Episode-944- Phil Chandler “The Barefoot Beekeeper”

Phil Chandler the Barefoot Bee Keeper

Phil Chandler the Barefoot Bee Keeper

Phil Chandler got his “wake-up call” in 1971 when he met Edward Goldsmith who was about to launch The Ecologist magazine.  Phil lived for several years in the 1970s a hut in the hills in northern England, learning to fend for himself by hunting, growing, learning about farming.

Along the way he started own printing business, published local magazines, and later progressed to data processing when computers became available. He even taught IT for a while, then ran rehab project for people with disabilities, many ex-military.

Phil heavily campaigned against GM crops in 1990s, during which time he came to realize the real importance of bees and other pollinators. It was at that time that he took up beekeeping in 2000.  His research on modern methods led him to conclude that things needed to change.  So he experimented with hives and settled on top bar hive.  A few years ago he wrote “The Barefoot Beekeeper”  which has now sold over 15,000 copies worldwide .

Tim joins us today to discuss natural beekeeping for homesteaders and survivalists and answers questions like,  Why are bee so important?, What’s wrong with modern beekeeping? What needs to change with modern agriculture? What can the average non-beekeeper do to help the bees? and What is special about “natural beekeeping”?

Additional Resources for Today’s Show

Remember to comment, chime in and tell us your thoughts, this podcast is one man’s opinion, not a lecture or sermon. Also please enter our listener appreciation contest and help spread the word about our show. Also remember you can call in your questions and comments to 866-65-THINK and you might hear yourself on the air.

50 Responses to Episode-944- Phil Chandler “The Barefoot Beekeeper”

  1. Nice episode Jack. Phil Chandler’s book got me interested in top bar hives, and we made one according to his plans, more or less. It is sitting in our back yard right now, with bees. I hope this episode gets more of your listeners interested in keeping bees in their back yard.
    Sidney

  2. A couple of years ago I built a Top Bar Bee Hive as a result of the work done by Phil. My hive sits in my backyard where the bees are busily working. Thanks Jack for interviewing Phil and spreading the word about beekeeping and the Top Bar Bee Hive!

  3. Wonderful interview! thank you both. I’ve been thinking about going to the top bar as I’ve heard only good things about them. Walter T. Kelly Bee supplies have top bar hives and packages for those who are not confident in building stuff or chasing swarms.

  4. Jack
    Awsome show. I have been thinking of keeping bees,and this show gave me some new ideas to look into. There are two plants that I have noticed that bees just love(well one plant,and one tree). The first is echinacea,and the other is the carambola tree.The carambola tree gets little purple flowers that they go insane over. They don’t grow well in areas that have hard freezes,but are well worth it if you can.Mine here in Florida do great. And a good by-product is that they are heavy producers .Looking forward to the rest of the shows on bee keeping.
    B2B

  5. I have langstroth hives and I have always wondered about the top bar hive and after listening to the podcast I honestly don’t see any advantage to the top bar. (maybe I missed something) It might be cool to say that you are all natural but I have never stumbled into a top bar hive in the woods. If the bees don’t like the home you provided them THEY WILL LEAVE. I have installed package bees in langstroth hives (TNT – TAINT NUTIN TUIT) , just remove some frames and shake them in. I will not buy anymore package bees I will only get nucs in the future (the bees have already accepted the queen in the nucs, not so in pkg bees.) Package bees are cheaper than nucs, pay the extra and get the nucs. African bees are less of a problem today because the same parasites that attack the hives have attacked the wild bees and killed many of them off. Some think bee stings help people with relief of arthritis (I am one). Just some random thoughts. I did enjoy the show! Thanks!

    • I have also had questions about the “all natural” moniker. It is interesting to look at a different method.
      How many nucs do you purchase every year? I have been catching bees using home-made traps, 2011(14trapped), 2012(15 so far). Those bees are free, from my area and overwinter well. The traps hold 8 Deep Lang frames. You ever thought about trapping?

    • @Jason, No I have never trapped bees. The area that I am in honey bees just aren’t around. That’s one of the reasons I started beekeeping.

      • I thought there weren’t any around here either, until I started catching them. I live in mono-crop hell. Sure enough they are around. Just wondering.

      • I have some stuff on letmbee.com. Check the How To….. I am just getting up and going there, but I have been doing a lot of trapping. I didn’t think I had bees around until I started putting out traps.

  6. If money is a issue (which it is many times) , a top bar is DEFINITELY a cheaper way to go. If you want to check out the prices of langstroth hives go to any of these dealers thay are all good and helpful.
    http://www.mannlakeltd.com/
    http://www.dadant.com
    http://www.brushymountainbeefarm.com

    Brushy Mountain has a great free video section

  7. Excellent show, i was so excited when you announced you were looking for a Bee keeper to come and speak. I remember a few years ago i was home on leave and went with my father to work. He works for the natural resources conservation service. There was a poster hanging in his office that was for the awareness of the dangers to our Bee population. I had no idea how many different types of Bees there were or the threat and decline to the population. This was a great show, i loved it and will look into keeping a hive near my property for honey or for conservation porposes.

  8. Ironic that Phil Chandler was on the survival podcast because it was while listening to Phils podcast that I discovered Jack a couple of years ago. Keep up the good work.

  9. Oh by the way, many of the health beneifits that Phil Chandler talked about in honey is not available in the honey you buy at the grocery store. This honey is pasteurized, from what I have heard pretty much all of the health benefits in pasteurized honey have been wiped out. For those people with pollen allergies who take honey as medicine the honey should be from hives within 40 miles of where you live. BUY LOCAL HONEY! If you think about it local honey is like a flu shot for SOME of those who suffer with pollen allergies.

    • Totally agree! Raw, untreated, unfltered, unheated, local honey is the best – and best of all when still in the comb, IMO. That way you get the benefit of th complexity of flavours present, rather than the homogenized commercial product.

  10. Great interview! I have been focused on Permaculture books lately but now I must put Phil’s book at the top of the list. Natural Beekeeping is so darn important for all the reasons Phil mentioned. Great stuff.

    The Top Bar hive supplier in Portland, OR that was mentioned by Phil is Matt Reed at beethinking.com. I have bought product and taken classes from Matt at Beethinking and I highly recommend Matt for either.

    • Roundabouts

      I was so excited to hear some one was in Portland. Yeah close to home! We are in Washougal Wa. Saves me the time of hunting for information. Now I know who to contact.

      @MarkL. did you end up getting bees? Maybe you’d share your story if you did? Or even if you didn’t?

      • @roundabouts, I ended up getting a newly started colony from a neighbor who does Langstroth / Management intensive bee keeping.

        So far so good!

  11. You needed a beekeeper… I’m kicking myself for not recommending Phil earlier! Maybe I thought he was too busy or too international to interview. Found Phil’s site after going MSB and reading his e-book last winter, then on to his site, then a random conversation with an acquaintance landed me a free hive, then a local keeper offered me a new swarm in spring, biobees.com forum has taught me tons, got a veil and some dish-washing gloves ($30) to service and inspect the hive… I’m novice bee keeping! Neighbors, wife, kid and dog don’t mind at all, they love it.
    I have a semi-mentor that doesn’t know much about Kenyan-style top bar hives but he helps out a ton with confidence, I’ve decided to just make them a good home this summer while I continue to educate myself and practice checking on them every few weeks. I’m confident they’ll make it through a CO winter, then maybe some honey will be ready for sharing come spring! Amazing!
    Thanks Jack for the introduction to the Apiary world!

  12. Great episode Jack, I love the episodes where I say “I’m gonna listen to that one again” I’d also recommend the organically managed beekeeping podcast, I don’t think it’s active but there is a ton of great info there.

  13. Another good podcast is http://www.bkcorner.org/ BKCorner. He covers both basic and complex topics.

  14. Another great episode – thanks Jack and Phil. I started beekeeping about 3 years ago using “traditional” methods. I took my first honey crop this year.

    Two questions for Phil:

    1 – can you “relocate” bees from a langstroth to a top bar hive and if so, any thing recomended to make the transition easier?

    2 – one reason I was unable to take any honey until this year is I was unsuccessful in previous years controlling swarming. Is it any easier to control the spring swarms in top bar or do you just let them happen?

    • Sure you can transfer them over – there are several ways to do it and you will find the on the Natural Beekeeping Forum. Sorry, cant be more specific right now, but use the ‘search’ box at the top of the page – something like ‘transfer to langstroth’ or ‘transfer to framed hive’ should do it. My next book will also have instructions.

      If you want/need to control swarming, it is no more difficult in a TBH. I wouldn’t do the ‘queen cut-out’ thing though – better to make a pre-emptive split and then re-combine for the flow.

  15. Nice! Finally! Beekeeping interview. Also agree, too many items pastuerized. What about just nice, simply raw products. Especially for honey, to retain its antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral properities, as well as preserving vitamins, enzymes, which can be destroyoed or lessened by by heating.

  16. Hey Chandler about time I hear your voice again …. You need to do some more of your won podcasts !

    Jack did you post this episode on FB ? I was looking for it and can’t find it. I want to post some pictures of my Chandler inspired hives …. I have sold a bunch this summer. Great episode as always !

  17. Hi Jack and hopefully Phil will read this too. My brother in law is interested in building a top bar bee hive and there is already a large colony living in an old water heater out in a remote location on his property. The water heater where the bees are now is about 1/2 mile from his garden where he plans to locate the top bar structure. How would he go about getting the bees out of the water heater and into a top bar structure? Are there ways to coaxe them out without damaging the hive? What is the best time of year to attempt this?
    How would he know the queen has transferred with the
    entire colony?
    Thanks, Jarrett

    • If possible, wait for a spell of cold or cool/wet weather when the bees are not flying and move the water heater intact to the exact location where you want the hive to be.
      Get your hive ready and figure out how to get into the water heater to retrieve some comb – one or two chunks is enough. Tie that to as many top bars as you need and place in the hive.
      Move water heater a few yards to one side and place hive in the spot it came from with the entrance facing the same way. The flying bees will now enter hive.
      Now you need to get a queen in there. If you can get the queen out of the heater, that’s cool but sounds like it would be seriously messy! I suggest you get another beekeeper or breeder to supply a queen and show you how to introduce it.
      And ou might be lucky and just catch a swarm from the water heater without having to move it!
      Cut-out is the next option….

      • Thanks Phil, honored and very appreciative you answered my question. Your answer makes great sense. I’ll pass it along to my brother in law. Hope to hear you back on soon!
        Jarrett

  18. Great episode.

    I wonder if the bees are relatively chill if you’re not manipulating their hive? IOW, could I put the hive basically in the garden and feel relatively safe from attack if I’m not messing with them or is there some kind of safe distance to locate hives away from what you most want polinated?

    My father has a FATAL level reaction to bee stings (he has a few minutes from sting to response or it’s over). I would have to get checked before I would even think to start a hive.

    • Bees are mostly OK if you don’t mess with them, but there are NO GUARANTEES! Your father should carry an Epipen if he doesn’t already and you should get tested before messin with bees!

  19. When using this method, consuming the honey in the comb is necessary because the comb is too fragile to uncap with a hot knife and spin out the the honey out of the comb . Using a solar melter would give a person liquid honey, but then the heat from the sun would not leave the honey raw. Not sure how he keeps bee larva out of the comb, with the conventional langstroth hives cooled through the use of a screened bottom, the queen lays only in the brood boxes, honey is only in top super boxes. A queen excluder keeps her laying only in the bottom brood box area. Filtering is for those who don’t want to eat bee parts and barn flies that can drop into the honey. However, I do like the idea of trying to harvest the spring honey a year later and leaving adequate honey stores.
    If a person reading this is in Santa Clara County, CA, the Santa Clara County beekeeping guild does mentor its members; you can sign up in the spring and get a free mentor, and if a member is willing to go out and learn swarm catching 2x, that person gets a free swarm. Membership costs under $20 for the whole year. However, they don’t use top hives and can’t advise on them, but do help with the problems like tracheal mites, hive beetles, robbing, etc.

  20. Thanks for all your comments and please visit my site if you need any more help getting started.

    • Great to see you on TSP, Phil. I started listening to Jack after your recommendation. Hope to hear more Bio Bees podcast episodes soon!

  21. Great job guys.

    About 5 years ago I worked for a company that specialized in bee extermination/removal from people’s houses. It was only a summer job, but since I moved on, the company has completely changed the way they approach the issue of bee infestations in people’s homes. Everything they do now is a live “rescue”, where no bees are killed. Just simply removed and given to local beekeepers.

    Haven’t started keeping any bees of my own yet, but definitely will once I am somewhere more permanent.

    If you live in the southwest, several varieties of iceplants and other succulent groundcovers are BIG attractors for bees.

  22. Thanks Jack and Phil for the wonderful podcast.

    I thought I would mention a way harvest the honey for those that choose to not use it only from the comb. I keep bees as pollinators but also as a way to improve my self-sufficiency (no need to buy sugar). It isn’t convenient for me to only use honey from the comb if I am using it in recipes, et cetera. So, if you cut your capped honey comb off the top bar (leaving about 1 inch as a guide for them to continue to make their comb straight) and put it in a bucket with a lid (as you are harvesting from all your hives, other bees will try and get the honey back from you if you don’t put a lid on the bucket). Once you are done working the hives, move away from the hives and fish out all the bees that are swimming in the honey (it will pool at the bottom of the bucket) while you are still suited up. Then go inside and use two knives to cut the honey comb into tiny pieces, following that with a potato masher or the end of a rolling pin to totally mash the honey and comb into a slurry. Put a colander (not a mesh strainer) over a stock pot and pour the slurry into the colander. They bees’ wax will stay in the colander and the honey will drip out into the stock pot. Stir up the wax once after about a day and then after two days, the honey will be dripped out. There will still be a little honey in the wax that you cannot get out, but you should then put the honey in a dish outside and the bees will strip the rest of the honey and take it back to their hives. After a week you can then put the wax into the solar melter (a black baking dish with a piece of glass over it works awesomely) and then collect your wax that night or after a few days depending on temperatures and cloud coverage.

  23. bee stings cause me mild allergic reactions – not epipen serious but worst than most people. Meat tenderizer dissolves proteins and helps reduce the swelling / neutralize the venom. I purchased some essential oils and the Purification oil and lavender worked great. I just returned from a two week bicycle tour where I got a bee logged under a helmet strap. Calmly stopped and applied the meat tenderizer and then the oils. I forgot I had gotten stung – it worked great.

    Thanks for the show.

  24. Cool show! I tried doing a top bar hive and also have two Langs. The main advantage of the TBH is the very low startup cost. However for your investment in langs you get much more versatility including being compatible with 99% of other bee keepers equipment.. or the option to run foundation in your honey supers, whole hive or whatever.

    As far as being “all natural” you can easily have foundation-less hives in a langstroth hives.. nothing stops you.. or do a mix of both! You can even get “ross rounds” which are these nifty frames you can put in the honey super where the bees will draw foundation-less comb right into the shape of a tuna sized can. You can then pack them in these types of cans and sell at a premium.. pop them right out of the molds.

    Another thing that is bandied about is the fact that you don’t have to “lift heavy stuff” when doing top bar hives. Well unless you are seriously disabled and can’t lift an 8 frame medium (maybe 25 or 30 pounds) then I have to say …. SO WHAT! Not that big a deal unless you have a serious issue.. in this case maybe TBH is the only type you can do

    One other note is that I had 2 packages abscond from my TBH.. i was later told I had to rub down the interior with wax as bees don’t like new wood?? However they took to my unwaxed lang hives right away.. so I don’t know.

    My lang hives are also easier to feed. I have a hive top feeder that takes 3 gallons and can be filled without disturbing the hive at all. The TBH was harder to deal with in this regard, although admittedly I don’t typically feed after the colony is established so this is a short term concern.

    I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t make a TBH, I think it’s a cool project, but if you want to get 70 to 90 pounds of honey out of your hive and you can get over using evil “foundation” then the lang is the way to go, or not, at least you have the option. You could make a nice compromise by letting them rear their brood without foundation and use foundation to maximize honey production.

    Regarding packages and accepting the queen, I requeened this year to northern queens and my hives accepted their new patriarchs without issue.

    Just a few thoughts.

    As always, love the show.

    • TBHs are really for people who put bees first and honey yields second. They are designed to allow bees maximum freedom to build comb and exercise fully natural behaviour, so no frames, no foundation, no synthetic inputs, no robbing honey beyond what the bees can comfortably afford to lose.

      From this point of view, TBHs have many advantages – including low start-up costs – but also including: low on-going costs (no foundation and frames to replace, no extras to buy), no additional storage space required, no heavy lifting and so on. They are also extremely versatile – I would say much more so than a Lang – as you can do splits, swarm control and honey extraction without ever lifting a box.

      I have had many emails from women, from people with disabilities and from older people who say how grateful they are for being introduced to a method for keeping bees that does not involve lifting boxes. I think you are understating the weight of a full super – I know that a full Dadant super (as used to be used at Buckfast Abbey) can weigh upwards of 65 pounds and even when empty they can be a struggle for some people to lift from head height.

      As for packages disappearing, we have had several reports of this happening, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that packages are not coherent families, but rather a bunch of bees thrown together with a queen in a cage who is not their mother! We don’t do packages in the UK and I have very rarely heard of a swarm leaving a TBH – a swarm being a proper bee family – and I have heard of packages absconding from conventional hives, despite the presence of wax foundation.

      It’s a personal choice how you go into beekeeping and if your goal is to maximize honey production, then by all means go with Langs and manage them the way others manage theirs and with luck you may not have to follow the drug routine that most use. You may get away with just using comb guides and no foundation and you may manage without queen excluders, but you will need a stack of extra boxes, and probably an extractor and settling tanks and all the lovely stainless steel in those glossy catalogues!

      If you want to keep it low-cost and simple and know that the bees can behave like bees do, then I recommend the TBH.

      • I don’t think management techniques are tied to the shape of the hive… though I do agree with you that it might be better for people with disabilities.

        You can easily not use foundation or drugs in a langstroth hive… it’s not a problem. The hive shape doesn’t dictate the management practices.

        Anyway I have a TBH and I think it’s a cool concept. Sorry if I sound like I am attacking it. I just don’t want people to have the impression that IF you are drug free and IF you choose not to use foundation that you MUST use a TBH as this is not true.

        -Nick

        • You are right that the drug routine is not compulsory, although the design of the Lang means that you cannot easily optimise the space for bees – though more easily for the beekeeper.

          However, I would disagree that management is independent of hive design: there are things you can do easily in a TBH on the level that you simply cannot do in a Lang – certainly not without lifting boxes. I can check both brood and stores in a couple of minutes without exposing all my bees to the elements – easy in a TBH; impossible in a Lang. Feeding in a TBH is dead easy with the right arrangement (video coming soon) and requires no special equipment (i.e. no commercial feeder). I could go on, but I’m at risk of boring people… so I guess we just have to say that some folks like one type and some like another!

      • Phil,

        as always, thanks for your reply. I agree with you about not exposing the bees as being a nice advantage. In fact in my TBH design I have included a glass viewing window. It is covered when I’m not using it by a piece of wood. I suppose nothing would stop me from doing the same on one of my langstroth hives, but I digress.

        I enjoy operating the TBH which I built very easily for about $20 using your design.

        Learning more about how to feed more easily would be nice so I look forward to your video.

        Well I think we can both agree that more people keeping bees is a good thing. I just want to make sure people have the best chance of success. I would advise them to find a local mentor, possibly through your website (biobees.com) or a local organization that utilizes the management style they want to emulate.

        I went it more or less alone and I think that contributed to my initial failure (two times over) with the top bar hive and got me frustrated, however with the lang style I had a local bee keeper holding my hand and had great success and over-wintered 2 colonies without a problem.

      • Probably not the best place to post this… but I saw a design online that incorporated a langstroth honey super w/ a top bar brood… interesting… anyway cheers.

        -nick

  25. Oh, one more note.. I made a miniature cider press out of 2x3s to “crush and strain” foundationless honey comb. I’ll be using an extractor moving forward, but if you want a low cost and efficient method you basically build a small press then use a car jack to crush the comb. Put the comb in a nylon pain strainer. I just collected it in a pan then poured it into mason jars.

    -Nick

  26. Phil –
    I am glad to read your statement – “I guess we just have to say that some folks like one type and some like another!”.

    I share many of your ideas and practices as far as NOT treating and maintaining good local genetics. I have never heard or seen a statement from you like the one above. Thanks!!! Many beekeepers are locked into the way that they do things and everything else is WRONG.

    Your podcast initially turned me on to TSP so thanks for many things.