Your Source For Beekeeping News, Information and Entertainment
March 20, 2023

Beekeeping in Arizona (S5, E40)

When you think of Arizona, beekeeping typically does not come to mind. On today's episode, we talk about beekeeping in Arizona with three Arizona beekeepers: Duane Combs, Joc Rawls, and Monica King. Duane has been on the podcast in the past talking...

Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Spotify podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge
Amazon Music podcast player badge
Overcast podcast player badge
Castro podcast player badge
Stitcher podcast player badge
YouTube Channel podcast player badge
PocketCasts podcast player badge
Podchaser podcast player badge
RadioPublic podcast player badge
RSS Feed podcast player badge

When you think of Arizona, beekeeping typically does not come to mind. On today's episode, we talk about beekeeping in Arizona with three Arizona beekeepers: Duane Combs, Joc Rawls, and Monica King.

Duane has been on the podcast in the past talking about the Hive Heart line of bee hive sensors and as part of our Regional Beekeeper series. Monica is a third generation beekeeper and does cut-outs and queens, south of Tucson, and Joc is a retired veternarian, who, like Duane, keeps his colonies near Phoenix.

What is it like to keep bees in the 110 degree heat of summer? Many of us only really consider insulation as a winter issue... but these three, along with most of the other beekeepers in Arizona, consider summer as the prime time to insulate their bees.

The old adage says, "Beekeeping is local." Today's guests defintely illustrate that point!

We hope you enjoy the episode. Leave comments and questions in the Comments Section of the episode's website.

Thank you for listening!

Links and websites mentioned in this podcast: 

Honey Bee Obscura


This episode is brought to you by Global PattiesGlobal PattiesGlobal offers a variety of standard and custom patties. Visit them today at and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode! 

We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customerBetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at

Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping TodayStrong MicrobialsPodcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website:

We welcome HiveAlive back as an episode sponsor. HiveAlive is the #1 liquid feed supplement for honeybees worldwide.  It contains a unique blend of seaweed extracts, thyme and 
lemongrass proven to increase bee strength, produce more honey, improved bee gut health and improved overwinter survival. Ask about HiveAlive and new HiveAlive Fondant & Pollen Patty at your local beekeeping store or visit the website for more information. Listeners of the podcast can claim a special discount online using the code "BTP" at the checkout!

Thanks for Northern Bee Books for their support. Northern Bee Books is the publisher of bee books available worldwide from their website or from Amazon and bookstores everywhere. They are also the publishers of The Beekeepers Quarterly and Natural Bee Husbandry.


We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments in the show notes of this episode or:

Thanks to Bee Culture, the Magazine of American Beekeeping, for their support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. Available in print and digital at

Bee Culture Magazine

Thank you for listening! 

Podcast music: Be Strong by Young Presidents; Epilogue by Musicalman; Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus; A Fresh New Start by Pete Morse; Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott

Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC

Copyright © 2023 by Growing Planet Media, LLC

Growing Planet Media, LLC


S5, E40 – Beekeeping in Arizona


Jeff Ott:Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.

Kim Flottum:I'm Kim Flottum.

Global Patties:Hey, Jeff and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. It's a good time to think about honey bee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow.

Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honey bees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta, and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at

Jeff:Thank you, Sherry, and thanks to Bee Culture for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture has been the Magazine for American Beekeeping since 1873. A quick thanks to all of our sponsors whose support enables us to bring you this podcast each week without resorting to a fee-based subscription. We don't want that and we know you don't either.

Make sure to check out all of our other content on our website. There, you can read up on all of our guests, read our blog on various aspects and observations about beekeeping, search for, download, and listen to over 200 past episodes, read episode transcripts, [chuckles] leave comments and feedback on each show, and check on podcast specials from our sponsors. You can find it all at

Hey, everybody, thanks for joining us. Kim is out in the bee yard and will be joining shortly. We have a great show lined up for you today.

Okay. Now, I have a little visual exercise for you, and unless you're driving, operating heavy machinery or performing surgery, close your eyes. Are they closed? Okay. Now, think of Arizona. What were the first things that came to mind? Okay, you can open your eyes now. [chuckles] Exercise is over. Was it honey bees and beekeeping? Well, today's guests are three Arizona beekeepers who keep their bees in the deserts and cities around the state. Beekeeping is the same everywhere, right? Yes, well, it's same but it's different, and it is different in Arizona. Stay with us and you'll hear.

We need your help with the podcast. We need you to help open the show. Use your cell phone, your computer, tablet, whatever, and record a brief opening message welcoming the listeners to the podcast. State your name and where you live. Be creative. Have some fun with it. For even more fun, have your local or regional club join you in the opening. Now that would be fun. Just make sure it's audible. Send us your audio file at and listen for them over the next couple weeks. You may just hear yourself opening the next episode of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Okay, let's hear from our sponsors, and then on to Arizona


HiveAlive:Spring brings wild and unpredictable weather. To limit the chance of colony starvation before your first honey flow, it is vital to add HiveAlive Fondant now. In a cold snap, bees can starve because they cannot access their stores. When you place fondant right over the cluster, food is accessible for your bees when they need it. Now is the perfect time to stock up from a wide selection of high-quality honey bee feed supplements.

You can choose from HaveAlive's liquid blend to our HiveAlive 15% real pollen fondant patties. Our unique liquid blend has seaweed extracts, thyme and lemongrass, and is scientifically proven to maintain low disease levels. You'll have more bees with improved bee gut health and more honey this season. To learn more about each of our quality products, visit the website: Be sure to use the code BTP at the checkout to receive your special discount.


StrongMicrobials:Hey, beekeepers. Many times during the year, honey bees encounter scarcity of floral sources. As good beekeepers, we feed our bees artificial diets of protein and carbohydrates to keep them going during those stressful times. What is missing, though, are key components; the good microbes necessary for a bee to digest the food and convert it into metabolic energy.

Only SuperDFM-HoneyBee by Strong Microbials can provide the necessary microbes to optimally convert the artificial diet into energy necessary for improving longevity, reproduction, immunity and much more. SuperDFM-HoneyBee is an all-natural probiotic supplement for your honey bees. Find it at or at fine bee supply stores everywhere.

Jeff:While you're at the Strong Microbials site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive; the regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product updates.

Hey, everybody. Welcome back. Sitting around the virtual Zoom Beekeeping Today Podcast table, and we've had to add an extra leaf into the table just to meet everybody. Our three Arizona beekeepers, including Duane Combs who's returning with us. Duane, why don't you introduce us to your other Arizona beekeepers?

Duane Combs:Okay. Hi, I'm Duane Combs. With us today is Veterinary Doctor Joc Rawls and Monica King. Joc is the previous president of the Beekeepers Association of Central Arizona. Monica is, I think, the current Vice President, but was president of the Southern Arizona Beekeepers Association.

Jeff:Well, welcome, Duane. Welcome, Joc. Welcome, Monica. I have to admit, when you think about Arizona, first thing that comes to mind is perhaps the Grand Canyon, this year might have been the Super Bowl, I like Tucson, but I have to admit, beekeeping just is not top of that list. What is there to beekeeping in Arizona?

Joc Rawls:Well, it can have its challenges, but there's a lot of nice weather here as well. Some people think of Arizona just deathly hot, but I'll tell you, wintertime from October through June is like a postcard here in Phoenix.

Kim:I was able to get down to Arizona a couple times to visit the Bee Lab people down there, and I didn't get to see the postcard-time-of-year. I saw the other time of the year when I was there.


Joc:Well, I look at the heat of summer comparing to say a Minnesota winter. Minnesota winter, I can't fathom bees surviving in 10-below every day. Likewise, people probably can't fathom bees surviving in 100-degrees-plus every day in the summertime, but bees are such resilient creatures. They do it.

Duane:They certainly are.

Kim:I got to ask, you got a pleasant time and a not-so-pleasant time. Between the three of you, I bet you, you can probably rough out, starting in January, just highlights, how's your year a year ago, where you're starting in January, and then what happens and then what happens? Can you do that?

Duane:Sure. Kim, my wife and I want to invite you and your wife to come anytime between November and March, and you'll love our weather. The average highs in Arizona in February here in Phoenix are 70.2 degrees, and the lowest it gets on average in January is 38 degrees. We do have a potential freeze period from December 31st to January 3rd. Short of those three days-- Now, Tucson is a little cooler, and Monica can talk about the weather in Tucson and Southern Arizona.

Kim:Look, I'm writing that invitation down, Duane.


Duane:Okay. We got two extra bedrooms. You and Jeff and your wives could come at the same time.


Jeff:It's recorded. Everybody here knows this, so we'll hold you to it.

Kim:I can't imagine winter was 72 degrees, but like I was just telling Jeff, up here in Northeast Ohio today, we hit 67 towards the end of February. The weather is definitely being weird this year.

Duane:We're having a problem too. I sell nucs. In January, we had perfect weather, and so I committed to starting to sell nucs the first week of March. Then the weather got cold, starting in the second half of January. What I've experienced in February is we'll have a couple days where it gets into the 70s, and then it'll go back to the low 60s, high 50s, and so I've had to delay my nuc sales until March 18th.

Monica, what's the weather like down in Southern Arizona?

Monica King:Cold and windy, [laughs] and we never know what it's going to be like. That's our problem. This is a totally different winter than we've had the last two winters. The last two winters, they were extremely dry and abnormally above temperatures, and it was actually really nice for beekeeping. Now, we literally woke up to 23 to 32 degrees for probably the last three and a half weeks.


Duane:What's the highs been roughly during the day?

Monica:We're in the [sound cut] 50s to high 60s.

Jeff:That is abnormal.

Monica:It's the wind that's killing us. Wind gusts were 55 miles an hour, 60 miles an hour for the last couple days. It's been pretty miserable right now.

Kim:Monica, you're in Tucson, which is like the southern part of the state?

Monica:Okay, I'm 31 miles from the Mexico border.

Kim:Duane, where are you located?

Duane:I'm in Litchfield Park, which is part of Metro Phoenix. Then Joc is in the center of Phoenix. Joc is our record honey producer every year. Joc, tell them how much honey you produce. He's in a very nice area of almost Downtown, Midtown Phoenix.

Joc:This past year, and I have six backyard colonies, they averaged 179 pounds per hive.

Kim:[laughs] You're in Phoenix too?

Joc:Yes, and I'm just in the residential area in the north of Downtown area.

Kim:All right. Well, that gives you a feel for it. Back to the question I had before is, can you give us a rundown on how your year progresses? Why don't we start with you, Joe?

Joc:For me, January is when you're getting days-- By the way, I can inspect a colony any month of the year here. There's not a month I cannot do colony inspections, but January, bees are starting to build up. There's not much nectar coming in, but typically I have pollen flows starting with some weeds and things like that, some residential plants. Same in February.

About March 10th is when my citrus flow starts here. Lot of backyards have citrus trees in them, and that's when my citrus flow starts. Once that gets done about April, and I'll start extracting about the second week in April just to stay ahead of them, then your desert trees start. Your mesquite. Everybody's heard of mesquite honey, so that'll start. Mesquite, palo brea, palo verde trees, desert landscaping through April and May.

By mid-June, then it's starting to get hot. Then things start to slow down, and that's when I might start a little bit of a dearth in June. Then July, August, September, hot months. Summer is actually my strongest. I might still find some nectar sources. I'll still have a little bit of a nectar flow in some of the colonies, but many of them level off from June through September.

September comes around, weather gets a little bit cooler. Some other fall plants will start blooming, just enough nectar and pollen to get me through. Going into winter, a little bit of pollen nectar flows through November, December. That's actually coming from some Australian desert landscaping trees people use here in the Phoenix area. Then back to January.

Now, one thing, key component I left out on this is because we have such mild weather, our queens never stop brood production. They slow down in winter, but they never stop. In Phoenix area, as you can imagine, hives are also Varroa factories year-round here.

Kim:The one thing about having weather that you can inspect your colony all year round is you never get a day off. I get months off up here. You brought up a good question. How much pressure are you getting from Varroa with that kind of year-round opportunity for them to have something to eat?

Joc:Yes, you get quite a lot of pressure from Varroa. It depends on the time of year. Varroa peak at certain times of year. Here, I find in the Phoenix area, late May is a time you really got to watch. Varroa will peak high, and then you really got to stay on top of that at that time of year. Then I was also previously enrolled in the Bee Informed Partnership's monitoring program. I did that for several years and really got a good sense for how the Varroa populations can really expand quickly, get out of control actually.

Duane:Yes. Kim, what we tell people here is you need to inspect your bees monthly for Varroa mites to keep them under control. This time of year, I'm checking my hives every 10 days to 2 weeks. From November really until about January 15th, I only check them monthly because that's all they need. You just need to make sure they have food and that the Varroa haven't got snuck in on you.

Jeff:Monica, your bee year, is it the same as Joc's?

Monica:My bees are jealous of [sound cut] Joc's. [chuckles] I live in the middle of the desert. I don't have any of those non-native species around my hives, and so literally, you look into my valley and it's feast or famine. If we don't get the rains for the desert plants, we just don't have a harvest for the entire year. Three years ago, my area got 5 inches total rainfall when our average is 11, and so that was a horrible year. I literally fed my bees for 11 months because without doing so, I would've lost a majority of them to starvation.

It's all dependent on our rains from my area. I would love to be able to just move all my colonies into the residential area when we have drought conditions, but I can't. [chuckles] Yes, it's, like I said, feast or famine. This is actually looking like it's going to be a really good year. We've gotten some great rain, so I'm excited.

Jeff:You said you're 31 miles north of the border, so you're actually south of Tucson?

Monica:I am southwest of Tucson.

Jeff:Southwest of Tucson. I was trying to remember-- There's some irrigated plants around there, irrigated fields in that area, aren't there?

Monica:That's north of me, yes. I am literally in cattle countries pretty much. I just have ranches surrounding me.

Jeff:Let's take this opportunity for a quick break and we'll be right back.


Betterbee:We know you have options when it comes to shopping for beekeeping supplies. What we believe sets Betterbee apart are three things. First, our commitment to innovating, trying out new products in our own apiaries and then sharing them with you. Second, our focus on education and helpful customer service. Third, but not last, our fundamental company goal; to help you be a successful beekeeper. Give us a call to learn more about any of our products or to ask a beekeeping question. We've got you covered. Visit to shop online today.


Kim:Well, that gives us a picture of where you guys are and how your year progresses, but I'm going to ask each of you, Duane, and Monica, and Joc, how did you get started and how long you've been doing this, keeping bees in the desert down there?

Duane:Well, I'm the newbie of the group. I retired in 2015 and gotten into beekeeping because I was a manager by training and I needed a management problem to solve. The bees get me scratching my head every day.

Jeff:Duane, your wife didn't enjoy you managing her, is what you're saying, in your retirement?

Duane:Yes, exactly. Yes, I retired and I tried being a-- I have a low opinion of the courts and lawyers, so I forced myself to become a court advocate for foster kids, and I did that for a while, as long as I could take it. Then I came home, and she told me I either had to get a job or a hobby, and so I did both with bees.

Jeff:There you go. Thank you

Kim:Monica, how'd you get your start with bees and how long you've been at it about?

Monica:Well, since I was knee-high to a beehive. I'm third generation. My family started beekeeping in 1936. I am the oldest daughter of David and Linda Miksa of Miksa Honey Farms queen producers. As I was growing up, my after-school chores were to go cage queens with my parents.

Kim:You got it in your blood. Absolutely.

Monica:It's in the blood. [chuckles]

Jeff:From that area as well?

Monica:No, they're [sound cut] in Florida. I moved to Arizona in 1994.

Kim:From warm and wet to warm and dry. Joc, how did you get started?

Joc:I grew up on a family farm in south Mississippi. We raised beef cattle. From 14, 15 years old, I was just fascinated by honey bees, can't explain it, and kept bees until around 1989. My veterinary school derailed my beekeeping hobby. I kept bees prior to Varroa and all the other issues. Then after living in Phoenix about-- I moved to Phoenix in 1999 and living here about, gosh, 10 years, I realized there's a lot of feral bee colonies that seem to thrive around here. I'm like, "I should look into this, get into this." Phoenix has very Ag-friendly type code written into their city codes; and keeping bees, you can do that in the city limits.

Then I read this book called The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum, who was just fired up at that point. Went to Brushy Mountain. I use all 8-frame medium equipment. I started with two hives, and somehow now that morphed into four and that morphed into six, and here I am, seven years now into keeping bees in Arizona.

Jeff:Kim, he's a follower, he's a true follower. Medium 8-frame equipment.

Kim:There you go. That's good.


Joc:I use BroodMinder monitoring equipment, started that about four years ago. Because none of the textbooks really were, as you can imagine, geared toward keeping bees in Arizona, so I needed to find out answers, when does my nectar flow start, stop, brood rearing and all that. I really like the scientific part of it as well, the geeky part.

Kim:That part of the country, I'm not going to say gets ignored, but it certainly doesn't get as much attention as California and then the Dakotas and other parts east. You're right, there isn't a lot out there. I have to go back two steps, though. Several years ago, I visited the Bee Lab in Tucson, and they were in the middle of African bees. I got to be honest, I don't think I've heard anybody say the term African bees in the last five or six years. Is that still an issue? Have you gotten used to it or have they gone away?

Duane:They are a problem, but they're manageable. You used to hear this story about, oh, the killer bees. Typically, we don't see instances of- there are instances, but they're rare. We just have to protect our hives. We have to requeen African hives. Monica can talk further. She does a lot of removals and works with a lot of African bees.

Monica:Pretty much that's my specialty for my beekeeping operation is taking in the feral colonies and re-cleaning them, and then teaching new beekeepers and putting those now-European colonies into their hands to take care of them. I call my apiary, rehabilitation center, instead of basic beekeeping. I notice a lot of things with our feral colonies. I even notice high mite loads and just a lot of different things. I also notice that they're unpredictable. Just because a colony is nice one day doesn't mean it's going to be nice a week later, and it can be anywhere in between.

I've worked with those really hot, nasty girls and haven't met a hive that I couldn't requeen. A lot of times what I do, though, is I break them down to just one or two brood frames and just decrease their numbers in order to get them to accept a European queen. It does take a lot of resources and a lot of time to manage them if you're into requeening them, but a lot of our commercial beekeepers out in the rural areas, they're able to work with them with no problems.

Kim:I bet you have a day's worth of stories of removing bees from buildings and those kind of bees from buildings.

Monica:Yes, I do.


Duane:She removes them at night. When she does a removal, she does it at night.

Kim:A smart move, yes. Still, that's got to be an interesting way to spend an evening.


Kim:Where you are, Duane, what's your honey crop down there?

Duane:Kim, I'm one of these guys that if I get more than 10 frames of bees in a box, I build a nuc, and so my honey production is very low. I probably only get 30 pounds to 60 pounds in a good year out of one of my hives. I'm primarily in the business of selling bees. My goal is to sell 100 nucs this year and 200 nucs next year.

Kim:Wow, that's a lot of bees. What's your market for bees down there? Are there many people getting into bees, or you got people that are increasing their operations?

Duane:I'm going from a peak of 70 last year to a peak of 140 this year, and I'm doing it because last year at the end of the year, I didn't have my bees built up. When you face the summer here, you need to have your bees built up into two boxes so that they have a higher chance of surviving. I was selling nucs so fast that I could never get the second box on the bees, and so I'm doubling my number of hives. So far, I've got- by the end of March, I will have sold 40 nucs.

Kim:Okay. Well, that kind of pattern is much bigger than you down there. More and more people are getting into and relying on selling bees rather than selling honey, and then using those bees for either pollination or to make more bees. That sounds about right.

Jeff:What kind of bees do each of you have? Are they Italian-based? Are they Carniolans? Are they mutts? What are they?

Duane:Currently, I'm running Italian-Carniolan crosses. I've done VHS. I've done Caucasians, Carniolans, and Italians. Basically, once we get into past April where I can get queens, I'll sell somebody any type of queen they want. The important thing for all three of us that are on this call from Arizona is we're committed to helping people be successful because the success rate of first-time beekeepers is just horrible. All three of us do a lot to help people be more successful at keeping bees in Arizona.

Monica:My [sound cut] go-to bee is the Buckfast. I absolutely love them. I can get up to four years from a single queen in the same colony. We promote our hobbyists keeping their queens marked because of the Africanized hybrids in the area, so I can follow these queens and know that they've never been superseded. Buckfast seems to be the best one for here, but if there's an F2, it's horrible when they get crossed with the drones in the area. The best one for-- I like the Cordovan-Italian or Aurea-Italian. They do really good. If the beekeeper loses that original queen and they do cross with the local stock, about 50% of them actually turn into be really excellent hybrids.

Jeff:I haven't heard of too many people using the Buckfast lately. We had Danny Weaver on a couple months ago now, and they have a history in Buckfast. That's good. Glad to hear that. Joc?

Joc:I started with Italian bees and now almost exclusive Carniolan. Just love Carniolan. They have that ability when nectar gets slim, they tend to not brood up as much. Seem like the Italians will eat you out of house and home in December. The Carniolans, just have a smaller cluster, conserve their resources. Part of Varroa trimming and part of the cultural management is when you have a smaller brood cluster, I can get a hold of Varroa- on top of Varroa a little bit better, especially in November, December with Carniolans. They're super gentle, great for my urban environment here.

Kim:You bring up a good question. I'm listening to you talk about cluster size and things. Hot-weather beekeeping, I don't know much about. Is there anything special you do or different than you do that I'm going to do up here in Northeast Ohio that's going to help your bees stay cooler?

Joc:My bees, I position them, for example, on the east side of my house, so by afternoon, they're getting shaded from the sun. I keep multiple sources of water out for them, which is required by Phoenix code anyway, so keeping water out. I avoid inspecting colonies after 8:00 AM. I do not want to disrupt the water foragers. If I need to inspect colonies, get out there at 5:30 in the morning when I get some light, get it done by 08:00 AM and done when I do summertime inspections.

Kim:That makes sense. Is there anything else that gets done with your bees down there that we probably wouldn't do up here? I'm thinking screen bottom boards to increase ventilation and maybe even a screen top, especially if you got them in the shade and you're not going to get rain for another month.

Joc:Well, there's pros and cons to that, but I started with solids and moved to screens after a year or two. Then went to the Vivaldi boards on top as well. Come October, I put the inserts back in or replace the solid bottom board and insulate the Vivaldi board. I do manage based on weather.

Duane:Yes, I also try to shade my bees and I use screen bottom boards. Joc normally is running two or three boxes or more, so I'm going to try this summer to keep everything in two boxes. Monica, I think, has used two boxes effectively, even if the top box is empty, just as a way of letting the heat rise and the bees be able to control their environment better.

Monica:Well, I also use the rotating disk entrances, and I rotate it to adjust the screen on my upper boxes so that the colony could have the hot heat escape through the upper area. Then I also have custom-made covers that actually have a two-inch-round screened area for the heat to escape out the top.

Kim:I would guess you'd want that warm air not staying inside, but just going right through. That would be beneficial. Well, you don't have winter like we do here. In your cooler months, however cool they are, do you do anything different than when it's really hot?

Joc:Just make sure nutrition-wise, they've got-- They still need some winter storage. Just make sure they've got adequate winter stores. Based on my area, my BroodMinder skills, I try to maintain each hive over 100 pounds, just over 100 pounds. If anything drops below 100, I'll feed them syrup and get them back over 100 during the wintertime. That's about it.

Jeff:Each time you mention BroodMinder, Rich Morris is smiling as he's listening to this episode.


Duane:He breaks my heart because I represent a competitor.

Jeff:I was going to mention that, but I didn't want to rub your nose in it there, Duane.

Duane:That's all right.

Joc:That took some fine-tuning, took me a couple years to figure out, what is the magic number for my hives' healthy weight? Once again, a healthy weight, maintain the colony, so they can fight off Varroa as much as possible and make it through winter.

Kim:How about small hive beetle? That an issue down there?

Joc:A little bit.

Duane:Yes, on irrigated land, like Joc has, they can be a problem, but our soil is too dry.

Kim:That probably makes sense, yes, and hard. [chuckles] The two combined.

Jeff:Besides Varroa, what other pests/predators do you have to deal with? Monica, I suppose if you're down in cattle area, you have to worry about cattle with itchy shoulders or something.

Monica:Yes, that. Coyotes like to get into things. The coatimundis, javelina. We've had problems with, of course, the skunks and raccoons too. That's pretty much my main problem is with that and just the feral colonies in the area. I've heard it's up to like 15 to 23 feral colonies per square mile in Arizona and Mexico. When you got feral colonies that might be starting to fail because they have no food, they come knocking on the doors of your hives. I'd say that's one of my biggest predators is robbers. Definitely, during this time of year, we've got reduced entrances and we're keeping an eye out for that kind of thing.

Kim:That's a big population of bees per square mile. I'm surprised that your environment can support that many.

Duane:Well, Kim, you have to understand, Arizona has the longest wildflower season in the nation. I believe it's over 10 different vegetated areas in the state. We're driven totally by water. If you give us the water, we will give you the honey because we'll have wildflowers out there. We have a lot of agricultural land. We grow a lot of alfalfa, and so we can produce a lot of alfalfa honey, we can produce cotton honey, we can produce melons. Here in Litchfield Park is the center for all of the roses that are growing in the US, and so I've got field upon field of roses.

Kim:Sounds like a pretty place to live, but the longer question is, how available is water and how available is it going to be?

Duane:Well, we are concerned about it and they're working on it, but my answer to you is, we pay- I think it's $4.50 for 1,000 gallons in our urban areas. If you raise that to $9, we'll have all the water you want. They're talking about running a pipeline from the Gulf of California and de-salting the water and bringing it up to Phoenix.

Kim:I can imagine that. I guess where I'm going with this is the story that I hear way up here is that you're almost out of water and going to be really soon, that whole corner of the country down there.

Duane:Well, that is the story, but in the '70s, I lived in Tucson, and I wanted to do a greywater system so that I could collect all but my blackwater and recycle it into my landscape and whatnot, and the city of Tucson wouldn't let me do it. Today, every house that's built in the city of Tucson, every new house, is required to have a greywater recycling system.

You live in an environment where you have all the water you need, and you don't think about recycling it and reusing it. We have the capacity, like they do in Israel, of taking our water and using it more than one time. You don't have to flush the toilet and see that water disappear and be a problem someplace else. You can recycle all of that stuff, and that's what we're going to be doing in our area.

One of the big debates right now is the Saudi Arabians came in and bought or rented land from the state, and they put wells in and they're pumping water to grow alfalfa. They're now talking about restricting the amount of water that they can pull out of the ground because it is possible to drain our reserves, our areas.

Kim:Recycling water, now there's a concept I've never thought of. Blinding flashes of common sense here, though. That just makes really good sense.

Jeff:It's not something you think about when you have a lake here in your backyard, Kim.



Joc:Another thing you have to understand too is not all of Arizona depends on Colorado River water. My neighborhoods actually have been getting water from the White Mountain region of Arizona since turn of the century. As long as we conserve that, are careful with that, we'll have plenty of water for that area but, yes, whoever depends on Colorado River water might be facing shortages in the future.

My area, my part of town was orange groves and dairy farms all the way into the 1950s. That's when my property was built then, my house I'm in. The people decided to keep that irrigation system to water their yards with, so that water is all snowmelt and monsoon rainwater. It comes from the Mogollon Rim and the White Mountains in Eastern Arizona.

Jeff:Monica, [chuckles] since we're talking about water.

Monica:Rainwater catchment, yes. [laughs] Basically, we do a lot of swales and berms and- like Duane mentioned, Israel. There's Brad Lancaster, he does a lot of water harvesting techniques. A lot of us just follow that kind of rules now for trying to catch the water and reuse it and just don't waste a drop.

Duane:Monica, don't you haul water?

Monica:No, I have a well.

Duane:You have a well, okay.

Monica:A solar well, yes.

Jeff:I would think that water management would be a really big issue for your bees all year round, but especially those three or four months of the summer that it's extremely hot.

Duane:Joc offers a variety of water sources. I try to have some water that's in the sun and some water that's in the shade. In the winter, they go to the water that's in the sun, and in the summer they go to the water that's in the shade because it'll be a few degrees cooler.

Jeff:Neighbor management has to be an issue for both you and Joc, or anybody, I guess, with bees, with neighbor pools and neighborhood pools.

Joc:Yes, so I just try to maintain multiple sources of water, keep the bees attracted to my yard. If they go to other people's yards, that happens. There's still a lot of feral colonies in Phoenix area. Actually, my neighbor has a tall tree in the backyard, has had an existing colony in that tree for 10 years. I saw that colony existing perpetually. Other bees also are visiting pools, not just my bees in the neighbors' pools.

Jeff:[chuckles] No, but they know you as a beekeeper, so they'll always be all your bees.

Joc:I tell them to prove it.


Duane:We ask for genetic proof.

Jeff:I always tell them to look for the brand. Mine are branded. If you don't see a brand, it's not my bee.


Duane:There you go.

Joc:One of the things, like Monica alluded to, I do, in the fall, usually get about one usurpation swarm. That's a feral swarm, probably gets in one of my hives or waiting for the opportunity to get into it, so I do keep a watch on that. About once a year, it's almost like a softball-size clump of bees on your hive, not to be ignored.

Kim:I'm going to change the subject here for a second. Earlier we talked about Africanized bees. Just being Africanized, they tend to be a little difficult to work with, but also one of the problems early on anyway that they were having with Africanized bees is them coming and taking over a colony, essentially invading, and suddenly you're out there one day and it's a nice Buckfast colony and a week later it's not. Is that still a big issue, some issue, or isn't it much of a problem anymore?

Joc:It can still happen, Kim, but once again, if you're on top of things, inspecting regularly, you may notice a change that occurs. It's not going to happen your hive goes full-on Africanized overnight. It's a gradual change. You notice a demeanor in a change and that means, hey, I need to go check and see do I still have the original marked queen in the hive. If I don't, she was usurped, I'm going to reach out to my fellow beekeepers and say, "Hey, who's putting a queen order in soon? I need to change out a queen," and that's what I do.

Keep in mind, when usurpation swarms occur, they're usually smaller, like softball-size clumps. They're desperate, like Monica mentioned, and they've starved out their home. That small clump of bees is not going to turn your whole hive Africanized overnight.

Monica:Yes, and I've had [sound cut] Africanized take over Africanized. It's not just the European. [chuckles] I was doing hive inspections and I was like five hives down, and one of my helpers is yelling at me, "What's going on to that hive back there that we just looked at?" Sure enough, a swarm landed on it and the queens were already- both the queens were inside the colony. I had to cage them separately and said, "Hey, just let them work it out in the end." They ended up not feeding one queen and the other queen survived. That's just how it went. It was two Africanized colonies. It wasn't even- had anything to do with European.

Kim:Jeff, I got to tell you, I thought keeping bees up here was tough.


Duane:It's not tough. You just learn a different way of operating.

Joc:You learn to maintain strong colonies and inspect regularly and do the things you're supposed to do, actually.

Kim:Easier said than done, I think.

Jeff:I am still tickled. I'm a pre-Varroa beekeeper, and before the genetics got so much that the bees are so gentle these days. It still amazes me the number of videos of people showing the videos of them going and working a hive, shorts and t-shirts and bare feet. How often do you do that there in, say, Southern Arizona, Monica?

Monica:I only do that when I go home to Florida. [laughs] I actually had to take a photograph for an article that I was going to be in, and they wanted me to pose with one of my Africanized hives that I requeened and were now gentle. I go first with my suit on and then I see how they're acting, make sure that everybody's going to behave. Then I took my veil off, my suit off, and I was photographed just with a short-sleeved shirt and looking at the colony like I used to do when I was a kid. Then all of a sudden, a couple of the hobbyists that follow me said that they tried to do the same thing to their hives, and they went right out there and they got attacked. I'm like going, "Oh my goodness," so I'm just not even going to do that ever again, not in Arizona.

Jeff:I think that's an important message is that the 1/250 of a second of a photograph of someone sitting there without any protection on, or they happen- they go out and they inspect a hive and they're without any kind of protection on is a rarity, I think, and an exception and not a general rule. I always advise precautions, unless you really, really know what you're doing.

Duane:I always wear a suit.

Joc:Even nice bees can have bad days and you never know.

Kim:Good point, yes. We've talked about your season and your pests and problems and your honey crop. What have we missed about Arizona beekeeping?

Duane:You can ship a hive of bees to California almonds in a full load for only $15 a hive.

Kim:That's true. You're close.


Joc:One thing also, there are actually some commercial beekeepers more in the West Valley closer to Duane that actually have hives around alfalfa, cotton fields, and some with hundreds of colonies, some with thousands. Literally, they go to California for almonds. That's their business. They'll basically leave them here in the summertime around agricultural crops and maintain them and go to almonds.

Kim:You bring up a good point about almonds, is if I was going to bring bees to almonds here in Ohio, I'd have to get them out there in December or something to get the population built up so their strong enough to pollinate an almond orchard. I'm guessing the colonies that you take from out there, you just pick them up and put them on a truck and move them without having to do much. That sound about right?

Duane:Yes. Now, I don't think any of us are currently doing almonds, but we all know people that are doing it. In fact, I was going to tell you, if you want to do almonds, what you need to do is move your hives to Arizona in November and then move them to California for almonds.

Kim:You don't have to do anything special. You just set them on the ground in November and come back in February and pick them up and move them. That sounds like a pretty good way to keep bees for almonds.

Joc:Another thing you need to think about beekeeping here is if you have a problem in the fall, you get a Varroa count that's high you can fix it. You have nice weather, you can fix problems in the hives. You're not going get - so a high count in September, it's not death to the colony here. You can fix that colony and get it back right going in the winter.

Kim:That sounds good. I still don't think I'm going to move. [chuckles]

Jeff:I was going to say, Kim, when you move to Arizona, you're all set.

Joc:We have plenty of people here. Don't move.




Duane:Hey, Joc, how long has it been since you've lost a hive?

Joc:I've never lost a hive here. I've had close calls now, and learned and fixed them with other hives, but I've never lost a hive in seven years.

Duane:Monica, what percentage of hives do you lose?

Monica:You're taking into consideration, I'm bringing in hive removals, and so they're in a different state of health from that point. I would say my percentages, I think the last one that I did was around 18%.


Jeff:Yourself, Duane?

Duane:I'm still learning, and so I'm probably losing a third, but I'm getting better. I had a big problem with heat. My goal was carry over 50 hives from last year. This year, I lost 10 to javelina, so I learned the javelina problem. You have to strap the hives so that if they knock it over, it doesn't come apart.

Jeff:Well, on that piggy note-


Jeff:-I think we really appreciate hearing from all of you from the wonderful State of Arizona. I'm in Tucson every November. I ride my bike down there at the Tour de Tucson ride, and I just love the area.

Monica:Well, come visit.

Jeff:Yes, I have to come out and visit your hives and give me another excuse to stay longer. Monica, Joc, Duane, thank you for visiting us here on Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Kim:It's been a lot of fun. I learned a lot today. Thank you.

Joc:You're welcome.

Duane:Well, we've all learned from you, Kim. We've all read the books.

Kim:Thank you. Jeff, I don't know how you found those three people, but I'm really glad you did. This was really- it was entertaining and it was educational, and it was fun to talk to people about bees that I don't know hardly anything about.

Jeff:Well, I wish I could take credit for it, but it was really just Duane. Duane was able to round up everybody, and I'm glad he did. It was a great topic. Like I said in the opening, people just don't think about beekeeping in Arizona, but bees are there. The one question I didn't ask them and I wanted to, maybe you have an idea. Northern beekeepers put their bees into cold storage during the winter. I wonder if Arizona beekeepers put their bees into storage during a hot summer.

Kim:[laughs] It's a question I would've never thought to ask.

Jeff:I wasn't being serious but, yes, that's a challenging area to keep bees for sure.



Jeff:Well, that about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcast and wherever you download and stream the show. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on Reviews along the top of any webpage.

As always, we thank Bee Culture, the Magazine for American Beekeeping, for their continued support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsors, Global Patties, and Strong Microbials, and Betterbee, for their longtime support of this podcast. Thanks to HiveAlive for returning this spring, and thanks to Northern Bee Books for their generous support. Check out all of their books at

Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener, for joining us on this show. Feel free to leave us questions and comments at Leave a Comment section under each episode on the website. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks a lot, everybody.


Joc RawlsProfile Photo

Joc Rawls


Joc is a veterinarian of 33 yrs and a backyard beekeeper for a total of 11 years. Four years were during the mid to late ‘80’s in Mississippi and the last seven years here in Phoenix, Arizona. He currently manages 7 nice backyard colonies, which produce too much honey at times. He is a native of Mississippi and grew up on a family farm there.

He is the immediate past president of the Beekeepers Association of Arizona and currently on the board of directors. He is also a member of the American Honey Producers Association, American Beekeeping Federation, and the Honey Bee Veterinary Consortium.

When not practicing veterinary medicine or keeping bees, you can find him hiking in Arizona, skiing winter slopes in Northern Arizona or Colorado, or playing fiddle tunes with friends.

Monica KingProfile Photo

Monica King

Monica King grew up in Commercial Beekeeping, eldest child of David & Linda Miksa of Miksa Honey Farms. The Miksa family have been beekeeping since 1936 and have been in pollination & honey production, and are now one of the largest queen producers in the United States. Growing up, after school and on weekends, Monica would have "bee" chores such as extracting, cleaning equipment, and caging queens. Now living in Arizona, things are quite different for her. Monica does live removals of the local Africanized Hybrids, relocates them to her apiary, and requeens with known European genetics. She teaches beekeeping classes, mentors, gives talks and seminars on pollinators and is the current Vice President of the Southern Arizona Beekeepers Association and Arizona Director for the Western Apicultural Society. Current member of the Pollinator Stewardship Council, American Beekeeping Federation, American Honey Producers, Arizona Backyard Beekeepers and assisting with creating a new Arizona State Beekeepers Association. In her free time she has a Youtube Channel, Etsy store, and teaches other homesteading & History type classes and DIY workshops.

Duane CombsProfile Photo

Duane Combs


Arizona Beekeepers llc is a family-owned beekeeping operation based in Litchfield Park, Arizona. He is a University of Montana Master Beekeeper and the current president of the Beekeepers Association of Central Arizona.

He says, "We started our company with three key goals: 1) We want to save and increase bee populations and help manage the threat of African “killer” bees in our dry desert environment; 2) We want to produce the best pure, raw local honey possible; 3) We want to use sensors and other tools to develop effective management techniques to help all kinds of beekeepers who are facing an increasingly harder environment and business."

Starting with two Italian bee nucs and using sensor technology, we can manage our hives and still minimize the disruption of our bees; solving a major problem with absconding African bees. Sensors have become so important to us that we have become the United States distributor for Bee Hive Monitoring, so that we can offer scales and sensors to other beekeepers throughout the United States. Bee sensors are sold through our website

African bees are a real management challenge, and part of our commitment to wild bees was to save urban African bees by requeening them to reduce their defensiveness and making them compatible with urban beekeeping. As we could not make the economics work for this model, we have had to abandon this work. We now buy and sell honey, buy and sell bees, sell bee sensors, and teach beekeeping classes.

At our core, our mission will always be to grow bees and help people become successful beekeepers.