Friday, June 29, 2012

A Gift of Bees

     The promotion of beekeeping in third world countries to combat poverty has become increasingly popular.  In many countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America beekeeping has become a practical solution to reduce poverty.  Beekeeping requires little space, minimal initial cost and maintenance costs and offers much needed income from the sales of honey, beeswax and pollen.  In addition increased pollination from the introduction of these bees can substantially increase fruit and vegetable yields as well as pollinating native plants.  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.  Below is a plan by the National Agricultural Advisory Service of Uganda to improve beekeeping amongst rural women to reduce poverty.

     Initially the top bar hive was the popular choice in poor countries because of the ease and low cost of construction.  

Top Bar Hive

However, with the assistance of programs like Heifer International traditional Langstroth hives which have a more practical commercial application are becoming more popular.  There are many philanthropic beekeeping assistance programs like "Bees for Development" which is more of an information source for third world countries, "Self Help Africa", "ICIMOD" and "Global Hand".  While I am sure most of these programs are very good in terms of the benefits they provide I chose to financially support Heifer International because of their close to 70 years of providing practical, sustainable relief in the form of livestock (bees, heifers, sheep, pigs, chickens ..... and trees and plants for erosion control).  While probably not the choice of a vegetarian Heifer International has substantially benefited over 65 million people through the gift of livestock.  Founded by Dan West, a midwestern farmer who had a revelation while giving out rations of milk to hungry children during the Spanish Civil War, "These children don't need a cup, they need a cow". In l944 he sent 17 heifers from York, Pennsylvania to Peurto Rican families whose malnourished children had never tasted milk.   "Why heifers? These are young cows that haven't yet given birth – making them perfect not only for supplying a continued source of milk, but also for supplying a continued source of support. That's because each family receiving a heifer agrees to "pass on the gift" and donate the female offspring to another family, so that the gift of food is never-ending."  An early example of the concept to "Pay it Forward".  This simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief caught on and has continued for more than 65 years. 
     Through beekeeping projects around the world, Heifer International helps smallholder farmers become entrepreneurs and increase their incomes. This video takes you to Honduras where farmers tend their hives, harvest the honey and bottle it for distribution.

     To find out more about Heifer International and their beekeeping assistance program go to Heifer International.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Queen of the Sun

     On Thursday, June 28th, 7 pm, at Denman Cinema (1779 Comox St)  Whole Foods Market will present a free screening of the critically acclaimed documentary "Queen of the Sun".  The movie will include gmo-free popcorn and donations will be collected for the Xerces Society which is an organization dedicated to the preservation of invertebrates (insects, snails and starfish) and their habitat.  The Xerces Society is celebrating 40 years of stellar work protecting wildlife with a focus on pollinators.
     While we have this movie on our Video Page there is nothing like watching a beautiful, well made movie on the big screen.  Space is limited so come early to get your seat.  For further details check the Whole Foods Market, Robson Facebook page.       

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ban this Pesticide Now!

     In the next week the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) will make a decision on the future use of the neonicotinoid pesticide Clothianidin.  The use of this chemical killer has been suspended and banned in many European countries because of the devastating effects on the bee populations.  This spring a number of commercial beekeepers in Canada and the United States have experienced devastating losses during the spraying of the systemic neonicotinoid pesticides (Canadian Beekeepers meet with government officials after devastating effects of neonicotinoid pesticides ).  If you value native bees, honey bees, and the future of planet Earth please let the EPA know how you feel.  Go to The Centre for Food Safety and sign the petition to suspend the use of the neonicotinoid pesticide Clothianidin.  To see further dire effects of the neonicotinoid pesticides on the health of the planet go to Pesticides and Bees.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Other Pollinators

     Since becoming a beekeeper I have become acutely aware of the importance of pollinators in the world today.  In our garden in Vancouver we are fortunate to have a number of native pollinators like the butterfly above that seemed particularly taken with the rhododendrons.

     I've had difficulty identifying all the different native bees in our garden but fortunately this one showed me it's big, orange butt.  This would be Bombus Melanopygus or the Orange Rumped Bumble Bee.

Bumble Bee enjoying a wild rose
     One aspect of bumble bees I have noticed is that they appear to have much thicker hair than our honey bees.  This may be why they can fly in colder temperatures earlier in the spring than apis mellifera (European Honey Bee).

     Honey bees are the best pollinators because of sheer numbers but individually bumble bees are superior.  I have found it more difficult to photograph bumble bees because of the short length of time they spend at each flower compared to honey bees.  Visiting more flowers and a capacity to carry great quantities of pollen (as shown above) make the bumble bees excellent pollinators.  The use of bumble bees to pollinate some commercial crops is becoming more popular.

     The insect above is possibly a resin bee (Anthidiellum Notatum) on a yellow bearded iris.  Below is a picture of my favourite native bee, the Orange Rumped Bumble Bee dining on a cranesbill geranium.  How can you not love a bee who's distinguishing feature is it's orange butt.

     Louie Swartzberg is considered a pioneer of high-end time-lapse cinematography and his film "Wings of Life", the hidden beauty of pollination is both fascinating and stunningly beautiful.  It reminds us of the hidden beauty that exists all around us.  As Louie states "beauty and seduction are nature's tool for survival because we protect what we fall in love with."

Saturday, June 9, 2012

First Bee Swarm

     I received a phone call yesterday afternoon that my bees were swarming at our community garden.  I hurried down to the garden to capture my first swarm.  In retrospect I should have been prepared with equipment and new hive ready but where's the fun in that.  Fortunately the swarms were only 5 feet off the ground in an easily accessible, small trees.  Yes, I did say swarms as there was two within 5 meters.  I've always enjoyed trying new things especially if there is a hint of danger involved.  To my dismay the swarm retrieval went flawlessly without any drama.  The two swarms were relatively small so I combined the two and put them in a new hive.  We had a hive that was very weak and no signs of queen activity so I combined the swarms with the weak hive.  I put some syrup in the new hive to make the ladies more attracted to the new locale.  Today I checked on the new hive regularly as I worked in the garden for about 6 hours.  There was a tremendous amount of activity at the hive including pollen collection and submissive behaviour displays at the front entrance.  I expect this is a good sign as security at the new hive entrance appeared to be rather strict suggesting that they accepted their new home.  Best of all the swarms were not from my hives as I checked my hives shortly after and they appeared as they had when I inspected them a week ago.  I can't wait til my next swarm which I am fairly sure will be 50 feet up a tree or in a thorny blackberry patch.
     Today I watched the girls foraging or should I say frolicking in the peonies.  I have never seen so many bees in a single flower as I saw today in the peonies.  In virtually every flower there was between 3 and 6 honey bees at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Neonicotinoids Kill Bees in Ontario

     Ontario beekeepers and representatives of the Canadian Honey Council met with Canadian government officials on June 4th to discuss the latest significant bee die-off.  A few commercial beekeepers explained how the devasting spring die-off coincided with the nearby planting of neonicotinoid coated corn seed.  The same scenario has been reported countless times in Europe and the United States.  The main problem appears to be the neonicotinoid pesticide being released during the planting, becoming airborn and travelling more than a mile.  Some reports claim the pesticide can travel much further in dry, windy conditions.  The physical effect on bees is rather violent convulsions leading to paralysis.  As a result the neonicotinoid pesticides have been banned or restricted in a number of European countries including most recently France and Poland.  A number of the Ontario beekeepers effected by this latest poisoning are financially devastated with little or no recourse.  The beekeepers are asking for a moratorium on neonicotinoid use and further impartial testing of the effects of these insecticides.
     Below is the link to the audio version of this meeting between the Ontario beekeepers and the government officials.  Although a bit boring to begin with once the beekeepers begin speaking the reality of the suffering caused by the use of neonicotinoid pesticides becomes all too clear.

     I hear over and over again from beekeeping experts who claim there is no validity to the negative results from the neonicotinoid testing.  They find fault in every single test done.  My question to them is where were they when the initial testing for the approval of the neonicotinoids was done.  The insufficient short term testing carried out by the companies (Bayer, Monsanto..) that stood to make millions from the sales of the product were at best flawed.  Neonicotinoid pesticides are produced from tobacco plants.  The denial of the negative effects of these pesticides sounds very much like the denial of the tobacco industry of the negative effects of smoking.

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 (  or )

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.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Bees in the Garden

     It is a beautiful day in the garden and our bees are enjoying the raspberries.  We are fortunate to have over a hundred different plants in bloom in our four acre community garden at this time of year but the foraging preference is raspberries.  The fruit trees which were the main source of food for the bees from April to May are finished blooming now and the four different varieties of raspberries will be the main focus of our girls for about a month.

     Looking at the rows of raspberries you can literally see and hear hundreds if not thousands of bees actively foraging.  This year I have focused on identifying native bees and improving my photographic skills. I have been amazed at the number and variety of native bees I have seen foraging along side the honey bees.  Below is a Hunt's bumble bee and a variety (possibly not a bee) I have not identified.

     Possibly a Resin Bee (Anthidiellum Notatum Robertsoni )

    I know that all parents are biassed but I truly believe that my girls are the prettiest honey bees in the world.  The close up photo below of Rosita enjoying a chive flower reveals the pollen collecting hair that covers the body (including the eyes).

     Below are a few photos of the girls enjoying a Johnson's Blue hardy geranium.  Due to the promiscuous nature of queen bees the true heritage of the girls is unknown however all of our queens are (I think) Carniolan.  The Carniolan honey bee is native to Slovenia and parts of the former Yugoslavia, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania and is known for it's large proboscis (tongue).  This Gene Simmons like tongue gives the bee greater ability to access the inner flower.

      The photo below has nothing to do with bees but is a picture of my favourite rose which has a heavenly scent.  It does however allow me to ponder at the lack of bees in hybrid roses.  The obvious reason for this is the complex physical nature of the petal formation.  Below this picture is a photo of one of the girls enjoying a wild rose (simple flower) which is a favourite of the girls in the garden right now.


     Both the native and honey bees were enjoying the rhododendron and clematis flowers today.

     We inspected our hives today and found lots of brood and stored nectar and pollen but also plenty of room in the two brood boxes.  We will check on the girls in another few weeks with the intent of adding our honey supers.  It was a two stinger day as Serge got it in the leg and me in the hand when I removed my gloves after the inspection.  Not bad.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Pesticide Banned in France

Translated Bees Yes Cruiser No
     Today the French Ministry of Agriculture voted to ban the pesticide Cruiser because it is suspected of being harmful to bees.  The neonicotinoid Thiametoxam is one of the three active ingredients in Cruiser and is used primarily in the treatment of rapeseed.  Rapeseed (Brassica Napus) is grown mainly for it's oil rich seed which is the third largest source of vegetable oil in the world and is a major crop for many countries.  There are two types of rapeseed (from the Latin for turnip "rapaor", "rapum") oil which are industrial rapeseed oil used to produce lubricants or fuel and food grade oil from Canola.  Beekeepers know that bees are especially attracted to blossoms of plants in the Brassica family like Kale.

My bees spend much of the spring foraging in the flowering Kale

     The reason for the ban of Thiametoxam is the risk it poses to bee health.  Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire stated  "a behavioral study of foraging bees exposed to plant protection substance", highlighting "a detrimental effect of a sublethal dose of thiamethoxam on return to the hive bee foragers. "  They are asking the European Food Safety Authority to reconsider their approval of the pesticide Cruiser.  

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