by Frank Beaman

The "unabridged" text of the story printed in the

Times of Mineral Point December 2008 issue.

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Editor's Note: This article is not an easy or quick read as there's a lot of information to digest. It is published here as a tool for you to dig a little deeper into beekeeping's "perfect storm." I hope you will find it informative and useful. Author Frank Beaman publishes the Times of Mineral Point with his wife Sandee. In his words, they "run the paper as a two some, a hobby, because we take no salary, but we enjoy getting interesting topics in front of interested readers." Frank is a veteran radio reporter and on the job in Chicago from 1968 to 1985 he "learned to like the taste of tear gas." According to Frank they "Wandered into Mineral Point in 2002 and fell in love with the town" and ended up moving there the next year. So far, Frank and Sandee have done five newspapers on history, art, and preservation/sustainability. In their spare time, they visit family around the nation, work with a photography library, and have just started a community garden with three other couples in their back yard. Frank is also "heavily" involved with the local Historical Society and enjoys other volunteer work. Though he claims to be a "retiree", it would appear that he is anything but retired! We hope you enjoy what he presents here.

We also invite you to provide comments and feedback on this article to

Inroduction by Frank

This is the text of a twenty-question interview, published in the Winter Edition of the Times of Mineral Point., Dec. 1, 2008. The questions were posed by Editor Frank Beaman. Mark Ranum of 1887 Brands furnished the answers, and both the interviewer and the interviewed felt that the necessary edits for publication took something away from the full dialog. We print it here for your benefit.

Q. Since 1887, the Ranum family has made a living by keeping bees busy. It would seem to be a simple business: the man provides the hive and the bees make honey. Is it really that simple?
A. Well, I think we all tend to see things from the window of time that we are in. Beekeeping tends to get "romanticized" and it is often thought of as "the gentle craft". Most folks think of beekeepers as being gentle, pipe toting, silver haired men who in Norman Rockwell style commune with nature and enjoy a "simpler" kind of life. The cold reality is that the beekeeping industry, in a broad sense, has become in many respects just another agribusiness. In my opinion, it is one of the most complex you can be involved in. It's hard for me to say just how simple or complex beekeeping was in 1887 for my grandfather. It may indeed have been less complex but then again there were fewer resources available to those trying to figure out the science back then. I do know from my current day prospective that the variables in the art of beekeeping appear to have increased dramatically. To be successful these days, a beekeeper has to be on the cutting edge of technological changes in the industry and willing to think outside the box. Beekeeping has never been a "simple" task and requires an intense focus on several disciplines at once. These would include areas typical of many agricultural endeavors such as; livestock management, "animal" health, processing techniques, marketing, and a general business savvy. I do know that my grandfather never had to worry about mites, Israel Paralysis Virus, systemic insecticides, mass bee migrations for pollination, or an import market that floods our stores with illegal and most time adulterated honey from places like China. So is beekeeping simple? Certainly not these days, and probably not for my grandfather in 1887 either.
Mark working with the bees
Q. So, there's an interdependency - or a co-dependency - to beekeeping?
A. Absolutely. As in any ag related business, you are very dependent on the creatures you care for, or the crops you grow. If they do well, you do well. What threatens them threatens you. I think that idea of co-dependency also extends beyond the bond of creature and keeper to our general society as well. Most folks see the "bee problems" being spoken of so much in the media and tend to say, "So what? What does that mean to me anyway?" The truth of the matter is that every element of the creation around us matters greatly to us all. In as much as beekeepers are dependent on the bee, our whole society is dependent on even the little bee in more ways than most of us can imagine. No part of creation goes down without leaving ripples in our pond. Some leave more ripples than others.

Q. Give us a word picture of a typical day. Just how do you go about raising a healthy hive, and making a dollar from it?

A. First of all, there is no typical day. There are trends in my beekeeping days that are guided by the seasons. In this fall season, my days are filled with harvest, bee health, marketing, and winterizing related tasks. This season also brings an immediacy that comes with the impending approach of winter. I usually find myself being planned by the days, instead of planning the days, at this time of year. If the weather is right a certain task may take precedent over the another etc. My tasks right now, however they are directed, include; getting all the honey that has been harvested stored properly and in containers for sale, working the yards and doing the post harvest work that needs to happen before the snow flies, and cleaning up the processing equipment after the harvest. This is by far the busiest season for us and the tasks usually outweigh the time available. For instance, we have literally put on thousands of miles taking the fruits of our farm efforts to the customer at various steam and craft shows around the bottom half of the state. We have learned that in these difficult economic times, you have to take your wares to where the customer is. What with staying at these shows 3 and 4 days a week, it really cuts into the critical time available on the farm. There is of course also the critical task of cutting firewood to heat our big old farmhouse! (we heat entirely with wood) Year after year we find ourselves overwhelmed by the fall tasks that must be done, and must be done on time. But then again, that's part of farm life.

Gilbert Ranum truely was a gentleman. This photo of him was taken in his advanced years, still doing what he loved.

In turn, each season has its own set of tasks:

Winter finds Annie and I making candles, home made soap, and repairing the vast amounts of wooden ware that house the bees. Assuming the fall work such as firewood making has gotten done, this can be the more relaxed season for us. Since the bees are still active in there hives (they don't really hibernate in winter) we have to keep watch on them as well. We make several trips into the yards to make sure they have enough food (honey) to get them through the winter and feed them if necessary.

Spring finds us beekeepers "chompin at the bit" to get out there and see how the bees came through the winter. This is a season of intense focus on the bees health and potential for the production season to come. Our spring tasks include cleaning and rearranging the hives, increasing them in numbers to make up for winter losses, and treating the bees to insure they are healthy. We have adopted a completely natural approach to the treatment of our bees choosing natural substances over harsh chemicals and antibiotics. Due to this we experience more losses but think it is better in the long run for both the consumer and the bees. It is our goal to achieve a level sustainability in our work with the bees. That is, we don't want to artificially prop up the bees "system" in order to maximize their production. We would rather see less production from the bees but have them healthier and more able to fight off maladies on their own.

Summer brings the promise of sweetness! Early summer means getting the boxes of empty combs (supers) on the bees and doing the special management that yields the lightest and best tasting honey. We usually try to bring in some early honey for market and with some providence, find some wildflower honey in early summer. Our gardens (Annie's Acres CSA) keep us quite busy as well with a couple acres under till for our CSA members. Summer is also the time that the processing plant gets scrutinized with improvements and fine tuning in mind. Summers end and falls beginnings tend to blend together for us with fall kind of sneaking up and tapping us on the shoulder with a reminder like an early frost. Then the cycle begins anew as fall is in reality the beginning of the beekeeping year.

Q. In recent years, bees have made news headlines. First, we read of the northward migration of Killer Bees. Are these insects a big threat?
A. Killer bees in Wisconsin? First of all, they are actually an African strain of bee that is for sure in it's un-diluted form VERY aggressive. They do well in tropical climates but do not thrive in cooler ones like ours in Wisconsin. The African strains tend to breed with our northern counterparts and produce a bee that has the characteristics of both. The more north you go, the less this intra-breeding takes place. While I can't be certain, it would appear to me from the reading I've done that the African bee will not be an issue this far north. In the south they are a real problem however and they add an additional task to the already too long list of management challenges for the beekeepers there. They can be controlled by re-queening the colonies (hives) on a regular basis to insure the right strain of bee is in the hives.
Q. More recently, the headlines speak of a massive drop in the population of bees, and the impact that will have on our crops. Why are all these bees dying off?
A. Ya, the die off is very real and has severely effected many beekeepers in this area. Trying to figure out what exactly is happening is kind of like trying to nail jelly to a tree. There are so many factors that are involved and the issue is massively complex. First of all, there may be different sets of maladies at play. The most publicized form of the die off has for lack of a better term been labeled "Colony Collapse Disorder". This name has been coined to describe a very specific set of symptoms and in my opinion has too narrow a focus. Even though literally tens of thousands of colonies have died in Wisconsin in the last couple of years, the folks that inspect bees in Wisconsin and hold the official last word so to speak claim that "there are no confirmed cases of CCD in Wisconsin." In my opinion that is very misleading as the causes and effects of these die-offs are so inter-related. The bottom line, I've been in beekeeping all my life and am a third generation beekeeper and I have never lost so many bees or even imagined it could be possible. We lost 80 percent one year only to loose another 70 percent the next year. Losses this year were 30 percent which is still above the economic threshold for the business. We've not been alone with almost every other beekeeper experiencing critical losses. Willow Creek Honey Farm lost 90 percent last year, which is unheard of for them (1). I can write off some of those losses to the "mite" loads we saw on our bees but something else was definitely at play there. To say that there are "no confirmed cases" indicates to me that someone wasn't looking very hard or just didn't want to see.

So what is causing this nightmare in the hive? In my opinion, what we've got going on here very much is the result of the places this industry has gone that it aught not have. Let me explain. In the wild, bees migrate on their own, but migrate very slowly. Native bees swarm as a way of making natural splits that maintain and increase the number of hives in the wild. These swarms locate some distance from the mother hive but movement is slow enough so that the bees have time to adapt and adjust to viruses, parasites, and other maladies. There is also a natural but harsh way that maladies are kept in check. Some hives of bees simply die under the load of some disease or pest while others overcome and go on to be resistant strains that thrive. This process is called natural selection. While I'm not a proponent of macro evolution, I believe this form of micro evolution to be key to the adaptation and thriving of any creature. The truth is that as beekeepers, we have really not done the bees any favors. First, when our bees become troubled with some malady, we intercede for the sake of our economics, not necessarily their overall benefit. After all, when your making your living on a creature, it is more important that your hives live and do well and your concern is not centered on the big picture for the species. When we intercede, we stop the natural adaptation process of the species. Many researchers are starting to realize this and there is a new focus on what is called "survivor stock". We further agrivate the situation by transporting bees all over the place in mass and for the most part without restriction. When bees are moved, maladies are moved, and hence, no time or even the slightest chance to adapt. What we have created is a totally unsustainable artificial systemic environment for the bees. We have so altered their culture that wild colonies of bees simply can no longer survive without intervention. Read this! The day of the wild bee tree in North America and perhaps globally is history with feral colonies no longer able to sustain themselves for multiple seasons (4).

Gilbert Ranum and his son Alvin selling honey with horse & buggy. Photo was taken around 1914.

Gilbert M. Ranum was the founder of this century old family business.

Q. Then, is the current crisis due to the inherent nature of bees, as travelers, or because of the way they are moved about by Man?

A. We've pushed an entire species sustainability over the edge!


Enter the almond tree! Like in many industries, there are spin-off incomes that have little to do with the main product but help to bring income into the system. It didn't take long for beekeepers to learn that one of these was the money that could be had for the service of pollination. You load up your colonies of bees on a trailer and take them to a local apple orchard or cranberry bog and get paid handsomely for doing so. You often get the additional benefit of obtaining some varietal honey as your bees visit the various plants or trees. Seems like a win-win situation doesn't it. The beekeeper gets additional income and some unique honey to sell while the grower gets the essential pollination needed to improve yield and the quality of their produce. In the past, most of this pollination work involved moving your bees a couple hundred miles at best as local beekeepers usually were able to supply the needed colonies. Then in my opinion it got out of control. Pollination became an industry all unto its own with semi truck loads of bees being carted from one state to the other in the name of pollination. Then a very specific type of pollination began to develop involving the almond trees in California. Mass movements of bees have become the norm as the almond groves have increased dramatically. New plantings increased the demand for colonies of bees to the point where there has become a kind of feeding frenzy for pollinators with little regard what the practice may be doing for the overall health of the bees. The whole rapidly growing pollination industry has in my opinion accelerated the mass yearly congregation and concentration of bees in one area and the consequent dispersal of them to their home states to the point where the sped of disease, viruses, and parasites is not only possible but predictable. We have overwhelmed the bees ability to adapt and survive. Imagine what would happen if you took 75% of the cattle every year and put them all in the same feedlot for a couple weeks. You would have diseases running rampant in the cattle. For one thing there are laws against this kind of movement in the cattle industry. But what about the bees.

Q. This is not the story we read in the popular press! What responsibility does the industry, itself, bear?
A. In my opinion, unfortunately, Beekeepings biggest enemy has become the beekeepers! There is so much finger pointing going on as to the cause of our problems, insecticides, changing farming practices, changes in the weather, cell phone towers, who knows what. But in my opinion, most of the problems we are currently facing are of our own design. So what now? Well, realistically, the genie is out of the bottle. The likely hood of things returning to a sustainable level for the beekeeping industry are near nil. Aside from a continuing cataclysmic reduction in the amount of available bees for pollination, little is likely to induce any real change to this system we have created. There are some alternatives though. We have to remember that the honey bee we are used to isn't even native to North America. They were introduce in colonial times. Honey bees are not the only pollinators. Other species of bees can do the job and some more efficiently. For instance, the "orchard" or "straw" bee is a very effective pollinator for orchard applications. Bumble bees also are very effective pollinators. Their use would for sure cut into the honey beekeepers revenue but focus in areas like this could be the key to reducing some of the movement and hence spread of maladies for this overburdened creature. Perhaps we need to take a long look at what price we are willing to pay for almonds. I'm talking the real price not just the money.
Q. Well then, is the finger-pointing, the "blame game" off the mark?

A. As with any complex system, there are many things at play. The mass movement of the bees I've mentioned is really just the vehicle so to speak. To be sure, other problems are abundant as well and that shouldn't be ignored.
This photo was taken around 1960. It shows 2nd generation beekeeper, Ed Ranum and 3rd generation beekeeper John Ranum extracting honey.
Q. So farm practices need to be reformed?

A. Yes, reform is needed but I don't realistically expect that to happen. There is just too much money to be chased in this system and huge corporate power call the shots. I will say that if most farmers knew the effects of what they were doing, they may think twice about it. I know my neighbors don't want to intentionally hurt my business and if other reasonable options were available to them, different choices might be made. Margins of profit have however become extremely tight. In order to stay competitive in farming, you are almost forced to go with the flow in the industry. There is no level playing field when it comes time to outside the box choices and using organic practices stand well as an "out of norm" choice but would have to be driven by government in order to succeed across the board. Also, how can you justify higher costs of doing things right when imports don't have to conform even to our existing laws.

a.) Changing farming practices. Vast mono cultures have been created. Thousands of acres in an area producing only corn or soy. Tree lines once valued as windbreaks being eliminated as they impede the larger machines being used these days. Even the non-tillable land use has changed dramatically. Rising energy costs have changed the way we take care of weeds in pastures for instance. The common practice a couple of decades ago was still mechanical cutting in the pastures. Now they are routinely sprayed with herbicides to eliminate all unwanted weeds. This also eliminates the plants that created a sustainable environment for the bees. The use of insecticides has also dramatically changed. Systemic insecticides are now almost universally used in crops such as corn. These insecticides are incorporated with the planted seeds and actually grow up with the plant making the whole plant toxic. They are supposed to be sub-lethal when the plant is mature but studies have indicated they are still detrimental as bees collect pollen from the plants. The danger of these chemicals has been recognized in Europe and they have been banned in France. The use of chemicals are driven by companies like Bayer and Monsanto and also by the high cost of the fuel that would be used for post-plant spraying. GMO (genetically modified) plants have also been created that have their own inherent protection from insects. These can't be good for the bees. All in all, factors like this leave the beekeeper looking for that pristine mountain getaway to set his or her beehives.

b.) An extension of the chemical use effects more than just farm land. Urbanization affects the bee pasture as well. Bee pasture is the area that bees visit to get the nectar and pollen. Bees travel a radius of about one and a half miles. That's a circle three miles across or about seven square miles. They are influenced by anything happening in that huge area. There are actually beekeepers that have hives on top of the skyscrapers in Chicago and they do quite well. They don't have much competition though. If it weren't for the use of lawn chemicals, an urbanized setting would actually be better for the bees However, we Americans have gotten the idea in our heads that a beautiful lawn must be lush grass devoid of any other plants such as the once respected dutch clover. We are creating a sterile environment for the sake of looks!

Realistically, some movement of bees is needed to support even a more "bee friendly" industry. Replenishment livestock (bees) are difficult to produce in the colder northern climates. In this photo, John Ranum with the help of fellow beekeeper Ed Jackel have returned from Georgia with a load of "nucs" or small hives of bees. In this case, they were directly involved with the process of making the nucs and hauled them on our own truck. This photo was taken around 1964.
Q. We hear about imported and tainted honey. What effect do they produce in the honey market?

A. Well, let's start with a story about soy sauce from China. (2) We had some soy sauce on our shelves that was a store brand. It tasted burnt and a bit nasty. I then read an article that described how some of soy sauce was manufactured in China. It seems that soy is considered too expensive there to be used to make the cheap soy sauce that is produced for us Americans. So... they visit the barbers and sweep up the hair from the floors. This cheap "protein" is then stewed down into something that resembles soy sauce and marketed to an uninformed American consumer base. Needless to say, our bottle of that nasty stuff went right down the drain. The Chinese government tried to put a stop to this hair to sauce process but enforcement over there is almost impossible as products come from a melting pot of small producers. The practice continues today. It's the same deal with honey. Honey from China has been imported containing the antibiotic Chloramphenicol and other contaminants. It is routinely cut with 49 percent corn syrup and imported as "bakers blend". This gets it into the country without paying the import duties that are in place to protect the domestic markets. Hundreds of millions of pounds are imported in this fashion and illegally relabeled as pure honey. Detection of the corn syrup requires expensive DNA testing to confirm so this practice usually goes undetected and unenforced. This has decimated the honey market in the past and has pushed the beekeeper into chasing the dollar to stay in business. One way of doing this of course is to send his bees out to California to the almond groves. Hence, things only go down hill from there. The bright side in this is that China is becoming a net consumer of its own products and the import situation from that country is becoming less. BUT, where there is a buck to be made, unethical importers find other sources and do the same. One thing that we as consumers should remember, the food safety laws are hard enough to enforce in our own country. What makes us feel they can possibly be enforced in an imported product?

Q. What about other man-made problems - pollution and global warming?
A. Other man made problems? I think you have to be blind not to see that our impact on the earth is accelerating at an alarming rate. I'm no expert on global warming and I'm not convinced that the current weather cycle we are seeing is completely human driven. I can, however. see significant changes in the weather patterns. Our capacity to remember is a funny thing. You have to be careful to recognize that our personal memories are for the most part "unquantifiable". When trying to remember what the weather was like in past decades, I find myself reading other emotions into the data. I do have an advantage though when trying to sort out the question of climate change and its effect on the bees. My grandfather G. M. Ranum kept extensive farm diaries that included a daily account of the weather. In comparing the weather of the past to that of current days, I find that, in my words, it is more radical. Especially that there are extended periods of radical weather that cut up the bee season at some point in the year. I look at the weather a little differently than most folks. A beekeeper tends to look at the weather as either being a good bee day or a bad bee day. Conditions making a good bee day involve a combination of wind, temperature, humidity, and sunshine. They all have to be right to make a good bee day where the bees can do their work of pollination and nectar gathering. The number of good bee days, where all elements are in line, are becoming more and more rare. The climate data doesn't track the correlation of the separate elements of the weather in the same way and as a result, I think the change in weather is not fully understood or quantified.

One of the many diaries that GM Ranum kept as he chronicled life on the farm. Entries would typically include weather conditions, work accomplished, sales and expenses for the day, and happenings in the family.

Gilbert not only kept extensive farm records but was well published in industry periodicals as well. I have been spending some quality time with the late GM Ranum as of late as I let him teach me through what he has written. Never underestimate the gift of heritage!

Q. Give us an example of how the behavior of bees tells us about such phenomena as climate change - how do bees "speak" to us?
A. Yes the bees do speak as such. But trying to understand exactly what they are saying with their behaviors and maladies is difficult. The biggest thing I hear in the industry is that "the bees just don't behave like they used to". With such a vast number of variables at play, it makes it extremely hard to interpret exactly what the symptoms they display indicate. In that respect, these incredibly complex little creatures keep amazing and challenging me. For me, it's a gut thing. It hard for me to explain, but after decades of looking at a comb full of bees, I can pick up a comb and say to myself, "this just doesn't look right". I may make the observation that the bees "just don't looks as "vigorous" as they should or "these bees look small and wimpy". Not technical terms but indicative of a problem of some sort. But what of the hundreds of possibilities am I seeing. We have had to become pathologists, entomologists, chemists, biologists, and lab technicians to be able to properly "listen" to the bees. We've had to resort to on farm microscope dissections and other lab related tests that most folks in agriculture would never consider doing on the farm. For the beekeeper it has become a mater of survival. I have found that gut feelings only lead you to a place where the intellect needs to take over. So we keep learning via our association with the researchers, conversations with other beekeepers, and sources such as the vast amount of information available on the internet. In this way, we keep our ears open!
Q. One more thought on the importance of bees - would a major die-off of bees also kill off a great deal of our food supply?
A. The importance of the bee is very much misunderstood. You can usually take any one individual part of God's creation and eliminate it without SEEING any apparent major impact. After all, if the honey bee becomes extinct, there are other pollinators and honey is only one of the many sweeteners available. The short term impact of loosing the honey bee may be overcome by an adjustment of diet containing less fruit and vegetable etc. etc.. This is not seeing the whole vastly important picture though. To me, the honey bee is very much like the canary in the coal mine. If we listen, their demise is shouting at us that something is greatly wrong. The real impact of loosing the bees? I don't think any of us really has a clue but I don't think it would be good. One thing we have to remember. No species is an island. We have already seen "cross species" jumping of maladies and viruses in the bee kingdom.(3) My guess is that if left unfettered, the fall of the honey bee would shortly be followed by other bee species as well. Then we can all get out there on our hands and knees with Q-tips and hand pollinate the millions of acres of plants that require this little detail for survival.
All members of the family usually became involved with the bees in one manner or another. Here little Alice Anne stands beside her Grandpa GM Ranum. At the time she lived on the farm in the "little house" with her parents, Alfred Johsnon and Ella Ranum/Johnson. Alice Anne Johnson/Punwar still carries the wonderful memories of that time on the farm spent with her grandpa and the bees. Grandpa had even made a special small bee smoker just for Alice so she could help him with the bees.
Q. But, is there any likelihood that the situation might right itself, naturally, and that bee populations will recover?
A. First of all, the current bee migrations are anything but normal. This is a forced and artificial movement of bees that overwhelms their ability to adapt. That coupled with our continued intersession in their process of natural selection means their ability to adapt through micro evolution has been halted. We have created an artificial and unsustainable environment for the bees that now requires our intervention for their survival. A recent study was done on "feral" or wild honey bee colonies in the deserts in Arizona (4). Of the hundred plus colonies that were located in the desert cliffs and rocks, virtually all of them became non-existent within a period of seven years. This decline was primarily due to only one of the many enemies of the bee, the mite. It is clear these days that natural populations of honey bees are a thing of the past and aside from one radical choice, that will remain true. That radical choice is to keep our hands off the bees for a few hundred years and let the process on natural selection again do it's work. That's not going to happen. We can however as an industry and as consumers, support management techniques that lead us more in this direction.
Q. So we need to make significant changes in the way WE live, so bees will thrive?
A. Or, do we throw our hands up in disbelief and resignation? No. There are things we can all do to help.

a.) First of all, look at the label before you buy. Be an informed consumer. If the product label doesn't give you some indication that good practices are being used, look elsewhere. I think one of the most devastating things that can happen in any industry is to chase the dollar. You truly do get what you pay for. Your purchase is a vote each and every time you buy anything. If you buy a volley ball hand sewn by forced child labor, you have your hand on the whip over that child. We all need to own up to our personal responsibility and try to understand the true impact in the choices we make.

b.) The industry and all individual beekeepers need to remember the meaning of the word integrity. We all have a choice of paths to go down when we run a business. For instance, if you are selling "wildflower" honey, is it really the rich dark honey that has been collected as the bees visit the mix of early spring or fall flowers, or is it honey that has been darkened by overheating and mishandling. We've got to do the right thing for our consumers and for our industry. I think many of us need a refresher course on the "golden rule".

c.) Small choices can be made along the way that will help not only the honey bee, but the environment in general. Do you really need a plush green, grass only, lawn? Perhaps less chemicals and a few more "natural flowers" in you yard would serve us all better. Choices in areas you wouldn't normally think have a dramatic impact as well. We've been talking about solar and wind for decades and precious little has been accomplished. We need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and not burn our precious "mobile" sources of energy unnecessarily in stationary application like heating our houses. This in turn could make it easier for the agricultural industries to make right choices that although requiring higher energy input use less of the harmful systemic and GMO choices. This I believe needs to extend into our personal live's priorities regarding the cars we drive, where we spend our money, and the political choices we make. We definitely can make a difference, but we have to want to.

This homebuilt, under $200 solar panel supplied our total hot water needs for the summer. It was nothing fancy but if I can do it, we can do it!

Link to Full Article to Come

Q. Okay, if you were writing the rules, what would you write?
A. If I were writing the rules? WOW! What a scary thought. I guess my first response is that my faith walk provides me with an existing set of rules that is pretty awesome. I think that if more of us "walked the talk" of what we believe, we'd all be the better for it. Unfortunately, I think too many of us hear the words "higher power" and think of more gigabytes or megawatts. To me, all of creation suffers when as we get further and further away from the intentions of the Creator. So I strongly believe just setting up the rules based on my own intellect misses the mark. But for the sake of argument, I give it a shot.

a.) While I'm not a protectionist at heart and want some of the benefits of free trade, we have shot our collective selves in the foot at our borders. Let's start by enforcing the import laws already on the books that were meant to level the playing field for producers. This will mean more money wisely spent and improved efforts at the ports.

b.) Get back to a producer driven National Honey Board. Why are we turning over the reins increasingly to importers and packers of honey to regulate the industry. I do not believe the importer/packer has the most beneficial agenda or motives at heart. It's kind of like turning over the keys to the hen house to the fox.

c.) A program of limiting the movement of bees. Increase funding for research on alternative pollinators such as the orchard bee. This must also include research into the impact of the use of such pollinators as again we will be creating an artificial system. I believe our goal should be sustainability in the industry. We simply can't get there overnight and need to remember that it has taken decades to get where we are. It will certainly take us decades to get to a better place but we must keep moving in the right direction.

d.) We can't rely solely on the agricultural chemical industry to do the research on toxicity and environmental impact. More unbiased long term research is needed to insure that the ag choices we make are the right ones.

e.) More emphasis on organics! This means a necessary alignment of consumer and producer. Closer relationships between consumer and local producer in forms such as membership based Community Support Agriculture. These ventures tend to be more responsive and open to consumer scrutiny. There is also an increased sense of "stewardship" of land and resources with these efforts.
You know, we just need to do the right things for the right reasons!

Q. What role should honey play in our daily diet? And as a health agent?
A. Honey can be a very valuable part of your daily diet. Like any other food, it needs to be used in the proper moderation. Annie and I use it a lot to cook with and really love what it does in so many foods. I can't even think of a natural peanut butter on whole wheat sandwich without some good honey on it! I think the key to really getting the full benefit from honey is to get it in its "closest to natural" state as possible. There are always some trade-offs when bringing any product to the consumer. We are really dedicated to keeping the natural goodness of the honey intact which means we do as little as possible to the honey on its journey from hive to table. We also have raw unheated and unfiltered honey for those who are familiar with the product. You just can't get it any better than that! Good honey is good for you and the health benefits are huge. Honey is a well balanced collection of different sugars that are assimilated very naturally into the body. Honeys value in strengthening the immune system has been well documented. I honestly believe honey to play an important part to the well being of our mind and soul as well and find I am more at peace when I enjoy it's benefits.
Q. The tone of this interview has been pretty gloomy, but I know you believe there are many benefits and joys in your beekeeping trade, right?
A. The benefits? Incredible! For one thing, these little creatures have had a huge part in bringing me closer to the Creator. It's hard to witness their vast complexity and not acknowledge the existence of God. I really enjoy how diverse the work is as the business has so many facets. Woodworking, mechanics, marketing, research, family life, and of course working with the bees themselves all provide different outlets for creativity. Of course, there is nothing quite like being in a beautiful secluded woods in the fall and sampling new honey right from the comb. Ah, life is good! I think that being involved in a business that has so much family tradition with it has also been a real blessing. Both its struggles and gains bring me a little closer to understanding and respecting my rich heritage.
Q. And the future for Ranum's 1887 Brand?
A. What is in store for Ranum's 1887 Brand Honey? Hopefully, tomorrow. God willing, the day after. I think that whether or not this business goes on to another generation is less important than what good it does right now. If I've learned anything in my involvement with the bees, it is that we all have a short time here on this earth. Our scope of physical influence is limited at best. It is our heritage received and our legacy left that connect us to the past and ultimately to the future. And the choices we make right now will be the yardstick by which we are measured by generations to come.

"The Girls" from left to right: Elizabeth Green, Annie Ranum (my wonderful wife), Teresa Green, and Vannesa Green. My journey in beekeeping has been so sweetened by the love of these wonderful treasures! I thank God for having been a part of their lives and for the help and joy they have given me. It is to them this article is dedicated.

With love, Mark (Papa Bear)

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Other Related Links:

The Farm - a nostalgic look at the Ranum family farm (being edited)

More to come!

Postscript by Editor, Mark Ranum

The views I have expressed in this interview are just that, my views. I expect not all will agree with my opinions on the causes and effects of the current "perfect storm" in the beekeeping industry some have labeled as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). There are many who will probably be angered at my apparent blame of our own industry for what is taking place. After all it's not good press! It is not my intent to degrade the industry in any way, BUT, I think we need to wake up and take responsibility for our part in it as beekeepers. Some have said "but we've been moving bees around for 30 years" and there have been no problems like we are currently facing. I find it odd that those saying that type of thing don't make the connection between the beginning of mass migrations for pollination to the first really big storm that beekeeping experienced, that being the introduction and spread of the tracheal mite in the mid 1980's. Do the math and you will find the correlation of significant maladies follow closely on the heals of the beginning of the mass migrations starting in the late 1970's. Coincidence? I think not.

Are we an industry in denial? Is there any hope that we can change if we are? My message to fellow beekeepers that may be offended by my views is: Would the problems we're facing exist if we weren't chasing the pollination buck with our bees down the highway and the secondary bee movement that facet of the industry encourages? We may think in terms of the new agricultural paradigm we have created as the new and unchangeable reality. The bees will just have to adjust to our way of thinking! Will they? Can they? Or, have we strong armed them into a scenario their very nature can not allow them to adjust to? And why is it that part of the American Dream seems to lead us into the notion that we have to be the breadbasket to the world at all cost? How can we imagine that the keeping of 10's of thousands of hives of bees by large scale beekeepers or the tending of 10's of thousands of acres of land by one corporate entity can yield the stewardship those resources deserve? I believe the massive concentrations of everything from bees to almond trees and the vast monocultures that have been created go against the very grain of the intentions for the creation, or if you prefer "nature".

So what can YOU do about all of this?

Just one thing! One thing at a time that is. You can start by being intentional about the way you shop. Support local and small agricultural ventures that practice good stewardship. This choice on your part speaks loudly! It not only voices your concern but makes better choices possible. Getting involved in a CSA or buying local honey or other products is a powerful vote that carries an immediate enablement for the right thing to happen.

So. . Just one thing! Just do it! Make it happen! The bees will thank you!

Mark Ranum
Editor Hearthstone Magazine


(1) From the article "Age Old Practice, New Threats" The Dodgeville Cronicle - September 18, 2008

(2) Food safety in the People's Republic of China -'s_Republic_of_China#Soy_sauce_made_from_human_hair
Ref 49 from above article (SEE PICTURES)

(3) Nosema ceranae - a new threat to Apis mellifera honey bees

Robert J Paxton, School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University Belfast, UK
(originally published in Bees for Development Journal 81)

"In short, we demonstrate that Nosema ceranae probably jumped host from Apis cerana to Apis mellifera within the last decade and that it has spread remarkably rapidly. It is found nowadays in the western honey bee in North and South America, the Caribbean, across Europe (from south to north and west to east) and Asia."


Submitted to: American Bee Journal
Publication Type: Trade Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: March 24, 2006
Publication Date: June 20, 2006
Citation: Loper, G.M., Sammataro, D., Finley, J., and Cole, J. Feral Honey Bees in Southern Arizona, 10 Years After Varroa Infestation. Am. Bee J. 2006. Vol. 146(6):521-524.

Authors note:
This article does seem to indicate a limited re-establishment of feral colonies in 2006 but may be "pre-ccd."

copyright © 2008, 2011 Mark Ranum.
Entire content of this website copyright © Mark Ranum 2011
Revised and updated 12/29/2011