This is only our second year in beekeeping. We started with the Backyard Hives DVD on being a bee guardian. We read all the books we could get our hands on about beekeeping in general and natural beekeeping in particular. One interesting thing we learned in joining the local association is that backyard beekeepers all pretty much share the same goals. We all want bees with these characteristics:
- Locally adapted
- Disease resistant
- Fly in rain
- Swarm seldom
- Need as little feed (sugar water) as possible
- Make lots of honey so we can take some
It turns out that back yard beekeepers in Washington state mostly share the chemical-free philosophy. The state apprenticeship program out of WSU trains beekeepers in organic treatment methods, like powdered sugar dusting to knock down varroa mites.
After the queen rearing class Ted and I evaluated our approach. The bee guardian idea is to rebuild the strength of the honey bee. That means locally adapted bees. We bought packages of Italians last year and Carniolans this year. These bees come from California, where they did a tour of duty pollinating the almond orchards before heading out to populate back yard hives everywhere.
Ted and I listed our priorities. Disease resistant is a top priority; the packages already came with mites and possibly other diseases, so you’re not going to avoid them, you have to learn how to deal with them. Some of our bees had dysentery, one hive has chalk brood, and we’re not going to use chemicals or antibiotics to treat for those. Swarming does break the varroa mite cycle, so low swarming is a lower priority for us than for beekeepers whose top priority is taking honey.
I made a chart showing the lines of queens (mothers) that we had going in the apiary. We are continuing to work with those lines. We have a line of bees from a Puyallup swarm that is at least two years into local adaptation. However, Jason Deal has been keeping bees locally for twenty years, and has lines of bees from Vermont and from local swarms that he is breeding for the same priorities. So we requeened our weakest hive with one of his Vermont queens. I am hoping to get one of his Gorst queens if he makes them available next year.
The aha! insight I had was that bee guardianship equals queen rearing. We’re also really lucky to have such a supportive association, they’ve really embraced our approach and encouraged us to learn as much as possible and teach immediately!