This week, Kim is back and we talk with Dr. Erica Shelley. We find out what her research organization, Best For Bees, Ltd. does, and learn about their latest discoveries that will make your bees safer than you can imagine. performs...
This week, Kim is back and we talk with Dr. Erica Shelley. We find out what her research organization, Best For Bees, Ltd. does, and learn about their latest discoveries that will make your bees safer than you can imagine.
Best for Bees performs beekeeping field work for honey bee researchers. Their latest project is working with Dr. Peter Kevan in developing equipment that will successfully make api-vectoring a beekeeping tool.
Did you know that there are a multitude of soil borne fungi that make their living by eating mites and other tiny soil creatures? This new technology will isolate these soil-borne fungi, then using equipment they have developed, have bees move inert fungi into a beehive (this is the api-vectoring part of the solution), where they will become active in the friendly environment of a hive, then will find and eventually devour varroa mites, without harming the bees, the honey, the wax or the hive in any way. It’s an innovative hive entrance/exit device and it is one cool piece of beekeeping equipment.
This bee vectoring technology (that is bees moving something into a hive) can be used to protect the hive from any number of pests and predators without the issues of toxins in the hive, resistance by the mites and others to chemicals, and remain as safe as can be for the bees, the beekeepers and those who consume our products.
Plus, her team has developed a very innovative entrance device that can control traffic at the entrance, can be used to reduce or enhance traffic and protect the hive from all manner of exterior pests and predators. ProtectABee is something every beekeeper will want to have.
Take a look at how this works and where you can get one, or more.
Let us know what you think by leaving comments for this episode above. Start a discussion!
Thank you for listening!
Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:
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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!
Thanks for Northern Bee Books for their sponsorship of Bee Books: Old & New with Kim Flottum. Northern Bee Books is the publisher of bee books available worldwide from their website or from Amazon and bookstores everywhere. They are also the publishers of The Beekeepers Quarterly and Natural Bee Husbandry. Check them out today!
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Podcast music: Be Strong by Young Presidents; Epilogue by Musicalman; Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus; Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott
Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC
Jeff: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.
Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.
Global Patties: Hey Jeff and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. 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.globalpatties.com.
Jeff: Thanks Sherry and thank you Global Patties. Each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support, and we know you'd rather we get right to talking about beekeeping. However, our great sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen from the transcripts, the hosting fees, the software, the hardware, the microphones, the subscriptions, the recorders, they enable each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast.
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Hey Kim, welcome back. I'm glad to see you sitting there.
Kim: It's been a while. I apologize for being absent, ran into some things here at home that had to be taken care of, and it was either you or my family, and guess what? My family won, but I'm back. It's good to be here.
Jeff: No that's fine and we're glad you're fine. We had made sure that our listeners knew that you were fine. Yes, glad to see you back there in the chair.
Kim: Yes. Jim did a good job. I'm glad he was here to pick up my slack.
Jeff: I filled in for you on the Honey Bee of Skira.
Kim: Yes, you did.
Jeff: I hope I did okay and kept your chair warm. I tried not to get it too dirty.
Kim: Didn't I hear that you were out picking up bees just the other day.
Jeff: Yes I was. Yes, you did hear right. We actually received some packages a couple of weeks earlier this year and a surprise, surprise, but didn't really surprise me because we had heard earlier from John Miller that everything was running early down in California. I have expected packages to be early this year. Yes. Saturday, I was able to go pick up several packages from nearby here in the Pacific Northwest in Rochester Washington actually. Quite a few people standing in line and I took my recorder and I said, hey, these folks probably would like to tell our listeners all about why they're picking up bees and that's what I asked them about.
Kim: Oh, good.
Jeff: Let's listen to that now and see what they had to say.
I'm at the Beeline Apiaries and Woodenware in Rochester, Washington. It's a package and nuc pickup day and out here, thought I'd talk to a couple of people, find out what they're doing here. Well, that's obvious, but their plans for the bees this summer and their experiences and just general chit-chat. Let's go talk to some folks.
All right and what's your name?
Ed: My name is Ed. Ed Supli.
Jeff: Hey Ed. You're here at Beeline Apiaries and Woodenware, picking up your bees. What are you getting today?
Ed: I'm getting two Italian nucs.
Jeff: Two Italian nucs. Why did you choose Italian over the Carniolans?
Ed: We got Carniolans last time and I understand that maybe they're a little more hardy. I thought we'd try the Italians this time and see if we can get them to winter over better.
Jeff: Yes. How was your overwintering experience last year?
Ed: Last year was not good.
Ed: I didn't see a lot of dead bees, I think they swarmed. Season before we had some success. The season before that, not so much. We're still trying to figure it out. We're newbies, basically.
Jeff: That's good. Even the guys who've been keeping bees for 40 years will tell you, they're still trying to figure it out. It always changes.
Ed: Yes, yes.
Jeff: Best of luck to you.
Ed: Thank you so much.
Jeff: Yes. All right. Let's talk to another beekeeper, and you are?
Yatsik: I'm Yatsik ??.
Yatsik: Yatsik, yes.
Yatsik: Its a German name.
Jeff: Yes. Very good German name. Tell me what are you picking up today?
Yatsik: I'm picking up Italians today and we pick our colonies usually every year because the winter, we don't do well, and mostly because of temperature fluctuations. If a temperature goes down and they hibernate and then it goes up for two, three days, they wake up and then the temperature goes down, they die. One year, we had yellow jacket nest next to it. They got killed.
Jeff: Oh, no.
Yatsik: Otherwise, it's just hobby. A colleague from work got me into it and I felt like, okay. We have a Warre hive, we don't do the Long straw. My wife calls them, it's a spa hive because we don't put combs in it. We just have a little bars and they build comb as they want and usually, we get like two or three gallons per season of the honey. It's fun for the kids.
Jeff: Oh, very good.
Yatsik: Recreation. No industry.
Jeff: Did you overwinter and how did that go for you?
Yatsik: Last time, our colony escaped with another queen.
Yatsik: We had nothing and because of COVID, we didn't have bees last year. This is the first time after two years. We had one time a colony, which overwintered one year. We had them for two years, but otherwise, our experience has been every year, new colony. Okay. It's good, 40 bucks but it's fun. You don't need to do much for them, just send them in and watch out, our kid likes them. I like them watching.
Jeff: It's enjoyable. Very good. Good luck with your bees this season. Yes. Very good. Thanks.
Sir, you're waiting here for your packages. What are you picking up today?
Speaker 6: Four pounds. Four of them.
Jeff: Four pounds of Italians or Carniolans?
Speaker 6: No Carniolans. I can't pronounce the word.
Speaker 6: There you go.
Jeff: Yes, yes. There you go.
Speaker 6: Good enough for me.
Jeff: You've been keeping bees for long?
Speaker 6: About 10-12 years.
Jeff: Yes. Very good, very good. How did your bees do this last winter?
Speaker 6: Got some soap in my water and it killed them.
Jeff: Oh, that's real bad. I'll let you get back to them, best of luck to you this season.
Can I talk to you about bees?
Jeff: All right. Who are you and what are you picking up today?
Scott: I'm Scott and I'm picking up two Italian nucs.
Jeff: Two Italian nucs. What made you choose Italian over Carniolans?
Scott: Because my Italians didn't die last year.
Jeff: That's a good reason. How long you been keeping bees?
Scott: Two years.
Jeff: Two years. How many colonies do you have?
Scott: This will make three and then I've got two Saskatraz packages coming in two weeks.
Jeff: Oh, very good. Have you had Saskatraz in your past?
Scott: Nope. It should be a fun learning experience.
Jeff: Very good. Best of luck for your bees this year.
Scott: Thank you.
Jeff: All right. Take care.
All right and what is your name?
Noelle: I'm Noelle Sharp.
Jeff: Noel and what kind of bees are you picking up today?
Noelle: I'm getting a four-pound package of Carnies.
Jeff: Carnies. What made you choose Carnies over Italians?
Noelle: They just seemed a little bit easier. It might fit my area. I live out in PL.
Jeff: All right. All right. How long you've been keeping bees?
Noelle: This is my first year having them on my property, but my dad and I have had them last year as well.
Jeff: This is your dad?
Bill: Bill Cummings.
Jeff: Bill Cummings. How long have you been keeping bees?
Bill: Same time. We started at the same time.
Jeff: All right, are you keeping them then together on the same property?
Bill: Yes. Hers is on her property that she's picking up now and I'm expanding a little bit.
Jeff: Oh, very good. Best of luck this season with your bees.
Noelle Thank you.
Bill: Thank you.
Jeff: I'm talking now with Harold Weaver, the owner of Beeline Apiaries and Woodenware here in Rochester, Washington. How was your trip down to pick up the bees?
Harold: I had a real good trip. I went down Thursday and spent the night down there in Redding, California, and then picked up the bees yesterday morning and drove home, got here about 9:30, everything went well.
Jeff: Very boring trip then?
Harold: Yes, basically. That's right. [laughs]
Jeff: No one likes an exciting trip hauling bees. How many packages did you pick up and how many nucs?
Harold: I don't have a number of each one necessarily. It was just over 400 total packages and nucs together.
Jeff: Is that the largest you've ever brought back up here to Rochester?
Harold: I'm not sure, it was more than last year, so it's a full load on a gooseneck trailer, a 24-foot gooseneck trailer that we brought. Yes, it was a full load.
Jeff: Fantastic. How long have you run this shop here in Rochester?
Harold: We have done it now for 10 years, I believe. I believe it's 10 years that we've been doing it.
Jeff: That's really cool. You're part of the Beeline. How's that to Beeline Co-op, I guess.
Harold: We're all independent businesses, but we all use the same name. There's some working together, maybe that co-op name is a good way to describe it, but we work together.
Jeff: That's fantastic. You manufacture all your wooden wear here for the local customers.
Harold: That's right.
Jeff: Very good. I know you're really busy today. I will let you get back to your business. Thanks for bringing up bees to this part of Washington, and look forward to next season too.
Harold: Well, thank you.
Jeff: You see, everybody there was excited, a couple were a little apprehensive. There were a couple of people who didn't want to talk to me, maybe they're not fans of the podcast. No, I'm sure they're fans if they'd only listened to it, but they just didn't feel comfortable on the microphone. It was great. It was a great day. They ran a good operation down there at a Beeline Apiaries and Woodenwear in Rochester, Washington.
Kim: Package day anywhere is always a good day.
Jeff: It is. It is fun. It's a day of hope and promise and expectation.
Kim: This year, I'll do better.
Jeff: [laughs] Do you hear me? That's all I was saying that day.
Kim: The people that we got are coming on today, the people ProtectaBEE and Best for Bees. What they're doing, next year may be better.
Jeff: Researching for today's episode, I was going through the information on their website bestforbees.com and I am excited. I'm looking forward to talking to Dr. Erica Shelley.
Kim: It sounds like she should be good.
Jeff: Let's hear from our good friends at Strong Microbials and get right into our discussion with Erica.
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Jeff: Hey, everybody, welcome back, sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now is none other than Dr. Erica Shelley from Best for Bees up in Ontario, Canada. Erica, welcome to beekeeping today, podcast.
Erica: Thank you so much for having me today, Jeff.
Kim: Nice to get a chance to meet you, Erica. I've read a lot about the things that you're involved in.
Erica: Thank you, Kim.
Jeff: Tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are, and how you got interested in bees and then we'll go from there.
Erica: All right. I'm Erica Shelley, and I live in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, which is in southwest Ontario about an hour outside of Toronto. My journey into beekeeping is very similar, I think to the majority of people that get into beekeeping. In that, I thought I was going to save a whole lot of money on honey by getting into beekeeping. That was really how my journey started. My background is I am a scientist, I got my Ph.D. in Molecular and Medical Genetics, and close to you there, Jeff, in Portland at Oregon Health Sciences University. That was many years ago. I've been involved in fields of microbiology and genetics and fungal research actually was my background.
Anyways, how did beekeeper started? Probably I guess, about 12 or 13 years ago. Got my first two hives and the science side of me just took off with beekeeping. I started traveling actually around the world, learning from some amazing and incredible beekeepers and learning about different beekeeping techniques. My first hives were 10 frame-length drops as well as top bar hives. I ran both of those in the beginning.
Jeff: Were you there in Canada starting those up, or while in Portland area?
Erica: Oh, no, that was in Canada. I came to Canada right around 2000 so I've been here a long time now. My entire beekeeping journey has been in Ontario, which we have fairly warm summers and very long winters. That makes for very stressful beekeeping. In general, I know beekeeping can be hard when you're in cold climates and you have long winters. It makes for a lot of nail-biting for a lot of the year where you're wondering if your hives have survived or not.
I just got into beekeeping, and then eventually, the research and the beekeeping started crossing over and I started getting hired to do all sorts of different things. It originally started out, I was teaching to get our beekeeping classes and then companies and community centers started asking me to keep bees at their locations to fulfill their green initiatives. I started working on the education component of the importance of pollinators and the importance they have for our food security. We call them our business bees. Those were our bees.
Jeff: You had your personal bees for your honey, and then you had your research or your bees for clients and customers.
Erica: Yes. Those even weren't so much research. We're always researching as beekeepers but those weren't really research bees. They were what we call education bees. They'd be on the rooftops of those buildings or in their community areas. We are actually installing a hive at Google headquarters here in Canada this year. These places that they care about the environment, and wanted to bring that education to their clients, but Best for Bees was becoming a well-known name at this point.
Jeff: Let's talk about that. I know Best for Bees does a lot of different and looking at your website and it's best F-O-R bees.com and not the number four, but F-O-R bees.com. You are doing a lot of work. Is it just you, or do you have people working with you, for you? Are you partnering with other folks?
Erica: Yes. At this time, there's five employees that are working for Best for Bees. We actually have close to 20 different consultants that we work with on all sorts of things. We're also part of a group here called the Accelerator Center, which is a startup or an incubator program that has mentors that help with all sorts of stuff when you're starting a company.
Even though Best for Bees has been around for over 10 years now, we're doing a big pivot right now and that's where we needed some extra assistance as we started moving into producing something that people could buy. That's a huge pivot from our consulting that we do. More of our time is spent, I was talking about those business bees and how that got us into it, but more of our time is spent now as consultants for honeybee and bumblebee research related to beekeeping and pollination.
We've become more of a research company and then out of that research with the University of Guelph, we developed a product that is using brand new technology to improve the health called bee vectoring. That's where the pivot happened was into now developing a product and now, we're looking at holistic, and I use that term not in natural way, but holistic, where we're going to be supporting beekeepers in multiple ways to make sure that they can have healthier bees.
Kim: Pretty good. Well Erica, it sounds like your group divides itself between the academic side of this and the practical application of what the academic side of this is, and that's a hard dance to do. I worked on that for a little while and decided there were better ways to make a living than trying to do both of those. When it comes to what you are doing, and your group is doing, which of those do you like best A, and which of those are doing the best for your group? I'm going to guess that they're different.
Erica: They are different. Our, first of all super insightful, that dance between academia, practical beekeeping, and when you're looking at companies and doing things privately. In the world of academia, we've always been a private company that we don't really write a ton of grants where we're getting money for research. If we're brought in, those people have written grants for research to pay for our services. We're really consultants in that arena.
Kim: I want to interject something here. When I was doing that same thing, somebody called us science for hire.
Erica: Yes, that's exactly it. Yes, I love it, science for hire. That's exactly what we are. We really can come in as a third party as well, because we don't have a, usually we don't have a benefit from having the data that we have, we're just, "This is the data, do what you want to do with the data." Or we give recommendations based on the data that we get, and to improve whatever. [laughs]
The fun thing about being a private company like us is we're under so many nondisclosure agreements, that even alluding to some of the stuff that we do, I can't do because it would give away some of the things that we do with our company, but all I can say is that people bring us in because they're looking to make whatever system they're working with more efficient or to see if it affects honeybee health, or Bumblebee health or pollinator health. I know that's a little ambiguous but those are the things we work on.
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Kim: It sounds like when I say science for hire, we've talked to people here who do basically the same thing. Companies come to them and say, "We need this work done. You guys know bees, we know we don't, you do the work, give us the data and we'll take it from there." But at the same time, I'm guessing that there are things that you as a group do because you want to know and you want to be able to use the information and apply it to some problem, other people or you have is that correct?
Erica: I will say, Kim, if you'd asked me that question two years ago, I would have said that no, we come in with the consulting part of it. Now that education component that we talked about earlier, which it's really, that's a different arm of what Best For Bees does, but I would have said that no, we really we were a neutral party that came in to answer the questions that were being asked by the companies that have hired us, and that we weren't looking for a specific answer and we weren't looking specifically to help beekeepers at that point.
We were brought into this project with the University of Guelph to work on the vectoring with Peter Kevin, who invented this over 20 years ago. He wanted to test whether it could work, and he wanted to develop this system. He brought in our company originally to help with that, but then I invented an entirely new device to solve his problem. Basically, we've now taken that research away from the University of Guelph, and now that is Best For Bees baby.
Now we are doing what you're saying, and that we're working on our own project, to improve bee health and help out in general with the entire beekeeping community.
Kim: Good. I want to get to your ProtectaBee project in a second, but I want to back up a half a step and for people who have not been associated with or do not know, what is Vectoring, what are you doing there?
Jeff: Yes, that's my question.
Erica: Yes, bee vectoring. Vectoring just means that something's being moved. Bee vector pollen all the time, that's how pollination happens, the bees visit a flower, they get pollen on them, then they go and they visit another flower, and they dropped that flower behind and so that pollen has been vectored. In the case of bee vectoring and again, this was Peter Kevin's work along with some other scientists as well, they developed bee vectoring technology.
I want to go back and I want to actually make sure I use the correct scientific terms with this and explain why we're calling it bee vectoring now. It originally is Entomo vectoring, which is vectoring by any insect and then apo vectoring is actually the technological, the appropriate name for this vectoring by bees. Bee vectoring, then just is the easy, digestible way to talk about it. You might hear me use apo vectoring, or Entomo vectoring or bee vectoring. In our case, when we're talking about bees, they're all one and the same.
Jeff: Is there a distinction between the honey bee and let's say the bumblebee vectoring?
Erica: No, it's still apo vectoring.
Jeff: All right.
Erica: In fact, the original apo vectoring was done by bumblebees. Then now just recently has bee vectoring technologies. It's located in Mississauga, which is 30 minutes down the road from me. They're now using honey bees for bee vectoring as well. That bee vectoring that's the original bee vectoring where they're taking fungus and they're delivering it to crops to protect them against pests and diseases on the crops. In particular, berry crops is the target and fungi that grow on those berry crops. We call that bee vectoring outspensing.
That's where the bees are carrying something out to the plants that they're visiting and then the vectoring project that we worked on, is inspensing. That's why we now have these carrying powders into the hive or really anything but we focus on powders, we have a special powder that sticks to the bees, that is non-toxic. We know it's safe for the bees and also safe for honey. It's the right properties in terms of it doesn't sting to them so much that fall doesn't fall off. You're kind of looking for something that stays on just so and then drops off. That's a carrier powder, or what we call the diluent, and then you add in whatever protectant you're using.
In the case of crops, they're using fungi, and these are soil fungi that are naturally in the soil that get delivered to the crops that outcompete the fungus that like black mold on strawberries and stuff like that that are not really desirable on your crops. That's the original bee vectoring that is started and is actually out there working today for farmers.
Jeff: Wow. That's interesting they're actually using it to deliver. I hadn't heard that they're using the honeybees or bees for vectoring to specific plants or specific crops.
Kim: If you go back several years, Jeff when I was spending some time in California, the in the Alman pollination, people who were actually collecting Alman pollen beforehand, putting it in a container that the bees had to walk through when they left the hive, picking up some of that pollen, going to visit Alman flowers and actually pollinating them. The purpose, as I understood it was to make sure that you got across, you didn't have the same variety of pollen as the variety of flower they were visiting you got some hybridization there.
Erica, I'll go to you. Is that something you could be doing with this technology that you're doing using pollen, instead of, the idea of protecting plants I have another question for you in a half a second, that's coming up, it's going to happen here in a minute, but could you be using pollen the techniques and technology that you have?
Erica: Well, I'm, first of all, going to say that if you give bees pollen and you ask them to take it out of a hive, that's the least natural thing that you could ask bees to do. Let's put that in our heads first. If it's active pollen that could help with pollination, the bees are going to be more likely to be into the pollen and moving it in. I'm going to say that's a difficult problem in itself. The second thing also that you have to look at is the activity of that pollen, but we've definitely, we've done research with pollination where we have been looking at getting hybrids where we have different male plants and the female plants and that is important in terms of sometimes getting better crops.
I can see why they would want to have that hybridization you're talking about. Could we do that with our system, no, our system has been tested only for inspecting in terms of delivering into the hives, and we've had huge success. We can get oxytetracycline in for prophylactic treatment of American foulbrood, very successfully in with our system. We've had success getting fungi into our system, but we have not tested a single thing going out of the hive. That's because that has not been in our current scope to look at.
Kim: You mentioned oxytetracycline and you're looking at foulbrood, a product. What you have is a bee returns to the hive, walks through this entrance, walks through the drug that she's supposed to deliver, then goes into the hive, and just because bees are the way bees are, it starts getting spread around, has this been effective in A, preventing or B, curing foulbrood?
Erica: What we did last year or actually for two years is we did a study where we compared the delivery of oxytet added conventionally, which is usually powdered sugar sprinkled on top of brew frames. Here, our recommendation is in the spring that you treat while the spores are dormant. We don't actually have an active infection at that point. You would add it two weeks apart of three times in the early spring.
We compared the level of antibiotic that was delivered across the hive to the amount of delivering it with our ProtectaBee, with our bee vectoring product. It's not just oxytet. Again, it has to be mixed in that diluent, that carrier powder that we talked about, and we got exactly the same amount of oxytet concentration delivered across the hive in the same way.
It would not be kind to beekeepers in your area to be testing against foulbrood on purpose. We don't do any testing against active foulbrood. In fact, treating with oxytetracycline, once you have an active foulbrood issue going on with your hives, infection, the recommendation that you burn those hives. It's not something that we would ever recommend people treat once they have the presence of foulbrood.
This is when the spores are in a vegetative state before they've any issues. In our area, we have had a long history of foulbrood. It's in the soil, in the woodenwear, it's just around. Treating in the spring beforehand, it's just a safeguard, it's like taking your probiotics or whatever. It's just safeguard of making sure that you're not going to have issues.
Jeff: Is oxytet commonly available in Ontario. It's not in the states. It used to.
Erica: We're the same as you guys in that oxytetracycline requires a veterinarian prescription. With our beekeeping associations, we have vets that work with us. Everybody gets their subscription and they get their oxytet from the veterinarian. Then, of course, the veterinarian has to have appropriate education so that they actually know the right way to apply it, because they're antibiotics. You need to be very responsible with the usage of antibiotics so that you don't get antibiotic-resistant strains.
That's pretty much the same that I think the difference is that maybe we have a more, I know that I've talked with US bee keepers, and I know that since there was the change from it not being available at your local beekeeping store, but rather having to get a prescription that a lot of people are not using it. I have heard anecdotally that there is some increase in AFB in some areas. I don't know if that's directly related to that change or not.
Jeff: Wow. Well, that's really interesting. Teh whole concept of using bees to deliver, to inoculate a plant specifically is an interesting concept. I don't recall ever hearing. That's pretty cool.
Kim: Well, it begs the question then from a beekeeper's perspective, if I can go someplace and get this material that's going to stop wrecking strawberries, if I can get it by the pound or the gallon or whatever it is can, I go to a strawberry grower then and say, not only am I going to pollinate your strawberries, I'm going to protect them from this fungus that will get on there. Your pollination is going to cost you this much. Your fungal protection is going to cost you this much, from a beekeeper's perspective. I want to get to the piece of equipment that you're using because that is really neat, but from a beekeeper's perspective, then they could be doing double duty for the grower and the beekeeper both.
Erica: Absolutely. First of all, I've got to differentiate, we do not do outspensing with the ProtectaBee. Bee vectoring technologies, they actually have a device that springles powder on the bees, it's electronic. As the bees pass through, they get sprinkled and they take it out. It's very easy to get bees to move things out of a hive. It's very hard to get bees to take things into a hive and keep them in there. That's where our patented technology is very unique in that we can get them to move things in and keep them in the hives. It keeps you from having to open up your hives to do your treatments. If it's the night, if it's raining, it takes one minute versus having to crack open a hive and put your treatments in there.
You don't have to suit. Well, I'm not going to say you don't have to suit up, because that would be a liability. Always suit up anytime you're dealing with your bees, it does make it a lot easier. Getting back to your question about that dual service offering for a beekeeper. Absolutely, it's bee vectoring technologies. I think they're the ones that are currently, if you wanted to offer both of those services, you would get in contact with bee vectoring technologies and, they have their system and be able to offer that up.
I'm not exactly sure how their services work if they're contracting with beekeepers at this point or if they're doing that directly. I think it's an amazing opportunity for beekeepers to offer another service. It's nice to have any of those symbiotic relationships where you can have your hives in one place, but you can also help the farmers out or if you're in the pollination industry, that you can have even more that you can offer to the farmers, the crops that you're pollinating.
Jeff: We've gone down this rabbit hole, but it's been really fascinating. You do so much more, but we've teased on this a little bit. We've talked a little bit about the product, or what are you using for this in dispensing, dispensing, inspensing, outspensing, dispensing. [laughs] The only thing I'm used to is expensing. Tell us about the ProtectaBee product. I've seen this advertised on the web and everything.
Erica: We just finished up a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo. We had over 500, I think it was 560 backers or something like that. I don't have the numbers right in front of me. We raised about US$ 50,000, so we're looking at delivering the product to beekeepers in June of this year. We still have the Indiegogo campaign went to in-demand when something's super successful on Indiegogo. They'll just keep it on there, so it's on in-demand right now, and we're going to be opening up our e-commerce store as well.
What happened is that we hadn't planned on releasing ProtectaBee until we had all of our powders ready to go. We wanted to work with these fungal powders for treating mites. I would like to talk about that too in a little bit. We'll talk about how those fungal powders would work for treating mites. That was our original big goal. When we went to do our testing, which was part of that grant that we were doing with the University of Guelph, we tested with commercial beekeepers. We tested with [unintelligible 00:41:56] and we tested with hobby beekeepers, and they all wanted to keep the ProtectaBee.
We were like, "We don't have powders. Why would you want to keep it?" It turned out that the cones, so there's cones that are part of the ProtectaBee. We have cones that go in and cones that come out and those cones are red. That red color was really originally because bees don't see it. In the red spectrum, it was to keep the bee from going in the outdoor. That was originally what we were doing, but it turned out that the red actually works really well for keeping wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets away.
Then the device itself, people that were having issues with skunks scratching on the landing boards and bringing out the bees, they didn't seem to the ProtectaBee on there, the skunks didn't, so they weren't doing that anymore.
Kim: Erica, I'm going to interrupt you for just a second here. Give our listeners an idea of what you're talking about the cones. These cones are, if not identical, very, very similar to the cones you see on bee escape boards, where the bees could have a big opening that they can leave the honey super, but a narrow opening so they can't get back into the honey super.
What you've developed is entrance with a piece of plastic with several of these cones, all facing one way or the other, and you can turn them so that you can keep bees out of the hive or at least slow down entrances, or you can turn so that you can really increase the ability for them to leave a hive. The science is real practical. I was impressed with how well it was adapted.
Erica: You know what, Kim? When I was trying to solve this problem, because the prototype they had at the University of Guelph wasn't working in terms of the bees taking in the powders, they would move them out. I really had to come up with something that would regulate the traffic, the in and the out traffic. We basically have an in and out door, they're separated in two halves and you can choose which one's the in and which one's the out, but the cone technology absolutely came from those bee escape boards.
It wasn't like we came up with cones from nowhere. We knew that bees didn't like to go in small openings, that they couldn't see the color red, and a lot of people don't even know what those were older bee escape boards. They use now the Quebec one and there's different escape boards that they use for moving bees away from the supers, but it used to be those cones where the technology, where you would just get them bees to go through the wide openings, and then they wouldn't go back up into the supers.
That was really my first prototype. I just bought those cones that we used for those bee escape boards. I drilled some holes and glued them on in both directions to see if it would work and it did, so there's a lot more going on with the ProtectaBee, but that's the part that really allows us to modulate that traffic going in and out.
Jeff: Very cool.
Kim: Actually, there's a hundred things going on with the ProtectaBee the way you can use it. You can use it, you can close it completely, so you can move hives without bees getting out. You have a webpage on ProtectaBee and I really encourage people to go take a look at it because what you guys have put together, and the ways that you can use this are amazing with or without the chemicals or the powders or anything else that you're doing. It's just a neat bee-keeping technique that is not affecting the bees. It's good for the bee and the beekeeper, I think, a rare tool.
Erica: Oh, thanks, Kim. We really appreciate it. You know what? We have the beekeepers to thank for that. We came up with the cone technology to get the powders moving, but when we went out to talk to beekeepers and especially our commercial beekeepers, they were the ones who said, "If you add an insert for this, you could do this," and "If you add an insert for this, you could do this," and "If you put the solid in, we can actually feed them on that side," and on, and on, and on.
I love collaboration. I love working with beekeepers who have been in the field doing. They're like, "This is going to save me so much time." We do have an entrance reducer that you can put on there, and they don't propolize the entrance reducer, so you literally just barely slide the drawer out and you can take the entrance reducer out or in, and there's no having to get your hive tool in there and pull it out or in. It just makes everything really easy and it just attaches right to the outside. It's just super, super easy. It's really nice to help beekeepers out that way.
Kim: I only have one complaint, it fits a ten-frame length stuff, and it fits the flow height, but it doesn't fit my eight framer. [laughs]
Erica: Yes, so Kim. Oh, my gosh. We were talking to the companies and we said, "What percentage of people are buying eight-frames?" They said, "5%." I was like, ”Okay, you know what? It makes no sense for us to make an eight-frame one if they're saying 5% of people are buying it." I think eight-frame people must make their own boxes or something. I don't know what's going on, but there is definitely more than 5% because I have heard so much about the eight-frame.
Our next crowdfunding campaign, which is actually going to be on our Shopify account. We're going to get the pre-orders for the eight-frame. Then there will be an eight-frame one. That's is what I'm trying to tell you, Kim, there will be an eight-frame one. Each time we make one of these tools, it's $20,000 [laughs] so we got to make sure people really want it because we're not in the production side of things. We're just getting into it now. We don't know what our customers want, but the eight-frame people, either a lot of them or they're really loud, [laughs] so we're definitely making an eight-frame one.
Jeff: How bout both? We'll go with both?
Erica: Take both. Yes. [laughs]
Jeff: We'll have the photos of the ProtectaBee product and links in the show notes.
Erica: I would love to talk about the fungus that we're developing and has been developed for treating Varroa mites because Varroa mite is really right now at least in North America, one of our biggest issues. The second other big one is small hive beetle. Since we released our ProtectaBee the first time, we've actually added in a small hive beetle trap to the ProtectaBee. We had enough people that were concerned about that we thought, I think we can put something into this, so I'm going to leave on Sunday going down to Florida. We're going to give a little test for some small hive beetles stuff.
We'll see if it works for that too, but coming back to the fungus, with the Varroa mites. We were talking about that soil fungus that is used to treat the crops. We were talking about the strawberries, the black mold, blueberries, et cetera. The molds, what they do is in the ground. When they're at the roots of these plants, they feed on the insects that live in the ground, which are oftentimes mites and not just Varroa mites but different kinds of mites and the way that they work is that they basically like if you imagine a mold, they grow over the shell, well, the exoskeleton of whatever they're attacking, and then they can use both enzymes and mechanical pressures to break into their host.
It's really important to note that there's two different things that they're using to get in. That's because when we treat mites, we're using chemicals that only have one method of working within the physiology of the mite.
It's really easy for mites to evolve resistance to those chemicals. Apistan, those kinds of traditional chemicals. With something having two methods of getting into a mite and it kills the mite. It goes inside of it, it replicates and then it basically bursts open that mite and then just keeps growing on it but the mite's dead. Is that with those, it's really hard for mites to evolve resistance to both a mechanical and an enzymatic pressure of getting inside of them.
The bees, when they have the fungus on them, they clean it right off. It's hygiene activity, it's gone. It's not an issue for the bees but the mites, they don't clean it off. The mites and then it grows on the mites or if they clean it off the mites, and cleaning it off the mites, they actually remove the mites right from the bee. It can work either way. Just having a powder on there, powdered sugar, you can get removal of mites as well.
The fungi, what happen is that the University of Washington, at the same time we were doing our research, they identified fungi called metarhizium that will actually grow inside the hive and I say they identified, they purposely evolved it so that it would grow inside the hive conditions which are not the same as soil. It's warm, and it's humid versus cool soil.
They were able to develop this fungus and there is a fungus out there that can already treat varroa mites and then we're still continuing on with our research where we're using a different fungus, also a soil fungus to also treat the varroa mites. We think that maybe one of the ways to deal with varroa mites long term is using these fungi but it's not the only thing we're using.
We're approaching this with what we call a fail early fail often mentality and that we're trying lots of different things. There's so much in the literature and going back Kim, into that original academic question, somebody does some research in academia, they spend $50,000, and then it gets shelved and nobody ever gets to see anything beyond that because there's no money to go into it.
We're looking at all these different possibilities as well as scientists from across the world are reaching out to us because we have an easy way to deliver something and we're just trying all these methods to deal with these bigger issues in honeybees which are mites that are here, mites that are coming, and then small hive beetles, Nosema, pesticide poisoning, all these issues. We want to have a system where we can deal with all of those assaults to our honeybees to make sure we have healthier bees.
Jeff: I want to add that it's also Asian giant hornet proof, just saying, from Pacific Northwest I'm just saying, that's a possibility too. Just needed an eighth frame.
Erica: Are you eight frame too, Jeff?
Erica: Oh my Gosh. All right. Okay for you guys-
Jeff: [crosstalk] Now they're seven of us. Seven eight-frames.
Erica: Crowdfunding in your, it's going to be the Kim and Jeff eighth frame crowdfunding campaign. The ProtectaBee. [laughs]
Jeff: We'll take that. Brought to you by Beekeeping Today podcast.
Kim: This fungus that you got going, it sounds exciting and how close are you to being able to sell me a pound of the stuff?
Erica: That's two years or so out, because anytime you put a new product into being used with bees, you have to go through approvals. EPA approvals and states PMRA up here in Canada and Europe, we used to have to do different approval. There's just that timing of how long it takes to get it out to people, but a big part of is it costs a lot of money so people get upset when they see we're trying to raise money for research and we're like this whole process is expensive and that's why most academia, they just quit because there isn't this steady supply of money.
For us selling the ProtectaBee, we're one, helping beekeepers, but two, it allows us to fund this research and get these products to beekeepers as quickly as we can because it's important. I don't know what you guys' winter losses were but we have been hit so, so hard this year that a change needs to happen. That's all I have to say is a change needs to happen.
Kim: Well, I'm telling you, if we can quit putting poison into the beehive, it's worth holding my breath until you make this work.
Erica: Yes. Thanks, Kim.
Jeff: Well, Dr. Erica Shelley, from Best For Bees really enjoyed having on Beekeeping Today Podcast today, and the work you're doing. I encourage our listeners to go out to the website, you are doing many more things than what we talked about here that our time here today gather could allow, but encourage our listeners to go out to your website, browse around, look at what you're doing, look at the ProtectaBee product and we look forward to having you back.
Erica: Are you okay, Jeff if I share some of our social media channels so people can check us out too.
Jeff: Sure and I was going to mention that your profile is on LinkedIn in the show notes and that has many of your social media links, but please go ahead now, if you want to.
Erica: Okay, if you want to find out about anything we're doing with Best For Bees, obviously bestforbees.com is the place to go but we also have a Facebook page with over 12,000 followers where we talk about all sorts of things related to bees, and pollinators and that's our passion is to educate people about the importance of pollinators. We're also on Instagram at best_for_bees.
You can read about some of our research in the January and February issues of Bee Culture magazine, which are also online so you can take a look at that research if you're interested in seeing more about that and also we do talk about the bee vectoring out to crops and I think that was in maybe the August and September. I think that's what it was, issues of Bee Culture magazine as well, if people want to take a look at that.
Then we plan on being out at Apimondia in August and we're happy to come in and talk to beekeeping groups and hope to see people online and in conferences and in real life too.
Jeff: That'd be really good luck. You definitely do a lot more than I was aware of before we started our conversation today and that's been a great thing, learning about what you're doing. Fantastic.
Erica: Thanks so much, Jeff.
Jeff: Thank you for joining us. Kim, Anything else?
Kim: I wouldn't know where to start so no, how's that?
Jeff: Very good. Erica, thank you for joining us. We look forward to having you back definitely.
Erica: Thank you so much.
Kim: Thanks, Erica.
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 podcast wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find this quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any webpage.
As always, we thank Bee Culture the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of Beekeeping Today podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor Global Patties, check them out at globalpatties.com. Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of this podcast, check out their probiotic line at strongmicrobials.com.
We want to thank Better Bee for their longtime support. Check out all their great beekeeping supplies at betterbee.com. Thanks to northern Bee Book for their support of bee books Old New with Kim Florida. Check out all of their books at Northernbeebooks.co.uk and finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you the Beekeeping Today podcast listeners for joining us on the show. Feel free to leave us comments and questions that leave a comment section under each episode on the website. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks a lot, everybody.
[00:59:49] [END OF AUDIO]
CEO and Founder
Erica Shelley, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Best for Bees, Ltd. (established in 2010) and located in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. She has served as the Chairperson for Bee City Kitchener since 2018, an organization that advocates for pollinators.
Dr. Shelley received her B.A. (Biology) from Johns Hopkins University in 1994 and her Ph.D. (Molecular and Medical Genetics) from Oregon Health and Sciences University in 2000, studying yeast and DNA repair. She is also a graduate of the Wilfred Laurier Women’s Entrepreneurship program. Dr. Shelley has taught at the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo and Conestoga College.
Dr. Shelley straddles the beekeeper/researcher roles by providing honey bee-related research services integrating her microbiology background with practical beekeeping experience. Through Best for Bees, Dr. Shelley and her company offer consulting services, research, and product development related to honeybee and bumblebee health and pollination. Best for Bees also maintains hives for companies, libraries, and individuals, emphasizing pollinator education.
In early 2020 Dr. Shelley was recruited to assist with Dr. Peter Kevan’s apivectoring projects at the University of Guelph. Utilizing her beekeeping knowledge, she invented ProtectaBEE™, an all-in-one hive entrance that integrates bee vectoring technology with a plug and play system to protect the hive from predators.
The mission of Best for Bees, which is also her mission, is to “Save the Bees, One Colony at a Time.” By bringing together scientists, engineers, beekeepers, and designers worldwide, we can collaboratively improve bee health and secure our food supply chain.