Waiting for the Brain to Clear

Now that I’ve had a day for my brain to clear, I can offer a brief report of my responses to the 2010 Northeast Treatment-Free Beekeeping Conference: It was tiring. I mean…it was three and a half 13-hour days of programming. And that’s an awful lot of exhausting.

But it was also approximately 45 hours of bee school, and that makes for a much smarter beekeeper…as soon as all that information sort of settles in, that is. Right now, it’s free floating.

Okay. Maybe I’m still too tired to give you a good reflection. I’ll do it one day soon, though, yes? Because my emerging beekeeping philosophy continues to develop, and I know you’re on pins and needles wanting to hear about it. :)

Let me simply remind you of this for today: If you buy your honey from the grocery store, it probably comes to you from China, and the bees that made it were treated with some very serious chemicals inserted directly into their hive.

If you buy your honey from a local source such as a farmer’s market or from that nice old guy at the end of the lane, the bees that made it were almost certainly treated with the very same, very serious chemicals that were inserted directly into the Chinese hives. And even though the bottle says your honey is pure honey, it’s not. It’s full of chemicals that 99% of the beekeepers believe is necessary to use in order to keep their bees alive. And I’m serious about this shit. It’s appalling.

I tell you this because I am experiencing it first hand. I have been sold (and I am still in possession of) the assortment of chemicals of which I speak. They are in my garage near the trash can. They’ve been there for over a year. Every single solitary beekeeper I know—other than those with whom I gathered this week—use those chemicals without even thinking about it. When to treat the bees is taught in beginner’s bee schools. And then everyone wonders why the bees are dying.

It’s not the beekeepers’ fault. Most of them know no other way and have not considered alternatives. But there is another way. And it’s up to a small number of curious beekeepers who naturally gravitate to research and who are hell-bent on returning to natural beekeeping (which, I admit, it a problematic term as there is nothing “natural” about beekeeping) to change the thinking of an entire beekeeping culture.

Have I whet your appetite for more? I hope so.

Here’s what you can do to help, Reader:

  1. If you want to begin keeping bees, consider the very fun return to natural beekeeping. To do so, you can start by reading the wonderfully smart and surprisingly enjoyable Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. It’s not for idiots. It’s for smart people, and it’s written by smart people whom I now know. They’re even smarter in person. The book series simply has a dumbed-down title. It’s a wonderful beginning point for those wishing to keep bees without the use of chemicals.
  2. If you already keep bees but want to stop the insane chemical applications and stop losing your bees every single winter and have healthier, faster, smaller, calmer bees, begin by reading the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. And join the Organic Beekeepers Yahoo group. And read Michael Bush’s delightful website (you can find the link on this blogroll).
  3. If you don’t keep bees but you want to eat pure honey made by happier, healthier bees that have not ever been treated by UNBELIEVABLY STRONG CHEMICALS APPLIED DIRECTLY INTO THE HIVE AND INTO YOUR HONEY, then please begin asking your honey supplier to consider the above two points. Gently and gently and gently remind your supplier each time you purchase your nice jar of honey that there is another way. It’s scary and difficult to change the way we do things…we all know that. That’s why we’ve got to be gentle. But it’s also very fun to do what we all know is right. It’s exhilarating. And your local beekeepers want to do it…they simply need encouragement. And they need to see others doing it. Which is where I come in. :)

Here’s one thing I’m thinking. I’m considering the paint-free approach to hive boxes. It saves time and money, and I think it looks kind of cool, too. What do you think, Reader?

Meet Some Treatment-Free Beekeepers

Sometime during the day yesterday, I got bored. Maybe because 13 hours of anything just wears me out…I’ve been slipping away from the conference. I slip out of the room and outside to the sun. I take long walks in the woods. I slip into the car and drive to the hotel for a nap. I slip back into the room but feel as if I’ve not missed much.

I do like these people, but as you know, Reader, I get tired of all people…even those I like.

I like this person a lot. She’s smart and strong and riles people up—government people…scientists…that kind of people.

Dee Lusby, Arizona commercial, treatment-free beekeeper and rabbel rouser.
Dee Lusby, Arizona commercial, treatment-free beekeeper and rabbel rouser.

And Kirk Webster is one of the most gentle, thoughtful, and understatedly intelligent people I’ve met in a long long time. I sort of want to be like him.

Kirk Webster, Commercial beekeeper from Vermont's Champlain Valley
Kirk Webster, Commercial beekeeper from Vermont's Champlain Valley

Sam Comfort is “living the dream.” Words hardly describe him. Once I get to know him better, I’ll tell you more about him. You’ll like him.

Sam Comfort, barefoot beekeeper who marches to the beat of a different drummer
Sam Comfort, barefoot beekeeper who marches to the beat of a different drummer

This is a home-fashioned top-bar hive. I think I’ll make one over the winter. You can buy them commercially made, but they won’t look this cool.

One of Sam Comfort's home-built top-bar hives
One of Sam Comfort's home-built top-bar hives

Dean Stiglitz blows me away. I think he’s simply brilliant. I could listen to him teach all day long without slipping out for a break.

Dean Stiglitz, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping, commercial treatment-free beekeeper, and a most-natural teacher
Dean Stiglitz, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping, commercial treatment-free beekeeper, and a most-natural teacher

Beekeeping By the Gut

I’ve found my people. (I found my people after getting pretty crazily lost in Boston. I must have passed Fenway Park 3 or 4 times. I swear to you…I could smell the hot dogs before I spotted Fenway. No lie.)

Eventually I got back on track and made it to Leominster, Massachusetts in time for the first session of the 2010 Treatment-Free Beekeeping Conference. I alway anticipate feeling bored or disconnected at these kinds of get togethers, and I was completely prepared to feel that way here. But from the get go, I felt at ease and I’ve made friends with whom I’m already comfortable.

I’d say there are about 75-100 people here…which isn’t many by most conference standards, but it’s a healthy number when you consider that these folks are keeping their bees treatment free. Which—and I cannot impress this upon you enough, Reader—is RARE. The bees that make the honey that most of us eat and think of as “natural” have been treated with some pretty powerful and pretty nasty shit. And it’s coming back to haunt us. The people here are here to stop the madness.

One speaker last night off-handedly began talking about reading the bees…how one learns to watch the bees’ flight and listen to their music or their grumblings and to smell the different smells we smell from their hives and to feel their different vibrations. And he spoke so poetically that I got choked up.

Anyway, this morning I want to tell you that I’m not lonely and I’m not bored and I like these folk. They’re odd. And strong. And vocal. And smart. And nice. And friendly. And generally more gracious and open minded than I am. And I intend to shut up and listen and learn.

Off to Massachusetts to Learn a Few Things

This morning I’m off to the Northeast Treatment Free Beekeeping conference. (I wonder if those people in charge realize that “Treatment-Free Beekeeping” requires a hyphen because there isn’t one in their title. You can’t just throw a bunch of words together and have it make sense…unless you’re me).

I don’t know if I should pack my hat and veil and my bee-working clothes. I did pack them, but it sure would have saved some room if I’d left them out. Next year, if I go back, I’ll have a better feel for things. I’m not taking my pith helmet (which I love)…just a regular hat to keep the veil out of my face.

And apparently we move to the campfire for evening things. I’m not taking my camp chair. That would be overkill, I think…don’t you? I’ll just have to lug one out from the conference center. Or sit on a log. Which is very uncomfortable.

I’ll also take my old jean jacket. I can’t remember a trip when I haven’t taken that jacket. You see it in all the pictures.

So, I guess the next time we visit, I’ll be in Massachusetts (which is not easy to spell, but I hate the MA and Mass. abbreviations of it).