The Richard Taylor Centennial

I certainly could not let this year pass without a note or two about Richard Taylor, American beekeeper and philosopher. He would have reached 100 years in November. Alas, he expired seventeen years earlier.

It’s hard to say which of his lives will have the longer legacy – his beekeeping or his philosophizing. His university textbook, Metaphysics, was used in colleges for over thirty years. Even now, his many beekeeping books are read daily by beekeepers who want a simpler perspective on sideline beekeeping. He wrote with the authority of a life-long beekeeper who had 300 hives in upstate New York. And he had a clear and easy writing style in all his work.

In November, I wrote an article about Richard Taylor for American Bee Journal. If you missed it, you should subscribe to ABJ. Each monthly edition of the magazine is over 100 pages and almost every page is worth reading. The yearly cost for the online version is about what you’d get by selling three one-pound jars of honey.  If you don’t subscribe already, here’s a link to my article, you can read it for free. Maybe it will convince you to read the magazine.

                                                     🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝

Posted in Beekeeping, Books, People | Tagged | 1 Comment

Langstroth’s Christmas Present

I’ve been posting this piece every Christmas for a while. If you’ve read it before, read it again. Or not. Christmas Day is L.L. Langstroth’s birthday. He’d be 219 years old, if he hadn’t been struck down in his 85th year from complication of elderliness. Langstroth’s movable frames and his brilliant beekeeping book, The Hive and the Honey Bee, were his gifts to you.


Langstroth, 1810-1895

He invented the modern beehive, making it easier, more productive, and less stressful for bees. However, Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth earned nothing from his invention and suffered severely from self-doubt, melancholy, and clinical depression. Yet, he changed beekeeping to its core. On his birthday anniversary (Christmas Day!), we give homage to the most important beekeeper America ever produced.

Langstroth was born December 25, 1810. That was some Christmas gift to the world, wasn’t it? His childhood seems to have been typical for a kid who spent a lot of time on his hands and knees on the streets of Philadelphia, trapping bugs and ants with table scraps. “I was once whipped because I had worn holes in my pants by too much kneeling on the gravel walkways in my eagerness to learn all that I could about ant life,” Langstroth wrote.

He built paper traps for beetles and flies, leading to a traumatic experience when his grammar school teacher – fed up with six-year-old Lorenzo’s ‘wasted’ bug time – smashed his paper cages and freed his flies. Lorenzo was sent to cry himself to sleep inside a dark cupboard at the school. The teacher’s reform strategy worked. Langstroth gave up his passion for insects and became a preacher instead.

Langstroth's Andover church

Langstroth’s Andover church

Langstroth studied theology at Yale. At 25, he was offered a job as pastor at the South Church in Andover, Massachusetts. Even in Langstroth’s day, it was an old prestigious church. In 2011 it celebrated its 300th anniversary. The plum assignment as pastor at South Church was a recognition of the young man’s abilities.

While visiting a parish member, Langstroth noticed a bowl of comb honey. He said that it was the most beautiful food he had ever seen. He asked to visit his new friend’s bees. Langstroth was led to the fellow’s attic where the hives were arranged near an open window. “In a moment,” Langstroth remembered, “the enthusiasm of my boyish days seemed, like a pent-up fire, to burst out in full flame. Before I went home I bought two stocks of bees in common box hives, and thus my apiarian career began.” Langstroth had been infected by the bee bug.

Head troubles

Throughout his lifetime, Langstroth suffered badly from manic-depression. In the mid-nineteenth century, there was little anyone could do to help a person afflicted with mental illness. The only solace was temporary and usually came to Langstroth when he was with his bees.

The young minister felt that he wasn’t an effective parson because of his recurring dark days, so he quit preaching and became principal of a women’s school instead. By all accounts, he was a empathetic minister and a dedicated teacher, but bouts of depression forced him to cancel sermons and classes. He needed a change. Bees were the only thing he knew that could give him peace, comfort, and meaningful work while fitting into a life disrupted by debilitating illness. But sometimes not even bees could stop what he called his “head trouble” when darkness crept upon him.

He built an apiary and hoped to make his living from bees. But during his first beekeeping summer, severe depression returned and lasted for weeks. He sold all his colonies in the fall. Then he started with the bees again. His life would turn over again and again with periods of manic enthusiasm and productivity followed by gloomy months of despondency. During his depressed phases, Langstroth took shelter in a bed in a dark room. He would remain there, immobile, for days. “I asked that my books be hidden from my sight. Even the letter “B” would remind me of my bees and instill a deep sadness that wouldn’t leave.”

When he was finally able to return to his bees, Langstroth made great strives at increasing efficiency in his apiary. He made his tasks more effective. He never knew when depression would return, so he worked day and night during productive manic periods.


The major inefficiency in his apiary was the design of the boxes which held his bees. The boxes were usually simple wooden crates with solid walls and small holes which the bees used as entrances. During harvest of a hive, the lid was lifted from the crate. Attached to the lid were wax combs that the bees had built in haphazard jumbles. The combs cracked and broke during the beekeeper’s excavation, causing a sticky mess and disturbing the excited bees. It was a messy, nasty way to inspect bees and harvest honey.

Langstroth noticed that bees often left a small space around the edge of their combs. Sometimes, upon lifting the lids, he would find wax attached to both the lid and the walls inside the hive, while at other times the hanging combs were not stuck to the hive walls at all. Langstroth’s brilliant insight (his Eureka! moment) was noticing that the space was about 3/8 of an inch when the combs hung freely. If a comb were closer than that to a wall, the bees would attach it to the walls. But at 3/8 inch (actually, between 6.35 and 9.53 mm), the bees always left a space. He had discovered “bee space”.

Langstroth’s next step was brilliant. He made wooden frames that held the wax combs, designing them so they dangled within the hive’s box with their wooden edges always 3/8 of an inch from anything that might touch them: the lid, the interior box walls, the box bottom, other frames. Positioned like this, the bees neither waxed the frames together nor stuck them to the sides or bottom of the hive. The result was a beehive with movable frames. Combs could be lifted, examined, and manipulated. It was 1851 and modern beekeeping had begun.

Langstroth frames, the heart of his invention

Langstroth frames, the heart of his invention (Source: R. Engelhard)

Colonies could be handled more gently. Frames could be inspected for disease, queen quality, and honey and pollen reserves. Movable frames meant queen bees could be produced and strong hives split (by sharing frames between two or more new hives), thus increasing colony numbers while preventing swarming. It was a new era in beekeeping. The next few decades were “The Golden Age of Beekeeping“.

Easy to use, easy to make, easy to copy

L.L. Langstroth was not alone in figuring out bee space and inventing applications for it. About the same time, some European beekeepers (Huber, in Switzerland and Dzierzon in Poland/Germany, Prokopovich in the Ukraine) had made similar discoveries. But Langstroth created a simpler hive. His Langstroth beehive was a fine example of North American utilitarian craftsmanship. Efficient, practical, and cheap.

Langstroth’s invention was so simple and inexpensive that his patent was readily violated. Minor modifications were touted as significant improvements to Langstroth’s original design, circumventing the patent. Langstroth began a number of lawsuits against the more flagrant violators, but when the court cases began, his “head troubles” returned.

He dropped the litigation when he realized he could not win and when his illness prevented a spirited defense. Realistically, it was impossible to stop imitations and adaptations. Beekeepers – who were often handy farmers and carpenters – quickly built one or two hives with frames for themselves. Langstroth sought one dollar to license each box, which was a huge price in those days. But his real discovery was “bee space” which could not be patented. His position was like trying to patent sails for ships after discovering wind. Even Langstroth’s supporters wrote that Langstroth should have simply allowed the idea to flourish in the public domain. Trying to enforce the patent was expensive. It left Langstroth nearly bankrupt.

Frames, dangling in a hive. (Source:

Frames, dangling in a hive. (Source: D. Feliciano)

With a plethora of modifications and similar boxes being designed in Europe, Langstroth’s great contribution may have entered the world anyway and without credit to him. But the retired minister had one other major contribution to society. It earned him much-deserved praise and even a bit of money. In one feverish six-month manic spell, Langstroth wrote the greatest beekeeping book ever published.

Hive and Honey Bee

Langstroth's Hive and Honey-Bee, first published in 1853

Modern copy of Langstroth’s 1853
Hive and Honey-Bee

In 1852, working for six hectic months with almost no sleep, Langstroth wrote The Hive and the Honey-Bee. This book, revised and expanded in more than 40 subsequent editions, is still a reliable source for beekeepers. When Langstroth wrote it, there were other good bee primers on the market, but his book moved to the top spot. You may read the original 1853 book on-line. I’ve read and re-read my 1859 copy with its 409 pages of fading text protected by orange hardboard covers. It earned its place in my library. Within the book are chapters such as Loss of the Queen (and what to do), Swarming, Feeding, Wintering, and Enemies of the Bees. It’s a very practical guide to keeping bees and much of it is still relevant today.

Langstroth never found lasting peace from his cycles of manic depression, though in his 60s he travelled to Mexico and discovered that the stimulation and change of scenery gave him an unexpected respite from depression. The illness returned when he returned to his home, but he remembered the break from head troubles with great appreciation. He lived long enough (85 years!) to see his work appreciated, his name honored, and his book sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Despite his life-long disability, he had a long, full life, three children, and interesting work. And he made a phenomenal contribution to beekeeping.

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday,
Lorenzo Loraine Langstroth!

Posted in Beekeeping, Books, History, Hives and Combs, People, Tools and Gadgets | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Making honey talk

A biochemistry student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, has been analyzing proteins in honey. Since proteins (for example, pollen grains, shown above) make up only about 0.1-0.5% (one to five parts per thousand) of the volume of a typical honey sample, the scientist developed a ground-breaking system to poke through all that honey and look at the teeny bit of protein that’s there. In the process, she and her colleagues developed a new way to identify the types of pollen and other proteins lurking in raw natural honey.

Effectively examining protein in honey has been a long-term goal for palynologists, the folks who study pollen. Their task is to identify pollen in honey in order to determine floral source. Let’s say that you are a honey packer and you need to confirm that some honey for sale by a commercial beekeeper is mostly buckwheat, for example, and not badly burnt foul-tasting bakers’ grade honey. (Really, the two are hard to tell apart!) You would send the sample to a palynologist. She would whirl the honey sample in a centrifuge to concentrate the solids, then cook the material in acids to expose the unique exine patterns of the pollen grains. Next, the palynologist mounts the grains on a gridded microscope slide and counts the number of clover, jujube, and buckwheat pollen grains. The last step requires the most experience – you sit immobile on a lab stool for hours, listening to classic Norwegian heavy metal band Miksha blasting in your ear buds, counting pollen dust that only a few dozen people on Earth can recognize. This service costs about $200.

So, here’s the breakthrough. Rocio Cornero, left, originally from Mar del Plata, Argentina, used “multifunctional core-shell nanoparticles, which are a concentration method based on an affinity bait covalently bound to a polymer nanoparticle. When applied to a protein solution, the nanoparticles rapidly capture, concentrate and preserve solution-phase analytes, which can be then measured with standard analytical methods.” I kick myself that I hadn’t thought of this first!

the Orbie MS

That’s still the easy part. It gives you a little bottle of solution-phase analytes. How do you analyze the analytes? You simply set up “tandem mass spectrometry using a Thermo Fusion Orbitrap mass spectrometer”.  Now we are getting somewhere. Tandem, of course means ‘two’ – like the tandem axles on your bee truck. The first mass spectrometer (MS) of this tandem setup separates the peptides (mostly pollen parts) by weight, then spits them into the second MS, which actually identifies the fragments. “Ah-ha!” you say. “Exactly how does it identify the fragments?” Well, not through a microscope in a palynologist’s lab. This new system is automated. However, you’ll need a reference guide that looks up and identifies the flying peptide chips. Rocio Cornero explains, “[we use] proteomic databases including Apis mellifera, geographically consistent plants, bee pathogens such as deformed wing virus, Varroa destructor, and Nosema ceranae, and plant pathogens. In order to ensure the specificity of the identified peptides, we applied a bioinformatics pipeline to compare peptide sequences to the entire RefSeq non-redundant database.” So, you need an instantaneous information delivery system (let’s call it a computer) and the entire non-redundant RefSeq, or peptide database. You’ll have to build your own RefSeq, or go to a a local RefSeq-builder. If there’s one nearby. I’d build my own.

If you were brave enough to read the previous paragraph, you noticed that the peptides (small protein-like molecules) that are identified include parts of bees’ knees, mites, and plant pathogens – all found in the original honey sample along with the pollen. (Should we tell our honey customers?) The pollen bits can identify floral sources that might have sourced the honey, but the honey sample also contains other peptides that can indicate which diseases your bees – and surrounding plants – are carrying! Now, I’m getting excited.

So, congratulations to Rocio Cornero and her mentors – Drs. Alessandra Luchini and Lance Liotta – at George Mason. This new method might be transformative. (See the abstract here.) Rocio Cornero hopes that the entire system will be available in a few years for beekeepers as an instantaneous, portable tool. The benefits could include identifying organic pesticides, bee diseases, pathogens, and pollen from flowers that made the beekeepers’ honey.

Rocio says that her father, a beekeeper, was her inspiration. He passed away this year in Argentina. Among the test honey which proved her system will work were two samples from her father’s bees – the last honey he ever produced.

Posted in Diseases and Pests, Honey, Science, Tools and Gadgets | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Interview at CJSW with Ian Perry

Inspecting urban hives, Calgary, May 2019.

A couple of months ago, I was invited to chat about my research with Ian Perry, who runs a radio/podcast interview program (Keeping Green) at the University of Calgary’s CJSW. Ian is interviewing people who are studying ecology in western Canada. He has a smooth, smooth voice and a gifted interview style. So, we had a rambling chat, mostly about bees, and loosely focused on my research in bee ecology at the University of Calgary.

What is my work about? Well, I hope that you will listen to the interview, which is linked below. Briefly, I’ve been looking at the effect that honey bees in the city of Calgary have on native bees in the city. Backyard beekeeping has grown exponentially here. (We had 127 hives in 2008, about 1300 in 2018 – a ten-fold increase!) Maybe all those imported bees are harming the local bees?

Some neighbourhoods are probably overstocked with honey bee hives. If that’s the case (my research results are still pending), there may be some negative impact on bumble bees and solitary bees. To understand the issue, we (my summer students and I) set up hundreds of empty bumble bee and solitary bee houses around the city to monitor the success of wild bees occupying those boxes and developing nests when honey bees are around.

In addition to monitoring all those wild native bees, the work has involved gathering pollen from honey bee and bumble bee colonies, collecting 240 samples of pollinators in biodiversity traps set around the city, extensive mapping (and field scouting) of floral resources, and other details that I will write about another day. It’s a big project. I was lucky to have a good team helping me.

Hear the interview here. Or click below.

Posted in Beekeeping, Ecology, Native Bees, Personal, Science | Tagged , | 6 Comments

National “I Love Honey Day”

I’m not sure how serious this is, but someone somewhere has declared December 18 to be national I Love Honey Day.  I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do. But here’s an idea: Go out and buy some honey. Then eat it.

Even if you make your own honey (and who doesn’t these days?), you should consider buying some. You’d want to look for something unusual, of course. Maybe you live in a dark honey area but one of your friends has produced some nice water-white stuff. Perhaps from fireweed or sweet clover. Or perhaps you don’t make comb honey but you can get some from a nearby market. The point is, you can try something different while encouraging a local beekeeper. From the sample, you can critique the jar and its label while you inhale the honey’s aroma.

If – due to principle or poverty – you can’t or won’t buy another’s honey, then celebrate the day with a bit of your own stuff. Or you could just sit and think about honey. Have you ever held a spoonful of honey and just dripped it all on the floor, then sponged it up and threw it into your compost bin? Probably not. But here’s your chance. It will surely get you thinking about the lovely sticky stuff.

If you are totally at a loss for celebration ideas, then just kick back and enjoy Herb Albert’s brassy Taste of Honey – it was number one on the charts on this day back in 1965. And it’s such a sweet song.

Posted in Culture, or lack thereof, Honey | Tagged | 4 Comments

. . . it’s like calling an old friend

I’m breaking my longest blogging hiatus since I began spewing my myopic insights on the internet, way back in the mid-90s.  Several folks wrote, asking if I were still alive. I didn’t answer them. Then it occurred to me that a non-answer to that question might be taken as an answer. So, here I am, alive – or what passes for it in my world.

What can I say? I got busy, something had to give, and that was you, dear reader of this blog. After a few weeks away, coming back to post here began to feel like calling old friends after ignoring them for a couple of years. It was like that feeling you get when you finally head off to check on the hive at Uncle Attila’s – you know that he’ll come running out of the house, grinning, and saying something like, “I figured you forgot all about your hive. So, I sold it.” Thanks, Attila-bacsi.

The past weeks buzzed by in a haze for me. I had nights with only five or six hours of sleep – and I felt it! Most of my woke hours were productive, but not so memorable – except for a few events that are unforgettable. Those include my American Bee Journal article on the life of beekeeper/philosopher Richard Taylor. The occasion was the centenary of Dr Taylor’s birth. Then, I prepared and led a beekeeping workshop at Tsuut’ina Nation. Somewhere in that haze was an interview at CJSW, the university radio station, followed by a couple of articles for the British Columbia beekeepers’ BeesCene magazine, then I wrote for the United Beekeepers of Alberta (see our newsletter, here), presented some research at the Alberta Native Bees Council AGM, and I helped teach responsible beekeeping at the semi-annual Calgary Beekeeper’s course. Those were all memorable (ma raison de vivre, pour ainsi dire) but, meanwhile, I was running a biological statistics lab while taking a grad-school course in statistics – well there’s the haze. Let me simply say, I survived. Now 2020 is looking down at us all like a loaded 30-30.

There’s been a bit of bee news going on around the world. But I was too busy to notice. Now that I finally have a little time (until the winter session starts at the university), I hope to get back to following the news and posting regularly.  I’ll start by reminding you that tomorrow, December 18, is national “I Love Honey Day.”  Indulge in some . . .

Posted in Humour, Personal | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Winter’s coming – are you insulated?

Neither me nor the bees needed insulation in Florida’s winter.

When I kept bees in Florida, I didn’t wrap my hives for winter. In Pennsylvania, where I grew up, we sometimes wrapped hives with thin black building paper. That was supposed to keep wind out of the cracks and heat the hives with absorbed sunlight on those rare winter days when the sun shone on the Appalachians. It was there that my father also taught me that “moisture is the real killer” and he showed me how to slip burlap under the hive lid, leaving part of it dangling outside the hive, because “the burlap will act as a wick and draw the bees’ vapors out.”

Southern Saskatchewan (near Montana) – bees wrapped in wind-breaking cardboard.

In my 20s, keeping bees on southern Saskatchewan’s bald prairies (a dozen miles north of Montana), I used black cardboard boxes with a bit of pink insulation just over the lids. Winter winds sure can blow way out there. During my mid-thirties, I kept bees in northern Saskatchewan while attending university. My 300 hives were always grouped in blocks of four, each touching the other, the block surrounded with R-12 insulation on the sides and R-20 atop, then wrapped with tar paper and tied half as neatly as a solstice gift.

When I kept a few bees in the Rocky Mountain foothills, southwest of Calgary, the insulation pack was lighter. But later, I had 500 hives out on the prairie, east of the city. We sometimes strung the bees in long lines and wrapped them – because that’s what a local beekeeper was doing. (I’m a great fan of copying the locals.) But I don’t think it was that smart.

This is an odd way to winter. Drifting can be bad and working the hives isn’t easy.

We changed the formation the next year to this:

This works better. Notice the sides have little insulation.
There was R-8 equivalent on the lids.

Now I’m down to 2 backyard hives in the city. I always dreaded dealing with insulation and wrapping material, which would rip in the winter, spewing material across the landscape. It was hard, working alone, to pull winter material around a hundred hives a day when the wind was whipping. Sometimes the wind worked as a third hand, holding stuff in place, but wind has a short attention span.

Even well-wrapped hives can end up with ripped cases by spring.
This didn’t bother the bees fetching pollen.

So, I was determined to try something different. Someone mentioned polystyrene hives. These are thick-walled plastic boxes that keep hives cool in summer and warm in winter. Calgary rarely has hot summer days, but we get plenty of chilly summer mornings because of our high altitude near the Rockies and because we have very dry air. So, in Calgary, keeping bees in R-7 packaging year-round isn’t a bad idea.

Polystyrene walls are thick! The bee cluster looks like they are inside a tree trunk.

I started with two new packages and all new equipment last year for our backyard bees. It was partly so that I could experience what hobby beekeepers face, since I teach hobby beekeepers. Starting anew, I figured that I’d try the extruded polystyrene foam hives.

In a way, this brought to mind  memories of my Pennsylvania beginnings. My father was a big fan of plastics, which were relatively new in those days. He had built a home-made vacuum mould which turned clear thin sheets of plastic into comb-honey trays. He built a plastic frame which snapped together around a sheet of foundation. I was 17 when he asked me to build a wooden form that could serve as a mould for a hive body. I made one, rather crudely, and he came home a few days later with two cans of chemical which, mixed together, foamed up and hardened into polyurethane. That’s the stuff you see sprayed inside the rafters, beams, and ceilings of some big hollow steel warehouses. My polyurethane box held frames, but shattered when I dropped it. Luckily, no bees were involved. That was my only effort with urethane hives.

In Calgary, decades later, I was again holding a plastic foam hive box. This one didn’t break when I dropped it. I installed packages into my two polystyrene hive bodies. When the inevitable spring snowstorm arrived a week later, the bees clustered warmly. The package bees grew inside their cave. But, honestly, I didn’t see any big summertime advantage. And the boxes were big and clunky.

In July, I was asked by a friend, Robert, what I thought of the insulated hives. I told him that they didn’t seem so special. Robert told me to wait until next March, “that’s when they show their value.”  Well, I was glad already, in the fall, when I didn’t have to winterize the two colonies. [By the way, those two packages each drew 35 frames of foundation, gave us 40 pounds of excess honey each, and both had stored 60 pounds of winter honey.]

One of the two packages performed more poorer than the other, going into winter with just seven deep frames of bees, but plenty of honey. By February, it was down to three frames. I ordered a replacement package, set to arrive in April. The other colony was fine. In early March, the weak hive was even weaker, with just two frames of bees. But a month later, it had overcome its funk and was developing nicely. I cancelled the package bee order. My little colony continued to grow, generating a huge mass of bees that gave us 80 pounds of honey (we extracted 120 pounds from the better colony). I’ve seldom seen an almost-dead March colony recover and make honey like that. I think the success was due to the hive’s wind-tight, thermal-right brood chambers.

I’ve been asked about moisture problems with polystyrene equipment. My own experience showed no issue. No moisture built up under the lid, though I kept an upper entrance open for ventilation, just in case. In our dry climate, too much water in the hive is rare.

About the only complaints I have with the brand of polystyrene boxes I have is that the bottom boards aren’t removable for spring cleaning, the boxes can chip easily with a hive tool, and frames fit too tightly – another 1/8-inch would have helped.

Frames fit too snuggly. Glued with wax and propolis, they are hard to pull loose.

I also had problems with birds and squirrels picking at the material. We have big black and grey squirrels living in the trees beside the hives. I caught one chewing on the hive. I don’t know if the poor girl was trying to sharpen her teeth, lining her home with polystyrene chips, or simply snacking on plastic.

The white area was eaten and exposed by critters.
You can see polystyrene ‘sawdust’ on the ground.

At $30 to $40 for each chamber, they are pricey. But winterizing material also costs money and I didn’t want to fuss with wrapping insulating material around my hives. I guess the bottom line is that I’m happy to use them again this winter. And I think they saved a hive that would have died last winter.

All wrapped for winter!
Snow atop a hive either means the hive is dead or the lid is well-insulated.

The polystyrene lids keep heat in the hives well.

Posted in Beekeeping, Hives and Combs, Tools and Gadgets | Tagged , , | 34 Comments

Apimondia 2019: Thursday (some presentations)

I am the shadowy guy, lower left.

On Thursday at the Montreal Apimondia, I gave a presentation about the average distance bees fly while foraging. The full title was Foraging distances of commercially-deployed bees: a meta-analysis.  When I find some time, I’ll do a voice-over and create a version of the talk that you can watch. The bottom line is that there is really no single, simple answer – foraging distance is highly landscape-dependent. This is important. Whether you are a farmer trying to figure out where to place rental bees for efficient, economical pollination or a land manager trying to reduce the effects of high-density non-native bees, you need to know where the bees will be flying. The presentation included foraging distances, which I’ll talk about in another post, another day.

During Apimondia, there were 269 oral presentations. I found it hard to attend all the talks I wanted to because so much was happening at the conference. On Tuesday, however, I moderated a session on “Diversifying income sources for beekeepers“, so I was forced to stay in the hall, introduce speakers, field questions from the audience, and (crucially) yank microphones from speakers’ hands when their time was up. Since I had to sit there anyway, I decided to use my time wisely and listen to the speakers. I’m glad that I did. I learned a lot.

I can’t do fair summaries of anyone’s talks, so I’m not going to try. Here, however, is a list of the titles of some of the talks which I attended. I’m listing them so you can see some of the variety of subjects covered.

Beekeeping, women and sustainable development

Approaches to targeting the poorest people through beekeeping in
Amhara, Ethiopia

Fiji’s Beekeeping Mentor Program

Royal jelly has beneficial effects on lipid profile, satiety, inflammation
and antioxidant capacity in asymptomatic overweight adults

Colombian propolis with biological potential: antitumor and
immunomodulatory action, in vitro assay in osteosarcoma cells

The Growth of a Prairie Operation: 35 Years of Growth and Taking
Advantage of New Opportunities

Meeting the Ontario Market: Honey Packing and Queen Production

Pollination Markets and Bee Forage

Chinese Version of “Fable of The Bees”

Dynamics of queen demand and supply in CanadaModeling the economic impact of Varroa destructor on Australian beekeepers

Building on a Commercially Viable CIDA/Kenya Beekeeping Collaborative Program to a Transformative, Self-sustaining Enterprise

The crisis of Ukranian beekeeping of 2018 and ways to go out from it

Diversifying Income Sources for Small Farmers through Beekeeping with Indigenous Bees in India

Genetic selection of the honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) in a northern climate

The Saskatraz Breeding and Selection Program 2019

Quality and Performance of Imported and Domestic Queens

Honeybee mating and its impact on queen performance and health

Drone factors influencing queen reproduction and health

Building your Brand: The Importance of Integrity

Conservation and design of forage habitat for bees, the challenge of “partial habitats”

Colony health in intensified agricultural landscapes: monitoring the impact of forage availability on honey bee hives in heavily cultivated areas

The potential of urban agriculture to create landscapes of abundance for native and honey bees

It looks like a long list. I guess it is. This surprises me because I didn’t realize how many talks I actually attended until I listed them. My own talk was on Thursday afternoon. I couldn’t stay around after it. I ended my talk at 2 and was on my way to the Montreal airport at 3. On the flight back to Calgary, I flipped through the lists of talks printed in the Apimondia guide book and realized that I missed over 200 good ones during my four days at the conference. Maybe next time, in Russia, I’ll see more.

Posted in Bee Biology, Beekeeping, Commercial Beekeeping, Ecology, Native Bees, Pollination, Science | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Apimondia 2019: Wednesday (And a scandal)

Wednesday at Apimondia was a more relaxed day for me. I ran into several more friends, looked around the city of Montreal, sat at several talks, viewed more posters, tasted more honey in the exhibition hall, and shared an afternoon meal with a group of friendly Scottish beekeepers. They were friendly after they checked which clan I represented. (No problem on that one, considering my central-European roots!)

Wednesday was also the day that I heard about the big scandal. OK, not really a ‘scandal’ – I used that word to get you to read this piece. ‘Disturbance in the fabric of the universe’ may be a more fitting expression. An important part of Apimondia is the World Beekeeping Awards program. Gadgets, books, and honey are judged and awarded appropriately. (At the 2005 Ireland Apimondia, my bee website and blog won Silver. I cherish the medallion they gave me.)

Unfortunately, the honey competition didn’t go sweetly this year. Last month, the honey entries were sent to labs for adulteration and contamination testing. Forty percent of honey entries failed the tests. I don’t know which tests were conducted or by whom, but this was major bad news for the honey industry and for the competitors. If the best beekeepers in the world can’t produce perfect honey, who can?

Perhaps the tests were conducted at one part per trillion, with zero tolerance for herbicides, pesticides, or other materials. If zero-tolerance was the limit, then I’m not surprised. Zero tolerance would keep us from eating much of anything. But there were a lot of angry voices coming from the judged entry displays where irate contestants bludgeoned the innocent volunteers who guarded the stations. Not a pretty image.

Out of these 15 entries, 12 ‘failed laboratory examination’.
Overall, 40% of the honey competition entries were rejected.

Darker honey suffered the most rejections, which surprised me. I usually thing of the dark stuff as more wholesome – sometimes it originates in organic apiaries. I found this incident stunning and I worry about future competitions. Yes, honey has to be pure. But I wonder about the way it was tested, the contamination sources, and the level of tolerance.

I don’t have much information. At this point, the story is in the rumour stage with questions floating around about methodology. From the Bee-L Listserver, there is a report that one contestant filled two entries from the same vat and received two  disqualifications for two different reasons. If I learn more, I’ll post more.

Posted in Honey, Science, Strange, Odd Stuff | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Apimondia 2019: Tuesday (Posters)

This blog post is out of sync (“Tuesday” is being posted on Saturday), but as a good friend once told me, “It’s always Tuesday somewhere.” Truth is, it gets hard to post on a blog while on a conference. I’m behind.

On Tuesday at Apimondia, I arose early and headed up to the big conference centre. I was staying about 2 kilometres from the venue in downtown Montreal, but I’d been told to arrive before 8:30 on Tuesday to put up a poster that Dr Lawrence Harder and I produced about urban beekeeper socio-economic demographics.

I was surprised that our poster was given the best spot out of the posters that were up on Tuesday – it was number one in line, next to the doors that led into conference talks.  I’ll write in detail about our poster later, but for now, I’ll say that the subject was “Who becomes an urban beekeeper?” We used considerable math and data to come to a summary. We looked at neighbourhoods across Calgary and compared the number of apiaries in each neighbourhood to each community’s demographics (age, education, unemployment, home value, hospital visits, immigration, tendency to change houses, etc, etc). This helped us figure out if urban beekeepers are mostly old or young; rich or poor; and so on. When I find some time, I’ll write up the results and methodology here on this blog. Meanwhile, here’s the poster, which I’m posting on this post:

Hey, that’s me, on the left, with my poster on urban beekeepers. The young man is Matthew Polinsky, who also entered a poster at Apimondia (see below). Matthew’s grandfather was Derek Alen, a kind and extraordinarily talented Saskatchewan beekeeper who helped me out considerably when I was about Matthew’s age.

Matthew Polinsky researched an interesting topic: “Beekeeping in Canada: Trends of self-sufficiency and participation in the global honey bee trade”. In other words, how is Canada coping at raising it’s own queens and bees instead of importing them in the spring from warmer countries? That was a politically hot potato back when I was in my twenties and raising queens in Florida to boost my Saskatchewan hives. In those days, I used Canadian mother stock to produce queens in the south. It went well for me until the government disallowed the importation of USA bees. Nearly bankrupted me (and it did bankrupt some Canadian beekeepers). Border closure was supposed to keep mites out, but they soon showed up anyway. Closing the border caused the huge drop in beekeeping success in the graph on Matthew’s poster, below, where the bee population, honey production, and pollination services crashed in 1987 and didn’t recover for about thirty years.

Matthew found that empowering self-sufficiency and enhancing bio-security have had some long-term benefits. Today, many Canadians raise their own queens, winter losses are only around 25%, and the number of managed honey bee hives has recovered since ’87 and recently passed to even higher numbers. Only a bit over half of the queens heading Canadian colonies are now bred abroad (mostly in New Zealand, Chile, and Hawaii) while just over a hundred-thousand packages are imported from the south Pacific, which is down from before the border was closed and the bees came from our continent. It will be interesting to see how this goes over the next thirty years. Matthew’s email is on his poster and you can see the poster in better resolution at this link. It’s a nice study, though I don’t agree with all the conclusions.

Poster topics were amazingly diverse. Among the rush of time and the squeeze of people, I only read about ten posters, but I photographed twice as many for reading later. Some were highly technical, others, not so much. There was considerable artistic license on display. Including the hand-drawn montage, below.

I have a story to tell about this poster. During the conference, a friend told me that he had considered doing a poster but was a little intimidated. I said, “Don’t be. Anything you do will look better than one that is up right now. Come on, I’ll show you.” So, I led him to the poster you see above. I began to encourage my friend, “See, you just need to glue together some paper and drawn something.” I continued like this until the author called out from a bench behind us. “Hey! That’s mine!” So, I explained to her, without apologizing, that she had submitted something which my friend could easily surpass. She laughed and said that I made her day – and my remarks confirmed that it was worth it for her to have entered her poster. Her poster’s point, which I obviously missed, is that “Creativity and Diversification…Inspires” as her title says. I guess it really does.

Before moving on to the more scientific posters, here’s another one that I found unusual. I checked their website,, to learn more, but remained just as mystified. Guess I’m getting old. On the website, I discovered these words, Working with Bees is all about overcoming fear. The Hive is love incarnate. The Hive is the window to our new world. It takes patience and emotional energy to dismantle power dynamics Ð more awkward than a newborn goat.”   OK. Moving on.

My friend, professor and podcaster Andony Melathopoulos, with Matthew Bucy, entered this poster. It looks a bit unusual. As Andony explained, he hadn’t read the poster entry requirements carefully and made the poster wide rather than tall. Some careful pruning and taping made it fit into its assigned spot. I think that Andony planned this all along, getting funky to draw attention to the message: labels might be wrong on those cans of poisons. This is a big deal. In the USA, they say that “The label is the law.” but what happens when the label doesn’t correctly align with FDA recommendations?

Now, less comment from me and more posters. These are just two percent of the 566 posters which were on display over the four days!

This poster introduces an AI-powered phone app from Bee Health Guru. It shows how the app can monitor and follow the spread of bee health problems. The poster was posted by respected semi-retired professor Malcolm Sanford, whom I have been following online for years. I had a nice chat with Malcolm and was glad to see that his talents are being fully engaged in the bee world.

Chatting with this presenter helped me understand the key role of nutrition in combating bee viruses.

Michael Palmer traced his background in bees and the importance of good queen rearing.

That’s all I’ll post. This was intended to give you a taste of the incredible breadth of bee research being conducted. Someone at the conference told me that more papers on bee-related subjects have been published in the past ten years than in all the preceding years. I don’t know if that’s true, but every new study shows us that there is still much, much more for us to learn.

Posted in Beekeeping, Friends, Science | Tagged , , | 3 Comments