Kim Flottum: Friend of Beekeepers and Bees

We are saddened to hear of the death of Peter "Kim" Flottum, longtime editor of Bee Culture magazine, a friend of the nation's beekeepers and bee scientists, and a close friend of the UC Davis bee community.

A resident of Medina, Ohio, Kim died Sunday, Dec. 10 at his home of lung cancer at age 76. He served as editor of Bee Culture for 33 years, retiring in 2019. He authored numerous books and podcasts, including "5000 Years of Beekeeping in 24 Minutes (100)" with Jim Tew on Honey Bee Obscura.

We remember his talk at the 2021 California Honey Festival.

"If you want to be a beekeeper, you must think like a bee, not like a beekeeper," he related.

As a descendant of generations of beekeepers, I asked Kim why folks should keep bees. They "provide essential pollination, improve the genetics of the wild bee population in the area, ensure native plant populations," he said, "and because there is absolutely nothing more calming, soothing, enjoyable than being a part of that civilization, right in your backyard."

We remember when Kim addressed the 2017 Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, held at UC Davis, where it was founded. He predicted that the nation's 250,000 beekeepers (who manage around 4 million colonies) will turn into a million beekeepers in five years.

Kim applauded "the incredible rise of new beekeepers in the last 10 years." 

"The urban, suburban and country beekeepers are younger than the norm and we have more women beekeepers than ever,"  Kim told the crowd. "This isn't like the 1970s Green Movement--I'm old enough to remember that. It's got legs! But watch out for an ugly urban disaster like a major bee spill or bad honey recall." 

Beekeepers are becoming more and more diverse, specializing in honey production, pollination services and queen bee breeding, he said, and pollination services and queen bee breeding are the most profitable. Honey, not so much.

"If I'm in beekeeping, pollination services is a sure bet," he said. "Beekeepers now get 200 bucks a colony for almond pollination in California. Pollination is more profitable than honey. Bee breeding? Queens can sell for as much as $40 or $50."

"In the United States,  we eat on the average 1.2 pounds a year, but in Canada, it's 2.5 or 2.4 pounds." He lamented that unsafe and/or questionable honey from China floods our nation's supermarkets and is being sold at undercut prices. (Some statistics indicate that a "third or more of all the honey consumed in the U.S. is likely to have been smuggled in from China and may be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals"--Food Safety News.)

It's important for American beekeepers to label their honey "Made in America" or localize it by city or state, Kim said. 

He also touched on such issues as honey bee health, nutrition, loss of habitat, poor quality forage, and pesticides.

The varroa mite/virus is the No. 1 problem for beekeepers, he said. "Other stressers include nutrition, nosema, pesticides...All of these can be fixed with money, increased diversity of bee stock, and a move away from both ag and in-hive legal and illegal chemicals."

Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen (1944-2022), serving his sixth term as president of WAS in 2017, commented at the time: "Kim Flottum has been a stalwart in U.S. beekeeping for decades. He ferrets out information on national, regional, and local beekeeping happenings and disseminates the news in various places, depending upon his role at the time.  He has been associated with the A.I. Root Company; Gleanings in Bee Culture, and now editor of Bee Culture magazine.  He is very active in the Eastern Apicultural Society and is well known by nearly every University and USDA scientist in the country.  Kim consolidates all that information into some really interesting presentations in which he is not known for concealing his opinions."

Kim Flottum received his bachelor's degree in horticulture production from the University of Wisconsin and then worked as a researcher at the USDA Honey Bee Research Lab in Madison, where he specialized in crop pollination, pesticide problems with honey bees, and "honey plants" for the home landscape.

His career took him to Connecticut. He was elected president of Connecticut Beekeepers' Association. He served as  publications manager and editor of Gleanings In Bee Culture, A. I. Root's monthly beekeeping magazine. He created a new magazine, BEEKeeping, Your First Three Years. He also served as president of the Ohio State Beekeepers' Association. He continued to keep bees in his backyard in Medina up until his death.

The son of the late Arnold and Edna Flottum of Turtle Lake, Wisc., Kim is survived by his wife, Kathy, of Medina; a daughter, Jessica of Akron; two stepsons, Matt and Grant Summers, both of Medina; and two brothers and two sisters, all from Wisconsin: Julie (Flottum) Hugg of Ashland; Bob Flottum of Chippewa Falls; Susan Flottum Zurcher of Wales; and Tom Flottum of Turtle Lake.  A  celebration of life is planned next spring. (See obituary)

A post on his Facebook page said simply: "RIP, Kim Flottum, you will be missed by all beekeepers."

And the bees.  

His passion for bees, his wisdom about all things bees, his generosity,  and his kindness, will never be forgotten.