On today episode, we welcome Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk ('retired' from the University of Montana) and Rob Seccomb to talk with us about the Bee Health Guru app and the new Commercial Beekeeper Course they are developing in partnership with the SAVE Farm...
On today episode, we welcome Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk ('retired' from the University of Montana) and Rob Seccomb to talk with us about the Bee Health Guru app and the new Commercial Beekeeper Course they are developing in partnership with the SAVE Farm program in Kansas.
SAVE (Service Member Agricultural Vocation Education) received funding from USDA NIFA under a subcontract from the SAVE Farm in Manhattan, Kansas. For this three-year project, Jerry and Rob will produce online training resources for members and veterans of the military centered on Commercial Beekeeping, while Kansas State Department of Agriculture will provide the hands-on-training, including getting a CDL and a Certification for Loader Operation. The genesis of the program started with Fort Riley’s Warrior Transition Battalion’s occupational therapists. The SAVE program offers transition from the security and comradery of the military to the serenity and immersion offered by farming, avoiding what can be a debilitating and often dangerous period following discharge.
Join us as we learn about the SAVE program, the Bee Health Guru app, the future of Jerry’s electronic monitoring conferences and more!
Kim returns in this episode with Bee Books: Old and New, reviewing a timely book by Richard Ball, Swarm Control.
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:
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
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!
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
We want to also thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor of the podcast. 2 Million Blossoms is a regular podcast featuring interviews with leading bee and insect researchers in the world of pollination, hosted by Dr. Kirsten Traynor.
We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments in the show notes of this episode or: email@example.com
Thanks to Bee Culture, the Magazine of American Beekeeping, for their support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. Available in print and digital at www.beeculture.com
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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 Ott: 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 Flottum: 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 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.globalpatties.com
Jeff: Thanks, Sheri and thank you, Global Patties. You know 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 enabled each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culturehas been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today.
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Hey, everybody, thanks again for listening. Kim will be joining us in just a few minutes. It is springtime just about everywhere, and many of us are receiving new packages of bees, hiving nucs, making splits, and I hear some of you are even chasing swarms already. Spring always seems to take forever to arrive and when it does, the bee world lights up quickly. I hope your spring in the bee yard is going well.
On today's show, we welcome back Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk. He was last on the podcast three years ago in May of 2019 when he first introduced us to the work he was doing on acoustic-based AI app Bee Health Guru. That's a mouthful. Using this app on a mobile device such as an iPhone, or an Android-based phone, a beekeeper records the sounds of the colony by sliding the microphone of the phone into the entrance of the hive. After about 60 seconds or so of listening and recording the sounds, the app measures key aspects of the colony's health and provides a beekeeper with an analysis of its findings.
It's all based on AI technology that Dr. Bromenshenk and his team are working on. It lets you know is it queenless? Does it have a varroa? Did it have American foulbrood? Pretty cool stuff. There's a couple of other things it also checks out. Today, Jerry is providing an update and also telling us a couple of other projects he's got going and he's always doing something with bees. That guy is one of the busiest retired people I know. Before we get to all of that, Kim has been doing a lot of reading over the past month or so and sent in this review of Swarm Control by Richard Ball, a book published by Northern Bee Books. Let's listen to that now.
Kim: Welcome to another chapter of Bee Books Old and New. I scheduled that we arrange the spring and I am woefully behind, so today, I'm going to do a new book, and next week, we'll talk about one of Northern Bee Book's old books for you to enjoy. Then maybe I can get caught up, maybe. It's Earth Day 2022 today, as I'm recording this. It's late Friday afternoon, cloudy and a bit cool but not cold and it isn't raining for a change, but they say that by next weekend, we'll reach the upper 70s and maybe even 80. This is going to be perfect swarm time. The time of year is right, early spring trees are just starting to bloom. I saw my first dandelions this week. The temperatures will be good in a week or so and my colonies of laying queens, quite a bit of brood, and lots and lots of food.
The downside is, that's what they were a couple of weeks ago when I last checked them. I haven't had an opportunity for an in-depth internal check for that long due to poor weather and time constraints here at home. I'm not just sure what's going on inside, but I can guess. Fortunately, for those of us who are more often a day late and a dollar short, Northern Bee Books just released her latest book of Swarm Control by Richard Ball, an experienced UK beekeeper. Since 1996, he has been a county, then regional and finally, he rose to run the entire Bee Inspection Service for England and Wales. Retiring from that position finally in 2011.
He's looked at a lot of hives during that time of year, and he's also studied the techniques beekeepers use that will stop colonies from even thinking of swarming to using some major techniques, maybe major isn't the right word here, more like draconian techniques beekeepers have invented to stop swarms from happening once the urge sets in. If you've been keeping bees for a decade or more, you have run across all of the techniques he discusses and tried at least some of them. There's not a lot new here, but the biology of why they work is logically explained, the diagrams are well done and easy to follow and the predictability of the techniques is explained.
I don't have the space here to explain the how-to of all of these, so I strongly suggest you take a look at this new book. He starts with simple skills, finding and marking the queen and then the "Why do bees swarm anyway?". Then he looks at practical ways to stop a colony that has started this process, how to recognize this and how to stop it using either the Demaree method or a simple modification of that method. Finding queen cells is a skill that you'll need here. Then he moves to managing a colony so the swarm impulse doesn't rise in the first place or better, ways to make a colony think it has already swarmed and life should go on.
These involve the Pagden and Heddon and Snelgrove methods and modifications of these to accommodate different hive styles and different beekeeper skill levels. That in itself makes this book worthy looking at because he looks at all the different kinds of hives that are out there and he considers people who are just starting and people who've been doing this for a lifetime. These all do what he says they will do. Well, almost all of the time, bees will be bees sometimes.
Then he takes on a new challenge, using an artificial swarm resulting in a period of time where a queen isn't laying eggs in a colony and producing brood that varroa mites can feed on thus breeding a colony of most of that pest, but keeping it under the beekeeper's control. Two birds, one artificial swarm, and maybe two colonies are back to one. You get to decide. If you decide to make two colonies into one colony, he describes the very simple and very successful technique of using a simple sheet of newspaper to make one from two.
If swarms are in your future, today, next week or next season, take a look at this new book. One saved swarm will pay for the book and lots of honey leftover.
It's available on Amazon or from Northern Bee Books. Check it out. I guarantee both you and your bees will be better off because of this book.
Jeff: Thanks, Kim. That's a timely review. Hey, everybody, this is definitely the right book for this time of year. Add it to your library soon. Okay, let's get right into our discussion with Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.
StrongMicrobials: Hello beekeepers, your honey bees face a lot of challenges out there, unbalanced food sources for 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 nectars, 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 SuperDFM 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 and thanks Strong Microbials. We appreciate your support. Hey everybody, welcome back to Beekeeping Today Podcast. Sitting across our Beekeeping Today Podcast virtual zoom table is no other than Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk and Rob Seccomb both from University of Montana. Is that correct? I know Jerry, you retired from the University of Montana. Rob, I'm not sure where you're from. [laughs]
Rob Seccomb: Once upon a time was the University of Montana. Now it's our own company, so we're independent of them.
Jeff: Very good. Welcome to the show.
Kim: It's nice to see you again, Jerry, it's been too long. How is Montana treating you?
Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk: Well, Montana's treating us pretty well at the moment. We haven't quite got out of winter, we had snow last week. We had a little bit. Robert's over in Butte, and quite a bit more. If you could go farther east, they had 20, 30 inches, so we're not quite done with the weather yet.
Kim: We got the same here. I've had inches of snow in the last couple of weeks in Northeast Ohio. Jerry, you've got two things going on that we want to talk to you about today. One of them back in 2019, I think it was Jeff, that we had Jerry on and you were talking about this app that he was developing. Isn't that correct? Then you've got another project now that you're just starting up and we want to just bring people up to speed on what your app is doing and where you want it to go, and then have you give a quick overview of the project you're just beginning. Does that sound okay?
Jerry: Sounds great.
Kim: All right. When we talked to you before, your app was still looking brand new, so what have you done to it since then? Where is it going?
Jerry: We put out our app with the idea that we know from our prior work, almost a decade of research that if we use high-end microphones and good digital recorders and powerful computers, we had very high accuracy of 86% to 98% or more for eight major health test and disease problems that these are exposed to. Basically, we insert a microphone. It could be the microphone on your phone, or it could be an external microphone into a colony. We take a 30-second or a 60-second recording of the sound the colony makes, and it then basically tells us whether it's got a queen, it doesn't have a queen.
Does it have mites and if it has mites, at what level? Does it have foulbrood? If so, at what level? Does it have nosema? Is that colony more or less thriving or is that colony failing? Does that colony have a couple other factors that depending on the region you're in, you may or may not see in your own bees, like Africanized bees? Something like Africanized bees, it's really good. I mean, my own ear can hear the difference on an Africanized colony. They're very loud as you come up to it. The thing that surprised us is that we could discriminate things like mites and even more surprisingly, American foulbrood.
The problem we have when we put it on our smartphones and tablets, and we did that because that was much more economical in building a special tri-quarter for bees. Beekeepers around the world, even in third world countries, they have cell phones. Almost virtually, every beekeeper anywhere, if they can afford bees, can afford a cell phone and with a cell phone, you've got a tool that we hope you can use to help as a management tool for beekeeping. The problem we've faced in 2019 is, one, we had to get it into a format that we didn't have to build and the customer didn't have to buy. That's why we wanted the smartphone. We got extra value out of the phones.
We did not know with all these phones, from all different brands, from high-end Samsung, and for example, phones like the current... Currently, I just bought a Samsung Galaxy 21 Ultra, very spending phone, but it got great cameras and a good audio system in it versus something like a cheap Chinese knockoff. We're still working through those to see what kind of phone we need to get the accuracy of the recording, a good clean recording, that we can use to reliably diagnose the various problems that we're looking for. The idea is we listen to the bees using the microphones, we get a recording, and then to calibrate that system, we ask the beekeepers to open their hives and inspect them.
A little dropdown menu allows them to say, "Yes, it's got a queen." or "No, it doesn't have a queen." "Yes, it got foulbrood." "No, it doesn't." Is that a high level or low level? We don't expect it to be accurate right off the bat because these are unknown hardware and unknown software with all these different companies. What we really need, a lot of people testing for us, so that we can dial that in. That was what we were really focusing on. We were really happy in 2019, we finally got the thing on a smartphone. The phones and tablets finally got fast enough that it didn't take 20 minutes to do an analysis. It was down to 10 to 15 seconds on a top-end phone. Then we send it out to the users.
Year one was, we learned everything we shouldn't have done and everything that we thought they wanted, and everything they actually wanted. They weren't necessarily the same.
Robert and I had an eye-opener for that. Number one, the beekeepers really like the fact that we had a little inspection chart for things like foulbrood, nosema, queenless, queen-right, the basics that are really major issues for pests and diseases. They like that so much because it was real simple to use and had quick little dropdowns that they wanted to use the app more than anything for their own beekeeping management. I guess that the credit to Jeff Papows, our app designer because he's not a scientist, he's an artist, he's a musician, he's a computer guy that works with virtual reality and all kinds of things. His comment was, you got to make this thing really simple and easy and fast to use. That's what the management part of it turned out to be. Much more than a lot of the ones that go into great detail, but don't get used because it just takes too long.
Number one, they really wanted to have their records available to them for their own management. That takes more work than you might expect, working the database around so we could turn it around, but we got that done. Over the last two years, as our users told us what they like and didn't like, we've changed. We had several mods that have come up. Now you can use it for a data management system and all of your records stay on your phone and you can access them at any time. Now you got a management tool.
The second thing was that we found out that a lot of people were a little bit reticent or uncertain about doing the visual inspections. They weren't sure they knew what say, a queenless colony looked like, especially if they were just new to the thing. It became a learning tool, but that worked against us because they would send us recordings, but no inspections. It's like taking kids, taking a test, you never grade them. [laughs] You don't know what you got. Robert had thousands of recordings submitted to him, but only a small percentage of those actually went the extra step to inspect. That's one of the things we learned.
We really had to tell them that, "I'm glad you're using it, but we aren't going to be able to calibrate it unless you actually do the inspection." We also learned that we've got a little cheat sheet that you can hit a question mark, and you can find out what the pest and diseases look like, how you should score them, and so on. It's right there on the phone and as such, it becomes a self-instruction. What we realized is that the visual inspection, if they followed the little crib sheet, really were apparently pretty accurate. If we can get them to do the inspection, even though they're a little nervous about doing this so on, that's pretty good data.
Combine that with the data management, and we decided that what we really needed to do was auto map everything that they input based on the visual inspections because at the moment, visual inspection is still more accurate than the acoustic. The long-term goal was to get the acoustic to replace it. Now you can use it as a data management system. If you visually inspect your colony, if you do things like alcohol washing for mites as well. If you do the inspection properly, when you upload the thing, the moment you upload your inspector report in your recordings, our database system immediately throws it into the cloud, processes it and puts a pin in the map, and shows down to say, a county-level or something like that.
We don't show the backyard, we don't want your neighbor to know what you got. Oh, you got foulbrood or something like that. We put it in a county-level or something. We can do the kind of mapping that the CDC does for COVID, only we're doing it for the eight variables that the app picks out on a global scale. The moment they push the button, the pin goes into the map, and then the user on their phone can actually look up and see. There are others in the general area again, we purposely keep that a bit vague, so you know, to protect confidentiality.
We're in a position now that unlike surveys, and inspections and going to lab and so on, that take weeks to months to turn the data around. Then you may still have somebody to do the stats and then tell you where it's at, we have real-time monitoring in a sense. Beekeeper uses the thing, pushes the button, it goes out to the thing, ping there's a pin on the map. We hope that gives us a better sense of where the real problems are at. I guess that's our big thing now. We realize we've got a tool that essentially is not reactive, that is after the fact you say, you got a problem, but actually proactive in that we can pick it up as it's occuring.
Jeff: This is the same app as you were working before, and these are the improvements. What's the name of the app again and where is it available?
Jerry: It's called Bee Health Guru. Guru being that the bees themselves are the guru, they tell us what's going on. It's available on a bulletin board site at www.beehealth.guru. It's very important that you put the www in, otherwise, it goes to GoDaddy and GoDaddy tries to sell you another domain.
Jerry: There is a bulletin board discussion site where we post updates, we can discuss things. We need to get our testers more engaged with us on that site and so the plan in the next month here or so before summer sets in, is that we're going to start putting training videos up on that site. We'll also start putting out notices of Zoom presentations where maybe on a Thursday night. We can say, 'We'll be there if you got questions, join us here and we'll talk about the app." We're trying to get our community more engaged and talking to each other and to us.
Jeff: At one time, that was available for the University of Montana master's students. Is that still available for them? Do they still have access through their accounts?
Jerry: I'd have to check on that. At the moment, what we're doing on the-- You can't go directly to the app stores, either the Apple one or the Android one, and pull this down because we're trying to run this through a way that we know who the users are or where they're at and so on. We manually set those up because we have a problem with hackers that really want to get in and mess with it.
What happens if you go to our www.beehealth.guru, we ask for a small donation, $20, $30. Somebody says, "Well, what do you get for $30 that you don't get for $20?" Well, not anything except for the fact that it costs us money to keep these websites up, for Robert to do the retraining, and so on. We're self-funding this and so on so we think $20 or $30. Once you buy one, we'll give it, if you're part of that citizen group, we'll give you free updates on it. We think that's pretty economical. Then you go there, you make a donation, as soon as you make a donation, I ask people, please be patient because first, I have to authorize them to use that website and I come in every morning.
I try to do it every day manually and if I see an alphabet swoop from Russia on the return address, that's one of the ones that I'll block because that's where all of our problems came from a few years ago. .out the east bloc countries and Russia, particularly. Then the second step is our app guy has to go in and authorize you in the proper store. It takes a couple of days to do that, but that way we really cut down on the hacker problem.
Jeff: All right, folks, hey, let's take a quick break now to hear from our good friends at Betterbee. We'll be right back.
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Kim: Well, Jerry, how many people have you got, active people, that are using this right now?
Jerry: Well, we've got about 1,000 people that have registered worldwide. Robert might have a better idea of how many are currently active. I think recently you had about, we were talking this morning about wasn't it Robert did you said you had about 3,500 files that had and came with inspection or were reasonable that you checked that they were hopefully healthy colonies. Those were usable files. I know that you got many more files, that weren't-- Well, Robert, you could chat a bit about this. What were the common problems that made a file either very useful to you? What were the ones that were really useful and what files are not useful?
Rob: Right. Start with a funny story one where people had to, they were so happy with this app and they were speaking in their beehives and singing to their bees and singing in their kitchen and testing it out like, "Oh, this is great." We get all these uploaded files of people singing in their kitchen or singing to their bees. Unfortunately, well, even the ANNs or the software the computers can't tell if people are singing or bees are singing so I had to go to and listen to many, many hours of audio. Sorry, great I love your singing, but we can't use that.
Kim: You got to send out the best of the bee yard hits compilation.
Jerry: There you go. Well, I said at least we know our beekeepers are happy.
Rob: Then I suppose the next real problem was people placing the microphone in the hive. In lots of cases, I've got a black smartphone and you turn it on and push the button, drop it on the front door of the beehive, and the first thing bee see, see a black thing in front of their doorway and start getting pissed off at it. There was a bit of a learning where you have to get the bees acclimated to your device, the microphone, or whatever before they will attack it. With the old expensive equipment, we'd have we'd stick a pro microphone in and stand back for at least a minute or two so the bees would get used to it and not jump all over it.
There's a bit of a learning curve of how we're going to basically adopt this whole idea to the smartphone. Other than that, the biggest problem I've had, of course, as Jerry mentioned, is not getting the inspections that I need. Still, I've got thousands and thousands of data files to work with and gigs and gigs of data. I just finished running an A&N test here and got a 90% differentiation between group one and group two, which are Varroa and queenless. Right now, with the recording that I'm getting, I can tell queenless from Varroa-infested hives, which is a start. We've still got the rest of all the other maladies that we check for to try and work it all out.
Kim: Rob, you bring up a good question. What if you have both queenless and Varroa?
Rob: Well, the way this software is designed, it will actually hit on both. It's not like it can be one or the other. It will say a percentage of this sounds like a queenless and some percentage of this sounds like a Varroa and you might get two hits on it saying, "It looks like it might have both of these problems." or you might even get the undetermined where it can't tell, but you might want to take a look at it. There is, of course, the normal colony where this should sound like a normal colony. If you get a good hit on normal, you probably are safe to go on to the next hive.
Kim: Have you got a good picture of how things spread, how things move, how things develop or don't develop?
Jerry: Well, this is only in the last since toward the end of the last summer that we implemented this that we didn't have to manually crunch it all in and so on. Then we went in the winter. We're at a prime time right now to mobilize people to do this because we can send you pictures of maps we got around the world of bees. These were reported during this period of time that were healthy colonies and these colonies had some type of problem. I'm glad you asked that question, Kim, because we've been trying to figure out just exactly how we get past some of this.
Well, I'm not certain what I'm doing, how we get them motivated to go out say on a regular basis every couple of weeks or even once a month and get recording from us and visual inspections because we're mapping this thing. It depends on how often the people use it and where they're at. I'm going back to my roots on all this. We did Citizen Science before it was ever a term. We called it public participation and we did pollution monitoring on landscape scales around Seattle. That turned out to be an incredibly successful project but the key there is, a lot of beekeeping local associations in the Seattle Tacoma area.
We worked through the clubs and we would get the clubs and keep them updated and then they would find a handful of people within each club who were really interested in working with us and then they would work together in the clubs on a local level, more or less did the training and coordination. My goal since last fall is that I've been giving Zoom presentations to lots of clubs. The message I like to tell all of your listeners is that we really think your clubs are a really good path forward. Think about the project for the club, something to do. You can help train each other. We'd like people to use an external microphone, these probe-like ones because they get a cleaner recording, but they're a little spendy.
Maybe the club could buy a couple of those then loan them out to everybody and so on. Maybe the clubs remind them, "Hey, this next week all of us are going to go out to inspect their hives and report it." If we could get two or three or four clubs per state, for example, in the United States, doing this, say, even once a month, we would have real-time information we've never seen before, and that could build. Right now my approach is, to anybody listening, if you belong to a beekeeping club, if you're interested in this project, and if you would like, I will be more than glad to set up, in some evening or weekend, Zoom meeting with your club and make a presentation of what this is all about, and talk to people about how they might get engaged with this.
That's the big thing right now is just getting the engagement and get them to carry through all the steps.
Kim: Well, there's a challenge, Jeff, no doubt.
Jerry: I want the challenge. [laughs]
Jeff: Well, I think it's a great club project and with as many new beekeepers has come into the hobby every year, combining the Bee Health Guru app and a mentorship program would be really beneficial for the new beekeeper.
Jerry: The app really works pretty well too because it's got all the little crib sheets about how-- There's photos and descriptions of these major pests and diseases, it's also an educational tool in its own right. 2018, we were optimistic we were going to be talking to the bees and learning everything they're trying to tell us. Well, that's going to take a while. This doesn't have any human speech took a couple of decades to really work out.
In the meantime, what we realized is we got a nifty little tool for managing your on bees and keeping records, we got a nice little training system, we can start mobilizing groups to make these projects and so on tie in and coordinate this thing better. Then, I'm really looking at this as a wellness program for bees. If we can do real-time monitoring, detecting outbreak when it occurs, I'm looking forward to something like it. We could get a bunch of associations, all, and say, "Oh, that's going down." We can immediately see what the mite problem areas look like across the nation on a given week or something like that, not get a report six months down the line, but right then, we'd know what it look like.
Kim: Well, if my club is interested in doing this, Jerry, I'd go to the webpage that you mentioned and all the information I'm going to need to get started is there?
Jerry: Yes. You can leave a message. Just leave a message for me on that thing that says, "I've got this and that from such-n-such club, and we would like to hear from you." and I'll get back to him.
Kim: Excellent. All right. Well, if you have anything to do with your local bee club, here is an opportunity that you cannot afford to turn down, I think, right, Jeff?
Jeff: Yes. We'll have that website in the show notes, so make sure you check it out and check out the app and check out the opportunities it presents.
Jerry: Well, that'd be wonderful. I'm a scientist and all of us, Bob, the computer person that developed the algorithm zone, we're really doing this because we really know it can work, and it could make a really big difference in terms of the health of our bees because early detection and tracking of these things could be really key to solving some of the problems that we've got.
Kim: Well, Jerry, I can see how this might lend itself to be very useful in the other project you just started, and that is in training commercial people to be, what's the word I want, accepted to be able to be a commercial beekeeper.
Kim: Tell me about this program. I don't think there's ever been a commercial beekeeping beginner's class. [laughs]
Jerry: Well, there was one, I think James too did years, years ago, at least on a campus. One of our local beekeepers , knows James for that. No, then decades later, almost 50 years that I've been working with bees, I learned my beekeeping for commercial beekeepers. Montana's a big commercial beekeeping state. We've got roughly 175,000 to 200,000 colonies of bees in the state. There are 6,000 registered bee locations down to the exact GPS location. Most of those migrate for pollination out in California.
Many of the commercial beekeepers these days have a problem common to other aspects of agriculture, and that is, where do you find the people that do this fieldwork, hands-on, there's heavy lifting, long hours at times, and less than most of the agriculture industries, we haven't automated or mechanized the beekeeping with. We use heavy trucks and loaders and so on. The issue is they're so strapped for finding good help that many of them depend on workers that come in from South America and Africa. They're going that far just to get their crews. They would really like to find people who speak English, that helps.
Most of them are bilingual in Spanish, at least because they have so many South American members of the crew, at least, the bigger operations. They would like to find people in the United States that are interested, either working for them or maybe even at some point, "I want to retire. Who's going to buy me out? Who would like to be a beekeeper and take over?" We knew these issues have been floating around for quite a while, and it's getting more and more difficult for them to find the staffing they need.
We also have been, since 2012, through the Master Beekeeping program that we teach online, we have been very much engaged with a nonprofit in Manhattan, Kansas called SAVE Farms that train soldiers for jobs in agriculture. Turns out from some department of commerce study, I think about 2014, it said there's about 40% of the soldiers coming back from the field in Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan actually like to work outside, decided once they finished their service with the military, they would like agricultural jobs. They set up a foundation to teach them agricultural jobs, typical in the Midwest.
Colonel LaGrange, who started all these, he's a retired civilian administrator from Fort Riley, he had three terms in Nam, the Colonel, basically, was also very concerned about the mental health of soldiers and whether these activities might be therapeutic. His daughter is a therapist, so they did a training and counseling put together. Of all the things that these soldiers did, the one that seemed to be self-reported, helped them the most with stress issues, and so on, was beekeeping. Everything we've seen, and others that reported this, that-- You know about beekeeping, Kim, you and Jeff and so, when you're out there in the beehive, you really have to focus on the bees and let everything else go.
They seem to work really well. The sense of changes to Manhattan, there's a new nonprofit called Valor and a private honey company there now. Munson and SAVE are still taking a lead on this. We have the infrastructure to do hands-on training there. Then the University of Montana after, let's see, almost a decade now, teaching online courses, we came in onto this thing with the idea that we could provide the online resources to support this training program. One of the things that SAVE Farm learned almost immediately is if you ask a commercial beekeeper what they want in a potential crew member, it's a commercial driver's license first [laughter] and certification for handling things like operating front-end loaders and so on, second, and then general knowledge of how to work around bees. That's what they're doing.
Then we're building the resource for-- Not everybody has access or the time to go to Kansas and so on, so we're going to build, just like we did with the Master Beekeeping program, we're going to build an online presence. We learned a lot from the decade on online, so you'll see some new tricks coming in what we're doing here. Rather, at the moment we got off and running in January, so we're really pretty new on this yet. Right now, though, we've got over almost two terabytes worth of video in the can. What we're doing, is going out to select commercial beekeeping operations, those operations that I and my team have interacted with over the years.
We handpicked ones that we thought were really role models in terms of best practices, is they did something really well. Then we'll fill in with, well, that's how they do it, but how does somebody else do it, or maybe on a smaller scale, that might be different. Our goal between now and September is just to lay the foundation for this whole thing. In year one, year two, we can add to it and refine. We got figures on this contract. I've stepped away from some of the other things I was doing. I was president of the Western Apricot Society for over two years, and I said, "Guys, you're ready to-- My term's up. I'm going to let you run laws." I'm going to do this because it's something I really think is needed."
I've thought this for years and years, but I didn't have the infrastructure to put it all together. By partnering with SAVE in Kansas, we do have that. They can do all the hands-on, we can basically give them an immersion from a digital perspective. We can also store all those documents and other things like forms for hiring laborers from South America. All that can go online.
Kim: Where can someone find out more about your course or keep up to date on to when it might be available for the first class?
Jerry: We're hoping by the fall we have it putting place enough so that we can start putting in the first class on these. SAVE is already doing some short course in commercial beekeeping, just because of the demand for it, but they're going to expand what they're doing. Again, this is a brand new figure program. The authorization came in October, but it took until January just with COVID and so on to get everything laid in place. This week for the first time, our video crew sat down and said, "All right, here, we got tons of video. We have to start editing this together into lesson plans and so on." We're really at the beginning.
One thing I do say though is that we're open to input from people about-- If you're a commercial beekeeper and say, "If you make a course like this, this is a one thing I'd really like you to do. That'd be great." I don't care if they're in the US, we can go worldwide with this one the same way we did the other. If you're a beekeeper on a larger scale or professional, and you have something you set up that you think is really state of the art that this really is better than average, let us know because we don't have a lot of money for this project. We got enough to set the basics down, but if you got good video or something you could contribute to us or things or tips that you could share, let me know.
For that, I'll probably add something to the app bulletin board for the access, but for your general members, we don't have press releases yet. We're so early on this, but we're hoping to get it ready this fall. In the meantime, I use an American online account for general activities so it doesn't get intertwined with our courses. Since I'm a long-term scientist that studies bees, my login is firstname.lastname@example.org. If this resonates with someone and they say, "Gee, I'd like to be part of that." or "Got some ideas." so drop me a line at beeresearch.com and I can get back to you.
Kim: There are already a lot of organizations and a lot of programs out there, Jerry, I'm sure you're aware of that are doing something similar, not as big as scale, but they're working with veterans and they're working with groups of people that want to accomplish exactly what you're going to teach them to do. If any of our listeners are part of one of those groups or know of any of those groups, they certainly need to keep it in mind, probably get a hold of you now so that when you get up to speed, they be able to work with them. You can get back to them and there'll be a place for them to go.
Jerry: Yes, that's a great point, Kim because there's a whole array of programs out there aimed specifically at that, but they tend to be more focused on less, in the local area-- "You want to get into beekeeping, come on over and we'll give you some pointers and we'll give you the basics." That's great. Where this one goes is this one is going to seriously sit down to look at the plethora of jobs that are available in commercial beekeeping operations. Really what you need to know on that with fine-tuning that and very specific, large-scale training with this, but these others could certainly contribute to merge with this thing, do some local training and so on. All that could easily be networked.
Kim: Another good aspect of this is those people that have taken that beginner's course at a local level and have found that, "Yes, indeed bees are something I want to do a lot more of. How do I do that? Where do I go to find a commercial beekeeping organization that does this and this but not that?" You're opening a lot of doors for a lot of people. I think that's remarkable.
Jerry: [chuckles] Yes. I'm continuing to fail at my retirement.
Jerry: Now, I got to live another three years simply because I signed the ink on the contract. [laughs] When you're pushing 80, that is becoming more nebulous. Kim, one of the things that we did in the last couple of weeks is we went to a large-scale California queen production and packet production company that also runs a large honey and pollination service. They do everything. They're so large that they actually have their own human resources department. They've got crews with sub managers and so on. They have for all of these employees that they try to recruit from places like-- In South America, there are job descriptions from, "Queen catcher level one, queen catcher, level two."
Whatever it is, they got it with a detailed list of what the skills are and what the training is, what they expect if you're going to apply for those. We're not going to just blanket steal what they did there and repost it, but we'll take that and we can build a structure and say, "If you're interested in a queen operation, these are the type of employees they're looking for. This is how they tear them out."
Kim: At least then you know going in what people are going to expect and what you are going to have to prepare yourself for and what you can expect. Again, I encourage people who might be interested in this down the road, a year or so perhaps, to get in touch with you through your website and take the first step. You may never go any further, but if further is where you want to be, this is the place to go. Jerry and Rob, what have we missed in all of this?
Jerry: I think we've covered what we're trying to do with the app. The app started off with, "Can we attune this thing and so on?" It's just developed into-- It's much more of a useful tool and so on than we ever imagined. It can be used as a standalone for that. Even if you don't want to participate in the recording and stuff like that, you can still use the app for your own management, your record-keeping, and so on, on, that's perfectly fine. If you're willing to go to the next step, that's really great and we'd like to hear from you.
Jeff: Jerry, one last question I have for you. I know in the past years, B.C, before COVID, you were attempting to get your electronic monitoring conference in Montana during the summer. I know I've been approached whether you are going to try to do that again maybe this year. Is there any updates on that monitoring conference?
Jerry: Yes, I can give you an update. Because of COVID, just as COVID really hit, I had 50 something speakers coming in and they were all booking their planes and then they all canceled within a week. That was in 2020. We didn't really want to go completely off the radar screen. In October of 2020, we hosted a week-long Zoom meeting and we had 50 speakers from 14 countries. We kept all these talks down to 15 minutes so that it's basically informative, who's doing what, where. All of those are on the University of Montana's webpage that's tied into our master beekeeping program.
There's 49. I think we missed one that had some technical issues and stuff, but 49 of the 50 presentations are all available for your listeners if they want to go to and view. That's at the University of Montana and it's again, www.umt, for University of Montana.edu/bee, B-E-E. Under that, you'll find all those available as YouTube videos. Frank Linton and I are talking that we had it in 2020. We skipped 2021. We're starting to get input from the group saying, "When are we going to get together?" Was supposed to meet the Western Apicultural Society, their original plan in 2020 was that WAS would meet them as would this other group for a field demonstration.
We decided in December, COVID was still so out of control. At that time, in the early days and months, Montana had some of the lowest COVID rates to the highest in the nation. In those rural areas, when it hit those, it went like wildfire and stuff. We just decided we just couldn't predict 2022, even. WAS had new leadership and they're settling into the role. We've got more new neighbors. Not this year, but in 2023, there'll be a WAS meeting somewhere. We're not sure where. Probably this year, Frank and I are starting to talk about, "Let's do another Fall online version of that." The company is becoming impatient. We want to show you what the newest thing is out there. We will do something on that line.
Jeff: Very good. Thanks for that update. Jerry, Rob, we really appreciate you being on the show this afternoon. The updates, I think what you're doing with the SAVES Farms in Kansas and the commercial beekeeper program, and also the Bee Guru app are really exciting, and look forward to future updates from you. Thanks a lot.
Jerry: Well, thank you. Thank you, Jeff, for the opportunity to address your audience today. We're still pretty excited about what we're trying to do. Like all things, we didn't expect COVID to jump in the middle of all this. It slowed us down a little bit, but maybe that wasn't so bad because it got us to say, "Well, we can't do this. What should we do? Well, we really should respond to what people are saying they want this app." This puts us in a good position now to say, "Okay, we know what not to do. We know what we can do. Let's see if we can get this thing for once. "
Kim: Oh, Rob it was good meeting you, and Jerry, it was good chatting again. I look forward to getting back with you when some of these, especially your newest project is up and running. You can fill us in on how it's going. Thanks again.
Jeff: Well, I've never worried about Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk having a loss of words to say or a lack of activities. He's just always busy.
Kim: Yes, he is. You just got to take two steps back and really admire the projects he's involved in helping beekeepers and the beekeeping industry get better at what we're trying to do. I can't wait to see this commercial thing. I'm going to sign up for the app this year.
Jeff: Oh, very cool. He'll like that. The app, I remember when I was doing the master's program at the University of Montana, was really interesting to use and to slide in the front of the hive. Definitely, I can guarantee you I was not one of the people that was singing on the app.
Kim: [laughs] Okay.
Jeff: Otherwise, he would have mentioned something about the guitar.
Kim: There you go.
Jeff: You'll enjoy it. It'll be fun.
Kim: Okay, good.
Jerry: It'll be good. The only other thing I was going to mention is that I remember Jimmy too's course at OSU in Wooster when he had it. It's good that Dr. Bromenshenk mentioned that, Jim's course.
Kim: Yes, small world. Jerry Hayes, who took over Bee Culture took Jimmy's class.
Jerry: That's right.
Kim: Figures going out in a lot of directions, so it's a small world we're in.
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 or 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 from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any web page. 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 Betterbee for their longtime support. Check out all their great beekeeping supplies at betterbee.com. Thanks to Northern Bee Books for their support of Bee Books Old New with Kim Flottum. Check out all of their books at northernbeebooks.co.uk.
Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on the show. Feel free to leave us comments and questions at "Leave A Comment" section under each episode on the website. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks a lot, everybody.
[00:53:31] [END OF AUDIO]
Research Professor, Online Instructor, CEO
Educational and Research Background:
Dr. Bromenshenk has Ph.D. in entomology and 49 years of experience working with honey bees worldwide. For 20 years, he was the statewide director of Montana's EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) in energy research and education, co-founded Bee Alert Technology, Inc., a technology transfer and contract research company, and was President of the Western Apicultural Society in 2004, 2014, and again in 2019-2022.
He pioneered the use of honey bees for pollution monitoring and the liquid nitrogen-freeze assay for bee hygienic behavior. He and his research teams:
- developed and patented Smart Hives for bee management,
- Acoustic Scanning for detection and diagnosis of honey bee pests and diseases,
- Conditioning (training) of bees to search for landmines, IEDs, drug labs, and dead bodies, and
- Decimeter resolution LIDAR for locating, tracking, and mapping forager bees.
Now semi-retired from the University of Montana he continues to teach as the lead for UM’s Online Master Beekeeping program. In 2019, his Bee Alert team launched a successful Kickstarter project to fund an ongoing citizen science project to detect and map honey bee diseases worldwide and tune their Bee Health Guru acoustic app (www.beehealth.guru).
Dr. Bromenshenk has several published chapters in peer-reviewed monographs and eighty-nine (89) articles listed under Google Scholar. He is now working with a UM team and a team in Manhattan, KC, on a beekeeping course for US soldiers and others interested in Commercial Beekeeping.