With bee boxes, only one size is necessary — and simpler

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When I was exploring getting into beekeeping, I was standing in the barn of a friend who had kept bees for more than 30 years. The barn was full of “bee equipment,” and my friend was trying to explain some of it to me.

I remember one thing he said.

“If I had to start all over again, I would use only mediums.”

Beehives build with just one size of bee boxes.

Beehives build with just one size of bee boxes.

What he meant, of course, was medium-sized boxes, or Illinois supers. What he said — even though I did not completely understand it at the time — made sense to me, and it translates into a larger principle: the simpler the better.

As most beekeepers know, there are three sizes of bee boxes for the hive: deeps, mediums, and smalls. Each size has its uses, and some beekeepers use all three.

The argument for using deep boxes is that they are for brood (sometimes they are called “brood boxes”), and beekeepers say these boxes allow the queen to develop a good brood pattern. The small boxes weigh less, particularly when they are filled with honey, and if you are harvesting honey by the box, that’s what you should placing on top of your hives.

For my money, the medium is the one-size-that-fits-all box. Medium boxes allow the queen sufficient room to develop a brood pattern. They can get heavy if they are filled with honey, but removing a frame or two can lighten them quickly if that’s a consideration.

If you use only one size of box, you never have to worry about having the wrong size of frames for the boxes you have. That becomes a huge consideration when you are changing boxes and frames at any time of the year.

The arguments for using only one size of box seem to me to far outweigh the arguments for using three sizes.

Besides, I’m pretty certain the bees don’t really care.

 

Key words: beekeeping, beehives, bees, bee boxes, supers, Illinois supers, brood boxes, small bee boxes, brood patterns, harvesting honey, simplicity in beekeeping

 

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May Berenbaum, bee researcher, wins National Science Medal

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May Berenbaum, a well-known entomologist and bee researcher at the University of Illinois, has been awarded a National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama.

May Berenbaum (photo: University of Illinois)

May Berenbaum (photo: University of Illinois)

The medal is the nation’s highest honor for achievement and leadership in advancing fields of science.

Berenbaum’s work has concentrated in how bees and other insects interact with plants.

But she has also worked to demystify insects and to make them less scary in the minds of the public. Berenbaum was the inspiration for the X Files television show’s fictional entomologist Bambi Berenbaum.

She has written numerous books and articles about bees, including

Berenbaum was one of 10 scientists to receive the medal, which will be awarded at a White House ceremony later this year.

In making the award, Obama said of these scientists:

“These scholars and innovators have expanded our understanding of the world, made invaluable contributions to their fields, and helped improve countless lives. Our nation has been enriched by their achievements, and by all the scientists and technologists across America dedicated to discovery, inquiry, and invention.”

The National Medal of Science was created by statute in 1959 and is administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation.

Other recipients of the medal include

·        Bruce Alberts, University of California, San Francisco, CA

·        Robert Axelrod, University of Michigan, MI

·        Alexandre J. Chorin, University of California, Berkeley, CA

·        Thomas Kailath, Stanford University, CA

·        Judith P. Klinman, University of California, Berkeley, CA

·        Jerrold Meinwald, Cornell University, NY

·        Burton Richter, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University, CA

·        Sean C. Solomon, Columbia University, NY

And a posthumous medal to:

·        David Blackwell, University of California, Berkeley, CA

 

Key words: May Berenbaum, entomologist, National Medal of Science, White House, President Barack Obama, University of Illinois, bugs, insects, The Earwig’s Tail: A Modern Bestiary of Multi-legged Legends, Honey I’m Home-Made: Sweet Treats from the Beehive Across the Centuries and Around the World, X-files, Bambi Berenbaum

Bees have ‘social mobility’? Questioning the concept

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This won’t be any surprise to beekeepers or people who know anything about bees:

About 20 percent of the worker bees do most of the foraging. And when these foraging bees need to be replaced, other workers step into those roles.

Click on the image to see the New York Times video.

Click on the image to see the New York Times video.

This short video (1:32) from the New York Times makes that point and shows how scientists at the University of Illinois are tracking this social mobility behavior.

While it is sometimes useful to relate the behavior of bees to that of human beings, those comparisons may, in fact, limit our ability to understand what bees are really like.

Bees are insects. They are, as Jim Tew reminded us in August, wild animals. While we think of them as domesticated because we keep them in hives we build, that’s really not what they are.

Bees have a social system, one that works superbly well. The worker bees are equipped to do a variety of jobs inside and outside the hive, and they do those jobs as they see fit.

But to refer to them as “socially mobile” may be taking the bees-to-humans references a little too far.

Key words: social mobility of bees, beehives, social system of bees, worker bees, foraging, Jim Tew, Ohio State University, Alabama Cooperative Extension, jobs of the worker bees, University of Illinois, research on bees

EarthJustice.org goes to court to protect the bees

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A big part of the battle to save bees and improve the environment for all of us is taking place, not in the fields and around the hives, but in the nation’s courtrooms.

One of those battles is being fought by an outfit named EarthJustice.org.

EarthJustice.org describes itself as

. . . the nation’s premiere environmental law organization, built on the belief that we all have the right to a healthy environment. Since our founding in 1971, we’ve defended that right by using the power of the law to fight for the earth and its inhabitants.

With nearly 100 lawyers on its staff, EarthJustice works in three areas:

One of the suits that EarthJustice is working on now is trying to get the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back its approval of the “pesticide Sulfoxaflor, shown to be “highly toxic” to honey bees, and other insect pollinators. Sulfoxaflor is a new chemistry, and the first of a newly assigned sub-class of pesticides in the “neonicotinoid” class of pesticides, which scientists across the globe have linked as a potential factor to widespread and massive bee colony collapse.” You can read more about this suit on this page on EarthJustice’s website.

EarthJustice has extensive information about bees and other environmental challenges. The graphic below is the first of a series of five (the others are reproduced at the end of this post) about the current status of bees in the environment.

final-section1

EarthJustice.org is worth a long look.

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Bee bacteria could sub for commonly used antibiotics

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Scientists are Lund University in Sweden are finding that 13 lactic acid bacteria found in raw honey are possibly powerful agents in combatting infections, particularly those infections that have grown resistant to commonly used antibiotics.

People have known about the healing power of honey on open wounds for hundreds of years, but just why it works has not been clear.

According to the American Bee Journal:

While the effect on human bacteria has only been tested in a lab environment thus far, the lactic acid bacteria has been applied directly to horses with persistent wounds. The LAB was mixed with honey and applied to ten horses; where the owners had tried several other methods to no avail. All of the horses’ wounds were healed by the mixture.

The researchers believe the secret to the strong results lie in the broad spectrum of active substances involved. (quoted)

Here’s a video about the research produced by Lund University.

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Key words: honey, healing powers of honey, lactic acids in honey, raw honey, Lund University, honey used to fight infections, bacteria, bees, honeybees, apitherapy, combatting infections

New thoughts about old comb

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If you look at most any list of “best beekeeping practices,” you will probably find this item:

Remove old comb from the hive and replace it on a regular basis.

It’s one of those items that gives people like us — who are trying to be good beekeepers — a guilty conscience. We may remove old comb, but it’s not likely that we do it regularly or have any system about it.

But it could be that in not being aggressive about removing old comb, we have been doing the right thing all along.

My thinking has been directed this way as I have been considering the presentation that Jim Tew made to the Blount County Beekeepers Association in August. Tew is a retired beekeeping expert for Ohio State University and is now working with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service.

In one of this presentations to the BCBA, Tew talked about what he had found over the years in feral hives. The bees would often build long combs, the lower part of which was dark and apparently unused — just like the old combs that we have in our hives. We’re not sure what this “old” comb is used for, he said, but it could be storage or it could be that this wax absorbs toxins and allows other parts of the hive to stay clear and clean.

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The joys of goldenrod

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Honeybees on goldenrod

Honeybees on goldenrod

To most Americans, goldenrod is a weed.

To Europeans, however, goldenrod is a much-prized plant that gardeners go out of their way to cultivate.

To many people in ancient times and a growing number in the 21st century, goldenrod is a medicinal herb that has many uses.

To honeybees, goldenrod is a major source of nectar and pollen in the fall and a source of much-needed winter stores.

And to East Tennesseans this year (the folks in my area), goldenrod is an abundant, showy yellow flower that is filling up our fields, roadside areas and pastures. And our bees are taking to it in droves.

The bees will take both pollen and nectar from goldenrod, and they make a distinctive honey from it. Some beekeepers have harvested this honey, and with its abundance this year, beekeepers in this area might be tempted to do just that. The wiser course for beekeepers might be to let the bees have what they make and to save themselves from some of the efforts of winter feeding.

Goldenrod, in addition to its medicinal uses, is also thought to have some magical powers. Some believe it has the power to bring good luck. The bees who find a good patch of goldenrod probably consider themselves pretty luck.

One of the myths about goldenrod is that it causes allergic reactions, but that’s probably not the case. Those reactions are more likely due to goldenrod’s companion ragweed, which blooms at the same time.

(More pictures below.)

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