Honey & Ginger Chicken by Purely Organic Lifestyle



My best friend, sent me this recipe bout a year ago; I ended up making it twice in one week. 4 large boneless skinless chicken breasts 2 tablespoons honey 1 -2 tablespoon Dijon mustard 4 tablespoons water 2 -3 teaspoons ground ginger or 1 tablespoon freshly ground gingerroot 2 -4 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed […]

Read complete recipe here:  Honey & Ginger Chicken — Purely Organic Lifestyle

charlie nothing R.I.P.

Another side of Charles Martin Simon – Charlie Nothing and his Dingulator

Arthur Magazine

Charlie Nothing and the Big Ding
circa 1975
1954 Chevrolet redesigned
“I make my guitars out of American Cars”

from Clint Simonon of De Stijl Records:

“so sadly, i´m writing, that on oct 23rd at 930 pm in his soquel, california home, charlie nothing passed away.

“charlie was a monolith of life and creation, and it was not until wednesday that i realized i’d begun to think of him as this elemental entity, like wisdom, or experience, and certainly not something that would cease to be. you and i may have a watch, but charlie always had the time.

“i last saw charlie in the brussels airport, after finishing a short string of european dates with jakob olausson, charlie’s first time abroad. he was invigorated with the realization that there were new sets of young ears, eagerly interested in what he’d been creating for the past 40-plus years…

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Bottomless Beekeeping (Unpublished Version) by Charles Martin Simon



Our series continues with a light-handed titled, yet serious approach to beekeeping by Charles Martin Simon.

November 8, 2003

Standing around one of my bee yards early one morning, I was considering why the Asian bee has been able to live so successfully with the varroa for a million years while the parasite spelled disaster for the European. After all, the Asian and the European aren’t that different, or else those clever bee scientists wouldn’t have been able to combine them to bring us the varroa problem in the first place.

What are the differences between the two bee sub-species that cause the differences in their handling of the parasite? I’m not buying that “housekeeping gene” business. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist. I am saying the gene is not responsible for the grooming behavior. Rather, the grooming behavior is responsible for the gene. (More on this chicken-or-egg philosophical question later.) I also don’t buy the “bee dance.” Bees don’t need to tell each other anything; they’re born knowing. The dance is a sharing of excitement, not a treasure map. Those who continue to profess differently simply have not been paying attention. We avoid anthropomorphism around here, but what is this “bee dance,” what is the concept of bee communication, of bee “language,” of bee “housekeeping” if not anthropomorphism?

Von Frisch’s study, according to Thomas D. Seeley, who wrote the Foreword to the great scientist’s great tome, THE DANCE LANGUAGE AND ORIENTATION OF BEES, “…focuses on two principal questions: First, how does a bee direct her nest mates to desirable sources of food? Second, how does a bee find her way to and from sources of food? …multifaceted questions which have attracted a large corps of gifted investigators over the three decades since the publication of von Frisch’s book.”

“Gifted investigators” indeed! What a waste of talent, money, and time! Because the questions are not only meaningless but misdirecting, having set us off on the wrong path, but that’s not unusual with a science that is more interested in funding than finding. Finding puts the kibosh on funding, so it must be scientifically avoided at all costs. Sure, it sounds cynical, but it’s true. Our civilization is based on economy which is based on multifaceted illusions, if not out-and-out lies. The truth is a bee does not direct her nest mates to desirable sources of food; neither does she need to find her way to and from sources of food. These human concepts do not apply to bees. So we can dispense with the two principal von Frisch questions and also the lives and careers of many scientists. I know, the truth hurts, and I’m sorry.

Von Frisch did not intentionally set about to mislead us. He was simpler man in a simpler time, a good guy who believed in what he was doing and tried to do it right. Were he alive and reading this, he might even be able to get with what I’m saying, because, as Seeley says of him:

“…I think he would be little influenced by the abstract, mathematical approach so prominent now in neurobiology and behavior, and would rely instead upon personal observations of living animals for guidance into promising new scientific terrain.”

From an observation of, of all things, a wood tic’s behavior, combined with a later observation of that behavior replicated by bees and ants, I came into some promising new scientific terrain – about insect communication or, more properly, the lack of it, even more properly, the lack of the need of it.

My personal observations helped to convince me of what I had long suspected, that the dance is not a communication of data.

What happened was one day, while leaving a bee yard in my van, I observed a tic crawling up the engine compartment cover. It moved with purposefulness, like it knew exactly where it was going, making several seemingly meaningful twists and turns, before I picked it up and threw it out the window. Three weeks later, leaving another bee yard, I observed another tic crawling up the same engine compartment cover. This second tic followed the path of the first, exactly, every twist and turn (including getting picked up by me and thrown out the window). There were no terrain configurations or obstructions to account for the pattern. The second tic could only have been following the trail of the first, which, although invisible to me, was obviously clear enough to it. There is no other possibility. And when there is no other possibility, you find yourself approaching something like real evidence, moving past just a probable theory tenuously supported by possible evidence conditional on variable interpretations derived from often irrelevant influences such as the contents of the observer’s stomach at the moment of observation.

And as for the ants: I keep nothing but bee pollen in my freezer. Three years in a row now, in winter, the ants have been marching into the freezer and not coming out. They die in there in great piles. I do nothing to stop them. After all, it’s their natural choice and I support that. All three times, the process accelerated until there were no more ants coming

Using effectiveness in fulfilling earthly missions as the criterion for evaluating evolution, perceptive skills and intelligence, insects are way ahead us. They know their jobs without even having to know that they know, and they perform them perfectly without even trying. We, on the other hand, have job counselors, vocational aptitude tests, massive educational systems, job training, and we try and try and try again, and we still can’t get it right. We would not even have a civilization if it were not for insects. For example, mankind learned paper and pottery making from wasps. Where would we be without paper and pottery?

They tell us bees have an extraordinary sense of smell. Whereas that is obviously true, they don’t tell us that bees have a sense that goes beyond even the most extreme olfactory sensitivity. They have the ability to perceive memory that is neither intellectual nor located in their brains. It is external, located in the environment – which invalidates a whole lot of science that has been wasted searching for the answers in their brains, in their physical sensory apparati, looking for formulas to explain mathematically how you could get so much information into so small a space.

I postulate that the famous “housekeeping gene” is a memory unit, that it came into existence after the fact of the no-doubt random discovery of the grooming behavior and was thereafter concomitant with that behavior not the precursor of it.

In my day job as bee and wasp remover, I have for a client a hundred-and-fifty-year-old historical Victorian, three-story house which had a bee colony in an upper wall around a hundred years ago. The wall was opened and cleaned out more than 25 years ago, before the current owners took over, but to this day, every year, the bees try to get in where the old nest was located. The focus of their probing is under the shingles at the roof line where the wood is rotted in places. There is always the possibility they will be able to find a way in, as they have a few times, which keeps me setting up and taking down and running up and down and moving the 32′ ladder in an effort to keep ahead of them. Do they smell the old nest, or do they perceive the memory in the environment? Or could it be a mixture of both? Or could both be the same?

Because a lingering odor is a memory. But there is a memory so much more refined, so much more amorphous, so much more permanent that it may still be there even after it’s been replaced, overwritten or displaced, and by that time has become so refined that no olfactory apparatus, in fact no apparatus at all could ever detect it, except perhaps that most sensitive and sophisticated of all scientific instruments, the human imagination. Yet this super-refined memory can be accessed and responded to by bugs!

I do my bee work with a van not an open truck. That means swarms and hives and loose bees are right in there with me. I always put them near the back doors, and any loose bees will invariably congregate in the corners of or fly against the back windows. Even if the front windows are wide open, they will remain stuck at the back windows.

But one time, as I was driving along, I noticed in the rear view mirror one bee leave the back window and fly an erratic course to the front and out the window. A few seconds later, I observed another bee follow the same exact course, and then another and another, until all the loose bees that had been on and around the back window, maybe fifteen in all, had flown out. What was notable was that each successive bee followed the course perfectly as defined by the first. Now that first bee’s course, as had been that first tic’s, was random I’m sure, but the others followed it as though it were etched in the air, and I’m sure it was. Also notable: neither the first tic nor any of those bees nor any of those ants ever went back, and so could not have physically communicated any information at all to the ones that followed, and I’m not getting into the possibilities of insect ESP in this article.

When trapping bees out of cavities, I often observe them refusing to enter the bait hive I have provided for them. They will keep trying to get into their old entrance, which is prevented by a one-way exit, completely ignoring my hive, which is properly baited, until one bee serendipitously finds her way in. But as soon as that first one does, it’s a done deal. There will be a second and a third and so on, until all the bees are going directly for the bait hive, except possibly a few diehards that either never get the new idea or refuse to give up the old idea until they perish with it.

These behaviors reinforce the notion that every creature leaves a trail, that a trail is a memory, that every creature leaves a specific memory, and specific creatures read and respond to creature-specific memories.

Von Frisch: “The newcomers…fly rapidly and with certainty to the indicated flowers, even when these are kilometers away-an accomplishment on the part of the bees that is without parallel elsewhere in the entire animal kingdom (von Frisch 1967a, p. 57).” What about the migrations of birds? What about the migrations of butterflies – year after year, new generations returning to the same exact trees, with no survivors from previous generations to lead the way or communicate anything at all? What about dogs finding their way home across an entire continent, as well as countless other phenomenal findings of ways? When those bees leave the hive and fly directly to the honey source, they are not following Von Frisch’s directions, they are following a trail left by other bees, the more bees having traversed it, the heavier the trail, the more nectar or pollen, the more exciting the odor recorded in that trail.

There are different groups of forager bees within a single hive, each group visiting certain flowers only. So the bees of one group will be following the memory trail of that particular group not the other groups, and none of them will be following information received from the dancers, such as orientation coordinates, distances and locations. They will only have received from the dancing bees excitement and odors.

Von Frisch himself proved this (THE DANCE LANGUAGE AND ORIENTATION OF BEES, p. 31), only he thought he was proving something else. In his experiment, he had set up two feeding stations, one visited by the bees of one group, the other visited by the bees of another group, both groups from the same hive. He withheld the feed from both stations for a few hours, then refilled one. A scout returning from that station did the dance and right away bees from both groups rushed out to the field. But the bees from the unfilled station did not go to the filled station. They went to the empty station and after examining it thoroughly, returned to the hive where they waited around, never going to the refilled station at all. Now this proves unequivocally that the dance does not communicate distance, orientation coordinates, or location. The dance is about sharing excitement not communication of data. The excitement stimulates the bees to venture forth, and, once they are aloft, to pursue the trail that relates to their memory-perceiving apparatus. In this case the memory would contain an odor which they picked up off the dancing bee, but since the odor of both feeding stations was the same, they would follow not that odor but that of the bees of their own group, which would also have been recorded in the trail.

Von Frisch believed he was really studying what he thought he was studying. He believed what he saw. He didn’t know that nothing is what it appears to be. And that style of naive thinking, in the long chain of foolish science and heady pioneering, is exactly what has led us into our current dilemma. The scientists have not come up with real solutions. Is it that they don’t want to, are they that intelligence-diminished or that sold-out to the flowers of lucre? For example, they’ve pretty much given up on the foulbrood problem, having decided that sickness and antibiotic economics should be accepted as the official way of life.

They tell us judicious use of the miticides, following the instructions exactly, will prevent resistance, but this is patently not true. They also say the miticide is harmless to bees and humans, and this is not true either. When I was using the stuff, handling it still sealed in its original foil wrapper, I could taste the toxicity in my gums. I also noted a negative effect in the bees. And, on top of that, the stuff didn’t even work. And yes, I followed the instructions to the letter. My dear friend, third-generation grandmaster beekeeper Ormand Aebi (Holder of the official World’s Record in the Guiness Book of World Records, for honey production from a single hive in a single season with a single queen, from 1957 to 1984, 404 lbs., which true, single-queen record, broken only with the use of multiple queens, will most likely never be legitimately broken or even seriously challenged.) followed the instructions to the letter also, and nobody follows instructions better than Ormand, and after two years of following instructions he was completely beeless for the first time in three generations.

Why is the varroa devastating to the European while lived with so nicely by the Asian?

For one thing, the Asian has a faster metabolism. The pre-imagoes spend a day or so less time in the cells, and since it’s in the cells that the varroa does its dirty work, the time differential is sufficient to give the bees the edge.

For another thing, the Asian characteristically hangs its combs out in the open with minimum shelter, like under an overhanging ledge on the face of a cliff, whereas the European seeks a cavity. Obviously, with the Asian combs hanging in space, when a parasite falls it is gone forever. And the scientists have told us it is part of the parasite’s process to drop from the combs at some point. In a cavity, there will usually be a surface close to the bottom of the combs, a joist in a wall, the bottom board of a beehive, the solid part of a tree, some place for the falling parasite to land and wait for a bee to which to attach itself.

Several years ago, I reasoned that screened bottom boards might be of use and went to work designing when all of a sudden they appeared on the market, and with sticky board inserts too, so you could even count the parasites. But the problem didn’t go away.

So I decided to take it further: No bottoms at all.

My thinking was, obviously, that would allow the parasites to fall away and disappear like with the Asians. As for losing the ability to count them without the screened bottom boards and sticky inserts, who cares as long as they’re gone?

First I planned on putting the bottom boards back when the weather got cold, but I caught myself thinking like a beekeeper instead of an apiculturist. I was thinking of the bees as static things, not living, adaptable beings. And I decided it would be better for them if the bottoms were in fact left off during cold, wet weather also. The bees would compensate for the increased exposure by tightening up the cluster, eating more honey to burn more calories to keep the temperature in the cluster up to where it needs to be, raising their metabolic rates. They would become more like Asian bees, not as the result of mixing the species with the disastrous consequences that engendered, but as the result of replicating the lifestyle, and thereby end up healthier – those with the will to survive anyway. Survival of the fittest is always the rule, so why try to get around it? When we artificially prop up the weak ones, we end up with perpetual sickness.

Besides, the Asian bee routinely overwinters in sub-zero weather without any but overhead shelter and possibly one wall, and that would be a cold, stone wall at that.

Here’s a quote from Jamie Strange’s article “The Bournacq Hive,” in the October 2003 issue of Bee Culture:

“It was not until after beekeepers began working in moveable frame equipment that foulbrood became a problem…. Also, because generally only strong colonies were wintered, the beekeeper insured that he was keeping the best stock for the following year. These strong colonies did not have to be fed or treated for disease…the beekeepers were selecting for disease tolerant stock.”

That is exactly what I am talking about, doing what it takes to make the colonies really strong and healthy. Except I don’t think moveable frames are the culprit. Moveable frames are helpful and not harmful, when used correctly. The problem is reusing combs too many times, which is the inevitable result of the pernicious habits of using foundation and extracting.

I keep my hives on stands at least 16 inches above the ground to prevent skunk predation, of which we have quite a bit around here. I have, however, worked with many feral colonies close to the ground and going strong, in the bases of trees for example. So placing bottomless hives close to the ground will probably be fine as long as the colony is strong enough, and if it isn’t strong enough, nothing matters anyway.

Now the approach for a skunk would be different with a bottomless hive close to the ground. Let’s look at their modus operandi. They scratch the landing board which brings out a few curious bees which they eat. Scratch again, eat a few more. To feed on a bottomless hive that was raised up somewhat but not high enough to be out of skunk range entirely, the animal would have to stand up and expose its underbelly in order to scratch on the wall of the hive or literally get up underneath it, both of which approaches would subject it to serious attack, as scratching landing boards from a nose-first, horizontal position does not.

I have been slowly converting my hives to bottomless, leaving some bottomed for comparison. Every single converted hive, after an initial short period of confusion, while the bees were figuring out what was going on and what to do about it, showed an immediate increase in vitality.

It is now November, and several of my bottomed hives have already died from the parasite. Whereas the bottomless are going strong, much stronger than other hives in past seasons at this time of year, even those that went on to survive the winter.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Going Bottomless

Bottomless hives are difficult if not impossible to steal. The bee thief, looking for the easy way, will find exactly the opposite of what he or she is looking for. It goes against his or her nature to mess with a bottomless hive, especially a big, strong, competent colony housed in falling-apart equipment (my favorite kind).

The breathing capacity of the hive is immediately and dramatically increased. No more moisture build-up or moisture-related diseases. No more debris on the bottom boards. Bottom board rot is a thing of the past, along with the need to replace.

No more slanting hives forward. Vertically straight hives make straighter combs (not that that matters), support weight better, and ride earthquakes better (that does matter around here).

And no more mouse worries. Without a bottom board and sufficient space between the board and the bottom of the cluster, mice can’t even get started. It also helps to use frames with no bottom bars in the bottom super of the brood area, so the combs hang naturally without artificial solid endings.

No more facing entrances to the sun. You might think this is not important but it can be. I moved some colonies onto a lovely piece of land overlooking a large slough designated as a wildlife preserve, faced to the sun as I had been taught. These hives steadily lost vitality and died. It was the wind. There is a fierce wind blowing straight up the slough and directly into the hive openings when the hives are facing south, which is the direction they need to face to get the most sun. Most sun means quickest warm-ups and most light for the longest duration, which means most work which means most production. Like lemmings, we gear everything to maximum production regardless of what untoward consequences might be engendered. It took two complete seasons with two complete bee losses on that location before I was able to unlearn enough of what I had been taught to turn the hives around. The third year I faced them north. I really had to force myself, and I worried about it afterwards. But they are thriving now. Nevertheless, I still catch myself feeling uncomfortable about it from time to time. Unlearning is much harder than learning.

With bottomless hives, smoking for manipulations is much more effective with much less smoke.

There are some disadvantages: Decreased honey production for one. Or, is that a good thing after all?

You might think bottomless hives could be invaded easier by yellow jackets and cleaned out by robber bees. But there is a difference between how the guard bees function with bottomless as opposed to conventionally bottomed. In the conventional setup, the robbers have only to get past the guards, which are positioned at the entrance looking out, and they’re in and can have their way virtually without challenge. With bottomless, the guards cover the complete territory, scanning in every direction, and it is not possible to get past them. I have watched yellow jackets working the bottomed hives while avoiding the bottomless. I think with the guards out in the open, the yellows get attacked a lot quicker and heavier, and they learn fast. Of course, the strength of the colony is going to be the key, as it always is. I just can’t see a good strong colony getting invaded by anything except maybe bears, but we don’t have bears around here. And besides, a bottomless hive would be no more vulnerable to bears than a bottomed one. And if a weak colony gets wiped out, maybe that’s a good thing too, saves the trouble of nursing it only to have it die off anyway, and it will; they always do.

The need to install bottom boards for moving. Each hive has to have a bottom board available. But there are probably better ways to close hives for moving than standard bottom boards with screened entrances. Come to think of it, I have many tops with feeder holes, left over from the bad old days when I used to feed. These would adapt excellently for moving bottoms by stapling eighth-inch mesh over the feeder hole, the end cleats forming convenient legs to keep the screened openings up and away from truck beds or floors or other hives when stacked, and allow the air to circulate. These could be stapled or duct taped on.

Loss of directionality. Bottomless beekeeping may not be for those who want to practice the safety procedure of staying behind the hives when manipulating, so as to keep out of the flight paths. Keeping out of flight paths is not what really reduces stinging incidents anyway. I’m sure it helps the keeper relax more to think he or she is doing it “the right way.” But what really does the trick is when the handler maintains a cool and level, detached state of mind, when there is no fear, and, most importantly, when that state is not forced or faked but real and native – and, of course, slow, deliberate, smooth, assured movements and appropriate smoke.

Don’t assume the bees will be flying every which way in a 360-degree chaos. They will establish flight paths and preferred ways in and out of the hives, but they won’t be consistent among the hives, as when an entire traditionally bottomed apiary is pointing in the same direction, and the handler will be able to work with that if he or she deems it judicious to do so. Conversely, to not work with that means to ignore it, which is my preferred method. It makes no difference whether I am in a flight path or not, as long as my state of mind is correct, which it always is. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I never get stung. I do from time to time, and I usually like it. But just a few weeks ago, I was just standing there minding my own business, when a bee got right up in my face and stung me on the end of the nose. Ouch! That really hurt. Hurt my feelings too, that she would do such a thing to me without provocation.

On one of my removal jobs, I have a hive hanging 36 feet up, leaning against a two-inch pipe. Now, form-wise, a two-inch pipe against the side of a hive should be very much the opposite of a landing board in front, but those bees use that pipe like it was designed for just that purpose. Which leads me to think bottom boards and landing boards are functions of anthropomorphism not proper bee culture. We want the bees to have what we would want if we were them, a nice cozy tight room with a comfortable entrance, as though they were good little people that shared our sense of functionality as well as goals. As though they didn’t have incredible abilities that we don’t have, like the ability to fly, to take off from and land on virtually any surface in any position, to crawl vertically and upside down – which abilities they enjoy exercising. Everything that lives has the ability to enjoy, and when they enjoy rather than struggle against impossible odds or otherwise suffer, their health is automatically better. And to every loosening of the regimentation of Langstroth-driven modern beekeeping, the bees respond positively.

A note on pollen trapping with bottomless hives

Bottom-positioned, self-cleaning pollen traps on standard bottomed hives provide a little help against varroa. Parasites get knocked off when the bees squeeze through the screen and fall into the pollen drawer and die. But the board that covers the drawer on the top of the trap, which prevents debris from entering the drawer, forms another hive bottom where bees can walk around and fallen varroa can wait for a ride back to the brood area.

The solution is an eighth-inch mesh screen above the debris board, positioned on its own frame which is not attached to the pollen trap so that it can be easily removed for. With this screen in place and the trap used on a bottomless hive, it is more effective against varroa.

There is a wire-meshed space across the rear of the pollen trap and exit holes at the front, which would allow some mites to fall through. But when the trap is placed over a bottom board, any mites that might fall through will end up on the bottom board, and they might get rubbed off when the bee returns through the screen or they might not. But without the bottom board, any that fall through will be gone forever, and those that fall through the debris board screen onto the debris board will die there waiting for bees to attach to, if what the scientists say is true, that when a mite falls it remains stationary where it lands until a bee passes close enough or it dies. If it’s not true, then a sticky board could be placed on the debris board, or it could be coated with an essential oil.

With my first converted pollen traps, I ran a half-inch strip around the outer top of the traps (see illustration) to provide space between the comb bottoms and the screen. Then I started using empty supers, without frames, between the pollen traps and the comb bottoms, which made the spacing strips unnecessary. Of course the colonies are managed so they build new combs above not below the bottom combs.

The space added by an empty super decreases the number of bees that would be walking around on top of the debris board or screen, since the bees mostly crawl up and down the inner sides of the super going to and from the combs, and might even make the screen unnecessary, especially when the pollen traps are removed in the fall and winter, which they should be. I realize some keepers simply open the flyway and leave the traps in place, but that’s not a good idea because the exit cones, unused, get plugged with debris. So since you have to take them off to clean anyway, you might as well leave them off for late fall and winter.

Our traditional modern ways mollycoddle the bees with one hand while abusing them with the other. Is it any wonder they can’t get it together?

What I am proposing is not good for business. Instead of adding products, I’m taking products away. Instead of increasing honey production, I’m decreasing it. But a little honey is better than none, and dead bees make no honey.

Bottomless beekeeping, combined with foundationless (one of my favorite not-things), will result in a smaller, faster bee, both kinetically and metabolically, a stronger, healthier bee less susceptible to disease and predation.

My intention is not to return beekeeping to the dark ages, but to take stock of what works and what doesn’t and to mix and match methods toward the goal of maximum health rather than maximum production. Bees are incredibly powerful creatures. Given half a chance, they are unstoppable.

Both philosophically and practically, the varroa has been a benefit to bee culture if not beekeeping. To use the words of my friend, the revolutionary British apiculturist Ian Rumsey: “We have overcome an enemy by making it our friend.” Actually, we have overcome many enemies. What we must do is get out of the way to allow the bee to develop into the world-beater it can and should be, the very capable creature that can triumph over the harsh realities of life as it is, not as it used to be or we wish it was.

Charles Martin Simon

Source: https://beesource.com/point-of-view/charles-martin-simon/bottomless-beekeeping-unpublished-version/

More Beekeeping Backwards – I owe a huge debt to Varroa – by Charles Martin Simon


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Another article in our week long series of articles written by Charles Martin Simon.

The article below is edited for brevity. Read the full article at Beesource.com here: http://beesource.com/point-of-view/charles-martin-simon/more-beekeeping-backwards-i-owe-a-huge-debt-to-varroa/

Bee Culture – November, 2003by  Charles Martin Simon

My article Principles of Beekeeping Backwards, that appeared in Bee Culture, July 2001, received so much attention I felt like some kind of celebrity, which isn’t good. The article was eventually archived on the internet at BeeSource.com. Fortunately, not everybody who wrote likes me. Some insinuated that I might be crazy. Interesting, since I ended the article with “I am crazy, and proud of it.” Well, hopefully, this article will dispel any doubts and give them more reasons to like me even less. And that’ll be good.


…the other day I did find husk. It was on a swarm-removal call. The bees were located on the ground, tangled up in ivy and boards, in a narrow space behind a garage, and a good four feet in from the opening. There was no way to get a box to them, and because they were so entwined in the vegetation and wood, there was no way to scoop them either. Plus, I couldn’t move anything without the risk of crushing bees and maybe the queen. So, certain it wasn’t going to work but needing to do something, I positioned the beehive on the ground up against the opening, meanwhile trying out in my mind the various excuses I might use for why I couldn’t get the job done.

To think I had responded to the call with such professional elan. “A swarm? On the ground behind the garage? Sure, no problem. We do it all the time.” It sounded like it couldn’t be easier over the phone, but it was going to be embarrassing.

Then something I didn’t expect happened. The bees closest to the box – remember, it was four feet away – perked up with recognition of the hive and started marching toward it, and crawled right in, with the rest of the swarm following. Nasanov maneuver on the landing board, and it wasn’t long before they were all in, well, the usual 99% anyway. I was about to screen it shut and call it good when some of them came running back out with confused looks on their faces. I lit up the smoker and chased them back in, but they wouldn’t stay. As soon as I stopped the smoke, back out they would come. I figured the queen must not be in there.

I squeezed into the space behind the garage as carefully as I could, looked around and spotted a few bees clustered partially obscured by some leaves. I smoked them but they wouldn’t move. I pushed them around with my index finger, and, just as I suspected, there she was: the queen. She hadn’t joined the march to the box because she was dead.

Meanwhile, back at the hive body, there was confusion on the landing board, with more and more bees leaving. I took the tiny carcass and flicked it into the entrance. Then the bees started nasanoving with renewed vigor and running into the hive and staying. Bees flying around the area relating to where the swarm had been, changed course and beelined it in. I screened it up, took it to one of my yards, and mixed it with a queen-right hive. So empty husks can be useful sometimes…


The Great Blessing of Varroa

Yes, I mean it, although it took all these years and so much loss for me to begin to understand. Because of the Varroa, the other day I found the best bee frame in the world. As some of you may know, I’ve been in the bee frame business, invented and sold world-wide the Super Unfoundation Frame, and I take frames very seriously. So saying I found the best frame in the world is, for me, saying something big. This is a frame that is superior both technically and aesthetically. Why? For one thing, because it’s free. I found it in my rotten-equipment pile.

A free bee frame is a terrible thing to waste. But more important than its recycled aspect, it’s free because it has evolved by virtue of the process of deterioration beyond the rules and restrictions of conventional, non-free bee frames, even those of my own design and construction. Yes, with the recognition of this particular frame, I have even surpassed myself.

And, it is precisely to the Varroa that I owe the finding of this frame and the implications thereof. Ten or 12 years ago, when the dreaded parasite came into my yards – finally, after years of hearing it was coming – and started destroying my bees, I was distraught, naturally. Every Spring, I’d start with swarms that would build beautifully only to die off in the Winters. I would find myself working in dead bee yards, cleaning and organizing equipment that should have been abuzz with bee life but was silent. More than disheartening, it was painful. I wondered why I was even going on with it, when some of my most stalwart compadres, even the great Ormand Aebi (World Record holder in the Guiness Book of Records for over 10 years for the most honey produced by a single hive with a single queen in a single season – a record that was only broken with the use of multiple queens, a true single-queen record which is not likely to ever be even seriously challenged), the most stalwart of them all, had quit.

Every year I felt more foolish and became more despondent. And, of course, without the bees to keep it alive over the Winters, the equipment was rotting at a greatly accelerated rate.

I couldn’t bring myself to replace it. I calculated that if, under the circumstances, I would continue to replace equipment “as needed,” I could literally be destroyed by the very beekeeping that was such a great love in my life. And it kept getting worse. Now I know for sure that had I made the investments necessary to keep up acceptable appearances, I would not have made it to this point.

I, as did most beekeepers, cursed the Varroa. I jumped through all the hoops, conventional and unconventional, and nothing worked. Even when there wasn’t anything to do, I continued working in the yards, cleaning and organizing equipment that was more and more rotted-out and useless.

If you’re a bee person, there is nothing more pathetic than a dead bee yard. The moaning of the wind through vacant bee boxes is one of the most heart-wrenching sounds you’re ever going to hear. Beekeeping had turned into the opposite of everything I was in it for. I had to quit, I wanted to quit, but I didn’t know how. There were spaces and times in my life that were slotted for bee work. There was nothing else I could do. But the only thing that was alive and growing was my junk pile. I burned an incredible amount of equipment over the years and still had a mountain left.

Then, a few hives started surviving the winters. Then a few more. My removal business was growing, and I was getting more and more swarms in the springs. Meanwhile, my lifetime interest in health had turned into another business, and I shifted my focus from honey to pollen, and I started getting great harvests, even though most of the bees were still dying off in the Winters.

But I needed to take another step philosophically. I shifted concept from “my” bees to “the” bees, and “the” bees to “my” bees. It was a natural not an intellectually conceived move, since, after all, most of the bees I was dealing with were feral. I brought the principles of wild bees into my beekeeping.

My frames (SuperUnfoundation) had been a step in the right direction, but as such had been limited in that they had not completed all the steps. If they had, I’d have no doubt gotten “there” a long time ago. But as it went, I am only getting “there” which is “here” “now.” You don’t have to understand; it’s philosophy.

Now the bees that are not my bees are my bees. I have expanded to embrace them all. And since they’re all mine anyway, no loss is too great, no gain too small. It’s finally all working.

And as stated, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Varroa, without which none of this would have been possible.

By “this” I mean perfect beekeeping. Because that’s what it has become, perfect.

And one of the greatest contributions for which the dirty rotten little parasite is directly responsible is in taking out of the game those players who shouldn’t be in it any longer, and discouraging those who might otherwise have become beekeepers from entering in the first place – meaning specifically those who have not grasped how to go with Nature, those who solve problems by attacking them, those who attempt to beat Nature and make maximum profits. But don’t feel bad, it wasn’t that long ago that I too used to think it was about honey, and that honey was money. But let’s face it, if it was about honey, we’d be “honey-makers” not “beekeepers.” But we’re beekeepers, so it’s about keeping bees.

From a human supremacy (a delusion that is destined to prove untenable) standpoint, bees dying, at the agency of Varroa or whatever, is a bad thing, but the insect mind doesn’t work like that, doesn’t share human values. The more bees die, the more they live. I don’t expect you humans to understand that either, because you base all your science and philosophy upon your own desires. And when you die, you’re done. Too bad for you.

And the last attributes of the best bee frame in the world: ease of use, effectiveness, durability. This frame has it all. Actually it is only a partial frame, the bottom bar and part of a side bar having rotted completely away. So it’s not really a frame at all, but what is left is excellent indeed.

The Beauty of Bad Equipment

I went to college to study agriculture and dropped out because the agriculture they were teaching was not the agriculture I wanted to learn, and became part of an organic farm in the mid-Sixties. The land came with a nice yard of 25 perfectly-cosmeticized beehives organized in extremely straight rows and two dilapidated hives off to one side. Anyway, it wasn’t long before thieves came in the night with a big truck and stole all 25 of the “good” hives.

The partners called an emergency meeting, during which it was decided that I should take over the two beehives that were left; none of the others being interested in bees at all. And that’s how I got into it – with those two unstolen hives. With the help of one of the “partners” and somewhat more than a modicum of stinging, I managed to get them moved to my section and set about to learn about them.

Now, 35 years later, I have come full circle, from knowing nothing about apiculture, to knowing a lot, to knowing nothing, from bad equipment to the best equipment back to bad equipment.

The most obvious benefit of bad equipment, then, is that thieves are less likely to steal it. If it looks bad, they won’t want it. And if it falls apart when they go to lift it, so much the better. Note: In this regard, it’s a good idea to not staple the bottom boards to the hive bodies.

Thieves are slaves of illusions; that’s why they’re thieves. They have perverted values. Honey is money, for example. But what is money? And you still hear some old-timers talk about “robbing the bees,” and I suppose that’s correct in their cases because that’s what they’re doing.

But theft-proofing is far from the only benefit of bad equipment. For some strange reason, it seems bees prefer it. They have an affinity for rotten wood. Enough has been written about keeping newly hived swarms from absconding that it is apparently a common problem. There are many tips, such as placing the hive in the shade, not unscreening until almost or after dark, or leaving them in all night and unscreening the following morning.

The beekeepers who have this problem must be the guys with the new foundation and new and freshly-painted hives. I’ve never once had an abscond with old equipment, except when a swarm was queenless. Let me tell you, if after you hive a swarm, you hear the buzz of a queenright colony, there’s no way you could drive that swarm from that box.

Bees like holes in unapproved places.

They like surprises. I once watched several bees taking turns dancing on a nail sticking out of an old hive near the entrance. A bee would grab on to the nail with her forelegs and then spin around it for a while, while a group stood around and watched. Then she would let go and be replaced by another one. This went on for nearly an hour, our time. You might say they were trying to remove it. But why? Because it offended their sense of order? And why right then, after it had been there for years? I don’t think they were trying to remove it. I think they were having fun with it.

With bad equipment, You can’t beat the price, or, I should say, cost. Bad equipment saved me from going under.

Then there’s the issue of aesthetics. As I gleaned through my junk pile year after year, it became harder and harder to just burn it. The dead stuff was the only live stuff left. I’d look at a piece, rotted, crooked, mouse-eaten, wax moth larvae-eaten, and think, there’s a lot of life left in that still. Even beyond that, I’d think the piece had never been so alive. Id better keep it. And I’d throw it onto a second pile, which I was developing for potentially reusable bits and pieces.

Nevertheless, my mind was still clinging to the overbearing image of clean, painted hives and straight clean combs, even though I knew very well from long ago there is no objective standard of beauty. I once went out with a Playboy Bunny, and, believe me, she was not beautiful.

But the power of brainwash persists in overcoming reason and logic. Even though I knew better, I still wanted to see neat hives in neat rows containing only pristine frames and combs.

I know better than to keep bees in neatly ordered rows. In fact, one time I had a stand of bees on a rich piece of property, and one day the property manager descended upon me to tell me that the hives had to be lined up evenly. I looked him right in the eye and told him no. He couldn’t believe it. He said the padrone wanted everything neat and even. I said I don’t work for the padrone, or you. The hives stay crooked. He left in a snit. Later, after he had complained to the padrone, the padrone told me not to listen to him, and I never saw the man again even though I kept bees on that property for several more years. It’s curious what some perceptions rate as important.

Did you know some beekeepers get bent out of shape by the presence of propolis in their hives? Now don’t that beat all get out?

Anyway, my mind kept trying to see the rotten equipment as unsightly, something to be ashamed of, as though using it was putting me beneath the beekeepers with the good stuff, even though those with the good stuff were, for the most part, out of business, and my business was growing by leaps and bounds, between bouts of depression.

Beauty is a dangerous thing, because it’s entirely subjective and the world acts as though it were entirely objective. This big mistake is costly to beekeeping as well as pretty much everything else.

If you are familiar with Friedrich Huntervasser’s “Against Rationalism in Architecture,” then you know where this goes. But on the slim chance you aren’t, I’ll elaborate. When a man-made piece of architecture (in historical context always striving for increased levels of excellence) is new, whether it is a home for human habitation or a beehive, it is sterile. Huntervasser asserts that until a home has sagged and there are cobwebs in the corners and a patina of grime over the walls, it is unhealthy. He points to designs which round the corners of doorways as superior. Had he been a bee man he would have preferred skeps to Langstroth hives.

God does not create sterility. There are no straight lines in Nature. Mankind deludes itself with the concept of straight lines and man creates sterility. It is the end result of the human mind’s purification process, the unconscious compulsion to be ever striving for ever increased excellence. Man must always outdo him- or herself. He or she must always keep raising the bar. He or she sees Nature as a replication of the same process, as in the Theory of Evolution.

It has been said that God created Man in His or Her own image. It has also been said that Man created God in His or Her own image. So I guess it all boils down to personal opinion, who you are and where you’re coming from. In my opinion, Man is the culprit. In our efforts to make it better, we invariably make it worse. And nothing is a better example of that than beekeeping.

I am not trying to make a case for laziness and neglect; I am trying to make a case for inevitability. Except for those among us who happen to be virgins, we all know what it means to “break-in a virgin.” The virgin is emblematic of the highest level of purity, but yet we all pretty much understand the virgin to be improved by the very process of being sullied. Such paradoxes are a way of life with us. But at what point does the break-in turn into the break- down? Maybe when the object has no further possible use except for composting.

No longer threatened by Varroa or any other parasite, no longer threatened by disease, death or humiliation, instead enhanced by these factors, my beekeeping has arrived philosophically and practically. I’m comfortable with the bad equipment, finally. I see it is beautiful.

But I don’t mean to imply that my perfect beekeeping is perfect. My perfection is imperfect. My beekeeping is not without its problems. Why, just the other day, as I was prying the top off a beehive, it just disintegrated in my hands. See? I suffer too.

The article above is edited for brevity. Read the full article at Beesource.com here: http://beesource.com/point-of-view/charles-martin-simon/more-beekeeping-backwards-i-owe-a-huge-debt-to-varroa/


Bee Culture Magazine, November, 2003


Bee Removal II – Deconstruction by Charles Martin Simon


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Today, in honor of Charles Martin Simon’s birthday week, we present the third in a series of articles written by Charles describing his methods and approach to beekeeping.

The article below is edited for brevity. Read the full article at Beesource.com here: http://beesource.com/point-of-view/charles-martin-simon/bee-removal-ii-deconstruction/

Bee Culture, November 2002by Charles Martin Simon

In my last article, in Bee Culture, July 2002, Fundamentals and Finesse of Structural Bee Removal, I covered trapping bees out of their nest without taking anything apart or cutting into anything, my favorite way to go. But sometimes you can’t do it that way. The usual problem is time. The property owner needs them out right now. They’re remodeling, re-roofing, having a party on Saturday, something important, and everything is stopped until the bees are out of the way. When this happens, the building must be taken apart and the bees physically removed.

This type of removal is the more difficult and dangerous. The dangers occur not so much between remover, structure, and bees, although they are there to be sure, but between remover and property owner. When you take a person’s house apart, they just might get picky – later on, after the thrill of having their demons exorcised wears off, and they have to face the realities of reconstruction, or if it’s already been reconstructed and it just doesn’t look right.

I spoke with Roger Stark, an insurance man well-versed in bee-related issues. He told me removers were being sued for 50 and 60 thousand dollars! Now these are fellows who have done nothing wrong. They have performed the job exactly as agreed, but for one reason or another, the property owners have become disgruntled.

Mr. Stark told me they do not write policies for bee removal. He said it’s a job for a contractor and must be covered by contractor’s insurance. His advice concerning structural bee removal when it involves deconstruction was quite simple and to the point: “Don’t do it.”

Good advice, but I am not going to take it. I survive on bee removal. I’ll quit removing when they pry my removal tool out of my cold, dead fingers.

So I consulted with my good friend, a venerable and distinguished lawyer. I asked him whether a “Hold Harmless” clause might not be a good idea in the contract, something like the doctors make you sign before they start cutting you up. He said no, such clauses are unenforceable. If the party wishes to sue, they do it anyway, regardless of what they might have signed.

Then he added: “You’re self-employed. You have no attachable assets. For all intents and purposes, you’re not actionable. Besides, you do a good job, don’t you?”

“Of course,” I replied. “I do the best job I can possibly do. Always.”

“That’s what I figured,” he said. “And you’re doing an important service, helping people solve a serious problem, maybe even a life-threatening problem. They’d have to be crazy to sue you. It would cost them a whole lot to get absolutely nothing.”

So, if you’re an experienced bee person, self-employed with no attachable assets, you might go for it. But the best advice is don’t.

A clearly spelled out agreement in advance on paper, duly signed by both parties, remover and property owner, might provide some ammunition for avoiding trouble later on, albeit not all that powerful. In this country, in order to be legal, all construction must be performed by a licensed contractor.

So, if you already happen to be a licensed contractor with insurance and a beekeeper at the same time, you’re perfect for the job. Otherwise, you might consider getting a contractor’s license, if you’re young and ambitious. I am too old and not ambitious enough. I just want to survive and keep doing what I’m doing, what I know and love, removing bees.

A few years back, I spoke with a yellow jacket man who was facing jail time. The oh so intelligent judge declared the man’s vacuum apparatus to be a pesticide – because it was being used in the extermination of bugs. Yes, I know this is not bee removal, but it does speak to the trouble you can get into just based on a judge’s interpretation. The yellow jacket man was being persecuted by the pesticide people. And the judge, being totally in bed with the pesticide boys, ruled that my man, since he did not have a pesticide license, was to cease and desist immediately. My man refused. Yellow jackets were his life, removing them his livelihood. The judge declared him in contempt, and when I spoke with him, he was waiting to see what his sentence was going to be. He was scared and uptight.

Personally, I don’t think I’d mind being thrown in jail for bee removal. I might even like it. But then, I’m a writer too, and it would make one hell of a story. Imagine: A big, smelly fellow convict asks me what I’m in for. “Taking some boards off a house without a license.”

“Why’d you wanna go and do that for?” he’d want to know.

“So I could remove a colony of bees from inside the wall,” I’d reply.

“You mean bees? Like what sting you?” he’d ask, starting to become impressed, maybe just a little bit incredulous.

“Exactly,” I’d say. His face would darken then in puzzlement.

“What’d you wanna do that for?”

“I like bees,” I’d say.

“But they sting you,” he’d say.

“I like getting stung,” I’d say. At which point, the fear would take him over, and he’d decide to go look for someone a little less crazy, a little less tough. Beekeepers are among the toughest people in the world. Bee removers are even tougher than that.

Or maybe you know a contractor you can work with. Or maybe the property owner already has a relationship with a contractor, and you can work together. Have the contractor open the space (You can lend him or her a bee suit and stay with the operation so things don’t get out of hand.), then you remove the bees, then the contractor restores the property.

Removal is a sticky job. Its at its worst when you work directly over your head, and you often have to. Expect to be showered with honey. It would be a good idea to have a few extra suits, hats, veils, and pairs of gloves handy. Getting honey all over yourself could be a good thing, but the problem is it spreads to everything you touch. You dont want it on the steering wheel of your truck, the door handles, all over the seat, etc. You have to have a water source at the job. If theres none, bring it with you. Because youre going to have to frequently wash yourself, your clothes, gloves, and tools.

Removal is a sticky job. It’s at its worst when you work directly over your head, and you often have to. Expect to be showered with honey. It would be a good idea to have a few extra suits, hats, veils, and pairs of gloves handy. Getting honey all over yourself could be a good thing, but the problem is it spreads to everything you touch. You don’t want it on the steering wheel of your truck, the door handles, all over the seat, etc. You have to have a water source at the job. If there’s none, bring it with you. Because you’re going to have to frequently wash yourself, your clothes, gloves, and tools.

I do prefer to be involved in the rebuilding process, for the simple reason that contractors, not being bee people generally, are liable to make mistakes resulting in reinhabitation by the bees in the future. In fact, it is mostly due to the mistakes of contractors in the first place that we have bee-ins, a common one being the use of quarter inch mesh instead of eighth inch in vent holes. It’s almost as if the contractors were trying to give us jobs.

I remember one I did in a Victorian house, a summer beach rental owned by a major hotel. The contractor who put it back together failed to seal it up properly, and the bees were back the following year. That time, I confess, I executed the forbidden reconstruction myself, in flagrant violation of all contractor contract and permit clauses, but the bees haven’t been back since. It’s been 10 years at least, so the Statute of Limitations has expired, and I am in the clear as far as that one goes. I am conscientious about my work, and I take many risks for the benefit of my clients.

Session 1. Deconstruction. The minimum necessary to get at the bees. Performed by a licensed contractor of course. It’s never as easy as it looks. Nails don’t come out clean. Boards don’t come off in one piece. Sometimes the nest is not where you thought it was. Or it meanders around joists, and you run into trouble. Or it’s in the wall right where you expected it to be, but it extends off to between the floors or into the ceiling or attic. There are infinite configuration possibilities, and each presents a unique set of problems to overcome.

Session 2. Removal of bees and combs. There’s a few ways to go with this:

A. Cut out brood combs and tie them into frames with soft cotton string. Place frames in a hive and add the bees from the cavity. This is messy and often painful (You have to take off your gloves to tie the strings which are sticky and uncooperative, and you know what that means.), and likely to be unsuccessful. It’s best if you can leave the new hive at the site, as close to the cavity as possible, for a few days until the bees get reoriented. Otherwise, take it to the new location, bring the bees to it and add them. Depending on such factors as season, it might be better to add the brood combs to an already going hive that could use some more brood and the bees to a hive that could use more bees, rather than trying to keep the removed colony intact.

B. Use a vacuum to separate the bees from the combs. Every remover should have a bee-specific vacuum apparatus. I use a 5-gallon Shop Vac, running the suction tube into a sleeve fixed to a five-gallon plastic pail perforated with air holes which I tape to provide suction, leaving some holes open to fine tune it. Too little suction and the bees don’t get sucked properly, too much and they get damaged and die. Afterwards, I remove all the tape to provide plenty of air. The tube that goes to the Shop Vac is attached to the pail via a screened sleeve so the bees are not drawn into the machine but rather left nicely in the pail. Combine bees with an existing hive. Separate combs suitable for human consumption. Feed those not suitable back to the bees. Give good brood combs to an existing hive.

Session 3. After allowing a day or so for the left over bees to cluster, remove them (the vacuum again) and add to hive. Scrape cavity clean.

If many bees are flying during Session 3, a fourth session will be required. I usually allow at least a full day between sessions. Of course, to round up left-over bees, it’s best if you go very early in the morning, at dawn.

The job is done when there are no bees left, and the cavity is as clean as possible.



The article above is edited for brevity. Read the full article at Beesource.com here: http://beesource.com/point-of-view/charles-martin-simon/bee-removal-ii-deconstruction/

Bee Culture Magazine, November, 2002


Fundamentals & Finesse of Structural Bee Removal


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Continuing Charles Martin Simon week, today we present another article written by Charles on bee removals.

Bee Culture, July 2002

To trap bees from a tree or building you need cones, ladders, duct tape, bait hives…a little bit of luck, and plenty of patience.

The article below is edited for brevity. Read the full article at Beesource.com here: http://beesource.com/point-of-view/charles-martin-simon/fundamentals-finesse-of-structural-bee-removal/

by Charles Martin Simon

The seminal article on structural bee removal is found in ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture, published by the A. I. Root Company. It instructs the beekeeper to prepare a small colony of bees with a queen cell for the bait hive. It instructs that the platform to hold the bait hive is attached to the ladder, although the illustration included depicts it attached to a building. It tells us, “On arriving on the spot he lights his smoker, blows smoke into the flight hole to drive back the bees, then he places a bee escape over the opening of the tree or building in such a way that the bees can come out but not go back in. Last of all he places his hive with the bees which he has brought, with its entrance as near as possible to the bee escape,” on the platform attached to the ladder. Then, “…his work is now complete, and he leaves the bees to work out their own salvation.”

The article goes on to say that the field bees, having exited the cavity and being unable to reenter, will one by one find their way into the hive on the temporary platform, and, at the end of six weeks, the queen is likely to come out and join the new colony.

The operator then returns, removes the cone, and kills off what is left of the old colony in the cavity, which will be very few bees along with the queen. I wonder what the queen is doing in the cavity if she has come out in the last paragraph and joined the new colony in the bait hive, but let it go for now.

At this point, the operator leaves again, this time leaving the escape off the original entrance. Why? Because the bees from the new colony, including the bees which exited the cavity, are supposed to now rob out whatever stores might be left in the cavity. The article leaves it to the imagination how exactly the leftover bees in the cavity are to be killed. One assumes it would be some sort of insecticide. Is it wise then to let the saved bees rob out combs that have just been contaminated with toxic chemicals? I don’t think so. But let’s forget about that for the moment.

After a suitable period of robbing, the article goes on to tell us, the operator seals the entrance to the cavity and takes the bait hive home.

Such as they are, these are the fundamentals. Now to the finesse:

I have been a removal specialist for more than thirty years, and I almost never use smoke during a removal. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I did, which was probably the first time I did a removal after reading the article. I do suit up, however, and discourage onlookers, although, to be sure, I rarely excite the bees, but you can’t be too careful. I used to get a little embarrassed suiting up fully to manage bees when all the cool beekeepers were doing it without even a veil or gloves. But I’m approaching unknown bees all the time, and in an area where Africanized bees might be encountered, so as the sage once said, “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

Suspending a bait box high in a tree is safer than leaving a ladder for any period of time.

These days, there aren’t that many places where you can leave a ladder set up and unattended for six to eight weeks, unless it’s chained to something, but even then, you can’t afford to have it tied up for that long. Ladders are expensive. Often in the middle of one job, you are called to another, more pressing job. Even if you have several ladders and a secure place to set up, that’s exactly when you’re going to need that particular ladder. And another thing: There are children everywhere. If the ladder is set up leading to a beehive, some kid is going to climb it for sure, and poke a stick in the hole to see what happens. It’s inevitable. So it’s not a good idea to attach the platform to the ladder. Sure, if you’re hiving a swarm maybe (but even then, I’ve found it much more expedient to hang the box with a rope than to attach it with a platform), but not for an extended removal. I advise attaching the platform to the host structure, be it a building or a tree, leaving the ladder free. And having said that, I want to say that I do leave the ladder set up sometimes, if it feels right, but never with anything attached to it except a chain and lock – so I can get it down immediately if necessary.

The Root article describes the wire mesh cone of the bee escape, but does not go into details. The details are important; the cone is a critical appliance in the operation. If the hole at the small end is too small, obviously, the bees won’t be able to pass through. But if it is too big, the bees will end up going right back into it, and the operation will fail. If you set it up with too big a hole and then leave the bees “to work out their own salvation,” they will do so very nicely, and remain in the location they chose for themselves, ignoring completely the destiny you have chosen for them. You will come back in six weeks to a colony in the cavity, right where it was, and no bees in your box, except maybe a few of the ones you brought with you. The hole has to be just right, not too small and not too big. But it must be big enough to allow drones to pass through too, or maybe not. But if your drones can’t get out, expect many of them to die in the narrow of the cone and block the flow.

Speaking of blocking the flow, even when your hole is exactly right, bees will often either die in the neck of the escape or leave a carcass wedged there from an attempt to drag it out. When the escape become blocked, the operation is stopped. So you can’t just leave it for six weeks and realistically expect it to be the way you want it at the end. You can’t even leave it for a few days. When the escape gets blocked, and it will, the bees become desperate for egress and might find ways they might not have found otherwise. If the entrance gets blocked on a removal from the wall of a house, for example, and you don’t correct it right away, you might find the people inside severely distressed by an incursion of honeybees into their living quarters. If pushed, bees will travel far through the walls to find ways out, spaces around light fixtures being prime. You have to check it nearly every day.

Now, if the progress of the job is going well, the bees using the bait hive and showing no sign of going back into the cone hole, I will sometimes enlarge it by snipping off the last half inch or so, to allow them to exit easier and reduce the incidence of blockage.

I mentioned before that if your hole is too big, the bees will go right back into it. That is less likely to happen a week or so into the process, after they have started working the bait hive. So enlarging the hole can sometimes be a good move, but not always. So be careful and watchful.

The original entrance (bottom), and a double cone setup.

But it’s trickier than that. Sometimes, even when your hole is exactly right, a clever bee will figure out how to reenter anyway. And once one knows the way, her sisters will be right behind. That can be frustrating, but fortunately there is a simple solution. You place a larger cone over the original cone, with the upper end of the base unattached, so the bees reentering keep finding themselves back on the outside – and innocent bees, exiting for the first time, have to exit twice, which they are more than happy to do. The reentering bees will go round and round many times before they give up and join the bait hive. Some will never give up but hang on the cone until they expire.

I have never experienced a second cone defeated, but knowing bees and the strength of their motivation, I do expect it to happen someday. But I have a plan for that. I will use a third cone, and, if that doesn’t work, remove the cone(s) and install a standard Porter bee escape fixed to the entrance of the cavity for a few weeks, monitoring it carefully for malfunction and plugging. Then, when the offending bees have either accepted the bait hive or perished, I will replace the standard bee escape with the original wire mesh cone for the duration of the job.

A precarious job. (Hive on chimney) Note the cone opening facing up.

The graphics in the Root article depict the cone extending horizontally from the entrance of the cavity. This is logical since most entrance holes are positioned in vertical surfaces and the cone would naturally form a 90-degree angle from the face, but it’s not the best arrangement. Bees will get out better and the cone neck will have less tendency to clog if you position the cone pointing upward. This will often not be convenient, but a little carpentry in advance can make the job go much more smoothly. Sometimes, of course, the entrance will be facing downward, and you will not be able to engineer it to face upward. You have to go with what you get, although I have more than once built a tunnel to the edge of an overhang, in order to have the bees exit in an upward direction.

The article above is edited for brevity. Read the full article at Beesource.com here: http://beesource.com/point-of-view/charles-martin-simon/fundamentals-finesse-of-structural-bee-removal/


Bee Culture Magazine, July, 2002


Honey Bee Vocabulary “E” is for:


Having had great success with recipe Saturdays, I’ve decided to add Vocabulary Sundays. Short and sweet vocabulary building for beekeepers and those interested in learning more before taking the leap.

Today’s word is: exoskeleton

From Extension: Anatomy of the Honey Bee

Honey bees have an exoskeleton, which is rigid and covered with layers of wax, but have no internal bones like vertebrates do. The main component of exoskeleton is chitin which is a polymer of glucose and can support a lot of weight with very little material. The wax layers protect bees from desiccation (losing water). The advantage of chitin-containing exoskeleton also prevents bees from growing continually, instead, they must shed their skins periodically during larval stages, and stay the same size during the adult stage. Bees also have an open circulatory system, meaning that they do not have veins or arteries, but rather all their internal organ are bathed in a liquid called ‘hemolymph’ (a mix of blood and lymphatic fluid). Bees breathe through a complex structure of network of tracheas and air sacs. Oxygen is vacuumed into the body through openings on each segment (spiracles) by the expansion of the air sacs, then the spiracles are closed and air sacs are compressed to force the air into smaller tracheas, which become smaller and smaller until individual tubules reach individual cells.

Read more here: From Extension: Anatomy of the Honey Bee

Principles of Beekeeping Backwards by Charles Martin Simon



We start this week of Charles Martin Simon with an article published in Bee Culture, July, 2001 The article below is edited for brevity. Read the full article at Beesource,com here: http://beesource.com/point-of-view/charles-martin-simon/principles-of-beekeeping-backwards/

by Charles Martin Simon

10 Principles truly from another side of beekeeping

I have established mystic contact with the spiritual core of apiculture, and now anything is possible. Some of you old timers might resonate with this statement, but most of you, I’m sure, will not have a clue. Many will be irritated by what you perceive to be my arrogance; but, you have it backwards. It is not arrogance; it is humility. I will attempt to enlighten but without – a technique gleaned from the gurus – giving up any trade secrets. That was a self-deprecating joke. I’m no guru. I view their antics with cynicism. What I am is a beekeeper with forty years experience and the ability to tell you what you’re doing wrong.

Our apicultural forefathers, those great men who defined the principles of modern beekeeping, Langstroth, Dadants, Root . . . why were they so extravagantly successful? The answer is simple: because they didn’t know what they were doing. They made it up, as it were, as they went along. That is the creative principle, and that is the way it works. Once the standards have been set and carved in stone, the pictures and diagrams and procedures etched into the books, we have then models to live up to, and we can’t do it. Everything that comes after primary is secondary, or less. It will never be the same. For us to succeed, we have to become primary. We have to view beekeeping with entirely new eyes, just as our great pioneers did.

The more I studied beekeeping, the less I knew, until, finally, I knew nothing. But, even though I knew nothing, I still had plenty to unlearn. For we can never, and I do mean never, reiterate the ideals of the books, of history. How did Langstroth manage all his colonies without power tools? Especially when he was totally disabled for months and months. How did he do it? Simple again. He was crazy. Crazy people can do phenomenal things. The other side of insanity is genius.

I realized early on that if I followed the rules as written, I would fail. And how could anyone who knows better choose to fail? But it did take me a long time to figure that out. I started out just like everybody else, trying my best to go by the book.

Charles Martin Simon’s Ten Principles of Beekeeping Backwards:

Principle #1: Work with Nature, not against Her.

Principle #2: Profit doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot if you’re dead.

Our forefathers postulated that bigger bees would make more honey. The bigger the bee, the more nectar and pollen she can carry. The bigger the cell, the more it can hold. And so forth. So they devised a larger worker cell size, and it became the standard.

Principle #3: Dead bees make no honey.

Anatomically bigger bees are metabolically slower bees, more prone to disease and predation. And the diseases did come. The industry standard is a sickly bee.

My encounters with feral bees have instilled in me a greater respect for bees and contempt for the way we usually deal with them.

I knew I was finished with beekeeping as we know it the day I read the publication of the great scientific discovery of the “housekeeping gene” in relation to survivability in regard to Varroa. That was exactly where my suspension of disbelief finally snapped, and I realized our industry is directed by madmen. They have been driven mad by the fear of death and simultaneously compelled irresistibly toward it. Death of our beloved bees. Death of our beloved industry. Death of ourselves.

The Asian bee, the historic host for the mite, the bee that has coexisted with it successfully for a million years, does not usually inhabit enclosures. It hangs out in the open. This leads to the conclusion that when the mite drops off, it falls into the void, which is a good place for it. The immature Asian bee spends less time in the cell, which gives the mite less time to do it’s dirty work. Those are the keys, not the “housekeeping gene , never mind what the “scientists” have to say. But I am not meaning to imply that this “gene” does not exist. I’m questioning its interpretation. Just as I question the interpretation of the “bee dance”. The traditional interpretation of the bee dance is destroyed categorically by the observation of one single factor: The human observer observes from above. The bee dances face to face on a lateral plane. What the bee perceives and what the human perceives are two entirely different things. I grant that the dance occurs. I do not grant that it communicates anything at all. It is a sharing of excitement. The knowledge of where the nectar or whatever is is deeper than that. The colony is a manifestation of generations integrated with the patterns of the environment. There is a great mind at play that humans are generally incapable of comprehending.

Another significant factor in the retardation of Apis melliflera is the chronic abuse perpetrated by the teachings of the art. Colonies left to their own devices have an entirely different consciousness than domesticated varieties. Domestic bees are constantly messed with. A colony is a unified Mind. When it is opened and manipulated, the thought process is jumbled. When it is smoked, it must turn its attention to other things. Stress is good. Stress is bad. It depends on the kind. Exercise is stress. Getting beat up is stress. One event can build self-esteem; the other can destroy it. But the effects are reversible, based on other conditions, the most significant of which being how the subject interprets the experience. There are many variables.

The skill with which one messes with a hive has a great deal to do with the effect the messing is going to have on the future. The master manipulator will do it so that the bees will never even notice anything happening. Indeed, they will proceed with their process as though nothing was happening at all. The quality, quantity, and kind of mentality of the manipulator have everything to do with this. Some beekeepers make bees nervous just by showing up in the proximity of a hive. Woe be unto those keepers and their bees if they light the smokers and crack the hive lids. Beekeeping should be licensed, and I should be the licensing entity. There would be very few beekeepers. Again I need to point out: This is not arrogance, it is humility. For I truly have your best interests and the best interests of the bees at heart.

Principle #4: Don’t fight it.

When I think of all the years I’ve spent fighting ants and all the techniques I’ve employed, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Right now I’ve got naked honey comb and open bowls of honey in my kitchen, and plenty of ants too, but they’re leaving the honey alone. How come? Because I don’t fight them. I feed them. There is a bowl of honey on the counter established for them, where they can come and get all they want. At first they were hitting it heavily, then they lost interest. Apparently, if they can’t have it, they want it. If they can have all they want, they don’t want it.

Principle #5: Beekeeping is not about honey.

Principle #6: It’s not about money.

Principle #7: It’s about survival.

Well, actually, it’s not about survival, since nobody survives. It’s about the quality of life while you’re alive. Do your best to make the bees’ life the best it can be and it will be the best it can be for you. Stop thinking “maximum production”. Substantially less than most is way better than nothing at all. Learn how to leave the bees alone. Benign neglect is the way. Provide them with appropriate cavities. Standard beehives, if they’re right, are acceptable habitations for bees, but don’t use foundation.

In addition to the size consideration, foundation is contaminated. Only the oldest, most used wax gets rendered into foundation. Old wax absorbs and retains contaminants such as pesticide. Go ahead, use frames. Frames do make it easier to perform manipulations. But actually, just the top bars are enough, at least for brood chambers. Further up the hive, you might want complete frames for the definition of the bottom bars, to maintain the space between the top of the frame below and the bottom of the frame above.

I have 15 hives as of this writing (December 2000), after years of having none at this time of year. How did I do It? I don’t know, and that’s the answer. As the years have progressed, I have tried more and more to keep them as close to wild as possible, to not mess with them. I do harvest some honey, pollen, and propolis, but I do it with a leave-alone attitude. I am hoping for their well being. Beyond that I am asking nothing from them, expecting nothing. If they are prospering I add supers. If they make extra honey, I take some. When my combs are crooked and stuck across several frames, I use bee escapes to clear the supers before removing.

simon-backwards-1I crush the combs and strain them through a system of perforated plastic buckets. I keep quite a few cut combs around to eat au naturel. The wilder, more funky combs may very well be the best.

I’ve been reluctant in recent years to invest money in equipment, because of the Varroa situation. Consequently, I’m using old equipment a normal beekeeper would have thrown out a long time ago – In fact quite a bit of it has been thrown out by normal beekeepers – and I’m liking it better and better the worse it gets.

I’m thinking about running hives without bottoms and up on stands this season, at least during the warm months, and considering designing a bottom board to catch and destroy mites.

Principle #8: Forget everything you ever learned and start observing what is really going on.

In regard to this last principle. One of the first injunctions I received starting out was to keep accurate records. But I realized that accurate records would be obfuscations at best. When you refer to a notebook describing the events of a hive to date, you will not see the hive as it actually is. The level of information that can be cataloged is not vital, has nothing to do with what’s going on with the hive in question, and prevents you from seeing what is.

Furthermore, I have observed that the harder you fight to keep your bees alive, the faster they die. Cut them loose, give them freedom, the freedom to die as well as the freedom to live, and they live better.

Principle #9: Leave your bees alone.

Principle #10: Leave me alone.

Sure, I’m crazy, and proud of it.

(edited: read full article at Beesource,com here: http://beesource.com/point-of-view/charles-martin-simon/principles-of-beekeeping-backwards/


Bee Culture Magazine, July, 2001


Simple Breakfast – Toast with Pears and Honey — Honey Hunter


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In a rush in the morning? Us too! This simple recipe can be made in less than 10 minutes and is a great way to start the day. Ingredients Bread – brown is best Pears – organic where available Honey – preferably raw, as there are so many benefits (local honey, even better) Walnuts Optional…

Read more here: Simple Breakfast – Toast with Pears and Honey — Honey Hunter

Happy Birthday Charles Martin Simon


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This week we will honor a Charles Martin Simon’s birthday with a series of articles written by him or about his beekeeping style. Today, on his birthday, we will start with his biography.

Charles Martin Simon was born on July 8, 1941, at 6 A.M., in Newark, N.J., the first major U.S. city to go bankrupt due to racial strife. He graduated from Montclair Academy, a private, pseudo-military high school famous for it’s state-of-the-art dress code and discipline, in 1959, and went on to Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where he majored in Agriculture and English Literature.

He was always a writer, having started his first novel in 1948, at the age of seven, and always a nature boy, therefore the split major. But after two years at Rutgers, he realized the agriculture he was being taught was not the agriculture he wanted to learn, and it was only going to get worse. He’d had enough of castrating sheep, calculating chemical fertilizer specifications, and murdering chickens. His English lit studies weren’t much more promising. The high point came when the editor-in-chief of the College Literary Magazine, who, although never having learned to write himself, went on to become the has-been of an illustrious career as the Clinton Administration’s Poet Laureate, recognized Simon’s writing and asked him to take over the magazine, which offer Simon graciously declined.

Simon dropped out and drifted for a few years and then went to California and became part of the organic farming movement, as a partner in a 21-acre piece. Believing strongly in non-mechanized farming, he worked the farm completely by hand from 1967 until 1977. And that was where his involvement with bees began in earnest in 1967.

The 21 acres cost $5,000 originally, but when the partners were offered $350,000.00, they just couldn’t resist. Simon voted against the sale, arguing that the ten years put into the land was worth more than any amount of money. He was outvoted, the land was not divisible, and he lost the farm.

But he did not lose the bees. He was able to keep them on various pieces of property and continue with bee culture, since it is not dependent on stable locations as are horses, chickens, goats, gardens, and orchards.

In 1990, he invented and began marketing world-wide the SuperUnfoundation bee frame. This was well-received and selling well when the price of wood doubled and then tripled. It suddenly cost more for the raw materials than he could get selling the finished frames, and he was out of business. Never one to accept things “as they are” and being much more interested in the health of the bees than in their produce, he is developing an apiculture system to allow the bees to actualize their true potential vitality and really solve the varroa and many other bee problems.

Simon had no hobbies, having followed Henry David Thoreau’s advice to make one’s vocation and avocation one. He operated a one-man bee and wasp removal service and cared for bees in several locations. He also helped people overcome disease and get healthy and stay healthy.

And he wrote, with twelve books in print. He self-published, executed every part of the book process himself: conceived, wrote, edit, designed, formatted, printed, cut, bound each volume by hand. His books are in stock in a few bookstores and available from all bookstores via the ISBN system, but he sold mostly direct to the public at CharlesMartinSimon.com.

Reference: http://beesource.com/point-of-view/charles-martin-simon/