Joining us is Bee Culture contributor and author, Ross Conrad. Ross is a commercial beekeeper in Vermont. He runs a small commercial operation running about 100 colonies and all are treatment free. He makes honey, does a bit of pollination and does a...
Joining us is Bee Culture contributor and author, Ross Conrad. Ross is a commercial beekeeper in Vermont. He runs a small commercial operation running about 100 colonies and all are treatment free. He makes honey, does a bit of pollination and does a good bit of teaching. He is the author of Natural Beekeeping, a serious look at keeping bees without the use of disease or pest management chemicals, which is in its second edition. Just released is his new book, The Land Of Milk And Honey, with Bill Mares, a history of beekeeping in their home state of Vermont. Beekeeping in Vermont excels in overwintering and queen production that will help beekeepers anywhere.
Today Ross talks about the pricing scandal around the EpiPen, the syringe used to apply epinephrine to people experiencing extreme allergic reactions to a variety of substances including honey bee venom. Extreme price increases have made these difficult, if not impossible to obtain by beekeepers to have around to prevent problems.
Ross then talks with us about beekeeping history from several pioneers of Vermont beekeeping and ties it into his newest book with Bill Mare. Vermont’s history is full of fascinating beekeepers, unique to the area, who’s management techniques have touched us all.
Listen to this noted Natural Beekeeper today on Beekeeping Today Podcast!
Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:
This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will help ensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode!
We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer service, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com
Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website: https://www.strongmicrobials.com
We want to also thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor of the podcast. 2 Million Blossoms is a regular newsletter and podcast focused on stories and photos of all pollinators and hosted by Dr. Kirsten Traynor.
We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments: email@example.com
Follow Beekeeping Today Podcast today!
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
Thank you for listening!
Podcast music: Young Presidents, "Be Strong"; Musicalman, "Epilogue". Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott
Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC
Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment, I'm Jeff Ott.
Kim Flottum: I'm Kim Flottum.
Sponsor: 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 hive's 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 sponsors' support, and you know we'd rather get right to talking about bees. However, our great sponsors are critical to help making all this happen. From the hosting fees to software to hardware, microphones and recorders, they enable each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture has been the magazine for American Beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today.
We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms that sponsored this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is now evolving into a regular newsletter so check them out at www.2millionblossoms.com, and that is with a number 2. They are continuing to produce the 2 Million Blossoms podcast. You can check that out on the website as well.
Hey, everybody, thanks for joining us. We're really, really happy you're here. Hey, Kim, you feeling a little blotted? Are you still tired from that Thanksgiving duck you ate?
Kim: [laughs] Neither of the above. I practice moderation in all things, if you believe that.
Jeff: [laughs] Wait, what? Who is this? Where is Kim and what have you done to him?
Kim: Yes, it was a good day. It's been a good few days. I'm sorry it's over, but it was fun while it lasted. Lots of family.
Jeff: Yes, back to work. Well, we're happy to be out here. For our friends and listeners who are listening on your Monday morning commute, we can commiserate with you on this first day of work after the Thanksgiving holiday. Hey, Kim, before we get going much further I want to recognize the fact that in November, we lost two great beekeepers.
Kim: Yes, it was a tough month, Jeff. Dr. Roger Hoopingarner up in Michigan passed. He was, I'm going to say in his 90s. Had a full life in the world of bees and beekeeping and there will be more information coming out on his career and accomplishments shortly. Of course, Tom Theobald was with us a couple of times and has his own, I guess you can call it his own podcast. He's reading 10, 12 years of his magazine articles he has on a web page. You can tune in and listen to that, beekeeping with Tom. It's beekeeping, but it's about a lot of other things. Yes, two good friends in the last couple of weeks.
Jeff: It's a rough month. I met Roger one time, and that was when you sent me down to Mexico way back in 1993 to do the story with him and Chip Taylor on Africanized bees down in Linares, Mexico. Roger was a super kind, good-hearted person. He's sorely missed, I'm sure, by his family. Tom was a great beekeeper, and I loved having him on the show. He lived there near where I did in Colorado, so two great beekeepers. Kim, you and Jim on Honey Bee Obscura have been doing a lot of great work. What's all this episode about smells that you just got-- just came out at the end of the month.
Kim: Actually, it's two episodes.
Jeff: Yes, two episodes.
Kim: We got to talk, and one of the things that if you've been keeping bees for a while you don't even notice some of the things that are out there when you're in a bee yard, bee house, whatever, and we went back and looked at them individually. What kinds of smells do bees make? What kind of smells do bee products make? What does your bee house smell like? What about honey? Every honey has its own distinctive flavor. When I did the book with Marina, the American Honey Tasting Society, one of the things we talked about in detail was the smell of honey, how you taste the smell, and that's exactly what you do.
We brought all of those together. There's good smells and there's bad smells and there's the smell that sticks to your bee suit all year long because of your smoker. We brought all those together and we hope you can do is if you're new at this, learn to recognize and enjoy them because each one of them has a story it's telling you, and if you've been at this a long time, pick up and try and remember what it's telling you again because we too often take them for granted.
Jeff: I enjoyed the episodes. It made me think of all the smells I really enjoy about beekeeping, and one of those really is the smell of my hands after working the hives for several hours. Just a mixture of the propolis, the wax, the honey, a little bit of smoke. I almost don't want to wash them afterwards but Sheri says I have to.
Kim: I think the one that I like the best is the one that probably a lot of people listening to this like the best also, if you think about it for a moment, it's the first time you ever opened the top of a beehive without a smoker, the aroma that floats up. It happened to me the guy that introduced me to bees is Dr. Eric Erickson up in Wisconsin at the Bee Lab there. He took me out; he didn't have a veil on; he didn't have a bee suit. He just very slowly quietly lifted the roof off and told me to lean down and smell and he says, "You'll remember that the rest of your life." He was exactly right.
Jeff: Yes, that is a great thing.
Kim: Jeff, I just want to remind you and everybody else about the newsletter that we're going to start coming out. The regular newsletter to people who've signed up for it on our web page. Just spot it on the web page. We need your email and once we get that we're going to start sending it out. Well, we're going to start about once a month and see how it goes, but it's going to come out early-- The first one is coming out early December and then about once a month after that.
If you're interested we're going to be talking about the people that we visit with, the people we don't visit with, and some things about running the program. Some of the things that we found out in the past. Some of the things we're hoping to do in the future and some of the things I don't even know what we're going to tell you yet.
Jeff: Some of the behind-the-scenes secrets of producing the podcast.
Kim: Yes. There you go. Go to the web page. What's the web page, Jeff?
Kim: Kim: There's a place on the web page where--
Jeff: If you just go to the website after a few seconds a little pop-up, a little screen will ask you if you want to subscribe to the newsletter. Go ahead and do that.
Kim: Perfect. Go ahead and feel free to do that. We do not sell the newsletter list. We do not share it with anybody. It just keeps here with Kim and me and we keep it top secret.
Kim: Yes, we do. I know because I get too many emails from people who have sold my name. There are a few things in life that irritate me more than that so we're certainly not going to indulge in that. Go to the web page, sign up for the newsletter, look for it in early December, and we'll see where it goes.
Jeff: Yes. Kim, just remind listeners we do have transcripts of each episode out there available to read, so if you catch something on a podcast you weren't sure of the spelling, not sure of what we actually said, or you just prefer to read the podcast, you can do that by clicking on "transcripts" on our website for each episode. Kim, coming up we have an old friend of yours, Ross Conrad. This will be my first time I get to meet him but I've read his articles in Bee Culture for quite a while.
Kim: Yes, Ross started writing when I was at Bee Culture and has continued for years and years and years. We worked together, he and President Bill Mares, up in Middlebury, Vermont, worked together and put on EAS up there a dozen years ago. He's got a new book out, The History of Beekeeping in Vermont, and I look forward to talking with him about it.
Jeff: He wrote the blurb on the back of your latest book, didn't he?
Kim: He did. I was quite pleased that he did that because that new book of course is Common Sense Natural Beekeeping and I figured if you get a blurb on the back of the book you get one from the guy who wrote the book on natural beekeeping.
Jeff: Yes. Well, very good. Just before we jump-off, we're going to have your co-author on the show here in a couple of weeks also.
Kim: Yes. Stephanie is coming along, and she knows a lot about this that I don't know. I know a lot about the things that she wasn't familiar with, so we put our heads together and I think we came up with a pretty good approach to Common Sense Natural Beekeeping.
Jeff: Fantastic. All right, Kim. Well, let's get into our show with Ross, but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.
Sponsor: Hello, beekeepers, your honeybees face a lot of challenges out there. Unbalanced food sources from monoculture crops, holding yards, drought, food shortages, antibiotics, pesticides, and pathogens like chalkbrood. To overcome these challenges, your bees need the multiple bacteria that are in all 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, and while you're at the Strong Microbial site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, their regular newsletter full of important beekeeping news and product updates. Hey, everybody, welcome back. Sitting across the virtual zoom table right now is none other than Ross Conrad. Ross, welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast.
Ross Conrad: Oh, thanks. Good to see you guys.
Kim: Hey, Ross, we haven't been together either virtually or physically in way too long a time, I think. I'm going to say the last CAS we had in Vermont was the last time I was in the same place with you. Does that sound about right?
Ross: Yes, actually, that does sound about right.
Kim: Yes, it’s been too long.
Ross: That was almost 10 years ago. Do you realize that?
Kim: Yes. Well, it's good to see you again and I'm anxious to talk to you. We're anxious to talk to you about a couple of three things. One, you just had an article in Bee Culture magazine about the EpiPen, and I want to go into some detail on that in a minute. You seem to be the only voice raising, making any noise about this in the beekeeping world, and I think more people need to know about it. Then I want to talk to you about your new book, the one with Bill Mares, and your other book, the Natural Beekeeping book. Let's start with the EpiPen event. That's what I call it because I hope what you did in Bee Culture raises enough hackles that somebody does something.
Ross: That would be nice, but I'm not holding my breath, unfortunately.
Jeff: Describe the issue at hand.
Ross: Basically, it's a problem with our for-profit healthcare system that really focuses more on profit rather than really taking care of people. It played out with the whole EpiPen episode where the companies that were producing it were able to squelch the competition in terms of the generic versions, and basically, corner the market, get a monopoly, and then slowly over years raise the price astronomically and it's all perfectly legal. That's the beauty of it. They have gone to court and the courts are saying they have to pay back some of the overcharges, but no one is fined really, or admitted guilt or going to jail. It's all the way the system is designed to work.
Jeff: For background, the EpiPen is used to administer epinephrine as a drug as the counteract the anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting and other insects stings?
Ross: Yes. The epinephrine is actually adrenaline. When you go into an anaphylactic shock, your body is shutting down and the adrenaline helps revive you so you can get to a hospital and get medical help.
Jeff: These are historically been suggested to beekeepers to keep in their bee kit too in case they have a sudden reaction to a bee sting where historically they haven't and then suddenly they do. That's usually what happens.
Ross: Yes, or a passer-by or somebody else. Definitely, as a beekeeper, I think a lot of beekeeper-- I know I do, have them around just in case. Especially if you’re doing EPI therapy.
Kim: I always had one. I always had a dozen in my refrigerator, both at work and at home, because we always had newspapers, magazines, television, whoever coming out to do news stories. You get six or eight people on a production unit, how many of them are going to have a problem if they get stung. Almost always somebody gets stung because they're trying to get up within half an inch of the front door, or within half an inch at the top of the hive, or they want to see you put a bee in their finger. We always have plenty of them. I don't have any anymore.
Ross: See, if you are keeping these with friendly Vermont bees, you wouldn't have such problems.
Kim: Well, the bees weren’t the problems; it was always the people trying to do something to the bees. They were sticking their fingers in their faces where they didn't belong, and the bees are going, “I'm sorry, you shouldn't be doing this.”
Jeff: You were saying in your article that there's a couple of manufacturers, I wouldn't say colluded, but they pretty much cornered the market to keep the competition down. One went away, and they upped the price from basically tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars per injection.
Ross: They did collude actually, let's just be frank about it. The one dropped the generic version, and they worked a deal where they would share the profits from the EpiPen, which is the name brand, and have the majority of the market. Yes, it was just unfortunate because, especially for people who do have severe allergies to bee stings, it’s a life and death situation.
They're going to buy it no matter what the price, and actually the other problem that aggravates this is that they don't actually buy it. It's all done by insurance, a third party. That's part of the problem. If somebody else is paying for it it's like you don't care. Whatever the price is, you want it and let somebody else worry about covering the cost.
Jeff: Right. What's the footnote? What's the final outcome of this story? Is there anything happening in the background, any updates?
Ross: For Pfizer and their role in the charade or whatever you want to call it, the court has ordered them to set aside a bunch of funds to pay back individuals. Actually, you have until November 12th, which unfortunately it sounds like this podcast isn't going to come out in time for folks to be able to apply to get reimbursed if they can prove and show that they purchased the EpiPen within the last, whatever, 8, 10 years, or whatever it was. Sorry, I just dated this whole thing crosstalk.
Jeff: Oh, no, no. No, it's fine. Kim, you're going to have to-- do you have the receipts from those 10 or 12 EpiPens you used to have around the house. You can get your money back.
Kim: When I was buying them they were in the tens of dollars.
Jeff: Yes, I know.
Kim: They were easy.
Ross: You don’t that look old.
Kim: No, I don't. When the price bumped, I was getting them in a local drugstore and I got a prescription from the doctor; I went in and I see they were $125. What? The last time it was $950 or something.
Jeff: Yes. When I got my first EpiPen, years ago, it was less than $10, I think. It was cheap.
Ross: Oh, you guys got me. My first step you bet was $35.
Kim: Even if it was $35, I'd have a couple around just because of the number of people that I had around. I quit inviting people to my bee yard. Unless you were a beekeeper and you told me you were allergic, but I wouldn't have brought in a crazy anchorman from the local news station on a beehive anymore. At least your article got out in time, Ross, which is good. At least some people will have some news. I didn't catch the cutoff date in the article, so we're going to miss that.
Ross: November 12th. Thanks to the folks at Bee Culture for running that.
Jeff: Our good sponsors, yes, that's good. I would suggest to our listeners to double-check on that. Sometimes those deadlines are extended. Might want to double-check on that if you have a pile of receipts for EpiPens over the last several years.
Ross: It's possible there'll be another opportunity with the other company that was involved. They haven't finalized their agreement with the court yet. Who knows, maybe they'll be required to offer additional funds to help reimburse folks. We'll see what happens.
Kim: Ross, I want to thank you for bringing it to everybody's attention, by the way, it went way over my head. I hope it helps a lot of people.
Ross: I have the advantage. I'm not a university professor, a scientist that's worried about my reputation, so I'll say stuff that most people usually don't have the guts to go out and say. For better or worse. I might put my foot in my mouth sometimes.
Kim: No, I'm glad you did. This will maybe help us help other people get the word out.
Sponsor: Better Bee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Beekeeping Today Podcast. For over 40 years Better Bee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Better Bee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalogs to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Better Bee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at betterbee.com.
Kim: It's your new book, the one you did with Bill Mares. Like I mentioned earlier a little bit ago, you and I and Bill Mares did a lot at EAs when I was in Middlebury. What'd you say? 10 years ago. Oh my gosh.
Ross: It was 2012. Yes.
Kim: Yes, but your new book just came out, it's the History of Beekeeping in Vermont?
Ross: Yes. Land of Milk and Honey. It was a lot different from my first book, a heavier lift. Actually, it started out for me just learning about some of the phenomenal beekeepers here in Addison County, where I'm situated, we're nationally, even internationally recognized, all throughout going back 150 years. I was thinking, "Oh, this would be an interesting book."
I actually had started working on it, and then I ran into Bill Mares who is actually at the time, a couple of years later, working on a book on the History of all of Vermont. We decided to pool our resources and efforts. We pulled in a few other beekeepers from the Vermont Bee Association to help to do some of the research part, and Bill and I did primarily the actual writing of the book and organizing it, that kind of thing.
Kim: Well, it's an interesting book, for sure. I think that, well, not being from Vermont, I didn't have the history that you guys do with almost everybody that you were talking about, but the one person I of course recall is Bill Mares because he wrote for Bee Culture Magazine when I was there for a whole lot of years. I'll be very careful here. He and I bumped heads sometimes and he and I hugged sometimes because of the beliefs that we had and shared and didn't have and didn't share, but he was always an interesting character.
Ross: Beekeepers tend to be.
Kim: According to what you've told me and what I read, he pretty much was your mentor.
Ross: Bill Mares. Yes. Bill Mayers, different person.
Kim: That's who I met. Did I say, Bill Mayers? Bill Mares is who I meant.
Ross: Okay. It's a similar name, so it's easy to get confused. Yes. Him and Charlie Mraz. That's where I started my beekeeping, basically. As I talk about in Natural Beekeeping, my first book, had a spiritual experience with a honeybee and because of that I accepted a job working full time with Bill and Charlie Mraz, which most people in their right minds don't work and jump at a career opportunity to work with millions of stinging insects that could potentially kill you, but because I had this, really a spiritual experience, I decided to take the job and it changed my whole life.
Kim: Of course, I was referring to Bill's dad, Charles Mraz, when I was talking about writing for Bee Culture. Yes, Charles and I bumped heads and hugged off and on over all the years that he worked for us but he was always a treat every month.
Ross: He was quite a guy. I was glad I got to meet him.
Kim: Yes. One of the things Charles did that I found just fascinating, he more or less, correct me if I'm wrong here, developed a technique for collecting bee venom for medical use. I went with him one time when he did that. Jeff, have you ever seen that done, collecting bee venom?
Jeff: No. I've seen video of it. I've not seen it live. Only what I've collected personally.
Jeff: I've seen that quite a bit.
Kim: Ross, have you seen it? Did you--
Ross: Oh, yes. I did it with him and with Bill. It was one of the yearly tasks that we did. In fact, I would get hazard pay, extra pay to do it because it's the closest to working with Africanized bees I probably ever and hopefully it will ever come. Every beehive in the yard is on full alert and very defensive. I remember we were at one yard and the road was a couple 100 feet away, and we were collecting venom, just tens of thousands of bees, all stinging anything that moves. Somebody pulled up that I apparently knew, Bill or Charlie, and got out of the car to say hi, and as soon as they got out of the car they were like-- and jumped back in the car. They were out of there. It gets a little hairy.
Psychologically it's tough. If you think about, as you know Kim, probably from your experience, you're sitting there and just bees are hitting your veil as if it was raining out. They just constantly, boom, boom, boom, and you're doing that for hours. I didn't find it fun, but it was part of the job.
Kim: [laughs] Double bee suits, double gloves, make sure you wear.
Ross: Everything. Double tape.
Kim: Yes. I was going to say yards and yards of duct tape. It was knowing where it comes from. Quickly, Ross, can you do just a basic outline of what the beekeepers are doing to get the bees to do that?
Kim: Well, Charlie invented, and his son Bill is an engineer, actually more perfected this mechanism. It's basically a sheet-like plastic that you put a rubber membrane around and seal it with gaskets and put it inside a wooden frame that clamps it all together. In that wooden frame, there's wires, and you hook it up to a battery, so every other wire is basically hot, and you stick that apparatus in front of the entrance of a hive and you kick the hive. When the bees come out angry, they land on that and they get a hot foot; they sting the rubber membrane, deposit the venom underneath the membrane, so it gets collected.
Then after a few minutes, you move on to the next hive. We'd always do it in the fall when the bees were the strongest and they could afford to lose some population before going into winter so their food would last longer. I got interesting memories from those.
Jeff: The contraption sounds like something a older brother would make for a younger brother to experiment with is the first thought that came to mind. "Just hold it out there and--"
Ross: Are you an older brother?
Jeff: No. I'm a younger brother.
Kim: I wanted to bring that up because of my experiences with Charles and you being there at the same time. The book that you and Bill Mares did then, The Land of Milk and Honey, where is that available?
Ross: Pretty much everywhere. All over the internet, or you could even probably your local library could get it for you. I think Bee Culture is carrying it.
Kim: Good. Well, the reason I suggest that because although it's about the history of beekeeping in Vermont, the history of beekeeping in Vermont touches a lot of other places and a lot of other people. Not just Vermont beekeepers, I think are going to benefit from reading it.
Ross: Well, yes. What I realized in writing it is that Vermont excels in certain aspects of beekeeping, mostly overwintering in a cold climate and raising queens and nucleus colonies. In that aspect, I think just beekeepers everywhere can benefit from it. Really for us what I find interesting is looking at all the other history books on beekeeping out there, they're all about certain countries or the other world. You miss a lot of really interesting characters and information when you don't go down to the more granular level of the state.
We in Vermont having been the first to do a state-focused beekeeping history, we're really hoping that other states will follow us and do a similar thing because there are so many interesting stories and characters that just get missed with those other more broad strokes of history. I think we're missing a lot when we don't dig into those kind of histories on a more localized level.
Jeff: Did you notice significant differences or approaches between Northern Vermont and Southern Vermont?
Ross: Mostly in terms of forage, yes. There's certain areas of Vermont that are really good for bees and other areas where you have to find that microclimate that works but it's a little more challenging. That was one of the big ones, for sure. Vermont is a hilly state, it's not known for being very flat and not very-- The land is not always that accessible and easy in traveling and stuff. Those were the kind of things that jumped out more to me.
Kim: Well, Ross, you've got another book that's been out for a while, Natural Beekeeping, and it lends itself to being a good spokesperson for the folks who want to follow that path. How has that been doing, and are we looking at an update, do you think?
Ross: I did an update in 2013. It first came out in 2007. It's still holding out pretty well. At the time when I first came out with it, I was sticking my neck out, quite frankly.
Kim: You were.
Ross: There was no really other books that talked about alternative ways of approaching beekeeping, and actually, I got quite-- Not a huge amount but some flak from beekeepers that would say, "All beekeeping is organic," or "There's no such thing as organic," or just all kinds of interesting comments.
Jeff: The discussion went from there's no such thing as organic beekeeping to the other side where everything about beekeeping is organic?
Ross: Depending on who I talked to, you heard different opinions.
Jeff: [laughs] That's funny.
Ross: Those were from the old-time beekeepers. The new beekeepers that are coming in, they're looking for that more information. I think there's more of a recognition that industrialized approaches to agriculture, which is ultimately a biological activity, is probably not, in most instances, the best approach to take.
Jeff: What is your definition of natural beekeeping? How do you define it in your book?
Ross: Well, I don't. I try to lay out all the different options to let people choose what works best for them as opposed to prescribing, but generally speaking, it's working with the bees natural instincts and tendencies and biology rather than trying to force them to do something that you'd want them to do, avoiding the use of synthetic pesticides and chemicals, avoiding artificial feeding on a regular basis, avoiding antibiotics and drugs and using alternative methods to keep the bees just as healthy to still deal with those issues. You don't just ignore them and do nothing and hope for the best. Unfortunately, because of the state of our environment these days that tends not to work very well generally speaking.
Jeff: It gets often confused natural beekeeping is hands-off, and that's not at all what you're saying.
Kim: I found it interesting and it was certainly a resource when Stephanie and I just did something called Common Sense Natural Beekeeping, and we moved up a step from you in terms of the things we were looking at. Probably you would consider them a little bit less natural than you were you doing. Anyway, we're going to talk about that down the road. How was your season this year, Ross?
Ross: Well, it was mixed. It started out pretty good, but it was really dry here in Vermont. We actually had pretty serious drought conditions for a while, and then the later part of the season, it turned all around and got really wet. Unfortunately, my honey crop was down about a third from last year. The big issue really was the quality. I got a lot of unripe honey, high moisture. That's what hurt the most for me. As they say in beekeeping, there's always next year.
Kim: There you go. Are you still selling honey every weekend at the Middlebury Farm Market?
Ross: Yes, until I ran out of the good stuff. I separated out the high moisture stuff. I sell that as bakery grade to institutions, or actually, surprising number of people like the low price and they just buy 24-pound 2-gallon bucket and use it for their home honey for the year. It's fine. That's what we eat. Even if it ferments a little bit, it's still fine to eat. It's got a little more fruity taste, got those beneficial bacteria in them. If it's good for the bees, it must be good for us.
Kim: There you go, good.
Jeff: Just dig a little deeper. [laughs] How many bees are you running? How many colonies?
Ross: I try to keep around 100. I'm down to about 80 hives right now. I don't like to get it too big. I want to run my company; I don't want it to run me.
Kim: That's a good philosophy.
Jeff: Is it all liquid honey? Do you do any comb, any cut comb?
Ross: Every now and then, yes, I'll do some comb, not a lot, but it also depends on the year and how things are going. Then I sell some nucs usually a little bit on the side, and do a little bit of just local pollination for some folks I know. I keep it diversified. Although, really the big part of what I do is education through writings, through workshops, and classes, and actually, that's taken quite a hit with the pandemic, unfortunately.
I live here in rural Vermont; we don't, not yet anyway, have really good internet access. In fact, here I am at my local library, it's got a good setup where my internet's not going to get interrupted and I won't have fuzz and screams and lose my audio or just drop out completely. I didn't want to do that to you guys.
Jeff: No, it's good.
Ross: Because of that, I haven't been doing even Zoom meetings much, which I have done a couple, and quite frankly, I don't enjoy them as much as just being in person, especially when you got bees right there, too. That's the fun part.
Kim: Hopefully, it's coming back. It seems to be.
Jeff: Just like all beekeeping, there's always next year just like Ross said.
Ross: It's the mantra.
Jeff: [laughs] What have we missed? What are you doing we haven't asked you about?
Ross: I guess the only thing that's going on still is trying to adjust to the new world that we've created collectively, with the climate that's becoming more and more unpredictable, the social and economic landscape that's becoming more and more unpredictable. Trying to navigate that, I think is going to be, for all beekeepers, as we move forward here, one of the bigger lifts that we're going to be focused on.
Kim: Yes, I think you hit the button there on climate. I've been some work along that and it's worse than we think.
Ross: Worse than some people think. Unfortunately, the politicians are trying to keep us from thinking it's as bad as it is so they don't get caught holding the bag.
Kim: It's probably pretty close to the truth there, I think. Yes, exactly.
Jeff: We are an apolitical podcast, so we won't go down too far down that rabbit hole.
Ross: Is it really political? We're all part of this society. We all are contributing just by using the fossil fuels that are available to us.
Jeff: That's right.
Ross: Quite frankly, this is not really a political thing, and it's certainly going to affect the bees. It's certainly going to affect the beekeepers. If we don't start changing the way we do things across the board. Some people think that just the governments and the businesses have to change, but quite frankly, people have to change at the same time because governments and businesses tend to provide what their constituents or their customers want.
If the people don't change at the same time, of course, it would be nice if the governments and businesses help the people to change, but at the same time, the people need to be pushing the government and the businesses to change because if we don't get it together real soon; it doesn't look good for the future of the bees or the beekeepers. Sorry to be a downer.
Jeff: No, I was just thinking about the electric bee truck I ordered. I can't wait for that to show up.
Ross: There you go. They have some nice pickups out there now that are electric, and they're coming along. They're finally starting to get on it. They're seeing that it couldn't be a benefit for the economy, not necessarily a hardship.
Jeff: All right. Ross, really appreciate you being on the show, really enjoy your columns each month in Bee Culture, and look forward to having you back here in the future.
Ross: It was great to see you guys again. It's been quite a while.
Hopefully down the road, who knows? Maybe we can do something like this in person again.
Jeff: That would be nice.
Kim: It's was good seeing you again, Ross. Take care. Stay warm this winter.
Ross: Yes, I got the firewood in. We're ready.
Jeff: I've been looking forward to meeting Ross, and his story about the EpiPens was pretty important.
Kim: Yes, it was. I got to be honest; I was even looking more forward to sitting down and chatting with him again because over the years, we've spent a lot of time together, and over the last couple of years no time. What did he say? 10 years? It's been since we were together-
Jeff: 10 years.
Kim: -when EAS was up in Vermont. Yes, what he had to say today, his article out of the blue, and I'm really surprised that nobody much has picked up on that and that deadline. I hope that people are able to take advantage of that. I'm the perfect lens, you can't be a beekeeper without having an EpiPen in the refrigerator.
Jeff: Like I mentioned when we're talking to Ross, I had one years ago, I think I eventually lost it behind the seat of the pickup truck or something like that and I've never gotten a new one. At $600 a pop, I'm not sure if I can run out and get one now.
Kim: I don't bring people over to my bee yard any more for that reason. They may think that they're not allergic and ding and they tip over. I can avoid that by not inviting people. What I can't avoid is myself. I have a history of allergies. I went through the series and I've been 30 years without a problem. Maybe it wouldn't be 31 if something happened. I hope they get it straightened out for the better of beekeepers and everybody with allergies.
Jeff: I'm not worried about the one sting, I'm worried about that one day that all beekeepers have when you get multiple stings. That's when you get more than the typical one or two zings.
Kim: If you haven't yet, Jeff, take a look at his new book, the History of Beekeeping in Vermont. He and Bill Mares did a good book. I got to get those names straight. Bill Mares is a co-author. Bill Mraz is Charlie Mraz's son, and Charlie Mraz used to write for Bee Culture magazine when I was there for a lot of years. Charlie Mraz was known for his EPI therapy information and for his beekeeping information. His son Bill is just a beekeeper. I don't mean just a beekeeper, but he's a beekeeper, he still collects venom and takes care of business that way. Just to clear up that confusion, Bill Mares, Bill Mraz, Charlie Mraz, and Ross Conrad. Those are the names to get correct.
Jeff: There you go. You're Kim and I'm Jeff.
Jeff: [ laughs]
Jeff: Okay. Well, that about wraps it up for this episode. Do you know who you are? Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly 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 the Beekeeping Today Podcast.
We want to thank our regular episodes sponsor Global Patties. Check them out at www.globalpatties.com. We want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of the podcast. Check out their full probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com. We want to thank Better Bee for joining us as a supporter. Check out their full line of beekeeping supplies at www.betterbee.com. Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else we should mention, Kim?
Kim: No, I don't think so. We're getting more questions and that's good. We appreciate those.
Jeff: You bet. Thanks a lot, everybody.
[00:42:58] [END OF AUDIO]
Ross Conrad learned his craft from the late Charles Mraz, world renowned beekeeper and promoter of apitherapy. Conrad is a former president of the Vermont Beekeepers Association, a regular contributor to Bee Culture - The Magazine of American Beekeeping, author of Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture and co-author of The Land of Milk and Honey: A history of beekeeping in Vermont.
Ross has given bee related presentations and led organic beekeeping workshops and classes throughout North America for many years.
His Middlebury, Vermont based beekeeping business, Dancing Bee Gardens, supplies friends, neighbors with honey and candles among other bee related products, has 5-frame nucleus bee colonies for sale each June, and provides bees for local pollination in the spring.
Here are three of our favorite episodes! If you've not heard our podcast, start with these. Which is your favorite? Let us know!