Monday, December 10, 2012

Charles Darwin and the Bumblebee (Humble Bee)

 
     This quote from Charles Darwin is applicable to present day bees.  Bees have a very weak immune system and are not very adaptive to environmental changes caused by us.  Global warming and the increased presence of agrochemical toxins are conditions many species of bees will not survive. Their extinction will effect others species dependent on their pollination.
     I think like many of us Charles had a special place in his heart for Bumble Bees or Humble Bees as they were known prior to World War I.  With the help of 5 or 6 of his children between the years 1854-1861 Charles made a number of recorded observations on the flight routes of male Humble Bees (Charles Darwin on the routes of male Humble Bees).  In the first edition of "On the Origin of the Species" by Charles Darwin (1859) he describes how essential Bumble Bees are for the pollination of plants and specifically the red clover (Trifolium pratense).  This he explains is because of it's unique ability to reach the nectar which eludes other bees. (Different pollinators for different plants)

     "Charles Darwin wrote of "humble-bees"... "plants and animals, most remote in the scale of nature, are bound together by a web of complex relations. [...] I have [...] reason to believe that humble-bees are indispensable to the fertilisation of the heartsease (Viola tricolor), for other bees do not visit this flower. From experiments which I have tried, I have found that the visits of bees, if not indispensable, are at least highly beneficial to the fertilisation of our clovers; but humble-bees alone visit the common red clover (Trifolium pratense), as other bees cannot reach the nectar. Hence I have very little doubt, that if the whole genus of humble-bees became extinct or very rare in England, the heartsease and red clover would become very rare, or wholly disappear. The number of humble-bees in any district depends in a great degree on the number of field-mice, which destroy their combs and nests; and Mr. H. Newman, who has long attended to the habits of humble-bees, believes that 'more than two thirds of them are thus destroyed all over England.' Now the number of mice is largely dependent, as every one knows, on the number of cats; and Mr. Newman says, 'Near villages and small towns I have found the nests of humble-bees more numerous than elsewhere, which I attribute to the number of cats that destroy the mice.' Hence it is quite credible that the presence of a feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain flowers in that district!" (from Chapter 3 "On the Origin of the Species").
     A logical extension made in jest by Thomas Henry Huxley (Huxley, 1892) was " that old maids keep cats, and by unknown others to include the concepts that the economy of the British Empire
was based on roast beef eaten by its soldiers, and cattle rely on clover, so as to conclude that the prosperity of the British Empire was thus dependant on its population of old maids." (Charles Darwin, Humble Bees, Clover and Cats).
     
  Bombus pascuorum (Common Carder-bee) on red clover

     As most bumblebees are ground dwellers their existence depends upon the population of nest destroying mice whose population depends on the subsequent population of predatory cats.  Therefore, the greater the population of cats the greater the number of bumblebees and the greater the pollination of red clover.  We must also consider the negative effect of cat predation on birds, amphibians and reptiles.  This is why an ecosystem functioning in equilibrium (balanced populations) is so important.
     In May of 1858 with the aid of a beekeeper Darwin carried out studies on honey bee cell building at his home in Kent, England.  "For people to accept his theory of evolution by natural selection Darwin knew that he had to explain how the hexagonal cells found in the wax of the beehive were fortified by natural processes.  As a result of his observations he concluded that the hexagonal shape is produced as a result of spherical cells touching each other and the bees using the minimum amount of wax possible.  The experiments are described in "On the Origin of the Species".

 
     The family home of Charles Darwin is wonderfully preserved in Kent and is much the same as it was in the 19th century when he and his children carried out their observations of both the honey and humble bee.

   
 
     Due to habitat loss and the use of agrochemicals many species of Humble Bees are endangered.  In Britain the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust is working to save the Humble Bees.  In North American join Bumble Bee Watch to help endangered species of Humble Bees.

Left Bombus Mixtus (Male) and right Bomus Caliginosus or Bombus Vosnesenskii on a sunflower at Cottonwood Garden

My favorite an Orange Rumped Humble Bee (Bombus melanopygus) enjoying a cranesbill geranium at Cottonwood Garden

Another Humble Bee beutifying Cottonwood Garden

Friday, October 26, 2012

Labelling Honey Jars



     While you may not have this much fun labeling your honey jars there is no reason why it can't be enjoyable and creative.  Note that this posting is for backyard, non professional beekeepers.  The legal regulations for labeling honey jars for sale vary according to where you live.  In Europe this includes whether or not your honey contains pollen (has not been micro filtered) or was derived from Genetically Modified Plants.  In my opinion both of these considerations are very important and should be included on commercially produced honey.
     Whether you are canning produce from your garden, bottling jams or labeling honey jars most of us will begin with hand written labels meant to identify the product and when it was produced (Jars can get lost in the pantry for years).  A good idea is to get your children to do this.


     By using label templates you can easily upgrade the design of your labels.  I have found that they are easy to use and allow your to personalize a gift.

Honey Label

     I have compiled a group of 60 label templates free to use for the backyard, non commercial beekeeper and canner to download here.  You can also preview and download them in six categories: Vintage Honey Labels (A.I. Root, 1920) ; Modern Canning Labels (Circle) ; Modern Canning Labels (Rectangle)Vintage Canning Labels ; Nutritional Labels and Honey Infant Warning Label .  The first step is to choose the template of your choice.  There is a wide range to choose from.  You can also use your own photographs.

Vintage Canning Label
Honey Label
Modern Canning Label

Honey Label

Vintage Canning Label

         
     Once you have chosen your label you can use a free image editing program like Gimp or my favorite Photoscape to add words to your template.  With Photoscape you open the program, go to editor, choose your template on the left side, click on "Object" and choose either "Text" or "Rich Edit" to add words. You can then choose the size, type and color of font you want to use.  When finished save your label, print it, cut it out and glue to your jar.  I use regular printing paper and minimal glue as a lot of glue tends to discolor the label.   
     Botulism in honey is a risk to babies under the age of 1 year.  Although the risk is minimal it is recommended (to be on the safe side) that you not feed honey to infants under the age of one.  If you are giving jars to those you don't know you may want to include a warning label. 


     For commercial beekeepers the regulations on labeling food products is changing constantly and very dependent on where you live and how much you sell. For example in Florida beekeepers are now allowed to sell their honey from home (not stores) using a Florida Cottage Food Label as long as they do not exceed $15,000 in revenue. There are no regulations on non commercial home canning or honey production so like the ladies in the video above have fun and be creative. 








Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wintering Hives Beekeeping Webinar


     The October 17th Beekeeping Webinar put on by author Kim Flottum and Ohio State University was a good overall reminder of hive dynamics in winter and how we can help our bees survive.


     The major problems for honey bees in winter are starvation, varroa and poor ventilation.  Cold condensation created by heat generated by the bee cluster contacting the cold inner cover will drip on the bees.  In cold climates wet bees are dead bees.  Possible solutions are insulation between the inner cover and outer cover, a moisture quilt or an Insulated Moisture Quilt.


     Wintering your bees is like real estate value in that the most important consideration is location (location, location, location).  Location dictates the methods you will use to protect your bees from the elements. Windbreaks are essential in some areas where there are cold, winter winds.  In winter we have a predominant, strong, low pressure, southeast weather pattern that brings with it fairly constant cold, wet winds.


     Wrapping is also very helpful at reducing heat loss.  Roofing paper is the favourite wrapping material (black absorbs heat from the sun) making sure to leave an upper hole for ventilation.  Some beekeepers insulate not only the top of their hives but the body as well, making sure once again to leave the upper ventilation hole open for air circulation.


     Other considerations are what type of bee you have.  Carnies and Russians (particularly Russians) winter smaller clusters, eat less, produce less winter brood and generally winter better than their southern Italian cousins (The Best Bee Type).  However, most bees are a hybrid of various types of bees.
     A great concern when wintering bees is starvation and to prevent this beekeepers must simply make sure they leave adequate frames of honey for thier bees.  Once again this is location dependent and for us is about 65-75 lbs or 10 deep frames.  For information on feeding bees go to Feeding Bees in Winter .
     To view this webinar go to the "Getting your hives ready for winter" with Kim Flottum or
"Putting the hive to bed for winter" with Kim Flottum .  You may also want to check out The Biology and Management of Colonies in Winter , Winterization Guide for Beekeeping , The Thermology of Wintering Honey Bee Colonies or Wrapping a Honey Bee Colony with Tar Paper  from the Beekeepers' Library.


   

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Killer Bees

Killer Bee statue in Hidalgo, Texas
     The term "Killer Bees" refers to Africanized bees which were originally produced by cross-breeding European bees (Apis mellifera) with African bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) which are a sub-species of the European or Western honey bee and are native to central and southern Africa.  In 1956, to produce the "perfect" honey bee for tropical Brazil, 26 African Tanganyikan queen bees were imported to Brazil and bred with European drones.  Queen excluders were put on the entrances of the hives to prevent introduction of these African queen bees into the Brazilian environment. In 1957 a replacement beekeeper unknowingly removed the queen excluders releasing the African queens and starting the migration of the Africanized bees through the western hemisphere.  Here is some additional information on Africanized bees provided by the University of California (Africanized Bees).  The map below show the yearly migration of the Africanized bees.




     I draw an analogy between the phenomena of the "Killer Bee" and the movie "Jaws".  The movie inspired an unfounded paranoia of entering any water even that not inhabited by sharks.  Myself, having worked and lived in bear country and swum with sharks for years pride myself in possessing a sense of calm and objectivity when dealing with potentially dangerous situations.  Nevertheless I recall hearing the unforgettable music from the movie "Jaws" every time I encountered a shark in the water after that.  The reality is that while sharks and "killer bees" do pose a threat it is important to put it into perspective and not create an exaggerated paranoia.  The city of Hidalgo, Texas where the first Africanized bees in the U.S. were identified built a larger than life statue of the "Killer bee" on wheels which is still brought out for festivals and parades.  In reality driving a car and riding a bike are far more dangerous.  It is important to note that beekeepers in Central and South America are presently using Africanized bees.  While they do produce a higher yield of honey they replace the native bees (Stingless Bees of the Maya) and do not pollinate all of the native plants.
     The distinguishing features of the Africanized bee are: Swarms more frequently (smaller swarms up to 10 times a year potentially inhabiting smaller cavities); more likely to migrate as a response to seasonal dearth (In many parts of Africa their ancestors migrated annually due to extreme seasonal drought - Queen of the Savannah is a great movie about the ordeals of the African bee); more likely to abscond (entire colony leaves) in response to stress; more aggressive defensiveness when in a resting swarm; more likely to inhabit ground nests than European bees; greater area and more aggressive defense of hive; proportionally more guard bees; more bees act in defense of a hive and do so for a greater distance (i.e. several hundred bees to a disturbance 40 meters away and may follow for a quarter of a mile); The Africanized bee has also shown a greater propensity to be aggressive to darker colours such as darker coloured dogs suggesting a link to it's greatest enemy in Africa, the dark coloured honey badger; has difficulty surviving longs periods without forage (i.e. long, dry summer periods or cold winters). Here is a research article on the DNA of Africanized bees (DNA of Africanized Bees).

1985 Africanized Bee Alert

     The Africanized bee's sting is no more venomous than the European bee and like the European bee it can only sting once.  They respond to disturbances faster, in greater numbers and for farther distances.  The prescribed defense is to retreat quickly (covering your head) to the shelter of a building or automobile.  The undesireable, aggressive traits appear to be passed by the Africanized drones so many American beekeepers are counter attacking the migration of the Africanized bees by drone-flooding or raising an inordinate number of European drones to ensure a majority European mating.  Other defence measures include frequent requeening to remove any Africanized queens and extermination of wild bee nests.  However, most scientists believe that the northward migration is unpreventable and that with time the Africanized bees will adapt to periods of dearth or cold.  They have adapted to and inhabit colder areas at the foot hills of the Andes Mountains in South America.  While there is no way to predict their arrival in Canada one deterrent is the antiquated and bizarre Canadian bee import restrictions (We can import bees from New Zealand, Australia and Chile - Canadian bee import regualtions) that make the movement of bees from the U.S. to Canada impractical.  This is why most of our imported bees in Vancouver come from New Zealand. 


     For additional information on Africanized Bees in America go to Saguaro National Park Africanized Bees  and The Africanized Honey Bees in America.  For instructional material go to Africanized Honey Bees (Power Point Presentation).

     It is autumn and for many of us beekeepers it is time to watch for wasps.  Wasps leave their nests this time of year and go out and forage.  While some will occasionally enjoy nectar they are primarily insectivores and will kill your bees and attempt to enter the hives.  For strong colonies this is not usually a problem but as a counter measure beekeepers often use entrance reducers and wasp traps.  All of our wasps will die this winter except for the new, mated queens.  This year I have identified 6 species of wasps in my garden: Vespula pensylvanica (western yellowjacket-Queen); Potter Wasp; Polistes dominula- European paper wasp; Male Vespula germanica (German Wasp - Yellowjacket); Dolichovespula maculata (bald-faced hornet) and the beautiful green eyed Bembicini (Bembix) or Sand wasp.  While I have observed a smaller yellow wasp and a similar sized Blackjacket wasp I have not made positive identification.  I have seen the western yellowjackets killing the odd bee in front of the hives but no sign of any attempted entry.  Last year I witnessed the girls mass attack of a large bald-faced hornet trying to enter the hive.  It was very violent  as the wasp attempted to fly away with a few of the girls attached.  
    We are still in our Indian summer with beautiful days, active, foraging bees and lots of flowers still available.  Soon it will be time to prepare the hives for winter, extract some honey and wax up my skis.

Bembicini (Bembix) or Sand wasp (Green eyes)


Monday, September 10, 2012

The Stingless Honey Bee of the Maya

              A photo by Eric Tourneret of the stingless Trigona honey bees kept in traditional earthen pots

     There are about 800 species of stingless bees (Meliponines) that can be found in tropical regions of the world (Tropical America, Australia, Africa and Southeast Asia).  In fact stingless bees do have stingers but they are so small that they are ineffective and instead defend their colony by biting.  The stingless bee bite is similar to a mosquito bite.  The stingless bees will nest in open tree cavities, rock crevices or underground openings.
     The stingless bees (Melipona Beecheii and Melipona Yucatanica) in Central America have been kept by the Mayan people for thousands of years and are part of their traditional religious ceremonies.  The bees are kept like family pets in log hives or pots passed down from generation to generation.  The future of the Mayan stingless bee is bleak due to deforestation and the introduction of the Africanized honey bee which produces a far greater yield of honey.  A significant problem is that the Africanized honey bee does not pollinate many of the native trees and shrubs which as a result are declining.  The number of traditional Mayan beekeepers has reduced drastically with elderly men and women being the last of their kind.  

     


     Eric Tourneret is an amazing photographer who has studied the relationship between different cultures and bees including the Mexican stingless bee (The Bee Photographer).  Part of this study involves the efforts to increase traditional stingless beekeeping along with the fair trade initiative (Fairtrade in Mexico) both of which I feel are very important issues.  The group "Schools for Chiapas" is also working to promote traditional stingless beekeeping with educators, students and communities.  The video below shows the traditional Melipona bee ceremony known as Un-hanli-cab in Yucatan, Mexico.



     Native stingless bees have been kept by cultures throughout the world and the video below is of an Australian native stingless beekeeper.



     There are many species of stingless bees in the Amazon and they also play an important part in the environment as pollinators.  34 species of stingless bees have been identified in the Amazon region of which 9 were considered domesticated by the locals.  Below is a video by Eric Tourneret in his continuing study of the relationship between bees and people entitled "The Amazing Stingless Bees of the Amazon".



     To read further about the stingless bees of the Maya read Xuna Kab, The Stingless Bees of the YucatanThe State of Melipona in Mexico today and Meliponas in Yucatan.  All of these are also available in our Beekeepers' Library.  To read an article on stingless beekeeping in India go to The Hindu.
     I have been asked often if stingless bees can be imported to Canada and the U.S. and the answer is no, not legally.  However, there are reports of beekeepers keeping stingless bees for many years in the southern states having brought them up from Mexico.
     Help the School for Chiapas save the Mayan Stingless Bee through the Mayan Stingless Bee Recuperation Program (http://www.schoolsforchiapas.org/advances/sustainable-agriculture/meliponas/).


Friday, July 27, 2012

The Sun Hive


     The "Sun Hive", designed by German sculptor Guenther Muncke is a combination of skep weaving and circular inner wooden frame.  The inspiration for the hive design came from observing a wild bee's nest in a forest near his home, with it's combs covered in a protective layer of propolis and wax.  Below is a drawing he made of this bee's nest.


     The photo below of a wild bee's nest is a possible inspiration for the shape of the Sun Hive.


     Based on years of bee colony observation the unique hive is designed to fit the natural comb building tendencies of the honey bee.  Similar to the Warre Hive the Sun Hive allows for unconstrained downward vertical comb building (Natural Hive Comparisons).  It is built in two segments which allow for expansion where the two meet.  The segments are constructed of woven straw similar to a traditional skep with a wooden dividing board and platform in the middle (D below).  The entrance is at the funnel shape bottom of the hive (N below). The hive is designed to be installed at a height of 2.5 meters (8 ft).


     The wooden arches of the upper segment act like top bars from which the comb is built.
 

Here is a video showing how to make a Sun Hive.  It takes about 14 hours. 
   



How to cover a scep hive with cow dung.



     Below is a video showing the comb building progress of a swarm after four weeks in the "Sun Hive". The inner cover over the wooden frames is cloth coated in bees wax and the outer cover is coated in natural, organic cow dung.  The hive was made at a therapeutic institution for autistic children in Germany and was made of biodynamically grown rye straw.  
  
 

     "The Sun Hive/Haengekorb outlines the outer, invisible "skin" of the "Bien", the wholeness and single entity of the bee. It reveals the innate round shape of the "Bien". It's true nature becomes palpable, through the gestalt and it's position in space. The Haengekorb shows, how everything within the colony is round. The shape of it speaks with a pre-verbal-language. And the shape can share the living processes within. All together a "flower garden" for the eye and the heart."



       To maintain your Sun Hive you must build a shelter to give it protection from the wind and rain, treat your exterior wooden parts with an organic paint or varnish, give your straw skep a haircut, decide whether to cloam or not with cow dung and replace your covering cloth.  This is explained in detail here.
       As a beekeeper I find the Sun Hive design to be both beautiful and natural to a degree (in the comb building sense).  However, most European wild hives are built in enclosures like hollow trees (provides protection from the elements) without the freedom of comb construction like Guenther's drawing above.  Open, wild bee's nests rarely survive weather or predation.  I believe the maintenance of the hive would be labour intensive and require previous beekeeping experience and knowledge (not for the novice).  The Sun Hive has a focus on the health and welfare of the bees not maximum honey production.  I think one or two would be a beautiful addition if one has the time, knowledge and space.
 

     A book in English about the Sun Hive is now available which includes detailed plans on how to make your own Sun Hive. To open a preview of the book click here.  The book and Sun Hive components may be purchased from the Natural Beekeeping Trust in England.  In North America the book is available through Gaia Bees.
     For more information on natural beekeeping check out the Natural Beekeeping section of our Beekeepers' Library.     



Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Travelling Beehive


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

     From Juan Hernaz
   
                    Hi, I'm the illustrator of this book, and I would like to invite all of you to download "The Travelling Beehive" also in epub format for tablets, ipads and some e-book readers. You can download also pdf format and on-line book, also available for free on the website of Apolo and in my own web (http://www.juanhernaz.com/pre.php?l=2  or http://juanhernaz.blogspot.ca/ )


Thank you very much for spreading this publication and enjoy it!





Monday, June 4, 2012

The Beekeepers' Library


     Before I became a beekeeper I went out in search of knowledge pertaining to beekeeping.  While some knowledge was readily available I found it difficult to research particular topics.  Since becoming a beekeeper I am constantly being asked by people who want to start beekeeping where is a good source of reading material to learn the basics.  Regularly beekeeping friends ask me questions like "do you know where I can get some good plans to build a screened bottom board?" or "are there studies on the benefits of small cell foundation?".   It's for these reasons I created The Beekeepers' Library a few months ago.  It is in no way the definitive source for beekeeping knowledge but merely a free resource site where readers can preview and download information on a wide variety of topics.  The main categories of the library are "Basic Beekeeping", "Beehive Construction", "Honeybee Diseases and Parasites", "Feeding", "Native Pollinators", "Advanced Beekeeping", "Planting for Pollinators", "Natural Beekeeping", "Recipes", "Children's Beekeeping", "Beekeeping Books" and instructional "Webinars".  I have been and will continue to add regularly to the library.  Enjoy! 

He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.
Confucius





Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Plants Bees Love

Hunt's Bumble Bee (Bombus Huntii) in a Cranesbill Geranium

     It's a beautiful, sunny 15 degree celsius (60 fahrenheit) day in the garden.  This time of year in Vancouver is particularly special because so many plants are in bloom.  Since I became a beekeeper I have found myself much more observant of blossoms and their attraction to both native and honey bees.  Above is a photo of what is a Hunt's Bumble Bee (Bombus Huntii) whose orange backside makes for easy identification. If you look closely you can see the pollen being scattered beneath the native bee.   


     All of the bees are particularly attracted to the Cranesbill geranium which in our area is an easy to grow ground cover.  I have also noticed that bees have a fondness for members of the onion family which includes garlic, onions, leeks and chives.  Below is a picture of one of our girls enjoying some chive flowers.


     The Bluet is a friendly invasive (controllable) plant and another favourite of all species of bees.  I've heard this plant called a variety of names but I've not found it in any plant books.  


   * I found the Bluet in the plant files of the website Dave's Garden.  It goes by the common names Mountain Bluet, Mountain Cornflower and Perrenial Cornflower "Gold Bullion".  The latin name is Centaurea Montana.  Below is the Dave's Garden plant file search engine.  It is also in the side bar.
Find your plant by searching PlantFiles:
-

     
     I apologize for the obvious amateur nature of the photography but the photographer (me) insists on blaming the camera.  Below are a few photos of the girls enjoying the absolute favourite fast food (along with plum blossoms) in our neighbourhood this time of year which is flowering Kale.  



     After a slow start (cold wet spring) our girls are actively collecting pollen and producing brood.  We'll check the hives in a few weeks and possibly do a split or two depending on their progress.  Meanwhile, here I sit watching my bees listening to Taj and Etta sing "Queen Bee". 



     For a more complete list of plants bees love check out the "Bee Plants" section of this site. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Beekeeping 101


     There are many great, free sources of information available for the beginner beekeeper.  This is a selection of videos, books and online courses which will provide you with the tools needed to begin beekeeping.  
     Although there are many great books for the beginning beekeeper a good start is Backyard Beekeeping by Dr. James E. Tew, Beekeeping Basics by Penn State and At the Hive Entrance by H. Storch.  
     A free online course from the University of California, "Honey Bees and Colony Strength Evaluation" is useful for all beekeepers from the beginner to the professional. The course consists of individual modules that provide background information on honey bees as well as clear, consistent recommendations for apiary inspection.  The modular approach requires short blocks of time for each section and the viewer can proceed at their own pace viewing modules in any order they wish.  Modules covering basic information may not be necessary for more experienced beekeepers or apiary inspectors. However, for those less familiar with the process, training modules can be re-visited as necessary. To take the course log in as a guest here.  
     Another good free online course presented by Ohio State University is Beekeeping and Honey Bee Biology.  This course is based on Dr. Reed Johnson's for-credit OSU Beekeeping Course.  The course consists of video lectures, handouts and readings presented on iTunes which is a free download.  The course is extensive and consists of 138 segments covering every aspect of bees and beekeeping. 
     While it is possible to start beekeeping without any lessons it's suggested that you take a beekeeping course to learn the basics so that you are prepared for the challenges that will inevitably arise when tending to livestock.  Once you have completed this the most important aspect of your learning experience will be to find a local beekeeper or beekeeping organization that will share their experiences with you.  There are beekeeping organizations almost everywhere and something I have found is that beekeepers throughout the world are usually helpful and willing to share their love and knowledge of bees.  We have a beekeeping coop at Cottonwood Community Garden in Vancouver and give free introduction to beekeeping lessons in May - June.  The Strathcona Beekeepers also meets at Cottonwood Garden every month and newbees are always welcome.  Although I have never taken a beekeeping lesson I cannot consider myself self taught as I have had the luxury of good beekeeper friends who have allowed me to observe and answered my endless questions with commendable patience. 
     A wonderful aspect of beekeeping is that there is always something new to learn.  For more information on bees and beekeeping go to the Beekeepers' Library.  

"There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance."

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Honey Bee Drifting

End of the line effect

     The concept of drifting is that with a number of hives in a row, on a windy day the bees are more apt to return to the first hive from the direction of the main pollen flow.  Consequently the first hive will be much stronger than the last hive.  Dave Cushman suggests the opposite "end of the line" effect (Dave Cushman on Drifting Behavior in Honey Bees).  Dave goes on to describe the drifting effects of  featureless water.



     In any case the disoriented, drifting bees will have an unfamiliar smell to the guard bees but will usually be allowed entrance if carrying pollen and displaying submissive behavior. Ted Hooper in his book "Guide to Bees and Honey" states:

“a drifting bee entering the colony by mistake, perhaps because it has been blown down to the hive by a cross wind, or misled by a similarity of the approach picture, will be challenged. In this case the guard will press the challenge because the smell of this bee is not the right one. The drifter, because its instinct says it is in the right place, will not try to fight the guard but will submit. If the drifter is facing the guard it will offer food, which the guard will usually ignore. If the guard is attacking from the side [...] the drifter will tuck its tail in and stand quiet, with its head tucked down, or it may rear on to its two back pairs of legs, extending its tongue and strop this with its front legs. These patterns of behavior denote submission and the guard [...] will do no real harm and certainly not attempt to sting. As with all bees, the guard’s concentration period is short, and in a few seconds it gets tired of the whole affair and lets the drifter proceed”

     This study found the percentage of drifting bees to be as high as 60% within unmarked row apiaries (Drifting of Honey Bee Foragers within and between apiaries pollinating blueberry) and up to 4.5% in apiaries 600 mts away.  In the study below (Drifting of Honey Bees) they found that there was no preference in honey bee strain when drifting nor decrease in life span.  They did find an increased drift from center (22%) to edge (39%).

Hive setup that could lead to drifting
      The study below suggests that the optimal distance is 9 meters between hives and 18 meters between rows but this is often not possible.  They list ways to reduce drifting by different apiary layout (circles, squares, U, V, Sigmoid), different entrance orientation and different colors.  The idea is that different colored hives will assist the bees in identifying their own hive.


     The idea is that different colored hives will assist the bees in identifying their own hive.  Bees see colors 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 (Honey Bees ability to identify color).


  
      Why does drifting matter?  Because unless you live in an isolated area there is a good chance your hives contain bees from neighboring hives along with their pests and diseases (Honey Bee Drifting and the spread of AFB).  Drifting can also occur with Queens returning from mating flights (4% Honey Bee Queen Drifting).
       It's like if you are drunk and walking back to your house and all the homes are of the exact color and architectural style.  This is human drifting.  I have personally experienced this phenomena.  This can be very embarrassing.

My house
   

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