RE: [beekeeping-128] bee keeping (and Top-Bar-Hives)

From: Jim and J.
Sent on: Monday, June 9, 2008 3:21 AM
Dana said:

> Jim's comment that the Top Bar Hive is antiquated
> is just not true.

This is the first I've seen this humble e-mail 
announcement system for the beekeeping meetups 
used for "debate", but Andrew weighed in with 
a fair assessment, so I guess I'll play along 
too, but just this once.  (I'm on my way back 
from a weekend on a beach that shall remain
nameless, and now that I am back in US 
airspace, I can fetch and send e-mail. )

I have yet to meet Dana, and I want to welcome 
her.  The fact that she enthusiastically 
advocates something I would not recommend for 
a beginner means that she offers an 
interesting divergent view that I really do
want to hear more about. 

But, in the month she has been with us, she has 
suggested paying money to this Chris Harp person 
3 times using this e-mail system.  I hope she is 
on a good commission plan, as Chris Harp charges 
a fortune for what John Howe, Andrew Cote, I, and 
most all other beekeepers give away for free: 
mentoring to new beekeepers.

So, I'll try hard to be gentle here.

First, I did not say "antiquated", I said "obsolete". 
And I meant what I said.
And I said what I meant :)

Dana honestly admitted:

> There may be kinks to work out in the Top Bar Frames,

Yes, there are many "kinks".  I know a bit about these
"kinks", as I invested more time and money into trying
to make top bar hives "work" than anyone you'll ever
meet.  At one time, I was running 50 of them in my
operation.   I was trying to make them work on apples 
along the Blue Ridge of VA.  Bottom line, you can't 
expect much honey out of them, nor can you expect them
to build up to decent strength in time for apple
pollination.  As I made honey by the metric ton to 
pay the bills for the two decades before I moved
to the big city, I think I know a little bit about bees. :)

In my case, the top-bar-hives got in the way of profits,
and kept the hives weak.  Shook 'em into standard gear, 
and the same bees were soon much more productive.  
A busy bee is a happy bee.

> but the more people use them, the sooner they will improve.

But top bars WERE improved long ago - we call the 
improved version the "Langstroth Hive", the state-of-
the-art standard equipment used planet-wide.  There is 
no reason to go back to Top Bar Hives for the same 
reason that there is no reason to go back to straw skeps!

Now, Dana can keep bees in whatever type of 
box she wishes, as I doubt she cares much about
optimal honey production, profit, or pollinating
anything,  but she has been gravely misinformed 
as to the historical record in regard to hives
and equipment.

First off, bees really don't care at all about
what kind of box they are kept in.  They can survive 
and maybe even thrive happily anywhere where they 
are out of the weather.  

The bees certainly will be more productive and 
easier to manage in standard Langstroth equipment 
than in top-bar hives, but if one has the money 
to buy one of the very expensive top-bar hives
offered for sale, or has the tools to make one 
(which would be much cheaper), one would still 
have one's bees >>>IN A BOX<<<, which is 
inherently a very unnatural thing in itself. 

Over the past few decades, the Kenyan Top Bar hive 
has been widely replaced with Langstroth hives even 
in Kenya.  The replacement has turned beekeeping 
in these areas from "subsistence farming" into a 
cash-generating effort.  Poor people like cash
crops, as they makes them less poor, and lets 
them send their kids to school.

If Dana wishes to verify this with an independent
source, she can ask Ann Harmon, who has made a 2nd 
career of traveling the "3rd World" educating beekeepers 
for the past few decades on behalf of various
international aid organizations.   She can be reached at 
[address removed], and she TRULY IS one of the foremost 
beekeeping teachers on the East Coast, perhaps on the 
entire planet.  When she talks, everyone listens.

If you really want to know, the history of the 
"invention" of the Kenyan Top-Bar Hive was nothing 
more than a product of racism.

It was intended to get African beekeepers (who are black)
away from using log hives, which did not have movable comb 
at all.  For some reason, Africans were not thought to be
smart enough or skilled enough to construct the more complex 
Langstroth type hives, so the white European foreign aid 
workers came up with the "Kenyan Top-Bar Hive".  A very 
embarrassing tale, one that many of us would like to be 
forgotten, and one that people like Ann Harmon have only 
recently been able to rectify/correct/fix.­

> Bees cluster in a circle or heart-shape,

No, they don't.  They cluster in a sphere, except 
when they are up against a cavity wall, when the
shape of the cluster will deform to match the shape
of the cavity.  

But they would NEVER form a "heart" shape.
That's complete and utter nonsense.
Romantic nonsense, yes, but there is lots
of romance in the facts about bees.  No
one needs to make stuff up.

When they cluster, the bees need stored honey 
directly adjacent to the winter cluster, so 
a "square" shaped frame is not a bad approach at 
all.  The spherical cluster will have stored honey 
all around.

> The Top-Bar Hive is a tribute to the bees'
> millions of years old true nature;

As I explained, it was a tribute to racism - a
creation of whites in the mid 1900s who felt 
superior to black people.  In fact, its fatal
flaw is that it tries to force the bees into 
something very unnatural - a HORIZONTAL 
broodnest expansion direction - something very 
very unnatural (as compared to a hollow in a 
tree, which presents a vertical expansion 
direction.  The "horizontal" aspect is the 
main reason why top-bar hives swarm so often, 
and produce so little harvestable honey as 
compared to Langstroth hives. 

I recall that Dana also had some harsh words
for "foundation".  Well, foundation is optional
in a Langstroth hive.  It certainly is a good
idea, but you don't need to use it if you 
don't want to.

Here's another hint - you can use standard
equipment, and use only the top bars of
the frames in standard boxes and get your
"Top-Bar Hive" at a fraction of the cost!
This is called a "Warre Hive", and is yet
another old approach still toyed with by
bored beekeepers, like this one:
http://warre.biob...­

Bees may not produce as much honey in a TBH, but 
they will still survive, no matter what kind of 
box you put them in - I pulled 3 large colonies 
out of spaces between rafters (in Manhattan, the 
Bronx, and Staten Island) this May, and I assure 
you that those bees were quite happy with their 
choice of homes, even though they were difficult 
places to make a home, and very very "square"
cavities.

Bees have been crossbred by man for thousands of
years, so the modern honey bee is a creature that
never would have existed "in nature".  Those who
wish to "keep bees naturally" are making the error
of thinking that there is even a single trait in 
their bees that was not careful bred by man into 
the lines of bees that exist to day.  Bees are 
as much products of man's imagination as modern 
cows or dogs. They are not at all "natural".
They have been "engineered" by man, just like cows, 
St. Bernards, and blonde women with brown eyebrows.

I assure you that you do not want to ever
try to deal with the old-fashioned bees like
the German black bee, Apis mellifera mellifera.
That bee would give Africanized bees a run for 
their money on the issue of "being defensive".  
I've worked them in Austria, where they are 
"preserved" for genetic reasons, and I wanted 
to trade my smoker for a flame thrower! :)

> I have studied bee-keeping with the East Coast's
> two leading teachers, Gunther Hauk and Chris Harp,

OK, you brought them up, so let's talk about your 
friend Chris and his mentor Gunter.
I don't know Chris, but I do know Gunter.

These are anything but "leading teachers".
They are self-exiled outcasts on a Gilligan's 
Island of beekeeping deliberately isolating 
themselves from science and progress. Their 
antics are viewed by real beekeepers with 
the same level of laughter as one might 
view the old TV show.

Andrew quickly debunked the "mystical magical" aspects
of their "swarm collection" techniques, and that
was typical of any random thing they might say
easy to debunk or expose as little more than a
card trick to play on the gullible.

All I can say is that no experienced beekeeper takes 
either Chris of Gunter seriously.  Poor Chris was 
basically run out of the Catskill Beekeepers group 
for his attempts to turn everything into a personal 
money-making scheme.  

Chris wants to call himself a "bee doctor", yet he
makes basic errors like calling the antibiotic 
"Fumagillin" an "organic" treatment.  Ooops!  :)
He even asks people to call himself "the bee whisperer",
so the giggle factor gets pretty high.

I'm sure Andrew would love to be called "The Steven Seagal
of Beekeeping", and John Howe is (of course) the "Peter 
Lawford of Brooklyn", but they don't go out of their
way to mention such things, as modesty prohibits.
(I am, of course the Jedi Master Beekeeper, which is
so much cooler than a regular Master Beekeeper, I 
am the only one on this planet.  But a Jedi brags not.)


Long before I ever heard of Gunter, the NY State Beekeepers 
group went out of its way to warn people away from Gunter 
(and now Chris, now that Gunter has fled the jurisdiction) 
as they simply sell nonsense at high prices.  It may be 
heartfelt and well-intentioned nonsense, but motivation 
does not excuse factual inaccuracy.  One can ask the state
newsletter editor Aaron Morris [[address removed]]
what the NY State Beekeeping Association suggests to
those who might consider writing a check to Chris or to 
any part of Gunter's organization for any kind
of beekeeping "education" or "instruction".

Both are part of the very expensive industry of 
consultants, conferences, press articles, books, 
and fanciful homeopathic substances that are
associated with "Biodyamics".  Sadly, Gunter
never made much money at it, and I fear that
Chris Harp and his mother Grai will also starve 
in their attempt to sell hocus-pocus as part of
something as simple and pure as beekeeping.

Now before anyone wants to dismiss me as a
fascist hard-nosed realist without an ounce
of romance in my soul, please note that my
own little sister is a Reiki practitioner,
and recently got her PhD in the field of
Naturopathic medicine.  The difference is 
that her BS was in Math, and her MS in
environmental engineering, so she knows
how to back up what she says with hard data,
and she knows how to go get the data.

Most who are attracted to the smugly all-knowing
and self-confident approach to agriculture called
"biodynamics" are blissfully unaware (or unconcerned) 
that it came out of the imagination of someone
who never had a garden, and never kept bees.
A German occult spiritualist named Rudolf Steiner, 
a self-proclaimed clairvoyant, and self-described 
expert on art, medicine, economics, psychology, 
architecture, philosophy, science, religion, history, 
and, not until the very end of his life, agriculture 
as well.  During his lifetime, he failed to attract
much of a cult following, but in recent times, the
beliefs have won over a small number of people,
most of them people who lack education or experience
in any form of agriculture or science.

Being very very German, I can offer that Germans 
are among the most enthusiastic beekeepers on a
per-capita basis, and all of us are very well-aware 
of Steiner and his failed attempt at a philosophy 
called "Anthroposophy".  He has no following at 
all in Germany.  The only belief system with a 
smaller following would be the Nazis!  :)

There are a few German teenagers who become fixated
on Steiner and "Anthroposophy", but this does not
last, as most of them soon move on to Gurdjieff 
and Ouspensky, which have more weight and a lot less
nonsense, and go better with Swedish death metal 
music and Norwegian black metal music.

But don't take my word for it - read for yourself
some of what has been said and written by Steiner 
himself here:
http://www.rsarch...­

Just pick something at random and read it.

Now, I cannot find his "Nine Lectures On Bees",
but I have read the book many times trying to
find even a single scrap of practical information
of use to a beekeeper, and all I can say is that 
this fellow clearly never kept bees.  :)

Further, when one says "biodynamic", one is tacitly
endorsing several esoteric belief systems that
were utterly debunked long ago.  I will list 
a few of the actual "biodynamic" practices taught 
as if they had an impact on the crops grown 
(or, in the case of beekeeping, the bees and 
their health and work):

1) The influence of the moon on living 
   plants and animals

2) Homeopathy (where water has a "memory" of
   what was placed into it some time ago)

3) Mystical Alchemy (Like cow's intestines filled 
   with chamomile, of a sheep's skull filled with 
   oak bark, of a cow's horn filled with manure 
   (ideally on the autumnal equinox), and the 
   burning of insect or weed pests into ash in 
   order to 'warn away' other insects or weeds. 
   Such practices could perhaps best be described 
   as "Agricultural Voodoo"

4)  Astrology  (Yes, even astrology.  Everything
    but freakin' fortune cookies, for Pete's Sake!)

To repeat, these practices are not based on any sort 
of scientific research or even careful notes of 
trial and error experiments. Instead, they are
solely the meditations and rambling incoherent
babbling of Rudolf Steiner, which, when subjected
to scientific controlled studies, yield nothing
of value for the bees.

It is true that so-called "biodynamic beekeeping" 
does not appear to involve much that would openly 
harm the bees, but the practices do inherently 
disqualify one from ever having a "certified organic" 
operation, or claiming that one's honey was even 
"produced using organic practices". 

But it is the esoteric, occult stuff that gives biodynamics 
its originality and reason for being at all.  Get rid of 
the esoterica, and there no longer is any reason for the
industry of consultants, books, conferences, and classes 
to exist at all.

It requires a profound and stubborn scientific ignorance
and blindness to follow practices such as astrology and 
homeopathy, dynamizations and esoteric fields of cosmic 
energy many years after such practices have been shown 
to be scientifically barren. 

It is willful ignorance born of arrogance that promotes
such thinking in the 21st century, when we can not only
observe bees in a brood chamber, but measure their
exact thorax temperatures to see how they keep individual
larvae warm, and at what specific temperature, on a larvae
by larvae basis.

If there is any argument in favor of these occult theories, 
then we should expect to see evidence in support of them 
accumulated in a rigorous and repeatable fashion. Failing 
that, what truly appears new and different about biodynamic 
practice is only hot air.             

         

Enough.

You want magical and mystical?
Read "The Wisdom of The Hive" by Tom Seeley and the 
(new!) book "The Buzz About Bees" by Jugen Tautz,
now available in English, a book I had the honor of
reviewing for the complex task of speaking of science 
and beekeeping consistently in two different language.

What we know and can prove about bees with science is
very magical and mystical.  There's no need to make
stuff up.  The facts themselves are amazing enough.

As I have said many times, beekeeping is a religious
experience, but sadly, the religion is Calvinism.
(If you must, look up Calvinism to get the joke)

Plane gonna land, gotta return my seat to a fully 
upright and uncomfortable position, which means 
the 'puter gets turned off.  Joanne would say 
"Hi", but she's been asleep for hours.  This
plane is so late, its tomorrow already.


                jim 



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