Dealing with a Bad Bee Seller (Paul Petersen of Red Queen Apiaries)

Well, here I am writing another post warning people about another unscrupulous business. And so soon! Of course, it must be because I’m nine months pregnant and have a hundred better things to do…

Most beekeepers I have met in person so far in my bee tending career have been absolutely lovely. I have had a few transactions over the years buying bees and equipment and everyone has been the epitome of helpful and honest. Then I decided this spring to buy a nuc from Mr. Paul Petersen of Red Queen Apiaries. Here is my horror story:

If you follow my blog you may know that I am trying my darndest to be a treatment free beekeeper. This doesn’t mean I throw my bees into a hive and ignore them until fall. I follow a very intensive integrated pest management program where I am constantly checking mite levels with sugar rolls, treating with sugar dustings and controlling mite levels with drone brood trapping, screened bottom boards, brood breaks and small cell comb. I keep very detailed records of mite counts, mite kills, colony health and progress. I just so far have not had to resort to any harder treatments such as oxalic acid, formic acid, thymol or agaricides.

Since I had been hearing more and more about the success that beekeepers in my area were achieving with hygienic and VSH queens, I really wanted to get some of these genetics into my apiary. For those who don’t know, hygienic bees are very good at detecting mites, diseases or issues within the brood cells and cleaning them out. VSH bees are very good at grooming varroa mites off of each other. They are different, but both types are better able to deal with varroa infestations than a standard hive. There is currently a program at the local university here (UBC) where hygienic queens are being bred with great success.

Lo and behold, I see a local online ad from Paul offering UBC hygienic queens for $45 and nucs for $220. I decide to inquire, and am told that the queens will be ready later in May, but the nucs will be ready in a few weeks. I ask if the nucs come with hygienic queens and he responds that they do not come with the hygienic queens from UBC (University of British Columbia), but that they ARE hygienic.

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All right, I thought. That sounds good enough for me. I also asked him if the nucs were 4 frame or 5 frame. He responded that they were 4 frames. Three frames of brood (and bees) and a frame of honey. So far so good, sounds pretty standard. So I sent him my $100 deposit.

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Then things started to get weird. I knew that hygienic bees didn’t necessarily mean treatment free bees, so I asked him what his treatment regimen was. No answer. Then the three week mark rolled around and I asked when my bees would be ready. I was told in another 2 to 3 weeks. What? Well, ok. The nectar flow was in full swing and I wanted to get my new bees going but I guess I had to wait.

I then get an email two weeks later asking me to call him. I did and he told me my bees would be ready for pickup the next day, I just had to drive 30 minutes to the pickup location in Nanoose Bay. He said he would email me the exact address the following day but that it was near a landmark gas station. All right, I said, see you at 6pm tomorrow.

The next day dawns and I’m excited to finally get my new bees home. I begin emailing Paul around noon to request the pickup address since I haven’t heard from him. I email over and over. Then I start calling and leaving messages. Finally 5:30pm rolls around and I have to leave if I want to arrive on time. We drive 30 minutes to the gas station and park. I continue to call and leave messages, by this time getting very annoyed.

He finally calls me back and says, “The pickup is tomorrow.” What? I tell him he told me the pickup was today. He says, “Oh sorry, I must have thought yesterday was today”. Seriously? Then he goes on to tell me he’s getting his bees inspected tomorrow so how could he possibly sell them today? Apparently my mind-reading skills didn’t pick up on that important fact. What was I thinking. We drive home.

After arriving home beeless, I email to ask him to please just drop the bees off at my house, which is no more than 5 minutes out of his way, since he is coming from Cobble Hill and since he has just wasted an hour of my time. He agrees, and tells me I need to get a deposit ready for the nuc box. I respond that I have a hive ready to put the bees in and can do it immediately, thus returning his nuc box right away. So far so good… Right?

So, it’s 6pm the next day and Paul arrives with one of his helpers. I show him to the backyard where the hive is waiting and he begins unpacking the bees. He removes two frames of brood and bees and a frame of honey, then he takes out an empty drawn comb and says it’s a fresh comb for the queen to lay in. That’s odd. I thought we agreed upon three frames of brood. I have boxes and boxes of empty drawn frames, I don’t need to buy another one for $55. I should have said something about it at the time but for some reason I didn’t.

Then, sensing he was not an entirely honest businessman, I asked him again if the bees were hygienic and what their treatment schedule was. He responds that no, technically they’re not hygienic but you know, they’re good bees. They’re fine. Still no elaboration on treatments.

Now I was getting upset. I told him I specifically wanted hygienic bees because I was trying to be treatment free, and that’s what I thought I was buying. Well, apparently that was the stupidest thing I could have possibly said.

For the next solid half hour I was laughed at, ridiculed, interrogated, debased and basically told how ignorant and unscientific I was in about a dozen different ways by wanting to be treatment free. I was told that it was impossible, that it was a “fad” that young people were caught up in, that my research skills and experience were insufficient, that the experienced treatment free beekeepers that I followed were scam artists and assholes just trying to sell me bees, that hygienic bees basically didn’t exist, that I was in effect just infecting everyone else’s bees around me and that I was doomed to fail. To top it all off his lackey called me over and asked me if my dog got sick, would I refuse to take it to the vet? It was an absolutely horrible experience and I could not get the two of them to leave my yard fast enough. To Paul’s credit he did begrudgingly say that I could pick up a free hygienic queen later on in the season.

As soon as they left, I shot him an email saying that he had promised me both a hygienic queen and three frames of brood, and I wanted the replacement queen when they were available as well as a refund of $55, 25% of what I had paid for the nuc. No response.

Three days go by and my phone starts ringing. It’s the bee inspector, saying a beekeeper has called her saying that my hives are diseased and she needs to check them. Well now, I wonder who that could be? She shows up later that day and I tell her the story of the nuc purchase. She checks my hives and says they are perfectly fine, then she checks the brand new nuc. I am told, “It’s not the worst nuc I’ve ever seen, but it’s close”.

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Doing business with Paul earned me a retaliatory visit from the bee inspector

Yeah. So there you have it. Mr. Paul Petersen of Red Queen Apiaries in Cobble Hill, BC. He is on the board of directors for the Cowichan Beekeeper’s Club and he even used to be the president. I definitely recommend staying far, far away from this dishonest, rude and vindictive man and his bees.

 

 

 

Buyer Beware: Cactuskingdom.ca

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Nobody likes being ripped off by an online retailer, least of all me. Most vendors I deal with are very professional, but every once in awhile you run into an absolute nightmare. In order to prevent any other innocent plant lovers from having the experience I have recently had, this is the complete rundown of that nightmare…

I have been growing cacti from seed for over a decade, and I recently decided I wanted to try my hand at grafting. The kind of grafting I wanted to do required a specific type of tropical cacti that I hadn’t been able to find locally: Pereskiopsis Spathulata. I looked around a little and found a site that looked ok. Cactuskingdom.ca located in Toronto, Ontario with a virtual office in Etobicoke, Ontario. They had photos of healthy-looking cacti, and a decent-looking warranty that implied that orders would arrive in good condition or money would be refunded. Here’s the link to the page I ordered from:

http://www.cactuskingdom.ca/store/p163/Pereskipsis_Spathulata.html

Looking back now, I should have been tipped off by the many spelling errors and lack of credible online reviews… Anyway.

I placed my order for ten 5″-6″ unrooted cuttings for $50.00 CAD, including shipping. A bit expensive for what it was, since I know Pereskiopsis grow like weeds, but I figured for that price, my order would arrive safely in a little box and I would be on my way to grafting cacti very soon. I made sure it would ship to my personal PO Box so the cuttings wouldn’t risk being left out in the cold. My order was placed on March 9th, 2018.

At first, things seemed fine. My order shipped promptly, and on March 20th I received an email from the post office saying I had a delivery. Since the email came after they had closed for the day, I went in the following day to pick up my “package”. So far so good. Then the moment came when the postal agent went to retrieve my delivery… From the envelope drawer.

No. Please no. Please tell me these were not shipped across Canada in an envelope.

Pereskiopsis are a prehistoric cacti that resemble a succulent. They have fleshy stems and leaves. There was absolutely no way that ten cuttings would survive any kind of processing in an envelope. The worker lifted a small, plastic bubble envelope out of the drawer and brought it to me. It was flat, limp, had a foul odor, and was stained with green juice. When I picked it up, green goo dripped out of one corner.

I didn’t have to open the envelope to know what the condition was inside. I returned home, peeled back the flap and was greeted with this:

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A crushed, gooey sticky mess of very sad cactus cuttings. They had been shipped for $1.80 via lettermail from Ontario to British Columbia. You can imagine how happy I was when I had been expecting to receive this:

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I immediately emailed the company expressing my displeasure and asked for a refund. I was shocked that anyone could imagine that sending fragile plants in a bubble envelope with zero protection would spell anything other than a complete disaster. The email exchange that followed was nothing short of excruciating.

The first thing I noticed upon emailing was that the person responding to my email was not the person named on the return address. It was a strange name: Grunsii Echino. The accompanying gmail photo icon looked like a professional shot of a distinguished mature gentleman kneeling near a bed of large barrel cactus. In fact, this was that exact shot:

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Something seemed fishy. The name Grunsii Echino came up with zero results in Google. The photo looked a little too professional… I decided to do an image search for it and came up with this page:

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Do you notice the latin name of the cacti on this page? Echinocactus E. Grusonii. So that’s where the fake name Grunsii Echino was from. And the photo? A picture of professional horticulturist and multi-award winning gardener Simon Eade.

Very fishy indeed. How long had this person been emailing customers representing himself as Mr. Eade? I contacted Simon Eade to let him know his likeness was being used this way. He was not impressed.

Now, I completely understand that shipping accidents happen. I’ve been running my own online business since 2006 and have shipped out tens of thousands of orders. I always try to pack items carefully but every once in awhile something gets damaged. When a customer emails me about a damaged item, I apologize to them and send them either a complete refund or a replacement, depending on their preference. This is my interpretation of how honest business is done. It may not have been my fault that the order was damaged but it sure wasn’t the customer’s fault. Cactus Kingdom however does not subscribe to this philosophy…

Here is my first email to Cactus Kingdom:

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Here is the response:

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Apparently leaving factual negative reviews is now considered spamming people with hate propaganda. Truth is, I did contact him first before leaving a few reviews. I admit I was upset and didn’t wait very long for a reply. Regardless of how he was going to deal with the issue, I felt people should know about their shipping practices. My reviews were factual, if stern. I was fully prepared to amend them after the fact if the company responded appropriately and made things right, as I would hope anyone would do for me. My review:

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Anyway, many more emails ensued where I was told repeatedly the cuttings were “fine”, “not damaged” and I was just “inexperienced” with this type of cactus. They were simply “a little shocked” from shipping. My continued demands for a refund went unaddressed. Not once did they acknowledge that the shipping method had been insufficient. I will spare you the painful dialogue.

Interestingly, this company which had four Google reviews on the day I left mine, the next day had nine. All the reviews from the second day were suspiciously lacking in detail and contained similar wording. For example:

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Compared to:

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Or:

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Anything you’re looking for huh? The entire site has a grand total of ten products for sale. Highly suspicious. The third day they had fifteen reviews, which coincidentally all had a bit more detail added.

Strangely though, these new reviewers (who all seemed to have suddenly jumped from having one review to 3 or 4 in the same day, were all reviewing the same places. “Perfect Collision” in Brooklyn, NY, “Recycle for Life” in Mission Viejo, “Auto Turbo CHRA” in Spain,  “Parkstone Equities Management” in Flushing, NY, and “Petah Tikva” in Israel:

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How truly amazing that these ten people have all visited and left reviews for the exact same businesses all over the USA and the world! And all within the very same four days? Why, it borders on unbelievable.

(I mean, really. If you’re going to leave a plethora of fake reviews for yourself, you might try being a little more sophisticated.)

The owner of Cactus Kingdom also has another business in Toronto: TorontoDogRunner.ca.

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I found this by searching the phone number on his business card. The dog pictured in the image above is his Dutch Shepherd, Roscoe. You can find many pictures of this pampered pooch by clicking on the Instagram button, which leads you to Instagram.com/fitcanine.

Here we can find many posts liked and commented on by an “relgner”, who refers to Roscoe as “her baby” and herself as “Mom”:

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How interesting it is then, that one of our newest Cactus Kingdom online reviewers happens to be “Rita Elgner”:

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Looks like good old Rita ordered twice in the last month! I don’t know about you, but when I give a present to my close family member, I generally just hand deliver it. They also usually doesn’t leave me an online review… Maybe they should start? Mom?

Well, at least he doesn’t have his dog writing fake reviews for him. Oh wait:

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Hmm, the photo in that icon looks a whole lot like this one:

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Sigh. Who knew dogs even cared about horticulture? Oh wait, they don’t.

Not to mention that the Google business profile for Cactus Kingdom contains dozens of “borrowed” images of cacti and well-stocked commercial nurseries and he goes by at least three different names on his website registration and business profiles. So now, for my $50 I am left with this:

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Lovely yes? If you saw those in a shop I bet you’d be happy to pay $50 for them. Moral of the story: For the love of all that contains chlorophyll do not order plants from Cactuskingdom.ca unless you need an expensive addition to your compost pile and untold aggravation. Shame on you Shaun from Cactus Kingdom, if that IS your real name.

Two Ingredient Natural Bug Spray that Really Works

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Biting bugs are the worst. But I would argue that the majority of commercially available bug sprays and lotions are even more horrible.

I work outdoors a lot and mosquito season is just beginning. I always seem to forget how infuriating it is to try and get things done outdoors when you’re constantly swatting at these whining pests. Not to mention they can carry dangerous diseases.

However, the thought of smearing myself with pesticide cream or who knows what else gives me the creeps. I had to figure out a better solution, luckily the answer is easy, effective, cheap and natural.

Two ingredients: witch hazel and lemon eucalyptus essential oil.

I usually put a few tablespoons of witch hazel into a small glass jar and then add about 12 – 24 drops of essential oil. You can also pour it into a small spray bottle. Shake well before each use and then just rub into any exposed areas, including your face. It has a light, lemony smell and leaves no residue. In fact in the off season I will sometimes use this concoction as a refreshing toner! Mosquitoes will give you a wide berth when sporting this stuff.

Cheaper than commercial sprays, lasts forever and the witch hazel helps extend the oil and also thin it out to help avoid skin irritation for those that are sensitive. Win-win!

Free Rabbit Food (and People Food): Oxeye Daisy

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Leucanthemum vulgare is an iconic perennial flowering herb that is native to Europe but can be found all over the world. It’s also called the dog daisy, common daisy or moon daisy and can be seen in fields, woodlands and along roadsides. It has serrated to dentated dark green leaves and spreads via rhizomes.

I have a large patch of this in my rabbit forage field and the bunnies always go for these juicy stalks first when they get their daily bundle of wild grasses. The dead nettle has died down for the most part and so the oxeye daisy makes for much of their non-grassy forage this time of year, now that it is getting hotter.

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The young leaves of this herb can also be used in salads, and the dried leaves have a bitter and tingling flavor similar to that of valerian. The immature flower buds can be marinated and used like capers, which is what I’m preparing today. They have a unique, delicate sweet and spicy flavor that complements many dishes such as smoked fish, salads, pates and sauces.

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You must select tightly closed flower buds to ensure the best flavor and that no bugs have made their way in. Then take 1/2 cup apple cider or wine vinegar and 1/2 cup water mixed with 1 tablespoon sea salt and use to cover your flower buds in a glass jar or ceramic crock. Refrigerate and they will be ready to use after three days but will keep in the fridge much longer than that.

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Swarm Cell!

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I’ve been checking my hives on a weekly basis to try to head off potential swarming. Looks like I was right on time!

This is the first swarm cell I’ve seen in any of my three hives, and I only found the one. I immediately removed the frame it was attached to and put it into its own nuc box along with a frame of pollen, a frame of honey, two empty frames and some extra nurse bees.

The nuc was set up in a new location with a pollen patty and sugar syrup feeder and I anxiously anticipate what develops. The hard part now is keeping my paws out of it for a week or two while they get themselves settled. Here’s hoping for a a well-mated queen and the beginnings of a healthy new hive.

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First Powdered Sugar Varroa Treatment a Great Success!

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I opened up my hives today and was chagrined to see that Hive 1 had some bees with wing and abdomen abnormalities due to varroa mite infestation. My other two hives also have mites but seem to be chugging along for now. I finally saw the queen of Hive 1 as well, which was excellent, but it was obvious that something needed to be done.

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Deformed bee

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Hive 1 queen

I’ve done scads of research online on the efficacy of the powdered sugar treatment. Some people say it works, some people say it’s a waste of time. The theory is that the sugar is just the right size to get under the mites’ feet and unstick them from the bees as they groom it off each other. It won’t do anything for the mites inside the cells, but you can treat multiple times to get them once they emerge. For instance, once a week for three weeks. I decided I had nothing to lose, so I installed my new DIY screened bottom board and got out a cup of icing sugar.

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At least this treatment is easy to apply! I dumped the cup of sugar on the top brood box and brushed it in between all the frames. I soon had a bunch of very white, very pissed off bees.

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Then I closed it up and waited. But not for long… Less than an hour later I had to check and see the results, if any. I pulled out the tray and my jaw absolutely dropped.

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It was totally loaded with mites! I counted probably around 600 mites and after I waited another couple of hours there were easily 1000 mites on the tray, struggling in the sugar. That is a LOT of phoretic varroa.

I am SO glad that I decided to do this treatment. I immediately got to work making two more screened bottom boards for my other hives and they will be getting treated as soon as possible. I plan to give them all a weekly treatment for at least three weeks or until the mite drop is significantly lowered. I’m so glad that I didn’t have to resort to any harsh chemicals and I’m incredibly impressed with how this simple trick has worked.

Wild Edibles: Dame’s Rocket

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These flashy little plants showed up in my bee yard completely out of nowhere. I’m sure nobody planted them but I have seen them growing in my neighbor’s yard a couple of houses down. A quick search shows it to be an invasive plant, but it’s also edible and has medicinal qualities.

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The bitter, pungent leaves, which are high in vitamin C are great in salads as the plant is closely related to arugula. The flowers are aromatic, but only in the evenings. It is purported to induce sweating, promote urination and loosen a cough. When in flower, it is said to be a gland stimulant and aphrodisiac.  It’s also a great nectar source!