Monday, October 28, 2013

Mason Bee Cocoon Cleaning

     While I have been honey beekeeping for a number of years this year was my first attempt to raise native Blue Orchard Mason Bees in our garden.  Also known as Osmia Lignaria it is a major native pollinator in our area of the world.  They make nests in reeds or natural holes and utilize mud to space their cocoons.  This bee is a particularly important spring fruit tree pollinator for us.

     While there is an endless variety of homes that your can make for your mason bees and I encourage you to do so (Native Pollinators) the important thing is that the inner tube be accessible to clean and access the cocoons.  Without the ability to access and clean the nesting area it would soon become filled with debris, mites, diseases, wasps ... 

     These are the trays that I used this year which are easily seperated and cleaned but a good alterntive is simple paper straws that can be removed.  

Orange Rumped Bumble Bee
      I have identified a number of native and non native bees and wasps in our garden and my favourite and most prolific is the Orange Rumped Bumble Bee (Melanopygus) which pollinates our raspberries, blueberries and black locusts to name a few.  How can you not like a bee whose distinguishing feature is it's butt.  However, the population of Blue Orchard Mason bees is relatively low which is why I am raising them. 

     Above is a view of some of my harvested cocoons covered in mites and mite poop.  The cleaning process I initially employed was the sand method.

      The process is fairly simple mixing the sand with the cocoons and sifting through a screen.  This method is described below in the video by Hutchings Bees.

      I found that this method did not work for me completely and possibly it was because of the type of sand I used.  After the process the cocoons were still covered in debris.

     To finish the cleansing process I soaked the cocoons in a 5% solution of bleech and gently scrubbed with an old tooth brush.
   The finished product.
     I then put the cocoons in a paper bag enclosed in a plastic bag in the crisper section of the fridge.  Modern self defrosting fridges tend to be too dry so the crisper section is recommended.  The cocoons will be placed outside in their mason bee homes in early spring.

 P.S.  After a few years of keeping mason bees I have evolved to making my bee houses by simply drilling 3/8ths inch holes in 6 inch deep wood.  I use plain, unbleached brown paper from grocery bags rolled around a tent pole as liners which brings the finished diameter of the hole to the optimal 5/16th inch.  The rolled liners extend 1 inch out the back and are folded over with a back plate screwed on.  When harvest time comes I just unscrew the back plate and pull out the paper liners (Paper Liners That Work).  For more information on how to manage Mason Bees for your home or farm go to the Native Pollinators section of our Library and scroll down to Mason Bees.  If you are just starting out you can buy cocoons off Craigslist for 50 cents a cocoon and from some garden stores for $1 per cocoon.  Good sources of supplies and information are Crown Bees  and Beediverse.  Good luck.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Neonicotinoids and Bees

     This video from Boulder County Beekeepers gives a good overview of the problems associated with neonicotinoid pesticides.  For years beekeepers worldwide have observed the detrimental effects of the systemic neonicotinoid pesticides on bees.  The studied effects are both lethal and possibly more important sublethal.  The accumulation of neonic pesticides in the hive effects the bee's nervous system and lowers their immune system making the bees more susceptible to diseases (Neonics weaken Bee immune system).  The effects go beyond this as recent evidence shows an accumulation of neonics in waterways adjacent to agricultural areas poses a risk to fish and birds in these ecosystems (Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Wetland Water).  In addition because of the monopolization of the seed market by the major agrochemical corporations farmers have difficulty finding seeds that don't contain neonicotinoid pesticides.  This is why Europe has recently placed a two year ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.  Further evidence of the effects of neonicotinoids on bees and the environment can be found in the Insecticides and Bees section of our Beekeepers' Library.  The first 17 minutes of this video relates to issue of neonics and bees.

Very good video on neonics and bees: Honeybees in Crisis

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

March Against Monsanto

     This Saturday, October 12th is the worldwide action to take back control of our food supply which presently is owned by Monsanto and a handful of major Agrochemical corporations.  They were able to do this by convincing major political powers (i.e. U.S and Canadian governments) to first allow the untested genetic manipulation of our food supply; second that because each of the organisms combined in the genetic manipulation were natural that the combined product must therefore be natural and not subject to safety testing; and lastly that the genetically modified seed can be patented.  
     The political powers that allowed the introduction of genentic manipulation of our food supply were sponsored by Monsanto and the other agrochemical corporations through major campaign contributions.  In addition for decades there has been a "revolving door" policy of employment between Monsanto and the U.S government suggesting at the least an extreme conflict of interest.  

     Most people are unaware that all of the safety testing of agrochemical products (insecticides, herbicides ...) including genetically modified seeds is carried out by the agrochemical corporations that stand to profit from the sales of that product.  Due to lack of funding virtually no government testing is done.  In addition in North America and much of the rest of the world Monsanto has monopolized the food seed production by buying out seed companies including major organic seed producers.  The result has been that farmers have been forced to buy the expensive, patented genetically modified seeds.  Also, because of naturally occurring cross pollination a non gm farmer can have his crop contaminated with the gm genetics from a neighbour and is subsequently subject to prosecution by the holder of the gm seed patent (ie. Monsanto).  Monsanto has sued hundreds of farmers in North American including the much celebrated heroic case of Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser.  The ruthless nature of Monsanto's attack on this farmer and his family has unfortunately been repeated countless times.

     For us to allow a corporation that has a heinoss reputation of producing products like DDT, Dioxins, PCB's, Polystyrene, Saccharine, Aspartame, Bovine Growth Hormone, Agent Orange and the Atomic Bomb (Monsanto the Evil Empire) to control our food supply is not just a crime against our generation but also future generations (Ecocide).  I recently watch a video on the effects of Monsanto's Agent Orange on the people of Vietnam which goes on to this day.  Vietnamese orphanages are filled with horribly deformed children as a result of the the spraying of Agent Orange in the 60's. 

     The future of us, our children and our bees relies on a healthy food supply.  Please participate or support your local "March Against Monsanto" event. 
     To find out more about this cause go to "March Against Monsanto" and to find an event near you go to March Against Monsanto near you.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Vanishing of the Bees

     Abby Martin interviews Maryam Henein, investigative journalist and director of the film 'The Vanishing of the Bees' about a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder.  Although there are many documentaries on the problems bees are facing I think this is one of the best.  Personally, I have never been perplexed by the cause of "Colony collapse disorder".  Bees have a very weak immune system (half the genetic material dedicated to the immune system than a fruit fly) and subsequently are very susceptible to minute changes in the environment.  Bodies covered in hair and hives coated in wax make make them the perfect receptors for environmental particulates. 
     Years ago coal miners would take a canary down to the mine to indicate when the air became so bad that it would jepordize their health.  It would effect the canary first and indicate immediate evacuation.  Bees are our "Canary in the coal mine" for planet earth.  In this film they state that colony collapse disorder indicates a major problem in our food production system.  While I agree I believe it goes further than that and indicates an overall toxic degradation of our environment.  If you anaylse the everyday products that we use like shampoo, windsheild washer fluid, ink, petroleum products (i.e fracking and the tar sands) and preservatives you find that we have immersed ourselves in a cornucopia of toxicity.  Perhaps most important of all is the toxic method by which we produce our food (agrochemicals and genetic modification).  Unlike bees we have a very strong immune system and usually do not feel the effects for years, possibly decades in the form of cancers or other ailments. 
     This is certainly an enlightening documentary that I highly recommend.  To view films like this go to the Video section of our website.

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