Bee Buzz Box June 2020 – Bushfarms online: A veritable Beekeeper’s goldmine

Club group learning pre-Covid at building for the honey flow workshop September 2019

Jenny Robinson

The Bee Buzz Box June edition is written by the club’s Librarian, Jenny Robinson. Her ongoing interest in beekeeping has provided many opportunities for conversations with me about past Bee Buzz Box articles. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Jenny for her contribution. Alan Wade

In my relatively short time as a beekeeper, I have learnt significant aspects of beekeeping from the likes of Alan Wade and Frank Derwent. Their articles have provided me with ‘gold nuggets’ and ‘gemstones’ that have helped guide my emerging practice. Next month, I will gladly hand my mining tools, oops writing Tools , back to them for the next newsletter.

In this article, Bushfarms online: A veritable Beekeeper’s goldmine, I reflect on the social nature and generosity of members in our club and recognise the isolation I’ve experienced during this COVID Lockdown. This time in quarantine has led me away from group beekeeping activities to distant learning, beyond our club lectures and hands-on apiary teamwork.

Recently, while searching the Internet for beekeeping advice, a tremendous resource was found, not slick or professional looking, somewhat amateur, yet laden with solid references. The Bushfarms website is developed and maintained by Michael Bush based in Nebraska, Midwest United States on a small farm not far from Kansas (see a photo of Michael Bush and his ‘small’ farmhouse built in 1895 below). As well as keeping bees, he runs training courses (weeklong beekeeping camps), and is an author and speaker. Some of his books you may know, The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally, (2011), The Practical Beekeeper Volumes 1, 11, and 111: Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced, (2011) and more recently, The Practical Queen Breeder, (2020). Reading his bio, on the podcast channel Honey Love, Michael Bush is described as “one of the leading proponents of treatment free beekeeping”, as evidenced with his experiments with Varroa, which has enabled him to grow his apiary into healthy colonies of up to 200 hives. Natural and practical systems through decades of experimentation, adjustments and simplification from the mid 1970’s are hallmarks of his work. Bush incorporates bee forum participant questions and concerns into his books and is known for his natural beekeeping techniques and seen as an authoritative source on sustainable beekeeping without chemical treatments.

A large brick building with grass in front of a house

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In the case of the Bushfarms website, the old adage, you can’t judge a book by its cover, is very relevant. As mentioned above, this website has that amateur look and upon inspection, Michael Bush has beekeeping credibility, particularly in the field of natural bee keeping. The website covers other areas not applicable to beekeeping, and as such I focus our attention on the beekeeping section. I will discuss some aspects of the website and that we think will be useful to the ACT context and make the point that the order in which I do so is neither in any special order, nor do we intend to review the entire beekeeping section. Our purpose is to introduce readers to the website in the hope that individual inquiry will find areas of interest.

Michael Bush sells his books on this website in a range of electronic file formats such as Kindle and pdf. Hard copies are available through online sellers. He does have a passion for ancient texts, and these are available to people who attend his boot camps regardless of the books age or fragility. His generosity must be testament to his commitment to sharing resources to grow sustaining beekeeping communities. Below is an image of one of his bookshelves in his house that participants access, you can see a number of ancient books on there and I believe some of the classic serve from the middle to late 1800s, real collector items. If you look closely at the photo you can see a couple of older additions that we have in our library such as The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture by A I Root, E R Root.

Michael Bush’s website has a link to his YouTube Channel. He has 1.38k subscribers listed and four short videos (4 – 19 minutes long).  They reflect his laid-back manner and knowledge and are easy to listen to. The Russian Scion: Swarm Catching uses a swarm lure attached to a tall wooden tripod. All four videos are quite informative, depending on your experience and interest, I think it’s worth viewing these.

There are numerous sections in Bush’s website, make the time to sift through, and you are bound to find some gold. One such page is all about foundationless frames and top-bars (see photo below). He argues that this method is very effective as a natural Varroa control and speaks from experience and success against the Varroa infestation. He claims that chemicals – common miticides and pesticides – commonly used in America against Varroa, reduce the longevity and health in their queens.

Primary Comb On Blank Starter Strip

Bush goes into the ins and outs of how to make the original Langstroth frames, photo above. He explains the benefits of foundationless frames:

In my experience, and many others who have tried it as well, the bees build their own comb much more quickly than they build on foundation. Using foundation sets them back in many ways. First they draw foundation more slowly. Second, the foundation is all contaminated with fluvalinate and coumaphos. Third, unless you’re using small cell foundation, you’re giving them cells that are larger than they want and giving the advantage to the Varroa. In the earlier G.M. Doolittle quote he makes it clear he believes there is no advantage in this regard to using foundation.

For more detail see his website, look for the tab Foundationless Beekeeping.

Digressing to recent Varroa research by Biologist Randy Oliver and his parallel push for breeding and the beekeeping alliance paying for queens with Varroa-tolerant traits.  He too does not use miticides and claims this is giving bees viruses a free run. According to Alan Wade, Oliver also makes some salient points about the problems of maintaining Varroa-tolerant lines — traits not terribly heritable so many failures — and his constant culling of susceptible colonies. That also links us into Thomas Seeley’s theories on ‘snap back’ of wild honeybees after initial decimation of bees when Varroa first arrived and their subsequent quick evolving to tolerant strains that allowed wild populations to return to their pre-COVID sorry pre-mite, pre-virus colony numbers. 

Michaels Bush’s website has a few main headings, and many others under these overarching hivelike structures: Main page (books, getting involves methods and announcements); Beekeeping equipment; Beekeeping information; Bee pests; Queens; Philosophy; Other links. If you’re into making things he has a lot of dimensions and particulars about how to make nucleus and observation hives and much more. He also quotes famous text so it’s not just practical stuff, it seems to be well founded in his research and reflective of the longstanding mentors that we all refer to. Due to time and space I think my last section is highlighting snippets.

Some amazing headings to round off this article:

  • Bush’s current count of bee mites are at least 751 species of mites that live on bees, not all parasites of honeybees.
  • Bee Glossary BPMS = Bee Parasitic Mite Syndrome, CW = Conventional Wisdom and NWC = New World Carniolans
  • Beekeeping fallacies Explained such as consider myths of beekeeping: Drones are bad, If you want the bees to stop building drone comb, stop taking it away from them; Queen cells are bad and the beekeeper should destroy queen cells, the queen is probably about to fail, or she’s already failed or died; and more.
  • Classic Books on Beekeeping Gems listed and some chapters available to read online.

In conclusion, I do recommend Michael Bush’s website to you and hope that you explore the intext hyperlinks. On reflection, this online learning environment has provided me with a wealth of information, I do miss the social nature and generosity of our Association club members and look forward to more opportunities for cooperative learning.

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