Thursday, August 30, 2012

Queen of the Savannah

     "Queen of the Savannah" is a wonderful BBC film which follows the the struggle for survival of the African honey bee.  Under the shadow of Mt. Kenya the bees must survive elephants, bee-eater birds, human honey hunters and worst of all seasonal drought.  The macro photography from inside the hive is amazing revealing among other things the birth and death of the queen bee.  The seasonal migration and the honey bee security fence show the amazing differences that exist in the relationship between the honey bee and humans throughout the world.  Watch the "Queen of the Savannah" here .  Enjoy.    

Saturday, August 18, 2012

West Nile Spraying Affects Honey Bees

Brandon Pollard covering bee hives to protect from West Nile insecticide spraying
     In several areas of North America ground and aerial pesticide spraying to kill mosquitoes who potentially carry the West Nile virus is now underway.  The insecticide is toxic to all insects including honey bees.  Texas beekeepers Brandon and Susan Pollard say they have witnessed the affects of the pesticide spraying and have lost thousands of bees.  “Writhing on the ground. And, they really do look like they’ve been put through a neurotoxin. It’s not a pretty sight,” Susan Pollard said.  The Pollards think the spray may have fallen on some of the honeybees, or some of the bees drank pesticide tainted water and brought it back to the rest of the colony.  “They will share their food and within 24 or 48 hours, 80-percent of those bees have shared that and they will be gone like the ones that we have witnessed,” said Susan Pollard.  The Pollards have begun covering their bee hives each night with cardboard boxes to protect them from the nightly ground and aerial spraying.

The video above is from The Texas Honeybee Guild Facebook page of the Pollards examining the effects of the West Nile spraying on their bees.
     No one knows the affects on children and adults of long term exposure to toxins in our environment like this mosquito pesticide but in some districts they are washing off the residual pesticide from drinking fountains and playground equipment.

     Although action against this deadly disease is necessary we must consider the affects of exposure to environmental toxins.  This might be a good time to point out that this is the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson"s ground breaking environmental book "Silent Spring".  Controversial at the time it is considered one of the most influential books of the 20th century in which she foretold of the possible affects of constant exposure to environmental toxins like insecticides (The Legacy of Silent Spring).   

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Beekeeping in the City

     I have observed this particular native bee in my garden for the last few weeks.  I am hesitant to attempt an identification as in the past I have been corrected several times.  Often apparent experts have differed on their opinion.  With over 500 varieties of native bees to choose from in Vancouver I will leave that to the experts.  It looks kind of bumblish to me.  I'll stick to the two native bees that I'm sure of and that is the Blue Orchard Mason Bee, prevalent in the early spring and my personal favourite the Orange Rumped Bumble Bee which dominates the early summer in May and June.  You've got to admire a bee whose distinguishing feature is it's butt.  

The Orange Rumped Bumble Bee
     Beekeeping has become groovy of late and as a result there is a tremendous increase in the number of urban beekeepers.  I have observed that this has attracted a number of young adults, many of whom lose interest within a year or two.  I think that like any fad this attraction to beekeeping will pass but will raise the awareness of the general public to both the native and honey bee and the toxic conditions that we have created which threaten the existence of the bee and ultimately ourselves.
     Urban beekeeping is not new as evidenced by this article in the Titusville Herald in 1885.

Titusville Herald
January 19, 1885, Titusville, Pennsylvania

Beekeeping in Cities

About ten years ago we began to keep bees in
this city, at first merely as an experiment, and
to our astonishment we found that they did
almost was well as bees in the country. We
soon established an apiary of 40 hives on top
of the American Express Company's building
in Hudson street, and in 1878 took from a single
hive 123 pounds of choice comb honey. Our
success induced several persons in different
cities to repeat out experiment, and today there
are extensive apiaries in Chicago, St. Louis,
Cincinnati, Baltimore, and New Orleans.
In this city and in Brooklyn persons are keeping
bees, mostly on housetops, and are doing
remarkably well, there their report varying
from 75 to 130 pounds of honey to the hive;
not gathered from the sugar houses of gutters,
as some persons have asserted, but from flowers
in all the parks, gardens, and yards of the city,
the variety being so great that some are in
bloom every day during the summer season.
One of our city customers, a clergyman living
on twenty-fourth street reported that from one
of his roof hives he got 116 pounds of honey
last summer. We know of about 300 hives that
are kept in the city. Last year we extracted 600
pounds of choice honey while the ailanthus
trees were in bloom, at our apiary in Park Place,
this city. We do not keep our bees merely to
raise honey, but for increase of stock and queen
raising and only took the honey cut in order to
give place to the queen to deposit eggs.
Last October we shipped from this roof apiary
112 full stocks of bees to the island of Cuba,
where they have increased to 600 hives, and
have given an enormous quantity of honey.
We have just completed for this Cuban apiary
the largest honey extractor in the world, capable
of throwing out 6,000 pounds of honey daily;
the combs thus emptied of their honey are
returned to the bees and the process repeated
sometimes three or four times in a week during
the honey flow, and the combs thus used will
last for years. Such is the wide spread interest
in bees that a National Beekeepers' association
is maintained with minor associations in many
counties, and in all of the states. At the
Convention of these societies all matters affecting
this industry are discussed by the intelligent
and practical men. Apparatus for carrying on
the business are exhibited and criticized, and
statistics concerning the business are given. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Honey Bees stolen in Abbotsford

In-Times-Of-Exactness-and-Uncertainty by John Stark

     This week approximately $100,000 worth of bees and honey were stolen from an Abbotsford  beekeeper (60 km east of Vancouver).  The thief made off with 8,000 lbs (3600 kilograms) of honey and 500,000 bees.  According to Abbotsford police constable Ian MacDonald "Somebody went in there with the intention of not just stealing the bees and the hives, but also stealing them in such a way they could be integrated into an ongoing or existing operation."  "We're at a point in the calendar cycle where we're in a high yield for honey, so a novice wouldn't know this would be the best time to make such a theft," he said.  The thieves must have had a good understanding of beekeeping to manage the heist and would have needed specialized equipment and a large truck to transport the stolen goods, said MacDonald.  Similar large scale bee colony thefts have occurred this year in Alberta and New Zealand.  
     B.C's provincial apiculturist Paul van Westendorp said there have been other thefts in the province this year and added "Most [were] in the southern regions but these were mostly involving a small number of whole colonies. This Abbotsford report mentions the removal of frames with bees rather than the entire [population]. This is interesting because it obviously involves someone with beekeeping experience," said van Westendorp. "I recall identical types of thefts that were reported in the south Okanagan a few years ago which then suddenly stopped. The similarity is striking and one can't help but think that perhaps the same bee-keeper is involved."  He said his staff are now digging out old theft reports that "had an uncanny resemblance" to the Abbotsford theft.  The thief may be intending to transport the bees to Alberta for canola pollination which is underway. 
     This week at the community garden that I belong to there was a break-in of our two tool sheds resulting in a lot of damage and hundreds of dollars in tool theft.  Also, this week a friend and fellow gardener lost his battle with cancer.  A week earlier I had brought him to the garden for his last visit and in his extremely weakened condition he began weeding and tending to his plants.  He loved to garden and he loved bees.  This man lived his life with a selfless caring and compassion for others.  The selfish, destructive acts of these thieves makes me better appreciate the true goodness of my friend.  There must be a garden with bees in heaven. 

  From Kahlil Gibran ‘The Prophet’.   This piece of advice was part of the Prophet’s reply to a hermit amongst the crowd who said, ‘Speak to us of pleasure’.

Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure
Of the bee to gather honey of the flower,
But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee
For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,
And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,
And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and not an ecstasy.
People of Orphalese, be in your pleasure like the flowers and the bees.

Adios my friend.

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