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Some Practices in Beekeeping

November 22, 2010 in

Not all the things beekeepers do are always done the same way. Some beekeepers may tackle a task in one way while another beekeeper does it a different way. Sometimes a new beekeeper will not listen to a more experienced beekeeper and he pays the price for it. (This will be the topic of a future article). Other times there are different ways, one just as good as the other, of achieving the same result.

I have kept less than 50 hives as a hobby. I have also worked on a commercial bee farm, running over 2,000 hives. The methods used by the hobbyist just could not work on a commercial scale, and methods used by a commercial beekeeper would be considered ‘poor practice’ by the hobbyist. There are times, however, when, due to time constraints, using some of the ‘tricks’ of commercial beekeepers, could help solve a problem that the hobbyist may have.

I have been putting up posts aimed at beginners so far. However, I’d like to add some, from time to time, which are not necessarily instructive, but may just be informative or (some may find) ‘interesting’. This is one of the latter. Hopefully some of you will find it interesting.

An example of what a hobbyist would consider, not ‘poor practice’ but ‘shocking practice’ is the way the commercial beekeeper robs his hives. Let us look at how the hobbyist should do it. First of all he should take the ‘softly-softly’ approach.

Quietly open the hive, giving it a single puff of smoke before removing a frame. Inspect it to see if it is ready to be removed. If so, gently shake, knock or brush the bees off the frame and place it into the super he has brought along. Replace the frame with an empty one and go on to the next frame. Give the hive another puff of smoke, just to keep the bees subdued and carry on till you’ve taken off all the honey you can. Close the hive and go on to the next one.

The commercial beekeeper might have half a dozen assistants. He will go ahead giving the bees so much smoke they will think there is a forest fire raging round them. He will remove the lid, have a look at a couple of frames and then crack loose the supers. The first assistant will then come along behind him and bang all the bees out of the supers, dump the supers on the ground next to the hive and move on to the next one. Two more assistants will carry the full supers to the truck and come back with empty supers, dumping them onto the hive. There will be two on the truck, one stacking the full supers at one end of the truck and another handing down empty supers from the other end of the truck. The sixth assistant comes along at the end of the line, squaring off the empty supers which have been placed onto the hive and replacing the lid. Job done. This method means you have 6 – 8 hives open at the same time. There is total chaos, banging and shouting in the camp and, needless to say, this would be suicidal to try this in the daytime (with the African bee, anyway). We would rob at night using miner’s helmets with lamps (torches) attached. That way you are contending with only the hive you are working on.

This had it’s problems. Sometimes queens would be killed and you’d come back to a vastly depleted hive at the next visit. Other times you’d bring queens back to the honey house. Next day you’d find clusters of bees hanging from the eaves of the honey house. The bees that were brought back attaching themselves to the queens that had been brought back. We would then hive them and start them off as new swarms.

These were just part of the hazards of commercial beekeeping. But when you are robbing 5 – 6 camps a night, each with 20 – 30 hives and you are bringing back 200 – 250 supers of honey, the hobbyist’s method just could not do the job.

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