The Way Back to Biological Beekeeping, Part 2
Today during our present period of economic liquidations and retrenchments we are beginning to realize that in an increase in the quantity and quality of our production per hive lies much of our hope for a profitable return on investment from our bees. Food Safety is much again in the public eye, both here in the United States and around the world, having been buried for a few years behind the need to find remedies for maladies from parasitic mites, scavengers, and secondary infectious diseases. This has been compounded as we beekeepers try to reduce the cost of producing a pound of honey or generate more income by migratory pollination of food crops, in order to meet our future new costs associated with externally and eternally having to confront the so-called Africanized Honey Bees which some have said have gained a foot hold on our American continents.
It is my firm belief that in the selection and adaptation of the various NATURALLY SIZED races and strains of honeybees to our own individual localities lies our best chance for our industries continued survival. So it is a matter worthy of new particular commendation to note and reestablish large interest in the keeping of biologically kept natural races and strains of honeybees…even heated arguments. Nothing but good can come out of what I now write, for if even one beekeeper can hold the line and continue to succeed no matter what natural strain or race he may desire to keep without the use of chemicals, essential oils, and antibiotics, etc., we have all won.
In order to avoid misunderstandings, I shall write from the standpoint of Southern Arizona area conditions and confine my thoughts to a discussion of necessary data and observations gleaned in a semi-arid, but still temperate location. As I write, I hope certain self-learned principles will become obvious which I hope may become helpful in applying the results we have achieved in retrogressing our own honeybees back onto a natural system of biologically sound beekeeping without the use of chemicals, essential oils, and antibiotics or foreign feed/food supplement, so other beekeepers in other localities throughout our nations temperate zones can succeed in replicating also.
The Southern Arizona desert areas where our apiaries are located is a much varied topography ranging from the flats of the Sonoran Desert to the fast rising mountains that encircle our local valleys and plains. Our elevation ranges from about 2500-4600, elevation. The average growing season varies from a low of 262 days in the Tucson area to 318 days in the Phoenix area with fall frosts rarely beginning before Thanksgiving. These flats are an arid belt, completely surrounded for the most part by mountains. The honey plants are largely dependent upon sporadic rains and a brief monsoon season normally occurring during July and August (sometimes lasting until the middle of September). Farmers must irrigate their crops in order to raise crops. When honey flows do come, especially outside of the farming areas, they rarely last more than six weeks and many only last two to three.
Consequently, beekeepers here must have stock that can anticipate a flow and pack stores away fast. The summer Spring/Summer season is hot with temperatures often over 100 degrees. The Fall/Winter are relatively mild and cool. The mean maximum temperature for the warmest month runs about 95 degrees F. and the mean minimum temperature for the coolest month runs about 50 degrees F., happening during July and January respectively. Keep these means in thought, for they are very important to beekeeping and we will be going over their full meaning and impact towards honeybees later!
Although quite arid here, normally fall rains are sufficient enough to allow for spring growth with the main honey flows coming on during the end of April, continuing through May and ending the first part of June. Unfortunately for us, our main rainy season hits during July and August with the summer monsoons after the main flow is over, but in time to help cool our hives off enough and grow enough vegetation so the bees can make a secondary short honey flow for surplus, allow for requeening, and the accumulation of sufficient stores for winter. The major honey flow source comes from acacia, mesquite and catsclaw with a varied season blend in the later Fall months of greasewood, rabbit and burrow weed, wild Indian buckwheat, pigweed, poppy, golden eye, daisy etc..