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Mike Bodamer from USA
"Knowledge is our key to ensuring that we do not mess up our fuzzy little friends"
"Knowledge is our key to ensuring that we do not mess up our fuzzy little friends”, confesses Mike.
He is one of our amazing contributors who has agreed to share his story with us and we, as a community, are better off having him here to teach and impart his beekeeping knowledge. Keep reading our interview to discover beekeeping practices coming straight from Pennsylvania, USA!
1.Where are you from?
I am located in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania, USA.
2. What do you love most about being a beekeeper?
My favorite thing about being a beekeeper is learning from the bees. They have existed for millennia without man interfering with them. We do what WE think is best for them but if we take the time to see how they react to our interference we can learn a great deal on how to truly help them without hindering them.
3. What advice would you give to beekeepers who are beginners? Please share some beekeeping tricks that would help them.
My advice to new beekeepers is to have fun. I am an IT professional by trade and when I started, I wanted a manual. I wanted to know exactly when to do what. In the beginning I was stressed out in the hobby because I always found myself 3 steps behind the bees. Once I let go of the notion that I have to inspect on this date/time, feed this date/time, treat this date/time, then I began to fully enjoy beekeeping. Sure, I missed opportunities where I should have made a split and a colony swarmed, but that also taught me lessons along the way. Again, it goes back to learning from your bees. Look for the signs that they provide.
My biggest tips for new beekeepers are: #1) Join a local club. The wealth of knowledge provided is crucial for new keepers. Also, you will get LOCAL knowledge for your area. Internet resources are great for general knowledge but you need the local insight to truly apply the theories you learn. #2) Find a mentor. This goes hand in hand with joining a local club. Finding a local mentor that you can visit their apiary or if they are willing to come to yours, it is a game changer. Often times new keepers will start off with one colony. It is very difficult to gauge what is normal and what is a problem until it is too late. Having the ability to call someone up and ask specific questions related to your situation and to have them come and look or for you to go and see their colonies and see the differences between a strong and weak colony really helps to grow you as a new keeper.
#3) Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Like I said before there is no manual. Learn as much as you can from as many different keepers as you can and form your own style. Just because your mentor uses a certain treatment doesn’t mean you need to. If you saw someone using polystyrene hives and you want to try it, go for it. The reality is, bees will die. We do the best we can to give them the best shot at surviving; we will have good and bad years. Learn from your mistakes and adjust your keeping style over time.
But since I was curious as a child, I thought: I will easily tear her head off, but I certainly will not be able to put it back in place! Something was telling me that there was more to come in this event! I decided that it was impossible for the queen to die from the slight pressure.
I carefully placed the queen at the bottom of the hive where the bees surrounded her and started licking her. And the miracle happened. After a few minutes the queen moved. I closed the hive and proceeded to the next marking.
4. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges of being a beekeeper in your country or area? (harsh climate, bee decline etc.)
Currently I feel the biggest challenge for beekeeping in my area is simply the lack of knowledge. There have been many studies in this area about various aspects of beekeeping. They all seem to come to the same conclusion, sometimes the bees thrive and sometimes they don't. I have seen studies about mites going to wipe out all the bees, and also know of some very large apiaries (400+ colonies) that are treatment free and they are successful. I have seen studies regarding what you feed, using homemade sugar syrup versus commercially available products like ProSweet and in the end the study showed that the bees adapted and some colonies thrived on both methods. It makes me cringe when I hear people say that this one thing will kill the bees, or that one method will cause decline. There are so many challenges with beekeeping and it is such a regionally specific hobby. I feel that the bulk of the problems is keepers that do not educate themselves enough about their local variables and try apply methods to their colonies universally that they have learned from possibly someone in another state or country. Knowledge is our key to ensuring that we do not mess up our fuzzy little friends.
5. What are your beekeeping plans for the future?
Over the years I have tried to refine my personal keeping style. I have tried treatments of all kinds (chemical and organic) and treatment free and I have also gone through various hardware such as conventional wooden, polystyrene and plastic hives. Started off as a conventional double deep Langstroth colony and experimenting with single deep brood chambers with queen excluders. So, my plan is to continue to refine my style until I dial in the method that I feel works best for me. As I do so I have doubled my colony count each year and plan to get to my target count of around 100 colonies.
6. How did you find out about Apiary Book?
I found out about Apiary Book while searching for an easier way to manage my colonies. Beekeeping can be a very detail-oriented hobby and if you wish to keep accurate records it could be very challenging.
7. Why did start using Apiary Book and how has it helped you?
I started to use Apiary Book so that I could properly document what was going on with my colonies. I initially learned the method of placing a brick on the top of your colony and turning it to various positions to signify if the colony was queenright or if it had issues. I quickly became overwhelmed with the process and forgetting to turn the brick for certain scenarios and not knowing what the true status of my colonies were. Having a clear accurate record of what’s going on is very helpful.
8. Would you recommend the app to other beekeepers and why?
Apiary Book is truly a great addition to anyone's beekeeping toolkit. It allows you to easily keep accurate records and reflect on them to make long term decisions regarding your colony health.
9. Has Apiary Book improved your beekeeping experience?
My beekeeping experience improved greatly while using the App because it allowed me to focus on collecting the data and just storing it away in the App. I didn’t need to remember from one inspection to the next what I had done. As my apiary grew, I got confused easily which colony might have swarmed or gone queenless. The app really helps to keep all of that straight.
10. Please share with us a personal beekeeping story.
My third-year beekeeping was an exciting time. I felt like I was just starting to truly grasp what was going on and I was really starting to enjoy the hobby more and more. After having a few years under my belt I was helping others. A friend of mine had a colony that was a little nasty and the wanted me to come inspect with them and try to offer some advice. Up to this point I have always inspected my own hives with my dog present, she follows me everywhere and I never had an issue. She keeps her distance and respects the bees. On this occasion my friend has a large farm so I brought my dog along and she was wandering around the farm and I was walking toward the hive with my jacket and veil in my hand. I usually keep bees in shorts. Before I came within 30 yards of the hive, I started to get stung so I rushed to put my jacket and veil on. Within seconds I heard yelping and saw my dog was completely covered in bees. She was 30-40 yards away from the hive as well. I called for her to come to me and she sprinted over with a cloud of bees in tow. In the end I had gotten stung 47 times and she had gotten stung so many times we couldn’t even count. It caused her body to go into shock and she was rushed to the vet and thankfully recovered. That was a defining moment in my beekeeping journey. Up to this point I never had fear of bees. Would this change my outlook? Would this make me manage the bees differently, would I decide to give it up in fear of getting hurt or hurting my dog? I took this incident as a great learning experience. My dog fully recovered and still keeps bees with me, maybe keeping a bit more distance than she used to. There was always a respect for the bees, but this incident solidified it. It made me more aware of the signs from the colony and I now approach them as soon as they are within eyesight already evaluating what I am walking into. What started off as a scary situation has made me a better beekeeper.
11. Do you know of any funding options available for beekeepers in your country? How does the government incentivize beekeepers?
I do not know of any government funds in my area for beekeeping.
12. You are a member of a local Beekeeping Association. Tell us more about your work with the Association, interesting projects or initiatives you might have done.
I am an active member of the Lehigh Valley Beekeepers Association serving on the executive board and volunteering as the newsletter editor and also on the club’s apiary committee. Our club holds a once annual “Intro to Beekeeping” class which is 8 weeks of instruction from veteran beekeepers. Each year we train between 75-100 new keepers. Monthly meetings are held in which we engage in usually an hour-long presentation from various speakers and then Q&A sessions to follow and talk bees.