Thursday, December 28, 2017

Hapbee New Year

     To everyone I wish a very happy and healthy new year to you and your loved ones (including your bees).  May your bees survive the cold of winter, develop a resistance to Varroa and other pests, be free of all diseases and produce buckets of honey.
     Please don't drink and fly!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Christmas Gifts for Beekeepers

      At this time of year I'm especially appreciative that I have a roof over my head and food in my belly when so many in the world have neither.  You don't need to be a Christian to celebrate the idea of Christmas which should be a time of peace, love and selfless giving rather than the modern concept of commercialized over consumption.  Here are a few Christmas gift suggestions that we can give to beekeepers less fortunate than ourselves.  
     In many countries beekeeping is a practical solution to reduce poverty and relieve suffering.   Beekeeping requires little space, minimal cost 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.  This is one of reasons we created our Beekeepers' Library, to provide free localized information to beekeepers worldwide.  There are many good philanthropic beekeeping organizations worthy of your Christmas donations like "Bees for Development", "ICIMOD", "Global Hand", "Bees Abroad", "The Bee Cause", "The Bumblebee Conservation Trust", "The Xerces Society" and for me, in my community "Hives for Humanity". 
     One organization on my gift list is "Heifer International" which has been operating throughout the world for over 70 years.  For a mere $30 you can give the gift of honey bees.  

    Although I grow much of my own food and support local, organic farmers an organization that I support at Christmas and throughout the year is Fair Trade.  Farmers in developing countries have traditionally been exploited by greedy food distribution corporations.  A small portion of the price you pay for agricultural products from developing countries goes to the farmer.  The concept of "Fair Trade" has empowered these farmers and provided them and their communities with a fair income which has allowed them a healthier, happier lifestyle. This documentary "Hope is Golden" is about the beekeeping cooperatives in Brazil’s arid Caatinga region that produce Fair Trade certified honey.

     The Fair Trade organizations provide funding for the infrastructure required by farming cooperatives in developing countries.  "Fair Trade International" began 25 years ago and in 2012 the number of Fairtrade producing organizations grew by 16%.  It works and it is growing.  Each time you buy a Fair Trade product you are supporting the farmer and their family in the developing world rather than the multinational food distribution corporation.   Buying "Fair Trade" products (honey, tea, chocolate, sugar, fruit, flowers and coffee), easily identifiable by the "Fair Trade" symbol is a good idea throughout the year.
     Another organization that I support is "Schools for Chiapas".  Mexico is a prime example of how corporate agriculture exploits local farmers in developing worlds.  The Zapatista organization "Schools for Chiapas" struggles to educate (Schools for Chiapas projects) and empower local, native communities.  One part of this is the promotion and education of the beekeeping tradition of Meliponiculture.  Melipona beecheii are  stingless bees native to Mexico, Central America, the Carribean, and many parts of South America (Stingless Honey Bee of the Maya) which were domesticated by the Mayan people long before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.  In much of Latin America stingless beekeeping has been replaced by the introduction of the Africanized European Honey Bee (Killer Bees).  The native stingless bees are the only honey bee native to the Americas and are essential for the pollination of some native plants and Schools for Chiapas is supporting a revival of this traditional beekeeping practice.  You can support this initiative through the American Stingless Bee Recuperation Gift of Change.  They are also working to preserve the native, non gm varities of corn. (other Gifts of Change).
       In this video a group of Mayan women are challenging social norms and preserving an endangered species (The stingless bee, Melipona Beecheii).  Traditionally the prerogative of men in Mayan culture, beekeeping is providing this collective with a source of income and a reason to keep the species from going extinct.

          Organizations that I do not support or legitimize are Monsanto's Honey Bee Health, Bayer's Bee Care and Syngenta's Operation Pollinator.  There are a number of factors contributing to the demise of all species of bees including imported diseases, pests and diminished available forage but a major cause is the overuse of agrichemicals.  Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta are in the process of monopolizing the world seed market with patented genetically modified seeds that contain or are designed to accept massive quantities of agrichemicals that are dangerous to both bees and humans.  Their bee programs are a public relations ploy to divert you from the true danger of their products.

     A free gift I recommend to beekeepers of all ages is the wonderful book, "The Travelling Beehive".  This book is  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 with your children or grandchildren and enjoy the The Travelling Beehive.

     The bees are snuggled in their hives waiting for Santa.  Penny, from the Natural Beekeeping Trust of the United Kingdom says "Traditionally, Christian beekeepers have visited their colonies at midnight on Christmas Eve to tell the bees of the nativity.  They also hoped to hear the special melodious humming that the bees were said to perform at this time, portending health and prosperity throughout the coming year.  It was thought that this custom was predated by an earlier pre-Christian one when the return of the sun was by no means guaranteed!" If you're wondering what to recite to your bees on Christmas Eve here is a poem by Carol Ann Duffy.
The Bee Carol

Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight's key;
all the garden locked in ice -
a silver frieze -
except the winter cluster of the bees.

Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.

Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.

Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive -
trembling stars cloistered above -
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.

     I hope that you, your bees and your family have a wonderful Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.  Peace on earth and good will to all.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Effects of a Solar Eclipse on Honey Bees

     With a solar eclipse scheduled for tomorrow morning (beginning at 9:10 am, reaching it's maximum at 10:21 and ending at 11:37am in Vancouver) and the obvious concern for eye safety I wondered how bees and other critters coped with this phenomena.  It appears that unlike stupid humans animals generally don't stare at the sun so don't suffer from the damaging effects of the sun on eyesight.

       As for honey bees, studies like the one above from HOBOS honey bee research in 2015 show that foraging bee activity is decreased during an eclipse as it would be at the normal setting of the sun.  "The reduction in flight activity commenced as soon as the brightness was lower than 400 watts/m2. Only as the re-emerging sun reached a brightness of 400 watts/m2 did the bees’ flight activities begin to increase once more. The bees also reduced their flying ventures in the evening when the brightness level falls below the 400 watts/m2 mark."  Similar conclusions were drawn in a 1957 study of Apis Dorsata in India (Behaviour of Apis Dorsata during a partial solar eclipse in India).  I'm relieved I don't have to look for solar eclipse glasses for my bees.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Bad Nuc Rant

     The last few years I have observed an abundance of bad bee nucs for sale in the Vancouver area. Last year a number of beekeepers in our beekeeping coop bought nucs from a local retailer, all of which contained swarm cells.  As a result all of the nucs swarmed within the first week creating smaller nucs and very small swarms.  The owner of the company explained that the nucs were made by inexperienced workers who improperly made the nucs with swarm cells and newly introduced queens.
      This week a few nucs were bought by beekeepers in our organization from another beekeeping supply retailer.  The nuc boxes had scotch tape on the entrance (half attached), the lids were not attached, the brood comb was black (old) and the nuc boxes were older.  The nucs contained 2 frames of old, spotty brood, 2 wet frames, a queen cage and no laying queen.  Both of these retailers are good, knowledgeable beekeeping suppliers and the criticism is directed more towards the lack of long term bee breeders not the bee retailers (though the argument could be made that you are responsible for what you are selling).
       The bottom line is that we have a very poor, unsustainable honey bee population in greater Vancouver with most of the bees produced done so for a quick dollar rather than creating a legacy of strong, survivor stock.  Mark Winston, an SFU professor, biologist and beekeeper produced a study 30 years ago that suggested it was economically feasible to produce honey bee nucs and packages in the Fraser Valley (Package and Nucleus production in the Fraser Valley).  This potential has not been realized and instead we have become dependent on imported packages and poorly created nucs.  Good breeders in our area produce relatively few nucs and queens that don't begin to match the demand. Part of the reason is the extreme property values that make beekeeping not economically feasible in the Greater Vancouver area.
       Beekeepers ask me constantly if I can recommend a good bee nuc or queen source and I can't because the good sources are sold out before the bees are ready. If anyone knows of a good source of bees let us know. Bad nuc rant over.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

La Nina Beekeeping

     The La Nina weather pattern is cooler than average sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean (3-5 degrees C.) resulting in colder temperatures and above average precipitation for us in Vancouver.  We have experienced these conditions through the winter with record snowfall in the local mountains and this weather pattern has continued through the early part of spring.

     As beekeepers we are always acutely aware of the temperature and rainfall and it's effects on our bees foraging particularly in the early spring.  This is a time of great potential brood development with the fruit trees in blossom (pollen) but because of the wet, cool spring both brood development and fruit production will suffer this year.  Although our bees will collect pollen and nectar at colder temperatures we don't get major colony foraging until it's 12 C. (53 F.) and sunny.  In Vancouver we have positive and negative honey bee food accumulation months.  This will vary on your specific location but for our urban apiary the positive months are April 1 through to October 1 with March and October dependent on weather conditions.  This year both March and April were negative.

        How does this effect spring beekeeping management?  For those who supplement their bees' diet feeding of both carbohydrates (sugar) and protein or protein supplement (to stimulate brood development) will be more important.  Keep in mind that below about 12 C. (54 fahrenheit) the bees won't take a liquid syrup as they are unable to process it (Feeding Bees in Winter).
       In order to carry out spring management we must assess the health of our hives.  Many sources (mostly southern) will insist you cannot inspect your frames until 15 C. (60 fahrenheit) for fear of chilling the brood.  Some northern beekeepers would have to wait til well into May for this.  Bees are hardier than most people think.  Peeking briefly into a hive during winter on a non snowy day to assess the food supply is fine as is inspecting the brood at 10 C. (50 fahrenheit).  Use common sense and minimize exposure.  This from the Huron City Bee Company in Michigan,
"How cold is too cold to inspect my hive?"
I hear this question quite often at this time of year. Let me just say, I was late one year and needed inspection papers to transport my hives. So, one January morning, at 28 degrees, the state inspector and I opened the hives and inspected brood frames VERY quickly. The result was no detectable loss of brood. We didn't stand around, and we didn't chat while the hives were open. We worked smoothly, so as to disturb the cluster as little as possible. And we closed them up as quickly as we could.
On the other hand, I've helped with inspections on a 70 degree day, where the beekeeper took out a frame of brood, stood it up and chatted for 20 minutes about what they found. Then later complained about chilled brood.  See where I'm going with this?  Go in, do what you need to do, and then get out quickly.  However, I want to temper this advice with another question. If you DO find something wrong, what's your plan?  Here in Michigan, it's 42 degrees right now. I wouldn't hesitate to pop open the hives. But, to what end? It's too late to replace a queen if I find one failing. The only thing I can do at this point is combine, and even then, they may remain clustered instead of merging.  The take away message is not to be afraid of opening the hives. But, if you have no courses of action if you find something wrong, why bother?"  I think this is a good year-round philosophy.  I go into my hives with a specific purpose and only when required for responsible colony management.
       For us in Vancouver that means we should be able to do a full inspection by March to assess the queen performance (brood pattern), presence of disease (continued excessive bee poop on hive) or mites (small hive beetle has arrived - Honey Bee Diseases and Parasites) and food supply (B.C. Government Spring Management).  Some of the spring beekeeping chores are: The cluster should be in the upper super so reverse the brood boxes; maintain a reduced entrance to prevent robbing or mice visits; optionally equalize the colonies by adding frames of bees of a strong colony to a weaker colony (Equalization of bee colony strength); cull your old foundation if you do so (Replacing brood comb); swarm prevention (checkerboarding, splits ... ) ;  maintain good ventilation and empty your bottom board of dead bees and debris.  In this article Randy Oliver and Dr. Medhat Nasr (Alberta Provincial Apiculturist) discuss the benefits of early season mite control through the formation of nucs with queen cells and the treatment of those nucs (Early Season Mite Management).
       I have been warned of the presence of nosema in some of this year's New Zealand packages.  Whether that is true or an attempt to boost the sales of fumagillin it's always a good idea to watch for signs of nosema (difficulty digesting food).  Nosema is difficult to diagnose without laboratory equipment (Nosema Assessment).  Some suggest a nosema infected midgut will become swollen, whitish and lose it's visible constrictions (a healthy midgut is tan with visible constrictions) but that is also true of other causes of dysentery.  Symptoms that may suggest the presence of nosema are the lack of population buildup as nosema infected bees tend to skip the nurse bee phase and become young foragers, dying at a young age.  Desperate they will forage at cooler temperatures and will not take syrup if fed.  This from Randy Oliver, "Perhaps the most noticeable effect of N. ceranae infection is the lack of population buildup of infected colonies, due to the premature death of infected foragers. Of interest is that nosema-infected bees tend to forage at cooler temperatures. Woyciechowski (1998) suggests that infected bees may engage in more risky foraging behavior, perhaps sensing that they do not have long to live. Additionally, infected bees may simply fly off to die, exhibiting an “altruistic suicide” to help prevent the infection of nestmates (Kralj 2006).  Another symptom, reported by several, and described by Bob Harrison on Bee-L, is that of bees not taking syrup, and then massively drowning in division board feeders. Bob feels that the symptom of going “off feed” is a good indicator for N. ceranae infection, which can be reversed with a drench of fumagillin syrup.  The drowning behavior may have an explanation in a recent paper by Chris Mayak (2009), in which he found that “N. ceranae imposes an energetic stress on infected bees, revealed in their elevated appetite and hunger level…. infected bees attempt to compensate for the imposed energetic stress by feeding more…” Mayak suggests that such hungry, nutritionally stressed bees, exhibiting risky foraging behavior, might play a role in the depopulation of infected colonies."
        Due to the cool, wet La Nina weather plant development (blossoming) and our swarm season will be delayed by a few weeks.  Other aspects of beekeeping like split creation and queen and local nuc availability will also be delayed.  Also, it appears the price of nucs has risen this year to $225-$250.  The delayed blossoming of plants may create a stronger late season September-October food supply for our bees.  The Weather Network predicts a cool, wet spring and a warmer summer than last year.  "Some years there are strong signals in the global pattern that allow for higher confidence in a seasonal forecast, but unfortunately this is not one of those years. During the next few months, one of the keys to our final summer forecast will be the strength of the developing El NiƱo and whether the warmest water remains just west of South America or whether the warmest water shifts west into the central Pacific."  The La Nina weather pattern can last for a few years but hopefully it will be replaced soon by the warmer El Nino phase.  We'll keep our wings crossed.


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