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Anecdotal Evidence

By Dick Marron (dickm)

(Anecdote: A story.) Some of you will look this up! I deliberately did not.

Before the birth of Christ the tribes of Israel passed on a verbal history by telling and retelling anecdotes around the campfire. These stories later formed a backbone for one of the most important books ever written, the Bible. Anecdotal evidence has gotten a bad name since that great beginning. Even if you called them by their upscale name, parables, they are still just stories. (Parable: A classic story.) Later, when the lawyers got into it, the words “hearsay evidence” came into use. You can’t offer as evidence, something you heard someone say. (Hearsay: A story someone told someone else.) If all these restrictions were in general use through history … there would be no history.

What does this have to do with bees? Thanks for asking. I was getting bored too. I suspect that the use of Thymol for Varroa was first passed on via an anecdote by a hobbyist operating out there on the fringe of beekeeping. I think there are three commercial preparations of it at present. The same is true of a lot of other stuff.

I have met a few unpretentious people who are using some of those “unproven” techniques in beekeeping. All they have is some of this anecdotal evidence but they don’t seem to care . . . they have healthy bees and use no pesticides or antibiotics.

Let’s take the case of Don Kuchenmeister. With a name like that he should have ended up operating a bakery. (Kuchen Meister: Master Baker) If you go to Beesource.com, the internet bee-addicts’ other chat line, his screen name is “Fat beeman.” I don’t know why he calls himself that, we’re both the same size. He’s in the small town of Lula, Ga. (About an hour north of Atlanta). He hosted me and my rig last year and invited me back. As the roads got smaller and the roar of the freeway faded, I began to understand how a beekeeper could think about moving here. That’s exactly what Don and his good wife of thirty-nine years, Monique, did . . . about thirty-five years ago. (She verified the 39 years of marriage but added that it seemed longer. Does that tell you something about their relationship?) They lived for fourteen years in other Georgia spots before moving a last time to the present location. It was all about the bees.

This is a case of bee fever run amok. He had no other reason to move all the way from Ohio. He has many skills and at one time, was in danger of being a successful real-estate agent. He’s done construction, operated heavy equipment, has a semi (CDL) license, and worked in a saw mill. He did actually have his own small mill. In fact, he has the equipment to make a specialized molding for you. There’s a number of those racks of wood that you see at a sawmill hanging around his yard. You know, where the stuff is drying or seasoning? He can explain why air drying is better than kiln drying, at the cellular level. It leaves the wood in a more stable condition. After all, Stradivarius didn’t have kiln dried material. Some of this wood is of special or rare types. I remember a mention of Black Walnut, Pecan, and Poplar, and various kinds of Oak and Pine. He knows his wood. He showed me a “Powder puff beetle” in a pine board. I would have just passed by the mysterious sawdust it leaves behind.

Don would say that his main business is bees. Specifically, it’s queen bees and nucs. While he makes some honey it’s more or less incidental. The way he tells it, if he makes any money, that is also incidental. It’s not the way he measures success. We got along well. He has Italians, Carniolans, Russians, and “Ferals.” He considers a colony to be “Feral” if it’s been in a tree or a building, without human intervention, for more than two years. He values his feral bees as he feels they add survivability to his queen matings.

I was going to build or buy a boat once and sail around the world. I actually considered renting the molds and spray forming my own fiberglass. A guy at a boat yard woke me up with the Statement: “It depends Dick; on how far back you want to start with your boat!” Don starts a bee hive by looking at a likely tree. He saws the tree into boards and stacks it to dry. Another source of lumber comes from scavenging. He then makes all his equipment out of what is at hand. Later there may be recycling. A damaged cover can quickly turn into a bottom board for a nuc. A secret ingredient is paint. (At least it seems to be a secret to a lot of beekeepers.) Everything is nicely painted. The part of the bottom board that goes inside the hive gets two coats of latex. It fills in some of the crevices the SHB like to hide in. He showed me some hive bodies that had been in continuous use for 27 years. That was the last time he branded hives. He loves to trade and confided that he trades for the paint. I think he’d rather trade honey for something even if it would be cheaper to buy it. After we got to be friends he agreed to let me call him “thrifty,” because he spends money sparingly.

I think half his fun is in making things. Lately he has condescended to buying frames, though I did see quite a few he made. One out of red oak! We laughed at how heavy ten oak frames would make a hive. At 64 he doesn’t need to worry about that because he’s pretty husky and because he started wisely; he began with eight frame equipment. Since he makes nucs he also has a lot of five-frame stuff. And then there’s the baby queen-mating nucs, all of wood. In fact I didn’t see a piece of plastic on the place, in the two sleeps I was there. (He welcomed my RV in his driveway a second night). He starts pretty far back when he makes foundation, too.

I ramble. You want to know how to keep bees without using drugs. I think the first part is in loving the bees and being a good observer. Next is the use of essential oils. Then get some small cell foundation. After that, recycle the wax every 2 or 3 years. Then fog them with FGMO (food grade mineral oil). This is Dons’ recipe.

The real test is in watching how the bees respond to stress. Can you imagine anything that would stress a colony more than splitting and re-splitting it? Or the manipulations required in making queens?

Don has been doing this for many years, his hives are healthy and his customers are happy. He tells me that he has never advertised, though at peak he may have 300 hives to make his queens and nucs from. The word of mouth is that he has good bees.

He will ship a 3 or 5 frame nuc in a wooden box or as many queens as you are wise enough to order. I saw the boxes and I challenge you to throw one away. You’ll find a use for it if you are like me. He’s now hoping for good weather so he can predict what orders he will be able to fill. He farmed his bees out last year, because of illness, and is rebuilding.

I suppose you want the specifics.

Don’t use more than one oil at a time. Don’t put oil in syrup. It floats and will be much too strong for the bees when they finish the last bit.

  1. Use FGMO with Thymol weekly.
  2. Insert a paper towel, wet with FGMO and Thymol in the top bars.
  3. Eucalyptus oil: 30 drops in a quart of honey and spread it on the end bars in the spring. Repeat a few times, the last one in June. Good for tracheal mites and SHB
  4. Wintergreen oil: 60 to 65 drops in a quart of honey. Dilute with a cup of water and give the bees several tablespoons in the spring. (Spearmint and peppermint were tried. Wintergreen is preferred.)
  5. Patchouli oil: Use as a swarm lure.
  6. Lemongrass oil: Swarm lure.
  7. Tea tree oil: 25 to 30 drops in a quart of honey. Several spoonfuls per hive, 2 or 3 times in the spring. You may say that these things are expensive. Don says, “So is Checkmite+ and Apistan.”

Clean wax is not easy to come by. I’m talking wax that is pesticide free. I brought down six pounds of my best cappings wax. It took us a couple of hours, working steady, to turn that into about forty sheets of beautiful deep foundation, embossed with small cells. I intend some of it for my queen mating nucs. I want to get back to some long lived queens. Most folks won’t spend the $700 or so to buy a foundation mill. Perhaps it would be a good investment for a club. What one could do is make sheets of wax and cut it into starter strips. That would get you started on the clean wax trail and save money besides. You do know, don’t you, that they will draw it out faster? Try it, you’ll like it.

I could go into more detail on foundation making but that’s a story in itself.

Don is not trying to sell his system to anyone. He has a lot of respect for those who tout science. “I’m just a country boy,” he says, with a glint in his eye. “I don’t know what all these educated people know, I just know bees!” The anecdotal evidence is that he does. At another time he remarked, “All of my placebos must be doing something, look at the bees!”

I’m an old Yankee trader and Don loves to trade. We agreed via email that he would take some incidental equipment off my hands. We had talked about a price somewhere in the ether, but had settled nothing. Then, when I got there, the fun began. I thought I was sharp but walked back to my camper with a few jars of honey and my head spinning. A day later, when he’d let my defeat soak in overnight, he mentioned how many more queens he was going to send me. Then I felt like I was taking advantage of him.

You can write to him at Beekeeper4u2@wmconnect.com. He’ll be happy to talk any subject on beekeeping with you. Beware of that, “I’m just a country boy” routine.

(Dick Marron is a retired psychologist living in a bee-yard in Ct.)