Learning to be the perfect beekeeper can be a life long pursuit ending in: "Oh well, I tried my best." I still experiment with overwintering methods of management after keeping bees 16 years in the Sandwich Mountain Range of New Hampshire U.S.A.; but for the most part this little history of my learning curve stands true. Important to note: my efforts to raise bees free of treatment for varroa means choosing smaller colonies producing less honey but continues to result in more survival success than most folks over the long haul. (Research this route carefully and stay current with reliable sources of instruction.)
From Blogger March 2017 with a few edits for clarity:
bees thrive well in an eight frame hive set up here in Northern New
Hampshire. I tweaked the ten frame hives I'd invested in so heavily
until finally, several years ago, gave in to this narrower concept.
My bees wanted to go up, following the heat of the cluster in winter. Honey left on the outskirts of a super that would tempt them to break cluster to reach, was ignored once cold weather set in. Sometimes colonies starved.
The diseases I was seeing in my failed ten frame colonies screamed of moisture and poor ventilation; so I utilized the "varroa" screened bottom board to help with airflow. William Bonny's old book on "Hive Management" agreed with a local farmer's advice to keep a pine needle filled super on top during winter to catch moisture. That book also introduced me to homasote board.
Even that I tweaked: the board became soaked with bee-respiration - solved by adding some sticks or a stone under the telescoping cover to allow airflow to wick it off. The pine needles are now held up by 1/2 inch hardware cloth to keep debris from falling in, but the bees can still come up and "get a drink."
The discovery of a swarm control component called the "slatted rack" was the next stop in my beekeeping journey. I found it perfect for buffering the brood box from the outside air. It also gave the chilly spring foragers a place to hang out in increment weather instead of crowding up into the nursery.
The bees loved it and so do I. Setting all this on top of two leveled chimney stones cut off any direct cold air flow. It also seemed high enough off the ground to discourage skunks from scratching at the door.
Eventually my mouse guard also deterred skunks when changed to hardware cloth cut so prongs would expose their paws to pricks. So did the new solar powered fencing with lower wires.
After about three years of failure with southern packages and nucs queened from southern climates, I began to choose northern honey bees, raised farther north than I was. I'd drive as far as I had to go. This was to try and insure overwintering survival with our uniquely short nectar flows in my mountain intervale - only five and a half months - late April to the end of September.
In that many years the trees had also grown a few feet higher in my apiary, putting every colony in full shade. Also by that time every wasp in area knew where my hives lived. Two colonies were killed. A move had to be made.
About then a neighbor in failing health invited me to place hives in view of his window. He lived long enough to take pleasure for a few seasons watching my bees enjoy full sun on several acres of wild forage with a northern wind break of wonderful nectar and pollen producing trees. Then the landscaped changed from fallow fields to a haying operation. Another move was required to insure good forage for my bees.
These savvy acclimatized honey bees now filling my narrow hives, along with the changes made to my apiary set up, began to bring joy instead of angst to my beekeeping. I have had a few summer losses due to normal events, including beekeeper-too-busy-itis during swarm season, however, no losses winter through mid-summer like I was experiencing before. I do see mites, but not high counts others are dealing with. Most importantly, I see no diseases, and previous to these changes I think I saw them all except AFB.
I've hung in there as a beekeeper by focusing on the specific issues facing my colonies instead of trusting a lot of disparaging advice to blame every beekeeping malady on varroa mites; solve every problem with treatments. I've also looked to successful northern bee school teachers and scientist, like New England's own Professor Thomas D. Seeley for insights and Vermont's Kirk Webster among others. To improve my understanding of honey bee biology as of 2023 and stay current with modern management practices I've completed both the University of Montana and the Cornell University Master Beekeepers course of study.
Mostly I've trusted my gut. Not out of stubbornness, necessarily. On some level, though not a scientist, my ongoing studies in honey bee biology seem to say that, given a good home with good natural nutrition, bees acclimated to their climate & familiar with the area forage should be able to thrive where they live, dependent primarily on the wonderful gifts millions of years of evolution have bestowed on them.
I believe this focus has encouraged my continued research, participation in educational opportunities, and brought me satisfaction with small successes that keep me in a very difficult and expensive quest.
I've been uncertain much of the time with my choices. I've bought miticides or antibiotics - then never had the nerve to go through with treatments. In the end, trusting my gut, paying attention to my bees, and enjoying the occasional validation of science, has so far won the day.
I didn't know I was this person... this "bee-scientist"; I just wanted to be a beekeeper.
Fortunately, honey bees are a rather brilliant, persistent little species. They are determined to pull us in, teach us their needs and hopefully, in exchange for a little honey, beauty, fascination, and food, survive to use a few million more years of the amazing gifts of evolution they are so marvelous at utilizing even in a dramatically changing world.
-Please always consider the dates on my posts. Some outdated information can get overlooked but I try my best to take those posts down and don't mind hearing from you about anything puzzling.