Les Crowder has been a beekeeper for over thirty years. He began beekeeping as a teenager by helping his grandfather catch a swarm from a neighborhood tree. His fascination and love for honeybees has been with him ever since.
Les spent many of his early years as a beekeeper working for commercial beekeepers in large operations, and was disappointed with the practices that he witnessed. Working with Langstroth style hives, and using the standard chemical applications that were a part of industrial beekeeping at the time made him begin his search for non-invasive and natural approaches to beekeeping.
Les spent his spare time studying bee biology and the history of beekeeping. He kept his own bees at home, and worked experimentally with different types and styles of hives. Making hives from willow, adobe and plastic barrels, he searched for the ideal hive design that would enable him to make his hives at home at a low cost, while also providing him with ease and comfort when working the bees. Over time, he developed his own design of topbar hive. Interestingly, he discovered that the angles forming the bottom of a hexagon were ideal to house hives. This structure allowed the bees to hang combs that would not be too heavy to remove, had little or no side attachment and were easy to build.
Eventually, he converted all his hives to topbar hives and became a strong advocate for natural topbar beekeeping. He also spent five years as the NM Honeybee Inspector and five years as the President of the NM Beekeepers Association. He has been teaching beekeeping classes since 1983. In 2009, he received the best instructor award at the NM Organic Farming conference. He is well-beloved by students and colleagues alike for his love of bees and nature, his gentle teaching methods, and his generous spirit.
Les has been keeping bees without antibiotics, miticides or other chemical inputs for over fifteen years. When the Varoa mite first appeared in the US, he lost almost all of his hives. Determined not to become dependent on a chemical solution, he read the work of a honeybee researcher who advocated the use of various trees and shrubs as miticidal smokes. He tried smoking his hives with Juniper and Creosote and found them very effective in killing the mites.
Breeding queens from his resistant hives, combining genetics from Russian Mite Resistant bees, and catching feral bees that showed resistant genetics helped him to build his hive stock back to its original size. He hasn't had any trouble with mites since. Although he occasionally sees mites in his hives, he considers them nothing to worry about.
Antibiotics are used routinely in hives to prevent disease. Les has been successful in routing out disease by requeening hives that show weakness to diseases such as chalkbrood, European foul brood and other parasites. He also regularly rotates out any darkened combs, thus preventing the sort of environment in which disease can thrive.
Working with Les is an experience in learning to love and respect honeybees. Students will come away from his classes with a strong ethical commitment to being caretakers of these amazing insects.
Heather Harrell has been working with honeybees since 2006, when she began by removing hives from unwanted locations and building her beeyard on the farm. She co-wrote the book Top-Bar Beekeeping with Les, and enjoys sharing her knowledge and love of honeybees with others. She is an organic and biodynamic farmer and teaches classes on beekeeping, organic farming methods and building great compost. She has also developed her farm to demonstrate the many plant species that are available to support honeybee health and productivity. Her classes are held in Penasco, NM and focus on addressing the questions and needs of beekeepers who want to use organic methods in top bar hives.