writing and blogging

Much to celebrate: Honey Bee Suite is 10 and counting

Whoa. I can’t believe an entire decade has passed since I first began this website on Christmas Day 2009. Oddly, it started on a whim. Blogs were something I became curious about after reading the book Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. The story convinced me it would be fun to write about my beekeeping ideas that I knew were different from the mainstream.

I never expected the site to amount to much, especially since I knew nothing about the Internet and I figured no one cared about my thoughts. But that whim—together with a flair for writing, photography, and science—served me well. After stirring the pot, I ended up with Honey Bee Suite, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Lots of random posts

For the first few years, I wrote lots of posts—nearly one per day. But it wasn’t until my forth year that I began to understand what my site was about.

At its heart, Honey Bee Suite is not about beekeeping. Instead, it’s about bees and the elementary sciences that are applied to beekeeping—a very different thing. It occurred to me that many beekeepers did not rely on science or logic to keep bees but were keen on sorcery. Instead of applying reason to what they were seeing, they were looking to other beekeepers, many of whom gave short answers to complex, multi-layered problems.

The result was a tangle of myth and misinformation that persists today. Even beekeepers with scads of scientific training often prefer formulaic answers—recipes for keeping bees. Sadly, opening a hive to see what’s happening inside seems to be a foreign concept.

I believe that insufficient understanding of bee biology and behavior is the major obstacle to good beekeeping. Imagine the difficulty of managing your own health if you knew nothing about human biology. Similarly, it’s nearly impossible to manage bees if you have no idea how they work. Without the basics, you are reliant on others who seldom know the basics.

A question of biology

Let me give you an example, this one from outside the hive. A southeastern beekeeper wrote to say she had placed ten frames of honey in her freezer in order to control wax moths. But now, six months later, she needed the freezer space for other things. She wanted to know alternatives to leaving the frames in the freezer.

Although this question is typical, it has nothing to do with beekeeping. It’s a question about biology and the physical sciences. If she would only take a minute to think it through, she could answer this question herself.

Water is an unusual substance because it expands when it freezes—a fact that is common knowledge. When water inside the thin-walled cells of most animals and plants freezes, the cells burst open and the contents leak out. Ruptured cells are what kills the wax moth adults, eggs, and larvae.

So, after the frames freeze, you can remove them because once the moths are dead, they’re dead. Look at a previously frozen head of lettuce and it becomes obvious its best days are over and there’s no way to revive it. Right? So once the frames have frozen solid, the beekeeper can simply store them in a place where they won’t become re-infested, no special knowledge required.

Many similar questions

Regardless of the question, most can be answered by considering things you already know. My message, is simple: Turn on your thinking cap, observe the world around you, pay attention to the bee, and you will become a better beekeeper. That’s a promise.

The other thing I like to stress—and the more important one—is that honey bees are not the only game in town. Caring for bees means looking beyond colony health. The best beekeepers are stewards of our natural resources, and included among those resources are the other pollinators and the habitats they depend on.

Honey bees were never endangered

When conservation biologists first began to sound the alarm that pollinators and other insects were declining throughout the world, the warning was quickly misinterpreted as “honey bees are in peril.” This happened seamlessly because, at the same time, Colony Collapse Disorder was making front page news. In this sad confluence of events, honey bees got all the press while the truly endangered species got none.

Retailers, researchers, non-profits, indeed everyone you can think of, jumped on the bandwagon asking for money to “save the bees” which usually meant “save the honey bee”—the one species that didn’t need saving. We now have a name for this phenomenon: “beewashing.” Similar to greenwashing, beewashing is “seeking financial gain by claiming to act in the interest of bees,” regardless of whether your actions, product, or service actually do.

My personal belief is that our system of agriculture requires the use of honey bees. We need them, just as we need cows and chickens and pigs. However, to maintain the diversity of animals and plants—even at the local level—we must protect and conserve not only pollinators but other insects as well.

Because all species are vital to a healthy planet, keepers of honey bees must act responsibly to control the spread of honey bee diseases to other creatures, and must do their part to provide resources—including habitat, food, and water—to other species. Simply put, we cannot care for honey bees to the detriment of other living things.

Statement of purpose

So that’s the bottom line: Honey Bee Suite is about keeping bees intelligently using science and logic, and keeping bees responsibly by being mindful of your bees’ impact on other species and their environments. 

Now, the nitty gritty

All that said, change is in the wind here at Honey Bee Suite, so I wanted to give you a head’s up. Even though my site is behind multiple firewalls and is backed-up several times per day, I’ve been told by my webhost that it has become “unstable.” I’ve had recent “fatal errors” (terrible term) that have corrected themselves, but the next one might not. In addition, some features don’t always work, and some pages don’t always load.

The problem seems to be my WordPress theme, which is old, but which is now forced to operate on the latest WordPress platform and “modern” PHP. In addition, the site is large, with nearly 2000 posts and pages, and 35,000 comments. In short, a site overhaul is no longer an option. I intend to work on this during my two lightest traffic months, January and February, so expect some down time. I will try to keep it brief.

However, if I run into problems—and software is surely not my area of expertise—I may have to hire outside help. In any case, if you see “odd” things, feel free to report them to me. Believe it or not, when something goes wrong, I usually learn about it from a thoughtful reader.

The donors make it happen

If you haven’t donated to Honey Bee Suite, please consider it. I’ve read that most donor-supported sites are financed by less than 2% of the readers. I haven’t calculated that number here, but it seems about right. Although some donations are surprisingly large, others are scheduled at 50-cents per month. Believe me, all of it helps and I’m grateful for every penny. Those who give are the ones who keep the site available for everyone else by helping to pay for services and maintenance.

If you cannot donate or do not wish to, I get it. We’ve all been there. I intend to keep Honey Bee Suite free for everyone with no fees, hidden content, or obnoxious pop-up advertisements. Whatever you decide, thank you for thinking about it. I continue to welcome your every visit.

A winter solstice wish

Throughout this coming week I will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of Honey Bee Suite, Christmas 2019, the winter solstice, and the birth of 2020. Whatever you celebrate, I wish you much happiness and good fortune in the year to come. Thank you for reading.

Peace on Earth,

I have much to celebrate. Thank you! Image by Ioannis Karathanasis from Pixabay

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  • It is my pleasure to read some inciting post on your website. I won’t hide your contribution towards my beekeeping project in the topic here. Love you!

  • Congratulations Rusty! I have certainly benefitted from your blogs as have many others. Keep up the good work.

  • Scientific beekeeping, yes of course, obviously.
    But website fixing? That’s just Arcane Mysteries!

    Good luck, Best Wishes, and easy, uneventful site update.

    • Thanks for your very valuable site. I’m forever glad I found it in my first year of beekeeping as I’ve learned so much from you and enjoy your fun writing style as an added bonus. I’m off to make a donation 🙂

  • Hi Rusty, unless I have overlooked something, a suggestion for the New Year. Would it be possible to put a date on your blogs? I always have to scroll down to the comment section to see how recent or not so recent a blog is.

    Other than that, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and keep the blogs rolling in.

    • Hi Dieter,

      As of now, the date is at the bottom of the post, but before you get to the comments. In any case, I will put that on my “want list.” You’re not the first to ask.

      • Ooooh, are you taking requests? I want a button to subscribe to ALL the new comments, not just for the posts I commented on.

        (Also, believe me I will understand if that is not in any way as possible to do as it is easy to ask for.)

        • Hmmm. I think that’s a WordPress thing and not a theme thing. But I will see what I can find.

          Thanks. I like suggestions and now is the perfect time.

  • Congratulations! The day I discovered your site I started becoming a better beekeeper and I’ve always appreciated your attention to the connectedness of all things. Thank you. Good luck in the world of the ‘black box’ and have a wonderful holiday!

  • I’d suggest looking into software other than WordPress. WordPress is great as a starting point but you may have reached its limits. I have no idea what may be available but it may well be worth a look.

    I don’t envy your task of having to upgrade. It’s always incredibly tedious restoring the old posts, testing links and other such boring things. OTOH your patience seems to outshine my own by a few light years, so it may be somewhat easier for you.

    I wish you luck.

  • Hi Rusty,
    Congratulations on 10 years. Great blog and a lot of good sense talked. Keep it going. Seasons greetings from N Ireland

  • Honey Bee Suite has been an integral part of my beekeeping journey since before I ever held a hive tool. At one of my first beginner bee school classes in early 2010, the teacher recommended HBS and I was hooked. It was thrilling when you acknowledged my mention of HBS in an article about becoming an intermediate beekeeper for a 2012 Maine State Beekeepers newsletter. The website is always one of my first stops (what would Rusty do?). Since moving to England, I still regularly introduce HBS to my new friends and fellow bee club members. HBS has helped me transition to a new and different beekeeping culture. Many thanks for all you do.

  • Excellent site. Please explain clearly and slowly how to donate here. I attempted a couple of times and don’t know if I did it or not???

    • Thank you, Mike. You would get a receipt if you donated, and I would get notification. You simply click on the donate button, type in the amount, and click on method of payment. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

  • Merry Christmas and my best wishes for you and everyone in your family! May 2020 bring good health and healthy bees 🙂 And good luck dealing with software!

    • Thank you, Steph. I’m glad I’ve been able to work with you and the staff at Countryside. It’s always fun.

  • Congratulations on what looks to be a rewarding enterprise for you. It certainly is a helpful – and entertaining! – website for many of us. Your site just got a shout-out from one of our club members to one of our new-bees, which I am endorsing as well.

    About your SSL certificate – don’t worry, this happens to the best of us (well, to a LOT of us, anyway). I was peripherally associated with this item before I retired, and I was always embarrassed by the company’s lackadaisical support – at a national enterprise that really should know better. We “self-certified” and relied on the certificates for both internal and external functions, but had a standing reply to users that they could ignore warnings and/or “use this workaround” until we get around to fixing it.

    We retain a consulting relationship with the company, and when we tried to login this January, I was both amused and horrified to discover that the certifications had expired again – just as everyone was returning to work after a 2-week winter closure. True to form, we were told we could just ignore it for now, and given a workaround – that didn’t work.

    Good for you for dealing with it promptly, making you better than the average bear 🙂

    • Thank you, but the SSL thing shouldn’t have happened. It seems my hosting company and security company were each pointing the finger at the other, thinking it was the other guy’s responsibility. Just irritating!