This is my family’s second year living on 35 acres in MN. Last year, I helped build a chicken coop and raise 6 Dominique chickens from egg stage. We used no medications and fed only organic feed while letting our flock free range. Now my brother and I have 40+ birds that we can say have been raised in a sustainable way. Other than that, we totally reuse, reduce, and recycle on our land and use no chemicals.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
My goal was to raise a colony of bees, learn as much about beekeeping as possible, and produce natural honey in the end. I was also interested in how pollination could help gardens and orchards.
In beginning my project, I did a lot of online research. I quickly found many sources for beekeeping, but few of them were chemical free methods. Eventually, I was able to find an online group through Yahoo called “organicbeekeepers.” This group was a huge help. Through it, I found tons of advice and answers to all of my questions. I also found a book called Natural Beekeeping that was helpful. I chose my supply source and ordered my equipment. In the end, I found Mann Lake to be my choice of equipment suppliers. They are fast and helpful; always willing to answer questions and offer advice. I also found a source for bees in my area. I am very lucky to have bees delivered just 15 miles from my home. In the beginning, I ordered a Nuk, but could see immediately that was not a good choice. In doing that, I had to put old, used frames into my clean hive. I had no idea what was on those frames before I got them. A Nuk is an easy way to hive bees, but I learned quickly that it is not the best method for a beekeeper wishing to practice sustainable methods. As I write this, I have begun a new hive this year with a package of bees. It was not hard to shake them into my hive and put the queen in. I wish I would have done that the first time. After hiving my original Nuk, the weather turned into rain and humidity in my area and it stayed that way all summer. My bees did not do well. They were located in a low area and that area was too wet. As I write this, my package hive is located in a higher, dry area on the edge of a wooded area – next to an orchard and garden area. That hive is doing much better than the Nuk hive.
The man I got the bees from, came by to help me one day. I was concerned with how my bees were doing and he offered to help. His only solution was to dump terramycin into my hive. This is an antibiotic commonly used by beekeepers. I learned through my reading that traces of it are found in honey on the grocery store shelves. I also learned through bee sites and several YouTube teaching clips, plus other beekeepers in the area the following: Terramycin is rarely used according to manufacturer’s instructions. It is common practice for a beekeeper to insert terramycin into the hive upon hiving the bees; believing that it will “prevent” any disease problems. Beekeepers will use terramycin in their hives and tell you that their hives are chemical free hives.
I had two choices when receiving help for my hives. I could either turn down the terramycin and my project would be finished or I could take the only help available to me at that time and use the remainder of my project time to just learn about my colony. I decided on the second option knowing that I would not use any of the honey that may be produced from that hive. I decided that at least I would have my hive to learn from and did not use the chemicals again.
The summer went on to be a tough summer for beekeepers in the area. It was a very rainy, wet summer. I did not talk to anyone (beekeeper) who had a productive season. I learned a lot from my first year of beekeeping even though my season was not productive as well.
People who helped my were my parents; Andy Koimann, a fellow beekeeper; the Organic Beekeepers group; and the University of MN Entomology Beekeeping Lab. The most helpful people were the U of M Lab people and the Organic Beekeepers Yahoo group.
The results of my project were not what I expected, but very educational. I have continued in my project because, even though I made mistakes and have done things differently the second time around, I learned a lot through my mistakes and experiencing working with bees and other beekeepers first hand.
To recap the things that worked well:
-Order from Mann Lake
-Education found at Organic Beekeepers Yahoo group and University of MN Bee Lab and Natural Beekeeping Book
-Location of hive must be a dry area not affected by heavy rains
-Follow U of M 3 hive deep box method to avoid problems like disease and build a healthier hive
-Use package bees only to begin with not a Nuk
-Use no medications or chemicals in hive
-Feed bees steadily through June and longer if heavily rainy season
-Plan on a two year start period before harvesting honey for personal use
The biggest and most important thing I learned was that sustainable practices take patience. It means going back to natural methods that often take more time. The process is slower, but the end results are greater. For animals, it means slower growth with healthier meat and eggs as the end result. For beekeeping it is the same. The hive growth is slower because I will let my colonies build up strong, giving them an extra hive deep body and allowing the bees to use their own honey for the first year. My end result of harvesting the honey will have to wait but the end result will be healthier honey sources for food. With all of the chemicals and GMO sources that my bees will find on their own, some pesticide will inevitably end up in my hives. My responsibility is to make sure I do not add any more.
Two of my biggest methods of sharing my project were to start a blog and use what I learned for a 4-H project. My 4-H project went to the state fair and earned the highest ribbon award there. 4-H does not always promote sustainable practices. Many projects are funded by the corn growers and soybean growers and they do not push for natural methods. Animals are required to have many vaccinations and “preventative” medications are pushed. I was proud to bring my project to the fair and prove that there are natural ways of agriculture. I also spoke at SARE in Missouri. Not a lot of people came to my talk, but those who were there were interested and shocked by the information I shared. All honey is not healthy.
I had a good positive experience, except for my original final report getting lost. Everyone I worked with was helpful, kind, and I was honored to receive my grant. It was a great gift to me.
My brother, Josh, also got a grant for his turkey project but, by the time all of the approvals went through, it was too late for him to order his poults. He wanted to work with Heritage breeds and they needed a longer growth time before processing than was allowed by the time all of the approvals went through. It would have been expensive for him to process later and he would have missed Thanksgiving business. So, maybe working on that approval process for animals would be helpful. He did not get to do his project.