photos by Sharon Lee Harris
Several experienced and brand new beekeepers from NAOBA's Flagstaff contingent recently gathered together at COCO's Restaurant to talk about how to start springtime colonies with nucleus hives and packages. A great time was had by all, and another get together has been scheduled for Wednesday, May 9, at 6:30 p.m., also at COCO's.
photos by Sharon Lee Harris
The most recent NAOBA meeting was held on Saturday, August 6, 2016, in east Flagstaff, near the base of Mt. Elden. We had a potluck lunch beginning at noon, followed by an informative and fascinating presentation and question/answer discussion by Tucson area beekeeper Jaime de Zubeldia, of ReZoNation Farm. The meeting ended officially at three p.m. A great time was had by all. Beekeepers and their supporters from all over northern and central Arizona attended.
NAOBA held a colony division workshop in Sedona on Saturday, March 13. A strong colony of honeybees living in a "Golden Mean" hive with 18 top bars was looking very crowded, and we decided to open the hive and to divide or split the colony into a second colony. Because this overcrowded colony had not yet built any queen cells in anticipation of swarming, we decided to do a semi-"walkaway split" rather than an actual divide. Below is an update about this workshop, posted two weeks later on March 27, 2016:
Thanks to the eleven NAOBAns who attended our recent colony division workshop. Folks came from Flagstaff to Mesa and several places in between.
We raised $150.00 to go towards NAOBA's effort to gain status as an official 501 C-5. The workshop was also successful in terms of the bees. We decided to make a semi-"walkaway split" from this very strong Cordovan colony living in an overcrowded Golden Mean (18 top bar) hive.
The queen and about half of her daughters and half of the colony's combs were left in the original hive.
About half of the brood combs (with freshly laid eggs) and half of the bees were transferred into the "split," which was then taken to a new location several miles away (the organic apple orchard at Garland's Oak Creek Lodge).
Two weeks later, the mother hive still looks very strong, filling about 80 percent of the total hive volume. If the colony hadn't been divided, they would have quickly had far more bees than could have fit into that relatively small hive.
The split looks very strong, too. If they were able to create a new queen or queens, then she should be born in two or three more days. The timing was good (not intentional) because the apples bloomed right after the split was placed in the orchard. All that food makes it easier for the bees to build a strong queen.
The alternative to this walkaway split was to transfer the entire colony into a longer Golden Mean hive and to create space in the broodnest to encourage the bees not to swarm, but to continue expanding exponentially. Somewhat surprisingly, there were no queen cells in the overcrowded colony.
It will be interesting to see if the daughter colony succeeds in creating a new queen. If the colony does succeed, one wonders what her daughters will be like? Their temperament will be pretty much determined by the drones that she mates with (next week?), who will be both feral tropicals and domesticated temperates from another colony that I take care of at Garland's (to help with pollinating the orchards and vegetable gardens). In my own experience, most (but not all) first generation "open pollinated" queens from temperate stock create colonies that are significantly more defensive than their mother's colony. It is that way from Flagstaff to Sedona to Camp Verde.
With that extra jolt of defensiveness, however, often comes a new colony with stronger overall resilience and greater productivity than the original colony, especially in terms of surplus honey production.
P. Pynes, Ph.D.
NAOBA's next official meeting will be happening on Saturday, March 5, 2016. We'll be meeting together in the library at the Verde Valley School, located in the Village of Oak Creek. All are welcome. Please bring something to eat or drink; we're going to have a potluck lunch.
We'll be looking at a teaching hive during the last half hour of the meeting, which officially begins at 11:00 a.m. and ends at 2:00 p.m. This hive is living on the edge of the Verde Valley School's organic garden, in the shade and shelter of an old school bus that resembles Chris McCandless's "magic bus" (Into the Wild).
We hope to see you there. See the map below for how to get there.
Click the link below to check out a four minute radio documentary about backyard beekeeping in Northern Arizona, featuring NAOBAns Payton Taylor, Suze Manci, and Patrick Pynes. It originally aired on KNAU in October 2015.
We recently had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting of the Western Apicultural Society (WAS) in Boulder, Colorado. Entitled “Healthy Bee/Bee Healthy,” the conference was hosted by the Colorado State Beekeepers Association. More than two hundred beekeepers, scientists, activists, and other supporters of beekeeping, honeybees, and other pollinators came together in Boulder.
We learned a lot at the conference about all things honeybee, and also made some connections with other beekeepers from the Southwest, including several folks from Arizona, California, Texas, New Mexico, and Utah. We especially enjoyed meeting and talking to Jessie Brown, President of the New Mexico State Beekeepers Association (NMBKA). Jessie and I discovered that we were both mentored during our early years as beekeepers by organic beekeeper and teacher Les Crowder. Les was President of the NMBKA during most of the 1990s, when I was living in Alburquerque’s South Valley and an active member of the NMBKA. During the conference, we also had some interesting conversations with beekeepers from southwestern Canada. The international similarities and differences between us were quite striking.
One of the goals I had for the conference was to meet and talk to three different academic researchers who have published important works in the field of contemporary apiculture, especially about the “African-ized” honeybee. Dr. Dewey Caron, Dr. Marla Spivak, and Dr. Mark Winston each made presentations at the conference, and I managed to have a conversation with all three of them, at least for a few minutes. Because many beekeepers here in Arizona are now working with locally adapted honeybees whose ancestors came here recently from South Africa rather than from Europe centuries ago, I was especially interested in their thoughts about Africanized bees. What each had to say about honeybees and beekeeping in general and Africanized bees in particular was fascinating.
I was also fascinated by the fact that there was clearly a strong consensus at the conference that the varroa mite continues to be a major issue for U.S. beekeepers. Perhaps because many of us here in the Southwest are working with mainly Africanized bees, the varroa mite does not seem to be much of an issue for us. (Varroa is not an issue for the health and well-being of the bees I’m taking care of; therefore, I did not share in this “consensus”). Speaking for myself only, I have rarely seen varroa mites on any bees during my fifteen years of beekeeping in Arizona (it was very different in New Mexico during the 90s). It may be that tropically-evolved honeybees of South African descent are more varroa resistant and resilient overall compared to the temperate-evolved and more fully domesticated honeybee of European descent. The recent documentary More Than Honey makes this claim, and I think it’s a convincing thesis. In arid and semi-arid “Africanized Arizona,” beekeeping is somewhat different from most other regions of the US—even it seems from much of the rest of the West. I see these differences as a good thing: they teach us about resilience...
During her presentation, Dr. Spivak argued that most U.S. beekeepers should be treating their colonies for varroa mites, preferably using organic methods. If we don’t go ahead and treat, she argued, then bee populations will continue their rapid decline in health and numbers. I respect and understand Dr. Spivak’s genuine caring for the bees. Because the varroa mite is not an issue for the bees I am keeping, perhaps it is easier for me to respectfully disagree with her point-of-view and advice to beekeepers. In essence, I think that Dr. Spivak’s argument for varroa treatments is short-sighted, coming from a more “sustainable,” “preservationist,” and “paternalistic” way of thinking about our human relationship to the rest of the natural world, including honeybees. Rather than thinking in terms of “sustainability” (sustaining what we already have left, which is probably not actually sustainable), I think that we should be thinking much more long-term, in terms of resilience.
Rather than saving the honeybee from Varroa destructor, I think that we should trust the inherent “wild” resistance and resilience of the honeybee to survive the harmful effects of this parasite. If we have the love and courage to really trust the honeybee’s own innate resilience and work with her, rather than against her, getting out of her way when need bee, the honeybee can survive and thrive. This approach doesn’t mean just stepping back and “letting nature take its course,” but it does mean allowing the inherent resilience of the honeybee to express itself, just as top bar beekeepers “allow” honeybees to build their own combs from scratch, thus expressing themselves (their life force) in wax. As organic beekeepers, as our “sister’s keepers,” we assist with that life-giving expression by both not acting, and by acting on her behalf. If we don’t treat for varroa mites, many colonies will likely die. That is very regrettable, and very upsetting and disturbing, but we know and trust that at least some colonies will survive the mite. As intelligent and (hopefully) enlightened beekeepers, we can work with and enhance that resistance, helping the bees and ourselves to create a deeper resilience. This capacity to thrive and survive even in increasingly harsh and difficult conditions is going to be absolutely necessary as we come to “the end of the long summer,” and must figure out creative ways to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century.
The “Bee Healthy/Healthy Bee” Conference in Boulder was a truly excellent experience for us, and we were really glad that we spent the time, energy, and money to get there and back. Viva la difference, y viva las abejas!
–P. Pynes, President, Northern Arizona Organic Beekeepers’ Association
All photos by Sharon Lee Harris. These are copyrighted images and may not be reused or republished without the consent of Sharon Lee Harris.