Monday, December 31, 2007

Materials for "Metpropolis"



Yesterday, Monta and I bought the materials for building a top bar hive. The hive, affectionately christened Metpropolis, will follow Phil Chandler's top bar design with some minor modifications and additions. Minus tax, the materials cost us a total of $90. See below for details:

Hive Materials
Legs
2 - 2"x4"x8' premium grade @ 1.83 each for 3.66

Sides, bottom, lid arches
2 - 2'x4' 1/2" plywood, good one side @ 7.04 each for 14.08

Top bars, lid frame
12 - 1"x2"x6' clear aspen @ 2.30 each for 27.60

Lid cover
1 2'x4' 1/4" plywood @ 5.98

Ends, following boards
2 - 1"x12"x4' standard grade pine @ 2.54 each with 25% off for 3.81

Lid roof
1 4'x8' sheet of semi-rigid 1/8" thick plastic* @ 24.45
* enough for at least 3 hives

Miscellaneous
1 qt Linseed oil @5.98
3/5"x2-1/2" carriage bolts, washers & nuts @ 2.96
3/4" bend screws (for attaching removable bottom) @ 1.48

Subtotal 90.00
Tax 5.85
Total 95.85

I'm afraid I will serve mostly as a "go-fer" throughout the construction process with Monta doing all the skilled labor. I shouldn't have avoided those "shop classes" in high school.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Making a Virtue out of Necessity

As I continue my ethnographic work on beekeepers, I have concluded that one idea of Pierre Bourdieu seems quite useful. Bourdieu notes that the necessities and realities produced by one's position in an objective social space are often framed as virtues by those occupying the position. (When the fox can't reach the grapes, he says they were probably sour anyway!) So, the faculty member, whose academic background and/or lack of ability forces him/her to forego scholarly research and work for an emphasis on teaching, will construct a rationalization making teaching a greater virtue than research.

Bourdieu takes this one step further however. The winners in social struggles, not only accumulate capital, they also get the right to define their "virtues" as the rules of the social game. So, for example, if these "virtuous" teacher-professors dominate an academic institution, they often impose this "virtue" on others as the "standard" all good academics must follow and rewards are distributed accordingly.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Where Do I Go From Here?

I'm slowly getting over the humiliation and depression caused by the rejection of my sabbatical proposal. I've had to begin to ask: where do I go from here?

I will continue my project even without university support. Yes, I will have to be less ambitious, and the project will take more time but I feel it is a legitimate project even if some adminstrators don't think so. The last few days I've slowly got back into my research "discipline", examining and coding messages on the Bee-l and Organic Beekeeper email lists. I have been reading some old 19th century beekeeping manuals as well.

I called to order two 3 lb. packages of bees from B & B Honey Farm in Houston MN on the 21st of December. I don't know why but I was a bit nervous making the phonecall. I know people are usually helpful but I really hate requesting things for the first time. I also hate talking on the phone. I will have to call again in a few weeks as the people at B & B don't know how much packages will cost until January.

I have my small beeyard planned atleast in my head. The yard will be approximately 20 feet by 20 feet. The south side will be mostly bordered by an 8 foot fence. The east side totally fenced. The west side is our house and the north side will be a strip of legumes (soy beans and alfalfa). Against the inside of the fence I will be growing plants in flower pots. I will plant some borage, bee balm, chives, sage, catnip, and peppermint. A small, small pond of water will be located near the legumes. A standard Lang. hive will face south and be located near the house. A top bar hive, 5 feet in length, will be perpendicular to the east fence.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dear Friends...

Many have urged me to apply for sabbatical next year. All I can say is:

If there is no guarantee of getting a sabbatical next year, I do not want to risk humiliation again.

If there is a guarantee of getting one next year, I do not want to benefit from an unjust system.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

'Tis the Season...

Dear Dr. *******,

I allowed my response to my sabbatical rejection to sit for 24 hours so that I could respond with a semblance of calm. Frankly, as a 23 year "veteran" at SMU who has never received a sabbatical I feel rather humiliated by the rejection of my proposal. I also have this great sense of urgency about my research, a sense that is shared by the newly founded Global Bee Breeders Association, an international organization of bee breeders and entomologists who have granted me membership in the GBBA on the basis of my wholistic research agenda even though I am neither a beekeeper, bee breeder or entomologist.

If I understood you correctly, your concern was that the sociological/anthropological implications of the proposal were not fleshed out enough; the proposal was too biological. Aside from what I think is an obvious misreading of this proposal , this assessment seems rather ironic to me:

1. The proposal was focused on improving an interdisciplinary course "Global Issues". Many global issues have obvious biological implications.

2. If you examine my career here you will notice that a lion's share of the courses I have taught have been either interdisciplinary or in some other discipline other than sociology. Look at my schedule next semester: two global issues courses, public policy and political and social thought I. None of these courses are primarily sociological. While other people have been able to focus their free time on their own discipline, I have always had to learn someone elses. Now this is turned around when it comes to a sabbatical?

3. My own sociological work has always been informed by strong currents of the "sociology of science" subdiscipline which has often put me at odds with people in the natural sciences. They would be quite amused to hear that my research agenda was primarily biological in focus.

I really don't know how to end this letter because I really don't expect that much can be done. I hope you will recognize and respect some of my frustrations though.


Sincerely,

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Haven't Forgotten About This Blog

I am still waiting to hear about the status of my sabbatical proposal. It is taking much longer than I thought it would. While I wait I've been reading a variety of books, and websites and jotting down some notes that will be useful for the slow construction of my larger work. I've also spent a great deal of time reading the Bee-L and Organic beekeeping email lists. Grounded theory demands a great deal of work and careful analysis but I must say, so far, the project has brought me a great deal of satisfaction.

I will take a few snap shots this weekend of the barrier fence we've been putting up in order to hide the hives and divert the bees flight path over pedestrian traffic. But for any of the readers who are still interested, I am still online and getting ready for my first spring of beekeeping.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Introduction

I remember when I first heard about the bee epidemic that has since been labelled "CCD". I was up early on a cold windy morning in either February or March engaged in my normal pre-work rituals: packing up my knapsack, making some hot tea and eating a granola bar so that I could rush out to teach my 7:45 class at the university. As usual, my partner and I were listening to the news on National Public Radio, waiting primarily for the weather report. Most of the news was rather expected, mostly concerned with violence in Iraq or domestic economic woes, but then I heard a report that made me stop and listen more carefully; Beekeepers around the nation were reporting the mysterious disappearance of bees.

This was very disturbing news to me, a "pit of the stomach", "end of the world" type of anxiety. I was not a beekeeper at the time but did recognize the importance of bees to the "community of life". Emotionally, I felt a particular fondness to the insect, remembering those days growing up in Brooklyn, New York, watching bees forage in a backlot near my house I was fascinated by their diligence and appreciative of their tolerance of me as I touched and examined them. A decade or so later, my interests turned to the human species and I pursued advance degrees in sociology but a concern and study of other species remained. I bred Angel fish in graduate school, and kept a number of exotic reptile species as pets throughout my lifetime. I was obsessive about the research on any species I kept, studying all I could find about the animal.

After hearing the report, I began to research on the web and at the university's library what I could discover about the epidemic . My research took me far beyond the species itself to its imposed relations with human beings. I found that the plight of the honey bee illuminated those abstract concepts, processes and practices (e.g. agribusiness practices and IMF policies) I had bored my students with in Global Issues courses. Those frames beekeeper's of all stripes were constructing to explain the crisis offered concrete examples of frame building for my Introductory Sociology courses as well.

The connections I was drawing did not go unnoticed to those around me, especially my partner. Dinner and driving conversation changed as I shared my new found knowledge. Finally, after one of my long, and animated monologues on bees, Monta suggested that I pursue the research more systematically even, perhaps, creating a course in Global Issues which focused entirely on honey bees.

Friday, November 2, 2007

FDC Interview

Today, I was interviewed by members of the Faculty Development Committee concerning my proposed sabbatical. I began the session summarizing and clarifying my proposal. First, I gave them a clearer statement of my research questions:

1. How are beekeepers managing their bees in the light of environmental threats? I stated that the word "managing" not only includes apicultural management techniques but those cultural frames beekeepers use to make sense of the environmental threats and their possible solutions.

2. How are a beekeeper's cultural frames systematically related to his/her structural position within the beekeeping field? Like all fields, the field of beekeeping is characterized by an unequal distribution of various types of capital (e.g. economic, cultural)with beekeepers' position in the structure determined by the amount and species of the capital held. Does this structural position shape the position-taking of beekeepers on environmental threats ?

After presenting these two questions, I went on to discuss the development of a bee-focused global issues course and the researching and writing of an ethnography in a literate culture.

After my summary the committee asked me questions about my proposal and it's implications and importance to the institution. One person asked whether I thought of using bees in other courses like Public Policy. He'd noticed my discussion of agricultural policy in the proposal and thought it might fit in well with a course he and I have already taught together. As if he set me up, I told him I was already changing my Public Policy course because of my current research and would focus next semester on environmental policy.

Another person asked me about the liability issues which, in his case, was really a question of visibility. How would I protect the students from bee stings and prepare for possible allergic reactions? I responded by explaining the rarity of allergic reactions and some of the precautions (e.g. no bananas in class!) I would take. This didn't totally satisfy him, since his real concern was with assuring parents that their children would be safe from bees. Another faculty member simply suggested that the course be given an appropriate "warning label" and each student sign a waiver.

Now I must sit and wait for the institution's response to my proposal.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Very Good Progress

Today, I went to a "First Friday" continental breakfast gathering at the university where I work and, in a short 10 minute conversation with two colleagues, I made important progress on my bee-focused Global Issues course for Spring 2009. First, the man who guides and advises the faculty and staff on the use of instructional technology is very interested in helping me apply for equipment funding for this project. This whole conversation was rather interesting in context I think. This man spends his days helping people learn how to use new instructional software, advanced computer technology in the classroom, and purchase GPS units for course use, yet, we spent the time talking about hives, supers, beekeeping clothing and the like. But as he says, "This is also instructional technology as well." He also expressed interest in learning beekeeping with me.

My second conversation was with the Religious Brother who maintains a vegetable garden for his fellow Brothers on campus. I told him about my project and asked if we might discuss the possibility of putting a hive in or near his garden. His response surprised me. He said he's always wanted bees for his garden primarily for their honey. (I assured him that the Brothers could have all the honey-- I am a diabetic and rarely consume honey myself.) He also expressed a desire that the students go farther with my project than just beekeeping.

He said wryly, "I need weeding done and they could learn composting...Right now they could plant my garlic as well... Many of our students have never worked in a garden."

This idea of having students also work with the plants the bees forage on is engaging. The students would have hands-on experience with the plant environment the bees depend on as well.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Organic Beekeeping?

A couple of months ago, I wrote a short piece on my thoughts concerning the terms: natural, organic and sustainable. Since that time I've explored what these words mean in the world of beekeeping and was surprised to find that they are such "contested concepts". Not only is there disagreement over what the concepts mean in the beekeeping world but it seems like there is something else at stake as well, the right to use the term as a rhetorical weapon and the right to call oneself an organic beekeeper.

Ross Conrad, in his book Natural Beekeeping, distinguishes between those beekeepers who espouse a liberal definition of organic to those who use the term much more conservatively. (p 38-9) The liberals would argue that an organic beekeeper is simply one who manages her/his hives without synthetic chemicals or antibiotics. The question of where one's bees forage would not be used to define whether one is an "organic beekeeper" or not. Conservatives, on the other hand,want the term organic applied to a much more "exclusive club" of beekeepers: those who not only manage their bees without synthetic chemicals or antibiotics but do not let their bees forage in areas where these chemicals are used. (Quite a difficult task!)

I have found recently that this is not the only front where beekeepers battle over the use of these concepts. There are some (like the leadership of the Organic Beekeeper email list) who apply organic only to those bees that are managed without any chemical interventions whether it be "hard" chemicals (e.g. antibiotics) or "soft" alternatives (e.g. essential oils). These beekeepers are opposed by others who believe that the use of chemicals in itself does not preclude a beekeeper from the label "organic" if the chemicals used are themselves organic as with essential oils.

The debates over these concepts in the beekeeping world fascinate me and lead me to ask a whole set of other questions concerning the capital used in fighting these battles. This seems to be one direction my ethnographic research will take.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reflexive Thought #1

The words, numbers and images we use to describe reality are not reality itself. They are social constructions used by people to construct further social constructions with the purpose of convincing others that our perception of reality is correct.

Latest On The Sabbatical Front

I sent in my revised proposal to my department chair, dean, and Faculty Development Committee. Most of the responses have been favorable but they mostly have focused on the pedagogical, sociological, and methodological issues of the proposal and very little on bees. Interestingly though, I continue to get offers of help from faculty in a number of different disciplines. There is something about this idea of raising bees that has resonance for people here at my university.

When the proposal is approved, I will not wait for two years to begin my ethnographic research. (I have started already in little ways.)I plan on starting to attend beekeeper's meetings at the closest club I've found, some 20 miles from my home. I will also be applying for a grant so that I can travel and attend various national beekeeper's conferences and perhaps visit with a number of beeks I've been in contact with over the internet. The use of the internet as a resource in doing ethnography fascinates me. That means this week I must make some contacts.

The other news to report is that Monta and I have purchased some wooden fence sections for creating a protective barrier around the beeyard. When we finish putting it up we will leave photos here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sabbatical Proposal Revised Again

I received some comments from the Faculty Development Committee concerning my sabbatical proposal and have revised it. (see below) I am going to let my department chair read this before I send it back to committee since he didn't understand why any changes were called for in the first draft to begin with.

____________

Sabbatical Proposal for Spring Semester 2009
Wesley E. Miller
Department of Social Science
September 2007


1. Synopsis


I teach the interdisciplinary course called Global Issues and every semester I am faced with the same problem: How do I engage students to consider important macro-structural global issues without losing them? An understanding of the problems and benefits surrounding economic and environmental globalization is a must for any informed citizen, yet for many students, these issues are too abstract and distant from them. Their eyes glaze over with each discussion of IMF policy, or the impact of neo-conservative ideology. I do well enough on my evaluations so I could ignore this problem and coast to retirement, but I have this gut feeling, not found in any of the “positivist” assessment tools used to evaluate the course, that my students are just not getting it. Developmentally, my students are very concrete thinkers, so I am left with the problem of getting them to somehow ponder very abstract concepts and processes.

One approach to my dilemma is to get my students to cultivate what we sociologists call “the sociological imagination”: the ability to perceive that one’s inner and day-to-day life is very much connected to the larger macro-structures we live within (Mills 1959); the concrete mundane problems that we can easily grasp are very much related to those larger global issues and policies which we see as distant. From this pedagogical approach, students would start by focusing on an engaging, concrete activity and slowly broaden this focus during the semester, learning how this activity is impacted by a complex web of larger national and global structures that seem so distant to them at first.

After doing some initial reading last summer on the complex issue of “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD) amongst honey bees (Apis Mellifera), I think that a Global Issues course that centers on honey bees as the proverbial “canaries in a coal mine” would help students understand and engage in the global issues that impact their own lives as well. The problems (e.g. CCD, organic vs. conventional husbandry) that beekeepers and their bees face are not simply biological issues, but are influenced by macro structural forces as well.

The effective construction of any such course will demand a retooling on my part. A course with this focus will demand knowledge outside my disciplinary expertise. Besides a hands-on understanding of day-to-day apiculture I will need to become more familiar with global economic and political policy, ecological issues, agribusiness practices, and the cultures and philosophies in the beekeeping world.

In sum, then, I request a sabbatical leave for spring semester 2009 in order to pursue the following objectives:

1. To understand how the day-to-day lives of honey bees and beekeepers are impacted by the larger macro-forces produced by globalization.

Underlying this objective is the theoretical orientation in sociology called “structural constructivism” (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1988). Like ‘normal’ social constructivist theory, this approach recognizes that as individuals interact they collaboratively construct “typifications” or representations of reality (Berger and Luckmann 1967). Structural Constructivism argues that the “social materials” used in the social construction of reality come not only from the external social environment of individuals, but that these materials systematically vary with the structural/historical position of the actor. For example, a middle class, 21 century, US citizen from the Midwest will produce a different social construction than an upper class, 19th century, Irish citizen from Cork simply because their social/geographical/historical coordinates have placed them in different environments where the “social materials” at hand are different.

The chief advantage of this approach in both sociological research and problem-based pedagogy is that it avoids the false opposition between human agency and structural determinism. Actors “improvise” and create but always within the limits of the structures at hand; they internalize the external, while externalizing the internal, all with some “improvisational” control on the part of the agent. As they externalize they also reproduce, and creatively adapt to some degree, the structures they originally internalized.

As a proponent of the Conflict paradigm in sociology, I tend to shy away from the use of systems theory. From my viewpoint, systems theory tends to overly exaggerate the integration of cultural artifacts and the functional interdependence of societal structures, while casting conflict and cultural contradiction as “abnormal”.

2. To distill the above information into concepts and activities that would effectively engage students in understanding global issues.

Admittedly, at this point, I only have vague notions of what a “bee-focused” Global Issues course might look like. I would like to explore the possibility of combining a problem-based pedagogical approach (Delisle 1997) with a grounded theory-based (Glaser and Strauss 1967) research methodology (see more about grounded theory under objective 3). In problem-based pedagogy, students learn not by reading or listening for the teacher’s “correct answers”, but by creating and answering their own questions. The grounded theory methodology would provide the students with an environment to do this in, not simply as students, but as research collaborators elaborating on and clarifying the work I’ve already begun in my ethnography through their collection of data from new theoretically chosen comparison groups. Course activities might well include experiences interviewing beekeepers and observing different apiaries, content analysis of internet “bee” forums and email lists, attending to the current research on bee management and bee ‘problems’ in various apicultural publications, examining economic, environmental and political policies that might impact bees and/or beekeepers, and hands-on experiences in bee management and care. All these experiences would be recorded and reflected upon by each student in a detailed journal of field notes.

While the sociological perspective of the instructor will no doubt be a guiding influence here, the course should offer an interdisciplinary (rather than “other disciplinary”) perspective on “bees in a global context”.



3. To produce an ethnography of the beekeeping world including those more “esoteric” movements like “biodynamic beekeeping” and “apitherapy”.

Methodologically, this ethnography will be guided by two meta-sociological approaches: reflexive sociology and grounded theory.

In a nutshell, reflexive sociology (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992) recognizes that the same types of social forces that impact the social constructions of ordinary actors in day-to-day life also impact the scientific observer and her instruments when doing research and analysis. The scientific method does not provide the observer with a “magic bubble,” giving the researcher a “god-like viewpoint” on reality, thus exempting her from the influences that her social/historical position exerts on her. The reflexive sociologists rejects the “futile attempts to eliminate the effects of (and on) the researcher” (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1983:17), but instead calls on the scientific observer to examine those effects in order to produce a richer understanding of the phenomena under study. Ignoring these social forces or claiming to control them doesn’t make the knowledge produced any more valid.

This proposed sabbatical project could serve as an institutional model for doing reflexive research. Whether we are discussing our positivist approach to assessment or Bloom’s taxonomy at SMU, we lack any general acknowledgement or analysis of reflexivity in the knowledge we produce. To paraphrase Schuman (in Hammersley and Atkinson, 1983:17), artifacts (or numbers) are produced in the minds of their socially positioned beholders.

The ethnographic study will also be informed by what is called Grounded Theory (Glaser and Strauss, 1967). According to Glaser and Corbin (1990: 21) “the grounded theory approach is a qualitative research method that uses a systematic set of procedures to develop an inductively derived grounded theory about a phenomenon”. Through “theoretical sampling” and strategic comparisons, the researcher produces substantive theories that fit the data observed well. The beauty of such a methodology for problem-based pedagogy is that the theories produced are always open-ended, allowing others (both students and faculty) to clarify and possibly add to the theory through their own systematic observations, strategic comparisons and analytical clarifications.


2. Activities Description

The following is a tentative timeline of the activities I propose to do during this sabbatical. The spring semester was chosen since it coincides with the beginning of beekeeping season in Minnesota.

a. January

1. Library research with a focus on bee biology and apiculture.
2. Begin interviews with apiculturalists of all types. It will include interviews with large and small-scale intensive honey producers, apiarists who practice “organic” or “sustainable” beekeeping, and backyard beekeepers who have one or two hives.
3. Attend the American Beekeeping Federation annual meeting.

b. February

1. Library research and interviewing with a focus on the philosophical “esoteric” side of beekeeping. This includes examining the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, Gunther Hauk, and other members of the “biodynamic” movement. Also, time will be spent studying the ideas of Charles Mraz and other proponents of “apitherapy”. This also might include attendance at an American Apitherapy meeting and a visit to the apiary founded by Charles Mraz in Burlington, Vermont.
2. Attend the Organic Beekeeping Society meeting.

c. March

1. Library research on global agricultural policy and practices.
2. Take a short course on apiculture at the University of Minnesota extension from Dr. Marla Spivak, breeder of the “Minnesota Hygienic” bee.
3. Prepare two hives: one using conventional Langtroth boxes and frames, the second using a Kenyan Top Bar hive.
4. Continue interviews


d. April and May

1. Begin construction of a Global Issues syllabus using materials collected thus far. Syllabus will include readings and activities in and out of class.
2. Participant observation conducted at local apiaries of different sizes and philosophies. Observations will go beyond simply husbandry concerns to attitudes towards bees and global concerns.
3. Add bees to the two hives set up last month.
4. Library research with a focus on global environmental issues that may impact bees.


e. May to Summer

1. Begin the writing and continue research for the ethnography.
2. Summer management of bees.


3. Contribution Description

a. Professional Development – Sociology has a long tradition of ethnographic studies describing the subcultures of occupations. Back in the 1920s, Robert Park (1983) analyzed the social world of news reporters. In the 1950s, Howard Becker (1963) examined the lebenswelt of Chicago jazz musicians. More recently, French sociologist Loic Wacquant (2006) did a participant observation study as an apprentice boxer. These studies looked underneath the manifest, official descriptions of these occupations found in organizational flow charts or career services materials to a complex world of meanings and rituals. This ethnographic examination of the world of beekeeping is my first attempt to add to this body of materials.
b. Academic Program – I think that the activities of this proposed sabbatical, brought into the classroom environment, will enhance our students understanding of global issues. If other faculty find this approach engaging and/or successful, it might inspire others to approach other courses in this manner.
c. Sharing Results with Other Faculty- Besides doing a post-sabbatical presentation on some relevant issue growing out of my research, I will be keeping a daily blog which will be accessible to faculty, students, and administration during and after the sabbatical. This blog (“Canaries in a Coal Mine”) will document my sabbatical’s day-to-day activities and discoveries. The use of a blog in this fashion is something rather unique.

5. Assessment Description

Four types of evidence will be used in assessing this sabbatical project.

a. Scholarly Publications- I will produce some body of work that will be submitted either in article or book form. I can envision the research producing a number of possible publications in sociology, pedagogy, environmental studies, and apiculture.
b. Presentation at the Midwest Sociology Convention.
c. I will use the comments left on my blog to assess the accuracy and clarity of what I am discovering. I will also share the assessment of my work to my blog readers as well.
d. I will produce a new syllabus for my Global Issues course that uses honeybees as a concrete focus for examining the problems and benefits globalization.


Works Cited


Becker, Howard S. 1963. The Outsiders. New York: Free Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre and Loic Wacquant. 1988. “Social Space and Symbolic Power”. Social Theory 7:18-26.

Bourdieu, Pierre and Loic Wacquant.1992. Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Delisle, Robert. 1997. How to Use Problem-Based Learning in the Classroom. Alexandra, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Glaser, B. and Strauss, A. 1967. The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Chicago: Aldine.

Hammersley, Martyn and Atkinson, Paul. 1983. Ethnography: Principle in Practices. New York: Routledge.

Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Park, Robert E. 1983. “The Natural History of a Newspaper”. The City: Suggestions for Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment. Edited by Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. 1990. Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Wacquant, Loic. 2006. Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. Oxford: Oxford University.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stage One of the Approval Process

Yesterday, I received an initial response from the Faculty Development Committee on my sabbatical proposal . They seemed excited enough but it is often difficult for me to judge. These days, educational institutions have a tendency to try to preserve people's "self-esteem", so everything you do as a student or faculty member is "great". (I'm cynical enough not to buy into it.) The committee did make some reading recommendations, however, mostly about fleshing out some of the pedagogical and research issues in the proposal. So I'm off to the library this morning to borrow a stack of books. At 9 a.m. I have an appointment with one of the committee members who will clarify any ambiguous points in their recommendations.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Uninvited Guests


Last week, my partner was asked to take photos at the bridal shower of our step-daughter. In between taking pictures of the happy bride-to-be and her loyal friends and sisters, Monta was able to take some beautiful photographs of some "other guests" at the get-together, namely, a nest of European Paper Wasps hanging from a corner of our step-daughter's house.

The wasps were all well-behaved, only occasionally begging for a piece of cake. I'm very proud of my step-daughter as she refuses to destroy the nest as long as the wasps remain "tolerant" of her family's existence. Now I have another recruit for my beekeeping project.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Sabbatical Proposal Submitted

I submitted my sabbatical proposal to my Dean and Department Chair and now it is just a waiting game. Next week I will be going to our "grant guru" and try to find a place to apply for some research money. Hopefully, sometime next week I might even begin work on a top bar hive.

I am cautiously optimistic about getting all this approved. I'll still keep bees and do some careful observations irrespective of what happens though.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Top Bar Hive Beginnings

Yesterday, my partner and I went to the local Menard's to begin pricing materials for the construction of a 48'' top bar hive. We'll be using Phil Chandler's basic design (I love the addition of following boards), along with adaptations my partner has added. We really don't know when we'll start this project though as more important family concerns will just naturally take precedence. I will include full photos of the construction process.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Finally, Someone Put this into Words (Warning: No Bee Content)

In preparation for my impending (and still tentative) ethnographic sabbatical, I've been returning to some books on field research, one of which is a highly engaging work by Hammersley and Atkinson, Ethnography Principles and Practices. I've been waiting for years to put into words what Hammersley and Atkinson state in one short sentence:

"Here, naturalism takes over a common, but erroneous, view that only false beliefs can be explained sociologically, and in this case the outcome is thoroughgoing relativism. " (pg 13)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Some Random Thoughts in Ethnographic Mode

It's been a little over a month since I began this exploration in beekeeping as both a novice beekeeper and an ethnographer. I've primarily focused on the actual mechanics of apiculture and developing a sense of the different philosophies and approaches within this world. At this point I've been somewhat limited, primarily depending on books and internet information, including involvement in the biobees forum and the organic beekeeping list. I have also corresponded with a number of beekeepers through email. I am much less overwhelmed but still have many questions.

So far, I've only been in contact and interaction with beekeepers through the internet which leads me to ask: how important is this media to the "socialization" of future beekeepers? I know that I live in a place where the closest beekeeping club is twenty miles away in another state and there seems to be no beekeepers in my immediate vicinity since I never observe honey bees in my own yard. How common is it for new beekeepers to learn the "craft" through internet sources without one-on-one mentoring? Has this changed beekeeping and, if so, how? How important was a mentoring relationship in the past? Or were clubs and apiculture books the primary transmitters?

I've read accounts about beekeeping clubs being primarily the domain of older men, yet many of the resources available on the web are provided by younger people both men and women. Is this pattern stereotypical or is there some generalizability to it? If it is a general pattern, how might it be explained?

I'll be interested in finding out how beekeepers are adapting both cognitively and "apiculturally" to the "threat of CCD". Is the sustainable beekeeping movement attracting more interest than just a few short years ago? How are commercial beekeepers coping with this "threat"? Is it changing viewpoints on husbandry or are they simply searching for another "silver bullet"?

I'm very interested in the way beekeepers think and talk about their bees. I've observed some beekeepers anthropomorphizing bee behavior. How does this activity vary with the type of beekeeping done? Do hobbyists talk of the bees differently than let's say a commercial apiculturalist?

Ethnographically speaking, I have questions about how to approach this blog. Should I see this as the place to record my own field notes albeit in a very unique and challenging way? Placing my field notes online like this has both advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that it allows me immediate feedback on my insights as I do this ethnography. Other beekeepers, sociologists and anthropologists can become collaborators in my work, pointing out problems in what I've written and offering useful suggestions on the direction I might go. This never really happens in regular field research. No one but the ethnographer ever sees his/her field notes. Others simply read monographs based on those notes. The chief disadvantage, as I see it, is confidentiality. Many observations I make might need to be kept from the public for ethical reasons. Also, I can see field notes becoming quite boring to many readers as they will often appear to be narratives without a real point.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Parable of "Tusky"

About 17 years ago my oldest son and I acquired an ornate box turtle who we named "Tusky". It was a generally healthy specimen with some "crusty eye" problems which the former owner assured us were pretty endemic to the species when kept in captivity. As usual, I went into an "obsessive" research frenzy, reading all I could about the husbandry of this species.

As I began to research, I started to become a bit dismayed since every book and pamphlet I read seemed to tell me that this species of box turtle did not do very well in captivity. One author, for example, discussed the difficulties of getting them through their hibernation period. The species had a tendency to dehydrate when hibenated in a dry, woodchipped lined box in his basement. Instead of questioning the hibernation techniques he used, he blamed the "physical character" of the turtle itself. Afterall, he'd had success hiberating other species of turtles and tortoises with this method.

I'm not one to give up, even when the experts with years of experience are telling me otherwise. So, instead of reading more "turtle" books, I went back to some geology and meteorology books to discover just what the habitat of this box turtle was like in the "wild". First, I found that its habitat rarely stayed below freezing the whole winter. There were always periods of thawing and mild weather in its range. Secondly, during these thaws, the water around the hibernating turtle would melt, thus allowing the species to absorb moisture during certain periods. No, they weren't waterlogged but the turtle did find themselves occasionally in a muddy, winter environment.

With this in mind, I took a different approach to hibernating Tusky. First, we kept him in a cool room upstairs with us, so he never had to experience the freezing basement temperatures of a Minnesota winter. Secondly, we actually bathed him periodically in lukewarm water during those winter months watching him drink a surprising large amount of liquid. Seventeen years later, the "clear eyed Tusky" is an active, healthy ornate box turtle.

As I read, Chandler's The Barefoot Beekeeper, this story kept coming to mind because, to a great extent, it illustrates a point Chandler is constantly making about bees: "Let the bees tell you what they need." My approach to caring for Tusky involved finding out what he needed by examining his "natural" environment, instead, of forcing him to live according to my requirements and then wondering what went wrong when problems occurred. When I start beekeeping in the spring, I will be following this approach as well. Yes, I will seriously examine the recommendations of all the books I read on apiculture but, in the end, I must carefully listen to the bees and, I might add, their particular environment as well.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

And the Winner Is...

After some research (which included an assessment of my finances and other resources)I've decided to set up top bar hives next spring. Phil Chandler's book,The Barefoot Beekeeper, convinced me that it is possible to start out with such a hive and with a little more information gathered from the good people on his top bar hive forum I'm on my way. After my partner's art show opening next week, she and I will begin building two top bar hives. I already have my eye on an unused flower pot that will make an excellent nuc as well.

On the sabbatical front, the first draft of my proposal has received good reviews from some trusted colleagues. I even have one offer to help out.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Game Plan Revisited

One of the reasons I created this blog was to brainstorm on how I might begin beekeeping in a way consistent with a sustainable lifestyle. As I research and dialogue with other beekeepers on the internet and in my real life, I have to be willing to change my direction or plans. A good plan is always flexible, adapted to new knowledge about your environment and yourself. For this reason, I am thinking about changing my earlier "game plan".

Gerry at "Global Swarming" suggested a day or so ago that I consider starting out with a Top Bar Hive. I had been reluctant to do this since I had assumed that TBHs were a difficult way to begin beekeeping . But I considered what Gerry told me and about her experiences and am seriously reconsidering the direction I'm going.

I read Phil Chandler's The Barefoot Beekeeper last night and it makes a strong argument for beginning with TBHs for someone in my situation. Firstly, I can't lift alot of weight anymore (Doctor's orders) and that would not be as necessary with a top bar hive. Secondly, a beekeeper using a top bar hive interferes in the life of the colony much less and allows the bees much more leeway to create comb to their own specification and needs. I see this as a key to sustainability. I believe that the bees know best. Lastly, I am fortunate to have a life partner who has also worked as a carpenter who can easily make a hive from Chandler's plans, so my initial costs will be much less. One problem with TBHs, though, is that I really will have no support locally.

So where do I go from here?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Begin those Purchases

I've been looking at my finances and it's hit me that I can't just go out and purchase all that I need for my bees next spring in one fell swoop. I'll need to buy a few things little by little. The starter kit will have to wait until December, I imagine, but those other pieces of equipment I plan to get will have to be ordered paycheck to paycheck. So this Friday, I plan to order an 8 frame triangular bee escape, an 8 frame shim and possibly a 5 frame nuc. Yes, it does seem like pretty non-essential equipment but I would eventually purchase these things anyway, so why not when I have a bit of money.

Given some of the problems, Jordan at Hive-Mind has had with plastic frames, I'm rethinking my initial thoughts about using them.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Natural, Organic or Sustainable?

I always tell my students (and my family, I guess) that the meaning of a word is in the differences it draws between similarly related concepts.( The word "river" is meaningless if it applied to all bodies of water.) With that in mind I've been thinking about these words: natural, organic, and sustainable. What do they mean? How do they differ? How are they all related to beekeeping?

I tend to steer away from the word "natural" in most contexts since it has connotations that I think are just false. When people speak of an object being "natural", it is often used in opposition to "human-made". A "natural" object is something human beings weren't involved in creating; the object was created by "nature". The danger here is that it implies that human beings are outside of "nature", that the creations of people, like "culture", "technology" and "social structures", are the result of forces unrelated to the "nature" of being human. While many of the creations of human beings are detrimental to the community of life as a whole, they are still part of "nature", since they are the result of "natural" human qualities.

I like the words "organic" and "sustainable" better, though I think they refer to different types of phenomena. In reference to beekeeping, "sustainable" refers to your goal: to keep healthy bees that live in balance within the whole community of life. "Organic" refers to the means: to maintain the bees using only the those methods that do not contradict the laws governing the community of life (e.g. 'natural' selection is one such law). The dilemma is, have we produced so much destruction in this community that we've made some types of "non-organic" intervention necessary in order to sustain bees in the long-term? Or does this latter approach, with all its inherent hubris, just compound the problem even more?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Forewarning the Beekeepers

If I get my sabbatical approved and use "Canaries..." as my principle conduit of information, I will be writing here about issues that have very little to do with beekeeping. One of the first of these topics will be the examination of ethnographies and ethnographic methods, using these as possible models for my own research reporting. I've done participant observation before while a graduate student at Loyola but I have never produced a whole monograph using such an approach. At this point my plan is to first read Loic Wacquant's Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. Wacquant is a French sociologist who did a participant observation study of boxing while in Chicago. So those of you who expect a total beekeeping blog, be warned and bear with me. And don't be afraid to comment anyway.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Apology

I guess my last post was not taken in the spirit it was intended. It was meant in jest but, as can often happen on the internet, meaning can be misinterpreted without emoticons. :) Well, anyway, I'm sorry for hurting anyone's feelings. I really enjoy your blog.

"Rate Your Students" Rates "Canaries..."

I'd like to thank the people at Rate Your Students for mentioning this blog. Their criticism of the blog is well taken as it does lack "anything approaching wit or style." After 25 years of teaching, I've substituted "sight gags" and "silly voices" for anything approaching written satire, depending much more on Buster Keaton for my pedagogical inspiration than Jonathan Swift. Well crafted sarcasm and humorous social commentary have only gotten me in trouble with administrators and students alike. I am just so out of practice.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Edited a bit

If you've already read the sabbatical proposal, you might like to read it again. I've changed a few errors and modified the timeline a bit.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Sabbatical Proposal

The following is my first draft of a sabbatical proposal I will be submitting in October. Any comments would be greatly appreciated.

1. Synopsis


I teach the interdisciplinary course called Global Issues and every semester I am faced with the same problem: How do I engage students to consider important macro-structural global issues without losing them? An understanding of the problems and benefits surrounding economic and environmental globalization are a must for any informed citizen, yet for many students, these issues are too abstract and distant from them. Their eyes glaze over with each discussion of IMF policy, or the impact of neo-conservative ideology. I do well enough on my evaluations so I could ignore this problem and coast to retirement, but I have this gut feeling, not found in any of the "positivist" assessment tools used to evaluate the course, that my students are just not getting it. Developmentally, my students are very concrete thinkers, so I am left with the problem of getting them to somehow ponder very abstract concepts and processes.



One approach to my dilemma is to get my students to cultivate what we sociologists call "the sociological imagination": the ability to perceive that one's inner and day-to-day life is very much connected to the larger macro-structures we live within; the concrete mundane problems that we can easily grasp are very much related to those larger global issues and policies which we see as distant. From this pedagogical approach, students would start by focusing on an engaging, concrete activity and slowly broaden this focus during the semester, learning how this activity is impacted by a complex web of larger national and global structures that seem so distant to them at first.

After doing some initial reading last summer on the complex issue of “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD) amongst honey bees (Apis Mellifera), I think that a Global Issues course that centers on honey bees as the proverbial “canaries in a coal mine” would help students understand and engage in the global issues that impact their own lives as well. The problems (e.g. CCD, organic vs. conventional husbandry) that beekeepers and their bees face are not simply biological issues, but are influenced by macro structural forces as well.

The effective construction of any such course will demand a retooling on my part. A course with this focus will demand knowledge outside my disciplinary expertise. Besides a hands-on understanding of day-to-day apiculture I will need to become more familiar with global economic and political policy, ecological issues, agribusiness practices, and the cultures and philosophies in the beekeeping world.

In sum, then, I request a sabbatical leave for spring semester 2009 in order to pursue the following objectives:

1. To understand how the day-to-day lives of honey bees and beekeepers are impacted by the larger macro-forces produced by globalization.

2. To distill the above information into concepts and activities that would effectively engage students in understanding global issues.

3. To produce an ethnography of the beekeeping world including those more “esoteric” movements like “biodynamic beekeeping” and “apitherapy”.


2. Activities Description

The following is a tentative timeline of the activities I propose to do during this sabbatical. The spring semester was chosen since it coincides with the beginning of beekeeping season in Minnesota. During this process a daily blog, accessible to all interested, will be kept on my progress and ideas.

a. January

1. Library research with a focus on bee biology and apiculture
2. Begin interviews with apiculturalists of all type. It will include interviews with large and small-scale intensive honey producers, apiarists who practice “organic” or “sustainable” beekeeping, and backyard beekeepers who have one of two hives.
3. Attend the American Beekeeping Federation annual meeting.

b. February

1. Library research and interviewing with a focus on the philosophical “esoteric” side of beekeeping. This includes examining the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, Gunther Hauk, and other members of the “biodynamic” movement. Also, time will be spent studying the ideas of Charles Mraz and other proponents of “apitherapy”. This also might include attendance at an American Apitherapy meeting and a visit to the apiary founded by Mraz in Burlington, Vermont.

c. March

1. Library research on global agriculture policy and practices.
2. Take a short course on apiculture at the University of Minnesota extension from Dr. Marla Spivak, breeder of the “Minnesota Hygenic” bee.
3. Prepare two hives: one using conventional Langtroth boxes and frames, the second using a Kenyan Top Bar hive.
4. Continue interviews.



d. April and May
1. Begin construction of a Global Issues syllabus using materials collected thus far. Syllabus will include readings and activities in and out of class.
2. Participant observation conducted at local apiaries of all different sizes and philosophies. Observations will go beyond simply husbandry concerns to attitudes towards bees and global concerns
3. Add bees to the two hives set up last month.
4. Library research with a focus on global environmental issues that may impact bees.

e. May to Summer

1. Begin the writing and continued research for the ethnography.
2. Summer management of bees.


3. Contribution Description

a. Professional Development – Sociology has a long tradition of ethnographic studies describing the subcultures of occupations. Back in the 1920s, Robert Park analyzed the social world of news reporters. In the 1950s, Howard Becker examined the lebenswelt of Chicago jazz musicians. More recently, French sociologist Loic Wacquant did a participant observation study as an apprentice boxer. These studies looked underneath the manifest, official descriptions of these occupations found in organizational flow charts or career services materials to a complex world of meanings and rituals. This ethnographic examination of the world of beekeeping is my first attempt to add to this body of materials.
b. Academic Program – I think that the activities of this proposed sabbatical, brought into the classroom environment, will enhance our students understanding of global issues. If other faculty find this approach engaging and/or successful, it might inspire others to approach other courses in this manner.
c. Sharing Results with Other Faculty- Besides doing a post-sabbatical presentation on some relevant issue growing out of my research, I will be keeping a daily blog which will be accessible to faculty, students, and administration during and after the sabbatical. This blog (“Canaries in a Coal Mine”) will document my sabbatical’s day-to-day activities and discoveries.

4. Assessment Description

Four types of evidence will be used in assessing this sabbatical project.

a. Scholarly Publications- I will produce some body of work that will be submitted either in article or book form. I can picture the research producing a number of possible publications in sociology, pedagogy, environmental studies, and apiculture.
b. Presentation at the Midwest Sociology Convention.
c. I will use the comments left on my blog to assess the accuracy and clarity of what I am discovering. I will also share the assessment of my work to my blog readers as well.
d. I will produce a new syllabus for my Global Issues course that uses honeybees as a concrete focus for examining the problems and benefits globalization.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Bees and a Global Issues Course

I teach a junior-level interdisciplinary course called Global Issues and every semester I am faced with the same problem: How do I engage students to consider important macro-structural global issues without losing them? An understanding of the problems (and benefits) surrounding economic and environmental globalization are a must for any informed citizen, yet, for many students, these issues are too abstract and distant from them. Their eyes glaze over with each discussion of IMF policy, or the impact of neo-conservative ideology. I do well enough on my evaluations so I could ignore this problem and coast to retirement, but I have this gut feeling, not found in any of the "positivist" assessment tools used to evaluate the course, that my students are just not getting it. Developmentally, my students are very concrete thinkers, so I am left with the problem of getting them somehow to ponder very abstract concepts.

One approach to my dilemma is to get my students to cultivate what we sociologists call "the sociological imagination": the ability to perceive that one's inner and day-to-day life is very much connected to the larger macro-structures we live within; the concrete mundane problems that we can easily grasp are very much related to those larger global issues and policies which we see as distant.

I've been pondering then whether all this research and hands-on activity I've been absorbing about bees and apiculture might be one such concrete activity that might get some of these global issues across. The problems (e.g CCD, organic vs conventional husbandry) that beekeepers face are not simply biological issues, but are impacted by macro structural forces as well, connected to a short term profit oriented global economy. While it is probably too late to add apiculture as a case study of global issues to my syllabus this fall, perhaps I can do something when I teach the course in the spring. Anyone want to give a guest lecture?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bee Sculpture is Done

I've been following the artistic collaboration going on between bees and beekeeper at Hive Mind and it looks like the girls have finished their work. I'm very impressed with the results. Are there art galleries out their that would display this work?

And Another Article on CCD

I've been traveling a bit the last week. While traveling I came across this article.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More On Encaustic Painting








My favorite contemporary encaustic paintings are created by an interdisciplinary artist named Monta Gael May. (Ms May is also co-founder of Magnetic Aesthetic Art-Cars.) Her bold, abstract paintings have this organic feel to them, almost as if they were painted from the perspective of some insect or ground-level forest creature. If you're interested in seeing some of Monta May's work, close-up and live, her new show "Interstices" will be appearing at the Saint Mary's University of Minnesota art gallery, starting in late August.






Tuesday, July 17, 2007

This Just In...

Another article on CCD, this time in the New York Times.

The Research II: Top Bar Hive

I am really intrigued with what I've been reading about the Top Bar Hive (TBH) and am pondering how best to include this in my upcoming "game plan". Yes, I admit, part of my attraction to this hive design is its "exoticness" and uniqueness, but I think I am mostly attracted to it because it seems less intrusive and disruptive to the bees and this means less stress. Allowing the bees more leeway in the drawing of comb makes them more co-managers of the apiary with me as well. My step-son is also excited about the possibility of building me one. In all, it seems much more in keeping with my values of sustainability.

My real dilemma is at what point in my beekeeping journey does a TBH become a part? I am leaning toward beginning with a conventional hive like I discussed earlier in my "game plan" post and then adding a TBH in two years when I divide my original hive. Any thoughts about this from experienced beekeepers?

For any of you who are as inexperienced concerning TBHs as I am, should check out the many wonderful websites on this hive design. A good place to begin might be The Sustainable Beekeeping Project. This website contains a wealth of information on TBHs, plans for its construction, and links to other TBH sites on the web.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Beekeeping in Sichuan

I read an interesting blog post today concerning beekeeping in the Sichuan mountain region of southwest China. According to the author, Richard Spencer, many residents of this region have received grants to start beekeeping after logging was banned. Over logging and the consequent flooding all but destroyed an area that was once the natural habitat of the panda. Spencer ends his post wondering "if it (beekeeping) can ever meet (the) farmers' dreams."

I wonder whether Sichuan is just heading for another ecological disaster. If Phil Chandler is correct (and I think he is) that ecologically sound, sustainable beekeeping is only possible when done on a small scale, then these farmers' dependence on commerical, apiculture as a means of economic survival is a short term solution in which the bees may pay an ecological cost.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Collaborating With Bees


In a past post, I mentioned encaustic painting, an ancient art form in which pigments are mixed with beeswax, melted, and then painted on a board with a brush like you would do with watercolors, or acrylics. (See photo to the left as an example.) Sociologist Howard Becker would probably see this art, as not simply the work of an isolated artist, but the collaboration between artist, beekeeper, bees and all those other individuals indirectly involved in producing the tools and materials needed for this medium.

The people at the Hive-Mind blog have taken bee collaboration one step further, however. The bees not only produce some of the materials used but they also are involved in the creative process. The beekeeper there places beeswax-coated objects in their bee's hives and allow the bees to draw comb around the objects, building their own additions to the sculptured objects. This is truly artistic collaboration with the bees.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Peace-Keeping Law of the Community of Life

I had said I was going to write a post on Daniel Quinn's book Ishmael and it's relevance to natural beekeeping. I will eventually write that. (I promise!) In the meantime, let me leave you with two short quotes from the book today concerning what the author calls "the peace-keeping law of the community of life:



This law that you have so admirably described defines the limits of competition in the community of life. You may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food. In other words, you may compete but you may not wage war. [129]


Bees will deny you access to what's inside their hive in the apple tree, but they won't deny you access to the apples. [128]

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Game Plan

I'm no Eric Mangini but I still have a game plan for my backyard apiary. Like any game plan, this one is not written in stone but will change with any unforeseen circumstances. In general, here is what it looks like now:

  • Natural Beekeeping Without Ecological Fundamentalism - Whenever and wherever possible I will practice principles of bee husbandry that will help sustain the community of life rather than my own profit or convenience. This will make things more labor intensive for me and the occasional helper but, as an academic with more flexible summers, I can afford to do this.
  • Hive Location - As a backyard beekeeper living in town, I have chosen a location which is inconspicuous and safe for my neighbors and other passerbys, and convenient for my family's other activities. (see photos) Shubbery and, possibly, screening will be used to divert the bees' "flight path" above pedestrian traffic.

  • Hive Selection- I was fortunate to have read Flottum's book on backyard beekeeping because I hadn't really considered the full weight of different types of hives. Last October, I had major surgery and now am restricted from lifting awkward and overly heavy objects. Flottum has suggested that hobby beekeepers consider using 8 frame medium hives rather than 10 frame deeps in order to make lifting easier. So, with this in mind, I plan to order an 8 frame beginner's starter kit from Betterbee.

  • The Bees-I have decided to buy my bees from B & B Honey Farm of Houston, Minnesota. They are located about an hour away from my home. The plan is to purchase and pick-up a nuc of Minnesota Hygenic bees.

That's the game plan for now. I'll inform you if there are any changes or additions. In the meantime, I will continue my obsessive research.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Research

Whenever I start a new project, I research it obsessively. (Some people would say it's overkill!) I need to know exactly what I'm getting getting into so that all angles of the project can be anticipated. I take my responsibilities toward other living creatures seriously and do not want to be caught in a situation where I can't take care of their needs as well as my own and my family's.

Perhaps in the future, I'll discuss and review the wealth of information an aspiring beekeeper can find on the web. Today, I'll simply discuss some of the books I've read over the last few weeks.

  • John Vivian's Keeping Bees. I found this book at my local public library and it was the first book I read on bee keeping. This highly accessible book provided me with a general overview of the process of bee management and an introduction to some of the sensitizing concepts I'll have to keep in mind as I continue future research.
  • Kim Flottum's The Backyard Beekeeper. I have no plans to become a commercial beekeeper! I simply want one or two hives in my backyard which I can co-manage with the bees and observe their behavior. I don't want to extract large amounts of honey or beeswax and become a "bee tycoon". This book provided me with just that type of focus, especially in the areas of hive location and size.
  • Ross Conrad's Natural Beekeeping. I am committed to sustainable living and environmental responsibility and want my beekeeping practices to reflect those values. I want to approach beekeeping remembering that bees did not come into existence for the purpose of providing honey and beeswax to humanity but are "equal members" in the community of life. Someday I might write a post comparing the principles found in this book to those found in Daniel Quinn's novel Ishmael.
  • Langstroth's Hive and the Honey-bee. This is a "classic beekeeper's manual" written by the 19th century inventor of modern hive management, Rev. L.L. Langstroth. The love and enthusiasm Langstroth had for his bees is simply contagious and he still has many things to teach the modern beekeeper. His careful observations and scientific humility are great lessons often missing today.

I am currently in the middle of reading a few other books on bees as well and will include a short review of them as I finish each. In the future, I hope to read a few books on queen-rearing and will report back on those as well.

In the meantime, do any readers have any other suggestions for this novice beekeeper?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Beginnings

At the urging of my partner, I have begun this blog concerning a new journey in my life: beekeeping. When I begin any new endeavor I become a bit passionate about the subject and obsessive in my research. She seems to find this whole process rather fascinating I guess and thought it would be interesting for me to document it through a public blog.

I'm a sociologist by training and have been in this field for over 25 years. I still have a passion for the discipline especially in the areas of the sociology of religion and social movements. What I don't have a passion for is the increasingly McDonaldized environment I have to teach in, where "the appearance of learning" is much more important than actual learning, where the "friendly"suppression of individuality and humaness is done under the pretense of institutional survival. So, I have turned to beekeeping as an outlet for an occasional escape.

I have always been interested in insects. When I was a child in the Cypress Hills section of Brooklyn, NY, I became quite the amateur entomologist, learning to identify the countless insects I could discover in my small yard or up in Highland Park. I remember one week capturing foraging honey bees by hand in order to examine them more closely. I learned at that time how non-aggressive the species were. (I was stung only once!) This interest continued though admittedly remaining of secondary importance.

My current interest in bees came back to the surface indirectly through the activities of my partner. She is an artist who about a year ago took to painting in the ancient medium of encaustic. Encaustic painters mix various pigments into beewax. These beeswax bars of paint are then melted and used like oil or acrylic paints though with their own peculiar techniques, qualities, and results. Her need for beeswax has put us into contact with a local beekeeper who sells her supply of beeswax His passion for his bees has rekindled mine.

My plan now is to begin a colony next April. I will use this blog to both document my progress and, hopefully, dialogue with other more experienced apiarists. In the next few posts, I will write more details of my plans.