An Interview with Arnold Honeybee Services' Tess Arnold

Tess Arnold interviewing with locat television station WBIR Published: July 03, 2009

I am very happy to introduce to you Tess Arnold of Arnold Honeybee Services . Tess and I first met in the Fall of 2001 at a bee meeting held by the Knox County Beekeepers Association. I value Tess’ knowedge and experience in beekeeping as well as his friendship. Tess now operates over 500 colonies and has established himself as one of the premier pollinators in East Tennessee. It is my pleasure to introduce Tess to our readers.

Interview Transcript
HBN: What project(s) are you working on now that you are investing most of your time with (i.e. writing a book, conducting research, expanding your operation)?

Tess: I’m currently expanding my operation. We are looking at increasing to almost 500 colonies this year. I plan on growing our operation to also cover pollination contracts within a 150 mile radius. Most of the 500 colonies will be used for pollination contracts while 20 mother hives or so will be used to raise queens. We use about 100 mini nucs in our operation.

HBN: What’s your perspective on the recent bee health products that are being offered by the bee supply companies (Honey - B – Healthy, VitaFeed Gold/Green, etc.)?

Tess: I believe that the companies that are offering those products are trying to fill a niche. That niche being poor bee nutrition from the bees being moved from one single source crop to another and ending up with protein and mineral deficiencies.

HBN: Tess, whats your main focus in your breeding program?

Tess: My main focus is honeybee genetics. What I look for are bees that don’t need chemicals in order to do well. I am always collecting wild swarms looking for good genetic material.

By adding different strains of bees such as Buckfast, Russian, Minnesota Hygienic, Italians from different producers, and collecting wild swarms that seem to do well against the mites; I’ve created a Heinz 57 variety and it seems to be paying off in that I don’t need to use chemicals to maintain the bees and keep the mites at bay. I’m looking for strong colonies that can make it on their own, a survivor strain if you will. One marker that I’m looking for now is queens that have stripes on their abdomen. I’ve come up with a hybrid that produces honey very well, but the striping is not a dominate trait.

HBN: What managerial practice would you encourage other beekeepers to use as they try to shift to a chemical free Integrated Pest Management (IPM) operation?

Tess: Well the first practice that I would do is go to a screened bottom board. When the mites do drop off, they will fall through the bottom board. Whereas with the traditional bottom board, the mites are able to jump back on to the honeybees by utilizing the static electricity between themselves and the bee. That’s the first major management practice that I’ve been working on. HBN: What are your thoughts on the cause of CCD?

Tess: I don’t have any scientific data on it, but I believe that it’s a combination of several different factors. I haven’t really seen it in my own yards. To me, it has to do with type of pollination that they are doing. Which goes back to nutrition. HBN: Have you had any problems with pesticide use by local farmers in East Tennessee?

Tess: As of now, no; but with my planned expansion into the pollination business, I fully expect that I’ll be exposed to more of it and I’ll have to see how it goes over the next couple of years HBN: What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Tess: For me it’s the physical activity outside and growing large populations of bees. The second most enjoyable factor for me is getting more people started in keeping bees and teaching new beekeepers more about it. HBN: What do you enjoy the least about what you do?

Tess: Cleaning dead outs is one of the least enjoyable things for any beekeeper, but just trying to stay away from some of the stuff that I think is the problem. I want to make extra efforts in trying to diagnose what kind of problems actually killed the bees or why they were decimated for some reason or another (starvation, pesticides, mites, etc.).

HBN: Can you tell us a little about who inspired you to become a beekeeper and how you first started out keeping bees?

Tess: I got started in 1979. I worked for IBM and was making a service call at a railroad yard and over underneath one of the flat cars was a swarm of bees. I had remembered seeing a honeybee supply sign for bee equipment out in Claxton, Tn. So I went there and bought a bee box from him. My first question for him was “I know that the queen is in the swarm, but how do I know if I’ve gotten her?” He replied “if you’ve got all the bees, then you have the queen!” I took the box back in my 3 piece business suit and crawled up underneath the box car and shook the swarm into the box. I was about 28, and brought it home.

HBN: At what point in time did you decide to go for it and become a commercial beekeeper?

Tess: The first five of six years, you are just dangerous. You are learning so much, but you don’t have the experience to put all that knowledge into play. But after about year six you start understanding more.
The first couple of years I operated 2 or 3 colonies. After 6 years I expanded to 10, then by year 9 I was up to about 50 colonies. In 1993, I retired from IBM. I had planned on adding 20 colonies a year up to 1999 until I had about 180 colonies. I got interested in raising my own queens because the cost of queens started going up substantially. I started having people wanting to buy bees from me along with people needing pollination services, so in order to increase the numbers that I had, I had to learn more about raising queens and producing more bees.

HBN: Is your business family run?

Tess: I have daughter and she’s decided that she is going to take over the bee business once she graduates college.

HBN: What is your fondest (nostalgic) memory during your beekeeping experience?

Tess: My fondest memory is seeing my daughter when she was 3 years old pulling the tops off of queen mating nucs in the back yard and eating the honey out of them (she didn’t get stung).

HBN: What advice/encouragement would you give to beginners or beekeepers who are contemplating starting a bee business?

Tess: To begin with for those just beginning, I recommend keeping 2 or 3 colonies and spend time with an experienced beekeeper that has more colonies for mentorship because you are just too dangerous the first couple of years. They will learn a lot more quicker and be much more effective. Tey won’t be a bee haver any more but a bee keeper. As far as commercial beekeeping, get with someone that does it already, work with them, figure out what type of equipment is needed. Figure out what area that they want to focus on and that they have a passion for (i.e. queen rearing, pollination, honey). In any beekeeping field, you have to work on a large scale in order to make a living at it and it wears you down, but if you have a passion for it, that passion will get you through the tough times.

HBN: Tess, thank you very much for your time and insights into beekeeping and IPM practices.