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Bees....and keeping them

 
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Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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I attended a sustainability show a couple weekends back up in Eugene and had an interesting conversation with the rep from the Lane County beekeepers association.... Immediately after introducing himself and the organization after finding out that I was interested in getting back to beekeeping again, he told me that it was important to feed and treat the bees to make sure that we are not "part of the problem". I left the booth quickly thereafter. Interesting approach for the first minute with a stranger.

I'm excited to get started on building my top bar hives this month. I need to get to work on designing the plans so that they can accept frames from a standard Langstroth hive body. I'll be starting with 5 frame nucs, so I'm kind of stuck with the dimensions.
 
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Now that you all got me worried about using boiled linseed oil on the outside of my hives, let me tell you what I found out. First, Linseed oil and Flax-seed oil are the same thing. It is edible and actually used as a food supplement.

Second, when you boil it, it becomes inedible.

Third, there are actually two types of "Boiled Linseed Oil", one type is just as advertised it is boiled causing the oils to polymerize allowing the oil to cure faster. The other "Boiled Linseed Oil" is not actually boiled at all. It's actually mostly raw linseed oil, with plasticizers, hardeners, and heavy metals to make it act like true boiled oil, without the time and effort it takes to actually boil it (I stole this sentence from another board). You can tell which is which by reading the warnings on the back of the can. The bad stuff mentions, the metals and hazards from breathing it in. The good stuff tells you it is inedible, but does not talk about the metals or breathing hazards. Also, the good stuffs only list linseed oil in its ingredients, nothing else.

Luckily, I seemed to have used the right stuff. That said, I will probably not put anything on my next set of hives. It will be interesting to compare how each hive holds up over the years. Thanks for the comments.
 
steward
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glad to hear you ended up with the good stuff, Clifford. everything I've seen at my local hardware stores is chock full of nasties.
 
pollinator
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Clifford, beautiful hive. Question... do you put a condenser box in your roof? If you do, can you describe it's dimensions and contents?

Pobably a dumb question, but it seems that it is one of the advantages of the Warre hive.
 
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I think beeswax would be a good idea for the exterior. Heated sufficiently it would at the least offer some moisture protection.
 
Clifford Reinke
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nancy sutton wrote:Clifford, beautiful hive. Question... do you put a condenser box in your roof? If you do, can you describe it's dimensions and contents?

Pobably a dumb question, but it seems that it is one of the advantages of the Warre hive.



I'm very new to bees. I don't even know about condenser boxes, do I need one??? I do have a 1/4" cut piece of plywood that fits directly on top of the top bars in case I get condensation drips from the metal roof.
 
tel jetson
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Clifford Reinke wrote:

nancy sutton wrote:Clifford, beautiful hive. Question... do you put a condenser box in your roof? If you do, can you describe it's dimensions and contents?

Pobably a dumb question, but it seems that it is one of the advantages of the Warre hive.



I'm very new to bees. I don't even know about condenser boxes, do I need one??? I do have a 1/4" cut piece of plywood that fits directly on top of the top bars in case I get condensation drips from the metal roof.



I would recommend something like a Warre quilt. it would insulate against cold in the winter, and heat in the summer.

if you built the rest of your hive without too much trouble, a quilt should be a piece of cake for you. basically a frame that will fit above the top bars and below the roof. staple some sort of fabric or burlap across the bottom to retain some insulating material. that material could be cedar shavings, moss, dried leaves, et cetera. the only potential hassle would be having to redesign your roof so that it covers the quilt completely.
 
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I'm intrigued by Perone hives lately:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9uVzPgfnM4

Another basic explanation here:

http://beehivejournal.blogspot.ca/2010/02/oscar-perone-hive.html

From what I understand, Perone is a successful Argentinean commercial beekeeper who uses feral bees and no chemical treatments or food substitutes. He describes the brood nest/main hive as a sealed environment that must be kept sealed for the health of the colony; the colony is considered as one complete organism instead of as individual bees. On top of the brood nest is placed a super that is left, permanently, as the colony's honey reserves. Any supers added above that are considered to be fair game for the beekeeper and are only removed once a year. No comb inspections, no entering the hive whatsoever. I want to try this.
 
tel jetson
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I've also been interested in Perone's ideas. most interesting to me is the huge size. it is frequently mentioned that honey production increases geometrically with colony size, so a huge hive that accommodates a huge colony could be pretty great. I would like to try something along those lines this year if I get a chance.
 
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Question from a newbie here . . . my ex used to keep hives both in our suburban yard and at his folks' small acreage an hour or so away; I observed without participating much for about seven years (I did a lot of watching . . . and some standing around fetching and carrying while he was trying to save swarms, and some honey straining and canning). Is there some kind of problem now being seen with the standard Langstroth hive? I have a few he left in the mountain cabin and willed to me when he let me buy out that property in the divorce, and I was rather hoping to get them filled and flourishing. The location is reasonably isolated both from agricultural chemicals and domesticated bees carrying various parasites, although of course nothing is completely isolated.

Although the mice got into the bee-boxes during the years when I had to leave the place empty, and I'm going to have to bleach them all down for sanitation.
 
Amy Bee
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Cynndara, I'm not keeping bees yet. But we are getting ready to. After researching, I went from wanting Langstroth hives to topbar hives and now feel that Perone's got it right, so I'm going to try his method first. If you Google "Oscar Perone" or "Perone hives" you should find some info. He actively converts Langstroths to his style of management so you might be able to use the old equipment if his style or a version of it jives for you.

I like the idea of bees making comb similar to the way they would in the wild, in long deep arcs. This requires a taller box than you get with one Langstroth frame box (I might not be using the correct terms for the parts of the hive so please bear with me). I *think* that bees who are able to replicate as close to a wild hive as possible will have the best chances.

Although aimed at top bar hive owners, the site www.biobees.com is a good resource, there are many others out there. Now I am off to continue my armchair analyzing until we get these hives done and catch a swarm!
 
tel jetson
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Langstroth hives do have some inherent issues, as pretty much any artificial or even natural hive does. I would say that most of the problems with keeping bees in Langstroth hives have to do with management practices, though. the one exception to that is the nearly universal use of frames, which create a lot of dead space in a hive and a lot of hiding places for pests.

other than that, I think that if you've got a lot of Langstroth bodies in decent shape, you would be silly to ditch them in favor of other hives. you could easily manage Langstroth hives using Warre methods or Perone style. if you wanted to manage them like a Warre, you would nadir bodies instead of supering them, and you would use top bars instead of frames. to treat it like Perone, you would leave a large permanent brood nest consisting of maybe two deep bodies and a body dedicated to honey that you never harvested above that. then you would super on top of those three boxes for your own honey harvest. you would also only use top bars.

the biggest difference between those two options is that Warre methods continually renew comb as it is harvested. this means that toxins and mess that might otherwise build up in the wax over time are cycled out and the colony may be healthier as a result. the downside there being that bees use more resources to build wax. with Perone methods, the brood chamber is never disturbed, so the bees don't have to rebuild nearly as much comb, but it may be contaminated over time. the wax won't stay there forever, though, as wax moths will chew bits of it over time and it will also be cycled out over a much longer period.

both options have their advantages, and both are much better than conventional Langstroth management with it's frequent and disruptive intervention.

as far as cleaning them, I would opt for toasting them with a torch over bleaching.
 
Cynndara Morgan
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OK. I looked over a few pages on Warre's method and Perone's concerns. Neither seems too terribly off to me, but neither really seems to mandate that I junk all my woodenware, either. Basically, Perone says not to feed bees sugar, and not to rip off more honey than they can spare. Uh, DUH? I was under the impression that feeding was an emergency measure for Northern beekeepers whose bees could starve over a six-month winter, or for administering meds. In Virginia, winter lasts six weeks, with several breaks for defecation flights. My location will have perfectly adequate bee-forage; we selected the place partly on that basis. Maple, sourwood, liriodendron, honey and black locust are all in good supply, as well as a fine autumn bloom of goldenrod and aster. Meds, well, my ex struggled with those and with the varroa, and I've read a bit of the alternative literature. The natural hive structure looks like it might be useful with the varroa; the logic is similar to the people who claim that using small-cell starter comb encourages a more natural comb size that doesn't leave the varroa room to grow. Tracheal mites were never much of a problem for us and mint works just fine on them. I wasn't too keen on the terramycin patties every spring, I was intending to "wait and see" if there really was a need for them as the ex never really settled that issue. A lot of the "standard" methods, frankly, are for people who keep hundreds of hives and cart them all over the country in the backs of trucks, which I can't see as good for any living thing.

All that said, the Warre system requires lifting the ENTIRE COLONY up to place new supers on the bottom. Being under five feet and over fifty, that just ain't gonna fly for me. I can use a stepladder to get up and place a couple of shallow honey supers; we used one or two deeps for the brood area, which would only be disturbed if the ex was trying to mess with the queens. Swarming and supercession was a problem for us; it's better to intentionally place a young queen in an old hive than suddenly find the colony going queenless when you're unprepared. But, that's an issue the ex never really solved on a systematic basis, just tried to deal with as it came up. Looking at these references, I do remember a vague impression that colonies given two full, deep boxes as brood area ("doubles") seemed to do better than his sources were telling him they ought to, and were some of his best. And, uh, given what the mice did to the frames and comb that were left in those boxes, those were a dead loss anyway. I recall that it takes bees a good deal of time and effort to make comb when you rather would like if they were socking away honey. But if it saves me a couple hundred dollars at the outset, I might do best to let the girls do it their own way. Especially if that lets them incorporate their own defense strategies. Are any of you raising bees in Appalachia?
 
tel jetson
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Cynndara Morgan wrote:OK. I looked over a few pages on Warre's method and Perone's concerns. Neither seems too terribly off to me, but neither really seems to mandate that I junk all my woodenware, either.



definitely not. you should certainly keep your existing hives. were it me, I would probably cut the frames down to just top bars, but that's me.

Cynndara Morgan wrote:Basically, Perone says not to feed bees sugar, and not to rip off more honey than they can spare.



Oscar Perone also advocates the use of what most conventional beekeepers would consider a huge brood nest.

Cynndara Morgan wrote:Meds, well, my ex struggled with those and with the varroa, and I've read a bit of the alternative literature. The natural hive structure looks like it might be useful with the varroa; the logic is similar to the people who claim that using small-cell starter comb encourages a more natural comb size that doesn't leave the varroa room to grow. Tracheal mites were never much of a problem for us and mint works just fine on them. I wasn't too keen on the terramycin patties every spring, I was intending to "wait and see" if there really was a need for them as the ex never really settled that issue.



I'm fairly certain that, while a hive built with the health of the colony in mind helps, developing varroa resistance has a lot more to do with management than hardware. plenty of folks using Warré and Perone hives have losses due to varroa. the decision not to treat, though, means that only colonies with some level of resistance are able to reproduce successfully. any kind of treatment, no matter how benign it seems, prevents increased resistance. there is also the issue of vertical vs horizontal transmission of pests and diseases. vertical transmission is from a colony to it's offspring, which occurs during swarming. horizontal transmission is between colonies, which can happen when bees of different colonies interact, or, more commonly, through the strange habits of conventional beekeepers. vertical transmission encourages resistance and benign coexistence of disease/pest and host, while horizontal transmission encourages virulence.

regarding small-cell foundation: meh. it's still artificially imposing a uniform cell size on the bees. given their druthers, bees create a variety of cell sizes to suit their own needs. it may well be better than using larger foundation, but it seems a poor substitute for allowing natural comb.

Cynndara Morgan wrote:All that said, the Warre system requires lifting the ENTIRE COLONY up to place new supers on the bottom. Being under five feet and over fifty, that just ain't gonna fly for me.



many folks build a mechanical lift. there are some available for sale, though it would certainly be more economical to build one yourself. if you use the Langstroth boxes, using a lift might require attaching handles to the bodies. such a lift would make it quite easy to nadir boxes.

Cynndara Morgan wrote:I can use a stepladder to get up and place a couple of shallow honey supers; we used one or two deeps for the brood area, which would only be disturbed if the ex was trying to mess with the queens. Swarming and supercession was a problem for us; it's better to intentionally place a young queen in an old hive than suddenly find the colony going queenless when you're unprepared. But, that's an issue the ex never really solved on a systematic basis, just tried to deal with as it came up.



most folks I've encountered who practice more bee-centric beekeeping prefer to allow swarming. that isn't to say that they encourage swarming, but it is seen as a necessary and beneficial part of the bee lifecycle. many folks have found that the colony remaining after a swarm departs exhibits increased vigor and production. and if the weather and entrance behavior are observed, swarms are fairly easy to predict and collect to increase and replenish the apiary. the typical methods of swarm prevention, on the other hand, are quite invasive, disruptive, and detrimental to the health of the colony.

supersedure is also rarely an issue. if a new queen fails for some reason, a colony that is allowed plenty of brood can easily create an emergency queen.

Cynndara Morgan wrote:Looking at these references, I do remember a vague impression that colonies given two full, deep boxes as brood area ("doubles") seemed to do better than his sources were telling him they ought to, and were some of his best.



this gets to one important part of Perone's ideas, and what has been observed in several studies: a larger colony is more productive. it isn't an arithmetical relationship, where 100,000 bees would produce twice the honey that 50,000 bees would. it's rather closer to a geometric relationship, where a colony of 100,000 bees produces four times what 50,000 bees would. I'm sure that there's an inflection point where adding more bees to the population wouldn't work, but for the most part, the larger the colony, the better. some folks take this further and use two-queen arrangements to allow even larger colonies. it's an interesting idea that I have yet to try out myself, but I'm tempted.

Cynndara Morgan wrote:And, uh, given what the mice did to the frames and comb that were left in those boxes, those were a dead loss anyway. I recall that it takes bees a good deal of time and effort to make comb when you rather would like if they were socking away honey. But if it saves me a couple hundred dollars at the outset, I might do best to let the girls do it their own way. Especially if that lets them incorporate their own defense strategies.



if you do opt for Oscar Perone's methods, I would suggest (again. sorry.) skipping the frames, at least in the brood nest and the honey super left for the bees. as there will really be no reason to remove any of those combs, frames can only cause problems. for the rest, if you plan to harvest using a centrifugal extractor, frames may simplify things. even then, it's reasonably easy to extract top bar comb. frames offer little advantage if extraction will be done with a press, or by hand and strainer.

as far as the extra time and effort required for the bees to build comb, well, sure. young bees, though, have almost hyperactive wax glands. makes me wonder if they would only be horribly frustrated if there wasn't an opportunity to build more comb. and then again, there's the issue of toxins accumulating in wax that is reused again and again. frequent renewal of comb keeps things nice and clean, and provides a very useful product to the beekeeper.

Cynndara Morgan wrote:Are any of you raising bees in Appalachia?



not I. it's certainly a reasonable question, though, as local conditions can make all the difference.
 
tel jetson
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tel jetson wrote:supersedure is also rarely an issue. if a new queen fails for some reason, a colony that is allowed plenty of brood can easily create an emergency queen.



I should mention that any time a new queen is involved, the possibility of failure to mate exists. there may still be time for emergency queens, but an un-mated queen may also doom a colony. to my knowledge, bad weather when a queen needs to mate is the primary cause of mating failure.
 
Cynndara Morgan
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And considering that swarm/supersedure season is in May/June in my neck of the woods, during which the Monsoon inevitably brings a two-week period of constant rain at temps of about 50, that could have been some of the problem right there.
 
tel jetson
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Cynndara Morgan wrote:And considering that swarm/supersedure season is in May/June in my neck of the woods, during which the Monsoon inevitably brings a two-week period of constant rain at temps of about 50, that could have been some of the problem right there.



should be possible to combine a hive with a drone layer (un-mated queen) with a hive with a mated queen. should just end up with one large queenright colony. not so bad.
 
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Does anyone know of beekeepers that are allergic to bees?
I am allergic, but I will at one point like to have some bees . . .
Those nice white suits look great, but I have heard one can get stung through them.
I am not really scared of bees, also, I used to play with fire . . . so if you know of any beekeepers who are allergic, or any recommendations from expert beekeepers regarding this, please let me know.
Thanks
 
tel jetson
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hmm. I don't know that I'm quite allergic, but I swell up like crazy. when I got started, my mentor said that with each sting, the pain and swelling will diminish. that has not been the case for me. the only thing I really worry about, though, is stings close to my neck. my eyes swell pretty much shut if I get stung on the face, but that's only really a problem if I need to drive.

you're right that the suits are no guarantee against stings. keeping bees, it's pretty hard to avoid stings entirely. depending on how bad your reaction is, I would suggest either getting the shots to do away with the allergy, or carrying an epi-pen with you. probably also best to never work with the bees alone.
 
Clifford Reinke
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At the Mother Earth News Fair last year, one of the vendors selling top bar hives was allergic to bees. She swore by Prylosec of all things. Said it worked great for bee stings. Later that year my wife, who is allergic to bee stings was stung. She took some prylosec right away and was amazed with the results. Normally a sting will bother her for days, this time things were OK within 15 minutes. Full disclosure, she did go through the shots back in the 70's, but still had lots of swelling with bee stings.

Bee stings don't bother me so much, so I have not tried the prylosec out myself.

In the bee class we took this spring, the instructor said most people who think they are allergic are not. What they really have is a venom reaction. This causes swelling and pain around the sting site, but not the airway constriction or shock that a real allergic reaction causes. She also said that people who are not allergic, can suddenly become allergic. Her theory, which she jokingly told us, was everyone gets a certain number of stings before becoming allergic. Unfortunately that number is different for each person. She knew several beekeepers that ended up quitting after becoming severely allergic to the bees they had raised for years.
 
Cynndara Morgan
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MMMmmmmm, Clifford. After twenty years in medical research/pharmacology and toxicology, let me comment on that last. First, people who are allergic can develop resistance to an allergen if they are exposed to it -- that's what the formal shots try to do. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. Some people are SO allergic that they risk their lives by exposure, and therefore trying to develop resistance is downright dangerous. Secondly, bee venom is one of the most allergenic substances on earth, and a sting injects it straight into the bloodstream, where it can most effectively activate allergic responses. Third, despite Second, bee venom also contains an amazing array of anti-inflammatory substances that can reduce other inflammatory reactions such as arthritis, gout, and MS symptoms; thus there are people who deliberately sting themselves in order to trade the short-term pain (if not allergic) for the long-term relief. For these reasons, and the fact that every individual's reaction to the allergenic proteins in the venom is different, and their mix of inflammatory substances affected by the anti-inflammatories is different, everyone reacts slightly differently to bee stings. That reaction can change over time. A person who is repeatedly stung -- especially if it occurs in a single mass event -- may become "sensitized" and suddenly exhibit an allergic reaction where they didn't have one before. But this certainly isn't inevitable. The interaction of personal biochemistry and environment is massively complex, and as the research team at Philip Morris informed my ex when he was interning there, "Given the exact same circumstances of exposure, temperature, nutrients and humidity, the organism will do as it damned well pleases. Welcome to the wonderful world of applied biology." This is why when it comes to something as complex and variable as agriculture, which involves multiple organisms and complex environments, YOUR mileage is the only metric that matters.

Prilosec is an H1-blocker, that is, a selective anti-histamine. So if your inflammatory response is operating off the H1 rather than the H2 pathway, it may effectively inhibit an allergic reaction. OTC antihistamines may also be effective. Epi-pen is a last-ditch rescue med for an allergic reaction that's blocking your airway. It does NOT actually inhibit the inflammatory/allergic response; it alleviates the single major life-threatening symptom by other mechanisms. If you can get an anti-histamine to work fast enough, it will do a more complete job.

Unfortunately, I have an idiosyncratic reaction to H2 antihistamines. They cause hallucinations!
 
tel jetson
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I'll add that in many instances of life-threatening reaction, the first sting or episode doesn't cause a serious problem. it's the next sting a week or two later. something to do with mast cells that I'm not entirely clear on.

I should also add that I've never used the epi-pen, and don't plan to. it's strictly an emergency precaution since bee allergy runs in my family. if I get stung, I just swell up and look ridiculous for two or three days. like others mentioned, though, reactions can change over time, and I don't want to find out I've developed an allergy without having some recourse.
 
Clifford Reinke
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Cynndara,

Thank you for sharing your knowledge and clarifying some things for me. Especially the part about why Prilosec even had a chance of working. I could not figure out why it would work. I was skeptical about it, until I observed how it worked on my wife. She used to carry Benidril (sp) around in case of stings, but Prilosec seems to work much better for her.
 
Clifford Reinke
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All this talk and no pictures of bees! My first hives, on the day I installed the packages, (this April).
 
M Marx
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Thanks -- are OTC meds H2 blockers?-- I have always heard about benadryl, but never had to use it -- I have never heard that prylosec works -- will buy some promptly.
I got the shots as a kid.
This really helps me moving forward, much thanks!
 
Cynndara Morgan
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Actually I got it backwards. Too many years since I was in Pharmacology now! H2 is the antacid group like Prilosec. H1 is the OTC bronchoconstriction/allergy med group like Benadryl (diphenhydramine). H3 receptors are poorly studied and mediate neurotransmitter release, which is the probable cause of my hallucinations, as well as the drowsiness that's a more typical response to allergy meds. (HUMAN PHARMACOLOGY, Wingard et al, 1991 -- one of many, many free textbooks handed out to my boss by desperate publishers). But again, 1) most drugs that affect one receptor subset will also affect the others, but probably not as much, 2) individual specifications can vary (yes, YOUR body might have h2 receptors coming out the wazoo and almost no H1s, or vice-versa), 3) developmental history and environment can lead to up- or down-regulation of receptor populations, 4) many drugs will act as partial BLOCKERS at one receptor while being normal agonists (increase/activate effects) at another, and 5) most body systems have what is known as "autoceptors", which are receptors on the cells that secrete a neurotransmitter or hormone, that detect when they're swimming in the stuff and transmit information to the cell to STOP! YOU'VE DONE ENOUGH!

Very complex stuff. So in any individual case, your own experience is the best predictor of future results, but there IS no absolute predictor of future results. For instance, most of the time I drink alcohol I get a headache about 45 minutes later and then I get REAL sleepy, end of experience, no real point in drinking. One time in twenty, I get socially relaxed, flirty, make brilliantly witty jokes and become the life of the party. I usually Know when it will work . . . but I couldn't tell you why. Probably it's the result of pre-existing neurotransmitter balances that I can sense as part of my "mood". Certainly it has something to do with how much sleep I've had recently. But the important lesson is, when dealing with a complex system you can't assume that A + B always equals C and not D or E. It's more like a moving probability function. Even somebody like myself who's never had a serious allergic reaction to bees in fifty years should keep emergency Epi on hand in case the unpredictable happens. Unless they are likely to have a deadly reaction to Epi.
 
tel jetson
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Cynndara Morgan wrote:Even somebody like myself who's never had a serious allergic reaction to bees in fifty years should keep emergency Epi on hand in case the unpredictable happens. Unless they are likely to have a deadly reaction to Epi.



what fun.
 
Just put the cards in their christmas stocking and PRESTO! They get it now! It's like you're the harry potter of permaculture. richsoil.com/cards
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