MYTHS AND MISSTATEMENTS ABOUT LONGBOXES AND TOPBARS
It is very easy to start intense conflict and I am not interested in causing the chaos that follows, not to mention the needless stress that accompanies such insanity. In the 1800’s such conflicts went on in the published responses from one beekeeper to another, particularly with individuals of some status in the bee world. When one beekeeper is humiliated or sliced and diced by another, no one wins. At the very best a monentary illusion of superiority may be felt. I will attempt to look at the situations or statements with all the objectivity that is humanly possible, although I doubt that it is possible for the following reasons:
Our childhood programming is often not as good as we would like. We humanoids usually spend more time than we want attempting to resolve those unresolved childhood issues which we were implanted in us by our perceived observations when we were younger. If we perceive that we have been attacked, more than likely we will respond with an attack, and on and on it goes. It is somewhat like “monkey see, monkey do” syndrome. This attack scenario is always bleak.
The problem that I have is how do I confront or respond to an untrue statement or incomplete statement. Many people believe those statements when beginning in beekeeping or when beginning anything. Much of what I learned about bees back in the seventies, I later found to be wrong. The people that told me those incorrect facts were the same facts that they had been told by another sincere misinformed being. If a person has observed that same fact to be true over a long period of time, there is some strong credence to that being a fact–maybe–since everything in life is a “maybe”. Another observation is that we teach what we want to learn. Since we beekeepers want to learn more about beekeeping, we can’t wait to tell another person what we have learned. This repetition holds the facts in our brain a little better than before. Those with “long time experience” with bees have a better chance of getting the facts right (maybe).
It never ceases to amaze me how words can be sculpted to create an illusion of truth when the opposite is true. Just look at the politics of today. Could the real problem be that “we the people” don’t see through what the politicians are really saying by looking at who they have around them? We need a lot more transparency. IF I never want to make another mistake, the best thing that I can do is to find out what 90% of the population would do and do just the opposite. There must be a better way of interacting between people, even in today’s beekeeping. Communication, of course, between people is the most important factor in our existence.
A legitimate question to me or to anyone is which statements deal with my beliefs and which deal with statements about experiences that I have observed over a long period of time. And yet TRUTH IS NOT DEPENDENT ON BELIEF. In many cases it is better for me to neither believe nor disbelieve – only observe. Perception is always a choice based on my belief at that moment in time no matter how weak my belief. When the rubber finally hits the road, no amount of evidence will convince anyone, if they do not want the truth. The deeper we get into what the “words” really mean, the more complex ideas can become because the same word can mean something different to someone else or the fact that the word is not the reality and the true meaning can only be experienced. We could think of words as being the third hand experience. The first is by the person seeing the object. The second being the word that person chooses to communicate what the object is like. The third being how the person hearing the word interprets that particular word.
It all comes down to that same old question. Does the truth in the word reflect what is or what I want to see? There is a point within me that the choice becomes difficult. Most likely none of us really truly know what we are talking about. The miracle is that we can communicate at all. Fortunately, there are many ways of communicating other than words such as body language, facial expressions, etc.
As stated in my last book, “In order to know or understand anything we must know all of the past, present and future. Our intellect can tell us this as the intuitive part of us whispers ‘all knowledge is ours for the asking.’ The reality in all of our lives is that ‘we get everything we ask for exactly as we have asked for it.’” As shocking as these statements are when I first heard them, there is a definite ring of truth that I have come to accept. This means that I am 100% responsible for all that I experience, which to me is another shocker. (The word blame is not use here because we are not to blame but we are 100% responsible for the perception of what we see around us. It is my perception that determines my degree of joy or happiness. If I am not experiencing the joys of life, it could be that I am choosing to perceive a lesser good.) What I see is not only my reflection but my projection onto “whatever.” If I want to save my sanity and not go on the attack, then I am the one who must look for the good that come to me in that situation and focus on that. My problem with the above is that I will most often have to focus or give a consistent effort over a very long time to get the correct results. Most of us humanoids lack focus and are easily distracted. I don’t like any of the above statements any more than you do. I want it all NOW and I do not want to wait. Finally, here are my comments, which are offered in the hope that a peaceful resolution can be made by all.
“TOPBARS ARE NOT GOOD IN NORTHERN COLD CLIMATES.” THIS IS FALSE. Cold climates require a deep hive with deep combs for honey storage. If DEEP topbar hives are not present, the problem is management or hive design, not topbars. I have been experiencing honey bees since 1974. In removing bees from every cavity imaginable, it certainly appears to me that bees will adjust to a very wide range of conditions. They will utilize any size space, and any type of frame, topbar, or hybrid. Management skills and knowledge are what is in question, not the topbars. Mr. O. O. Poppleton used frames in his long box with straight sides. The Kenya Hive uses sloping sides. However, none of this matters, as the key factor is the depth of the hive. I have used topbars and frames grouped together or interspersed or in different boxes. Depth of the hive determines how well the bees survive, assuming an adequate amount of honey is in the hive. With adequate honey, the bees will not starve or freeze any more than either a deep long box or Langstroth hive. Overwintering is not a problem with deep hives. In northern Iowa Mr. Poppleton had snow completely covering 115 long box hives for 151 days. Only six hives died and the rest remained strong. Obviously, his hives were deep enough.
“TOPBAR HIVES HAVE A LOWER HONEY PRODUCTION BECAUSE OF INCREASED SWARMING AND HAVING TO BUY NEW HONEY BEES IN THE SPRING AFTER THE WINTER KILL.” Swarming will happen to anyone who has kept bees long enough, and yes, we are all going to make mistakes and a lot of them. It could even be the weather. I didn’t kill my bees until I had read many books and thought I knew what I was doing. A monumental reason why our bees die is that we have the wrong bee for our area. If you are a cold climate beekeeper and you buy warm climate bees, I can only hope that you would know the outcome. The best bees that you can buy are those bees home grown in your own specific area with a queen and her own entourage of HER bees. Her home bees know her scent and a foreign queen is sometimes killed. (As far as home grown anything, we are better off. Every dollar that we spend locally is circulated eight times before it moves out of the state into the hands of the big boys). Swarming can indicate an overcrowded condition in any hive without space to grow or Mother Nature just happens to be in her reproductive cycle). This is a management problem and has nothing to do with a topbar or frame. Here also, our perception of swarming needs some major alteration. Organic beekeepers know that swarming is a good thing and not a bad thing in that the stronger bees will survive. When the weak die off, as painful as that is to accept, a better bee for us emerges.
As far as honey production is concerned, Mr. Doolittle, an icon in the 1800’s, harvested 566 pounds of honey from one hive similar to Mr. Poppleton’s long box. For more about this you will have to read my recently published well-documented book which you can order through my website www. Beebustersinc.com
“BEES PREFER TO MOVE UP VERTICALLY AND NOT DOWNWARD OR SIDEWAYS.” This false statement I have heard for over 20 plus years, and this statement is not acceptable. Look at the Warre’ hive. The Frenchman Warre’ studied over 350 hives and concluded that the Warre’ hive was the best of his day. (This sounds somewhat egotistical but he was a beekeeper and that counts.) The brood is placed on top of several empty boxes. The bees fill the bottom boxes up with honey and the honey is removed from the bottom, not the top. The bees will utilize whatever space they are given and that includes sideways. Anyone that gets honey out of houses knows this.
“MORE DRONES ARE PRODUCED IN A TOPBAR HIVE AND THIS IS CONSIDERED BAD.”
The one thing I have observed over the years is that “Mother Nature” knows what she is doing and I do not. If you think you do, stay away from me. Mutual frustration with each otheris the only thing we can share. There are many unintended consequences in our efforts that we have not thought out. (I do much better when I give up all expectations and cherished outcomes and only make observations mainly inside me and the bees in front of me. In that way I am not focusing on the differences that separate.)
We might ask ourselves “why aren’t our queens’ laying habits not lasting as long as they did a number of years ago?” Maybe there are fewer drones in the air. The mite problem associated with drone brood probably comes from a number of combining factors. Hopefully some beekeeper or researcher will stumble upon the solution. Drones are good because Mother Nature made it that way. You might remember the very old TV commercial, that stated “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” She would then zap you with lightening.
“TOPBARS REQUIRE MORE MANAGEMENT BECAUSE OF AGGRAVATING SWARMS BEING DUMPED ON THE TERRIFIED PUBLIC.” What can I say, ignorance is rampant and chaos rules through fear. In all my years of beekeeping, I have never seen an aggravated swarm, even when I have dropped the swarm or have done something stupid like spray the swarm with pesticides. This is not the bees’ fault but my misguided management.
Obviously getting a deeper hive with more space so the bees do not feel they must swarm as is done with Langstroth hives will help reduce swarming. Any hive has a better chance of doing better if you know what is going on by checking your hive once a month, even in the Langstroth hive. I do have a life other than beekeeping and this does interfere with my practicing what I preach. Some of my hives do well in spite of my neglect and mistakes. My preparation for the upcoming season is often not what I had intended, and I am the one who is responsible for that. However, there are most likely other unseen factors that I am not aware of. All of that sounds like a typical beekeeper to me. Frankly I am of the belief that the healed mind does not plan or organize. All of society says that is the only way to travel in life–and ten years ago I would have agreed but not now. Today I will receive and not plan and today I will give and not organize and life is much better. Enough on that. Let’s look at the terrified public.
If the public is terrified, that means we beekeepers have not been educating the public – not to mention the media, which may be a lost cause a far as providing an avenue for transparency in government, etc. As with any situation involving fear, the only thing that removes this fear is that knowledge of experience which each individual must go after himself. Fear is that self-inflicted creation that we have chosen to experience. We can always choose again. If we choose not to, that is our own choice and is our own private hell.
If a beekeeper does not have enough equipment to go after swarms, a plastic storage box costing about 6 or 7 dollars can be an excellent emergency hive. Support rods through the sides for the topbars or frames are easily installed. The colony can be transferred much later when you have more time or equipment. It is not perfect but neither is anything else.
“TOPBAR OPERATION REQUIRES MORE KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE THAN LANGSTROTH HIVES.” — FALSE
More American beekeepers work with Langstroth hives than long boxes. For that reason alone, I would suggest that a new beekeeper apprentice with a Langstroth hive owner, unless a long box mentor is available. The bottom line is that you are to learn all that you can, from anyone you can. One system is not harder than another, just different. There are many ways of managing honey bees. With anything new there is always some sort of fear of making mistakes. Keep in mind that if you are not making mistakes (learning experiences), you are not doing anything. Any way that you cut it, life will always be one mistake after another. That knowledge coming from experience is the only thing that removes that self- inflicted creation called “fear”.
“TOPBAR HIVES HAVE MORE PROBLEMS WITH BURR / CROSSCUT COMB THAN STANDARD HIVES.” — FALSE
Yes, some comb will attach itself to a hive side on some occasions. Big deal, this argument is another mole hill made into a mountain.
“TOPBAR HIVES CAN COST AS MUCH AS $500.00 DOLLARS.” – THIS IS OVERWHELMINGLY FALSE. However, if you would like to pay me one million dollars for a bee hive, I will grab the money and run. Many of these topbar hives can be made from scrap wood costing less than five dollars if you are willing to do just a little work.
“LONGBOXES MAKE IT HARD TO FEED THE BEES WHEN THEY NEED IT.” –AGAIN FALSE
With any nuc or swarm, feeding is a must. There are a number of methods of feeding bees in the longbox, depending of the type of longbox. However, if you are into organic beekeeping, honey is what you are to feed your bees. Honeycomb in a container that fits into available space will allow the bees to consume what is needed. Also a pop bottle feeder works when a feeder hole is drilled into the hive top. Also, if you are into table sugar dumped in the bottom of the hive or in a feeder tray over the frames inside the box, the bees will consume what they need. Other methods of feeding may even be better than these, like a frame of honey placed in the appropriate place in the hive.
“TOPBARS ARE AN UNNECESSARY COMPLICATION.” – FALSE. Perception is everything and is always a choice. Personally I like topbars because of the simplicity of making them and the cost is as low as it can get. There are a number of different types of topbars as well as different types of beehives, all depending on what the beekeeper wants. Very few people are aware of this and need to “question more” and make their own observations.