Does Pageantry Have a Place in a Modern Texas Beekeepers Assn?

If you believe that our young people hold the future in their hands, then you must also believe that we must empower them to take the reigns of industry and power and represent that future to the world around us. Our young people must demonstrate to the world that our industry is vibrant and productive. They must bring the message that beekeepers are open for business. They should be knowledgeable and competent. And they should have our full faith and support in carrying these messages for us.

With these things in mind, let’s start a marketing program. In this program, we will only allow young adult women to act as our spokesperson. But not just any women. These women mustn’t be married. You know how busy married women can be. That’s why she must also not be pregnant. Imagine how impossible it would be to work with a woman with a child, so she mustn’t have ever been pregnant either. As long as we’re at it, we don’t want young women who have been divorced. That shows a lack of commitment in a person, right? Of course, we don’t want any shacking up either. And by young women, we only mean between the ages of 17 and 24. We obviously want pretty women, not some old woman. Beekeeping is complicated, so we should also exclude young women who dropped out of high school. Again, lack of commitment, you know?

We should have a knowledgeable spokesperson, so we’ll quiz applicants about bees and beekeeping. After all, we don’t want our marketing programming to look like a beauty pageant, do we? Still, we should dress up the candidates in fancy dresses. And she should wear a sash, but again, we don’t want this to look like a beauty pageant, so we’ll call the sash a “banner” instead. And there has to be a tiara, since we will call her the Queen. Of course.

Welcome to 1955

While you may find the proposal above old-fashioned, out-dated, and absurd, the sad news is that these rules are real. I didn’t make up a single one of them. These are the largely unpublished rules behind the Texas Honey Queen Program, operated by the Texas Beekeepers Association.

Let’s count the ways this program discriminates.

  1. Young men are denied the opportunity to participate.
  2. Women older than 24 are excluded
  3. Married women are excluded
  4. Divorced women are excluded
  5. Pregnant women are excluded
  6. Women with children are excluded
  7. Women who have lost children are excluded
  8. Women who have co-habitated with a man are excluded
  9. High school drop outs are excluded

The question that we face now, in 2018, is what justification can we mount to excuse these discriminatory practices? The Honey Queen look-and-feel accomplishes a marketing purpose – the visibility is high and distinctive. But is the imagery of a pageant what our industry association needs in promoting beekeeping?

We should take a close and careful look at the core values of Texas Beekeepers Association. We should question why, even today, we lack a serious statement of equality and non-discrimination for our group. We must question whether it is our place to make judgements of how a young adult is to live their private life with regard to marriage, raising a family, etc.

Beekeeping is challenging, but it is also one of the few occupations that requires no formal education whatsoever. No license. No degree. No certificate. Nothing, not even a high school diploma. So shouldn’t we embrace the high school drop out who comes willing to learn and work? Is beekeeping not an excellent solution for that young person who has perhaps made mistakes in schooling? At our regional beekeeping association (Coastal Bend Beekeepers Association (Corpus Christi, TX)), I say bring on the high school drop outs! We will teach them our trade and make them productive!

If the young people are to carry our banner and speak for us, should they not reflect the membership in every manner? Of course they should.

The Texas Honey Queen Program

“The Texas Honey Queen acts as the official spokesperson for the Texas Beekeepers Association to promote all aspects of the Beekeeping Industry. The Texas Honey Queen is available for interviews, personal appearances, and is prepared to give presentations to local community groups.”

This official description of the Texas Honey Queen summarizes the purpose of the program. It is not a youth program at all. It is a marketing program, though the Queens and Princesses are selected from youth Honey Queen programs across the state. How are they selected? And who selects them? That’s much more difficult to answer. We know that TBA and other Queen program administrators preach again and again that the programs are not pageants. It’s clear why they must preach this, because of all the pageantry that is clearly part of the programs: the fancy dresses, the sash/”banner”, the tiara, etc. But in fact, they’re selected by their performance on knowledge based presentations and their skill in delivering them. The criteria are quite important to the program. It’s the pageantry that isn’t important at all.

And who selects the Queens? The Queen Committee selects queens, and that’s the limit of what we know. There is no list of committee members anywhere on the TBA web page. There are no minutes of committee meetings found on the web site. The meetings are not announced anywhere. Only the Chair of the committee is named in any way whatsoever. Nowhere is there a list of Queen activities, either past or planned.

The Texas Honey Queen Program operates quietly in closed door meetings (like much of TBA business). Who funds the program? TBA does. At the 2017 fall business meeting, the financial reports state that $5056.71 was spent on Honey Queen expenses from a fund that held $23,132.47 at the end of the report. This is roughly twice what the program reportedly generated in donations to the fund. The 2016 year-end report did not itemize the Queen program budget at all, but provided the fund balance.

Like many aspects of TBA, the membership is blissfully unaware of how and where their money is spent on the Queen program. Certainly, some is used to pay for travel for the program. And of course, the Queens are not volunteers. We do know they’re compensated, but exactly how is a mystery. A “Queen Scholarship” is mentioned in a few corners of official statements, but how much money is spent on this compensation is never mentioned. Are the Queens paid employees? Independent contractors? Or simply scholarship awardees? These numbers are not available to mere TBA members.

The Future is Within Our Sight

What does the future hold for the Texas Honey Queen Program? TBA seems set on continuing the program in its current form. TBA board member, and Publications Director, Chris Doggett explained at a local club meeting that the program is necessary in order to enable the young ladies to compete at the national level, called the National Honey Queen and operated by the American Beekeeping Federation. And certainly that is true, and an important component for the candidates. Without a state program, the young ladies would be ineligible to compete for the national titles. Is that good enough? That’s the question that TBA must answer.

At the same local meeting, Doggett acknowledged that the program does not offer equal opportunities for young men, but he pointed out that such programs do exist in the state (as youth programs only at this time). The East Texas Beekeepers Association (Tyler, TX) operates a Honey Queen/Ambassador program in which young men may compete for the title Honey Ambassador. Obviously, nobody advocates for the fellows to be called Honey Queen. The East Texas Beekeepers program nevertheless provides access to their program for young men to compete.

The Brazos Valley Beekeepers Association (Bryan, TX) considered the formation of a Honey Queen program and (at least as of this time) declined to begin a program. Instead, they propose to simply add “Honey Queen”-activities to their extremely successful and robust youth program. This has the benefit of pushing many young people into the community to carry our message. This increases the diversity of beekeepers that interact with the public, and sends the message that beekeeping is, indeed, for everyone.

Significantly, the Trinity Valley Beekeepers Association (Dallas, TX) has recently formed a Honey Ambassador Program, completely inclusive of all young people who wish to compete. Young men or young women will compete for a single title: Honey Bee Ambassador. Perfect equality.

There are other programs for young people to put beekeeping on display for all to see. In 2017, the Coastal Bend Beekeepers brought a 4H student to speak in Corpus Christi, TX. His story was about his very successful project in 4H that saw a couple of colonies turn into 40+ in just a couple of years. He came without any title whatsoever, but spoke with authority to a room of 140+ members of the community. 4H is a world-wide program with a clear and stated commitment to equality and equal opportunity for all young people. The program cultivates leaders. What better program could we possibly seek to mimic?

As the beekeeping industry moves into the future, the role of young people will determine the success of the industry in general. Historically, beekeeping enterprises are handed down inside a few families. But today, we’re seeing fantastic growth of new beekeepers. Many of those will wash out when they learn that beekeeping is WORK, but a few will stay. Some will build their own enterprise. And a few will carry our message to the world, that the beekeeping industry is strong and vibrant, that we’re open for business, and that beekeeping is for everyone.

Honey Bee Health Coalition Announces 7th Ed. of Essential Guide


Today, the Honey Bee Health Coalition (HBHC) released the newest edition of their important Tools for Varroa Management guide book for beekeepers. Since the first edition, the HBHC has diligently updated their guide for beekeepers. Indeed, no beekeeper should be without a copy of the guide.

Notable additions over the years include the addition of video demonstrations (page 11) to help beekeepers of all levels learn exactly how to properly manage varroa in bee colonies. This 7th edition includes guidance for the new product Formic Pro in the listings for treatments. This is particularly important because Formic Pro offers additional application options that are new to beekeepers.

We’ve provided the link to the guide below. Be sure to visit the HBHC’s web site for additional tools and learning opportunities. Don’t skip this important resource dedicated to keeping managed bees healthy.

Tools for Varroa Management (7th Ed.)

Web Hosting Service Offering announcement By Lone Star Beekeepers Association

Lone Star Beekeepers Association announced its formation last month and that it is accepting memberships.  LSBA is a state wide incorporated non-profit beekeeping association whose mission is to support beekeeping activities of all sizes and give beekeepers a voice in local and statewide regulatory issues in Texas.

Among the membership types is an associate membership category for businesses, allied professionals and local beekeeping associations.

A great benefit of being an LSBA associate member is a free web hosting service is included.  Clubs, associations & bee related businesses and individuals can maintain a professional looking website under their own custom registered domain name.  In addition up to 10 Lone Star Beekeepers Associatione-mail addresses are also provided under that custom registered domain name.  Associate members can use e-mail addresses such as or to make it easier for members to conduct club activities or business.

Further information on membership and the web hosting service can be found on website

Swarms, Removals, Splits, and Nucs – Know the difference and don’t buy junk

New beekeepers face a myriad choices when they decide to get started. What type of hive? Screened bottoms? Which foundation? Where to locate the apiary? How many colonies? It can feel quite overwhelming.

The question of where and how to buy bees is one of those initial problems for new beekeepers. One aspect of buying bees that gives beginners trouble is the jargon we use to describe bees, and how that jargon is often misapplied to bees that should be sold for a steep discount, or not at all.

We’ve all heard the terms, and their meanings are specific. A swarm is (usually) a reproductive division of a colony, whether feral or managed. A swarm arrives with nothing other than bees. Bee sellers usually don’t sell “swarms,” but they do sell “packages,” which are man-made swarms.

A removal colony is one that has been removed from a place where the bees were a pest or nuisance. This is sometimes called a rescue colony.

A split, or divide, is a brand new colony that’s made by a beekeeper from a managed colony.

A Nucleus (a nuc) colony is the gold standard of buying bees. A nuc is a small, queen-right colony that contains the resources to begin a new production colony. The difference between a nuc and other starter methods is sometimes subtle, but a beekeeper can build a nuc from any method. A nuc for sale should contain emerging brood from the queen in the box!

Let’s examine each of these colony options in detail, and along the way, we can take a close look at what makes quality bees in each option. All specific advice in this article is aimed at beginner beekeepers who are just getting started and it may not apply equally to all beekeepers. My goal was to point new beekeepers in the direction of best practices and ensure them the greatest chance of a successful and rewarding beginning in the craft of beekeeping.


Swarms come in three varieties: reproductive, abscond, and package.

When a colony grows beyond a critical mass, it will naturally divide itself. This division could be because the bees lack the physical space to expand further, or because the colony is simply too big (generally around 60,000 bees). When a colony divides itself, the initial, or primary swarm, leaves the colony with the mother queen. The primary swarm is usually strong and arrives with a queen that is ready to go to work. If the old colony has sufficient bees, it may issue a second, third, or more swarms. these swarms will be accompanied by one or more virgin queens. The unmated queens in these after-swarms go on mating flights after their swarm colony arrives at their new home.

Obviously, a swarm headed by a mated queen is preferable to an after swarm headed by an unmated queen. Virgin queens carry the added risk of mating failure (approximately 20% according to accepted queen rearing wisdom), and so these swarms may fail at higher rates than primary swarms. Experienced beekeepers can usually tell a virgin from a mated queen by looking.

After swarms will eventually reflect the genetic profile of feral bees in the local area. In some parts of Texas, this can be quite good, but in other parts of the state, that profile may make the bees unsuitable for beginners or for back yard beekeeping.

What makes a quality swarm? A primary swarm with a mated queen is the best bet. However, many beekeepers observe that swarm queens are often replaced within several weeks of arrival. This replacement is handled by the colony, but may pose difficulties for a new beekeeper. Handling queen cells often causes damage to the developing queens, and so a beekeeper should avoid handling frames with queen cells. The timing of queen development, hardening, mating, and final development difficult to pin down with uncontrolled queen production. For this reason, a beekeeper should be patient with the colony and intervene only after the developing queen is definitely beyond hope according to the calendar. In the alternative, the beekeeper may replace the queen before the colony decides to do so. Clearly, there’s a little beekeeper skill involved in managing swarms.

One great advantage of swarm collecting is that it can be (more or less) free. A beginner beekeeper, thus, could easily make several attempts at swarm collection per season and accumulate the experience needed to be successful at it. But understand that a swarm is the most risky of all methods of acquiring bees. Bee swarms must be convinced to stay in the hive chosen by the beekeeper, and they regularly decide otherwise. The bottom line, as a beginner beekeeper, you can collect swarms and take your chances, but you should not pay for a swarm, ever.

A common method of buying bees, however, is the 3-pound package of bees. In a package, you get worker bees (3 pounds, as the name implies), and a mated queen. A package is basically a man-made swarm, but differs from a natural swarm in important ways. First, a package is usually shipped with a mated queen (though you may also order queenless packages). This mated queen is unrelated to the workers, but the time the workers and the queen spend together in transit generally bonds them into a cohesive unit, with all the workers clustering around the only queen they’ve know for many hours.

Package bees are fraught with trouble too. Shipping is hard on bees, and so some mortality is expected. Packages ship with liquid feed (usually), but it’s common for bees to arrive with an empty feed container (especially when producers use marshmallows instead of liquid feed). Temperature is a critical factor in the movement of any colony of bees, and packages are no different. Exposure to high temperatures stresses the bees and raises the mortality rates. Nevertheless, package bees are a popular method of acquiring bees, and most packages produce success for new beekeepers. If you buy package bees, talk to your supplier for support and guidance.


When honey bees make their home where they’re a nuisance or a pest, people will sometimes call upon a live bee remover to collect the colony, their combs, and their queen. This is often difficult work, requiring skills not common to general beekeeping. A colony situated in the soffit of a home or in the cavity of a wall is ideally arranged as a cohesive unit. This is an ideal condition for bees. They are confident in their strength. They possess some food stores, perhaps. They may be defensive of their home. They may have access to vast areas in which to flee and re-establish their colony after removal.

Many beekeepers consider bee removal an entirely separate skill set and barely related to beekeeping. Some bee removers do not keep bees at all, instead selling what they remove quickly (flipping them). No matter your view on this, removing bees from structures requires a significant level of skill in construction trades and handling of bee colonies as a unit.

When a colony is removed from a structure, the brood combs are cut to fit in hive frames. The combs are temporarily held in place by rubber bands, until the colony can build the combs into the frames. This is a critical point to evaluating the quality of a removal job, and the resulting colony success (and value). We’ll return to this subject.

A bee colony that’s established in a cavity, going about its business will necessarily be greatly stressed by having their home disturbed, removed, cut to pieces, and taken away. The stress imposed upon them can not be over stated. We tend to focus on the stress placed on the adult worker bees, the most numerous and visible of the colony. We also take note of stress placed upon the all-important queen bee, but stress is also placed upon the silent members of the colony, the brood.

Brood is important to a colony because it is one of the primary missions of a colony, and it is the most delicate part of a colony. While adult bees can tolerate wide variations in temperature, brood must be maintained in a narrow temperature range, and must not dry out. These are simply not the conditions during a removal. Brood can be chilled (below about 70*F) or overheated (above about 95*F). Desiccation can occur at any temperature when the humidity falls below 80% RH. Time is critical during a removal. The brood must be protected from environmental conditions and rough handling.

Less than ideal brood conditions are a serious problem for removal colonies that are ultimately left without a queen. Let’s talk a little about the difficulties that queens pose to removal work.

According to Laidlaw and other researchers, the conditions under which a queen develops is critical. Very large numbers of bees are required. The term “boiling with bees” describes a condition in which frames are sometimes difficult to remove or replace in a hive because of the congestion of so many bees. Colonies raising queens must be well fed and provisioned. Larva selection is critical. Each of these requirements must be met in order to produce high quality queens.

A removal colony must never be asked to raise a queen. If the colony’s queen is lost for any reason, the colony should be provided a queen from another source that meets the best practices of queen rearing. A quality removal job is incomplete without a quality, mated queen in the hive at the end of the job.

Evaluating a removal colony is similar to any other colony, but care must be taken to verify the quality of the removal work. The ordinary features of a colony must be present. A laying queen that is fully accepted by the colony, whether the colony’s own queen or one provided by the remover or beekeeper. The “bee math” of the colony must be acceptable. Generally, the popular advice to “keep strong bees” applies to removal colonies. Let’s take a moment and review what it means to “keep strong bees.”

A strong colony does not necessarily mean a large colony. Generally, strong bees are able to completely cover both sides of each frame in a hive. This condition provides for sufficient defense of the colony from pests or robbing. But this is not the only measure of strong bees. A colony must also possess the strength to build, weather a dearth, forage for themselves, and raise additional brood when conditions warrant. This critical mass of bees is generally considered 2 or 3 pounds of bees (the size of a reproductive swarm or package). Each of these conditions must be present in a removal colony in order to consider it strong and viable. Colonies that do not meet these conditions should be used for purposes other than sale.

Removal colonies feature a reliable tell-tale measure of colony strength: the degree to which the cut combs have been fixed and attached to the frames. A fresh removal will have no attachments between the combs and the wooden frames at all. A strong colony may attach them completely in just a few days. A weak colony will take much longer, or may abandon some comb sections entirely. Abandoned comb sections is a sign of a poor quality removal colony, and should be removed for safety.

Regardless of a colony’s strength, combs should be attached to the frames prior to sale. Before combs are attached, a colony’s stress may still be high, and unattached frames carry the risk of damage from displacement from the frame. A good solid warning sign is the condition of the comb attachment compared to the condition of the rubber bands. If the rubber bands are chewed or broken before the combs are attached, then beware of the quality of the colony. If rubber bands are buried in wax and the combs attached to the frames, this is a sign of a quality colony that is functioning well.

A key component of a removal colony is the compete absence of queen cells. Removals should not be asked to raise queens, and so these cells should be destroyed and regarded as sub-standard for producing high quality queens, and concomitant high quality, robust colonies. Never purchase any colony that already has queen cells. This is particularly important for removal colonies for one additional reason – queen cells are delicate. Queen cells of unknown age must be treated with extreme care. The colony with these cells should not be inspected (and therefore not sold) because handling cells can damage the developing queen. The colony must not be moved for the same reason. Any queen cells of unknown age should be destroyed and a properly made queen provided by the beekeeper.

To review, consider these items as deal-breakers for purchasing removal colonies.

  1. The presence of queen cells.
  2. Insufficient numbers of bees to completely cover both sides of all frames.
  3. Combs that are not attached to the frames.
  4. The absence of a laying queen, or a queen that is sequestered in any way.

If your inspection of a removal colony discovers any of these conditions, look for a better colony. To be sure, each of these conditions may be remedied by an experienced beekeeper, but if you’re just starting out in beekeeping, avoid these troubles at all costs.


When a colony reaches the capacity of a hive (no more space) or becomes too large, it will swarm. This is bad for production colonies, and so beekeepers try to avoid swarms by splitting a colony into smaller colonies or nucleus colonies.

Beekeepers have developed many, many methods of splitting, or “dividing” colonies. Some are conservative, some are more aggressive, and some are just crazy. But whatever the method, the results should be nearly the same – a few frames of brood, a frame of food stores, a laying queen, and some room to grow.

In the next section, I will describe the nucleus colony as the gold standard of bee buying. It’s safe. The colony is established. The queen is accepted and working. Brood production is underway. The colony can forage for itself. A split is not yet like that.

When a colony is divided, there is always a question of getting the right bees in the right box. A split must be provisioned with enough nurse bees to carry on with brood rearing. It needs enough foragers to collect the resources needed for the new colony. It needs bees ready to build combs. It takes time to establish that all these needs are in balance, and so, fresh splits are not necessarily the same as an established nucleus colony.

Splits are often provided an unrelated queen, and in certain situations newly introduced queens may be “balled” by a fresh split. Exactly why this happens isn’t perfectly understood, but it can cause the loss of a new queen.

When buying nucs, you may encounter a split instead. Ask your vendor to explain the history of your nuc. When was it made? By what method? How long has the queen been laying in this colony? There’s no hard and fast answers to these questions, but the general trend is obvious. A split made last week clearly has not had time to build a cohesive colony around the new queen (none of the workers are related to her).

Observe the workers returning to the colony. They should be bringing pollen in the door. You should see at least some fresh nectar in the combs inside. You should never, ever buy any colony in which the queen is in a cage or clip (or sequestered in any other way).

Nucleus Colonies

The “nuc”, pronounced “nuke”, is the product that delivers the greatest chance of success to a beginner beekeeper. While the configuration of a nuc may vary slightly, the condition of the colony should not.

One variable is the number of brood frames. The more the merrier, right? A quality nuc will have at least three frames of brood. These frames should be covered in bees, and the brood area should cover 70-80% of the frames. Brood should be in all stages of development, not just eggs (an indication of a recent split). Encircling the brood should be pollen and nectar or honey. You may observe some nectar being stored in the brood area. This condition may be a warning that the bees are running short on space, but it also indicates good foraging behavior. If you buy a nuc like this, provide additional space as soon as you’re able.

Some suppliers provide different configurations.

A Nuc pick-up day at a Dallas area urban farm market
Inside this NUC box is a small colony of honey bees. There are five deep frames of brood, honey & pollen ready to be transferred into a larger hive box.

The frames with foundation or food stores are highly variable from one supplier to the next. Other frame count configurations are offered too, and these may have a place in the apiaries of experienced beekeepers, it’s best to stick to the ordinary configurations of 4- or 5-frame nucs.

The common features of quality nucs are these:

  1. A laying queen, not a confined queen, not a recently released queen
  2. Workers that reflect the genetic profile of their queen. That is, at least some portion of the worker population should be the daughters of their queen.
  3. Enough bees to completely cover both sides of all combs in the nuc.
  4. Enough young bees to tend to brood (look for royal jelly in brand new larva cells) and build wax (look for white combs being built.
  5. Enough foragers or enough food stores to carry the colony.
  6. All combs permanently fixed in place by some mechanism (build onto the frames by the bees or on foundation/wire).

The buyer has some responsibilities too. The buyer accepts responsibility for the colony’s care when (s)he takes it from the seller. The seller should take the time to inspect the colony with the buyer if asked. This practice reduces the chance of a dispute over a viable queen or replacement(s).

Ask your seller if they will provide replacement queens if asked, or what their policy is.

The buyer MUST take care of the colony. It must be protected from heat. It must not roll over in the truck (this is a common mistake). The queen is the responsibility of the beekeeper. If the seller verified the queen at pick-up, the buyer should not expect her to be replaced afterwards.

Unfortunately, definitions vary from one supplier to another. The important thing is that the buyer and seller agree in advance on what is to be delivered. Every product described above has a market. An experienced beekeeper may readily buy rubber banded combs all day long, but that product is inappropriate for the beginner. I hope this examination of bee-starter products will help you determine the correct product for your beekeeping project, and I hope it enables you to ask the right questions and get what you expect!

Good luck, and happy beekeeping!

Invitation to Learn – Texas Beekeepers Association Summer Clinic 2018

Hey there!

I was invited to send an invitation to beekeepers about the TBA upcoming event! So, I wanted to take a moment to invite you to continue learning about beekeeping at the Texas Beekeepers Association Summer Clinic this year.

TBA Summer Clinic will be June 30th at the Lone Star Convention & Expo Center, Conroe Texas!

You’ll find curated topics for all experience levels, quality vendors, and beekeepers from around Texas to come together for this fantastic event – I hope you’ll be a part of it!

Bring your friends and family – they won’t want to miss this!


Summer Clinic Schedule & Class Descriptions

Feel free to share, spread the word, and we’ll see you there!