Treatment Free Beekeeping Conference Plus “What Bees Need”

Northeast Treatment Free Beekeeping Conference Plus “What Bees Need”

Every year Dean Stiglitz and Laurie Herboldsheimer of Golden Rule Honey host the Treatment Free Beekeeping conference in Leominster, MA.  I just recently found out about this conference and this was my first time attending – I’m so glad I did.  If you are into treatment free beekeeping or even curious about it, you do not want to miss this conference next year.  Many rock stars from the treatment free world were there and accessible (which was the best part) to answer any and all questions you had.  The attendees included Michael Bush, Kirk Webster, Dee Lusby, Les Crowder, Dr. Paul Arnold, Sam Comfort, Erik Osterlund, Laurie Herboldsheimer and Dean Stiglitz.

Leominster, MA is the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed

The conference was broken into 2 sections.  Tuesday and Wednesday was the Beginner’s Intensive portion which also included a field day on Thursday.  The Main Conference started with field day and finished with both lectures and some field time on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Food was included and the meals were wonderful. These beekeeper’s sure know how to cook!  Mealtime was also a great way to chat with the speakers and other attendees. 

The best part for me was meeting all the people who are successfully keeping bees treatment free (and who knew the hosts live only an hour away from me). Talking with all the treatment free beekeepers really helps build your confidence to try it out yourself.  Prior to this meeting almost everyone I knew was either using treatments or trying to keep bees treatment free with little success. I have been keeping bees treatment free in my Apiary, except for one weak hive which I was scared into treating last year. It was my only hive at the time and I was afraid of losing it. Treating is taught as necessary for the colonies health in most local bee classes.  I treated that hive once in the spring with Fumagillin for Nosema (which I think was unnecessary) and only once for mites with Thymol (which as it turns out makes the bees cuticle more permeable to toxins).  Although the Thymol killed a lot of mites, which was satisfying to see at the time, I’m not sure if it helped the bees in the long run.  I also gave 3 packages 1 quart of Fumagillian (1/4 of the recommended dose) before stopping treatment and switching to treatment free beekeeping. After this conference, I feel confident that I’m doing the right thing for the bees by choosing not to treat.  Treating your bees ends up breeding better more resistant pests and weaker less resistant bees. Les Crowder stated at the conference that he believes that most bees in America are mite resistant now and treating bees for mites is a waste of people’s money.

On Tuesday Dean Stiglitz started out the beginner’s intensive with a talk about “What Bees Need.”  Dean is the co-author ofThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping” and presents to bee clubs on diverse topics such as queen rearing and breeding, treatment free beekeeping and honeybee photography with point and shoot equipment.  He also runs a teaching apiary with his wife Laurie Herboldsheimer in the Fenway Victory Gardens.

Of course nothing can substitute for actually being there but here are some of my notes from Dean’s talk.

What do bees need?

1. Colony/Population
2. An Anchor for Comb Building
3. Individuals from 3 Visible Castes – the Queen (to lay eggs), the Workers (stunted queens who do not receive the same nutrition the queen does and do all the work) and Drones (boxier bees with eyes that touch on the top of the head and who mate with the queen in the air) And 1 Invisible Caste – The Microbes (to ferment the pollen among other things).
4. Most Likely a cavity to host the comb, a fertile queen and healthy brood.

Eggs do not have a tightly controlled climate as the brood does and the shell actually dissolves instead of hatching. Once hatched the larvae needs to eat.  It is fed brood food or brood milk / royal jelly but in different proportions with different protein content depending on the age.  The nurse bees use their antennae to touch the larvae.  They get the needs of each individual larvae and mix up the food on an individual basis for each larvae depending on its needs and the resources of the colony.  If the colony is starving the brood tends to be drier due to less resources being available than brood in a colony abundant with food.  In the winter, bees keep the brood at 94 degrees.

The beehive is considered a super organism that works like a warm blooded animal. The hive needs warm temperatures up to 94 degrees for the brood, bees feed the brood milk in the form of royal jelly and they have hair on their body that mimics mammalian hair, even though each bee is actually cold blooded.

For the first 3 days of life the queen and the worker bee have the same nutrition, then it diverges and the queen is fed a more nutritious diet.  When the larvae is born it is an eating machine and it’s whole body lays in a pool of royal jelly.  It develops breathing spiracles on one side of it’s body and if you flip it over it cannot breath and will drown in it’s pool of food.  The larvae eats 1500 times and only 1 poop comes out that entire time.  It does not waste anything.

This is a Honeybee Larvae which Dean put under a microscope on field day and projected onto a screen so everyone could watch it eat and breath.

After 3 weeks the new bee emerges. First she will become a nurse bee for a few weeks.  Nurse bees are always found on the open brood, they sometimes have their heads in the cell feeding the larvae.  Trophylaxis is when bees share food by touching their tongues together.  It is also one way they share pheromones and communicate. If something goes wrong and there is no brood smell and no queen smell this will get communicated throughout the hive and after a period of time laying workers will develop.

As the new bee ages she will become a forager.  Foragers collect propolis, pollen, nectar, and water to keep the hive cool.  Collapsed comb is rarely seen in the hive because the melting point of wax is 144 degrees Fahrenheit and bees are able to regulate the temperature of the hive.  Foragers will live for about 2 weeks in the summer because their wings are thin and wear out easily.

5. A Clean Food Supply is something bees need.  Queen bees can fly 7 miles to mate and worker bees can fly 2-8 miles for food.  Sometimes bees in the city actually do better than bees on farms because they are exposed to less agricultural chemicals.  Even organic farms use pesticides that are both natural and synthetic products.  A lot of the organic chemicals used are fungicides that may cause problems with the fermentation of the pollen in the hive.  Some of these organic chemicals do affect bees.  Natural treatments may have a more negative impact than synthetic ones in terms of honeybee health.  Thyme oil is an example of one that is devastating to honeybees.

6. Water – Bees need water to cool the hive down.  Bees track into smells and prefer smelly water. They are attracted to the smell of chlorine in pools and once they start going to your neighbors pool it is hard to train them otherwise.  Try to give them a clean water source before this happens, such as a bucket with rocks in it so bees won’t drown.

Dean Stiglitz looking at one of the virgin queens he raised as it walked along on his hand. He likes to make sure they can walk correctly and do not have any deformities before placing them into a hive.

7. Nectar, Pollen and Bee Bread – Bee bread is fermented pollen and is what the bees eat.  Bee pollen has a sweet yeasty, powdery taste.  Bee bread tastes sour like a deli pickle because it is lacto fermented.  The workers eat brood food. If you use a pollen trap on a hive you will capture 30-40% of the pollen going into the hive. This creates a feedback loop for the bees telling them they are not getting enough pollen and you end up getting more workers foraging for pollen and less for nectar. If you do use a pollen trap leave it on for 1-2 days only. Then take it off for a week.  Also use a pollen trap that has a 3/8″ hole in it so the drones and queens can get in and out if they need to.  Without the hole the drones and queens will not be able to get back inside the hive once they leave.  If you do continuous pollen trapping you will reduce your honey output by about 15%.  Also there can be pesticides in pollen. Nectar is not as exposed to spray and since most of these substances are fat soluble they will be absorbed into the wax and not be in the nectar and honey.

8. Propolis – A sticky substance bees get from plants. Bees do not have an immune system, instead they use the plants immune system.  The take the defense mechanisms of plants in the form of propolis to use in the hive.  Propolis comes in different colors and from different plants including flowers, poplars, pine trees and more.  Amazingly, propolis does not stick to bees. However the propolis carrying bees do need the help of another bee to remove the propolis from their sacs and put it into the hive.  The red, green and brown colored propolis tends to come from poplar trees. Bees need propolis to survive, but sticky hives were seen as trouble for the beekeeper and propolis production has been bred out of many queen lines.

Dean finished by saying that a successful colony is like a successful business – it is both Art & Science.  Throughout this whole talk I just kept thinking of bees as little expert botanists and herbalists walking around the hive.  They are a perfect bridge between the animal and plant world and are much more complicated than any human could ever fully understand.

I have a notebook full of notes, pictures and more videos of the conference and will be posting about if all next week so stay tuned for more information.  You can also subscribe to this blog to be notified of each new post here or get a weekly summary of new posts by signing up for our email newsletter here. Dean and Laurie also have a great video library from previous conferences on their website which can be located here.

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

  1. Top Bar Hive Honey Harvest With Sam Comfort
  2. Top Bar Hive – A New Member In My Bee Family
  3. My Swarm Hive, Milkweed Plus Spot The Queen
  4. Mass Bee Field Day 2012
  5. Neonicotinoids Harm Native Bees + Techniques In Queen Rearing – Mass Bee Spring Meeting 2012