I wish to briefly summarize what I think is the correct way to keep bees alive in this era of mites, chemicals, and unwanted African bee genes. This method is described in great detail in a six part article Kirk Webster wrote for the American Bee Journal in 1997. Those of you who have this magazine are advised to reread it. Those who don't, should be able to read Kirk's upcoming series in the Bee Journal this spring. Let me pint out that this is a person who has dedicated himself to a more natural method of beekeeping; one that eschews drugs and chemicals, as well as importation of bees and queens, except as a means for stock improvement. In his own words:
"[20 years ago] I decided it was the right time to begin working seriously on a northern apiary centered around queen rearing and stock selection. Right now is the right time to start planning for a different way of life; to move away from our failing social and economic system. A society that uses everything and take scare of nothing isn't sustainable."
"On three different occasions I have lost 50% of my full sized colonies. But I have never lost more than 25% of the nucleus colonies [over winter]. If a yard of 25 double stories goes into winter with two nucs on top of each, that makes 75 colonies total. In my worse case scenario (50% loss of full sized colonies and 25% loss of nucs) there are still 50 colonies left alive in spring. The nucs all have young, proven queens and by equalizing the brood the entire yard can be rebuilt to honey-producing strength and still yield 25 nucs for use elsewhere."
"During June and July is when new colonies and queens of the best quality can be produced easily and cheaply in the northern states. I have observed a few beekeepers attempt to use this method of making and using nucs, and then give up after experiencing winter losses of 50% or more. They all made at least one of these two fatal errors: 1)They purchased queens of unsuitable stock; or, 2) They started the nucs too late. Here where we don't have a fall flow, it is best for the nucs to plug out before the weather turns cool."
"Untold work and expense has been saved by selecting winter hardy and frugal bees here over several years. By having a system that can accommodate a 20-30% winter loss without economic damage, a more natural system based on selection pressure becomes possible. As a matter of fact, if I knew that even 40% of my bees would survive and build up without treatments, I would quit using them."
In fact, several years later, Kirk did stop using them. And that is the next chapter.