For this episode, we invite back our regular regional beekeepers to sit down with us and discuss how their season went, what surprises they had, what worked, what didn’t and what they were planning for in 2022. In their discussions with each other,...
For this episode, we invite back our regular regional beekeepers to sit down with us and discuss how their season went, what surprises they had, what worked, what didn’t and what they were planning for in 2022. In their discussions with each other, they talked about making comb honey, mead, honey prices in their area, swarm preventions techniques, and regional varroa populations.
Mark Smith is from North Carolina. He’s a chemical free beekeeper and has been for a decade or so. He is pretty isolated and relies on his own survivor stock for mite control.
Tracy Alarcon lives in north east Ohio and is running about 10 colonies. He did good with early honey this year, but the goldenrod didn’t produce like he thought it would. He makes mead and comb honey along with liquid honey, but keeps much of the liquid for himself.
Ed Colby lives on the western slope of the Rockies, and his book came out this summer. Entitled A Beekeeper’s Life. Tales From The Bottom Board. Each chapter is from one of his Bottom Board columns in Bee Culture magazine and is doing well. He experienced some drought this summer, the higher elevation beeyards did well. He runs about 70 colonies. Normally he sells spring splits, but next year is looking to expand so will keep most of those.
Listen to our Regional Beekeepers as they discuss their years. Are they like you?
Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:
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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.
Introduction: Hey, Jeff and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufacturers protein supplement patties for honeybees. It's a good time to think about honeybee 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 honeybees. 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 www.globalpatties.com.
Jeff: Hey, thanks, Global Patties. Each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support and you do know we'd rather get right into talking about beekeeping. However, our super sponsors are critical to help making all this happen. From the hosting fees, the software, hardware, microphones, recorders, everything, they enable each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast because it's been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today.
We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms who sponsored this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine dedicated to protecting all pollinators. Learn more in our season two, episode nine podcast with editor Kirsten Traynor and from visiting www.2millionblossoms.com and that is with a number 2. Also check out the new 2 Million Blossoms, The Podcast available on the website or wherever you download or stream your shows. Hey, everybody, thanks for joining us. We're really, really happy you're here. Hey, Kim, did you get enough candy last night trick or treating?
Kim: I don't go.
Jeff: [laughs] Thanks for that confession.
Kim: Because of where my house sits, I've never had anybody show up on Halloween. I'm out in the country. I live on a curve, so I've never had to invest a penny in Halloween candy.
Jeff: Yes, if I was a kid and was looking for houses to approach on Halloween night, no offense, buddy, but I wouldn't be walking up to no beekeeper's house.
Kim: I'm enough out in the country, somebody have to bring their kid here, and then they have to deal with my driveway.
Jeff: That's funny. No, good. Plus, being out in the country you don't have to worry about kids tipping over the hives or anything like that.
Kim: Right, or being egged or any of those things. Good and bad, I've avoided it all.
Jeff: [laughs] That's good. Hey, we have a big show lined up and more on that in a second but just want to quickly remind our listeners that if you haven't seen the PBS nature special, Michael Dohrn's film called My Garden of a Thousand Bees. Do yourself a favor and one of these stormy, wet, snowy, whatever, fall nights in November, make sure you get out there and watch it on PBS or go to the PBS website and watch it. It's a really fantastic show.
Kim: Yes, I caught it when it was first done, it's how he spent his lockdown time over in the UK and he spent a whole season and he built lenses and used other lenses very creatively. It's an incredible show.
Jeff: As we mentioned, this episode is a return of our regional beekeepers. It's fun having these guys on the show on a regular basis.
Kim: Yes, it is and it's becoming more fun because we're seeing how the world is treating them and they're treating their bees overtime now. We've been able to follow a one-shot deal is okay but over the course of the year, we've seen how Mark has done and what Tracy is doing with his honey flows. Then, of course on the Western Slope of the Rockies had some drought this year and he had to move his bees up to where it was wetter. Over time, this is building into a good show.
Jeff: Yes, it definitely is. Unfortunately, this episode, we know that Paul Longwell who joined us in the spring will not be able to make it on this episode, but will join us on a future episode. Kim, what's coming up on Honey Bee Obscura?
Kim: Jeff, I want to tell you something. We've got some good subjects. Jim and I are putting our heads together. We've got some good stuff coming up but what I want to tell you it seems to be, I don't know, something's happened with Honey Bee Obscura because our listenership has tripled in the last couple of three months. That tells me that what we're doing is grabbing a hold of listeners. If you haven't tuned into Honey Bee Obscura, you can get it on the web page. Jim and I are having a lot of fun doing this, and we're going to continue having fun.
Jeff: That means our wives are now listening. That's your wife, my wife and Jim's wife and now that's tripled, it's doubled. [laughs] No, no, that's good. No, it's fantastic. You guys are doing a fabulous job. They're fun to listen to and I receive positive feedback on that in the meetings I attend, so good job.
Jeff: Let's get right into our conversation with the regional beekeepers but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.
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Kim: Hey, while you're at the Strong Microbial site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, it's a regular newsletter full of product information and beekeeping facts. Hey everybody, welcome back. Sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now are three of our four regional beekeepers Mark Smith, Tracy Alarcon, Ed Colby. Paul Longwell was not able to join us this time but we'll be back next time. Hey, guys, welcome back.
Jeff: Hey, Kim.
Kim: Hey, Jeff, how are you doing? I've been waiting for this program because I want to hear what's going on. One of our guests had to bow out this time, so we're going to miss the West Coast but we've got North Carolina, Ohio, and Colorado talking to us. It's a pretty big area, we'll get some idea of how things are going. Going to start with the East Coast, Mark Smith down in North Carolina. Mark, welcome to the show. It's good to have you back again.
Mark Smith: Thank you, Kim. It sure is a pleasure and honor to do this again and to see these fellow beekeepers that are spread all over the country. It really looks good.
Kim: Mark, just for people who haven't heard us before, three sentences or two-sentence maybe, a background of who you are, where you are, and how you've been doing?
Mark: I live in a little town called Locust, North Carolina, just the East of Charlotte. I'm a chemical-free beekeeper. I've been keeping bees since 2010 and been chemical-free since 2014.
Kim: You must be doing something right, so how did this season go for you with all of that?
Jeff: Mark, just real quick. What's the definition of chemical-free?
Mark: Absolutely no chemicals whatsoever for any disease or pest control, but I do feed my bees.
Jeff: Thanks. Everyone has a different definition, I just want to make sure that we're level setting here.
Mark: Yes. There's several different titles that fit under that umbrella. If I had to pick a title, it would be chemical-free.
Jeff: All right.
Kim: How did your season go, Mark?
Mark: In 2020, we had a crazy year that year because, and we talked about this on the podcast last year, we had an early pollen flow. Nature got ahead of the humans, and all the bees hit the trees. We were really anticipating that happening again this year so our management scheme changed just a little bit. We did some pre-emptive splits early in the season, a little earlier than usually I would prefer doing but I don't like seeing bees in the trees.
It was a good thing that we did that because pollen flow wasn't quite as early this year as it was last year. We made a bunch of splits and made a bunch of bees. That was a good thing that we did this year because that was our biggest challenge last is the way we started the season, most beekeepers around here weren't ready for that early a start but the bees were and they did what bees do. They hit the trees.
Kim: Just a quick question, Mark. How early is early?
Mark: Our first pollen flow here in North Carolina is the red maple and it was a month ahead of schedule. The red maples here where I live were bloomed out and over by the end of January, so all that pollen load hit the colonies and those queens went nuts laying , obviously if they rooted up that early, they hit the trees a lot earlier than we anticipated them to do it.
Kim: I can see where that would be a problem. How did the rest of the season go then this year, since you got ahead of the jump on it?
Mark: Yes. The rest of the season was really good. It was very uneventful. We had rain when we needed rain. We had dry weather when we needed dry weather and of course, that's real critical when you're trying to make honey. We had a lot of flight time and it wasn't so dry that it affects the nectar flow but the rest of the season was really good.
I call it three milestones or records this year in my little operation that I'm very proud of, especially being chemical-free. Coming out of 2020, I had my lower winter loss percentage, that was 16%. I made honey this year, whereas in 2020, I didn't because everything went in the trees and just about two weeks ago, I had the lowest mite count percentage that I had ever recorded, it was 0.6%. The significance of that, it was a state inspector that did the test. That made me feel good, too. It was a good year.
Kim: You're done harvesting already?
Mark: Yes, and almost sold out. We've almost sold everything we bought.
Kim: That is good. You'll be able to close it be done by Thanksgiving easy.
Mark: Yes, that's a good thing. Honey in the box ain't worth 2 cent, sell it, get rid of it.
Kim: Yes. Any surprises this year, Mark? Things that you weren't expecting, good or bad?
Mark: I wasn't expecting my mite count percentage to be that low. That really surprised me because I had never-- I'd been around 2 or 3% this time of year, and we did a sugar roll and alcohol wash. Sugar roll got one mite in 300, alcohol wash got two mites in 300. 0.6%, I'm proud of that.
Jeff: What do you attribute that to?
Mark: Local survivor stock. I've been chemical-free since 2014, but the last time I've introduced any outside genetics into any of my apiaries, because I've got three, was 2011 and it was just a queen. Everything else that I've got is something that I've raised right here at home.
Jeff: You're pretty isolated. In the previous episodes, we talked about you are pretty isolated where you are, correct? That's still the case?
Mark: Yes. There's beekeepers within driving distance of me but probably not within flight distance around me.
Jeff: That really good, really good.
Mark: Thank you.
Kim: Mark, thanks. Just one quick question before we go, what's on your plate for next year?
Mark: Next year is to grow. I have a number of colonies I want to hit and my focus next year is going to be doing just as many splits as I can. I'd love to get to a hundred if I can get to a hundred. That would be awesome next year. We'll see. That's my goal, that and trying to maintain what we did this year.
Kim: It's good goal. It sounds like you're getting heading in the right direction. My hats off to you with the might counts and I got to ask, you're chemical-free, your management is doing, you got local survivor stock. Is that all you're relying on or are you doing any management tricks to help that mite population?
Mark: No tricks. I don't do drone culling. I don't do any of that. The only thing that some people might consider a trick is when I do summer splits. I do summer splits on right around June 1st and all my production colonies, I pull the queens out of them and do summer splits and let them re-queen to get a full brew break.
I've been doing presentations around this at local bee clubs, and I'll have that one guy sitting in the back of the room and he'll stand up. He'll say, "Wait, that's a treatment." I'll look at him and I'll say, "Well, if you want to call it a treatment, that's fine. Look, other than Varroa mites, one of the biggest things beekeepers work to prevent or work against is swarming".
I'm a firm believer that we've worked so hard to take that instinct and that built-in mite-- or control mechanism out of the colonies that it's benefiting the mites. I think that strategic split that time of year, I'm mimicking a swarm, which is natural, but I'm also getting some mite control out of it too.
Kim: It's a proven method of brew breakers, it's a proven method of hampering mite production in a colony. I think what you're doing is right in line with what you should be doing. Sounds good.
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Kim: Jeff, next we have Tracy Alarcon and Tracy is from Ohio, not just down the road from me here. What about, 30 miles, Tracy?
Tracy Alarcon: Kim, I wish. It's 65 miles one way.
Jeff: That's on the turnpike, right?
Jeff: It just drive up the turn.
Tracy: It's 65 miles on 76.
Kim: 65 miles. Well, not too far. He's just 65 miles east of me. Tracy was here last year. Tracy, for the people that are listening that haven't heard you before. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your operation.
Tracy: My name's Tracy Alarcon. As Kim said, I live in Ohio. I live in Northeast Ohio in a small little town called Diamond. I worked as a County Apiary Inspector for seven years. I've sold nuc and queens. I've managed up to a hundred colonies at a time, but now opposite of Mark, I'm trying to get down and trying to keep it below 10, but it's a bug and it gets to you, and you still start making splits and you start doing stuff. I'm trying to get the numbers down just so I can manage them a little easier. This year I went to Kentucky to the Eastern Agricultural Society Conference and became an EAS master beekeeper.
Jeff and Kim: Congratulations.
Tracy: Yes. I was very excited about that. Went and I was able to pass all for the exams the first time. I'm very happy and proud of that. Now I consider myself a backyard beekeeper that just likes to play with his bees.
Kim: Do you have any surprises this year?
Tracy: I can't really say I had any surprises. I made a lot more honey in the springtime than I normally do because in the past I've always been making splits to raise queens and to increase colony numbers, and so the last couple of years, I've just been focusing on colony buildup so that I can make some more spring honey, instead of just leaving it all for the bees because the old saying, you can either make honey or you can make bees, but it's a general rule you can't make both.
By leaving all that spring honey, the bees were able to build up and as Mark mentioned, bees were going into the trees so I was able to catch all of mine before they started getting ready to swarm, but in the area, people were just going after swarms from early April, which is pretty early for us. It's actually way early for us here in Northeast Ohio, all the way through until the middle of June, just lots of people talking about swarms going in the trees. We need to do a better job teaching swarm control and swarm management in our classes, I think.
Kim: I guess so. One of the things in our part of Ohio this year has been-- you'd say the visible goldenrod crop. The goldenrod this year, because it had a lot of rain all summer, we had a lot of rain this summer, more than I can remember, I think, and because of that, a lot of the wildflowers did pretty well. The goldenrod was tolerant. There was more of it this year as near as I can tell, but how did it do for you for a crop, goldenrod honey?
Tracy: At this point in time, it hasn't done very much. Like you said, we had a good amount of rain in June into July, and I was incredibly hopeful that I have more of a crop, but right now when I walked through the apiary, I can barely smell it. In years past, actually last year, you get within 50, 60, 70 feet of the apiary, mine's out in the middle of a field where there's a breeze bone, usually, but you could smell the goldenrod. This year I haven't been able to do that, but I'm still hopeful.
I still got a couple more weeks before, in theory, the first hard frost comes and these have been working it and they're bringing in plenty of pollen, and they all bring it in some nectar, but I'm usually a few weeks behind most people around me. It was my little microclimate, so I haven't harvested in a year, any this year yet, but I'm hopeful.
Kim: Boy, I hope we got more than a couple of weeks before the first hard freeze. I'm hoping for three or four before the first hard freeze over here. The one thing that in talking to people around here about the goldenrod crap, was there seemed to be a lot of pollen, not a lot of nectar, that sounds about right?
Tracy: Absolutely. I went into the colonies this last weekend and I have frames of pollen and the bees are bringing in polling like crazy, but I'm not so much nectar. There are frames of nectar, but I super up so that they have lots of frames to help dehydrate that nectar into honey. They're just not as full as I had hoped they would be. We were talking earlier and out here, the white and purple asters had been blooming pretty hard, but I don't know if they're bringing anything in from that yet or not.
Currently, I'm looking and I'm probably going to end up having to feed before winter. That's what I'm currently thinking but like I said, general rule around my area, about October 15th or somewhere in that area was when we get our first hard freeze and when we do that, the nectar flow has been over historically.
Kim: Yes. Like I'm saying, I'm hoping to get a little more than a couple of three weeks, but may come early. It was 46 this morning where I'm at. Next year, what's on your agenda next year?
Tracy: That's a good question. This last year I've been working on the-- doing some studying for that EAS Master Beekeeper and just maintaining bees. That's a real good question. Always going to be making sure I take care of all my mite loads because unlike Mark, I live in a pretty populated area with a lot of beekeepers around and some are getting much, much better at varroa control and some aren't.
We have to monitor it pretty constantly here and make it through spring. At this point in time, like I said, I'm trying to keep the numbers down just so that I can enjoy the management more. When you start getting those big numbers and I work a real job, so I don't have a lot of time to go play in the bees. You start getting all those big numbers. It starts to be a chore instead of an enjoyment.
Kim: When it's not fun. It can get bad for the bees when it's not fun anymore.
Jeff: That's called work [laughs].
Tracy: I'm not opposed to the work, but I did that for a long time, managing all my colonies and working as an apiary inspector, you just forget the joy of just opening up a colony, watching, smelling, and seeing what they're doing. Instead, I've got to get through this because I got 30 more to go. Those that want to grow, please don't let me discourage you in any way, shape, or form. It's a great thing but for me at this point in time, I'm just trying to scale back a little bit on that.
We talked about Paslode and this year the role was pretty good and like Mark, the splits that I made, this year, I made the swarms, was prevent swarming, and unlike Mark, I am not a chemical-free beekeeper. I do tend to use only oxalic acid and formic acid. Whenever I make my splits, I use an oxalic acid vaporizer just to get rid of any and all the mites that are on all the bees so that I can keep a relatively clean apiary. I find that that always helps.
In the past when I made my mid-summer splits, I always make around on the summer solstice around the middle of June, I do the same thing. Usually, I don't have to do anything in the late summer, but this year when I was checking some colonies, I had to do a formic acid treatment back in the middle of August because I had a couple of colonies that had really pretty high mite numbers.
But personally, we didn't have any small hide beetle problems this year. I'm not really sure why in the past we've had them really go and we had all that rain, and some people are speculating because we had so much rain early in the season that they weren't able to reproduce because they hit the ground where they pupate and they just drowned because it was just so wet for a long while.
Kim: We were talking about that earlier this year in one of the meetings we were at. I think there might be some truth to that. When you get rain at least once a week, sometimes twice a week for a big chunk of the summer it's going to-- and this soil that we have out here is hard clay, so it holds its moisture well. It doesn't drain. I'm thinking maybe that was part of the issue. Well, Tracy, congratulations on becoming an EAS Master Beekeeper. I was involved in that organization for a lot of years and what you did is not common. Again, congratulations. Good job.
Tracy: Thank you very much.
Kim: Next up, moving to Colorado. We've got Ed Colby out in Colorado. Ed it's got something to talk about too. Ed, how's your book doing?
Ed: I have to tell you a story about this book. This is a compilation of columns that I've written for Bee Culturemagazine over the last 20 years. Boy, you really have to-- I learned this the hard way and I've learned it before, but I relearned that you really have to be careful about what you write about people. I wrote what I though was a very flattering, the commentary on a gentleman who took extreme umbrage. He's a private person. There was a second edition to the book where just to mollify him. I pulled that column and put another one in, but yes, it's been interesting. I'm getting a little interest here locally among people who are not necessarily beekeepers. My relatives think it's wonderful.
Kim: What's the title and how can I get it Ed?
Ed: It's A Beekeeper's Life. Tales from the Bottom Board and you can get it from Amazon. You can get it from Northern Bee Books.
Jeff: Yes and we have links to Ed's book in his bio on the guest page. You can check the show notes, go to Ed's bio and you can order it there.
Kim: I want to state that I have two, not one, but two ex-wives who think it is excellent. Well, there's a compliment that I'm not sure about.
Jeff: I don't know if I'd want to publicize the fact of having the book if I had two ex-wives.
Tracy: I think it's fantastic.
Jeff: Well, this is your side job, Tracy, as a divorce attorney, or is it a--?
Tracy: No, but if he's exes think the book is excellent and there is exes. It's probably a really good book.
Kim: That's a good recommendation. One of the things that you're going to hear coming up here in the not too distant future is Ed reading some of those entries in his book, and we're just going to have that as a show. They are well-written, and I was involved with getting it to press and proofing and all of those things. I'm looking forward because Ed has a very unique style of voicing his column. We're looking for that. Ed, after the book, how did the bees go this year?
Jeff: Before we get going, just jump back real quick for listeners who haven't heard Ed talk before. Ed, can you tell us about who you are, where in Colorado you're located and a little bit about your background operation? Then we'll go to Kim's question.
Ed: Yes. I'm in Western Colorado, west of the Continental Divide, right on I-70, just west of Glenwood Springs, which is not too far from Aspen. I'm in a much lower elevation than Aspen. I'm down around 5,500 feet. I'm really on the margin of the rocky mountains and the desert. I've had about 70 colonies. I've had up to close to 200 before, but I've been downsizing. I'm not getting any younger. However, my girl Marilyn is killing it at the farmers' markets. I mean, killing it. I'm afraid that I may have to ramp back up again a little bit. I was just going to follow Tracy down to 10 hives in the backyard, but I think I might have to go to Amy or Mark here, make some splits in the spring, hopefully have a good get overwintering.
Kim: Do you sell any of those splits or queens, Ed?
Ed: No, not queens, but I have salt splits. I thought that I might not do that this coming year so that I get a few more bees. I have a new location that's pretty good. I have some more options on some other locations. In the bottom line, I'm getting sucked back in. Instead of cents, I'm going into retirement. I seem to be getting pulled back out of it.
Kim: You need to talk to Tracy a little bit, I think, maybe?
Ed: Yes. I probably need some more peace, much as a psychiatrist.
Tracy: Definitely not a psychiatrist. I could use the psychiatrist.
Kim: Well, how was the season in Western Colorado this year? Predictable? Or were there any surprises?
Ed: It's good. We're in a serious drought. A lot of these senior water rights have not been affected, so we do have lots of irrigation. Not every place, but we do have lots of irrigation. Up in the high country, there was some pretty good rainfall. We had a good monsoon. It was an excellent year for any production.
Kim: Do you get ready for winter? Are they in pretty good shape?
Ed: Yes. I've just started doing some mite treatments. I'm also not chemical-- What interested me was Mark's remark, and Tracy kind of second it, that mites don't seem to be a particular problem this year. I'm running into that everywhere. To beekeepers that I talked to here in Colorado who are monitoring their mites, the numbers are down. Last year it was an epidemic. This year is-- I won't say it's not a problem, but I don't understand why the numbers are so low. Outside of one big outlier, which I had a colony with 30 mites at the end of June. That's a problem, but in general, my mite numbers are very low. I wonder if in ways that perhaps have not been studied to this point, that independent of the bees' resistance to the mites, if the mites themselves run in cycles, maybe they have their own diseases, maybe their own parasites, I don't know.
Kim: Wouldn't that be nice? You've shared what you're planning for next year. You're fighting it, but it sounds like you're going to get a little bit bigger next year because you said you're doing well in local farm markets? So you're selling direct retail.
Ed: Yes. Marilyn does all that. I stay away from it as much as possible.
Kim: It sounds like it's been a good year for you. It sounds like it's going to be a good year next year. Congratulations on your book. I encourage people, if you read the Bottom Board and Bee Culture to pick it up because it's a good collection. What did you say? 20 years you've been doing that? I remember when you started, but not very well.
Ed: If you really don't remember really well, I have to tell you another story. I used to write a com called To Be or Not To Be for the-- Well, I worked for the Aspen Times and then also for the Glenwood Springs post-independent. At a memorial service the other day, I ran into my old editor, who Marilyn knows better than I do. She said, "Yes, I remember you. Ed, do you remember this woman?" I said, "Yes. You were my editor," and she goes, "I was?" She goes, "What was the name of your column?" I told her, and she says, "Oh, I just don't remember it." I guess for her it was pretty forgetful.
Kim: Well, I know you were along-- In 20 years doesn't surprise me with Bee Culture doing the bottom board. It's a nice way to end the day at that the back of the magazine. Congratulations. I hope it does well for you. You and I and Jeff will have to get together and start planning on having you read some of these over the next few months.
Ed: I'd be happy to do so.
Kim: Good. I look forward to having that happen. Jeff, what have we missed?
Jeff: Well, I wanted to go down the line and ask these guys. Mark, I know you sell locally and Ed you're selling locally. Tracy, I'm not sure if you sell honey locally or if you're just eating it yourself. What's the biggest seller of honey? You sell in one-pound jars? Do you sell in squeeze bears? You're selling-
Mark: I sell all mine in one-pound jars.
Jeff: One-pound jars. What are you selling them for? Retail?
Mark: This year, I went to $15 a pound.
Tracy: I sell mine in one-pound squeeze bottles. I only sell it for $10. Unless it's goldenrod, then I sell it for 15, and that's very rarely because when I get the goldenrod I keep it for myself as a general rule. I'd say Tina sells the vast majority. My wife, she sells the vast majority of it. We also sell at quart mason jars and quart glass mason jars. We've been selling that for $20. It just goes right out without even-- Nobody blinks an eye about it. We should probably raise our prices, but it works for us. Plus, I've been making mead with all the honey. I'm not very good at making mead yet. I'm still working on it, but I enjoy that. That's an interesting side thing that you can do with honey. There's a lot to it.
Jeff: Of course you're not selling the mead.
Tracy: No, because that you have to have like an alcohol license or whatever. I don't really care I'm drinking it.
Kim: Even bad mead is not a bad way to spend an evening, you know that?
Tracy: I agree. Tina has 20 blueberry bushes that we planted, I don't know, 15 years ago. In the last couple of years, they've just been really, really producing massive amounts of blueberries. We freeze them and then I make some mead with them, and I like it. That's what we've been doing with a lot of our honey lately.
Jeff: What are you getting at the market? What are you seeing for your honey?
Ed: Oh, as I told you, I stay away from the market. However, to the best of my knowledge, we sell a lot in 12-ounce jars. We sell everything in glass. We sell a lot of 12-ounce jars, and I believe those are going for $10. We have the flat tops wildflower honey, which is an excellent honey. That goes for a little more. I think those might go for 12. I think Marilyn is selling one pound wildflower, honey is $16 or $18. We sell a lot of honey to people we know in quart jars. Those run anywhere from $20 to $30. We charge a little more at the farmers' market and a little less-
Jeff: That's really good. I like hearing what other beekeepers are doing at the local markets just from a national standpoint. It's fun you can go and browse at local farm markets to see what honey is selling for. It's one of those things that many beekeepers don't think about until they're sitting there putting labels on their jars to figure out what it's worth. You got to consider all your time and energy and what you're doing with the bees to price the honey. We're good.
Tracy: I have a question for Ed when we're set.
Jeff: Well, go ahead, Tracy.
Tracy: I don't remember when, but in one of our episodes you were going to start making comb honey one year. I wondered how that experiment went?
Ed: Well, I'm glad you refer to it as an experiment.
Tracy: Well, that's how you referred to it.
Ed: I produce a little comb honey, and boy, it's a great seller. Marilyn sells these four-inch by four-inch squares for I believe, and I don't know what they weigh, I believe it's $25. That's a lot of money for not very much honey, but well, you sacrifice a lot of honey when you produce comb. Because instead of giving them all comb that they can easily fill up, they have to make the comb and I just haven't exactly figured out how to do it. I think I had made mistakes. What you got to do is cram a lot of bees into one super.
I believe that I have made some mistakes in the way I've done that. I've had really pathetic success producing comb and I'm not giving up because I think it's a neat thing to do, you don't have to mess with the extracting and it's in high demand. Next year will be my third attempt.
Kim: Those four by four pieces, Ed, is that a ross round?
Ed: No, that's, excuse me, that's cut comb.
Kim: All right. That's a good price for cut comb. You're right, there's more work but there's a lot more money to be made with that. Who were we talking to Jeff was doing ross rounds and doing well with selling comb honey?
Jeff: That was Kim Carpenter, but they sell ross rounds. I don't know if there was someone else who we-
Kim: They were selling them and doing well.
Tracy: When I've done it, I have removed all the brood, left all the bees, crammed them all down on a good honey flow and then, even though I've already extracted the honey, I feed them honey water on top of the shallow, super full of that, super-thin foundation. I found that that worked pretty well by leaving them clean, and in that by removing all the brood I've added 10 frames of kept honey or open nectar, so the bees have to move all that stuff up for a queen to lay and they're bringing down the water and the honey water to build out the comb fast. I found that worked really well. I was just curious how you're doing it.
Ed: I'm using the Jean Kilian system, which is basically you take three hives, and you turn them into two hives. You move them in such a way that the bees that are creating the third hive, which is half of the other hives, that that comb is the original place. Theoretically, you're putting the majority of your bees into a single deep super. I made some strategic areas, I think, in how I did that.
Tracy: Are you doing that as queen right or is that queenless?
Ed: No, I'm installing a queen, installing a new queen.
Tracy: There's no brood to take care of new queen and then they're producing-
Ed: No, there is brood and I'm going through that brood and removing queen cells before I install.
Tracy: Thank you.
Kim: Both Jean Killian and Richard Taylor have good books on making comb honey that are still available someplace. I see it every once in a while, and they both were good at making comb honey, their techniques worked quite well.
Tracy: Thank you, Ed.
Jeff: I will open it up just for real quick here. If any of you want to ask the other a question about what they've heard.
Ed: I have one and that is, are you guys experiencing what I am in hearing from other beekeepers that varroa is not such a problem this year.
Tracy: I'm involved out in my area and a number of different clubs and it just depends upon to whom one speaks. The people that monitor definitely have a better idea than the people that say, "I don't see any mites", but then a lot of those that say I don't see any mites tend to have to buy packages in the spring because their bees died. I monitor monthly and my mite counts were pretty low and many of the other beekeepers that I know that monitor, they said that theirs had been pretty low.
Tracy: I know in my area, like I mentioned in August, I had to treat with Formic Pro because I had a varroa bomb and I know it wasn't from my colonies, I know they had either be robbing or some other people's colonies during that period to bring in all those mites. I can't really say for sure whether the whole area is low. I know those folks that monitor also have a tendency to treat when they need to.
Mark: There's a lot of management stuff, where your hands on, hands-off. Some of the guys I've talked to here locally, I know who's into their bees and who's not, but the people who pay a lot of attention to their bees have pretty good numbers, and the ones that are more hobbyist, are the ones that are suffering. Our biggest problem this year, in my opinion here was small hive bees. I've had a terrible year with small hive bees.
Tracy: Now I know you're not chemical, you don't use any chemicals. Do you do anything to try to control those?
Mark: No. Full sun and try to keep all my colonies-
Tracy: Strong colonies.
Mark: Yes, and match the size of the colony to the size of the box. I don't give them too much room.
Jeff: You don't put traps in or anything like that.
Ed: I thankfully don't know what a small hive bee looks like.
Tracy: Lucky you.
Jeff: I'm like Ed. I have to Google it to see what it actually looks like.
Kim: You got the murder hornet out there, Jeff.
Jeff: They just eradicated another colony, too.
Tracy: Where there's one there's 10.
Jeff: They're farther up north. They're Canadian Asian giant hornets. Alright, guys. It's been great having you back on the show. It's always been a good show for our listeners and what you bring to the show and the experiences that you have are fun to hear. Thank you.
Mark: Thank you.
Kim: We appreciate your being here.
Tracy: Thank you very much for having us. It's always a great pleasure.
Ed: Thank you, Jeff and Kim.
Jeff: You bet. We'll have you back in the spring and we'll hear how your winter went and what you're making preps for the summer.
Tracy: All right, thank you.
Jeff: It's great having those guys back on. I'm sorry, we didn't have Paul on the show. Look forward to having him back, but those guys, there's a lot of experience sitting there in that virtual Zoom room wasn't there?
Kim: Not only experience, but a lot of different perspectives on how you run a business or not run a business, and Mark's chemical-free? Treatment free? Chemical free, I guess you'd say, seems to be working well for him and overtime, I'm kind of jealous.
Jeff: I found it interesting to think back on our earlier shows with him and he was still trying to iron out some bugs on top in terms of his treatment, chemical-free, and he talked about that and he was having problems with row and he was thinking he's getting some encroachment from neighbors or something, but it was fun to hear him state that this season was successful and as low overall account. That's pretty fun.
Kim: It can be done. Patience and perseverance.
Jeff: And a little bit of time. I think a lot of times that's what chemicals allow us to do, is a lot more with less time at it. Whether that's good or bad, I'm not saying, but that's what those running through the yard doing 20-second OAV's with a vaporizer per hive is a lot quicker than sitting there and making sure you're doing all management practices and splits like Mark's doing.
Kim: It's a trade-off. There's no doubt. Like you said, it was good hearing these guys. I talk to Tracy on a regular basis. I talk to Ed once in a while, we work together this year on his book and Mark's on social media a lot, so I see and hear a lot from him. If any of you are interested in what he's doing, tune him in on Facebook.
Jeff: Mark has an Instagram account too, so all of those are available in our show notes and on the guest profiles.
Kim: I think that about wraps us up.
Jeff: Yes, it does. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple podcast or wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find this even quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you'd 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 sponsor, Global Patties. Check them out at www.globalpatties.com. We also want to thank Strong Microbials for the support of the podcast. Check out their probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com. We want to thank Better Bee for joining us as a supporter. Check out their full line of beekeeping supplies at www.betterbee.com.
Finally, and really most importantly, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on the show. Feel free to send us questions and comments to questions at beekeepingtodaypodcast.com. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else, Kim?
Kim: I think that about wraps it up, Jeff.
Jeff: All right. Thank you. Thanks, everybody.
I am the owner of Flatwoods Bee Farm in Locust, NC, USA. We have been keeping bees since 2010. In 2014, we changed to a chemical-free operation and have been since. Our bees are our own survivor stock. We sell honey and nucs.
Sideline beekeeper. Columnist, Bee Culture magazine "Bottom Board" column since 2002. Author, A Beekeeper's Life, Tales from the Bottom Board. (https://www.amazon.com/Beekeepers-Life-Tales-Bottom-Board/dp/1912271885)
Actuarial tables indicate I should be retired, but I continue to be obsessed with Apis Mellifera. I live in western Colorado with the gal Marilyn, the blue heeler Pepper, 15 chickens, three geese, four lambs and way too many bees.
Tracy Alarcon currently lives in Diamond, OH and took up beekeeping in 2006 after his wife, Tina, got involved with the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. After reading everything he could get his hands on about beekeeping he took a Beginners course at the A.I. Root company in Medina, OH where the class was taught by Kim Flottum, and the rest is history, as the saying goes.
That first year he started with two packages in the Spring which turned into seven colonies going into that first Winter. As luck would have it three of those colonies survived that first Winter. He has sold queens and Nucs and managed up to 100 of his own colonies at one time. Currently he manages 21 colonies and would like to get it down to 10 or so, but he still likes raising queens so the number never seems to go down!
Tracy got involved in three of his local beekeeping associations doing whatever was needed and is still writing a newsletter for his home county, Portage, where he currently serves as the President. He also served for 5 years with the Ohio State Beekeepers Association and while there help craft the OSBA Master Beekeeper program and compiled the Best Management Practices that were adopted by the Board of Directors in 2012.
Tracy teaches beginners, queen rearing, seasonal management, and... beekeeping. Tracy served as the Portage County Apiary Inspector, (OH), for 7 years. He also is a recently certified EAS Master Beekeeper class of 2021!
Tracy lives with his wife, Tina, and their 5 dogs on 25+ acres in Northeastern OH. When not tending the bees or the gardens they enjoy life with nature.