Beekeeper FAQ

What is the difference between standard beekeeping, natural beekeeping and sanctuary beekeeping?

a) Standard beekeeping accepts all the “progressive”, modern inventions for beekeeping practices and aims at maximizing ease of handling and financial revenues. Mechanization of many of the bees’ life processes (foundations, queen breeding, swarm prevention, sugar/corn syrup feeding, etc.) are welcomed without taking the natural instinct into consideration.
b) Natural beekeeping attempts to stay close to the natural instincts and inherent wisdom of the colony.
c) Sanctuary beekeeping, in addition to natural beekeeping practices, attempts to strengthen the run-down immune system with medicinal teas and growing bee forage with medicinal qualities in mind. And be as far away as possible from Monsanto and -cides.

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What kind of foundation do you use?

We don’t! We practice and teach foundationless beekeeping, and have done so successfully for over 40 years. We see the hive as a single living organism, and the wax is one of its organs. Neither beeswax foundation nor plastic foundation benefits the honeybee. Plastic is a dead material. It has no place in a hive, and even the beeswax foundations have been treated to eliminate foulbrood spores and those toxins remain in the wax. Bees draw their strength from the comb as we draw strength from our bones. You don’t want toxins in the comb.

The pre-stamped hexagonal shapes in foundations work against the bee’s natural instincts for comb building. It does not allow for differentiation in cell size. The solid sheets of foundation also preclude the ability of the bee to leave natural spaces for moving between the combs and for aiding air circulation. Also, we have seen evidence that the wires used in some foundations interferes with the bee’s activities (comb building, dances, etc.).

Just provide a frame with just a small bit of wax strip at the top to help the bees get oriented. That’s all you need. And after the first year, any frames you clean up from very dark comb, cut out the comb in such a way as to leave 1/1″ of comb at the top to help guide the next comb building.

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Do you add ventilation to your hives?

No. The only ventilation in our hives is the hive entrance. Honeybees are perfectly capable of maintaining the appropriate heat and humidity in a hive without the need for additional ventilation. With more than one entrances, they cannot really regulate the temperature of the brood combs as well as needed. On extremely hot days, we may shade the hive with a sheet plywood. Another problem with overly ventilated hives is the loss of hive scent. The scent of the hive is important to the bees; it does not only have medicinal qualities, but also acts as a substance that helps unify and hold the hive together.

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Do you try to prevent swarms?

In a word: NO. A hive that is sending off swarms is a healthy hive. We do capture and re-hive swarms.

Can you recommend resources for Top Bar Hives?

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Can you recommend hive paints?

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What do you do about a)varroa mites, b)nosema, c) small hive beetle, d)wax moths?

  • Varroa mites: Against varroa mites we have good results using a screen board (over the bottom board to monitor the mite drop), medicinal teas and aiming toward strong, vibrant colonies. We have several colonies that get no treatment at all. When a colony has high numbers of mites in the fall (usually this does not happen in the first year, but in subsequent years of life), we use formic acid (MiteAway II is the commercially used brand) and oxalic acid treatments sparingly. These acids are normally present in the colony, but not in a high concentration, and are part of the bees’ life. Both treatments are based on a rigorous, 10-year study in Germany which showed that there is absolutely no accumulation in wax or wood. All other chemicals, including essential oils, accumulate in the wax and let the mites become resistant to the treatment. The use of Thymol, although very effective, for treatment does not have enough research for us to recommend. Our ultimate goal is to strengthen the bees to the extent that they can take care of the mites themselves.
  • Nosema: Against nosema we work with the teas and biodynamic silica spray. We have not seen nosema for many years.
  • Small hive beetles: We see a few hive beetles in some hives, but have not experienced any damage. Strong colonies will take care of them.
  • Wax moths: Wax moths are not a problem in healthy hives. Their job is to clean up what is not occupied. Let them do it. A colony is never killed by the wax moths, but they take over in very weak hives with too much empty space.

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What do you do about a) bacterial disease(foulbrood) b)chalk-brood, stone-brood?

Our approach to these diseases is to allow for natural queen raising (creating stronger queens and hives), allowing the bees to build comb naturally (healthier for the bees), and to not feed them sugar or corn syrup. We only feed our hives honey mixed with bee tea, and only when necessary. Sugar and corn syrup alter the pH of the bees’ gut, which makes them more susceptible to disease. We also plant high quality forage for the bees so they have an excellent source of natural food. We have not had a case of foulbrood in over 40 years (including Gunther’s time before Spikenard Farm).

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Have you ever had Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)?

No, we have had no problems with CCD. We believe that’s because all we do goes into strengthening the honeybees’ immune system.

What do you do against pesticide exposure?

Best thing is to be pre-emptive (a mode of action not to be recommended in other fields of endeavor!). A few years back we threatened the health department with a law-suit if they sprayed our garden against West-Nile Virus. They stayed 1 mile away from our location. But if you know that there will be spraying and can’t avoid it, close your hive tight and give shade. The bees will suffer, but at least not die.

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What is Biodynamic Beekeeping?

A deep, spiritual understanding of the animal – here the honeybee – and respecting its intrinsic needs for health and vitality guides all our beekeeping practices. The “bottom line” is not one of our goals or considerations.

What does ‘Biodynamically invigorated’ landscape mean?

With biodynamic preparations we enliven the soil, enhance the plants’ photosynthesis and steer the compost processes in the right direction. On the basis of sound organic practices, the biodynamic treatments raise the level of health and vitality of plant and animals, resulting in superb nutritional quality of food and forage for the bees.

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What are the best bee forage plants for my garden/yard?

Please click here to view our Bee ForagePlant List.

Can you recommend books?

Please click here to view our Beekeeping Reading List.

Will you share your recipe for Healing Tea for honeybees?

Of course! Please click here to view our Bee Tea Recipe.

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Honeybees are invading my hummingbird feeder. What should I do?

Bees will typically go to a hummingbird feeder when forage is low. There is something you can do: Take down your feeders and plant lots of forage for both the bees and the hummingbirds. Let it be known: feeding hummingbirds (colored!) sugar water is detrimental to the hummingbirds! If you love hummingbirds, don’t feed them! If you DO have to feed them (to satisfy your own passions), then feed them diluted honey. But be sure to change the solution about every couple of days, since the honey will start to ferment. (You can then use the leftovers to make your very own mead!)

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What is the best type of hive for a beginning beekeeper?

There really is no best hive. However, we usually suggest you start with a Langstroth hive. Why? Because these hives are very standardized and it’s easy to maintain more than one hive and swap frames between them if needed. That being said, we use Langstroths in a manner that is somewhat different from conventional beekeeping. We never use foundation in our hives and we don’t use queen excluders. We let the bees be bees.
If you have problems lifting 40-50 pound boxes, then a Top-Bar hive is your next best choice.

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Do you wear suits when you visit the bees?

Honeybees are usually quite gentle. When we open the hives, we are opening up the hive body and making the bees vulnerable. So we not only prepare the hives inwardly and let them know what we are going to do and why, but wearing not protection at all, we are as vulnerable as they are and that puts us on the same base. Then we LISTEN to the colony when we open the hive and usually they will tell us if they don’t want to be disturbed.
Morning hours are better than afternoon visits and so are clear days without rain or thunderstorms!

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I got a sting! What do I do?

Use your fingernail or a credit card to scrape the stinger off your skin. Make sure you don’t squeeze the ‘sack’ on the end of the stinger, that will inject more venom. Once the sting is out, you can try a couple of things to relieve the pain and swelling. We always reach for plantain first. It grows almost everywhere. Assuming your lawn has not been sprayed with chemicals, just chew up a bit in your mouth to make a spit poultice and place it on the sting. If spit poultices aren’t your thing, try a paste of backing soda and water or some activated charcoal mixed with water. Both work very well. And then don’t forget to say “thank you” to the bee that sacrificed her life for your improved health.

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What kind of fuel should I use in my smoker?

At the Sanctuary, we save clippings from the herbs and flowers in the garden. We dry the clippings and then cut them into one inch pieces. Not only does it make great fuel, it smells good and gives a cool smoke, too!

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How can I tell if it’s not a good day to visit the hive?

Some days for visiting the hive are better than others. First of all, sunny days are the best, as mentioned before. Rainy days are a bad idea. Also, the bees can get more aggressive in late summer and fall, particularly when the forage is low. They’re just protecting their honey. Observation is the key. If you go to the hive and one of the guard bees flies out at you and ‘stands’ at your forehead, take that as a warning. It may be best to wait for another day. (Or have someone who is more vulnerable than you are to getting stung, stay close to you; we call this “having a lightning rod”)

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We’ve had some rough winters with hive losses. How do I better protect my bees?

Make sure your hive is protected from the wind with some sort of a windbreak. Wrap your hives – we use black plastic to wrap our hives and stuff rye straw between the plastic and hive for insulation. Tighten up your hive. Don’t make your bees heat unused space. We typically look for a one-to-one relationship between honey and brood frames going into the winter. For every brood frame there should be one full honey frame.

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When should I harvest honey?

We usually only harvest honey in the spring, after the nectar flow has started again. Why? The bees need the honey to get through the winter. Even if we pull full frames of honey in the fall when we are tightening up the hives, we will save those honey frames until the following spring, just in case the bees need it. For the past couple of years we experienced unusually warm weather in January, February and March, which means the bees were active, but not much forage was available. We needed that extra honey to help them pull through.

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What kind of honey do you mix with bee tea?

Ideally, you should use honey you’ve harvested from your own hives. The next best thing would be local organic honey. If you don’t have access to local honey, you can use any organic honey you can find. Do beware of regular grocery store honey. It may not be honey at all, or it may be adulterated.

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How do feel about queen excluders in a Langstroth hive?

We believe bees should be bees and be allowed to do what they would do naturally. We do not use excluders; anyway, the metal ones are way too much metal in a hive (or would you want to have that much metal in your belly?)

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