Bjorn Apiaries
Rock the Boat, Step on Toes, and Pull Back the Curtain.....


Beekeeper Rants, Opinions, and Comments.


This is a continuation of the Beekeeper Ramblings page that included articles from 2009 and 2010.


These articles hopefully invoke discussion, debate, and thought.

While we are not out to purposely harm any particular individual, we do express views that some would see as a bit "close to home". We hope you enjoy.  

"When Beekeeper Look Down Their Noses at Others”

December 2012


In July of this year, I wrote of problems in New York that beekeepers were having with swarming issues, the incorrect assumption that these problems could be dealt with by forcing beekeepers to take mandatory classes, and the slippery slope that come with additional regulations and restrictions placed on beekeepers. Please scan down to “July 2012“ and read the article that leads into this topic. Little did I know at that time that the ongoing discussions in Plymouth Township in Montgomery County, Pa., would play out in front of our very eyes with these same issues at play.


Plymouth Township has been struggling with new regulations concerning beekeeping for the past two years. These discussions have centered on everything from additional registration fees beyond what the state agriculture department already requires, to restrictive square footage requirements by homeowners that would ban the hobby of beekeeping to 90% of the residents within the township. Fear, irrational emotion, and bitter hatred has been displayed at township meetings.


Recently I found out that as part of the updated ordinance being proposed, there would be a new requirement for all beekeepers to be formally trained prior to becoming a beekeeper. This would be the first ordinance of it’s kind concerning beekeeping in Pennsylvania. Beekeepers have kept bees for several hundred years in this country. Yet at this time in history, and for a host of different reasons, formal classes and training are being suggested.


What are the justifications for such classroom training requirements? We can list a few as:

1) To ease the fear of the general public by suggesting there are “safe” ways to keep bees. 2) As an appeasement issue used by township officials by the fact that beekeepers are willing to place something on the table as a bargaining chip. 3) For individual or group driven agendas. Each of these issues have there own ramifications.


Item number one can easily be justified by ignorance of township officials and the misconceptions that bees are dangerous. To the average person, honey bees are seen as something far more sinister than what every beekeeper knows them to be. The justification and offering to the public that any leeway in allowing beekeepers to operate within their borders, can be done safely by forcing beekeepers to take a class, is at least understandable. Townships concerned with liability issues, many times over blown in the CYA society we live, is at least understandable.

Item number two can also be seen as attempts by township officials to come up with some middle ground settlement between beekeepers and the public who feel they need their fears and concerns catered too.


Item #3 is an issue that is at the heart of the discussion. And it should be pointed out that the whole idea of additional training be added as a requirement was at the request of beekeepers. What motivations could possibly be at play that would make beekeepers demand to be required to pay additional fees and have additional restrictions placed upon their hobby?

Beekeepers are selling the idea that swarming issues, safety concerns, and other issues real or perceived, as seen by the general public, can easily be corrected by having each beekeeper attend some formal classroom education. And while classes held by different bee associations across the state have their value, it is questionable to make these classes mandatory to get into the hobby of beekeeping for the following reasons.

Consider the following:

1) Having a beekeeper take a class, does not in any way change the behavior of the honey bee. Bees will still forage the same distance. Bare footed children down the block who happen to step on a dandelion flower and get a sting, will get that same sting whether the beekeeper takes a class or not.


2) As stated out in the previous article dated July 2012, swarming can happen in less than 7 days. A beekeeper who eagerly inspects his hives every weekend will still potentially have swarming. Does that make him or her a “bad” beekeeper? And how can swarming be any less by the mere fact of attending such a class?

3) Most beekeepers already take beginner courses. The amount of information available through online courses, bee association classes, beekeeping forums, and other channels are greater today than at any other point in history. Never before has the beekeeper been better informed. And yet today, it is now suggested for the first time that beekeepers need to be regulated by mandatory requirements of formal education. Setting up some guidelines such as a maximum number of hives can be seen by most beekeepers as rational. But mandatory formal classroom instruction will not change beekeeping as we know it.


The pitfalls of suggesting formal training is needed by potential new beekeepers are many. They include:

1) It will keep some from becoming beekeepers. Plain and simple, fewer beekeepers will get into the hobby. That hurts the overall industry. Associated costs, travel, and even ideology differences with certain sects with the commonwealth will limit the overall number of those wanting to get into beekeeping.


2) Beekeepers suggesting that formal education will correct any perceived problems with beekeeping such as swarming, or keeping bees from visiting a local swimming pool or recycling bin, could now be seen as a defined line in the sand of what is acceptable and normal, and what is not. Will beekeepers now be fined for swarms since it has been claimed that swarms are an easy correctable situation and would disappear and handled through formal training? Perceived problems in New York city this past summer, were handled by local beekeeping association officials stating that formal training was an option to handle the situation. No formal training in the world will stop all swarming. And telling others it will, is not helpful. It now self-defines the beekeeper who happens to have a swarm as “bad” with potential fines or outright banning as a possibility in the future.

3) It paints the wrong picture for the public to see. It suggests that beekeeping is dangerous and can only be done by trained and qualified beekeepers. Instead of a loving safe hobby open to all and a needed benefit to the environment, beekeepers asking for training requirements and additional restrictions is very questionable and sends the wrong message.


Why would certain beekeepers suggest formal training? Are they really that clueless, ignorant, or self filled with ego, that it demands they look down upon others and suggest that everyone else wanting to keep a hive needs formal education? These requirements were not placed upon them. So why are they so eager to place it upon the next group?

Is this the easy way out, by an industry that has been disorganized, unwilling to engage the public on larger scale, and has failed in so many ways in respect to public image. Will It be easier to claim in the future that all beekeepers are ‘educated” as some blanket statement, while just forgetting about the continual educational process for the public at large. I guess for some, stating that “we are all trained as required by law” will become some standard reply to any questions or concerns brought forth by the public.


Or could these beekeepers and industry leaders calling for mandatory classroom training have other issues at play? Is this a way to bolster bee association numbers or extension agency funding? In todays world of beekeeping, many do not join bee associations for a host of reasons. Good associations have no problem with membership. Bad associations with constant problems and an unwillingness to service their members correctly, try to find ways to bolster their numbers. Supporting mandatory formal classes would certainly be a way to require classroom attendees to also join the local, county, or state associations.

What is amazing is how beekeepers are trying to restrict the very hobby they supposedly love. Additional registrations, restrictions, with mandatory and continuation education, all limit participation in beekeeping. And when beekeepers are not honest with themselves, willing to take the easy way out by suggesting to the public that any ill-conceived issues with beekeeping can easily be corrected by such requirements of formal training, it allows the possibility of it coming back to bite them.


Beekeepers need to be honest and keep their own motives and agenda in check. Especially when pointing fingers and taking their part in restricting the freedoms of others. Any beekeeper suggesting others need mandatory training, especially those in leadership positions in bee organizations, should be quickly confronted. They may be looking out for the associations best interest. And not the individual or the honey bees best interest.

Beekeepers range beyond 5 year old children to 95 year old great-great -grand mothers. Generation after generation of beekeepers have passed along their skills to the next generation. And yet all of a sudden, do-gooders are calling for formal education for beekeepers. Too bad these are some of the very beekeepers within our ranks. Maybe they should find another hobby to build their egos and self-righteous finger pointing, and leave the beekeeping to others. I for one have taught many beekeepers. I guess the benefits of having a mentor might also be undermined as mandatory formal classroom training will take the place of any learning associated with actual one on one mentoring that has been so successful for hundreds of years. I will bet anyone that I am better qualified to teach my son the craft of beekeeping than any other pompous idiot beekeeper helping to pass laws requiring my son one day to take a formal class before he can register his own hives in the coming years. 

Are Beekeepers a Danger to the Environment?

Aug 2012


Many have heard of problems in the beekeeping world. Everything from loss of bee friendly habitat, to homeowners and farmer applied chemicals in the search for perfect lawns and better crops. But when you go beyond the laser view point approach of looking just at bees, hypocrisy rules. You quickly enter into a place where self interest, profit, and ignorance rules. And if the general public took some of the same attitudes that beekeepers exhibit, it’s no wonder why beekeepers have problems.


Recently there was an online discussion on swallows congregating and seemingly chowing down on bees. Within a few posts, comments quickly turned to pellet guns and shotguns, as the quick fix remedy. The message is clear; something bothers your honey bees, kill it.


Of course there are many discussions out there between non-beekeeper types, where questions of how to deal with honey bees visiting their property, turns into baiting sugar solution with poison and other ways to dispose of the perceived bee problems. Mentioning or showing these type comments to beekeepers are usually seen with disdain. But why? A homeowner has honey bees on their property, and they don’t want them. Just as the swallow is seen as a problem by beekeepers, and killing intruders are seen as the solution, beekeepers seem to change their view on bees on someone else’s property. Without getting into a tit for tat discussion of the benefits of honey bees over swallows, reality is that many in the public see honey bees as a safety issue, and want them not on their property, or visiting their swimming pool or water garden.


So what do some homeowners do when faced with a problem of honey bees visiting their property? They file complaints to the local officials. But they also sometimes place out sugar solution laced with poison. The first time I heard of baiting honey bees to kill them, was years ago by a beekeeper from New York state who was doing this to eliminate all honey bees in the area in attempts to control genetics in his mating yards. He would remove his bees from the area, then set out sugar water with poison, killing off any honey bee colonies in the area.


Beekeepers are also known to deal with raccoons, skunks and other honey bees pests, in the “Grab your guns and start a shooting” type reaction to any threat to their beloved bees. Just as the frustrated homeowner who has raccoon problems with the garbage cans, beekeepers occasionally have problems with hives being bothered. Both situations can have problems eliminated with non-lethal solutions. We are supposed to be smarter than the other creatures out there. They do make garbage cans that are animal proof. We certainly should be smart enough to outwit a wild animal. Unfortunately, many times we can not do anything beyond grabbing the guns and blasting “trespassers”. Old-timer beekeeper advice over the years has promoted raised hives, tack strips, and other easy solutions to bee yard visitors. I never read in any bee book the idea that a shotgun was the solution, even though I am sure over the years that solution was used quite regularly.


But today, everyone posts online. We hear of situations and solutions that perhaps years ago were below the publics radar. Today, everyone can read opinions and solutions, with little regard to public image or damaged goodwill to the bee industry being realized by the original poster of such information.

Beekeepers want the public to be educated, informed, and tolerant, of their bees flying up to a 2 mile range or more, visiting the local flowers, watering holes, and being inquisitive of what’s out on the picnic table a few homes over and down the street. But too many times, beekeepers are the first one’s that are not tolerant on other beneficial pollinators, and local wildlife, when they think their honey bees are being bothered. Far too many times, beekeepers are the homeowners that want a sterile environment for their bees to live within, void of other insects and pests.


It is hard to change the public’s perception of honey bees, while demonstrating the same knee jerk reaction, and deadly solutions, that others use against honey bees. And asking the public to change, while beekeepers exhibit disdain to other insects and wildlife, is hypocrisy at the highest level. Every insect and creature on earth is part of the environment and vital part to the food chain. And there are almost always easier solution to control problems without picking up the gun or bottle of poison.


Beekeepers usually have high regards to feral colonies and wild bees. Honey bees do very well without the protection or oversight of humans. Yet beekeepers think that without a cleansing of the environment for a managed colony, that their bees will not thrive.


Ultimately, if the only way to keep bees is to kill every competing insect, bird, or pest, perhaps beekeeping and beekeepers should be seen as a danger. Allowing honey bees in the hands of humans, should be reconsidered. If they thrive in the wild with a bird picking off the occasional bee or having to fend off the yellow jackets, while being successful, than maybe we should all do the environment a favor, and quit keeping bees.


Perhaps beekeepers should educate themselves first, before expecting the public to be tolerant and educated about your bees. Beekeepers need to set the bar, and the example. But I think just as too few in the public care about honey bees, too few beekeepers think beyond their own hives, pockets, or interests.


If a Hive Swarms in New York City and Nobody sees it…..

July 2012


We have all heard the saying “If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody hears it, did it happen?“ or some other variation of this thought provoking statement. But what about in New York? If a hive swarms in New York, and everybody sees it, is this the same just on the reversal side?


Beekeepers have been trying to control swarms as long as they have had hives. Honey bees swarm to supercede the queen, to perpetuate their species, and to spread their genetics. It is natural and something every beekeepers should understand. Some have claimed that if beekeepers let their hives swarm, that this equates into “bad” beekeeping, and the beekeeper failed to do his or her job. And nothing could be further from the truth.

If there were 10 feral colonies in old trees, or even 10 colonies that you kept in hives, and in both situations did nothing coming out of winter, about 90% of these hives would swarm as long as the colonies were healthy. Good swarm prevention by a beekeeper may lower this swarm rate to 30%. But certainly no matter how much swarm prevention, short of near daily inspections, the beekeeper will have swarms from time to time.


Understanding that honey bees take a four or five day old laid egg (now a one or two day larvae), cap it on day nine of the 16 day queen calendar, and it hatches on day 15 or 16, means that a hive can raise a queen in about 10 days. And swarms with the old queen may issue from the hive several days prior to the queen cells actually opening. This translates that in a 7 day timeframe, you may have swarms a week after your last inspection. So going out on Saturday and seeing nothing happening in the hive in regards to swarming activity, does not mean that a swarm will not issue by your next visit a week later.


Most beekeepers reside in the country or at least suburban settings. How many of these swarms are actually seen? How many swarms happen while the beekeeper is at work, in another bee yard, or not standing in the actual bee yard issuing the swarm? Probably far more than what many realize. Some swarms hang out around the bee yard for days waiting to be found. While many others simply leave after collecting themselves in a swarm, then fly off to points beyond. But the idea is that unless you, or the neighbor sees the swarm, they are never even seen.


So what are the chances of a swarm happening in New York city and NOT being seen? Where can they go without someone seeing a cloud of bees flying or a ball of bees hanging out on some lamp post? In the country, we might see 20-30% of the swarms. The rest are simply “lost” with the knowledge that some bee tree just got repopulated and some would say that is a good thing. In New York however, each and ever swarm is seen, reported, and the public reacts to these media hyped “events”, with each one making headlines in the daily paper.


Another way to look at this is to imagine a group of 20 beekeepers in the country maintaining 100 hives at various locations. Through good swarm prevention, 30 of these hives swarm. Beekeepers and others in the public, see 10 of these swarms. One beekeeper does not even know that another beekeeper had a swarm. So each swarm perhaps impacts just a few individuals, and this may seen as isolated events.


Take that same group of beekeepers, using good swarm prevention, and place them scattered around New York. Now each swarm is a public event, seen by everyone watching the evening news, or readers of the local papers. Have the media turn this normal act of nature in a hyped sensationalized story, with taped off sections of neighborhoods, and video of response teams dressed in full protective gear, and what can you expect from the public? Have these 30 swarms scattered throughout the month seemingly making this a daily occurrence on the news, and eventually the cries to control beekeeping becomes loud. Folks stating “I can not believe that anybody can go out and buy a box of bees!” is not a good thing. And this overblown drama may impact other beekeepers as townships and other cities decide beekeeping ordinances.


I see the writing on the wall. Who will step in and save the beekeepers in New York and other communities? University programs and extension services. Already in New York, there have been discussions of certification for beekeepers, accredited courses, registration, etc., giving the idea that some beekeeping course will correct this situation. It seems some feel that beekeepers up till now are just ignorant fools, and having them registered, certified, and accredited by some academia course, will make bee colonies stop swarming.


In Pennsylvania, there is saying that “a farmer can not sneeze without hitting an extension agent”. Extension services run everything related to agriculture. From bee associations, to farmers markets. And with funding less than what is once was for both research and agriculture departments such as bee inspection programs, this justification that beekeepers now all of a sudden need courses to get into beekeeping is a hot topic on the horizon.


Beekeepers are great at asking for standards. Some will say that requiring all beekeepers to take a college course will make the industry stronger. Some will say that we need registration, certification, standards for not just honey, but beekeeper also. Just as we have licenses for everything from barbers to auto mechanics here in Pennsylvania, is beekeeping far behind? Of course I think some professions need a certification process. But as more professions are added, where will it stop? Will one need to have a college level education or certification to keep bees in the backyard? Don’t laugh. Some feel that way. I do not. I just see it as some making bigger issues out of swarms, finding a way to take advantage of the publics unfounded fears, and taking advantage to justify or further their own jobs and ideology.


It is not the beekeepers who need educated. It is the public. And while I do not blame beekeepers in New York for being bad beekeepers due the inability to stop all swarms, I hope beekeepers are aggressively educating others so any impact is minimal. Headlines suggesting beekeeping has run amuck, and comments that allowing beekeeping a mistake in New York, can only hurt the industry far beyond the city

Peeing On Your Hives

April 2012


An old saying in the bee industry is “Ask 10 beekeepers a question, and you will get 11 answers“. This saying of course has many variations. But the humor behind this statement was based on the reality that many beekeepers tinkered and did things their own way. Much can be attributed to beekeepers always searching for better ways of feeding, harvesting honey, and any other task they felt needed improved upon.


With today’s beekeepers, there are a few other sayings that seem to have cropped up in every day bee language. Sayings such as “All beekeeping is local“, and “what works for one beekeeper may not work for the next”. “There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to bees” is another example. Some beekeepers actually suggest that each new beekeeper just needs to try about everything possible and find out themselves what works.


I read these comments many times on beekeeping forums. And I can’t help but wonder why they are made. Is this some defensive position of newer beekeeper trying to equal the playing field when discussing finer details with older more established beekeepers? Is this a result of our society being so politically correct, that we must give credit to any and all opinions given in reply to whatever the question asks? Is this the result of the “There are no winners or losers” and the idea that nobody should keep score while playing youth sports? That we are all winners, all correct, and all equal.


Or do those making these statements actually believe that this is the best reply to offer newer beekeepers seeking advice? Or do they perhaps lack the knowledge to offer detailed opinions based on their own experience? Since this reasoning is offered across the board on topics relating to beekeeping, there must be a reason.


Does the heat dynamics differ from one hive to another? Does the queen calendar change from one state to another? Does a boardman feeder promote robbing in one area of the country but not in another? I would assume that beekeeping comes down to keeping bees in a box, regardless of where one is located. Bees act on instinct. Bees feed on nectar and have the same requirements for survival regardless of local conditions. How can bees be so “local’ that advice from one beekeeper could not be relevant or helpful to the next?

Times have changed. Maybe this is part of the puzzle. New beekeepers have the ability to design beekeeping websites and blog about their new interest long before they actually even have bees. Everyone is an expert from day one. Everyone needs to be heard, regardless of their merit. And everyone is correct in their own minds. Maybe that adds to the picture. Beekeepers need to equal the playing field by the desire of feeling more important, not by gaining the experience that many years of beekeeping offers, but by the watering down of everyone else to their level. So when someone states that “there are no wrong answers, and everyone is correct”, there may be a reason to this position.


When I started my beekeeping adventure, bee books were mandatory for most beginners. A book passed along from the club or purchased, was read time and time again. The author of most books were very seasons beekeepers. Was all the information correct? No. But their advice was based on many years of experience. Today, everyone wants to write a bee book. And for those not able to write a book, a blog is the next best thing. It is a place where every thought can be recorded. And every experience is passed along. Not by the fact that different items were tested over time and the best method offered. But usually by the fact that some beekeeper tried some way of over wintering bees, and if the bees came through winter using whatever the equipment or method, it is then claimed to be a success worthy of passing along to others. But was this the reason the bees made it, or did the bees make it regardless of the unknown negative impact of what was being used?


I have read many books. I have listened to many older beekeepers who had many years of experience. Some advice was taken, and some I did not use. No matter the experience some just don’t have all the answers, or good ones. But gaining all the experience that others passed along to me, no doubt saved me time, money, and colonies over the years. For beekeepers to suggest nowadays that each and every beekeeper needs to try about everything they can, because what works for one beekeeper may not work for the next, may be why many beekeepers are confused after 6 months of keeping bees. I have beekeepers a year after they began keeping bees tell me that after watching every video, scanning every forum, and reading every blog they could, say they are more confused then the day they started keeping bees.


If it is true that what works for one beekeeper may not work for the next, why do beekeepers go to bee association meetings, read books, or visit bee forums? Are beekeepers just making lists of the total number of ways to do something, so they can try each and every method available? Or are these positions of someone making these statements little more than subtle acknowledgement that perhaps they have less confidence in their own advice then they really would like?


My advice is to read a good book. Ask questions from more experienced beekeepers. And skip those indicating that there is no right or wrong way to keep bees. I have seen many bad ways to keep bees. I have seen many bad beekeepers. And by giving credence to those suggesting that every beekeeper is correct by stating “There is no right or wrong way of keeping bees” only denigrates the entire industry from within. Every beekeeper is not correct.


In the past, we had “Ask 10 beekeepers, and get eleven answers” and knowing some advice was better than some. Today, we have gone to the next level that all advice, and each beekeeper is correct, and each beekeeper should take all advice as equal, and try everything for themselves. I hope beekeepers do not get discouraged by passing on good advice, and having to try dozens on things in the quest to find what works.


I took a leak on a hive last fall. And as you probably can guess, that hive made it through winter. So my advice for beekeepers is to make sure you pee on your hives. It has proven successful for my bees. And makes about as much sense as some of the advice I have seen passed along to others. Of course, just perhaps, this advice might be questionable. And I have been known to be wrong in the past. But you will never know yourself it works unless you try.


Don't Hold Your Breathe too Long

March 2012


Last week I had a phone call from a beekeeper inquiring about how to get hop-guard, which happens to be the latest treatment coming out on the market. I asked him why he needed this new treatment. He stated that he heard good things about it and wanted to try it for mites.


After telling him that Pennsylvania has not yet approved this new medication, I asked him if the last treatments were doing the job. He stated that he lost a good percentage of bees again this year. And there is the problem. Every other treatment that he has tried over the years seemingly never really produces the results he is looking for. Hive loss seems inevitable regardless of the treatment purchased over the years.


Have not beekeepers done everything they possibly can over the past 25 years? When the bee industry said to use coumophos beekeepers used coumophos. When the industry leaders said to treat with fluvalinate, beekeepers used that. Then sucricide, api-gaurd, api-life, mite away, and mite away quick strips. Beekeepers tried essential oils, powdered sugar, and everything else coming through the grapevine. Commercial guys broadened their treatments to include illegal chemicals of various forms.


But as we wait for the next “new” treatment, are we any better than we were 20 years ago? Certainly the guys at the local associations who have gone from one treatment to the next treatment over the years, seem to lose as many colonies as anyone else. Seems they just wait for the next treatment in the pipeline hoping this will be the one that makes the difference.

More than five years of colony collapse disorder had the bee industry look at everything including cell phones, nosema, tiny flies, to a multitude of chemicals. We had some say that if you feed the bees supplements, or add vitamins to syrup, bees will do better.


This year, “super bees” is the word of the day. Some queen breeders are marketing “survival” bees genetically engineered, mated, and seemingly able to end your troubles.


Now as CCD comes full circle, we are back to hearing that hive loss and winter kill is the beekeepers fault. That beekeepers need to do a better job dealing with mites. Seems even if chemicals are the real problem, no researcher will make a living fighting big biotech industries. So they may as well go back and look at the other stuff while writing the next grant proposal.


What a load of crap. Beekeepers have bought everything thrown their way. Beekeepers have spent money out of their families pockets year after year. They have followed the industry leaders and where has this gotten most beekeepers? No further ahead then they were 10 years ago. Are you going to be happy waiting for the next treatment coming out on the market 10 years from now?


25 years of mites, and we are as an industry just waiting for the next treatment to come on the market, almost no better than we were 25 years ago.


Some day beekeeper may become serious about breeding a better bee. Some day, the bee industry may actually become solidified against the chemicals that are impacting the honey bee. Some day, beekeepers may become more involved than waiting for the next "pill in a bottle” dream of dealing with problems. Some day, beekeeper may wake up and realize those that they have been following, have taken them down the same path time and time again with the same results.


I gave a talk last week to over 100 experienced beekeepers. I asked how many raised queens last year. Six beekeepers said that did. And when 94% of any group of beekeepers could care less or put no effort into a fundamental basic beekeeping task as raising queens, I don’t think there is much hope getting beyond where the industry currently rests.


A few things I truly believe: 1) Most beekeepers have no clue of mites in their hives. They simply do not monitor mites. They would rather wait and treat as told. 2) Beekeepers do not fully understand the benefit of raising their own queens. 3) Beekeeper do not recognize that chemicals are impacting their hives more than they realize. 4) Next year, I will get phone calls asking when will we get the next treatment coming out. 5) We will get no further in the next 10 years as we did in the past 10 years without a concerted effort. 6) Beekeepers need to step out of the box that others have delegated them too.

Beekeeper are the ultimate optimists. They think next year will be better. They think someone will solve their problems. They think the next treatment will solve their problems.


I’m not holding my breathe. That is not my idea of success.

The Story of Mary.

February 2012


Several years ago, I had a phone call from Mary. Mary is your typical hobbyist beekeeper with a couple years of experience. She has her single hive in the backyard. And she is frustrated.


Mary told me in the conversation that two years ago, she had bought a package of bees when she first started out. They seemed to thrive all summer but then fizzled out. The following year, she bought a nuc in attempts to have better success. But unfortunately, they also died over the winter. She explained that keeping bees was harder than she thought and if beekeeping meant buying bees every year, she was considering not being a beekeeper much longer.


Since I know Mary personally, I knew some things about her. So this was my reply…. “Mary, let me ask you, did you enjoy sitting on the back porch all summer long sipping tea in the evening watching the bees come and go?” Her reply, “Yes, I did”. I asked “Did your grandchildren enjoy coming over and seeing your bees? Were they amazed at the many wonders of what bees offer?” Her reply was “Yes, they were“. I asked Mary if she had gotten any honey from the hive? “Well. I did take a couple frames of honey that I really enjoyed”, was her answer.


I went on to explain that no matter the hobby, whether bowling, showing dogs, owning a horse, or boating, that there are costs involved. I reminder her that most hobbies cost something, and most hobbies were costlier than 90 dollars per year. Name one hobby that you can do annually that give as much benefits as beekeeping for 90 dollars per year? I asked her to consider her enjoyment for the entire summer as she was proud of her beehive, was helping the environment, and even got a few pounds of honey for her efforts. I explained that most who keep bees, are probably like gardeners or folks who keep chickens. I had chickens previously and keep a garden almost every year. If I tallied up the time, chicken feed, and costs of keeping a few chickens, and applied that to the amount of eggs I had gotten, the cost of the eggs would amount to at least three times the cost of eggs I could purchase at market. But most who keep chickens do it for other reasons. They love the sustainability of producing your own if even more costly, the enjoyment, and the concept of keeping their own chickens. And the same could be said of gardening. How many actually save money when factoring costs, labor, and time, for the produce they actually get? For most, they garden because they love the outdoors. They love something deep inside beyond counting how many tomatoes they get and if it paid off or not.


Beekeeping is much like that. People keep bees, and especially for hobbyists, for reasons of helping the environment, for the enjoyment, and connecting with nature. They do it for reasons other than just worrying if they got enough honey to cover their expenses.


Sure, there are many problems in the bees industry. Bee colonies can die for a multitude of reasons. But we need beekeepers to press forward. We need folks to understand their contributions to the environment. We need beekeepers to know that there are many reasons to keep bees beyond worrying about buying a colony to replace a dead-out every year. I think many, like myself, would keep bees even if they knew ahead of time they were going to lose their hive every season.


Could we do better for the bees and lessen the annual hive kill? You bet! It would foolish for anyone to think they did everything they could. That somehow they did everything correct. That they were the best they could be. There are too many influences right now effecting bees to even know sometimes what killed the bees. Disease (bacterial and viral), genetics, chemicals and pesticides, and a host of other things could be at play. Sometimes we just lose hives for no known reason.

I can’t state why Mary had her bees die for two years in a row. But we can pick ourselves up, learn from our mistakes, improve what we can, and move forward. We can appreciate what we do get from the bees, and what they teach us. The enjoyment, the local pollination, the honey, and teaching the next generation a small part of nature all are part of that beekeeping experience. It certainly is worth the cost of a package every year for me. And if you get bees through this coming year, consider that as nothing more than a bonus. Other things besides annual costs are more important than that one factor when considering whether you should keep bees.


Beekeeping has seen a huge growth spurt in the past few years with many beekeeping clubs at least tripling in members. Not because beekeeping has been touted as an “easy” hobby. Not due to the fact that beekeeping guarantees a massive honey crop every year. And not because it is promoted a “cheap” hobby with no expenses. Many recent new beekeepers got involved with beekeeping due the news headlines of massive colony deaths associated with “Colony Collapse Disorder”, known as CCD. Many got involved in beekeeping as they found out the honey bee is in trouble. They wanted to help. They wanted to get involved. They understood the benefits of beekeeping, and what bees do for us.

Those problems did not go away. We still have some issues in beekeeping. We need beekeepers to be active, supportive, and willing to improve things moving forward. The bees still need you. And even when your bees die, you can be an advocate, a voice,…..for the bees.


I hope beekeepers today are keeping bees for the right reasons. I hope they enjoy beekeeping beyond worrying about the cost of the hobby. That conversation mentioned earlier with Mary happened three years ago. Mary lost another hive, and has had one successfully over-winter. But I think regardless of what happens moving forward, Mary will always have bees. She knows that beekeeping runs a bit deeper than what she had originally thought.

Who really suppresses honey market prices?

January 2012



I was recently at Wal-Mart. Yeah, I know some of you instantaneously will label me as some anti-American consumer, siding with the Chinese, and probably rolled your eyes. Yeah, I stop in occasionally. Not afraid to say that I do. And I do not stop in and say I don't, like many others.


I cruised down the aisle with honey. I was curious since I really have not looked at honey on commercial shelves for awhile. Yet, on forums, at bee clubs, and other conversations where beekeepers gather, it seems foreign honey is a topic of discussion.


Local honey as you might expect was not found. I did find a varied offering. More than I had expected. One 2 lb jar was from Suebee. Priced at $5.98 In somewhat hard to read lettering, was "Product of USA".


Another brand was Thrifty Bee packed by Golden Heritage Foods. The 2 pound bottle cost $5.69 The label read "Product of Argentina, India, and Uruguay".


The third was Wal-Mart brand labeled "Great Value" and stated that is was bottled for Wal-Mart and a product of the USA. It was a three pound bottle costing $8.32


So the three offerings were:

SueBee (USA honey) at $2.99 per pound

Thrifty Bee (Foreign Honey) at 2.84 per pound

Great Value (USA Honey) $2.77 per pound.


How do they do it? Who sells USA honey for less than three dollars per pound? Assuming Wal-Mart also makes a profit on the sale, factoring in the price of the jar, label, transportation costs, taxes, and a host of other overhead, what are they buying honey at per pound?


Should we blame foreign honey? Should we make claims that China has dumped so much honey that our domestic produced honey is far less than what it could be? Hard to make these claims when one of the brands of honey was less than the Thrifty Bee brand of foreign honey. Is there a need to sell made in USA products less than imported honey?


There seems to be much to do about honey standards in the states right now. Assuming this is not about taxes and profits for the government and the likes of the National Honey Board, which is like suggesting the sun does not come up every day, I don't see how this will help beekeepers here in the USA. Up to 70% of the honey consumed in this country is imported. The honey industry fat cats would like you to believe that this imported honey is suppressing honey prices here and have sold this assumption to many beekeepers.


And hobbyist beekeepers and the vast majority of consumers suggest this foreign honey is less than healthy due to being processed, with beneficial enzymes being killed and nutritious compounds filtered out. Nice claim, but hardly truthful. Most imported foreign honey is used in the food industry. From cereal to baked goods. You really think that honey retains much of it's healthy benefits when it is being used in processed foods? It is a sugar source. A high carb ingredient. And a reasoning for false advertising by suggesting some product is healthy but for the idea that it contains minuscule amounts of honey. Big food industry is outright using the purity and image of honey, taking advantage of the consumers confidence that honey is healthy and pure.


For the foreign honey that does make it as Grade A, and bottled for sale to consumers, it is hard to gripe about prices when domestic honey is being sold for less than the imported honey. But who is making money on honey sold at very low prices? Beekeepers, packers, retailers? Or does the honey industry really only care about taxes on each and every pound sold as seen with the honey board? I have never cared about the honey board since they make money on imported honey, and do little to support beekeepers in this country. I support local agriculture, local farming, and local beekeeping. I try to get consumers to buy local honey from local beekeepers. Too bad the bee industry, the honey industry, and others, care little about that.


And will a new honey standard aimed at stopping honey imports mislabeled as something other than honey, really make a difference? I think this really comes down to missed taxes collected by the government and the honey board since honey imported something other than honey, is not taxed. So they add 10% sugar syrup and call it something else. And boy, folks get excited when their taxes are not being collected. Hard to get excited backing large packers and commercial operations when they are already under cutting foreign honey themselves, while claiming that foreign honey is suppressing honey prices. Why is domestic honey being sold for less than foreign honey on supermarket shelves? There has to be more to the story, other than what is being fed to the bee community.


Most hobbyist and local beekeepers I know sell honey for twice the price as what those huge producers are charging. Local honey is all the rage. Most consumers if given the chance would buy local honey over supermarket honey. I just hope beekeepers produce more local honey. Every time a consumer can't find local honey, it gives Wal-Mart the chance to sell foreign honey. Or better yet, domestic honey for less cost than even foreign honey, which in turns suppresses honey prices for all beekeepers, even the hobbyists.


So don't get all teary eyed next time someone writes an article about the poor commercial beekeeper not making ends meet, and losing out to the foreign market. That is not who you should be worried about. It seems the commercial guys undercut the hobbyists by far more than what foreign honey undercuts the mass produced domestic honey. I bet many beekeepers would do much better if they only had to compete with foreign honey. That is easy to do. I sell at double the price of foreign honey. But is seems the large producers of domestic honey just do not get it. They sell for pennies on the dollar, and are even selling on the supermarket shelves for less than the foreign brands.


Who educates the public to the benefits of local honey? Who demands the most for their product? And who sells their honey for twice the cost of both foreign honey and commercial producers? The hobbyist beekeeper!


Who does not promote local honey? Who cares little about the benefits of raw honey? And who constantly suppresses honey prices? All those that have their hands in the honey industry cookie jar. That would be commercial beekeepers, packers, importers, even the honey board. All doing their part to import, package, market, and sell at discount prices. And then many complain that foreign honey is to blame. The only folks that should be complaining are the hobbyists. They are the one's getting screwed!


Honey produced in these times, selling at less than 3 dollars per pound on retail shelves. What a shame it says about the bee industry.



Bugs on the Windshield

July 2011


Sometimes a conversation deals with some random topic that you seemingly have discussed a dozen times before, gives a small piece of dialog that just sticks in your mind. I recently had one of these conversations with a group of beekeepers concerning bees, pesticides, and the environment. And sometimes the proof of what is happening around you presents itself in such simple terms, that it’s better than million dollar research studies.


I was fortunate one day to be talking to fellow beekeeper Jim Shindler from York. In discussing the lack of Monarch butterflies this year, and the loss of 50% of my bat nursery last summer, he made the observation that you just don’t see insects like you once did. My initial reaction was to think “What? All we ever hear about is this pest or that pest seemingly destroying everything around us”. To hear what seems like half the commercials on the radio, you would think we are at war with bugs all across the planet. Spray this, eliminate that, protect yourself from this danger, etc.


But Jim brought back one of my fond childhood memories, going on family outings. He mentioned that bugs seemingly are far less than years ago, and was indicated by windshield counts. Windshield counts? As I remembered back to the time I was a child, I quickly realized that this simply observation was brilliant.


I remember as a kid, riding in the car late at night coming back from a distant relatives house, or some family function. And I can still see today, the covering of the windshield by insects as they seemingly were drawn to the headlights of the car. It was not uncommon at that time, to actually have the need to clean your windshield as you filled up at the roadside gas station. This really got me thinking.

So the last several days, I have traveled several roadways at night. And while I do have the occasional bug splatter on the windshield, it was not even enough to make me think twice about cleaning off the window as I recall in the memories of my childhood. Thinking perhaps the road was not an “insect” friendly stretch of road, I also made it a point to take the river routes along the Susquehanna river.


I also asked several dozen people when was the last time they actually pulled over and cleaned their windshield. Nobody could remember when the last time that happened. But they all could remember the memories of such ordeals years ago.


So what changed? Are the cars so air dynamic that the bugs just miss the windshield altogether with the cars of today? Are the headlights dimmer and not attracting as many bugs? I know I am blinded often with what seems bright lights most nights. I wish I had that 71 Pontiac Satellite I drove as a teenager. I know that car got plastered to the point I could not see out the windshield at times. And I guessing my Jeep isn’t that much more air dynamic.


There certainly is a huge die off of bats across Pennsylvania in the past several years. Is it due to a limited food supply as insects are less today as years ago? Has the makeup of insect populations changed? And while I can not speak of my experiences with frogs and other insect eating creatures, it does seem like many others are ringing the bell. Maybe the honeybees the past 5 years, and what we call “Colony Collapse Disorder” is a wider problem than just what we see with bees.


When some report comes out, or someone prints an article, many are skeptical of anything they can not themselves touch, feel, smell, taste or experience. Maybe information on such items as the damage of the environment and the impacts to insects such as honeybees would be better served with just some down to earth memories and how things seemingly change in front of our eyes, without us even realizing it.


I never really thought about dead bugs on my windshield. I bet you didn’t either. But I will from now on. Those childhood memories are not fake. I fondly remember as a child sitting up late at night watching the headlights and seeing all the stars, the bugs, and whatever else you could see. I just hope that my kids have the simple pleasures of such experiences as bugs being splattered on the windshield. Or at least I hope they will always have the opportunity, and for their children.

Mike Thomas - Bjorn Apiaries

Beekeepers Being Squeezed to Death in Pennsylvania


June 2011


In the July 2011 edition of Bee Culture, page 7, entitled "Pests or Beneficial", there is an article concerning Plymouth Township in Montgomery county deciding whether honey bees are beneficial or not. And whether they fall under the "?Elimination of arborages" clause of the local ordinance.


While I applaud the local beekeepers in their attempt and hopeful success in getting the township to make the final decision of not including managed honey bees with the same catch all ordinance designed to eliminate rodents and pests on premises, there is a point that should not be overlooked. The final paragraph states "The only requirement (for the township) is to register with the township by obtaining a $25 permit: just as dog owners would need to do".


This same question of townships imposing permit fees first reared its ugly head several years ago with a township outside Gettysburg. My question then, is the same I ask now. Since beekeepers are required to register and pay a fee with the Pennsylvania state agriculture department, is not charging the same fees on a township level, double jeopardy to some degree?


Do we further need to register our cars, after paying the state, with another fee by the county? By the township? Or any other entity? The state has full registration authority for not just cars, but for agriculture license and permits.


So where will this stop? Will I need to whip out another check for the county or township after I pay the agriculture department for my food safety license for my honey house? And why are they picking on registered beekeepers without also making backyard gardeners pay "agriculture" license and fees as farms are required?


How can a state that charges fees already by state law, and that has full authority for such permit fees on a state level, also allow beekeepers to be further forced to pay fees to other authorities? Is this even legal? If Plymouth township wants a list of beekeepers in their township they can easily do that by calling the state. It would save township the cost of such permit processes, and save the beekeeper another fee. But follow the dollar as they say! What oversight can justify local townships justifying registrations fees? Do townships have "beekeeper" as one of the hats that the enforcement officers wear?


The sad fact is I tried to garner support through the state apiarist office several years ago. This was supposed to be brought up at the state agriculture bi-annual legal meeting where such issues are discussed. But more important things like CCD no doubt took priority. And the "I'll get back to you" reply that was given, was nothing more than the customary lip service response that we are so accustomed of getting from the state these days.


Just as the restrictive banning of beekeeping in Hollidaysburg (Pa.) a few years back, I see no concerted effort to take these issues on with full force. The state association has no committee, no legal defense fund, no solid support from the legislature in this state. There is no concerted effort between other entities in the department of agriculture, higher education programs, and the beekeeping community on these issues. Each local beekeeping association is left to their own to do what they can. This is a shame. And I for one would like to see PennApic make the steps necessary to have in place a plan of action and a legislative committee that actually gets more accomplished than feeding a few politicians once a year at some event called "Cornucopia".


This is the type of excessive tyranny that we should stand against. This is the second township within Pennsylvania to impose local permit fees. And if nothing is done, your township may be next.

Mike Thomas - Bjorn Apiaries

Who benefits from mites?


May 2011 


Once upon a time, beekeeping was very easy. AFB was the major disease, honey production average higher yields, and if you lost 10% of your hives over winter, that was consider devastating. Oh, those were the days, or so I‘m told. Personally, I’m not sure if I am lucky to not have experienced those days, or sorry not to have started beekeeping many years earlier.


In a recent association presentation, it was mentioned that one country (Kenya if I remember correctly) had bees develop mite resistant bees after 7 years. The beekeepers were forced to breed bees from survivors and build upon the bees resistance. They had no choice as chemical treatment were impossible, due to economical reasons. Did their localized bees have some magical traits far different than what we use in the states? Hard to say. But the fact that they had devastating losses, did show that the initial impact of the introduction of varroa mites were as devastating as it was when mites were first introduced into the states.


Nearly 25 years after the introduction of varroa mites into the states, we are still battling yearly losses directly attributed to varroa mites. A follow up broad based hygienic test ten years after the initial test were conducted did show an improvement of the overall resistant and hygienic quality of production queens. But it was far less than what is needed. The improvement was probably due to breeding efforts and nature’s ability to kill off the weakest genetics every year, regardless of how much care and treatments some beekeepers use in attempts to save every hive, whether worthy or not.


But what factors are not allowing our bees to become better resistant? Several things come to mind. One, the importation of genetics of bees from areas not affected by varroa mites. Large numbers of queens from Hawaii used for commercial splits and preparation for almond pollination units, as well as the recent importation of packages from Australia no doubt help weaken the genetic pool, by adding bees never exposed to mites, and having no resistance.


Do we have beekeepers, breeders and other folks trying to develop resistant bees? Yes, a small pocket of effort here, and another pocket there. But from an nationwide industry viewpoint, no real money or effort is forthcoming. Why is that?


First, imagine tomorrow an announcement coming out that all mites have mysteriously died over night from some cosmic event. Bee labs would lose their justification for much of their funding. University entomologist may well have their staff cut. Half the stuff sold in bee industry magazines to beekeepers would not be needed. The package industry would lose much of the orders as beekeeper went back to a simpler way of just making up that 10% yearly loss by splitting or catching the occasional swarm. Any perceived bee shortage would end, and prices for pollination would fall by at least half, and may go back to the 50 dollar level.


But reality is, everyone benefits from perpetuation of a problem, except perhaps the hobbyist beekeeper. And if mites were no longer a problem, funding, high pollination prices, and much of the bee industry as seen by money being spent, would not be needed. Treatments, specialized equipment such as IPM boards, videos, half of the book filler, and everything across the board would be deemed useless.


Thank goodness for these folks that CCD came along when it did. Mites have been placed on the back burner for many. The CCD rock still has a few nickels left to squeeze out. Like the psychiatrist that would lose a client the day they ever deemed them “cured”, are we just in a constant perpetuation of problems, used more for lining pockets, then actually focused on solving problems?


I think beekeepers need to stop waiting for others to solve your problems, such as resistance. We have the ability to make the necessary improvements in our stock. It just takes an understanding and the willingness to do more than just chemically treat bees, pray they make it through winter, then buy more packages every spring.


If you look at a bee map of where the different lines of bees originated, they were separated by mountain ranges, environmental conditions, and climate zones. Nature did that all by itself. So why are not more working to promote localized, acclimatized, and survivor stock better suited for their own area? Probably because of no real leadership from higher powers in the industry. Of course, some of these folks are the one’s most benefiting from mite problems to begin with.


Beekeepers need to start working together in their own local associations, and build upon the genetic pool already available. For those that already raise their own queens, or deal with breeders working a survivor or acclimatize bee breeding program, huge benefits can be seen.


It’s time we get off the chemical treatment bandwagon, and start to build an industry where we do not need to rely on mass produced packages from areas far different then what climates we expect our bees to survive.


Without the package industry many new beekeepers would never get bees as the shortage is widespread every year. So the package industry is a necessity for many beekeepers. But we should also take the standard beginners bee class held by most associations, and follow it up with a second class focused on giving beekeepers the tools and knowledge to never again buy packages after their first year.


Mike Thomas - Bjorn Apiaries

The Lost Art of Location.

April 2011


I'm sure many people have seen video of the great caribou migrations across the plains as they move from one area to another, timing everything from their mating, to birth of their young, based on resources of food and environmental factors. Monarch butterflies fly thousands of miles between summer and winter locations. Even most Indian tribes years ago, moved between camp locations based on seasonal advantages of food resources and other factors.


Insects that may not migrate between seasonal locations such as the monarch butterfly, still seek out, congregate, mate, and thrive in locations that give them the best chances of survival. This may be due to a particular plant source they prefer, water sources, nesting availability, and many other factors.


I have been keeping mason bees for a number of years. Mason bees, even though they will nest in groups, are solitary bees. And one thing that masons have shown me, is their willingness to move and abandon a location they deem as unsuitable. Maybe due to a lack of quality pollen, or a location with too much chemical pressure. For whatever reason, some locations perpetuate and thrive, while others are abandoned after only a year or two.


Honey bees I'm sure, if never managed by beekeepers, would have a certain pattern if we could magically plot each location on a map. Some areas, would have many colonies per square mile based on available nectar and resources, while others would be far less. Some of this may have to do with abundant nesting location, a favorable over wintering location like the south side of mountains compared to the north, and many other factors. Every plant, insect, and animal on earth display these patterns resulting from the advantages and disadvantages that nature presents.


So why do so many beekeepers expect a beehive to thrive in every location for the mere fact that it just happens to be where one lives? Certainly even mankind has changed from the days of traveling with the herds, to building towns near resources such as waterways, to now building where the jobs and other opportunities present themselves. No need for a location near a water way, or a place where fertile land exists. For many of us, we have the clean water piped in, or expect others to grow our food in places much better than what our backyards offer. But do we want this "artificial" system for the bees?


Honey bees, and especially those managed by beekeepers, are limited to the resources within a two mile radius. Everything they need to exist, is within this area. They do not migrate, they do not move. They either succeed or fail based on the pollen, nectar, and health of the environment of that two mile circle. Some locations can support a few hives, while other locations may support more based on abundant resources. Bees only "migrate" from a standpoint that they swarm and move from one area to another. But the colony, except in cases of absconding, remains in this one location and either survives or dies.


So what about your location? Do you have locations based on a wide variety of nectar and pollen producing plants? Do they have a location relatively free from the many dangers of chemical and pesticide issues? Do you keep too many hives for the resources available?


Most old bee books mention something of location. Also how beekeepers would move bees to nectar sources throughout the season. And no, it was not a thousand mile move to work on a single nectar source like almonds. Many beekeepers simply moved them 10-20 miles to take advantage of localized conditions and nectar flows. There was also mention in these books about scouting for good bee locations. There seemed to be more to it than what many of the beekeepers consider today. Which many times is deciding by nothing more than which side of the yard to keep the bees.

We know that some pollen and nectar sources are not good for bees. Some pollens are far less nutritious than what bees require for good health. And some nectars are even considered poisonous to bees. No doubt in nature bees would be far less successful in these areas. Some areas like in deep woods, void of meadows and roadside weed varieties, see few colonies. In deep wooded areas, after the trees flower in the spring, the bees have little else to sustain themselves the rest of the year.


I see some yards survive at a great rate almost every year. While other yards have high over wintering losses year after year. I can not control the chemicals within the two mile radius of my bee yards. And I don't have the time to replant a more favorable floribunda. But I can move my hives and give much more consideration as to where I keep bees.


For me, I know my success in years to come will be based on better locations. Not putting all my eggs (beehives) in large baskets (apiaries) that are a all or nothing proposition. Good sites selected on knowing what the bees need, coupled with smaller yards, are keys for me. This will also help with disease transfer and not experiencing some of the maladies beekeepers are experiencing.


Beekeeping today, just as it was years ago, comes down to location, location, location, as the saying goes. But today, it may be more important than ever. And maybe we can all have healthier bees by starting out with what they did years ago, by selecting a good bee yard with the bees in mind.


Mike Thomas - Bjorn Apiaries


Beekeeping 20 Years from now.....

March 2011



If you had a crystal ball and could see the future, what do you think you would see in the future for beekeeping?


Would twenty years from now mean that CCD was solved and was only a bad memory of the past? Would chemical use be drastically cut as people actually came to their senses and realized the environmental damages incurred from manicured lawns and farming practices that used chemicals as their base of control and production? Would beekeeping return to a normalcy of losing just an occasional hive, instead of entire operations in just a few weeks? Do you think 20 years would result in an improvement or a continuation of the present problems effecting the honey bee? Do you think that light at the end of the tunnel would have been seen brightening or was it just as dark for many as it is today?


I'm not betting on any brightening of the light any time soon. A recent glance at just the front section of the February 5, 2011 Lancaster Farming newspaper, revealed these headlines?.

* Front page "Cutting Through the 'Confusion' About Chemicals in Food" (Seems experts see the world starving and the only way to feed the starving masses is to educate the public that chemicals are the best means for increased production, and that they should accept chemicals in their food supply)

* Pg, A9 "Biotech Alfalfa Deregulation Should Be Applauded". (Get ready for Round-up Ready alfalfa to a field next to you. And you think corn and soybeans were bad.)

* Pg. A10 "Researchers Find Way to Control 'Superweeds". (Seems there are about 14 "superweeds" now resistant to  Roundup. And what is the solution being looked at? Mixing Roundup  with 2,4-D and other chemicals to produce a more toxic product to be used on the food crops. Isn't it nice to know a growth hormone will be also now in the alfalfa fields as mentioned above)

* Pg. A22 "USDA Will Allow Planting of Modified Alfalfa". (No need to rehash this except pointing out that it is Chemical companies, university agriculture departments, and the USDA all working in conjunction to bring about these changes)

* Pg. A32 "Experts Say Insecticides Can Save Ash Trees" (Like the gypsy moth and black fly aerial spray programs, get ready for the same in attempts to control the Emerald Ash Borer.)


A recent conversation with two apple growers from Adams County, Pennsylvania, had these comments "Mike, you think it's bad now, wait till farmers (apple growers) start using the suggested chemical treatments for the stink bug. This stuff is going to kill off all the beneficial insects, triple my annual cost for chemicals, and put me in a position of thinking whether producing apples is even worth it".


Another recent conversation with a state official concerning "No-till Farming" and the increased use of chemicals, (See the "No-till Farming" article posted on last years Bee Ramblings page) had this comment. "The cleanup of the Chesapeake bay, and the effort to improve the tourist opportunities and the fishing industry (to include oysters) is where the money is. This effort is what is funding committees, research departments, and other programs at this time. Yes, there is a trade off, and hopefully down the road we can address some of these other issues as well." For me, that means....follow the money! Milk the Chesapeake bay cleanup for every nickel, and then it's off to the next "problem", whatever that is that will bring in the most money. Sickening isn't it? People know that "no-till" is harmful. But that is small change with other bigger issues at play.


We are four years into CCD. We are four years into congressional hearings, bee campaigns, meetings with EPA officials, and media exposure calling attention to honey bees deaths on levels never seen before. And yet not one chemical ban, not one change in farming practices, and nothing to suggest that things will improve. (The bee research and industry has resorted to selling feed with increased this or that, or calling for you to buy something. Like that will really improve things...Not! Snake-oil days are long past.) And it's just not honey bees. Reports of butterfly, bats, frogs, and other beneficial insect declines have also been noted. Myself, I lost half my bat nursery this past summer. State officials had no explanation other than to note that bat deaths are being reported elsewhere also.


I think there is a increased effort to fast-track our food supply as fast as possible to crops requiring no pollination at all from insects, including honey bees. I have read that a new almond tree may be commercially viable in years to come that would require no pollination. So the real power players today setting the model for the future include chemicals, crops with no pollination requirements, and no need for bees in the future.


Now some will automatically ask, "But where will that leave beekeepers"? And what does that say or suggest about the larger environment as a whole? Good questions. But it's not hard to imagine. Beekeeping to me will be relegated to the far reaches and isolated corners where chemicals may be less and the bees could still thrive. There will be a huge decrease in backyard and urban beekeepers as it will be almost impossible to keep hives alive. And there will be the death of the commercial migratory bee industry. 95% of our honey will be imported. And beekeeping will go the way of the ham radio and bag phone. Not due to better technology and advancements, but due to the destruction of much of the environment in providing higher yields and finding the easy way to fend off insects and weeds. It's just easier to kill off all insects, especially when honey bees are no longer needed.


I'm not throwing in the towel. I'm not quitting. But I would like to think we as beekeepers could brighten that light for others to see. The task is huge. The effort would need to be tremendous. But I would rather do everything we can, and go down fighting rather than give up. And sitting back waiting for others, or thinking beekeeping will not come to what I have suggested, will only find one end result. That being what I suggested. The bee industry destruction snowball is already gaining steam rolling down the hill. And if we sit back long enough, we will eventually see the end results. And I don't think it will be something good for future generations.


Mike Thomas - Bjorn Apiaries





Tired of the "Organic" Crap in Beekeeping

February 2011


It does not take long to find beekeepers who are insistent on using some modified or convoluted meaning of the term "organic". And I am always amazed at the length that some take in the reasoning and rationalizations used to label one's honey special or different than the next beekeeper.


Some suggest they have honey obtained by "organic methods". Really? What does that mean? If a standard of what it takes to be called certified organic is not being achieved, where does that line in reality rest? 99% of the standard? 50% of the standard? Or nothing but what a normal beekeeper does, with the exception of less use of one chemical compared to the next beekeeper?


Some suggest if some compound is found in nature, then dumping in some massive concentrate as a mite control justifies it still being called "organic". Like the miniscule amounts of acid from ants could really be called organic or even natural, when compared to what beekeepers are hitting their bees with in the treatments on the market.


I once attended a session held by one of the organic licensing authorities for the state of Pennsylvania. They spoke of what it would take to be certified as a organic beekeeper here in Pennsylvania. One of the requirements was a land-use study to include the chemical use of all landowners in a two mile radius of every apiary. This requirements alone made it impossible to be certified organic.


But for new beekeepers, the questions continue as they somehow think there are many organic beekeepers out there somewhere. After seeing an advertisement for the "Yahoo organic bee group" mentioning 3700 members, two different beekeepers asked me if there really was 3700 organic beekeepers, and how does one get certified? After I stopped laughing, I went on to inform them that this was just the number of members to a online forum, and meant little else.


For a country that imports 70% of the honey it consumes, why is there a need to use "organic" in selling honey or describing a management approach, when no certification has been achieved? Is this being honest with the consumer who expects that certain requirements have been met? Are beekeepers opening themselves up to litigation by such claims and use of the word "organic". Beekeepers will never know without testing exactly what is in their honey. So why make innuendos, half truths, and use questionable marketing.


No local beekeeper should have a problem selling their honey. Local honey is in huge demand. If you sell "local honey", meaning it was your bees or someone close by, "natural honey" meaning your bees made it, "raw honey" meaning no fine filtering or high heat used, or "pure honey" meaning no additives, you should have no problem selling your honey as a premium product.


I am not a fan of the organic certification process. And I question products from other countries with less control than what is perceived or marketed. Time and time again, circumstances arise and show clearly that products are not as clean as what the requirements suggest. I think for much of the entire process, it is motivated by profit, and means little as to the actual quality of product being produced. But consumers want to buy special labeled products, producers want to charge more, and the whole process is sometimes questionable. Why would anyone buy a product that has been shipped half-way around the world (like that's good for the planet) to pay for higher priced goods from producers you have no chance of contacting or questioning about their operation?


I prefer locally produced produce, from farmers and producers that I can meet, ask questions, and are part of my local agriculture community. If they are certified organic, good for them. I think the varied goods being produced is good for the consumer.


I find it ironic how many folks buy organic this or that, in some self-justification that they are helping the earth by buying from vendors that use organic ingredients in their products. Using 10 organic ingredients that were flown in from 10 different countries to achieve some special marketing of a product is absurd. Who's kidding who? Are you buying that organic soap bar because it contain organic shea butter and it makes a good bar of soap, or are you focused on the idea that it contains organic products. Because if it's because of the organic products, perhaps you should consider the damage to the planet by flying in these ingredients and products so you can get a warm fuzzy feeling while doling out three times the price. Maybe that warm fuzzy feeling is really the fumes from the plane, train, and trucking industry to get ingredients from far off lands. I am not a tree hugging freak. But I do see the irony of those who buy products based on a label and ignorant to the larger story and damage that they cause. How can anyone be impressed with any product that requires tens of thousands of miles of transportation for the ingredients it used in the making of the product?


I think that beekeepers should stay clear of false advertising and suggestions of being "organic" in whatever form it may be used. Beekeepers know that bees forage far and wide, and will drag in stuff from down the street. What the beekeeper does or claims, is a small part of the story.


Honey bees produce one of the "greenest" list of single source natural raw products that can be produced. Honey bees eat, live, die, and require nothing outside a two mile radius of their home. They do not require anything to be flown in from around the world. Maybe we should take a cue from the honey bee, and quit running around buying organic products from around the world, while thinking we are doing something good by being ripped off by products labeled in some far off distant land. Local source products, produced from the hive or the local farmer, whether organic or not, is where my money goes.


Mike Thomas - Bjorn Apiaries

When The Goodwill of the People is Abused

January 2011


It seems many people are jumping on the “save the bees” bandwagon over the past several years. And while there are many good programs and sincere bee lovers out there, does anyone really notice the number of folks that balance on the edge of taking advantage of the good hearted nature of others? The following are some examples.


I recently had a chat with a fellow beekeeper from New York. One of the things that she mentioned was the large number of festivals, fairs, and markets she attended this past year. She pointed out that at a majority of these events, she had seen a vendor selling t-shirts with various sayings such as “Save the Bees” or “Help the Bees”. Seeing this individual more than a few times, she struck up a conversation with the vendor about his business. In the conversation that followed, it was divulged that this vendor was not a beekeeper. She asked if any of the proceeds were going to bees or research. The answer basically came back “I’m selling T-shirts. That’s it. I’m not claiming to do anything else but sell T-shirts”.


One has to wonder how handing over 25 dollars to a guy selling t-shirts is helping the bees. Maybe having hundreds of folks running around wearing “save the bees” t-shirts may have someone ask a question or two. But I think there are better ways of educating the public than buying from vendors that stick the money in their pockets at the end of the day.


While I acknowledge and support free business across the board, it does rub me there are so many people willing to act like they are coming to the honeybee’s rescue, only when there is a dollar to be made. But this small example of profiting from the goodwill of concerned people willing to help the bees, is but a small tip of the iceberg.


In one city, promotion of a “Community Sustainable Apiary” is marketed as a “not for profit” business. I made the mistake of thinking they were a nonprofit organization. I searched their website for board members, individual contact information, bylaws, or anything else that would indicate a nonprofit organization. Only after sending an email was I informed that they were a “not for profit” business, and not a registered nonprofit organization. I’m not even sure what a “not for profit” business is exactly.


In another city, one person is asking for “gifts” and donations so they can “help” the environment by placing more bees in the community. For certain monetary gifts or a donations, you can choose from a variety of bee equipment packages with over inflated priced equipment. I find begging for donations and preying on the good will of the community that is trying to help the bees after hearing of all the industry problems……is a problem. Seeking donations with sly promotional tactics and half-truths, so you can increase your hive numbers, by suggesting this is beneficial to the environment, is appalling!


I think bee associations asking for donations from the community to have hive giveaway programs to get more youth into beekeeping, and other programs at expanding the bee industry, is a good thing. Individual businesses or bee associations collecting solicited donations to build their own hive numbers is a step “over the line” in my opinion.


There are a number of book promotions, movies, and calendars all “helping the bees”. Problem is, in some cases, nobody is seeing much in the way of actual donations to the organizations that were promised a percentage. One particular product has been promoted now for two years. And yet two years of selling this product, not one dollar has been forwarded to the national bee association for the research foundation that was to be set up with this money. One of the bee associations I am a member of, has been selling this product now for two years. It has made plenty of money for the association, but again, something just does not add up. Does anyone care?


Don’t get me wrong. There are many good individuals and businesses that have stepped up to the plate to help the bee industry. But when people start coming out of the woodwork, to attach themselves to the latest environmental issue, you sometimes get the not so good also. Some are here to help “save the bees” only until they move on to the next movie project or hot button environmental issue. There is a group of these people that see the problems in the bee industry over the past several years as nothing more than an opportunity to make a quick buck. And the public, which really knew little of beekeeping or the organizational structure of our industry, is easily taken by money hungry rip-off artists. Their willingness to contribute and donate to what they think is the bee industry efforts to save the honey bees, is many times nothing more than putting money in individual’s pockets.


But lets not just blame the non-beekeepers. There seems to be a growing fad within the bee industry that borders on tacky practices. More than one beekeeper, and one bee association, now openly solicits for the public to “sponsor” their bee hives through donations, while selling the concept that this is a good way to help the bees. I personally think masking having other people pay to build your business while selling it as a concept of “saving the bees” is very questionable. Bee associations should be in business of educating the public while expanding the numbers of beekeepers in their area. It should not be about soliciting the public to help save the bees while collecting money to pay for beehives and expanding individual hive counts.


Yes, I believe in “buyer beware”. But I also believe the buyer will also look down upon an industry that will no doubt look bad as more of the public becomes informed. The bee industry may suffer. The goodwill of the public to be fooled will only last so long. And if the bee industry does not care, then don’t expect the public to be there the next time we need their help. There may not be anyone willing to help….except the folks lining up to make a buck off the situation. In the end, maybe no laws are being broken. And maybe nothing can be done against those taking advantage of others. But we can at least make a small difference if the bee industry would educate itself to these unscrupulous individuals. The bee industry’s public image is worth protecting. And you can’t expect much from others when beekeepers and bee associations are doing some questionable “saving the bees” programs themselves.


Mike Thomas - Bjorn Apiaries




The REAL Bee Industry

January 2011


I had an interesting dialog on a forum recently about "The Bee Industry". In this particular discussion, I had used the term "industry" in my attempts to explain why I thought a beekeeper's actions might be detrimental to the publics perception and overall impact of the bee industry. Another beekeeper commented that he was just a "Hobbyist" and he eluded to the fact that he was not part of the "Bee Industry".


In a recent article in Bee Culture, entitled "Everything Changes", December 2010, page 31, Dr. James E. Tew states "Over time, I sense that increasingly our industry has subdivided itself into three groups: Academic beekeeping, hobby beekeeping, and commercial beekeeping. Each of these groups has their own agendas and goals and is semi-autonomous".


I think Mr. Tew has hit upon an issue that many beekeepers have already realized. And while all three groups are needed, not all three work together or fulfill the needs of the other groups. While each group may support the other in varied and vague ways, many times one, if not all three, feel they are the odd man out.


No doubt when talking about funding and support, the industry for those doling out the dollars, it goes to research first, commercial support in one way or another second, and the hobbyist is last, if not nonexistent. In fact, the hobbyist group is left supporting themselves while many times partial funding the other groups with membership dues and donations.


I look at two of my local county groups I belong too. Not one commercial beekeeper in the group. I look at the beekeepers set up at the farmers market, the beekeepers who speak at the schools, and who answers the call for public assistance with bee situations. I look at who are the bee mentors in the community. I look at who interacts with the community answering questions and who has the most impact on public perception. And it always comes back to one group of beekeepers. The hobbyist!


So why does the hobbyist beekeepers circumvent their impact in being the "Industry" in the public's eye? The children at the schools, the visitors at state parks, the folks at the farmers market, and those on the streets of towns all over the country, all see hobbyists beekeepers as the industry. They are the beekeepers they know. These hobbyist beekeepers are who they ask questions. To the vast majority of the public, those beekeepers they come in contact as beekeepers, ARE the industry.


But I continue to hear "Oh, I'm just a hobbyist!" Yeah, you may be. And you should be proud of it. Hobbyist beekeepers touch the lives and form opinions of what beekeeping is all about in many more lives than the other two groups combined. Hobbyists may not get the funding or the accolades the academic and commercial guys receive. But they touch many more lives and impact public perception a hundred times over than that of these two groups. Just ask the kids at the local school, those at the farmers market, or those at the gardening club.


I don't know who James E. Tew is personally. I have never actually met him. I have never spoke to him. I did hear him speak once. And I do read his articles in Bee Culture. But beyond that, I have no clue what actions, conversations, or observations he has seen in his corner of the bee world. But his assessment that there are three groups of the bee industry is right on the mark. I am glad he acknowledges that there are three actual parts, with one being the hobbyists. I am also grateful he does not sugar coat it or somehow diminish the fact that each group has their own agenda and goals. I think many hobbyists see this obvious separation. And I think many hobbyists feel their needs are not being met. Especially when some organizations they belong too, are headed or controlled by larger commercial beekeepers or academia types who as Mr. Tew indicated, "have their own agenda and goals".


Hobbyists need to hold their heads up high. They need to recognize that their numbers are 98% of all beekeepers in the country. They need to see that it is their efforts in the communities that touch people's perceptions and understanding of the bee industry. They need to be proud of the contributions and their willingness to be active in their communities. After all, they are the INDUSTRY! Just ask anyone not a beekeeper. They will tell you. Don't ask a commercial guy, the state apiarist, or the bee extension folks at the state university. Hobbyists have listened to them tell you that they are the industry for far too long. And we have left control of the bee associations to these folks because they have been around the longest, are the most vocal, or because of some sense of entitlement.


The recent influx of new beekeepers are more educated, younger, and are more conscience of the environment. I see bee associations doing so much more in the communities compared to the past. And I see some dynamic people and potential leaders waiting in the wings. I hope they bring forth a sense of "Industry". Or at least a bigger part than what some would have you believe. Leaders in any organization need not be the most experienced. They just need to be good leaders, among other things. You can always find someone to talk at a bee club. So lets start realizing that the hobbyists are the real contributors to the industry, and let the other two groups figure out who is second. It's time hobbyists beekeepers quit letting themselves be relegated to a third place mentality. It's not just something you's something you earned!


Mike Thomas - Bjorn Apiaries