Training Beekeepers to be Successful

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Queen's Castle Beekeepers Assoc.


I was the scheduled speaker at the Anderson Co. Beekeeping Association outside of Knoxville, TN. The talk was about natural beekeeping so I based it mostly on Dad's methods. Several people who had not yet seen the videos made notes to do so. I had an actual bottom board for people to examine and a poster to look at after the projector was turned off. I also had the club hat on the table too since I don't wear those kinds of hats well.

Below is a link to the slides I showed. Online I only added a few brief notes next to each slide.


Here were my intended notes but I didn't read them verbatim and omitted a few sentences here and there. Don helped me with most of this.
Bee well, Neranza

Natural Beekeeping - Does it Work?

During the planning meeting back in February it was mentioned that perhaps OJ Blount (my father) would be able to give us a presentation on his methods of natural beekeeping. Being 86 years old and having his own farm to tend along with all his other activities would have made it too inconvenient for him.

A lot of you have heard about his methods and possibly even saw his videos on youtube. To date heís had approx. 20,000 viewings and because Iím the one who handled all the video Iím also the one who gets the critique from people all over the world. All the comments I get are very positive.

He been keeping bees for 50+years now and is still working at perfecting his methods.

His basic premise is that if you can provide a plentiful balanced diet your bees will be healthy and prosper. So thereís no need for those medicines/treatments that make the chemical companyís rich.

In a nut shell he does not treat his hives with any medication what-so-ever. Does he have mites in his hives? Sure he does, because the varroa mite is everywhere. Does he lose bees to varroa mites. The answer is emphatically NO!

On his farm down in Lower Alabama he has23 acres that he manages along with an additional 14 acres of pecans across the street from him and then 1,000 of acres surrounding him that include the Conecuh National forest along with hundreds of acres of cotton and peanuts.

On his property he tries toplant something for the bees to eat all summer long. His 320 feet of road frontage is a solid wall of Vitex that the bees go crazy over along with foolish kids that drive down the highway thinking itís a marijuana patch.

He also has a large population of Japanese Honeysuckle which is one of the first things to bloom as early as January, Another plant that the bees are particularly fond of is something called a Tallow tree or Chinese popcorn tree. In LA this tree is considered a nuisance plant, but not to the beekeepers. He also has several kinds of fruit trees such as pears, peaches and cherry. Every year heíll sow several acres of white Dutch clover and then fight the deer over it.

Last year he had approximately 80 hives, most of which came from catching swarms that occurred from his bees. He looks forward to chasing swarms every year. He watches to see where the swarm goes and tries to catch them before they fly off. Heís even climbed a ladder to get them in his Sunday church suit and then goes on to church. To entice the bees to swarm he starts feeding them sugar syrup in January so they can start building up before the spring flow. Typically he over-winters approx 30 hives. And they all survive, even though they havenít been treated at the end of the season going into winter.

At 86 you can believe heís pretty old school. He doesnít go into his hives poking around disturbing the population.

His hives are pretty much the same as what most of you have with a few exceptions. Heís experimented over the years with a lot of bottom boards. Heís used the screened boards but wasnít satisfied that they were doing the job. He experimented with different materials and hole sizes that would let the undesirable elements fall through but keep the bees in. His findings were that instead of bottom boards with screens ( he couldnít find a commercial screen with the right size opening.) he came across a company that had perforated metal with pretty much any hole size that you wanted. What he was looking for was something with a5/32 hole. He called them up and explained what he wanted and as it turned out it was a stock item so no special orders were needed. They sent him some samples for him to try and they worked so well that he started ordering sheet sat a time to convert all his hives.

Also included in this design, he made the bottom board enclosed where there is a space between the bottom of the perforated metal and the bottom of the bottom board. He started with a ĺ space and has settled now for a 1 Ĺ inch space. He can then place a clean out tray in that space to catch everything that falls through the holes. To hold what he catches he started with a baby oil/ Vaseline mixture so that whenever something fell through the holes, it stuck to the mixture and died. This included mites, small hive beetles, moths and the larva from the moths and hive beetles. Because that mixture was messy to deal with he heard about using lime instead. Heís been using lime for two years now and seems to be pretty happy with it. Itís easy to apply, easy to clean out and to make matters better, itís a lot cheaper than Vaseline and baby oil. Incidentally weíve recently learned from Mike Studer (State inspector in TN) that there are two types of lime. An agricultural lime and a hydrated lime. The hydrated lime is the one to use because of itís caustic properties. As it turned out we were using the agricultural instead of the hydrated and getting poor results. After hearing about the hydrated lime we immediately changed all our hives and are getting much better results.

In addition to the enclosed bottom board he reduced the front opening from ĺ inch to 3/8 " high and about 5 inches wide. He says that with the reduced opening itís easier for the bees to defend the hive from intruders because they have less space to guard.

So with all these modifications you now have a bottom board that is fully enclosed with only ONE way into the hive and thatís past the guards bees at the reduced opening. This alone makes it much harder for the wax moth to get in and lay her eggs. It also stops the life cycle of the small hive beetle because the SHB larva finishes the last part of itís cycle by dropping through the bottom screen to the ground below to pupate.

Another thing he does is hehas all his hives 2 foot up off the ground on a stand. He did this primarily because where he is fire ants can be a problem. By having astand on a single post he reduces the pathway for ants by 75%, he also coats the bottom of the post with diesel oil to keep the ants out of the hives. Being raised up also keeps skunks out, and they just love the taste of bees.

Heís named his hive the Queenís Castle because it saw it like a queen high up overlooking her kingdom. Heís now founded the Queenís Castle Beekeeperís Association with their motto, ďTraining beekeepers to be successful.Ē

I donít think heíll ever slow down and even reporters that have come to interview him, always remark how they have a hard time keeping up with him as he shows them around his apiary spread out over much of his land.

Heís now experimenting with top bar hives for the first time this past year. Heís also built a viewing window with a shutter door. This way, curiosity can be satisfied without disturbing the atmosphere of the beehive.  Each time we break one of their seals, they have to work to build it back with propolis. Leave them alone as much as possible except to help them take out their trash via the cleaning tray.

My fatherís methods work for him in his climate where the temperature ranges from 100+ degrees in the summer to below freezing in the winter.

Iíve also looked at what other natural beekeepers are doing and have found some interesting hive designs. Most of them are currently being field tested so youíll have to follow up to see how they work.

Buy organic foods when you can. The more organic food is purchased, the less foods will be treated, thus helping the bees and reducing the prices of organics. You canít say your honey is organic unless among other rules, you have a 3 miles radius of pesticide free land. Currently certified organic honey can sell at about $25 for 8 ounces. Keeping us healthy while keeping the bee healthy is a pretty good incentive.




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