In July of 2013 a good friend, Gregg Tivnan, suggested that I interview beekeeper Dee Lusby. Gregg moved from Arizona to Missouri where he purchased a farm near Bunker, Missouri where he and his wife Doreen now raise their two daughters, now 16 and 18. The elder daughter Athena does our Digital Magazine’s covers and has been home schooled her entire life and self taught as a graphic artist. Gregg communicates with other family farms and attends various festivals with his family in pursuit of information and bees are now on his radar.
When Gregg wants to learn something he reads… a lot. After about 50 books on bee keeping he distilled it down to a suggestion that I talk to Dee Lusby. Others have detailed her methods and documented her troubles with government and industry for her ‘back to basics’ advocacy that would eliminate the need for chemicals, industrial support systems and government regulation. A great deal of this information is now online so that this information is now much safer with the people. http://www.beesource.com/point-of-view/ed-dee-lusby/ - http://www.beverlybees.com/dee-lusby-organic-beekeeper/.
The two interviews that I had with Dee prior to our visiting her operation was combined and edited by a supporter of heres and is available in a YouTube Video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CA0Sb22GA4s.
Dee Lusby’s story is a common story of ‘Regulatory Capture’. What I learned during this experience and talking to others in the bee industry it was clear that the bees aren’t happy with how they are being treated… and they got wings.
The movie documentary “Vanishing of the Bees” is an award winning film that includes some footage of Dee Lusby and her methods. But I’ll sum it up for you in a short paragraph and then get to the photos of our trip and just ask that you visit the links in this story and view the documentary.
“Bee Colony Collapse Disorder” is a phrase that was misleading to me. I was under the impression that bees were individually collapsing over dead. What is meant is that the Bee Colony has collapsed… and even this statement is not clear. What might be a simpler way to communicate what is happening is to use a phrase that represents what is really happening. Something like, “The Great Bee Escape”. Bees are not dying in their man made hives… they are just leaving. Why?
Bees and their honey are amazing. And having a nice box constructed for their use isn’t unappreciated by the bees. But why are they leaving? I’m certain that there is a perfect storm of human intervention that would cause any sane bee to fly for the hills, but just a few quick observations. When I was a child in the 60’s it was very common to see a hive of bees kept by neighbors. Bees were a common feature in any neighborhood and there was always some raw honey available at the local market that was locally grown and was regularly used for food and medicine. But like many popular agricultural products it was industrialized. Production that focused on quantity began to eliminate quality and we all lost the benefits of raw honey for almost an entire generation it seems. But no one knew this more than the bees themselves.
When flowers are in bloom, bees covert the nectar into food for the bees to survive the winter months. They do this so well that they are capable of creating a surplus that beekeepers can then use or sell. But industry isn’t satisfied with the surplus and takes everything and attempt to keep the bees alive during the off season with High Fructose Corn Syrup. In my layman opinion it seems that the bees have realized that, “We have wings, and you suck at beekeeping”. Honey Bees are like American Expats ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expatriate ), they don’t like how they are being treated so they are leaving while they still can… and for very similar reasons.
What Dee and her late husband Ed realized was that by allowing the bees to naturally produce honey and only taking the extra produced, you had a steady supply of high quality food. Industrialization would alter every aspect of the process, (cell size, honey collection, Queen Selection, chemicals, medicines, transportation, food sources etc.) to the point that even more industries and regulations were created to combat the new problems that were created (production, mites, malnutrition, colony collapse etc.)
It is Dee opinion that the problems that Dee and her late husband Ed Lusby encountered over the decades of natural bee keeping had little to do with their methods and the quality of their bee’s honey, a very valuable and demanded product which I personally have consumed and highly recommend by the way. The problem was their not needing any industrial help AND advocating that others didn’t need to do anything but leave the bees alone and only take their surplus and leave the lower sections of the hive to the bees.
I’m certain that many in the bee industry will complain that I have over simplified this issue but I can’t see that it is really that complicated.
Dee’s home is in southern Arizona south of Tucson near the Mexico/USA border (lots of Border Patrol). The “A” marker on the Google Map graphic below is where Kitt Peak Observatory is and Dee’s bees are in over 700 hives spread out over the desert on the eastern slope/valley of the mountain range where Kitt Peak is located.
Joey, Shelton (aka 4409), Donna and Renee (Joey is Renee’s 16 yr old son) put on their bee suits before leaving Dee’s home about an hour’s drive from where the hives are in the desert.
Dee drives a truck with a lift gate on the rear for moving hives and equipment.
The Kitt Peak observatories can be seen in the distance.
And how do we know that the honey is organic?.... This is how!
Wood chips smolder in smokers so that the bees can be convinced that their biggest concern is fire and not the people.
Shelton takes a turn at inspecting a hive after Dee has instructed us several times. We toured only a few locations but each had many hives. It was hunting season while we were there but the hunters stayed clear of the hives :)
All of the hives seemed to be healthy and active and Dee only wanted to inspect them and make sure that they had enough food for the winter. It was interesting to have Dee point out the various sections of the hive. There are parts where the queen lays her eggs and the larvae are cared for, where the Royal Jelly (Queen’s food) is stored, which cells are pollen etc.
Then we are off to the next set of hives.
These hives can be decades old.
Dee explains how the hives are segmented into various parts and shows us a Queen by dismantling the hive. The two lower sections are for the bees and Dee only takes honey from the upper portions of the hive.
And there is the Queen doing her thing.
Dee has the makings of many other hives if she wishes.
As part of our way to thank Dee, Keith replaces the heating element of a double boiler tank that melts the wax from the hive after the honey has been spun out. This wax is then drained to produce blocks for use by the bees or a gazillion other uses and is highly valued.
Two large centrifugal tanks spin out the honey and it is then pumped into 55 gallon drums… and that is about it.
Dee had two of her 4 barrel lifts that needed some hydrolic repairs soShelton had the idea of parting out one old broken one to repair two others. It worked and Dee’s truck loading speed was doubled.
The difference in color is due to the seasons and the type of flowers used to make the honey. There are also different ways to ‘Cream’ honey. Creamed honey http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creamed_honey is really very small grains of honey crystals that give it a buttery texture.
We also bought some honey to take home… but it’s already gone gone gone. But we know where to get more.