I recently attended a beekeeping education session hosted by the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club. The speaker was Ellen Topitzhofer, the Oregon State University Crop Protection Agent. She first defined “management strategy” as the way a beekeeper approaches keeping their hives healthy and producing, as best as they can, through the actions they choose to take. She put extra emphasis on the concept of choice. As beekeepers, we have many different methods for getting our hives through the winter, treating for Varroa mites, feeding, keeping them ventilated, etc. Which option we choose is up to us.

Nearly 70 people attended Ellen Topitzhofer’s presentation!

How can we then make the best decisions possible to manage our hives? She discussed three main points that she has noticed separates good beekeepers from unsuccessful ones in decision making. I can’t agree more!

1. Think like a biologist – Biologists make decisions based on factual data, research, and practices that are proven effective. Therefore, a good beekeeper uses their resources to make good decisions. For example, connect with a mentor – someone who has been a successful beekeeper for more years than you. Or, do some research! Not sure what Varroa mite control options are proven most effective? Read articles (ones with large sample sizes from reliable sources) that note the efficacy of various treatment options.

2. Know your problems – The first step to a solution is actually recognizing what the issue is to begin with. Therefore, it is crucial for beekeepers to be able to recognize issues and take appropriate action if needed. Research the various diseases that affect honey bees and know what the symptoms look like.

3. Take responsibility of your hives – A good beekeeper takes thorough notes on their hives. Through doing this, you can look back at your notes to see patterns (When do your mite counts tend to be the highest? What time of year did the bees start to bring in nectar and pollen in your area? Do you see trends or problems with your over-wintering techniques?). Taking good notes allows you to see what is really going on with your colonies, take responsibility over those results, and act accordingly.

TVBC club members, guests, Ellen Topitzhofer, and Carolyn Breece with the Oregon State University Master Beekeeping Program

Beekeeping management strategies vary from person-to-person and region-to-region. What works in Georgia may not work here in the Northwest. What failed for your neighbor might be working great for you. The strategies for successful beekeeping in 1975 aren’t necessarily successful today. A good beekeeper finds their own management strategy based on experience, research, and good observation. Find yours and never stop learning.

Thanks Ellen and Carolyn for visiting Boise and sharing your experience with us!

Ellen Topitzhofer and Carolyn Breece from Oregon State University

Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!

  1. BoiseBeeMan says:

    Well, I find that Ms. Spafford posts very informative and accurate information to this blog, and I generally tend to agree with the preponderance of what she posts. However, this time she’s gone a little over the top and I must vehemently disagree.

    Melinda writes: “The strategies for successful beekeeping in 1975 aren’t necessarily successful today.” Balderdash! What’s she know about beekeeping back in 1975? Heck, her parents were not even out of grade school back then!

    Having purchased my first hives in 1973 and after taking college classes back in those days from the likes of Dr. Norman Gary and Dr. Harry Laidlaw, I can assure you she’s sugar coating it, and she is completely wrong. Ms. Stafford’s statement would be far more correct if she had stated: “The strategies for successful beekeeping in 1975 are simply not successful today.”

    Way back then, before tracheal mites, before Varroa, before Parasitic Mite Syndrome, back when Chalk Brood was an interesting oddity that requeening would cure, when European Foulbrood was a minor aggravation, when prophylactic treatments of sulphathiazole and Fumadil-B in the Fall were recommended procedures for keeping hives alive year-to-year, before “Fat Bees” filled with vitellogenin were a necessity, back when a going hive was $30, when pollination was bringing 10 bucks a hive, before pallets of bees and when California had plenty of bees to pollinate their almond crop each spring; beekeeping was truly a different world.

    The worst things we had to deal with back in those “good old days” were American Foulbrood, and bi-wings busy spewing carbamates and organophosphates at the drop of a hat. Fencelines were rife with honey producing weeds and honey crops north of 100 pounds per hive were the norm. Foundation was pure, unadulterated wax. Quite simply, beekeeping back then was no different than a Fairy Tale that we will only hear about. We’ll never experience that version of beekeeping again – only in our dreams.

    So, while I might quibble with one little, itsy-bitsy statement, the best advice I will offer to the aspiring beekeeper is: “Pay close attention to Ms. Spafford’s posts.” Beekeeping has changed and we need energetic, inquisitive young beekeepers just like Melinda to help explain the new realities of beekeeping and to help new beekeepers thrive in the “New World” of beekeeping today. Understanding and following the advice she offers in this blog will be crucial for anyone getting into beekeeping these days.

    Good luck to all out there. Pay attention to and follow Melinda’s advice and you will be able to thoroughly enjoy your beekeeping experience.

    • Teena Lewis says:

      Let me get one thing straight Mr BoiseBeeMan. In 1975, Ms Staffords parents were not only “out of grade school “, but given another year, were high school graduates. Out in world, traveling Europe, working full time as well as a home owner. So that’s right, we’re older than you think! Ooouch!
      Teena Lewis
      Ms Staffords mother

      • BoiseBeeMan says:

        Harharhar!!! Well, excuuuuuusssse me! When I first set eyes on you down at the Saturday Market, I could’ve sworn that that in 1975 you would have been a mere child. I stand corrected, not only for thinking that you’re 10 years younger than you claim, but also for botching the last name of your son-in-law.

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