Monday, October 13, 2014

Vancouver Food Bank Honey Bees

One of our girls enjoying a Kale flower
     Last year we began raising honey bees for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank at our community garden (Cottonwood).  Before I became a beekeeper I thought like most that honey was a sweet treat that Winnie the Pooh loved, but to my amazement I discovered that honey possesses incredible health benefits that have been used since pre-Ancient Egyptian times to treat a variety of ailments.

Winnie the Pooh 
     However, it is only recently that the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey have been fully understood.  Scientists have revealed that honey has powerful anti-bacterial properties that work on at least sixty species of bacteria, and unlike antibiotics, which are often useless against certain types of bacteria, honey is non-toxic. The composition of honey includes sugars such as glucose and fructose and also minerals such as niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.  Depending on the quality of the nectar and pollen, the vitamins contained in honey are B1, B2, C, B6, B5 and B3.  Honey is used topically to treat wounds (including tumours), allergies, as an antioxidant (contains flavonoids, antioxidants which help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease), works to reduce ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders and reduces cough and throat irritation.  All great reasons to provide honey to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank (For the Love of Bees).

     Last year we received a grant from the Vancouver Foundation to purchase the hive and bees for the Food Bank hive.  We were blessed to be a recipient of a grant from the Vancouver Foundation again this year to purchase a second beehive.   The Vancouver Foundation provides funding for community projects that help build a healthy, sustainable sense of community that is sometimes lacking in large urban areas.

"With over 1,600 funds and assets totaling $930 million, Vancouver Foundation is Canada’s largest community foundation. Each year, Vancouver Foundation and its donors make more than 5,300 grants, totaling approximately $50 million to registered charities across Canada. Since it was founded in 1943, Vancouver Foundation, in partnership with its donors, has distributed more than $1 billion to thousands of community projects and programs. Grant recipients range from social services to medical research groups, to organizations devoted to arts and culture, the environment, education, children and families, disability supports for employment, youth issues and animal welfare. To find out more please explore our website or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter."

     We are constantly bombarded by world news, mostly negative, that neglects to remind us of all the wonderful, small community projects going on around us.  Many of these projects are made possible by the Vancouver Foundation and help to make this world a little better place to live in.  For us, the Strathcona Beekeepers it has helped us continue to provide free beekeeping lessons and guidance to the community; free native and honey bee demonstrations; maintain our community bee and plant resource website; share our honey extractor with over 20 community beekeepers annually purchased with funds from the Vancouver Foundation; provide a place in Strathcona (Cottonwood Garden) for community, cooperative beekeeping; increase neighbourhood pollination and food crop yield; financially support Cottonwood Community Garden through the sale of honey and provide honey to the Vancouver Food Bank.

We raised $400 selling honey for Cottonwood Garden this year
     This year we were able to provide the Food Bank with over 50 kgs of honey to be distributed mostly to the downtown eastside soup kitchens.  A big thanks to the Vancouver Foundation for helping us continue our work. They have helped us create a permanent, positive addition to the Strathcona community.  Please consider the Vancouver Foundation among those you support with your charitable donations (Donate to the Vancouver Foundation).  Every little bit helps and you may just find a honey bee or mason bee in your backyard brought to you by your own financial support to the Vancouver Foundation.

4 year old Jack giving a bee lecture at Cottonwood Community Garden Open House
     For those who don't know the Food Bank or "The Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society" {GVFBS} is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing food and related assistance to those in need. The GVFBS collects and distributes food to nearly 27‚000 people weekly through 15 food depots and over 100 community agencies located in Vancouver‚ Burnaby‚ New Westminster and the North Shore. The GVFBS does not receive any government funding and relies solely on the generosity of individuals and organizations willing to donate funds‚ food and time like us.

Our beehives have been superbly painted by amazingly, artistic community children's groups.
     Last year we also started a food growing program at our community garden for the Vancouver Food Bank. Under the supervision of farmer Linda we have been able to provide a wide variety of fresh, local, organic produce to the Vancouver Food Bank.  I would also like to thank all the other gardeners who have and continue to work so hard at making this a viable project and by doing so making a positive difference in our community. As someone who has worked in traditional, rural farming I have discovered that urban farming is a totally different skill.  The main challenge being the optimal usage of the limited space. Farming practices like growing vine crops vertically on mesh fences and planting in July for your second late summer crop of peas.  Maximum usage of limited space.  The greatest example of urban farming that I know of is the "Urban Homestead" in Pasadena where they harvest 3 tons of organic food annually from their 1/10 acre garden while incorporating many back-to-basics practices, solar energy and biodiesel in order to reduce their footprint on the earth’s resources.  A wonderful inspiration.

Amy from the Food Bank receiving some of our fresh, organic produce.
     The bees are settling in for a long winter.  We have left them lots of honey with the hope that some sunny, March day next spring they come out to enjoy the nectar from the fruit trees and to begin once again another bountiful year in the community of Strathcona (Vancouver).

"Place a beehive on my grave
And let the honey soak through.
When I'm dead and gone,
That's what I want from you.
The streets of heaven are gold and sunny,
But I'll stick with my plot and my pot of honey.
Place a beehive on my grave
And let the honey soak through."
-Sue Monk Kidd

Friday, September 19, 2014

2013-2014 U.S. and Canadian Honey Bee National Management Surveys

     The 2013-14 Bee Informed U.S. National Management Survey has been released and has produced some interesting results.  First, it was a good year to be beekeeping in Hawaii (isn't it always) and not so for beekeepers in Indiana, Illinois and especially Michigan with winter mortality rates of 69% (Losses by State).
      Amitraz, the insecticide produced considerably better results than any other product at treating Varroa mites.  Organic and natural beekeepers would argue it also has sublethal accumulative detrimental effects on the colony.  Beekeepers who used powdered sugar, mineral oil, drone brood removal, sceened bottom board and small cell size did not report losing any more or less colonies than those who did not use these techniques.  
      Dry Sugar produced the best results of the carbohydrate feeds and beekeepers who fed their colonies protein saw 8% less colony loss.  Queen and Brood Comb replacement resulted in fewer colony losses and those using Fumgillin reported losing 7.5% fewer colonies.  While Tracheal mite controls did not seem to produce a benefit Antibiotic use did. 
     The survey also includes feed supplements, small hive beetle control, winter management, treatments of dead outs and colony replacement and honey bee stock management. 
     Although the results of this annual survey are not the definitive judgement on the use of a particular beekeeping practice the more beekeepers that participate in the survey the more helpful it will become.  I encourage all U.S. beekeepers to sign up and participate in the Bee Informed U.S. National Management Survey.
     In the 2013/14 Canadian Winter Loss Survey compiled by CAPA (Canadian Association of Professional Apiarists) the average level of wintering loss in Canada was 25% with Ontario suffering the greatest loss at 58% similar to nearby U.S. states (Michigan 69%).  Except for Ontario whose losses were attributed to a cold, long winter the overall average losses were down. 
     The CAPA survey indicated that weather, poor queens, weak colonies in fall, Nosema, Varroa and pesticides were possible causes of reported wintering losses (CAPA Survery). 
     Below is a survey of the Honey Bee Sting Pain by body location.  I noticed that penis shaft ranked third and was wondering how they came to that conclusion.  Did they do tests?  Were there volunteers? Is getting stung in the penis shaft a major problem for beekeepers?  Things that make you go hmmm....


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Wonder of Bees

     A great BBC series that follows Martha Kearney's beekeeping adventures in England.  To view more Bee Documentaries check out the Bee Video page of our website. 
     Our bees have had a great start to the year with a few colonies 4 deeps full.  We are entering a high pollen period with the Black Locust trees, raspberries and blackberries coming into bloom and hopefully good foraging weather.  This period will last for about a month followed by lesser but diverse and consistent foraging for about 3 months until October.  A split I did a few days ago appeared to have active robbers so I made and applied a robber screen which has done the job.  I hope all of your bees are as happy and healthy as ours.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Homes for Honey Bees

       An aspect of city living is that many beekeepers live in apartments and have no where to keep their honey bees.  With the growing awareness of the importance of bees many homeowners with bee friendly backyards are intrigued by the concept of having beehives.  Combining the two provides the beekeeper a place to keep their bees and a homeowner the opportunity to have honey bees without the expense, knowledge or time required to maintain the bees.  For this reason we started a program this week to provide "Homes for Honey Bees".  What we do is simply provide the connection.  In most cases the beekeepers are happy to provide an occasional beekeeping demonstration or lesson for the homeowner and a few jars of honey.  As well as providing hours of entertainment (nothing better after a hard day than sitting back with a glass of wine and watching the girls (bees)) the bees provide increased pollination and therefore increased food production for the homeowner if they are growing fruits or veggies.  This service is for the backyard beekeeper not commercial beekeepers.  After one day of operation we bee homes available in Maple Ridge, Aldergrove, Burnaby and Vancouver.  
     If you have land and want to provide a home for honey bees or are a homeless beekeeper contact us at .  In Vancouver each residential lot is allowed two bee hives.  The video below is of some of my bees enjoying a Peony buffet in Vancouver.

Monday, April 21, 2014

How Wolves Help Bees

     In l995 wolves from Canada were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park after a 70 year absence.  They had been exterminated by ranchers wanting to protect their livestock and by trophy hunters.  The reintroduction of wolves led to something called a "trophic cascade".  This phenomena occurs when predators in a food web suppress the abundance or alter the behavior of their prey, thereby releasing the next lower trophic level from predation (or herbivory if the intermediate trophic level is a herbivore).  Without wolves the population of deer and elk escalated which led to extreme overgrazing.  Reintroduction of the wolves led to a myriad of beneficial consequences to a variety of species which the video below explains.  One of the benefits to native bees is the increase in aspen and willow (great early season pollen) and the many varieties of fruit bushes and wildflowers (Wildflowers of Yellowstone) which had been overgrazed by the unchecked population of deer and elk.  The video "How Wolves Change Rivers" describes how trophic cascade or removing the top predator, the wolf from Yellowstone effected the entire ecosystem and how the return of the wolf had remarkable beneficial effects.

     A biological survey (Bioblitz) held on August 28-29th, 2009 in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park identified 46 species of native bees.  Biologists estimate that there are between 400-500 species of native bees in Yellowstone. 
     My first experience with wolves was about 40 years ago when as a young man working on the railway in the Rocky Mountains I met my first wolf.  I was alone in a blizzard, five miles from camp carrying about 100 lbs of equipment with the task of switching the rails.  As a young greenhorn, unable to see because of the whiteout conditions, I felt my way along the tracks thinking for sure this was my last day on earth.  The snow let up briefly enough for me to see a wolf come out of the woods.  Spotting me the wolf froze about 10 meters from me and growled.  In my anger and desperation I growled back wielding an 8 foot long iron pry bar.  We starred at each other for what seemed like an eternity (probably 30 seconds), he turned and disappeared back into the woods.  Since that moment I have always held a special love and admiration for wolves.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Grafting Queen Bees Made Easy

     For many backyard beekeepers the thought of grafting queen cells sounds similar to performing brain surgery or rocket science.  While there are many methods of making queens (Advanced Beekeeping) Randy Oliver has produced a great powerpoint presentation that provides an easy and understandable step-by-step tutorial on grafting queen cells.  The advantages of creating your own queens are numerous.  They include cost savings as queens in our area sell for $25-35.  Also time savings as allowing a split nuc to create their own queen takes about 50 days to produce a laying queen.  This means the building of your colony and honey production are delayed 50 days.  Maybe most important of all, grafting your own queens from your strongest colony allows you to control the future genetics of your colonies.  This allows you to participate in creating your own disease resistant, hygienic, local, survivor stock which may be the most important aspect of the future of beekeeping. 
     While the grafting process can be performed at any time mating is possible your local swarm season is best.  All that is required is a frame of pollen, a frame of young brood and lots of nurse bees.  The tools required are a grafting tool, plastic cell cups and a damp towel.  A magnifying jeweler's headlamp is optional.  Queens emerge 10-12 days after grafting.  To check out Randy's detailed powerpoint on grafting view and/or download Queens for Pennies in Pdf format or Queens for Pennies in powerpoint format from our Beekeepers' Library  or go to

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Planting Pesticides

      We are approaching spring in the Northern Hemisphere which means planting seeds, seedlings or bedding plants for gardeners and farmers.  Unfortunately, many of the seeds, seedlings and plants sold to unsuspecting consumers in stores have been pre-treated with neonicotinoid pesticides at much higher doses than are used on farms, where levels of neonicotinoid use are already raising concerns among beekeepers and scientists.

     Much of the present day pesticide use is systemic in nature which means it is not externally applied but exists within the tissues of the plant.  Every part of the plant becomes toxic including the morning dew on the leaves which bees drink.  In the case of genetic modification scientists can take the gene of a pesticidal protein, and introduce the gene into the plant's own genetic material. Then the plant manufactures the substance that destroys the pest. The protein and its genetic material, but not the plant itself, are regulated by EPA.  The plant becomes a pesticide.
     “It is ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray.” – Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

      The worldwide production of seeds is now monopolized by a few agrochemical corporations.  Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta now control over half the worldwide distribution of seeds.  Monsanto has established cross-licensing agreements for its transgenic patents with every single other company in the mix, while Dow has agreements with all except for Bayer. And Syngenta has agreements with Dow, Monsanto, and DuPont, while BASF has agreements with Dow and Monsanto.  Monsanto has purchased over 50 seed companies since l996 (Monsanto Seed Companies).  Some misconceptions of genetic modification and agrochemical use are that they are necessary to feed the world's growing population.  In a recent U.S.D.A report (U.S.D.A. Report) researchers stated "Over the first 15 years of commercial use, GMO seeds have not been shown to definitively increase yield potentials, and "in fact, the yields of herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant seeds may be occasionally lower than the yields of conventional varieties." 

     Insecticide spraying has been reduced because the genetically modified plant is now a pesticide but the U.S.D.A reports herbicide use on GMO crops is rising.  The report states. Herbicide use on GMO corn increased from around 1.5 pounds per planted acre in 2001 to more than 2.0 pounds per planted acre in 2010. Herbicide use on non-GMO corn has remained relatively level during that same time frame.  The over reliance on glyphosate has translated to an increase in weed resistance, which makes crop production much harder. Glyphosate is the chief ingredient in Roundup herbicide sold by Monsanto, and its use has translated to the glyphosate resistance seen in 14 weed species and biotypes in the United States, according to the U.S.D.A report. The overuse of glyphosate has also endangered the Monarch Butterfly population.  Lincoln Brower, a leading entomologist at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, wrote that "the migration is definitely proving to be an endangered biological phenomenon".  "The main culprit," he wrote is now genetically modified "herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops and herbicides in the USA", which "leads to the wholesale killing of the monarch's principal food plant, common milkweed" (Monarch Butterfly).

      In addition because of genetic modification and the monopolization of the world seed market seed prices have grown dramatically.

     In a recent comprehensive United Nations report they stated "Farming in rich and poor nations alike should shift from monoculture towards greater varieties of crops, reduced use of fertilizers and other inputs, greater support for small-scale farmers, and more locally focused production and consumption of food."  The report, "Wake up before it is too late: Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate (United Nations Report)" included contributions from more than 60 international experts. 
      With the knowledge that genetic engineering of food offers no benefit to the consumer; genetically engineered crops are contaminating organic farms and the environment (American Farmers sue over contamination by GE SeedFarmer loses organic status by gm contamination); 

Agrochemical usage is increasing along with weed and pest resistance;  there are studies revealing the increased longevity of agrochemicals in the environment and resulting accumulation; adverse effects of this accumulation of agrochemicals (Rounup in 75% of air and water samples Insecticide Impact on Birds )  why is the worlds' food production controlled by a handful of agrochemical corporations pursuing a future of total genetic modification of our food supply and increased usage of agrochemicals? Simple, they own the patents on the genetically modified seeds and agrochemicals.  A patented food production system maximizes profits for the agrochemical corporations.

     What can we do to counter this unhealthy corporate control of our food and plant supply? Support organic food production by buying organic produce, seeds and plants and growing your own food.  Many of the seeds, seedlings and plants in stores have been pre-treated with neonicotinoid pesticides and are not labelled.

     Because there is no clear labeling to indicate the presence of neonics in nursery plants, customers may unknowingly purchase pre-treated “bee-friendly” plants with the intent of providing habitats for bees and other pollinators, but end up causing them harm.  The EU has suspended popular neonics and a majority of the UK’s largest home improvement retailers, including Homebase, B&Q and Wickes, have made public commitments to no longer sell products containing pesticides linked to declining bee populations.  A new study (Gardeners Beware Report) revealed that 7 out of 13 garden plants purchased at top retailers in Washington, Minneapolis and San Francisco contained neonicotinoid pesticides produced by Bayer CropScience and Syngenta.  The lethal and sub lethal effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees has been well documented (Seed treatment harmful to Honey Bees, Pesticide Cocktail Toxic for BeesInsecticides and Bees). 

     The video below is of a study showing the effect of pesticides (neonicotinoids) on bee navigation.

     Please don't buy seeds or plants that are genetically modified or contain agrochemicals and sign this petition asking Home Depot and Lowes's to remove neonicotinoid pesticides from their shelves and cease purchasing plants from nurseries that use neonicotinoid pesticides in the potting soil. 

     I find there to be an increasing number of petitions in the world and have wondered about their usefulness.  I believe they do work.  Politicians respond to two things.  Money from corporations and pressure from voters.  If the pressure is great enough and the politician does not respond accordingly they won't be reelected and subsequently won't receive corporate funding.  The pressure has to reach a level where it is reported on by mainstream media.  This is how Europeans got the EU to ban neonicotinoids.
     Please sign the petition here.
Home Depot and Lowe's: You must stop selling bee-killing pesticides! 

Scientist, feminist, ecologist and author, Vandana Shiva discussing the future of food and seeds.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bio Control of Varroa Mites

Varroa Mite on a queen bee
     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 18 identified viruses (Including Sacbrood, Acute Bee Paralysis, Deformed Wing Virus and Israel Acute Paralysis) and is considered a major contributing factor along with pesticides in Colony Collapse Disorder. The Varroa was named after Marcus Terentius Varro, a Roman scholar who was also a beekeeper (I expect he wouldn't be too happy about that).

Worldwide spread of the Varroa Mite
     Australia remains the only beekeeping nation free of the Varroa destructor mite (Australia still Varroa free).  In Canada the island portion of Newfoundland remains Varroa free.
     There are many methods of treating your hives for mites such as the pesticides Apistan and Checkmite.  As with all pesticides, the pests may adapt and therefore it is suggested that treatments be changed each year to prevent adaptation.  Traces of the chemicals may remain and accumulate in the wax.  This can weaken the bees immune system and makes them more susceptible to pathogens and pests.
       There are also a number of organic mite treatments like drone brood removal, brood breaks (through natural splits), heating (see below), screened bottom boards, Formic (Mite Away Quick Strips) or Oxalic acid (Powerpoint by Randy Oliver), mineral oils (including thymol as crystals or Apiguard) and sugar dusting (Study by Randy Oliver).  It is suggested that you use a combination of control measures.

     While there are many proposed forms of bio control of Varroa (i.e. Metarhizium anisopliae, Beauveria bassiana ...) the predatory mites used to control Varroa are a species of Stratiolaelaps mites (Hypoaspis) which have been used for biological control in horticulture for over 15 years (Stratiolaelaps).  This predator mite attacks the phoretic (adult) stages of the Varroa mite. The idea is that they can keep the Varroa population at a low level which does not significantly effect the colony.  Unlike some chemicals Stratiolaelaps (Stratiolaelaps) can be used throughout the year (during the nectar season), there is no accumulation in the hive wax and presumably no adaptation by the Varroa.
     The results from the early stages of testing of the use of Stratiolaelaps have been mixed.  The "Niagara Beeway"  in southern Ontario have reported positive results.

Varroa Mite Final from Electric Dreams Video on Vimeo.

     As part of the Bee Informed survey Brookfield Farm in northwest Washington State found Strateolaelaps did not reduce the population of Varroa in the bee colonies.  Here is a great post by Brookfield Farm detailing the methods and results of predatory mite usage (Mites that might eat mites).  The issues regarding the use of Stratiolaelaps are that they only works on adult bees (not the larvae where mite reproduction take place),  do not work on heavily infested hives,  are expensive and they leave the hive for their natural environment in the soil.  An updated video from the Niagara Beeway contradicts some of these findings suggesting that there were no mites in the drone brood and Stratiolaelaps were breeding in the hive.  I've not seen any studies since to support this.  They also suggest that they may provide a solution for the small hive beetle.  In the video Ham SS refers to Stratiolaelaps.

     Phil Chandler, the "Barefoot Beekeeper" proposes the use of an "Eco Floor" in a Top Bar Hive in this case to provide a natural environment for predatory mites.  The Eco Floor can be adapted to any style of hive.

"A simple modification to the floor of the horizontal (Kenyan-style) top bar hive improves insulation, reduces air exchange at floor level and creates an enclosed ecosystem designed to provide habitat for earwigs, wood lice, moulds, fungi and myriad other flora and fauna that may be found inside the average hollow log - the natural habitat of the honeybee."

"No creature on Earth lives in isolation from all others. All sorts of relationships develop between different species, many of them mutually beneficial. Yet honeybees are usually housed in sterile, wooden boxes with little opportunity to come into contact with the myriad other bugs, beetles and bacteria found in their natural habitat: hollow trees. Little is known about the effects on bees of other organisms, but it seems reasonable to suppose that because they have co-evolved with a whole range of other species over tens of millions of years, they will have developed mutually beneficial relationships with some of them."     Phil Chandler

     In this video Phil Chandler shows how the deep floor is made and how it can be retro-fitted to any top bar hive.

     As of yet Phil has not done any studies on long term resident population of Strateolaelaps in the hive (Eco Floor).  The problems with the "Eco Floor" are the hive is generally warmer than the natural environment of Strateolaelaps (soil), there is no light in the hive to allow for plant growth (part of Strateolaelaps diet) and there is no evidence that Strateolaelaps will leave the soil and travel upwards through the frames to feed on Varroa.
     In New Zealand there are preliminary studies being carried out on the use of Pseudoscorpions as predators of Varroa (Pseudoscorpion Study).  There are also preliminry studies from the University of Warwick (England) (Varroa killing Fungi) on naturally occurring fungi that kill the varroa mite.  They have narrowed the field down to four potential lethal fungi and are determining the method of delivery (i.e. foot bath, spray..).   In addition mycological researcher Paul Stamets has found that mushrooms offer many benefits to bees including detoxification, immunity booster and disease control, and increased longevity of worker bees.

These graphs show the effects of mycelium fungi increasing bee survival rate and longevity
     Further studies are being carried out and the product may be available to the market in the near future.  Meanwhile watch for your bees feeding on fungi and consider planting some mushrooms in your apiary.  In this video Paul Stamets explains the connection between mushrooms and bee health. 

      In Germany they are studying the use of mite sex pheremone to disrupt male sex activity and have found a significant reduction in mite reproduction.
     For many years researchers have been studying the effects of heat on Varroa.  At temperatures above 39 celsius (102 fahrenheit) mites suffer irreparable damage while bees can manage temeratures up to 45 celsius (113 fahrenheit).

     There have been many marketed hive heaters from the inexpensive Mite Zapper , to the under hive mounted Hive Sauna to the Thermosolar Hive above ($650 U.S. plus shipping).  To enable exacting heat control so as not to harm the bees expensive sophistication appears paramount.  There is also the issue of honey deterioration at high temperatures.  Heating honey to 37 celsius (98 fahrenheit) reduces nutritional value.  
     On a unrelated note a BYU undergraduate is working on a biocontrol of American Foulbrood.  Phages (microscopic bugs) are used to kill the AFB bacteria.

“Phages are the most abundant life form on the planet and each phage has a unique bacteria that it will attack,” said Sandra Burnett, BYU professor of microbiology and molecular biology. “This makes phage an ideal treatment for bacterial disease because it can target specific bacteria while leaving all other cells alone.”

The trick is identifying the right phage.  They have narrowed it down to 5 phages (Research article).


      I believe the future of dealing with Varroa will be breeding for Varroa Sensitive Hygienic behavior (Breeding for Hygienic Behavior by Marla Spivak and Gary Reuter). Many including myself believe that the VSH behavior traits are passed both genetically and through observed learning.  In hives with VSH behavior bees, bee pupae infected with mites are detected and removed.  Other VSH behavior traits include: more effective self grooming; group grooming; guard bees removing mites from bees entering the hive (either killing the mites or chasing them from the hive) and bees using their mandibles to kill the mites.  Decreased drone production (most mite reproduction takes place in drone brood) and a higher resistance to diseases (the diseases passed by the mites kill the bees not the mites themselves) are also desirable breeding traits.  While there are very positive results of breeding queens for VSH behavior the long term problem is the inability to flood the area breeding population (drones as well) with bees possessing VSH traits.  It is important to remember that Asian honey bees (Apis cerana), African honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata), Africanized honey bees (hybrid European and African) and a strain of Russian honey bees display VSH behavior and are effectively resistant to the varroa mite.  Some believe that the unnaturally increased size of Apis Mellifera (carried out 100 years ago to increase honey production) hinders their attempts to remove the mites and the enlarged areas between body segments allows for mite penetration.  If true this would support the beliefs of  natural, small-cell beekeepers who also support the practice of non treatment.  To this point there is no scientific, conclusive proof of this theory (some natural beekeepers would argue this). The video below shows bees displaying VSH behavior by removing mites (removal at the 2 minute point of the video).

     For further information on hygienic behavior in honey bees go to the Hygienic Behavior section of our Beekeepers' Library.
     While I don't profess to know the perfect solution this year I used Mite Away Quick Strips (naturally occurring formic acid) to control the varroa population at our apiary at Cottonwood Community Garden.  I also advocate the natural splitting of colonies which serves to deter swarming and provides a month long bee brood break which creates a Varroa brood break as well.  I hope that whatever method of mite defence you employ is successful and that you and your bees are healthy and happy.

 "There is no other field of animal husbandry like beekeeping. It has the appeal to the scientist, the nature lover, and even (or especially) the philosopher. It is a chance to work with some of the most fascinating of God's creatures, to spend time and do work in the great outdoors, to challenge my abilities and continue to learn. My hope is that I never become so frail with old age that I cannot spend my days among the bees. It gives credence to the old saw that "the best things in life are free". I thank God daily for the opportunity and privilege to be a beekeeper."

Monday, February 3, 2014

Farmland Preservation

     Most of the food we consume today is produced far away in large monoculture, agrochemical dependent farms.  The environment created by these industrial farms is unhealthy for pollinators and us.  A new U.N. report (U.N. Press Release) supports a shift from a system of monoculture farming towards greater varieties of crops, reduced use of fertilizers and agrochemicals and greater support for small-scale farmers.  The report also supports more locally focused production and consumption of food (U.N. Report).  
     In Greater Vancouver we are blessed with rich agricultural land along the Fraser River from Richmond to Chilliwack.  However, this valuable resource has been disappearing at an alarming rate to non agricultural development.  The Agricultural Land Commission was created in the 70's to protect farmland as an independent authority not subject to political or industry interference.  In the fall of 2013 the BC provincial government announced plans to “modernize” the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) that governs the ALR in the province, which would remove the organization’s independent status and bring it under the umbrella of the Ministry of Agriculture. Decisions about land usage on the ALR would then be left to local governments and the oil and gas industry.  The same government that supports a pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to our west coast would be in control of preserving our remaining farmland.  

     On Febrary10th the "Family Day Rally - To Save the Agricultural Land Reserve" will be held at the B.C. Legislature Grounds.  For more information go to The Farmland Protection Coalition (Facebook) or support the ALR by letting Premier Christy Clark and your MLA know how important you feel farmland preservation is (Contact information)
     An amazing example of local, organic food production is the "Urban Homesteadin Pasedena, California.  On just one tenth of an acre 15 minutes from downtown Los Angeles the Dervais family produce 3200 kilograms of organic produce annually on their city farm which includes ducks, chickens, goat and bees.  Their livestock provide eggs, milk and honey for their vegetarian diet and they use alternative fuels like biodiesel, pedal power and solar panels. 

     This year I am growing food and raising bees for the local foodbank.  I am always amazed by the amount of food you can grow on a small parcel of land.  Growing food is empowering and tasty and benefits our bees by providing good, organic forage.  I encourage everyone to grow food.  If you don't have land join a community garden or guerilla garden.  The City of Vancouver is encouraging the formation of new community gardens.  Here is a list of the 75 community gardens in Vancouver and the contact information for those gardens (Grow).

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Feeding Bees in Winter

     First let me say that I don't feed my bees unless it is a late winter/early spring emergency feed. In most areas of the world where honey bees are kept the bees produce enough honey to overwinter. Depending on the length of your winter (no natural food source or too cold to forage) a full colony of bees in our northern regions will consume between 27-40 kgs (60-90 lbs) of honey.  In our apiary at Cottonwood Community Garden in Vancouver we have found that a average sized colony requires 10-12 deep frames (30 kg or 66 lbs) to overwinter in a normal year.  In beekeeping it may vary yearly but months are either negative or positive in terms of food accumulation.  In our temperate northern climate April to October are positive accumulation months, March and October are neutral depending on the weather and November through February are negative.  In some areas where there is a late summer dearth (lack of forage) beekeepers will feed a 2 to 1 sugar syrup mixture to ready their bees for winter.  When the weather is still warm and there is not good forage, the bees are still very active and can consume a lot of their winter food supplies.  This can occur for us in October.  The recipes listed here are not as good as the natural food (honey) bees make for themselves but there are some situations when beekeepers will choose to supplement their bees' diet with a carbohydrate and/or protein feed.  Sugar syrup is sometimes fed to bees in the spring and fall but below a certain temperature (approximately 12 C / 54 F) the bees are unable to dehydrate the liquid to store it.  One issue to keep in mind when autumn feeding is the accumulation of stored uncapped syrup in frames which acts as a hive humidifier in winter.  It's a good idea to minimize this.  Some beekeepers maintain that the warmth from the cluster will be sufficient to heat a plastic bag of syrup placed above the cluster at colder temperatures.  When it is colder beekeepers can use a solid sugar feed in dry form as a sugar cake.  In the "Feeding" section of our "Beekeepers Library" you will find recipes for syrup, candy, pollen patties, grease patties, pollen substitute, essential oil mixtures, inverted sugar syrup and other bee food products.  If you are using sugar make sure it is refined sucrose (table sugar) without impurities.  Unrefined sugars have poisoned bees and brown sugar and molasses are toxic to bees (Selecting sugars for feeding to Honey Bees).  While it was previously thought that high fructose corn syrup, which is used by many commercial beekeepers was chemically indistinguishable from honey a recent study (Honey elements induce detoxification and immunity) found that honey contains important elements of pollen and propolis.  These elements induce the detoxification and immunity genes and may help the bees cope with pesticides and pathogens.  Feeding anything but their own honey is not a long term healthy alternative.  Some beekeepers believe that if you invert the sucrose (refined table sugar) by adding an acid (i.e vinegar) you will create a more natural food similar to honey and easier to digest.  The inversion process changes the sucrose to fructose and glucose essentially the same as honey.  However, there is no scientific evidence supporting this and bees actually perform the inversion in the digestive process in their honey stomach.  Another issue you may wish to consider is whether your sugar contains pesticides.  That will depend on your supplier.  When feeding in winter you want to apply the food so that the girls do not have to leave their winter cluster.  You can invert your inner cover to leave space to place the sugar cake or patty on top of the frames or build a simple spacer or eke.  I use 2 inch feeding spacers similar to those used by Anita at Beverley Bees (Beverley Bees Candy Board) and a simple no cook sugar and water mixture.  Remember to make your spacer as small as possible as the ladies love to fill that space with comb and may do so rather quickly in the spring.  You can feed the ladies dry sugar on paper (Michael Bush uses a dry granulated sugar for cold weather feeding) on top of the frames wetted down with water (the hive humidity should keep it moist)  or make a Sugar Cake.  You can check quickly throughout the winter on nicer days (avoid windy,snowy days) and add as needed.  Here is a demonstration by Philip from adding a sugar cake on a winter day. 

Here is a few simple recipes for those not as lazy as me:

Fondant from Granulated Sugar
Fondant can be fed directly to the bees once cooled. They are a good food source for mini-mating nucs because there is no drowning involved when you have a small amount of bees. It is also common to use this recipe in small quantities to plug the hole on a Queen Cage.
< 1 large saucepan
< 1 Hand or electric mixer
< 1 Cooking themometer
< Shallow disposable setting pans (pizza)

< 4 parts (by volume) granulated white sugar
< 1 parts (by volume) water
< Optional 1 teaspoon white vinegar

Boil water and slowly add the sugar until dissolved, stirring constantly. Continue heating until the mixture reaches 238°F (114°C). Without mixing allow the solution to cool until it is slightly warm to the touch (200F). Then begin to mix (in a mixer) and aerate the solution. As you do this the color should turn white and creamy with air bubbles. Pour into shallow dishes or mold and allow to cool.  To feed it can be placed directly on top of the frames or in a feeding spacer.  You can make the fondant thin enough to where it can be worked into an empty frame of drawn comb.

This video is a step by step process of how to make their version of fondant by the Northwest New Jersey Beekeepers Association.

Bee Candy
Candy is not used as much as in the past because it's harder to make and work with.  However here is the recipe for those not deterred by hard work.
< Heavy duty cooking pans
< Large spoon for stirring
< Measuring jug
< Cooking themometer
< Plastic containers
< Enameled or pyrex dishes

< Refined granulated white sugar
< Water
< Cooking oil
< Newspapers

Pour 500 ml (1 pint) of water in a heavy saucepan and add 2 kgs. granulated sugar. Heat to the boiling point, stirring constantly to prevent the sugar burning on the bottom. Continue to boil til the syrup reaches 117 degrees centigrade (242 fahrenheit).  Prepare your enamel or pyrex glass dish by coating with vegetable oil, then lining with a sheet of newspaper.  Also, soak an old towel in cold water and lay it on a waterproof heat proof work surface.  Once the boiling syrup has reached 117 degrees centigrade place it on the wet towel to cool.  Stir the mixture continuously as it thickens.  Stir only so long that the mixture can still be poured into the lined dishes.  Allow to set and cool and to remove (when cooled) pull gently on the edges of the paper liner. 

     Here are a few other versions of fondant recipes from Brookfield Farm and Backyard Beehive or you can purchase it from a retailer like Brushy Mountain Bee Farm.  Whether you use the above recipes or just dry granulated sugar you can check on your feed and add as needed whenever there is a break in the weather.  Here is a video showing feeding at 40 fahrenheit (4 celsius).  You can do a quick check and feed at lower temperatures.  Experienced beekeepers can tell by the weight of the hive how much honey is left.  You can also use a cheap luggage scale.


     Pollen patties (with sugar) provide both the carbohydrates from sugar and the proteins from pollen (or pollen substitute) and stimulate brood production.  In Vancouver pollen patties are usually added in early February. The theory is begin feeding pollen patties 8 weeks prior to the heavy pollen flow (for us fruit tree blossom).  3 weeks for the girls to be born, 3 weeks to become foragers and two weeks to build up the forager numbers. Remember the presence of new pollen in the hive triggers the queen to produce brood which is why there is little to no brood production through the winter.  Pollen is the source of protein and nutrients for bees.  The level of body protein in bees varies seasonally between 21-67% depending on the availability and type of pollen available and the amount of energy expended foraging and brood raising. Different blossoms produce different quality pollen.  For example dandelions and blueberries produce a fairly low nutritional pollen while almond pollen is fairly high in nutrition. 

Dandelion pollen, although attractive to bees lacks certain amino acids.  Other types of pollen must be gathered in order to fully utilize the protein.

     Bees store protein in their bodies in the form of vitellogenin which directly determines their life span and immunological strength  to fight diseases and pests.  When the body protein level in bees drops it may take several weeks to recover.  Low body protein level means low brood and honey production.  A wide variety of pollens are essential for optimum bee health as each pollen provides different essential nutrients.  The report, "Nutritional Value of Bee Collected Pollens" is an qualitative analysis of the pollen from different plants and trees.  This is why pollen patties or pollen substitute patties are not a healthy alternative to a natural variety of stored pollens but rather a diet supplement.  Having said that research has shown that colonies receiving pollen supplements in early spring can produce 2-4 times the brood of a non supplemented colony.  In addition the life span of worker bees is increased up to 15 days and consequently mid summer honey production is also increased.  
     The best protein source for supplemental feeding is of course pollen.  Studies show that bees are attracted to pollen and consume significantly more when the patties contain pollen rather than pollen substitute.  The graph below illustrates the benefits of pollen in supplemental feeding.  

Having said that pollen can be a carrier of bee diseases and if the source is unknown should be irradiated before use in a pollen patty. Since most beekeepers don't want to irradiate use your own pollen collected from healthy hives.  The nutritional value of pollen diminishes quickly when dried and stored so it is best to freeze your pollen immediately after collecting without drying.  It is recommended that you use between 3-5% pollen in your pollen patty and that your overall protein level be about 25%.  The best protein supplements or alternatives to pollen are yeast and soy flour.  Brewer's yeast has a 48-56% protein content and is a good but expensive protein source to stimulate brood production.  The more affordable soy flour (48-50% crude protein level) appears to be more of an adult bee food stimulating activity in the hive.  Due to these different benefits a combination of these protein sources is recommended.  Other additives like pollard (mixture of fine bran and flour- vitamin and essential oil source), vegetable oil (feed palatability), vitamins and minerals and sugar (carbohydrate and energy source) can be utilized.  I read recently where a local beekeeper is using herring meal as a protein source and no his honey doesn't taste like fish. Human vitamin and mineral supplements are made for mammals not bees so use with caution.  Always use fresh ingredients as nutritional values decrease with time and old soy flour may even be toxic to bees.  Sugar is an attractant in your feed and vegetable oil (like soy or cotton seed) can make it more palatable.  The patty should be placed directly over the winter bee cluster which is normally in the middle of the brood box as the bees will not leave the cluster if it is cold.  You can invert your inner cover to make room for the pollen patty.  If you find there is not enough room between your hive frames and your inner cover you can make a simple hive eke (an extender frame or shallow box). When I made my insulated moisture quilt (Insulated Moisture Quilt) I left space over the frames for supplemental feeding.  Here are a few pollen or substitute pollen patty recipes. 

Pollen Patty (3 different recipes)

In supplement mixes, the percentage of pollen can be increased or decreased depending on availability.

#1             3 parts soybean flour
                 1 part pollen

#2             4 parts Brewer’s Yeast
                  2 parts dry sugar
                 1 part pollen
                 2 parts lighter sugar syrup (2 sugar : 1 water)

#3              10 parts Torula Type S Yeast
                  10 parts Brewer’s Yeast
                   1 part pollen
Note: use 2 parts dry mix to 3 parts syrup

Substitute Pollen Patty (3 different recipes)

#1               soybean flour only

#2               4 parts soybean flour
                   1 part Brewer’s Yeast

#3               10 parts soybean flour
                  6 parts casein
                   3 parts Brewer’s Yeast
                   1 part egg yolk powder

In each case, add 4-5 parts of the dry mix to 2 parts heavy sugar syrup as indicated below in directions on preparation of patties.

Prepare patties as follows:

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly.
Mix a heavy syrup of 3 parts sugar to 1 part water.
Slowly add 2 parts of syrup to 4-5 parts of dry mix (see dry mix formulas above), while kneading.
Leave overnight and knead again before flattening into a 1.5 cm cake.
Cut into squares weighing about 0.5 kg (1 lb).
Place on wax paper and cover with another wax paper to prevent drying.

Here is a video from DC Honeybees showing how to make a substitute pollen patty using these ingredients: 
1/2 lb yeast;
1/2 lb dried milk;
1.5 lb soy flour;
1/3 cup canola oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
a multi vitamin

Here are the folks from Mudsongs installing a pollen patty.

     I checked my hives a few days ago on a warm (8 C or 46 fahrenheit), sunny day and found lots of food remaining.  Don't worry Spring is just around the corner.  I saw my first cherry blossoms of the year yesterday.  For more information on feeding bees go to the "Feeding" section of our "Beekeepers' Library".

"There is no other field of animal husbandry like beekeeping. It has the appeal to the scientist, the nature lover, and even (or especially) the philosopher. It is a chance to work with some of the most fascinating of God's creatures, to spend time and do work in the great outdoors, to challenge my abilities and continue to learn. My hope is that I never become so frail with old age that I cannot spend my days among the bees. It gives credence to the old saw that "the best things in life are free". I thank God daily for the opportunity and privilege to be a beekeeper."


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