CATCH THE BUZZ: All Around The Beeyard

CATCH THE BUZZ October 4, 2019


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Have  you figured out a way to fix it, move it, make it, shake it, show it, know it, record it, get to it, or anything else that has made what you do with bees easier, faster, smarter, better, cheaper, or just plain more fun? You can’t buy these in a catalog, they are the GREAT ideas that everyday beekeepers see, do, make, discover, uncover that makes what they do more fun, cheaper, easier or faster.

We’ll bet you have one of those ideas, tricks or tips or maybe 2 or 3 or 10. Share them with the world with a short write up, a photo or two or a drawing or two and we’ll share them with our thousands of readers. Everyone that gets picked every month gets a free 1 year subscription, and the best one each month gets a $100 prize.

Send your tips and tricks and best ideas, along with a short write up and a photo or 2 or 3 to kim@beeculture, with BEEYARD in the subject line, and we’ll share them with the world. Hurry, somebody somewhere needs and wants that best idea you have, and you can give them a hand. And thanks.

August Apiary Inspector Notes

August 13, 2019

Jaime Garza, County of San Diego | Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures Apiary/Agricultural Standards Inspector

Dear Beekeeper, 

I hope your bee colonies were able to produce some surplus honey this year. I spoke to many beekeepers whose colonies produced a good amount of honey this year. 

As the season progresses into late summer/early fall you should consider the following for maintaining healthy bee colonies: 

  • Monitoring/managing Varroa mites: many beekeepers are beginning to monitor for Varroa mites at this time of year. Two sampling methods are the sugar shake or alcohol wash method. You do not want to have more than 3 mites per 100 bees sampled. You can see the Honey Bee Health videos on Varroa sampling methods - There is also a helpful Tool Guide on Varroa Management that you can reference for Varroa mite management techniques -

  • Monitoring for American foulbrood – if a colony appears weak or has died you will want to check for the highly contagious bacterial disease called American foulbrood – see link for more information

  • Provide water with landing sites for your bees – a bee colony is like other livestock or pet and needs water to drink and to cool off the hive. On very hot days one established bee colony can go through 1 gallon of water per day.

  • Provide adequate ventilation during hot days so bees can cool off.

  • Ant control – weed control, ant bait stations and moats surrounding hive stand legs are some ways beekeepers keep ants from invading their bee colonies.

  • Over-defensive honey bee colonies – honey bees displaying over-defensive characteristics should be requeened or euthanized. The longer an over-defensive colony remains in the environment allows the queen to spread their unwanted “mean” genetics through the drones that are produced in the colony which will go on to mate with other honey bee virgin queens in the environment which dilutes the gentle tempered honey bees. 

As always, feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns or if you would like to request a Hive health and Beekeeping Best Management Practices review at your apiary. 

Thank you,
Jaime Garza | County of San Diego | Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures | Apiary/Agricultural Standards Inspector | Phone: 858-614-7738 | Email: | Website:

Empty Calories

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By Dan Wyns July 2, 2019

Foragers gathering fresh sawdust. Photo: Mike Connor

Foragers gathering fresh sawdust. Photo: Mike Connor

Somewhere early on in a “Beekeeping 101” class you’ll learn that honey bees forage for 4 things: nectar, pollen, propolis, and water. The nectar and pollen become honey and bee bread to provide sustenance. Propolis is used as a structural component and also contributes to colony health through immunological activity. Previous blog posts about propolis here and here provide more information. Water is necessary for a variety of purposes including preparation of brood food and evaporative cooling. So in addition to water, bees need 3 substances produced by plants. But do they collect anything else? Of course they do. If you’ve ever seen open syrup feeding, it’s apparent that the bees will forego the flower visitation part of foraging when a sweet liquid is provided. Bees will also readily gather pollen substitute when bulk fed in powder form. While these nectar and pollen surrogates may not be as attractive or nutritious as the genuine articles they are intended to replicate, they can be important in getting colonies through lean times.

Flowers and their surrogates are what the bees should be getting into, but what are they actually getting into? Some beekeepers have a perception that if bees gather it they must need it, but in my time working in and around bees I’ve seen them get into a lot of different things that probably aren’t great for them. One summer we noticed a propolis traps in a yard were yielding a dark brown, almost black propolis with sharp plastic smell instead of the typical red/orange sweet smelling propolis for the area. When we  sat waiting for the construction worker with the Stop/Go sign to allow us through the roadworks where a new topcoat of asphalt was being applied, we noticed bees collecting road tar to use as propolis. This paper detected petroleum derived molecules that matched the chemistry of local asphalt in propolis from urban colonies, confirming that bees will gather sticky stuff other than plant resins. I’ve also seen bees appearing to collect silicon-based caulking product. I’ve often described the physical role of propolis in the colony as bee-glue or caulking, so seeing one bee resort to gathering our version shouldn’t come as a shock if actual resins aren’t available. Bees gather “real” propolis from a variety of botanical sources depending on geography and climate. Some of the most common propolis sources in temperate climates are members of the genus Populus which includes poplars, aspens, and cottonwoods. For more about the role of propolis in the colony and an overview of botanical sources around the world, check out this article.

It’s not just propolis collection where bees make mistakes, sometimes they get it wrong when seeking pollen too. While building woodware in the shop, I’ve seen bees take a lot of interest in the sawdust from both treated and untreated lumber. I’ve never actually seen a forager pack it onto her corbicula, but beekeepers report bees gathering a variety of powdery materials when pollen is scarce. An early study on pollen foraging noted this tendency,  “During periods of pollen scarcity bees are reported to seek substitutes, such as bran, sawdust, and coal dust, which are of no known value for brood rearing.

Just about any sweet liquid is going to get the attention of honey bees, and I’ve seen them investigate many kinds of sodas and juices. This tendency may be a little unnerving to picnickers, but it isn’t really a problem unless there is a more permanent stationary source of sugary liquid that the bees find. One such case happened when some urban bees in NYC found a bit of runoff syrup from a maraschino cherry factory which was only the beginning of the story.

Life of Honeybees in Turbulent Weather Times Not So Sweet

WHIG Standard By Elliot Ferguson June 14, 2019 / updated June 15, 2019

Beekeeper Elaine Peterson lifts a frame out of one of her hives at her property north of Gananoque. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Elaine Peterson lifts a frame out of one of her hives at her property north of Gananoque. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Elaine Peterson had one bit of advice as she walked up to the hives she keeps on her property north of Gananoque.

“When you open a hive, they say you shouldn’t stand in front of it,” she said, lifting the lid off the top of a stack of three white boxes.

“You’re in their flight path.”

Within minutes, thousands of honeybees buzzed around her, bouncing off the mesh hood she wears that has become the most recognizable part of a beekeepers uniform.

This day she was in luck.

Beekeeper Elaine Peterson takes a frame out of one the hives in an effort to create a new hive at her property north of Gananoque.(Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Elaine Peterson takes a frame out of one the hives in an effort to create a new hive at her property north of Gananoque.(Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Hanging off one of the frames she removed was a new queen cell, the structure where new queen bees are grown.

Peterson removed the entire frame, placing it in a new hive box. From that queen, a new hive will eventually grow.

It was among the first hives Peterson had split this year.

“I am so late this year,” she said. “Usually I would be halfway through splitting the hives. I can’t get into the fields. It’s just been so wet.”

After 25 years of beekeeping, first as a hobby and now as a retirement job that has her with 200 hives distributed around farm fields in the Kingston area, Peterson said there have been subtle changes in the seasons, but she admitted that many effects may be so slight they have either gone unnoticed or she hasn’t chalked them up to climate change.  

The interior of a honeybee hive at beekeeper Elaine Peterson property north of Gananoque. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

The interior of a honeybee hive at beekeeper Elaine Peterson property north of Gananoque. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

“I believe in climate change. I’m not an idiot,” she said. “I don’t actually see great differences or I don’t attribute it to climate change.

“I’ve known it’s happening. I’ve known all these years only because in September you used to take all the things off the hives because come October you were packing them,” she said. “I pack them in December now. For me the season is shifting.”

Beekeeper Nancy Cole prepares her protective clothing before going out to her hives at her property near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Nancy Cole prepares her protective clothing before going out to her hives at her property near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

The change in the seasons is something beekeeper Nancy Cole has noticed at her property near Colebrook.

“They say bees in the environment are similar to canaries in coal mines. They are sort of the indicators,” Cole said. “I’ve noticed a difference in the past 10 years.”

Cole said she and other local beekeepers who are members of the Limestone Beekeepers Guild have become accustomed to losing about 25 per cent of their bees during the winter. In the past three years, her losses have been close to 50 per cent, and last year she lost 80 per cent.

“I lost a lot because of the cold spring, which is climate change, really. Our seasons are changing,” she said.

The constant rain this spring has put honeybees about a month behind schedule, said Curtis Brunet, who tends about a half-dozen hives on his one-hectare property north of Lansdowne.

“I am hyper aware of what is happening in the weather,” Brunet said. “If I didn’t have bees, I wouldn’t be so aware of exactly how many days it has been without rain, how many days it has been with rain, how many days has it been over 10 C.”

Honeybees in Canada have about three months to build their hives and make enough honey to make it through the following winter, the season when many hives succumb to the temperatures. 

Beekeeper Curtis Brunet adds smoke while opening a hive on his property north of Lansdowne. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Curtis Brunet adds smoke while opening a hive on his property north of Lansdowne. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

The rain and cold kept Brunet away from his hives for most of May, the month when honeybees get started preparing for the next winter.  

“I didn’t get my hives split in time because every time I tried to come up here, it was either raining or it was too cold. Usually I am into the hives at the beginning or middle of May. By the end of May, I should have gone through my hives, reversed them, done their antibiotics. By now, they are making honey.

“This year in particular we have had a crazy spring.”

Beekeeper Curtis Brunet carries a frame full of bees over to a new hive on his property north of Landsdowne. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Curtis Brunet carries a frame full of bees over to a new hive on his property north of Landsdowne. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Honeybees, the only insect that makes food that humans can eat, are critical to agriculture as a pollinator.

But for their importance, the honeybee faces critical threats, including disease, mites and chemicals such as neonicotinoid, an agricultural insecticide that many beekeepers consider among the most lethal threats to honeybees.

Climate change is just one subtle threat on a long list of challenges to honeybees. 

“We are beginning to see some changes that aren’t good news,” said retired college instructor Bill Kirby, who keeps about 16 hives on his 24-hectare property near Yarker.

A closeup of honeybees at a hive near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

A closeup of honeybees at a hive near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

“It’s not to the point that the world is ending as far as honeybees are concerned, but the variability of the weather is an additional stress on an already stressed population.”

Timing is the key to the survival of a honeybee hive.

When warmer spring temperatures arrive, a queen bee starts making more workers who, in turn, start making honey to feed the hive.

“What seems to be happening is the temperatures are different, as is the rainfall, and the sunlight, the heat, those have an influence on the beehives,” said Kirby, who has been a hobby beekeeper for 40 years.

A honeybee lands at the entrance to a hive near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

A honeybee lands at the entrance to a hive near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

“When this spring happened, and last spring, there were not the flowers that there should have been at the time when they should have been there.”

If the spring weather cools, hives that have already created more bees than can be fed will starve unless they are supplied extra food.

Beekeepers are known for keeping track of the weather, and it wasn’t just this spring that seems to be different, Brunet said.

Beekeeper Bill Kirby checks one of his hives on his property near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Beekeeper Bill Kirby checks one of his hives on his property near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Winters in recent years have been getting harder for honeybees to survive, and the milder seasons have become difficult to predict.

A couple of summers ago, the Kingston area baked under the driest summer conditions on record, conditions that had a knock-on effect for honeybee hives even in the following summer. 

“Too dry, too wet, too cold, too hot,” Brunet said. “We can see our winters getting harder. The length of those really cold, cold spells, like -20 C, that is really tough on the bees. And then when you get those springs where it rains every single day, that screws everything up. Flowers and trees are not pollinating at the same time, that puts the queen behind. If spring comes early, they may run out of food.

Honeybees on Curtis Brunet’s property north of Lansdowne. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Honeybees on Curtis Brunet’s property north of Lansdowne. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

“I think any change, whether they are local or global, it totally affects the bees,” Brunet said. “We are just starting to see those signs and they are only going to get more and more dramatic.”

“What’s happening in our summers is that they are either cold and wet or hot and dry,” Kirby added. “We don’t have that stable weather pattern where we get rain every couple of weeks and we get sun most of the time and the temperatures are reasonable. That affects honey production.”

In recent years, Kirby said, the shifting weather patterns have created a disconnect between what honeybees are expecting and what is actually happening in the environment.

Honey reflects sunlight in one of Bill Kirby’s hives on his property near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Honey reflects sunlight in one of Bill Kirby’s hives on his property near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

And the increasingly unpredictable and variable weather isn’t limited to the spring. Summers are just as hard to forecast, Kirby said.

Honeybees are small. They can’t fly in the rain. When it’s hot and dry, flowers stop making nectar.

“What seems to be happening is the temperatures are different, as is the rainfall, and the sunlight, the heat. Those have an influence on the beehives,” Kirby said. “The changes in our environment are going to come faster than we actually now are experiencing and that make even more extreme conditions and irregular patterns.

“I’d like to be an optimistic person — I’ve tried to live my life that way — but I don’t think there is a great future ahead of us.”

A new worker honeybee emerges from a brood cell in a hive near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

A new worker honeybee emerges from a brood cell in a hive near Yarker. (Elliot Ferguson/The Whig-Standard)

Two Great Podcasts Today And Tomorrow, And Only 2 Of The 5 For Pollinator Week. Migratory Beekeeper Davey Hackenberg And Bloomberg’s Business Of Bees, With Adam Arlington

Catch The Buzz June 18, 2019

Pollinator Week: Davey Hackenberg – Commercial Beekeeper

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Davey Hackenberg is a second-generation of beekeeper following in the steps of his father, Dave Hackenberg, in the honey and pollination business. Davey lives in Lewisberg, PA where he and his family run Hackenberg Honey, home of Buffy Bee Honey!

In this candid interview, Davey talks openly about the year-round challenges he and other pollinators face as they travel the country taking their bees to crops and orchards. If you want to become a pollinator or dream about walking away from your office job to become a full-time beekeeper, you just might want to listen to this Beekeeping Today Podcast to hear the good and the bad, the past and a glimpse of the future the commercial beekeeper. Keeping your business ‘sideline’ may be your best bet!

Davey is also featured in Peter Nelson’s The Pollinators movie. Jeff & Kim talk with Peter in Beekeeping Today Podcast (#022).

Pollinator Week: Adam Allington – The Business of Bees

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Adam Allington is the producer and host of the Bloomberg Environment podcast, The Business of Bees.  Adam joins Jeff and Kim on this podcast of the 2019 Pollinator Week series.

Business of Bees is a six-part podcast series that introduces the listener to the business though in voices of those in the industry, including several you’ve heard here (John Miller, BTP #002and Dr. Samuel Ramsey, BTP #015).

Adam’s series is a easy to listen to, high quality podcast that represents the pros and cons to the business, including how honey bees helps to pollinate the nation’s crops. The series also touches on the debate of honey bees vs. native pollinators.

The Business of Bees is available wherever you listen to or download your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts.

Websites and links mention in the podcast:

Join Kim And Jim In The Beeyard, And On The Front Porch Of The A. I. Root Homestead On June 18th At Noon EST (9 AM PDT)

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Check out the next LIVE KIM&JIM Show, on June 18, 2018. Kim and Jim are first going to take a look at the 4 bee hives on the A. I. Root Company property, right next to A. I. Root’s Home. There are 2 overwintered colonies, and 2 were installed as packages this spring. What’s up with the old and the new this spring? We’ll find out. Then, they’ll take a look at the new polystyrene hive just installed this spring to begin looking at thermal efficiency in a beehive. A new hive, with a new package will be the center of attention for a bit.

Then, because it’s Pollination Week, KIM&JIM will take a breather after all that work, and sip a cool one on the A. I. Root’s front porch and talk about all of the historical figures that have come and gone from that porch over the years, sort of a sneak preview of THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN BEEKEEPING event coming your way in October. And, because it’s pollination weeks, they’ll discuss a bit about the pollinator gardens, that they will visit later this summer, and about some of the activities going on around this most important subject.

KIM&JIM. Tune in, Tuesday, June 18, 2018 from noon to 1 PM. Look at bees, look at beehives. Sip a cool one on A. I. Root’s front porch. What better way to spend the first week of summer.

Please Register for Kim & Jim Visit the hives at A. I. Root’s home. on Jun 18, 2019 12:00 PM EDT (9:00 AM PDT) at:…/8037399612017492493

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.


Flame in the Bee Yard: Relighting a Smoker the Easy Way

Bee Informed Partnership By: Dan Aurell May 16, 2019

The Scenario

We’ve all experienced a smoker going out just when we need it. Sometimes we may simply forget to pump the bellows for too long while we are getting some other things ready; sometimes we may make the mistake of stuffing the fire chamber too tightly with fuel before the fire has a good chance to catch. At other times our smoker may go out during travel between bee yards. Any of these scenarios sound familiar?

The Traditional Method

So, when your smoker goes out for the umpteenth time, what do you typically do? You could re-open the smoker, dig in there, take out some fuel, burn your fingers in the process of making room for a flame, light the fuel from the bottom and cross your fingers so it stays lit this time? Let me save you the embarrassment, there is a lazy way to re-light it!

A smoker holds up after numerous external lightings

A smoker holds up after numerous external lightings

The Tried and True Easy (Lazy) Method

First, if you do not already own a propane blow torch, it is well-worth your time, energy and money (~$40) to procure yourself one. Once you have a propane blow torch, you can simply blast the flame at the outside of the metal smoker while pumping the bellows, and voilà! The heat transfer through the metal will re-light most smoker fuels. Don’t be afraid to heat the metal red-hot: smokers are seemingly built to withstand such high heat for long periods of time. For example, commercial beekeepers will keep their smoker lit for a long time while loading a semi truckload of bees or working colonies in a big bee yard. If you are concerned about wear and tear, I can report that after a year of relighting my smoker with a torch, the metal on one part of the fire chamber is a little bumpy, but otherwise totally fine.


Keep the flame away from the bellow and its air valve

Keep the flame away from the bellow and its air valve

Even though it is shielded by metal on most models, be aware that there is an air valve on the back side of the bellows that could be damaged by flame or heat. The same goes for fingers…

The Lazy Man is a Safe Man

You read that right – this lazy method has an upside beyond convenience. At times and places with an elevated wildfire risk, this method may be a safer way to play with fire in the bee yard. Since it doesn’t require you to pull out the contents of the smoker, which often are still smoldering a little and with a slight breeze can blow sparks across a dry field, you too can prevent wildfires!

Out-Of-Work Appalachian Coal Miners Train As Beekeepers To Earn Extra Cash

NPR The Salt By Jodi Helmer January 28, 2019

Members of the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective inspect one of their apiaries. The collective teaches displaced coal miners in West Virginia how to keep bees as a way to supplement their income.  Courtesy of Kevin Johnson

Members of the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective inspect one of their apiaries. The collective teaches displaced coal miners in West Virginia how to keep bees as a way to supplement their income. Courtesy of Kevin Johnson

Just like his grandfather and father before him, James Scyphers spent almost two decades mining coal in West Virginia.

"These were the best jobs in the area; we depended on 'em," he recalls.

But mining jobs started disappearing, declining from 132,000 in 1990 to 53,000 in 2018, devastating the area's economy. In a state that now has the lowest labor-force participation rate in the nation, the long-term decline of coal mining has left West Virginia residents without new options to make a living.

Scyphers was fortunate to find a construction job, but it paid two-thirds less than what he earned underground. He often took odd jobs to make ends meet. One of those odd jobs included building hives and tending bees for the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective.

"I wish this group had been here 30 years ago," he says. "Our region needs it."

Appalachian Headwaters operates the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective. The nonprofit was formed in 2016 to invest a $7.5 million settlement from a lawsuit against coal mine operator Alpha Natural Resources for violations of the Clean Water Act. The money has been used to fund environmental restoration projects and to develop sustainable economic opportunities in the once-thriving coal-mining communities of West Virginia.

The collective offers beekeeping training to displaced coal miners and low-income residents of mining communities throughout the state, with the goal of helping them find new job opportunities and generate supplemental income.

"It wasn't just the miners that lost their livelihoods when mining jobs disappeared; other industries started to wilt, too, and entire communities were affected," explains Cindy Bee, a master beekeeper with Appalachian Headwaters. "We're doing something that can boost the town up."

To date, the nonprofit, based in the small town of Hinton, has trained 35 beekeepers (with an estimated 50 more signed up for classes that begin in a few weeks) and operates in 17 counties throughout the state. Those who complete the free Introduction to Beekeeping classes receive equipment and bees free or at a reduced cost and have access to ongoing training and mentorship. Partners maintain between two and 20 hives.

James Scyphers, who spent almost two decades mining coal in West Virginia, says miners have a lot to gain from the program. "Beekeeping is hands-on work, like mining, and requires on-the-job training. You need a good work ethic for both."  Courtesy of Kevin Johnson

James Scyphers, who spent almost two decades mining coal in West Virginia, says miners have a lot to gain from the program. "Beekeeping is hands-on work, like mining, and requires on-the-job training. You need a good work ethic for both." Courtesy of Kevin Johnson

Bee says 2018 was the first season with "boots on the ground," when beekeepers were maintaining their own hives. Beekeepers must wait a full year to collect honey from their hives; the first honey harvest will happen this spring. Appalachian Beekeeping Collective will collect, bottle and sell the honey and pay beekeepers market rate for their harvest.

A strong beehive can produce between 60 and 100 pounds of honey per season, Bee says. At an average retail price of $7.32 per pound in 2018, beekeepers could earn an estimated $732 in supplemental income per hive per season. With multiple hives, that can add up quickly: Twenty hives could mean nearly $15,000 per season. There are also opportunities to produce candles, lip balm and other wax products with additional training offered through the organization.

In a region where jobs are scarce and more than 28 percent of residents live in poverty, opportunities for additional income are welcome. And beekeeping does leave plenty of time for other work.

The supplemental income would be "life changing" for Carie Ortman.

The Alderson, W.Va., resident maintained 18 hives last season with the help of her mentors at the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective. Although disease and winter losses, common among beekeepers, have forced her to start over each spring (she started keeping bees in 2016 as a hobby), Ortman remains optimistic.

"Now that I know about all of the possibilities for making money from my hives, I'm all in," she says. "I need this extra income, and I'm going to be big time with this."

While the training is open to all West Virginia residents who are at or below the federal poverty rate, Scyphers believes former coal miners have the most to gain.

"The older folks want to get back to work, but mining is never going to be like it was in the '60s and '70s, and there is nothing to fall back on, no other big industries here, so all of these folks need retraining," he says. "Beekeeping is hands-on work, like mining, and requires on-the-job training. You need a good work ethic for both."

"Most of the coal miners are hardworking people," Scyphers adds. "With what Appalachian Beekeeping Collective is doing, teaching us how to make a profit from beekeeping, I think we can all make a good go of it and get back to work."

(Note: The Western Apicultural Society is making a collective and conscious shift to be an organization that builds community around bees. This will be very apparent at our upcoming conference (July 11th-14th in Ashland, OR)... bee there!!

In the meantime, check out this very cool project that aims to create community and build income for folks who have fallen on hard times in Appalachia!

Our opening keynote speaker, Katrina Klett, is doing similar work with farmers abroad.)

LACBA 2018 Golden Hive Tool Award Presented to Dave Williams

Congratulations to Dave Williams for receiving the
Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association 2018 Golden Hive Tool Award!

Dave Williams, 2018 Golden Hive Tool Award

Dave Williams, 2018 Golden Hive Tool Award

Each year the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association presents the Golden Hive Tool Award to a member who shows curiosity and growth in working with bees or who has shown good service to our club.

At our January 7, 2019 LACBA Membership Meeting, the 2018 Golden Hive Tool Award was presented to LACBA member, Dave Williams.

Dave grew up in Pasadena and his high school time was spent at a wonderful college preparatory school which offered an independent studies program nurturing growing young adults in art, natural history, academics, athletics and independent study programs. One of his professors kept bees. Dave was stung, both literally and figuratively, and his honeybee beekeeping began.

In the 70’s he went to work for the LA Honey Company.

Dave began a career in the aerospace industry as a mechanic repairing airplane instruments. He was a VW mechanic, repairing communication equipment for the military.

Since the 90’s Dave has volunteered at the Bee Booth at the Los Angeles County Fair and has kept the bees alive in the indoor observation hive during the fair. Now Dave not only helps organize and manage the Bee Booth, but volunteers for a full week of managing not only the bee booth but the volunteers during his time at the booth.

In 1993 he set up and ran an Africanized honey bee booth, explaining and demystifying the Africanized honey bee.

Dave was instrumental in changing the regulations for keeping honey bees in the City of Pasadena.

Like many of our members, Dave said the heck with the 9 to 5 work day and set out to make a living keeping and removing bee swarms.

Dave and his wife, Mary, raised three children (one of them allergic to bees), and are now proud grandparents.

We’d like to thank Dave Williams for being a long time member of the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association, and for his dedication and service to the LACBA, to bees, beekeeping, and beekeepers.


Envisioning the Future of Beekeeping - A 3 Part Series

Pollinator Stewardship Council / Pollinator News                       August 3, 2018

Envisioning the Future of Beekeeping- a 3 part series 

Tammy Horn Potter, Kentucky State Apiarist, and Michele Colopy, Pollinator Stewardship Council collaborated on a series of articles discussing the future of beekeeping. The co-authors interviewed a dozen beekeepers across the US for the June, July, and August issues of the American Bee Journal.  You can read the three articles at:  Articles 1 & 2      Article 3  

To read the discussion, to continue the discussion, to participate in the discussion begun by these interviews, go to our Facebook page. Select the FORUM page on the left side of our Facebook page at   or at

How do you envision the future of beekeeping?

(The Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association is a proud supporter of the Pollinator Stewardship Council.)

Beekeeping - What You Need to Start Keeping Bees!

Bill's Bees     By Bill Lewis     February 4, 2018

In March and April you’ll be picking up your bees (hope you’ve got your bee order in, they’re going fast!). Below are some things to consider and plan for before you pick up your bees.

Location, Location, Location:

A location in the open, preferably with a southern or easterly exposure, for maximum sunshine throughout the day.

Away from animals and children, not along a foot path, or where there is direct traffic. 

Protected by a barrier (approx. 2 feet from - and facing a hill or wall) from wind, streets, etc. This will also force the bees to fly up and over cars, people, etc., thus causing them to be less of a nuisance and helping them to stay alive.

Ease of access (you don’t want to be lifting heavy supers of honey up and down stairs or across rocky fields).

What the bees will need:

A safe, natural habitat with a source for nectar and pollen. A typical honey bee colony forages more than 80,000 square yards to find plants and flowers with sufficient nectar (honey) the bees' source for energy and pollen (essential in brood rearing) the bees' source of carbohydrates. 

A nearby source of fresh water (within ¼ mile) so they don’t use the neighbor’s swimming pool. This can be a tank or barrel of water with rocks or floating boards or cork for the bees to land on. 

A safe, comfortable, home to live in. 

We suggest you buy a couple of good beekeeping books and read them all the way through, twice.

Book Suggestions:

Beekeeper’s Handbook 

Keeping Bees in Towns & Cities

How to Keep Bees & Sell Honey

Beekeeping for Dummies

Basic Essentials List for Beginning Beekeepers:

The Hive - Langstroth (from the bottom up):

Hive Stand - This is a platform to keep the hive off the ground. It improves circulation, reduces dampness in the hive, and helps keep ants, bugs, leaves, and debris from getting into the hive. It can be made of anything solid enough to support the weight of a full beehive. Wooden hive stands are available for sale but bricks, concrete blocks, pallets, and found lumber are just as good. It’s helpful to place the legs of the stand in cans filled with used motor oil to deter ants from climbing up the legs and into the hive. The stand should be strong enough to support one hive or a number of colonies. What is important to remember is that the hive needs to be at least 6 inches off the ground.

Bottom Board - Is placed on top of the hive stand and is the floor of the hive. Bees use it as a landing board and a place to take off from. 

Entrance Reducer - Is basically a stick of wood used to reduce the size of the entrance to the hive. It helps deter robbing.

Hive Boxes/Supers - Come in three sizes: deep, medium and shallow. Traditionally, 2 deep boxes have been used as brood chambers with 3 or 4 or more boxes (medium or shallow) on top as needed for honey storage. Many beekeepers use all medium boxes throughout the hive. This helps reduce the weight of each box for lifting. If you have back problems or are concerned about heavy lifting, you could even use shallow boxes all throughout the hive. So, 6 boxes as a minimum for deep and medium. More if you wanted to use only shallow boxes. You will only need two boxes to start out, adding boxes as needed for extra room and honey storage.

Frames and Foundation - For each box you have for your hive, you will need 10 frames that fit that box. Frames can be wooden with beeswax foundation or all plastic with a light coating of beeswax. The bees don't care and will use both equally well. Foundation is intended to give the bees a head start on their comb building and helps minimize cross comb building that makes it difficult to remove and inspect. You can buy all beeswax foundation or plastic foundation with a thin coat of beeswax applied to it. Alternatively, you can provide empty frames and let the bees build their comb from scratch but that can be a bit tricky and it takes the bees longer to get established. 

Top Cover: The top cover can be as simple as a flat sheet of plywood. We prefer the top covers made with laminated pieces to make a flat board and extra cross bracing to help hold the board flat for years. Plywood tends to warp over time. You can also use a telescoping cover, but they require an additional inner cover. 

Paint - All parts of your hive that are exposed to the weather should be painted with (2 coats) of a non-toxic paint. Do not paint the inside of the hive or the entrance reducer. Most hives are painted white to reflect the sun, but you can use any light colors. Painting your hives different colors may help reduce drift between the colonies. If your hive will not be in your own bee yard, you may want to paint your name and phone number on the side of the hive.

Tools & Supplies:

bee brushBee Brush - A beekeeper needs a brush to gently move the bees from an area of observation when looking for a queen and when harvesting frames of honey. Use a brush that has long, soft, flexible, yellow bristles. Don’t use a dark, stiff brush with animal hair, or a paint brush.

duct tapeDuct Tape - You’ll have lots of uses for duct tape, might want to keep it handy.                                                                                                                                                   

Hive Tool - A hive tool is the most useful piece of beekeeping equipment. It can be used to pry up the inner cover, pry apart frames, scrape and clean hive parts, scrape wax and propolis out of the hive, nail the lid shut, pull nails, and scrape bee stingers off skin. The hive tool has two parts: the wedge or blade and the handle. Hive tools are often fitted with brightly-colored, plastic-coated handles which helps the beekeeper locate the hive tool while working.

FeederFeeder - You may want to have a feeder with sugar syrup to give your new bees a boost in their new home. Its the helping hand they need to get started building comb.

SmokerSmoker - Examining a hive is much easier when you use a smoker. Use it to puff smoke into the entrance before opening the hive and to blow smoke over the frames once the hive is opened. This helps the beekeeper to manage the bees. Cool smoke helps to settle the bees. Smoking the bees initiates a feeding response causing preparation to possibly leave the hive due to a fire. The smoke also masks the alarm pheromone released by the colony’s guard bees when the hive is opened and manipulated. Smoke must be used carefully. Too much can drive bees from the hive. A smoker is basically a metal can with a bellows and a spout attached to it. We prefer to use a smoker with a wire cage around it. A large smoker is best as it keeps the smoke going longer. It can be difficult to keep a smoker lit (especially for new beekeepers). Practice lighting and maintaining the smoker. Burlap, rotted wood shavings, pine needles, eucalyptus, cardboard, and cotton rags are good smoker fuels.

Protective Clothing:

Bee suitBee Suit - For the best protection, full bee suits are recommended. But whether or not a suit is used, a beekeeper's clothing should be white or light in color (bees generally do not like dark colors and will attack dark objects). Avoid woolen and knit material. You will want to wear clothing both that will protect you and you don’t mind getting stained (bees produce waste that shows up as yellowish marks on your clothing). You’ll want to close off all potential to getting stung by wearing high top boots or tucking your pants into your socks and securing your cuffs with rubber bands or duct tape.

Bee Gloves - Long, leather, ventilated gloves with elastic on the sleeves help protect the hands and arms from stings.

Hat and Veil - Even the most experienced beekeepers wear a hat and veil to protect their head, face, and eyes from bee stings. Wire veils keep bees farther away from the face than those made of cloth. Black veiling is generally easier to see through. Make sure the veil extends down below and away from your neck.

That’s it!

Once you have all you need, expenses can be kept to a minimum. With the right care, equipment, tools, and clothing will last a long time. If your hive becomes overcrowded, just add another box or two. Or, you may find you’ll want to split your hive – then you’ll have two! If honey is overflowing, just add another box or two. And, great! – You’ll have lots of yummy honey!!

A note on protective clothing: There was a time when we could safely visit our bees wearing little protective clothing. With the arrival of Africanized honey bees into the Southern states, we've come to realize the potential danger of an aggressive hive and have learned to exercise caution when approaching our bees. A once gentle hive could be invaded and taken over by a small aggressive swarm in a few days. These bees are unpredictable and vigorously defend their hives. Protective clothing such as a bee suit, veil and gloves will help keep stings to a minimum in the bee yard if worn correctly. As beekeepers, it is our responsibility to help curtail the danger to our bees, ourselves, and others. At Bill's Bees, we practice responsible beekeeping for an urban environment.

Here’s a list of suppliers:

Los Angeles Honey Company 
Dadant & Sons 
Mann Lake Ltd. 
Walter T. Kelley Co.
The Valley Hive

We primarily work with the Langstroth hive but you can also use the Top Bar Hive or the Warre Hive. We'll be happy to share our experience with these two styles of hives, as well. 

For many years, Bill's Bees held the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association Beekeeping Class 101 at our apiary in Little Tujunga Canyon. The class grew from under 20 newbees in 2010 to nearly 200 in 2016. Since we no longer have our location in Little Tujunga Canyon, the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association Beekeeping Class 101 is being held at The Valley Hive. You can fine information about the classes on the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association Beekeeping Class 101 website and LACBA Facebook page.

Reminder - Get your bees now. You don't want to be bee-less come bee season. Bill's Bees Sells Bees in Complete Hives - Medium Box SpecialDeep BoxPackagesNucs, and Italian Queens. Our bees have known gentle genetics and are great for commercial and backyard beekeeping. 

Happy bee-ing!

Thank you, 
Bill Lewis
Bill's Bees

(Bill Lewis, owner of Bill's Bees, is a current member and former president of the California State Beekeepers Association and the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association. Bill has been keeping bees for nearly 40 years.)

Beekeepers Feel the Sting of California's Great Hive Heist

NPR The Salt   Heard on All Things Considered   By Ezra David Romero     June 27, 2017Beehives in an apiary Daniel Milchev/Getty Images

Heard on All Things Considered:

Seventy-one million. That's the number of bees Max Nikolaychuk tends in the rolling hills east of Fresno, Calif. Each is worth a fraction of a cent, but together, they make up a large part of his livelihood.

Nikolaychuk makes most of his money during almond pollination season, renting out the bees to California's almond orchards. This year, a thief stole four stacks of his hives.

"He knew about the bees, because he went through every bee colony I had and only took the good ones," he says. "But, you know, the bee yards — I don't have no security there, no fences."

That lack of security means his bees have been stolen more than once. And it's a type of theft that's been playing out all over the state's orchards.

Literally billions of bees are needed to pollinate California's almond crop. Not enough bees live in California year-round to do that. So they are trucked in from across the country, from places like Colorado, Arizona and Montana. Earlier this year, around a million dollars' worth of stolen bees were found in a field in Fresno County. Sgt. Arley Terrence with the Fresno County Sheriff's Department says it was a "beehive chop shop."

"There were so many different beehives and bee boxes owned by so many different victims," Terrence says. "All of these stolen bee boxes that we recovered — none of them were stolen in Fresno County."

The bees were stolen from across California, but they belong to beekeepers from around the country. A few thousand bee boxes disappear every year, but this bee heist was different.

"This is the biggest bee theft investigation that we've had," Terrence says. Most of the time, he says, beehive thieves turn out to be "someone within the bee community."

Earlier this year, California authorities uncovered this "beehive chop-shop" in a field in Fresno County. A single bee is worth a fraction of a cent, but there can be as many as 65,000 bees in each hive. Ezra Romero for NPRThat was the case in the giant heist earlier this year. The alleged thief, Pavel Tveretinov, was a beekeeper from Sacramento who used the stolen bees for pollination and then stashed them on a plot of land in Fresno County. He was arrested and could face around 10 years of jail time. And authorities say he didn't act alone. His alleged accomplice, Vitaliy Yeroshenko, has been charged and a warrant is out for his arrest.

Steve Godlin with the California State Beekeepers Association says the problem of hive theft gets worse every year.

"There used to be kind of a code of honor that you didn't mess with another man's bees," Godlin says. But the alleged perpetrators of this giant hive theft broke that code.

"He went way, way over the line, Godlin says. "It's just, you know, heart breaking when you go out and your bees are gone."

Godlin has had hives stolen in the past. He and many other beekeepers make their income not just from renting out hives but also from selling the honey the bees produce. So when bees are stolen, beekeepers lose out on both sources of income.

Godlin says it takes time to develop a new hive by introducing a new queen and developing honey. "Bees, you know, we have been hit by everything from vandals to bears to thieves. But the vandalism and thieving is the worst. You know, the one that hurts the most."

Godlin says his organization will pay a reward of up to $10,000 for tips leading to the prosecution of bee thieves. But that only relieves some of the sting.

Queen Replacement: The Key to Prevent Winter Colony Losses in Argentina

International Bee Research Association - IBRA   November 24, 2016

In recent years extensive losses of honey bee colonies have led to surveys of beekeepers, with much information now coming from Europe and north America. Much less information is available about colony losses elsewhere. Now, in a new paper published in the Journal of Apicultural Research, Agostina Giacobino and colleagues at the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria, Rafaela, Argentina describe a survey of Argentinian colony losses during the 2013-14 winter.

Varroa mite infestation, colony strength, and winter colony losses were evaluated in 62 apiaries distributed in four different regions in east-central Argentina. Data regarding management practices in each apiary were also collected by means of a questionnaire. The key result was that beekeepers who reported replacing less than 50% of the queens in their apiaries each year showed higher winter losses than apiaries who replaced more than 50% of their queens. Even considering that the winter colony losses can be explained by a complex interaction of factors, requeening appears as one of the most important management practices to reduce this phenomenon in Argentina.

The article is available here (free to view):…/…/10.1080/00218839.2016.1238595

IBRA Members taking the JAR option have access to all other papers in issue 55(4), and also have full access to all articles in the Journal of Apicultural Research back catalogue to Volume 1 in 1962. You can join IBRA here:…/2014-12-12-12-06-01

A Look Into the Cell: There's a Lot More to Honey Storage Than You Thought

PlosOne     By Michael Eyer, Peter Neumann, Vincent Dietemann     August 28, 2016


Honey bees, Apis species, obtain carbohydrates from nectar and honeydew. These resources are ripened into honey in wax cells that are capped for long-term storage. These stores are used to overcome dearth periods when foraging is not possible. Despite the economic and ecological importance of honey, little is known about the processes of its production by workers. Here, we monitored the usage of storage cells and the ripening process of honey in free-flying Amelliferacolonies. We provided the colonies with solutions of different sugar concentrations to reflect the natural influx of nectar with varying quality. Since the amount of carbohydrates in a solution affects its density, we used computer tomography to measure the sugar concentration of cell content over time. The data show the occurrence of two cohorts of cells with different provisioning and ripening dynamics. The relocation of the content of many cells before final storage was part of the ripening process, because sugar concentration of the content removed was lower than that of content deposited. The results confirm the mixing of solutions of different concentrations in cells and show that honey is an inhomogeneous matrix. The last stage of ripening occurred when cell capping had already started, indicating a race against water absorption. The storage and ripening processes as well as resource use were context dependent because their dynamics changed with sugar concentration of the food. Our results support hypotheses regarding honey production proposed in earlier studies and provide new insights into the mechanisms involved.

For the rest of this Plos One article, click HERE

The Nicaragua Bee Project

CATCH THE BUZZ    August 24, 2016

Have you ever wondered what an Africanized bee colony looks like? Have you ever wanted to see how beekeeping occurs in a developing country?

Well, now is your chance.

The Nicaragua Bee Project is traveling down to Nicaragua on October 22 through November 5, 2016 to conduct training workshops for new and existing beekeepers.

This trip will be led by Dr. Michael Bauer, a beekeeper from Waupaca, WI. He has been in Nicaragua several times to teach, train and start beekeeping groups. You will have the opportunity to travel with Dr. Bauer to Nicaragua and visit beekeeping activities in Nicaragua. You can either observe or even teach some of the training programs depending upon your desire and willingness.

You can travel for one or two weeks depending upon your availability.

Your cost for this trip is your airfare and food. Lodging (double room) and transportation and translations will be provided by the Nicaragua Bee Project. Current round-trip flights from Chicago to Managua are approximately $700. Food will run you $20 a day.

You need only a valid US passport to travel to Nicaragua. No visa is needed.

You will also have opportunity to travel about the country of Nicaragua, meet local beekeepers and rural families in their homes, visit a volcano, tour historic cities and artisan markets as well as enjoy local food, drink and culture.

For information on the Nicaragua Bee Project you can visit

For more information on the trip you can contact:

Marty Havlovic


Battling Killer Mites, Bees Find an Unlikely Ally: Monsanto

 WIRED   By Hannah Nordhaus, Photographs: Dan Winters   September Issue 2016



“Make a fist,” says Jerry Hayes, waving his own in the air.

“Now put it someplace on you.” About 150 people, the audience at a honeybee panel at the 2014 South by Southwest Eco conference, place their fists on their shoulders or collarbones. “Proportionally, this is how large a varroa mite is compared to a honeybee’s body,” Hayes says. The reddish-brown parasite, just a dot to the naked eye, drains the life out of bees and delivers a deadly cargo of viruses. “It would be like having a parasitic rat on you, sucking your blood.”

Under a microscope, a varroa mite is a monster: armored and hairy, with eight legs and one piercing, sucking mouthpart, primordial in its horror. Since the parasite arrived in the United States from Asia in 1987, the practice of tending bees has grown immeasurably harder. Beekeepers must use harsh chemicals in their hives to kill the mites or risk losing most of their bees within two to three years. About a third of the nation’s honeybees have died each winter over the past decade, and Hayes, an apiary scientist, believes the varroa mite is a major factor in this catastrophe.

“It’s money! You’re gonna make money! And until then you’re gonna kill as many bees as you can!”

Hayes’ audience, however, believes something else. SXSW Eco is a conference for environmentalists, and these attendees are not inclined to blame the honeybee’s problems on an obscure arthropod. They’d rather blame Hayes. That’s because Hayes works for Monsanto, the St. Louis-based agricultural behemoth that environmentalists love to hate (and, I should add, the sponsor of this panel, which I am moderating).

When the Q&A session begins, a petite woman who looks to be in her twenties approaches the microphone. “The room feels kind of tense,” she says. She explains that she’d like to hear more about pesticides, specifically a class called neonicotinoids, which many people blame for honeybee deaths. “Because,” she says, “we definitely covered mites.”

On it goes, one pesticide question after the next. Last in line is a burly fellow with blondish dreadlocks. His name is Walter, and he wears a yellow “Central Texas Bee Rescue” T-shirt. “OK now,” Walter says to Hayes, “you said there were things that we could do to help the honeybee. But in none of those things did you ever suggest that we stop spraying poison.”

Walter interrupts: “That’s shit you all made up.”

As the other panelists try to intercede, Walter shouts over them, “It’s money! You’re gonna make money!” You can see the spit flying. “And until then you’re gonna kill as many bees as you possibly can!”

Hayes is 62, lined and sinewy, his hair still dark. A gray-dappled beard frames his chin in such a way that his head seems to form a perfect rectangle. He doesn’t seek attention. He doesn’t talk about his feelings. As Walter continues, Hayes sits on the dais with his hands folded in front of him, silent, uncannily still.

Before he was a villain, Jerry Hayes was a hero. He considered himself one of the good guys. Many people did. They sought his advice. They smiled at him. “I like,” Hayes says, “to have people smile at me.”

Since the early 1980s Hayes has written “The Classroom,” an advice column for the American Bee Journal, America’s oldest bee magazine. He is Dear Abby for beekeepers, counseling readers on everything from capturing swarms to making shoe polish from beeswax. (To Tommy, a North Carolina beekeeper asking why his bees swarmed too late to survive the winter: “Sometimes the stupid gene expresses itself, Tommy. Genes are always testing themselves to see if they bring reproductive value.”)

For eight years before he joined Monsanto, Hayes ran Florida’s Apiary Inspection Section, which regulates the state’s bees and their keepers. More than 300 of Florida’s 4,000 registered beekeepers move their hives into the state for the winter—“like people from New Jersey,” Hayes says—and then, as spring approaches, pack them on trucks, 480 hives per semi, and head west and north to pollinate almonds, cherries, apples, blueberries, cranberries, vine fruits, pit fruits, onions, legumes—over $15 billion of US crops a year.

“We didn’t know what this was,” Hayes says, “but we had to give it a name.” They called it colony collapse disorder.

At summer’s end, those trucks return to Florida, carrying not only bees and honey but also viruses, bacteria, mites, beetles, ants, and fungi the bees picked up along the way. Hayes’ inspectors were tasked with intercepting those pests and pathogens before they spread to the rest of Florida’s—and the nation’s—bees. Add this to the list of weird stuff that happens in Florida: It’s where major honeybee plagues tend to begin.

Hayes was good at the job. Florida beekeepers came to see him and his 14 inspectors as allies rather than adversaries. “I didn’t want us to be the bee police,” he says. In 2006, Hayes was elected president of the Apiary Inspectors of America.

That same year, a commercial beekeeper in Florida named David Hackenberg discovered that his apparently healthy bees had disappeared and reported it to Hayes. Other beekeepers had similar accounts. Late one night, as the losses mounted—the nation would lose a third of its bees that winter—Hayes got on the phone with a group of alarmed entomologists. “We didn’t know what this was,” Hayes says, “but we felt we had to give it a name.” They called it colony collapse disorder.

By early the next year, the Internet was abuzz with theories about CCD. It offered a litany of dystopian ecological conspiracies: cell phones interfering with bee navigation, or genetically modified corn syrup, or neonicotinoid pesticides. But no one really knew.

Around that time, Hayes went to a seminar about a gene modification technique called RNA interference. DNA is, of course, the spiraling, double-stranded molecule that encodes genetic information and determines everything about us: whether our eyes are blue or if we’re more likely to suffer a particular cancer. But the genome also relies on RNA—the single-stranded version of genetic code used in the protein factories of the cell.

RNA can also “silence” specific genes, preventing an organism from using them to make proteins. In 1998 scientists discovered that they could engineer stretches of double-stranded RNA to do the same thing. As a lab technique, RNA interference—or RNAi—turned out to be useful for learning about genes by turning them off. It also showed promise in fighting viruses, cancers, and even harmful pests and parasites. The researchers at the seminar were talking about using RNAi to prevent mosquitoes from spreading malaria, but that gave Hayes another idea. “I thought, could this be adapted to honeybee predator control?” In other words: to kill mites.

An Israeli company called Beeologics was thinking along similar lines. Beeologics’ president, Eyal Ben-Chanoch, didn’t actually know much about bees. But he knew people were worried about CCD, and he thought that a product aimed at fighting it would garner attention for his company. So he directed his researchers to look at using RNAi to control a bee disease that seemed related to CCD called Israeli acute paralysis virus. Ben-Chanoch heard that Hayes had been asking about the technology at bee conferences, got in touch, and set up a collaboration on field trials in Florida.

RNAi works like tweezers, plucking its victims with exquisite specificity by clicking into sequences of their unique genetic code.

Beeologics soon got the attention Ben-Chanoch had hoped for. News stories about the company’s forthcoming “affordable cure” for CCD attracted the eyes of executives at Monsanto. The company was already working on an RNAi-enhanced corn plant, engineered to disable the maize-eating Western corn rootworm, and researchers there saw even more potential. Traditional pesticides act like chemical backhoes, killing their targets (beetles, weeds, viruses) but harming good things along the way (beneficial insects, birds, fish, humans). RNAi, in theory, works instead like a set of tweezers, plucking its victims with exquisite specificity by clicking into sequences of genetic code unique to that organism. “If you could design an ideal pesticide, this is the stuff you’re looking for,” says Pamela Bachman, a toxicologist at Monsanto.

The problem was that synthesizing RNA was too expensive. But Beeologics found a way to do it at a relatively low cost and was testing it in Hayes’ Florida beehives. In 2011, Monsanto bought Beeologics and its RNAi tech and offered Hayes a job explaining it to beekeepers.

Hayes had serious reservations. He was happy in Florida. So was his family—his wife, Kathy, and their four children, two of whom were still in school. And he liked being an apiary inspector. The beekeeping industry was small, and he knew all the players. Monsanto had 22,000 employees, few of whom knew anything about honeybees. “Beekeepers look at Monsanto and other Big Ag companies as the enemy, spraying chemicals and killing bees’ forage,” Hayes says. He would be a lonely voice there: a man who loved insects in a place where insects are the enemy.

He had other concerns. There was the company’s nickname among eco-activists: Monsatan. And its lofty ranking on any list of the world’s most despised corporations. There were the muckraking documentaries (Seeds of DeathGMO OMG), the Twitter hashtag (#monsantoevil), the protest groups (Occupy MonsantoBee Against Monsanto). There were the rumors of farmers in India driven to suicide by GMO-incurred debt, the tales of sullied gene pools and browbeaten scientists and university stooges and journalist shills and Brobdingnagian government influence.

The rhetoric offended Hayes’ sense of fairness. He knew that environmentalists linked colony collapse to neonicotinoid insecticides and that they thought Monsanto was somehow to blame. But he also knew that Monsanto doesn’t make insecticides. The company’s most famous product, glyphosate—that’s Roundup—kills plants. Its second-most famous product—Roundup-ready seeds—allows plants to resist its most famous product.

There was a symbiosis there: Like flowers and bees, Monsanto and Hayes could exploit each other to their own ends.

Nor was Hayes convinced that neonicotinoids explained honeybee losses in the first place. When neonics came to market in the 1990s, farmers and environmentalists welcomed them as far less toxic to birds and mammals than earlier insecticides. Some studies raised concerns about sublethal effects on honeybees like impaired navigation, reproduction, and immune systems, but larger field studies didn’t.

Hayes came to realize that the same elements that cause people to loathe and fear Monsanto—its size, its resources, its influence on agricultural practices, its headlong embrace of futuristic technologies—presented an opportunity. “It has more money than any group that I’ve ever worked with,” he says.

As for Monsanto, “we wanted the process”—the RNAi technology—says Billy Brennan, the company’s international communications manager, “but we saw a tremendous opportunity to support honeybee health.” People were worried about dying bees; the company could show it was trying to help. There was a symbiosis there: Like flowers and bees, Monsanto and Hayes could exploit each other to their own ends.

Hayes and his wife had converted to Mormonism after their first child was born. And though he joined the church too late to travel the world preaching gospel, he nonetheless sees himself as a missionary. He wants to make a difference. “So,” he says, “I decided to stick my neck way outside of my shell.” He took the job. 

When Hayes told his beekeeping colleagues about his move, “there was a real feeling that he was selling out,” says Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the University of Maryland entomologist who was the first scientist to autopsy David Hackenberg’s CCD-ridden bees. “My internal question,” says Marla Spivak, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota and longtime colleague, “was ‘Huh, I wonder if he needs money.’” At an apiary inspectors’ meeting just before Hayes left his job in Florida, the group halted the proceedings to bestow upon Hayes a toy lightsaber with a red blade—the kind Darth Vader uses. “For joining the Dark Side,” vanEngelsdorp says.

Hayes crossed over in January 2012, leaving Kathy and his two teenage children behind while he got settled. He found a property an hour southwest of Monsanto’s St. Louis headquarters—“I’m a country boy,” Hayes says—where he could keep a garden full of spinach and 30 beehives.

At Monsanto, “I would think several times a day of running screaming into the parking lot,” Hayes says.

It was a disorienting change. Monsanto wasn’t the Death Star—you couldn’t meet a Missouri-nicer group of people. But it was, Hayes says, “like coming to Mars.” In Hayes’ previous jobs, getting dressed up meant wearing a baseball cap that wasn’t covered in propolis and bee droppings. His new office was full of khaki-clad MBAs who talked about things like “matrix management.” The headquarters had a stark, midcentury style; in one auditorium the seats had ashtrays in the armrests. Getting approval for a simple idea—like placing beehives on the company campus—involved negotiating byzantine lines of authority. “I would think several times a day of running screaming into the parking lot,” Hayes says.

It got worse. Hayes had believed that the RNAi product that killed Israeli acute paralysis virus was almost ready for market. But a few days after he started, Hayes learned that the product had recently failed its fifth FDA field trial.

His position was still open in Florida, and his family was still there, waiting out the school year. Maybe he’d made a mistake. Perhaps, like Tommy’s autumn swarm in North Carolina, Hayes had listened to the stupid gene and pulled up stakes at the wrong time. “I almost went back,” he says.

Yet Hayes still saw an opportunity. The Israeli virus was one of a number of bee viruses, and most of them entered hives via the same carrier: Hayes’ mites. “If you took care of the varroa mite, you took care of these eight or nine different viruses in one fell swoop,” he says. The mite, he believed, should be Monsanto’s ultimate target.

Hayes asked one of his supervisors to help him work the bureaucracy, setting up meetings and preparing a PowerPoint presentation for their bosses. Hayes spoke about the varroa mite again and again, up and up Monsanto’s corporate ladder. It took dozens of meetings—“I did the whole ‘make a fist’ thing about 5 million times,” Hayes says. His proposition: A single virus was too narrow a focus. If Monsanto wanted to help bees, it should direct its considerable resources at Hayes’ small red great white whale. Hayes would consult on the technical work and join the company’s PR team, spreading the word about varroa mites and RNAi.

The bosses signed on, and Hayes decided to stay. Stupid gene or no, “I didn’t ever want to be accused of not trying,” he says. Kathy and his two younger children joined him six months later.

Six months after that, Kathy began feeling sick. She had been treated for breast cancer eight years before. But there in Missouri the cancer had come back, and it was everywhere in her body. She died in April 2014.

The Summer after Hayes’ SXSW talk, we meet at Monsanto’s Chesterfield research complex, 11 miles from the company’s main headquarters, in a suburb of strip malls and Starbucks. The Chesterfield campus is a 1.5 million-square-foot complex with 425 labs, 26 rooftop greenhouses, and 124 growth chambers. Hayes waits at the door as I duck in from a biblical downpour. “Welcome,” he says, “to the belly of the beast.”

We wind past a vast room of gene-sequencing equipment, through a greenhouse planted wall to wall with experimental corn varieties, down soundless underground hallways to a long thin lab with soapstone counters, where a team is focused on making RNAi work. On the counter are plants covered in nets and infested with Colorado potato beetles—a round, circus-striped superpest that resists 60 chemicals but could be vulnerable to RNAi. Next to the plants is a half-gallon jar of gleaming white powder. This is pure double-stranded RNA, enough to cover a few hundred acres. Making just this much cost around $100,000—still far too expensive for widespread commercial use.

Around the corner, a lab assistant named Nick rattles a mesh-covered jar half-full of dead bees and varroa mites. It sounds like a dog shaking a collar. He turns the jar upside down and sifts a dusting of mites and bees onto the counter. Out at Monsanto’s hives, the bees ate sugar syrup laced with mite-killing RNA. Nick will test the mites to see if they picked up the RNAi product from the bees’ hemolymph, the blood equivalent on which the mites feed.

Even if the Monsanto team can make a reliable varroa mite killer, environmentalists still won’t want it.

Once Hayes’ team switched to varroa mites, they quickly identified genes they could turn off with RNAi. In the lab it was easy. “You can kill mites all day long in a petri dish,” Hayes says. But in the field the RNA doesn’t stay intact long enough to work through the bees and into the mites. Hayes estimates they kill only around 20 percent. That’s not enough.

Price and stability aren’t the only obstacles to the technology. Lots of very different living things share genes and genetic sequences, which means it is theoretically possible, if unlikely, that RNAi could harm organisms beyond its targets. The USDA approved Monsanto’s RNAi-modified corn plant in 2015, but the EPA is still looking into potential hazards, like contamination through windblown pollen or falling leaves. “I think there’s high potential for an oops event,” says biologist Martha Crouch of the Center for Food Safety. “The risks aren’t well-enough known to forge ahead with large-scale commercial deployment.”

Beekeepers—Hayes’ constituents, his people—are also skeptical. In comments submitted to the USDA, the National Honey Bee Advisory Board argued that using the technology “would be more naive than our use of DDT in the 1950s.” DDT was the pesticide at the heart of Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, which launched the modern environmental movement. Even if the team can make a reliable varroa killer, environmentalists still won’t want it.

In May 2013, hundreds of thousands of people in more than 300 cities participated in a March Against Monsanto. “We recognized that our reputation can’t get any worse,” Monsanto’s Brennan says. That summer, the company revamped its communications efforts. Where once executives carefully vetted everything their rank and file said in public, they now encourage staff to be less closed off and to share personal stories. I heard a few (remarkably similar) about farmers in India and Africa who were able to send their kids to school because of Monsanto-engineered crops. Employees engage on social media, talk to local skeptics’ groups, do AMAs on Reddit and panels at conferences like SXSW. The company also created a “corporate engagement team” with nearly 200 people, bearing titles like “moms and food-minded manager” and “millennial outreach coordinator.”

Hayes joined the team as “honeybee health lead.” Several times a month, he travels around the country speaking to bee clubs and conferences about Monsanto’s work on varroa mites.

Hayes has made Monsanto a little bit more bee-friendly too. The company now has a beekeeping club. Hayes also helped set up a Honeybee Health Coalition of beekeepers, scientists, farmers, and farm-chemical companies, like Bayer and Syngenta. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Hayes’ entomologist pal, was one of the first to sign on. Even the American Beekeeping Federation joined.

“To have some value,” Hayes says, “you have to do some things that are uncomfortable.”

The coalition does not include some of the most vocal anti-pesticide organizations, but Hayes did invite the insect-advocacy group Xerces Society. It dropped out, however, on the grounds that the coalition wasn’t serious about addressing the role of pesticides in honeybee losses. And that’s Hayes’ conundrum. He wants to talk about mites and disappearing forage and the vast and confounding spectrum of other threats to honeybees. Environmentalists mostly want to talk about neonicotinoid pesticides.

It’s true, of course, that neonics can harm not only honeybees but also other living things. They are widely used in farms and gardens, flea collars, and extermination products, and they can persist in the environment for months or years. But neonics aren’t the only chemical honeybees contend with—not even close. One study found traces of 118 different pesticides in pollen, beeswax, and bees.

Yet bees endure. When a colony dies—collapses quickly or succumbs slowly—beekeepers divide their remaining colonies, buy new queens, and grow populations back to full strength. Despite unremitting losses, the number of bee colonies globally has held steady.

There’s also this stubborn fact: While neonic use continues in the US, the particular symptoms of colony collapse disorder have not. “I haven’t seen CCD in five years,” says vanEngelsdorp, who surveys the nation’s bee losses twice a year. He now believes what he saw back in 2006 was some sort of emerging viral infection. Indeed, vanEngelsdorp and Hayes have come to regret coining the terrifying name colony collapse disorder. What kills bees? Pesticides, yes, but also pathogens, poor nutrition, and varroa mites. Especially varroa mites. That’s why Hayes stays at Monsanto. “To have some value,” he says, “you have to do some things that are uncomfortable.”

It has, indeed, been uncomfortable. Beekeepers have accused Hayes of poisoning the earth, contaminating the honeybee gene pool, and hawking genetically engineered “robobees.” Environmentalists have walked out of his talks; beekeeping clubs have feuded over his presence. “I have more scar tissue than I thought,” Hayes says.

Hayes used to consider himself an environmentalist. He belonged to the Sierra Club. But he quit. “I saw how they were using terms like Monsanto and Bayer as fund-raising mechanisms,” he says. “But if you believe in science, if you take a hard look at the science and data of some of these groups, they’re cooking the books in order to make themselves look better and others look evil. So they can raise money. To be successful.”

These are culture wars. Honeybees have become as political as GMOs or vaccines. Anti-corporate environmentalists battle from one redoubt, Big Ag technologists from the other. Hayes stands in the middle, taking fire from both sides. “We’re a competitive species,” Hayes says.

“MAKE A FIST,” Hayes says. Two dozen people sitting in a Southern Baptist church outside Durango, Colorado—members of the Four Corners Beekeepers Association—follow his instructions.

This group is about as different from the crowd at SXSW Eco as one could imagine—older men in ball caps, women in boot-cut jeans. They aren’t trying to transform agriculture or save the world. They just like keeping bees.

Hayes tells them how he got into beekeeping. “Have you ever been in the situation,” he asks, “where you just loved every day?” A summer shower blows through outside, fat raindrops bouncing off the grass. A young elk, antlers furred, looks in through the windows. “I’m a beekeeper,” he says. “I came to Monsanto because I care about bees.”

Recently a friend who hadn’t seen Hayes in a while told him he looked “kind of sick.” And it’s true. He’s thinner. The lines in his face are deeper. His youngest son left for Mormon mission in England last summer. Hayes is alone now.

Earlier that day, as we drove alongside the winding Animas River to visit a honey factory, Hayes told me that his patience was wearing thin. The RNAi mite treatment was still at least seven years from market. “We haven’t invented anything yet,” he said. But he still wants to. When Hayes returned from Durango, he set up a massive trial—1,000-plus colonies in 10 states, third-party monitors, dozens of beekeepers applying the RNAi product. He expects results by the end of the year. “This is probably the largest field trial in the beekeeping industry ever,” Hayes says. Smaller trials have provided “glimpses and glimmers” of the product’s efficacy; this one, he hopes, will magnify the data. Monsanto lives by data. “That’s what people understand here.”

Even if the mites die in droves, though, Hayes knows the fighting won’t end. And he doesn’t know if he has it in him to endure more years of battering while he waits for the technology to mature. “If I could have looked into a crystal ball,” he says, “I don’t know that I would have done it.”

When honeybees encounter too large a gap within a hive, they use beeswax to bridge it. Hayes once believed—perhaps this was the stupid gene again—that he could build a similar bridge. “I was naive,” he says. He knows he wasn’t wrong about the mites. It was humans that he didn’t understand. 

Hannah Nordhaus (@hannahnordhaus) is the author of The Beekeeper’s Lament.

This article appears in the September 2016 issue.

Beekeeping Tips for August

ABJ Extra    August 15, 2016
Courtesy of Joli Winer, editor
The Northeastern Kansas Beekeepers' Association,
The Bee Buzzer, August, 2016
  • Use the weed eater and mow around your hives so that the bees can get in and out.
  • After pulling off your supers check your hives to make sure they have laying queens.
  • Provide water for your bees if they do not have a water source.
  • Bees are hanging on the outside of the hives to help keep it cooler inside the hives — not much honey coming in so they are just keeping cool.
  • Harvest any fall honey & get it extracted. Any honey that you pull off to extract should be extracted within a few days. In this heat wax moth damage can happen in just a few days. Small hive beetles can also do a great deal of damage to your supers and your honey. Don't pull your honey off until you are ready to extract.
  • Check the moisture in your honey — moisture is running very high in some states.
  • Complete a fall inspection for each hive
  • Take an inventory at your bee yards to see what equipment you need to repair or replace over the winter.
  • Get your entrance reducers on towards the end of September to keep mice out of your hives. Check for mice before installing mouse guards. Check your bottom boards for holes big enough for a mouse to go through.
  • Store any frames with drawn comb in paradichlorobenze (moth crystals). Wax moth damage can be devastating to your combs. Store them in a cool ventilated area. Do not store your supers in plastic garbage bags as this acts as an incubator for the wax moth!
  • Update your record book - you won't remember in the spring!
  • Check your hives for stored honey. Most colonies will need 40 - 60 pounds of honey to winter successfully. The top deep super/hive body should be packed full of honey. If it isn't you should feed the bees some syrup. If mixing your own syrup in the fall the mixture should be 2:1 sugar to water by weight. That would be 4 lbs. of sugar to 2 lbs. of boiling water. You can also get high fructose corn syrup. However, you may not use corn syrup or any type of syrup that you purchase at the grocery store. It has things in it that can cause problems with your bees. NEVER feed honey purchased from the grocery store - it can spread American Foulbrood disease to your bees. 
Here are the reasons bees die over the winter. Make sure you take care of these problems in the fall:
  1. Bees run out of honey.
  2. Too few bees to maintain the cluster.
  3. The bees' digestive tracts compact with too much waste matter.
  4. They exhibit parasitic mite syndrome.
Check your colonies to see if you need to treat for Varroa mites.
  • Combine a weak colony with a stronger colony. Colonies may be split again in the spring.
  • Keep a vigilant eye out for small hive beetles. Inspect you hives to make sure you have a good laying queen. You should see brood in all stages (eggs, larvae, capped).
  • If treating for mites get your treatments on as soon as possible. Mark your calendar with the date they went in and the date they should come out. The earlier you can get your treatments on for Varroa mites the better chance you have of getting healthy young bees into the hive to make it through the winter.
  • Make sure your brood is in the center of the bottom hive body. Arrange honey frames on the sides and in the top hive body — it should be full of honey. If it isn't, feed your bees syrup.
  • Make sure your hives are tipped forward, just slightly, so water doesn't pool on the bottom board and cause moisture problems.

Lots of Links from the CSBA - July 4, 2016

California State Beekeepers Association from Joy Pendell for your reading enjoyment.

Head on over to the CSBA and become a member:, (membership entitles you to the monthly CSBA Bee Times newsletter), read about the upcoming 2016 CSBA Annual Convention:


Disclaimer: Inclusion of items in this email does not imply CSBA endorsement unless such endorsement is specifically stated.

Book now for the 2016 CSBA Annual Convention!

Rooms are filling up fast at the Kona Kai Resort & Spa. Click on the link above to book your room now. The group code is 1114CSB. The convention will be held November 15th – 17th in San Diego, CA. You don’t want to miss it!

Forage & Nutrition Task Force Of The North American Pollinator Partnership Campaign – Short Survey

“We are reaching out to beekeepers to help us determine appropriate standards for granting tax incentives to beekeeping. The data gathered from this 1-minute survey will allow us to propose evidence-based guidelines on how many acres per hive should be granted these tax benefits, which will help beekeepers and our most important pollinators.”

WAS – News From The World Of Beekeeping

FFN - During National Pollinator Week, USDA Announces Key Measures To Improve Pollinator Health

ABC - Bee-ing Good Partners For Honey Bee Health

ABC - Call For Almond Conference Presentation Proposals

Catch The Buzz – HSI Chicago Seizes Nearly 60 Tons Of Honey Illegally Imported From China, Again!!!

Catch The Buzz – Field Crops And Bees: Research Shows Surprising Relationships, Need For Better Crop Management

Growing Produce - Scientists Selected To Work On Healthy Hives 2020 Initiative

Catch The Buzz – The Wildlife Society Partners With Feed A Bee To Plant 25 Million Flowers

Catch The Buzz – USDA Scientists And Beekeepers Swap Colonies To Better Bees

Catch The Buzz – Tabitha Mansker, 2016 American Honey Princess Picasa

Catch The Buzz – Pollinator Week: Celebrating Blue Butterflies On The Great Lakes 

Southern Oregon Beekeepers Association – Fall Bee School July 30, 2016

Washington Post – Nobel Winners Defend GMO Safety

Buyer near San Francisco, CA looking for Honey Supplier

“Hello! I am looking to source California Honey for my business. We use about 40lbs a week. Some of the places we have called have not been able to supply us with this amount. Any idea of who we could reach out to?” If you think you can help, please contact Rachel Malsin at

Natural Beekeeping Conference

Today is the last day to get your early bird ticket to the Natural Beekeeping Conference and save $50!! 

Join HoneyLove August 19-21, 2016 for an unforgettable weekend filled with educational lectures and workshops, hands-on demonstrations, the latest in natural beekeeping techniques and findings, an elite collection of exhibitors and sponsors, rare opportunities for you to connect with likeminded beeks, sweet raw honey tastings from around the world AND OUR ANNUAL YELLOW TIE EVENT on August 19th, 6-9pm!

Guest speakers include: 
Michael Bush
Dee Lusby
May R. Berenbaum
Michael Thiele
Les Crowder
Dr. Rebecca Marsland
Sam Comfort
Rob & Chelsea McFarland
Patrick Pynes
Hilary Kearney
Eliese Watson
Matt Reed
David King
Erik Knutzen & Kelly Coyne
Christy Wilhelmi
Max Wong

All who are interested in bees and beekeeping are welcomed to attend!#HLONBC

Limited tickets available to this awesome weekend so REGISTER NOW!

Interested in becoming an exhibitor or sponsor?
This year’s Natural Beekeeping Conference will be one of the largest gatherings of natural beekeepers in the country! Don’t miss this opportunity to connect with our specialized group of influencers.
Email us today to join: or call (424) 625-8233

LACBA Beekeeping Class 101 Begins Sunday, February 21, 9AM-Noon, at Bill's Bees Bee Yard

JOIN US for the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association 
Beekeeping Class 101 ~ 1st Class February 21 ~ Hosted at Bill’s Bees Bee Farm

Whether you are new to beekeeping, aspire to being a backyard
beekeeper, or are already an experienced beekeeper who would like
to continue learning about bees and beekeeping,
we’d like to invite you to attend the 
Los Angeles  County Beekeepers Association 2016 Season of Beekeeping Classes 101.
We teach responsible beekeeping for an urban environment,
adhering to Best Management Practices for the bees,
beekeepers, and the general public.
All are Welcome!

DATE: First Class is Sunday, February 21 ~ TIME: 9am-Noon

Bill’s Bees Bee Farm
12640 Little Tujunga Canyon Rd, Lake View Terrace, CA 91342
Map to Bill's Bees Bee Yard:

Beekeeping Class 101 is FREE to LACBA members. 
Membership $10/year per household. 
Non-members: $10/per class/per person. 
Bee suits not required for the first class.

 For the 2016 Schedule, Locations, Directions and other Information see: 

See you in the morning on the top of the mountain!
You may want to bring a bottle of water, a sun hat, and a pad and pencil for notes.
Try to arrive early. It's going to bee a great day!!!