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Monday, February 15, 2016

A Sad Time for Beekeepers: Walt Wright has Died

Walt Wright died on February 6 in Tennessee. A former NASA engineer and a GE employee in the security side of things, he brought his analytical mind to beekeeping and taught all of us about checkerboarding.

Walt took up beekeeping in his retirement in his fifties. He observed the bees with his scientific perspective and recognized that the hive is driven to survive and to reproduce by swarming. He determined that the beekeeper could attempt to fool the bees into thinking that they had more room to fill with honey (and thus shouldn't leave) by leaving empty drawn comb in the crown of honey above the winter cluster.

He called this process checkerboarding because every other frame would be filled with honey - let's say frames in positions 1, 3, 5, and 7 and that 2, 4, 6, and 8 would be empty drawn comb. He moved the capped honey formerly in 2, 4, 6, and 8 into a new box above and put empty drawn comb in 1, 3, 5, and 7. This created a checkerboard effect (and thus the name).

His writings and musings about the bees have been read widely by many. Most of his writing can be found on Beesource.  On the column to the left of his bio, you can find whole articles by him - don't be confused by the list of titles below his bio - the full item can be found in the left column.

I wish I had met him or heard him speak. He made so many great contributions to the beekeeping community. It's amazing that he had impact on how so many of use think about bees.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:48 AM

    We were Walt's neighbors for almost the last 20 years ... bought most of his property from him at that time, except a small piece that he "chunked" off. He was not interested in the honey his bees were producing, but in studying the bees themselves, so he would sell us 55 gallon drums of honey. He'd give us the suppers, full of frames of capped honey, and we'd spin it out with the equipment he had rigged in the "honey house" he'd built on his property (before we bought it). We bottled it and sold it to local stores.

    His checkerboarding technique worked tremendously well. Many seasons, I witnesssed his 15(+/-) hives on our property alone, which grew so tall from the huge hives he was able to propagate that he needed to climb a full height step ladder to nearly the top rung to reach the top super. That is no lie ... they were 10-12ft tall! The hives would produce many hundreds of pounds of honey, and we even had barrels full of just the cappings after harvesting the honey. He gave me one of his earliest manuscripts, and explained the whole concept to me in detail. It made sense to me ... because I saw it's results in action. I think he ran it by me to get my opinion, but mostly because he was proud of it and even more so, he was always evangelizing the field of beekeeping. It was literally his life. He was one of the rare breed of people that could find a singular passion and focus his attentions on it like an unwavering laser beam ... in his twilight years at that.

    I often kept late hours myself, and would MANY times pass by his little house on the way back the long lane to our house or glance out to the road at night and see Walt's light on, and he was invariably sitting at his computer working on his bee manuscripts and such.

    He could be a little "crotchety" at times, but my take was that it was just his way of "funnin'" with us, and he had a good heart. He was also one of those rare men who said it as he saw it, and he kept his word. I liked Walt. I think he liked me, except for the fact that I didn't take as much to beekeeping as he'd wanted me to. I think that bugged him a bit. I did buy a full suit, but somewhere along the way I lost the main "jumpsuit" part of the rig. Hmmm ... come to think of it, Walt was almost as big as me. :) No, from my experience, Walt was about as true and straightforward as they come. Example: he ever had locks on any of his doors. He chewed me out (in good jest) when I put locks on the doors and a gate on the drive of the place we bought from him. He also gave me a hard time (again, in jest) about the hours I'd keep, and things like cutting the grass at night, while his own hours were every bit as unorthodox as mine.

    I hope he knows just how much we thought of him ... and miss him.

    RIP, Walt.


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