The Comfort of Why…

June 13, 2011

Everybody’s heard it – the insistent, persistent voice of a small child asking “Why?”

They start with one question and then dig deeper and deeper – to your every best answer – there is another “Why?”, another “Why?”  and yet another “Why?”  Eventually the questions become impossible to answer and the line of questioning comes to an abrupt end, sometimes with a bit of frustration on the part of the adult.

But we really never stop wanting to know “Why?”, do we?  As adults, it’s comforting to know that there is a reason for the things that happen.  Without a sense of cause and effect we feel lost and out of control.  More importantly,  if we know why something happens, we know what to do to cause the effect, and what not to do if we want to prevent said thing from happening.

So it’s challenging to live in a world where we can’t always know the “why” of things.  And beekeeping is a prime example of such a world.  There are a multitude of variables involved in the keeping of bees – weather, location, colony strength, queen fecundity, availability and quality of forage, temperature, pests and pesticides – just to name a few of the possibilities.

As a business owner, and even more, as a teacher in the top bar hive beekeeping world – it pains me when I am unable to give concise, scientific answers to the questions I am asked by students – answers that soothe and satisfy, instead of insisting that the student be brave, and to come along and learn to live in the uncertain world of nature and beekeeping.

Occasionally we get a little crazy in our search for the reasons why things happen with bees.  This can lead to some interesting superstitions!  At that point it’s a little like wearing your lucky t-shirt to help the Red Sox win!  It makes us feel better – if it works.

But sometimes the answer is “It depends.”  This is the answer to things like “How much honey does the average hive produce?”  “Will my bees swarm in their first year?”

Then sometimes, the only answer is “I don’t know.”  This is a hard one – both for the teacher to offer, and for the student to hear.  It’s frequently the answer to “Why didn’t my bees thrive?”  It’s especially frustrating to have two hives side by side, and to see one thrive and the other fail – and not be able to discern the why of that.

So one of the hardest lessons in beekeeping is learning that we can’t always know “Why?”.  It’s knowing that, and still keeping bees anyway – for the love of the bees, for their pollination skills, and for their wonderful “nectar of the gods” that convinces me that the world is full of  “thinking beekeepers” – caring, resourceful, thoughtful people – who will be the folks who help to shift the paradigm from industrial agriculture and its attendant beekeeping practices to S.O.L.D. farming – Small, Organic, Local, and Diverse.

Because that certainly looks to be the only sane direction in a world where you can’t always get the answer to “Why?”.


Top Bar Beekeeping 101 – Weekend Intensive

February 20, 2011

Announcing Gold Star Honeybees’ next Top Bar Beekeeping 101 – Weekend Intensive!

Saturday and Sunday, March 5 and 6 at the Morris Farm in Wiscasset, Maine.

Regular tuition is $175 – but earlybirds save $25 when they register before February 25th.  That’s only $150 for two full days of bee buzz!

Tuition includes breakfast and lunch both days – and be aware that when we say we feed you – we look for the very best organic food we can come up with – because we’ve got to make the connection sooner or later — ORGANIC IS A BEE’S BEST FRIEND!

Enroll online!

Detailed description of our Weekend Intensive.

Special Note:  We will be video-taping this class as part of our plan to make the Weekend Intensive available to on-line students who aren’t so fortunate as to be able to come to Maine.  Don’t be shy – you can help spread the word about healthy bees!

Sign up soon – procrastinating costs money!

And if you’re interested in hosting this class in an area near you (and that could mean anywhere on earth) – email us at  We will be happy to send you our Hosting Package and the Planning worksheet with details on how you could host one and may even find that it raises some amount of funds for you as host.

Get ready for spring 2011!

What are you waiting for?  We can’t wait to meet you!


Gold Star Honeybees, PO Box 1061, Bath, ME  04530  207-449-1121

Just how big should a top bar hive be?

February 20, 2011

Just how big should a top bar hive be?

There is often lively discussion on beekeeping forums about the appropriate size for a top bar hive.  And frequently this data is given in inches – such as the length of the hive, or in numbers, as in the number of top bars the hive will hold.

But from the bees’ point a view, an important consideration is the VOLUME of the hive.  Just how big is the space they are planning to live in?  Being able to calculate the volume tells you more about the size of the cavity WITHIN the hive – and since bees are “cavity nesters” – meaning that they will go inside this cavity and create the structure of their nest – the honeycomb – then VOLUME is probably what the bees are concerned with.  It doesn’t really matter how tall a tree is, or even how big around it is – if the volume of the hollow cavity inside the tree isn’t large enough for the bees purposes then it isn’t a suitable home.

Now some of us can measure the time since we sat in a geometry class in units called decades, so conjuring up a formula to calculate area or volume might be a bit of a challenge.

Combined with the fact that most top bar hives have sloped sides in an attempt to ask the bees not to build their honeycombs attached to the sides of the box – which creates a trapezoid instead of a rectangle — and now things are really complicated!

Just how do you do the math on a three-dimensional trapezoid?

Well, here’s how it works:

The formula for the area of the trapezoid is this:

A = (( a + b) / 2) x  h  –> where h is the height, and a and b are the lengths of the parallel sides, in other words, the top and bottom.

When you have that number, the area, you multiply it by the length of the inside of the hive, and voila – now you’ve got the volume of your top bar hive.

So if we were to calculate the area of a Gold Star Top Bar Hive – it would look like this.  We are showing here the dimensions of our “follower board”, since that exactly matches the interior size and shape of the hive body itself.

Follower Board

a =  15 inches
b =   6.1875  inches
h =  9.5 inches

Note:  The decimal equivalent of 3/16 = .1875.  This makes the math easier.  (For some of us, fractions were a long time ago too!)

So, a + b would be 15 + 6.1875 = 21.1875 inches.
Then you would divide 21.1875 by 2.  This will get you 10.59375
Multiply that by 9.5 and get 100.64.  This figure is square inches – the area of the trapezoid, i.e. the follower board.

Then, to get the volume, you multiply the area 100.64, by the length of the interior of the hive.  A Gold Star hive is 44.5 inches long inside, and voila` – now you know that the volume of the cavity inside a Gold Star hive is 4478.5 cu inches.

Now we think that’s a lot of math, and apparently somebody else did too, because some kind and smart person made it much easier – by creating an on-line calculator that will do the math for you – all you have to know is the dimensions of your trapezoid.

Much easier!
Here is the actual formula: 

volume = L * (b1 + (b2 – b1) * h1 / h + b1) * h1 / 2
where:  Base1 (b1)
Base2 (b2)
Total Height (h)
Partial Height (h1)
Length (L)
This calculator works to calculate a “partially filled tank”, so for a “filled tank”, you would set the partial height (h1) and total height (h) as the same number.

So gather up your dimensions, plug them into the Online Conversion calculator and then you’ll know a bit about what the bees are looking at when they look at your hive!

Trapezoidal Tank

The internet is a very big place! Or… sorting through it all – Part II

January 21, 2011

So… Here we are again.  The internet certainly hasn’t gotten any smaller since last we wrote.

I wanted to tell you about some more sources of information that are available on the internet – these ones a bit more “formal”…

Many of the universities in these United States have got tremendous research departments.  Some of them are hot on the subject of bee research and have great stuff published on-line available for our perusal.  Here is a very short list to get you started:

The Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium (MAAREC) has been at the forefront of Colony Collapse Disorder research with the CCD Working Group – lots of CCD research results can be found here:  This group also studied 887 wax, pollen, bee and associated hive samples – finding 121 different pesticides and metabolite in those samples including coumaphos and fluvalinate.  We at Gold Star Honeybees had our wax testing by this same group and are proud and happy to say that our sample came up clean!  More details on that data can be found here:

The University of Georgia has a lot going on in the way of bee research – including an important study by Jennifer Berry and Keith Delaplane – concerning the sublethal effects of four chemicals that have been used in-hive to treat honey bee colonies in the USA.  Findings  from the testing for sublethal effects of some commonly used hive chemicals can be found here:

A good article from the Managed Pollinator CAP (Coordinated Agricultural Project) can be found here:  This article is titled “When Varroacides Interact” and gives a good description of the effects of combined varroa mite control methods and the effects of such “drug interactions”.

Then there’s Dr. Seeley at Cornell.  An expert on swarms – his research seems like it would be a tremendous amount of fun to be a part of.  Info on his swarm work can be found here:

So with all of this information, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get to the last page of the internet.  The one thing we strongly encourage all beekeepers to do is to take in lots and lots of information, and put it all into your “colander”.  Sift through it thoughtfully, and then… let the stuff that you can’t use… drain right on out the bottom.  Beekeepers are influenced to keep their bees based on many different factors – most importantly by what the focus of their beekeeping is – honey, pollination, healthy bees… you name it.  So bear that in mind as you peruse the internet – which is a wonderful source of information, and….

it is a VERY big place!!!

The internet is a very big place! Or… sorting through it all – Part I

December 20, 2010

Since I got interested in beekeeping, waaaaay back in 2007, and went to “bee school”, as you do, the whole world has sort of exploded with an AMAZING amount of beekeeping information.

The internet being what it is, and especially with YouTube being so accessible and easy to publish on (maybe too easy!) – you can now search the internet for just about anything and get a ton of bee-related information!  Some of it is great, and some of it… well not so much.  You might even find you’ve got way more information than you can digest in an entire lifetime!  Eventually you come to realize that there are some folks with some really good things to say, and that some of those same folks are also really good at saying it.  The websites and blogs and YouTube videos that those folks create and make available to everyone are wonderful good resources, and we’ve come to appreciate some of them a LOT, and we’d like to share them with you.

This list is in order more or less chronologically – in other words, in (almost) the order I discovered these sources, so it creates a sketch of how Gold Star Honeybees came to be what it is as well.

I began by going to “bee school”, as you do, by attending the classes that the Knox-Lincoln County Beekeepers Association held at the Knox-Lincoln County Cooperative Extension office, in 2007.  I am grateful to Al Maloney who was the webmaster for the KLCB at that time and hooked me up with the start date of that class, to Jean Vose and her husband Dick, who organized that bee school for many many years and still like to brag that KLCB was my “alma mater”, and to Tony Jadczak, our State Apiarist here in Maine, who continues to march forward and does an awful lot with not very many resources (Maine is very big place too!).

But I found Langstroth hives and conventional methods a bit disconcerting.  Something didn’t strike me as quite right about all this “help” that the bees seemed be getting.  Hadn’t somebody told me that bees had been around for literally MILLIONS of years?   And we’ve only been here for a couple hundred thousand.  There seemed to be a disconnect there.  Obviously bees must have been pretty capable of survival before we showed up to save them.

So I kept sort of idly digging around, and pretty soon I hit paydirt.

First –  After Googling for about 4 months in early 2007 and somehow coming up empty, all of a sudden, there on my screen – was this English guy’s website.  With a free document available for download called “How to Build Your Own Top Bar Hive”.   I imagine that everybody in the world knows about Phil Chandler by now – he keeps a Flag Counter on his website showing the flags of all the countries of all the people who have visited his site.  And there are so many flags on that counter page now – flags of countries whose names I can’t even pronounce, much less could I say where they are – he is truly an international source for beekeepers.  Phil also runs the Natural Beekeeping Forum – which you can join, and share information with beekeepers the world over.  One of the things in my  short beekeeping career that I am most proud of was that I got to meet Phil on a trip I made through the UK in 2008/2009, and I thank him for that, and as well for the Podcast interview he did with me back in August 2010, which can be found here. Phil probably has more to do with the existence of Gold Star Honeybees than I could ever accurately convey to him.  Thank you Phil!

Second there was Michael Bush.  He’s at Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes, if I really want to keep track of something I found on the internet, the only effective method is to print it out.  I don’t always like to do that, since it’s not the greenest method of keeping track of things, but when it came to Michael’s website, I chose to do it anyway.  By the time I was done, it represented quite an investment in paper and printer ink – not to mention a special trip to the store for a three-inch, three-ring binder to keep it in.  Huge.  History, math, opinion, tips and tricks, pictures, explanations… Michael is a very pragmatic sort of beekeeper and is frequently bemused by how difficult people sometimes seem to want to make beekeeping.  A tag line on his website says:  Everything works if you let it.  I’ve also seen a presentation he’s done titled, quite frankly, “Lazy Beekeeping”.  It really hits the nail on the head – it doesn’t make any sense to make things more complicated than they are – yet us humans, (with our big brains, and our opposable thumbs) sometimes seem to do just that and for no good reason.  Michael clears up a lot of that silliness and has clear and practical answers to a lot of the questions that come up in the world of natural beekeeping – never mind the type of equipment you are using.  I am pleased to say that I know Michael as well and he has devoted a significant chunk of time to clarifying some of my juvenile questions over the past few years.  I’m also proud that Michael has a Gold Star top bar hive running in Nebraska and reports that it is doing well, and that the Gold Star top bar design works really well!

Another name that came up early on for me was Marty Hardison.  Marty doesn’t keep up much of a website presence, but he’s currently out in Denver, CO keeping bees in places like Delaney Farms – part of DUG  – the Denver Urban Gardens system.  In 2010, Denver Urban Gardens celebrated the groundbreaking of their 100th community garden – and in a city that recently legalized beekeeping.  Go Denver!  Marty has a Gold Star hive out at Delaney Farm and they have been doing great.

Some other significant names that I fell across early on include:

Dee Lusby.  Dee runs the Organic Beekeeping Yahoo Group.  At last count, there were almost 4000 people on that list!  With over 88,000 posts, you can bet the answer to your question has probably been posted there.  Michael Bush is on that list a lot as well, so you get some great input from some very experienced beekeepers!

Dennis Murrell writes a Word Press blog called Bee Natural.  And that’s a guy up against some very harsh weather – located in Wyoming, Dennis was blogging about 5 to 15 degrees F BELOW ZERO on Thanksgiving.  Lots to say and loads of experience.

Jim Satterfield used to keep a great site, with a long list of good info here:  When I spoke with him to ask to be made a part of it, he said that he didn’t maintain it anymore, and in fact at this writing, it appears to be gone altogether.  The Northwest Arkansas Beekeepers website has a top bar link that closely resembles it but if anybody’s got a mirror copy, it would great to know about it.  NWA’s site is here:

Along the way I devoured a copy of Gunther Hauk’s book “Toward Saving the Honeybee”.  Gunther is a biodynamic beekeeper, who’s moved on from the Pfeiffer Center in New York to Spikenard Farm in Illinois, and from thence to a new location in Virginia.

Then there’s Sam Comfort.  A self-proclaimed “wing nut” with an anarcharist’s attitude.  We first met at a North East Treatment Free Beekeeping Conference in Leominster, Mass.  And if you’ve ever heard him play the ukelele, then you understand why he’s so well-loved.  There’s a video of that very phenomenon on our YouTube channel.

Now, with all this said, it turns out I still have more to say.  So let’s take a break – we’ll call this Part I and you stay tuned for Part II – coming soon!

Recommended Bee mags…

December 18, 2010

So just last night my friend Bethany sent me a message on Facebook – asking for recommendations about good bee magazines to subscribe to.  Now you’ve got to understand this about that — that frankly, the magazine format has always sort of annoyed me – because I mostly prefer to read “stories”.

And when I read a story in a book, the story starts at the beginning and marches right on through to the end, page after page, without skipping around to different places; – it goes straight from start to finish.  But magazines, as you know, are set up to distract you from the story with other interesting stories, and fascinating advertisements.  So that I sometimes feel a bit fragmented by the time I get to the back cover!

But it was a good question, and as it turns out, I actually did have an answer despite my preference for my stories-all-in-a-row, and here is what I told her:

  • There are two good US choices – the ABJ – American Bee Journal, and Bee Culture Magazine.
  • About the ABJ –The American Bee Journal was established in 1861 by Samuel Wagner and has been published continuously since that time, except for a brief period during the Civil War. The Journal has the honor of being the oldest English language beekeeping publication in the world. Today, Dadant and Sons has the privilege of publishing the American Bee Journal for subscribers throughout the world. Readership is concentrated among hobby and commercial beekeepers, bee supply dealers, queen breeders, package-bee shippers, honey packers, and entomologists.


  • Bee Culture is another great magazine. Edited by Kim Flottum, a real good guy in the bee world, especially well known amongst the 26 states that are part of EAS – the Eastern Apiculture Society.  The magazine is published by A.I. Root, whom I have come to think of as the candle people. They have a digital subscription available for only $15.00 and Kim sends out the Catch the Buzz email with current news tidbits and interesting stuff.  You can sign up for Catch the Buzz here:
  • Bee Culture’s website is located here:  The link to their digital edition information is halfway down the page on the left side.
  • A completely great thing that Bee Culture does is they maintain an on-line “Who’s Who in North American Beekeeping”.  So if you want to find a beekeeping association in another US state, or Canadian province, it’s easy!  The link to the Who’s Who is:
    Alternatively you can click on the Contact Beekeepers link on their home page.


  • Then, coming out of the UK is a good resource called Bee Craft UK. Easy to get digitally, a 12-month subscription costing 29 pounds British Sterling, which is right around $45 US.  Lots of good information and helps to keep an American beekeeper aware that there’s more than one way of looking at beekeeping!

Now if you’re anything like me, that’s enough “bee reading” to bury you for a month! So check them out while you sit by your holiday fire and enjoy!  And Bethany – thanks for asking!

Package? Swarm? How do I get bees into my top bar hive?

December 3, 2010

As you may already know – until we can make “top bar nucs” available for top bar beekeepers – you need “loose” bees for starting a colony in a Gold Star Top Bar Hive.  Loose bees means bees WITHOUT any of the conventional Langstroth hive equipment – no frames, and especially no foundation – because we are ALL ABOUT THE WAX here!  A conventional “nuc” or nucleus colony won’t work for starting bees in a top bar hive because they are already installed on and working conventional equipment – with frames and foundation.

More on this later – but first, let’s talk about what does work in a top bar hive.

There are two good ways to start bees in top bar hives:

Capturing a swarm

Capturing a swarm

1)  With a swarm.  The beautiful thing about a swarm is that swarming is the natural reproduction process of honeybees.  That means that the bees in a swarm are a finely tuned, well organized “colony”.  The bees are the right ages for the tasks they will be performing in their new home when it is found, and they are all related to each other, and they are all related to their queen.  This is about as close to natural as you could ask for – if you are willing to ignore the rude experience they had when they were knocked off the branch of a tree and carried off by a beekeeper, to be introduced into a man-made beehive.

The difficulty with starting your hive with a swarm is that you cannot predict its arrival time – or even if a swarm will come your way at all.

Happy to have bees!

Happy to have bees!

2)  With a package.  A package of bees has not had the best time of it just before they come to live in your beehive.  They are bees of random ages, tumbled together with bees from many other hives in an apiary – they are unrelated, disorganized, and expected to get on with an artificially raised queen that they have never met before.  This is a bit further from natural than one could ask for.  It does however, have the advantage of being something you can “order”, with an expectation as to an approximate arrival date.

It’s an artificial process and not so good for bees, but they seem to be able to adapt and overcome, and organize themselves into a colony and go forward.

So – with those options before you – you need to make some choices.  Swarm or Package?  Think about that and we’ll go on and talk some more about nucs.

We said there would be more later on conventional nucs  and here it is.  Just what is a nuc?  A nuc is the nickname given to a “nucleus colony”.  It’s like this – you buy a  tiny little starter hive of bees – you take it home, and you remove five frames from your Langstroth hive, and you replace them with five frames and the accompanying bees, from the nuc.  Voila – instant beehive.  If you are using Langstroth equipment, this works beautifully!

But sometimes novice beekeepers don’t realize that a conventional “nuc” isn’t what they need in order to start a top bar hive.  And they may not be quite sure what questions to even ask, so the company they are purchasing from doesn’t even know how to keep them from making this error and buying bees that won’t fit in their top bar hive.

Primarily, it’s a question of non-compatible, non-interchangeable equipment.  Top Bar Hives do not equal Langstroth hives.  Yes, there are tales of brave beekeepers who cut apart a conventional nuc in order to make it fit into a top bar hive – we call that a “hack and slash” job.  But we encourage you not to do that – it’s hard on you and it’s very hard on the bees.

And since you’re here looking at a top bar hive manufacturer’s website – you know that beekeeping is best when it’s good for the bees.  And easy for the beekeeper.  So obviously chopping up a nuc is not the best choice for populating your top bar hive.

Make sense?  We thought it would.

Thanks for listening!

Weekend Intensive – Top Bar Beekeeping Class Dec 11/12

November 28, 2010

Hello all — thought we’d let you know about the next Weekend Intensive Top Bar Beekeeping Class we have on the calendar.  It’s scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, December 11 and 12 and will be held at Gold Star Honeybees’ Global Headquarters, in Bath, Maine.

Regular tuition is $175 – but earlybirds save $25 when they register before December 4th.  That’s only $150 for two full days of bee buzz!

Tuition includes breakfast and lunch both days – and be aware that when we say we feed you – we look for the very best organic food we can come up with – because we’ve got to make the connection sooner or later — ORGANIC IS A BEE’S BEST FRIEND!

So sign up soon – we’ve only got about 7 spaces left as of this writing.

Here is the link to our website with the details for this class.

And here the link to a description of the Weekend Intensive.

And if you’re interested in hosting this class in an area near you (and that could mean anywhere on earth) – email us at  We will be happy to send you our Hosting Package and the Planning worksheet with details on how you could host one and may even find that it raises some amount of funds for you as host.

Get ready for spring 2011!

I’m sorry about the bags….

November 24, 2010

I’m sorry about the bags….

Those damned plastic bags.  Boy, I remember well when those became the rage at the grocery store.  I hated them!  I hated the way they just hung there, jumbling all your groceries against each other.  I hated the way they fell over when you sat them down in your car and all your groceries rolled around on the floor.  I hated the way they sounded (and I had a cat that used to love to chew them so I know that sound really really well).   But most especially I hated the way they blew down the road and got caught in the branches of trees – flapping and flapping there – some sort of sick banner set out in tribute to our inability to treat the earth gently.  I really truly hated them.

And being the kind of person that is rather known for “telling you how I really feel”, one day I walked into the office at work and accosted the office manager with my hatred of plastic grocery bags.  I ranted and railed and raved.  He was amused.  He could not for the life of him understand what I was so excited about.  I was exasperated.  I spluttered and explained it again.  He was still nonchalant about the whole thing.  I left in disgust.

Today, there are places where those plastic bags are banned.  They are literally against the law.  I love that.  And if they aren’t banned, it’s at least likely that you’ll see reusable shopping bags for sale right beside the cash register – so it’s as easy to purchase one on an impulse as it is to buy a pack of gum, or a copy of People magazine, or the National Enquirer, on a last minute whim.  One local health food store in Brunswick, Maine: Morning Glory Foods, even keeps a basket near the register for a “bag swap” – it works kind of like a penny cup – Need one?  Take one.  Got one?  Leave one.  I find this a fantastic idea – good spirited, eco-friendly, sort of a “share the wealth” concept.  And I’ve left bags there – both paper and the reusable kind – but there must be a lot of people out there like me – because lots of times, you hit the checkout, and the basket is empty.

Lately it really grates on my nerves that if you aren’t ready with your reusable bag, the baggers mostly don’t wait to ask you “paper or plastic?” anymore – they just sort of assume that plastic is the bag of choice.  Many times I have un-bagged and re-bagged my groceries right there at the checkout, leaving the now intractable wisp of plastic bag quivering and floating there on the checkout counter – explaining that I hate the plastic bags and while I would really rather be using a reusable bag, at least a paper bag that knows how to get soggy and mushy and fall apart in the rain and begin to decompose is better than those hideous plastic things.

And speaking of reusable bags – for a long time now I have made it a practice that if I forget my reusable bags – I buy one.  Every time.  No excuses.  It’s only a buck, and it matters.  I keep hoping that one day this will teach me to remember to bring the bags – which too often don’t make it back out to the car between grocery runs, or I stop off on the way to/from somewhere else in an attempt to save the gas by combining trips and don’t have them with me — but so far what seems to have happened is that I have a gargantuan collection of reusable grocery shopping bags that are never where I need them.

With all that said – you can be sure that when my partner walked in today, heavy laden with a veritable cornucopia of wonderful organic food for our Thanksgiving feast – and from one of the best places to buy wonderful organic food that there is: Whole Foods Market, I was thrilled.  But they arrived in four double-bagged paper shopping bags.  About that I was dismayed.

So when we had put this embarrassment of riches away into the cabinets and rearranged the contents so that everything would fit in the refrigerator around the organic turkey, I looked down at all these paper shopping bags sitting there on my kitchen floor, and I shuddered to think about how careless we are about our planet and I marveled at how easy it ought to be to remember that you need to take a bag to go shopping but how hard it turns out to be to put into practice, and in a bad bag moment, inside my head, I said to the Earth — “Geez.  I’m sorry about the bags.”

PS – Many thanks to Jimmy for bringing the makings of a bona fide feast all the way from Whole Foods today – and no slam on him about the bags, half of those bags have gone to the store and back 3 or 4 times by now.  So obviously this is my particular failing to conquer and one day – one day I will get it.

Thanks for listening!

— Christy Hemenway

(c) 2010 Christy Hemenway

A little “chit-chat” about saving the bees…

November 24, 2010

On November 5, 2010 at the Lincoln Street Art Center in Rockland, Maine, I got to do a very fun thing.  It was called “Pecha Kucha” – a name I found mostly unpronounceable for weeks after I first heard it.  Turns out it means “chit chat” in Japanese.  And it was developed by architects (Japanese ones!)  to provide a forum for architects who wanted to showcase their work, but for which there was no really effective venue. Or at least not one that could contain the enthusiasm of these architects for their work – and prevent them from monopolizing the conversation.

So they created Pecha Kucha nights – and developed a very controlled and specific format for doing just that.  And here it is, ready?  It’s  20 slides,  20 seconds.  So a Pecha Kucha presentation lasts a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds.  It’s a little bit like a tiny TED presentation.  (Do you know about TED?  There’s an idea worth Googling…)

At any rate – they asked me to do one.  I was so excited about the idea, I said YES in capital letters.  Then I began the process of preparing my 6 minutes and 40 seconds.  Simple enough, I thought – I’ll just pick 20 pictures having to do with bees, and talk about them.  That’ll be easy!  It’s only 6 minutes and 40 seconds, right?  How hard can it be?

Ha, I say to you.  Not so quick, missy.  It’s amazing how looooooooong 20 seconds becomes when you don’t have anything to say.  And how short it is when the slide has changed and you still had more to squeeze in!

I was as nervous as a cat on Pecha Kucha night.  Strung out tighter than a bowstring, you might say.  I was third on the program.  It seemed an eternity.  But afterward, as I walked off the stage in my bee boots, all I could think of was “Can we do that again?”  It was a blast.  And it seemed like the audience enjoyed it too.

So we’ve decided to post the script on this blog, (see below) and you can, if you like, see a video of the presentation here:

Thank you again to all the folks at Pecha Kucha night in Rockland, Maine for letting me on stage to do this – here’s a link to their website – .   And thanks to Jeff too.  He knows who he is.

And here is some info about Pecha Kucha nights in general: They are springing up in cities all over – you might even be interested in starting one in your town!

Okay, so here’s the script.  Thanks for listening!

A little “chit-chat” about saving the bees…

*  Slide 1 – (Think outside the box television t-shirt)
This is a t-shirt put out by the Life is Good people.  Don’t you just love those guys?  They are such a great reminder to “Do what you like, and Like what you do.”   And since I don’t even own a television, I particularly liked this shirt.  I spend a lot of my time thinking outside the box.  And no time at all watching television…  (0:20)

* Slide 2 – (the bug in question)
So that’s probably one of the reasons that beekeeping seemed like a perfectly reasonable pursuit to me.  Never mind the apparent lunacy of sticking one’s hands into a box filled with stinging insects, the little bugs just seemed magical, fascinating… much better than the stuff you find on television!  I set out to know more.  (0:40)

Slide 3 – (bee school)
And so off I went to bee school.  As you do.  And I learned about bees.  And about the keeping of bees, and many other things bee…  And then, on the very last day of the very last class, we had this big Q & A session.  Timidly raising my hand, I asked:   What did bees do — before beekeepers?    (1:00)

* Slide 4 – (pin dropping)
You could have heard the proverbial pin drop.  I was shocked!  Did nobody know the answer, or was nobody telling?  Had I spoken the unspeakable?  Since that day and that Q&A, I’ve heard a lot of answers to that question, and I have even made up some new ones of my own.  But that very loud moment of silence sent me down a new path.  (1:20)

* Slide 5   (Bee boots)
That path led me to question most everything I’d learned in bee school.  When you think that bees have existed on this planet for many millions of years and us humans for only a few hundred thousand… that’s pretty humbling, or it should be!     So I set out to discover what bees did before we came along.  The next slide shows us the essence of what bees do when left to their own devices. (1:40)

* Slide 6 – (Natural wax)
The honeycomb inside a beehive serves as both the “heart” and the “skeleton” of the bee colony.  The bees make thousands of those little six-sided cells, from teeny weeny wax flakes, secreted from itty bitty wax glands in their bellies – and they arrange them in the hive according to an intuition that only bees know.   (2:00)

* Slide 7 –  (Foundation in frame)
This is the kind of “skeleton” you find inside a square box beehive.  This is a piece of “foundation” inserted into a square “frame” and presented to the bees to “help” them make honeycomb.  Foundation is a sheet of beeswax that comes preprinted with hexagons – as if bees needed to be taught about how to make hexagons…  (2:20)

* Slide 8 –  (One size does not fit all)
The primary problem with those pre-printed hexagons is this — each and every one of them is the very same size!!!  This is no surprise, or evil master plan – it’s just that foundation is made by a machine, and machines know very little about the magic of bees.   Because as it turns out – bees don’t come in just one size.  And especially not as they begin their lives!  (2:40)

* Slide 9 –  (pix of brood and queen cells)
These are baby bees – we call this “brood”.  You got your girl bees – called workers.  You got your boy bees – called drones.  The hexagons that these baby bees are raised in are very different, as you see here… and then there is another kind of  magic altogether that goes on when the bees make a new queen!  (3:00)

* Slide 10 – (Langstroth hive)
But us humans, (with our big brains and our opposable thumbs) we fear nothing like we fear inconvenience.  And so, beekeeping began to be more about beekeepers and not so much about bees.  Hives became square boxes, easily stacked.  Bees were given square frames and preprinted foundation to use as the heart and skeleton of their nest.  This did not make sense to us in our search!  (3:20)

* Slide 11 – (Think outside the box beehive t-shirt)
So when we started thinking about thinking outside THIS box – we felt that the first thing we needed to do was to put the bees back into beekeeping.  We started to pay close attention to what bees did (without beekeepers) and we can tell you that there are three very important things that bees do without any encouragement from us at all:   (3:40)

* Slide 12 –  (Swarm at New Aim Farm)
Here is Thing One — Bees make more bees.  Contrary to Hollywood’s horror stories, swarming is the amazing, if somewhat startling process by which one colony of bees turns itself into two.  If bees didn’t do this, with all the recent problems with bees, we’d be all out of bees by now!  This is the first swarm I ever went up a ladder after – in 2007.   (4:00)

* Slide 13 –  (Bees pollinating fruit, veg, nut, flower)
This is Thing Two – Bees pollinate the stuff we eat.  Fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs – all of these plants need bees.  Pollination is the plants’ way of reproducing – it’s a symbiotic relationship that the plants have developed with bees.  We think it’s a good idea!  (4:20)

* Slide 14 –  (Adam Mcnally’s honey harvest pic)
And Thing Three – Bees make honey.  Oddly enough, honey is what honeybees eat!  And honeybees are smart – they know to make lots of food during times of plenty for those times when there is no food.  But us humans — you know, big brains — opposable thumbs — we put a lot of energy into “helping” bees to do what they already do – and sometimes our “helping” makes a mess.  (4:40)

* Slide 15 –  (It’s not about the honey, Honey  t-shirt)
Healthy bees do all the important things that bees do without any coaxing or cajoling or forcing, or manipulating.  So the important thing for us humans to do would be to focus on healthy honey bees.  We think “It’s not about the honey, Honey – it’s about the bees!  So how does that translate into our right livelihood?  (5:00)

* Slide 16 – (Forsythia hive)
At Gold Star Honeybees we believe that we “build a better beehive”.  This is a picture of our Gold Star Top Bar Hive.  We know that really, it’s just another box – and we hope that one day we will learn to think outside of this box, too.  But for now – it’s pretty convenient and easy and green, it’s even ergonomically friendly for beekeepers, but more importantly — it works FOR bees and not AGAINST bees.  (5:20)

* Slide 17 – (Bees flying in and out of top bar hive)
The bees that live in this box make their own beeswax,  in their own way – they make the cells the right sizes, and they put them in the right places.  So this is a box full of beeswax made BY bees, FOR bees.  You might say that they are “minding their own beeswax!!!”   (5:40)

* Slide 18 – (Natural wax – up close)
And since that beeswax functions as both the skeleton and the heart of the colony – we think it’s hugely important that it be as the bees need it to be.  And any time that us humans (you know – big brains, opposable thumbs) – anytime we’re tempted to think that we’ve come up with something “new and improved”, maybe we ought to think again!   (6:00)

* Slide 19 –  (I love bees t-shirt)
At Gold Star Honeybees – we feel like we have found our heart.  We know that we are out to save the world, by saving the bees.
So this is our message to you — “Do what you like, like what you do.”
Because when you follow your heart — the rest of it all comes together.    (6:20)

Slide 20 –  (Mentos beekeeper!)
And we’d like to leave you with this thought about the world and the way it works – ready?  Here is how you can help save the bees without sticking your hands into a box full of stinging insects —
Live your life knowing this —
That if you tug at a single thing in nature, you’re gonna find that it’s attached to everything else.

EVERYthing else.

Thank you.

(Mentos!)   (6:40)

(c) 2010  by Christy Hemenway.   Gold Star Honeybees