INNERCOVER

Kim Flottum

2019 marks the 150th year the A.I. Root Company has been doing business in the beekeeping community. This is, without doubt, certainly something to celebrate. And while the Candle part of the company has its plans and ideas for the year, the beekeeping part of the company has a significantly more focused  agenda.
The Publications Department is republishing the Autobiography of A.I. Root that he wrote after his retirement, and first published in his magazine, Gleanings In Bee Culture, in just over 60 chapters, beginning in 1923, the year he passed.
We will, however, be adding many photos to this new edition highlighting the beekeeping part of the business over the years with the people who made the company work, the celebrities in the bee world (and many, many other worlds) who were a part of A.I.’s life and business, and the many inventions and improvements in beekeeping equipment and management the Root Company had a hand in during those early years of beekeeping. The finished book will be available shortly, but Look for a chapter or two every month this year.
We are also starting two new sections this month, beginning with our Monthly Honey Report. Our reporters are pretty much all experienced, and successful beekeepers, who are part or full-time business people selling or packing honey, keeping bees, raising queens, even running a beekeeping business. So, who better to share with all of us what they are doing and more importantly, what they intend to do next month to keep their bees and opertations healthy and productive? So, take a look at the NEW second section of the Monthly Honey Report every month to see what our reporters are doing, and, more importantly, are going to do. They live in your region, need to be successful and want to help.
Along with this very useful feature, we are stating something similar this month, but with a slightly different slant. Each month our readers – that’d be you – will be sending in questions about– keeping bees, and almost anything related to keeping bees you can think of to ask. But rather than have those questions answered by a single voice sharing what they think should be done, considering that person’s location or from the background or perspective of that individual, we are going to share your questions with all of our regular writers, who also live all over the country with a variety of different experiences and backgrounds. Some are hardcore beekeepers, some are PhD researchers, some are, well, you know who they are and where they live and what they normally write about. And, sometimes, we may go outside to find exactly the right person to answer a particular question. We know a lot of experts from articles published here, and one, maybe many may be here on occasion. Too, not every regular will have an answer to every question every month because where they live or what they do may simply mean they don’t have an answer. And time, too, is a factor. We are asking all of them to help us yet a bit more each month. And that’s OK. But imagine the wealth of information that this group has about almost anything you can imagine. I don’t think a better collection of folks to have a BEETALK that exists. You really need to take advantage of this new resource.
This time I’ve used questions people have sent to me recently and passed them along to this group. But we’ll need more questions next month, and the month after – so send them along to me at Kim@Beeculture.com, and put BEETALK in the subject line, or on the envelope’s return address corner. You don’t have to ID yourself if you don’t want, because we just want the questions. And I know there’s gotta be a thousand of them out there. Send me a question!
Of course we won’t get to all of them every time (I trust we will get more than enough each month), but I’ll try and pick out the most timely and forward thinking questions that are sent in. And we can save some that can be addressed down the road in a more seasonal manner.
Yes, BEETALK is the name of this. If you’ve been here awhile you’ll recall that was the title of a regular column by Richard Taylor, a long-time comb honey producer, but also a college philosophy professor for several Universities, living in Ithaca, New York.
Richard wrote for us for just over 20 years. He started with a Q&A column just a bit before I started here and graduated to a more topical monthly contribution. He was a talented writer and had good beekeeping skills that he shared with our readers, and the world. His beekeeping books – The How-To-Do-it Book Of Beekeeping, Beeswax, The New Comb Honey Book, Beekeeping For Gardeners, the classic Joys Of Beekeeping, and the collection we put together of his columns from the magazine, The Best Of Bee Talk all demonstrate his diverse skills and interests in bees and their keepers. And they all are collectibles.
He produced far more books as part of his other life as a Philosophy professor and teacher in several colleges. Some of his titles were fairly provocative and certainly showed his human interests. These include Reflective Wisdom, Having Love Affairs, Good and Evil, Understanding Marriage, Virtue Ethics, Social Work, Metaphysics, and Restoring Pride, among others.
He was a frequent speaker at beekeeper meetings, and his typical garb was either a straw or  felt hat like the one shown in the drawing, along with a rope belt if he had trousers or white overalls if not, with a neckerchief around his neck and a simple work shirt. He was quite a character, and, I think, a bit of an entertainer.
I first met him even before I started here while I was working in Connecticut. He was a speaker at a local meeting and I was invited to meet him. I had trouble connecting the Internationally known philosophy college professor, comb honey producer, author with numerous books to this quaintly dressed beekeeper promoting Ross Rounds for comb honey production, and a basic, keep-it-simple style of beekeeping. But that was Richard. His whole approach to life, well, mostly anyway, was summed up in a saying his, by his definition, strict, mother used to say  “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” And much of his beekeeping was shaped by that philosophy. It was practical, inexpensive, useful and worked well with a beekeeping life style. It still does, don’t you know?
After I started here we got to know each other fairly well since he was already writing the Q&A column each month. It didn’t take long to move to a regular contribution on some aspect of how he kept bees, and why and how he did what he did.
I visited him several times over the years, writing stories about his beekeeping practices, making videos and recordings of how and why he did what he did, and often, just to sit with a cup of tea and have – BEETALK.
I went with him to many of his beeyards over the years for all manner of reasons – to see how he wintered bees, how he made splits, removing comb honey and preparing it for sale. We often sat in his library and just talked bees, people, the Root Company, and sometimes some of the things his other books were about. It was always a surreal time for me, discussions with little input from me sometimes, but always fascinating to be a part of.
There was this one time. We were going to visit a beeyard kind of in the middle of a wooded glen. Surrounded by trees, but for about three or four hours a day sun shone in the center of that beeyard, shining on the colonies there. The road to the yard off a country two lane was a simple tire-track in the grass for about a quarter mile that opened up into this glen. We got there just as the sun was filling the opening and you could see the bees flying hither and yon by the sun glinting off their wings. Maybe a dozen colonies in a semi-circle with us driving into the center. Richard pulled up his old pickup and just sat there looking for a moment taking in the scene. Right then one of colonies on the right side of the yard more or less exploded, with bees pouring out of the entrance, rising high fast, falling faster, circling left to right and right to left, filling the space in the glen with flashes of light, streaks of blue and yellow and white and just flashes and flashes of boiling bees on the wing. If you’ve never seen a swarm leave a hive you should – it is a wonder to behold.
We watched for a moment, sort of transfixed by the enormous energy in front, above and beside us, bouncing off the windshield and hood of the truck.
SWARM! Yelled Richard. But he didn’t panic, or jump, or run.
“Let’s go watch”, he said.
Without his veil he stepped out of the truck and walked into the middle of this honey bee blizzard and just stood there, watching the bees, the swarm, the fluttering wings, the flashes of light and bright and buzz. So thick you could breath in bees if you wanted, taste honey in the air and feel the wing wind on your face.
He looked left then right, down, in front and then above, and then – “Look, the queen”, and he reached up and gently surrounded her with his philosopher’s hand and brought her to his chest. “She’s a beauty”, he said, “and she still has my mark”.
He held her for a time, then brought his hand to his face and wished her good luck and then let her go, up with the rest, off to find a home.
“Swarms,” he said, “are a blessing and a curse. They are God’s gift back to the world, but a beekeeper’s beeful bane. But wasn’t that a wonder to watch? To smell the bees, hear the wings, just to taste the swarm”.
Well, that was BEETALK with Richard Taylor. And our new work here is BEETALK with other beekeepers. We hear your queries. We’ll offer what we can.
Richard passed in 2003, and BEETALK has been quiet since then. But BEETALK is back. Let us help. Help us help.
A recent article in a farm magazine addresses declining commodity markets, consolidation at every level in the agriculture industry, trade tariff issues, e-commerce disruptions on normal business models, factors affecting every aspect of supply chain channels, and the overall disruption of Ag Retail Distribution in general. If you change Ag markets with beekeeping markets I don’t think anybody would notice. We are one and the same it seems.
And there is this 500 pound gorilla in the beeyard that can’t be evaded or ignored. Our normal business models – the supply chains that support the two colony hobby beekeeper and the 20,000 colony commercial operation, the million pound a year packer and honey importer, queen and package producers, equipment manufacturers and even importers, beeswax operations at all levels, government handouts for tariff protections and crop insurance, and even funding for government sponsored research – all have changed even since you started reading this.
When it comes to big manufacturers and suppliers, where once there were four, now there are two.  Of course thee are still three or four medium operations healthy, wealthy and wise. But at the same time, the internet has become the seller extraordinaire for just about anything bees, except bees. You can’t buy bees on Amazon (yet), but you can get them from a hundred other places on the internet. And you can buy anything you want on Amazon, cheaper than most places, delivered cheaper than most places and most likely faster than most places.
We import 80% of the honey we consume, but the whole world is looking at what we import. But too often fake honey is the name of the imported game, and sometimes the domestic game, and honey everywhere is getting a bad rap.
The beekeeping world changed this year, or, in the last two or three, depending on how you measure it. And for the first time in a long time, some beginner’s classes are plateauing, even dropping.
Basically, as one manufacturer put it, beekeeping suppliers were a tiny niche market, more service providers than mercenary conglomerates looking at the profits to be made. That’s pretty much what’s left though. The family operation is definitely changing.
But let me tell you about those smaller operations. They still have a leg up on all of these folks, if they choose to use it, and if you choose to give them a chance. You can, certainly shop price on the net. Cheap stuff from China. Or you can buy value from the local guy, who will actually show you how to use it, and will answer the phone when you still can’t figure it out. That is, if he can still get it from the diminished number of suppliers.
It’s still a service industry. Repeat. It’s still a service industry. Pay more, get more. Pay less, get less. Welcome to 2019 and our Brave New World.