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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beautiful October Day in the Bee Garden

It's the middle of October, the sun is shining, it's 15 C and the bees are loving it.  The girls were very active in the garden today collecting pollen.  A number of plants are still in bloom but a particular favorite of the bees at this time of year is Japanese Anemone.  They come in pink and white and bloom from the end of August through October.

I was going to feed the girls some syrup today but instead put out a frame we had extracted honey from.  Still lots left for the girls to snack on and not a single wasp to be seen.  

I've finished my prototype moisture quilt insulated hive cover (waiting for my patent).  In my next post I will show you how I made it.  Theoretically it should work but I build a lot of things and more than half are just amusing.  Heh, what's better than being amused.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mouse Proof Entrance Reducer

With lots of mice in our garden and many hoping to winter in our bee hive it was time for a mouse proof entrance reducer.  I first cut the wood for the entrance which was 34.3 centimeters by approximately 1.3 centimeters.  I shaved it with a planer to fit.

 I chiseled out the entrance about 4 centimeters wide by 1 centimeter high.  Using left over hardware cloth (one eight inch) from the construction of my screened bottom board I wrapped the entrance reducer with wire mesh, stapling it in place.  Not wishing to split the wood I drilled holes for three nails to hold the entrance reducer in place.  The nails go through the wire mesh of the screened bottom board holding it in place.

  The middle nail divides the entrance in two making it too small for any mice to enter.  The ladies will quickly cement it in place with propolis.  Once installed about 10,000 bees came out to inspect it and thank me personally (fortunately I was wearing a veil and gloves) for installing it.

I also put out the extracted honey frames away from the hive (to discourage hive honey theft) for the bees to clean and found them quickly covered in yellow jacket wasps.  This is the first I have seen of this particular wasp this year.  I have also spotted them at the entrance to our hive being attacked by our girls.  The bees will defend the hive with their mandibles and can sting repeatedly if the opponent possesses thinner skin.  Their barbed stinger will lodge permanently in a mammal (killing themselves in the process) but not in the case of most insects that possess thinner skin.  The queen has a barbless stinger but generally uses it only on other queens.  
The girls took turns attacking this wasp

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Preparing for Winter

     We had a hive inspection on the weekend to remove the last honey frames, check for winter food supply, sugar dust for mites and begin feeding.  We were happily surprised to extract a few more jars of honey.  To no surprise everyone on our Bee Team claims we have the best tasting honey in the world (we're just a little biased).    We're very proud of our girls and also over protective.  It's because of this that we are feeding the ladies when they probably don't need it; sugar dusting when our mite count is low and  building a shelter to ward off the winter weather.     
Rebecca installing the mite board
The Varroa mite is found mostly in the brood cells during the year (this is where they reproduce) but as there is little to no brood now the existing mites will be on the adult bees.  Sugar dusting makes it difficult for the mites to cling to the bees and increases the grooming by the ladies to remove the sugar dust thereby removing the mites.  Tests show that the majority of mites removed on a single brood super will fall within one hour of sugar dusting and three hours for two brood supers.  The sugar will be completely removed within 24 hours. We cleaned and replaced our homemade mite testing board for a final mite count.  One observation I found interesting was that when I first applied a queen excluder the ladies immediately began filling the holes of the excluder with propolis.  Within 2 weeks 70% of the excluder was plugged and very few of the bees went through the excluder.  I replaced it with another excluder (same type) and the second time there was far less propolis on the excluder and far greater movement of the bees through it.   I concluded that the first time was the first excluder the girls had ever seen and there natural reaction is to fill every hole.  The second time they excepted it and moved readily into the honey supers.

Anna removing the last of the honey frames

Anna checking the brood supers

    At Cottonwood Community Garden, where we keep our bees we have a group of gardeners who care for the bees.  At each inspection a different Bee Team member manages the hive inspection with our goal being to make each member of the Bee Team a confident beekeeper.  Anna led her first hive inspection and did a great job.  She handled the bees in a relaxed and confident manner.  The bee colony requires approximately 60 lbs of honey to winter which would be about 10 full frames.  We discovered that we have at least 15 full frames of honey and bee bread (mixture of pollen and honey).  Rebecca, although unable to master the creation of the inverted pickle jar feeder began feeding the bees in a regular frame feeder (the fall feeding is a 2 to 1 sugar to water mixture).  Sam discovered the true stinging power of our girls (ouch) and Dan (not our queen) handled the photography.  This week we will apply the mouse proof entrance reducer and combined moisture quilt/insulated hive cover.

Look out Sam!


P.S. The mite count was 25 after the sugar dusting.  This was between 2 and 3 times greater than any previous count (without sugar dusting).  This supports the positive effects of sugar dusting at removing mites. 




Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bees luv Calendula

Calendula in bloom in October
     With a break from the rain the bees were very active today in the garden with their October plant of choice being Calendula.  Calendula is in the daisy family (the genus Marigold) and self-propogates and unregulated can be a tad invasive, but in a nice way.  It comes in both bright orange and yellow colors.  This plant has anti-viral, anti-genotoxic (genotoxicity is the break down of a cell's genetic make up as in the formation of tumors) and anti-inflammatory properties.  It can be used in a number of medicinal treatments.  Bee pollen is 25% protein and very low in fat and sodium.  It contains many minerals and vitamins such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, maganese, copper and vitamin B.  Bee pollen stimulates the immunological responses in humans and can be used as a nutritional supplement for women pregnant and breastfeeding and for the treatment of many maladies.  Different pollen provide different nutritional value for bees.  For example, blueberry pollen has fairly low nutrional value while almond pollen has fairly high nutrional value.  I'm not sure of Calendula's nutrional value for the ladies but in October you can't bee choosey.  I apoligize for the poor quality of the photos but our photographer (me) is not very good.

Lucy's legs coated in orange Colendula pollen

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Maui Beekeepers Association?

Due to the inclement weather (rain sucks), in consultation with the ladies (honey bees) we at Cottonwood Garden are contemplating moving our bee operation to Maui.  Dan went ahead and scouted a new location for us.  We apologize for any inconvenience but the banzai pipeline awaits and the ladies like to surf (many say it's unnatural for a bee to surf but they're hardcore).  Aloha, mahalo brah.

Meanwhile (before we move to Maui), to protect our hive from wind and rain we have built a shelter.  We will poly the sides, leaving the front open.  We are going to build a combined insulated inner hive cover (Insulated hive cover) and moisture quilt (Moisture Quilt) to prevent cold condensation dripping down onto the ladies in the winter.  We may insulate the hive with 2 inch solid insulation wrapped in roofing paper (black to absorb the heat).  The theory being that in the winter the bees move their wing muscles rigorously to create heat and the colder it is the more energy (thus food) required.  The argument against this is that it fools the ladies into thinking that it is warmer than it is outside.  However, I recently gave the girls an IQ test and they all scored in the genius range (We don't raise no dummies).   We have lots of mice so a mouse proof entrance reducer is a must (One option Mouse proof entrance reducer).  Around the hive we have planted some late blooming asters and potentilla which will provide some fall dining for the ladies.  Next week we will do a final honey extraction, sugar dust for mites and begin feeding.
Update:  I invented a combination Insulated hive cover and moisture quilt ( Insulated Moisture Quilt) which seems to have worked quite well through the first winter.  I also made a Mouse proof entrance reducer to the dismay of the furry little creatures.  

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