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Heather Ward
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Hi all, I have a question about bees. I want to have a hive, but I do not eat any honey (or other sugars) and I am interested in pollination and the pure pleasure of watching the bees.  I would like to interfere with them as little as possible. If I get a Warre hive, what is the minimum that I can safely do in the way of opening the hive/handling and interfering with the bees?
 
Norma Guy
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What about just encouraging mason bees by putting up nesting tube houses? And encouraging pollinators with polyculture? If you're not interested in honey it seems there might be other ways to go about it.

There is a really good series on YouTube by a Floridian professor on beekeeping, disease and pest management, etc.  In general the hands-off approach isn't very popular with serious apiarists, being seen as akin to buying cows and forgetting about them.  In Ontario hives have to be registered exactly because of the irresponsible practices that can come along with experimentation with a livestock that can migrate and infect wild colonies.

However if youre quite keen on trying it (not sure what the general consensus will be here) the top-down style hives seem to provide a very natural framework for comb building.
 
David Livingston
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What's the minimum you can do ?
Zero nothing zilch etc etc
Set them up and leave them to it in 4 boxes
I built a log hive and just let them be bees cost a little bit of my time oh and a log . There is a picture in the link below .
https://permies.com/t/31583/Permie-Pennies-France

David
 
James Landreth
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You can leave them completely alone, save for putting new bees in there (from a swarm for example) whenever they die out.

Preservation Beekeeping is a good resource/website for this. It was co-founded recently by Jacqueline Freeman. She does hands off beekeeping. I even know people who do hands off beekeeping in langstroths. She and my friend Susan are moving into woven hives and in-tree hives, neither of which are accessed.

Good luck
 
David Livingston
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You might also want to check out the natural beekeeping trust
http://www.naturalbeekeepingtrust.org/#!
They have lots of info on left alone beekeeping

David
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
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I built a Perone hive and I have never opened it since I built it.  My Warre hives died off, but so far the Perone hive is doing great.  This is only their second winter though, so it isn't a long term observation.
 
David Livingston
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Hi Norma
I don't quite understand your comments about just having a colony and leaving it alone . To me it is much more unhealthy to crowd hives unnaturally together , requeen every year and feed them artificial food , drug them and tear the roof off every two weeks just to see how they are doing and import packages from hundreds of miles away .

David
 
Chris Edwards
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Location: north central Alabama, USA
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Heather, your profile does not give your location, so please forgive me if my comments turn out to be geographically, or otherwise inappropriate..  I keep bees , apis mellifera (?) variants in Langstroth style hives, in north central Alabama, USA. By law, managed bees in Alabama, & in all other U.S.states except one (Minnesota?), are required to be kept in hive arrangements such that the individual combs can be removed & inspected. As I understand it, this is to help control bee diseases such as American foulbrood. If you do not plan, nor wish to  harvest honey or other products of the hive, may I suggest  encouraging Bumble bees?  You can even purchase commercially  produced bumble bee hives, for about the same cost as a "package" of honey bees, and avoid the often rancorous debate over the proper care and management of honey bees.
   I believe that Bumble bees are a much better pollinator, serving many plants that  honey bees can not, and, as long as their home is not  threatened, Bumbles I have seen are very docile creatures.  Good Luck, CE
 
Heather Ward
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Chris Edwards, I greatly appreciate your suggestion regarding bumblebees. I wasn't even aware that they could be purchased, and they would be perfect since they do well in the wild in my area. (I have had poor luck with mason bees, for whatever reason.) I will set about establishing bumbles in my yard. Thanks!
I remain interested in more natural beekeeping, since it seems to me that cracking open hives regularly is pretty unnatural, but since I don't need honey I will leave that to people more expert with bees.
 
Gregory T. Russian
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Location: Mad City, Wisconsin
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Heather Ward wrote:Hi all, I have a question about bees. I want to have a hive, but I do not eat any honey (or other sugars) and I am interested in pollination and the pure pleasure of watching the bees.  I would like to interfere with them as little as possible. If I get a Warre hive, what is the minimum that I can safely do in the way of opening the hive/handling and interfering with the bees?


In your case, I would not even bother to spend the time, and effort, and money to establish a honey bee hive (be aware of high risk of loosing them anyway).

Be aware that the honey bees (Apis Mellifera) are not that great a pollinator as is.
Here is good read for you to quickly understand the issue: http://dnr.wi.gov/wnrmag/2009/06/bees.htm

Instead, focus on creating a good habitat for other wild bees (bumble, mason, solitary, etc) like other suggested.
You still can establish bee houses, but for the solitary bees instead.


 
Gregory T. Russian
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Heather Ward wrote:Chris Edwards, I greatly appreciate your suggestion regarding bumblebees. I wasn't even aware that they could be purchased, and they would be perfect since they do well in the wild in my area. (I have had poor luck with mason bees, for whatever reason.) I will set about establishing bumbles in my yard. Thanks!
I remain interested in more natural beekeeping, since it seems to me that cracking open hives regularly is pretty unnatural, but since I don't need honey I will leave that to people more expert with bees.


I would not purchase bumble bees as this only introduces some non-native species that don't belong there.
By importing bees (or any insects that don't belong) you will not help much, but rather create more/new problems.
Just create a good habitat for them and they will come (your local bees that is - this is important).
 
Heather Ward
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I greatly appreciate everyone's input and am reading with great interest about our native bumbles and how to encourage them. I do have one more question while I have the attention of people to know about bees. We have a lot of Carpenter bees in my area, a very large solid black bee that burrows in wood. Most of us here have exposed wood beams and so my neighbors consider the carpenter bees destructive, but they prefer cottonwood to hardwood and I wonder if a stack of cottonwood logs would suit them well enough to leave the house alone. Any thoughts, and are they good pollinators?
 
Gregory T. Russian
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Heather Ward wrote:I........... Any thoughts, and are they good pollinators?

I would give it a try - the logs.
There is nothing to lose.

Yes, these carpenter bees are good pollinators.
Pretty much any solitary bee (including carpenter bees) is a better pollinator pound-for-pound than the honey bees.

The key there is to create a habitat and have as many as possible those solitary bees per some area (and toss bumble bees into the mix).
In my case, a couple of hedge rows help a lot, and also a non-mowed, overgrown green space right behind the property.
These make for a great bug sanctuary. This is what you really need - a bug sanctuary.

honey bees are a non-factor in my own backyard orchard. Zero. Nothing. No help from them at all.
Just the bumble bees and solitary bees and flies do excellent pollination job for me. More then I need.
 
Gregory T. Russian
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Gregory T. Russian wrote:This is what you really need - a bug sanctuary.


So to sum this up - if you are interested in pollination, do the bug sanctuaries (NOT mass mono-culture pollination to be sure, that is different thing).
Doing honey bees for some small scale pollination is a misguided thing.
It does not work, and costs in time, money and frustration.

Bug sanctuaries is the key.
 
David Livingston
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depends on  what you define as work Gregory. It works for me I only have one hive  in each orchard plus I have lots of bumbles mason bees etc
 
Aida Alene
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I would second the person who said that purchasing bumble bees is not a good idea. I have done a lot of reading on Bombus and it seems that the few varieties you can purchase are designed to live in greenhouses to pollinate for commercial operations and that there is issues with these 'farmed' bees spreading disease to wild colonies...

Another note on Bombus nests, many of the commercially available nest boxes are just cute pricey ornaments, i would suggest trying to build you own that are designed in a way where they can be buried into a north facing bank near enticing flowers. Bombus do prefer to be underground rather than seeking out a nice wooden bird house like structure above ground.

Good luck
 
Anne Miller
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If you are only interested in watching bees at work, why not plant a Bee Garden.  We had many bees and bumble bees this summer on the blue sage that I planted in my Monarch Garden.  I even saw a bee that was a iridescent green.
 
Gregory T. Russian
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David Livingston wrote:depends on  what you define as work Gregory. It works for me I only have one hive  in each orchard plus I have lots of bumbles mason bees etc


Personally to me, beekeeping is enjoyable activity and more.
But this is because I know what it is (I was raised on a bee yard).
I even build my own custom hives and catch feral swarms.

At the same time we observe way too many people try at and fail at it (or resign from it after trying and loosing interest).
Usually these people get all these wrong ideas about "pollination", "dying bees" and the like due to the misleading media buzz.

Like I said I have a healthy backyard orchard (many varieties of edible fruits/berries - apples, peaches, black currants, gooseberries, raspberries, plums, pears, honeyberries, aronia, etc).
I produce more than enough of my own fruit now days.
I did not have honey bees since I started this orchard ten year ago; no honey bees were around at all during the fruit pollination season.
Yet I always have had good crops (regardless of how bad the spring was) due to a healthy population of other insects, notably bumble bees.

Last year I re-entered honey beekeeping looking of my own bee products primarily.

My honey bees *might* supplement the backyard pollination but it is not necessary for me and will be insignificant anyway.
Honeybees are looking for large pastures of nectar/pollen source of mostly the same variety where their efforts will be worth the effort and efficient.
They are not interested much in small, mixed type "bee gardens" as this is not efficient for the large bee colony efforts.
Think of a big business organization that will not be pursuing any small project to do - they will spend more resources then the payback they will receive back.
The honey bees run just like big business - they are looking for big projects.
They will ignore a small project next to the hive and will instead fly 1-2 miles en mass to a big project (as an example).

This is all misguided idealistic idea that honey bees must be there to pollinate a couple of apple trees that you planted.
Not so at all.

The solitary bees/bumble bees WILL take advantage of the "bee gardens" on the other hand because they are "small operators" and much more local and don't fly too far from their nesting site.


 
Gregory T. Russian
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Anne Miller wrote:If you are only interested in watching bees at work, why not plant a Bee Garden.  We had many bees and bumble bees this summer on the blue sage that I planted in my Monarch Garden.  I even saw a bee that was a iridescent green.


A good observation "bee garden" can be made of mint, catnip, and similar plants from the same mint family.
Most bees really love these (even honey bees will come to such garden).
I happen to have one - too much volunteer mint is taking over!
 
Cj Sloane
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Heather Ward wrote:I want to have a hive, but I do not eat any honey (or other sugars) and I am interested in pollination and the pure pleasure of watching the bees.  I would like to interfere with them as little as possible. If I get a Warre hive, what is the minimum that I can safely do in the way of opening the hive/handling and interfering with the bees?



I think there are benefits to having a hive with minimal interaction. I think the minimum number of hives to be treatment free is 4 or 5. I have 3 ATM

Keeping bees has heightened my awareness of the bees on my property. I've counted  up to 9 bee species. Either way, the best way to help the bees is to leave lots of weeds, edge, and a water source they wont drown in.

You could always set up a few swarm traps and then not move them.

Here's an introduction to treatment-free beekeeping.
 
Aida Alene
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I wanted to share this abstract from a study done in Ireland as it seemed relevant. Why it is not a good idea to purchase bumble bee hives.

"Worldwide, wild bumble bees (Bombus spp.) are experiencing marked declines, with potentially up to 11% of species currently under threat. Recent studies from North America suggest that disease transmission from commercially reared bumble bees to wild populations has led to marked range contractions in some species. In Europe, data on the prevalence of pathogen spillover from commercial to wild bumble bee populations is lacking, despite the widespread production and transport of hives within the EU since the early 1980s. We determined the permeability of cropping systems to commercial bumble bees, and quantified the prevalence of four pathogens in commercial Bombus terrestris hives and adjacent conspecific populations at increasing distances from greenhouses in Ireland. Commercial bumble bees collected from 31% to 97% of non-crop pollen, depending on the cropping system, and hives had markedly higher frequencies of two gut parasites, Crithidia spp. and Nosema bombi, compared to adjacent populations, but were free of tracheal mites. The highest prevalence of Crithida was observed within 2 km of greenhouses and the probability of infection declined in a host sex- and pathogen-specific manner up to 10 km. We suggest implementing measures that prevent the interaction of commercially reared and wild bumble bees by integrating the enforcement of national best management practices for users of commercial pollinators with international legislation that regulates the sanitation of commercial hives in production facilities."
 
Mike Turner
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Gregory T. Russian wrote:

Honeybees are looking for large pastures of nectar/pollen source of mostly the same variety where their efforts will be worth the effort and efficient.
They are not interested much in small, mixed type "bee gardens" as this is not efficient for the large bee colony efforts.
Think of a big business organization that will not be pursuing any small project to do - they will spend more resources then the payback they will receive back.
The honey bees run just like big business - they are looking for big projects.
They will ignore a small project next to the hive and will instead fly 1-2 miles en mass to a big project (as an example).

This is all misguided idealistic idea that honey bees must be there to pollinate a couple of apple trees that you planted.
Not so at all.

The solitary bees/bumble bees WILL take advantage of the "bee gardens" on the other hand because they are "small operators" and much more local and don't fly too far from their nesting site.




Around here, honeybees will visit a solitary blooming grape-holly, peach tree, or eucalyptus tree.  This winter as the numerous red maples are blooming, honeybees were visiting my single early peach that was in bloom at the same time.  Honeybees are very effective at pollenating off season (November through early March) blooming plants.  At this time the native pollinators are mostly in winter dormancy, but honeybees will be out searching for flowers on any sunny day when the outside temperatures are above 40 degrees F.  Since honeybees form a perennial colony, they can start building up their numbers in late winter using food stored the previous season in anticipation of early spring honey flows.  They are very effective at pollinating those early blooming stone fruits at a time when the population of native pollinators is limited to those that have overwintered.  At this time of year bumblebees are not a factor since their population is limited to overwintering queens and it will be later in the year before their colonies can build up to where they are a significant presence.  This winter has been unusually warm and I have peaches, plums, pluots, and apricots in bloom all being visited by honeybees.  Except for a few hover flies, not a single native pollinator is to be seen, the carpenter bees won't show up until March.  I have an early peach that blooms in January and it never set fruit until a colony of honeybees moved onto the property.  There is no New World counterpart to the Eurasian honeybee, no native pollinator that forms a perennial colony in a temperate climate.  Since most of our fruit trees hail from the Old World and most are very early spring bloomers, they are a closer match to honeybee population dynamics than our native pollinators can provide.

Two springs ago I built a top bar hive and within two months a feral swarm had moved in.   Except for last June when my beekeeping brother inspected the hive, they have been completely on their own.
 
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