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.  

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