Want to be a beekeeper, but don’t know where to start?
Through years of observation, study, and mentoring with those who have dedicated their lives to treatment-free beekeeping, we are successful in keeping a small apiary with hopes of expanding to levels that do not exceed the carrying capacity of our established yards. We do not experience losses due to disease or mite infestation. In the beginning we imported honeybees and simultaneously used regionally harvested feral colonies to begin selecting for desirable traits that have become the base for manageable, healthy, productive, and heat tolerant bees.
We keep bees using horizontal top bar hives. This style of top bar hive has been used for thousands of years and our version was primarily developed by master beekeeper Les Crowder in the high desert of New Mexico. We have made only slight modifications for use in the low Sonoran desert where temperatures can exceed 110 degrees. The design tends to be much shallower and wider than typical versions found in more temperate regions, and we have settled on a longer (4ft), near 80 litre internal volume. This shallower, wider hive helps to support the weight of honey in a frameless hive. Through trial and error we have found that narrower and deeper horizontal top bar hives used in more Northern, cooler latitudes cannot stand up to higher temperatures causing a host of management problems.
Natural beekeeping demands a high level of understanding of bee behavior in order to be successful, and requires more general maintenance. However, the honey product tends to be of a different quality, almost artisan in our opinion because processing of the whole comb tends to impart additional pollens and propolis flavors. This style of beekeeping also lends itself a bit better to beginning beekeepers since smaller bee colonies tend to be easier to work with.
We also keep bees using the classic rectangular Langstroth vertical hive. Using wax from our own treatment-free bees we make homemade wax starter strips to ensure no chemical build up. We attempt to follow a style of treatment-free beekeeping, primarily reintroduced and improved upon by Ed and Dee Lusby of Arizona, which allows a hive to grow to its full potential as long as one understands their patterns of expansion and contraction throughout the seasons. We use the vertical Langstroth hive in a foundationless system (natural comb) for higher honey yield and less overall work, but also to continue selecting the strongest genetics appropriate for our region.
Artificial nectar such as cane, corn, or beet sugar syrup is not recommended save for establishing a new package of bees for the first day or two. Honeybees need a diversity of pollens and native nectar to maintain a healthy digestive system. Our bees keep a significant portion of the honey and pollen they collect for themselves, and we almost never have to feed back properly stored honey during times when a dearth is challenging our best hives.
Contact us if you need more information on upcoming beekeeping workshops or general honeybee behavior consultation.