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How Honeybees Teach Us To Let Nature Heal All By Itself With Henry Svec

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Listen to the podcast here

 

We know so little about honeybees, but the way they move and form colonies are very telling indeed. When Henry Svec and his wife Mary converted their 50-acre farm into a honeybee sanctuary, he learned a lot not only about taking care of them but also about preserving nature. Joining Corinna Bellizzi, the Founder of Wildflower Bee Farm and Author of “What Grandpa Learned from His Honeybees” shares how the hive-building behavior of honeybees opened his eyes to nature’s interconnectedness and why it should be allowed to heal by itself. Henry also discusses some myths regarding bees and honey, maximizing the effect of beneficial bacteria, the advantages of land banking, and the benefits of infrared light to honeybee farms.

 

About Henry Svec

CMBB 131 | HoneybeesHenry and Mary Svec are in the process of converting their 50-acre farm into a nature and honeybee sanctuary. Henry is a Servant Beekeeper, author, value investor, and former psychologist now retired.

 

 

 

Guest LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hank-svec-07a6156/

Guest Website: https://wildflowerbeefarm.com

Guest Social: https://instagram.com/wildflower_bee_farm

Additional Resources Mentioned: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/1989346960/

 

Show Notes: – Edited Audio

00:00 – Introduction

04:44 – Debunking myths

10:44 – GlobexChange Conference

14:43 – Setting aside land for productive use

18:10 – Pesticides, infrared light, and organic food

28:49 – Bee swarming

32:50 – Drone bee vs. Worker bee

38:08 – Honey production

47:11 – “Weed police”

49:44 – Creating a diverse environment

54:29 – The dangers of overhelping

58:31 – Final Words

 

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How Honeybees Teach Us To Let Nature Heal All By Itself With Henry Svec

In this episode, you’re going to learn a bit about the very start of this show before it was even a show, as I finally talk about something near and dear to my heart as the focal point of this very show. They are the givers of food and arguably, our very lives depend on them. I’m here to talk about bees. I’m joined by Henry Svec to cover this story. Henry and his wife Mary are in the process of converting their 50-acre farm into a nature and honeybee sanctuary.

Henry, also known as Hank, is a servant beekeeper. He’s an author, a value investor, and a former psychologist. This is his retirement and like a worker bee, he is still showing up to do important work every single day. Hank even wrote a book with Mary called What Grandpa Learned From His Honeybees: The Little Book To Be Smart With Your Money And Help With The Environment.

Hank Svec, welcome to the show.

Thanks, Corrina. Thanks for that.

It’s so nice to have you here and as I alluded to, this is a subject that’s near and dear to my heart. When I first conceived of Care More Be Better, I was thinking it would be Care More Bee Better. I might even do a line of products that benefited bees and collaborate with perhaps the Paul Stamets of the world, who are treating hive collapse with things like mycelium and mushrooms and all this innovative stuff that’s happening on the nutrition side. I’m thrilled to be able to talk about it now with you and perhaps we can be a little better.

Everything is connected, so everything you’re doing is helping the bees.

CMBB 131 | Honeybees
What Grandpa Learned from His Honeybees: The Little Book to Be Smart with Your Money and Help the Environment

We’ve talked about the pollinator corridors before and the importance of even planting flowering bushes and things that on your property in lieu of something that might not flower to support bees and their habitats in some capacity, but I won’t say it’s been the focus. I wondered if you could start out by telling our entire audience the history of your farm and what led you to decide to turn it into a sanctuary for bees and other life.

About probably 200-some years ago, they started to farm the farm. It’s 50 acres and all around us is some of the best agricultural land in Canada. Our farm was a lake thousands of years ago. There’s a black muck and peat. Our soil would burn in sections, so if you started a campfire, the soil would start burning. It’s got so much different things and it’ll burn under the peat. They’ve had fires here where it’s burned underground and continued until it ran out of oxygen. It’s a very fertile land. When I was six years old, we purchased the farm. We had cherries and peaches. I grew plums and I did that up until our youngest child went off to university and then to work, so it was no longer a place for the children to learn work ethic in business.

We took all the trees out and then, for a while, it became a corn-soybean place because I was busy in the practice and so on. True story. Years ago, I grew garlic. I love garlic. I couldn’t find a spot around our house because we were farming it to a farmer who uses the usual pesticides and herbicides. I couldn’t find a place to keep my garlic safe, so I roped off a section of the farm. He’s a great guy. I was like, “This is crazy. Why don’t we turn the whole farm back over to nature?” It’s because Roundup is sprayed every 5 or 6 times in a growing season.

Something happened blew me away. In the first year, we left it idle. There was corn the year before and we did nothing. That first year we did nothing, 92 wildflower species popped up. For 200 years, they were beaten with every spray and pesticide. It never allowed to grow, and all of a sudden, they popped out. Of course, it was planned. We found out about the tall grass prairie that was here before. We had trees and two ponds because bees and wildlife need water. The bumblebees came back. We have more other pollinators than honeybees here, which is fascinating.

Anyway, that’s how it came about. We were lucky enough to get a farm sponsor and some corporate sponsors, so we’re able to put sensors all over the farm, so we have data. As you probably know, I’m a junkie watching the hives and learning. I can’t sit and watch them. I’ll watch them on the video cam that anybody can do for free. We can talk about that later. It’s become somewhat of a research thing and now a cause because we’re picking up other lands to do the same thing with.

I wonder, as you do this work, and you obviously have fallen in love with the bees themselves, too, if you could share a little bit about some myths that you might want to debunk about bees.

I was afraid of bees. When I started, I went out and learned as much as I could. When we started writing a book, bees do a lot of pollinating by accident. They don’t purposely get up in the morning and say, “I’m going to make the world a better planet.” They’re out there and they’re bumbling and stumbling in a flower. They’re pollinating that flower and then they go back to their hive. They don’t purposely do anything to help us. They’re complimentary almost by accident. When they do pollinate a lot of flowers, the next generation has more flowers, and then all of a sudden, on our farm, all these things are popping up that we didn’t plant that are complimentary to bees.

[bctt tweet=”Bees do a lot of pollinating by accident. They don’t purposely do anything to help humans.” via=”no”]

We don’t know how it got there. Certain types of trees are popping up that the bees use to make propolis, which you probably know what that is. We didn’t plant them and the bees didn’t plant them. How did all these beneficial plants for bees start showing up? It’s almost like they’re connecting to the environment in a way that they’re benefiting and getting the benefit back. It’s an absolutely amazing relationship. I know this sounds a little spiritual, but when I’m out there watching them, I get this connection with them. If I’m nervous, they get nervous and are not happy. I’ve now learned to be calm because of my work as a psychologist, the hypnosis, and all that, I’m getting relaxed and trying to calm myself.

There’s a thing that we’re starting to do in 2023. It is to announce family things to them so that when someone is born in the family, a marriage, or someone passes, the tradition among historic beekeepers is you go out and communicate that to the bees. I don’t quite know how to do that yet. I think you can sit, feel it, and think it, and they know. They’re fascinating species to be with and they connect to others.

The other myth we have sometimes is that they’re very calm, but they’re pretty tough. Bees are tough. They’re wild being that we should pretty much leave alone. The biggest problem we have sometimes is we do too much for them. The problem with my background is trying to help them and fix them. They want to be left alone most of the time.

I watched this one video. I have been known to spend a little bit of time on TikTok up late and one of the things that captured my attention was this woman beekeeper. She’s essentially educating us about a queen-less swarm. I guess this is a fairly rare event where there are too many bees for one hive any longer, and they split off, but they don’t have a second queen. They’re like this strange nomad group and if they don’t get a queen, it could be problematic for that particular colony. She shows up and she’s talking about how they’re docile when they’re in this state. She’s literally reaching in with her hand, scooping up bees, and putting them in this container. She’s not getting stung and she’s doing this over and over.

She’s slowly picking them up calmly. They go under her hand and put them into this container. She takes a queen bee that she did bring with her that’s in this little wooden box. They can see the bee and smell it, so she puts that queen bee in this wooden box there. She can tell from how they act whether or not they’re going to attack and kill the queen or they’re going to accept her. If they are going to accept her, she opens the box and releases the queen. Now, this hive can be healthy.

At the same time, she’s taking out this honeycomb and preparing the hive and everything else. She’s got this new swarm that she’s caretaking for them. I thought it was such a beautiful educational moment because so many of us see beekeepers as having these veils. They almost look like they’re a space invader or one of the early scuba divers with full get-ups to prevent being stung by bees. If you’re doing it right, you may not need that.

That’s a great story. One of the things that I found is that getting stung by a bee is worse for the bees than for us, but it also attracts all the other bees to come and sting you. Many bees will die for no reason. That’s why I always wear all the gear because I used to do it with nothing too. If I stumble and bumble and it accidentally moves too close, maybe squeeze a bee a little bit and it stings you, remember all the bees know exactly where you were stung and they will come and sting you in the same spot.

It’s because it emits pheromones. You can even see it. When you get stung, you’ll see that the little bee butt that might be stuck in your hand is throbbing. It’s like sending a message.

It’s a laser. They know exactly. When they’re swarming, they consume a lot of honey, and their bellies are so full of honey that they can’t move their abdomen up enough to sting you. A beekeeper is pretty safe handling bees that are in a swarm or calm. I’m always worried about them. I used to be worried about myself when I started. I got the EpiPen and everything ready, but now it’s about them. Any beekeeping is good beekeeping. That’s one of the problems we have with beekeeping. I was talking to someone at the environmental conference who was telling me I should do this with my bees and I should do this.

I kept correcting and saying, “I could do that. It’s great that you’re doing that.” People get too pushed into their boxes about beekeeping, especially when there are mites and the bees are collapsing. A lot of bees get up in the morning and look around. They go, “This isn’t a great house and we’re going to move.” All of a sudden, they get up and they move. We call it absconding.

Everybody says, “The bees are gone.” They calmly collapse disorder. They were all gone. Maybe they left because they didn’t the neighborhood and there wasn’t enough food. Seriously, that’s why they leave. You’re spraying too much or they’re afraid. It’s all part of what happens. You asked me what the problem is. Our challenge is we have to know when not to help and when to help. That’s the hardest thing for me right now.

Let’s talk for a moment about this conference that’s fresh on your mind because you were there. What were some of the advice that these people were, without welcome, hurdling onto your shoulders?

It was GlobexChange. It was a great conference for learning. In Canada, the determination is to be neutral net zero by 2030. I’ve been around a bit, so I’m a simple guy thinking, “How are we going to do that? More importantly, what does that do to my bees, nature, or having a better world for our grandkids, which is what this is all about in the next generation?” There are a lot of consultants, math and carbon offsets here and that. Right now, as a species, we’re stuck on trying to figure out how to fix this problem. A lot of the solutions are common sense.

You started off mentioning your goals. We all can do something. If we all did a little bit, then everything would get better. My thing is, “What am I going to do now? What am I do tomorrow at 9:00?” The conference was incredible in the sense of providing you with a litmus test for what’s happening in the world now. There are representatives from the United Nations and a lot of politicians from Canada.

It then became very political, which I don’t enjoy too much. It should be apolitical regardless of who’s in charge or who’s in power. We should have solutions that are going to continue to make the world a better place. That’s something we get caught up in all these battles. One of the politicians, for example, said, “If you elect the other party next election, the world is going to blow up.

That’s everything we hear here in the States too.

It’s not true.

In some cases, it can be. There’ll be walk backs of environmental policies. We did see that when Donald Trump was elected like the restrictions on the EPA. We’re like, “Who’s controlling the EPA? An oil exec? What’s happening here?” The Environmental Protection Agency wasn’t doing as much to support the environment was doing more to protect big business. We saw some pretty significant changes in that capacity. I’m in complete agreement with you that this is a non-political issue. It shouldn’t be.

You have to have a good business model. We have thirteen solar installations ourselves all over different places because they’re good business models. It’s good for the environment, but it’s also a good business. With the bees, it’s about what I call land banking. Instead of putting money in the bank, we buy land and the best thing to do is make that land the best for the planet. We have some 700 or 800 acres in different spots. It’s not farmland or anything, but some of it needs to be turned back over in a different way to nature. We’re trying to take care of that. Someday, I won’t do anything with it business-wise, but maybe ten generations from now, people will want to walk it and it’ll be a private park or something.

I don’t know, but it’s something that will have a positive business model. Governments can do things like one of the properties we purchased has zero taxes. You don’t pay any property taxes because it’s zones recreational forest or something. They don’t have taxes in that province for that. We’re incentivized to have no pressure to have any income or generations can sit on that property and not have to worry. Those are some things governments can do as opposed to saying, “We’re going to walk in and find you if you can’t tell us where your paper comes from. That’s in your paper.” I’m thinking, “it’s in my photocopy. My problem with that is on Monday morning, how are we going to help the bees?”

The cool thing about the bees is they’re not only a spiritual connection to what is as one aboriginal leader called Mother Earth. That was the message I got from it. How can we help heal this planet we live on? They’re the canary in the coal mine. If your bees and bumblebees aren’t doing well, there’s something wrong and we’re probably not going to be doing well in a while because of what’s in our environment. When I started, I thought habitat was 50%. I’m starting to think habitat is 95% of survival. What food they have and the diversity. Is it clean? Do they have access to the water? If we took care of that, things would be much better.

There’s a story told in Paul Hawken’s Regeneration where they set aside some land that had been unproductive and was working to try and see what they could do differently to farm it more efficiently. Ultimately, he made the decision to rewild it. Rewilding it effectively meant that they introduced a species of cow, some pigs, and some other animals that would turn the soil a bit, manure on it, graze the underbrush, and keep fire hazards down. What they saw over the course of a generation was that all these birds that had been gone reappeared. The insects that they hadn’t seen or that were near extinct were now doing much better.

CMBB 131 | Honeybees
Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation

Part of your earlier story talking about these trees that weren’t planted or these wildflowers returning was interesting to me. I’m thinking it’s probably something to do with the birds because the birds come in. They follow the bees because they eat the insects, and they’re dropping seeds everywhere. Granted, I’m sure that this is multifaceted, but this is why an ecosystem is so absolutely complex and why recommendations have been made to set aside at least 30% of productive land so that it can recover and support carbon sequestration.

The same thing with our oceans. The key here is not setting aside arid land that is desert-like or swaths of the ocean where we have a plastic jungle as opposed to coral reefs. We need to think about what we’re doing to set aside that space so that nature can support the entire small water cycle. We can start sequestering more carbon so that wildfires can reduce so that the entire planet can live in harmony again because we obviously have not been supporting that.

That was some of the pushback we got because our 50 acres are part of an area that has the most fertile land for agriculture. Farmers around us get 200 bushels of corn to the acre and they call it a bad year. When I was young, it was 75. Taking the land out that you talk about and returning it to nature should have no impact on food in the world because the productivity of all the other farms is so much more than it was years ago. Not only that, we don’t know why because most of the crops farmers grow are self-pollinating. Yields, according to the research, go up anywhere from 10% to 20% if they’re around honeybees. Nobody knows why because the bees don’t visit that much. There has to be something going on.

I said to one farmer who came over and wondered what I was doing, “You’re going to send me a check for the percentage of the improvement?” He laughed. The first thing he said was, “There are some weeds in your field there.” We call them wildflowers. We don’t call them weeds. Even something like purple thistle, there is only one place on the planet right now where you can get purple thistle honey and that’s on a small island in Italy.

In 2022, the drought that happened in Canada in our area meant that the purple thistle thrived. Our honey bees and natural punters loved it, but the neighbors didn’t because when the seeds went to pod, it was snowing purple thistle seeds all over the place. It was quite beautiful, actually, but the weed police went out.

They could be quite prolific, which is the problem.

They call it a problem, but it’s the national flower of Scotland.

The thistle itself is food. It’s a liver tonic. It supports skin health. We could talk about the nutrient value of it for days, but it comes up. It’s like we create pesticides to kill food all the time. It’s a problem that we need to take more seriously. The movement towards a more regenerative way to grow things is where we need to be headed. It’s a big hurdle for farmers to go from this agronomic perspective they had before, where they set aside so much money for their pesticides and seeds to think about instead of weeding and spraying everything with some cancer-causing agent that will kill the weeds. They can mow it down, crimp it down or use another method, something to that effect.

We’re going to pilot test infrared light in 2023 because there’s science on infrared light in the laboratory within a week curing bees of neonicotinoid complete immersion and by oxidant. Our 24/7 webcam at night has an infrared light.

Let’s pause here for a second. For those that don’t understand what these types of pesticides are, can you sum them up for us?

When we got out of the fruit business, the toxicity became more, as I would be simply saying, in the meat of the fruit. In other words, it used to be you could wash an apple or some cherries and you would get rid of the spray because it was on the surface. Now things are planted in corn and soybeans when they’re very young, like seedlings. That is incorporated into the entire food product. When farmers are planting corn in this community and they have this pesticide in the corn seed, it’s able to then put it into its cobs so that the corn boar doesn’t eat the corn. Honeybees and other insects like diversity. They don’t like to go to the same restaurant every day.

Even though they don’t need it, they’ll go to a corn stock and maybe get a little pollen here. There is some health associated with diversity. That’s their genetics. The more diverse their food, the healthier they’re going to be. The research shows that honeybees are drastically impacted and other insects as well by this type of pesticide.

In a laboratory, a genius chemist did research. He dipped honeybees, unfortunately, in these pesticides directly and then gave them infrared light of a certain spectrum, and within a week, they were basically cured. No one has taken that research and put it in the field very well. Again, we accidentally stumbled upon it. Most of this is luck and bumbling and stumbling that I’m doing.

CMBB 131 | Honeybees
Honeybees: When a chemist dipped honeybees in pesticides then gave them infrared light of a certain spectrum, they were all cured.

 

One night, we noticed it was six degrees and there was a clump of bees right around the infrared camera. The next night there was another clump of bees and then it got bigger, but they weren’t swarming. They were treating themselves with the infrared light that the camera was used to give us the picture. That’s when I started digging. By the way, you would not believe it. This hive is crazy strong. Sure enough, the research shows they did one small trial in the field and they said, “If you put infrared light, it gives bees exposure to that.” We’re doing it on the outside of the hive. In other words, bees can use it if they want, but we’re not infringing on their world because that’s too difficult to go into someone’s house and make them sit at a light all the time.

When they want, they can come out and give themselves that experience. I talked to an electrician friend of mine who built these little tiny solar panels. Little mini solar panels are going to be on the side of the hive to power these little infrared lights that the bees can use. We’re going to do some research and we’re going to put them as close as we can. Remember, all around me is Roundup spraying and heavy-duty agriculture. What we wanted to create was a place for the bees that’s a refuge, so they don’t have to go anywhere. Bees are like us. They’re lazy. If you can give them everything they need, they won’t travel. We give them the best food and water. Most of our bees don’t go too far. That’s the plan.

[bctt tweet=”Bees are lazy like people. If you can give them everything they need such as food and water, they won’t travel or wander too far.” via=”no”]

You’ve mentioned a few things through this that I want to circle back to. One is that you’re having trouble growing garlic on your property. Can you explain that?

It’s because there’s drift when people spray. I don’t know if your audience knows about Roundup. Basically, the plants are genetically modified not to die when they get hit with this spray, but the spray kills everything else. If you grow garlic near a field that’s being sprayed, the drift will probably kill your garlic, plus it’ll get absorbed into the actual food. That’s the tricky thing. When we used to have a fruit farm, I was doing reduced spray then, which wasn’t very popular. People get mad at me. I didn’t like the spray, but it was at least surface spray. It wasn’t systemic. I would say pretty much most of the sprays out there are systemic, meaning it’s in the meat of the food you eat.

It’s also now in our water tables and everywhere. It’s unavoidable glyphosate at this point.

You can’t wash it. Apples are sprayed every eight days. Apples are good for you, but if you eat an apple, you’re still exposed. Long story short with that, the garlic was a problem. This is how good our soil is. I grow 100 bulbs in an area the size of a kitchen table with no fertilizer but you have to rotate every three years. Every year you rotate and you can go back. That’s what I do. I couldn’t find any more land because I had a small little part that I kept from the farm, and so I needed more land. Now I can plant a little kitchen table size anywhere I want.

This is the reason that I have always strived to eat organic. I’m helping people understand that it’s not something that can easily be washed off. I will be frank. At this point, I barely wash my vegetables and fruits because it doesn’t do any good. I buy organic. Perhaps it’s part laziness and being the fast-working mom and all that jazz.

I’ve also read the research and understand that it’s in the actual food itself, not on the outside of it. If you’re washing things off, sometimes you’re also washing off beneficial bacteria. There could be bad stuff, but there could also be good stuff. If you read about soil-based organisms, sometimes the dirt you’re shaking off the carrot, that’s edible too.

One of the scariest memories I have of farming was we grew some broccoli. I would get up at 5:00 in the morning. I was at the university at that time. I would cut the broccoli, pack it in ice, take it to a restaurant, and that would be their special. Whatever I brought was their special. It was amazing, but the pesticide you were supposed to use goes like this. You put it in your sprayer and you have to wait an hour for it to come to life. I said, “What do you mean come to life?” It’s a bacteria that gives the worms that eat the broccoli. It’s a disease where their intestines come out. It’s a form of a disease. The recommendations say there’s no residue.

You can eat it the next hour if you want it. I’m thinking, “How is that possible?” We got out of that. We stopped growing. We never used that. We would look at the broccoli. If it had a worm, we wouldn’t send it to the restaurant. That’s the stuff that was designed and well-meaning. It was designed because people needed to eat and there wasn’t enough food. I think we can do better now. We need to understand, as you said, that washing is important to make sure there’s nothing transferred by the workers onto that product, which can make you sick.

As far as washing the spray off that we used to say, I don’t think there’s such a thing anymore unless it’s organic. If it’s organic, then we have an opportunity. The other thing I’ll tell you quickly. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Italy. If you go in the backyard of someone in Italy, in most communities, they’re self-sustaining. They have a few chickens. They have a great garden and a few trees. When COVID was going on, the folks were doing pretty well because they were always growing their own food anyway. That’s another way around that of sharing and trying to figure out how to be sustainable that way.

You grow green beans. Your neighbor grows melons and you trade them around.

I’d trade garlic and honey for other stuff. That would work, but we haven’t taught that in schools and we haven’t given that opportunity to people to learn those skills of even how to cook with what’s available now in an inexpensive way with the price of food.

I learned that with a more limited space, even farm, instead of backyard chicken, backyard quail. This larger quail species that people are farming are very productive with their egg laying. They lay up to 300 eggs in a single year per fry, so a lot of little eggs. That would be little egg omelets. Quail eggs are delicious. I look forward to having them whenever I go out for sushi. This is something that people might consider if they don’t have as much space or if they worry about the crowing roosters because chickens can be a little loud and quail are less.

There’s so much we can do. When I’m in one part of this country in Nova Scotia where we have some properties, we recycle 95% of human waste that would go to a landfill. When you go take your garbage out every two weeks, you’ve got about the amount of an apple that goes to a landfill. It’s real recycling. They’ve traced it. It’s a small community, but they take the environment seriously. I come back here to the farm, it’s 0% recycling. Everything goes to a landfill. I go to a conference in Toronto and they’re talking about this and I’m thinking, “Could we start with landfills? Can we not do this to the world?”

They look at you like, “We’re into carbon offsets. We’re taking garbage and burying it because we’re too lazy to separate it,” especially organics. Thirty-five percent of the landfill in this community is organics. If you look up recycling, waste connections come up and they don’t do any recycling. They’re a landfill company. The 35%, if you took that out of the garbage, it affects their profitability. They want to put all the organics into the landfill and then in ten years, they sell you the gas back or let the methane burn off. You didn’t have to have methane in the first place because you didn’t have to put organics into the garbage.

Methane is 80 times more of a problem than CO2 so far as its impact because you can’t draw it down. It stays up in the greenhouse gases a lot longer.

Back to my point. Some of this stuff is dumb, even bees. We talk about honey bees doing dumb things and we’ve done so much to bees. We had some bees a couple of years ago. They didn’t know how to swarm because they’d never swarm. One of the traditions of modern beekeeping is you don’t let your hives swarm.

Why?

It’s because it cuts production. When bees swarm, 20,000 bees leave, so you lose half of your workforce.

CMBB 131 | Honeybees
Honeybees: One of the traditions of modern beekeeping is never letting your hives swarm. It causes 20,000 bees to leave, losing you half of your workforce.

 

How do you keep them from swarming? This is news to me. I’ve seen bees swarm. I’ve found swarms on the edge of my property in a pile on the ground.

It’s so beautiful. That’s the way honeybees reproduce in are sustainable. If you stop them from swarming, you’re going to have more honey production. I’m saying this is what happens. I’m not saying it’s good or bad. Traditional, what I call livestock beekeeping will mean that you may clip the queen’s wings so she can’t climb and fly. In servant beekeeping, we go in once a year, maybe twice a year. They recommend that every two weeks, you go into a hive and if you see queen cells, you destroy them because the queen cells are the way the worker bees create the next queen they want when they swamp.

It’s obvious because it’s a larger cell.

It looks like a big peanut, maybe instead of the regular cell. What we’ve done here, initially, when the bees swarmed, sometimes they swarm on the ground. That’s a dumb bee because when you swarm on the ground, remember you can’t sting anybody and anybody could eat you, like raccoons, skunks, rats, or mites. You can’t defend yourself. They almost never make it when they swarm on the ground. They don’t make it because it’s not normal for them to do that.

It’s because honeybees have neuroplasticity that happens in six weeks. Think about that. A honeybee has a brain the size of a sesame seed. If it learns a new behavior, that becomes wired into their brain. This is crazy. Then, when they’re creating a new queen, they use royal jelly that they process in their own bodies. They pass on the new neuroplasticity genetics in the food to the next queen that’s created.

[bctt tweet=”A honeybee has a brain the size of a sesame seed. If it learns a new behavior, it becomes wired into their brain.” via=”no”]

Now she doesn’t know how to swarm.

She has a good benefit that they’ve learned on our farm so that the next queen is that much stronger and knowledgeable about what it’s like to live around this farm as opposed to, say, a place in California because it’s very localized. The worker bees pass on this information to the next generation that way. Can I tell you this one? When the queen is no longer in a hive, sometimes the workers start laying eggs. They take over the job. They’re only going to last maybe 30 days or 60 and they’re going to be gone. They start laying eggs and they’re only going to produce drones. They can’t produce worker bees or a queen. Those drones, however, have all of the genetics of those worker bees.

All that knowledge they have in their brain is now transferred over to the next generation of bees through the drone. They will pass or go join another hive, but those drones will go and hopefully connect with the queen and make that. This is amazing, but what they tell you to do, and I did in my first year, is when you have a queen-less hive, either put a queen in or take the honey and don’t worry about letting the bees fly wherever.

If you leave them alone, as I did, because that’s what we do on the farm, and watch them over time, you’ll see how they create a new community whose sole purpose is to create drones. If you told a beekeeper, “I wanted a lot of drones,” they’d say, “You’re crazy,” because they don’t want drones either. The technique is often to kill the drones or to put the drone frames in a freezer, so they die. They don’t want too many drones because the belief is drones hang around, eat food, and don’t do anything.

What is the difference for those that don’t know between a drone and a worker bee?

If we went by traditional, what we would say is that the worker bees are female, as is the queen and the drones are the males. The drone is an unfertilized egg. That’s how you create a drone. The worker bee and the queen is from a fertilized egg. The queen has some of those too. The queen creates a lot of drones herself to transfer her genetics to the male side so it can go out and reproduce. We know now that the drones are extremely important to a hive. What do the bees do? The drones not only pass on the next genetics, but they are the heating and cooling system for the hive until they’re no longer needed. In Canada, drones are needed until about October. Sometimes earlier, sometimes later.

At that time, they’re dragged out by the workers and no longer allowed back into the house because they serve no purpose. They eat more than they can produce. The bees have this way to know that, “If we keep them around, the heating and cooling we get from them doesn’t equal the amount of honey they eat. We need honey for the winter, so we’re going to drag them out.” We call it a drone eviction and we have it on video. We watch it on the cameras. It’s tough to watch and the drones are bumbling and stumbling.

They come back and then a group comes out and drags them out again. Eventually, they give up and go away, but the drones are part of the lifecycle. On the spiritual side, we believe drones add a certain vibe to the hive. They’re calm and they’re there. They do have some roles that we probably can’t even identify. We probably know 5% of what we’re supposed to know about bees. We don’t know anything about them.

[bctt tweet=”Drone bees are calm and play roles in their hive we probably cannot even identify.” via=”no”]

It’s the same way when we look at other species of animals too. For instance, sardines. This is taking us right into the oceans. We know that they move on mass more quickly than you could determine by the speed of light. They’re communicating so quickly. They’re essentially in this neurolink that is happening quicker than the speed of light to react to their environment and change direction.

If we understand that about a species like sardines and it forever perplexed us, we didn’t understand how or why. We still don’t know that something could move faster than the speed of light, then it gives us a different view of what could be happening in a colony of bees, ants, or any of these communal consciousness critters because they really are. They’re a servant in a way to the queen. Everything is about the hive. It’s its own unit in a way.

It’s a community. The other thing is there are some beehives that have more than one queen. Sometimes they allow a queen to live. Traditionally, people are told, “There can only be one queen.” Now they say 15% to 20% of hives have two queens. We don’t know why or how. We also know they do takeovers. If a beekeeper is at their hive, goes and gets a glass of water, and comes back, in the meantime, an entire new hive could have come in, taken over that hive, and killed the queen. The guy doesn’t even know about that because you can’t keep bees in a corral or a barn. Bees are going to go do what they do. I talked to a beekeeper about this.

He said, “That was crazy.” He said he would know. I said, “How would you know?” “You go get a glass of water and you come back. You see that the bees are suddenly very active.” “How would you know that they got taken over?” “You don’t. It happens all the time.” They find a weaker hive that has more resources. They didn’t like their house, so they left and they did what I call a hostile takeover. They went in, took out the queen, and now there’s a new hive there. We don’t know a lot. What we do know is they’re helpful to us. They foster bumblebees, which are two and a half times more efficient than honeybees in pollinating things from plants, flowers, and fruit. If you have bumblebees, things are that much better on a farm or a property.

If we can somehow get that out there, it’s going to help us all. Again, the goal is for the grandkids because you can’t have honeybees and a toxic environment. You can’t have bumblebees. If we don’t have them, that should be enough. We shouldn’t need a lot of consultants to tell us we can do X, Y, or Z. Let’s take a look, walk, and immerse ourselves. Mental health-wise, I was in a mental health practice for 30 years and there’s so much written now I’ve discovered since I’ve retired on honeybees and mental health that there is a clinic.

I believe it’s in Europe where for PTSD, you go, lie above a hive, and sleep overnight. You’re not in the hive, but you’re so close that it’s like you’re in a hive. There are 4 or 5 hives under the hammock. We want to watch and listen. When I listen to my bees, I can tell the different types of sounds based on how they’re feeling. The toughest is when the queen has passed and they’re depressed. They walk around aimlessly. Some of the hives get aggressive when that happens, but some of them give up and then they’re open to being attacked by wasps and other things.

Before we get into this last stretch of our conversation, I want to talk about honey. The reason I want to talk about honey is because a lot of people have gone to a plant-based or vegan diet. They consider honey to be an animal product that they also don’t touch. I wanted to see from your perspective, given that you are minding bees, what you would say to those individuals. Is there a way to produce harmonious honey that can also support the hive and the colony?

I’ll tell you a bit about how we handle that. Obviously, I don’t know a lot about the vegan movement and the rules, so I’m probably breaking a lot of them. What we would do is respect the bees and their right to collect all the food they need to survive happily. We don’t take honey. We take a very little bit of honey in August from certain hives that are extremely strong and have produced too much. They become honey bound.

It’s like a plant becomes root bound, right? It’s the same thing.

Absolutely. They are so efficient that they will make cells and pack honey everywhere around the hive. You can’t even take it out of frame because everything is all masked together. We might take one frame from a hive. Sometimes we would’ve put a few extra frames in. Within a week, everything is replaced because it’s usually the start of golden rod season when we do it here. It’s very complimentary and respectful to the honey. We never feed our bees. When I started, everyone said you got to feed them sugar water. I don’t do well when I eat sugar. I took white sugar out of my diet and it saved my digestive life. I said, “Why would I give bees sugar water?” Sure enough, it’s not healthy for them.

They need a forage.

It’s not good. They’re not made to take that kind of processed sugar. When you leave bees enough honey or have honey to give them, then you’re in sync. I guess to answer your question, “Are you in harmony and are you balanced with nature?” Bees want to give us some honey. I know that sounds crazy because they’re not thinking.

It’s not the way that you and I understand, but I think they’re thinking.

When I’m there, I’m wearing my hat and stuff because if they get in your hair, they get a little crazy. I don’t have much left. When you stand there, it’s almost like they’ll come up. When they bump you in the head, that means you better get away because they’re about to sting you. They know that’s where it would hurt the most. Generally, they’ll come and sit on your arm or something. They’ll take a look and then they’ll fly away. There is a connection there as long as you respect that. When it comes to livestock production, it’s very much like livestock production of cattle, chickens, or any other process. Our hives are all spread out, so we don’t have any hives that are beside each other. That’s not healthy for bees because 15% to 20% of the time, they come back to the wrong house if it’s too close.

CMBB 131 | Honeybees
Honeybees: Beehives must be spread out. If they are placed too close to each other, the bees will likely come back to the wrong houses.

 

If you have a hive that’s not well, that will get quickly transferred to the other hives and they’ll all get sick. We spread them out, plus we want to learn, “Does the microclimate 200 yards away have an impact on survival rates and so on?” If I was into the issue of being a vegan, I would probably want to know the history of the food I ate and how the honeybees are respected. When you look at how honey is made, I don’t know what the argument is because honeybees make it from actual plant products. They add their own twist to it. They take out the water, providing you with honey that has incredible benefits for health. You know you can put honey on cuts. I put it on cuts and bruises now and it heals overnight. It’s ridiculous.

That’s very much what manuka honey is used for as well. They call that the high ORAC value and everything. What I wanted to share is a story about some beekeepers from Southern Oregon that impacted my life when I was growing up. I have a mom and a sister who suffer from the worst poison oak. If they touch somebody who touched poison oak or if they brush up against an animal, we’re talking seeping wounds all over their bodies like walking puss balls. I know it’s gross. You imagine the pain that somebody is going through with something like that.

I’m a poison ivy guy. I used to get it every year as a kid, whether I touched anything or not.

People can get it from the pollen if they’re sensitive. What happened in this case is we found this local bee farmer who would take his hive and he would put it in the forest when the poison oak was blooming. You specifically right at the beginning of the season when it would bloom. The honey from that, he would bottle as its own medicine. I was a little kid at that time and he was charging $10, which was a lot for a jar.

He was also saying, “One measured teaspoon, not more a day.” We would consume one measured teaspoon of this honey each day, and my mom and my sister both stopped getting this intense rash from poison oak. They still get it a little bit, but more like an average person was. I happen to have some on my neck right now because I was hiking and went under a bush and it scraped my neck.

What’s it taste like, the honey from the oak blossom?

I want to say it was very similar to apple honey almost. It’s very light and not remarkable. Orange honey can be intense. Clover honey got this soothing palette. I’ve had alfalfa honey, which is more grassy and you can taste the grass on them. For those of you who love honey the way I do, I have used honey to treat seasonal allergies my entire life. I will always go to a local bee farmer who lives in my community and is growing honey or farming well with their bees. I get a little jar at the beginning of a flowering season. I used to get debilitating seasonal allergies that are gone. I don’t have them anymore.

That’s wonderful.

The one case in which I had a very bad reaction was I was traveling in Australia. I was going through the area of Australia by the Twelve Apostles. I’d never been in this area in my life. It’s on the Southern Coast of Australia. It’s an absolutely beautiful coastal view and suddenly, I’m going to a wine tasting with my husband and I’m leaking like a sieve and sneezing. My eyes are watering and it’s painful. I wasn’t able to address it as swiftly with something like honey. I had to go to the pharmacy and get something that will work right now.

I haven’t had to employ that in the area I live in ever since I started using honey in this way. It’s a tremendous tool. When you have a responsible bee farmer that is looking out for their hive and cares about the hive like it’s part of the family too. We need to think about things differently. If you’re going to the grocery store and buying a giant tub of some far-off honey, I don’t advocate that. I buy all mine in glass jars and I try to go to the local farmer’s markets.

Balance is important. I don’t know if that answers the vegan question, but things get better if we keep thinking of balance. I don’t know what it’s like there, but there are no real standards for calling something honey in Canada. They did a study and they found a lot of corn syrup and honey here.

In fact, things will say 100% honey. You’re right. They’ve done tests. The same thing has plagued the olive oil industry. Thankfully, those olive oils originating in California were never a part of that, but several labeled as being Italian were falsely labeled.

When we talk about the environment, and earlier I mentioned Italy, the more we do for ourselves is probably, in the long run, better for the environment because we’re doing more and more connected to it. If you don’t do the smells, see the things, and feel them, you’re not connected. It’s a number to you. That’s one of the issues. We talked about the conference earlier.

The majority of the people of the thousand experts that were there hadn’t had a lot of experience walking in a forest, looking and smelling, touching soil, or planting something until you have that connection. We do an injustice to our children because they don’t have that opportunity anymore. We’re not agriculture for a lot of reasons, but I encourage people, if you can advocate for your municipality to let you dig up your backyard. In some places, you can’t dig up your backyard.

That’s astounding, isn’t it?

I told you about the weed police. They were going to arrest me.

We didn’t talk about that, but now you have dropped the bomb. The weed police were going to arrest you. Tell the story.

It was about the thistle. I was away for a week or two, and things started happening. A neighbor didn’t like all the snow flying. The weed police came, but first, he called me and said, “We want you to cut down your thistle.” I said, “No. I’m not cutting down my thistle because the bees are flying and there are other flowers blooming around. It’s a wildflower. My wife is Scottish and it’s the Scottish flower of Scotland.” He said, “If you don’t, we’re going to cut your fence.” I purposely fenced the entire 50 acres so that I could have some protection from that thing. He said, “We’ll call the police. We will cut the fence and if you stop.” I said, “I’m going to stop you.”

He said, “We’ll arrest you.” I said, “Okay.” He comes for a visit and we go around the farm. I talk to him for about 45 minutes. He says, “Let me tell you how it works. You have to demonstrate that you’re making an attempt to cut them.” I said, “Right over there is my dad’s sickle. If I cut two plants, am I making an attempt?” He goes, “I guess you are.” I said, “Did you want me to cut the two plants now or did you want me to wait?” He said, “Don’t worry about it.” He left and I said, “I’m doing what the best I can.”

We have these ridiculous archaic laws. By the way, there isn’t one flower from our farm that’s escaped to any farm around us. All the farms around us are like golf courses. You won’t find one weed in a cornfield because they spray with all this stuff that kills everything. On the one hand, we don’t like to spray, but on the other hand, it keeps the weed police. I told him, “Look around. Do you see any of these?” He goes, “No.” Long story short, they were going to arrest me, actually. I thought, “This is insanity.”

When you said weed police, I thought you were talking about marijuana.

No. That’s legal up here in Canada. You can grow all the pot you want, but you can’t grow any purple thistle. We can grow four pot plants, each of us.

California has something similar.

He didn’t care about pot. He didn’t want to hear about it. In the end, I said, “Why don’t you come back? I’ll take care of other stuff.” We got along, but I said, “You’re going to keep getting complaints about this.” He says, “I know, but now I know your plant.” This 2023, because we have a section of that soil that’s very acidic, I frost-planted some red clover, which is great for bumblebees. Hopefully, that will equal the battle with the Scottish plant and everybody will be happy in harmony. I’m sure he’ll be back.

I know that we talked for a moment about how easy it is to plant clover. Clover makes it a lot more drought-tolerant. You don’t have to give it as much water. I try to plant in my local yard here. I’m in California. It’s different plants that are more drought tolerant that also flower. I have a lot of salvias, which the bumblebees like. I have a variety that’s from Spain. It’s yellow, bright, and vibrant. Another is what is called hot lips and it’s white and pink.

The hummingbirds love them, as also the bumblebees. We get a lot of bumblebees in our yard. I also have a couple of others like a cornflower blue bush with a ton of sticky flowers. They stick to you if you walk by the plant. I can’t even remember what it’s called. It’s nice to have a vibrant garden of things that I can eat and things that I don’t. I plant strawberries as a ground cover. The snails probably eat as many of them as I do.

The diversity is incredible, as you described, because honeybees will go to different things on purpose because it makes them healthier. We had one lavender plant growing out in the back and the one hive closest to it, we did take a frame of honey and it tasted like lavender. The other hives didn’t because they go to the closest flowers first. It was quite an interesting experience and the bees were very healthy. Whatever people can do. I mentioned clover because it’s like the gas station for bees. Clover has that extra sugar content, so they have to work less at making it honey when they bring it back to the hive or the bumblebees when they take it and use it. It’s nice to have some of that. Sometimes there’s an argument with people who say, “It’s not a native species.”

It’s very easy to seed. You just literally toss it on the lawn.

Exactly. If you’re going to do something, that would be a great thing to do. Diversity is the next level. It’s like you’re in the NBA if you’re doing diversity because that’s important for wildlife.

I don’t care about the dandelions when the dandelions grow. My kids like to blow them when they get the full head of seeds on them.

Dandelions are best for bees. Do you have weed police in California?

Not that I know of.

It’s funny. Milkweed. You know milkweed for monarchs, right?

Yes.

For years, milkweed was obnoxious weed until the lobby group here thankfully got together and said, “The monarchs are dying.” I even fought with the municipality. What they do here is the weed police come out, they write you a ticket, and then the town comes and cuts the land. They give you a bill to cut it. If you don’t pay it, they put it on your taxes. I fought for one year, they were going to cut my milkweed. I had some milkweed. I remember I went to the council at that time because milkweed was on the list of bad species.

I said, “I got an email from David Suzuki that I could buy milkweed plants and plant them to help the monarchs.” The mayor stood up and said, “I will personally get on the tractor and cut down your milkweed.” That was only in 2013 and then five years after that, they took it off the list because, thankfully enough, people shook their heads and said, “The monarchs survive on milkweed.” They took it off the list like abra cadabras.

For anybody who doesn’t understand, they have to eat milkweed because it builds a toxin in their bodies. It prevents them from being eaten. For the birds to remain smart and not eat them for generations, they need to keep eating the milkweed or they will be picked off. That’s their demise.

Isn’t that an incredible thing that the monarchs are toxic to eat? It’s amazing.

That’s why they adhere their chrysalis mostly to those. That’s amazing too. I’m in California, as I’ve mentioned a few times. Pacific Grove, where I used to live, is considered a monarch capital. For many years, it was hard to see very many of them, but now they’re coming back in a way that is encouraging. That’s not to say they’re in the complete clear now, but by limiting things like pesticide spraying and being a part of the solution. Planting corridors for their pollinators and making sure that you have flowers that bloom throughout the year to support their migration, you’re doing a good thing.

We see more and more every year monarchs on the farm here. We started blooming. We found some hairy cress on the farm blooming already. Even though it was minus two, the bees were bringing pollen back, which blew my mind. From now until frost in late November, there’s always something blooming here on the farm for the bees, so the monarchs will be here.

I have one last question for you. I know we’ve had a deep discussion, and we’re already at the hour point. I would like to know if there’s a question that I haven’t asked that you wish I had. If there is one, you could ask and answer it. If not, a closing thought you’d like to leave our audience with so that we can all go into our day with a little more pep in our step.

The one question I have is how do you handle that continual impulse to try to overhelp something? It’s well-meaning. You want to fix or help and it could be people. In my case, we’re talking honeybees because I have to almost grab my hand and stop. I’ll give you an example. I was walking around the farm and I saw a hive that seemed like they were flying because it was a warmer day. I thought I’d lift up the back to see how heavy the hive was and it wasn’t very heavy. I thought, “I can go bring them a nice frame of honey. They’ll be so happy,” and then I thought, “It’s not supposed to do that.”

It’s because if you do that, you’re propagating the behavior. For some reason, they either ate too much honey or picked a house that had not enough room and they will then transfer that to the next generation. In brutal Mother Nature, you have to step back and watch and let them do what they’re going to do. It’s frustrating because you could save them all the time. You could run around doing things and then eventually do too much and destroy them all. It’s that balance between helping and hurting that is a constant struggle for me. I want to go out there and help them all but you can’t.

You have to pick your battles. You have to let nature play its course sometimes too. Running outside with a spoon full of sugar water when you see a bee sitting there on the ground may not be the best course of action.

A frame of honey fits most beekeepers, even organic beekeepers would accept that to give them a frame of honey. I always store a lot of honey for the bees so that next year, when we split. We do split hives, which means we take a few and create a new hive for them, which is okay. That fits the philosophy. When to help and not to help is probably the biggest stuff. What was the second part of your question?

That’s the thought that you’re leaving with.

I only know 3% of what bees are. It is to respect the interconnectedness of everything. Everything is connected. For example, when I walk by the beehive, they feel the vibration of my walking. If you do too much commotion around a beehive, they’re stressed. It takes them a couple of days to settle and stress causes disease as it does with humans. I’ve got this great Kubota tractor. It’s cool sometimes to take the front loader, go out, and get some branches or something. When you drive that tractor around a beehive, they’re disrupted.

They’re ready to fight. When someone is coming like a bear or whatever is coming to take us out, we got to be ready. They can’t relax and do what they have to do. Be mindful and then, of course, it helps me slow down. I have ADD, so I’m up there all the time. It makes you purposely slow down and smell things and hear things. That’s a gift they give us. The gifts they give us go beyond honey. Pollination is important, but if we take the time to listen, they help us appreciate what we have. We’ve lost that.

Hank, that’s a beautiful note on which to end. I would add to that. For me, that is what even trees do. Communing with nature, going outside barefoot, and taking a moment to breathe with my bare feet on the ground. Some grass, leaves or whatever is connected to Earth. It sounds like you’re incorporating that through your bees and that’s lovely.

I’m pretty lucky. Thanks for your kind words.

Thank you.

That was lovely. From Hank, from me, from the bees, for the company that might have been with Care More Be Better, I want to thank you all for sticking with us for this conversation. It has been my pure pleasure and joy. To connect with Hank Svec and his important work, please visit WildflowerBeeFarm.com.

If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and write us a review on Spotify, Apple Podcast or wherever you happen to tune in. This helps more people discover the show and ultimately, we can make a bigger difference together. To Hank’s point, we are all interconnected. It’s a crazy race space and we’re all in this together.

If you’re so inclined, you could even share this episode on your social feed, via email, mention it to a friend, or even grab their phone and download it so that they can tune in to it later. You can sign up for our newsletter. You’ll receive a weekly email that tells you all about what we’re doing specifically out there in the world. You’ll hear about Be Better Challenges, which is a #BeBetterChallenge. Each week, I give you tips about how you can be the change that you want to see. Subscribers also receive a welcome gift. It’s a five-step guide to unleash your inner activist.

It provides worksheets and a basic tool for framing your work so that you could go out there and perhaps even lobby on behalf of the bees. While you’re visiting, I do want to hear from you. You can leave me a voicemail. You could even reach out and do the same through Instagram @CareMore.BeBetter. I want to hear your voice too. This is a one-way exchange in some ways and it is two ways with all my heart. Thank you, readers, now and always for being a part of this show and this community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more, we can be better, we can bee better. We can save the bees. Thank you so much.

 

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