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What This Site Is About

This is not a “How You Should Keep Bees” site; rather, I’m a proponent of “Whatever Works for You” beekeeping.

In short, this site is a record of my learning process as I try to understand aspects of colony health and productivity, and the reasons why various management techniques work (or don’t).  My writing is a digestion of the scientific literature, relating it to my day-to-day hands on experience and observations in my 40+ yards of bees, and then sharing what I’ve learned about the biological processes happening in the hive with other beekeepers.  I then leave it to each beekeeper to make their own informed management decisions.

If you are a beginning beekeeper looking for basic information, or an experienced beekeeper looking for a summary of mite treatment options, I suggest that you go directly to Basic Beekeeping.

I started keeping bees as a hobbyist in 1967, and then went on to get university degrees in biological sciences, specializing in entomology.  In 1980 I began to build a migratory beekeeping operation in California, and currently run about 1000 hives with my two sons, from which we make our livings.

In 1993, the varroa mite arrived in California, and after it wiped out my operation for the second time in 1999, I decided to “hit the books” and use my scientific background to learn to fight back.  I started writing for the American Bee Journal in 2006, and have submitted articles nearly every month since then (see “Articles by Publication Date”–scroll to the bottom for the most recent).

My writing for the Journal brought me requests to speak at beekeeping conventions, which has also allowed me the chance to visit beekeepers from all over North America and several other continents.  I read most every scientific study relating to beekeeping, and regularly correspond with researchers worldwide.

What I try to do in my articles and blogs is to scour scientific papers for practical beekeeping applications, and to sort through the advice, opinion, and conjecture found in the bee magazines and on the Web, taking no positions other than to provide accurate information to Joe Beekeeper.

I regularly update the articles on this site as new information becomes available, and solicit constructive criticism or comments.  Perhaps the best venue for such discussion is at the Informed Discussion of Beekeeping Issues and Bee Biology.  Be sure to subscribe to updates, and I’ll email you monthly when I add content to the site http://scientificbeekeeping.com/scientific-beekeeping-newsletter/

Please Donate Here

If you find this website to be of value, please support it (and my independent research projects) with your donations.  You can donate via Paypal here:

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Randy Oliver
14744 Meadow Dr.
Grass Valley, CA 95945

Thank you!


News and Blogs

Pollen supplement trial: I’m sorry, but have been too busy with bee work and setting up field trials to post the full results of pollen supp trial as of yet.  Editor Joe Graham of ABJ has graciously given me permission to post the rest of entire article in advance of publication.  If you’re signed up above to receive updates, I’ll send an email out to let you know when I’ve posted the entire article (I do not share your email with anyone).

In the meantime, here are the results in a nutshell:

Pollen supp trial graph

key findings of this trial

I learned a great deal by running of this experiment, and have already initiated two follow-up field trials to answer some questions. Allow me to summarize the findings and observations of interest to beekeepers, some of which run contrary to the common wisdom:

  1. I did not run this experiment to promote any brand of supplement, but rather to see where we stand as far as the state of the art of pollen subs. I feel that all the tested products were given a fair trial to prove their worth.
  2. In this particular trial, the supplemented colonies benefited by going into winter stronger and with more brood, which then led to better buildup by the start of almond bloom.
  3. Since Natural pollen (the positive control) and all subs clearly outperformed the Negative control group, the experimental design was validated. Unfortunately, I did not use enough hives to tease out significant differences between the subs, plus I only ran one replicate, so one can’t assume that the ranking of the subs would necessarily be the same the next time.
  4. The performance of the top tier of subs was statistically on par with natural pollen. Hats off to the major suppliers for developing and selling such high performance pollen subs!
  5. Natural pollen still reigns supreme. There’s still some Factor X missing in artificial diets. But some of the top tier subs are getting close (and might have scored even better had there been a little natural pollen coming in to supply a bit of Factor X).
  6. I have no idea as to why Feedbee performed poorly in this trial. In other published trials it outperformed BeePro [[i]]. In this trial, the bees initially showed a preference for it, but it didn’t appear to hold up for the long run.  Perhaps it would have performed better in another replicate.
  7. It’s not just about protein. Note that the Natural patties had by far the lowest protein content (9%, as opposed to an average of 16% for the tested subs), yet outperformed at least some or all of the subs. The Holy Grail in artificial bee diet development is to pin down the elusive Factor X in natural pollen, so that it can be incorporated into pollen subs [[ii]].
  8. But a pollen supplement may be all that you need to help your colonies through a couple of brood cycles, or to stretch the benefit of a trickle of natural pollen. A pollen supplement may supply the macronutrients necessary to grow a colony, provided that a bit of natural pollen is available to supply the elusive Factor X.
  9. If you’ve got 10,000 hives in a holding yard, there won’t be much Factor X available. The limiting factor for feedlot beekeeping in the age of varroa may be the unavailability of a true pollen substitute.
  10. Best initial boost: Two products seemed to give an initial boost equal to or better than the natural pollen, and then slid a bit downhill. Since those two products had similar formulations, it may not be fluke, and perhaps we should pay this observation some attention.
  11. The equal growth rates of the supplemented and unsupplemented colonies when there was abundant alder pollen available suggests that it may be a waste of money to feed supplement when there is an ample natural pollen flow on.
  12. The costly magic ingredients in the Homebrew formulation didn’t seem to help. Neither the food grade egg yolk, the high lipid content, the coconut oil, the expensive phytonutrient extract, the lemongrass and spearmint oils, nor the fancy vitamin/mineral mix did the trick.
  13. In line with the above, note that only the top two formulations and natural pollen resulted in an overall increase in average colony strength in fall (Fig. 5; although the next two formulations were too close to call). This is surprising to me, since I consistently and immediately see the benefit of feeding patties of nearly any formulation to my strong colonies in August and September. I strongly suspect that the benefits of feeding sub is amplified in larger colonies. Likely the better the patty, the greater the benefit.
  14. The bees gotta like it enough to eat it. Of the tested patties, natural pollen was most readily consumed, but some of the subs were not far behind. The lack of palatability of the two tested yeast-based patties was glaringly evident. This really surprised me, since I and many others have long used Brewtech yeast with good results, and the other yeast was recommended by beekeepers.
  15. Don’t assume that all beebread is nutritious! California beekeepers pay attention—that late summer and fall beebread may be more harmful to your colonies than good. Check it under a scope to see whether it consists of rust spores.
  16. At least one tree pollen (alder) will completely support colony growth. I’ve often heard the assumption that the pollen of wind-pollinated trees may not be nutritious to bees [[iii]]. The unusual weather during the trial serendipitously allowed for an unplanned test of the nutritional value of pure alder pollen. It was clearly nutritious!
  17. Some authors have suggested that bees need to ferment pollen into beebread in order to release its nutritional value. My findings suggest otherwise, since the pollen in the Natural patties had not been fermented. Since bees do not store patty as beebread, they must have consumed it raw [[iv]]. Nor did the alder pollen brought in during January initially have time to ferment prior to it being consumed. Perhaps the nutritional value of pollen may be improved by fermentation, but it does not appear to be necessary to promote good colony growth.
  18. Amount to feed. Note the amount of supplement eaten by these small colonies (14 lbs over 6 ½ months). I suspect that those beekeepers who are tossing in only a patty or two per full-size hive may be merely serving the bees appetizers.
  19. Note that Small Hive Beetle is not present in my area.  The feeding of supplement patties where SHB is present presents difficulties which I did not test.


I occasionally comment on bee issues or the news, or link to interesting blogs by others on beekeeping, bee biology, or the environment. The latest is my comments on the new study from Dr. Lu at Harvard Medical School.

Read all at here:


To see recent updates to this website, go to http://scientificbeekeeping.com/updates/

Dec 2, 2013 If you have interest in the recent petitions to ban the neonics, I recommend reading a letter to the respected journal Nature by a British bee researcher, Lynn Dicks, in which she points out the problems with hurried setting of policy based upon political pressure rather than upon careful scientific evaluation of the evidence  http://www.nature.com/news/bees-lies-and-evidence-based-policy-1.12443

Such a careful evaluation of all evidence is what I’m all about, even if that is unpopular with those who don’t want to be confused by the facts.  I currently feel that the problem with planting dust from corn seeding has finally reached the point where the manufacturers either have to take responsibility for compensating beekeepers who suffer losses due to the application of their products, or EPA and PMRA need to restrict the use of neonic seed treatments to only planters that pass dust emission certification.  However, I feel that to date there is not enough evidence to call for a complete ban on the neonics–there are simply too many beekeepers successfully keeping healthy hives in areas of seed-treated crops.  Clearly this is a hot issue, and the neonics, along with all pesticides need to be closely watched and regulated.  It appears to me that our regulatory agencies are doing a good job at this, even if progress seems to be excruciatingly slow.


The most recent blog of interest is on the real people involved in biotechnology (GMO’s).  Steve Savage writes:

“As with any new technology, the development and commercialization of biotech crops is a story about people.  Its a story about people with ideas and vision; people who did hard and creative work; people who took career or business risks, and people who integrated this new technology into the complex business of farming…  Their story is important, but it tends to get lost in much of the conversation about biotech crops.

Many narratives about “GMOs” leave out the people side, presenting it instead as some faceless, monolithic phenomenon devoid of human inspiration, intention and influence. Thats not how it happened.  Other narratives about “GMOs” demonize those who made biotech crops a reality. Such portrayals are neither fair or accurate.  The real stories of these people matter, because trust in a technology is greatly influenced by what people believe about those behind it.”

Read the rest at: