For years I’ve followed the exploits of Detective Anthony Planakis, aka Tony Bees, as he rescued swarms of honey bees from the streets of New York City. Now retired, Tony Bees tends his own hives, sells honey, teaches beginners, and tries to keep me in line.
Turns out, though, whenever Tony Bees talks, I listen. After all, how often do you get expertise distilled from 38 years of beekeeping and 20 years as NYPD’s one-man bee force?
So when he says queen excluders are not honey excluders, you can stake your life on it.
Make it easy for the bees
Last week after I mentioned queen excluders in a post, Tony Bees sent me a photo of his hives with queen excluders in place and honey supers stacked to the sky. His comment: 4 hives, 680 pounds of surplus honey. The secret: access holes with platforms.
He says, “If I want a surplus, I’m going to make it as easy and convenient as possible for the ladies because they are doing me a favor.” Plus there are no middle men, no searching for empty cells, no meandering around. “Convenience!” he reminds me.
“The holes are big enough to allow 2-3 bees in at a time but small enough to be guarded. Should congestion occur during a heavy flow, they simply enter from the super below, still closer than the brood chamber. That is why, without blinking an eye, those excluders are always used with this set up.”
He says he’s been using the system since the beginning. “I learned this back in 1971 when I got the daylights stung out of me in Greece. I remember the apiary well in Crete, not too far from my grandmother’s house. And I remember my father trying to explain everything to me as I was swelling up. Ah yes, fond memories!”
Leave them alone
His other piece of advice is something I advocate as well: Leave the bees alone. “Newbees and sometimes seasoned beekeepers have a tendency to constantly ‘check’ their hives. Nothing wrong with that, but unless you suspect something is wrong, leave ‘em alone, period. I only check for progress (brood pattern, queen health, mites, beetles, wax moths) then super up! Now I live by this theory: ‘The more you take, the less they’ll make.’
“I’ll harvest once a season. Each super added is marked with date-time-bloom, so when I’m ready to harvest, I’ll know what’s what. Just like humans are productive without distraction, so is the honey bee industrious. After extraction, supers are placed back on their hives for cleaning, a week later, removed every other day, so five supers take 17 days to remove which brings me to goldenrod.” The goldenrod, he says, belongs to the bees.
Fewer dirty feet
After looking at these photos, I can’t wait to try this. Since comb honey is my thing, I’m going to apply Tony Bee’s Grecian formula to my supers: holes and platforms. (Is it just me, or do those platforms remind you of NYC fire escapes?) I see a secondary benefit for comb honey producers as well—fewer dirty pollen feet walking across the combs will help to keep them whiter.