miscellaneous musings

Is the beekeeping bubble about to burst?

Don’t worry. I’ve been predicting the imminent crash of beekeeping for about eight years now. So far, I’ve been pathetically wrong. So don’t lose any sleep over this.

Still, the sudden closure of the three Brushy Mountain Bee Farm outlets and the disappearance of their website doesn’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Yes, they probably made a number of faulty business decisions including quick expansion and a high debt-to-earnings ratio. But again, I’m guessing.

I’ve also heard rumors that some bee clubs are losing members and meeting attendance is dropping. Not in all places, mind you. Some clubs are doing better than ever. Put it this way: I’m hearing rumblings from the field.

Cycles of beekeeping

Does any of this surprise me? Absolutely not. Like many interests and hobbies, beekeeping has a history of popularity that rises and falls like a thermometer. The crest prior to this was in the 1970s when hippies and flower children—all peace, love, and Volkswagons—decided to keep bees. In fact, many of the “old timers” we have now started back then. It’s a charming piece of beekeeping history.

The current beekeeping bubble began after press reports of colony collapse disorder (CCD). People with no prior interest in insects suddenly decided to save the world by keeping bees. The current push to aid Mother Nature has many similarities to the 70s, and I believe many of the current beekeepers will stay with bees just like their predecessors.

Times have changed

To outfit all these new beekeepers, hundreds of entrepreneurs and retailers were on the spot, ready to help. This time around we have all sorts of digital gadgets, plastic parts, clever tools, and countless websites. We have bee suits made of modern materials, hives of every conceivable design, and feeders we can’t figure out. You name it and someone is making it. Or many someones.

But we also have things they didn’t have in the 1970s or in prior waves of beekeeping. We have varroa mites, small hive beetles, and viruses galore, along with worsening environmental conditions. Beekeeping is more difficult than it used to be, and more expensive. Staying with it takes a commitment that is larger than just buying a hive and pulling honey supers once a year.

What’s hot and what’s not

Tulips. Trolls. Hula hoops. Pet rocks. Cabbage patch dolls. Gotta have it. No, inexpensive toys are not the same as bee hives, but tracing their wax and wane is instructive. First they are plain vanilla. Then they come with dozens of variations. Then everyone is doing it. Then we lose interest. Things you can’t be without one day fail to sparkle the next, and we move on to the next shiny object that captures our interest.

In contrast, many complexities and ironies associated with beekeeping are inconsistent with pet rocks. For one thing, in the background we have commercial beekeepers. They were here before the rise and will be here after the fall. They are the backbone of the beekeeping industry and they aren’t going anywhere. I can’t imagine what they think of all the hoopla and gadgets, but they know cycles. I assume many just shrug and say, “This, too, shall pass.”

A sad irony

But the big irony, the really sad outcome of the current beekeeping bubble is that it did not save the bees. In fact, it made everything worse. The surge in beekeeping was based on reports of colony collapse disorder, and you can still find current references to CCD even though no official cases have been recorded for years.

Oddly, honey bees were never endangered. In fact, they have a history of different types of collapses that were never understood or diagnosed. Perhaps CCD was related to mites, or maybe not, but one thing is certain: CCD caused the bubble that didn’t save the bees.

If anything, the spread of varroa mites and the viruses they carry was intensified by the bee bubble. As the number of hives grew, and each hive was placed close to another, the pathways for disease and parasite transmission multiplied geometrically. Just as human diseases move faster in densely populated areas, bee diseases can spread quickly when many colonies inhabit limited space.

Over the top

The thing that shocked me lately is the number of treatments being used for mite control. Ten years ago, many beekeepers were treating for mites once a year. But as mite transmission increased due to numerous hives, the number of mite treatments required to keep a colony alive increased. Last week when some people on BEE-L mentioned treating 12 or 14 times a year, I was astonished.

Gassing colonies with acid vapor repeatedly throughout the year is not something I’m interested in doing. If I had to do that, I would quit beekeeping in a heartbeat. Call me an unrealistic romantic, but that much treatment destroys the pastoral image I have for beekeeping. Clean outside breezes. Bees and flowers dancing in the wind. The rich smell of nectar and brood. The sweet sparkle of honey on toast.

Yet those who have runaway mites and don’t treat end up spreading disease and making the prognosis for healthy colonies that much bleaker. Treatment-free bees need separation from the constant onslaught of diseases and parasites, but separation is hard to come by with so many beekeepers.

Furthermore, the bees that really are in trouble, the bees that actually do need our help are not imported honey bees but the native bees. Large numbers of honey bee colonies have jeopardized native bee health due to increased competition for forage and from pathogen spillover into the environment. Even bumble bees are being found with deformed wing virus.

Maybe it’s just me

Maybe I’m wrong about the bubble bursting as I’ve been wrong so many times before. But if the slump is coming, I think it will be better for the bees, both managed and wild. No one has to quit beekeeping, either. Fewer new colonies together with natural attrition would soon bring hive numbers down to a more sustainable level.

I’m curious to know whether anyone else has detected a change or if I’m just imagining a trend that doesn’t exist. Also, I said I would quit if I had to treat 12 times a year. What about you? Do you have a threshold at which beekeeping no longer makes sense? Or would you keep going regardless? Let me know what you think. Thanks for your insight.

Honey Bee Suite

Will the beekeeping bubble burst when the mental image no longer reflects reality?

Will the beekeeping bubble burst when the mental image no longer reflects reality? Pixabay photo.


  • Our bee club sold out its upcoming bee class for beginners a week ago. The class is not until the end of Jan. 2019. 200 were on the waiting list for registration information which went out three weeks ago. I have not seen a waning of interest, but only time will tell, I suppose. I treat with Apivar once mid-summer and do an OAV treatment once in late fall. This protocol has worked for three years now and is not offensive to me.

  • Being new to beekeeping I started studying in jan of this year decided on oxalic acid with electric vaporizing built my own vaporizer new hive early may was told by local bee supply company that they would be pretreated so not to worry until late aug hard to schedule treatments with honey supers being on ended up doing four treatments end of aug first part of sept every treatment hundreds of mites for several days after getting ready for cold weather opened up hive to check it out queen looked great lots of workers no brood at all no honey in bottom brood box upper full moved honey down moved empty frames up left full honey super on top added quilt box hope for the best and see if they make it through winter dont know if she stopped laying to break brood cycle because of varroa or not didnt dare treat anymore at that time do you think i should try different treatment tried another online club seemed like they just wanted to gab and not help each other so dropped out appreciate the help you give

    • Phil,

      This is very hard to read. It sounds like you did four mite treatments, got lots of mite drop, and now you are seeing the queen but no brood. Yes? Anyway, it is common not to see brood at this time of the year. Some queens stop laying for a couple of months, some don’t stop at all. In either case I wouldn’t worry about it. I recommend you do a mite count around New Year’s day. If you still have mites, treat again then.

  • Broodminder just recently fell woefully short on a crowdfunding campaign.

    P.S. your picture. The top supers? are larger than those below and don’t have the normal top cover. Can’t be quilt boxes. No ventilation. ?….

    • Hi Lloyd,
      We set our goal high, we’re optimists. On the plus side , we have commitments for 946 monitors so personally I’m quite satisfied.

      I’ve travelled a lot over the last 3 years been to many beekeeper meetings. Again, being the optimist, I see positive change. …from “Save the Bees!” to “This is really hard, but worth it”. There are some amazing clubs and organizations where education and learning are beginning to really take hold. It’s a long a tortuous road. Things are always changing, to my mind they are slowly getting better.

      But then… I’m an optimist 😉

  • Rusty excellent article. I personally treat for mites March, August, and my only 3 cycle gas treatment late October. If I have to treat more than that, I am done. But so far, treating 3 times a year has served my 10 hives well, no losses in 4 years.

    I too think the bubble is about to bust. And to put it frankly, it needs to. Too many people have started to keep bees with the mentality all that you have to do is throw a package in a hive and presto, you don’t have to do anything but harvest honey. They don’t realize they are very effective at raising what I call mite bombs, or cry the blues on why their hives always die.

    I always say time tells on everything and everyone. Time is about to tell the story on the latest beekeeping craze too

  • I keep honey bees on the island of Newfoundland, one of the very few places left on the planet that has never had Varroa, and possibly one of the more challenging places to keep bees next to Iceland. Varroa is my threshold. Newfoundland honey bees, with little or no resistance for Varroa, wouldn’t last long anyway.

  • By coincidence my niece just wrote me something about all the work I did with the bees and I wrote back that they were not my most difficult pets, but my second easiest after the cats, with the dog and ferrets being harder. Quoting myself, “the bees just have a few times a year where there’s a lot of work, but most of the time I’m just standing around admiring them and doing nothing. The hardest part about the bees is probably the weather! And me being a control freak and being unable to control either the bees or the weather!”

    To your question, I think I’ve seen fewer newspaper notices about bee-related lectures/classes than in previous years. And various other people’s hives on my walking routes were dead all this year. So I hope you’re right about the bubble at least deflating a bit. Better for me. Better for the native bees. (At least I know my honey bee love is selfish and not good for “The Bees”.)

    As for my threshold, because for me they’re pets, I suppose I’ll stop keeping them when it stops being fun—when it becomes either too expensive or too much work. But also, because they are pets, if/when I decide not to keep any more bees, I’ll still keep the ones I have to the best of my ability for as long as I can keep them alive. Just because I’m never going to get another dog doesn’t mean I throw out the dog I have.

    But “the best of my ability” might be only a year or so for bees, whereas the extremely difficult dog could have ten or more good years left in him.

  • If anything, there’s been steady growth here in Northeast Ohio and surrounding areas. I sell out of nucs annually, and mostly from new customers, not repeat. I pass along methods and advice if asked on keeping bees alive, etc.

  • Rusty,

    I’ve been beekeeping since 2014 and it continues to grow in my area. I’m in Chester County PA, which is 760 square miles, and our county bee association has over 400 members. In fact, the association leadership is subtlety trying to discourage beekeeping for honey, and have some folks focus on making nucs for a living.

    I’m a hobbyist with 2 to 3 hives. I’m trying to be a passive beekeeper, as I find I tend to screw them up if I try to “help” them too much. I focus on swarm control in spring, harvest some honey in June, treat for mites twice a year (August & December), and prep them for winter in October (which involves mostly feeding). I’ve read many books (many of your recommendations), find bees fascinating and very much enjoy the hobby. I believe I’m almost a sustainable hobbyist, meaning I don’t need to buy bees or equipment anymore.


  • Moving from SoCal to the PNW is making me reconsider my passion. However, dying passion simply means rekindling and getting over new environmental changes that I am not accustomed to. I lost all my hives last winter because I have no clue as to how to manage them in cold and wet conditions. Thus the glory and intrigue of what we do! Bees overcome, we must overcome with them. I like what you said of the pastoral aspect. There are reasons so many in our history were people of the cloth.

  • My husband and I have been scratching our heads and discussing the possible reason/s for the closing of Brushy Mountain Bee Farm. They were, after all, where we purchased everything we needed when we first started keeping bees five years ago. Not knowing why just allows us to all guess. It could very well be that they made some poor business decisions. Sometimes, bigger is not better. We found that out on the 1980s when we owned multiple NAPA auto parts stores. The problems in one store multiplied by six became more than we had the stomach for. It would be interesting to know what happened.

    Beekeeping is a lot of hard work, as you well know. I think a lot of people get involved because they have some romantic idea that the bees take care of themselves and magically produce those buckets of gold a few times a year. We have friends who are financial investors in our hives only. For their investment, they get a portion of honey when we harvest. My husband and I do all the work. I recently posted to our FB group a list of all the required jobs and requirements during the year to keep our four hives alive and well. They were all shocked. They had no idea, and I constantly post updates to the page. So, I think this is also the case with the huge number of people who get into beekeeping with stars on their eyes. It’s an expensive hobby too, if you don’t sell your honey to help recoup some of the expenses. I, too, have thought about quitting at times and my reasons included all the reasons you listed for disliking beekeeping. But, then I smell that special odor of ripening goldenrod honey and observe orientation flights (a week ago in NE Ohio!) and I realize that I’m hooked. Like every fad, there is attrition and that’s probably a good thing. The weakest are weeded out and the dedicated remain. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

    • Lynn,

      If you would like to share your list, I would love to post it here. It might be a good thing for newbees to see.

  • you said:
    > Gassing colonies with acid vapor repeatedly throughout the year is not something I’m interested in doing. If I had to do that, I would quit beekeeping in a heartbeat.

    Yeah, me too. Especially don’t want to have to do beekeeping wearing a respirator, which one should do around oxalic vapor. But I wonder if the Brushy Mtn Crash had more to do with competetion from Mann Lake. In our region there are a lot of different bee supply outfits and they can’t all make it. Dadant’s has a branch near me, Draper’s and Hungry Bear are within an hour from here, and Mann Lake is about an 2.5 hours away, about the same as Brushy Mountain was. Lots of choices. I think beekeeping will always have a following. People come and go, but bee venom has its addicts.


    • Hi Pete,

      You may very well be right about Brushy Mountain. They were always my go-to shop, but when Mann Lake started the free shipping wars, I really felt I had no choice but to switch. By the time Brushy Mountain joined the shipping wars, I was set in my ways. Nowadays, I don’t keep as many bees and I don’t buy much equipment.

  • Hi Rusty –

    I won’t forgive you for this post; I’m supposed to be working my lengthy Veterans Day ‘to-do list’, read your post on my phone and felt an overwhelming obligation to stop what I was doing, go inside and open my laptop.

    4th year – No I haven’t given any thought to “beekeeping trends” although I suspect a ‘bump’ might have occurred a few years back with the launch of “Flow Hive” a ‘dip’ with the close of Bee Thinking in Portland – as a backyard BK’r and DIY type I like western red cedar hives.

    Treat? I monitor my hives and only intervene whether it’s wax moths, hive beetles, or varroa mites if the colony appears stressed. I have 5 hives – 2 Langstroth and 3 TB (all close to one another); this year I treated one Langstroth twice with oxalic acid vapor that had high mite counts on the bottom board – once in late Sept. and again last week. Although the TB adjacent to the high count Langstroth only had a few mites on the bottom board since I already had the Varrox out I treated it too.

    I usually check the bottom boards on the hives 4 or 5 times each week just to get a measure of how their days are going, where the colonies are working, etc. If I suspect they’re having problems wrestling wax moths or beetles then I’ll schedule an inspection.

    I’m not sure what to do if Nosema gets out of hand since Fumagilin-B is no longer available.

    Threshold? I guess that’s yet to be determined; probably not based on my “need” to (attempt to) repair things that are broken rather than replace – much like DIY home renovations and repairs of appliances, cars, boats, etc., etc. I don’t ‘think’ it’s OCD, just blind persistence – a ‘gift’ (sometimes curse) from my late father who survived the depression and retired after 40+ years as a ‘machine tool specialist’: “It’s imperative that you always have the right tool for the job.”

    Beekeeping Threshold…? As long as the girls maintain their residence(s) and share their honey stores, I’m obligated and committed to doing my part… regardless. Not to mention all the dollar$$$ invested in BK ‘stuff’ – clothing, smokers, hive tools, veils, suits, frames, WRC, queen excluders, OXA vaporizer, ##s of sugar, blah, blah, blah ?

    Besides, we LOVE comb and filtered honey, and sharing it with our family and friends.


    • Doug,

      Sorry to interfere with your to-do list, but happy to read your thoughts. You can get back to it now!

      You remind me of my husband who always has the “right tool for the job.” So many jobs, so many tools.

  • Rusty, have noticed the same drop of interest in keeping bees. Have been conducting bee classes, at all levels, and classes have dropped from the 30’s into the teens. I too am concerned with the treatments being discussed today but mostly concerned with those beekeepers treating without ever checking to see if the need to treat was there. Also the methods being used and no check after treatment to see if it was successful. I was devastated to hear about Brushy Mountain. We have spent many great moments with Shane and Candy and it will be hard to imagine another state conference without their presence.

  • I’ve been keeping bees since 92. The number of beekeepers dropped of in the early 90s then recovered. I’m now a member of 2 clubs both are still growing. I’ve got a waiting list for honey that’s 2019 crop! Also members are encouraging me to make up nuclear power hives. Hay them nucs hummm.

    • Back again with some more thoughts.

      Several comments on boring meetings, jump in and help out the club. Study a subject and give a talk. When I first started beekeeping I saw a field of gray hair. As a young guy I saw that as an opportunity. Now I have no hair and a gray beard.

      With over 5000 beekeepers in our new state. I still see opportunity. My granddaughter wants to start keeping in the spring. At $150 – 170 per nuc. She’s coming down for a visit. Her grandmother has two empty hives. And so the fifth generation begins.


  • The only reason I quit going to my bee club was because there hadn’t been any programs for most of the year. It has turned into a chat fest and social gathering rather than an educational group. I go there to learn new things that will help be a better beekeeper.

    • I live on the Illinois side of St. Louis and am a member of an Illinois Bee Club and attend when I can a St. Louis Bee Club in Missouri. I noticed the last 2 years there is a focus on the mites for education in the clubs meetings but not much of anything else. It tends to bee so boring that I feel my time is wasted at the meetings. Yes mites are bad, Yes kill the mites, but give me something else to look into about bees at the meeting—anything about their biology, focus on a plant they like, other health issues, other pests. I used to come away from a meeting and learned about a different approach or some fact concerning bee, but the last 2 years not so much because the only main topic is mites. I took an online bee keeping class this summer and felt money and time well spent. I stopped going to the bee club meetings back in spring. In my opinion beekeeping is expensive and hard work if you want over 20 hives. As a hobby it requires land to place the bee hives on and equipment, both are expensive. Most younger people can hardly afford to buy a house so although the younger people would love to keep some bees they simply cannot afford it. I see at the club meeting most newer members are older in age like 40 plus. I am age 40 plus for perspective. I attended the HAS meeting in St. Louis this year and noticed the same observation–age 40 plus and up in attendance. I think the age group of beekeepers that financially support the hobby are older in age based on bee clubs. I am a new beekeeper of 4 years that started with 2 hives and as of today 20. Money tends to be a problems with hobbies.

      • Kim,

        I agree on the varroa mite thing. Clubs frequently ask me to speak about varroa, and I just refuse. How many times do we have to say it? It seems like varroa is the main event and honey bees are an afterthought. Depressing!

        I also agree about the money. Beekeeping is very expensive. As you point out, the majority of new beekeepers are older and have the extra time and money to mess with a hobby that may or may not pan out. Young people start, too, but many are supported by their parents.

  • Based in NZ. We only use OAV in winter and/or for broodless colonies. We have been using paper tapes soaked in 60%glycerine 40%OA dissolved solution with very good effect so far. This is another development improving on the shop towels discussed by Randy Oliver. There is no let up in improving varroa treatments. There is no let up in demand for beekeeping classes here. If you need to treat more than twice a year, I think the method you are using isn’t working well enough or wasn’t applied correctly and/or appropriately. If there are sugar shakes or alcohol washes to confirm ZERO mites after treatment then I’d be interested how long it takes to build up mite numbers to high levels. I have not seen any real evidence of problems in our area.

  • Hi beekeeping people; The same thing happened with backyard chickens. Some people get into things because it is trendy and not because of a true passion, and trends can be huge. The people that really love beekeeping will continue. I don’t need to treat anymore for mites and the SHB’s are just a nuisance so I think things are getting better. Good luck and good beekeeping to all, and keep on doing what makes you happy.

  • Rusty,

    I really enjoy your website. Thanks for the stimulating articles. You have raised some interesting points about detecting a change in beekeeping or a downward slump. I’ve noticed that quite a few beekeepers and “bee havers” are giving up and abandoning the hobby in suburban metro NYC. Quite frankly, I believe it’s the pesticide issue in this area. Too many golf courses, the quest for perfect lawns and gardens, loss of habitat and fear of ticks with constant spraying of pesticides and herbicides. The bombardment of harmful chemicals is constant during the warmer months. Many homeowners use outside landscapers and pesticide companies to “maintain” their property. They don’t monitor this activity. The NYS DOT adds insult to injury by using Roundup to kill weeds along the state roads/ highways where wildflowers grow and invasive plants like Japanese Knotweed, bloom late in the summer. It’s weakening our bees – both native and honeybees.

    Why are some beekeepers giving up the hobby? Because the hives that manage to survive the summer must cope with climate change over the winter. I treat for mites with formic acid in late August depending on the mite load and I haven’t harvested honey in a few years because of droughts/excessive rain. There is no happy medium anymore. We’ve just had one of the wettest and warmest Sept-Octobers in history. The bees were out foraging far beyond the normal dates and eating through their winter store. I’m worried. Feeding them cane sugar (laced with glyphosate) is not best for their health.

    Bee Culture Magazine’s recent November 2018 issue had an interesting article entitled: Glyphosate Safe for Bees and Beekeepers written by Ross Conrad. He raised some excellent points about how glyphosate/Roundup is impacting human health and the bees. Monsanto/Bayer is not telling the truth. It does NOT have low toxicity. It’s a slow death for us and the bees. (International Agency for Research on Cancer – IARC – says Roundup is ‘probably carcinogenic’) We are all connected.

    In the same Bee Culture Magazine there was yet another article from the Hive Tracks folks entitled- BXML-Part 2- persuading beekeepers and others to jump on the hive tracking software bandwagon. The Healthy Hives 2020 hard working scientists, Apimondia, Project Apis work groups, who by the way, are all funded by Monsanto/Bayer, want us to embrace these tracking tools, so they can “enhance the health and vitality of honey bee colonies.” There is a BIG disconnect somewhere. Why aren’t we paying more attention to the pollution levels or toxicity in our soil, helping to revitalize/heal the soil and really caring for the bees (ourselves) and the Earth. Do you think Monsanto/Bayer is concerned about the bees for the bees sake?

    I have a relative who served in Vietnam as an infantryman when he was 19 years old. He was sprayed upon with Agent Orange (Glyphosate/Roundup) many times while fighting that horrible war. He’s now in his early 70’s and has pancreatic cancer and is 100% disabled – service connected. He just received his 82nd treatment of chemotherapy. Is this what we call progress? Being able to keep someone half alive with advanced cocktails of drugs? Just like the bees.

    I’ll keep going with the honey bees and will keep planting milkweed and goldenrod wherever I can for the native species. We all have to do our part and raise awareness where we can. A little love and understanding goes a long way.

    • Maeve,

      Thanks for doing your part for the native bees. I agree that our environment needs a lot of attention, and the push for perfect lawns and weed-free roadsides must come to an end. Keeping bees alive—native or otherwise—on drugs is a ridiculous concept, especially when they haven’t decent forage or living areas to keep them healthy. What are we thinking?

    • A factual correction: Agent Orange was a combination of two very common herbicides (2,4-D and 2,4,5-T) as well as a contaminant from synthesis, a dioxin. Agent Orange was not glyphosate, which was first registered by the EPA in 1974.

  • There has been a lot of attrition of new beekeepers here. The local bee guru who was on the leading edge of the bloom with a year of experience and a big pile of books, ruined many peoples chances of succeeding by preaching unworkable methodology that guaranteed failure and for which he charged a hefty fee and supplied over priced equipment. He remains “The Source” to many but was unable to keep bees alive or produce much honey himself and is now out of bees but not out of bloviations. He did earn the states Master Beekeeper certificate which probably correctly values such certificates. There are still a surprising number of people entering beekeeping every year. Those with two years of experience and a library are quick to advise them without having really understood or assimilated their readings and the wheel turns round and round. A few people learn though and a core of knowledgeable hobbyists has developed.

  • After 13 years as a beekeeper, I am now putting honey bees in perspective. I hope to keep a few colonies for many years, but I am greatly expanding my stewardship of native pollinators in my little corner of the world. Below are a few points on this. Your posts on native bees are very useful, Rusty, and have helped my thoughts evolve.

    Treatment: I treat for varroa twice a year and that is my limit. I hate needing these harsh chemicals and seeing the toll the treatment takes on the queen, drones and workers. I have no interest in the honey…so my sense is that I am damaging bees to save them. This seems completely wrongheaded.

    Technique: I am intrigued by the potential of isolating honey bee hives for better disease control. In my area of Virginia, black bears are prevalent, so placing hives in isolation poses a dilemma…do I set out lone hives without expensive protective electric bear fencing or do I cluster the hives more economically inside the single electric bear fence? Either way, I have significant potential costs in keeping bees that may become unsustainable.

    Native Bees: Finally, and perhaps most critical, I am working very hard to support native bees and pollinators on my land. I have good resource books to help me ID what I see and I am creating a more welcoming and nutritious landscape for them. I get better fruit set and pollination for my garden and improved nutrition for insects and other animals. I don’t have to use chemicals to be a good steward for native pollinators; in fact, no chemicals is optimal. I also contribute citizen science observations for organizations studying native bees and pollinators in my region.

    Question for you, Rusty, not for this post….are there viable methods for creating or establishing honey bee colonies in woodland? Is there a way to make a new package of bees go feral or make their home in a tree cavity and not in a hive?

    • Kathleen,

      Nothing makes me happier than learning about people who care about their native bees. Thank you for doing that!

      As far as making a package go feral, I don’t know. I’ve read that even under ideal conditions, swarms that settle in the woods have a very low survival rate. Don’t quote me, but I think it’s about 10%, even without mites. That makes sense, though. Otherwise the world would be overrun with bees. I simply don’t know enough to give you an answer.

  • roger.muellemann@sbcglobal.net – There is a great deal of truth to your article. I love beekeeping and do it because I enjoy it. In my opinion, one of the biggest issues is pre-beekeeping education as well as ongoing education. I have met several people this year that said they are “beekeepers”. When I ask about their hives, etc., many have said that they have been buying bees every year, but their colonies never last. When I ask how they monitor for mites and how often they treat, I have had several respond, “Mites, what are they?”. With regard to treatment, a friend of mine just completed a paper on the impact of OA treatments as part of the Master Beekeeer program. In his small study the impact of treatment on brood was frightening (i.e. dramatic reduction following treatments) was frightening! In my opinion I think that rather than establishing a monitoring program some are making the choice to treat and over treat for mites. 12 or more treatments a year? I’m just a small time beekeeper, but I truly think at times that beekeepers are their own worst enemy.

    • Roger,

      “What are mites?” Wow, that is amazing. But yes, I agree. I’ve always been opposed to over-managing the colonies even in the presence of mites. There is fine line between too much and too little.

  • Hi Rusty

    I have four hive two splits from the the one hive that come through winter and one swarm found one my apple tree on the 29th October 2018.

    I lost my #2 hive in last part of winter, they had back fulled every cell with nectar and the bee number just slowly went down.

    My am is to have my hive as close to what the bees would do,that is clean dry hives,clean wax foundation
    replacing old brood comb and increase the number of natural comb frames by using starter stripes on replacement frames.

    I use oxalic acid vaporizer and Mineral Oil foggier to control mites, my main objective is to raise bees and honey is a natural by product.

    We all know that having bee hives is a bit more than that, but keep to the rules set out by your country laws and work with the bees letting them organize the hive.

    PS time will tell if I am right.

    Regards Graeme

  • Hi Rusty I like your site!

    I believe and preventative approach with no overkill. I think we humans interfere a little too much at times. I’ve been Beekeeping for two years and have learned quite a bit. Started out with 1/hive I have had three lost two in separate occasions (weather was one and weak colony the other which was invaded by wasps) and I’m buying couple more after winter.

    Took the beekeeping course at a local university and what I did notice arriving after schooling and at the bee association meetings here which was recommended by my instructor to be rather cliquey.

    You said beekeeping doesn’t involve a secret handshake or particular dogma I agree. I didn’t let those persons who need to belong to a group sway me from beekeeping nor the loss of a couple hives which I found certain amount of lack of support or follow up. (***When your new right down tonight knowing the terminology be keeping can be intimidating aside from the fact you’re dealing with 50,000 insects you have the potential of killing you.**** just saying lol)

    But instead it opened up a new path for me to take added workshops with local apiaries and I’ve met another seasoned beekeeper who is my mentor to this day. He never makes me think I have a silly question or impositioning him by asking him to come see my hives. I also have learned from your blog and thank you.

    Finally whether it’s a B bubble bursting or are there’s some secret leading edge we are unaware of that is going to take beekeeping to a whole new level I don’t worry much because I believe in a higher power which we all have access to that makes this planet a wonderful place.

    Who knows maybe the horrid wasps and hornets will evolve to be coming gentle vegans resistant to threatening pests and illnesses as well. ??‍♀️??

  • Leaving bee clubs might just signify a feeling of “I can do it on my own now.”
    Best thing about a bubble of novice beekeepers, might be a marked increase in feral bees, due to swarms. More colonies might produce a richer variety of drones.

  • Thank you for another wonderful post. I think there are some other factors that continue to drive the increased interest in beekeeping. Homesteaders who want to raise most or all of their own food and preppers who feel that the collapse of society is imminent tend to be very interested in beekeeping. Those two movements show no signs of slowing, so I think the ranks of the hobby beekeepers will continue to grow. Tractor Supply is now selling beekeeping equipment, indicating the demand continues to be high. My concern is that as large retailers enter the beekeeping space, more economic pressure will be placed on local suppliers. Local suppliers are a source of knowledge for the new beekeeper as well as a source of equipment, and the large retailers can’t guide new beekeepers.

    Stressing to the public the need to plant for pollinators may give those who want to help bee populations another avenue to channel their good intentions. Changing the way property owners think about their lawns and landscapes will be good for honey bees and the thousands of native bee species.

  • New beekeeper here in Central Oregon. Interest is growing locally. Not enough mentors; classes are fully booked a year in advanced.

    I started two years ago with the Flowhive. Lost the bees the first year. As a “romantic”, I was determined to be as non-interfering as possible: no sugar, no treatment except for brood-cycle break; leave the honey for the bees. Hive still died.

    This year I bought a nuc and managed to split it, partly hoping the queenless half would benefit most from the break in the brood cycle. Turned out that half was a hothouse for varroa. HAD to treat.

    I still don’t like the idea of feeding sugar and would like to find the lowest toxic mite treatment for the future, but I do believe I’m hooked.

    I actually am considering slapping together some 8 frame boxes for local sale, as those aren’t available in our area.
    I may be jumping into the fray–but in a humbled state.

  • Rusty…. Perhaps the underlying theme of your article is that ‘nothing stays the same’. While I find it distressing to think that a chunk of the current beekeepers exist only short term, I do believe that the core of us new beekeepers have become sincerely committed to our work with bees. Whether our motivation is to “save bees”, to eat/share/sell the incredible honey we extract or, because we are influenced by mankind’s growing awareness of the health benefits of honey – real, pure local honey. That leads me to suggest that new families are keenly curious about how they can stay healthy and the knowledge about natural honey is enticing sincere interest. I’m amazed how often young Moms and Dads, upon learning that I keep bees, ask if they can buy honey from me and then they want to know about keeping bees. I don’t think that will be a trend…sort of like Vitamin C – it remains a constant in all our lives. Back to the bees and their honey…While not all honey consumers will be bee keepers, their consumption will keep lots of bee keepers active. One of my local clubs – the St. Louis Beekeepers Association had a knowledgeable “Apitherapist” speak and it was fascinating. Perhaps – to your point – if clubs found relevant and professional speakers, club memberships would not wain. On the issue of varroa treatments, I have never heard anyone treat more than 2X annually…But I do hear that we are all crazed by SHB’s…..So, I am very hopeful that you are seeing a change only, not something with long term negative repercussions. Thank you for your posts – you are a great source of information for us new beekeepers!!!

  • Hi Rusty

    Sales in our small west coast store are far down. So many beekeepers are getting out and selling slightly used equipment it is hard to compete.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I write you periodically from Ajax Ontario. Just starting to get into winter now here in the “Great White North”.
    We are in a small town setting with an abundance of gardens surrounding us plus a very large nature reserve bordering Duffins Creek which gives our girls an abundance of foraging. I am not aware of any other beeks in the local area, the club I attend is in the village of Greenbanks which is a fair distance from me but is doing well, the majority of the members are commercial with only one or two amateurs who live in rural areas but attendance is good.

    I treat for Varroa in the spring and late September/October. I use a rotating treatment, year one-Oxalic, year two-Formic Acid and year three a commercial product Apivar or whatever. This appears to work, my hives are quite productive (two hives) and we harvest more than enough to share with family and friends. A couple of years ago we invested in a “HoneyFlow” honey super, you are probably familiar with the design and concept. I bought mine in Australia when visiting family and the cost is probably 30 to 40% cheaper than purchasing in North America, (just need a big suitcase 🙂 ). To cut a long story short, the harvesting system works perfectly. The super has survived two Canadian winters and looks good for a few more years. The only drawback is the lack of wax so I’ve purchased a Warre hive which I will start in the spring. My other hive still has a standard super which I am thinking of equipping with a second “HoneyFlow” which I will buy when visiting family in Sydney at Christmas.

    Ken Armes

  • Hi Rusty;

    Wonderful and insightful article. Thank you, once again. I have been keeping bees since 2014. I remain as passionate (or more passionate ) as time goes on. I have had good (not 100%) success over-wintering hives each year and I live in the tippy top part of Northern Wisconsin. My secret has been to follow everything you do. I made the hive quilts you posted and continue to use them. I treat for mites only once/year in the fall, using MAQ’s. My husband and I use the U of M sugar roll test several times throughout the year to make sure the mites are not out of control. We attended a bee lab hands-on demonstration last summer, in fear we still did not know what we were doing (after four successful years of beekeeping, ha!!). There are no bee clubs in our area, so I have educated myself as much as possible, including taking the University of Montana’s beekeeping class you received your master beekeeper degree from. I plan to complete it (I’ve competed the apprentice level). I also know that to become a master at anything, it take hours and hours and hours of practice — Good for YOU!! That is true of beekeeping, but I don’t believe that means opening hives needlessly. To me, it means reading, observing other’s experiences, sharing beekeeping passion, and, keeping abreast of all the changes in our world as it relates to our practices.

    That being said ….. the person who introduced me to beekeeping had the philosophy of totally hands off beekeeping. He would install a nuc in the spring, let the girls do their thing, take the honey in the fall and hope for the best for the winter. I fell in love with the bees themselves, however, and really don’t care about the honey. The bees fascinate me enough that I could spend countless hours sitting next the hive on any given day and observe their interactions with each other, the environment, and take in the wonderful smells the hive emits, as well as the energetic warmth it radiates always. I think I have adopted a medium between totally hands-off and some help when they need it.

    The wind was taken out of my sails a bit this past summer, however, when our neighbors informed me they would be using the “mosquito squad” pesticide throughout the summer. My heart sank as I know they have an abundance of wildflowers in their yard. We are “rural”, but many folks are buying up properties in our Northwoods, moving up from metropolis areas like Minneapolis. They bring with them the same practices they use there, and it seems that my bees have “dwindled” since the onslaught of bimonthly mosquito treatment. The girls seem weaker, had more mites this year, and we fought off hive beetles, new to us this year. We also got ZERO honey off of three hives. I had robbing going on with a weak hive in early fall. The hive was deplete of every ounce of honey and pollen that was stored. I was able to place 100#’s of honey that I froze from a hive that perished in the winter, and they are now doing quite well, tucked away for the winter.

    So, now I am faced with a decision. I cannot ask my neighbor not to spray for mosquitos. She means no harm and I don’t have the heart to ask. She truly believes they use a “natural method” of mosquito control. But, despite my pleas, they continue to spray in the middle of the day when the girls are out foraging. I had to educate myself on the practice of pesticide use as well as the laws that govern them. I kindly and gently shared that with the pesticide company, but to no avail. So, every other week, I would think of it as my “chemotherapy” week. Just when the bees would bolster back up with strength and seem to “recover”, another round of pesticide would be sprayed next door. So much for “hands off” beekeeping!! Maybe it’s all in my head and we had a tough summer, and that’s why the girls didn’t do as well. But really, nothing else changed in our area, and our bees were quite weak, despite low mite counts. I am thinking I may need to re-locate my hives, and I wonder if others deal with this? Am I being too oversensitive and there really is no problem?

    If you have any thoughts or comments (if you read all the way to the bottom of this, I thank you!!), that would be most appreciated, as your blog is most appreciated!!

    • Michelle,

      Yes, I read to the bottom. I’m wondering if the woman waited long enough to see if she had a mosquito problem. I find that in a healthy environment with lots of flowers and birds, mosquitoes often can’t get the upper hand. It seems the more we spray the natural predators, the worse the mosquitoes get.

      I’m sure it’s harming your bees. I would ask her to stop. See if she would like some honey in return. Ask her to at least see if there are enough mosquitoes to worry about. What a mess.

    • Since you wondered, that’s definitely a problem here. Every time a property sells, messy yards nestled into woodlots get extreme makeovers into vast green desert lawns with monthly tick sprays. Yes, they think the pesticides are organic or safe or only effect the ticks. But whyever did they want to move to the woods if they hate the woods so much?

  • I grow mushroom. I get compost from the city at their compost pile. Boy the mushroom really grow on it and the bees love the rooooms.

  • I treat three times a year; I can go to four after which I will have to ponder a bit.

    I run across so may beginners who will not treat for varroa because they want a natural honey. Their bees are as always dead in the spring

    A study in Europe showed that the beginner beekeepers were responsible for exacerbating the varroa mite problem.

    I believe Americans are moving on to the crisis to solved.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I can’t thank you enough for writing this!!!

    Personally, I can’t wait until the bubble bursts. There are too many treatment free beekeepers in Eugene, OR and my bees always find hives to rob out in October. For the past 4 years I’ve found a sudden increase in uncapped honey and a sudden increase in mite load, causing me to treat hives which had a low mite load in September. I don’t think treatment free belongs in urban areas (bold, underline). -Judy

  • Hi Rusty:

    First, our beekeeping club shows no loss of membership, and I think that our beginner’s corner is growing. At one of our monthly meetings, I learned that most back yard BK’s falter and quit around the second year. They aren’t properly educated as to practice and process, so they become discouraged which probably leads to mismanagement… hence the downward spiral to lost colonies. Education is especially critical to beekeeping in the Central Oregon area because, as you know, the weather here is freakishly beautiful and totally untrustworthy. Just try your hand at gardening on the High Desert. BUT, just like gardening here, with some tweaking of what you think you already know about tomatoes, or corn, or honey bees, there’s a great chance, and ample evidence of, success. Apropos that, if one of the reasons a newbie becomes discouraged is about hive tools, parts (and their storage), and maintenance, please allow me to suggest the Valkyrie. With only one moving part (the lid), and ease of access for colony maintenance and honey harvest,– at least the amount of “hardware” needed is decreased– the Valkyrie is just simply easier to use.

    Ok, I’m done. As to mite treatments, my counts are low enough that I’m not using chemicals at all, but a consistent regime of dusting the entire colony with homemade powdered sugar. Now, if the counts were not satisfactory, I would use a MAQS, but at only 1/4 of the recommended dose. Give me those warm breezes and friendly buzzing, but there’s a line that the mites must not cross over, you know?

    With each Valkyrie we sell, I always ask which local Beekeeping Association the client is a member of. If they aren’t affiliated, I get a little insistent at that point. I also strongly recommend books written by Dr. Thomas Seeley, and Les Crowder. It seems that a backyard beekeeper with little or no knowledge can do more harm than good, so I’ve been so incredibly grateful to our friend Naomi Price and to our beekeeping club for helping me learn quickly those skills necessary to our area.

    Here’s a suggestion: perhaps each Beekeeper’s Association could have five-or-so designated members who’s sole focus is to “shadow” the new beekeepers in their club. My opinion is that most newbies don’t have the time to enroll in a Master Beekeeper Program (and often, like in Oregon, the programs are already full through 2019) and thereby receive a “mentor” so, if a successful and established beekeeper could come alongside, the local knowledge handed down would bring a higher success rate and could also raise awareness.

    Your website has also been a great help to Bruce and I. I’m sorry to see the bigger stores close down but that won’t keep us from enjoying the bees. Maybe the local Beekeeping Associations could start their own bee supply stores?

    Thanks, Rusty, for this great topic; and all the wonderful things you give us to think about!


  • It is interesting that you bring up this topic now. I’ve been beekeeping for only six years, started with two hives and fluctuate between 4-6 hives on any given year. Sometimes I even collect a little honey. I’m in love with the bugs and see them as part of a complete garden (vegetable that is). I love the sound, smell and sight of bees leaving and returning from and to the hive. But they also stress me out to no end; the endless “what if?”, the uncertainty, has got me wondering if this is the way I want to spend my retirement years. Is it time to throw in the towel? I find beeking in the suburbs a little nerve wracking as I constantly worry about swarming and the unfounded fear and anxiety some neighbours may feel. If I was in a rural area my swarm might just be my loss. So I’m evaluating the whole enterprise and weighing the anxiety vs the pleasures of beekeeping. I never thought that I was saving the bees so I’m not on a mission but their absence from the yard will or would be felt. The garden would feel incomplete. Either way I’m richer for the experience.

    • Cyrus,

      I really relate to what you wrote. More than anything, the anxiety and worry are what get to me. I sometimes think it would be a relief to be without honey bees, although I would miss them terribly. My husband says I would just transfer my anxiety to something else, and he’s probably right. Still, I think about throwing in the towel a lot more than I used to.

  • Another excellent article. I would GUESS that like much in beekeeping everything is local. Here in Texas we are partially shielded by the fact that bees are now considered as a agricultural exemption for property tax purpose. I participate in two beginners bee schools (one in the fall and one in the spring) and the first has a registration of about 750 and the other for about 500. In addition I participated in a couple of queen rearing classes with Dr Juliana Rangel which always max out in regards to there registration.

    What is worse? I too am alarmed at the steady increase in treatment for varroa and it is even worse than you might guess if you have links to the commercial beekeeping crowd. I suspect (based on conversation and collecting data on commercial hives) that many have already shot themselves in the foot via this or that (excessive and off label) treatment but the level of hubris is so great there it does no good to even bring up the subject.

    What is better? We now have many more bees stretched over a wider landscape than before. This to me means the risk of any one incident impacting the bees (like wild fires in California) is definitely less.

    Brushy Bee Supply… I have no more information to what happen at Brushy than anyone else here but I will add that as a former vp of a bank this is not so untypical of what happens in a lot of young ‘start up’ businesses. Sadly most folks think growth is always good and the more the better… practically I would say that a lot of business grow beyond their capitalization and then face a liquidity crises which they may or may not overcome. If they have good to excellent financial expertise in the organization they often overcome this problem but in many many small firms this expertise is not present and they fail.. Failure in this case by running out of liquidity (cash) and not necessarily bankrupt (where by definition debts exceed assets).

    Gene in Central Texas

  • It’s easy to get pessimistic and skeptical, but at least there is a continuous interest that ebbs and flows!

    Think of all the earthy hobbies that aren’t seeing this much interest: tree planting, litter pickups, etc.

    I’m not a beekeeper, I would rather donate to a local community that does it on my behalf.

  • Dear Rusty, thank you for sounding the siren. Judging by many of the comments, it was not heard well…… Bees have been looking after themselves for 30 millions of years + (Apis mellifera) and still, we think they can’t adapt to challenges themselves ?. Natural selection has truly been their ally.

    But thank you for trying.


  • Of course, the newest news (I just heard today) is that Mann Lake has purchased Kelley Beekeeping Supply. That means we’ve lost two of the large bee equipment manufacturers. I don’t know what it all means, but it sure is interesting.

  • Gene (Et Ash):

    I believe that what you’re talking about is what my CPA called, “Profitable Bankruptcy”. I repeat it concerning our company: “Cash flow is everything—cash flow is everything.” We’ve been blessed with great clients that understand that our Valkyrie is hand made, one-at-a-time, which necessitates slow growth.

    I agree with a previous post that urban beekeepers should treat with miticides; too many colonies will be in close contact with each other. Even though our neighbors are 2-4 acres away, they are all very kind in that they warn me before they use herbicides/pesticides so that I can “quarantine” my colonies in time. I was taught very early on that my beekeeping involves all my neighbors and we aren’t independent of each other (unlike how we might plant or manage our gardens).

    Again, Rusty, great discussion!


  • Gosh, you should subscribe to Bee-L, I broke the story about Brushy last Fri, Nov 9, and the Walter T Kelley acquisition on Nov 14th. Had to wait for public announcement on both, as I did not want to violate confidences. https://tinyurl.com/y9b2h2ku

    But there was no “bubble”, there were just expansion decisions made by regional bee suppliers as if the “fad” would continue forever, followed by prompt sales of the “growing business” in an “expanding market” to “stupid capital” (aka private equity firms) by the sharp cookies like Steve Forrest and Betty Thomas (Jack Thomas’ wife) just as the sales peaked for each vendor. The interesting thing is why buy Walter T. Kelley at all, if the # of new beekeepers per year is falling – was it essentially to buy the “right” to sell to Miller Manufacturing’s farm store and rural co-op retail stores? Seriously? Is that going to justify the purchase price?

    • James,

      Your first link delivered a 404 error, so I deleted it. Actually, I do sometimes follow BEE-L, but I have to be in the proper mood. It’s one of the few sites that can cause me to throw things across the room.

  • I can understanding your frustration, as I’ve been a Bee-L subscriber since the 1980s, and I became so bold as to contribute since 1999 or so.

    My view is that of one who still toils in the lab and sweats out statistical analysis, doing the actual heavy lifting of science. Bees are my hobby now, no longer a business.

    It seems that there is a persistent lack of comprehension on Bee-L that if you are a beekeeper, and your publish views without a DOI number, you have expressed OPINION. 😉

    Kirsten Tranyor tried to fix that, at least within the pages of ABJ, and she was pilloried and burned at the stake as a witch on Bee-L by the usual gang of peasants wielding pitchforks and torches. So, she realized that she was wasting her time, and quit the increasingly inaccurately-named “editor” post.

    That said, it is only worse everywhere else.

  • brian.tamboline@mac.com

    James, Gene, Rusty – appreciate all your observations. I was drawn to beekeeping in the Flow Hive frenzy. I have since moved on to ‘conventional’ hive configurations. But I am totally hooked, completely.

    My 2 biggest challenges are a long cold winter and Varroa, and I continue to evolve my practices.

    I love this site because it is ‘gentle’, or should I say genteel? None of the ridiculous ‘ I’m more right than you’ stuff.

    I loved your recent article in ABJ, Rusty, on bee wings. Great job. I also will miss Kirsten at ABJ, but will continue my subscription.

    I am the only hobbyist I know in my region, so I reap the benefits of isolation. Some commercials a couple miles away, but no, or very little, mite drift.

    Wishing all of you the very best for American Thanksgiving.

    Best regards,

    • Brian,

      Thank you for the compliments. Indeed, I am looking forward to a quiet Thanksgiving; it’s one of my favorite holidays.

  • Thank you for this article and what I see as the next potential for the “failed beekeepers/bee-havers” to do to still help the bees (native and honey as well as other pollinators) is to start planting pollinator plants. Honey bees, native bees and other pollinators need “Costcos” of flowers as Dr Spivak mentioned in a tour of the U of M bee lab this summer. If those former beekeepers would have been told to take their initial investment for nucs and beekeeping equipment ($200-$2000) for 1st year and used it to plant flowering trees and plants, they would never have failed. Couple that with then inviting a seasoned beekeeper to keep hives on your land with an written agreement not to use herbicides, insecticides and fungicides you have a wonderful opportunity to then learn about the ecology the pollinators need but also about the ecosystems that are needed for the plants.

    Who raises livestock but doesn’t understand what to feed it and what it shouldn’t eat that will kill it or make it sick? Sadly we get caught up in honey bees and should start with habitat for each area and work on mentorship as there are many things not in books but leaned with time, patience and a whole lot of trial and error.

    I’ve been lucky enough to live in Minnesota and work abroad in 5 other countries with beekeepers doing consultant work after apprenticing with a local commercial beekeeper. Just my two cents, thank you for all you do and keep up the great work!

  • Rusty,

    Here in Colorado, our bee club memberships are holding fairly steady. I see about the same amount of interest from new beekeepers each year. My focus has changed from increasing the numbers of beekeepers to increasing the numbers of GOOD beekeepers, and we are seeing that increase. We have a similar number of new beekeepers, plus more beekeepers stick with it, with better information and quite a bit of encouragement to monitor and treat for mites, from the both the state bee club and our regional Four Corners Beekeepers. We also strongly encourage beekeepers to replace non-mite-resistant queens rather than just treating over and over. We hope in this way to eventually fill our skies with better drones, and to avoid the increasing treatment scenario. I know it is a long and uphill battle, but we will make headway every year with good education and encouragement.

  • Rusty, I know this comment is way off the topic but I think your site has helped everyone here many times over so one thing for new bee keepers I wanted to bring up again is about your “Quilted Condensation collection box.” I put them on all my hives this winter used them last winter but this winter even my nucs have them. Keep in mind they have doors to reduce flow of air but the concept of collecting condensation works extremely well. I just wanted to add this in case you have new bee keepers on this site that do not know about this and to say it does work very well. I was buying condensation boards from a company and was going to buy more this year but noticed that these boxes worked so well I don’t need to buy condensation collection boards. I am in Michigan by the way so our winters are very unpredictable.

  • Hello Rusty, last year was my first year as a beekeeper in Massachusetts. Sadly, my bees did not make it and I believe it was due to varroa mite infestation. I did what my mentor did and just treated w/o doing alcohol washes. It was said that if you have bees you have mites so why kill 1/2 cup of bees with alcohol to find out what you already know. Well, now I know why and I’m not blaming anyone since the bees were my responsibility and it was ultimately my decision not to do the alcohol washes. First, I didn’t treat until Sept. 9 and used MAQS. In November there was an abundance of dead bees I was scraping out from the bottom entrance and I was told it was just winter die-off. I noticed a lot of mites on the dead bees – you didn’t need to look to hard to find them and they were mainly on the underside of the bees. For the heck of it, I did a standard alcohol wash and counted 28. Don’t know what that means in comparison to live bees from the brood chamber. Anyhow, I contacted my mentor and told him the situation. We did an oxalic acid vapor treatment early December. About a week later I knew the bees were dead/gone – zero activity on mild days. So I broke down the hive and observed lots of honey stores in the 2 top boxes (8 frame mediums) and little clusters of dead bees in the bottom 2 boxes. Lots of dead mites on the frames. Sad, they were good bees and gave me honey on my first go around with them. And now I have 16 frames of honey that can’t be used for human consumption since I treated with OA.

    Now my dilemma is that I’m not sure I want to keep bees. I want to since I find them to be so interesting and I can watch them bring in pollen all day long, and just observe their comings and goings. But I’m not crazy about all the alcohol washes and treatments that are necessary to maintain the bees. It almost doesn’t seem right but I’ve invested time in bee school and money on equipment. If I do get more bees, I need to have a plan for alcohol washes and treatments for sure.

    Thanks for reading,

    • Annette,

      It bears repeating: the varroa mite took the fun out of beekeeping for a lot of people. And I go through the same thought process all the time, wondering whether I should keep going because I hate treating for mites, counting mites, alcohol washes, and just worrying about them all the time. It isn’t a relaxing hobby in the same way it used to be, and I find that very sad.

  • Rusty, I know of at least 5 locations in North Alabama where there are honeybee colonies in hollow trees and old unoccupied buildings. These colonies have not been fed, have not bee treated for mites, have not bee split to control swarming, and yet they survive year after year. I am attempting to catch swarms from these sites and have been fairly successful. I truly believe that we are over medicating honeybees. Let the biological principle of “survival of the fittest” take over and we will all have better bees,

    • Harry,

      I partially agree with you. In my opinion, the reason wild colonies survive is because they are allowed to swarm frequently. Small colonies in natural environments that are free to use large amounts of propolis and swarm at will can do fine. Once you catch them and keep them in a man-made hive, not so much. Be sure to read Thomas Seeley’s new book, The Lives of Bees. It explains why wild colonies survive when managed ones don’t. It’s not the genes as much as the living conditions. The book comes out in late May, I think.

  • I have been beekeeping since 2011 and have maintained about 10 hives average the last few years in San Diego. I have never chemically treated my hives and I don’t feed them. I lose a few hives each year that are easily replaced with new swarms that move into swarm traps. I only perform a few inspections per year and one harvest. Keep it simple and minimize the work to keep the hobby enjoyable.

  • This is my first year beekeeping and I appreciate your blogs. I started mostly because I enjoy raising our own fresh, as organic as possible, produce (fruits, nuts, tomatoes, vegetables, chickens, eggs) and bees are fascinating. At first I thought I was helping to save the bees as an added benefit but eventually learned that it’s the native pollinators that need the most help and not taking care of my domestic bees properly (mites, swarming) could affect native bees. Since I became a hobby beekeeper I’ve learned the impact pesticides, etc. have on ALL pollinators. Perhaps the rise in beekeeping has played a helpful part in awareness and the ban on neonicotinoids recently, but I can see how too many hives in an area could impact negatively.


    Humans, domesticated animals, and plants need help and treatment from time to time. Is it unreasonable to expect domesticated bees to need help? We have an organically grown peach tree that’s struggling this year because I neglected to spray an organic fungicide last winter (long and wet). Yes, I could grow a wild peach tree and it would be more resistant to fungus etc. but would I enjoy a wild peach as much? I have to constantly fend off gophers and protect from the deer. It would be silly for me to expect my tomatoes to adapt to the gophers and deer on their own. As with agriculture, integrated pest management helps reduce the number of interventions needed. For us, it’s the screened bottom boards, splitting, requeening, not taking too much honey, etc.

    Alcohol washes and Sticky Boards

    I also don’t like the idea of killing half a cup of bees or shaking them violently in powdered sugar every time I check for mites. It seems everywhere I read sticky boards are given a bad rap, but I find it hard to believe that sticky board counts aren’t directly proportional to the number of mites in an alcohol wash; they both target phoretic mites. Yes, it doesn’t make sense to use an arbitrary number regardless of the number of bees or the time of year but I’ve seen some better methods with thresholds based on the approximate number of bees in the hive and the time of year.

    • Dan,

      “At first I thought I was helping to save the bees as an added benefit but eventually learned that it’s the native pollinators that need the most help and not taking care of my domestic bees properly (mites, swarming) could affect native bees.” It’s so refreshing to hear someone say those words. Thanks.

  • Hi Rusty, I really enjoyed your article, I think youtube and the internet maybe have a little to do with clubs losing numbers. It’s so easy to get info with out having to leave home. I know I like it. I would like to add I got into bee keeping because my grand father did it, my wife’s father did it. I love it, dealing with every thing that goes with it is why. Good or bad. Of course we don’t do it for income maybe that’s why. The honey is a perk.

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