KAAT BYRD: How did your story with the bees begin?
LADY CERELLI: I had a flashback in 2003 of a 40-year suppressed memory and was in the VA hospital for a week. The whole scenario changed my life. I spent a year in counseling for severe PTSD and the next 10 years healing from childhood traumas and more military sexual assault memories that had also been suppressed. After that year of counseling, I moved further back and higher up in the Appalachian Mountains of Northwestern North Carolina.
I believe in and walk the Red Road. When you want to change your life one has to let go of the old one for a new one to enter. I closed my fiber studio and gave away everything. I have given away half of a house full of items. It is believed that all will come back in a better state, if you wish it. And it did.
In the meantime I came across a flyer about a bee school. Of the 1,000-book library I had given away, I discovered I had kept 2 things: my herbal box containing information from when I had an herb farm and did clinical before I ever heard of the word; and a 2-page document on Rudolph Steiner’s Biodynamic Beekeeping. I don’t believe in coincidences but do believe in serendipity. I attended the school and became fascinated with bees.
Right from the beginning I could not bring myself to treat my bees with any chemicals or oils or put anything in the hive the bee didn’t take through the entrance. I did feed them sugar water that first year because of a very long dearth. I learned the following spring that it caused Nosema, as there are no Lactobacilli or nutrients in sugar water. I received a lot of flak from the old timers for not treating. But they stopped asking questions when after 3 years my apiary continued to grow and I had no hive losses.
In 1999 I lost my long-term memory from impacting the truck windshield twice when it went it off the road. I had to retrain my brain to relearn skills and struggled at retrieving past information. The Nosema took me to my computer which I had to relearn for research, writing books, creating flyers, etc. I have been doing research ever since and have gotten rather good at weeding out fact from fiction.
The clincher came when I discovered Apitherapy, using hive products for healing purposes. The more I delved into their world, the more I no longer saw them as small creatures. Their abilities to heal, organize, and the hive functions democratically taught me humans could learn from them. They are so adaptable and to a degree trainable. When I saw them demonstrate the 3 traits of a sentient being – compassion, intelligence, and death rite – I was forever hooked.
There is something else here as well, Kaat. A PTSD victim does not often find something to keep their attention and it is rare to find them in a long-term relationship because of their temperament. I have been married for nearly 52 years to a very stubborn husband who refuses to leave me. And the honeybee has caught my attention through fascination and always learning from watching, reading, and, more important, from communicating with them. This has been a tremendous help in my healing from traumas as the honeybee gave me a new focus. They have become my passion and purpose; and I will be the rest of my life in service to them.
KB: What is your focus and goal as a bee guardian?
LC: My focus is their survival. Since 2010 I have been traveling internationally meeting with other beekeepers, organizations and associations, and scientists and talking about honeybees and their survival. I have learned that there are few beekeepers keeping bees from the honeybee’s perspective. Humans keep bees based on very little or no knowledge or on a mentor who treats, or they go into beekeeping for the commercialism and profit. I have found very few people keeping bees for the sake of keeping the bees for their survival. Most think they can just replace them by buying nucs or splitting the hives without regard to the hive they split or to the genetics.
I teach BEe Perspective Beekeeping based on what the honeybees have taught me. It is a method of keeping the bees by getting the ego out of the way. I do communicate with them as I do with a lot of wild animals and birds on my property. I also honor the bee for their antiquity. Someone once told me a long, long time ago, that you can hear how old the animal’s ancestry is by a certain tone in their vocal cords when they speak. I heard a recording of 10 honeybee queens announcing their arrival before hatching. I heard quacks, honks, and toots; but got chills when I heard the sound of humpback whales. The same tonal quality is in an elephant, rhino, some large cats, some gorillas, whales ….
My goal is to teach people to go back to the basic knowledge our ancestors passed down to us with regard to land stewardship. Farmers have forgotten how to touch and smell the earth and her plants. Rather, they sit up in their large farm machines digging up so many thousands of acres; a bee doesn’t have a chance of survival in such large mono-cultures. I like the idea of layering the soil so that the worms come to the surface, enriching the soil as they break down what has been laid on the earth. Farmers like to think they are feeding the world, but instead are harming the world through chemical pollution, loss of nutrition in the food and soil, harming our environment, and poisoning the water. What the world should be doing is learning how to grow food in their own indigenous environment and preserve it the times they can’t grow. This works in balance with the body as well.
BEe Healing Guild holds an annual Gathering. In 2017 I teach how to communicate with the earth through plant awareness, through our 5 senses, and with the bees. Through understanding Mother Earth’s needs, we can nurture her and still receive a cornucopia by giving back to her what she has given to us and not feed her manmade chemicals. Our society is gotten lazy with too many conveniences that actually take up our time without accomplishing much, like Facebook, digital games, and cell phones. I confess to being hooked on the cell phone, but I still talk face-to-face with people. I have sat on the porch with a cup of tea with a lot of people over the years. If my porch could talk!
KB: How does the local environment shape your work?
LC: My local environment is filled with a GMO farmer who has expanded his acreage with corn and tobacco. Local farmers also put Roundup on their fields when they plow in early spring about a month before planting their crops. My neighbor uses chemicals along their fence lines and on their gardens. Our utility companies use Rodeo that contains over 50% glyphosate. Don’t even get me started with glyphosate. I work closely with Dr. Don Huber, Emeritus Professor, Purdue University, who is the world’s foremost authority on Roundup, next to Monsanto. He travels internationally a few times a month talking about the harmful effects of Roundup.
He works with international teams of scientists and has a couple of projects involving several thousands of acres under cultivation. Yet he remains very humble. What also impressed me about him is that he is not afraid to go outside of his field to ask questions of other scientists, as he did when I spoke with him about my bees located next to a GMO field. He is my science mentor; and after working with him for 5 years, I can now present his PPT on Roundup. I did a recorded presentation in VA this past October. If the videographer can edit it, which he says he can, it will be on YouTube. It’s about an hour long. I also communicate with Dr. Stephanie Seneff, MIT, and a few other scientists, some from other countries.
When the GMO farmer expanded his crop, thereby using chemicals closer to my apiary, my bees developed EFB (European Foulbrood), which is brought on by stress. I watched a queen march across the comb without laying anything. When it got down to just a couple hundred bees and she started trembling and acting drunk, I killed her. When I heard Don in an interview with Dr. Mercola 5 years ago regarding the harmful effects of Roundup, something clicked and I called him. I researched Monsanto and went into a 6-week depression then dug into my own research for the next 2 years. I also learned that the neonicotinoids used on GMO seed coatings work together with the glyphosate in the Roundup spray. Intuitively, I knew Roundup was the cause of my bees getting EFB and caused problems with my queen, just didn’t know how or why until I spoke with Don. I know it was Roundup because the bees were affected after each and every time within 30 days after I saw folks spraying. I did more research and created my own Lacto formula.
KB: What threatens your bees and how do you work with these threats?
LC: Three years ago I created a formula using commercially lyophilized probiotics because of my bees developing EFB from Roundup spray. I originally used an 8 strain, 30 ppb. I then intuitively went to a 10-strain after research indicated that L casei is important for healthy autoimmune functions for all animals. My bees really perked up with the additional 2 strains. I discovered by accident using an EFB test in my main apiary that the probiotic formula killed the EFB bacteria within 10 minutes. It has since proven itself 100% effective and takes about 2-4 weeks to totally cure EFB in a beehive, depending on the weather. It takes just 1 or 2 applications of the Lacto spray if you catch at the very beginning. The formula is sprayed on the comb with EFB to kill it. But then the formula also has to be fed to the bees in their sugar feed. Just like humans when the bees are sick, they don’t feel like harvesting or doing much of anything else either. If the Lactobacilli is fed to them, their immune system heals, their overall health improves, and they are better able to take care of diseases. You can actually watch it on a day-to-day basis.
Lactobacilli bacteria are crucial to the immune system of every living organism in the world, including animals, humans, and the soil. Lactobacilli bacteria protect the plant by acting as a barrier against the Clostridium botulinum in the soil, preventing it from going up into the plant. Without this protection the botulinum bacteria in the soil travels up through the plant and into the food crop. Glyphosate kills the Lactobacilli bacteria. A few of the bacteria in Clostridium botulinum that can come up into our food are salmonella, listeria, and e-coli, as you can see by the food recalls in recent years.
I did more intensive research into Lactobacilli bacteria. This year I called Don after talking with Dr. Giovanni Formato in Italy, bee veterinarian at a food and safety institute, on a couple researches he had done with a probiotic. I came up with another formula using honey instead of commercial probiotics. Once I discovered that the pH factor was the key to bacteria growth, everything else fell into place. My intentions are to create a formula those in third-world countries can create by using the honey their bees make that will grow all the bacteria honeybees need for bee diseases, including L. plantarum and L. kunkeei, the 2 bacteria that prevent and/or kill AFB (American Foulbrood) disease.
KB: What do you believe is the key element for a healthy and strong apiary?
LC: The most important factor in keeping bees is keeping them out of stress by keeping their immune system as high as possible, which is 67% at best.
Keeping the hive clean by changing out the frames every 3-5 years, depending on how dark the comb is, how thick the cell walls are, and keeping the comb mold-free will keep diseases away, especially AFB. If a beekeeper has to feed, they need to add the good bacteria by using either probiotics or preferably the honey that has been kept back, to keep the bees healthy.
When beekeepers make splits they usually put the nuc containing the split back in the same apiary. What should be done is taking the nuc 5 miles away and leaving it for about 10-12 days; by which time the queen has hatched and mated with the drones from that area. Once the queen starts laying eggs, the nuc can then be brought back to the main apiary. There are so few commercial queen rearers in our county using the same bees each year. This is why I won’t take a swarm unless I know from where it came and how old the original hive is. I also don’t take hybrids anymore. I try to keep the bee diversity in my area as clean as possible for survival in that area. I am opposed to taking exotic bees from a different climate and transplanting them here.
Depending on the time of the year, I also don’t go into the hive as often as other beekeepers do. There are things one can do from the outside to determine whether or not a beekeeper needs to enter the hive. I rarely take honey from the bees unless I know there is more than a medium box full of honey for a 2-brood box hive; and that would still depend on the several other factors.
No-treatment beekeeping is actually, by far, cheaper than treating bees. I have a hard time convincing folks that you should not eradicate all pests from the hive because:
- You eliminate the purpose for the honeybee to build up a defense system.
- The pest will become resistant.
- And if you succeed in killing all the pests, Mother Nature will put in something stronger and larger.
Nearly 10 years ago the Varroa mite term had been changed to Varroa destructor because the mite grew larger and became resistant because of miticides. The honeybee adapts and learns to stop grooming. Essential oils affect the bacterial balance in the hive, not to mention interfering with the queen’s pheromone. I never really understand why anyone would put something through the roof the bee does not take through the entrance.
KB: What are you working on right now?
LC: I will be meeting with a microbiologist to test my formula in his lab, which is that honey can produce its own probiotics from those that are in the honey crop. But because we are killing the Lactobacilli that is killed by all the ‘cides, we are killing the very bacteria that sits on the gut wall and protects the autoimmune system. The honeybee can’t protect itself against these diseases if their autoimmune system is too low. All the disease-fighting bacteria a honeybee needs are in their honey crop. I am hoping that we can take what honey that has been harvested and capped and multiply the bacteria through a fermentation process and preserve it with the pH. I also want to check how much of the Lactobacilli bacteria are in the nectar harvested after a Roundup spray.
KB: Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?
LC: Honeybees have been, are now, and will always be my inspiration. Also, Dr. Don Huber inspires me. I have been abused for being a no-treatment beekeeper to the point of being made an example of or for being in denial of Varroa. I never said I didn’t have any mites; but always said I didn’t see any. The instructor stared at me during a test review class at a major apiculture conference and said, “I don’t understand anyone who doesn’t treat for Varroa.” When he pointed his finger the second time and repeated the remark, the whole class turned and looked back at me. I didn’t get involved in the rhetoric. The evening before, someone asked permission to sit at my table and within 5 minutes asked, “Do you really think you belong here?”
I was totally stunned by the whole weekend, as that was not the only 2 instances that happened. That was the second worst weekend of my life and I was on the verge of giving up on beekeeping. I shared it with Don and asked how he stood the abuse from he got from major chemical companies and such, and how did he keep up his courage. He wrote an email that so moved me it gave me the courage to continue my work of no-treatment beekeeping and teaching. Over time, I got stronger and more determined. I have since spoken to others who have been mistreated and threatened and have had physical attempts made on their lives.
Don refers people from around the world to me to answer their questions regarding honeybees and their deaths. When I respond I send links for verification. People sometimes refer to me as the “backup Lady.” Anything I write is usually backed up with links. And whenever someone writes or tells me a thing, I say, “Back it up.” Not just with 1 link or cherry-picking, but with several. If they refer to a study, I ask, “Who paid for the study? Who did the study? How was the study done, and for how long was the study done?”
KB: Can you share one of your favorite bee stories?
LC: The story below is one I wrote in my early days of beekeeping titled I Wonder. It is about my thoughts on beekeeping at that time and when I stopped listening to beekeepers and began listening to my bees. I am in my woodshop and I take you through the process as I work on the boxes. The italicized words are my in-the-moment thoughts.
Picking up the second end board, I pick up the glue for exposed edges of the mock dove-tail edges, stroke…stroke. I wonder what kind of machine makes these notches so square. So many boxes are needed for beekeeping. Had I known in the beginning, I wonder if I’ve have stayed in the game. I pick up my glue brush for the other edge, stroke…stroke. Made my last three top covers all by myself. Sure am proud of that. It was the first time in over 6 years I was able to create anything. Stroke…stroke.
Fitting the edges together, I watch the glue run down the sides of the box and take up the wet rag and wipe into the edges and into the exposed ends, wipe…wipe. Glue keeps them from deteriorating too fast in the weather and coming apart. My mind saw stuff dripping and drying down a box last summer … not cool looking. I wonder if it was honey syrup. Doing the dishes that night, it kept running through my mind about taking the feeders off too soon. Others told me mid-November was late in the season to be feeding. Wipe…Wipe. I remember looking out the picture window over my sink and there was a bee looking back at eye level, seeming to float in mid-air. She went up, down, then in a counter-clockwise circle before she stopped and stared at me … did that two more times. “What do you want?” I asked.
“We’re hungry,” was the silent reply.
I dried off my hands and grabbed my heavy-duty apron as I walked into the utility room. Mixed 3 gallons of honey/sugar syrup and set them outside for the truck bed. Got the top feeders and placed them on the hives. I fed my girls for four more weeks.
Picking up another box and placing it on the short side, I pick up a nail and tap, tap to start the nail down the predrilled hole. I wonder if I imagined that conversation. A loud TAP, TAP, a lighter tap, tap then another tap for good measure. I wonder why we feel the need to hit one more time when the nail is seated. Tap..tap. Perhaps, two more times.
I pick up another nail and place it into the predrilled hole, tap..tap…TAP…TAP. Didn’t want to get this involved…just wanted a couple hives – that’s all, Wasn’t planning on assembling my own boxes, either. Another nail…tap..tap…TAP..TAP..TAP. I’m glad the new bees this winter are not the same ones who experienced my grievous errors last spring. A nail…tap..tap…TAP. TAP…tap. Another nail…. Two more.
The bees last summer stung me over 40 times in one visit, so arrogant was I in not using protection. Didn’t know fear had gripped me until I went back after putting on my suite. Upon my approach, I saw one of them go back into the hive. I swear I heard her say, “She’s baaaack.” Silence lulled inside the hive for a hair-breadth moment before an uproarious sound broke out. I sensed laughter.
Fear caused my hand to disconnect itself from my brain as I watched it pump the smoker so many times it created a dense fog between me and the hive.
A nail…tap..tap.TAP.TAP…tap. Did they laugh at me? So help me I heard one of them say, “Who does she think she’s kidding. Even if she was running, we can pump her full before she gets to the house.” More laughter? Tap..tap..BANG.BANG..BANG..tap, tap. Another nail, tap. BANG BANG BANG..tap. They were right about one thing. I would have forgotten I’d have driven the truck. Nail…chuckle, tap..TAP.BANG. Shucks! Too hard. Tap. Tap.
It took quite a while for the fog to lift when I saw them. A dozen teeny tiny sumo wrestlers lined up on the hive porch just waiting to sting me. I sat my smoker down and left the apiary.
I sometimes stare out the kitchen window at the beehives in the apiary in the distance. I always wonder at the size of the bee in relation to all the work they do, distances they travel, always fanning for warmth or cooling. Always moving, rarely stopping. No wonder they don’t live very long. Tap.tap…TAP..tap..tap. Another nail. They make the only whole, perfect food in the world. Tap.tap..TAP..TAP.tap. It never spoils. Another nail. I wonder if the lack of foraging, traveling, storing…is the reason they live longer in winter?
The Propolis, honey, wax, pollen – all of it heals. They are such amazing creatures. They ask only to be left alone and allow us to take the wealth. I see one more nail hole and take my time, Tap..…tap..…TAP. TAP..…tap. I wonder why nailing the last nail saddens me as I place the box next to the framing square. They’re never off square. My fingers touch the nail heads as I give the box one last critical look. Looking up at the clock, I see I have time to paint the two coats of primer.
I wonder what color and design they’re going to want on this box.
The next spring I found compassion, intelligence, and death rite in the hives – the 3 elements that indicate sentient being. It forever changed my beekeeping philosophy as I learned to keep bees by their perspective and do my best to get my ego out of the way.
KB: A piece of advice for rookie bee guardians?
LC: Read all of your books? Ask all of your questions. Get as many teachers and mentors as you can. In the end, it will be your girls who will teach you beekeeping as you sit with them in the apiary. Listen to their sound when you approach, listen as you go into the hive, and listen when you leave. Always be gentle while moving slowly without quick movements or loud noises. The first year will be for you to learn your equipment and when to use them and getting over your intimidation of 60,000 bees. The second year will be filled with learning about swarms, how they survived the winter, making splits and how to handle them, and the different personalities of the hive.
The third year you become comfortable after learning the basics and early cycle. You are more confident and are able to relax more as you get involved with the bees themselves. If after setting aside your ego, and after you have learned to honor the bee, they will bless you by singing their hive song – a phenomena that will forever change your philosophy of beekeeping.