The Barefoot Beekeeper
Natural beekeeping is more about the bees than the honey. Phil Chandler, author of The Barefoot Beekeeper, talks about his low-tech, low-cost approach to beekeeping and interviews people whose work and research impacts the world of bees.
Bees, Soil Fertility, Permaculture and Bees
Caring for bees needs to start with a healthy soil. Modern agriculture uses a lot of chemicals just to grow our food, let alone the processing. That harms the soil, plants, and the pollinators. There is a different way, and we need more people educated to create that healthy environment. Daniel, who is the interviewer in this podcast is currently gathering funds to learn soil microbiology from the perspective of growing any kind of plant without chemicals, and guaranteeing maximum nutrition and yield. If you have a garden, some land, a crop, and wish to see the quality of the biology under your feet, consider taking his offer of soil testing once he finishes his course. As a thank you for believing in him, the cost is much reduced from what is currently available. See the link in the description, pledge your support, and pass it on.


Daniel's Permaculture Podcast 
Direct download: Daniel_Tyrkiel_interview.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:49pm UTC

I was invited to the BIBBA Conference on the Isle of Man this year to talk about top bar hives. This is my talk, lightly edited to remove the soundtrack of a video at the end. 

My talk was introduced by Johnny Kipps, a resident of the island, who took me to see his top bar hives during one of the lunch breaks. You can see the video of his hives, complete with local black bees, here



Direct download: BIBBA-talk.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 4:40pm UTC

I met up with Kate Atchley after a weekend spent teaching a group of beginners at Glenuig, in the Lochaber area on the coast south of the Isle of Skye.

Kate started beekeeping in London, later in Edinburgh and latterly on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, just north of Mull.

We had an interesting conversation about black bees (Apis mellifera mellifera) and other aspects of beekeeping in Scotland.


Direct download: KateAtchley-Scotland.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 5:11am UTC

Willie Robson Part 2

This is Part 2 of the session with Willie Robson, which has a somewhat better sound quality as the storm had reduced in strength by the time we had finished lunch. Willie spent an hour answering questions from the audience and I think you will find this session very interesting, especially if you keep or are planning to keep black bees.

I should also mention that I have just published another book, called Balanced Beekeeping II: Managing the Top Bar Hive. It has taken me nearly two years to write and edit and it has 385 pages full of the most useful tips and techniques I know to help you set up, populate and manage a top bar hive. Take a look on my site at under books and you will find both paperback and ebook versions.

Willie Robson has written a fascinating book, full of his accumulated wisdom, called, "Reflections on Beekeeping", published by Northern Bee Books. 

Thanks to Graham White for the use of his photo of Willie with an open hive.



Direct download: Willie_Robson2.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:45am UTC

Willie Robson: 53 years among the bees

Willie Robson runs between 1500 and 2000 hives as a family business in Northumberland, the most northerly county in England. This is a challenging environment, with high rainfall and cold winters, often with weeks of snow. He uses only native "black" bees, which have adapted to the climate and - according to Willie - to his management methods, which are of necessity based on a relatively low-interference protocol.

This recording was made in Cornwall on 6th February 2016, where Willie was giving a talk about his beekeeping methods and sharing his 53 years of experience with an audience of black bee enthusiasts.

The sound quality on this recording is not the best, as the edge of a hurricane was causing a fair amount of background noise.

Willie's web site is







Direct download: Willie_Robson1.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:49pm UTC

Dr Vandana Shiva and the fight against GM piracy

This is possibly the most important podcast I have recorded this year, not so much because of my part in it, but because most of it is a recording of a talk by Dr Vandana Shiva at a conference held at Dartington Hall on October 7th 2014.

Vandana is one of the leading lights in the fight against the corporations that are intent on patenting life in all its forms, and owning the entire food chain, worldwide, from seed to mouth.

If you think I am exaggerating this claim for dramatic effect, a recent survey by GMWATCH showed that Monsanto already own one quarter of the world seed market, and the top ten corporations - including Bayer, DuPont and Syngenta - between them own over two thirds of the worlds crop seeds.

There were other speakers at this event, but for this podcast I will include my own 10-minute talk, followed by Vandana Shiva.

I hope you enjoy it, and I hope Vandana inspires you to join the fight against the destruction of life as we know it by these criminal organizations posing as legitimate corporations.






Direct download: DartingtonGMO.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:53pm UTC

Alys Fowler

This is a chat with Alys Fowler with a contribution from Steve Benbow about her venture into beekeeping with a top bar hive, and the book they are writing together.


Direct download: AlysFowler_01.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:24pm UTC

A half-hour conversation with RSPB Council member Kevin Cox, discussing the dramatic decline in the populations of many birds in the UK, and what we could all do to improve the situation.



Direct download: KevinCox_Birds_and_bees.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:01pm UTC

Dawn Chorus

I woke up early, just as the birds were starting to sing, so I opened a window and switched on my recorder. 



Direct download: DawnChorus_with_cows.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:31pm UTC

The Buzz Tour - Interview with Eve Carnall

Eve Carnall is about to set off on a four month journey, across the length and breadth of England. In this interview, she talks about her science background, her work at the Environment Agency and the motivations for her journey.

To find out more visit her blog -

Twitter - @buzztour

email -

divestment -

Direct download: Eve_Carnell.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:58pm UTC

Recorded about 4am, so please excuse me if I sound a little sleepy...

I talk about the weekend course just completed at Brinscall Hall, Lancashire, and the other things happening there this year, including the Friends of the Bees Northern Gathering in August. See for training and for events.

Then follows a bit of a rant about AI queens; the evils of packages, and the inflated prices charged by bee breeders.


Direct download: Brinscall_April14.mp3
Category: -- posted at: 10:14pm UTC

Steve Benbow and the London Honey Company

Alys Fowler is writing another book, this time with London beekeeper Steve Benbow. It will be full of great gardening tips, focusing on how to plant for pollinators - especially bees.

Steve talks about the book and his plans for siting top bar hives at the Tate Gallery.

This is where to find out more about the book -





Direct download: SteveBenbowMar14.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:03pm UTC

This episode features a short 'catch-up' interview with Brigit Strawbridge; discussion of hive insulation, the eco-floor and the periscope entrance; and a session I call 'live at the hive', recorded at my 'Perone-style' apiary near Buckfastleigh.


Direct download: podcast_26Feb2014.mp3
Category: -- posted at: 4:04pm UTC

Those of us in the northern hemisphere are missing the sounds of our bees, so here is a recording I made in Spring 2011, followed by a complete recording of The Bee Song, written for this podcast by Lara Conley.

You can find more of Lara's music here 

This is a video I shot of her the first time I met her in Totnes -

Direct download: Last-2013-podcast.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:03pm UTC

Part 2 of my Findhorn series (there may be a Part 3 as well) is a conversation with long-term Findhorn resident and self-declared 'feral elder', Craig Gibsone. 

We cover a lot of territory in this interview, including bees, permaculture, war and peace, life and death. And the 250-year flood that may wipe Findhorn off the map...

Direct download: Craig_Gibsone_Findhorn.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:36pm UTC

I recently visited the Findhorn community, near Inverness, to help them build a top bar hive and talk about natural beekeeping.

The first voice is that of 92-year-old Dorothy Maclean, the only survivor of the original group of three  - the other two being Eileen and Peter Caddy - who started what became the Findhorn community just over 50 years ago. You can find out more about Findhorn on their website -

Today's podcast is an edited version of my conversation with Dorothy and two of her carers, Marilyn and Jo.

I also recorded conversations with two other long-standing members of the community - Craig Gibsone and Kijedo - which will form either one or two future podcasts, depending on how the editing pans out.

Direct download: Dorothy_Maclean_Findhorn.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 5:11pm UTC

Recorded at the 2013 Friends of the Bees unConvention.

'Inner Beekeeping' is about the way our interactions with bees affects us internally. Everyone's experience may be different, yet there is a lot of commonality.

A wide-ranging discussion, unfortunately with some intrusive background noise at times.

Direct download: InnerBeekeeping.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:03pm UTC

Kate Bradbury is well known to UK gardeners from her contributions to Gardeners' Question Time and as the former editor of Gardeners' World magazine. Her new book, The Wildlife Gardener, is available from Kyle Books -

Kate gave a talk in May 2013 at Sharpham House, near Totnes in South Devon at an event organised by Friends of the Bees and PUPA and co-sponsored by the Royal Entomological Society.

Direct download: KateBradbury.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:31pm UTC

Interview with Brigit Strawbridge at Bumblebee Farm

Brigit Strawbridge will be remembered by many from the TV series 'It's Not Easy Being Green'. More recently, she has spent much of her time writing and talking about wild bees, especially bumblebees.

This year, she is moving back to Cornwall, to the farm that was her family home and the hub of the TV series, with the aim of turning it into an educational centre, where people will be able to learn not only about bees, but also other country crafts and skills. 

I visited Brigit at her farm and she spoke to me about her plans.

Bumblebee Farm web site -

Brigit's blog -

Direct download: Brigit_Cornwall.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 9:20am UTC

Dr. Vandana Shiva's talk, intruduced by Satish Kumar, was given in front of a capacity audience at Totnes Civic Hall in 12th February 2013. The event was presented by Schumacher College and Transition Town Totnes.

Vandana talks about the meaning of 'development' and its effects on its recipients, who so often become its victims: the so-called 1960's 'Green Revolution' and its deleterious effects on soil quality; the 270,000 suicides of Indian farmers as a result of their exploitation by Monsanto; the excessive deaths from cancer in the Punjab; the true meaning of soil productivity; shrimp farming and how it was once a complementary crop of rice growing, but became another unsustainable monocrop though inappropriate aquaculture; the destruction of jobs and communities; the deception of genetic engineering and the resilience of local seed varieties; the gluten allergy problem; plant patenting; why 'golden rice' is a GM con trick based on illegal trials and ignores richer sources of vitamin A; how deficiencies are created deliberately to make markets; food as the currency of life; the vital importance of micro-organisms to soil health; GM cotton and how Indian farmers were deceived by Monsanto; the wasteful 'war economy' agricultural system and how it caused most of the destruction on the planet including greenhouse gases;  how wartime explosives and poison gases were re-purposed as fertilizers and pesticides; how they made it illegal to keep your own seed; how 'plant development' destroyed flavour; how 'freshness' ceased to be a virtue; how reclaiming seed from the corporates is vital to food security; how we would all be better off without GM; seed freedom and biodiversity; seed exchanges; more people on the land; and bees!

Direct download: VandanaShiva_Totnes_Feb12_2013.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:40am UTC

It is the last day of January 2013 and my resolution to do more recordings has again been overtaken by other priorities - but here we are again with another Barefoot Beekeeper podcast.

It's been an exciting couple of days, with two of the UK's biggest retailers - B&Q and Wickes - announcing that they would be removing garden products from their shelves that contain neonicotinoids - and then a third big company - Homebase - announced that they were following suit.

UK supermarkets are now under seige by campaigners eager to press home their advantage and persuade them to take more garden pesticides off their shelves, so I think we have more good news to look forward to.

There was a session yesterday of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee on pesticides, in which Bayer's representatives gave a rather lame performance, I thought. They looked dazed and confused by questions they seemed ill-prepared for - and then Professor Vyvyan Howard of Ulster University followed up with a calm dismissal of most of their arguments, leaving MPs - at least it seemed to me - in a position of little doubt when it comes to deciding which way to go on the neonicotinoids issue.

So, today's podcast is an interview I recorded in Denver, Colorado, last November with Valerie Solheim, who has some very interesting experiments running with bees.

This interview will be of particular interest to people who have considered the possiblility that there is more to hive location than just choosing a level piece of ground. Valerie suggests that we may need to take account of 'geopathic stress', as her findings suggest that the health of bees may be influenced by forces of which we currently have little knowledge.

I think there is still a lot of work to be done in testing her theories, and I hope some of you will be inspired to carry this forward. Valerie has just published a book about her work called The Beehive Effect, and you can read part of the first chapter at her web site - 

Please bear in mind that when I made this recording, I had already been speaking for over 2 hours and the ultra-dry air had given me a sore throat and an attack of the sniffles, which I have tried to suppress in this recording - but not entirely successfully.

Right at the end is a little more all-female close-harmony singing, recorded immediately after the interview in the hotel bar. 

Direct download: ValerieSolheimInterview.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:25pm UTC

An end-of-year musical treat by friends of mine, who go by the names of Pixie and Laura. They will be releasing their first album soon, so this is a preview, recently recorded in the street in our home town of Totnes. There is a fair bit of background noise, as this was market day...

Direct download: BeesWingPodcast.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 9:46pm UTC

This podcast was recorded in Denver, Colorado, and features a round table discussion with Tom Theobald and Miles McGaughey of Boulder County and Christy Hemenway, who was visiting from Maine. 

We focused on the current situation in the USA regarding agriculture in general and beekeeping in particular, looking at what we feel needs to be done to put right the damage caused by the use of toxic insecticides and herbicides.

Direct download: MilesChristyTom.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:57am UTC

PUPA (Preservation & Understanding of Plants and Arthropods)

Today's podcast is a conversation with Duncan Allen and Tarryn Castle of PUPA Education, a UK-based social enterprise dedicated to educating people about the natural world, especially the myriad tiny creatures that are collectively responsible for the quality of the soil, upon which all land-based life ultimately depends.

About Duncan and Tarryn

Duncan Allen


Duncan Allen (CRB certified): Has 5 year’s experience of working with the public at both the University of Plymouth and the Plymouth City Museum.  He has been, Science Week co-ordinator and involved with summer school activities, seaside safaris, school visits and bug hunts promoting insect awareness and education; and most recently with the BBC “Live ‘n’ Deadly” road show.  He is the Royal Entomological Societies student representative and is currently employed at Plymouth City Museum Natural History Department where he is the volunteer supervisor.


Tarryn Castle

Tarryn Castle (CRB certified):  Has great passion and concern for the environment.  Growing up in New Zealand she assisted children’s after school art classes whilst attending Manukau Institute of Technology.  She has spent a number of years volunteering for the green party and WOOFING (Working On Organic Farms an international volunteer organization) in New Zealand and the Wilderness Society in Australia. Whilst attending University at Aberystwyth she was involved with setting up a local Beach Cleaning Group and helped to organise and co-ordinate student volunteers as well as work with the public and raise general awareness. She is currently working on a number of projects for Buglife: The Invertebrate Conservation Trust.


Both Duncan and Tarryn have completed an MSc in Entomology and have practical experience and knowledge of invertebrate conservation in the U.K.

Duncan Allen & Tarryn Castle
PUPA educational Workshops
3 Newnham Road

PUPA Education web site -

Direct download: PUPA_Duncan_Tarryn.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:00am UTC

Conversation with Christopher Titmuss

Christopher Titmuss, a former Buddhist monk in Thailand and India, teaches Awakening and Insight Meditation (Vipassana) around the world. He is the founder and director of the Dharma Facilitators Programme and Mindfulness Training Course, an online mentor programme.. He gives retreats, leads pilgrimages (yatras) and Dharma gatherings, as well as establishing a network of Dharma teachers around the world. Christopher has been teaching annual retreats in India since 1975

A senior Dharma teacher in the West, he is the author of 14 books includingLight on EnlightenmentTransforming Our Terror and Mindfulness for Everyday Living. More than 2000 of his Dharma talks have been recorded. A campaigner for peace and other global issues, Christopher acts in an advisory capacity to various networks and organisations working to resolve suffering including Australia, Asia (Israel, Palestine, India) and Europe. Christopher has not spent more than two months in one place since 1975, when he resided for five months teaching in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Poet and writer, he lives in Totnes, Devon, England. His work takes him to three continents every year.

Direct download: ChristopherTitmuss_interview.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:51pm UTC

This is the recording of the panel discussion that took place on Sunday 12th August. On the panel were: Penny Crowder, Paul Smith, Phil Chandler, Heidi Herrmann, Johannes Wirz, Thomas Radetzki, David Heaf and John Haverson.

This recording suffers from some low-frequency vibration caused by placing the microphone on a tripod directly on top of the table the panel were using. I had to remove some voices from the back of the room that were not sufficiently clear to include.

Direct download: PanelDiscussion_podcast.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:51pm UTC

The 2012 Natural Beekeeping Conference was held at Emerson College, East Sussex over the second weekend in August. 

This is the first podcast from the conference, featuring the opening keynote address by Phil Chandler. This blog supports the content of the speech with a more detailed argument.

Direct download: PC_keynote_podcast.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:01pm UTC

I recently had the pleasure of teaching a weekend course in Ireland to a lovely group of people. The setting was Carraig Dúlra - an organic small-holding in County Wicklow run by Suzie and Mike Cahn.

In this podcast you will hear Mike talking about his bees, along with others who attended the course giving their feedback on the weekend. Then you will hear from Sammy - one of the younger Cahns - and finally you will hve a tour of the farm by Susie, who teaches permaculture and forest gardening.

The teaching site is on what I can only describe as marginal land for farming, comprising at first glance a rocky slope covered with heather, bracken and gorse. However, when you look more closely you find a whole range of unexpected fruit and vegetables that you would never imagine would thrive in such a place as this. 

If you want to learn about permaculture and forest gardening in a beautiful setting, visit the Carraig Dúlra web site and book yourself in -

I think you will enjoy this podcast and I look forward to your comments.

Direct download: Wicklow_Bees_Permaculture.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:59pm UTC

Back after a too-long absence! 

I had hoped to be able to produce a recording every month, but somehow life got in the way. 

Here's the first podcast for this year a talk recorded at Trill Farm, Dorset (south of England, a little left of centre, for those not familiar with our layout!) at the invitation of chef Daphne Lambert, whose restaurant at Penrhos on the Welsh border was the first in the UK to be awarded organic certification by the Soil Association.

More about Daphne here -

More about Trill Farm here -

From Graham in Scotland:
The attached photos - taken from my bedroom window - of the Oilseed Rape field opposite my house in Scotland- explains at a glance the challenge my bees are faced with in trying to survive on this farm.  It is a beautiful landscape - but an ecologically dying landscape which is poisonous to bees, butterflies and bumblebees.  If I took a photo in any of the other three directions it would not be any different; oilseed rape (canola) is one of the major crops here in the Border country.
You might find these images useful for slideshows etc,  I have high resolution versions available for printed media.

The images are also on FLICKR and you can link them to web-pages directly with the following links:

Almost all of the Oilseed Rape grown in Britain and Europe is treated with neonicotinoid pesticides at the time the seed is planted. Over the last decade the main neonicotinoid used on OSR has been Imidacloprid; we suspect that it is now being superceded by Clothianidin- which is more toxic to insects and far more persistent in soil and water.

The insecticide Imidacloprid  is 'systemic' - it is coated onto the seeds before planting. When the seed sprouts, it absorbs the poison and distributes it to every part of the growing plant: sap, stem, leaves, flowers and fruit.  The insecticide then poisons any insect which bites the plant to suck its sap.  Unfortunately, the poison also emerges in the nectar and pollen, which is harvested and eaten by bees, bumblebees, butterflies - and many other species of insect.  The poison - Imidacloprid - is 7,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT was - and a dose of just 3 to 5 parts per BILLION in the nectar and pollen causes bees to become disoriented, unable to forage or fly.  Many beekeepers are convinced this is why 4 million colonies have died in America since 2006.  Over a milion bee colonies died in France from 1994 - 1998.  Millions more have died in Argentina, Germany, Italy, Australia.  These neurotoxins are used on over 3 million acres of arable crops in the UK: wheat, barley, OSR, potatoes, tomatoes, fruits etc - this means that both WE and the bees are eating neurotoxic insecticides in every bite of food we consume.  

Neonicotinoids applied as seed dressings kill most invertebrate life UNDER the ground as well as ABOVE. these poisons eradicate earthworms, beetles and insect larvae from the soil - which means there is no food for birds which probe the soil: lapwings, curlews, starlings etc.  The result is that this beautiful scene is effectively an ecological desert; the fields are empty - no insects means no birds. Even the humble sparrow - which has declined by up to 80% in most areas of the UK. MUST have insect food to feed its young.  Wall to wall neonics means no insects; no insects means no young sparrows, starlings, peewits, yellowhammers, partridges, corn buntings etc. etc.

In the USA, more than 240 million acres of crops are treated with Clothianidin at planting - effectively wiping all insect life from that vast area permanently. The poisons are also highly PERSISTENT - Clothianidin has a 'half life' in some soils of up to 19 years; which means that after 57 years - 1/8 of the original insecticide would still persist in the soil.  Of course, if it is used year after year in the same field, the pesticide burden is gigantic. 

Direct download: TrillFarmMay2012.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:35pm UTC

Beatrix Potter Syndrome

When trying to understand something new, we automatically look for parallels in our previous experience: we seek examples from the familiar in order to better understand the unfamiliar. Often, this can be helpful, as when we learn a new language and we draw on our knowledge of another language with a common root.

Unfortunately, this strategy can also take us down a path that leads not to greater understanding, but to the confusion of fact with conditioned thought and to a form of distorted vision.

This can readily be observed in the interpretation of animal behaviour by reference to human behaviour, which is one form of what we call anthropomorphism. Myths and fables and children's tales are so suffused with the granting of human values and character traits to animals that it is hard to think of a creature that has not, in our imaginations, been stereotyped and imprinted with characteristics ascribed to it by someone with a particular point to make, or axe to grind. Thus the fox is 'wily and cunning'; the dog is 'faithful and obedient'; the elephant is a 'gentle giant' and the snake is 'sneaky and deceitful'. Aesop probably started the trend, but I prefer to call it the 'Beatrix Potter Syndrome', in recognition of her influence on the developing minds of 20th-century children, of whom I was one.

Beatrix Potter was an accomplished illustrator and observer of nature, who, had she been born a century later, may well have had a distinguished career in science. Sadly, she is now only remembered for her children's books depicting animals in human clothing who walk on their hind legs. From her stories, a direct line can be drawn to the emotionally charged portrayals of animals in many Disney films, while the brutal reality of the lives of wild animals is hidden beneath a veil of sugary sentimentality.

Potter's assignation of human attributes and behaviour to animals is only one form of anthropomorphism. There are at least two other ways in which we routinely corrupt our understanding of the non-human world by our choice of language: the use of words to name or describe an animal and the description of animal behaviour in human terms.

We can draw examples from the world of bees to illustrate both of these phenomena.

When we label the egg-laying mother of the colony as 'queen' bee, we impose on her by implication all the meaning with which that English word is loaded. Thus we may expect to find her as a monarch in charge of the colony, issuing orders and, perhaps, punishments for infringements of 'colony law'. The term 'queen bee' has passed back into the English language as a description of a woman with a controlling and manipulate nature, who likes to have people around her to serve her needs and give her attention. This reinforces the popular but inappropriate picture of a real 'queen' bee, which should really be more accurately thought of as the egg-laying servant of the colony and certainly not its ruler. While the queen bee does indeed have a retinue of attendants to feed and groom her, it is they who lead her around and prepare places for her to lay. When she begins to show any signs of a decline in her ability to provide eggs, she will be superseded, ignored and left to starve.

Likewise the male bee, or drone, which has inherited the popular meaning of its name as a parasitic loafer, or one who lives off the labours of others. While the male bees do no obvious and visible work compared to their sometimes hyper-active sisters, we know remarkably little about their day-to-day activities due to the comparatively small amount of research that has been conducted on them. I suggest it is highly improbable that a colony would deliberately encumber itself with a 'useless' 10-15% of its population at a time when gathering food is its primary concern. Simply because we have so far failed to study them with due care does not entitle us to label them as 'surplus to requirements', which is how they are regarded by most conventional beekeepers. In fact, research by Juergen Tautz at Wurtzburg University has shown that drones may indeed have hitherto unsuspected duties within the hive and may well have functions in the outside world that have so far eluded detection. As long ago as 1852, Moses Quinby (Mysteries of Beekeeping Explained) suggested that drones would likely have functions beyond mating with a queen, perhaps including helping to keep the brood warm. R.O.B.Manley noted that his best honey-producing hives generally had "a large number of drones" (Honey Farming, 1947).

When we come to bee behaviour, so much of it is alien to us that we struggle to make sense of it, so it is not surprising that we resort to attempts to explain aspects of their world in human terms. We talk freely of bees foraging for food, scouting for a nest site, communicating by means of the 'waggle dance', defending their home, mating and carrying out their dead because these are all activities that we can easily relate to and make practical sense in terms of day-to-day survival in a colony.

What is perhaps more surprising - and infinitely less helpful - is when people concoct mystical 'explanations' derived entirely from their imaginations and pass them on as if they had some scientific validity or foundation in fact.

Myths and legends, populated by gods and heroes, are poetic allegories through which we have conveyed information - both oral and written - from generation to generation and thus gained some understanding of our cultural history. Many myths are anthropomorphic in their personification of natural phenomena, but as long as we understand their origins and true nature, we can learn from them without confusing their content with objective reality.

However, as our scientific understanding of the natural world grew rapidly throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there was a parallel growth of popular interest in such things as clairvoyance, telekinesis, telepathy, reincarnation, ghosts, out-of-body experiences and suchlike para-psychological phenomena that appear not to be subject to the known laws of physics, chemistry or biology. Despite the lack of verifiable evidence for such phenomena, they appear to occupy a nether region that stubbornly persists in popular culture.

In the context of this article, the consideration of whether or not such phenomena really exist is less relevant than the fact that they have, since Victorian times at least, been routinely presented as if they were genuine by people with a considerably greater talent for showmanship than for scientific rigour. Demonstrations of 'manifestations from the spirit world' were fashionable in late nineteenth century society, while Ouija boards and 'table-tipping' have floated in and out of fashion almost to the present day, despite the efforts of rationalists such as James Randi and Derren Brown to expose the trickery behind them. Variations on the 'clairvoyance' theme have been around at least since the days of the Delphic Oracle - probably the first example of a tourist industry built around a mystical cult - and show no signs of losing popularity, despite various myth-busting public exposures of fraud and trickery.

Rudolf Steiner, in his lectures on bees, delivered in November and December of 1923 at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, sought to interpret the world of bees by means of 'Anthroposophy', a Christianized, version of the mystical 19th century eastern-derived 'religious philosophy' of Theosophy, whose best-known proponent, Helena Blavatsky, was also a performing clairvoyant. Both Steiner and Blavatsky claimed to derive their occult knowledge from outside the material world, by a process that would nowadays be called 'channeling'.

Steiner believed that mankind had existed on Earth - although not necessarily in material form - since its creation, and that bees (as well as other animals) were created for our benefit. This chronological reversal of the truth as revealed by fossil evidence - bees having certainly been around for more than 100 million years before Homo sapiens - sets the scene for further dubious assertions, such as when he talks of embryonic queens "giving off light" that somehow causes a colony to swarm from "fear that 'it no longer possesses the bee poison".

Anyone unfamiliar with Steiner's idiosyncratic cosmology and his other writings about the supposed history of the Earth may be surprised by passages such as:

"Our earth was once in a condition of which one could say that it was surrounded by clouds that had plant-life within them; from the periphery, other clouds approached and fertilised them; these clouds had an animal nature. From cosmic spaces came the animal nature; from the earth the essence of plant-being rose upwards." (Lecture VIII)

Back in the world of bees, Steiner makes much of the 21-day gestation period of a worker bee as being equivalent to "a single rotation of the sun on its axis" (Lecture II), apparently unaware that the equatorial regions of the sun perform a single rotation in 25.6 days, while polar regions rotate once in about 36 days (NASA).

He goes on to say that 'the drone is thus an earthly being' (because its completion takes longer than the sun's rotation - which in fact, as we now know, it does not).

He further elaborates on this thesis:

"The drones are the males; they can fertilize; this power of fertilization comes from the earth; the drones acquire it in the few days during which they continue their growth within the earth-evolution and before they reach maturity. So we can now say: in the bees it is clearly to be seen that fertilization (male fecundation) comes from the earthly forces, and the female capacity to develop the egg comes from the forces of the Sun. So you see, you can easily imagine how significant is the length of time during which a creature develops. This is very important for, naturally, something happens within a definite time which could not occur in either a shorter or a longer time, for then quite other things would happen."

As happens numerous times in the Lectures, Steiner makes a statement that is demonstrably erroneous, and then goes on to elaborate a sequence of specious arguments from it, which, being derived from false premises, must inevitably lead to false conclusions.

It would be tedious to cite every instance where Steiner is obfuscatory, unnecessarily mystical or just plain wrong. Suffice to say that, while not being totally devoid of interest, his Lectures are about as useful a source of insights into bees as a medieval book of medicinal herbs would be for conducting modern surgery. Indeed, Steiner even betrays his lack of basic understanding of the functions of the human body (Lecture VII) in saying that:

" is represented as though the heart were a kind of pump, and that this pumping of the heart sends the blood all over the body. This is nonsense, because it is in reality the blood which is brought into motion by the ego-organization, and moves throughout the body."

However, Steiner does make some non-mystical statements that must be considered, as they at least fall into alignment with observable reality. He warns against pushing bees for over-production, drawing a parallel with the dairy industry (Lecture V); he emphasizes that "... the bee-colony is a totality. It must be seen as a totality." (Lecture V); The one much-vaunted but often mis-quoted, 'prediction' made by Steiner, usually misrepresented as a 'prophesy' of the general demise of bees, amounts to a rather mild criticism of the then relatively new practice of artificial insemination: "...we must see how things will be in fifty to eighty years time...".

Right at the end of the final Lecture, we find clear evidence that Steiner's view of nature is actually highly anthropocentric:

'Thus we can say: When we observe things in the right way, we see how the processes of Nature are actually images and symbols of what happens in human life. These men of olden times watched the birds on the juniper trees with the same love with which we look at the little cakes and gifts on the Christmas tree. "...I have therefore spoken of the juniper tree which can truly be regarded as a kind of Christmas tree, and which is the same for the birds as the blossoms for the bees, the wood for the ants, and for the wood-bees and insects in general."

And so Steiner's personal mysticism, as well as his sentimentality, turns out to have a large component of anthropomorphism lurking within it.

Having reached this point in our analysis, we have to consider what is left to us: what would be a legitimate methodology for the study of bees, that would be free from the elephant traps of anthropocentrism, anthropomorphism, sentimentality and mysticism, yet can encompass the sense experienced by many who come into contact with bees that there is 'something else' present, beyond the purely material?

A rationalist would say, 'observe without interpretation: see what is there and describe it as accurately as possible, but without overlaying it with meaning. Be true to observable reality'.

And yet, many people report some kind of transcendental experience in the presence of bees en masse, so are their reports to be written off as mere whimsy?

Speaking from my own experience, I can say that while working with bees and maintaining a calm, unhurried demeanour, I have had moments of inner peace akin to that I have also experienced while meditating or engaging in certain martial arts practices that aim to 'still the mind'. Having one's unprotected hands in a hive containing 50,000 fully-armed bees has a way of focusing the mind very much in the moment, while any deviation from the 'now' is likely to be punished more rapidly and more severely than by a Zen master's staff.

Being present 'in the moment' is a rarer - and thus more precious - experience for the 21st-century Twitter-dweller than for our ancestors. For the opportunity to experience that sense of timelessness in the company of a wild creature so many millennia our senior is a privilege that beekeepers should celebrate and cherish.

Mysticism has had its day. We are grown-ups now: we have seen the atom bomb and the double helix and we need to come to terms with objective reality in all its wonderful forms without ascribing all phenomena just beyond our understanding to the work of gods, aliens, faeries or gnomes. We can appreciate nature without projecting our aspirations or values onto it. We can observe without always needing to know the 'hidden meaning' of what we see hear, smell and taste. We can be elevated by what is around us and enjoy all the sensations available in this remarkable, natural world. We can even compose poems and songs, myths and fables to entertain us and our children, but we no longer need to sit at the feet of all-too-mortal men who exert power over the ignorant by interposing themselves between us and authentic experience of the mysteries of life.

Philip Chandler

Article Source:

Category:general -- posted at: 12:24pm UTC

New research shows bee deaths are due to pesticides

News just in provides compelling evidence that Bayer's neonicotinoid pesticides are a significant cause of bee deaths in Britain and elsewhere, supporting the case that we have been making for years.

The British Bee Keepers Association must now climb down from the fence and clearly state their opposition to the use of these deadly chemicals on agricultural land, or face even more derision and condemnation from beekeepers and other associations both in the UK and abroad.

A key study, published in a respected scientific journal, demonstrates that neonicotinoids are routinely found in lethal doses in samples of dead bees, in seed planter exhaust, in fields where seeds had been planted and in dandelion flowers growing nearby. This shows clear pathways by which bees are being poisoned and removes any last shred of an excuse for the BBKA to continue to toe the pesticide industry line that these substances are 'safe if used correctly'.

If you keep bees within flying distance of agricultural land where maize, oilseed-rape (Canola) or other crops are grown using clothianidin-coated seed, YOUR BEES ARE IN DANGER. Likewise, all other pollinating insects - including endangered bumblebees - that live on or near that land will be poisoned, as will the birds and reptiles that feed on them. There is also growing evidence of possible long-term effects on human health.


Read the paper here -

PLEASE write to the BBKA and ask them to put their weight behind efforts to ban these deadly toxins from our countryside, while we still have some bees left.

Send an email to asking the BBKA to STOP supporting the pesticide industry and to work to have neonicotinoids banned in the UK. (More BBKA email addresses below)

If you are a BBKA member, pass this email around your local association - the more people who understand what is going on, the better. Make sure this issue is discussed and a resolution is passed to BBKA HQ.

If you are a gardener, look out for neonicotinoids in household sprays and compost: the common ones are Imidacloprid, Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam and Fipronil (also found in pet flea treatments). Return all such sprays to the shop and tell the manager why you will not buy them. Make sure your local gardening club / allotment association are aware of the dangers.

Gardeners may also be interested to know that Glyphosate (Roundup) has recently been shown to be much more toxic that Monsanto would like you to believe. In this report, Don Huber, Emeritus Professor at Purdue University and senior scientist on USDA’s National Plant Disease Recovery System, links glyphosate to reduced nutrient availability in plants, increasing plant diseases, the emergence of a new pathogen, animal illness and possible effects on human health.


"Our results demonstrate that bees are exposed to these compounds and several other agricultural pesticides in several ways throughout the foraging period. During spring, extremely high levels of clothianidin and thiamethoxam were found in planter exhaust material produced during the planting of treated maize seed. We also found neonicotinoids in the soil of each field we sampled, including unplanted fields. Plants visited by foraging bees (dandelions) growing near these fields were found to contain neonicotinoids as well. This indicates deposition of neonicotinoids on the flowers, uptake by the root system, or both. Dead bees collected near hive entrances during the spring sampling period were found to contain clothianidin as well, although whether exposure was oral (consuming pollen) or by contact (soil/planter dust) is unclear. We also detected the insecticide clothianidin in pollen collected by bees and stored in the hive."

"These findings clarify some of the mechanisms by which honey bees may be exposed to agricultural pesticides throughout the growing season. These results have implications for a wide range of large-scale annual cropping systems that utilize neonicotinoid seed treatments."


PRESIDENT - Martin Smith -
CHAIRMAN - Brian Ripley -
VICE CHAIRMAN - Dr David Aston -
TREASURER - Michael Sheasby -
BBKA News and Year Book Editor – Sharon Blake
Examinations Board Secretary – Val Francis
Public Affairs Director – Tim Lovett

Dr David Bancalari -
Doug Brown -
Chris Deaves -
Brian Dennis -
Dawn Girling -
John Hendrie -
Roger Patterson -
Julian Routh -
Michael Young -

Let's make 2012 the year that British bee keepers take positive action to clean up our countryside - for the sake of the bees.

Best wishes
Phil Chandler

Category:general -- posted at: 4:12pm UTC

Real bugs as keyrings: the trivialization of life
I was looking around the Salago shop in Totnes a couple of days ago and discovered that they were selling real bugs - including spiders, scorpions, beetles, butterflies and crabs - embedded in plastic as keyrings and other trinkets.
The only marking on the packaging was a web site - - which indicates that the bugs are farmed (and possibly also gathered from the wild) in China (although an address in Guatemala is also mentioned). 
This seems to me to be another sad example of the trivialization of life, which I feel must be confronted. Farming insects for food is one thing - not that you will catch me having a cicada sandwich - but keyrings?
The extremes of this trade are documented here - - live animals encapsulated in sealed containers for the amusement of tourists!
If you see this kind of thing on sale anywhere, please talk to the manager and let's get it stopped. A polite approach is probably the best - put your point of view and allow them to respond. If a number of people do this over a few days, I think they will get the message!
Direct download: SalagoBugs.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:17pm UTC

Termites are not so different to bees in many ways: both are social insects that live in large colonies and have several castes. Both use grooming as a first-line defence against potentially damaging diseases. 

Bayer sells a pestide called Premise that kills termites, which they market on the strength of its ability to interfere with the termites' grooming process. The active ingredient is Imidacloprid, and yet they claim never to have tested it on bees to see if it has a similar effect. Some would say that this a a significant oversight, while others might suggest that it is evidence of Bayer's usual habit of being 'economical with the truth'. 

Whatever we think about this, there is no statutory requirement for Bayer to conduct such research.

You can read Bayer's Premise leaflet here

See for an article about this issue in the Independent newspaper.

Amanda Williams worked in the pharmaceutical industry for a number of years, and now campaigns on behalf of bees, giving talks in schools and running an informative web site

Also in this edition, we launch Bee-Friendly Zones - see

Direct download: AmandaWilliams.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:22pm UTC

I came away from the conference with several hours of audio recordings and after many more hours of editing, the result is a sort of impressionistic sound picture, which I hope you find interesting.

Some of the background music was provided by Homebrewed - - with Dan on the fiddle. There are also excerpts from Lara Conley's Bee Song - hear more of her music at - with the full version to conclude the recording.

Direct download: ConferenceSoundPicture.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:49pm UTC

David Heaf is well known as the translator - together with his wife, Patricia - of the Abbé Warré's book about 'The People's Hive' into English. He gave the keynote speech at the First UK Natural Beekeeping Conference, which was warmly received and which generated much friendly discussion. 

David's new book, 'The Bee-Friendly Beekeeper' is available form Amazon and other outlets.

The music on this podcast is 'The Bee Song' by Lara Conley.

Direct download: DavidHeaf.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:18am UTC

Italian beekeepers' hunger strike over pesticides

Italian beekeepers Renato Bologna and Marisa Valente have vowed to 'eat like bees' in protest against the use of neonicotinoids. They say that they now have scientific proof that pesticides are killing their bees, and they want the Italian govenment to take action to ban neonicotinoids on all crops. At present, their use is only banned on maize.

I spoke to Renato, whose English is a lot better than my Italian, and you can hear the result in today's podcast.

PLEASE SUPPORT Renato and Marisa by going to their web site and signing their petition -

The front page of their site is here -  If you do not speak Italian, I suggest using Google Chrome to view it and click the 'translate' button at the top.


Direct download: RenatoMarisaItalianBeekeepers.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 4:34pm UTC

Lara Conley has written a song that I think you will enjoy - and you can hear it for the first time here on the Barefoot Beekeeper Podcast. 

Lara has a web site on MySpace - - see - and I hope you will listen to and buy some of her music. I think you will agree that with a song-writing talent and a voice like hers, she deserves a wider audience.

You can also see Lara on YouTube here -

Direct download: LaraConleyBeeSong.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 11:58am UTC

Top bar hive design: how we handle expansion and swarming

This podcast is based on a recording I made at Welcombe, North Devon earlier in July 2011 with a group of people on an 'Intermediate' level natural beekeeping course. We discussed the various ways to set up a top bar hive, including different entrance arrangements, top bar widths and the options for swarm management. 

Direct download: YarnerPodcastJuly2011.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:16pm UTC

There has been a good deal of controversy over the plans by the Co-Op to import up to 600 colonies of bees from New Zealand. I have myself been critical of introducing 'foreign' bees in such numbers, but I wanted to get the facts on the story, so I arranged with the Co-Op to interview Murray McGregor, the man in charge of the import.

This podcast will give you an opportunity to listen to what Murray has to say and to make up your own mind as to the rights and wrongs of the issue.

A reminder that if you have a question for me, or a subject you would like me to talk about, please send an email to

The voicemail number is no longer operational, as nobody was using it and it was costing me money. If you really want to be able to talk to me, please make contact on Skype, where my username is beesontoast.

I do get a lot of emails and I simply don't have time to answer detailed questions, so if you have a beekeeping question, please remember the natural beekeeping forum at, where you will find over 5,000 people willing to help you, some of whom may be in your area.

Direct download: MurrayMcG.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:37am UTC

The Sheepdrove Farm Bee Symposium Part 1

Recorded at the Sheepdrove Farm Conference Centre, June 29th 2011.

This event was organized by Samantha Roddick, and you will hear her after Peter Kindersley's introduction. Sam's talk is followed by mine, and this session finishes with Peter Melchett of the Soil Association.

I will upload more audio from this event in later podcasts.

Direct download: BeeSymposium1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:30pm UTC

Natural Beekeeping Conference news, a new distance learning course and feedback from Embercombe

The first UK Natural Beekeeping Conference will be held near Worcester in August, and we have decided to offer reduced rate tickets for students ad some day tickets for the Saturday. Please download a newe booking form from for details.

I have been working on a distance learning course for natural beekeeping, which will be offered by MyGardenSchool starting later this month. Details here -

We had another successful weekend event at Embercombe (see recently and you can hear some feedback from students - including a mystery TV presenter!

This episode closes with a recording I made recently of bees at the entrance to one of my hives. I hope you enjoy the mix of bee sounds and birdsong.

If you wish to be a part of this podcast, you can leave me a voicemail on +44 (0)203 239 1643 or email me -

Direct download: podcast20-6-2011.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:27pm UTC

This interview was recorded in December 2010.

Direct download: JoannaInterview.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 11:09am UTC

Today's podcast is a recording I made of a talk by Adebisi Adekunle during the BBKA Spring Convention at Stoneleigh in April 2011.

Adebisi Adekunle - Bisi is an Amateur beekeeper with 10 years experience in the UK (Temperate climate with Apis Mellifera Mellifera & hybrids) and in Nigeria (Tropical climate with Apis Mellifera Adansonni).  She is a member of Romsey (Hants), Gillingham & Shaftesbury (Dorset), Twickenham & Thames Valley Beekeeping Associations. Bisi is the Honey Show Manager for the Hampshire Honey Show and a member of Slow Food International and the British Beekeepers Assoc. (BBKA).

The sound quality is reasonable, although there is some background hum from a piece of equipment in the kitchen.

Direct download: BisiStoneleigh2011.output.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:15am UTC

This is a recording of the Q&A session following my talk at the BBKA Spring Convention in Stoneleigh on April 15 2011.

Direct download: QandA.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:06pm UTC

What Is Wrong With Modern Beekeeping?

The title of this talk - What Is Wrong With Modern Beekeeping? - begs a question: is there something wrong with modern beekeeping?

My contention is that there is indeed much that is wrong with it, and that the root of the problem lies in the anthropocentric, pre-Darwinian belief that we are in charge: that humankind has a God-given right to dominion over all other forms of life, and that animals – including bees – were created purely to serve us.

'Modern' beekeeping can be said to have begun in the year 1852 – the year that Langstroth patented his hive. He did so, it should be noted, with the express purpose of making the commercial exploitation of bees a practical possibility.

1852 was also the year that Langstroth published his book, The Hive and the Honeybee, in which we find the following passage:

The Creator intended the bee for the comfort of man, as truly as he did the horse or the cow.

The honey bee was... created not merely with the ability to store up its delicious nectar for its own use, but with certain properties which fitted it to be domesticated, and to labor for man, and without which, he would no more have been able to subject it to his control, than to make a useful beast of burden of a lion or a tiger.”i

Which is to say that, according to this creed, not only were bees created in order to provide us with something sweet, but that they were allocated 'certain properties' that enable us to domesticate them. In those days, most people shared Langstroth's belief that 'The Creator intended the bee for the comfort of man' and that its purpose was to 'labor for man'.

And yet, unbeknown to the Reverend Langstroth, some twenty years earlier, a little ship had set sail from Plymouth harbour on a five-year voyage that was to change our understanding of the world forever. That ship was The Beagle, and just seven years after Langstroth completed his book, Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species.

That was over 150 years ago. And yet, even today, despite Darwin's insights having been tested over and over by science; despite overwhelming evidence that all life is interdependent; despite irrefutable proof of the consequences of worldwide destruction of habitat and the poisoning of our life-giving soil by profit-driven corporations; despite all that, we see people still behaving as if they had God-given dominion over life on earth.

And what of so-called 'modern beekeeping'? Has it fully embraced the post-Darwinian world? Or does it still operate from that old testament, fundamentalist paradigm? Are we – as appears to be the case - still teaching people how to 'manage' and 'control' bees, when we should be teaching them how to observe, listen to and work with the bees?

The Guardian, 10th April 2011

Direct download: WhatIsWrongWithModernBeekeepingBBKAConvention2011.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:45am UTC

Since my last podcast, I recorded a couple of webinars about natural beekeeping in top bar hives, and if you were not able to catch them at the time, you can find them by going to

I have just come back from a weekend at Embercombe - a centre in South Devon that teaches aspects of sustainability to people of all ages and backgrounds. There was a group of - I think - 15 beekeepers who wanted to learn about natural beekeeping in top bar hives, and it was great fun to work with them and with Tim and Jess and the other peope at Embercombe. The weather was warm and sunny and we were able to go through some of the hives, which had all come through a very cold winter.

If you are in the UK and have done a year or more of beekeeping, and now you want to learn more about top bar hives, there is another opportunity to do an Intermediate course in North Devon later this year. The course will be over the weekend of the 8th 9th and 10th of July at Welcombe, near Barnstaple. Anyone interested should visit the Yarner Trust web site, which is

I will also be doing beginners events at Embercombe and Welcombe during the summer - take a look at for details.

If anyone wants me to run a class in their local area, just drop me an email - - and we can discuss it.

I'm going to play you the snippet of my chat with Dave Williams in a moment, followed by part of a recording of a song written for me by a delightful young singer/songwriter named Lara Conley, who I met one day in my home town when she was busking in the market square. We get a lot of buskers here, but very few who I would want to listen to for long. Lara has a lovely voice and I think you will enjoy the song she I am going to play you. This is actually part of the draft first version of the song - she will be recording the final version soon, so think of this as an exclusive preview.

Direct download: DaveWilliamsLaraConley.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:27pm UTC

Direct download: 2011-02-20_21.01_The_Art_and_Craft_of_Natural_Beekeeping.wmv
Category:general -- posted at: 9:12am UTC

Propolis is often regarded as something of a nuisance by conventional beekeepers, and most beekeeping courses spend more time telling you how to get rid of it or avoid it that what can usefully be done with it.

My interview subject today, James Fearnley, has been studying this remarkable substance since the 1970s, and after listening to what he has to say, I hope you will look at propolis with a more open mind.

James Fearnley initiated the first international standard for propolis and was one of the first people in the UK to commission serious scientific studies into propolis (at the Universities of Oxford and Manchester). He is recognised worldwide as an authority in the field and is the author of Bee Propolis - Natural Healing from the Hive, Souvenir Press 2001. This pioneering book is probably the most comprehensive overview of research into propolis in the English language. It explains how to use propolis as part of everyday care, with advice on preparations and dosages, as well as describing the usage of propolis throughout history and across large areas of the world.

James' web site is

Direct download: Propolis_JamesFearnley.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:20pm UTC

Tom Theobald was largely responsible for exposing the fact that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had licensed Bayer's systemic insecticide Clothianidin, against evidence that it was highly toxic to bees, and that the research used to back the application for licensing was poorly designed and executed.

FInd out more here -

It turns out that Tom and I actually have a couple of things in common, and our discussion covers not only pesticides and bees, but also the corporate mind and the democratic process.

A reminder that you can be a part of this podcast by leaving a message on my voicemail, if you have a question for me, or something you would just like to say on air.

If you are in the UK the number is  0203 239 1643, if you are anywhere else add your outgoing international number, then country code 44 and strip the first zero - 44 203 239 1643  You can also use my Skype account to leave me a message, which is 'beesontoast'. That's bees - not beans.

If you prefer to email me, by all means do so - send your message to, but please bear in mind that I get a LOT of emails and it may take me a while to get to yours.

If you have a general beekeeping question, please remember the natural beekeeping forum at, where you will find over 4,000 beekeepers, some of whom may even be in your area.

Direct download: TomTheobold.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:30pm UTC

Systemic Insecticides: A Disaster In The Making - interview with Dr Henk Tennekes

Today I am going to be talking with Dr Henk Tennekes, who has published a book that is very relevant to our understanding of how systemic insecticides pose a real danger to bees and other insects, as well as to birds and other wild creatures. And ultimately, of course, to us, because we too are part of this picture.

Those of you who listen regularly to this podcast and who read my articles will know that my obsession with bees extends deep into the wider natural environment. The lives and habits of bees are entwined with those of flowering plants, with the flora and fauna of the soil that supports them and the birds and other creatures that depend on plants and insects for food.

As beekeepers, we must remind ourselves that it is neither possible nor even desirable to separate one species out from others and to claim to understand it in isolation: everything in nature is interdependent and if we interfere with one part of this intricate structure without looking at the big picture, we risk upsetting delicate and finely-tuned ecosystems that may underpin the very existence of some of the key species on earth.

This is the reason that I have for many years campaigned against the genetic manipulation of crop plants such as maize, oilseed rape and rice. They are examples of plants that are being treated as it they are not a part of the wider environment, in attempts to exploit certain characteristics for profit, without proper consideration being given to the effects such interference is likely to have on other species of plants and animals that will inevitably come into contact with them - and that, of course, includes bees.

This caution must also apply to the use of synthetic chemicals, especially on our food crops. The most controversial family of chemicals that has recently been introduced into agriculture, which many scientists are now blaming for causing mass die-offs of honeybees, is the neonicotinoids. You can tell from their name that they have a similar molecular structure to nicotine - the ingredient in tobacco that makes cigarettes so deadly. And these synthetic chemical forms are very toxic indeed, even in microscopic quantities - in concentrations that even the most powerful analytical equipment available to scientists struggles to detect.

To illustrate just how poisonous the neonicotinoids can be, imagine - if you will - an Olympic-size swimming pool, 50 metres by 25 metres, containing two and a half million litres of water - that's 2,500 metric tonnes - or over half a million UK gallons - or about two thirds of a million US gallons. With that picture in mind, imagine taking just one tablespoon of a neonicotinoid insecticide - just one tablespoon - and adding it to that Olympic-size swimming

Once that tiny amount of chemical has dispersed into the water - and despite the almost unimaginably small quantity of active ingredient in any single drop, that entire swimming pool is now toxic to bees.

That's all it takes - just a few parts per billion of one of these synthetic neonicotinoids - to have measurable effects on bees' ability to navigate. It may not kill them outright, but if they can't find their way home, it may as well have been instantly fatal.

My subject today is Dr Henk Tennekes, who was born in The Netherlands, and after graduating from  the Agricultural University of Wageningen in 1974, he performed his Ph.D. work at Shell Research Ltd in the UK. He later worked  for 5 years at the Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, Germany.

The culmination of Dr Tennekes' research was his recent discovery that the way the neonicotinoid insecticides work has much in common with that of chemical carcinogens - cancer-causing agents.

When he realized the dire consequences of environmental pollution with these insecticides, he decided to write a book to warn the general public about an impending environmental catastrophe.

The title of Dr Tennekes book is: The Systemic Insecticides - a Disaster in the Making.

You can read more about his book at


Direct download: HenkTennekesInterview.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:13pm UTC

This episode will be of particular interest to British beekeepers - especially those who are - or have been - or may one day be members of the British Bee Keepers Association - the BBKA.

Wherever you are, I think you will find something of interest, though, as I will be interviewing a man who has looked very carefully at the whole issue of pesticides and their potential impact on bees, with particular reference to the BBKA's decade-long policy of taking money from the pesticide industry in return for the use of the BBKA logo on certain products, and the endorsement of such products as being somehow 'bee-friendly'.

Many people - when told that a bee keepers association endorses insecticides at all - are shocked and surprised, as was Dr Bernie Doeser, who has recently produced an independent report that is highly critical of the way the BBKA have managed - or failed to manage - their policy.

Bernie Doeser's report reveals barely believable levels of negligence and incompetence in this whole episode, starting with the fact that the BBKA actually endorsed some of the pesticides that - far from being bee-friendly - are actually among the top five most lethal pesticides in their class.

I had to record the interview with Bernie Doeser in the rather echo-y cafe of the Tate gallery in the seaside town of St Ives in Cornwall, and although we managed to arrange coats and hats to absorb much of the background noise, you can still tell that it is a cafe.

And for those of you outside the UK, Cornwall is in the bottom left hand corner of England, and England is part of that little island off the coast of Europe called Great Britain, the United Kingdom or just the UK.

Bernie Doeser's report can be downloaded from here -

The BBKA's announcement is here -

Why has the BBKA failed to support other European bee keeping organizations and oppose the use of neonicotinoids? Is it because they are the only ones in the pay of Bayer?


Direct download: BernieDoeserNov2010.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:55am UTC

You will hear very little from me today, and quite a lot from some people who have spent a great deal of time looking very carefully at the issue of genetically engineered farm crops.
I recorded these short interviews and a panel discussion at a conference I attended recently, where some well-informed speakers talked about their work and their conclusions about the potential dangers of growing GM crops in the UK and elsewhere.

Whether or not you have paid attention to the GM food and crops story since their introduction about 15 years ago, I urge you to find time to listen to these speakers - these are serious people and very far from being a bunch of wild-eyed hippies - which is how the press love to characterize people who speak out on this subject.

What does this have to do with beekeeping? Well, everything. GM pollen has been implicated in several studies of the 'colony collapse' phenomenon, and many GM plants have insecticides built into them, rendering them deliberately toxic to bees and all other insects.

First, you will hear from Michael Hart, a British farmer and carpenter, who has travelled to the USA recently to talk to American farmers who have been growing GM crops and who have found that they are not all that Monsanto promised them to be. He has made a film of his journey, which will be available soon and I will provide a link to it in due course.

Other speakers will introduce themselves. After that, you will hear part of the panel discussion that concluded the conference, followed by a short piece from Lawrence Woodward, which was taken from the panel discussion, as I did not get the chance to interview him personally.

If you are not up to speed with GM issues, I recommend you watch this short video featuring Vandana Shiva talking about the future of food -

If you value what I do and you can afford it, I would be very grateful if you would 'buy me a coffee' to help me provide you with more free stuff next year. There will be more podcasts, more videos and more DIY plans, for starters.

As a 'thank you' I will send you a free copy of 'The Barefoot Beekeeper's Guide to Swarming and Swarm Management' (usually US$4.99).

And just a reminder that you can call and leave a message on my voicemail, if you have a question or comment for me to use in this podcast. The number is  0203 239 1643 if you are in the UK, or - +44 203 239 1643 if you are outside the UK. You can also use my Skype name to leave me a message, which is 'beesontoast'. That's bees - not beans.

Direct download: GM_podcast_Oct_2010.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 9:10pm UTC

Help me to give you more free stuff - buy me a coffee!

You will have noticed that there is a lot of free stuff on my web site at - including these podcasts.

I do this because I want to make information about natural beekeeping available to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. Some things - like my book - I do charge for, simply because I have to eat too, but I do send out some free copies to people who are unable to pay.

Very soon, I will need to upgrade my aging PC, do some urgent repairs on my elderly car and buy more timber for next year's trials of new (even simpler!) hives. As you probably know, I make no income directly from beekeeping - only from book sales, speaking and teaching.

So if - and only if - you value what I do and you can afford it, I would be very grateful if you would 'buy me a coffee' to help me provide you with more free stuff next year. There will be more podcasts, more videos and more DIY plans, for starters.

As a 'thank you' I will send you a free copy of 'The Barefoot Beekeeper's Guide to Swarming and Swarm Management' (usually US$4.99).

Thanks for your help - and thanks for listening!


Category:general -- posted at: 11:01am UTC

This is another outside podcast, directly from one of my apiaries, to the accompaniment of bees, birds and nearby horses.

I talk about my recent visits to Neil and Carol Klein's North Devon, where I installed a top bar hive earlier this year, and to London, where I gave a talk and met some interesting people at The Hub, Kings Cross.

I have used grease patties containing tea tree oil for the first time, and I talk about the pros and cons of treating for Varroa mites. You can find the recipe for grease patties here -

Robbing has been a problem recently, and it is especially galling when the robbers are coming from someone else's apiary. I discuss a couple of deterrent tactics.

Please leave me comments on iTunes and do post reviews with lots of stars if you like my efforts!

Questions and ideas for future podcasts - please use the voicemail number: 020 32 39 16 43 (UK) or  +4420 3239 1643 elsewhere.







Direct download: North_Devon_London_grease_patties_robbing.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:03pm UTC

I get asked a lot about when, how and with what to feed bees, so here are some of the answers. It is a big subject, of course, and one that I may well have to deal with in more detail one day, but this is a start!

In this episode, I also apologize for messing up on the voicemails. I failed to record them onto my hard drive before Skype wiped the messages, so PLEASE try again!

Leave your messages/questions/comments on: 020 32 39 16 43 (UK) or  +4420 3239 1643 elsewhere.





Direct download: podcast_final_edit_sep23.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:58pm UTC

Christy Hemenway talks about how she started in beekeeping, how she met the White House beekeeper, and how an Irish penny caused her to cross the Atlantic.

Christy is a great ambassador for bees and top bar beekeeping. Look out for her beekeeping courses if you are anywhere near Maine and wherever you are, check out her web site at



Direct download: Christy_Hemenway_Aug_2010.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:47am UTC

Inspiration, questions and throwing away the rulebooks

It is natural for beginners to ask questions - I encourage it and this is why we have a thriving Natural Beekeeping Forum with over 3,500 members around the world. Often, when I give a talk, I spend as much time answering questions as I do speaking, and that is how I like it - it's always more interesting to be responding to genuine interest in people than to be just talking at them. And when I don't know the answer, I say so.

As we accumulate experience, I think one of the most common things I hear is not so much that all our questions are answered, but that we find ourselves asking more and more of them - not necessarily of others, but of ourselves. Questions like, 'why do I do it this way?' and 'is there a better way to do this?' and, best of all, 'what would happen if I did this?'.

For me, it is vital that I go on questioning everything I do with bees, to make sure I don't get stuck in doing things only one way 'just because that's the way it's done'. Whenever I see someone doing something mechanically, I am likely to ask them why they do it, and if they can't come up with a better answer than 'because that is the way I have always done it', then I'm liable to ask a lot more questions! And that's what I like to do to myself.

And this is why I like the way we can discuss new ideas on the forum, and why we generally don't go in for 'laying down the law' of 'natural beekeeping'. We are a broad church, and we welcome people with no experience (even those who ask 'what does a honeybee look like?') as well as those who have been looking after bees for decades. By and large, we like to encourage the attitude of 'have you tried this' rather than 'you need to do it this way'.

Every month or so I receive an (un-asked for) email from a woman who claims some sort of hot-line to the mind of Rudolf Steiner, and on this basis makes largely unintelligible pronouncements about the way we should be keeping bees. She has convinced herself that 'there is only one way'.

As a lifelong dissenter from all things religious, I have an abiding dislike of dogma. I can see the damage that has been done in the world by the blind following of rules, and the last thing I want is to be making more rules. So I encourage everyone participating in the great experiment of 'natural beekeeping' to ask more questions, use your senses to seek answers from the bees themselves, and don't get bogged down in the pronouncements of people with axes to grind or 'gurus' to follow.

Think for yourself. Ask questions of yourself and other people. Take nothing for granted.

Direct download: bbk11.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:43pm UTC

Bumblebees, apps and feedback from students

Are honeybees native to Britain? And do they compete with other native bees? That's one of the questions I will be dealing with in this espsode, along with announcing a new voicelmail number for you to leave messages and questions on for the podcast - +44 203 239 1643

I also announce the new 'app' that will run alongside this podcast, making it easy for owners of iPhones, iPods and iPads to get episodes and some extra content not available elsewhere, in return for a small subscription that will go towards helping to make it possible for me to produce these podcasts on a regular basis. It can take up to a full day to record, edit and process one of these episodes, so I hope you will support me in doing this if you have the appropriate technology.

A large chunk of this episode consists of feedback from people who attended my last weekend event at Welcombe in North Devon, organized by the Yarner Trust. They talk about their experiences and what they learned, as well as giving some suggestions for further enhancing the experience.




Direct download: Yarner_July2010_complete.output.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 1:01pm UTC

When Things Go Wrong - dealing with cross-combing in a top bar hive

Cross-combing is probably the most-reported issue with top bar hives, and it can be tricky to resolve. In this podcast, I talk about how you can most effectively prevent cross-combing, and what you can do about it if it happens despite your best endeavours. I also describe a method of dealing with really serious cross-combing, that is similar to my method for transferring bees from a framed hive to a top bar hive by making use of their natural tendency to build comb downwards.

You will also hear some feedback from participants in a recent Natural Beekeeping event at Embercombe.




Direct download: July2010_when_things_go_wrong.output.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 1:16pm UTC

One of the first problems encountered by beginners to top bar beekeeping is how to get some bees into those boxes. This podcast will help you with some ideas and techniques that can be applied to most of the circumstances you are likely to find yourself in.

A detailed article on this subject with the title 'The Barefoot Beekeeper's Guide to Starting a Top Bar Hive' will be available soon from


Direct download: PC09_July2_2010.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:00am UTC

Slow Beekeeping: Adebisi Aderkunle on top bar beekeeping in Nigeria

Following the last podcast about swarming, a number of people asked me to write this subject up, so you will find a downloadable file that is now available called 'The Barefoot Beekeeper's Guide to Swarming and Swarm Management' on my web site at

This edition is rather different to anything you have heard before - mainly because I will not be doing much of the talking. Instead, I would like to introduce you to a remarkable woman who I met for the first time just a couple of days ago at a meeting of the Southern Counties Joint Consultative Council of the British Bee Keepers Association, where we had both been invited to speak about our use of top bar hives.

Those of you who know my history with the BBKA will understand that I went to this event expecting - how shall we say - a certain amount of resistance. There were no fewer that five BBKA ex-presidents in the room, together with a number of very experienced beekeepers who represented their membership right across the south of England, particularly the south west.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the willingness of the committee members to listen to what must have sounded to some of them to be rather radical ideas, and we had a very constructive and productive meeting.

Two - actually three - things of particular note came out of the meeting: first, it was confirmed that the BBKA does indeed plan to phase out its policy of endorsing pesticides as current contracts expire. I know many people will be pleased to hear that.

Secondly - and at least as exciting - two people present at that meeting, who between them pretty much control beekeeper education in the UK, agreed that it was time to include top bar hives in the BBKA training programme and have promised to do something about it - a major step in the right direction, I think you will agree.

The third good thing to come out of the meeting was that I had the opportunity to meet a remarkable woman called Adebisi Aderkunle, who gave an insightful and fascinating presentation about top bar beekeeping in Nigeria and about the Slow Food movement. Bisi reached beyond the points of disagreement there would inevitably have been around the table had I been the first to speak, and offered a thoughtful and disarming summary of her practices and her approach to natural beekeeping.

Bisi's presentation is the subject of this podcast, and I think you will enjoy it.

Direct download: PC08_complete.output.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 1:14pm UTC

Swarming: why bees do it, and what you can do about it

Swarming is is an expansive, optimistic act, by which honeybees reproduce their colonies. When they feel prosperous, and the weather is set fair, and plentiful food is coming in, that is when the colony divides and half of it moves away to a new location. The laying queen, the mother of the colony - takes off with about half of the mature, flying bees, and they go off in search of a new home, usually a mile or two away from their current location, leaving behind them some special cells containing new queens, one of which will become the new mother of the old colony. Swarming is driven by the all-powerful urge to reproduce, present in all species. Swarming is the honeybees' most important survival strategy, and without it, I doubt they would have survived for the last 50 million years. It has enabled them to move quickly to avoid local disasters and climate change, and to cover promising, new territory quickly and efficiently. You can really feel the bees' excitement building up as swarming day approaches - and when they leave the hive, they stream out and whirl around in a cloud, like a bee tornado, and in a few minutes, settle on a nearby branch, gathered around their queen to protect her. Often, in an apiary with a number of hives, when one swarm emerges, another will come out from a nearby hive very soon after the first - as if the excitement has spread from one hive to the next.   Swarming is far from being a spontaneous event, however. Preparations begin several weeks before it actually takes place, and there are several indicators to look out for that will tell you whether and approximately when your bees are going to swarm.

Direct download: PC006_May16_2010.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:40pm UTC

Local groups, books and volcanic ash

One of the most important things we are doing on the forum is putting people in touch with others in their local area. We really want to develop a support network for beekeepers who want to work in a more natural and sustainable way with bees, and this depends on people being willing to get together in twos, threes or more to share experiences and to learn from each other. You don't need to have a formal membership structure and there doesn't need to be any money involved - just meet up and chat and show each other your bees and your hives and how you do things. If you get a lot of people involved, then you can start thinking about renting a meeting place and inviting speakers if you choose to, or split into special interest groups, and then all meet up together from time to time to compare notes.



Direct download: PC05_April15_2010.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:40pm UTC

Ten Tips to Help Save the Bees

Bees are in trouble, and it is mostly because of us. We have destroyed much of their natural habitat, we have poisoned their food and in the case of honeybees, we have used and abused them for our own purposes while not giving enough attention to their needs and welfare.

Honeybees have been evolving for a very long time – the fossil record goes back at least
100 million years – and they became remarkably successful due to their adaptability to
different climates, varied flora and their tolerance of many shapes and sizes of living
accommodation. They became attractive to humans because of their unique ability to
produce useful things, apparently out of thin air: honey, wax and propolis.

Until the nineteenth century, they were kept in pots, skeps, baskets and a variety of
wooden boxes intended more-or-less to imitate their natural habitat of choice, the
hollow tree. With the invention of the 'movable frame' hive, the second half of that
century saw an exponential growth in commercial-scale beekeeping, and by the time
motor vehicles became widely available, beekeeping on a widespread and industrial
scale became a practical possibility.

Since then, bees have been treated in rather the same way as battery hens: routinely
dosed with antibiotics and miticides in an effort to keep them producing, despite the
growing problems of diseases and parasites and insecticide-treated plants that have led
to the emergence of so-called 'Colony Collapse Disorder', especially in the massive bee-
farming operations in the USA.

It doesn't have to be like this. Some beekeepers have realized that, if bees are to
become healthy enough to develop resistance to disease and the ability to adapt to
pests, then they have to be treated differently – and not just by beekeepers.

Here are some things you can do to help the bees:

1. Stop using insecticides - especially for 'cosmetic' gardening.
There are better ways of dealing with pests - especially biological controls. Modern
pesticides are extremely powerful and many are long-lasting and very toxic to bees and
other insects. Removing all unnecessary pesticides from the environment is probably
the single most important thing we can do to help save the bees.
2. Avoid seeds coated with systemic insecticides.
Beware - many farm seeds are now coated with Clothianidin and related systemic
insecticides, which cause the entire plant to become toxic to bees and all other insects
that may feed on it. The same coatings may soon appear on garden seeds. Check your
seed packets carefully - and if in doubt, ask the manufacturer for full information.

3. Read the labels on garden compost - beware hidden killers!
Some garden and potting composts are on sale that contain Imidacloprid - a deadly
insecticide manufactured by Bayer. It is often disguised as 'vine weevil protection' or
similar, but it is highly toxic to all insects and all soil life, including beneficial earthworms. The insecticide is taken up by plants, and if you use this compost in
hanging baskets, bees seeking water from the moist compost may be killed.

4. Create natural habitat.
If you have space in your garden, let some of it go wild to create a safe haven for bees
and other insects and small mammals. Gardens that are too tidy are not so wildlife-

5. Plant bee-friendly flowers.
You can buy wildflower seeds from many seed merchants, and they can be sown in any
spare patch of ground - even on waste ground that is not being cultivated. Some 'guerilla
gardeners' even plant them in public parks and waste ground.

6. Provide a site for beehives.
If you have some space to spare, you could offer a corner of your garden to a local
beekeeper as a place to keep a hive or two. They will need to have regular access, so
bear this in mind when considering a site.

7. Make a wild bee house.
Providing a simple box as a place for feral bees to set up home is one step short of
taking up beekeeping, but may appeal to those who want to have bees around but don't
want to get involved with looking after them. Ideas for such boxes will be available at

8. Support your local beekeepers.
Many people believe that local honey can help to reduce the effects of hayfever and
similar allergies, which is one good reason to buy honey from a local beekeeper rather
than from supermarkets, most of which source honey from thousands of miles away. If
you can, find a beekeeper who does not use any chemicals in their hives and ask for pure
comb honey for a real treat.

9. Learn about bees - and tell others.
Bees are fascinating creatures that relatively few people take the trouble to understand.
Read a good book about bees and beekeeping, and who knows - you might decide to -

10. Become a beekeeper.
It is easier than you might imagine to become a beekeeper - and you don't need any of
the expensive equipment in the glossy catalogues! Everything you need to keep bees
successfully can be made by anyone with a few simple tools: if you can put up a shelf,
you can probably build a beehive! For details, see

Direct download: PC004_April3_2010.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:22pm UTC

Stupid Beekeepers - a real cause of bee decline?

A provocative podcast this time - looking at some of the ways that stupid, greedy and irresponsible beekeepers may be damaging our bees and risking importing exotic pests and diseases that will make things even more difficult for our indigenous bees.

If you are new to beekeeping and are about to buy a 'nuc' to get you started, you need to listen to this episode.




Direct download: PC003_March05_2010.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 11:55pm UTC

Quick and Easy Winter Feeding with Fondant

As winter fades, our bees must rely on whatever is left of their stores before the first nectar flow begins. If the winter has been long and hard, as this one has been in many places, we may need to top up their stores, but we don't necessarily want to stimulate the queen to start laying in earnest just yet. The answer is to feed fondant - a semi-solid mix of sugar and water - that can be fed at any time of year, but is particularly useful now, as the bees will use it but it will not start the queen laying in earnest.

Here is a quick and easy way to feed fondant in top bar hives, with minimal disturbance to the bees.

Direct download: Feeding_With_Fondant.m4v
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:42am UTC

The Barefoot Beekeeper - Episode 2

Continuing the theme of 'natural beekeeping for beginners', this time I take a look at the various types of hive you can choose from, including the pros and cons of each. Also some thoughts about so-called 'stimulative feeding', and some words about women!



Direct download: PC002_Feb2010.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:22pm UTC

The Barefoot Beekeeper - Episode 1

This podcast series is intended as an introduction to 'natural bee-keeping' for people who want to keep bees mainly for their own sake, rather than for maximum honey production.

If you have no idea who I am or what I am talking about, you will find more information on my web site at and on the Natural Beekeeping Forum at You can download for free my Introduction to Natural Beekeeping in a number of different formats.

If you have questions that you would like me to address in future podcasts, please leave messages here (and please tell me what you thought of this one), or on my FaceBook page - search for BarefootBeekeeper - and follow me on Twitter, where I am BarefootBee.

Happy beekeeping!

Phil Chandler


Direct download: PC001_Feb2010.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:52pm UTC