Beekeeping Questions

Hi Farmer Ben, This is Michael, a student of yours from the Edible Schoolyard. I have recently gotten into bee keeping (I have four “top-bar” hives) and I am doing my 8th Grade “I-Search” research project on bees. Here are some questions I have for you:


M: How did you get into keeping bees?

FB: My dad has been keeping bees since the 1960’s. I was sucked in to beekeeping as a kid. I’ve been helping him manage our bees since I was a kid. I wasn’t that interested in it until I was out of college and back in CA, working at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley.

M: How successful was your first hive?

FB: I didn’t keep my own hives until I lived in Berkeley in my mid twenties. I was very successful at hiving swarms and ended up giving many of my hives to my dad or selling them to others interested in starting to keep bees. I didn’t keep those bees for more than a year or two, but I would say they were very successful.

M: Why  do you use Langstroth hives?

FB: We use Langstroth hives because they are easy to move around, easy to manage and control, and most importantly, it’s easy to extract honey from them mechanically (we use a twenty-frame electric extractor).

M: What breed of bee do you have and why?

FB: We have a lot of wild bees in our colonies’ gene pool so it’s difficult to know which breed of Apis mellifera they are. When we buy queens (which we do occasionally), we normally buy Russian Carniolan because they are very tough and disease-resistant.

M: have you ever had a mess up? and what did you do to fix it?

FB: We mess up all the time, primarily because we are managing a lot of hives (30-40). Often we don’t get to our hives to add material soon enough and they swarm. Also, sometimes we don’t get to our hives to take material off soon enough in the Fall and they become weak and sick. Also, sometimes when we are “hiving” a swarm, we don’t capture the queen or she dies in transit and we lose the colony. Last summer I caught the edge of a tractor implement on a hive stand and flipped the hive upside-down. That was a serious mess up! I guess you have to live and learn.

M: With all the other bee keepers out there is it hard to sell your honey?

FB: No. We have to make sure we don’t sell it too fast and run out before extracting again to get more. Our honey is primarily Black Sage honey and is highly sought after.

M: Are your bees affected by the people in the surrounding area using pesticides?

FB: Not as far as we are aware. We are in Big Sur and are pretty isolated from other peoples homes or agricultural areas.

M: Does colony collapse disorder effect you?

FB: Maybe. We aren’t totally sure. CCD is very hard to identify. We have definitely observed dead colonies with very few bees left inside. This is one of the tell tale signs of CCD…

M: Do mites and pests affect your hive(s)?

FB: Yes, we have been struggling with Varroa mites since the early 1990’s. We lost all of our hives except for 1 in 1992 due to Varroa infestation.

M:  Do you wear a suit?

FB: Yes. You don’t have to if you open your colonies regularly and they are accustomed to you. We often don’t check on our hives for a few weeks to a few months at a time and need to make sure we are protected. I have been stung enough times already 🙂 I even put duct tape on my sleeves and pant cuffs to keep the bees out!

M:  Is there one plant type (lavender,clover,nut trees, fruit trees) the majority of your bees pollinate?

FB: Our bees feed primarily on the CA Black Sage, Salvia mellifera or “honey sage” this time of year, but they feed on many different species throughout the year. We grow citrus, berries, apples, pears and stone fruit on our farm and the bees are very helpful with pollination.

M:  Do you see think the area around you is more plant rich because of the pollination?

FB: I’m not sure. As a non-native, invasive species, honey bees compete aggressively with native pollinators. If honey bees were not around, there would be more native pollinators and those species would probably do just as good of a job at pollinating the native plants.

M: do you know any neighbors that dislike the fact that you keep bees and why (if not why do they like it)?

FB: Not really. Most people like our honey and are far enough away from our farm to not be bothered by them. They like the honey and many of them use it for building immunity to local allergens.

M: Do you use anything to help your hive (chemicals, foods, antibiotics…)?

FB: We are using an organic approved miticide right now called Formic acid – naturally found in ants, which repels the Varroa mites. We also feed our hives sugar water and botanical essences during the colder, shorter days of the year (October-March) to build they immunity to diseases.

M: If you could start over would you do something differently?

FB: I think beekeeping is problematic because it involves encouraging an invasive, exotic species, which I have been trained think of as negative.  I’d like to learn more about encouraging native pollinators in agriculture.  Maybe I’d only have a couple hives of honey bees instead of 30+.

M: Do the stings affect you as much as they did before?

FB: I have been stung hundreds of times throughout my life, but I actually had my first allergic reaction to bee stings last Summer. Since then, I have had very little reaction to stings.

M: What do you think the main factors in the decrease of bees is result of?

FB: Monocultural agriculture, transporting bees over long distances, feeding them corn and soy products that are not their natural foods. When bees have balanced, diversified diets (i.e. lots of different species’ flowers to feed upon), then they don’t get sick as easily (just like us!).

M: How has bee keeping changed you as a person?

FB: I have become a community resource, an expert of sorts, with regard to understanding how pollinators (native and non-native) affect our environment and food sources. I have read voraciously on the topic and lead seasonal beekeeping workshops with my dad on our farm. Click here for more information.

M: How much honey do you eat a week?

FB: Not too much. I like it in the winter time in tea with lemon juice to fight off colds. I also like it on toast or goat cheese with figs 🙂 I probably only consume a tablespoon a week. I have eaten a lot of honey though! Especially when I was a kid. I don’t have allergies and I don’t get sick very often. Eating honey probably has something to do with that.

Best of luck on your project, Michael. I’m happy to help!
Farmer Ben


Posted on