Happy Spring, everyone! In this 222nd Episode of the Small Scale Life Podcast, I am going to discuss attending my first Beekeeper Conference called Beek Meet 2024 and 5 Lessons Learned from Beekeepers last weekend.

While I am not a beekeeper, I found the conference incredibly interesting, educational and entertaining.  I also met some really great folks at the conference, and I had a chance to connect with some really good friends from Ohio.  


What is the Beek Meet 2024?

Beek Meet 2024, 5 Lessons Learned, Beekeeping, Homesteading; Stream Team

Beek Meet is the largest beekeeping conference in Central Wisconsin.  It was a partnership between the Central Wisconsin Beekeepers Association and North Central Technical College in Wausau, Wisconsin.  I have never been to a beekeeper conference before. Why did I go to Beek Meet 2024? 

The simple answer is: I went to go see my friends Greg and Susan Burns.

I have been friends with Greg and Susan Burns since 2017.  Greg has been on the Small Scale Life Podcast a couple of times (including our second most listened to episode Homesteading 101).  Greg has been to our house a number of times, and each time we get together, we talk about some deep subjects. Greg is one of those deep thinkers that I really love talking to.  In fact, we planned to record a podcast the last time he was at our apartment, but we ended up talking for three hours straight.  It was an awesome evening, and I will always cherish those conversations.

When Greg posted on Facebook that he was going to be at Beek Meet 2024 in Wausau, Wisconsin, I immediately began to plot and plan how I could get over and see him and listen to his presentation. Wausau is only two and a half hours east of us, so if Greg and Susan can drive eight hours, I can get over there and see them!

At the same time, I could get to meet Brian from Castle Hives from Ohio and Bruce from Bruce’s Bees in Alabama.  Greg, Brian and Bruce make up The Stream Team (pictured above), which is a live streaming collaboration that focuses on topics, people, products and issues in the beekeeping world. It was pretty cool to meet them in person and give them a Small Scale Life coffee mug.

Fortunately, things worked out well where I could go to the conference while Julie visited our nieces in Stevens Point at the same time.  We could then get back together and enjoy a St. Patrick’s Day dinner of corn beef and potatoes with my brother and his family.

Am I Getting Bees?


Since going to Beek Meet 2024, a few folks (family and friends) have asked me if I am getting bees. That is a great question, and a lot of folks know how interested I am in bees. In fact, I was planning on getting bees if we stayed at Driftless Oaks Farm, but that plan was for the farm where we had 10 acres and pollinator gardens and orchards on our property and on the neighbor’s properties.  

Over the years, I have interviewed beekeepers like Michael Jordan, Adam Napier, Doneil Freeman and Greg Burns on the Small Scale Life Podcast.  We had some very interesting conversations about beekeeping and the business of bees and honey.  

Since starting my blogs in 2014, I have visited some apiaries over the years as well.  One of my first trips was going to an apiary south of the Twin Cities with our friend Rick.  I also went with him to pick up bees that were fresh off the truck from California.  I also watched Michael Jordan split one of Doneil Freeman’s hives at his homestead near Colorado Springs.  

It is fascinating to see the bees work and do their thing in Nature, and I enjoy learning about bees.  I even found some of the research done about bees fascinating, but as much as I like bees, I do not have that plan to add bees here at The Landing. 

For now.

Don’t tell Jules that.

5 Lessons Learned from the Beek Meet 2024

Beek Meet 2024, 5 Lessons Learned, Beekeeping, Homesteading

As I reflect on the presentations I attended at Beek Meet 2024, I boiled down the information down into the following are the five lessons learned:


Lesson 1: Beekeepers come from all walks of life


As I shared some of my photos of the packed classrooms, vendor areas and auditorium with my family and friends, they all said the same thing: 

“Wow! There are a lot of different people at that conference.  Beekeepers aren’t just old men!”

Yes ,indeed, there were a lot of folks at Beek Meet 2024. I don’t know what the final numbers were, but I bet it was around 200 people or so.  The main auditorium was full, and break out sessions were at capacity (about 30 people in each session). People are interested in bees and beekeeping, and they showed up!

At the same time, I am not sure where the “beekeepers are old men” stereotype originated. Perhaps it is because older beekeepers are the face of the industry and hobby or because the stereotype that young people are “too busy” or live too fast to work with bees?  

I am not sure.  

I can honestly say that beekeepers come from all walks of life.  Yes, there are a number of old guys working with bees and running the conference, but there are a bunch of young beekeepers and homesteaders (men and women) that are very interested in getting back to the land and living a more holistic life.  There are others who want to make meads from honey on their own properties, and still others that want to start a small business from income generated from honey, comb, creamed honey or other products that come from the bees or support the beekeeping industry.

Lesson 2: Bees communicate to each other; so should we


The first session I attended was titled “Collective Intelligence in Honey Bees and Honey Bee Dance Language” by David Peck, Ph.D. While the thought of sitting through a “boring lecture by an old professor” crossed my mind (I mean, a doctor working at Cornell University fit the old man stereotype, to be honest).  

I braced myself for boredom and actually had my computer in my backpack.

To my surprise, Dr. Peck is not old at all; I think he is younger than me!  He is a very good speaker and had a very entertaining and informative presentation about how bees communicate with each other.

As foragers leave the hive, they find pollen sources near the hive. They evaluate each of the pollen sources and come back to the hive.  By “waggling” or dancing, the foragers tell other bees about the direction, distance and quality of the pollen sources. 

At the same time, the forager bees use a solar compass to locate pollen sources and dance to communicate that information to the hive.  It all comes down to how they dance when they return to the hive.  It was fascinating to find out that bees have a better grasp of directions and wayfinding than most people without GPS on their cellphones!   

Bees are communicating to each other about the location and the quality of food sources.  They are sharing information with an abundance mindset.  In fact, the survival of their hive depends on it.  

So what is the take-away for us?  

Sometimes we get caught up in the ebb and flow of life, especially this time of year when we all hibernate in our homes. Perhaps people are dealing with difficult life issues right now, kids’ activities, or just don’t want to go outside when the air typically hurts our faces.  We sometimes trudge on alone, like monks or hermits working and meditating in a remote mountain monastery.

As the weather improves, we need to leave the safety of the hive and brave the outside world in order to connect. In our case, we need to connect with others around us and build our community right here.  

This spring, we will be connecting with and gathering the neighbors here. We are going to invite them to dinner and break bread with them. We aren’t the newest in the neighborhood, but we are still new here.  Julie and I have the space, and we have the motivation to do it.  We want to know the people living in this small town around us, so it will all start with food (my love language, frankly) and with us taking the first step. 

Now…I just need to work on my “pollen waggle” to communicate with the neighbors.  I think that will be a hit, especially in a yellow and black speedo!  Don’t you think?


Lesson 3: There are many paths and methods out there; find one that works for you


One of the presentations was all about Wintering Bees in Wisconsin.  The presenter was talking about using Reflectix insulation board to enclose their hives and keep the bees alive in our harsh winter months.  They had seen great results using this method.  

During the question and answer portion of the session, it was clear that other beekeepers have their favorite methods.  One particular beekeeper stated that he had lost all but one hive using the method the presenter was showcasing. The hives literally had iced up inside, killing all the bees.  They preferred the tried and true tar paper method (enclosing the hives in black tar paper).

The presenter made a good point: his method worked for his operation in his apiary.  Not all methods work the same everywhere.  It really depends on the layout, location, and direction of the apiary. The wind and snow can play a huge factor in the survival of the bees using this or any method.

As a homesteader and gardener, I know this to be true as well.  My friends Doneil Freeman and Jason Grey often talked about using the Polyface Farm Chicken Tractors in Colorado, only to have the high winds pick up the tractors (with the chickens inside) and fling them down the pasture a hundred yards away.  What works for Joe Salatin in Virginia didn’t work in Colorado (where Mother Nature really hates people there and seems to change her mind every couple minutes). 

I have seen this in gardening too.  We plant all the things, thinking that everything can just grow in our backyard garden, but environmental conditions (light, soil, water and temperature/growing season) might not support those plants. In addition, the variety of plant might not be ideal for that zone or that environment.

I had this experience with blueberries and rhubarb at Driftless Oaks Farm. I figured both should grow well in that magical loamy-clay soil. I planted four blueberry plants and four rhubarb plants. I kept the weeds back, watered them and fenced off the blueberries so the deer wouldn’t eat them down before they got big enough.

After a growing season, I had lost all four blueberry plants and two of the four rhubarb plants.  I had a hard time figuring that out, especially as the asparagus, comfrey and potatoes thrived a few feet away in their own rows.  

Maybe it was the soil?  Maybe it was the slope? Maybe it was the pests? Maybe it was the variety of the plants?  

I am not sure, but the bottom line is that what works for one person, homestead, garden or plant might not work universally.  We need to figure that out for ourselves, and while we can report what is working (and what isn’t), we cannot be so rigid and dogmatic as to say THIS IS THE WAY; THERE ARE NO OTHER WAYS.

My friend Amy Dingmann from A Farmish Kind of Life talked about this topic in her podcast episode titled “Maybe You’re Not a Homesteader” that also touches this topic.  You should go take a listen!


Lesson 4: Figure out your business and start


Let me say that not all of us are gifted entrepreneurs and business folk. The same can be said in the beekeeping community.  John Hill from HillCo gave an inspiring presentation about how they started his beekeeping supply company, and he summarized some of the lessons learned along the way. 

For those of us who do not know, HillCo started small and experienced incredible growth since John started the company in January 2020.  I was so impressed with his presentation that I tracked him down, introduced myself and told him that I appreciate his story and message. He was a really nice guy (and a good talker too).  I invited him on the show, and I’ll see if I can get that busy man on the show in the future to talk about starting a small business.

Some of the key points from the presentation included the following:

  • Identify your strengths (and weaknesses)
  • Think outside the box
  • Be flexible (learn from mistakes, correct, pivot, adjust)
  • Embrace customer service (really, really poor in current American society, am I right?)
  • Focus on branding and run with it (get a business name, secure a domain for a website, get a website and an email)
  • And a bunch more tips…worth a separate post, actually

I had to laugh as I listened to the branding portion of the presentation. I had just given a homesteader from the Wausau area my name, website, phone number and email address on the back of my business card.  I have been doing this Small Scale Life thing since 2015, and in nine years, I have never ordered business cards.  

What the heck?  

How many people have I come across and talked to about Small Scale Life and never gave them a business card to remind them of who I am and what I do?  I can honestly say…a lot!  

Well, that changed today as I created a new business card for Small Scale Life!


Lesson 5: Be weird!


During the expert panel at the end of the Beek Meet 2024 Conference, there was a particular quote that stuck with me, and I have been thinking about it all week:

“It isn’t going to be easy.

We didn’t get into beekeeping because it was easy.

We didn’t get into beekeeping to get rich.

We got into beekeeping because we are WEIRDOS!”

~ David Peck, Ph.D.


This was an amazing quote that drew a lot of laughter because it is absolutely, unequivocally true.

For me, you can replace beekeeping with homesteading, gardening, canning, seedsaving, kombucha brewing, standing barefoot in the snow, plunging in freezing water,  birding (feeding, watching, building feeders, taking photos of and talking to the birds) and podcasting.

We are all unique. We are all different.  We all approach our Small Scale Life a little differently. Let’s face it:

We are all weird.

I got interested in Homesteading and Gardening during the Crash of 2008.  It was a massive wake up call and tipping point for me, and I decided right then and there that I would embrace my “weirdness” and do something different, something meaningful and something that would change my and my family’s world.  Later, I knew that I could inspire people to try:

  • Growing food in a small but incredibly productive garden
  • Canning and preserving food they grew
  • Starting a small business
  • Standing barefoot in the snow
  • Taking a crazy cold plunge in the dead of winter
  • Figuring out what triggers or inflames their bodies by cutting out the processed food, dairy, sugars and legumes.

I have started and stopped several times since 2020 because life knocked us down and kicked us in the stomach. It hasn’t been easy. It was hard to just survive and get through the day at times.  We have held onto each other for dear life, and here we are. We are still here and coming back to life.

Life isn’t easy. It isn’t always Instagram or Facebook ready or beautiful. It isn’t easy like a tv show or movie.  It is gritty; it is cruel.  It can be frustrating; it can be horrible.  It is what we do with our time and against all odds that makes it inspirational, beautiful and meaningful to others.  We are a broken vessels, constantly shattered by circumstance, choices, and time.  But we are also a beautiful mosaic, showing the cracks and battle scars in our own unique and beautiful way.  It is up to us to decide and become what that mosaic is at the end of our days.   

I am weird.  I am a funky looking, unusual mosaic patched together with glue, duct tape and a little spit polish.  I have embraced that fact and will continue to push forward being weird.  The best is yet to come; you’ll see.

If you are weird, you are in the right spot.  Let’s be weird together, shall we?

Putting Lessons Learned into Action

Beek Meet 2024, 5 Lessons Learned, Beekeeping, Homesteading; Stream Team

After hanging out in the beekeeping community, listening to presentations at Beek Meet 2024 and mulling over the 5 Lessons Learned all week, my brain got churning. I always think better when I am traveling, and I had a long drive home on Sunday and another work trip this week that gave me a lot of time to think, plot and plan.  

Of course, this ALWAYS makes Julie nervous because deep thinking like this always results in some big shift or epiphanies.  Well, this time was no exception.

I really mulled over the conversations with the young homesteader from Wausau, John Hill’s “Starting a Business” Presentation and Greg Burns “Beekeeping on a Small Homestead” Presentation. Each conversation and presentation had made an impression on me, and somewhere between New Richmond and Ladysmith, Wisconsin, it’s like someone literally forced my hand open and pushed a master key into it.  I was able to open a rusted and stubborn lock and push open the stuck door in my brain.    

It is no secret that I have been grieving about selling Driftless Oaks Farm and essentially leaving homesteading.  I felt like a failure in the homesteading community: it didn’t work out right. Even though we escaped the chaos and crime of the big city and moved to a remote farm (finally) with 10 acres, somehow my dreams for a homesteading and gardening business did not work out at all. It all blew up in my face! The rusted lock would not open; the door wouldn’t budge. 

The reason was because it wasn’t the right place or time for those things to work.

We needed to make a change, pivot and find a new place to live, and when we made that decision, my dream and life as a homesteader seemed to be over and die.  I started to distance myself from homesteading stuff and things.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot the basic principle that Harold Thornbro talked about all the time on The Modern Homesteading Podcast: 

“You can create a homestead right where you are.  You do not need 10 acres or even one acre to homestead!”

People get into homesteading for a variety of reasons, but if you stand back and look at it, people get into homesteading to be a little more independent, a little more resilient, and a little more self-reliant.  Homesteading is so many things to so many people, and it generally is about 

  • Growing, raising and/or making your own nutritious real food
  • Being in and working with nature
  • Creating things and systems that make your life easier or able to resist scarcity
  • Being ready for when times get tough (or even when they don’t)
  • Building community of like-minded folks
  • Using skills or a surplus to start a small business or trade for other goods and services

As I talked to the young homesteader from Wausau, we talked about his orchard and how he was going to grow lots of fruit and vegetables while making mead from the honey from his bees.  We also talked about his neighbor who had pigs and the other neighbor who had beef and eggs and how he could barter and trade for those things. 

I thought about John Hill and the explosive growth his company (HillCo) had experienced since 2022.  It was exciting to hear his story, and his words of advice were spot on and resonated with me.  I have been holding back, waiting for the perfect moment to launch something (like a true Capricorn).  You have to see the need and just take that first step (like I have talked about at the end of the last two episodes of the Small Scale Life Podcast).  Sometimes you just need to take that leap of faith and START.  

Then I thought about the cool homesteading stuff Greg Burns tried on his little farmstead in Ohio. While I am not going to have the bees and animals (pigs, goats, cows, chickens or ducks) that Greg and Susan had, I can experiment and create systems that will make our property work with and for us.  

Let me say that again: I am going to experiment and create systems that will make our property work with and for us.  


Taking the Next Steps Forward

Beek Meet 2024, 5 Lessons Learned, Beekeeping, Homesteading; Stream Team

On my drive on Monday, I got really excited. I got so excited that my therapist said that I was “glowing” on our call on Tuesday. She said that I am usually a nice and upbeat guy, but I was literally glowing on the call.  I had to laugh, but I know it’s true. I had to laugh some more because I have the most unusual therapy sessions: we talk about healthy eating, gardening and homesteading as much as we talk about the mental and emotional stuff and things.  I truly do have the BEST therapist in the world! 

Suddenly, the rusted lock popped open and that stuck door creaked open.  I have ideas and thoughts about what comes next. I am so excited to build my garden and create some really cool and productive spaces on this half acre lot.  

The raw elements are here, and now we have the time and capacity to implement change and create something beautiful and productive on this property.  It is already beautiful on the shores of the Willow River, but we are going to take it to the next level!  

For what comes next, you’ll have to stay tuned to the Small Scale Life Podcast.  I have some weird shit to do, so I will have to take a pause and get those things done before writing and recording more.  Don’t worry; we are going to be back really soon with more good homesteading, gardening and wellness stuff and information!  



In Closing….

Small Scale Life Podcast; Julie and Tom, Costa Rica Sunset; Tamarindo

As we close this episode of the Small Scale Life Podcast, remember to keep going.  It might seem like an impossible thing to achieve your goals (like starting a small business,  losing stubborn weight, tackling your debt or becoming that person you always wanted to become), but it is achievable.  

You can do it!  

You need to put one step in front of the other, but you have to begin that journey by making a decision and taking that step forward.  

So….Start. Take that step. You can do it!  We are here to help.

This is Tom from the Small Scale Life Podcast reminding you to learn, do, grow and be a little better everyday.  We’ll be back real soon; take care, everybody!

Listen to this Episode!


Beek Meet 2024, 5 Lessons Learned, Beekeeping, Homesteading

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Special Thanks

For Small Scale Life Podcasts, I would like to thank Sean at Osi and the Jupiter for the intro song "Harvest."  Sean wrote this specifically for us, and I really enjoy all of his work.  You can find more Osi and the Jupiter at their Bandcamp site: https://osifolk.bandcamp.com/

I would also like to thank Austin Quinn at Vlog Vibes for the intro and outro music. For more information abut Austin and Vlog Vibes, please see the Vlog Vibes YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCY80LeqtJf-YBzJy2TWKpDw



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