Michael Bush's beekeeping methods
So what does Michael Bush's
apiary look like? In some ways it's quite traditional --- he
mostly uses Langstroth hives and equipment from mainstream beekeeping
companies. However, he has made a few changes:
- His boxes are all 8 frame mediums.
Since the frames are all the same size, he can move honey and brood
around if necessary and can allow an unlimited brood nest. In
addition, the smaller boxes are about half the weight of a 10 frame
deep, which makes his life much easier. The only downside is cost
--- getting started requires nearly twice as much capital with Bush's
- He uses foundationless frames.
As I've said over and over, foundationless frames help reduce varroa
mite problems. In addition, you don't have the cost of buying
foundation, the time drain of installing it, and the problematic
chemicals that get carried into your hive from someone else's.
had a collapse after extracting honey from deep foundationless frames,
you won't have problems if you stick to mediums or if you cut and crush.
- He uses top entrances only.
Bush has plugged up his bottom entrances so that his bees go in and out
entrances in the top of the hive. Top entrances means he doesn't
need to worry about mowing around hives or about snow covering the
entrance in the winter. Mice are much less prone to sneak in a
top entrance, and he sees fewer problems from skunks and other pests
too. Finally, top entrances provide good ventilation and, when
combined with a layer of styrofoam on top of the hive, lead to little
- He doesn't treat hives.
Except in rare cases, Bush doesn't add any chemicals to the hive.
Even "organic" treatments like thymol
aren't generally on his agenda since these chemicals will kill
beneficial microorganisms in the hive.
- He breeds locally adapted queens.
Rather than buying new queens, Bush raises his own. But even with
these queens on hand, he doesn't requeen a hive unless absolutely
necessary --- for example, if the hive is failing while others are
thriving, or if the bees turn mean. Generally, his queens live to
be about three years old and then are naturally replaced by supersedure.
- He feeds only honey
(usually.) In general, Bush tries to ensure that his bees have
enough of their own honey to make it through the winter. If he
has to feed, he usually feeds honey, but will sometimes feed dry sugar
in a pinch.
- He doesn't scrape anything out
of the hive. Bush believes that the burr comb that is
sometimes built between boxes is good because it lets you check for
mites on drone pupae as you pull it apart, and the intact burr comb
gives bees a ladder to climb from box to box. He doesn't cut out
swarm cells, instead doing his best to prevent
swarms naturally, then splitting hives
to raise new queens if he misses the boat and swarm cells do
materialize. He also doesn't scrape off propolis, since he
believes this processed bee sap kills pathogenic bacteria and viruses
in the hive.
Michael Bush's goal is
two-pronged --- he wants to raise bees that don't need chemicals to
stay alive, and he wants his apiary to be as little work as
possible. Those sound like laudable permaculture ambitions to me.
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