Past, Present, Future: Discussions with Marty Hadison, Miles McGaughey & Donald Studinski
Originally posted at Top-Bar-Beehives.com:
As we approach the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, my days of interviews seem to also be becoming longer. This morning, I traveled to Marty Hardison’s home to discuss the history of top bar beekeeping and his experiences since the early 1980’s. Inspired by a American Bee Journal article published in 1980, Marty began to experiment with top bar beehives in order to find a hive that could replace the expensive Langstroth equipment being used in rural villages in other countries. While attending a conference in the early 19080’s, he talked with two Haitian farmers, encouraging them to begin to keep bees on their farms. While the farmers were interested in the idea, the Langstroth equipment was far too expensive for the farmers since one hive cost as much as one person’s yearly earnings.
Determined to find a more economical way to keep honeybees, Marty has devoted the last 30 years of his life to working with rural communities in establishing top bar beehives. Constructed out of local materials, top bar beehives made beekeeping more accessible to farmers and has contributed to the success of many rural honey cooperatives.
Here in the U.S., Marty has taught classes, made candles, raised queens and continues to use the top bar hives design that he created in the 1980’s. Like other beekeepers I’ve met so far, Marty’s love for the bees outweighs his desire to “get” massive amounts of honey and he has gone through many years where there was only enough for the bees. Additionally, he has experienced pesticide die-offs and is convinced that GMO corn is also contributing to honeybee deaths, two factors that make modern-day beekeeping ever more challenging.
After our discussion, Marty showed me pictures of his current projects, one which involves designing a top bar beehive that uses very little wood, utilizing the thatch work available in Africa. Beyond having a woven body, the hive will also be suspended in trees due to the natural predators of Africa, illustrating the need to make innovations. Because top bar beehives are able to be adapted to various climates and situations, Marty continues to promote top bar beekeeping and believes that they are most accessible to those living in rural, poverty stricken areas where resources are scarce. Although there have been challenges to top bar beehives, like the humming-bird sized wasp in Egypt that eats bees, he continues to promote and utilize top bar technology and has hopes for a future where more people are sustainably keeping honeybees.
In the afternoon, I headed north to Longmont to meet with Miles McGaughey, back to the house Tom and I caught the swarm at yesterday. At the house, I met with Miles and, unplanned, I headed out with him to take care of some work errands. Earlier in the day, a co-worker of his at the local YMCA broke a tooth, so we had to transport him to Boulder to see the dentist. As we drove, we discussed the current beekeeping situation in Boulder County, the history of beekeeping in Colorado and challenges to his honeybee related work. Disappointed with the packages they’ve received in the past, Miles described to me (in detail) the trip him and Tom Theobald make every year to pick-up packages of bees from California, transporting back 300 packages (about 900,000 bees) to Colorado.
Between quick stops at the dentist and a great burrito shack called La Choza, we also talked about queen rearing and he encouraged me to get further involved in that important aspect of beekeeping. Offering his support, he gave me some kind advice and spoke about the vital need for young people to get involved in beekeeping. Through this, more people can become aware of pollinators, genetics can be diversified and spread out, and more innovative solutions can be found. As I left Miles’ house to meet up with Donald Studinski, I felt very fortunate to have been able to connect with Miles and I hope that we can work together in the future.
Traveling south to Lafayette, I arrived at Donald’s beeyard as the sun began to reach the Flatirons. We then checked on his two top bar beehives and a Langstroth hive, making sure the Queens were laying eggs. After making sure everything was looking ok, I asked him a variety of questions in order to learn more about his beekeeping experiences, challenges he faces, and hopes for the future. One important aspect that we discussed was an issue related to terminology, a point that I feel needs to be discussed in more depth in a later post. Without getting into too much detail, we (as a society and as beekeepers) seem to be very focused on a few issues, whether that be Colony Collapse Disorder or more recently, neonicitinoids. While we need to be aware of these issues, Donald expressed concern over too narrow of a focus, encouraging the use of broader, more inclusive, terms that can be better used to describe our challenges. Instead of using “pesticides,” the use of “poisons” may better describe the impacts of these chemicals. Instead of “neonicitinoids”, the term “systemics” may be more inclusive of the other chemicals (similar to, but not neonics) that are being used. With this change of focus, we can resist the over sensationalization of certain aspects of honeybee deaths while staying committed to challenging and identifying the root causes of today’s problems.
After 12 hours of interviews and driving, I hope that I am conveying these points clearly enough, although I plan on writing more on these topics, in order to fully develop the ideas and perspectives. Until then, I’m off to southern Colorado and then onto New Mexico.