jacob wustner

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since Sep 25, 2012
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Born and raised in Missoula, MT.  Studied Environmental Studies with emphasis in public policy @ Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin.
Keeping own bees for 8 years, worked for Beekeepers for 15 years.  Working to educate people on the importance of wild areas and indigenous culture.
Western Montana
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Recent posts by jacob wustner

Hi Nancy,

If you are worried about the chemicals, ditch the equipment. Use the equipment if you don't care about the chemicals. Starting fresh is basically the only way to be sure your equipment is free from beekeeper introduced contaminants. Beeswax, and thus combs, are notorious for absorbing chemicals. Do the bees a solid, and get some new boxes and frames. If it smells nasty to you, the bees probably wont like it either. New wax is the most beautiful anyway.
5 years ago
I have seen similar things in commercial beekeeper's yards. Usually it happens on a very strong honey flow, they build comb on the outside underneath the pallet. I agree that it could have been a swarm that didn't make it far from the colony for whatever reason. But I also thought it could be because they were on such a strong honey flow, and because their genetics may come from a commercial beekeeper, they just did this because they needed more room for honey storage and maybe brood production. It would be interesting to know if there was brood in the middle of those outside combs. Since most beekeepers use a mediterranean honey bee, they don't necessarily display the characteristics of a honey bee more adapted to a Michigan environment.

I don't think they necessarily made a bad decision as much as didn't have any options. Swarming isn't a good idea in the fall in northern environments, and usually swarms can get further away than this. I think it may have to do with the fact that the mother colony of this feral hive could have come from a hive who isn't locally adapted.
5 years ago
The beekeeper I learned from who keeps bees in Missoula, MT, winters all of his hives on the ground. The only thing between the hive bottom board (langstroth hives) and the ground was a "pack board" which all of the wintering hives set on, side by side, for winter. They were just long 1x4s that were old and rotting. He made sure that all of the bottom cleats of the hives sat on the wood boards and not directly on the earth. I was thinking about raising my hives off of the ground more, but then another local beekeeper told me that the beekeeper in his area who wintered his hives on the ground, his hives had better survival rates than those who had their hives raised up off the ground. So I started thinking there might be something to it.

We have a very dry climate, even in winter. And if it does snow, the snow sits on top of a tar paper and straw cap that covers the entire "pack" of colonies in the yard. Mice are not really a problem if you upkeep good equipment with small entrances that they cant crawl through. They may chew their way in, but what are you gunna do about a mouse chewing their way into your hive! I guess raise it up off of the ground, they might not get in. But that is only if you use steel posts or something similar that they cant crawl up. And when the snow does get deep, remember mice can get on top of it. We don't have hive beetles, so that isn't a worry. So maybe in certain places with hot dry summers and cold bitter winters, the ground may be the way to go. I'm not sure about this though. Does anyone else have stories about hives doing better on the ground than up in the air a bit? I am curious to know.
5 years ago
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.
5 years ago
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.

5 years ago
Hey Jeff!

I was thinking about your idea of log hives up in trees on hunter stands, and I have more critiques. First, if you want the bees to survive year after year, you will need large enough colonies to make it through your winters. This would require large log hives, that would end up weighing way more than most humans(400-500lbs) when filled with honey and pollen. And if for some reason one came loose and fell, it could be disastrous. With lightweight hives you wouldn't have good enough insulation from the wind, and they still would be heavy when filled with honey(300-350lbs).

I was thinking about the wind and how people don't usually put hives in windy areas for a good reason. So my platform idea is kinda out because the wind would tear it apart, unless it is constructed really well. If you put it in a shelter belt or a thick stand of large trees, then you probably would be fine. I think most people have found through experience that everyone (the bees and beekeepers) are safer when there isn't a lot of up and down moving of hives or honey. That is a large amount of work and is dangerous.

So maybe the flat roof top, or the top of an earth shelter would be best for your idea. The bees get their vertical and you can safely access them when you need to. I don't know how many bears you have over there in ND, but here you can't leave hives unprotected from bears. They will find them with their excellent noses!

Anyway, food for thought...
5 years ago
Hey Jeff!

I like your writing style and wit. I also have had many of the same ideas. Many of which I have not tried, but have heard of many people around the world doing similar things.

To answer your short list of questions:

1. Honey is generally harvested in the autumn because that is when the honey flow is over and and the honey is ripe enough to take and it won't spoil. Many permaculture beekeepers wait until spring as to leave plenty for the bees in winter, and there being little chance of unripened honey. This saves work by not having to feed back. Most commercial guys want the honey out of the comb before it has a chance to granulate (and thus making it difficult to extract). One can, if knowledgeable enough, harvest many times a year. But the beekeeper must be certain of the ripe condition of the honey.

2. Lots of beekeepers have permanent bee yards (apiaries), and it is a great idea! Putting them up in trees is dangerous for the bees and the beekeeper. Putting them on a flat roof or a platform is a much better idea. Honey is heavy, and with the wind moving the trees, its best if the bees actually live inside the tree like they do in nature. You could put log hives up on a platform or rooftop, and easily accomplish the up in the air idea and be safe and sturdy. The bees would naturally colonize appropriately sized log hives, and once you are set up there you go. Be sure to check with your state whether or not you can have hives that don't have moveable combs. If you can't have log hives, then top bar hives would be a good bet. Lots of people hang top bar hives from trees around the world. My guess is they don't have the climate that north dakota does (wind/cold). You could also build earth shelters(wofatis) and place the hives on the top near the drop off and it may give the bees of the sense of being high up. Other wise I think a shipping container would be best. Bees on top with a wind break, stairs up and down, and you could turn the container into a processing and storing space. All in one unit. Placing individual hives long distances apart doubles or triples the workload because of the start/stop and travel. Thats why people have had apiaries for thousands of years. Way more profitable for the beekeeper. I think you need a bee house on top of a building/earth shelter.

3. Well not trucking bees around is better for the bees and for humans too! The only reason they are trucked around now is because honey is devalued and beekeepers have to send their bees in order to make a living. If the sugar industry hadn't killed the honey industry, the world would be a different place. I don't think beekeepers like shipping their bees, but they also do like money. When California and other states can keep enough pollinators alive that they don't need honey bees for pollination, then we will see and end to this pollination dependancy.

4. First off let me say I admire your enthusiasm and creativity! Your idea for setting up hives for the bees is awesome, and surely you will catch some swarms! You may catch local feral bees, or domestic imported bees from the beekeepers in your area. Keep note of differences between your hives. Since bees fly large distances, they are able to inhabit almost anywhere. There are definitely areas that are better than others for many reasons. You have put so many ideas down that I can't address them all. But you might find answers to many of your questions in my online beekeeping course designed for permaculture beekeepers.

5. If you look at bee keeping around the world, there are many hive designs ranging from living trees that have cavities created by humans slowly over the years, to people making top bar hives out of plastic barrels, to beautiful and elaborate bee houses, the variations are endless. Because north dakota is so cold and windy, I would suggest looking into bee houses. They provide protection in the winter and shade in the summer. I've got tons of ideas for you!

6. Dee Lusby always recounts how she kept bees up on the high line in Montana in langstroth deeps. But she says the key is having large colonies with lots of honey stores for insulation to get them through the winter. So yeah lots of people do it. I am in Missoula, MT which isn't like north dakota but still can be cold. I can only agree with Dee Lusby from what experience I have seen, large hives with lots of honey stores make it through the winter. Small ones freeze, light ones starve. The combination of the two is a death warrant. Pretty simple really.

I hope this gets you going and thinking more about what to do!

Marty - Awesome videos! This is exactly what I want to do! But I am scared of getting caught!!!
5 years ago
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.
5 years ago
Evan, I think your little yellow flower is a yellow bell, not a glacier lily.
6 years ago

I can only tell you what I have learned from being a commercial beekeeper in Western Montana. The standards may differ between region and beekeeper. When we place 24-28 colonies on a landowner's property, that landowner receives 30 pounds of honey each year, regardless of the honey crop. Now depending on the year, the 30 pounds of honey would be a different percentage of the total crop. On a good year here, lets say that the beekeeper gets 100 lbs of honey per hive. In a yard of 24 hives, that would be 2400 lbs of honey. 30 divided by 2400 is 1.25%, not a very high percentage. ON a bad year, a very bad year, maybe the beekeeper would get 30 lbs per hive, which would be 720 lbs. The 30 lbs of rent honey would be more like 4.17% of the total crop, which would be significant for the beekeeper. So I would say on average the landowner gets 1-2% of the honey crop, while the beekeeper keeps the rest.

This is standard for commercial beekeeping where I am from. It could differ between regions, especially when the honey country differs greatly. You have to understand that beekeepers are like most farmers, they don't make a lot of money unless they operate lots of hives. 30 lbs of honey is way more than the average american family consumes in a year, so most landowners are completely enthralled with this type of arrangement. Personally I eat about 120 lbs of honey each year, so obviously I have to keep a few hives just to feed myself. If you make an arrangement with a beekeeper who doesn't know what is standard for leasing a spot for bees, then they probably are not really doing it for a living. And when they hear how little of a percentage a commercial outfit gives the landowner, they may think that they shouldn't share that much of the honey. But if you can't keep your landowner happy, you are not going to have the spot for long.

Remember, the beekeeper is taking all the risk in keeping hives. The landowner usually just risks getting stung. There is so much work involved in keeping hives commercially, and you usually don't know how much the beekeeper works unless you stay home 24-7 to make sure the beekeeper isn't coming to work the hives. Beekeepers operate on natures time, and show up to bee yards when they need to. Usually the landowner is working somewhere else and we rarely see each other. Extracting honey is a very small part of the work, most of the work involves keeping them alive and in the equipment. It is great that you watch over the bees and provide water, but remember that you don't really see all the work the beekeeper does to make a living. Not all of it is done in the bee yard.

Of course, it sounds like your beekeeper is not very professional and may be taking advantage of you. My suggestion is to not be confrontational, but inquisitive. As questions like; "How many hives do you keep?', "How long have you been keeping hives?", "Where did you learn how to keep bees?", "How was your last season?", "How is this year shaping up?", or "How are the bees doing?". This way you can accurately compare your situation to most commercial operations who run 500 or more colonies, have been doing it for years, have learned by working for other beekeepers, and are usually honest enough to make sure the landowner is happy with the honey for rent situation. Their business kind of depends on it.

I hope this helps! Feel free to have me clarify anything I said here and if you have more questions please ask!

Jake Wustner
6 years ago