Q & A with Julie
I tried to think of the things that people might want to know about me. If there is anything else you'd like to know, drop me a line. :-)
Q: What is the purpose of this blog?
A: The original purpose of this blog was simply to record notes on my bees. I found most apps either clunky or poorly suited to TBHs -- hence this blog was born. Since then, it's evolved into a way for me to organize any and all bee-related info that I will no doubt forget or lose otherwise.
Q: When did you start keeping bees?
A: June 23, 2013, marks the day I got my first nuc of bees, but I'd been planning on keeping bees for years. I just never had the opportunity before because we lived in an area heavily infested by bears. (We're talking about bears breaking into my garage and hanging out by the front door. So adorable, but not great for bee populations.)
Q: Why did you decide to keep bees?
A: It may be slightly unnatural to want thousands of venomous stinging insects in your backyard, but I've always liked bees. When I was a kid, I used to wait for them to land in the garden so that I could pet their fuzzy backs. Once we had moved away from our bear-magnet house to a more "civilized" area, the time just seemed right.
Q: What kind of bees do you have?
A: My first year, I started with real mutts. According to the website of the guy that sold them to me, they were "a mixed race of Italian, German, Russian, Carniolan and Australian" bees. They were fantastic bees, too, until a bear got them.
Currently, I have bees that originally came from packages purchased from Sam Comfort of Anarchy Apiaries. He open-mates and collects bees from cut-outs. He calls them Zombees because with mites, pesticides, and disease out there, there is no reason these bees should be alive, but they are.
I also have some bees that came from Wolf Creek Apiaries. John Seaborn is known for promoting small-cell bees. Overall, they have been hardy, prolific, and productive, but I've been phasing them out.
Q: What planting zone are you in?
A: I believe this part of New England is USDA plant hardiness zone 6. Here is some climate data for my town.
The chart is hard to read, but during our hottest month, the average high is 85 F. During our coldest month, average lows are 21 F. But we have spikes during the summer when we get up into the 90's and down to negative digits in the winter.
Q: What kind of hive do you use?
A: I've elected to use Kenyan top bar hives. If you feel like wasting a half hour that you'll never get back, you can read about my reasons.
Q: What is a "treatment-free" beekeeper?
A: I've adopted the label "treatment-free" rather than "natural" because it's most descriptive of what I do.
A lot of beekeepers get into beekeeping because they want to do things "naturally," but it's hard to define what "natural" means. For some it means no harsh chemical treatments and using only essential oils or powdered sugar. For others it means chemical treatments that are naturally derived (e.g., thymol and oxalic acid). Still others use the term to indicate no hive management at all -- not even opening the hive.
Personally, I don't feel a man-made hive is a natural home for bees. For starters, the walls are too thin, they're too close to the ground, too "sterile," etc., so right from the get go, beekeeping isn't really "natural" to me. Instead, the term "treatment-free" describes my particular management style. While I actively manage my hives, I do not use any chemicals (hard or soft, including powdered sugar) to treat them for pests or disease. Instead, I use practices like comb rotation, brood breaks, etc. to mimic natural processes that bees use to control pests in the wild. After that, though, it's really up to the bees.
Note: Please, do not try treatment-free beekeeping with conventionally raised bees. They haven't adapted, and they will most likely die. Conventional package bees have to be eased off of treatments.
Q: Do you ever get stung?
A: I sure do! To quote Joseph Joubert, "When you go in search of honey you must expect to be stung by bees." However, in defense of the bees, generally they only go after me if I've done something stupid or if they don't like what I'm wearing. In addition to honey-making, they've taken on the role of fashion police.