Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

     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!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Anita the Beekeeper

      This wonderful film produced by Unicef  portrays a young Indian woman, Anita Khushwaha who pays for her schooling through beekeeping and earns the respect of her community.

"Born to a very poor family, Anita learned early in life that education would help her survive. Though her family wanted her to stay at home and tend their goats, she convinced them that going to school was right for her. “My parents were not supportive, but they listened to me eventually,” she says.  By tutoring other students, Anita made a small amount of money to pay for school fees. And when her parents thought it was time for her to marry, she was once again determined to continue her education and support herself.

“My parents love me a lot but they were forcing me to marry,” recalls Anita. “When they tried that, I stopped eating food and they changed their decision to get me married off.”

Anita had seen beekeepers working with their boxes, and she wanted to know more. “I came to know that the queen bee is at the centre of beekeeping,” she says, noting that at first she was able to buy only two. Today, she has 125 queen bees and 125 boxes providing enough honey and income to allow her to continue her college education."

     Beekeeping can play an important role in developing countries by providing income and increased crop pollination and yield.   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.  This is one of reasons we created our Beekeepers' Library, to provide free localized information to beekeepers worldwide. There are many good philanthropic beekeeping organizations like Bees for Development, ICIMOD, Global Hand, Bees Abroad , and Heifer International which we can support and help beekeepers like Anita in the developing world.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Plea for Bees' Needs

     Dr. Elizabeth Elle, a Simon Fraser University professor specializing in biodiversity gives a public lecture on the status of honey and native bees and what we can do to make our community a more bee friendly place.  What I find particularly interesting is her discussion of native bees.  My hope is to become more accurate in my native bee identification this year.  Particularly the mining, leaf cutting and sweat bees.  In Vancouver the Blue Orchard Mason Bee ( and Bumble Bee species ( are fairly easy to identify.  Later in the year I will do a posting specifically on native bee identification.

     Dr. Elle has worked with the Environmental Youth Alliance which facilitates youth based sustainability programs in Vancouver and 15 countries internationally.  The Environmental Youth Alliance manage a garden within our community garden in which they have a top bar bee hive.  They also have two hives at a Mt. Pleasant garden in Vancouver where they run an annual beekeeping program for youth (  This is a great way for young people in the Vancouver area to get initiated into beekeeping.

     Please visit this website ( and sign the petition to the United Nations to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides which are toxic to bees (  

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Everything's Connected

     Another talk about the connection of people to their environment.  The implementation of big, industrial agriculture disconnects us from any concept of a healthy, diverse ecosystem.  Bigger is not always better!  We need to think and function in a state of harmonious, environmental balance.
     Christy Hemenway, the founder of Goldstar Honeybees (natural, chemical free top bar hives) is working towards reintegration of small scale diversified farms and honeybees.  She speaks of the connection between bees and our food, our health and our planet.

     I strongly believe that this small scale diversified farming philosophy emphasizing local control should be applied to all industries from logging to high tech.  It is only with local control that you have a long term social and environmental vested interest.  "Think globally, act locally."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

To Bee or Not to Bee

     David Suzuki, possibly Canada's greatest scientist and environmentalist narrates this interesting documentary on the plight of the bee in environmentally stressed planet earth.  Although David is known for an amazing portfolio of work he is best known as the host of the award winning program the "Nature of Things" since 1979 (

     This documentary highlights the issues and challenges that bees face in this toxic environment we have created.  Watch "To Bee or Not to Bee" at

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Bees

The girls getting ready for Christmas
     It was a beautiful, sunny December 18th at the bee hive and the girls were excited it being the week before Christmas.  A beekeeper from Hornby Island dropped by and was surprised the ladies were so active on this cool 7 degree Celsius day (44 fahrenheit).  I explained that they were city bees and they had a lot of last minute Christmas shopping to do.
     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.

        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 who are not as fortunate as I seems like a good idea at Christmas and for that matter throughout the year.  Here are a few Christmas gift ideas for less fortunate beekeepers in the world.    Christmas Gifts

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dennis vanEngelsdorp

     Check out for some intelligent, thought provoking conversation.  Since 1984 TED has produced a wild array of honest, at times controversial lectures that are guaranteed to stimulate the mind.  This talk is from Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the acting state apiarist from Pennsylvania"s Department of Agriculture, a leading figure in the battle against Colony Collapse Disorder.  According to vanEngelsdorp "pollinators are canaries in the coal mine and their disappearance is a referendum on the state of our environment - a reminder of the brilliant and frightening interdependence of our ecosystem".

Please visit  and sign the petition to the United Nations to ban neonicotinoid pesticides (


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bill Maher talks about Bees

     Bill Maher and I are in perfect agreement.  The honey bee is the canary in the coal mine and the coal mine is planet Earth.  Colony Collapse Disorder is simply a smack in the face telling us to wake up and smell the roses as long as they're not drenched in pesticides and herbicides.  We have created an agricultural system and world that is completely unnatural and toxic and are surprised when bees with one third the immune system genes of a fruit fly start to die.

Remember to sign the Operationbee petition to the United Nations banning the use of neonicotinoid pesticides (  It has been proven that pesticides and particularly the neonicotinoids are toxic to bees and people (

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Australia still Varroa free

      Of beekeeping nations Australia is the last country remaining free of the Varroa destructor mite.  The Varroa mite is a small mite (approximately 1mm in diameter) native to Asia and the Asian honey bee (Apis Cerana) which has developed a resistance to the mite enabling it to cope with it's presence.  In the early part of the twentieth century Russian beekeepers brought the European honey bee to the Korean Peninsula via the Trans Siberian Railroad where it became the first European honey bee (Apis Mellifera) infested with the Varroa.  There are two types of Varroa mite, Japanese and Korean of which the former Japanese has not as of yet spread to other parts of the world.  The Korean Varroa mite mutated and adapted to the European honey bee which has no defense to it's presence.  Over the last 50 plus years the Varroa has spread from country to country having reached North America about 30 years ago.  However, it did not establish a stronghold until the last decade when it's presence became a serious threat to the bees (both native and honey) in North America.  The Varroa displays vampire like behavior (blood sucking), is a carrier of so far 18 identified viruses (Including Sacbrood, Acute Bee Paralysis, Deformed Wing Virus and Israel Acute Paralysis) and is considered a major contributing factor in Colony Collapse Disorder.  New Zealand became infected with the Varroa mite in 2000 and it seems just a matter of time until Australia is populated by Varroa.  The method of entry into Australia will probably occur through Asian honey bees (very similar though slightly smaller than European) swarming undetected onto ships in Asia and entering the country along with their native Varroa through one of the many Australian ports.   At present Australian authorities are actively hunting down invasive Asian honey bee nests in Australia.  So far none of the Asian bees found in Australia have had Varroa.  Recently a second mite, the Jacobsonian Varroa mite was discovered in Papua New Guinea and although slightly smaller is similarly destructive. 

Varroa mites on bee larva

     We tested our bees at Cottonwood Community Garden in September and October and fortunately our Varroa numbers are manageable (less than 12 in a 24 hour period).  Our method of testing and probably the greatest defense to the Varroa is the use of a screened bottom board.  The board is simple to make and is simply a bottom board with one eigth inch hardware cloth under the hive instead of wood.  You can find construction plans for the screened bottom board in "Beekeeping Downloads" at the top of the page.  The idea is that the mites naturally fall off the bees (constant preening) and hive frames and with a traditional wooden bottom board they would simply crawl back on an adult bee.  With the screened bottom board they fall out of the hive and are unable to reenter.  A simple testing board, painted yellow for better visibility and covered in vaseline is slid through an opening in the back under the screened floor.  Left for 24 hours, using a magnifying glass we are able to get an approximate idea of the Varroa population in our hive.  Less than 50 is considered manageable.  The screened bottom board also helps to ventilate the hive keeping the heat down in the summer and reducing cold condensation in winter.  
Screened Bottom Board
     The Varroa reproduces in the bee larvae and in the fall when there is less pollen and nectar the queen lays less eggs so the Varroa population resides more in the adult bees.   This is the best time, if using natural methods (mineral oil or sugar dusting) to treat your hive for Varroa.  Freezing drone brood is a labor intensive but successful method of lowering mite population (Varroa Mite Controls).  Mites are now showing a resistance to the popular pesticides Apistan and Checkmite and evidence shows that the pesticides are absorbed into the wax comb and can have deadly effects on the long term health of the bees.  Formic and oxalic acid are also used though a little messy.  Recently an easier application of formic acid has been made available (Mite Away Quick Strips).  Antibiotics are used but the Varroa quickly adapts to antibiotics reducing the efficacy.  We sugar dusted in late September and October and got a significant mite drop each time.
Installing the mite test board
The numbers went from an average of 8 prior to dusting to 25 in the 24 hours following a sugar dusting.   Beekeepers should regularly check for mites ( Varroa Mite Detection) and treat accordingly.  Also watch for evidence of hygienic behavior in your bees.  Actually grooming off the mites, grasping them in their mandibles and biting them.  To test for biting use a magnifying glass when inspecting mite drop on your test board and look for mites with missing legs.  Guard bees displaying hygienic behavior may grab and shake infested bees trying to enter the hive, removing the mites and either killing them or chasing them away.  Group grooming has also been observed ( Bee Grooming).  It is believed by many that this behavior can be passed both genetically and by learning. 
     Here is a great movie which follows the efforts of Australian scientist Dr. Denis Anderson to keep the Varroa mite out of Australia.  


     Bees need our help now!  Neonicotinoid pesticides are killing bees now!(Insecticides and Bees)  Please make sure that the plants you buy do not contain neonicotinoid pesticides.  Most of the plants sold at Home Depot and other major distributors do.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Every Third Bite

     Bees have a very weak immune system. Because of this they are a prime indicator species revealing a major problem in the world today. Our food system has become an international industry controlled by multinational corporate entities who's only interest is profit margin. Maximum productivity equates maximum profit at any cost. The answer local control, local food production and local beekeeping. Let's revert to a time long forgotten before genetically modified food and neonicotinoid insecticides.

     Neonicotinoid insecticides are harmful to you and our bees and they are present in the foods you eat (

Beekkeeper Leaks EPA Document from Bee The Change on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Beekeeping in NYC

Beekeepers in New York City
      If you're in New York City this Thursday check out the free beekeeping course ( put on by NYC Beekeeping.  Beekeeping became legal in New York City in 2010 and has gained great popularity since then.  Prior to that people kept bees in New York illegally as they have in Vancouver.  Here's a video on NYC beekeepers in 2009 prior to the legalization. 

     For beekeeping lessons in the Vancouver area check out Beekeeping Courses (Beekeeping courses) at the top of the page.  Blessedbee and Honeyland Canada have courses available in January and February.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chinese Honey Laundering Update

    Three men were arrested in Jacksonville, Florida on smuggling charges this week.  Chin Chou from Taiwan, Qiao Chu from China and Wei-Tang Lo from California successfully imported over 900 containers of Chinese Honey over the past two years which they fraudulently labeled rice fructose.  Once the honey passed customs as rice fructose it was shipped to warehouses where it was relabeled amber honey and sold to U.S. honey companies.  U.S. Customs did seize 123 containers (over 5,000,000 lbs/ 2.27 million kgs.) of falsely labeled Chinese honey at 11 different ports of entry.  The smugglers saved millions on anti-dumping duty ($2.63 per kilo) which was levied against Chinese honey in 2001 to counter heavily subsidized Chinese honey.  American beekeepers unable to compete were being forced out of business.  Chinese honey is ultra filtered to remove pollen which is the only way to trace the origin.  Honey from China  can contain banned antibiotics (health hazard) and heavy metals.  Sweeteners are added to the contaminated honey to mask the acrid taste and smell (
     In 2010 Canada exported $70 million of honey and imported $15 million of honey mostly from the U.S.,  Australia and New Zealand.  I wonder if any of that honey came to this continent as rice fructose.  

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Winter Bees

     After a week of wet, windy, cool weather the sun came out.  It was a balmy 10 celsius (50 fahrenheit) today and the girls came out of the hive to celebrate.  I put some pollen by the entrance of the hive and some of the ladies partook in the smorgasbord.  Most chose to soak up the rays or snack on the sodium on my skin (I was naked).  Not really, but I was in short sleeves.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Art of Apiculture

    John Stark, an amazing British artist has created a body of art entitled "Apiculture" (beekeeping).  The theme of anonymous beekeepers engaged in ritual beekeeping is timeless, set somewhere in the past or distant future.  Like most good artwork it  is an ambiguous metaphor who's interpretation is subjective to the observer and evolving over time.  John describes his artwork as “a really nice open metaphor, that can be read in so many different ways. All through the history of literature and art, the beehive has been cited as an example of utopian society, of a selfless existence. Do these hives represent the world? An idealised world? Art, even? Are the keepers the artists, producing the art, or the collectors harvesting the art?”

     The beehives and beekeepers form the narrative instrument to delve into the spiritual existential meaning of life.  "I see painting as a way of being, it is at least a mystical path and I believe in its power as a pursuit for truth where notions of the self are reflected upon. The result is then allegorical for the viewer who projects on to these open narratives traits from their own perception of their reality. The intention is that the works operate as a gateway for us to pass through together (in the metaphysical sense) while simultaneously tapping into the collective unconscious.
I can’t name a direct inspiration for this, although I have been listening to a lot of Buddhist teachings recently and looking at the symbolism from the school of The Fourth Way which refers to a concept used by G.I. Gurdjieff to describe an approach to self-development that helps to realize ones potential by transcending the body and achieving a higher state of consciousness. It is thought that we are living in a waking sleep and there are various ways to focus our attention and energy so that a range of inner abilities become possible. So it’s something inherent and built into the work and these current paintings refer back to ideas explored in my earlier works which attempt to tackle issues of the self, individuation and ‘the spiritual’ by replacing old mythologies and placing myself in the cannon of an art historical context."

     I will never look at beekeeping the same way again.  Check out John Stark's art at his gallery.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Honey Hunters of Nepal

     In the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal men harvest Himalayan Cliff Bee (Apis Laboriosa) honey as they have for generations.  The Himalayan honey bee, the biggest in the world at up to 3 cm (1.2 inches) is specifically adapted to the harsh climate of the Himalayas.  It nests at altitudes between 2500 and 3000 meters (8200-9800 ft) and forages at altitudes up to 4100 meters (13500 ft).  They have a flight range of 5-14 kilometers (3-9 miles).  This bee builds nests under overhangs on the southwestern faces of vertical cliffs. They are found in Bhutan, India, China and Nepal.

Himalayan Cliff Bee

    The Himalayan Cliff bee migrates for seasonal blossoms and produces three different types of honey: Spring high altitude or red honey; Spring mid to low altitude honey; and Autumn honey.  The Red honey is the most praised because of it's intoxicating or relaxing effects.  It is not consumed locally but exported at five times the price of other honeys to Japan and China for traditional medicinal use.  In Korea some healers are using it to treat drug addiction.  The intoxicating effects come from grayanotoxin present in the nectar of white rhododendrons.

Honey Harvesters are stung repeatedly (and I thought my bees were mean) 

     The ownership and control of honey harvesting has always been in the control of local villages but in many areas because of increased foreign demand control has been turned over to non-traditional harvesters and exporters.  This, along with loss of habitat and the introduction of the European honey bee has caused a tremendous decrease in the Himalayan Cliff bee population.  To view a study on the status of Apis Laboriosa (Himalayan Cliff Bee) go to "The status of Apis Laboriosa in Western Nepal".  The European honey bee has also brought with it a bacteria which causes European Foulbrood (bee disease) to which the Himalayan bee has little resistance.  There are four types of honey bees native to Nepal: Apis Laboriosa; Apis Dorsata (Tropical giant Honey Bee); Apis Florea (Dwarf Honey Bee); and Apis Cerana (Asian Honey Bee).  To view the status of these native bees and the imported Apis Mellifera (European Honey Bee) go to Himalayan Honey Bees and Beekeeping in Nepal.

The Himalayan Honey Bee is aggressive and has never been domesticated as it does not use enclosed cavities for nesting

     The Himalayan Cliff bee is essential for the pollination of high altitude plants and their decreased populations puts these ecosystems in jeopardy.  For the past ten years groups have been working to protect the Himalayan Cliff bee by returning sustainable harvesting control back to the local villages and protecting habitat.  Their habitat has become fragmented due to deforestation.  In recent years bee populations have stabilized and it is hoped that increased income from "Honey harvesting tourism" will be an incentive for young people to learn the traditional harvesting methods of their elders. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has created a "Center of Excellence for Asian Bees" to work with traditional honey hunters and beekeepers to maintain a healthy population of native honey bees and subsequently ensure needed pollination of native plants.
     Although Apis Dorsata, a family of bees which the Himalayan Cliff bee, Apis dorsata laboriosa is a member have never been kept by indigenous people because of it's aggressive nature, open nests and seasonal migration a form of sustainable beekeeping called "Rafter Beekeeping" has begun in Cambodia.  Unlike the traditional honey hunters the Cambodian Rafter beekeepers selectively take only portions of the honey leaving the nest intact.  The bees return year after year.  (Rafter Beekeeping).
     This wonderful film is about an English farmer and beekeeper who travels to Nepal to be part of the traditional, amazing honey harvest of the wild Himalayan Cliff bee.


     I will definitely add this to my bucket list (sustainably).  To check out great honey hunting photos from David Caprara go to The Honey Hunters of Nepal.  To watch honey hunting in Nepal go to Adventure Geo Treks.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chinese Laundered Honey

Beekeeper in Jiyuan City, Henan province
     Is the honey you buy from the super market really honey? Unfortunately that is a question you should be asking. China is by far the largest producer of honey in the world (approximately 300,000 metric tons per year). The Chinese agriculture industry uses pesticides and herbicides banned in most developed countries. The deleterious effects of these chemical additives on humans and bees has been well documented. In one example excessive use of pesticides in pear orchards wiped out entire bee populations in parts of Sichuan Province where they now must pollinate by hand (we ain't that good at it).

Pollination in China : farmers in orchard pollinating
Farm workers in Sichuan, China pollinating pear and apple trees by hand
    Chinese beekeepers are known to use antibiotics (to treat bee diseases) banned in most developed countries because of health concerns. One of these anti-biotics is chloramphenicol which is the drug of choice in third world countries because it is cheap and easy to manufacture. Chloramphenicol is known to cause aplastic anmenia, bone marrow suppression and childhood leukimia. These antibiotics used by the Chinese beekeepers seep into the honey and contaminate it. Heavy metals, probably from lead containers used to store the honey have been found in tested Chinese honey.  To mask the acrid smell and taste of this contaminated honey they mix in sugar, corn syrup, rice syrup or malt sweeteners.

     In 2001 the U.S. Commerce Department imposed a $1.20/lb anti-dumping tariff on imported Chinese honey because American beekeepers were being forced out of business by cheap, heavily subsidized Chinese honey. The Chinese honey was selling for 25 cents/lb while North American beekeepers needed $1.50/lb to break even. To counteract this Chinese honey producers began using ultra-filtering methods to conceal the origin of their honey. Prior to this ultra-filtering was not used by the world's honey manufacturers. Ultra-filtering is a high tech process where the honey is heated, sometimes dilluted and forced at high pressure through micro filters to remove microscopic particles including pollen which is the only way of identifying the origin of the honey.

     Bee pollen has been used by many cultures including the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks for it's health benefits and therapeutic properties. Bee pollen has a higher density of protein than any animal source and is a concentrated source of b vitamin complex (provides energy). It also contains vitamins A,C,D,E,selenium,lecithin and powerful phytochemicals (carotenoids and bioflavonoids) making it a potent antioxidant (important in cancer prevention). Chinese medicine has recognized bee pollen benefits for thousands of years.

     The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says any product so ultra-filtered to not contain pollen is not honey. The World Health Organization, European Commission and other health organizations state the only way to determine the legitimate and safe source of honey is through the pollen. More than 75% of honey sold in stores in North America was found to have no pollen meaning it was ultra-filtered. The only reason to ultra-filter honey is to hide it's origin.


     This ultra-filtered honey is laundered through other Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and now the country of choice, India.

Chinese laundered honey sold through India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia and Thailand

    This is one example of a German company laundering cheap Chinese honey through other countries.  The company imported millions of pounds of honey by disguising it's origins.  To read more about this go to "The Honey Trap" .


     A South Dakota beekeepers' battle against honey laundering.

     A senior figure in the Australian Honey industry had his car's brakes tampered with and received death threats after exposing Chinese honey laundering to the U.S. through Australia.  A number of arrests have been made of honey launderers in the U.S. and Europe with no effect on the supply of laundered honey.
     Honey is used in countless processed foods like cereals, granola and cookies and until governments implement honey standards that include unfiltered pollen and testing for contaminants  the only safe place to buy honey is from your local beekeeper.
     What can you do?  Check out "True Source Honey", a good updated information base for ethically and non ethically produced honey ( or better still buy locally.  The best policy always is to buy from your local farmer and beekeeper.

My honey.  Safe and tasty.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Breaking Honeybee News

Entomologists from the Universite Paris-Sorbonne made a startling revelation this week when studying a colony of Hygienic Carniolan honey bees.  A state of the art miniature tracking camera provided new insight into how bees produce honey.  Below is a video of this startling discovery.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Honey Bees at the White House

The White House bee hive.
Urban beekeeping has become fashionable in recent times with most North American cities having legalized the activity, including New York City in 2010.  In 2009 the White House carpenter, a hobby beekeeper, on Michelle Obama's request brought a spare hive to the White house grounds.  Located on the South Lawn near the first ladies' vegetable garden the hive produced a record 225 pounds of honey this year.  Most people are surprised to learn that urban bee colonies near water with a wide variety of landscape plantings generally produce much more honey than rural bees.  Testing the White House honey revealed the primary pollen source to be clover with the secondary sources being dogwood, cherry, crepe myrtle, elm, magnolia, honey suckle and poison ivy (ouch).

In the spring of 2010 two hives were installed on the roof of Vancouver City Hall.  On the green roof of Vancouver's Fairmont Waterfront Hotel there is a herb garden and 5 bee hives which brought in over 600 pounds of honey this year. Vancouver's new convention center has a 6 acre green roof which is also home to a bee hive.  While the future of urban beekeeping has never looked so good there are still a few unfortunate beekeepers like Bethel of Port Washington, Wisconsin struggling against city officials to keep bees (
Vancouver's Fairmont Hotel bee hives. 

Hives on the roof of Toronto's Fairmont Royal York Hotel.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Snug as a Bee in a Hive

     It's a sunny 8 degrees celsius (46 fahrenheit) November 5th (11 a.m.) and the ladies (bees) are very active today. I saw a waggle dance on the front porch today and several of the girls returned with their legs covered in pollen.  Most sources will tell you that bees stop flying below 10 degrees celsius (50 fahrenheit) but our bees are tough Canadian girls, eh.  I contemplated insulating the whole hive this winter but am not decided yet on it's benefits. Insulation keeps the warmth in but also keeps the warmth out on a sunny day like today. Also, although the cold increases energy expenditure and thereby food consumption the main problem with wintering bees is not the cold but in fact cold moisture from inner cover condensation dripping on the bees.  I'll continue to monitor the research on hive insulation. I did install an insulated (3 inches of solid R 12) moisture quilt and wrapped the hive in black roofing paper to absorb the heat.

For building instructions see insulated moisture quilt post (

     We fed the girls with a hive feeder and heavy syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water).  Our girls are pigs and can consume a 4 liter feeder in two days but once the temperature hits about 12 degrees celsius they won't touch it.  The temperature cut off point is debatable but at some point the girls find it unpalatable.  They must evaporate the syrup to store it in the cells and at cold temperatures this is impossible.  If necessary you can feed them a solid like sugar candy or pollen.   I initially wrapped the sides of the hive shelter but soon found the bees have difficulty finding their way out.  So much for my claim of our genius honey bees.  I had read about this behavior from a beekeeper who attempted to winter his bees in a greenhouse.  Although there were obvious entrances to the greenhouse most of the bees could not find them when returning.  On a sadder note a beekeeper in Port Washington, Wisconsin is having her hive removed by an ignorant city official ( ).  Most cities have recognized beekeeping as a safe and ecologically important urban practice.   Fortunately for us Vancouver officially sanctioned beekeeping in 2005 (  Below is a 5 minute video of the girls buzzing about the hive on this fine November day.  Funny thing, my meshed mouse proof entrance reducer has a raised V.I.P. entrance to the right because dead bee bodies in the winter can block the entrance (there is still the upper entrance).  For the most part (I watched the ladies for about one hour) the guard bees behind the entrance reducer only allowed girls with pollen on their legs into the V.I.P. entrance.   Approximately 5 percent of the bees using the main entrance had pollen on their legs and 80 percent of the bees using the V.I.P. entrance had pollen on their legs. 
November 5th, 11 a.m., 8 degrees celsius (46 fahrenheit)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two theories on the origin of Beeswax

Scientists have long pondered the origin of beeswax.  The first theory is that bees produce wax from glands in their abdomen.

This is the second theory which I feel is more likely.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Insecticides and Bees

     Imidacloprid (some of the trade names are Winner, Advantage and Gaucho) is a neonicotinoid insecticide (type of pesticide) widely used on a number of major agricultural crops since 1986.  France, Italy, Slovenia and Germany have banned it's use on certain crops because of health risks to bees (Neonicotinoid effect on European Bees): 
In France, beekeepers reported a significant loss of honeybees in the 1990s, which they attributed to the use of imidacloprid (Gaucho). See Imidacloprid effects on bee population. In response to this loss of bees called "mad bee disease," the French Minister of Agriculture convened a panel of expert scientists (Comite Scientifique et Technique) to examine the impact of imidacloprid on bees. After reviewing dozens of laboratory and field studies conducted by Bayer CropScience and by independent scientists, the panel concluded that there was a significant risk to bees from exposure to imidacloprid on sunflowers and maize (corn), the only crops for which they had exposure data. Following the release of this report, the French Agricultural Ministry suspended the use of imidacloprid on maize and sunflowers. Italy, Germany, and Slovenia have also suspended certain uses of the neonicotinoids based on concerns for bees.  To see studies done on the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides go to "The Impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bumble bees, honey bees and other non-target invertebrates".

     One of major problems occurs during seeding of neonicotinoid coated seeds and the dusting that occurs during the machine planting process which in windy conditions can spread the insecticide a mile or more.  To see a study done on this problem go to "Effects of neonicotinoid insecticide coated maize seed on honey bees" and "Neonicotinoid effect on Bees".  This spring a number of commercial beekeepers in Canada and the United States have experienced devastating losses during the planting of neonicotinoid coated seeds.  To listen to the heart wrenching meeting between Canadian government officials and beekeepers who experienced these devastating losses go to the Parliament of Canada.
     This week Bayer, the major producer of Imidacloprid voluntarily removed Almond trees from their suggested use label.  The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S.) is reviewing this.  There are over 800,000 acres of almonds in California alone which are pollinated 100% by bees (the major seasonal crop for professional pollination companies).  This is great news for the billions of honey bees employed each year in the almond pollination industry.  This article by Kim Flottum : 
Imidacloprid On Almonds May Be History
Early this morning Bee Culture received a call from Steve Ellis, a member of the Honey Bee Advisory Board…the group of dedicated beekeepers working to make beekeeping a safer place by making pesticide businesses…farmers, applicators, sellers, manufacturers, researchers…more aware of the incredible damage their products can do to honey bees and pollinators.
The Honey Bee Advisory Board is in Washington D. C. this week, meeting with, among others, representatives of the EPA and Bayer CropScience. During the discussions it became apparent that Bayer was voluntarily removing almond trees from the label of their imidacloprid products.
Our call this morning was to inform us, and now you, that EPA is reviewing this request. Yes, reviewing. It seems that crops are so seldom removed from a label, especially by voluntary request, that the internal engine at EPA isn’t quite sure how to make that happen. So they are reviewing it.
Mr. Ellis was quite sure the review process would be swift and action taken very soon. Hopefully before it is to be used on almonds during the coming season, thus saving billions of honey bees from the opportunity of exposure to this chemical.  Members of the Honey Bee Advisory Board are all volunteers, not supported by any National or Regional beekeeping organization. They are to be commended for their ongoing pursuit of a better, safer life for honey bees, beekeepers, and all pollinators.

Pesticides are carried away by wind, evaporation, leaching and runoff

     Imidacloprid is not banned or even restricted for use in Canada and is also used for pet flea treatments.  It is obviously toxic to beneficial insects like bees, earthworms and ladybugs and causes reduced egg production in birds (  To view studies on the effects of pesticides on honey bees go to Pesticides and Honey Bees.

The effects of today's systemic pesticides on bees.

     Another neonicotinoid pesticide produced by Bayer is Clothianidin which like Imidacloprid is toxic to bees and it's use has been suspended by Germany.  The film below outlines the inability of the current system (EPA and corporate testing) to properly identify the safety of insecticides.

Beekkeeper Leaks EPA Document from Bee The Change on Vimeo.

     The video below is further evidence of the agricultural industry using agrochemicals irresponsibly with total disregard for safety or suffering. Productivity and profit are the singular motivation.  Endosulfan is an insecticide that was brought to the market in 1954 by Bayer CropScience and approved by the USDA.  Although the toxic effects on the environment and humans has been known for years it wasn't until the year 2000 that home and garden use was terminated in the United States.  In 2002 the EPA determined that endosulfan residues on food and in water pose unacceptable risks and so restricted but did not ban agricultural use.  In 2007 the Canadian government announced that endosulfan was under consideration for phase-out.  From 2007-2010 international steps were taken to restrict the use and trade of endosulfan but it wasn't until 2011 that the EPA announced that the registration of endosulfan in the U.S. will be cancelled.  Although in most parts of the world endosulfan is banned it is still being produced and utilized in reduced quantities.

     A few good sites to check regarding information on insecticides are: ;
The pesticide action network: ;The Permanent People's Tribunal ; Coalition Against Bayer Dangers

*To view further studies on the effects of insecticides on bees go to Insecticides and Bees in our Beekeepers' Library.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Catch The Buzz

This article by Kim Flottum ( ( ) draws a comparison between captive orca and bees employed in our agricultural system. 

Are Bees Next?
In a groundbreaking move for animals, PETA, with the help of three marine-mammal experts and two former orca trainers, will file a landmark lawsuit tomorrow asking a federal court to declare that five wild-caught orcas forced to perform at SeaWorld are being held as slaves in violation of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The 13th Amendment prohibits the condition of slavery, without reference to "person" or any particular class of victims. PETA's general counsel, Jeffrey Kerr, stated, "Slavery does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on gender, race, or religion."

In the wild, orcas work cooperatively, form complex relationships, communicate using distinct dialects, and swim up to 100 miles every day. Their life at SeaWorld deprives them of everything that is natural and important to them. They are limited to small, barren concrete tanks and are forced to perform stupid tricks in exchange for dead fish.
From the BUZZ: One can only wonder…bees are forced to live in square boxes in sometimes vastly over-populated, barren landscapes, are made to fly to and fro in exchange for a diet of un-bee-like dead plant material, and then are forced to visit blossoms of our choosing not theirs, and are finally force-fed medicines not of their choosing (think most pollination jobs). Is this slavery? Are Bees next? But then, think of cattle in a feed lot. Do these creatures have Constitutional Rights?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Insulated Moisture Quilt

      One of the major reasons for winter loss of honey bee colonies in cold climates is cold, moisture dripping on the cluster of bees.  The moisture is created when the warm air emitted from the cluster of bees rises and contacts the cold surface of the outer cover, creating condensation.  A major source of winter moisture can be the feeding of syrup in late summer and early autumn which gets stored but not capped.  In the spring you can find these frames covered in mold.  When creating your winter hive makeup (in our area that is October) make sure you don't have excessive frames of uncapped honey or syrup which will act as himidifiers.  As someone who has spent most of their life working outdoors in the winter I prefer 30 below and dry to 2 above (Celsius - 35 Fahrenheit) and wet.  
       Winter bees are produced at the end of the summer. They are physiologically different from summer bees with a different blood protein profile and fatter bodies with the specific purpose to survive until spring.  Once the temperature drops below 14 Celsius these winter bees begin to form a cluster within the hive.  The bees on the outside act as insulators with their heads pointed towards the center of the cluster.  On the inside of the cluster the bees move their wings rapidly and the friction of this movement creates heat.  The centre of the cluster, where the queen resides is approximately 32 degrees Celsius.  As the heat rises the bees in the middle of the cluster move outward to become insulators and the outer bees move inward to become heat generators.  This movement of bees is continuous throughout the winter.   

       With the Insulated Moisture Quilt installed the warm air from the cluster rises up through the quilt contacting the less cold, insulated surface.  The reduced condensation that is formed will drip on and be absorbed by the wood chips.  The air vents will dry the wood chips.   
        To build the Insulated Moisture Quilt you could simply use a medium or deep super but for those like myself who like to build things here is a step by step description using scrap material.  First I screwed together some 6 inch wide 3/4  inch plywood (any 3/4 inch dimensional wood would work) to create a box that would fit on a deep super. 

   Then I screwed in 3 pieces of plywood 3 inches high. 

       I stapled landscape cloth (porous) over the bottom of the quilt box (2011).  More durable and better alternatives to landscape cloth are window screen or 1/8 inch hardware cloth (2017).  Also, some have found that the bees will try to work the landscape cloth and get stuck in it.  I recommend window screen or 1/8 inch hardware cloth and stapling it to the bottom sides rather than underneath so that a gap (width of the 1/8 inch hardware cloth) is not created between the moisture quilt and the upper super. 

The 3/4 inch vent holes were drilled 2 inches above the landscape cloth.  Hardware cloth is applied over the vent holes to prevent entry by bees or mice.

       On the bottom I screwed on an optional 1 inch frame so the bees don't attempt to join the frames to the quilt surface.  The extra space will allow for pollen patties or sugar feeding in the early spring but could be replaced by a candy board between the quilt and the super to prevent comb building. This space could be modified or reduced to be more in line with proper 3/8 inch bee spacing.  I don't find this much of a problem for me as the quilt is primarily on when there is little or no foraging and wax burr comb creation.  Note the upper entrance chiseled improperly on the side of the eke.  I repaired this and added a front upper entrance.

                                                     Two inches of wood chips are added to absorb the moisture.

                            I added a 1/4 inch plywood cover with stapled rope for easy removal.                                 

        2 inches of solid insulation is added. It's a good idea to paint the finished project for weather protection.                   

Winter hive set up with 2 inch feeder and insulated moisture quilt

      Another way to combat the winter moisture issue is putting a 2x4 under the rear of the hive so that the condensation formed on the underside of the outer cover runs down the front of the hive instead of on the cluster.  Also an upper entrance is recommended to increase ventilation. Here are a few different quilt designs and a downloadable version of the Insulated Moisture Quilt: A non insulated Langstroth quilt;  A quilt using wool as the absorption material; and a Warre Hive quilt.  "The Biology and Management of Colonies in Winter" describes the temperature and moisture dynamics that occur within the hive in cold climates during winter.   For more information go to the "Winter Management" section of the  Beekeepers' Library.
      I received a World Wide Patent on this design which stipulates that anyone who uses this design must give me a jar of honey.  What can I say it's the law.  All honey related patents in Canada are strictly enforced by the C.H.P. (Canadian Honey Police), Chief of Police Winnie (from Winnipeg) T. Pooh.

Chief of Police

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