Dr. Lisa: This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you are listening to the Dr. Lisa radio hour and podcast, show number 132, “Bees,” airing for the first time on Sunday, March 23rd, 2014. Today on our show, we have Christy Hemenway of Gold Star Honeybees and Dr. Theo Cherbuliez, a psychiatrist and apitherapist. What do the bees have to teach us? Much more than we realize. These insects, which pollinate the plants that feed us, are offering important information about the impact of humans upon the environment. Bees are also used increasingly in healing therapies. Today, we speak with Christy Hemenway and Dr. Theo Cherbuliez, and explore what the bees have to teach us. Thank you for joining us.
As a doctor, I can’t tell you how often I recommend people use natural honey … natural, organic, locally produced honey from local honeybees as a means of staving off allergies and promoting good health. I, myself, use honey pretty much every morning, so I understand the importance of having good bees because without good bees, we wouldn’t have good honey. Today, we have someone who understands bees even better. This is Christy Hemenway. She is the founder of Gold Star Honeybees, a company that creates a low-tech, natural beekeeping system known as the top bar hive, which allows bees to make their own natural beeswax honeycomb. Christy is also the author of The Thinking Beekeeper, a guide to natural beekeeping in top bar hives, and a strong advocate for understanding the interrelatedness of bees, human health, and the health of the planet. Thanks for coming in today, Christy.
Christy: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Lisa: Christy, the first time that I heard of you or of Gold Star Honeybees, you were giving a TEDx talk in Portland TEDxDirigo. You were talking about something that was kind of scary, colony collapse disorder, and how this is related to, really, the health of all of us.
Christy: Indeed it is. My favorite, by John Muir, addresses that by saying that if you tug on one thing in nature, you’re going to find that it’s attached to everything else. Nothing will bring that point home to you like being a beekeeper, where you suddenly start to see just how connected everything is. Without bees, no food. Without … Or, with using the pesticides and toxic stuff on the food that we eat, you’re affecting the bees. Anything that goes on with the air or the soil or the water is all … It’s all connected.
Dr. Lisa: So, what is colony collapse disorder? Why is it something that your average person, say me, should care about?
Christy: Well, colony collapse disorder, which we refer to as CCD, is the name we gave to the phenomenon that started to happen late in 2006 where a commercial beekeeper by the name of Dave Hackenberg, from Pennsylvania, had gone to a beeyard where he had about 400 hives resting in Florida. They were boomers, just really big, thriving hives. Two to three weeks later, he went back to visit that same beeyard and found that only 36 of those colonies were still alive. Now, okay, so that sounds like a sad, lots of bees died story.
But, in fact, it’s even stranger than that because colony collapse disorder leaves you with a hive that is not full of dead bees; it’s simply empty. That’s extreme, in another way, because if you know a little bit about bees, you know that they sting, and they sting for 2 very important reasons: to defend brood, which is a fancy word for baby bees; and to defend their food source, which is their honey. So, for them to fly off and disappear and leave behind, in these colony collapse disorder affected hives, brood and food is really strange.
It’s also very difficult to study something when you don’t have the dead bodies. It’s not like you’re going back to these hives and finding the dead bodies. The bees have disappeared, and that’s just weird on a really deep level; a really strange phenomenon. So, they’ve been looking, ever since 2006, for a one-to-one cause and effect relationship there, and began to learn that that’s just not how nature works. Everything is connected, and so there’s more to look at than just, “Is there a bug or a pest or a disease that’s causing this?” Because my best … My favorite phrase was one of the researchers that said that that was a pretty naïve way for them to look at it. It’s definitely connected to a lot of other things going on in the environment, and that’s where they’ve started to sort of broaden their view, you might say.
Dr. Lisa: Bees are important, in no small part, because they are pollinators and because they make it possible for lots of other crops to grow, thrive. I’m not sure we all realize that.
Christy: If you want to put it in a really graphic way, sometimes a little too much information sends the point home. Bees are how plants have sex. They can’t get up and walk around and go and meet and greet each other, so the bees do that for them. Now, we call it pollination, but it’s how plants, like zucchini for instance … peas, greenbeans, the things that grow in your garden, flowers, trees, herbs, all of those things. That’s how they reproduce. Pollen has to be moved from one flower of that species to another, and so that’s what happens when a bee gets on there and bumps up against the pollen, and then gets on another plant of the same type and bumps up against the organ, if you will, of that plant. That’s how we get more plants.
That’s why we joke about, “How many times have you had to lock your car to keep your neighbor from leaving the bag of zucchini on your frontseat?” Because it’s how we make more zucchini, if you will. So, that’s the biggest reason that it matters is, I mean, honey is good and great. As you mentioned, it’s good medicine, a good allergy medicine and stuff. But, if we didn’t have something pollinating the plants, we wouldn’t be getting the fruits and the vegetables. Pretty soon, that would turn into a food shortage, and that way lies madness.
Dr. Lisa: Why did you become interested in bees? What was the path?
Christy: Well, I actually came into beekeeping through the alpaca business. Before I owned Gold Star Honeybees, I ran Gold Star Alpacas, and I was a herd sitter. So, I wanted to be able to offer more services than just herd sitting, so I went to a farm out in Waldoboro and learned how to sheer. After I had wrestled with this farmer about a half-a-dozen alpacas and some fairly bad haircuts, he reached over into a ledge in his barn and picked up a jar and handed it to me and said, “Here. Thanks for your help.” I said, “You’re more than welcome. What is this?” The jar was full of honey that he had harvested straight out of his own hives and just drained it and put it in the jar. But, it was so nearly unrecognizable from what you’re used to seeing in a grocery store, which is so very, very clear and runny and fairly processed honey, and this was just literally straight out of the hive, no more straining than it takes to get the wax out and maybe the occasional spare bee part.
So, I was pretty enthused at that point and wanted to know more. Since he was also tied up with the Knox Lincoln County Beekeepers, he got me started into bee school and the next thing you know, I was in conventional hives, the square box hives that people are mostly familiar with. But, there were a few things about it that didn’t really ring true. The first thing was the way the bees made their honeycomb. I was dying to see what they did before all the inputs that us humans have been giving them in these square boxes. When I saw just naturally made honeycomb that I pulled out of a colony that was living in a roofline, you might say that rocked my World. It just changed my whole attitude about it because the bees are doing something very different than what we’re asking them to do inside a commercial hive.
So, that got me interested in anything that had to do with natural beeswax, and that brought up eventually … A couple months of Googling was what it took at the time because it was not that prevalent, but that’s what brought the idea of top bar hives to my attention. Soon, I was running a service where say you wanted to have bees, but you didn’t want to necessarily be a beekeeper. That’s what Gold Star Honeybees did. We put a hive on your place. It didn’t move. It was not migratory pollination. But, it stayed at your place. I, as the beekeeper, travelled to care for it … sort of like the pool guy. You know, you have a pool, the pool guy comes and cares for it. So, that’s how I started out.
That made it apparent to me, in the big letters, that you had to have interchangeable parts. All of your equipment parts needed to be interchangeable. That sort of lit the lightbulb that said, “That [inaudible 00:10:48] a kit.” So, I went from running a beekeeping service, essentially, to manufacturing the equipment. Of course, I wrote a book about how to do it, and I teach classes. I’m working on making that class available electronically.
Dr. Lisa: Yes, you’re doing a KickStarter Campaign.
Christy: A KickStarter Campaign. Yeah, it starts on the 10th. It runs for 21 days, which we thought was appropriate because that’s about how long it takes to make a baby honeybee, a worker bee. Yeah, we’re really excited. There’s been a lot of people that have been very supportive of the idea, but not everybody can come to Maine to go to bee school. I’ve travelled a lot to teach this class, but I can’t get to everybody where they live, so this’ll make that a whole lot easier and help people feel more confident about being able to keep bees in this natural method.
Dr. Lisa: When you think about honeycomb and you think about what bees do to sort of build their hives, you’ve described what we offer them commercially, which is some sort of piece of … I guess, is it usually plexiglass or some sort of …
Christy: Well, it comes in a couple of different forms. What you’re talking about is called foundation, and it’s generally a piece of plastic, sometimes a very thin and flexible piece or sometimes much more rigid, coated with wax. The interesting thing, to me, about foundation is that it has hexagons embossed on it as if bees don’t understand how to make hexagons, which is a little bit laughable since they’re sort of the original engineers.
So, I really looked at that, and I looked at natural comb when I had pulled it out of a building and said, “Wait. There’s a huge difference here; first being that the foundation is all one size.” Natural beeswax, they need to make different sizes for different things. Girl bees or workers are born in one sized cell. Drones are born in another sized cell, much bigger. A drone bee is a bigger bee. The bees need to be in charge of that. Honeycomb, I’ve described it as being the heart and the skeleton of the bee colony. The bees really need to be in charge of where, what is put and making it based on what’s going on with their system inside the hive.
Dr. Lisa: Also, what we’re giving them to build on top of is of great concern.
Christy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It is. When we started in the middle 80s with a pest problem called the varroa mite, we took sort of a zero tolerance attitude about the varroa mite, and we started to treat hives with some pretty strong chemicals. Of course, after a couple of years of treating them with strong chemicals, the mites, by this time, developed a resistance, so we moved on to a second chemical. So, a couple more years of treating with that, again, we had a resistance problem.
But, in the meantime, beeswax is what they call lipophilic, so it absorbs these chemicals. Now, you have not only that first chemical, but essentially a chemical cocktail inside the hive. Then, eventually, this wax that’s absorbed all of this persistent pesticide is sent away to be melted down and made into new foundation. The problem with that is those chemicals don’t just magically disappear out of the wax. They’re still in there. When you buy brand-new foundation today, the wax is already contaminated. So, even in a brand-new beehive using foundation, you’re starting out with a contaminated situation inside your hive.
Dr. Lisa: So, how does this impact us as humans?
Christy: Boy, we would like to have more data on that, wouldn’t we? Well, it can’t be good, first of all. It means that the honey that we would like to use for healthful purposes is contaminated, to a certain extent, with this stuff that’s been used to treat for mites. Anything else that a bee goes out and encounters in the field and brings back, which also goes into the wax and the honey and everything that’s in the hive. So, it really is a way of contaminating lots of stuff sort of all at once. You bring it back into the hive, and everything that’s in the hive has now got what the bees have been foraging on and anything that the …
Well, for instance, if you look out at the World and you see a green growing thing really of any kind, especially flowers, the thing I like to think of, purposely, is that that’s bee food. So, if you leave it alone and clean and pristine as bee food, then you’ve got a much safer situation than if you get into a situation where you’re concerned about other pests destroying a crop because that’s where you’re taking all that stuff right back in the hive. You can’t really control where the bees are flying. You can’t say, “No, no. Don’t go over there. That’s bad stuff.” They don’t know, and they get involved with that stuff, and in the hive it goes.
Dr. Lisa: You’re on the Dr. Lisa radio hour and podcast. We’ve long recognized the link between health and wealth. Here to speak more on the topic is Tom Sheppard of Sheppard Financial.
Tom: Have you ever sat on a lazy summer day and watched the bees as they buzz, from flower to flower, gathering pollen? Those little guys are focused, by instinct, and never waiver from their designated tasks. The byproduct of that singular, specialized mission is a tremendous amount of beauty. Now, just imagine what life would be like if you did the same thing all day, every day without fail. I’m guessing you’d drive yourself crazy with boredom. The thing is, we all crave change. The same can be said about your finances. We crave change.
As a result, we subject ourselves to fear and use it as an excuse to make a change. We subject ourselves to greed and use it as an excuse to, again, make a change. But, the real beauty in understanding and having an evolutionary relationship with your money is that you will let the bees do what bees do and get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. The honey then becomes the fuel you need to do what you do. Please get in touch with us, and we’ll help you avoid the cravings that take your focus off the important things in your life. I’m here to help. Send a note to [email protected].
Speaker 1: Securities offered through LPL Financial, a member of FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Flagship Harbor Advisors, a registered investment advisor. Flagship Harbor Advisors and Sheppard Financial are separate entities from LPL Financial.
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Dr. Lisa: So, when I’m buying something that labels itself as organic honey, how do I know that it’s actually organic? If the bees are flying wherever they want, and maybe they’re going over to Farmer Brown’s crops and they’re all organically created. But, they’re going over to Farmer Joe’s crops, and Farmer Joe is using pesticides. How do we know this is organic?
Christy: Chances are good if you look carefully at the honey that you’re buying, you’re going to find very, very few labels that say “organic” on them. They will say “pure.” They might say “raw.” They might say “natural.” There will be all these glowing terms. Of course, we think of honey as this perfect food, and it really is an amazing thing. But, it’s almost impossible to have organic honey unless you’ve got control over … well, over 100 square miles. A bee can fly 5 miles from the beehive, and so if you took … Let’s say, for instance, I know the radio audience can’t see this. But, if this was my beehive and I had a 5-mile long piece of string and drew a big circle with that string, that’s the area that your bees can forage in.
So, unless that is all certified as organic, then it’s not organic honey. It could be that the beekeeper didn’t use any kind of chemicals in their hives, but still what they’re foraging on is what the honey’s made of, and so that’s the key. That’s what has to be organic. It’s not something that we think of right away because you … I mean, we do have this good feeling about honey. It’s a beautiful food, and pure, and natural, and all of those words seem to say, “Oh, it’s good stuff.” But, it rarely, if ever, is it actually USDA Certified Organic because of the forage that the bees are bringing it back from.
Dr. Lisa: Christy, your book is called, The Thinking Beekeeper: A Guide to Natural Beekeeping and Top Bar Hives. By the way, for those who are listening, it’s been a recommended book by Mother Earth News, which those of us who read magazines know that this is a very good … Mother Earth is a very well-known publication. So, congratulations on that stamp of approval.
Christy: Thank you. Thanks. I was proud of that.
Dr. Lisa: But, what is a top … Tell me, what does the top bar hive give people who are beekeepers or non-beekeepers? What does it do for us?
Christy: The most important thing about a top bar hive is that the bees get to make all of their own, natural, beeswax honeycomb. There’s no foundation used, and so that means when you look at a top bar hive, it is a series of bars that sit across a top of a cavity where the bees are nesting, and they draw honeycomb down from each individual top bar. The difference, really, between that and the conventional hives, with a sheet of foundation inside it, is that they’re drawing it with cell sizes that suite the purposes that they’re going to use it for.
When they’re beginning a hive, they need to make lots and lots and lots of baby bees, so the comb is called brood comb. It’s not necessarily honeycomb right off the bat. That means you’ve got to be prepared for the size of the babies that are going to be born. Worker bees are the girl bees in a hive, and there’s a bunch of them, and they’re a little smaller than the boy bees or the drones. They have to … The bees have to make the cells a different size for those baby bees to be … the eggs to be laid in and the larva to hatch out of. So, it’s all kind of going on based on what the bees know about what they need to be having in the hive.
They start out with building that brood nest. So, lots of girl bees, some girl bees, and then eventually they’ll change it over to honey. That could be just about any size. It could be a cell that’s big around. It can also be a cell that’s very deep. So, really, the important part of that is that the bees know a whole lot more about it than we do, and it needs to be under their control. It is really the heart and cell of the bee colony, and they’re the only people who … or the only bugs that have any idea what they need to have next.
Dr. Lisa: Honey is usually used for their purposes to actually feed their babies.
Christy: Right. That’s what honeybees eat in the winter. They make honey, while the sun shines, for those times when there is no sun. Like, we have sun today. We have sun today, but we don’t have flowers. So, that’s what they’re basically doing is getting themselves through the winter on their own, their own resources.
Dr. Lisa: We’re seeing more of an interest in people raising their own chickens, even inside the city limits … and beekeeping. This has become more and more popular. Why do you think that is?
Christy: Well, I think the first reason is because bees and chickens are each other’s gateway drug. I think there’s been a movement, sort of, to get a little better connected to the planet. We don’t necessarily like the pictures that we’ve been shown of factory farming. Chickens raised in an environment like that don’t look healthy or cheerful, and you just don’t really want to be connected to that or perpetuating it. So, people found that it’s fairly easy to lobby your local government and be able to keep chickens, and bees are somehow in that same vain. Obviously, there’s a huge difference between chickens and bees, but they’re related in that you can do it in your backyard and it’s not as intensive as having a cow, say, which requires a lot of space. So, it seems to just go hand-in-hand.
The other thing that I will say that I’ve found … When I started first marketing top bar hives and talking about the concept, I would have mothers, always mothers it seemed, come up to the hive with a child in each hand and she’d be, “Johnny, Suzy … Look. It’s bees.” Then, she would look at me and she would say, “We just got chickens, and next we’re getting bees.” Because it’s just the way of parents helping to teach their children, “Look. This is how the World works. This is where food comes from. This is important stuff. You should know this.” Especially when you can compare it to video game playing, it’s a great deal … more earthy, you might say.
Dr. Lisa: This was the way that things used to work. People would have a farm. They would have some chickens. They’d have a cow. They might have a beehive out back. I mean, this was a way that people had and to sort of create self-sustainability.
Christy: Agreed. Somewhere, we kind of got disconnected and came off track there. Agriculture started to blow up into a big industry instead of something that you did in your backyard. Bees kind of got to be considered something that were meant for the country, essentially, and so you didn’t necessarily have a lot of people keeping bees in urban or suburban places. That was all to the detriment of everybody’s backyard vegetable garden. It was … It used to be perfectly normal that if you gardened, you had bees. It was just kind of part and parcel.
When that came apart, it left us with a World where you could plant a garden all day long and not necessarily get anything out of it because if there were no bees, there was no pollination and now we have no zucchini. I could probably live in a World without zucchini. But, I’m very big on every other vegetable on the planet, so you need all of that to work. Somehow, when that came unplugged or disconnected, we just sort of lost track of it and started to think that maybe chicken really did come in Styrofoam trays wrapped in cellophane. It’s kind of … There’s a movement to change that back, and I think that’s one of the reasons that parents are interested in chickens and bees.
Dr. Lisa: What would the requirements be for somebody who wanted to keep bees? Say, I live in Portland on the west end, and I have a little pot of land to go along with my house. How much space do you need? What are some of that requirements? How much work is it?
Christy: Hmm. Good question for people who are getting starting, for sure. You don’t necessarily have to have a lot of land yourself because, as we talked about earlier, bees forage, easily, 5 miles from the hive. So, they’re going to be out in the area to the tune of about 100 square miles surrounding your place. But, you don’t have to have that whole … You don’t have to own all that acreage, and you don’t have to have it all planted with everything that the bees need to eat either.
So, you need to be in a good place. The less pesticide use and industrial agriculture in your area that there is, the better. But, they just need a place where it’s safe for the hives to be, and the traffic of the bees coming in and out of the hive needs to be somewhat secluded. I mean, you don’t want the bees coming out of the hive and going straight across your sidewalk so that they mailman has to walk through them to the mailbox. That’s kind of out. But, just a safe enough place where the hive isn’t bothered, and then enough good forage in your area that they’ve got the food that they need.
Dr. Lisa: How much work does it take to actually maintain these hives?
Christy: What I like to do is take the whole season, and then average it out by the week. So, I think that early on, you probably inspect once-a-week, maybe a little more often than that. You’re certainly out there excited about your bees, so you’re looking. At the beginning, you’re new perhaps, and so you’re not as confident and you’re not as quick. So, an inspection will probably take you 45 minutes to an hour.
Then, as the season progresses, you’re going to find that you get a little faster and a little more confident. It goes a little better, but your colony is now considerably larger as well. So, it seems to work out to about an hour in inspection no matter what. So, if you were to look at that chopped out over your entire growing season, from the minute you’ve put a brand-new package of bees into a brand-new hive to the time you close down in the winter, it’s probably a little less than an hour-a-week … or, like we like to say, less than chickens.
So, but an hour a week, if that. You don’t have to look at them every day. You don’t have to do anything with them every day; just keeping tabs on their health. In a top bar hive, and important thing to be aware of is you have to be sure that they’re drawing the wax straight. It was to be on each individual bar because you need to be able to pick up each individual bar to inspect it. If they happen to glue or wax, if you will, the bars together by the way they’ve made the wax, then you need to get in there and correct that situation so that you can inspect each individual bar.
Dr. Lisa: So, when you say “drawing the wax straight,” it …
Christy: That’s a hard concept. It essentially means this. Bees start at the top of the cavity, and they cluster. When they’re drawing wax, it’s also called festooning or chaining in the case of drawing wax, and they’re hanging down from each other holding hands like you wouldn’t believe. I mean, they’re just grabbed on to each other. They secrete tiny, little wax globs out of glands that are in their abdomens. They grab those, chew them up, and they stick them to whatever’s above, and then they stick another one to that, then another one to that, then another one to that. So, it’s all … It’s all wax made right out of their little bee bellies, but it’s all gravity based. The thing that the beekeeper really wants is for each piece of comb to be drawing straight down from a top bar.
Now, that’s one of the reasons that foundation was put into use because if you aren’t patient with the drawing of the wax, then it means you might be in there having to correct the problem. That will slow you down. As a commercial beekeeper, you may not have the luxury of that much time to let them do that and keep it so that it’s inspectable. But, in the top bar hive, it’s pretty important that they be doing that on their own, and so it matters that the beekeeper be what we call a “wax shepherd.” You need to be in there shepherding the drawing of the wax so that it’s something that you can inspect.
Dr. Lisa: Is this much of a financial commitment to decide to own bees?
Christy: Well, the bees themselves, it depends very much on what you want to do there. If you were to get bees from me, you’d find yourself … If you picked them up from me at Gold Star Global Headquarters, as we like to call it here in Maine, they’re $150 for what’s called a 3-pound package that comes with a queen. Three pounds of bees is about 10,000 bees. It’s enough bees to start a new hive. The queen that comes with it is all part and parcel, and that’s how they get started.
The, hive equipment, what I try to do, with the products that Gold Star offers, is hit several different pricepoints that are tied to your interest and ability as a wood worker, or your amount of available free time, or your amount of available free money. Because if you don’t have any time, then the deluxe size makes sense. It’s all in there. It’s painted. The roof is painted. The observation window is already installed, and all that you have to do is have a screwdriver and a staple gun, take it from the box and in 2 hours, wallah. There is is. But, if you like to woodwork and you can and you’ve got the kind of equipment and that sort of a interest in it, then for $50, the do-it-yourself kid builds the exact same hive, but you get to do all the woodworking.
Then, in between, because the top bar itself in a Gold Star hive is the most important thing about getting straight wax, it’s got a great guide on it. But, it’s milled out of one piece, and not everybody has the equipment that makes that easy. It’s not necessarily safe to do it on a table saw, and we like beekeepers to have all 10 fingers. Counting to 10 is a good thing in our World. But, the do-it-yourself number 2 kit that I offer has all the top bars in it, and the beekeeper gets to build the stuff that’s a little less labor and equipment intensive. So, $295, and you’ve got the important piece and the ability to build the rest of the hive. So, really, it’s a mix … time, money, woodworking. What do you want to do? What makes you happy?
Dr. Lisa: How can people find out about Gold Star Honeybees, and the work that you’re doing, and the instruction that you’re offering, and the KickStarter Campaign?
Christy: Well, the first stop would be go to www.goldstarhoneybees.com. From there, you can get to just about everything else. There’s a YouTube channel also. If you go to YouTube and you simply search for Gold Star Honeybees, there’s over 50 how-to videos on how to do this and that in your hive, tips and tricks for getting through winter, how to start up a hive, all of that sort of thing.
Of course, when the KickStarter launches next Monday, there’ll be a link to that there too. So, the classes … I’d have to say that my passion really is talking about bees. I love to teach the classes. But, to teach for a weekend in front of a class size of 25 to 50 people just isn’t getting the word out fast enough, and so we’re really excited about KickStarter making it so that anybody that wants to learn how to keep bees in a top bar hive can sit down and do it … get the information.
Dr. Lisa: Well, I encourage people who are listening who might have an interest in beekeeping or just an interest in bees to go to your website and learn more. I appreciate the work you’re doing, bringing a more natural way of beekeeping to Maine and to hopefully other parts of the country. I appreciate your coming in today. We’ve been speaking with Christy Hemenway, of Gold Star Honeybees, and also author of The Thinking Beekeeper.
Christy: Well, thank you for having me in.
Dr. Lisa: As a physician and small business owner, I rely on Marci Booth, from Booth Maine, to help me with my own business and to help me live my own life fully. Here are a few thoughts from Marci.
Marci: Sometimes, I get scared. While it’s difficult to admit to anyone, much less myself, there are times when what lies before me stops me in my tracks and makes me feel that I can’t go on. That’s when I know I have to dig deep, take a deep breath, step outside my comfort zone, and more ahead. Each time I do that, I grow and learn something new about myself and what it means to not be daunted by fear of the unknown.
I talk of this often with my clients by helping them understand that while some decisions can be scary and make you feel uncomfortable, none should frighten you into an action. That only limits progress, and they should be seen as growth opportunities. A mantra we use at our offices at Booth is, “Power through.” So, if something is holding you back today, my advice to you is, “Power through.”
I’m Marci Booth. Let’s talk about the changes you need, boothmaine.com.
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Dr. Lisa: I met my next guest several years ago and had lunch because we shared a mutual patient that we were treating. So, we wanted to learn a little bit about what the other person was doing. At the time, I was practicing mainly acupuncture, and that was considered pretty mainstream in contrast to what this individual does, which I love. It’s very unique and I think very important. Today, we have Dr. Theo Cherbuliez, who is a psychiatrist and apitherapist. He is also the former president and vice president of the American Apitherapy Society. He has travelled to 5 continents to learn and teach about apitherapy. He has 4 beehives here in Maine. Thank you for coming in today.
Dr. Theo: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Lisa: I think the first question people are going to ask is, “What is apitherapy?”
Dr. Theo: Apitherapy is the medicinal use of bee products, and there are 2 general ways of thinking of apitherapy. One is the traditional way, and that has been going on for maybe 2,000 years or so. The western way, which uses mostly derivatives of the products, extracts, different parts of the products … I am of the traditional school. Mainly, I use the live products. I don’t kill the honey by irradiating it. I don’t extract venom. Apitoxin, the extract, is very powerful, but I am not intere- … I’m interested to stay with live products; that is products made by live entities. They have very interesting qualities. One is you cannot know exactly the composition of the product. If you cannot know it, surprise, the germs cannot know it either. We do not create resistance without product.
Dr. Lisa: Is this something that you came to be interested in earlier in your career?
Dr. Theo: Well, that’s a very interesting question, and it took me time to realize what I’m going to tell you. I was looking … I’m a psychiatrist, and I work primarily with families, which means that if I work with one person, that person’s family is, so to speak, under the couch doing the sessions. I wanted to have a model for psychotherapy, and the model would be 2 individuals that are completely separate from one another, have no relationship, have very few points in common. They meet for a limited time, and they have a relationship in which each one knows very little about the other. Then, they separate. During the time they were together, it was beneficial and novel for both.
I could know very little about how the bees think. The bees could know very little. It should be beneficial. We start from completely different. We’ll end up completely different. What I did not realize is as an adolescent in the Swiss Alps, I befriended a beekeeper. I was not interested in bees. I was interested in the old man. I was his servant, so to speak, in the 2 months of the summer. I loved working with him. So, my love for the man determined my choice, and I did realize that several years later.
Dr. Lisa: So, you had a hive when you started working with the man who was a beekeeper, and you started having your own hives. Was it roughly around the same time that you …
Dr. Theo: No, no. In Switzerland, I had no hives. I had no interest in bees. I was interested … He was also a winemaker, so I worked with the … I did what he asked me to do. It didn’t matter where I was, what I did. I wanted to be with him. Okay. It’s many years later, in this country, that I had the idea of I wanted a model for psychotherapy. It was very important for me to realize that I know very little about the person I treat. I have no business knowing more.
So, I have designed a way of approaching people in therapy, which is very particular to me, where the patient will decide what we talk about. The patient will decide on the reality of things. I have a thought about you. Is that thought valid? The patients says “yes” or “no.” “No” is generally more instructive than a “yes” because I said, “Tell me what’s wrong with my picture. It doesn’t apply to you. How did I get the wrong picture?”
Now, it’s particularly important, if we think of that part of apitherapy that is bee venom therapy, I don’t use the extracts. I use the bees. Now, every bee sting causes pain. The pain is the least important and least interesting of what happens. Every sting, I will now rephrase it, gives the opportunity to have a number of perceptions. We are studying them. We are teaching the patients to figure out where they need to be stung, how many bees they want. After a while, they say, “I think today I want 8.”
Now, we never start with 8. We started 1, and you tell me whether you want the second and where. I remember that person I was treating, she had thoracic arthritis … 30 joints involved. She was in misery. I was working at her big toe. I had given 2 stings to that toe over 20 minutes. She said, “You know, for the first time in years, I can feel that I have a toe on that foot.” She added something that really touched me, “Doctor, this toe,” her middle toe, “is jealous of this toe.” So, I said, “Ask your toe where the toe wants to be stung.” She said, “Here and here.” She showed me with her finger where to sting. That’s what we did.
She had learned … and she guided me so I know how to travel, but she knows where to go. That’s my basic philosophy in treatment. So, compliance has nothing to do with what I do. I don’t treat you. You are the World’s expert on who you are. I am in this room, the representative of apitherapy or psychiatry, whichever. The 2 experts make a team. The team will treat you. It’s fantastic.
Dr. Lisa: It is fantastic. I think that when you and I had a mutual patient and I was doing acupuncture, I really … It’s very similar. With acupuncture, you put needles in certain places because there’s a certain constellation of symptoms. But, ultimately, there is feedback from the patient as to whether those that are the right places to put the needs, whether they’re getting better. There is something that happens. It’s somewhat intangible. We can’t really quite understand it. But, you keep moving forward despite not completely understanding it.
Dr. Theo: Well, look. I made, with a colleague, a study, which we called “The First 5 Minutes.” We took interviews, and we looked at what I call the unit of communications … words, intonation, body gesture. After a few month of studies, we changed the title, “The First 2 Minutes,” from 5 to 2. In one of these, I was able to identify 16 units of communications in 120 seconds. Our average was 4 or 3. That was an extreme, and it took me 6 months to discover the 16. It was all on computer, all classified and etc. So, if we have every minute that I’m with someone, an average of 3 units of communication. How many do I pick up in an hour? Five percent, it’s already very rich, and ten percent, it’s overwhelming. The rest is not my business. I was not ready to receive it.
Dr. Lisa: Is that why psychotherapy or apitherapy takes time?
Dr. Theo: It takes time. It takes attention, and it takes work. You want to work with me, we’re in business. You don’t want to work with me, you’re very lucky because there’s a lot of people you can see who do not want you to work. They want you to accept what they offer. I don’t.
Dr. Lisa: The goal of the Dr. Lisa radio hour is to help make connections between the health of the individual and the health of the community. The goal of Ted Carter Inspired Landscapes is to deepen our appreciation for the natural World. Here to speak with us today is Ted Carter.
Ted: When I was in gradeschool, I was first exposed to sports events and had to participate. I was not very good. We had baseball out in the field, and I always wanted to play outfield because I would disappear. I’d get stuck way, way out, and nobody wanted me close anyway because I wasn’t very good at baseball. So, I would disappear through these tall hedges and go into this magical place, this old Victorian house with lots of colorful tulips and just walk around the gardens. I was just dumbstruck by how beautiful and peaceful it was. The lilacs were blooming, and I would smell the lilacs, and all of a sudden I’d hear, “Carter, get the ball!” So, I’d have to dash back through, out of this magical place, to find the ball in a frenzy and get it back.
In high school, I remember going … walking home during these … We used to have these hour breaks where you’d go and you’d do your homework in a breakroom. I would go home and work in my greenhouse. I was just so happy there. Then, I had to go back to school, of course, and finish out the day. But, I think that what we have to realize, that this is the seduction of nature. Nature has a gentle, but powerful communication. I, to this very day, will go to my office and the landscape is right outside my office door, and I just walk out there when I need to take a little break, and listen to the birds, and look at my own landscaping, and just kind of clear my head a little bit. So, nature has a gentle way of calling us, and it has a powerful way of communicating with us. Land and landscape can do that.
I’m Ted Carter. If you’d like to contact me, I can be reached at tedcarterdesign.com.
Dr. Lisa: The Dr. Lisa radio hour and podcast understands the importance of the health of the body, mind, and spirit. Here to talk about the health of the body is Travis Beaulieu of Premier Sports, a division of Black Bear Medical.
Travis: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee? So, that’s a bit extreme for most of us, but it’s a good motto for life. Let’s keep in mind the more we take care of our bodies, the more able we are to attack life. As any good coach will tell you, you can’t attack without a plan. At Black Bear Medical, let us help you make that plan. We’ll help you find products that will help increase your performance on a daily basis, help you prevent injury, and help you recover from injury if need be.
A gentleman walked in the other day and said he had 2 bad knees. After asking a few questions about his lifestyle and his goals, I was able to offer him not just temporary solutions from a knee brace, but exercises and other products that would keep his body in better shape and help compensate for his knee issues. It’s his gameplan and one that he already feels confident about, which is half the battle. Let Black Bear Medical do the same for you. Let’s look at the whole you and help you float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
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Dr. Lisa: You’re talking about apitherapy, and bee venom, and the use of … Essentially, it’s bee stings that you’re talking about. You’re actually stinging a person.
Dr. Theo: Absolutely.
Dr. Lisa: I mean, this … You’re right. That … Even just overcoming that fear of the pain, that in itself is work.
Dr. Theo: Well, I can sting you and you will practically not feel it. The techniques, we distinguish a regular sting, a mini sting, and micro sting. With the micro sting, which I learned from Japan, you take the stinging apparatus from the bee. You take it out of the bee, and you sting the person with that and tweezers. If I show you, you prepare the skin, for instance, with hot towels or with these glasses. What you call them?
Dr. Lisa: Like, cupping?
Dr. Theo: Cupping!
Dr. Lisa: Cupping glasses.
Dr. Theo: Exactly, cupping. So, skin prepared by cupping is ideal because it’s very soft. So, the patient … The administrator does like that. I have it done on myself if I felt just the very light touch of his hand. I saw him operating on someone else, and I counted 105 applications with one stinging apparatus. I ask him, “How does he know it’s finished?” He gave me his answer, “I feel it.” Now, I checked the first 5 and the last 5. They all had that little reddish quality, which says the skin did receive venom. Now, if you think that a bee has an average, 150 micrograms of venom. If you divide that by 105, it’s a little more than 1 microgram per sting. You can sting an infant. This infant would not be in pain. So, you’re afraid of stuff. Start with that.
Then, we go to mini, in which I put a bee, and I’m ready to remove the sting as soon as you tell me to remove it. We count the seconds. If you’re really afraid, I’ll [inaudible 00:52:50] and remove it. So, you decide. You’re afraid, good. Tell me. I will need the fright. I will never tell you, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.” Because if I tell you, “Don’t worry,” it means, “Shut up. I don’t want to hear your worry.” No. As someone said, “Oh, you, Cherbuliez. You want your patients to suffer.” I said, “Right on. I want them to bring the pain.” Not their reaction to the pain, not their solution. The solution to their pain is aggression. You hurt me, bang. I will not tell you I’m in pain. I will tell you how bad you are. When I’m enraged, I don’t suffer.
Socially speaking, it’s a very useful reaction because we are not in front of a wall. We should do our stuff and not stick with our pains. So, it’s essential to be able to transfer. But, if you’re stuffed with pain and can’t get out of the vicious cycle, then I come in. That’s true for psychiatry. It’s true for apitherapy that the patient will always design. Now, I can say, “I suggest to do it this way, that way, that ways. I think we should meet once, twice a week.” Depending on what the situation is, I go faster or slower.
What if they have an allergic reaction? I’ve had, in 45 or 50 years of bee stings, I have had, I don’t know, 100 or 200 allergic reactions. I consider that disharmony in the patient’s life. Now, I have epinephrine on the table at my right hand. I’m ready. I’ve never used it. Charles Mraz, a beekeeper from Vermont who, for some 75 years, stung hundreds of people … He’s the father of bee venom therapy in this country … taught me that he had never used epinephrine. I have never used epinephrine.
What I do when a patient starts having a reaction, I put him on the couch to be able to sit in front of him and intensely relate to him. If he doesn’t feel well, I ask him, “Tell me what happens and where it happens. Speak. Continue telling. Speak. I will not let you go until you feel like going.” Now, that’s an emergency. Interestingly, if I had to stay with a patient, fate has always arranged that I had no other patients knocking on the door. Why? You believe in good fate, you are served. I believe in whatever.
Dr. Lisa: Well, I hope that when I am 86, and I’m assuming that I’m going to get to 86, who knows, that I continue to be as interested in things as you are. How do people find out about apitherapy or about the work you’re doing, Dr. Cherbuliez?
Dr. Theo: I heard about you. It should look on the web, my name. I think. I haven’t looked myself. But, I’ve been told there is more about apitherapy than about psychiatry, which is fine by me. Whatever they want to tell, they tell.
Dr. Lisa: I appreciate your taking the time to come in and talk to us about apitherapy, and also about psychiatry, and about the things that you’ve learned over your continuing to lengthen life. It’s very thought provoking. I encourage people to learn more. We’ve been speaking with Dr. Theo Cherbuliez of the American Apitherapy Society, also a psychiatrist based here in Maine out of South Freeport. Thanks for coming in today.
Dr. Theo: Thank you for the very pleasant time you allow me to have with you.
Dr. Lisa: You have been listening to the Dr. Lisa radio hour and podcast, show number 132, “Bees.” Our guests have included Christy Hemenway and Dr. Theo Cherbuliez. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit doctorlisa.org. The Dr. Lisa radio hour and podcast is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Dr. Lisa Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram under bountiful1, and read my take on health and wellbeing on the Bountiful Blog.
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Speaker 1: The Dr. Lisa radio hour and podcast is made possible with the support of the following generous sponsors: Maine Magazine; Marci Booth of Booth Maine; Apothecary by Design; Premier Sports Health, a division of Black Bear Medical; Mike LePage and Beth Franklin of ReMax Heritage; Ted Carter Inspired Landscapes; Tom Shepard of Shepard Financial; Dream Kitchen Studios; Harding Lee Smith of The Rooms; and Bangor Savings Bank.
The Dr. Lisa radio hour and podcast is recorded in the studio of Maine Magazine at 75 Market Street, Portland, Maine. Our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Susan Grisanti, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. Our assistant producer is Leanne Ouimet. Audio production and original music by John C. McCain. Our online producer is Kelly Clinton. The Dr. Lisa radio hour and podcast is available for download free on iTunes. See the Dr. Lisa website or Facebook page for details.