Chehaw Bee Yard

SOWEGA Beekeepers Club

Team Beekeeping

New Beekeeping Program for SOWEGA Beekeepers

For years now, the SOWEGA Beekeepers Club in Albany has kept a bee yard. Like most clubs, we maintained the hives, held open hive days and produced some honey. As probably happens in most clubs, the task of maintaining the hives ended up on the shoulders of a dedicated few. It was not enjoyable for those few and the “newbies” were not learning anything from the club hives.

After our Bee School in March 2018, we split six hives into fifteen. That same weekend, a former member donated two large overstuffed hives which had to be split. We ended up with six more hives. Twenty one hives are way too many to be maintained for just “Show and Tell” so we acted on an idea we had been toying with since January.

TEAM BEEKEEPING For Beginner Beekeepers

The concept is to have a team of new or non-beekeepers be responsible for the maintenance of a set of hives. Experienced beekeepers from the club will act as advisers but the teams will make the management decisions. The goal of the program is to turn beginner beekeepers into good beekeepers by using a hands-on approach. Books and videos are good sources of instruction but the best learning is by doing. This endeavor is definitely going to be a learning experience for the program developers as we learn what works and what doesn't.

The current objectives are for participants to learn:

a proper hive inspection
identifying the three castes of honeybees
identifying the stages of brood
distinguishing between food and brood
identifying common pests and diseases and their treatments
estimating the strength of the hive
the importance of good record keeping
managing hives for honey production and colony increases.

Throughout the program, the team members will be asked to demonstrate the skills needed to do an effective hive inspection.

These will include but are not limited to:

lighting, maintaining and using a smoker
using a hive tool
correct frame removal technique
identifying capped brood - - worker, drone, queen cell
identifying open brood - - eggs, larvae (various ages)
identifying food stores - - pollen, nectar, capped honey
estimating population by counting frames of bees
identifying mites on bees and brood, perform a mite check (choice of method)
recognizing and testing for foul brood

At this time, we only have seven rules for the teams:

All teams are responsible for their own hives. Stay out of the other hives.
Record keeping is required.
The advisors roles are to keep the teams from failing. They will give advice and intervene only when necessary.
A minimum of one hive inspection per month is required. At least one hive per group will be mite tested.
Mite checks will be performed using one of the current approved methods: ether roll, alcohol wash or CO2.
Hives with a >2% mite load will be treated using legal Federal/State approved methods. High mite counts for one group may necessitate a mite treatment for the entire yard.
Other pests and diseases (small hive beetles, ants, brood diseases) shall be treated using Federal/State approved beekeeping pest control methods.

The plan is for this program to run from Bee School to Bee School. This will give the team members the opportunity to maintain the hives through an entire season. Upon completion of the program, the beekeeper should have the knowledge and skills needed to maintain and increase their own personal hives with confidence.

We are excited about starting this program and look forward to seeing how it evolves. We have seven hive stands with three hives each. We assigned six of them to teams and left one to be managed by the advisers. Hives on the advisers bench will be used for public demonstrations, supplying frames for observation hives used at schools and festival talks and as emergency resources in case one of the teams is in crisis. We met for the first time on Saturday March 31, 2018 to form teams and do the first inspections. It was an exciting day and the advisers were kept busy. Several participants had never been near live bees before. Since many of the hives were splits in the various stages of re-queening, frame swapping was allowed between teams this time so that everyone could start out essentially even. The team members will now decide on their workday schedules, management styles and their goals. We encouraged them to research different beekeeping practices and techniques. They will be permitted to try new methods as long as they are first approved by the advisers.

Our hopes are that the club can draw valuable information about which techniques work best for our area and compare equipment types. With good record keeping, we can compare results from the different teams. The program developers are in entirely new territory here. We have already learned some things that need changing to make things run smoother. One of those is: never have a bunch of beginners open twenty one hives up at the same time. We were lucky that the girls were in a good mood that day.