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Sept. 13, 2021

HBHC Part 3 - Pete Berthelsen, Habitat & Forage (S4, E13)

HBHC Part 3 - Pete Berthelsen, Habitat & Forage  (S4, E13)

Today, we pick up on the third installment of our exploration of the Honey Bee Health Coalition’s programs as we talk with Pete Berthelsen. Pete runs the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund, a non-profit organization working to improve the habitat for...

PeteToday, we pick up on the third installment of our exploration of the Honey Bee Health Coalition’s programs as we talk with Pete Berthelsen. Pete runs the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund, a non-profit organization working to improve the habitat for all bees and butterflies, anywhere people can make it happen. They have projects in 12 states and are looking to get as many more as they can. They work with the USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), trying to get seed mixes used on these 24 million set aside acres more bee and butterfly friendly, among many other projects. That means working with and coordinating activities between the USDA, seed company organizations, farmers, commercial beekeepers and others. The CRP has been in place since 1985 and has been successful in improving the soil, water quality of the land rented from farmers so it can be improved. Mostly, however, it is planted to grasses, and not pollinator friendly habitat.

It’s no wonder then that he’s intimately involved with the Honey Bee Health Coalition’s Honey Bee Nutrition and Forage program. Focusing on pollinator health and habitat is what he does, every day. The 12 states his Bee and Butterfly projects are in are prime locations for commercial honey production, the monarch butterfly migration route and very productive agricultural land.

So, when all of the members of the HBHC sat down at the table – Ag Supply companies, conservationists, food producers and food buyers, commercial beekeepers, honey packers and a host of others – there was some uneasiness in the room. But as Pete puts it, to solve a problem as big as turning around modern agriculture, you have to be a lumper, not a splitter. All of the people involved have to be part of the solution. No one can advance at the cost of other’s moving down. And Pete is working to make this happen for all the bees and all the birds, and better soil and clean water.

Find out what more this arm of the Honey Bee Health Coalition is doing to improve the health of our honey bees, and butterflies, too.

ZachFirst, though we talk with Zach Techner of Cascadia Venom Collection. Zach recently stopped by Jeff’s house to ‘collect’ a large Bald Faced Hornets’ nest and a smaller in-ground Yellowjacket nest. This time of year, beekeepers are typically the first to receive calls to remove ‘bees’… and they’re typically not honey bees but hornets. Zach talks with Jeff about his full-time business collecting hornets for labs who use the venom and provides some information all beekeepers should know about hornets.

It’s an exciting episode so listen today. If you like what you hear, subscribe/follow, leave a review and let all your friends know about Beekeeping Today Podcast.


Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:

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S4, E13 – HBHC Part 3 - Pete Berthelsen, Habitat & Forage


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.

Introduction: Hey, Jeff and Kim, today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. It's a good time to think about honey bee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow.

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Jeff: Thank you, Global Patties. You know, everybody, each week, we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsors' support and we know you'd rather us get right to talk about beekeeping. However, our super sponsors are critical to making all this happen from the hosting fees to software, to hardware, to microphones, to recorders. They enable each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture Magazine has been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today.

We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor of this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine dedicated to protecting all pollinators. Learn more on our Season 2, Episode 9 podcast with Editor Kirsten Traynor and from visiting and that is with a number 2. Also, check out the new 2 Million Blossoms Podcast, also available from the 2 Million Blossoms website and from wherever you download and stream your shows. Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining us. We're truly happy you're here. Hey, Kim.

Kim: Hey, Jeff. How are you doing?

Jeff: Doing really good, doing really good. We got to have a little different opening to this episode, so we're going to get right down to business. I guess the first is some disappointing news for the Ohio Bee Conference?

Kim: Yes, the COVID thing is still up in the air that Jerry began to have some cancelations. He had people coming in from overseas, other countries, and other states. He had some cancelations and some people that wanted to attend and had to step back. Rather than force the issue, he's just going to postpone it for a year and try it again next time.

Jeff: I'm starting to see a lot of those cancelations happen. The Washington State Beekeepers Association fall meeting was just announced canceled this week or postponed to 2022.

Kim: Well, I hope they can do something virtually. Jerry was going to try it virtually, but it was just not enough time to get it set up, so next year.

Jeff: Darn you, COVID. All right. Well, that's too bad. Just moving right along here. Honey Bee Obscura, you guys are really doing a lot of nice episodes. I've been listening to those.

Kim: Well, we're getting ready for winter and you got to get your bees ready and you got to get your equipment ready. We're looking at the next couple of weeks, looking at getting your hive, your bees prepped, fed, and then protection and wrapping. Where I am here in Ohio, wrapping is really important. You got a thin-walled box out there between your bees and Old Man Winter. We like to beat them up, so we'll be talking about getting ready for winter.

Jeff: Real good. Don't forget this time of year that with the honey supers removed, it's a good time to start to actually do your varroa treatments as well if you haven't been doing them all along.

Kim: Yes, absolutely.

Jeff: Get them ready for winter. You guys, you and Jim, did an episode on what to do about hornets and yellowjackets a couple of episodes ago. Coincidentally, I found that I had a great big soccer ball size, bald-faced hornet nest right outside my barn right on the pathway going to the barn. I wasn't quite sure what to do. In the area, we have a specialist who comes around and removes a yellowjacket and bald-faced hornet nest for free.

He's called The Bee Man and he gets all these calls for this work. You see the signs, especially this time of year. I said, "Well, this is a great opportunity." I did call him. Just yesterday, he showed up to remove the hornets. He was generous enough with his time to sit down outback while his vacuums were going to sit and talk to me about his business of collecting hornets and yellowjackets.

Kim: Did he just collect the bees or is he a venom collector?

Jeff: Well, he collects the bees. As you'll hear it, he sends the bees off to a lab and they extract the venom.

Kim: Oh, that'd be good. I've never talked to one of those people.

Jeff: Let's listen to it. He's really easy to talk with. Welcome, Zach.

Zach Techner: Thanks so much, Jeff. Thanks for having us out and thanks for being interested in what we do.

Jeff: You bet. Thanks for coming. This time of year, beekeepers-- Well, first of all, before we get into all of that, tell me a little bit about Cascadia Venom Collection and then a little bit about yourself as a beekeeper.

Zach: Sure. Well, I got into collecting yellowjacket and hornet venom about 16 years ago because I just absolutely fell in love with honey bees and keeping honey bees. I was making some homemade bee collection vacuum apparatuses. I met a gentleman who had started collecting yellowjacket and hornet venom in the Olympia area in the early '70s. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes and brought me into the industry.

I've been doing it ever since. It started out as a summer job when I was going to college and just never stopped doing it. I just kept on going and I just love it. I think it's the coolest job in the world. Our business, Cascadia Venom Collection, we have five to six full-time collectors here in the Olympia area and we offer chemical-free removal of yellowjackets, hornets, and some wasp species.

Jeff: You limit it to those, but I see on your website-- and we'll have the links to your website in our show notes, but you also in the springtime work with honey bees.

Zach: We do, yes, and that's just a hobby. We don't sell any honey bees for venom. There's other businesses that specialize in that, but I do still keep honey bees as a hobby. I collect swarms for free and occasionally do cutouts and structural removals too.

Jeff: That's a handy skill to have and being able to do cut-outs and take the bees at the same time.

Zach: It's a lot of messy work.


Jeff: You mean it's not as nice and neat as it looks like in all those Instagram posts that people--

Zach: No, it's not, not in my experience. [laughs]

Jeff: Just sitting there in your shorts and your tank top, floorboards. That doesn't work that way, huh?

Zach: Not usually. No, it usually ends up just being a full day of getting sticky and getting the job done.

Jeff: Yes, no, all right. Cascadia Venom Collection, you are a beekeeper. That's really good. You collect the wasps and honey bees in season. Are you doing this year-round?

Zach: I don't. I work with a network of different collectors all over the world. I'm constantly buying and selling insects from all over the world. Here in the South Sound area in Western Washington, we collect yellowjackets starting in June and we end when the weather turns cold and wet, which is usually the end of September to mid-October. Then my real work begins where I go through all the collections that we made all summer and I clean them and package them and ship them to the labs.

Jeff: Oh, that's the tedious work.

Zach: That's the tedious work, yes, but it's inside. Once the weather turns, I still have something to do.

Jeff: Well, let's talk a little bit about that. Listeners, you may hear in the background-- I'm not sure at this point. You may hear a vacuum going in a whine in the background. That's a vacuum finishing up the collection process. When you collect the hornets and the yellowjackets, step me through what happens then.

Zach: We collect the actual insects with a vacuum and they make these little traps out of juice jugs like Ocean Spray jugs, that size. They put them on a vacuum and put the vacuum next to the entrance of the nest and disturb the nest. When all of the hornets or yellowjackets come out to defend the nest, they get sucked into my little vacuum trap.

Then it takes about half an hour or 45 minutes for all the workers that are out foraging for food or nest material to finish up gathering what they're after and return to the nest. I just leave the vacuum running for about 45 minutes typically. Larger nests can take up to an hour and a half or two hours. Most of the time, it's only about 45 minutes for the workers to return. Once I get all the insects, I remove the nest and the job's finished.

Jeff: Wow, so how many bees? Do you measure that by the pound or do you measure them by the number of bees?

Zach: Exactly. Yes, by the weight. Usually, ounces and pounds is how we measure our success for the day.


Zach: We do, we get paid by the pound for the insects.

Jeff: "Get back out there. You only got 16 ounces. We need another 32."


Zach: The insects got to be frozen while they're alive. We carry around coolers of dry ice with us in the field. Once the collection is finished, the little jug trap is capped and put underneath dry ice, so the insects are frozen. The venom is just made out of a complex of different proteins. It's really susceptible to degradation. Once the insects are frozen, they have to stay frozen until the labs extract the venom from them.

Jeff: Oh great, so did you have problems with finding dry ice?

Zach: We did actually. Yes, last week, we did not work because there is a liquid CO2 shortage or supply chain disruption. Even us [laughs] venom collectors have been affected by COVID and supply chain issues.

Jeff: No one's untouched by the supply chain disruption.

Zach: No one's untouched. [laughs]

Jeff: All that dry ice stuck in that Suez Canal.


Jeff: Well, that's amazing. Back at the home office or maybe in your kitchen freezer, you have all these hornets and yellowjackets waiting. What's the next step?

Zach: Once they're frozen, then we label bags with the collection date and they're assigned a collection number. Then they're stored in chest freezers once we get home. Then they're cleaned and I put them back under dry ice. I take them out of the chest freezer and put them back under dry ice to get them really cold so I can take them out and clean them without them thawing.

Then I clean all the debris off, whether it's some dirt that accidentally got sucked up or some paper from a bald-faced hornet nest that got sucked into the collection. Then I also have to separate the males from the workers, from the females and queens, because the males don't have stingers, no venom, and they're worthless to the labs. I just go through the collections. I usually sieve them and then pull the males out and then repack them and ship them under dry ice to the labs.

Jeff: That sounds like a lot of work just sitting there. Is it a quick sort or does it take a little while to--

Zach: It depends. It can be quick. If the collection's clean, it's pretty quick. Some of them take a long time. A real dirty collection with a lot of males can take one or two minutes, and then I just pull out less of the collection. I won't try to clean the whole collection at once. I'll just clean a little piece of it so I can get it back in the freezer before any of the insects start to thaw.

Jeff: Approximately, how many bald-faced worker bees or hornets does it take for a pound?

Zach: We average about 3 or 4 ounces, maybe 3 ounces per nest throughout the season. The nests really have a pretty short life cycle. We start collecting bald-faced hornets, the end of June, beginning of July. They're mostly done by the end of September. In the beginning, when we first started collecting them, we're averaging half an ounce or an ounce of insects per nest. This time of the year, we're getting 3 or 4 ounces per nest. On average, we get 3 or 4 ounces per nest.

Jeff: That's a lot of nests you're collecting.

Zach: That's a lot of nests we're collecting. We're a high-volume collection operation. We have five guys that go out. We typically do seven to eight nest removals a day each.

Jeff: Wow, that's amazing. Many beekeepers will get a call this time of year saying, "Hey, your bees are in my tree in the Winnie-the-Pooh-type nest." What advice do you have for beekeepers who get that kind of call?

Zach: It's pretty tricky. Dealing with ground-nesting yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets is pretty dangerous. Ground-nesting yellowjackets especially have a really remarkable way of finding their way into little nooks and crannies in your bee suit in a way that honey bees don't. The bee suit that can keep you safe from honey bees won't necessarily keep you safe from yellowjackets.

I recommend calling a professional or doing some research. Using a vacuum is a really effective method to suck them up. You can use a Shop-Vac by the entrance of the nest to collect them. That's a really effective method. With ground-nesting bees, sometimes a bucket of soapy water will do the trick if the nest is right near the entrance and it's a pretty small nest, but getting some advice from a local professional is a good way to go if you're unfamiliar with collecting hornets and yellowjackets.

Jeff: I was just thinking of all the beekeepers around the country. Many of them may not be fortunate enough to live near professional collectors. They're stuck to their own devices and their own experiences. The yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets can be nasty.

Zach: They're very different critters than honey bees. That's for sure.

Jeff: Are you gearing up for the Asian giant hornet?

Zach: Yes, we've been working with Chris Looney of the WSDA and I'm keeping tabs on that. We're not that far south from where they're finding them now up in Northern, Western Washington and fingers crossed that the WSDA will be successful in eradicating them before they make their way down here. We'll see. Time will tell.

Jeff: We've had Sven from the Washington State Department of Agriculture on the show a couple of times talking about the Asian giant hornet. That's very fascinating. They can stay up north as far as I'm concerned.

Zach: Yes.


Zach: Honeybees definitely don't need any more competition down here. [laughs]

Jeff: I wondered, Asian giant hornet versus a bald-faced hornet. Who would win?

Zach: I wonder.

Jeff: That would be interesting.

Zach: Good question. Well, hopefully, we'll never find out.


Jeff: I would watch it with binoculars.


Jeff: All right, Zach. Well, I appreciate your time this morning. I know you have other places to go and thanks for picking up my bald-faced hornets and the yellowjackets. Best of luck to you this season and maybe we'll hear from you down the road.

Zach: Sounds great, Jeff. Thank you so much.

Jeff: Thanks, Zach. Zach was a great-- He was fun to talk to. I'd actually like to follow him around all day from a distance and watch him collect all these hornets. It's amazing.

Kim: I have some more questions. I think we need to get him back.

Jeff: I think that would be a fantastic show. He has a lot to offer and he's a beekeeper as well, so he knows all sides of this story.

Kim: Yes, that'd be fun.

Jeff: I only talked to him real briefly outback, so more time is worthwhile. Hey, coming up, we have Pete Berthelsen from the Honey Bee Health Coalition. You know Pete, don't you?

Kim: I've met him at a couple of meetings, the national meetings back two, three years ago when they were having national meetings.

Jeff: [chuckles] Having them?

Kim: Well, he's a guy after my own heart. He's a bee and butterfly guy. What he's going to be talking about today is the Honey Bee Health Coalition's aspect on honey bee nutrition. Interestingly, we have several nutrition episodes coming up. He's the lead-off on this. I'm looking forward to talking to him.

Jeff: Yes, Pete is part of our four-part series with the Honey Bee Health Coalition. Today, we're going to be talking about the forage and its importance. I'm looking forward to our next several episodes on honey bee nutrition.

Kim: It's timed right in terms of being able to get ready for next year.

Jeff: Just so that our listeners have an idea what we're talking about, this week, we're talking to Pete Berthelsen. Next week, we're talking with Gloria Hoffman from the USDA ARS Tucson lab about seasonal pollens, and then Dave Aston about the Good Nutrition - Good Bees. Also then, finally, we're talking to Doris Scott about seaweed extracts for honey bee health. That's going to be a fun series.

Kim: Yes, and like I said, we're getting these guys in now and it'll give people a chance over winter to start getting ready for next year. It's a good timing.

Jeff: Excellent. Hey, let's get right into our interview with Pete. First, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.


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Jeff: Hey, while you're out the Strong Microbial site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, their regular newsletter full of product information and updates. Hey, sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now is Pete Berthelsen. Pete is part of our Honey Bee Health Coalition series. This is number three. Pete, welcome to the podcast.

Pete Berthelsen: Hey, great to be here. I'm looking forward to chatting about this stuff today.

Jeff: Well, we're looking forward to having you here. This is our, as I said, third part. In this series, we're talking about honey bee nutrition and forage and Pete's role with the Honey Bee Health Coalition in this program. Pete, why don't you talk a little bit more about your background, who you are, and what you're doing with Honey Bee Health Coalition?

Pete: Sure. Well, at its core, I'm a wildlife biologist that has spent my career talking about how to design, establish, and manage high-quality habitat. What I call "habitat," beekeepers call "forage." In the past decade or so, I've really, really become strongly interested in focusing on pollinator health and habitat because it's offered me the opportunity to take what I've talked about my whole career and talk about it to a much broader audience than people that just care about things like pheasants and quail and those kinds of things, and be able to connect the things that I'm passionate about to water quality, soil health, food sustainability, renewable energy, honey bees, native bees, just all of those things and how they're all connected. That's a little bit of what my background is. I'm joining our conversation today from the beautiful lush hills of central Nebraska.

Jeff: Very cool.

Kim: Pete, it's good to see you again. We met once at a beekeepers' meeting a while back and you're associated with the bee and butterfly habitat program. I think you are the bee and butterfly habitat program pretty much, aren't you?

Pete: Well, I don't know that I would describe it that way. I appreciate that, Kim, but the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund, I'm the partnership director. We have a really, really strong team and board of people that are working on things. If the listeners of this podcast have never heard of the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund, they're not alone. [chuckles] We are a young nonprofit that most people have never heard of before, but what we do is we provide one-on-one technical guidance on every project.

Then we provide free seed mixtures for projects that are 2 acres or larger, can be on private land, public land, corporate land, which should be interpreted as any land. Right now, we focus our efforts on a 12-state region of the Midwest and Great Plains, which happened to be the most important states for commercial beekeeping. The states that are the most important for commercial beekeeping has a really natural match and overlay to the states that are the most critical for the eastern monarch butterfly population recovery effort.

That's where we're at. For anybody that's listening to the podcast saying, "Well, why aren't they in my state?" well, we started with 2 states and then grew to 6 and then to 10, and now we're at 12. My answer to that is we're common. We're just not there quite yet, but we're having very strategic, thoughtful growth and expansion as a nonprofit. I'm really excited about what we're doing and what we're accomplishing.

Even though we work on very broad pollinator issues, the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund was started by commercial beekeepers that care passionately about their industry, the sustainability of that industry, and the direction that it's going and the critical role that forage can play in addressing all the different things that are going on in that industry.

Kim: Well, that's a pretty big task you've undertaken there, I see. I'm going to bet that somewhere there's a webpage that Jeff can get and put on our webpage so they can get a link to, they can find out more, and maybe find out how to be state number 13 and 14 perhaps.

Pete: We'd love it. We would love it.

Kim: Good.

Jeff: For some background, we have had Dr. Orley "Chip" Taylor on the show too, talking about the monarch migration and the challenges they've had with natural forage areas with the monarchs too. This all ties together and we'll make sure those links are in the show notes as well.

Pete: Just so you know, Jeff, you're the only person in the world that calls him Orley other than his mother probably. [chuckles]

Jeff: You know, that's--

Pete: Chip Taylor is how he is known in the world and he is the Monarch Man. He's a good friend and what an intelligent, passionate, thoughtful scientist working on monarch butterflies.

Jeff: He probably just had a little bit of indigestion and didn't know why because I called him Orley instead of Chip. Sorry about that, Chip.



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Kim: Well, I'll go back on the Honey Bee Health Coalition webpage. There's a lot about what you're doing. There's a whole list of programs and projects you've got going and also the list of people who belong to the coalition and what role they're playing. It's pretty incredible. The number of people and the number of projects. I'm looking at a page here and there's probably 25 or 30 projects. I know you've got your fingers in all of them, but which of these do you think are-- which are the ones are you most interested in, I guess is the question?

Pete: Well, first, Kim, let me just say you kind of brushed on it. I want to circle back to it because it's really cool and really important. The membership of the Honey Bee Health Coalition and how broad it is. I know of no other coalition to make a difference like this one. When you go all the way from retail companies, nonprofits, governmental agencies, state and federal, ag industry, honey packers, commercial beekeepers, I'm missing all kinds of things, but most of my career has been spent as-- In my former life, I was a director of habitat partnerships.

That means pulling together different groups to have collaborative efforts to do things. What a phenomenal collaborative effort the Honey Bee Health Coalition is to bring all of those different groups together because I'm a lumper, not a splitter. I believe that if you're going to try and solve a big, hairy, audacious problem and that's what's facing beekeeping and sustainability right now, you have to do it with all hands on deck. That means we can ill afford to be in a position in which we say agriculture and their chemicals. That's the problem. Has agriculture and herbicides and insecticides had an impact? Absolutely, no question.

Does that mean that agriculture should not be at the table and be part of trying to find solutions? I absolutely believe that not only should they be. They have to be for us to be successful. I guess I just want to throw that out of there about the Honey Bee Health Coalition because that's unique. It's really easy to be a splitter and to say, "We're good, you're bad. Here's the line. You stay on that side of it." That's not how the Honey Bee Health Coalition functions. I think it is the absolute foundation of why that coalition of the willing is so successful.

Kim: Well, I'm reading down the list of members here. For those of you listening, when you go to the coalition website, take a look at the-- I don't know. Like I said, 25 or 30, maybe 40 members here and they're all over the map. I'm going to back up a half a step. If I recall correctly, Jerry Hayes, when he was with Monsanto, if he didn't do it all, he did a lot of getting this off the ground, right?

Pete: He would be what we refer to as the "pointy end of the spear."


Pete: To bring that group together, I was not fortunate enough to be at the very first meeting. I was at the second one. At the very first meeting, there were people that were in the room that were uncomfortable with other people that were in the room. There's no other way to say it.

Through the process of coming together, listening to other points of view, maybe breaking bread with somebody at a meal, you go out to eat, you talk about things, your network, you get to know people personally, there are incredible relationships and changing thought processes that have happened that have absolutely been fundamental to where we need to be going in the beekeeping industry. I absolutely salute the people like Jerry and others that just really brought together uncomfortable situations and it didn't take very long for them to no longer be uncomfortable.

Kim: Well, like you just said, being a grouper is always better than being a splitter and that's certainly how this got going. Well, I'll go back to that list of projects that your group is involved in, the nutrition group. I'll just say it again. What should these do you find-- I'm not going to say the most interesting, but the most challenging probably is the better one?

Pete: One of the things that the Honey Bee Health Coalition did was try to take the four main factors that are the death of a thousand paper cuts that honey bees and beekeepers are going through and try to put into place some real-world examples of, "How can we address that and make a difference?" My portion of being involved and be integrated is the forage portion.

I believe that the research is out there. Right now, the first thing that comes to my mind is some of the research out of the University of Minnesota and their bee lab that talks about how if bees have access to high-quality forage that they are better able to withstand the negative impacts of pesticides, of varroa, different diseases and things like that. I mentioned this to you earlier.

We don't have the ability to control weather. We're struggling with the ability to be able to handle and maintain varroa. Forage/habitat is one of the things that we at least have a chance and being able to handle and control and so that's where I'm really excited to place my focus and my energy is getting high-quality forage onto the landscape to make a difference.

Kim: Enough good food for every bee in the bunch. That's a lofty goal and something every beekeeper would like to just be able to take for granted like we were almost able to do 40 or 50 years ago. That has changed drastically. I like the work that you're doing with the USDA. You've got several projects with them going on, CRP land and things. Are they an easy group to work with? It's a big government organization and they move like glaciers.

Pete: I'm going to tell a couple of stories. I'm going to start out by saying that the US Department of Agriculture is the large aircraft carrier on the sea. They have planes on it and tanks and they're huge. They have all kinds of people and all kinds of money. The Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund is the little PT boat that's going around by them. We have the ability to be innovative, quick, reactive, and to do great things, but we'll never impact 24 million acres like the Conservation Reserve Program can.

The US Department of Agriculture as that big battleship, it takes a lot of ocean to turn a big aircraft carrier around, and so they are slower to respond and slower to be able to implement some of those changes. I can just tell you that for me, personally, I think improving the seed mixtures that are planted in the Conservation Reserve Program is really one of the top prizes because that's 24 million acres of land currently.

Most of it is located in the portion of our world, where it is the most important to commercial beekeeping and the eastern monarch butterfly population and grassland songbirds and food sustainability and soil health and water quality. It is the area where all of these issues come together. For anybody that's listening, we're using an acronym here. CRP stands for the Conservation Reserve Program.

That is a program where the federal government, the US Department of Agriculture, offers landowners an annual rental payment to take highly erodible land and retire it from crop production for a period of 10 years. It's the largest, most successful conservation program in the history of this nation. It's done phenomenal things, but it could do so much more if we just had seed mixtures that were planted on there that could have true significant pollinator benefits. It's not a lot of nectar and pollen to be gleaned from grass.

Kim: [laughs]

Pete: If we can have seed mixtures that incorporated the clover species and the wildflower species that benefited all kinds of critters that are out there without one additional dime going into the program, we could have 24 million acres of great forage. Think about what that can do, Kim.

Kim: I have to sit down and think about that. That's a pretty good thing to imagine.


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Kim: I can see when you had that first meeting, you had people in the room that were uncomfortable because you've got also a bunch of programs sponsored by those pesticide companies. How is that working?

Pete: I think that there is a broad consensus out there that there is room for conservation on every single farm and ranch in the country. That's where programs like CRP work really well, Kim, because they can be used to address a resource concern on a local farm and ranch. As a landowner, a farmer myself, we have portions of our farm and ranch enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, specifically to address resource concerns related to soil erosion and water quality and things like that.

That can work and I think that almost any agricultural industry entity, whether you're a chemical company or you're selling seed or you're selling tractors or whatever you're doing, will agree that there is absolutely room for conservation on every farm and ranch in the country. That reason right there, that answer is why the Conservation Reserve Program has been an option for landowners since 1985.

The largest, the longest, the most successful conservation program in the country. 1985. How many federal programs that do this kind of stuff can you think of that have been around since 1985, that long? That's 36 years if I just did my quick math really well. That right there shows how everybody is coming together and supporting that program.

Kim: Well, probably looking at it a little bit bigger, supporting the agriculture industry in this country is important for all manner of reasons. Bees and butterflies are one of them, but eating every day is another one that I've grown accustomed to. [chuckles] I can see why a lot of people should be involved and are involved in this. It might be uncomfortable working together to make sure that it-- I think you used the word earlier about being sustainable and that's what this is heading towards, I think.

Pete: The buying habits of this nation are undergoing dramatic changes. In central Nebraska, I don't have a Whole Foods or a Costco or anything near me. I just have the hometown market. If you go into those larger chain stores, every time that I happen to be in one, I just take a look around and know how many things say free-range, organic, non-GMO, grass-fed, all of those sorts of things.

People are interested in having their food sourced and available sustainably. They're interested and willing to pay more for those kinds of products. That meshes cleanly like a hand in glove with what beekeepers want and need for access to high-quality forage. We could do a whole podcast just talking about that in the future. That absolutely is a real opportunity that beekeepers need to think about and think about how can they mesh with that.

The last point I would say, Kim, is sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees. As a nation, we have had cheap, sustainable, ready access to food for lifetimes, decades. Sometimes it's easy to lose an appreciation for that because it's just always been there, but we as a nation, we have very inexpensive food supplies compared to other places in the world.

Kim: Well, it's easy to see how your role with this group of people looking at improving nutrition fits into the Honey Bee Health Coalition. Certainly, you mentioned before that a well-fed bee is going to be able to deal better with the other stresses that we don't have control of. Your role here is both admirable and obvious. What have we missed?

Pete: Well, I guess because I'm flying the flag of the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund in the call today, I would just circle around and button that up by letting people know that that's an available resource for people to help them establish high-quality habitat. The Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund operates like-- I describe it as a big tent. We're able to provide these resources to our team because we have broad financial support that runs everywhere from Whole Foods and Costco to retail companies like Target to commercial beekeeping, to foundations, to the honey packing industry, to crop commodity groups, to ag industry like Bayer and Syngenta and things like that.

That's not everybody that's involved, but I tell you that because how many times in this world in which we live in today can you envision a Whole Foods or a Costco working with a Bayer or a Syngenta? Not many in my opinion, but yet they can all come together to support this common goal and mission that falls under this big tent called the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund.

I'm very proud of how we are lumpers and not splitters and have that huge, wide range of support to be able to talk about things that are really, really important. At its core, for this podcast, I would just say the sustainability of beekeeping as an industry, critically important. Think about the people that we all know that are like fourth-generation beekeepers and this generation has had to completely change how their business is sustainable.

One of my good friends has the word "honey" in the name of his business and he told me one time, "Our name is wrong. We're not a honey company anymore. We are a pollination services company and people come and knock on our door wanting to buy honey and we work on that, but that's not our business anymore." What a complete utter change in really just a generation in that industry.

I think sometimes the public has a really good understanding that there are problems with pollinator health, whether it's honey bees or monarch butterflies or whatever, but I don't think there's nearly as strong and understanding that beekeeping as an industry is really struggling and it's related to all of these things. We hope that by adding access to really good-looking, high-quality forage, we can do our part of coming up with a solution to all kinds of things.

Kim: Well, that's good.

Jeff: One of the things that the Honey Bee Health Coalition does on all the different projects and avenues that they're working on is actual tools and resources for beekeepers to gain. Under the heading of forage and nutrition, there is one program or project. The Bee Integrated Demonstration Project. Can you talk a little bit about that? Because that's something our listeners can actually go out and participate in and make use of.

Pete: Yes, that is taking the four different aspects that are really weighing on honey bees, their health, and that sort of thing, and putting them into a practical application that looks at the pesticides and the disease and varroa and then forage. That was where I mentioned that in the bee integrated program, the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund supplies access to the forage component of that. It's a real-world example of trying to address all four of those factors and to really try to make a difference in honey bee health.

Jeff: In a coordinated and in concert?

Pete: Yes, all four things work together. All four things work together, yes. In the bee integrated program, just access to high-quality forage doesn't work if you're not also implementing a varroa control program. If you're not talking to your local landowners or pesticide applicators and things like that, it is a coordinated approach that brings all four of those aspects together.

Jeff: That sounds really good. We've said this before, Kim. The Honey Bee Health Coalition is one of the best-kept secrets out there for beekeepers and the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund is just another aspect. I'm happy to have Pete on the show and Honey Bee Health Coalition this year and all the programs that they are funding and leading.

Kim: Well, it's not because we're not trying, Jeff.

Jeff: [chuckles] That's for sure. Part four is yet to come.

Pete: When you have a big, hairy, audacious problem, it takes innovation, it takes commitment, and it takes collaboration. You have to find ways to bring everybody involved together at the same table and that absolutely is the hallmark of the Honey Bee Health Coalition.

Jeff: I really like that.

Kim: I think the fact that you as a beekeeper need to be able to look at all four of those problems. If I solve varroa and my bees are starving, I still haven't solved my bigger problem. I asked you which we've missed. Is there anything else?

Pete: No, I don't think so. This is something that we're really passionate about and what a great opportunity to chat about this to a much broader audience, so really appreciate the opportunity to come on here today and talk about two well-kept secrets: the Honey Bee Health Coalition and the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund.

Kim: Oh, good. We're glad to be able to do that, share this information with all of our listeners. When you get a chance, listeners, go to our webpage and there will be links to the Honey Bee Health Coalition and the bee and butterfly fund and a lot of other ones too. Certainly, these two are worth looking. When you get to the Honey Bee Health Coalition, look at all of it because there's a ton of information there, not just on nutrition but on varroa management and all sorts of things. Being an integral part of that organization is a good thing to be related to, Pete. Thank you for everything today. We appreciate you being here and go save a butterfly, okay?

Pete: All right, very good.

Jeff: Thanks, Pete. Keep in touch and let us know how the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund is going and look forward to having updates.

Pete: Absolutely, would love to.

Jeff: Lumper, not a splitter. I like that term. I'm going to have to start using that if I can only remember. Lumper and not a splitter.

Kim: Or groupers and not as splitters. I like them both, but it certainly describes what they're doing very well, I think.

Jeff: The whole Honey Bee Health Coalition, yes, I agree. That's really good. Boy, they get their hands in everything and being able to find-- well, hands in agricultural and trying to get the most out of the agricultural lands and the CP--

Kim: CRP land, Conservation Reserve Program.

Jeff: CRP land. That's really big and working with those folks.

Kim: It is and he made the good point. Conservation Reserve Program is basically set out to take land that is not ideal farmland and give it a rest. You can give it a rest by putting something that bees can eat or you can put grass on it. Our choice is always something bees can eat. If they can get that organized, what did he say? 24, 28 million acres? I can't imagine 28 million acres of some kind of legume that bees could eat that would save the soil, improve the soil, and feed bees at the same time.

Jeff: I agree. I can't imagine. It'd be great. In a way, it helps everybody. It helps not only honey bees but all pollinators, which we know that helps honey bees.

Kim: When we were talking to him before we started this today, one of the terms that he uses is that it floats all boats. If you improve 28 million acres of CRP land, the beekeepers are improved, the native pollinators are improved, the farmer, the soil. All of those things get better and none of them get worse. Nobody suffers, so somebody else can advance. This is the way it should be.

Jeff: Yes, I agree. Well, that about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts, wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly 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 the Beekeeping Today Podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor, Global Patties. Check them out at We want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of the podcast. Check out their probiotic line at We want to thank Betterbee for joining us as a supporter. Check out all of their great beekeeping supplies at

We want to thank our latest supporter, HiveAlive. Check out their products of honey bee health products at Finally, 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 We'd love to hear from you. Anything else we should mention, Kim?

Kim: Well, I'll just say it again, questions. You got a question, you want to know more about Pete or the Honey Bee Health Coalition or any of the topics that we've talked about or some we haven't talked about, send us a note. Use that. You can do it verbally on the hotline, on a web page, or you can send us an email.

Jeff: Do it. In fact, if there's a guest you'd like to have on the show, let us know that too.

Kim: Yes, good.

Jeff: All right. Thanks a lot, Kim.

Kim: All right.

Jeff: Thanks, everybody.

Zach TechnerProfile Photo

Zach Techner


Zach is originally from Southern Oregon and moved up to Olympia, Washington and began keeping honey bees in 2004. While in college, he began working summers for Mike Juhl “the Bee Man”. He took over Cascadia Venom Collection in 2017 when Mike decided to retire.

Zach's passions are beekeeping, horticulture, salmon fishing, birding, hiking, carpentry and homesteading.

Pete BerthelsenProfile Photo

Pete Berthelsen

Partnership Director, The Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund

Education Information:
- Texas Tech University, M.S. Wildlife Science, 1989 University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, B.S. Wildlife, 1985

Employment Information:
- Currently providing consulting services for wildlife and pollinator habitat needs through Conservation Blueprint, LLC. and serving as the Partnership Director for The Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund.
- Employed with Pheasants Forever, Inc. from 1991 to 2017 as:
* Director of Habitat Partnerships from 2013 to 2017.
* Senior Field Coordinator from 2006 to 2013
* Director of Conservation Programs from 2000 to 2005
* Regional Wildlife Biologist from 1991 to 1999
- Additional work experience includes employment with:
* Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – 1984-1985; 1990
* Texas Parks & Wildlife Department – 1988-1989
* Wisconsin Conservation Corps - 1987
* U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in North Dakota - 1986  U.S. Forest Service in Michigan - 1983

Select Background Information:
- Board or Steering Committee member on the Honey Bee Health Coalition, Monarch Joint Venture, Monarch Collaborative, Boundless Impact Investing and the InSPIRE 2.0: Innovative Site preparation and Impact Reductions on the Environment committee
- Field Reporter for the publication 2 Million Blossoms.
- Recipient of the 2014 ‘Hoopingarner Award’ presented by the American Beekeeping