Monday, November 30, 2015

Getting started with beekeeping - Erik and Kelly from Root Simple

Over the past few weeks I've been running a series of interviews with other bloggers about getting started with beekeeping (see the list at the end for the other posts).  I have learnt so much from these posts, not just practical ideas but an insight into the philosophy behind different styles of beekeeping.

This week I am lucky to have an interview with Erik and Kelly from Root Simple.  These two have an excellent blog and podcast (and two books about homesteading).   I really love listening to their podcast, which occasionally features bees and lots of other homesteading topics.  They live in suburban Los Angeles, with a similar climate to me, but with neighbours to complicate things.  Here's what they had to say about beekeeping:

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Farmer Liz: How long have you been keeping bees? What got you interested in bees originally? And how many hives to you have now?

Root Simple: We've kept bees since 2009. There were a number of reasons we got into it: love of nature, desire for pollination services and research for our second book, Making It. We've always kept two hives. I think that's a good number for an urban location. It's not too many but if you lose one you've got a backup.


Bees feeding on a poppy flower


FL: What challenges have you faced with keeping bees in an urban environment? And how have you overcome these?

RS: There have been surprisingly few challenges. I do think it's important to practice an extra level of caution given how close we live to our neighbors here. I'm a natural beekeeper and don't do a lot of inspections. When I do an inspection I do it on a nice sunny day in the middle of the day during business hours when most people our at work. If I'm doing a cutout (removing bees from a wall, for instance), I make sure that people have there pets locked up. That said, I've never had anything go wrong.

FL: While I inherently understand and agree with the concept of natural bee keeping and not inspecting hives more than necessary, I also feel that I am keeping my bees in a climate that they are not necessarily suited to, and with pests that challenge them. How do you balance natural bee keeping and the need to care for and protect the bees from pests?

RS: "Natural" beekeeping can mean many things. I define it as keeping bees without treatment and letting them form their own comb. I use regular Langstroth boxes but you can also go with top bar hives. I just don't use foundation and I keep inspections to a minimum--basically I just make sure they have enough room.

I think the question of whether to intervene or not is a difficult one. You have to follow your instincts and your heart. When a pest like small hive beetles come around it can sound kind of harsh to not resort to treatments. I think you should consider environmental conditions such as keeping things clean around your hives and placing them in a more sunny location, perhaps. But ultimately, when we keep bees, we are involved in a breeding program and I think it's a mistake to prop up weak colonies. Eventually bees breed resistance to pests. Strong colonies will resist intruders and pests. This is why I like feral bees--they have been living here for who knows how long without people taking care of them. They take care of themselves. I just have to give them a home and get out of their way. 


Feral bees living in a wall of a house


FL: Being in Southern California, you have a similar climate to me here in Queensland, Australia, where we don’t get a really cold winter. Most bee books I’ve found are written by people in cold climates, with very cold winters, from your experience have you had to adapt any of those cold climate beekeeping techniques to suit a warmer climate? Or have you found resources that deal with warmer climates?

RS: We've had to figure out a completely different method of beekeeping than is in the books. Timing of honey harvests is different and bees will swarm here year round. In addition we're in Africanized bee territory. Despite the propaganda, I've found Africanized bees to be healthier and not nearly as aggressive as the "experts" say they are. The Africanized issue has been very polarizing and contentious in the bee community.

FL: Is there anything that you’ve learnt so far that you wish you’d known right from the start?
When in doubt don't do anything. The bees know what is best for themselves. Oftentimes the best thing to do is to do nothing.

(That sounds very "One Straw Revolution"!)


Rehoming bees from a wall

FL: What advice would you give to readers who are considering getting bees?

RS: Find a natural beekeeper or natural beekeeping group in your are if there is one. The best way to learn beekeeping is hands-on. Learning to do cutouts and swarm captures has taught me a lot about how to work with bees.

FL: Thank you so much Erik and Kelly for taking the time to answer my questions, I need to get more confidence with just letting the bees do their own thing.  I am really interested in trying frames without foundation.  If you want to know more, head over to Root Simple, especially their bee posts, there is a lot of information about natural beekeeping and also native pollinators.  And if you're into podcasts, I encourage you to listen to the Root Simple Podcast, its my favourite.


Getting started with beekeeping
Getting started with beekeeping - Leigh from 5 Acres and a Dream

Getting started with beekeeping - Sally from Jembella Farm

Getting started with beekeeping - Vickie from Making our Sustainable Life

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Getting started with growing vegetables








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