171: Robbie Shell on Honeybees and Colony Collapse Disorder

A researcher’s perspective on the marvelous efficiency of honeybees.

Robbie Shell. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

Robbie was a business journalist and co-author of a book on leadership, who turned her attention to honeybees when her brother, a beekeeper, brought her jars of honey harvested from his backyard hives. Inspired by the teamwork and efficiency displayed by these tiny pollinators, she left her job as a business editor/writer and wrote “Bees on the Roof.”
The middle-grade environmental fiction novel tells the story of four seventh graders competing in a science competition but also educates young readers about the importance of honeybees to our environment and the dangers they face from the still mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder.
Robbie, who graduated from Princeton University with a degree in history, grew up in Connecticut and has lived in Charlottesville, Va., Boston, Mass., New York City and Washington, D.C.  She and her husband now live in Philadelphia, where they raised their two sons.  She has never been stung by a honeybee (Wasps are a different story.)

In This Podcast:

Greg meets Robbie who is not a farmer or gardener but really has a story to tell that can make a difference. Robbie was inspired by some honeybees and decided to learn more about them. Her research eventually led her to write an environmental fiction book for middle school kids to help them understand and appreciate the honeybees and the challenge of colony collapse disorder. She shares with Greg some of the amazing details she learned through her research and talks about how adults and kids can help the bees.

Listen in and learn about:

  • Her introduction to honey bees
  • A video that showed her an ordered colony of bees that worked so efficiently together
  • Her musing that she might write a book that eventually led to the non-fiction book for kids
  • Environmental fiction and how important that is to helping kids learn about ecology and STEM
  • Her challenge to connect with seventh graders
  • Her book called Bees on a Roof
  • More on colony collapse disorder (CCD)
  • Kids learning the full circle of the system from bees to pastries
  • How important honey bees are to 70% of crops of foods that are consumed
  • Some of the other statistics that are connected to this system
  • How CCD disrupts a hive
  • Some of the theories that might explain CCD
  • Neonicotinoids and parasites, viruses and fungi, climate change and landscape changes
  • Some of the pollinators that are affected by insecticides
  • Some of the groups that are fighting the use of some pesticides
  • Some common conceptions about beekeeping
  • Resources that are available to beekeepers with important information

    Robbie visiting some bee hives

  • How most honeybees are not inclined to sting
  • Her visit to the hives at Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello with no protective clothing
  • How the original African bees were introduced to honey bees and why
  • How kids can learn to take care of honeybees
  • Some flowers, herbs, trees, and weeds that honeybees love
  • The young girl who sold honey sweetened lemonade and got a contract to sell it to Whole Foods
  • The boy who launched 13 beehives near Boston
  • The miserable life of a Queen Bee
  • What honey bees have in common with ants and termites
  • What the government is doing to help with the issue of CCD
  • Some of the concerns with Brexit and how this is going to affect pesticides
  • The bee hive in Cuba that she is going to visit
  • Monuka honey and why legal issues are developing around this variety
  • How she is working with schools to help kids understand more about bees and how important they are to the ecosystems
  • Why she as a researcher and not a farmer or gardener cares so much about bees
  • The waggle dance that bees do to help other bees find the good flowers
  • Clustering to keep the queen bee safe and warm as one of the efficient processes in the hive

As well as:

  • Her motivation to change careers – The essay in Wall Street Journal which gave her lots of inspiring feedback
  • Her success – making the decision to leave the job as a business journalist and writing this book
  • Her drive – the satisfaction of seeing her words in print
  • Her Advice – Follow your heart, find what you can get lost in

Books written by Robbie:

BEES on the roof

Robbie’s Book recommendations:   

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

How to reach Robbie:           

Website: Beesontheroof.com

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