Failing Forward (and My Quoddy Ringboots)

My friend Sarah Brown interviewed me for her “Failing Forward” podcast which resulted in this mini episode about beekeeping…the “failing” parts aren’t explicit here, but believe me, failure undergirds it all.

Very listenable at 6ish-minutes long.

Also, in this image you can see my favorite Quoddy Ringboots (they don’t touch the floor because at 5’3″, I’m shorter than I sound). They are the most comfortable shoes you can imagine. Ever. In the world.

Failing Forward

The Most-Spoken Word in a Bee Yard

I'm Sorry, Honey Bee

There’s something wonderfully interesting about people who have heard the voice of intuition (or the voice of the universe or God…you know, the voice of something larger than we are) and who have then acted upon that calling by becoming beekeepers.

Beekeeping isn’t a hobby that we simply pick up. I’ve come to think of it as a calling…a calling that requires a commitment we might not initially have anticipated but a commitment that we don’t shy from, and I love that quality in people. But that’s not the point of this post.

Here’s my point: I visit many colonies with numerous beekeepers, and long ago I realized that the most often-spoken word in the bee yard is “Sorry.”  After all these years and all these bees, I still find myself saying “I’m sorry” all the time. I say it without speaking, and I say it aloud.  Everyone I work with says it. A lot. And we don’t wait to express ourselves…we say it right away as we make our many mistakes.

We screw up. We hurt others. We squish bees or unsettle them or drop things or fumble. We’re sorry for that. And expressing that apology for being imperfect, clumsy human beings is a high quality to me…it requires humility, and I will follow humble-yet-confident people to the ends of this earth. It is my favorite quality combination. Pompousness can go jump in a lake.

As beekeepers work to become more confident stewards of our colonies, we’ll make our mistakes. To hear “I’m sorry” mumbled as the bees teach us to become better beekeepers and better people, though, is a sweet experience.

It’s Fun to Be on WVXU

Liz Tilton, Melanie Evans, Carlier Smyth
Liz Tilton, Melanie Evans, Carlier Smyth in the studio at WVXU


Reader, on Monday, November 7th, two of my friends and I spoke about beekeeping on WVXU, Cincinnati’s NPR station. And I have to tell you that someone over at ‘VXU is really good at editing. :) I know a thing or two about editing, and it’s not easy to do smoothly, but someone over there is first rate at it. Because there was one instance when I stumbled around a bit and went on a bit too long, and it’s not in the tape. THANK YOU, editor.

(That’s me on the left in the blue shirt and the round glasses; Melanie Evans of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Pollen Nation is in the center; and Carlier Smyth of Queen City Bee Co is closest. I love those big headphones and fuzzy mics.)




Here’s the way it goes:

Here’s the way it goes, Reader: I taught my friend; she taught her son. She just sent me this image saying, “My son is teaching his friend.”


My friend's son teaching his friend

In which I surprise myself by using the word “luster” on the radio

Reader, yesterday I spent some time with two other very wonderful beekeepers. On a cold, snowy day in February, we dreamed of spring. We all sat in the fine studios of WVXU (Cincinnati’s NPR station) wearing our very cool headphones and talking into big fuzzy microphones. For about 25 minutes, we talked about the joys of beekeeping. It wasn’t nearly enough time.

Perhaps I talked a bit too much. Perhaps I sounded overly enthusiastic. Perhaps I should tone it down sometimes. But if you’ve been wondering all this time what Ray Babcock (President of Southwestern Ohio Beekeepers Association, known affectionately as SWOBA by the locals), Sandra Murphy (educator at Gorman Heritage Farms) and I sound like, here you go (once you arrive at this WVXU location, click “Listen”):

I like both Ray and Sandra a lot.

And here’s the picture the nice people at WVXU took of us. They took three images. The minute they took the last one—the one that caught me sort switching between smiles—I knew that’s the one they’d use. Sure enough.

Sandra Murphy, Ray Babcock, Liz Tilton



2014 New Year’s Resolution: Keep a hive of bees!


Happy New Year, Reader, and what a perfect time for our thoughts to turn to the bees. :)

These past weeks, I’ve received a surprising number of emails and phone calls from those lucky people who received beehives for Christmas. And I must say, what a terrific gift idea! And for this very reason, next Christmas I plan to offer TwoHoneys gift certificates.

So, here are my January and February suggestions for those of you looking forward to your first season with bees:

  1. READ!
  2. Beekeepers are a smart bunch, and they read, read, read.
  3. Devour everything on Michael Bush’s website. Devour every word and image.
  4. Alternatively, buy Michael Bush’s book…same information…the website is free, but the book is more organized.
  5. Read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. WHICH IS NOT FOR IDIOTS! This book is written for smart people by two very smart people.
  6. Join the beekeeping forums through which beekeepers from around the world become friends and share knowledge: Beemaster and Bee Source. For some reason I can’t explain, I lean toward the crowd over at
  7. Learn the difference between Langstroth hives and top-bar hives.
  8. Don’t discount the idea of running top-bar hives. I love them. Keep an open mind about it. I implore you.
  9. I run about half Langstroth hives and half top-bar hives, though I strongly strongly strongly prefer top-bar hives for backyard beekeepers or urban beekeepers or older beekeepers or young beekeepers or physically-challenged beekeepers or female beekeepers or short beekeepers.
  10. To learn more about top-bar hive beekeeping, please read Les Crowder’s Top Bar Beekeeping
  11. If you’ve determined that you’ll run Langstroth hives, Reader, I STRONGLY encourage you to run 8-frame, medium-depth equipment. This is a rather new practice, so if you’re not keeping up with the reading, you’ll probably follow the old path. And it will take you years to work your bees out of the old-thought system and into the newer one.
  12. I also STRONGLY encourage you to let your bees build their own beeswax foundation. In other words, don’t purchase any type of foundation for your frames. Your bees will respond exuberantly. And exuberance cannot be overrated.
  13. Once you’ve finished your first reading list, feel free to contact me. We can decide where to keep your hives and how to get your bees.
  14. In Ohio (which is where I live), we order our bees in February.
  15. The bees arrive mid April, which is when we need to have our equipment in place and our tools in order.

There. That should get us all started into the new year, yes?

The White-Glove Kind of Garden-Club Women

Yesterday I learned that not all the women in the garden club are actually gardeners. And I learned that perhaps not everyone in the world will love Eli’s BBQ and the wildish community gardens behind it.

You see, I’ve lately been invited to give a few talks about bees. It’s inevitable that this should happen. And, as you know, Reader, I am trying my darndest to answer “yes” to the universe—which means that I’ve now accepted the invitations to speak.

To scout a suitable venue for an upcoming garden-club talk, I invited some of my garden-club friends to join me at Eli’s and then to see the bees at the community gardens. We were sort of testing it out for a larger crowd. And I had a very nice afternoon sharing a meal and some sunshine and a walk around the block with a few wonderful people with whom I’ve not previously shared much time.

But then I learned that some of the women in the club may not thoroughly enjoy the combination of Eli’s and the community gardens…which are sort of rough. You know, Eastern Avenue (now renamed Riverside Drive…as if that’s gonna stick. Not.) is a tad rough around the edges. Apparently some of these garden club memebers like to stay clean and above. You know what I mean when I say “above,” don’t you, Reader? Let’s just say that this is not a neighborhood with which they are familiar.

This blew my socks off. Seriously. I simply assumed the women with whom I’d be lunching and speaking and to whom I would be showing the bees would be adventurous and embracing. I thought they were the dig-in-the-garden type of garden-club women. Apparently they really really need to meet me. :)

I'm not sure the garden-club women will love my truck
My kind of garden-club women!

Resources for New Beekeepers

Doug will arrive any minute now to pick up a swarm I captured hanging from a loading dock two days ago. I brought the swarm home in a cardboard box (my preferred method these days) and immediately hived the swarm in two medium-depth supers and on foundationless frames. Doug will want a crash course in top-entrances, bottom-board feeders, foundationless frames, medium-depth supers, and all the other quirky things I’ve incorporated into my apiary.

Matt and Doug meet Doug's Bees

Here’s the reason for this post: A number of wonderful people want to keep bees, and they want to start right this minute. And I’m more than happy to accommodate. However, I don’t have the time right now to teach all these nice people how to keep bees. It’s a process that takes many years to learn (though everyone has to begin…so it’s fine that folks want to start right off…I did too. But then I had to begin reading my crazy brains out to figure out what to do with all those bees in the box. And I encourage all beekeepers to likewise read their brains out).

I’ve compiled the following list of resources that I found invaluable as I began keeping bees. So, Doug, welcome to the first of your many many future hives. Now, start learning from the world-wide community of awesome beekeepers:

  1. Linda’s Bees. I’ll bet I’ve read every entry of this blog.
  2. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping: Written by smart people who keep their bees treatment free. Change the world.
  3. Any word ever written by my bee hero, Michael Bush: The Practical Beekeeper (both the website and Michael’s new book contain the same information…the book is simply more organized.
  4. Michael Bush and my other bee heros (such as JP and kathyp and iddee and schawee and others) post frequently at my favorite beekeeping forum: Go there, sign up, and read until you can’t ready any more. I read the posts in General Beekeeping, Bee Removal, and Top-Bar Hives almost every morning. Watch JP’s bee removal videos. It all contributes to making me a better and more knowledgeable beekeeper.
  5. There’s a group of wildly radical natural beekeepers over at the Organic beekeepers yahoo group. I highly recommend subscribing to the group and reading the threads. Yes, they’re radical vigilantes, but they’re also right about it.
  6. Read everything about Dee Lusby, the leader of the Yahoo group and a misbehaving woman. I’ve spent time with her, and I find her sweet and shy. She’s simply right and ruthless about eliminating chemicals in our food and on our plants and in our beehives, and she keeps on talking. Which I find heroic. Google her.
  7. Learn all you can learn about running all medium-depth supers (this is Michael Bush’s big idea, so read him).
  8. Learn all you can about running foundationless frames.
  9. Learn all you can about Langstroth hives with top-entrances (Michael Bush again).
  10. Read all you can about Michael Bush’s idea for using the bottom board for a feeder (Yep…Michael Bush).

Below is a list of beekeeping suppliers I use and like. You can find equipment and order online, but upon request, each of these companies will also send a paper catalog, and I find I learn a lot by thumbing through those. I like the pictures. But, let me say this when it comes to beekeeping equipment: Less is best. I ordered a lot of little things I thought I’d need and will never ever use. I’ve since simplified (and I usually keep on hand the few pieces of equipment I use in my own apiary. So, if you need something immediately, I’ve probably got it, and I’m happy to sell it to you):

  1. Walter T. Kelley
  2. Brushy Mountain
  3. Dadant
  4. Mann Lake
  5. Rossman Apiaries