No U.S Bees for Canada

     In a recently released report from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (Risk Assessment of Importation of U.S Honey Bees) they concluded that the risk was too great to remove the blockade on U.S honey bees (this post was originally written in 2013 when the assessment was released).  The initial blockade was implemented in 1987 in response to an outbreak in the U.S of the tracheal and varroa mites.
     My personal viewpoint on the subject has evolved through the years.  Initially I was totally against the ban on importation of U.S bees from a purely practical point of view.  First it made no sense to import bees from the southern hemisphere (Canadian Regulations on Importation of Honey Bees) thousands of miles away when bees were readily available closeby at a fraction of the cost and environmental impact.  Present regulations allow Canadians to import packages of bees from New Zealand, Australia and Chile only and queens from New Zealand, Australia, Chile, California and Hawaii.  Secondly, the blockade has not worked.  26 years after the ban on U.S bees, both the tracheal and varroa mites are alive and established in Canada.  Strange as it may seem bee swarms do not go through the regulated border crossings when flying into Canada.  The majority of the Canadian population and beekeepers live close to the U.S/Canada border which is the longest unregulated border in the world.
  My viewpoint now is very much in support of developing localized bee breeding.  I think it's important for us to decrease our dependence on imported bees.  Many of the major pests and diseases we are dealing with are imported and our reliance on imported early spring packages prevents us from developing a strong, local, survivor stock bee population.  As E. Punnett and M. Winston of Simon Fraser University suggested 30 years ago "a local bee production industry would not only be a new and lucrative source of income for local beekeepers, but may be essential to the survival of Canadian beekeeping." (A Comparison of Package and Nucleus Production from Honey Bee Colonies
     The reasons given for maintaining the ban on importation of U.S bee packages are the risks associated with the importation of Africanized honey bees, antibiotic-resistant American foulbrood, small hive beetle and amitraz resistant varroa mite.

     I believe maintaining the ban on importation of American bees will only delay the arrival of these 4 stated health risks.  Reasons that these risks may not be valid are most jurisdictions do not treat American foulbrood but have regulated mandatory eradication through the burning of the colony and hive.  The small hive beetle has been detected in small populations in Canada but is considered more of a southern problem probably due to it's origination in the warmer climates of Africa.  The small hive beetle arrived in Australia in 2002.  Similarly, the Africanized bees progress northward has been slowed by the colder winters of the north (Killer Bees).  As the Africanized bee moves northward the genetic dilution of the much publicized aggressive behavior and tendencies toward swarming have resulted in the creation of a more manageable bee.  Finally, all pests eventually develop resistance to pesticides.  The philosophy of agrichemical dependent farming (including beekeeping) only serves the profits of the agrichemical corporations.  In addition Australia has as stated the small hive beetle, the Braula fly and is geographically susceptible to the Tropilaelaps mite especially with the recent findings of Apis Cerana and Varroa mites.  Tropilaelaps mites have rapidly expanded their range over the last 50 years and are present throughout Asia, including nearby Indonesia and Papua New Guinea (roughly 3.75 km separates the two countries at Saibai Island).  The Tropilaelaps mite may be a greater future threat to us than any of the 4 stated threats posed by U.S. importation.  At present the mite range is limited by lack of brood in cold regions as their mouths can't penetrate the exoskeleton of adult bees they starve in 3 days outside of brood.  The concern as stated by the BBVA is increased year round brood presence due to global warming especially for us in the lower mainland.

     The dilemma is that my alternate solution of locally produced survivor stock is not a practical reality.  It will take substantial support and leadership from the government and bee industry to create a large scale bee breeding industry capable of supplying our needs and to date there is none.  Everyone appears content with our present reliance on southern hemisphere imports.  Meanwhile beekeepers are faced with the financial reality associated with importing bees from the southern hemisphere.  
     Maybe we should build a Bee Wall.


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.

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

Fair Trade Honey

     In an ideal world we would produce all of our own food locally and organically but in reality we import a significant portion.  Much of this comes from developing countries where farmers have traditionally been exploited by greedy buyers who set the price far below a liveable earning.  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 producer organizations grew by 16%.  It works and it is growing.  Please support fair trade for all products including honey, tea, chocolate, sugar, fruit, flowers and coffee.  For more information go to Fair Trade Canada or Fair Trade USA.

Bees love Dandelions

One of our girls enjoying a Dandelion
     It was a beautiful, sunny 15 degree celsius (60 fahrenheit) day in the garden and the bees were very active.  At this time of year there are a wide assortment of blossoms available to be foraged upon but one of the favourites is an unplanted native, invasive plant, the Dandelion (Taraxacum) of the Asteraceae (Aster) Family. Many still think of the Dandelion as an unwanted weed but I hope that attitude is changing along with the need for a manicured lawn.  For us the Dandelion can flower throughout the growing period and if the seed heads are allowed to mature you are guaranteed a plentiful crop.
     My garden is a 4 acre community garden close to downtown Vancouver and through the years I have grown to appreciate the weeds (?) and the invasive plants.  Being a very multicultural city it is so interesting to hear the perspective of different cultures on particular plants.  Gout weed ( Aegopodium podagraria) for example is an extremely invasive plant, native to Eurasia which although enjoyed by the bees is impossible to remove and an irritant to all of the gardeners.  One day two Chinese women approached me and asked if they could harvest our gout weed.  Attempting to hide my enthusiasm I asked them why.  They told me of it's medicinal properties (primarily to treat stomach ailments- thus the name gout weed) and told me how they boil it and prepare a tea.  On the same day I saw two older men harvesting dandelion leaves.  They explained to me that in Italy they cherish the leaves and fry them in olive oil and garlic.  The entire plant is edible and the flower petals, along with other ingredients, are used to make dandelion wine. The leaves are best when they first appear or after the first frost (Recipes). The ground, roasted roots can be used as a caffeine-free dandelion coffee.  Dandelion was also traditionally used to make the traditional British soft drink dandelion and burdock, and is one of the ingredients of root beer.  Also, Dandelions were once delicacies eaten by the Victorian gentry mostly in salads and sandwiches.  Dandelion leaves contain abundant vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C, K, niacin, riboflaven and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron, manganese and beta carotene.  Lecithin in the flower detoxifies the liver.  As well Dandelions nourish other plants through it's long (up to 3 ft) tap root which brings minerals and nutrients from a less contaminated part of the soil to the surface where it is utilized by the shorter roots of neighbouring plants.  If you break the stem of a dandelion the white fluid that appears can be used to ease the pain of bee stings or sores.  Wow!  What an amazing plant.

     Like us bees are healthier, live longer and perform better when feeding on a mixed diet.  The worldwide practice of monoculture agriculture cannot sustain a honey or native bee population (Hidden Costs of Industrial Agriculture).  In addition this singular diet experienced by bees of professional pollinators causes a weakened immune system and subsequent health issues.

"There is a growing body of evidence showing that poor nutrition can be a major player in affecting honey bee health. Eischen and Graham (2008) demonstrated that well-nourished honey bees are less susceptible to Nosema ceranae than poorly nourished bees.  Naug (2009) tested the hypothesis that nutritional stress due to habitat loss has played a major role in causing CCD by analyzing the land use data in U.S. He showed a significant correlation between the number of colony loss from each state and the state’s ratio of open land relative to its developed land area."   Zachary Huang, Michigan State University

     Bee Friendly Farming practices are essential for a healthy bee population.  Specifically, adopting a 6% diverse pollinator beneficial planting farming practice.  Different pollens have different nutritional value to bees and studies have shown a slight improvement in performance when feeding on Dandelion (Nutritional Value of Bee Collected Pollens).  Interestingly for me two of the best pollens for bees, blackberry and cottonwood are aggressive volunteers in our garden.

     Although the plum and flowering cherry blossoms are finished for us there is an amazing number of plants coming into blossom like the apple, pear, cherry, bulbs, purple deadnettle and marsh marigold.  Also, today was the first day I saw Raspberry flower formation which for us is the major bee forage in May through June.
     Please put away the Roundup and let your Dandelions grow.  You can control the spread of the plant by removing the flowers before they go to seed (Dandelion Wine ?).  Your bees will thank you.