Michael Bush is one of the most influential beekeepers in America right now. He is the author of a few beekeeping books including Beekeeping Naturally and the Practical Beekeeper. He is known for simplifying the beekeeping process.
I asked Michael to join me on my podcast, The Buzz About Bees, to discuss the role of the beekeeper and how we can make beekeeping less confusing and more practical for the hobby beekeeper getting started.
You can listen to the episode by clicking the play button below or you can go to any podcast listening app. Just search for our podcast, The Buzz About Bees. It is episode #33, posted on Nov. 18th, 2020.
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Interview with Michael Bush
How should the beekeeper view their role as the beekeeper?
If you're going to be a beekeeper, first of all what you need to do is think "what are the bees trying to do and how can I help them?" Some things the beekeeper controls and so it is the beekeeper's role to manage it. For example, space control. A colony thrives when it is just a little crowded. But it swarms if it's overcrowded and can get taken over by small hive beetle and wax moth if not crowded enough, so space management is my job as a beekeeper. If I mess it up, I need to fix it.
There are people all of the time saying "How do I stop the bees from doing this?" What you really should be doing is figuring out what they're trying to do and help them accomplish it. How can I help this colony do what they're trying to do.
Sometimes you do need to intervene like when they're queenless. If you don't put in a new queen, the hive is going to die.
Michael's advice for beekeepers who are about to open the hive or see something that they think is a problem is to first ask "What are the bees trying to do?" and "How can I help them accomplish what they're trying to do?"
Do you think beekeepers have an unrealistic expectation for what their role is as a beekeeper and take it too personally when a hive doesn't make it?
One of the issues talked about is how many bees in the wild would survive. In nature they're dying off at whatever rate they're swarming. All in all, they're going to swarm at least once a year which means at least half of all the hives are going to die.
If the beekeeper wants a higher survival rate, they will have to intervene. Fixing queenless hives, robbing and starving and space management are the big ones. However, unless you're really sure you're helping, you should probably leave them alone and that's a hard thing for people to do.
There's people who look down on hands-off beekeeping, but there's bees who live in the wild all on their own. Is that wrong? Bees are not domesticated animals. You're not leaving them in a pen like sheep to starve if you don't give it food. It's not bad or evil to leave your bees to do their own thing. These are bees! They're foraging over an 8 mile space whether I want them to or not.
Do I want to help them? Of course I do. I want my bees to thrive.
I want to harvest honey and queens and I don't want to hurt them in the process. I want my bees to have a higher survival rate than a wild hive would.
I sometimes see beginner beekeepers doing better than more experienced beekeepers. I see beekeepers try to solve every problem in the hive and in the process doing more harm.
Many people believe that they have to do something even if it's wrong. If you have no clue if it's going to help, it's probably not going to help. That's most likely the outcome. Even if you're pretty sure it's going to help, its probably not going to help.
If you see what appears to be a problem in a hive, what are the steps the beekeeper should take?
First, do nothing. Close up the hive and think it through. If you have friends who are beekeepers or a mentor, talk to them about it first.
When inspecting a hive, first, think about what you want to see and what you think you'll see in the hive. Then, open the hive and looks for signs that you're right or wrong. Consider the time of year when deciding what you should be seeing. In Spring, the bees should be focused on building brood. In Summer they are gathering food. When Fall comes and the honey flow ends, they're trying to rob out their neighbors.
Michael's recommendations for new beekeepers:
- Have a mentor or friends who are beekeepers you can talk to about problems in the hive.
- Open your hive up at least once a week, or even more often at first to get used to looking inside a hive and see what they do. Even better would be to put an observation hive in your house or a plexiglas panel or inner cover on the hive so you can observe without disturbing the bees too often.
Michael's Hive Inspection Brand
Below are links to Michael's website where he shares many of his beekeeping techniques and links to purchase his books. I cannot recommend his books enough! In my opinion, he is one of the few beekeepers out there who is talking about beekeeping. So much of beekeeping these days is focused on mites and gadgets, but Michael, asks why do we do what we do and how can we make it better. I hope you check them out.
- Michael Bush's website
- Purchase The Practical Beekeeper
- Purchase the Practical Queenbreeder
- Purchase Beekeeping Naturally
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