Monday, February 23, 2015

The "Flow" hive -- There's a sucker born every minute

"There's a sucker born every minute" -- David Hannum (attributed to PT Barnum)

I'm not averse to innovation in beekeeping. There have been plenty of real improvements in the craft since I got started in the early '60s and you'll see most of the new ideas that have had merit over those years in my bee yard.

Now, along comes a flashy new invention that presents itself as an effortless method of harvesting honey: The "Flow" hive. While the website does briefly mention that reponsible beekeepers should still conduct regular inspections, the website seems to imply that all one need to do to bee a beekeeper is to turn a spigot. Our honey bees need and deserve better care than simply opening a spigot. They need regular inspections and, when appropriate, treatments.

Crush-and-strain has been well-tested for thousands of years. The use of a knife and extractor has been well-tested for well over 100 years. Both of these methods were readily adopted because experienced beekeepers could see the obvious merits in them. The improvement of extraction over crush-and-strain was very significant and indisputable, leading to it's very rapid adoption in the craft to the point that even people with only one or two hives often have an extractor.

I predict that the "Flow" hive no beekeeper with more than 5 years of successful beekeeping experience will pay for this gimmick with his/her own money although a handful might be willing to accept one as a gift to be used briefly as a toy. Even then, I predict that the few experienced beekeepers who give it a try will abandon the "Flow" equipment after a season or two. I know of only one experienced beekeeper who has had anything remotely positive to say about this invention -- Michael Bush -- and his remarks seem to be a bit ambiguous (he hasn't actually tested it yet).

In spite of that avoidance by experienced beekeepers, I predict that the "Flow" hive will be a huge marketing success for up to 5 years because the world is full of gullible people -- beekeepers who typically lose at least 50% of their colonies each year.

The "Flow" hive is a clever gadget designed to extract money from people who think they are beekeepers but really aren't -- people who anthropomorphize honey bees. Beekeepers who fall for gimmicks such as this are not likely to have much long-term success keeping bees. I predict that after that five-year period, this fad will collapse. The inventors will each have nice mansions and will never need to work again -- at your expense. The landfills will receive tons of abandoned "Flow" equipment.

It's a bit like thinking one can put a cow in the back yard and still pour the milk out of a jug. Experimenting on 50,000 of God's living creatures is no place for anyone with little or no experience with bees. A good beekeeper digs into his/her hives every two weeks to check for disease, strong-laying queen, and to ensure the colony has room for colony growth. "...disturbing the bees" is part of the job. One more opening of the lid to harvest is not much extra disturbance to the bees.

Beekeepers who want "to have honey on tap directly from our beehives without disturbing the bees" are probably too lazy or timid to properly manage their bees. Ya want easy, care-free local honey? Go to the farmers' market. It's a lot easier and cheaper not to mention a lot more responsible.

It really isn't all that difficult to harvest honey from a conventional comb -- even for a person with no extractor. Nevertheless, I expect the manufacturer to do quite well selling this novelty to beginners and relatively new beekeepers who want easy local honey. (They are the experts in beekeeping, after all.)

I expect to see a ton of these on the second-hand market when buyers find out that this gimmick is a lot harder to use successfully than advertised.

As Dennis Miller would say, "That's just my opinion. I could be wrong." In five years, someone will have egg on their faces -- those who fell for this gimmick or the experienced beekeepers. Feel free to contact me in 5 years to say, "I told you so" if I am wrong.

One good thing this invention might do is to steer the above-mentioned "experts" toward Langstroth equipment (although the website says it can be adapted to a few other hive designs).

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Protect private property rights!

Utah SB.99 (Public Accommodation Fairness Act) would prohibit discrimination in a place of public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

Utah SB.100 (Anti-discrimination Amendments) seeks to prohibit certain landlords and business owners from discriminating against people due to their "gender identity" and "sexual orientation."

I support restrictions on government discrimination and even anti-discrimination restrictions on privately-owned entities receiving government subsidies and/or contracts.

Anti-discrimination law is entirely reasonable to the extent it is constrained only to government actors. No person required to pay taxes should ever be denied government services or protections on the basis of their race, religion, gender, sexuality, etc. But it is entirely another matter to force private property and business owners to act similarly, even for the ideal and sometimes nebulous goal of "fairness."

My parents taught me to condemn discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, etc. In my small business as a firearms safety instructor, I only discriminate against students whom I believe to be unsafe and irresponsible with firearms.

I refuse to patronize businesses that I know to exercise such discrimination. Nevertheless, I affirm the right of such people to use their own property as they see fit, even if they are perceived to be unfair or unreasonable in so doing. A person who wishes to rent apartments only to senior citizens, or Mormons, or non-Mormons, or single adults, or white males, should be free to do so. No person is entitled to another person's property or the use thereof. Legally forcing property and business owners to associate with persons they may otherwise not wish to associate with undermines the property rights of those owners at the expense of creating legal protections for certain arbitrary classes of people.

Both of these bills (SB.99 and SB.100) -- along with the underlying laws they seek to amend -- violate basic property rights and must therefore be opposed.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dangerous deregulation of the beekeeping craft is in the works

I began beekeeping in Box Elder County in the early '60s as a 4-H project. That project paid for a significant portion of my college education. Later, while serving in the Air Force, I helped start up a 1,000-colony LDS stake beekeeping project in South Carolina. Today, I am the adviser for the Iron County 4-H Beekeeping Club. I also volunteer my time as the County Bee Inspector for Iron County.

Utah's beekeepers (including me) have fought (and, because of poor management practices by too many beekeepers, continue to fight_ some devastating honey bee diseases and parasites since the first honey bees were introduced to Utah in 1848. In response to that threat, our predecessor beekeepers formed the Utah Beekeepers' Association in 1892 (before statehood) and simultaneously lobbied for legislation now known as the Utah Bee Inspection Act (Title 4 Chapter 11).

Among other things,the Utah Bee Inspection Act:
1 - Requires bee hives to be designed with removable frames (combs) primarily to facilitate inspection with the side benefit of easy and efficient management and harvest.
2 - Requires registration of all beekeepers so that county-appointed and state-trained volunteer inspectors can find and examine all domesticated honey bee colonies for contagious bee diseases and parasites and to help the affected beekeepers properly treat any diseases and parasites found. This inspection is required annually.
3 - Prohibits harvesting or storing equipment in a manner which enables bees to get into the extracting and storage site to "rob" honey -- honey which is potentially contaminated with contagious pathogens that are harmless to humans and other living creatures but which are deadly to honey bees.
A liberty (anti-big-government) mindset -- which I share -- seems to have caused some to read into the Utah Bee Inspection Act heavy-handed intent and restrictions that simply are not there. Such beekeepers seem to think that the requirements for registration, inspection, and how hives must be designed are nothing more than the heavy hand of a "police state". We county bee inspectors are offended by the notion that we are the long arm of a police state. We have no law-enforcement authority. Most of us don't even care whether you comply with the requirement to have a beekeeper's license as long as all beekeepers give us a chance to help them. But we do care about keeping Utah's honey bees healthy. Registration simply makes it possible for inspectors to help beekeepers through inspection and education.

I just learned that legislation was introduced today (HB.224) in the Utah Legislature to deregulate some essential aspects of beekeeping in Utah. This legislation comes from a couple of relatively new Utah beekeepers intent on rejecting extensive beekeeping experience and wisdom accumulated over 16+ decades.

Proposals in this legislation which I find most troubling are:
1 - Elimination of the requirement for removable frames (combs).
2 - Elimination of the requirement for most beekeepers (all those keeping 5 or fewer colonies) to be registered with the state.
3 - Elimination of mandatory annual health inspections of domesticated honey bee colonies.
4 - Elimination of the requirement to extract honey in a place where bees can gain access.
In my experience and opinion, these four changes are extremely dangerous steps backwards in Utah's 166-year struggle to keep our honey bees healthy. Ironically, in the end, they will actually make beekeeping much more difficult for the very hobby beekeepers the bill presumes to help. The bill's authors are disappointingly closed to revision of their agenda. Their beekeeping naïveté is very evident throughout the bill and in their responses to criticism. It's okay to be uninformed and inexperienced -- as long as one is willing to learn from those who have wisdom and judgment honed by decades of learning and experience.

Back in the days before removable frames, the entire colony had to be killed to take the harvest. The beekeeper harvested 100% of the honey since there were no remaining bees in that colony to feed. The beekeeper left a portion of his colonies alive and unharvested to cast off swarms to rebuild the following spring. The invention of removable frames made it possible and easy to harvest without killing the bees. Perhaps more importantly, removable frames facilitates thorough diagnosis and treatment of maladies in the hive. Utah's HB.224 will move that concept backwards to the dark ages. A hive with non-movable comb cannot be adequately inspected without damaging or destroying the hive. One of the bill's authors justifies this change with the claim that he knows people (probably unregistered and surely uninspected) who are using hives without removable frames and they haven't been caught. He seems to think that when people get away with unhealthy beekeeping practices, elimination of a good and necessary law is warranted. (The dome-shaped bee hive on Utah's seal and flag is called a skep.
It has been a banned hive design for many decades because it does not have movable combs and the hive consequently cannot be adequately inspected nor can the honey be harvested without destroying the combs and killing bees.)

In order to control the spread of contagious honey bee diseases and parasites the Act was written (and repeatedly updated) to require the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to inspect all honey bee colonies in the state. There is no requirement in the law for the beekeeper to seek that inspection. The inspection is at no cost to the beekeeper. (Compensation for the County Bee Inspector varies from county to county. Most, if not all of us are not paid for our work. Most, if not all, of us are compensated for our expenses as volunteers -- although a couple of beekeepers have tried to pay me for my time.)

A major part of the county bee inspector's job is education. Sure, as I inspect the bees in my county, I'm looking for signs of disease and parasites. But I'm also teaching the beekeeper how to look for disease and parasites on their own and how to better manage their bees. That annual inspection is an opportunity to become better educated. Sometimes I learn too. As currently written, HB-224 does nothing about educating beekeepers as a replacement for registration and inspections -- especially the beekeepers with 5 or fewer hives who most need education. (BTW, I rarely even touch a fellow beekeeper's hive(s) and equipment -- I let the beekeeper do the manipulation of his own hive(s) for the inspection. Even so, I always disinfect after each inspection so that I don't spread disease from one apiary to another -- especially my own.)

Registration is a meaningless bureaucratic hurdle without inspections. Inspections can't be fully effective without registration. The two concepts are inseparable. The problem is that Utah has hundreds of beekeepers who don't know enough about the craft to not only keep their own bees healthy, but to prevent their bees from infecting yours. The county bee inspectors have the expertise to help beekeepers learn the craft and the Department has directed the inspectors to be trainers as well as inspectors. Education will do far more than anything else to keep our bees healthy. HB.224 would cripple this educational opportunity for the beekeepers who need it most -- the hobby beekeepers.

An argument being made to eliminate annual inspections (note that in the law, the mandate for inspections is imposed on the state -- not on the beekeepers), eliminate registration for small-scale beekeepers, and eliminate the requirement for movable frames is based on the idea that perhaps hundreds of Utah beekeepers are not registered nor inspected and nobody in memory has been prosecuted for failure to comply with these provisions of the law.

Let me make an analogy: A substantial portion of homicides are never solved. The perpetrator is never identified, caught, prosecuted, or punished. Should the fact that many murderers get away with the crime be an excuse to rescind our laws against murder? I say not. The same with noncompliance to beekeeping laws and regulations that are intended and designed to help the beekeepers of Utah have healthy bees.

The non-complying beekeepers fail to comply with the law for one of three reasons:
1 - They don't know about the law.
2 - They don't know the proven best methods required in the art and science of beekeeping.
3 - They simply chose to defy the law.
Item 3 can't be fixed without enforcement and the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food has long chosen to assume the role of education and serving the beekeeper rather than enforcement.

Items 1, and 2, however, can easily be fixed with education. See my proposal for education below.

Everyone should be aware by now, that when the federal government perceives that the states aren't doing enough to regulate an activity, it uses a twisted interpretation of the US Constitution's commerce clause to step in with thousands of pages of regulations and an army of bureaucrats. You think the Utah Bee Inspection Act is heavy-handed?

Many of the changes contained in HB-224 will, for good reason, also taint the reputation of Utah beekeepers, making their bees unwelcome across the nation in regions that desperately need migratory pollination services from Utah honey bees. That tainted reputation will also adversely affect the ability of Utah's honey bee and queen bee producers to sell their bees to new and established beekeepers.

Contrary to what has been said about the Utah Bee Inspection Act, the wording does not require a person to "ask permission" to keep bees. Such a person is, however, required to notify the state (by registering) that he/she is keeping, or intends to keep, bees so that the sate can comply with its mandate to inspect the bees. Unlike obtaining driving, occupational, hunting, or concealed firearms licenses, the beekeeper is not even required to demonstrate any level of competence to care for tens of thousands of God's living creatures. Instead, the state "shall issue" a registration certificate to all who register. The fact that everyone who wants one gets one clearly indicates that permission is not required to keep bees. The wording of the Act does not prohibit anyone from keeping bees. (Some local governments around the state have restricted beekeeping -- that currently is not a state matter. HB-224 hopefully will fix that.) More importantly, registration enables the Department to notify beekeepers of known disease outbreaks and known pesticide applications that could affect them.

Elimination of the registration requirement nullifies a critical and beneficial-to-the-beekeeper purpose of registration: Notification of beekeepers of disease outbreaks and insecticide applications. Honey bees normally fly as far as 4-5 miles from their hive in search of food. In a dearth, they'll travel up to 8 miles. A colony that is weakened or killed by disease and/or parasites is subject to having their honey "robbed" by bees from other colonies within that range, taking that pathogen back home. Beekeepers who are unregistered, as envisioned by HB.224, will not be notified and they will suffer disheartening losses. Elimination of the current registration process will ultimately violate every beekeeper's right to have healthy bees.

Failing to register with the state as a beekeeper is not a crime. There is no penalty. But wise beekeepers proudly register. Utah has hundreds of underground beekeepers -- beekeepers who are not registered and who do not have their bees inspected. There are three basic kinds of "underground" beekeepers:
1 - Those who don't know that registration is required. This is a symptom of a beekeeper who likely doesn't know enough to properly care for several thousand of God's living creatures.
2 - Those who prefer to hide something they know or assume they are doing wrong in the way they care for several thousand living creatures.
3 - Government-minimalists who seem to prefer the death of several thousand living creatures over accepting the help of an experienced fellow beekeeper commissioned by his county and state to help beekeepers.
HB-224 seeks to legitimize underground beekeeping. In my experience, it is the underground beekeepers who have the highest incidence of disease, parasites, and aggressive bees. (All of the problem cases I identified in Iron County in 2014 were unregistered. They included dangerously high mite counts, American Foulbrood, and unmanageable bees.) Legitimizing underground beekeeping will ultimately perpetuate the most harm to the very group of beekeepers it presumes to help -- backyard beekeepers. That harm will continue to snowball to harm the rest of us.

A leading proponent of HB.224 says wants to see the beekeeping clubs assume the inspection responsibility for hobby beekeepers. Yet, the bill does nothing to establish this idea as a replacement for inspections by state-trained, county-appointed inspectors. Additionally, I doubt that it will work. Take a look at the attendance at the various beekeeping clubs around the state. It's obvious that these clubs reach a very tiny portion of the beekeepers in the state -- far less than the county beekeepers reach. Unregistered, uninspected beekeepers are not only invisible to the bee inspectors, in most cases, they're also invisible to the clubs.

One opponent of the current state registration and inspection law cites says he is opposed to mandatory licensing, mandatory health inspections, and an inspector entering his property and touching his hives without notice or permission. Here is my response to him (slightly edited):
I think your interpretation of the law is generally correct. We county bee inspectors are required to "...inspect immediately any apiary within the county that is alleged in a written complaint to be severely diseased, parasitized, or abandoned." We also are expected by the Department (and good judgment) to find the owner and work with him/her to resolve a complaint. Besides, pawing through someone's property without permission is a good way to get shot. I don't know any bee inspectors willing to take that chance.
I have never inspected a colony without the knowledge and consent of the owner. And, I let the owner do the actual manipulation of the hive for the inspection.
Here is an example how I have handled the kind of situation that concerns you:
Last summer, I received a call from the Iron County Sheriff's dispatcher about a complaint of aggressive bees a few miles west of Cedar City and two victims receiving several stings. I drove out to the complainant's home and sure enough he some very mean bees in his yard. He pointed out an apiary approximately 200 yards east of his home -- in a field right next to a cluster of a 6 or 8 homes.
I went to the apiary and found some unmarked hives (the Act requires identification of the beekeeper) with extremely hostile bees. Boxes and frames were scattered among the hive giving the appearance of abandonment. Yet, most of the equipment was new.
Without touching anything in the apiary, I called the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food who started identification of the property owner. A couple of days later, I had the name of the beekeeper. I introduced myself to her and said I was there to help. She admitted to being only two years into the craft and was overwhelmed by the task of dealing with aggressive bees. She said the disarray I found resulted from her having to flee a vicious attack.
She had no idea what the laws are regarding beekeeping, didn't know that registration and inspection is required, and had no idea who to call for help. Had she been registered, as her county bee inspector, I likely would have already met her and inspected her bees -- she'd know who to call for help.
We suited up and visited the apiary where I found signs that the colonies were being agitated by skunks. I helped her install carpet tack strips (she actually had some in her shed) to deter the skunks. In a week, she had some of the nicest bees in the county.
Yes, I probably could have dealt with the situation without her knowledge or permission as the above-mentioned objector describes. But I felt it better to find and work with the owner. The guidance we bee inspectors have been given from the Department is to be educators -- not SS troops.
In this case, it was aggressive bees that were a serious danger and nuisance to the neighborhood. I would follow the same steps for an obviously abandoned apiary. Only after failure of reasonable efforts to find and contact the owner and after coordinating with the Department and land owner would I "enter the private property and perform a complete inspection of each hive without informing the owner."
I understand why he's concerned about an unknown person digging through your apiary with out your knowledge or consent. I feel exactly the same about my own property. However, if you knew there was an apparently abandoned apiary with dead-outs a few hundred yards from your apiary wouldn't you want me to go check it out to protect your own bees?
We are not the enemy. We're beekeepers too. We're on your side.
I urge every member of the Utah Legislature and every beekeeper to oppose HB.224 unless it is amended to:
1 - Continue the current universal registration and apiary-marking mandate but make the $10 fee for hobby beekeepers optional.
2 - Continue the annual health inspection mandate.
3 - Continue the requirement for movable frames (combs).
4 - Continue the requirement to restrict bee access into the harvesting and processing site.
5 - Prohibit the sale of honey bees to anyone who is not licensed/registered as a beekeeper.
6 - Require the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to collaborate with the Western Apicultural Society, Utah Beekeepers' Association, and the Logan Bee Laboratory at Utah State University to develop a Master Beekeeper program patterned after Master Beekeeper programs in other states such as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia.
7 - Waive annual inspections for hobby beekeepers who earn Master Beekeeper status (see 6 above).
One idea in HB.224 that I think has great merit and that should be adopted this year: New paragraph 4-11-18. This paragraph would prohibit local governments from imposing restrictions on beekeeping. This would keep beekeeping law uniform throughout the state -- important for those who move their bees from one area in the state to another for pollination and honey-gathering. It also voids often unreasonable, capricious, and arbitrary restrictions that have already been imposed in some Utah communities. State beekeeping law already has sufficient restrictions on beekeeping to protect the public for these beneficial stinging insects.

Contrary to what has been said about the Utah Bee Inspection Act, failure to comply with the Act is not a crime. The Act is not a part of Utah's criminal code. Criminal law specifies whether an act is a felony, misdemeanor, or infraction. Nowhere in the Act does it say that noncompliance with this Act is a criminal act or even an infraction. Nowhere does it specify any form of penalty for noncompliance. The Act does, however, outline some, not all, of the practices that all responsible beekeepers -- registered or not -- do anyway (eg, properly manage disease and parasites, use removable frames, maintain nonaggressive and manageable stock, prevent robbing, etc.).

Most of us at least claim to want less government control over our lives. Regular readers of this blog know that I want less government -- a lot less. That is the well-intentioned spirit behind HB.224. (Aren't all changes in the law are based on good intentions?) But, remember that the Utah Bee Inspection Act, as currently written, was designed by the beekeeping community for the benefit of everyone in the beekeeping community -- not to simply apply the heavy hand of government. Unless revised as I've suggested, I urge the Utah Legislature and every beekeeper to reject HB.224. Instead of arbitrarily abandoning laws that currently work as well as beekeepers enable them to work, and would better work to the advantage of all beekeepers if followed, I say let's educate our fellow beekeepers.