Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year Beekeepers!

     To everyone I wish a very happy and healthy year to you and your loved ones (including your bees). May your bees survive the cold of winter, develop a resistance to Varroa and other pests, be free of all diseases and produce buckets of honey. 
     Please, don't drink and fly!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Gifts for Beekeepers

     At this time of year I'm especially appreciative that I have a roof over my head and food in my belly when so many in the world have neither.  Giving gifts to those in need seems like a good idea at Christmas and for that matter throughout the year.  
     In many countries beekeeping is a practical solution to reduce poverty and relieve suffering.   Beekeeping requires little space, minimal cost and offers much needed income from the sales of honey, beeswax and pollen.  In addition increased pollination from the introduction of these bees can substantially increase fruit and vegetable yields as well as pollinating native plants.  For most beekeeping has become a supplement to the family income but for an increasing number it has become a major part of the village economy.  There are many good philanthropic beekeeping organizations like "Bees for Development", "ICIMOD" and "Global Hand" that are worthy of your Christmas donation.  An organization on my gift list is "Heifer International" which has been operating throughout the world for over 70 years.  For a mere $30 you can give the gift of honey bees

     Another organization that I support at Christmas and throughout the year is Fair Trade.  Farmers in developing countries have traditionally been exploited by greedy food distribution corporations.  A small portion of the price you pay for agricultural products from developing countries goes to the farmer.  The concept of "Fair Trade" has empowered these farmers and provided them and their communities with a fair income which has allowed them a healthier, happier lifestyle. This documentary "Hope is Golden" is about the beekeeping cooperatives in Brazil’s arid Caatinga region that produce Fair Trade certified honey.

     The Fair Trade organizations provide funding for the infrastructure required by farming cooperatives in developing countries.  "Fair Trade International" began 25 years ago and in 2012 the number of Fairtrade producer organizations grew by 16%.  It works and it is growing.  Each time you buy a Fair Trade product you are supporting the farmer and their family in the developing world rather than the multinational food distribution corporation.   Buying "Fair Trade" products (honey, tea, chocolate, sugar, fruit, flowers and coffee), easily identifiable by the "Fair Trade" symbol is a good idea throughout the year.
     Another organization that I support is "Schools for Chiapas".  Mexico is a prime example of how corporate agriculture exploits local farmers in developing worlds.  The Zapatista organization "Schools for Chiapas" struggles to educate (Schools for Chiapas projects) and empower local, native communities.  One part of this is the promotion and education of the beekeeping tradition of Meliponiculture.  Melipona beecheii are  stingless bees native to Mexico, Central America, the Carribean, and many parts of South America (Stingless Honey Bee of the Maya) which were domesticated by the Mayan people long before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.  In much of Latin America stingless beekeeping has been replaced by the introduction of the Africanized European Honey Bee (Killer Bees).  The native stingless bees are essential for the pollination of some native plants and Schools for Chiapas is supporting a revival of this traditional beekeeping practice.  You can support this initiative through the American Stingless Bee Recuperation Gift of Change  (other Gifts of Change).
       In this video a group of Mayan women are challenging social norms and preserving an endangered species (the stingless bee, Melipona Beecheii).  Traditionally the prerogative of men in Mayan culture, beekeeping is providing this collective with a source of income and a reason to keep the species from going extinct.

     There are many worthy beekeeping charities throughout the world like "The Bee Cause" (Britain), "The Bumblebee Conservation Trust", "The Xerces Society" and "Seedles".  For me, in my community Hives for Humanity is a great organization which works to enhance community through apiculture.   

The History of Hives for Humanity:
     "In the summer of 2012 we placed a colony of bees at 117 East Hastings in the DTES (low income, high drug use area) of Vancouver where, in 2007, the Hastings Folk Garden Society had transformed an empty lot into a beautiful garden space. With the mandate of providing therapeutic opportunities to community members and peaceful refuge from the chaos of the street, the garden was a perfect fit for our bees!
     Though we were unsure how the bees would fare and how the community would respond, we believed that they would bring a general sense of well-being to the neighbourhood and that they would complement the many therapeutic and supportive activities already occurring in the garden.  We were right! The bees were respected by all: they were managed and cared for by a group of Portland Hotel Society staff, peer workers and community members, all of whom worked very closely with our Master Beekeeper.
     The bees enhanced the community in the most gentle and natural manner.  Something wonderful was happening: participants and the wider community traded stories and information as the bees did their work; people shared in the responsibility of and caring for the hives and marvelled at how the bees were thriving; and finally, everyone got to dip their fingers into fresh honey! It was a fitting reward for an incredible experience. There was a bumper crop of 140 pounds of raw eastside honey to be extracted, bottled, labelled and sold, with profits going directly back into the program.
      “Hives for Humanity”, a non-profit society established in September 2012,  came about as a result of this project and our goal for 2013 was to establish 20 hives throughout the DTES and neighbouring communities.  We currently have more than triple that number and have expanded to include more societies of the Downtown Eastside, societies out in the Fraser Valley, and schools in East Vancouver, West Vancouver and Langley."
      Today they have 73 registered hives in Greater Vancouver.

     On a more practical, personal level no beekeeper should be without an "Inflatable Bee Beard".  The perfect Christmas gift for the beekeeper in your life (maybe not).

    A gift I recommend to all beekeepers is the wonderful book "The Travelling Beehive".  This book is wonderfully written by Elena Garcia and Manuel Angel Rosado and beautifully illustrated by Juan Hernaz.  It is published by Apolo which is an organization dedicated to the preservation of pollinators and their habitat.  You can follow Polli the honey bee and her friend Dipter the hover fly as they face the challenges of a disappearing green space.  They are joined in their struggle by Bazumba the wild bee, Missus Bombus the bumblebee, Lepi the butterfly, her majesty the queen, Dorian the farmer and Ramon the beekeeper. Sit back with your children or grandchildren and enjoy the The Travelling Beehive  (Spanish version).

    The bees are snuggled in their hives waiting for Santa.  Penny, from the Natural Beekeeping Trust of the United Kingdom says "Traditionally, Christian beekeepers have visited their colonies at midnight on Christmas Eve to tell the bees of the nativity.  They also hoped to hear the special melodious humming that the bees were said to perform at this time, portending health and prosperity throughout the coming year.  It was thought that this custom was predated by an earlier pre-Christian one when the return of the sun was by no means guaranteed!"
     If you're wondering what to recite to your bees on Christmas Eve here is a poem by Carol Ann Duffy.

Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight's key;
all the garden locked in ice -
a silver frieze -
except the winter cluster of the bees.

Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.

Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.

Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive -
trembling stars cloistered above -
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.
Merry Christmas!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Vancouver Food Bank Honey Bees

One of our girls enjoying a Kale flower
     Last year we began raising honey bees for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank at our community garden (Cottonwood).  Before I became a beekeeper I thought like most that honey was a sweet treat that Winnie the Pooh loved, but to my amazement I discovered that honey possesses incredible health benefits that have been used since pre-Ancient Egyptian times to treat a variety of ailments.

Winnie the Pooh 
     However, it is only recently that the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey have been fully understood.  Scientists have revealed that honey has powerful anti-bacterial properties that work on at least sixty species of bacteria, and unlike antibiotics, which are often useless against certain types of bacteria, honey is non-toxic. The composition of honey includes sugars such as glucose and fructose and also minerals such as niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.  Depending on the quality of the nectar and pollen, the vitamins contained in honey are B1, B2, C, B6, B5 and B3.  Honey is used topically to treat wounds (including tumours), allergies, as an antioxidant (contains flavonoids, antioxidants which help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease), works to reduce ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders and reduces cough and throat irritation.  All great reasons to provide honey to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank (For the Love of Bees).

     Last year we received a grant from the Vancouver Foundation to purchase the hive and bees for the Food Bank hive.  We were blessed to be a recipient of a grant from the Vancouver Foundation again this year to purchase a second beehive.   The Vancouver Foundation provides funding for community projects that help build a healthy, sustainable sense of community that is sometimes lacking in large urban areas.

"With over 1,600 funds and assets totaling $930 million, Vancouver Foundation is Canada’s largest community foundation. Each year, Vancouver Foundation and its donors make more than 5,300 grants, totaling approximately $50 million to registered charities across Canada. Since it was founded in 1943, Vancouver Foundation, in partnership with its donors, has distributed more than $1 billion to thousands of community projects and programs. Grant recipients range from social services to medical research groups, to organizations devoted to arts and culture, the environment, education, children and families, disability supports for employment, youth issues and animal welfare. To find out more please explore our website or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter."

     We are constantly bombarded by world news, mostly negative, that neglects to remind us of all the wonderful, small community projects going on around us.  Many of these projects are made possible by the Vancouver Foundation and help to make this world a little better place to live in.  For us, the Strathcona Beekeepers it has helped us continue to provide free beekeeping lessons and guidance to the community; free native and honey bee demonstrations; maintain our community bee and plant resource website; share our honey extractor with over 20 community beekeepers annually purchased with funds from the Vancouver Foundation; provide a place in Strathcona (Cottonwood Garden) for community, cooperative beekeeping; increase neighbourhood pollination and food crop yield; financially support Cottonwood Community Garden through the sale of honey and provide honey to the Vancouver Food Bank.

We raised $400 selling honey for Cottonwood Garden this year
     This year we were able to provide the Food Bank with over 50 kgs of honey to be distributed mostly to the downtown eastside soup kitchens.  A big thanks to the Vancouver Foundation for helping us continue our work. They have helped us create a permanent, positive addition to the Strathcona community.  Please consider the Vancouver Foundation among those you support with your charitable donations (Donate to the Vancouver Foundation).  Every little bit helps and you may just find a honey bee or mason bee in your backyard brought to you by your own financial support to the Vancouver Foundation.

4 year old Jack giving a bee lecture at Cottonwood Community Garden Open House
     For those who don't know the Food Bank or "The Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society" {GVFBS} is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing food and related assistance to those in need. The GVFBS collects and distributes food to nearly 27‚000 people weekly through 15 food depots and over 100 community agencies located in Vancouver‚ Burnaby‚ New Westminster and the North Shore. The GVFBS does not receive any government funding and relies solely on the generosity of individuals and organizations willing to donate funds‚ food and time like us.

Our beehives have been superbly painted by amazingly, artistic community children's groups.
     Last year we also started a food growing program at our community garden for the Vancouver Food Bank. Under the supervision of farmer Linda we have been able to provide a wide variety of fresh, local, organic produce to the Vancouver Food Bank.  I would also like to thank all the other gardeners who have and continue to work so hard at making this a viable project and by doing so making a positive difference in our community. As someone who has worked in traditional, rural farming I have discovered that urban farming is a totally different skill.  The main challenge being the optimal usage of the limited space. Farming practices like growing vine crops vertically on mesh fences and planting in July for your second late summer crop of peas.  Maximum usage of limited space.  The greatest example of urban farming that I know of is the "Urban Homestead" in Pasadena where they harvest 3 tons of organic food annually from their 1/10 acre garden while incorporating many back-to-basics practices, solar energy and biodiesel in order to reduce their footprint on the earth’s resources.  A wonderful inspiration.

Amy from the Food Bank receiving some of our fresh, organic produce.
     The bees are settling in for a long winter.  We have left them lots of honey with the hope that some sunny, March day next spring they come out to enjoy the nectar from the fruit trees and to begin once again another bountiful year in the community of Strathcona (Vancouver).

"Place a beehive on my grave
And let the honey soak through.
When I'm dead and gone,
That's what I want from you.
The streets of heaven are gold and sunny,
But I'll stick with my plot and my pot of honey.
Place a beehive on my grave
And let the honey soak through."
-Sue Monk Kidd

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