Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Zucchini Blues

This time of year many people are suffering from a bad case of the zucchini blues.  Got too many in your garden (I do)?  Do friends run when they see you with an armful of zucchini?  Remind them zucchini are low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol and a good source of thiamin, niacin, fiber, protein, vitamin a, c, b6 (contrary to what Morgan thinks), folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese.  So there.  Combine this with the honey from our bees which has flavonoids and phenolic acids that act as antioxidants that work to prevent cellular damage leading to heart disease, aging and cancer and you've got one healthy combination.  Here's a few easy zucchini honey recipes.
Oh oh more zucchini

 Zucchini Honey Muffins Recipe


cups zucchini
cup honey
cups whole wheat flour
cup oatmeal
cup canola oil
tsp baking powder    
tsp baking soda
tsp vanilla
tsp nutmeg
cup walnuts

  1. preheat oven 350
  2. Grate zucchini combine eggs oil and honey in large bowl
  3. mix all dry ingredients together well add to egg mixture blend well add zucchini and nuts use paper cups or grease muffin tins bake 20 minutes

Makes 24 muffins

Grilled Zucchini with Honey Balsamic Glaze


4 medium sized zucchini cut in half lengthwise
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1.5 tbsp honey
terrigon (optional)


1. Heat up your grill.
2. Put wine in your wine glass
3. Cut zucchini lengthwise in half and season with salt and pepper
4. Take a drink of your wine
5. In a small bowl combine balsamic vinegar, terrigon and honey
6. Take another drink of wine
7. Place zucchini cut side down on medium hot grill
8. Turn over after 5 minutes and brush with balsamic mixture
9. Take another drink of wine
10. Cook another 5 minutes then brush flat side again and turn over
11. Brush uncut sides with remaining mixture and cook another 5 minutes or until the zucchini carmalizes
12. Drink the rest of your wine and eat your zucchini

Makes 4 servings or 2 if you're real hungry

Monday, September 19, 2011

Yummy honey

Removing the honey frames.

Earlier this year, Cottonwood Community Gardens got its own beehive.  Armed with minimal experience but a lot of enthusiasm, those of us on Cottonwood’s Bee Team have been figuring out how to care for these complex and incredibly helpful little creatures -- all 30,000 or so of them. At our stage in the game, bee husbandry is a group effort.  At each regular hive inspection, we need one person to operate the smoker, one person to lift the frames, one person to actually inspect the hive... it’s a lot of work, the kind of thing that is best done by a community, and another example of the power of collaborative gardening.

Smoking the hive.
On August 28th, we did our first big honey extraction.  Serge removed the frames from the hive’s top super (beehive box) and brushed the bees off, while Samantha applied smoke to calm them down.  In the meantime, Jackie cut strips of burlap to be burned in the smoker, and helped Samantha to re-light it.

Once we removed all of the frames, we moved to a work area that we’d prepared in one of Cottonwood’s sheds.

That was when the fun part began.  Armed with a metal spatulas and kitchen knives, we gently broke open the honey cells that the bees had constructed on each frame.  The texture of the honeycomb was gooey and delicious.

The frames that we had opened were placed into the extractor two at a time.  The extractor is basically a big metal drum with fitted with a basket that holds two frames, along with a big crank on top.  You secure the extractor (in our case, by sitting on it), turn the crank vigorously, and the centrifugal force pulls the honey out of the wax cells.

Serge, Bruce and Samantha figuring out how to use the extractor
While Bruce, Serge and Dan worked the extractor, other team members monitored the canning kettle that we used to sterilize the glass jars that Cottonwood gardeners had donated, and heated up up spatula and knife in the steam to help it melt through the frame’s wax.

Due to our lack of experience as beekeepers, not all of the frames were pure honey.  We encountered a number of frames that were at least partially filled with brood (larvae).  This was a problem, because we couldn’t put these frames into the extractor (just imagine the ride that the baby bees would get).  Even worse, the brood cells kept hatching as we worked.  Our shed started to fill up with very confused newborn hive members.

Some of the honey was so gooey that it
didn't even make it into the extractor.

In preparation for our next extraction, the team is going to use a queen excluder -- a grate that keeps the queen within a designated area where she can lay her eggs, preventing her from reaching the frames that we have earmarked for honey.

By the end of the day, we extracted a huge amount of honey -- we lost count, but it was probably something like 20 jars.  Best of all, the bees did all of the cleanup for us, swarming our work area just as we finished working and licking up every tiny drop of honey and wax from our equipment within the next 24 hours.

Bees do a lot more that just make us tasty honey.  They are incredible pollitators.  Without them, we wouldn’t have any fruit or nuts to eat.  Moreover, these social creatures have united those of us at Cottonwood in an amazing new community endeavour.

Honey is yummy.

(Post by Rebecca Cuttler.  More writing at www.gardenproduce.ca)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Make your Garden a Bee Friendly Garden

Nest of a ground dwelling bee

        There are approximately 20,000 species of bees in the world.  British Columbia has approximately 450 species of bees but with further identification that number could grow to 500 within a few years. Many of the bee species are non-social or solitary.  70% of the bee species in North America are ground dwelling bees including some species of bumble bee (bombus).  Although there are obvious benefits to mulching (water retention, weed control) areas of bare earth provide a nesting area for ground dwelling bees.

                                                              Mason Bees at City Farmer
     One of our native bees (Blue Orchard Mason Bee) the Blue Orchard Mason bee likes the clay between rocks. Wood or stem nesting bees prefer a pile of branches and all species need a source of water for nest construction or cooling.  It is easy to build your own mason bee home (Mason Bee Vancouver).  

Mason Bee home
Being a bee is thirsty work
     Consider providing a bee bath which should be shallow (bees are not good swimmers) with a landing area.  It is important to remember that bees are not aggressive away from the hive.  If a bee lands on you away from the hive it will not sting you unless it is physically threatened.   Consider reducing or eliminating your lawn and growing plants that will provide habitat and food for bees and other criters.   Do not use toxic herbicides and pesticides.  Bees have a relatively weak immune system and as such are a prime indicator species for the toxic effects of a product.  To learn more about the effects of insecticides on bees go to Insecticides and Bees post in this site and to the Insecticides and Bees section of our Beekeepers' Library.

Bumble Bee (Bombus) enjoying a Cosmos (not Kramer)
What a bee sees
we see 
bees see
add in UV
uv purple

uv purple

uv violet
uv blue

blue green


     Bees see colours differently than we do and studies show they prefer purple, violet and blue in that order. Bees can see ultraviolet light patterns invisible to us.  Having said that you will find bees enjoying flowers of all colours.  When choosing plants you should provide a succession of flowers (pollen and nectar) that will feed the bees from early spring to late fall.  Use native plants which have specific adaptations for your area and attract native bees which have adapted to these specific characteristics.  Avoid plants that are highly hybridized as this often reduces the amount pollen and nectar and leaves the plant sterile.  Single flower tops like daisies or marigolds are better than the more showy double flowers (i.e. double impatient) which have less nectar and are more difficult for bees to access their pollen.   Nectar is loaded with sugar and is the bees main energy source while pollen provides a balanced diet of protein and other nutrients.  Bees prefer plants grown in groups (3-4) rather than as individual plants.  Bees, being cold blooded prefer sunny spots over shade and need shelter from strong winds.

Bee Balm

The key is to provide plants that flower through the entire growing season including early spring and fall.   Some of the plants bees like in spring are crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, lilac, blueberry, plum and cherry.  In summer bees love bee balm, salvia, cosmos, echinacea, california lilac, lavender, chives, clover, tomatoes, raspberries, mallow, locust trees, rudbeckia, snapdragon and foxgloves.  In the fall there are zinnia, sedum, asters, calendula, Japanese anemone, witch hazel, goldenrod and heather.  I've noticed that bees love invasive plants like mint, fennel, blackberry, lemon balm and goldenrod.  In our community garden we have found a few seasonal favorites like raspberries in June, Black Locust trees in July, blackberries in August, asters in September and Calendula and Japanese Anemone in October.  Here is a list of plants that bees love.

*For a more complete list of plants bees luv go to the Bee Plants page of this site or to the Planting for Pollinators section of our Beekeepers' Library

Here's a few sources of information for making your garden a bee friendly garden.  Though some of the sources are Californian most if not all of the plants are grown here:  

Bees love sunflowers

The Melissa Garden
Urban Bee Gardens
Make a Bee friendly garden

Don't mess with my home, homie

The Honeybee Conservancy  http://thehoneybeeconservancy.org/

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Checking for Bee Mites in Vancouver

Varroa Mite on adult bee
    It's mid September and feels like the middle of summer.  With the warm temperatures the bees are very active, collecting nectar and pollen.  I've noticed a few flowering food plants still receiving attention from the ladies like red flowered pole beans, garlic, leek, fennel and dill.  Many of the flowers are still in bloom.
     We have done 3 twenty four hour Varroa mite tests recently and our findings show a maximum of 12 Varroa mites.  The mites are not considered a significant problem until the count reaches 100.  Although there are a number of different mites that effect bees, the other major culprits, Nosema and Tracheal can only be detected by microscopic inspection of adult bees.  We use a home made screened bottom board which not only helps to ventilate the hive in both summer and winter but allows the mites to fall out of the hive when removed by the bees.  I left a slot in the back of the screened bottom board for mite testing.  The test board is a piece of plywood painted yellow for better visibility and covered with vaseline.

Replacing mite testing board at the back of the bee hive
     The Varroa is a parasitic mite associated with honey bees.  The genus Varroa was named for a Roman scholar and beekeeper, Marcus Terentius Varro.  I bet Marcus isn't happy about this.  The Varroa mite feeds off the fluids of adult, pupal and larvae honey bees.  They may carry viruses and have been implicated in colony collapse disorder.  Not wishing to use chemical treatment (Apistan, Checkmite, Formic Acid…) we will treat naturally with powdered sugar or food grade mineral oil.  Testing for mites should be done in the early spring or fall and treatment either before the honey supers have been added or after they have been removed.

Varroa mites on pupa

The life cycle of the honeybee and varroa mite

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Colony Collapse Disorder (Canary in the Coal Mine)

     Colony Collapse Disorder is a phenomenon in which an entire colony of bees abruptly disappears from its hive. The term was first applied in 2006 following a drastic rise in the disappearance of honeybee colonies in North America and Europe.  Cases of CCD or Fall Dwindle Disease as it was initially labeled have since been reported globally.  In the years since although annual bee colony losses remain high symptoms of CCD represent only a small portion of the losses.  While researchers have not identified a single cause of CCD or other colony losses they believe there is a combination of factors:  blood feeding parasites (Varroa mites); agrochemical exposure (lowered immune system); migratory beekeeping stress; bee viruses;  and decreased plant diversity primarily due to the predominant system of monoculture food production and overuse of herbicides causing poor nutrition for honeybees.  In this presentation Colony Collapse Disorder, Reed Johnson, a PHD student in entomology at the University of Illinois describes the growing problem of CCD and challenges that face researchers in finding a solution. 

     The food staples of corn, wheat and rice are wind pollinated but a third of global farm output depends on animal pollination, mostly by honey bees.  These foods provide 35% of our calories, most of our minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants.  It has been said that Albert Einstein claimed that "if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live".  In fact there is no proof he said this but Albert was given to bold claims, often wrong but in this case there is a foreboding element of truth.  Winter death of bee colonies has risen in the U.S. from a norm of 10% to 30% and in Canada from 15% to 35%.  A similar trend is being realized globally.  Bee colonies worldwide were shrinking even before CCD because cheap imported honey from Asia flooded the world market.  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. 

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 (Chinese Laundered Honey).
     The arrival of CCD coincided with the major use of a new family of pesticides called neonicotinoids.  Many feel they are the major factor contributing to worldwide bee colony losses.  While testing for pesticides in bees is difficult as it is quickly metabolized and degrades (Difficulty analyzing bees) studies show that even low levels of pesticides reduce the resistance of bees to fungal pathogens (Agrochemicals and Bees).   Bees have a third the number of genes involved in their immune system as compared to other insects like fruit flies.  Bees are covered in hair, foraging great distances relative to their size and lifespan returning regularly to a home made of a sticky receptor of propolis and wax bringing with them elements of their environment.  These elements accumulate in the hive making them a prime indicator species for the state of planet earth.  Miners use to take canaries down to the mines to indicate the presence of the odorless, lethal gas carbon monoxide.  We would be wise to look upon bees in much the same manner.

     Whatever the final solution it is clear that the practice of large scale, chemically dependent monoculture agriculture is not sustainable and is realizing dire consequences.  The situation is similar to that of the tobacco companies denial of the negative effects of smoking in the 60's and 70's.  While it is difficult to test the exact effects of exposure to a multitude of environmental toxins  we have the evidence of years of testing available to us (Agrochemicals and Bees).  The agrochemical companies like the Tobacco companies of the past deny scientific study results and divert the blame to the Varroa mite (Follow the Honey - 7 ways pesticide companies are spinning the bee crisis).   A few agrochemical corporations now control over 50% of the world seed market with expensive, patented, non saveable genetically modified seeds containing systemic pesticides and featuring herbicide immunity (Roundup ready).  This has doubled the use of the herbicide glyphosate (also known as Roundup) in many areas creating bloomless landscapes and dire consequences to the environment (Roundup toxicity in Mammals).  
     After the devastating food crisis of 2008 during which starvation escalated the United Nations produced a report compiled by experts in an effort to prevent a repeat of this tragedy (Wake Up Before It's Too Late).  Their findings revealed that with a world population of 7 billion (1 billion suffers from starvation and 1 billion from chronic malnutrition) we produce enough food to feed between 12-14 billion people.  The argument given by the agrochemical companies and those that support them that we need this system of large scale, chemically dependent, genetically modified agriculture to feed the world is invalid.  The report suggests that we shift our focus to small scale sustainable agriculture to aid those most in need.  The U.S.D.A recently reported that after 15 years of large scale use there is no crop yield benefit from genetically modified seeds which was the primary selling point of G.M. seed producers.
     While the answer to the problem of CCD or other causes of bee losses is not simple there are a few clear solutions (Global Honey Bee Colony Disorders).  We must stop the mass worldwide transport of bees along with their diseases and pests (Varroa, Small hive beetle, Nosema ...).  It is essential that we develop local, survivor bee stock and create an environment in which they can thrive.  This means a reduction in human created environmental toxins and creating a sustainable, more organic system of food production and reducing habitat deterioration.  We are presently experiencing the Earth's 6th major extinction of biological diversity (losing between 1-10% per decade) due to pollution, over harvesting, invasive species, diseases, global warming and habitat loss.   Pollination by bees of many species is essential for their existence.  The genetic diversity of honey bees has been reduced by large scale bee breeding.  Genetic diversity and local adaptation is essential for the future survival of honey bees.  Organic farming produces between 10-20% less than agrochemically dependent farming but most experts believe that this gap can be reduced by funding organic farming research.  Millions of dollars are spent each year by institutions to improve large scale, monoculture farming compared to a fraction of that spent on organic farming improvement.  Also, profits are 20-30% higher for organic farmers and the demand for organically produced foods in North America is increasing by 15% a year.  Most importantly as suggested by the United Nations in their report "Wake Up Before It's Too Late" organic farming is sustainable.  
     The 2008 film "Silence of the Bees" is the first in-depth look at the search to uncover Colony Collapse Disorder and what is killing the honey bee. The filmmakers take viewers around the world to the sites of fallen hives, to high-tech labs, where scientists race to uncover clues, and even deep inside honeybee colonies.  In the years since the making of this film we have discovered that CCD is just one of many disorders effecting the health of the honey bee.  


Friday, September 2, 2011

The Vancouver Honey Bee Maternity Ward

Worker bees tending to the larvae
These great photos by Dan (not the queen although sometimes he thinks he is) of our babies shows the development of eggs through to larvae.  The bee larvae hatch from the eggs in 3-4 days after the queen lays them and are fed bee bread (a mixture of royal jelly, nectar or diluted honey, and pollen) by worker bees.  Queen larvae are fed pure royal jelly right up to the time their cell is capped.  The cells are capped with wax by worker bees when the larva pupates.  Their development is much like that of a butterfly.  Queens emerge from their cells in 16 days, workers in 21 days and drones (lazy  
Lazy drone
males) in 24 days.  The average lifespan of a queen is 3-4 years, the drones usually die after mating or are kicked out of the hive (they have no stinger) before winter and the worker bees may live six weeks in the summer or survive several months in the hive over the winter.

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