The Story of the Man Who’s Saving Honey Bees

Bee Fortress USA, Inc. originates from my drive as a creative problem solver, which began in my childhood. I grew up in the early 70’s in abject poverty. My family of ten lived in an uninsulated house with only an undersized, cast iron woodstove for heat during winter. My four brothers and I had to cut ten cords of wood fuel each year from live and dead trees on our land to heat our house. Dad’s $100-a-week carpenter’s paycheck meant I had to come up with creative solutions for what we lacked. I remember waking up hungry one night when I was ten and coming up with a way to lessen that hunger by mixing white sugar and water into a paste that I spread on white bread bought with food stamps. I collected dryer lint over several months and sewed it inside a pillowcase to create a pillow for myself. Another time, I took black electrical tape from my father’s toolbox and taped up my only pair of shoes—badly torn Converse high-top sneakers—to keep the snow out. These hardships forged in me a sense of determination, the will to overcome adversities. In fact, problems only strengthen my resolve and fire my imagination. I use creativity to get around obstacles.

Having grown up without central heating, it is ironic that it was central heating that gave me a route out of poverty. In 1980 the federally funded social program, Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), paid me to take a 400-hour course of study in oil burner technology. Because of how I’d grown up, when I first learned about the program, I asked the CETA counselor, “What’s an oil burner?”  After completing the program, I worked for eight years as a service technician, primarily for fuel companies. Then in 1988, I started my own heating service company. Always looking to improve on things, after eight more years in business, I had a spontaneous idea for how to make a hand tool to make the installation of forced hot water circulator flanges easier. Over two and half years, and with no prior engineering or product development experience, I created over a hundred prototypes, signed two License Agreements with a leading manufacturer of circulators, was receiving royalty checks every quarter, had appeared on numerous radio talk shows, and was elected president of New Hampshire Inventors Association. After a year, I merged the Inventors Association with the New Hampshire High Technology Council and returned to New Hampshire Technical Institute to complete the Business Management degree I had started 20 years earlier.

I created new inventions after chatting with a fellow patron one morning at my favorite breakfast eatery. When the man I was chatting with learned that I was in the HVAC business, he said, “I have an HVAC project, you wanna give me a bid?” A week later after reviewing the man’s project, I explained to him that the other bids’ systems would never solve his HVAC problems, but my proprietary system could. The man was so pleased with the $200,000 solutions that I installed in his 6,700 square-foot seaside home that he said that his new favorite room was the primary mechanical room in the basement where I had installed nearly 50 of my own product designs, including circulator flanges, valve handles, instruction manual holders and bronze fittings. This successful job allowed me to invest the profits along with the funds from a couple of cashed-in 401Ks, to produce my own product line with the help of a pattern-maker friend, who had designed and custom-made 250 door handles for Bill Gates’s home. I was able to create the most beautiful—function and form—heating and air conditioning systems, and my new products made this possible.

Using my knowledge of heating systems and my inventive abilities, I have now turned my attention to the plight of bees. I’ve been an organic gardener since 1982, and recently considered becoming a beekeeper, so my vegetable plants would benefit from greater pollination. Initially, I decided to plant wildflower varieties around my New Hampshire seacoast home to attract native pollinators. But then my friend Lynnelle, who was also concerned about the welfare of bees, offered to set me up as a beekeeper at her elderly mother’s home on my street. 

She bought me an Italian honeybee colony, a Langstroth hive with two deep and two medium boxes in which to keep them, a beekeepers’ suit, and the basic hive tools I would need to become a beekeeper. Her elderly mother, Marlene adored the bees outside her window and used them to gauge if she needed a sweater when she went out. If the bees were coming and going in great numbers around the front of the hive, she would go out without a sweater. If the bees were not visible, she knew the cold Atlantic Ocean wind blew inland and she would need a sweater.

All seemed to be going well with my new hive until I drove past the hive on a 10-below zero December morning and instinctively knew the bees were dead. Pulling my van to the side of the road and trudging through the deep snow to the hive, I lifted the outer cover and inner cover and discovered lifelessness below. Seeing a few individual bees burrowed deeply into hexagonal comb cells reminded me of hovering as near as possible to the wood stove as a kid in a chilly house.

Given my nearly forty years’ experience as an indoor climate control expert, it was clear to me that the Langstroth hive—this greatest-selling hive in the world—has a defective side – it has no means of keeping honey bees warm enough in northern winters. And this was responsible for the death of my first colony of bees. Any properly designed heating system needs three things: a fuel source, fresh air in, and exhaust air out. The Langstroth hive is partially integral to the bees’ metabolic heating system, but it lacks proper fresh air control, and it has absolutely no exhaust air out. This sudden realization made my inventive talents come to life.  I was confident that I would solve this beehive HVAC problem.

Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, who created the hive with removable frames, received a patent on his design, in 1852. He also conceptualized the notion of “bee space” – ¼” to 3/8” – so that bees inside his hive with this space all around inside it, could freely move about all areas of the hive. Lorenzo’s invention was creative genius, but he lacked an understanding of the fact that you can’t put a heating source, which the bees, ostensibly, are, in a box that is missing adequate fresh air in and exhaust air out. If C02 and humidity can’t escape, the humidity inside will condense on inner cold surfaces, especially the inner and outer covers right above the bees. It was this condensation that collected inside the inner cover of my hive and dripped down onto the colony, wicking it of its metabolic heat, just as water dripped onto a fire long enough will extinguish it. My bees’ life-fire was snuffed out from a bee hypothermia, for lack of a better term, even though it was a healthy colony with no discernible diseases nor mites. I knew what I had to do: keep my honeybees dry and warm in winter. But even the hive wraps, meant to create insulation for the hive, that I had seen on YouTube failed to keep the hives warm in bitter cold winters because the insulation is not in itself a source of heat, nor is there enough of it to make any difference.

For my second bee colony, I created a new shelter made of insulation and other proprietary components and that included an automatic heating system.

I set the thermostat to 70-degrees and left it there for two months until the bees covered the outside of the shelter in numbers 2-3 times the 10,000 that their colony numbered when I bought them just two months earlier. I then modified the Langstroth hive to work with my shelter, so, in effect, I invented a new hive design too. During the summer, I studied my new hive closely and realized that it still collected condensation under the roof, even though I had properly vented it. I quickly solved this problem with a pitched roof and space for the condensation to drain out of the hive instead of landing on top of the colony inside. I continued to problem-solve the hive, and by fall I had built a better shelter that I called the Palace. It was not only mechanically heated but mechanically ventilated as well. A third prototype later, which I called the Chateau, became my second colony’s home by winter. Again, I set the thermostat to 70 and the bees were exceedingly happy in their home, but I noticed that their numbers were incredibly deficient and realized that the oxalic acid mite strips that I had applied in early fall had killed the queen and much of the winter brood. Still, in mid-January the small colony of bees was doing fine in the Chateau, buzzing up to the top of the hive to see who was invading it each time I checked in on them. But when I approached the hive during a period when the outdoor temperature had dropped to 15-degrees below zero, I felt concerned. I opened the control compartment and the thermometer and fans were lifeless, and when I opened the hive so were the bees. I discovered that my temporary wiring had caused a faulty ground that tripped the circuit and caused the death of my small colony. I brought the frozen hive into my kitchen and tore it down. My wife collected and counted all the dead bees. There were only 387 bees that remained from the 10,000 when I bought them, and no queen could be found anywhere. But there was a lot of honey and pollen, indicating that the hive had thrived before the acid treatment killed most of the bees. I was encouraged that my hive and shelter heated design had allowed the bees to stay alive in extreme cold before the power interrupted the heating system. This proved that healthy bees of any colony size could be kept alive in winter with proper equipment. My design could help save the 58% of colonies that die needlessly each winter in New Hampshire!

I am now working on the Bee Hospital which I hope will cure bee colonies of Varroa Destructor mite infestations in a matter of hours instead of the many weeks that it takes with the acid treatment, which often does great harm to the colony.

This year I started out with three Italian bee colonies. One is in my sapele (hardwood) Honey Bee Defender hive. The bees completely filled two-deep boxes and three medium boxes in their first year. The colony in my another prototype numbers only in the hundreds given the queen died or disappeared since it was installed with the package of bees on April 1 this year. I’ve replaced the queen with a Carniolan. There are a growing number of small bees, so I know she is laying, but I still worry that the colony numbers won’t increase enough by winter to sustain themselves without being in a heated shelter. My third colony is one that I gave to my friend Dave. They are in a Langstroth hive on his 100-acre farm. I will be transferring them into a pine (softwood) Honey Bee Defender next week, as my hired video-graphers record the event. I will use this video in my IndieGoGo campaign this fall (2019).

In the near future, Bee Fortress will be unveiling many innovative designs that will prove to make beekeeping easier and succeed in keeping honeybee colonies safer and healthier and ensure that they don’t die from extreme temperatures, condensation, mites, and the industry-standard products that seem to be part of the problem facing honeybees and beekeepers alike.

Conviction of purpose and expansive creative ability have become my hallmark in my four-decade Indoor Climate Control career. (See my resume.) Stay tuned to learn more about what I’m doing to make the world more sustainable by saving lives of honeybees.

I have many people to thank for Bee Fortress. First, Mary, my loyal Angel investor. If you’ve read “It’s Only a Flange!” then you’ll know Mary is my investor from 20 years ago when I was a newbie Indie inventor. She was also my first investor in Bee Fortress USA, Inc. Mary, who is nearing 99 years old, will be interviewed in my upcoming video.

As my first invention story reveals, Mary is the mother of my college physics professor Suzanne, who is now a stockholder. Jim is also a stockholder in Bee Fortress, and is a long-time friend who has helped me construct many of my hive and shelter designs. Jim built clocks for Seth Thomas and New Hampshire Clocks, Inc. for 25 years and is a highly capable woodworker. My pattern-maker, Dave Nugent, has also contributed to designs intended to make the life of honeybees and beekeepers alike easier. Then there’s the drafting company, the plating company, the machinists, the manufacturers of my wooden hives and metal part accessories, the packaging makers, and all others, including my wife, who have been essential in contributing to my products’ development.

Without the help of all these good people, I would not be able to boast that I have many of the solutions to the ills that have plagued Apis Mellifera. Collectively, we are all saving honeybees!