THE SPEEDY BEE, March 1977 “Apimondia Management Symposium, San Antonio, TX”
If you didn’t attend the Apimondia international beekeeping management symposium in San Antonio. Texas this year, you missed a bet. It was astounding how much practical information was dispersed during this meeting The opening remarks were given by Dr. V. Harnaj, president of Apimondia, and Raymond Borneck, chairman of the Beekeeping Economy Commission of Apimondia. Morris Weaver, president of the American Beekeeping Federation, and Kenneth Print, president of the Texas Beekeepers Association, also welcomed the participants.
Symposium participants were fortunate to be able to visit John’s outfit and were able to see some of the equipment that makes his job easier: South of Mexico City, the great honey-producing company of Mid Carlota has evolved its own techniques for economical beekeeping. Since the flow is so short and the bees continue to build up after it is over, they routinely cut back the number of colonies from 22,000 to 16,000, and requeen at that time with two-day-old queen cells. Alberto Wuggetzer said acceptance of the cells is no problem and the break in brood cycle of’ about 25 days causes the population to drop substantially during much of the year when the nectar doesn’t flow. Sugar and labor are saved with this procedure and just before the honey flow, colony numbers are again increased to 22,000 for buildup.
“Nucing” is a technique which many commercial outfits take advantage of and should be of interest to all beekeepers. The ability to make two or three nucs out of one full colony, which will give a like number of full-producing colonies in a single season cannot be reproduced in other types of animal husbandry. Try dividing a cow or thicken like that and see what happens! Richard Adee uses nucs, which he makes up in the South from colonies he winters there. However, he doesn’t winter all his operation in the South, and thus has nucs and overwintered colonies which give more flexibility to his operation. Scheduling is critical in this type of business. If one gets behind even for a few days, it’s impossible to catch up. Richard Adee knows exactly when the nucs will arrive in the Dakotas from the South almost to the day.
Package bees might also be considered a form of nuc, but can be purchased from California ,Texas or the Southeast. Basically package bee production systems from these areas are the same, varying only in shaking procedure, grafting and all important timing. The package be producer’s year really starts with requeening in late summer. Young queens are important because of the extreme stress that constant removal of adults from the brood nest causes. Maximum drone population is also important to queen breeders. For adequate insemination, seven to ten drones are needed per queen produced; that’s a lot of drones!
Both Binford and Roy Weaver gave detailed explanations of their procedure. They shake somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 packages per day. They don’t like to hold the bees over two days prior to delivery, and they place them in cool room at 62 to 63 degrees F. during the holding period so the are “fresher” when shipped to customers. Mating nucs are started with a quarter pound of bees (3,500 bees is a full pound) and only three to four hours elapse from time of queen removal until a cell is introduced. Their major pest is raccoon in the mating yard and the nuc covers are tied down with heavy rubber bands to discourage the maskfaced fellows. The Weaver Apiaries use a big shaker box to fill the packages and the bees are shaken through an excluder into the box to strain out drones.
Homer Park in California also shakes the bees through an excluder into a shaker box. A puff of smoke in the entrance drives the bees through the excluder over the brood chamber and the top super is then shaken as a single unit. This technique differs from those of some producers in the Southeast who shake one or two combs at a time directly into the package. Both procedures get the job done, but the relative merits of these techniques can be argued. Feeding procedures also appear to differ between outfits. The Weavers use syrup. Homer Park pours drivert sugar into the brood nest, as well as using syrup after the fourth shaking. In California, they look for about ten pounds of bees per hive in four shakings.
Not everyone uses package bees or nucs, and other overwintering techniques used in the North were also presented during the symposium. Two queen colonies are one approach to overwintering. The two queen system provides for automatic requeening and equalization, and for maximizing the honey yield per colony. Basically a new unit, it might even be called a nuc, is made up with an introduced queen and placed on top of the overwintered two story colony. After the top unit builds up, it is united by newspaper with the old parent unit. Bob Banker stated that the young queen in the top generally eliminates the old queen preventing swarming and the colony is then in good shape to winter.
Maximum Honey Production in Overwintering
Honey production understandably was emphasized during the symposium. The different methods, applied using similar principles, but with different geographical adptations, were as fascinating as beekeeping is itself. In Texas, John Milani constantly moves his bees looking for honey crops. The essence of his philosophy is flexibility; he is always looking for pasture that will yield nectar after capricious rainfall characteristic of the Texas hill country and high plains. He moves at least four times a year and doesn’t count on making a crop each move.
Maximum honey production from overwintered colonies is practiced by Walter Diehnelt on the shores of Lake Michigan. He winters all his hives there since that great lake ameliorates the temperature both in summer and in winter. During winter, the hives are packed with a layer of straw and covered with tar paper. The bees are managed by an “open brood nest method. This technique involves moving brood chambers filled with brood to the top of the colony and giving the queen an empty chamber to lay in. Thus ample egg laying room is always available to the queen.
Glen Stanley has developed a different overwintering approach in Iowa. He closes off the bottom
entrance completely and allows the bees to enter through the middle of a double brood chambered hive. Wooden slats are used to separate the chambers. The slats are easy to store and the space between the brood chambers allows more clustering room. In spring, the bees are left in a single brood chamber with four frames of brood. This confines the population to a smaller area and brood production increases. After about three weeks, the second brood chamber is added. For swarm control and inspection, the “tilt back” method is used. The whole hive is “tilted back” until it lays on the ground. Then the bodies are separated and placed back on the hive stands starting from the bottom super and proceeding upward. At the same time, queen cells are destroyed which are found along the bottom bars.
One of the most unusual approaches to wintering was discussed by James Kuehl from Nebraska. Called the “north confined approach,” the procedure consists of splitting each colony into three nucs late in the summer and requeening with cells. Once the queen is laying and after cold weather begins, the bees are moved into a building. The temperature is kept constant at 46 to 49 degrees F. and the hives are set in rows four high. The trick is to keep the temperature constant causing a minimum of stress. If the building begins to heat up, cold fresh air is blown in by huge fans to cool the inside. The bees are kept in the dark. This technique uses only about two pounds of food per colony per month and no brood rearing goes on. In the spring, the bees are moved out at night to location for buildup.
Production of comb honey was discussed by Gene Killion. He uses slatted racks, two inch bottom boards, follower boards and eight frame supers patterned after the C.C. Miller system. There are a number of advantages associated with this equipment. The follower boards are easy to remove, provide insulation and the slatted rack causes less gnawing by the bees on the bottom of combs.
Ernie Fuhr runs 2,200 package colonies with pollen traps before the main honey flow in Canada’s Peace River country. The advantages are obvious; another crop from the bees and more steady employment for his crew. Other advantages are perhaps less evident; each yard gets a visitation every three days which monitors potential bear damage and analysis of the pollen production of individuals colonies enables him to spot queen problems immediately. Most of his production is sold to health food stores. Since no pesticides are used in that part of Canada, he can guarantee pollen free from residues. The big problem is determining when to take the traps off. Each day a pollen trap is left on during the flow costs plenty in honey production.
Honey production and wintering are traditionally emphasized in management books and symposia. Pollination, however, is a relative youngster to the beekeeping industry, and it was significant that it along with pesticide concerns was also stressed. William Huston touched on California almond pollination, but it was Larry Hillemeier’s presentation about pollinating north in the spring that revealed the real intricacies of the pollination business.
Larry’s outfit pollinates apples in Illinois and then cranberries and machineharvested cucumbers in Wisconsin. Pollination is a migratory operation and requires tight yet flexible scheduling. Apples especially can be a problem; they may bloom any time from March 26 to April 26. Generally the bees stay 10 days on apples and it is hoped a honey crop will result as well. Special gas tanks are used so that the trucks can stay rolling 16 hours from dawn to dusk. Citizen’s band radios and mobile telephones are just some of the specialty items essential to pollination services. The most necessary ingredient, however, is desire to service customers and consideration for the public interest. Pesticides and Pollination
Pesticides and pollination fees are very much of concern to commercial pollinating businesses, according to Arnold Hilbert of .Michigan. He said that 40 percent of his bees have been dying due to insecticides. He recommends that base prices for pollination services be established and that local beekeeping associations publish them. He feels that the value of a package of bees should be used as a guide line of the value of pollination services of each hive. Arnold believes a pollinator should demand and receive ‘top dollar for his services.
Two unique presentations were reserved for the last day of the symposium. Harry Rodenberg of Montana presented valuable information on business practices and accounting related to the beekeeping industry. He said that at times beekeepers could make more money in the office with adequate records, a sharp pencil and a calculator than in the field. Harry recommends the use of several business practices including planning, organization, financial and tax analysis. These can then be used for three basic management tools: (1) break even analysis; (2) historical data and trend analysis; and (3) ratio analysis. The methods of accounting available to beekeepers were also discussed; Harry believes that cash accounting might be better for most beekeepers because it is more flexible and beekeepers will receive special attention as farmers from the internal Revenue Service. He also discussed types of depreciation, investment credit, retirement plans, and various aspects of the 1976 Tax Reform Act that beekeepers should be aware of. Harry recommends the services of a professional accountant who can be recommended by lending agencies or farm organizations.
The last speaker at the symposium was Jim Powers, manager of Powers Apiaries, This organization manages 28,000 colonies distributed at six branches. He said they hire their branch managers young, pay them well and give them authority, all keys to a good managerial system. All accounting is done at the home office so they have a centralized disbursing department eliminating duplication of effort. Jim also spoke on father to son relationships in the industry. His presentation was later to become more poignant with the death of his father some two days after the symposium.
In summary, the presentations at the symposium all emphasized that one needs good breeding stock and queens, strong well-fed colonies, adequate equipment, good record keeping, and able employees to make a beekeeping operation economical. Everyone I talked to concluded the symposium was informative and interesting, and the turnout each day ( over 300 persons, at least) was indicative of its quality. It is hoped that this type of presentation can become a standard feature of many beekeeping association meetings in the future.
Post Script: Although concluded some 40 years ago, long before the introduction of the Varroa mite and small hive beetle, it is significant that much of the advice delivered at the symposium is still appropriate for many beekeeping operations. Unfortunately, there were no future events of this nature staged in the U.S., although Apimondia has an ongoing history of symposia on numerous topics in other countries.