The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861

Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor – October 2021

- October 1, 2021 - (excerpt)

Queens Can Chew Out Corks

I just read Tina Sebestyen’s article on caring for caged queens and it was very good. However, on the part about banking queens, I wish she had mentioned that bees can and will chew out corks. It doesn’t happen overnight but over a few days they can release the queen if measures are not taken to prevent it. Don’t ask me how I know. If I am banking three-hole cages I bend up the sides of a 4 inch wide piece of screen and lay the cages in so that the ends are covered.

Thanks for a great magazine!

Daryl Martin,
New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania


 More on Beekeeping Aid Projects: The Author Responds

To Kris Fricke, thanks for your reply [Letters, August]. I guess we both have spent awhile working in Guinea. I also did about 6 projects there, mostly with Winrock. Most of my work was centered around Faranah and Ley Miro.

Your words made me reexamine my original article. After doing so I felt that you were in error to suggest that my article does not advocate for beekeeping aid projects. Perhaps you got that impression, but the whole last page stresses just the opposite. I am definitely not against aid projects in Africa, quite the contrary. I am, however, against projects that I feel are doomed to failure — and it is verifiable that the failure rate of projects all over West Africa is appalling. Obviously there are reasons. That is what I was trying to address. But to be very clear, the tiny fraction of Western foreign aid that actually reaches the needy people of Africa needs to be greatly increased in my opinion. It is only the manner that it is utilized that I have objections to.

After considering your article I must say I still disagree with you on some points, the main one being which type of hive and beekeeping style is best suited for West Africa at this time. One difficulty we have is that my data, which is also obtained from numerous beekeepers, differs from your data. We are working with two different sets of “facts.” This suggests the need for another beekeeping project, to get to the bottom of it!

I have heard of success in East Africa with KTB [Kenya Top Bar] beehives. The closest I have seen there is Uganda. It is true we had some success with a modified Langstroth hive there. But for West Africa I still think traditional hives are more practical for the reasons I set forth.

In my mind there is a much more important factor here than style of beekeeping. I described in my article the incredible story of Pastor Kamara and MelO Africa in Sierra Leone. That story needs to be studied and duplicated. The single thing that changed the lives of thousands of beekeepers there was not primarily beekeeping method. It was simply a large, reliable, fair price market for honey. Once beekeepers knew they could reliably sell their honey for a decent price, things took off. Within a very few years they went from a tiny local industry to supplying nearly 1 MILLION pounds of honey yearly for export to the USA. it is true that it came mostly from traditional beekeepers, but it doesn’t matter. Such a success story, and the large economic improvement it brings, can only cause a constant improvement in beekeeping in general as well as the changes necessary for progress.

I haven’t kept up with MelO lately (the company that was buying the honey in bulk from the Sierra Leonean beekeepers and selling it to General Mills here in America). As always in West Africa, corruption was a big problem. I hope they are still going strong, but whatever happens they and Pastor Kamara proved beyond a doubt that African beekeepers can produce huge amounts of honey for export if just given a fair market.

Kris, if I were younger I would seriously consider setting up a honey export business in Guinea. It would benefit the lives of many thousands of beekeepers while training them by necessity in best processing methods. What I describe is actually a business proposition and not an aid project. But in the end I think this approach, where both sides benefit economically, is more honest and long-lasting if done with a good heart. I feel it produces the greatest and most long-lasting results, certainly much more successful results than displayed by the dismal record of Aid projects at present in Africa. Call it capitalism with a heart. It is my hope that one of our dear readers will find this idea interesting and pursue it. Any takers? Yours,

Lloyd Ziegler


Come On, Man!

Dear Eugene,

Hi, just started reading ABJ/August issue. Hey — come on, man! Give yourself credit where credit is due. I listed you (“The Editor”) as one of my favorite authors because I truly enjoy reading “From the Editor.” Your different point-of-views, perspective and comments on things give me many things to ponder.

My selection of your articles was not to earn brownie points — I’ve no interest in the gift certificate, I was only being honest. Keep up the good work and have a “buzzing” bee day!

Kama Lee
Bentleyville, Pennsylvania 

Bip Article Data do not Support Conclusions

“Greetings, we’re scientists and we’re here to help.” It would be even worse if they said they were government scientists. So should we all be running the other way? Actually, I do not feel this way about science and the BIP project, I want it all to succeed. Hence my dismay at the BIP article by M.E.A. McNeil in the August 2021 issue of ABJ, with its misleading headline: “Exploding the mite bomb myth…”

Author McNeil covers a lot of ground this time. But it is too much ground covered when the data presented do not support the conclusions. No doubt Kelly Kulhanek has done excellent work with the Sentinel program, but the study out of Maryland we are shown here doesn’t reflect this. Where did poor Dr. Kulhanek run afoul?

First we are told:” Mite loads typically increase after treatment” (Darn, I just treated). There is a poorly labeled graph on page 855. One wonders what treatments were given, and how. As usual we are told mite monitoring is part of best beekeeping practice, but if levels go up with treatment, should we conclude that either the treatments or the testing contribute to the mite load? I think not. If this data passes as information, it is no help to the beekeeper in the form presented.

There was something Mark Twain said about lies, damn lies, and statistics. We can never know how Twain would have dealt with big data. But for sure, little data is even worse, as seen in this U.M. Sentinel study. It is statistically underpowered. Plus, I do not find this study understandable, despite my own middling scientific background.

The colored bees and cameras sound scientific to start, assuming it all works (Only thirty bucks for those boardmother things, programmed them myself), but it’s not clear how the rest of the experiment design could work. A low mite colony may be only one brood cycle or robbing event from becoming high mite, and that 15/100 one must be on the point of collapse. How does the researcher know whether the supposed donors will try to rob the recipients, or other way around? And how did the two robber screens “prove to be valuable”? Disclosure: I have no experience with this robber screen gadget, but plenty of experience with robber bees very good at their job of getting in. Were many of the 15% bees even flying well enough to rob? More likely, the supposed recipient colonies were robbing THEM. I don’t understand the researcher’s claim that mite and robbing hypotheses were “debunked” by this research, which leads me to doubt if the ABJ author understood the research either. In fairness to the researcher, perhaps the ABJ article did not depict her work accurately.

Our ABJ editor does not get off easily here. Closer editing and getting the story right could have saved professional embarrassment all around.

Thank you.
Kent Saltonstall, M.D.

 Mea responds:

I regret that my reporting on what I consider ingenious Sentinel research left any question in the mind of a reader as to whether it was conducted by scientists. Kelly Kulhanek is a postdoc at the University of Washington and her advisor for the project was Dennis vanEngelsthorp, epidemiologist at the University of Maryland. Their excellent peer-reviewed paper can be found at  ….