In this week’s episode, we visit with Cliff Struhl about his thoughts on better ways to keep bees than is generally done today (and the past 170 years). Cliff is owner of Bee Smart Designs and has produced several products that aim to reduce some of...
In this week’s episode, we visit with Cliff Struhl about his thoughts on better ways to keep bees than is generally done today (and the past 170 years). Cliff is owner of Bee Smart Designs and has produced several products that aim to reduce some of the stresses we apply when keeping bees in a standard wooden box.
He starts with the boxes we use and compares them to the hollow trees bees prefer. He looks further at the insulation needs on both the walls and the top, the metal covers that get really hot in the summer, the entrances and the bottom boards. Basically, we keep bees in a very artificial environment, and as a result and the bees are extremely stressed. We have to be active managers so they can thrive.
We also discuss the pragmatic approach for queen rearing, mating, purchasing queens, and overall genetics. Is pragmatic beekeeping the same as ‘natural beekeeping’? We find out where there may be differences.
He sums this all up by stating that beekeeping requires thoughtful input from the beekeeper since the bees are not able to fend for themselves when kept in the artificial environment we normally provide.
We hope you enjoy the episode. Leave comments and questions in the Comments Section of the episode's website.
Thank you for listening!
Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:
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Podcast music: Be Strong by Young Presidents; Epilogue by Musicalman; Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus; A Fresh New Start by Pete Morse; Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott
Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC
Jeff: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping today podcast is your source for beekeeping news information and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.
Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.
Global Patties: Hey, Jeff and Kim, today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for 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.
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Jeff: Thanks, Sherry, and thank you, Global Patties. Each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support, and we know you'd rather we get right to talk about beekeeping. However, our great sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen. From the transcripts, the hosting fees, the software, the hardware, the microphones, the subscriptions, the recorders, they enable each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture has been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today.
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Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining. We are glad you chose to spend the next few minutes with us. If you're like me, you've been busy this summer and have missed many, if not all of your local beekeeping club meetings. Fall is a good time to reengage with your local club and your regional organizations. At one time, a beekeeper could miss one or two months of meetings, heck, even a year or two. When they get back, hear the same information, but perhaps from a new face. That's not the case these days. Not with varroa sucking the lifeblood-- Okay, okay, wait, just-- Yes, I know, hemolymph, but stay with me here.
From our bees while passing along deadly viruses, oh, and the ever-present threat of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and their silent synergistic effects. Oh, don't forget about the constant sub-lethal exposure to all of those in the environment and in the beeswax. A beekeeper needs to keep up to date. Bee clubs and meetings are a fun way to meet others who share our passion for bees and keep on top of local current news, information, and events. On today's episode, we talk with Cliff Struhl. CEO of Bee Smart Designs. Cliff has an approach to beekeeping that he calls pragmatic beekeeping.
While we don't talk about specific Bee Smart products, you will quickly come to understand what drives the functional designs of his product line. This is a fun chat that some of you may find controversial and others will say, "It's not enough." We'll be talking with Cliff right after this quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.
Strong Microbials: Hey, beekeepers. Many times during the year, honeybees encounter scarcity of floral sources. As good beekeepers, we feed our bees artificial diets of protein and carbohydrates to keep them going during those stressful times. What is missing though, are key components. The good microbes necessary for a bee to digest the food and convert it into metabolic energy. Only SuperDFM-Honeybee by Strong Microbials can provide the necessary microbes to optimally convert the artificial diet into energy necessary for improving longevity, reproduction, immunity and much more.
SuperDFM-Honeybee is an all-natural probiotic supplement for your honey bees. Find it at strongmicrobials.com, or at fine bee supply stores everywhere.
Jeff: Hey, and while you're on the Strong Microbial site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, their regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product updates. Hey everybody, welcome back to the show. Sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now is Clifford Struhl. He is the head guy at Bee Smart Designs. We had Cliff on the show back in November of 2021 talking about his product line, but during that show, he talked to us about his approach to beekeeping he called a pragmatic beekeeping. We've told him we want to have him back on the show, and here we are. Welcome to the show, Cliff.
Cliff: Thank you very much, and glad to be back.
Kim: It's good to see you again, Cliff. I don't get out much anymore, so doing it this way is as good as it's going to get, but it's good to see you again.
Cliff: Yes, I was hoping to see you at EAS, but you weren't there. Maybe I'll see you at the Hive Life if you're there come January.
Jeff: Cliff, you mentioned at that time pragmatic beekeeping. It's fascinating and at times, controversial, perhaps look at beekeeping. Define pragmatic, and then we'll get into it a little bit deeper.
Cliff: Okay, I'm going to start with just a dictionary definition, which I think gives you a nice overview. One of the definitions I found was solving problems in a way that suits the conditions that really exist now rather than obeying fixed theories, ideas, or rules. Practical, not idealistic.
Jeff: If you look at beekeeping, and you've formulated this pragmatic approach, what are some of the big problems that a pragmatic beekeeper is trying to address?
Cliff: I think primarily, it would be rigidity in beekeeping. Pragmatic beekeeping I think is simply a better way of keeping bees. It combines all the features from traditional, scientific, natural, Darwinian, IPM, everything together but blended, where it's kind of a reality check on what's going on. There's no one perfect solution for how to maintain or manage bees. Pragmatic beekeeping is more about managing bees, not having bees, which some people do. I think it's about keeping an open mind to what's out there and the options because I've always preached, and you've heard it from me the last time, there's nothing natural about keeping bees in a wooden box in your backyard.
Jeff: Let's explore that or let's open that hive of bees. What's not natural about keeping the bees in the box? Let's just lay it out here on the table from a pragmatic approach.
Cliff: Okay, from a pragmatic approach, bees, over millions of years, have evolved to live basically in hollow trees, at least the bees that we keep. Hollow trees have basically infinite insulation on the top, high insulation on the bottom. Beekeeping as we practice it in wooden boxes does not provide any insulation. It's an artificially large colony, generally, the way we keep it. The colonies are very close together, which is not found in nature. Pragmatic beekeeping is basically trying to mimic nature within the constraints of what we have in terms of equipment since we're not all going to find hollow trees to keep our bees.
Kim: Looking at just the box itself, you mentioned there's no insulation, essentially no insulation. It's got an R-value of 0.5 or something. There's no insulation on the sides, there's really none on the ground to speak of. Not only do we not have insulation on the top for the most part, some people are beginning to adhere to that, but we provide a lot of ventilation. There is consistently cold air coming in the bottom through that opening, coming up the sides and through the middle of the cluster, and then escaping out of the top. From what you're saying, there's no doubt about what you're saying. That's not a good way to keep bees.
Cliff: A lot of the problems I think with modern beekeeping, especially with people who practice ventilation is stress on the hive in terms of temperature, humidity is going up and down like a yo-yo and changing, and bees that are raising brood like other creatures that are raising brood want homeostasis. If you think about it, 85% of the bees in America are in colonies with no ventilation because they're in commercial colonies with migratory covers.
Kim: The other part of that is with ventilation, you're not going to have condensation on the hive walls for bees to take advantage of in the winter, but in a commercial hive, does that work in a commercial hive? You're saying there's no ventilation in commercial hives?
Cliff: I'm saying I don't think they're optimal either, but we have a product, of course, our insulated inner cover with a closed vent that also allows for an upper entrance without the loss of heat or humidity and it makes for a much more stable environment within the hive. I think it eliminates what people call queen problems, other problems that are in the hive. The commercial people are a different animal, but if they needed upper ventilation, they would be doing it because they're all about the bottom line installation. I'm not quite sure why they're not doing it, but ventilation, they sure get.
Kim: Any cold air coming in the bottom, it's going to rise up through, like I said, on the sides and through the cluster. In a commercial hive, or even in my hives out here that aren't insulated, it's going to hit that ceiling, the underside of the cover and even if it isn't ventilated it's, then it's going to condense there because you got warm air hitting cold wood.
Cliff: If you insulat it, which I'm a proponent of you won't have that problem because you'll have the heat bubble at the top, the walls will be cold. The water will condense on the walls where the bees can get access to it and you won't have a draft going through. The brood maintains the humidity that it needs year, round, summer, or winter during the winter, you also have the increase in the CO2, which quiets the bees down. During the summer, the bees will do the ventilation. Now with a more uniform temperature. They require less water to cool.
If that's the case, they have more resources to go out foraging for nectar and for pollen. If you're constantly making the bees work hard to maintain their environment, by changing the temperature in the humidity, you're stressing the bees. The queen will lay, but the worker bees may not raise the bred if the conditions aren't correct and that will look like a bad queen, where in essence, it's bad conditions that are generated by the beekeeper.
Kim: Take it a step further than that insulation that you're providing at least on top should be there all year instead of just the winter.
Cliff: Yes. Oh, it should be there year-round. If you think about it, everybody will tell you a traditional metal cover gets super hot and the heat transfers into the hives. If you use something like the products that we make, we have an insulated cover with a double wall to reduce the heat gain and then we have the insulation that maintains the temperature and the humidity in the hive by sealing off the top also. Now the bees can maintain a more natural colony or brood nest as you might call it and they'll have more homeostasis.
It's easier for them to maintain that. What is, I think it's a four or five-degree range that they need for raising brood and they want the humidity and the 70%, 80%. If you provide ventilation, you're eliminating all of those. You have all those problems with the sealed top, the insulation, the double wall that prevents the heat gain. You're giving the bees every advantage possible.
Kim: Let's just take it down to the front door then.
What do we need to do with the front door to take advantage of all the things that you've added, the insulated cover and the thicker walls, no ventilation, do we leave the front door wide open? My hives got a front door that's a hive wide.
Cliff: I would say yes, which is a little different than, I guess Tom Seeley preaches but a feral hive is much smaller than a managed hive that we keep. We need a certain amount of extra opening for the bees to transit and to ventilate. Since the bees are controlling the ventilation, if the door is open or closed, they're going to control how much air travels through that, and remember the entrance is at the bottom. You're not going to get a lot of transfer up into the colony, just through the door.
The bees are going to control that ventilation. If you believe in a screen bottom board, which I do for IPM, I leave the inspection board in year-round and use it just as a way to track what's happening in the hive by looking at the detritus that falls and I can look at if there's bee parts on the bottom, if there's wax, if there's capping's and I can kind of see what's happening from the hive by looking below. I do limit that ventilation from the bottom and allow the bees to control it through the front door.
Kim: Your screen bottom board is, is open to the ground below.
Cliff: No, it's closed. It's closed because I leave the inspection board in all the time.
Kim: Okay. It's not open, but you're sliding out some sticky board essentially.
Cliff: A little bit more, I guess, because I'm not looking just for mites. I'm also looking for other things that are falling out. If you're hygienic bees, you're probably going to see some cappings. If they're pulling out disease bees, you may see B parts on the bottom. You'll also see the cappings that are opening and closing and you can just look every couple of weeks and you'll get an idea of what's happening in the hive. The point of pragmatic beekeeping is you don't also have to do a full hive inspection.
You don't need to disturb the bees. You have to make sure that the colony looks healthy, that you see brood. If you see very young larva or eggs, if you're able to see them, you know the queen's been laying recently, you don't have to rip the hive apart, disturb everything. You wouldn't want that in your house if I did that to you, to see if you're feeling okay. I can just look and if the garbage can has, you know, food garbage in it, you've been eating probably.
Kim: It's a good analogy. Yes. I can see that exactly. Let me ask another question because you brought this up earlier when we were talking about controlling or not controlling the genetics of what's going on in my hive, where are you with that?
Cliff: That's a slippery slope. I guess I have a little advantage over a lot of beekeepers in that one of my brothers is a Columbia professor in genetics, working with fruit flies, but is very knowledgeable about bees and bee genetics is not easy as you well know, you got polyandry going on, which is multiple matings. You got the haploid diploid situation going on and you have open mating. To try to maintain some genetics really doesn't work unless you're in a very closed population.
If you believe what Jamie Ellis says, when it comes to genetics and managing your hives, he's a believer that every year you re-clean with quality bees that have bred for that, for what you're looking for in terms of hygienic behavior. I think your bees that you get once are going to maintain that hygienic behavior after they've open-mated is probably not a good idea. Bee genetics is very, very difficult to control and I don't know how people think they can do it, especially with small populations in open areas where there are other bees. Maybe if you lived on an island, it would be fine.
Kim: Part of that certainly is of course is because we take beehives and we put 20 of them in a be yard where in the real world, you've got one beehive in the same amount of space. The opportunity for them to breed with bees, you don't want them to breed with is reduced significantly, but then you've got one bee, every two acres or something, one beehive.
Cliff: That's true. I just think trying to control bee genetics is not easy to do, and to think that the bees are going to be able to do it, especially when most people are starting with bees that have been bred by a breeder regardless of the hygienic or not, you already have a controlled genetic population and each success of generation loses a lot of those traits.
Jeff: I need to clarify this in my head. You mentioned one approach is to re-clean every spring with a known queen of genetic background. Is that a pragmatic approach?
Cliff: I didn't say that was pragmatic.
Jeff: That's what I was clarifying.
Cliff: That's what Jamie Ellis preaches if you want to try to maintain uniform genetics in your colonies, I don't think it's practical. It's very expensive. First of all, I don't know where you're going to get quality queens of that nature all the time. I think if you maintain stronger, healthier hives and you do some basic treatments and management, you can have healthy, productive highs. The more stress you add to the bees or the more stress you expose the bees to the more problems you have and the ventilation issue is a problem. Ripping hives apart, disturbing the bees all the time is a problem. Taking the attitude that I'm never going to treat. I'm going to let my bees survive on their own is not real pragmatic.
I think Tom Seeley is a believer. If your genetics don't look good, don't let the hive parish treat, get rid of the queen. Put another queen in with better genetics. I think every group goes a little too much. I don't think you need to treat indiscriminately. I don't think this survival of the fittest is a practical way of beekeeping. I think you have to, you have to, you have to test and you have to treat, and depending on the way you feel about treatments, you can stay more the organic way with the acids and the thymol or you can go more to the hard chemicals if that's your approach.
Jeff: We jumped across these lily pads really quickly. Let's take a quick break right now and we'll get back to some of those.
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Jeff: Before we left on break, we were talking about genetics, but that always comes around to the question about queens. There's been a lot of complaints in the last few years about the quality of queens anymore. Is there a pragmatic approach or philosophy or outlook on queens and that whole entire issue?
Cliff: I think there actually is. If you think about it, most of the people that are breeding queens I think are probably pretty good people at doing their genetics doing their management. If you put a queen, a healthy well bred queen in a colony that has wide variations in temperature and humidity and it's subject to a lot of stress, the queen will lay, but it's up to the nurse bees will they take care of that progeny, if the temperature isn't in the narrow range that they need to be or the humidity is wrong, and it will look like a bad queen but in essence, it's a stressed-out hive because bees need to be in a very narrow band for temperature and humidity to raise brood.
If the temperature's going up and down like a yo-yo, especially during the summer months, the nurse bees won't be able to take proper care of the brood. If they can't, they'll just abort. You'll see that on your inspection board as bee parts and other stuff and when you open up your hive, you're going to see what looks like a really spotty brood pattern that may be from hygienic behavior, or if it's really open from bees that are just not being allowed to grow up because the conditions are terrible.
Kim: Basically what you're saying, Cliff is that a bad environment trumps a good queen?
Cliff: I think so. I think that really does make sense. I don't like to anthropomorphize so I won't, but if you think about humans when your wife is pregnant, she wants to be in a nice environment. It's way too hot, way too cold, not enough food, whatever dry she may be stressed that doesn't help your baby. You want to keep the peace. You want to reduce the stress anytime you have brood. I don't care what creature it is.
Kim: You mentioned improving the environment during the winter insulation, the ventilation thing, all of that above. What am I doing in the summer? That's going to improve that environment that's going to make that $20 $30 queen that I just bought, perform in a $30 manner.
Cliff: I haven't found $30 queens. I've been paying 40 plus shipping.
Yes. Let's start with that. The summer is most critical because that's when the queen's laying the most. If you reduce the heat gain and you insulate the roof, the bees will do the ventilation they need. The colony is or the brood nest is staying at a much lower more consistent temperature. The walls will gain some heat, the outer frames where the queen doesn't lay end up as extra insulation and thermal mass to hold some of the heat or cool at night.
The main thing is you're preventing that heat gain and you lose I think at 70, 80% of your heat through the roof, which means you probably get 70, 80% of your heat gain through the roof. If you reduce the heat gain and you insulate the top, the bees are in a much more stable environment and therefore the brood will be a healthier brood. I can only tell you from the 50 or 80 colonies that we use for testing, we've had really good overwintering success and unbelievable honey yields during the summer. Because I think the bees are maintained a more uniform environment. They're requiring less water for cooling. They have more resources to go out to collect nectar and pollen, and a stronger colony because the brood nest is stronger. You're not losing as many bees or babies.
Cliff: These colonies then are being run by good queens that you got someplace else.
Kim: I've gotten queens from a number of areas. A lot of my hives swarm supersede. I take swarm cells. I do splits and they all seem to be doing pretty well. I do treat after I test, I'm not a believer in the hard chemicals, particularly I use the Folic acid pads and I use the thymol. I'm not a believer in vaporizing for health reasons, but I think it's just a matter of testing and good management and giving them an environment that's closer to what they find in nature.
Kim: If you make that environment as natural as you can, given the ramifications of the fact that all the boxes that we buy are going to be about the same. Then if you're doing everything you can for the environment, then the next best thing you have to do is provide a good queen. Is that what you're doing? Are you going out and getting good queens or are you letting them mate, when you have a swarm or when you have whatever?
Cliff: I'm doing, both,
Kim: You are letting them some of this genetic thing, go one way in bringing in good genetics but another way in letting them mate with whoever they want,
Cliff: All right. I have 14 colonies at my home and I probably buy about four queens a year. I figure it's good to add some new genetics to the mix all the time. I've had pretty good luck with that system. In addition to using the Bee Smart System, I also have a bunch of poly hives because poly hives are very popular in Europe. I got to tell you those hives do extremely well year-round.
Jeff: Define poly hive.
Cliff: That's the poly foam hives, the high-density polystyrene hives that you see in Europe. I know people here are not big fans of them. Because of the whole plastic issue and the whole natural issue, we're actually applying for a patent right now to resolve that internal issue of the bees being exposed to the plastic. I think those hives work extremely well. I think you have to keep an open attitude of what's best for the bees, not what your ideal situation is.
People get too caught up on stuff like there's all these different types of hives now. The bottom line is they're all fairly similar. They're wood boxes you're keeping the bees in. They all have similar type things. If you have a top bar hive and you don't insulate the roof, you're in the same situation as a Lang straw or what they call the long langs.
It's all the same thing. You have to follow a similar type of philosophy. What's good for the bees? What mimics, what they're going to find in nature. The shape of the box is not as critical as the environment that the bees are being kept in. That's part of pragmatic beekeeping, forget the idealism, natural beekeeping. I think that whole thing is overplayed the definition of natural beekeeping. I think pragmatic beekeeping is closer to natural because you're trying to mimic nature.
You're not trying to leave them on their own. These are managed colonies. This is animal husbandry. If you want to leave them alone, you're a bee haver. If you want to manage them, you're a beekeeper. There's a difference. You take care of your dog. People take care of their horses and their cows. You should be taking care of your bees.
Kim: What other practices, Cliff, come under what you're defining in this management? What else should I be doing besides having a better box? You mentioned treatment for mites but there's got to be more I think that you're heading towards here. To be a good manager, what am I doing that somebody who's a natural beekeeper isn't going to be doing?
Cliff: I'm actually a fairly laissez faire beekeeper. I don't think you do have to do a lot of management, but you have to do smart management and beekeeping. I think Kim may approve of this comment. It's not a matter of how much time you put in. It's the timing of when you do things, in the spring you have to manage them a little closer, a little more frequently to watch for swarming and to control that. The rest of the year, you don't need to spend a lot of time in your hives.
When you do go in the hives, you don't need to spend a lot of time there. If you go in with a plan and you know what you're looking for and what you want to accomplish, I've heard enough people on this Podcast talk about that very same thought. There's a lot of people especially new beekeepers that they want to find the queen. You don't need to find the queen to know if your colony is doing well. Most people I speak to that are experienced and I call knowledgeable will tell you, you could probably do an inspection in looking at three or four frames and know where you're standing. You just have to see the fundamentals of what's going on. I think that's part of pragmatic.
Kim: I'm listening to this Podcast. I'm enthralled by what you're having to say. It sounds really interesting, but I'm in my first year of beekeeping. You're not telling me I need to go out and buy anything, which is okay, but I want to become a pragmatic beekeeper. What do I need to do?
Jeff: I didn't say you didn't have to buy anything. I would strongly suggest that you insulate the roof of your hive year-round. I would also tell you to be leery of the type of insulation you use because the pink and the blue insulation you buy at a Home Depot or a Lowes is a foam which material that uses a gas that out gases and you lose your insulation value. Whereas the expanded polystyrene, the white beads, which you find in coolers will not.
That actually will give you better insulation over a longer period of time. Also, reduce the upper ventilation, simple enough. When you go in to do an inspection, keep it simple, keep it short. Don't get too carried away of what you need to do. Don't do it too frequently. You don't want to disturb the bees. You want to let them do what they need to do. I've heard all the different numbers. Every time you go in it's it's 24 hours, 3 days, it takes the bees to reestablish where they are. I don't think anybody really knows, but I don't think any creature likes to have its home disturbed because it takes them a while to get reorganized. Minimize the times you go in, know what you want to do, what you want to accomplish, and do it quickly. That doesn't mean rush. That means going with a plan.
Jeff: What else should a new beekeeper listening to this podcast consider?
Cliff: Okay. I think their focus should not be on all the hype and the hoopla and all the YouTube people that are pontificating about their systems. I think the first thing any new beekeeper has to do is learn the basics and understand what it takes to get their bees to survive the first year or two. After you've become proficient and you have shown a skill level of how to manage the hives, then you can start to experiment a little with slightly different things that you've read.
If you want to try something and just little baby steps to go in and say, I'm going to save the bees. I'm going to be a natural beekeeper. You are probably doomed. I think the numbers show that we lose a lot of beekeepers because the bees don't do well in the first year. A lot of people are following traditional beekeeping, which a full-time place anymore with Varroa. Some of that part may be handy, but I think there's a lot of traditional things that don't make sense. I have a whole issue with the idea of the quilt boards. Keeping the hive dry is completely against biology.
Jeff: When you say traditional beekeeping defined traditional beekeeping.
Cliff: Old-fashioned, beekeeping is one way of doing it and people are very rigid in their systems. I think in the modern world, you need to be somewhat flexible in how you'd manage your colonies. There's no right way. The way it worked 30 years ago may probably not work today. Yes, there's a lot of people that don't believe in testing. Well, guess what, you need to test. Guess what, if your bees are sick, you've got to treat them.
I know most people will follow that for themselves, for their kids, for their pets. Bees are of course not your pets. They're managed livestock and you want your livestock to survive and you need to follow basic. I hate to use the word science because that scares people, but biology, earth science makes sense.
You wouldn't want, if I kept your house dry as a bone during the winter, your nasal passages would dry out and you probably get sick. During the summer, you don't like it super humid because your body can't control its temperature well. Now, these are a similar type of thing. You have to make, give them an environment that they can survive in that they can flourish in. Not one where they're going to be stressed and suffering.
Jeff: Is there any difference based on a person's location? You're in on Long Island and you have a pragmatic approach keeping bees. I'm in the Pacific Northwest which is a different environment than you, and the beekeepers in the Southwest or whatever. Everyone has their own location. Is there a difference in a pragmatic approach?
Cliff: I don't think there really is that much of a difference. I don't think the trees vary very much in all those different environments. In nature, the feral hives are in a hollow tree. Generally, in tempered climates, from what I've read, they're in vertical trees. In the tropics, they tend to be more in horizontal tree trunk, but a tree's a tree.
We're trying to mimic that environment. The biology hasn't changed. The earth science hasn't changed. The bees still need water. They still need to survive. They need the humidity. They need the temperature control. All those things haven't changed. To give them a more stable environment or a colony, that's more uniform benefits them all the time, anywhere they are.
Kim: Where does the calendar come in here? You and Long Island and Jeff on the Pacific Northwest. Your calendars are going to be way different in terms of how and when you're doing things. Am I right?
Cliff: Yes and no. Yes, we have to do it depending on the season. If you're following what I call the pragmatic and you have an insulated top, you have the top sealed with or without an upper entrance if you think you need it, you're giving the bees the same advantage wherever they are. When the season hits is irrelevant.
You're helping the bees during the hot weather, during the cold weather, and in the, in between seasons, it's just there doing its thing, but it's helping the high maintain homeostasis, just like Jeff has the same insulation in his attic that you have, that they have in Florida. You still need that attic insulation to prevent the heat gain and heat loss from your house and the colony is a very similar type of thing.
Kim: Where does feeding enter this equation?
Cliff: Feeding is as needed. Everybody has a slightly different approach. Some people believe you should leave an extra honey super on. Some people think you should take the extra honey. When it comes to feeding my thought, I think it makes the most sense is you want the bees to be able to feed like they'd feed naturally.
If I leave honey super on my hive for the winter, the bees are going to go up into that box, which is part of the hive, which is below the insulated cover. We have a feeder, which is a nipple feeder with the nipples inside the hive, right through the hole in the inner cover. The bees can feed directly from the brewed nest without losing ventilation. Without ventilation there's no loss of heat or humidity and they can feed 24/7. Many feeders require the bees to go up into a cold box while the hive is also ventilating.
You're making it very difficult for the bees to feed, there's people who like to feed with dry sugar or candy boards. I think some of the science I've read says you lose about 50% of the calories for the bees trying to melt the sugar, to get it, to be able to be used. You still need a lot of water for that. If your hive is dry, it's going to be very difficult for the bees to do that.
I actually believe in feeding through the winter. I leave feeders on year all winter long. If the bees need it, they'll take it. If they don't, they won't. The nipple is sitting at the top of the heat column in that heat bubble. The bees can get to the syrup if they need it. I find only in a pinch, do they need it by keeping the hive sealed, the bees also need less resources. With the increase in the CO2, the bees quiet down, you have the right humidity. I believe there's been some research on humidity and Varroa. All these little things add up to help reduce stress.
Jeff: We all like stress.
Kim: Reducing stress seems to be the goal here. I can see all of the things that you're looking at as a pragmatic beekeeper are aimed in that direction. Let me take it a half a step further a little different environment. I'm thinking of overwintering bees in a building. Does that enter into your pragmatic approach?
Cliff: I think it just confirms a lot of the pragmatic approach because when the bees are kept from when I've read, which is probably somewhat limited, the bees in the building are in a very controlled environment. They're controlling the CO2, they're controlling the humidity, they're controlling the temperature and with insulated inner cover and what I'm proposing it's a very similar thing.
You're trying to maintain the most uniform consistent or homeostasis in the brewed area in the nest indoor wintering does something similar and I believe I could be wrong, but I think I've read in the magazines that the increased CO2 gets the bees to build you a little quieter so they use less resources.
Kim: Well, it sounds like putting your bees in the building makes sense from a lot of different perspectives in a pragmatic approach, as you suggest. Also going to say a cost approach because winter losses and over-winter buildings are a lot less than those that are sitting outside.
Cliff: From a practical point of view for a hobbyist, that's not very practical or pragmatic. You can believe all the numbers, but with the system we use and we've been testing with probably 50 to 100 hives, and now we have lots of people all over the country. Our overwintering as the losses have been in the less than 5% range.
Kim: Well, you're way ahead of most people then if what you're doing is allowing that few hives to perish in the winter. It sounds like it's making sense.
Cliff: Well, because it's the pragmatic approach of maintaining the homeostasis in the colony, keeping it, reducing the stress, doing the treatments as needed to keep the pathogens down, giving the bees every chance possible to survive. The idea of beekeeping is not to test what the bees can do is to make their life easy or as easy as possible by reducing stress on the colony. You wouldn't stress your pets. You wouldn't stress your livestock. If you're an animal keeper, why would you add stress to something you're managing livestock of any sort?
Jeff: Then expect them to perform.
Kim: Pretty much just get out of the way.
Cliff: Get out of the way, but you got to give them what they need and put them in an environment that's very similar to how they would survive in the real world in nature, without your interference.
Kim: We've covered a lot of ground here. I'm wondering what we've missed that you wanted to add to all this.
Cliff: I don't know. I think the bottom line is that bees have evolved over millions of years and our goal should be to mimic nature as much as possible and not try to mess with success. Our primary goal is to minimize stress primarily with the environment and see what the bees do, and actually try to manage your genetics as much as possible but within reason of what's affordable and what makes sense.
I think if you keep adding some new genetics to your column, your apiary, every year, you don't have to redo everything. I think constantly adding some new stuff doesn't hurt. That's what I've been doing. It seems to work for me. We have a lot of people that seem to believe in that system. We're finding more followers that are buying into this. As I said, I don't think there's one, any one particular system that's is the one every, that works that's successful. You have to mix and match different bits and pieces. I think IPM is an important part of the thing. The mix also,
Jeff: Well, Cliff, you've definitely given us a lot to think about, once again where can people find out? Do you have any additional information about pragmatic beekeeping? Where can they find out more?
Cliff: I'm trying to put my, I have a white paper that I'm glad to send people. If they just email us at info or Bee Smart designs, we're trying to put something together for our website, not as easy as it sounds to do as you probably well know, I am in discussion with a couple of writers for the magazines, about doing a series of articles on pragmatic beekeeping.
It's just taking time to find people who have the time to put this all together. You've seen my outline, you know, that can probably turn into a three or four articles series. It will definitely get a certain amount of controversy, and I'm not sure, but either magazine is ready for it or wants to deal with it. I think overall, you know, it compromises is the key to success. No one perfect solution. The first goal is to be able to manage the colonies for survival, and then try to tweak it for whatever particular thing you would like.
There's no ideal solution. The reality check is get over it. [laughs], there's no one, it's a reality thing. Get over it. It's not going to be the way you want it. If you've had kids, you'd love to them to be a particular way, but they're going to be what they're going to be. In this case, you got to deal with what we're dealing with and bees, the genetics, the environment, the stress, everything that's out there. Plus the beekeeper is not helping matters either. I'm just saying, think about it in a practical way. I think that's the bottom line for pragmatic beekeeping.
Kim: I think that's good advice. That's
Jeff: Good. Well, thanks a lot cliff for joining us, and look forward to having you back.
Cliff: I'm always here to talk about this kind of stuff. I think beekeeping needs to have a more open approach of how people look at managing bees. [music] Management is beekeeping, not managing is bee having, and you don't want bee haves.
Kim: Good point. Thanks, Cliff. Thank
Jeff: Thank you, Cliff.
Cliff: Thank you for having me guys appreciate it.
Jeff: Cliff is the fun guy to have on the show. He's full of energy. It's infectious, isn't it?
Kim: It is. He's looking at things a little bit differently, taking them another step, maybe better, maybe different, certainly making people think.
Jeff: I'm not so sure that he's looking at things differently. I do like, he's taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that and making a big ice cream sundae or something. There's a lot of different parts of beekeeping that he's talking about, and he's bringing it in to make one approach to beekeeping, which really is multiple parts working together.
Kim: A lot to think about that's for sure. There's a lot of good information. I think he's got there, piling it all on together, and coming up with something that works for me is going to be different than for you because of the environment, but control the environment and get out of the way.
Jeff: I like the approach to reducing the stress on the hive and the colony, and you are going to have better results overall.
Well, that about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple podcast, wherever you download and stream the show, your boat 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 Beekeeping Today Podcast, we want to thank our regular episode sponsor Global Patties. Check them out at globalpatties.com. Thanks to Strong Microbial for their support of this podcast. Check out their probiotic line at strongmicrobials.com. We want to thank Better Bee for their longtime support. Check out all their great beekeeping supplies at betterbee.com. Thanks to Northern Bee Books for their support of bee books. Old new with Kim Flottum. Check out all of their books at northernbbooks.co.uk. Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you, The Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on this show, feel free to leave us comments and questions that leave a comment section under each episode on the website. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks a lot, everybody.
[00:44:38] [END OF AUDIO]
University of Rochester, 1978, BS Biology
Carnegie Mellon University, 1981, MSIA (industrial administration)
1983-present, President/CEO, Joseph Struhl Company, Inc. manufacturers of Magic Master sign products and Bee Smart beekeeping products
2011 Founded Bee Smart Designs