In this episode, we talk with Steve Repasky about his book, Swarm Essentials, published by WicWas Press in 2014. Steve is in the middle of updating his book and we found him ready to talk about swarming in general, and what’s new in the world of...
In this episode, we talk with Steve Repasky about his book, Swarm Essentials, published by WicWas Press in 2014. Steve is in the middle of updating his book and we found him ready to talk about swarming in general, and what’s new in the world of swarms that he’s putting in his next edition.
Basically, the biology of swarms hasn’t changed much, although there seems to be an uptick in fall swarms in his part of the world. But what has changed is we now have a better understanding of honey bee biology. This helps the beekeeper make better hive management choices to help reduce the colony’s urge to swarm.
When a colony is in equilibrium, that is a laying queen, a healthy population, lots of nectar and pollen coming in and plenty of brood, life is good. However, change any of these suddenly and the equilibrium gets unbalanced and swarming can happen.
We talk with Steve about how nectar management is critical to reduce swarming. This is why Steve uses only a single deep for brood and lots of boxes for nectar. Making sure most of the bees are close together and there is lots of room for incoming nectar is paramount in controlling this most common problem with keeping bees.
Listen today. Swarming… what do you think?
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 manufactures 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 brew 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: Thanks, Sherry and thank you Global Patties. Everybody, each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support and we know you'd rather us get right to the beekeeping. However, our super great sponsors are critical to making all of this happen. From the hosting fees, the software, the hardware, the microphones, recorders, the subscriptions, whatever. Whatever it takes to enable each episode, they pay for. With that, thanks Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship for this podcast.
Bee Culture's been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today. We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms that sponsored this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine dedicated to protecting all pollinators. Learn more from our season two episode nine podcast with editor Kirsten Traynor, and from visiting www.2millionblossoms.com. That is with the number 2.
Also, check out the new 2 Million Blossoms podcast available from the 2 Million Blossom's website or from wherever you download and listen to your shows. Hey everybody, thanks for joining us. We're truly happy you're here. Hey, Kim, we're square in the middle of October. It feels good.
Kim :Yes, it does. It was 80 degrees yesterday. I still haven't figured out the weather this year and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to figure it but it was almost too warm to work bees. It was hot and I picked yesterday to harvest my honey, of course.
Jeff: Oh, wow. Already. Isn't that late for you for harvesting?
Kim: No. In terms of the golden ride is just finishing. Daisies are still going to the-- and there's still fall flowers out there and it's 80 degrees. There's bees flying all over the place. It was warm enough, and I had the time, and I went out and pulled-- The problem I had, if you want to call it a problem, is that I got one really good colony, that part Russian one and it did well this year, but the other two that I've got didn't do much at all. I took most of the honey that I would've harvested from the Russian and shared it with the other two colonies. I put a couple of boxes and that's all I got was a couple boxes.
Jeff: Well, that's what you're supposed to do, right? Sure.
Kim: Yes. I don't like feeding, I'd much rather give them honey.
Jeff: You use a blower, don't you?
Kim: I do now, yes. I use my leaf blower. I have an electric leaf blower that I can plug into the garage just down a little ways away. It's fast, it's easy, and it's clean.
Jeff: I'm thinking about next season switching to a blower. That'd be an awfully long extension cord to get it out to my bee yard. I'm thinking battery-powered but I'm not sure what size battery pack or what blowers are available that would be efficient for the job. Then I started thinking, "Well, that would be an interesting article. Do a what size-- how many cubic feet per minute blower do you need to be effective as a bee blower?"
Kim: Well, the one I've got is electric. It's way more powerful than I need. I can blow a hive over with it almost, but it was that company, I think it's called Ryobi. They have a battery-powered blower that is easy to handle and is more than strong enough to do the job. It's not as strong as mine so it's going to take you a little bit longer but not much. It's lighter weight and it's easier. I could harvest with one battery. I wouldn't need a second battery or a recharge.
Jeff: Interesting. Well, I'll definitely look into that. I'd like to move away from the fume boards, it's just--
Kim: Just as far as you can.
Jeff: Yes. I've used fume boards forever and I don't know why, I guess stuck in a rut. I will, I'm going to try something different next year. What else have you been up to, Kim?
Kim: Well, a couple of things came up just this week. There's a webpage out there called Porch. What they have is they have how-to on a whole bunch of subjects. They've got how to bend fences and all sorts of subjects. They cover how how-tos, how to do this. One of them is beekeeping. They contacted me a while ago to see if I'd be available to have them send me a question once in a while and they sent me one this time. The question that they sent me was, "What is robbing and how do you stop it?" I sent them in a paragraph or two and I explained how it gets started and what you can do to stop it before it gets out of hand.
Then, there's a magazine called Countryside Living. They do six issues a year and they have a beekeeping section every issue and they called me up and wanted to know some things about-- Actually, the author who's doing the article for them was looking at, what did you used to do that you're no longer doing? What aren't you telling people to do anymore because it's gone out of style, doesn't work, whatever? We talked about that for a while.
Jeff: Oh, interesting. Very good.
Kim: The other subject she wanted coverage, we're talking about climate change, what effect is that having? Depending on where you are, it's having essentially none or quite a bit. We discussed that for a while. Bloom dates are changing and those sorts of things, and of course the drought, permanent smoke in the west coast.
Jeff: Good. We'll have the links to your Porch right?
Kim: Right, Porch.
Jeff: I keep wanting to say patio, sorry, to the Porch article in our show notes. I encourage our listeners to go out and check out your article on robbing and how to stop it on the Porch newsletter. Just a quick reminder to our listeners, we do have transcripts for your reading enjoyment. If you hear something on the podcast and you're not quite sure what we said or the guest said, feel free to look at the transcript. It's just another resource that we are providing for you. Also encourage you to listen to Honey Bee Obscura with Kim and Jim, you guys are doing some great shows.
Kim: Yes, we have fun putting them together. I know we've got a few in the can already and I'm going to be honest, I've forgotten which ones you're sitting on that are ready to release. What do you got?
Jeff: This week, you came out with invasive plants, and the week that this show comes out will be on waxing and waning.
Kim: Oh, yes, that's right. On Thursday, waxing and raining, and that's about-- enthusiasm for beekeeping for some people never ebbs and it never stops, they're up all of the time but for some people it isn't, and if you've got a friend or you get into that mood and you're looking at all the work you got to do and you begin to lose enthusiasm, what can you do to get it back? Or what can you do to help somebody get it back? Or maybe you shouldn't get it back. If you don't like what you're doing, you can be spending time doing something else somewhere else. We just sat down, had a beer and talked about that.
Jeff: That'll be a good one and our listeners should check out Honey Bee Obscura. You can find the links in our show notes. Coming up we have Stephen Repasky, he's a beekeeper out near you out of the Pittsburgh area, on his book on honeybees and swarms.
Kim: He's an exterminator. He knows a lot about how to take care of insects one way or another, but his book on swarming was pretty good. He did that with Wicwas Press Larry Connor and he's got a lot of good advice in that book and he's going to talk about it today.
Jeff: Real good. It's a little early for swarming in October but every--
Kim: You'll be ready.
Jeff: Yes, you'll be ready and I'm always saying, "Well, I've got plenty of time to get ready for whatever and beekeeping." but then I realize all of a sudden that whenever is right tomorrow. Talking about swarming and swarm preparation and what it is, it's a good wintertime read. All right. Well, we'll be talking to Stephen here real quick but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.
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Jeff: While you're at the Strong Microbials site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, the regular newsletter full of beekeeping news and product updates. Hey everybody, we're glad you're here because sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now is master beekeeper and author Steve Repasky. Steve, welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast.
Stephen Repasky: Thank you for having me, Jeff. Good to see you guys.
Kim: Hey, Steve. It's been a long time. It's good to see you again.
Stephen: Likewise, Kim, it's been too long.
Kim: For those who don't know, Steve runs a business, a pest control of stinging insects called Bee Control, that's with two E's. Then his beekeeping operation is called Meadow Sweet Apiaries. Steve, over the years that I've known you, I've heard some pretty interesting stories about your stinging insect control, but I want to start with, you're also the author of Swarm Essentials by Larry Connor's Press. Can you tell us, has anything changed in swarm biology since you wrote that, and/or has anything changed in the people who are reading it?
Stephen: That's a great question, Kim. That book came out in 2014. It was published by Wicwas Press, Larry Connor, as you mentioned. You and I have done enough conferences together and have talked to various groups of beekeepers over the years. I think you've even quoted me in this in saying that there's an art and science to beekeeping. The science is the biology, we could teach that, but taking that science, taking that knowledge and applying it is the art of beekeeping. When it really boils down to honeybees in general, I think all three of us agree that the biology really doesn't change.
Certainly, we learn new things. Dr. Sammy has figured out that the varroa mite feeds on the fat bodies and not the hemolymph and things like that. From a swarm standpoint, there's a few things we still don't understand, like fall swarms. We're seeing a lot more here, and I'm sure you're seeing them in Ohio, and we're seeing them here in western Pennsylvania. That's a new aspect that we're still trying to wrap our heads around and figure out, but ultimately, the biology of swarming has stayed the same. The bees do what they do. They drive us nuts as beekeepers. We never have enough equipment on hand. They always land 60 feet in the air instead of 6 feet in the air.
That aspect hasn't changed, but from the beekeeper standpoint, I think that's where we're missing the boat, if you will, in a way that beekeepers want answers in black and white. They think of beekeeping as a yes and no type of a practice, if you will, but in reality, it's a very large gray area outside of the biology. With the popularity of social media, Facebook, and TikTok, and YouTube, and Instagram, and all these things that are out there, there's a lot of ways to muddy that water.
I think beekeepers are really struggling, the newer beekeepers especially, and by newer, I'm talking five, six years or less in beekeeping, are struggling to grasp the biology aspect of it and figure out how to apply that knowledge to the art of beekeeping, which is the management of their colonies within their own yard. We hear the phrase, beekeeping is local and it's often as local as your own yard.
I think that's where we're struggling, both as new beekeepers and as veteran beekeepers, to find ways to teach the newer beekeepers how to understand that beekeeping is not just black and white. There's a large expanse of art that needs to be applied in order to keep our bees alive, to minimize swarming, and manage them to be healthy and produce a great honey crop, which is what we all want.
Kim: You bring up a good point. I know in the newsletter you contribute to in Pennsylvania there, you've got a column, every issue that says, I think it's ask three beekeepers and get how many answers?
Stephen: It's ask two beekeepers and it shows a picture of three beekeepers that answer the questions, yes. That's a popular article. It goes back to that phrase, you ask three beekeepers a question, you get five different answers. We took a spin on it. It's called Ask Two Beekeepers. There's myself, one of the past presidents of the state association and one of our vice presidents, and we answer those questions as two beekeepers. Quite popular, and I've seen a couple other magazines who have taken that and made a spin on it as well into their own little thing, which is great. It makes a good point that there's not just one right answer.
Jeff: Hold that thought. Let's jump back a little bit and really talk about who you are and how did you get interested in bees. Then let's talk about swarms and define really what a swarm is, because when you say swarm, you're envisioning one thing, but I'm hearing and seeing something else. Let's get our definitions down, what is a swarm?
Stephen: Sure. We'll back up, a little bit about me. I'm actually a second-generation beekeeper. I grew up on a little 30-acre farm just east of Pittsburgh in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. My parents still live there and my dad kept bees and still keeps bees to this day. We have pictures of me at four years old in my dad's gear, with a smoker, and I would go out and I'd have to stand at a distance as he worked the bees. Beekeeping was different back then.
Growing up on the farm and having that exposure to nature, to wildlife, my interest grew. I ended up going to Penn State University. I got my degree in Wildlife Biology. I worked for the state of Pennsylvania as a wildlife biologist for about a decade. I always had an interest in bees and kept bees off and on over that time period, but as a high school student and college student, you have other things on your mind other than playing with stinging insects.
After I got out of college, that interest continued to grow. Financially, you're able to do more and more things as you become an adult and get real jobs and things along those lines. I became more and more involved in beekeeping. I wear a number of hats and have worn a number of hats in the past. I sat on the Board of Directors for the American Beekeeping Federation. I'm on the Advisory Board for the Penn State Center for Pollinator Research. I'm on the Advisory Board for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Apiary Advisory Board. I'm the current president of the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association. The list goes on and on. I've worn a lot of hats and continue to do so.
I think a lot of that just comes from the passion I have for not only just the outdoors, but as we grow older, we find that that passion becomes narrower with certain things, and stinging insects has been my forte. Not only from a honeybee standpoint, but from all the other "bees", the wasp, hornets, yellow jackets, things that I deal with.
That's where I am at now. I've gained a lot of experience, met a lot of people, have done a lot of talks all over the place, which is fantastic. I don't see it slowing down, I think much to the chagrin of my wife. She would like to see it slow down, but we just go, go, go, go. It seems like every night I'm on a Zoom meeting. That's where I came from and where I'm at, where I'm headed. I'm in my final term as the state president. Who knows, I've got to put some pressure on to get two more books out here in the next year and a half. I'll be working on those, which will be great.
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Jeff: That'll be cool. What are the subjects or topics of the books you're writing?
Stephen: We're looking at basically hives management in general, that whole application of the art and science of beekeeping. We're missing the art aspect of it. We're trying to get back to our roots and learn how to manage our bees, but all that passion got me into-- I met Larry Connor. I've always had a passion for swarms, I found them interesting, I found that dynamic very interesting.
Of course, you might have heard of this guy, Dr. Tom Seeley is around conferences here and there. I've had that chance to meet him several times early on in my career if you will, and read more of his work about swarms and how they select nesting sites and things like that. That really got my answers going and led to the creation of Swarm Essentials. As many books as there are out there on beekeeping, there's always only a chapter or half a chapter or a couple of paragraphs on swarming. Bees swarm, they abandon the tree, you catch them, you feed them and that's it.
The idea came about with myself and Dr. Connor to put forth a book. I brought the idea to him and he's like, "Great, put down an outline and bring it back to me." and that started it all. That took about two years to get put together and in 2014 it was published. It's still one of the best-selling books out there amongst his essential series. It really focuses somewhat on the biology, but more so on just understanding the dynamics of that biology. Not so much to say the bees grow, they expand, they swarm you catch them, but it really dives into the details about what swarming is and what the signs are that we should recognize as a beekeeper.
Jeff: I guess poses a good question, what is a swarm? I thought there's only two kinds of swarms, the one you caught and the one that got away.
Stephen: To start with, what is a swarm? The term, swarm can denote basically a large cluster of bees in the air. I see that in my pest control business that people call "I have a swarm of bees, I have a swarm of bees, there's a swarm in my house." They don't know what a swarm is. They just picture a swarm as that Disney movie with the bear that sticks his hand in the hornet's nest, actually, it's not a beehive, and they see those bees flying around.
From a beekeeping standpoint, swarming is a reproductive behavior. It's where the colony builds up with a lot of different influences to that process, to that swarming impulse which ultimately leads to the division of that colony from one large colony into two. I'll use the word genetically identical and then I'm sure I'll get hung up to dry by some of the other folks out there. They're not identical because their queen is a virgin queen and she has to mate with some drones that are out there, but ultimately, swarming is a genetic or a reproductive process of a colony dividing and spreading their genes throughout the landscape.
The colony grows, they divide in half, half that colony takes off, finds a new home, the queen gets mated and that colony now has established a subset of the genetics from their mother colony into this new colony and they continue to grow. That's what a swarm is. Then from there we get into the types of swarming, there's reproductive swarms, there's absconding swarms.
The two are very different, reproductive swarm leaves behind a queen that is laying, you have a colony that is in equilibrium of there's drones and workers and everybody's happy. An absconding swarm is no holds barred, nobody left behind, the whole colony picks up and takes off. That's usually as a result of a disruption from weather, somebody cutting down the tree, an infestation of high mite loads or potentially high small hive fetal loads where there's just such high test pressure, that colony just has to take off and leave it's home behind to find something that's new and refreshing.
Kim: I want to make sure I understand what you just said, Steve about the swarm that leaves. It was my understanding that the queen from the original colony leaves with a swarm and she's often very soon replaced.
Kim: You have a genetic change there, and then the mother colony has to produce several virgins of which one will mate and then lead the colony.
Stephen: Correct. What we could boil it down to is you have to think of a colony that's in equilibrium. A colony that's in equilibrium has a queen that's laying multiple virgins, numerous drones, everything is working as is. When you add in these pressures to create that swarm impulse which is an increase in nectar flow, increase in pollen, increase in brood production which causes congestion, all these things cause that impulse to start up.
When that impulse, that swarm impulse begins, they create numerous queens because the idea is to spread those genetics across the landscape. When you produce numerous queen cells, that throws off that colony equilibrium because now you have multiple queens technically instead of one. In order to get back to colony equilibrium, they have to get rid of these excess queens, if you will.
As you pointed out, the primary swarm that takes off is the swarm that leaves with the mother queen, the original mated queen. She takes off with roughly 50 to 70% of the colony to head up a new colony somewhere across the landscape. Anywhere from a half mile to several miles away. Back home at the parent colony, you have all these excess queen cells that are continuing to develop and the colony is still in that mode of trying to get back to colony equilibrium which is one queen.
In order to do that, a number of mechanisms can take place. One of which is the production of what we call secondary swarms, where additional bees will leave with one or more of the virgin queens that will emerge over a period of the next several days to a week. Now you have a secondary swarm that takes off and that can happen 2, 3, 4 times depending on how big the colony is, how big the cavity is that they're emerging from, how many bees are being produced by the previous queen or had been produced by the previous queen.
You've got secondary swarms that help relieve that pressure and get that to colony equilibrium. Then, within the parent colony itself, we have additional mechanisms that take place like queen on queen fighting. We always hear about virgin queens fighting with each other to the death, that can take place. We hear about balling of the queen where workers will form a tight little ball around these virgin queens and kill them because they are not a preferred queen compared to some of the other queens.
Then, you have the-- basically, we call siblicide, if you will, where a virgin queen emerges and she goes around piping and locates the sister queen that's still in the cell, chews a hole in that side cell, and kills her before she can emerge. All these dynamics are going on within the colony all at the same time and those are the types of things that we're talking about in my book, is recognizing these signs that as a beekeeper we open up a colony, we pull a frame and we see queen cells, oftentimes we're told just remove those queen cells.
If you cut those queen cells off you're going to stop that swarm, and in reality, we've already lost the swarm originally, now we're dealing with the side effects of this colony equilibrium.
My book goes into those types of details and explaining what you should be looking for as a beekeeper and how you might want to handle each type of situation differently. I always tell bee beekeepers, "Think before you act. Before you slice off those queen cells, check on this, this and this." I have a picture on my slideshow that I do of me looking up at a swarm with a pole pruner and no veil on and I say what happens if I cut off that swarm without putting my veil on? Those bees and going to land on my face. You need to think before you take action on a lot of these things that's what I go into in my book.
Jeff: Not that that's ever happened to you.
Jeff: That was just for a picture effect, right?
Kim: That brings up the question then, I don't want any of those things to happen in my hive. What kind of management techniques do I need to practice so that my bees don't even think about doing any of this?
Stephen: You say a keyword there Kim, that's management. We're not beekeepers anymore, we're bee managers. Back in the day, in the early '80s and early '90s, prior to this whole colony collapse, prior to the varroa mite showing up in 1987, we put supers on in April or May. We took them off in October, we caught a couple of swarms, and that was beekeeping, we didn't have all this to deal with. Now, we have to manage our colonies so what do we do to manage swarming?
I think one of the takeaway messages for all beekeepers should be that you are not going to stop swarming. It's just not going to happen, unless you continually manipulate your colonies and split them down and really take away the resources and slow them down. What do we do as beekeepers to minimize swarming or manage swarming? We have to get into our colonies. We have to recognize what certain things mean.
For instance, if I open up my colony in mid April and I see what we call plate cups or just queen cups on the cells, what does that mean? What stage of that swarm impulse are we in? Versus maybe three to four weeks later when I open up that colony and I see fully capped queen cells along the bottom of my frames, I should know or at least read the book and understand that if you see a capped queen cell, you've already lost your mother queen to the primary swarm, now we're dealing with the after-effects.
What do we do as beekeepers? Manage your colony. Well, what does that mean? That's a very open question and very open discussion because everybody's idea of management is different. Some people's idea of management is to let bees swarm naturally, do as they do, because it's a break in the brood cycle and we certainly want that break to contain or minimize the varroa mite issue. In urban settings, that's not a good thing because now we have swarms going into people's houses and people's yards and on cars and trains, planes, automobiles, and all these other places. That ends up into a social interface between beekeepers and non-beekeepers. We have to keep that in mind.
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Stephen: What do we do as beekeepers? You manage the colony as you see fit based on the needs of your own apiary, but also based on where you are located. An urban beekeeper might need to manage that colony a little bit more heavily in terms of making more splits and preventing those swarms or minimizing those swarms, than maybe somebody out in an urban area of Eastern Ohio where there's farms around and plenty of hollow trees and things along those lines.
Kim: Well, one of the things that I always understood about a colony that was heading towards a swarming event was that-- the two things that people always point at and correct me if I'm wrong, one of them is a colony simply runs out of room. There's three boxes on there, and you've got enough bees in there to fill up five. The other half of that equation is that you've got that many bees in there and one of the natural controls of the swarming impulse is the sense of all of the bees in the colony that they have a queen. There's queen substance being constantly produced.
When you get more and more bees, you're getting less queen substance per bee, and there's only so much queen substance to go around. When you essentially hit some critical minimum of queen substance to bee, the decision is made, the signal is sent, something happens, and the preparations for all of this activity begin. Am I closer?
Stephen: Yes/, you are. You actually bring up some very good points because that's what the books teach us. That congestion is one of the things that leads to swarming because we have three boxes with five boxes worth of bees, and there's all this nectar coming in and it's congestion, but there's more to it than just congestion. One of the things that I'm going to be writing about in my upcoming books here in the next year or two, is getting into the detail of understanding that actual aspect or that process is it's more than just congestion.
I look at it as nectar management. What are bees in general? They're hoarders. They just will bring as much nectar as they can, no matter how much space they have, if they have an open cell and the ability to fill it, they will fill it.
When it comes to swarming, oftentimes, that nectar management is not controlled by us because-- especially, in feral colonies, but even as beekeepers, we get lulled into a false sense of security with double deeps and three supers or whatever configuration we have, because we think, "Oh, they've got plenty of room in there." In reality, if we don't stay ahead of that nectar and actually manage the nectar more so than the bees, we do run into that congestion a lot more.
Congestion is one of those things but congestion is the result of increased pollen flow, increased nectar flow, and increased brood production by a very good queen. If we can manage those three things via the addition of extra boxes, with drawn comb. I talk about in the book, usable space versus unusable space.
One of the things that beekeepers often do when you see a crowded colony is they say, "Oh, put a super on it." Oftentimes that super is undrawn foundation. That's not usable space for the bees. If they go over that brink of congestion, they look at that empty super and say, "Yes, we're already looking at swarming. That extra space, it's not carpeted, there's no furniture. I can't do anything with it." Versus if we give them usable space, which is drawn comb, they now instantaneously have somewhere to put that nectar and we could actually minimize that swarming impulse.
As a side note or a sidetrack here, I run all my colonies as single brood chamber management. Single deeps. That's all I give them for brood, and oftentimes we get the question is, "Well, there's no way you could minimize swarming at that. You need lots of space for the brood." Mathematically, and Ian Steppler up in Manitoba and Devan Rawn in Ontario have done all the math on this.
Mathematically, a queen laying 1500 eggs a day will never utilize every single cell in that single 8 or 10-frame deep. The question becomes, "Well, where do they put the nectar and pollen?" That's where the addition of supers comes on. I actually increase my honey yields using single brood chambers, and minimize my swarming impulse by giving them lots of usable space and I still maintain a large production of brood in that single brood chamber.
There's a lot that we could tease out of this and discuss for four podcasts if we wanted to. It's more of an out the nectar management than it is the bee management when it comes to swarming control.
Jeff: That's interesting.
Kim: As you were going through that, the biology, that makes perfect sense, I think, in terms of population, space and how-to, I like that term nectar management, I like that. That takes some of the onus off from the rest of the actions you-- Well, your business deals with stinging insects, honeybees being one of them, and that's all that you deal with is just stinging insects?
Stephen: Just stinging insects. Yes. We handle all the stinging insects, whether they're bumblebees, honeybees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, no murder hornets yet, hopefully. Yes, we handle all of those types of insects. Being in an urban environment, you're going to get those calls. Even as beekeepers, in the spring we get calls about the swarms and this time of year, how many calls do we get about bees living in the siding or bees living in the eaves of the roof and 99% of them are not bees, but they're yellow jackets.
I always get the raised eyebrow look when people ask me what I do. They're like, "Oh, you're beekeeper, is that your full-time job?" No, that's my full-time hobby. My full-time job which pays for my hobby is the pest control industry. They always look at you, "Well, how can you be a beekeeper and you have to deal with them as well?" A good friend of mine, he always teases me. He says, "If you can't keep them, kill them." In reference to, if you can't keep the yellow jackets, get rid of them, but we can't deal with the honeybees.
It actually puts me in a unique position amongst pest control operators because I have the experience and knowledge to deal with honeybees in a proper way, in an experienced and knowledgeable way, but I also can handle all of the other stinging insects that go along with it.
Kim: Well, I'm glad there's somebody out there that can do that. Too often beekeepers get that call and because of the people who find that big gray paper nest hanging in that branch of the tree, that they didn't see all summer because of the leaves. Suddenly it's there and "Well, it's bees, I got to call, what's his name, he's a beekeeper." As a beekeeper, you get that call and you go, "I don't know how to do that." If you don't know how, you're smart not to take it under yourself doing it, am I right?
Stephen: Oh, absolutely. It goes both ways too. We have to educate the non-beekeeping public because people watch Winnie the Pooh, Disney. That gray papery nest that the bear goes into, we all know it's not a bee nest, yet it's pushed as that way, I guess if you could say, but we also have a lot of people that know that bees are in trouble. We've heard the phrase save the bees time and time again. I get a number of people say, "I know bees are in trouble. I've got honeybees living in the railroad tie wall along my driveway. I've got a honeybee nest hanging from the tree, the limb, that's been there for--"
We have two things going. We have a societal fear of stinging insects, and we've pushed bees out into the media so much, all the people here are bees, bees, bees, but they all don't know the difference that there's what? 5,000 species of bees in the United States, 400 here in Pennsylvania, that's not even touching the wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets. From my standpoint, I use that as an educational tool to inform the non-beekeeping public that yes, you're dealing with the mean bees. They're yellow jackets, they're wasps, and this is the difference.
You get a few people that want to argue with you, but the nice thing is that we get beekeepers that are willing to go on those types of calls and say, "Okay, let me come check it out." and they go and they realize it is a hornets nest, not a swarm of bees hanging from that limb. Then, they can get people like myself involved, that have the capability of handling both situations in that case. I've shown up to yellow jacket calls that were honeybees, and I've shown up to honeybee calls that were yellow jackets. I can handle both. I just change my hats.
Jeff: We're sitting in the fall winter time transition period, and many beekeepers have put their bees to bed for the season, and looking forward to next year. If you were to make a recommendation for a beekeeper, how they can start to manage their swarm next spring and prepare for that, what would be your one recommendation? What's the biggest bang for the buck?
Stephen: Swarm Essentials, pick up that copy. That's your biggest bang for the buck.
Jeff: All right. What's your second option? Read it. All right. What's your third one?
Stephen: To be honest with you, that is a start, in all honesty.
Stephen: It's education. Understanding what you're getting into. Recognizing the signs before you actually see them, so that you're not going back and saying-- This is one of my pet peeves too. I see on social media, somebody gets on and says, "I went into my hives today and I saw this and I did this, this, and this, was that right?" Well, you already did it so at this point, you either did it right or you did it wrong. It's too late, we have to fix it.
I always encourage beekeepers to be informed and educated, and understand what they might be going into. That means making sure you have extra equipment drawn comb, if you can. Many beekeepers and it's finally catching on, setting out swarm traps, bait hives, getting that type of stuff out there, being ready for it so that you're not caught flat-footed when that first swarm occurs in your apiary, and even beekeepers that buy packages.
They're told that, "Oh, you have packages, don't worry. Just make sure you feed, feed, feed and you just need to get them through the winter." but there's been packages that you get in early April and they're swarming at the end of June because you're feed, feed, feeding and now what? Or you get the call that, "I have a swarm of bees in my tree, I know they're not mine. My colony looks okay, but I haven't been in it for a month." It's that whole education of he--
It takes you back to management and that's why I'm working on this other book. It really goes back to understanding the art of beekeeping. The biology has been written time and time again in books over and over again in just different ways of saying things, but it's the same biology. It's understanding how to apply that to your management and understanding what you're seeing, that's going to make you successful.
When it comes to swarms, extra equipment, ropes, ladders, cardboard boxes, duct tape, pruners, having the tools that when a swarm does happen, you could at least capture it and then go back and figure out, "Okay, was it yours? Which hive did it come from? How do I get back to that colony equilibrium which is going to give me a healthy colony moving forward?"
Jeff: That's really good. The education is really important and I know we've touched on it a little bit earlier, where do you go to get your education? All beekeepers are constantly learning or they should be.
Stephen: Absolutely. I continually go back to books. I'm looking here off the inside side of my office, I've got four or five shelves of books. I see behind Kim there, we have books because the books are written generally by people in the know, that have been around, have experienced, and do it. I also will go to university webpages or university YouTube videos, people that have the knowledge, the science, and the backing to give you the correct information, rather than somebody that's kept bees for one year and they're putting out a YouTube channel.
I always go to books and yes, I've written a book. There's other people that have written books on swarming as well. I get them all because I may not be able to eloquently say one thing, but Kim, might be able to say it a little bit better in his books. You can't go wrong with books and beekeepers are two things, we're notoriously cheap and impatient. They don't want to buy the books because it costs 50 bucks or 30 bucks, but it's a source that I could go into my house. I could pick up the book and read it and go to that chapter and say, "Okay, that's what I thought. There it is. It's black and white. It's written by Tom Seeley, can't go wrong there."
Certainly, YouTube and social media has its positive aspects to it, but I jokingly say I go on there to raise my blood pressure because oftentimes it just aggravates me some of the answers that are out there. You have people that are putting information out there more to get the number of views and the number of clicks, than they are to actually educate people.
I always tell people when I do my talks, which beekeeper are you going to believe? The one that has 10,000 posts on a forum or the one that spends 10,000 hours in his beehives? Those are two different things. I'm a book guy. I really push people to pick up books when they can.
Jeff: I will add to your list is knowledgeable beekeeping podcasts. There's us and there's-- Well, there's us and-
Stephen: There's you guys, yes.
Jeff: -and Honey Bee Obscura.
Stephen: You're right, and podcasts, and yours is one of them. There's a handful of podcasts out there that are very good and I always forget about stuff like that because going my summer months, my Bee CultureMagazines, I'm a year and a half behind right now because they just stack up every month until winter, and then I try to get caught up from the year before, and then they stack up again.
Stephen: Wait, Steve, I don't want to be a spoiler here, but if you're a year and a half behind, Kim Flottum's no longer the editor Bee Culture.
Stephen: That I did know.
Jeff: You've got that coming up.
Stephen: That would've been a shock to my system had I not known that, but yes, even podcasts, I catch up during the fall and winter, because during the summer months I've got two phones to my ears nonstop, but you're right. There are podcasts out there that are really making a very good effort to bring people on, that are educated, that are knowledgeable, and that are really the shakers and movers of the bee industry.
I don't think I'm a shaker and the mover of the industry, but certainly, I'm one that's--, I'm a published author. I've traveled around the country speaking on a particular subject and if that gives the motivation to other beekeepers to want to pick up a book to learn, whether it's about swarms or whether it's about making splits, then we've done our job. The same thing with the podcast. If somebody listens to a podcast and says, "Hey, I heard this guy talk about single brood chambers." Hey, if that motivates them to read up on something, then I think we're doing our job.
Jeff: That was a self-serving plug for the podcast, but the point being is that you want to be selective of where you grab your information and from a knowledgeable source, and we always push and always partial to the educational universities, their information sites, Honey Bee Health Coalition, Bee Informed Partnership, those vetted, trusted sources.
Stephen: Absolutely. We have a new one coming back online too. Kim, you probably remember the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Education Consortium, MAAREC. Dr. Debbie Delaney out of Delaware, and Dr. Robyn Underwood out of Penn state are reconvening that. That's going to be another great source of educational material from a number of states and a number of universities in the Mid-Atlantic coast, which is going to be fantastic.
Kim: I think one of the things that we suggest if you're looking for information on the web is look for .edu or .gov. You start there anyway. Steve, we're running out of time. We've talked about 800 things and-
Stephen: Just touched the surface of all of them. I enjoyed the information on swarming. It was both something new and something that reinforced what I already knew. I would love to sit and listen to some of-- You must have some incredible stories about pulling bees out of buildings, but we will get you next time when your next book comes out. We'll get you next time and do this again.
Stephen: I'm looking forward to it. Jeff: All right. Well, thanks a lot, Steve. We'll talk to you soon.
Stephen: Thanks, Jeff. Thanks, Kim. Good speaking with you guys.
Kim: Take care. Bye.
Jeff: It's early to start thinking about swarming, but what Steve had to say is-- I'm already thinking about swarming and how I can manage it next season.
Kim: Yes, getting them on this time of year, late fall, actually gives you time to go and get the book and get it under control before suddenly, somebody gives you a call and says you've got bees hanging in the trees. If you do it right before it starts, you won't have that call.
Jeff: Even managing and planning out your equipment. The point about just throwing on a box of empty or fresh foundation isn't going to do the trick. If you're sitting here in the wintertime and you have nothing to do, you can go sort through some of your boxes and start pulling together your polled foundation and polled frames and start putting them in the box, so that when the time comes, you can put those on top of a hive and prevent perhaps.
Kim: The old boy scout motto: be prepared.
Jeff: As much as possible. 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 or wherever you download or stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast, know what you like. You can get there directly on 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. www.globalpatties.com. We want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of the podcast. Check out their cool probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com. We want to thank Betterbee and all their great products for being our sponsor at www.betterbee.com.
Finally and most importantly truly, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions and comments at email@example.com. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else, Kim?
Kim: I think that wraps it up. I got to go look for some drawn comb.
Jeff: [laughs] All right. You take care.
[00:52:29] [END OF AUDIO]
EAS CERTIFIED MASTER BEEKEEPER, AUTHOR AND CONSULTANT
A second-generation beekeeper, Stephen Repasky is a nationally recognized speaker, author and consultant from Pittsburgh, PA. He is a certified Master Beekeeper through the Eastern Apicultural Society and is the current President of the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association, past president and co-founder of Burgh Bees, and a past member of the Board of Directors for the American Beekeeping Federation. He is also an active member of the PA Queen Bee Improvement Project and is a member of the Penn State Center for Pollinator Research Advisory Board and the Pennsylvania State Apiary Advisory Board. Stephen manages approximately 200 colonies (mostly as single brood chambers) in western Pennsylvania and is involved in honey production, queen rearing and the selling of nucleus hives each spring and summer to those interested in starting or expanding their own beekeeping adventure!
He also manages the apiary program at Pittsburgh International Airport where there are nearly 100 colonies used in honey production, research studies and queen production. Pittsburgh International is home to the largest apiary program in the country located entirely on airport property.
Stephen had his first book published by Wicwas Press in 2014 entitled " Swarm Essentials" and can be found teaching beekeeping classes and workshops in the Pittsburgh area and presenting lectures on a variety of beekeeping topics at local clubs and many regional and national conferences around the United States.
As Stephen became more involved with honey bees in the Pittsburgh area and beyond, the number of colonies also grew and the need for a formal name arose. Meadow Sweet Apiaries was established as the popularity of his bees, honey, removal services and educational services grew.
Stephen has been involved with bees since the age of four when he would help his father tend to the honey bee colonies on their small farm in western Pennsylvania. After a brief hiatus and graduating from The Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science, Stephen began keeping bees again, this time on his own. His first year was a rough start. New pests such as the varroa mite were present now that were not present in his childhood years. The first few colonies were swarms that he caught in July- unfortunately those bees did not survive the winter. The next year, with an earlier start and several more swarms, Stephen's beekeeping career took off. Those few colonies have since turned into over 200 colonies of honey producing hives, a queen rearing operation and the selling of nucleus hives each summer to those interested in starting or expanding their own beekeeping operation.
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