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are fringe people. They live in Tucson, Arizona, but they keep bees in places most people wouldn't; their management style works, but requires a lot of labor and attention; and they've taken on a biological puzzle that may or may not provide answers to a bunch of honey bee problems. The Lusbys run a small commercial operation with about 250 colonies at the momen t. . . . That rather low number is the result of strong culling, colony loss fro m mites, and a several-year significant drought. "We used to run over 600 colonies, and if the weather breaks and our new managem ent scheme (see below) works the way we think it will, we'll be back to over 600 or 700 by the Fall of '98," Dee told me while we were bouncing down a washboard road heading to an isolated beeyard in the Kit Peak area outside Tucson. We'd g one down back roads, then back trails, through gates locked to keep out people n ot belonging on the King Ranch land we were on, and finally on wagon tracks and over riverbeds that only coyotes, lizards and honey bees could find. The Lusbys produce honey, raise queens, and make splits in this by turns incredi bly hostile and wonderfully abundant land. The extremes make or break anyone who takes on the natural order. The Lusbys, as stated above, live on this fringe. Keeping bees in the Desert Southwest requires using a calendar different from th e one followed by most beekeepers in the United States. Early January is the beginning of the active time. By the end of the month, broo ding up is in full swing, and comb whitening is taking place by the middle of Fe bruary. When this starts, supers are added - the second or third brood chamber. For colonies with three supers, when the third is 50 percent full of brood, a pi ggyback split is made. So by the end of March, these strong colonies have been s plit, and by April, they have been requeened and separated to their own stand. After April, all colonies are supered as needed. Beeyards are visited about once every three weeks, and supers are added all Summer. Colonies are evened out as needed during the Summer. About the first of May, full honey supers are pulled to extract, but the flow is over by about mid-July. This dearth lasts until about mid-August in a good year , or early October in a bad year. Supering starts again with the honey flow and continues until about Thanksgiving - supering, harvesting, and supering again. When the Fall flow is over, Fall di vides are made, piggyback style, from the strongest colonies, and queens are rai sed from mid-October to about the first of December. From then until January, co lonies are only maintained, and then the process starts all over. Honey production in the area is modest by some standards, with, on average, 10 c olonies producing a barrel of honey in a year. Drought years can mean that over 20 colonies are needed to produce that 600 plus pounds. A a p a p piggyback split is made by separating the top box of a three-story colony (or very strong two-story colony) with an excluder or division screen. Then the to is requeened, or the old queen is moved up and the bottom is requeened. Since growing colony 'tends' to have a queen moving up, the queen is often in the to box - but not always. These splits are made about the middle of October and th
no brace comb production. Most were wo rked without veils." Once a queen is selected. so this may change. The basic change in their philosophy has been the assumption made on the cell si ze of traditionally sold foundation. Africanized Honey Bees seem not to have caused the management problems common to the region." Ed pointed out.e middle of March. the fundamentals of traditional management ha ve been questioned by Dee and Ed. Queen selection begins by appearance only. she's introduced to a colony. for the operation. new-queen nucs are evaluated for brood patterns before being introdu ced to a new colony. about 5/ 16-inch rather than the larger 3/8-inch. That. Unlike the Hines operation (see article on page 33). and found wanting." Dee says. depending on the season. "and our ex perience has shown that those we choose at first tend to work best. The queen is then direct-released in to the center of the colony. is smoked a t the bottom until smoke comes out the top. though their selection criteria are unique to their operation and needs. "We use Kelleys because they tend to be smaller. is beginning to be obvious. Basically. has worked so far relative to progeny. Cups are primed with royal jelly before grafting because of the arid climate.' Once a breeder is selected.source pretty much unknown . which are in constant use during the season. Finished queens emerge. Until mites came on the scene." Virgin queens are placed in mating nucs and open-mate with local drones . The Lusbys had no explanation for this. and follow a fairly typical technique. to finish . Bu t mites. "and the more brood the faster.which. even considering the fact that the first yard we visited was alongside a mountain range that feral s warms followed north from Mexico into Arizona. recently made queenless. an d grafts are done every three days. Or. B ut Tucson is pretty much Africanized. changed all that. Opening coloni es in a couple of yards showed no apparent excessive defensiveness. "We need fast. even thou gh the techniques haven't changed. Half-moon patterns are not acceptable since the Lusbys want a wall-to-wall pattern. Once mated. Bars containing 60 to 120 cells are moved in to cell builders at the home yard right in town. th ey select breeder queens for honey production. The Lusbys raise their own queens." Dee said." she added. it seems. she's released right on top. to o. Size. which produces more brood in a colony. the cell cup a cting as the bottle top. her color and banding appear. Honey is added for food. "Average-sized queen s tend to be more variable than the ones we select. with long red legs and wings longer than the abdomen. In the first 12 hours after emergence. even before introduction into a colon y. Introduction works like this: A colony. the better. so far. which is enough. and bottles are changed when s oiled. colony strength and honey flows. and the problems associated with them. and the virgins are captured in a bottle. The Lusbys select immediately for small. black qu eens. or a split without a queen. plus their 'natural' treatment extend . And. This technique results in an 80 to 90 percent take. then moved after four days into one of three incubators. Supers are lifted. f ast buildup to react to a rapidly changing environment. this management program worked for the Lusbys. frames of day-old larvae are pulled and grafted into Kelley wax cell cups. gentlen ess and 'health. "This ties in with our bee-s ize (see box) operation. and she's popped out of her cage .
But after a f ew trials the differences seemed minimal. and colony losses continued.22 mm to 5. However. honey bees in the southern U. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------NATURAL COMB The Lusbys have. too. Traditional management schedules and non-traditional equipment seem to be making a difference in this operation.0 mm. continued t o uncover more information supporting their belief that 'natural' cell size was better for bee stress reduction. (a 4. at least to some degree. and the entire colony.' but not the fact that natural is still.10% reduction) seemed significant. difficult to measure because essentially all comb produced n ow is artificially large. well. The Lusbys noted some reduction in parasite infestation and less incidence of disease. the Lusbys discontinued the use of all drugs. been investigating the ramifications of the cell size honey bees use. Their extensive research has turned up some interestin g. maybe. That is.colony losses mounte . and larger bee. But those left are thriving. The 5. natural. man-made foundation started the same size as the size bees natural ly produced.S. Years ago beekeepers believed that larger bees would be better able to take adva ntage of flowers with the nectar deep within. produced an en vironmental stress on both individual bees. Historically. co lonies handle this subtle but persistent pressure with indiscernible outward sig ns. But not enough to be comm ercially economical. sugar and vegetable shortening). The Lusby's theorized that this larger cell size. however.er patties (propolis. Their time spent. Well. This discovery has complicated what is 'natural. reducing cell base size to 5. coupled wit h the results of their research led the Lusbys to initially produce foundation w ith a smaller-sized cell base on an experimental basis. along with some good luck with the weather. for several years. Like many animals. those closer to the eq uator tend to be smaller than those closer to the poles. and queens selected from thes e are thriving. (see di agram). Since most foundation produced now is in the 5. Long tongues were selected for. sugar and vegetable shortening c ombination in a patty. and some advantages were gained. naturally build cells a tiny bit smaller than bees in Canada.0. normally out of reach of the bees' tongues. maybe not. It was believed bigger was better. and to produce la rger bees foundation with slightly larger cell base size. Howev er. however. larger bees were deemed the answer to even longer tongues.55 mm range.3 . Measuring cells produced by feral colonies in their part of Arizona. medications and acaricides. Their first attempt was a cell base with a parallel-side-to-parallel-side measurement of 5. The early results were predictable . however. hence slightly larger (eventual) cells. No chemicals what-soever and selective breeding . It is.0 mm cell size did show promise. have set them on a path o f their own choosing. promise a bright future for the Lu sbys and their on-the-fringe operation in the Desert Southwest. and intriguing information. Varroa. It should be noted here that along with the inclusion of smaller cell-sized foun dation in their management scheme. the cell size bees naturally produce is to some degree dep endent on where in the world they are. except a propolis. Generally. some disease and tracheal mites have taken a heavy toll on their stock.
So far the Lusbys have changed over most of their colonies. indeed. They are passionate in their belief that this management scheme is the answer to the stresses of desert beekeeping. T hen they run this through the hand powered mill. just-right foundation. too-big combs to the new. too. in El Cajon. But for now. for a price. So far they've found that colonies on their new natural comb seem to swarm less (There is more space for brood . one sheet at a time.d. Result . most were re luctant to make a switch without some hard evidence the cost would be worthwhile . in their belief.about 1250 more cells in a two-story chamber th an using Duragilt.0 mm may ha ve been 0. both mites and whatever diseases their bees encounter. This wasn't an easy ta sk. Tom Industries. But these are early results.9 mm size. Something was going on. along with less disease incidence. the Lusbys are busy switching from their old.9 mm may be better. Others have changed.1 mm too large. One did. but for the most part the jury is still out. But the two have worked.) and have fewer mites. and they found a cell size of 4. Lusby's make their foundation the old fashioned way. or better three seasons of continued success. has been aided by contin ual selection for tolerant colonies. will tell. however. a cell size of 5. . untreated colonies. Not only were current manufacturers not using mills that small. The few-mites thing. at their latitude. Pr ecise measurements of feral comb supported the 4. They d ip a board in melted wax. to see if they worked. Independent sampli ng by USDA researchers have confirmed that. Further research indicated that. One dip is enough. fewer mites than normal are present in these small-cell colonies. CA agreed to make a few small-siz ed mills. so they began to sea rch for a foundation mill to produce this size cell base. but not as rapidly as other. let the wax cool and peel it off. healthier colonies and more honey production.eight sheets to the po und. Two. without me dications. Their early observat ions indicate faster build up.
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