Trying to communicate with beekeepers is tough

Two signs pointing in opposite directions.Like everyone else, we beekeepers need to make choices based on facts, not emotion.

Trying to help beekeepers is difficult. Too many times, choices are based on emotions rather than facts.

Blogging frustrates me because when I think I am communicating with beekeepers, I am not. Just when I think I am being crystal clear, the reader comments prove me wrong. It can get so bad, that I wonder why I bother.

Yesterday’s post on organic sugar vs. refined sugar elicited a barrage of comments, e-mails, and Tweets that proved that most people had no clue about what I was saying. Several readers insisted they would feed their bees only “wholesome brown sugar,” while others chimed in (again) on the evils of feeding sugar to bees and questioned the moral fabric of those who do. While in the past I’ve written ad nauseum on the rightness of feeding bees, I didn’t broach that subject yesterday.

The purpose of yesterday’s post was merely to compare two products as bee feed. End of story. The post was written for people who have already decided to feed their bees sugar and are wondering if it would be better to use organic sugar or regular table sugar. I thought it was an interesting question and I learned a lot, so I tried to communicate those findings to other beekeepers.

Making moral judgments without facts is silly

I seriously don’t believe I should have to reiterate the entire moral controversy about feeding every time I mention the word “sugar.” Surprisingly, questions about feeding bees outnumber nearly all others. Most of these folks want facts, not lectures.

In any case, my goal is not to persuade all beekeepers to do things my way but to provide alternatives based on as much science as I can dig up. If you are going to be one of those people who unsubscribe or un-friend me because I say something you don’t like, then go for it: this site is not for you.

I believe every beekeeper must make his or her own decisions; my job is merely to illustrate issues and alternatives. But, yes, I do have my own biases, things that irk me no end, and passion without knowledge is right up there.

Passion is great, but before you stomp willy-nilly on everyone around you, you need to have your facts in a row. If you can provide the scientific evidence that explains why I’m wrong about sugar in the bee diet, I am eager to read it.

Honey Bee Suite


  • Wow. My first thought on reading yesterday’s post was gratitude for such clear communication and advice. I had come to the same conclusion when researching sugars earlier this spring, and I was glad you were making it easy for others to avoid well-meaning mistakes. Like you, I use organic sugar in my kitchen for baking, but that doesn’t mean it is best for bees. I do stick to cane sugar when feeding the bees, though, in an attempt to avoid GMOs.

    As for those who won’t feed sugar under any circumstances, I respectfully disagree.

    Please keep writing! My bees and I need you.

    • Melody,

      Thanks for the vote of confidence. When someone first asked me about organic sugar, my initial thought was, “of course it is fine for bees.” But when I started to look into it, the problem became obvious. I think the entire subject is fascinating.

  • Hi Rusty.

    It’s too bad that some people who disagree with what you share can’t do so amicably. I know you spend a great deal of time researching these issues before you so generously take the time to share what you’ve discovered with all of us. I am so thankful to have found your forum. I feel your deep compassion for nature when I read your posts. And I have learned much from you. As someone who has made many presentations on the art/science of beekeeping to many mixed crowds, I think I have a feel for what you’re dealing with. As you know, all too well by now, criticism goes with the territory. What’s unfair, however, is people calling your morality into question. Again, been there, done that.

    May I be so forward as to offer some advice? People who can’t disagree agreeably are seeking to repair their own egos. In their mind, if you’re right, they must be wrong. Some egos simply cannot withstand being wrong. And, if their convictions about beekeeping include moral imperatives, they feel the need to attack you in order to repair their own ego. So here’s the advice. Let their animosity flow by like a summer breeze. Respond to their angry replies with kindness and empathy. If they have any connection with their own heart, they will have learned yet another lesson from you. If not, at least you threw some water on their fire. More importantly, you will no longer be hanging on to the hot coal. Keep up the good work Rusty. There are many of us here that very much appreciate your efforts.

    Your Friend
    Jim Withers

  • Crikey. All the local beekeepers I know feed their bees on either fondant or sugar syrup made from white granulated cane sugar when needed, to prevent bees dying of starvation. There’s no controversy about it that I’ve ever come across! Feel sorry for any bees that get fed wholesome brown sugar that gives them nice wholesome diarrhoea.

  • [Comment received via e-mail. Author’s identity withheld.]

    Hi Rusty,

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and I love it. I
    really like your focus on science, especially when so many people just
    make assertions on what’s “good” or “bad” without any reliable
    supporting information besides anecdotes and gut feelings. Not that
    anecdotes and gut feelings are completely useless, but they tend to be
    used by the type of people with the conviction that their experience
    is the “right” experience.

    Anyway, if you read almost any blog (or news) comment section,
    especially blogs with more readers, the level of reading comprehension
    is on average pretty low. It’s such a great platform for righteously
    spewing some belief and feeling like you won an argument, even if it’s
    an argument you started that’s only tangentially related to the
    original post. It’s not a problem with your blog entries, it’s a
    problem with the blog platform.

    Your blog’s great! I’m sure it’s appreciated by plenty of people that
    don’t play know-it-all’s on the internet.

  • Hi there Rusty,

    I’m a new beekeeper (actually, I lost my first hive but will start again in the Spring) and I find your posts invaluable. I love the combination of sentiment and science that you put forth in your approach to bees and beekeeping. As an earlier response stated, please keep posting!

  • Amazing that you got the response you did. What is it about our society now that so many who disagree start throwing around insults and slams? If one doesn’t agree, simply state so and WHY. Want to kill your bees with molasses? Go right ahead. As for me, if my hives are light in late winter, I opt to not let them die. People can choose.

    If you want to feed your bees maltose, lactose, fructose, sugar or whatever, go right ahead. I’m sick of knee jerk responses from all sides of everything.

    As to why you should continue…..because you think it’s important and you just might have something to contribute. You do. We learn more from those we disagree with than sitting in a circle, noding our heads, not by calling people names instantly. Closed minds don’t learn and they don’t teach, either. They simply find others with whom they agree.

  • I’ve been thinking about saying this for a while, and this seems like a good place to put it.

    You must have the patience of Job to answer all our comments as sensibly and politely as you do.

    Many of your commenters are also interesting and worth reading, but some of them are idiots, or too lazy to read something you’ve written 47 times already, or officious prigs who will explain to you something you’ve been doing for years.
    Despite that, I REALLY appreciate that you don’t let us call each other lazy, idiotic prigs, and I know it’s a lot of work to keep a comment community this civil.

    I think you can accept that most of your commenters, as well as the silent majority of non-commenters, absolutely value your hard work and communication skills.

    • Granny,

      I had to go back and read the post because it’s been awhile. To tell you the truth, I’m surprised I published it. I must have been having a bad day. But it is true, and everything you say is true as well.

      I used to post almost every day and I had a few questions to answer. But nowadays I can’t possibly post everyday due to the sheer volume of questions. The ones you see in the comments are just the tip of the iceberg; the rest come through the “contact me” page.

      Let me say first that the vast majority of my readers are intelligent, thoughtful, and engaged in a positive way. Most who disagree, do it in a civil way, which can lead to good discussion. I learn a lot from my readers.

      But, yes, I do answer the same questions until I feel I’m going nuts. My husband keeps telling me to make a file of standard questions and do a cut and paste to save time. I haven’t reached that point yet, but I always want to point out that there’s a table of contents, an index, categories, tabs, and a custom search engine. In fact, I’ve done everything I can think of, but people would rather just ask.

      The real irony is that when someone asks a question, I personally use my own search engine to find the answer. Then I read what I wrote sometime in the past seven years, and then I write my answer. So instead of them looking it up directly, I have to look it up and then write it down for them.

      Now, this is not everyone. Sometimes someone will say they tried the search box but couldn’t figure out how to ask the question, and I understand that. I really do. No problem. But most don’t bother.

      And there are those who, like you say, tell me how to do something that I just told them. It’s like, “Did they read what I wrote or not?” It’s weird.

      Nevertheless, I hate blogs and websites where the comment section is so rude or so off-point that it doesn’t benefit anyone. I decided right from the start that this website was going to be civil, child friendly, and reasonable. Actually, that philosophy has worked pretty well because I have deleted very few comments over the years. I will delete if they are vulgar, overtly political or religious, mystical, or just plain incomprehensible. Stupid is not a crime, so I deal with it.

      The things that push my buttons are things like this post where I’m trying to compare two things from a scientific viewpoint. I’m not trying to convince anyone to do or not do a particular thing, I’m only trying to look objectively at the facts. Invariably, someone tries to make it into a moral issue or starts questioning my paternity. Whatever.

      Some people criticize me for keeping tight control over the comments by screening each one. But I’ve seen what happens when you let people write whatever they want. Even though it’s a lot of work, I think moderating everything enhances the user experience. Facebook comments are not like that and there is some pretty rude stuff published on my Facebook page. I guarantee that I don’t even read it. Everything I post over there is done automatically, and I never have to see it. It gives the haters a place to vent.

      Anyway, like I said, there are only a few troublemakers. Most readers are sincere even if they are not so great at using an index or a search engine. Sometimes it feels like I have just an enormous number of pen pals.

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