In this episode, we invite Cliff Struhl on the show to talk about his company, Bee Smart Designs. Cliff actually got his start in manufacturing beekeeping equipment because his wife didn’t want cinder blocks and 2x4’s as hive stands in her very...
In this episode, we invite Cliff Struhl on the show to talk about his company, Bee Smart Designs. Cliff actually got his start in manufacturing beekeeping equipment because his wife didn’t want cinder blocks and 2x4’s as hive stands in her very well-designed gardens around their home. Cliff, whose business is manufacturing plastic, blow molded sidewalk sign holders, figured out a way to make an appealing hive stand using the existing technology of making his sign stands. And he was off!
After his hive stand, Cliff designed a feeder that now solves many problems of the typical Boardman and Miller feeders. It’s very close to the bees, they can’t get up into it, it has no drip and is easy to fill.
Going to the bottom board was next, with a stainless screen that won’t rust, and built-in mouse guard, robbing screen and entrance reducers that makes it an all-in-one bottom.
His insulated inner cover has a foam layer on top for warmth, has an opening for a top entrance if needed, or closed so no ventilation for warmth. Moisture is condensed on walls for the bees, but the top stays warm….much like a tree.
Coming soon is a magnetic hive tool holder belt, to keep you from losing your tool somewhere in a bee yard. And for everybody, Pry Point, to make separating sticky boxes much easier.
All of these are available from nearly every bee supply dealer (including our sponsor – BetterBee) and you can locate one near you by going to BeeSmart Designs web page.
Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:
This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will help ensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode!
We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer service, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com
Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website: https://www.strongmicrobials.com
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Podcast music: Young Presidents, "Be Strong"; Musicalman, "Epilogue". Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott
Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC
Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today podcast it's your source for beekeeping news, information and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.
Kim Flottum: I'm Kim Flottum.
Introduction: Hey Jeff and Kim? Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family operated business that manufacturers protein supplement patties for honeybees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Now is a great time to consider what type of Patty is right for your area and your honeybees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta, and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at www.global patties.com.
Jeff: Hey thanks Sherry, and thank you Global Patties. You know each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsors support and we'd much rather to get right to talking about beekeeping. However, our sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen, from the hosting fees, software, hardware, microphones, and recorders, everything they enable each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture has been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873.
Subscribe to Bee Culture today. We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms that sponsors this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is transitioning to a newsletter format, but they are retaining their podcast. Hear more on our season two episode 9 with editor Kiersten Trainer and from visiting the www.2millionblossoms.com website, and that is with the number two. Hey everybody? Thanks for joining us. We're truly happy you're here, Kim, you're surviving this pre-thanksgiving season?
Kim: Yes just for a half second, Jeff. Let me go back to Kirsten's newsletter. She's going from the magazine that she's producing to a newsletter that's strictly focused on a particular subject, so rather than being an all purpose pollinator, it's going to be a very focused, a topic magazine I'm looking forward to it because if there's anybody I know that's focused on pollination it's Kiersten.
Jeff: Yes and along those lines that just to add to that, is Kiersten and I are working on her next podcast for explaining her decision behind the magazine change and the future. That should be out about the same time this episode is out, so listen and watch for that at the 2 Million Blossoms, the podcast website.
Kim: Good. I look forward to that.
Jeff: Kim, I know it's the end of November and people are checking on their bees in the feed and the condition of the bees. Is it too late to treat for Varroa?
Kim: Tricky question Jeff. Depends on where you are, how far north and south, depends on the size of your colony and it depends on the number of mites you've got. All of those things are going to play into that decision and then mother luck is going to come into it also. It's late in the season and depending on your treatment method, if you're oxidizing, if you're using a strip, what I got to tell you is it depends on where you are, and rather than me trying to tell somebody in south Georgia what they should be doing, or somebody up in Vermont what they should be doing, what I would suggest going is the Honeybee Health Coalition, because they've got both of those answers.
Jeff: Good advice. Speaking of advice Kim, we have a question from a listener here. His name is Mike-B and actually he's written a couple of emails. The first one he talked about, he has a- several episodes ago, we asked about the bee blowers and he mentions in the first email that he has a DeWalt Bee-blower battery pack and he's been very happy with it so, in our pursuit or in our search for a handheld Bee-blower that's a battery pack, he suggests the DeWalt and his follow up question that we received last week or last couple of weeks, he says love the show. I think that's good. Always start out with that. Love the show. Thinking about switching to an eight frame boxes like Kim does due to the weight of the bigger boxes. Are there any management practices that change with the smaller eight frame box? Thanks Mike for the question, Kim.
Kim: I guess it depends on how you consider the word change, because you're doing the same things for the same reasons, but you're doing them differently and what I want to look at is, an eight frame box is going to be eight frames instead of 10 so you're going to have six frames with bees and brood in the outside being sparsely populated, so if you're looking at the power population of your hive with two mediums, you're going to be looking at 12 medium frames instead of more frames if you're using mediums instead of deeps, that gets even that those numbers could even further apart. I use 6-frame medium I've been using them for years. I use typically three frames for a brood box, three medium boxes with medium frames for a brood box and then honey above that. I found that three mediums do well for me where I am in here in Ohio and honey above that.
Look at the amount of frame space that you have in mediums versus deep and eight frame versus a 10 frame and make your adjustments based on that and I think that will solve your problems.
Jeff: Because yes you use mediums, I use eight frame deeps, and I've really not changed anything in terms of management practices for the eight frame deeps.
Kim: You're still going to have six frames mostly in the middle with two outside frames less populated with brood and bees. You are on the west coast you're a little bit warmer than I am most of the time, and when I'm in winter here, those outside frames are empty or pretty much empty. You got to look at where you are, your location is and what amount of the space that you give the bees that they can actually use. What did you have when you returned that work, you're going to have to adjust the amount of frames that you have with eight and see what that works.
Jeff: Yes. Thanks a lot for your question, Mike. Okay, Kim we have coming up Cliff Struhl from BeeSmart Designs. I'm looking forward to talking to Cliff.
Kim: He's changed the way we look at beekeeping equipment, that's for sure and and he's made some really good observations on what bees need and what beekeepers need, and put the two together and come up with some stuff that makes it a little easier to be out in the bee yard.
Jeff: Yes. Let's get right into our talk with Cliff of BeeSmart Designs, but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.
Sponsor: Hello beekeepers, your honeybees face a lot of challenges out there. Unbalanced food sources from monoculture crops, holding yards, drought, food shortages, antibiotics, pesticides, and pathogens like Chalkbrood. To overcome these challenges, your bees need the multiple bacteria that are in all nectar's, pollens and the environment. These bacteria aid honeybees digestion, and improve your honeybees response and resilience to pesticides. Now you can help improve your honey colony health with a quick, easy, and safe to use product. Strong Microbials super DFM Honeybee uses naturally occurring bacteria to restore the healthy gut biome of your honeybees. Check them out today at www.strongmicrobials.com.
Jeff: Hey everybody, welcome back sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now is Cliff Struhl from Bee Smart Designs. Welcome to the show, Cliff.
Cliff Struhl: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.
Kim: Hey Cliff, it's been a while since I've seen you, we haven't been in a meeting together in what, a couple of years?
Cliff: COVID. Yes and I'm trying to stay away, but I'll be back at EAS in next year.
Kim: I just saw the announcement for that. They're going to run the first week in August next year.
Cliff: I plan on being there.
Kim: Maybe we'll be able to hook up again.
Cliff: Yes. Looking forward to it.
Jeff: Cliff and I were talking before we started recording, we're both avid cyclist, so hopefully we'll keep our discussion on BeeSmart Designs and not so much on cycling.
Cliff: If you show up at EAS, I'll bring my bike with me.
Jeff: Hey, if I come to EAS, I will bring my bike. Hey, welcome again. Welcome to the show we do have a history and we've had quite a few innovators on the show talking about how they got started with bees and why they are on the path they are with what they're doing and you're one of the innovators in the industry. Again welcome to the show. Tell us a little bit about how you got started Cliff and your background in bees and we'll go from there.
Cliff: I actually got started very serendipitously. I had no interest in bees, no knowledge of bees. I did have a background in mosquito, some graduates from undergraduate school, a friend thought he had bees asked me if I warranted them because he just moved to a new house. I said, "I don't know. Let me let you know." I looked up a local beekeeper, met them with my daughter, decided, "Hey, this is pretty cool. I'm going to do bees." Called my friend said, "I want to do the bees. I'll take them." He said, "Bad news." [laughs] The exterminator was here, who is a master beekeeper and said, "Not honey bees." I was at ground zero, I called up the guy I met, I said, "Ernie, I want to do bees." He said, "Sure. Come on out. I'll get you set up, I'll even sell you your first bees." That's how I got started with two hives and bees from a local beekeeper who raised his own bees.
Jeff: With your daughter's help?
Cliff: That was short lived.
Jeff: Oh, [laugh] well.
Cliff: One sting in the nose watching the bees a little too closely while she was drawing them, she's an artist, was enough to get her out of bees.
Jeff: [laugh] Well, it was fun while it lasted. I'm sure.
Kim: Well, Cliff, once you got going then something must have clicked that said, "This needs to be fixed. This needs to be better." What was that one thing?
Cliff: It was actually a little different than that. My ex-wife was a Cornell master gardener. I have a lot of big perennial beds throughout my house beautiful gardens and she said, "There's no way you're putting cinder blocks and two by fours that bee stand." It's not exactly slightly looking in a master beekeeper's garden.
Kim: Well, I can believe that. Okay. That probably then led to the hive stand?
Cliff: That led to the hive stand and initially I called up the person who molds my products, my main business, which is signs and said, "I need something" and he made a stand for me and within a year I said, "I can take one of my sign product, which is my main business and convert that into a bee stand. I made a mock up of wood, put it out in the yard and it looked great. Six months later I told my wife, "I wanted to get into the bee business." She said, "Don't." Six months after that, she goes, "Do whatever you want, I'm tired of listening about this." The hive stand was born and it was first shown and when I first met you was EAS in Rhode Island about 10 years ago.
Kim: Oh, has it been that long? Holy cow. Well, I still have two of them that I use and-- That was the hive stand but that must have-- Something must have happened that woke you up to something because what came next?
Cliff: Well, that woke me up and then someone we both know in common, Carl Flatow, told me, "You should make a cover because the covers stink." Six months later, I had a concept for a cover. I didn't like having the metal covers that got really hot. I didn't like that they were heavy, I didn't like they had sharp corners, I didn't like that they were a pain to paint and I decided to come up with a different type of cover.. I played around with a bunch of different designs and decided every book tells you, put Popsicle sticks under your cover during the summer for ventilation. When I designed my cover, I built it so it would work with some passive ventilation. It would be smooth, it would be double wall because we blow mold it, which is a type of molding process and it gave us a way to keep the high top cool and prevent heat gain in the hive.
Kim: Cliff. You said that your main business is making signs and I envision signs being large sheets of flat plastic. How did you get from that to your hive stand, you cover, all of the rest of the pieces that you're doing?
Cliff: Because my sign products are not flat plastic, they're all molded products. Our main business is portable sidewalk signs that are generally rotational molded or blow molded so they're very large three dimensional hollow parts. My specialty is designing plastic parts, primarily hollows and doing injection molding, which is the more rigid parts.
Kim: I'm thinking of the hive stand here. This has got a leg on each side and a foot on the bottom and then some support going across the sign hangers' hand, something like that?
Cliff: The stand is actually a single-- It's two legs that are molded with foot pads built in and then a cross tube that goes across and the cross tube can be cut to any length to accommodate nooks, 8 frame, 10 frame, even the slightly wider Canadian hives or anything you want in between because we just adjust the length and then it gets screwed in.
Kim: Cliff. I guess I was thinking of the sidewalk signs that you were making. I can see the direct connection between one of those and going to some of the other things that you made. Actually, now that you've explained it. It's a very easy step to take. I can see how that worked well with you.
Cliff: Well, the cross tube system is what we used in our biggest selling sidewalk sign. We already had the technology, we already had the patents. It was a product that was just a natural. It was just about making a mold that was shaped for a hive stand to accommodate it and at that time I was worried about water on the wooden bottom board. We actually added some little risers and a drain system so your bottom board would stay dry and wouldn't rot out.
Kim: Having a knowledge of several media there, wood and metal and plastic, you were able to get the best out of all of them and put something together. Definitely pretty clever. What came here? Okay, so you had the hive stand and the cover and then what and why?
Cliff: Well, the cover came in and then after that, the next product was a feeder because I despised all the Miller style feeders I ever tried. I think I tried every one of them and I always had dead bees and in the fall the bees never wanted to go up into the feeder when it was cold to feed and so I came up with our first original feeder which was a two piece feeder that had a base and then a tank with a valve on it that would let the syrup go into the feeder. That was very popular. We did have some issues with it at the very beginning, unfortunately as good a designer as I think I am and my engineer who worked on it, you can't argue with the success of 50,000 bees, 24/7, nothing better to do than find syrup. They found every fault with that feeder within the first 30 days. [laugh] I call that a math problem.
Kim: What were the problems that you had initially?
Cliff: The bees were getting into the tank when the tank was drained, that we thought we had to protect it to keep the bees out. They always found a way in and it took us about three iterations to resolve all of that and now that feeder is basically foolproof at this point.
Kim: Yes, I don't have one at the time, I don't have one at present, I had one before and I've given it to a friend who uses it much more than I did. I haven't seen it for a while but that sounds like, again, I'll go back to being able to work with the material you're working with and knowing enough about bees to adapt your material to work with them.
Cliff: Well, I wanted to do a feeder that got the syrup very close to the bees so they didn't have to travel very far and that feeder has actually just recently been superseded by a new version that actually has a feeding nipple that sits right over the hole in the inner cover so the bees have access to the syrup 24/7 while staying in the hive box itself. They don't have to leave the box to go to a cold area.
Kim: Just getting easier and better, no doubt about it. I'm guessing that you can fill it by just taking the cover off?
Cliff: It's a spin cap. You just turn it upside down, spin the cap off, put a gallon of syrup in it up to two to one, no problem, tighten the cap, has a giant casket on it which is a new improvement and then turn it over, put it when you need it. It will drip just a little bit to create the vacuum and then it's good to go.
Kim: Yes. They'll clean that little bit of drip off right away I would guess. I think every feeder drips a little bit right at first.
Cliff: Right. Now we have a new tank that's being released in January that is designed on a pressure vessel design that hopefully will drip almost nothing there's no way the tank can compress or move. We've had a Yale engineer actually test it on the computer for stress and strain and we got great results.
Kim: Now it sounds like it's getting better. I may have to look at one of those. After the feeder then, I know you've got a whole range of products but after the feeder--
Cliff: After the feeder, the next thing was the bottom board, I've always been unimpressed with bottom boards that are out there for two reasons. Biggest ones are they rock and they're a pain in the neck to paint. If you have a traditional screen bottom board which is what I tend to use and I think a lot of hobbyists do, a lot of them are made with galvanized metal that will rot out and fall apart so we did ours with stainless steel. We're using a stainless mesh, we're using an engineering-grade plastic that is super, super durable and rigid, we've designed this to be structural, we included in the design, entrance reducer and mouse guard components that flipped, so you can go from entrance reducer to mouse guard.
You don't need try to pry those little pieces of wood in there and it's divided into threes, so you can actually have it. One opening that's full opening or mouse guard opening that's restricted, two sides closed, we give you a lot of options.
Jeff: Well, that's really fun that you talk about bottom boards because just this earlier this fall, Kim and Jim too did it and their Honeybee Obscura, a whole episode on bottom boards.
Cliff: Yes. I had to listen to that podcast and I was going, oh man, that they're ragging on three bottom boards, but most people like them. One nice thing with ours and all of our products now is they're 8 frame, 10 frame compatible, so from our dealer's point of view, it's one stock keeping unit, from the customer or the beekeeper, they can go from 10 to eight or eight to 10 and use the same equipment and not have to buy anything new.
Jeff: Hey Cliff, speaking of dealers, let's have a quick word right now from our friends at Better Bee, I know they carry your product.
Advert: [music] Better Bee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Beekeeping Today podcast. For over 40 years, Better Bee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed because many Better Bee employees or beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions.
From their colorful catalog to their supportive beekeeper educational activities including this podcast, Better Bee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at betterbee.com.
Jeff: It was really great to have Better Bee, they're sponsoring us and you were telling me during the break, you work well with Better Bee.
Cliff: We do very well with them, they actually help us with some of our designs when we start, I get feedback from the people at Better Bee, they've been very helpful, great people.
Jeff: Yes. Beekeepers serving beekeepers. Fantastic. The bottom board is really the base of a lot of problems and a lot of neglect as Kim and Jim alluded to, how's been the reception of the bottom board been?
Cliff: The bottom board reception's been very good, some people just don't understand making things out of plastic, which unfortunately for beekeepers, it's interesting because I keep hearing from people it's plastic, I don't believe in plastic and I get that, we use recycled materials wherever possible. Our products are recyclable, I've actually checked with someone who does sustainability and it's questionable which is worse.
Plastic of wood. There's a lot of heavy carbon footprint on anything that's made out of wood when you look at the harvesting, the transportation, the milling, the waste. At one point it becomes, I'm not quite sure if it's a toss up or not, then throw in the paint and the chemicals you need for the wood, and with shorter life. You can do the math however you want.
Jeff: Well, I think it would be very valuable to consider if you have the plastic pieces as a beekeeper to take the responsibility of putting it in the proper recycling system, and give it the opportunity to be chipped or however they recycle plastic but as opposed to just throwing it into a burn pile or a hole in the ground, so yes, that's very good.
Kim: Yes. I'm one of those people that had somewhat of an issue with evolving into plastic beekeeping equipment, a lot of people my age, I grew up with wood and that's the way we've always done it. Sometimes it's hard to change but your equipment that I've used has convinced me that I need to be a little more receptive because the stuff that you have works well to do what it's supposed to do. All of the other things that you just mentioned in terms of being lasting a long time, but the carbon footprint thing, that's actually the headline every day in the newspaper, isn't it?
Jeff: Yes, it is. Great, so we have the stand, the cover, the feeder, the bottom board, what's the next?
Cliff: Yes. The next one is probably our bestselling product and it's our robbing screen. It's a quintessential, a piece of equipment. Most people don't understand its primary benefit, believe it or not. They think it's strictly for robbing and in my book from everything I've read, especially in the fall, it's a great way to mitigate my transmission.
Jeff: Well, how's that?
Cliff: If you have a weak hive, and it gets robbed out, it's going to bring the mites from that high into your high. If a robbing screen is on it, the weak hive will just die, it won't get robbed out. You as the beekeeper can then manage your dead out, but you're not transferring those mites or that controversial expression, you're not creating a mite bomb and therefore, your bees stay healthier, so you keep the sick bees out of your hive and you keep the healthy bees out of the sick hive and either way you prevent transmission of mites and in the fall, that's critical because you need your winter bees to get through the winter and you don't want to have to be treating late into the season.
The other feature on our thing is, most robbing screens require screws or fasteners, ours go in with four push pins. They give you two door options, the ventilation is near the bottom, not near the doors and it's about half the price of any other robbing screen on the market.
Kim: Cliff, I'm going to guess, you've got a group of people that you routinely use to test your things about how big, about how many people you got when you come up with a first design of something? How many you're sending out there?
Cliff: Basically, we have about a group of three to six people that I bounce ideas off of. Once I've gotten a design done, I do 3D prints, I send photos and videos of them working. Sometimes local people I'll bring it to them and show it to them for feedback, like the robbing screen's a simple concept, it was just a matter of the engineering of it and over to the number of years we've had it, we've added more features to it.
It has ears that break off to go to eight frame. We also added a feature so you can use these same pushpins to put in and then it raises it up. It becomes a mouse guard, so really now it's a moving screen, a robbing screen and a mouse guard. You can use it in the spring, you can use it in the winter and you can use it in the fall.
Kim: Pretty versatile piece of equipment, I guess and because of the cost, if you leave one in the bee yard, you're not losing your shirt because of it. I've never left anything in a bee yard of course.
Cliff: We've actually solved that problem, Kim.
Jeff: No, wait, no, this is good. This has got to be good, so how did you solve this problem?
Cliff: Well, our latest product is our insulated inner cover and I'll get you the details of that in a minute but when we were doing the prototypes, one of the women in the shop came in and looked at it and said, "How come you're not putting things dense in the foam to store all the BeeSmart products?" We have an arc 10 piece of foam in our insulated inner cover, and now we have recesses that hold the robbing screen in it, as well as the pushpins get stored in it and it has a cap for the ventilation hole, it gets stored in it. Everything gets stored in it. Everything stays with the hive all the time.
Kim: I think he solved it, Jeff?
Jeff: Yes. It's perfect for the forgetful beekeeper.
Kim: Well, that would be at least me here. I'm not sure about you.
Cliff: Well, there's two problems with beekeeping. You leave stuff in the bee yard, you have to drag stuff back and forth, and the ultimate problem is everybody misplaces their hive tool.
Kim: You haven't solved that yet?
Cliff: We did solve it. It's coming out in December.
Jeff: Well, no, let's finish up the discussion on the inner cover.
Cliff: Okay. Most inner covers are pretty useless during the winter. There is a huge amount of controversy over how you overwinter. Kim has probably seen every article that's written, spoken to everybody that tells you their way is the right way. There's probably no real white right way. Tom Ceally says, mimic the tree, insulate, shut it, no ventilation.
Other people said, you need some ventilation but you still want some installation or it's going to rain water on the bees if you don't do things. If you don't ventilate, I'm a believer now, after reading the science, you want to maintain humidity in the hive, you need to maintain the heat in the hive, ventilation probably is not your best bet from the top. You get a draft, you dry out the bees, bees need water to live.
There's a whole bunch of science there, but for people that think you need an upper entrance, we provide one. If you think you need it at the very top, we offer that. If you think you need one lower we provide an entrance disk that you can put in your box below, so you can maintain a certain amount of heat bubble at the very top of the hive. We provided a lot of different features. If you want, you can use a shim, you can add a mountain camp feeder with the sugar. You can put fondant, you can put a pollen Patty in there. If you are a believer in a quilt box, not one here, you can put it below the insulated inner cover, which will give additional insulation and you get your moisture absorption. I'm a big believer in minimal installation on the side and major installation on the roof. Just like in your house because heat rises. Water will condense on a cold surface outside of the box, away from the bees.
Kim: Well, you're looking more and more like a tree, Cliff.
Cliff: I'm trying, plus with a medium box, it's designed to hold our feeder above it so if you believe in my controversial thing, I'm a believer in feeding all winter where I leave a feeder on with two to one syrup and some salt. I leave it on top all winter long and we've done this with about 50 test hives over the last two or three years. We're finding is when it gets normal winter weather, the bees will eat the honey, when it gets really, really cold and the cluster can't move left and right, it will move up the heat column and take the syrup as emergency. Think of it. You're going to go to your refrigerator. You're going to get food. If you get to a real pinch, you go to McDonald's.
Kim: Oh, that makes perfect sense, and I can see from the bees perspective once they find it, that it it would be an easy thing to do. You said you've had this several overwinters, do they always find the feeder in the winter?
Cliff: They seem to find the feeder, which seems to be happening from all the hives we've been doing it with is when it's super cold and our cluster can't move left to right, it moves up. It takes the syrup. When it warms up, the cluster goes, move back to eating honey, because we can tell that the syrup only seems to go down on those really, really cold spells, and then it just stays there until it gets cold again. I think the bees are pretty smart, they're eating using honey when they can, because it's nutritious and they're going for whatever's left after.
Jeff: I like the flexibility of the design, because our winters in the Pacific Northwest on the Pacific side of the mountains is a lot different than the Midwest winters and east coast winters and humidity is a big issue here, our standard temperatures may be in the forties, but you have all that metabolization of- a condensation inside. The quilt boxes or sugar, candy board or something else is needed to absorb all that moisture. Having a way to- but it sounds like the design of your inner cover and the top together really would help to mitigate that moisture buildup.
Cliff: Well, I think where you're going to get is the heat's going to go up. It's going to be warm at the top. The box on the walls will be the colder surface, and that's where you're going to get the moisture accumulating. So it doesn't appear to be a problem to have the water dripping down the sides of the colony of the box because it's going to fall onto the bottom board and drain out, especially if you have a screen bottom board. The water is not an issue and then there was just a recent article. I believe it was recent that said, "Mites don't do well in high humidity environments," so in essence, it's also helping by keeping the moisture in. You don't really want to dry it out because it's going to be hard to keep the eggs and the larva moist, sentient beings need moisture to metabolize food. The bees need water, if you dry it all out, you're putting them in a desert.
Kim: This is backing much like a tree then because that's what the water in the tree does because there's no escape at the top. Any condensation will be on the walls and run down or just stay there and then bees can use it. Either way, it's not in their way and it's serving a purpose and it's not doing any harm.
Cliff: Right but what we also did is on the foam on the bottom, we have a channel that allows the bees to go up the center hole through a doorway, out the channel and out an outer doorway so they can go out if you want an upper entrance, we do provide that facility. If you don't want that but you want ventilation, the center hole that fits really where the hole is in a traditional inner cover, we provide a plug or you can remove the plug. If you use our cover, then that has the passive ventilation so you can get moisture and heat out. BeeSmart started as a stand, it's grown into what I now refer to as a system. It's everything but the boxes and the frames.
Jeff: What's coming out in December, you've got my curiosity up.
Cliff: Well everybody loses a hive tool. There have been some products that have hive tools that go into little pouches on your belt. We're doing one that uses magnets to hold the hive tool, but the hive tool, unlike any other one is offset from the magnets on the belt. The sharp edge is facing in against your body, not facing out like the ones that use a flat magnet where you put your hand down and your wrist would be near the sharp edge of the hive tool. I'm very sensitive to that because I just had major wrist surgery and I really don't want my wrist anywhere near a sharp edge of a hive tool, but I don't want to lose my hive tool. I want to be able to get quick access to it so our device allows you to put your hands under the hive tool to pull it out from the magnets with the sharp round bent end facing in. We supply it with a belt. We'll go up to I think, 48 inch waist so it will handle beekeepers
Kim: From my perspective that sounds really good. If I can only remember to put it there when I leave, it's not sitting on top of the hive next door.
Cliff: You will learn very quickly as I have that after a couple of days, you just automatically use it, put it on your hip, use it, put it on your hip because it's sitting above your jacket. You can put it above or below. I've discovered that I keep it above my jacket towards the front of my hip. It's just right there for me to take on and off.
Jeff: It'll accept all types of hive tools, the J-hook the multi-functional, the multi-use?
Cliff: Any of those including the stainless steel ones, because the stainless that they use actually sticks to a magnet because it has some material in it that will stick so it works for almost every hive tool we've tested it with.
Jeff: Well, that sounds exciting. Just in time for Christmas too.
Cliff: Hopefully, I think it's going to be like a really good stocking stuffer. I'm thinking for BeeSmart, it's going to be like a breakaway product because it's universal to everybody. Right now most BeeSmart products are designed for the hobbyist or the newbie, or even a Sidewinder but this magnetic tool holder will even appeal to commercial people that have people in the field because I'm sure they lose a lot of hive tools and I don't care what color you paint your hive tool, you still have to hunt it down.
Kim: Yes, I've got a lot of fluorescent orange hive tools somewhere.
Cliff: In your yard, right?
Kim: Somewhere well, that's your latest product then?
Cliff: That's the latest product. Plus the new tank for the feeder and the other one, last year, we came up with a modular hive handle that's being redesigned for 2022 to make it even easier to use. I'm all about ergonomics and being able to make life easy as a beekeeper. Oh, there is one other product. I'm sorry, I'm looking at my picture and it's outdated. I like you and most people that have been out doing this for years, I mentor a few people and I observe how they work. I think the one problem I've always seen is how to get the boxes apart seems to be a quintessential beekeeping problem, worse for a newbie because they're afraid to begin with. You have a lot of stinging insects and you got these boxes that are stuck together and you're nervous and you're uptight and you're either banging them in, hitting them in, disturbing the bees.
Then soon as you get them pried apart and you open it up, the bees come pouring out because you've been banging on their house. I think it's pretty common problem and then depending what you do, you'll also destroy your wooden ware, especially the corners, if that's where you always go. We came up with a product we call Pride Point, it's a device that screws onto the top and the bottom of the hive in the back corner. It allows you to put your hive tool in between, it has two fulcrum points, one is a high pressure that you lift or push your hive tool down. It generates a lot of force to break the propolis seal and then if you keep lifting or pushing, it has one that then lifts the boxes apart much more. You can pop some smoke in if you want, or to lift the boxes, but you're not disturbing the bees.
Jeff: You definitely have a great suite of products to make everybody's, every beekeeper's life a little bit easier.
Cliff: A matter of fact, even with our insulated inner cover, that's where we got this Pride Point idea because we put little humps in it so you can actually put a hive tool between the box and the insulated inner cover to pry it open without beating up on the wood box. There's a little access for your hive tool.
Jeff: You mentioned this and I need to ask because I'm interested. Are you considering, or do you see in your future creating a BeeSmart design hive box?
Cliff: In a short answer, absolutely not at this point, my own personal opinion, the people that do wooden wear is a race to the bottom price-wise, because everybody can do it. Everybody thinks they can do a better mousetrap and it just ends up being a commodity product. There's a lot of good products out there, you have a standard wood box and there's a lot of poly hives I run about 3 poly hives now different brands to test with our products. I don't think you need another person making a box. I don't know of a better box that will work that much better. that would be acceptable. I still have my idea on the perfect poly hive and I'm working with people at Better Bee to do that.
Jeff: Well, we'll keep an ear out for them.
Cliff: Yes. They're working on it with Lyson - they liked the concept so I can't talk about it at this point, but it would be poly hive that offers features of wooden boxes and making frames. I don't know how these people sell plastic frames at the price they do, so I wouldn't want to go into that market.
Jeff: Yes. No, no, but just for my education, when you see a poly hive, is that polystyrene or propylene type, I don't know plastics.
Cliff: I'll give you a quick installation lesson because I had to go down this learning curve. There are two types of installation basically. Most people go to the Home Depot or Lowe's and they'll buy that pink insulation or the blue, which is an expanded foam if they use a gas to expand and then there's the white foam that's used for coolers. The foam that they use gas to make actually loses it's R value over time because the gas escapes, the ones that made with the little white pellets like a cooler, does not.
That's called expanded polystyrene, that's what we use so R10 will stay R10 all the time. The foam ones will lose some of their R-value, almost all the poly hives that I have are made with expanded polystyrene which is the little white beads, and they come different densities. I know who is it, Dadant and Better Bee made the BEEMAX, which is fairly light and then there's a bunch coming in from Europe that are really dense. I think Kim has been to Europe so we see how dense some of those poly hives are?
Kim: Yes. They are bordering on heavy. [laughs]
Cliff: Yes, but they have good insulation value, so they give you the best of both worlds and some of them now actually have plastic on the top and the bottom, so you can pry against them without damaging the foam.
Kim: Yes, I've seen those. Well, you're getting to be more and more like a tree, Cliff. [laughs] I think that's a compliment.
Cliff: [laughs] That's my hobby, I'm a wooden stone carver so I carve tree trunks.
Kim: See, I said more and more like a tree. There you go.
Cliff: You know what it is? I read the magazines, I follow the science and as controversial as that may be, I think it's still the way to go.
Kim: I can't argue with that, that's for sure.
Cliff: Absolutely. I'm not a big believer in doing something because that's always the way it's been done, that doesn't mean it's the right way.
Kim: Well, I'm pretty good at doing that a lot.
Jeff: Well, we're in an industry that really hasn't changed much since 1853.
Jeff: I don't mind a little bit of change.
Cliff: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Kim: Well, it's obviously not the best thing how's that, but like the people we've been talking to, with the electronics and information in the cloud and all of those things they are monitoring and managing hives in a new way. The equipment that you're making is slowly replacing the wooden stuff that we've been using for 200 years, so, well, Cliff, what have we missed?
Cliff: Well, I'll give you one little thing when you're talking about the electronics is when we came up with the insulated inner cover, one of the things I did, is I went out and I bought about 30 brood minders, which is the temperature sensors, the humidity sensors-
Cliff: -and I put them in the brood box below the insulated inner cover between the insulated inner cover and the cover between the tradition with and traditional, and what we found is our brood box stated a steady 94 straight line directly under the inner cover. We never got above 105 so we were nice and steady. When I use traditional wooden ware, we were in the 120s so we were preventing the heat gain in the hive during the summer, which means the bees have less stress and I'm a big believer like humans, stress is bad. If you can keep the bees in a more uniform micro climate where they can control it easier, they'll survive, they'll focus on doing what they need to do which is nectar and pollen and raising young, not trying to keep the place cool. Back to your tree again.
Kim: Exactly, right. [laugh] That's sounds good Cliff, and this has been very informative.
Cliff: Let us go.
Kim: Thank you for sharing this for this. I will do. You said all of this equipment is better, is available from Better Bee and some other suppliers?
Cliff: All the major suppliers carries multiple products of ours, not all of them necessarily. We supply a lot of regional people, local people, we probably have about 80 dealers now nation-wide.
Kim: Easy to find. Excellent.
Cliff: Right, and if you go to our website, we give you direct links to everybody who sells each product and you can order direct from them right off our website.
Kim: Sounds good. Okay. All right.
Cliff: That's part of making life easy for the beekeeper.
Kim: That's exactly what I'm looking for. [laughs] Thank you.
Jeff: Well, I know what I'm going to be adding to my Christmas list to Santa Claus.
Kim: Which one, Jeff?
Jeff: Why, only one? [laughs] Hey, Cliff, it's been fantastic having you on the show. Sorry it took so long to get you on the show, we should have had you on earlier, [music] but it sounds like you have a great series of products for the beekeeper, and for the bees that they keep.
Cliff: Thank you very much for having me.
Kim: I look forward to seeing you at Ithaca College at EAS next summer, Cliff.
Cliff: Okay. Thank you.
Jeff: Thank you. That was really fun talking to Cliff about his BeeSmart designs, and all the products they're doing, and you know what? The one thing he didn't mention that is really cool is they're all made in the USA.
Kim: Yes, that's a definite plus in my opinion. I do like the comparison of the people we've been talking to who have taken technology and science and moved them up the rack a little bit, making them more and better and this is doing basically the same thing, making the equipment that we use better and smarter and easier to use, so I think it was good. It was a good show to have on with all those other people that we've had, I think.
Jeff: If you back the last year, and we've had the flow hive on, we had hyper hive, we've had, oh, please, I'm going to forget multiple people we had Bee Wise on, we had oh--
Kim: And all the rest. [laughs]
Jeff: We had all the rest, and those were all mentioned because that's all that came to mind, but there were others are just as good. It's fun that there's these innovative minds working on these problems we all face, and I think it was, you, R Jim and the Honeybee Obscura podcast mentioned it one time. If there was a perfect product, if we had it figured out there wouldn't be multiple versions of how to do something.
Jeff: There wouldn't be multiple products. I think it's cool that we have these smart minds still trying to build a better--
Kim: Mouse trap or beehive. [laugh]
Jeff: I wanted to say that, but there you go.
Kim: This was good. I'm waiting to see that hive tool thing. I probably have in my garage, I'm going to say a dozen to a dozen and a half five tools, and in the 40 years that I've been keeping bees, I've probably lost five times that many. It's because what I do, is I lay it down and I walk off and then where did I lay it? Blaze orange doesn't show up in foot-high grass.
Jeff: I'm wanting to ask you during the show, how's the blade on your lawnmower? [laughs] How many of those have you hit? [laughs]
Kim: Way to go, I suppose, yes. [laugh] Well, that's one of the things I'm looking for. I'm interested in that, but these other pieces of equipment here, I've tried them all. I think I've tried everything except that pry bar, that he's had over the years, he's been kind enough to share with me and get my opinion. I'm going to have to look at that one and the new one when it comes out and they all work pretty much as he said they did. They do what he tested them out with beekeepers who've been keeping bees for a lot of years, and I know those people and they're not about to just say, well, it works because they want him to be happy. They're going to say, this is a piece of crap because it doesn't, and that's the feedback you need.
Jeff: Well, that about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts wherever you download and stream the show, your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker, even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly on our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any webpage.
As always, we thank Bee Culture Magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of Beekeeping Today podcast. We want to thank our regular episodes sponsor, Global Patties, check them out, www.global patties.com. We want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of the podcast. Check out their probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com.
We want to thank Better Bee for joining us, check out their great line of beekeeping supplies, including the Bee Smart designs at www.betterbee.com. Finally, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listeners for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else, Kim?
Kim: Check out the transcript. I've been looking at those and what it does is it coalesces all of the information that I got during a 45 minute conversation, and I can read it in 15 minutes or less and it helps me remember better what we talked about.
Jeff: There you go. Thanks a lot everybody, take care.
[00:50:36] [END OF AUDIO]
Born 1956, Brooklyn, NY
University of Rochester, 1978, BS Biology
Carnegie Mellon University, 1981, MSIA (industrial administration)
1983-present, President/CEO, Joseph Struhl Company, Inc. manufacturers of Magic Master sign products and Bee Smart beekeeping products
2011 Founded Bee Smart Designs