Organic Beekeeping

The natural way to raise bees.

Archive for the category “hives”

Pollinator Friendly Practices

I was so impressed with this article I wanted to share part of it with you.

Printed in The Bee Line (newsletter of the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association)

By Sam(antha) Burns, UME Master Gardener, Somerset Beekeepers President

While not every homeowner is interested keeping bees, it is possible to provide the ideal conditions to encourage populations of pollinating insects and animals in our yards and gardens.

Eliminate the use of pesticides whenever possible. Insecticides kill insect pollinators directly, while herbicides reduce food and habitat diversity. If you must use a pesticide, use the least toxic product available. Read the labels carefully – many pesticides are dangerous to bees. Use the chemical as directed, and spray at night when bees and a lot of other pollinators are not active. (There are, however, moths and bats who are nocturnal pollinators.)

My note: Please try not to use ANY pesticides or herbicides!

Use native plants. These plants have adapted to your local climate and soil conditions, and the pollinators that propagate them have evolved a symbiotic relationship with them over millions of years. Native plants provide nectar, pollen and nesting habitat for the native butterflies, insects and birds that inhabit your local area.  They are also advantageous to the gardener because native plants do not require fertilizers, need less water, and help prevent erosion with their deep root systems.

Avoid hybrids and “doubled” flowers. While these showy blossoms might be attractive to the human eye, modern hybrids are typically less fragrant, and offer little pollen and nectar for pollinators.

Provide a variety of plants that bloom from early spring through late fall. By hosting a continuous bloom, you will feed the pollinators who visit your yard throughout the growing season. Offer a diversity of flower colors, shapes, and sizes, to accommodate the varying lengths of pollinator’s tongues, including night-blooming plants for nocturnal pollinators. Planting in clumps helps pollinators find (concentrated) foods and nesting sources.

My note: Bees don’t migrate during the cold months, so they need food sources through late fall.

Include plants for caterpillars. If you want colorful butterflies in and around your yard and gardens, be sure to include larval host plants for their offspring. Place them where unsightly leaf damage can be tolerated, since the caterpillars will eat them. Accept host plants that are less than ornamental, possibly even outright weeds. Invest in a butterfly guide, and plant a butterfly garden.

Build nesting habitats and offer a water source. By placing dead trees and the occasional dead limb (so long as it is not a safety hazard), you will provide essential nesting sites for native bees and other pollinators. You can aid native bees by drilling holes of varying sizes and lengths into dead trees and stumps, or by building a bee condo. Also, creating a water source for butterflies and bees is helpful. Use a shallow saucer with some sand and pebbles so the tiny insects won’t drown; mix a small bit of sea salt into the mud, as this helps attract the pollinators to the water source and provides them with valuable minerals.

Reduce lawn size and mow pollinater-consciously. Lawns are a veritable barren wasteland for pollinators in search of food and nesting habitat, but by decreasing the portion of our yards that we mow we can leave more habitat for wildlife. When you do mow, do so with pollinators in mind. In the spring, wait to mow until after the dandelion bloom, as this is the first major nectar flow for native bees and other pollinators. Also, mow late in the evening when the most pollinators are inactive.

My Note: Clover makes a GREAT lawn and provides plenty of food for pollinators.

Practice a peaceful coexistence. Get a guidebook and learn to recognize pollinators and other beneficial insects in your neighborhood. Take time to watch these creatures at work, and appreciate their beauty. Allow bees to nest innocuously in your yard and about your home; generally they will go about their lives without ever bothering you or your family, and the occasional sting is a small price to pay for the services these creatures provide.

My note: Include your whole family in the planting project. Have the kids research and pick several plants they can grow and take care of. They’ll be proud and excited to see pollinators on their flowers!

Additional Resources:

The Xerces Society

Pollinator Partnership – http://www.pollinator. org

Celebrating Wildflowers





Drones Sing the Song of the Hive

Beekeeping is just plain fascinating to me. Everything I’ve learned about bees is far more complex than I imagined and I think the role of the drone is far more complex too.

All I ever hear about drones is they are fat, lazy, don’t do any work and are only good for one thing – mating. I feel and have always felt this can’t be accurate. I truly believe Nature doesn’t create anything to be lazy and have only one purpose (including people, especially teens, but that’s another blog altogether!), so I think there has to be more to the Drone’s Story.

It is a fact that drones mate with virgin queens and therefore are essential to the survival of the species, but I never believed this was their sole purpose.

From the beginning, I very carefully observed my bees and one very profound thing I noticed was that honeybees don’t swarm without drones. This got me to thinking about the drones expanded role in the colony and beyond.

For years I pondered this – what do they really do and what is their true purpose

Drones sing a unique song, a kind of chanting, like calling out a cadence. I believe they sing the song that regulates the activity of the hive. They also hold the wisdom of the species. Drones don’t have a very long lifespan so they have to turn this knowledge over to the next generation. They can only hold their small portion of this information and only add so much, like a computer hard drive that’s almost always just about full, so they need to have another generation come along that has another little space to carry on and so forth.

They sing the song of the hive and that song tells the bees what’s going on.  Not only does their song tell the stories but it coordinates effort across tens of thousands of community members. How does the colony know what to do and when to do it? When to start, when to stop, and when to do something radical like swarm? Somebody has to know. How is this information transmitted? I believe it’s done auditorily by the drones and biochemically by the queen as she runs around the hive before they swarm.

In every species someone has to be the holder of the wisdom. Take the Monarch Butterfly for example. They migrate thousands of miles every year. How do they know the route? Someone has to hold that information and in the case of the honeybee, I believe it has to be the drone. The workers are too busy, and so is the queen. Drones sit like little Buddhas in the hive most of the day. This is not from laziness but because they hold this sacred information it is hard to do much else.

I understand this may be a radical idea for some. It’s not an idea I’m interested in debating. I’m sure there will be many who discount this post. I hope you decide to at least take a moment to ponder the possibility.  After all, there is so much we don’t know about most things – especially honeybees. I believe it’s time to open our eyes, hearts and minds beyond just scientific data. Look where that’s gotten us so far!

I doubt the mysterious life of bees will ever be fully understood, but it’s fun to think about!

When bees really want that nectar…

Posted with permission from author Linda Beutler


Earlier in the year I posted about some strange behavior seen by European honeybees on one particularly fecund seedling in the FRCC test plot. They seemed to be trying to pry sepals apart to get to the nectary chamber, formerly only accessed by hummingbirds.They succeeded!

After working and working, tag-teams of the bees managed to separate the sepals at the broadest diameter of the flowers, as shown in the first picture, and get at the nectar. The opening shows the visible bruising consistent with the forcing apart of the sepals. Keep in mind that bees exploiting the blossoms this way are not pollinating the flower, because they have no contact with the anthers. Free-loaders!

Clematis 'BeeHappy'

No native bees have been seen engaging in this activity, and the hummingbirds (both Anna’s and Rufous hummingbirds) continue to pollinate the flowers until the bees have cracked the sepals apart on a given flower. The hummingbirds move on to newly opened flowers, and cease pollinating the flowers disfigured by the bees. And unfortunately, once the bees mastered the skill of opening this shape of clematis blossom, they applied their lessons to ‘Fudo’ and other Viornae group hybrids. Yes, they’re quick learners, I’ll give ‘em that!

Clematis 'BeeHappy'

This “tutorial” seedling, which showed great vigor and stamina, has been named ‘Bee Happy’. We will be propagating it for sale. The flowers, in the typical “bonnet” shape, are rosy-mauve in color, with the exterior fading to silver as the flowers age. We assume it to be a pitcheri x crispa cross, and it is lightly fragrant, but shows no crispate edges. We’ll be sending more details to Clematis on the Web, and will be registering the name with the RHS clematis registrar.

The bees seem to know there is nectar in these blossoms, but there isn’t room for them to crawl up into the flower—the bees are too big, and the stamens too tightly packed. Undaunted, the bees attempted to separate the seams between the sepals, using forelegs and mouth parts to try to pry an opening to access the nectar. I watched their efforts for about 10 minutes before realizing I should be taking pictures! During the time I observed the honeybees, I didn’t see any of them succeed in opening the sepal edges, and was surprised that the bees would expend so much energy trying. A couple of rows away, native bumblebees were feasting on a Clematis macropetala seedling’s flowers (the same plant that Killdeer’s nested under a year ago), an open bell much easier to navigate in, and a flower not exploited by the hummingbirds.

Why would so many non-native bees be trying so hard to crack these clematis blooms? I did detect a slight fragrance, but there are many easier plants to drink from nearby. If these bees are ever successful at opening clematis in this nontraditional way, I’ll let you know.

Interview with Neal Rogers of Heritage Beehives

How did you get into beekeeping?

Funny story, actually. Our youngest daughter, Kimberly, would come to our house to hang out and have dinner with us at least once a week. I noticed she spent a lot of time just sitting and watching the honeybees that foraged in our front yard. My wife has converted what was once a postage-stamp sized “lawn” (mostly crawl grass and non-flowering weeds) into a herb/vegetable garden. Everything in our garden is either for use by us (medicinal or edible) or by pollinators. Since the conversion, we have seen lots of native bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and birds. Anyway, I got interested in watching the bees as well. As I became more fascinated with what these beautiful critters were doing, I started reading more and more about beekeeping and the possibility of keeping a hive or two in our front yard. I started attending meetings of the Sonoma County Beekeepers’ Association a full year before I decided to buy equipment. I also took Randy Sue’s class in beginning beekeeping and bought her dvd Organic Beekeeping 101. Her ideas were very much in line with the way I wanted to house my bees. So, this past Spring I brought two nucs to a local beekeeper and purchased 2 colonies. I also caught my first swarm in May! I currently have two top bar hives and one Langstroth hive.


Why top bars?

One of the books I read while doing research was Phil Chandler’s “Barefoot Beekeeper,” and it just resonated with me. I wanted to “keep” bees in a way that was more “natural” and “sustainable” than what I saw from commercial beekeeping. I have since dropped the term “beekeeper” and call myself a “bee steward.” I also love the term “bee guardian” that was first coined by the Backyard Hive website, I believe top bar hives are a better way to give the bees a home without meddling in the way they want to be. The bees build their own natural comb, the way THEY want to, not the way we WANT them to. My top bar hives all have observation windows, so you can check on them without disturbing their comings and goings. It’s better for the bees that having to open a Langstroth-style hive, as every time you open the hive, you set the bees back at least two weeks! Because the bars on a top bar hive don’t have space between them, the hive stays at a more constant temperature when you open the hive. And because you only have to remove one bar at a time (when you want to do some hand-on work) the inside temerature doesn’t fluctuate as much.  It’s been such a wonderful experience and from it I’ve started my own company, Heritage Beehives, building my own version of a top bar hive, as well as other woodenware for keeping top bar hives. (



What is your favorite beekeeping tip?

Don’t be a “worry-wart” when it comes to beekeeping. What I mean is, let bees do what they do best. Just give them a home and enjoy the benefits! And don’t get into beekeeping just to take and sell honey. Respect these beautiful creatures for what they have done for the past tens of millions of years, and marvel at how they do it!

Alternative Hives – Hex Hive® vs Octagonal Hive

I was recently asked to explain the similarities and differences of my patented Hex Hive® and Fragile Planets’ Octagonal Hive in the UK and thought I’d share them with you too.

Both are round environments. Both have peaked roofs. Both have stacking supers. Both use foundationless frames or starter strips so the bees can always build their own comb.

Hex Hive®

Octagonal Hives

The differences are:

The Hex Hive® duplicates the exact shape of the cells in the comb that the bees create – a hexagon.

Every super has it’s own entrance and attached entrance reducer. Separate entrances prevent the bees from being overworked by having to climb super after super to get to the various combs in the hive. And attached entrance reducers mean you never lose them.

The Hex Hive® supers stack on top of each other and can be managed by one beekeeper. Rather than “supering,” or adding empty boxes to the top of the hive, Octagon hives are “nadired,” meaning that empty boxes are added to the bottom. Once a few supers get filled out that hive will get heavy, requiring the help of more than one beekeeper to lift it in order to add a bottom super.

While I understand and agree this is how bees build comb in the wild, it is not practical for the beekeeper to have to lift the whole hive to add a super below. I imagine the moving of the whole hive could also disturb and damage some of the comb.

The Hex Hive® peaked roof also has an attached, ventilated inner cover and a screened bottom box for better ventilation throughout the year.

You can find The Hex Hive® at

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