Fallacies

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Beekeeping fallacies:

I'm sure some people believe these and will disagree, but here are some ideas that I consider myths of beekeeping:

Can't mix wax and plastic.

This is not so much a myth as an over simplification. Putting undrawn plastic in with undrawn wax is like putting a piece of cherry pie and a bowl of broccoli in front of your kids at the same time. If you want them to eat the broccoli, you should wait to put out the cherry pie.

If you mix wax and plastic foundation, the bees will jump on the wax and ignore the plastic. If you put in all plastic they will use it when they need comb.

There is no great impending disaster if you mix them. They just have their preferences and if you want them to follow your preferences you should limit their choices. Once it is drawn comb or comb that is being used, you can mix it freely with everything with no problems.

Drones are bad.

Drones, of course are normal. A normal healthy hive will have a population in the spring of somewhere around 15% drones. The argument for almost a century or more (really just a selling point for foundation) was that drones eat honey, use energy and don't provide anything to the hive, therefore controlling the drone comb and therefore the number of drones will make a hive more productive. All the research I've heard of says the opposite is true. If you try to limit the number of drones your production will decrease. Bees have an instinctive need to make a certain number and fighting that is a waste of effort. Other research I've seen says that you will end up with the same number of drones no matter what you, the beekeeper do anyway.

Drone comb is bad.

This, of course, goes with the first one. The way a beekeeper attempts to control drones is by having less drone comb. But controlling drone comb is exactly the reason you end up with drone comb in your supers and then end up needing an excluder. The bees want a consolidated brood nest, but the lack of drone is more worrisome to them, so if you don't let them do it in the brood nest, they will raise a patch of drones anywhere they can get some drone comb. If you want the bees to stop building drone comb, stop taking it away from them.

Queen cells are bad and the beekeeper should destroy queen cells if they find them.

It seems like most of the books I've read convince beginning beekeepers that queen cells should always be destroyed. The bees are either going to swarm, and you want to stop them, or they are trying to replace that precious store-bought queen with a queen of unknown lineage mated with those awful feral drones. Most of the time when you destroy queen cells the bees swarm anyway, or they already swarmed before you destroyed them, and they not only swarm, but also end up queenless. I see swarm cells as free queens of the highest quality. I put each frame that has queen cells on it, in its own nuc. Usually I try to leave one with the original hive and the old queen in a nuc. That way I've made a bunch of small splits and left the hive thinking it's swarmed already. With supersedure cells, I leave them because the bees apparently have found the queen wanting and I trust the bees. Destroying a supersedure cell is also likely to leave them queenless. The queen is probably about to fail, or she's already failed or died and you just removed their only hope of a queen..

Swarm cells are always on the bottom.

The other part of this, I guess is that supersedure cells are always in the middle. This may be a good generality, but you need to look at the entire context of the situation. I would assume that queen cells on the bottom were swarm cells if the hive is building up quickly and is either very strong or very crowded. On the other hand if they are not strong or crowded and building, then I would assume they are not swarm cells. If the cells are more in the middle and conditions otherwise would cause me to expect swarm cells, then I would tend to view these as swarm cells. If the hive were not building and not crowded I would assume they are supersedure cells or emergency cells. Also swarm cells tend to be more numerous. Swarm cells are also staggered in age over a number of days. So you may find some with eggs, larvae, capped and some with the end cleared of wax and ready to emerge. Emergency and supersedure cells are all about the same age.

Beekeepers should buy queens because mating with the local bees is bad.

Of course this one goes with the above reasons given for why supersedures are bad. I think mating with the local bees is the preferred method. You get bees that are surviving in your area. I do know a lot of people who buy queens all the time because of this fallacy. The supersedure rate has grown over the years to the point that a typical introduced queen is almost instantly superseded. If that's true (and some of the experts tell me it is) then you'll have a home grown queen anyway, so why waste your money? There is a lot of research on how much better the quality of a queen is if you let her continue to lay from when she starts instead of banking her right after she starts laying. When you buy a commercial queen, you get one that was banked right after she started to lay. I have serious doubts that you can buy a better queen than you can raise yourself, especially if you have clean wax, and most especially if you've been collecting swarms from bees that live in your climate.

Feral bees are unproductive, swarmy and of bad disposition.

I've heard this often repeated. This or other bad things. Feral bees have not been bred for disposition. I've removed and caught many. Some are mean. Some are quite nice. Some are nervous, but not mean. Some are calm. These traits I have found easy to find in feral bees and easy to breed for. Just keep the good ones and requeen the bad ones. From my experience they are often more productive because they are more attuned to your climate and build up at the appropriate time to make a good crop. As far as "swarmy" I think all bees are swarmy. It's how they reproduce. I have not had any problems controlling swarming in any kind of bees.

Feral swarms are disease ridden and should either be left or treated immediately by the beekeeper for every known disease.

I don't understand the concept. A healthy productive hive throws swarms. So the logical conclusion would be that they are healthy and productive.

Feeding can't hurt anything.

I hear this one a lot. But I think feeding CAN hurt a lot. Feeding is one of the leading causes of problems. It attracts pests like ants, it sets off robbing, it often drowns a large number of bees, and worst, it often results in a nectar bound brood nest and swarming. If the hive is light in the fall, the beekeeper should feed. If the bees are starving, feed. If you're installing a new package or a swarm, feed until they get a little stores. Once they have a little stored and there's a flow, let them do what bees do. Gather nectar. A good rule of thumb is that they should have at least some capped comb and a flow before you stop feeding.

Adding supers will prevent swarming.

This is a common myth in beekeeping. It works after the reproductive swarm season is over, but the prime swarm season has little to do with supers. It has everything to do with the bees' plan to reproduce. If you want to head off a swarm the crux of the matter is you have to keep the brood nest open.

Destroying queen cells will prevent swarming.

In my experience this does not work. They will swarm anyway and end up queenless.

Clipping the queen will prevent swarming.

In my experience they will still swarm. It may buy you some time if you're paying attention (like the hives are in your back yard and you check everyday for swarms). They will attempt to swarm and the clipped queen won't be able to fly. They will go back and then they will leave with the first virgin swarm queen to emerge. Counting on clipping to stop them from swarming will end in failure.

You have to move hives two feet or two miles or you will lose a lot of bees.

I hear this one a lot.. I move bees all the time fifty, a hundred yards or more. The trick is to put a branch in front of the entrance to trigger reorientation. If you do this it works well. If you don't do this most of the field bees will go back to the old location.

You have to extract.

The beginner beekeepers all seem to think they have to have an extractor. You don't. I had bees for 26 years without one. You can make cut comb or crush and strain with little investment and no more work than extracting.

It takes 16 pounds of honey to make a pound of wax.

This is an old one that is still sold to beekeepers at various numbers. I know of no study to support it. And it's irrelevant. What is relevant is how productive a hive is with and without drawn comb. There is no doubt they will make more honey with drawn comb. But it would take a lot of hives before it would be worth buying an extractor. This concept is also used to sell foundation. In my experience the bees will draw comb faster without foundation than with it.

You can't raise honey and bees (make splits and get production).

It's all in the timing. If you do the split right before the flow and let all the field bees drift back to the original hive you can actually get more honey and more bees.

Two queens can't coexist in the same hive.

People purposely set up two queen hives all the time. But if you look carefully you'll often find two queens naturally in a hive. Usually a mother daughter, where the supersedure queen is laying and the old queen is laying right beside her.

Queens will never lay double eggs.
(In other words, all multiple eggs are a sign of a laying worker).

I've often seen double eggs from a queen. Rarely I've seen triples. I've never seen more. Laying workers will lay from two to dozens in one cell. I look for more than two and eggs on the sides of the cells and not in the bottom. Also eggs on pollen. These I consider signs of laying workers.

If there is no brood there is no queen.

There are many reasons you might find a hive with no brood even though there is a queen. First, in my climate at least, from October to April there may or may not be brood because they stop in October and then raise little batches of brood with broodless periods in between. Second, some frugal bees will shut down brood rearing in a dearth. Third, a hive that has lost a queen and raised an emergency queen often is broodless because by the time the new queen has emerged, hardened, mated and started to lay 25 or more days have passed and ALL the brood has emerged. Fourth a hive can swarm and the new queen isn't laying yet. She won't be laying for probably two weeks after the hive swarmed. Many a beginner (or even a veteran) beekeeper has found a hive in this state, ordered a queen, introduced her and had her killed, ordered another queen, introduced her and had her killed and finally noticed there were eggs. Unmarked virgin queens are very hard to find even by the most experienced beekeeper. A frame of eggs and brood would have been a better insurance policy. That way IF the hive is queenless they can raise one, and if they aren't it won't hurt anything and you'll know the answer to the question.

Bees only like to work up.

In other words they expand the hive and the brood up. If you install a package in a stack of five boxes, as I have done, you can easily disprove this. But then if you think about a tree you already know this isn't true. The bees cluster at the top of whatever space there is and build comb down until they fill the void or reach a size they are satisfied with.

Bees start at the top of whatever space they have and work down. Once a hive is established they move towards any space they can fill. So in the case of a tree if they have reached the bottom the brood nest will work its way into whatever space is available when it expands and then contract back when the season is over. In the case of a hive, however, beekeepers keep adding and removing boxes. We add them to the top because it's convenient to add them there and convenient to check on them there. The bees don't care. They work into where there is space available.

A laying worker hive has one pseudo queen and you are trying to get rid of her to fix the problem.

A laying worker hive has many laying workers. The only way to fix the problem is get them so disrupted they will accept a queen or give them enough pheromones from open worker brood to suppress the laying workers enough to get them to accept a queen. In other words, give them a frame of open brood every week until they rear a queen.

Shaking out a laying worker hive works because the laying worker gets left behind because she doesn't know her way home.

I have not found this to be true and the research I've read says it's not true. There are many of them and they will find their way back. Shaking out a hive only works because you have disheartened them enough that in the chaos they will sometimes accept a queen.

Bees need a landing board.
Obviously they don't have one in most natural situations, so this is not a rational statement. I not only don't think they need one, I think they just help mice and skunks and do no favors to the bees.

Bees need lots of ventilation.

Bees do need ventilation. But what they need is the right amount of ventilation. Of course in the winter, too much ventilation means too much heat loss. But even in the summer the bees are cooling the hive by evaporation, so on a hot day the inside of the hive may be cooler than the outside air. So too much ventilation could result in the bees being unable to maintain a cooler temperature inside. When wax heats up past the normal operating temperatures of a hive (> 93 F) it gets very weak and combs can collapse.

Bees need beekeepers.

Actually bees need beekeepers like fish need bicycles. Depending on your view of the world, bees have been surviving for millions of years on their own or at least since the creation. It's true beekeepers have spread them all over the world, but bees would have gotten their anyway eventually. How did African bees recently get to Florida? They were hitchhikers.

You have to requeen yearly.

I know many beekeepers who only requeen if they see a problem. Usually before you see a problem the bees have already superseded the problem queen. If you have clean wax (no chemicals in the hive) your queens usually last about three years. If you don't have clean wax, your queens usually only last a few months. Either way, how does requeening yearly help? The most common claim is that a first year queen won't swarm, which is easily disproven by feeding a package incessantly, or that a second year queen is bound to swarm, which is easily disproven by the fact that most of my queens are three years old.

A marginal colony should always be requeened.

I've seen a lot of struggling colonies take off and make a good crop. They are often struggling because the population dwindled to the point that there weren't enough workers to forage and care for brood. Quite often a frame of emerging brood will snap them right out of this. On the other hand SOME colonies do just languish when they should have caught up. These I would requeen.

You need to feed pollen substitute to packages and to bees in the spring and fall.

I have never had luck getting bees to even take pollen once fresh pollen is available. I see no reason to feed a package pollen substitute when it is vastly inferior nutrition to real pollen that is readily available. Feeding real pollen early in the spring sometimes seems to be an effective way to stimulate buildup. Sometimes it seems to make no difference.

You should feed syrup in the winter if the hives are light.

I suppose your climate is directly related to this, but you can't get bees to take syrup in the winter here in Nebraska and if you could, I'm not sure it would be good for them to have all that humidity to deal with. Dry sugar they can take no matter how cold it is, but syrup they can only take if the syrup is above 50 F. Not a likely occurrence here even if the daytime temps got up to that, the syrup would have a time delay making it up to that temperature.

Michael Bush

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Copyright 2006 by Michael Bush

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