a little sugar the first winter. I have 8 hives from 4 swarms.
     
    tel jetson
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    Samantha Langlois wrote:The one-sized-cell-fits-all-bees is a product of conventional, industrialized agriculture. Before honey bees were industrialized they fit the ecology of their environment.


    that's true no matter which one size is chosen.

    the small-cell idea came about because of a mathematical error. that small cells are more natural has now become dogma among a certain crowd who, I guess, just take it on faith and don't investigate the historical measurements erroneously believed to support it.

    I believe that followers of Dee Lusby are conflating correlation and causation. they are committed to treatment-free practices, which allow their bees to adapt over time after initial losses. at the same time, they use small-cell foundation and attribute vigor in their colonies to cell size, which doesn't seem likely to actually be a factor.

    here are a couple references, though there are plenty more available:
    Seeley, T. D. & Griffin, S. R.(2011) Small-cell comb does not control Varroa mites in colonies of honey bees of European origin. Apidologie 42:526–532
    http://www.dheaf.plus.com/warrebeekeeping/do_small_cells_help_bees_cope_with_varroa.pdf
    http://www.dheaf.plus.com/warrebeekeeping/cell_size_measurements.htm


    and does using small-cell foundation cause any harm? I don't know. I don't believe plastic in a hive is a good idea, though there's no reason folks couldn't emboss their own wax foundation. I don't like foundation at all, and prefer to let the bees build what they like.
     
    Samantha Langlois
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    tel jetson wrote:I believe that followers of Dee Lusby are conflating correlation and causation. they are committed to treatment-free practices, which allow their bees to adapt over time after initial losses. at the same time, they use small-cell foundation and attribute vigor in their colonies to cell size, which doesn't seem likely to actually be a factor.


    I think this is a great point and worthy of more investigation and discussion.
     
    Chris Badgett
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    Is organic beekeeping possible?



    In this video lesson, Jacob talks about organic beekeeping. He talks about the challenges of keeping honey bees organically as well as the reasons why it is so important. Jacob also introduces the idea of tuning into nature’s patterns and talks about why this is key to successful beekeeping.
     
    Carol Chung
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    he mentioned in the video harvesting the honey is not the primary reason of beekeepers of keeping bees. So, what 's the main reason?
     
    David Livingston
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    speaking for myself I love the bees
    Keeping bees means interacting with a totally alien intelligence . Most of the time they do there own thing .

    David
     
    Samantha Langlois
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    Carol Chung wrote:he mentioned in the video harvesting the honey is not the primary reason of beekeepers of keeping bees. So, what 's the main reason?


    The pollination services that honey bees provide is REALLY important for both agriculture and wild pollination. Some beekeepers keep honey bees around simply to enhance pollination and plant growth in their gardens, yards, farms, etc. Honey becomes just a bonus!
     
    jacob wustner
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    Howdy Everyone and thank you all to contributing to this discussion!

    I hope someone here eventually bites their lip and takes the class! It seems really cheap to me compared to other stuff I've seen. So I am going to respond to comments in the order that they were given.

    First off - Thank You Chris! You are awesome!

    Tel - the traditional I am referring to is what I feel beekeeping was before the modern conventional/chemical beekeeping that we see everywhere in the industrialized agriculture world.

    Burra - I chose the words organic, natural, and traditional to describe my class on purpose. This is because all other classes that I was seeing were very conventional. I also discuss in detail Warre and Top Bar hive optionals and there respective management styles and techniques. Since moveable comb hives have been around for thousands of years, and the langstroth has been around for 160 years, I don't consider it very modern. Its just the standard hive style for the industrial world for good reason.

    Michael - Yes the slope is a little greater than I like, but when being a beekeeper in Montana, you find ways to work with it. Obviously the more level the better, but I don't mind a slight slope down hill to aid the shedding of moisture. And I agree it is best to start with good genetics, but I teach in my class how you can get the genetics you want without paying top dollar for them.

    Tel - I assume the "it" you are referring to is the langstroth style hive? Im not sure how this doesn't fit into organic beekeeping. I know you don't like handling comb, but I don't see the hive style as contrary to organic management, but rather a preference of the beekeeper.

    And I am so glad I found the small cell community, they are wonderful people and are truly committed to cleaning up beekeeping. Dee is great and I can't wait to meet her. I am also glad I found the permaculture community, and I see a lot of overlap between the two. And Paul's video on CCD convinced me to look into cell size more, and Jacqueline Freeman led me to Dee Lusby's email group which I have been a diligent reader of for the past two years.

    From what I understand, Dee Lusby worked with the military and the government back in the day studying honeybees and taking samples from all over the world. From this worldly perspective, see was able to figure out how to beat all the problems we were seeing with honeybees by regressing her bees down to an appropriate size for her location. And since then many others are trying it too. I guess I am one of them, and while I am experimenting with small cell, I encourage others to as well. I am currently doing both large cell treatment-free and small cell treatment-free. And from my experience I don't currently recommend anyone use large cell bees unless you want high losses or want to treat. I'm not saying that is how it is, but that is my recommendation. I want to teach people how to keep bees successfully without chemicals, and this is the approach I am using.

    Sam - Thank You!

    David - In the U.S. and the industrialized society that blindly follows it, we are currently using a one-size-fits-all approach. The small cell is more accurately called natural cell size, and has a much wider range of sizing based on location. The sizing ranges from below 4.5mm to above 5.2, or over .7mm. In conventional beekeeping, it only ranges from 5.2-5.5 mm, or .3 mm. I would think that small cell theory is thusly much more open-minded and more in tune with nature's patterns. The small cell foundation (4.9mm) is just a tool to get your bees down to an appropriate size where they can take care of themselves. Once you have these hardy little bees, then you can do foundation less. But if you think they will regress on there own before a disease takes them out, then you are in the same mind state I was in 2013. I will tell you from my experience that it didn't happen for me. Varroa took them out before they even thought of regressing.

    Ken - There can't be any harm in trying right? Well when I asked my dad about it (a conventional beekeeper) he said "I don't want small bees, they won't make as much honey!" And this is the same wisdom that began upsizing 150 years ago, and the same mentality in agriculture that bigger is better. But permaculturalists know that older varieties of whatever and usually much hardier and productive, not to mention more nutritions.

    I don't like plastic in the hive either, but I will use small cell plastic frames to help me regress bees so I can carry on my personal experiments until I have lots of small cell bees, then I can feed in 4.9 wax foundation or do foundation less and get rid of the plastic. But basically plastic is not natural for honey bees and they don't like it, but many beekeepers do for obvious reasons.

    Tel - If you go to bee source and check out Dee Lusby's work, she lists many references to support her claims.

    I encourage people to make up their own minds, and not to just believe me.

    The foundation is only based on what the bee keeper wants.

    Carol - I am not sure what I said that you are referring to, but for lots of people, it is about honey. But for some people it is more about having bees and getting pollination. I think what I may have been referring to is that the income from many commercial beekeepers is coming more from pollination than from honey. And that is solely because of our terrible mono crop situation.

    Tel - I encourage you to read more about the community of organic beekeepers. I am a permaculture beekeeper that is very excited to see so many people trying to learn how to keep bees without any treatments, artificial feeds, and in alignment with nature. That is what I am trying to share with people with my online course.

    My thanks go out to Paul Wheaton for getting me to do more research, and Jacqueline Freeman for compelling me to be more open-minded to other ways of thinking about honey bees.
     
    Samantha Langlois
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    Thanks Jacob for answering everyone's questions!
     
    David Livingston
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    Dear Jacob
    I can see that you have found a supportive community of like minded ideviduals and am happy for you . Its good to know that you are not alone in your beliefs maybe its just as a european I have a different perspective on what is traditional as I have a different view on history . This is what I think of as traditional beekeeping .
    or this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBveSf8EwrQ&feature=youtu.be
    As far as the small cell approach goes I have read loads of stuff both for and against as I believe its important to research all sides of the agument and in the end I came to the conclusion that it doesnt matter I let the bees decide . They have been bees all their lives and know whats best for themselves me I'm a human and know whats best for me ( mines a pint thank you )

    David
     
    jacob wustner
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    Hey David!

    I loved your videos! Yeah what traditional beekeeping means will vary based on location, and be different for every individual. To me it is about returning to natural practices like only feeding honey and pollen. I'm not into sugar feeding anymore.

    As far as small cell goes, it would be nice to have more data available to the public on the comb size of wild hives. And by wild hives I mean feral honey bees that are not from commercial beekeepers swarms.

    In the latest study about the arnot forest bees, they say something about the smaller size of the comb, but never mention the small cell beekeepers. If we all were able to locate truly feral honey bees and measure the combs, then we could really get some data to show.

    But using domesticated honey bees is not necessarily give you the patterns that nature sets herself. If you think about the large himalayan honey bees that migrate from the mountains to the low lands every year, it makes sense that they are larger. And as most animals get larger the further north or south you get, it makes sense that honey bees would do the same thing. Larger where its colder, smaller where its warmer.

    But since humans have been keeping and breeding bees for many thousands of years, using their genetics for scientific studies will only prove how they respond to situations, and might not necessarily correlate to wild hives and how they act in nature.

    On another note, I love bee trees! But they seem like a lot of work and I don't like cutting into large trees. I know it may not kill the trees, but I would prefer to let the wild hives use their instincts to find wild cavities! And then trap them out of the trees.




     
    D. Klaer
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    Hi Jacob

    Good going, I hope you do well with it as you are obviously very passionate.

    When I hear traditional I have to admit I do think foundationless regardless of what hive type is used. All hives here are treatment free so from my bias that isn't much of a defining feature of 'traditional' (no Varroa here). I also could never label anything as organic as I cannot control where the girls go. How do you suppose organic can still be practiced there? Or is it more of an 'organically managed hives' type label?

    Langs just make sense and I would never hold that against you. They are the standard for a reason and as you said have been around a long time! I also don't see how they are any less natural that any other removable frame hive so was happy to see you using them

    Good luck with your endeavour. Wishing you all the best.

    Dan
     
    David Livingston
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    Hi Jacob
    Problem is that if you measure wild comb it becomes obvious very quickly that the cells are firstly not all the same size and that the size differs from place to place and by the function of the cell - honey , worker or drone . So for me either you have a situation logically where all the cells are the same size or they are all the wrong size The latter seems more likely . I suggest you measure the size/sizes in a wild comb yourself It soon becomes obvious.

    David
     
    David Livingston
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    came across this and thought folks may be interested http://www.naturalbeekeepingtrust.org/#!bee-centred-vs-conventional/sdgc9

    David
     
    Jean-Jacques Maury
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    Would you take a driving class because it says "Traditional Driving" or a fishing class because it says "Traditional Fishing". I won't even get into the "organic" part but I live near an "organic mechanic" so why not?
    I am not making any judgement on the quality of the course, just commenting on the wording - maybe "Excellent Course for Starting Beekeeping"?
     
    jacob wustner
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    Hello Everybody!

    Thanks again for posting here!

    I will try to answer comments/questions as they came.

    Hi Dan! - I am teaching beekeeping, not honey production, although one might assume they are one in the same. When I talk about organic beekeeping, I am referring to management practices. There are all sorts of ways to label this. One might call it biological field management, another might call it organic.

    When I talk about traditional, I am talking about beekeeping methods from all around the world since the beginning of beekeeping. This is quite a big subject, but I try to put things in perspective for people, so I use my knowledge to educate people about what people did in the past, and what people are doing now. There are so many ways to describe beekeeping practices, I used these adjectives to separate myself from conventional practices.

    Thanks for your positive encouragement and joining in on the conversation!

    Hi David! - When we talk about differences in cell size as pertaining to the different sizes of bees, we are only discussing the size of worker brood, because we know that drone/honey storage cells are larger and vary in size. So we don't include the drone/storage cell sizes when comparing "sizing" of the brood nest. I have measured lots of combs, and from doing foundationless, I have learned much about how they build comb and why they size it. Since going down the treatment free road, I found it very important for me to discuss the size of the bees as one possible reason for the maladies we see so much of today. If it works like people claim it does, then there probably is something to it. I have found it hard to deny the logic of small cell beekeeping, and find it very enticing to try. Why wouldn't I? I have tried lots of other stuff that didn't work, so I am not really afraid of trying something new. There is so much evidence pointing to sizing being an important factor in the ecology of honey bees, that I feel it is something everyone should try, and then we can share information and data we have collected from trying it. Of course, not everyone wants to be that kind of beekeeper, and that is totally fine.

    Hi Jean-Jacques! - Great points! I labeled the class as such, because of my background in beekeeping. In the beekeeping world, there is not much of a consensus on what these things mean, but it does portray the ideas I am supporting. It is a great course for starting beekeeping, but there are a bunch of courses out there. Some of them even claiming to be treatment free or organic. Which is awesome!

    But my class is more for the permaculturalist who wants to be a successful beekeeper and wants to avoid all the bad and mis-information that is out there. Growing up in the industry, I have the special advantage of understand the "why" beekeepers do certain things. Every beekeeper is constantly learning, whether you are 5 years old or 95 years old. Bees and nature will continue to fascinate humans as long as we can co-exist. I suggest strategies and philosophies to help every beekeeper, young and old, to help carry us into the future where we can co-exist in harmony. And lead us away from the direction we seem to be going to as a society.
     
    Gregory T. Russian
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    jacob wustner wrote:...... Since moveable comb hives have been around for thousands of years......

    .......... you are referring to is the langstroth style hive?  Im not sure how this doesn't fit into organic beekeeping. 

    .......... for some people it is more about having bees and getting pollination. 


    While I am totally on board with trying to bring the craft of beekeeping back to pre-industrial basics, have to comment about of these statements:

    - where is there evidence of "thousands of years of movable comb" being used? Any reliable sources?

    - langstroth hive is designed and built for commercial honey production (where it mostly shines); on the opposite, the horizontal hives with super-deep frames are much more "natural" when it comes to it (less invasive by design); there are many designs in the Old World as we speak (Layens, Ukrainian horizontal, Lazutin, etc, etc); here is one US-based example - http://horizontalhive.com/how-to-build/layens-beehive-design.shtml; these are the designs used by simple peasants for hundreds of years where the hands-off management was used - the common people were just too busy for involved beekeeping - they had the fields/livestock to tend to daily; I am unsure why, but the US bee crowd is really missing out on the Old World backyard beekeeping ideas - just search for beekeeping in Eastern Europe at present

    - for those truly concerned about the pollination, I say - restore the habitat for native bees first (only then look at the honey bee); the native bees are much more effective at pollination than introduced honey bee - as simple as that (as much as I adore the non-native honey bee); the issue there is that the non-managed bees are harder to manage for industrial-scale pollination; industrial-scale orchards pretty much assume that most all insect fauna around them is killed off due to continuous chem. applications; however, on smaller scale (backyard orchard, for example), there is no need for honey bee - this is what I do personally.
     
    Gregory T. Russian
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    D. Klaer wrote:
    ....Langs just make sense ..... I also don't see how they are any less natural that any other removable frame hive.....


    Here is one simple test of the "natural" grade of a hive:

    -how often do you need to open the hive every year?

    -ideally - once (pretty much the same as getting honey from a wild tree hive)?
    -twice per year maybe still OK (spring and fall)?
    -more? how is that even "natural" still?

    If a hive needs to be open more than a couple of times per year, how is it still "natural"?
     
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