Greetings, fellow beekeepers. By the time this message reaches you, spring flows will be in full force and most of us will have switched from solving the problem of “. . . where did all the bees go?” to “. . . what to do with all of these bees?”
Abundance is a much more enjoyable problem to have. Any decent, healthy colony worth its weight will be growing fast and beekeeping will seem easy again. Do not be fooled. There are still plenty of mites present, and the bees are just growing faster than the mites for only a little while longer. It is never too early to start counting mites. Solving mite problems early will always pay the most dividends, and its way easier to solve problems when they are small and the bees are naturally growing fast. In this day and age, waiting until late summer when colonies to begin to deteriorate and are rife with viruses is just not a good plan.
As to solving the problem of what to do with all of these bees, I always think about the advice given to me by an old time beekeeper when I first started beekeeping decades ago. He often said, “The secret to good beekeeping is to help the bees do what they want to do, and do not try and force them to do what you want them to do.”
What does this mean when dealing with healthy abundant colonies? Healthy, prosperous colonies, left to their own devices, will want to swarm. This is reproduction at the colony level, and, after all, what organism does not strive to reproduce? This is where beekeepers can intervene in a positive way and help the colony to achieve its goals by making a split. Done properly, this will save the bees a lot of time and risk. Neighbors of apiaries will certainly be happy not having to deal with the nuisance of swarms, and you will have a nice hedge against the inevitable future losses. With annual colony loss rates of over 40 percent industry wide, you or someone you know is at risk of a depleted apiary. Managing this risk has become an essential element of modern beekeeping.
Speaking of risk management, I recently read an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review about the lessons bees can teach us about handling risk and incentivising behaviors, titled “A Beekeepers’ Perspective on Risk” by Michael O’Malley (hbr.org/2012/06/a-beekeepers-perspective-on-ri ). It is a great read and an excellent window into many of the things our bees can teach us, especially when it comes to running our businesses. In a nutshell, honey bees are experts at risk management, communication, and making the right mistakes. This is part of the reason these amazing creatures have been around 100 million years.
Honey bees are a phenomenal example of what working together can accomplish. Consider the fact that a single bee only makes about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey, and yet, together, through cooperation, communication, and group decision making, a colony can function as a cohesive unit and produce potentially hundreds of pounds of honey. Perhaps, if we humans can behave more like bees, we may have a chance to be around for 100 million years. Clearly, we will only have a real chance at this if we work together and make this world a better place for bees and beekeepers.
As always, it is a honor to work with such a great group of people to serve the cause of bees and beekeepers. Together we can accomplish great things. Be like the bee. Order up some queens and make some splits, count some mites, attend some meetings, and help create long-term pollinator habitat. Tempus fugit and the future will be upon us in the blink of an eye, so please take action now.