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Archive for April, 2010

Bee on the Wing in Blue Rosemary.

Last week began with the discovery of a new obsession–photographing bees on the wing with a macro lens.  The super-narrow depth-of-field of the lens made it difficult to catch a bee in focus, but in this image she is moving too fast for my shutter speed.  Still, after 75 shots, I think this one is a keeper.

Then it was off to pick up package bees on Friday morning.  The second and third week of April should be considered a national holiday, as every beekeeper in the King and Snohomish counties of Washington seemed to be as eager as Rachael and me to pick up their bees.  Our unintentionally extended adventure turned into a beautiful day together.

Rachael Poses with 4 lb. Packages of Bees.

The next morning I was up early and on my way to Onalaska, WA, to pick up Carniolans from Jason and Heather Sherwood.  A lot of people ask me where Onalaska is, and all I can say is it’s rural, southwestern Washington.  I was there at 7:30 and back on the road by 8:30.

Package Bees Awaiting Pick-up at the Sherwood Apiary.

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday night were dedicated to the introduction of package bees.  We welcome back colonies to the Central District and Capital Hill in Seattle, as well as Smoke Farm.

Throughout the weekend, just when I thought I might take a break and have lunch, my phone would ring.  Hives were swarming!  Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, as well as last night (Thursday 4/22), were filled with swarm catching.  Michael watched one form from his window on Saturday, and together we caught it without any protective gear.  Kelle helped me catch the swarm on their Blue House and temporarily introduce them to a nuc (a small, five-frame hive for rearing queens and keeping a small swarm).  But the swarm story to be told comes from West Seattle, where Rachael and I found a monster-sized swarm:

The Longfellow Creek Community Garden Swarm.

The call came in on Friday from Jayne.  Jayne Simmons, co-founder of Good Food Gardens, plants lavish healthy gardens in your yard, maintains the Longfellow Creek Community Garden, and makes salves, tinctures and infused oils as Sister Sage Herbs.  She and I had spoken earlier in the year about introducing bees to the Longfellow garden and even teaming up to introduce bees to her garden projects, but I just didn’t have the money to prepare the equipment and purchase bees.  The bees, however, had other intentions and came to her.

I asked Rachael if she would like the honor of catching this swarm, introducing it to a hive, and maintaining it at the Longfellow Garden.  Since my Valentine’s Day post, a lot of people have been wondering if I have introduced Rachael to the bees and if they approve of her.  Well, this was the weekend, and the answer is decidedly yes!

Rachael, aka Lady Awesome, Catches Swarm!

Later that evening, Rachael and Jayne introduced the swarm to a beautifully exposed corner of the Longfellow Garden.  This week ends with three new Women of the Swarm, Kelle, Jayne, and Lady Awesome!

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Package Bees Ready for Introducing (2009)

I must confess, my favorite event of beekeeping has got to be opening up a successfully wintered colony in early March, but running a close second is introducing package bees to their new home.  It’s one of those rare moments in life when the counter-intuitive is actually the thing you want to do:

  1. Put Bees in Your Car. Yes.  Find a local supplier of bees (or have them shipped to you), wake up early and be the first person at their shop, pay the remainder of your balance and then put them in your car.  Here in Seattle I visit Jason and Heather at Sherwood Honey and Rachel and Jim at the Beez Neez to get my bees.  Don’t let them get too hot, as that happened to me last year and it stressed them out.  Drive home with the windows open.
  2. Put a Package of Bees in Your Friend’s Hands. Once they realize what is happening, it’s usually too late.  They’ll stand there with out-stretched arms for a few moments and then ask you to do something with them.
  3. Put Bees on Your Kitchen Table. Packaged colonies are usually introduced around dusk, so put them someplace where you can admire them until it is time.  It needs to be cool, so if you plan on holding the package for a couple days, put them in your basement or garage.
  4. Entertain the Idea of Letting Them Escape. Bees travel a long way to get to Seattle.  Some come from California and some come from Wisconsin.  There is a little can of sugar-syrup in the top of the package.  Turn the package over, letting the can slide out part-way into your hand, and feel the weight of its contents.  You are so close to liberated bees!  If it’s empty, drizzle some sugar water on them through the screen.
  5. Tell Your Friends NOT to Wear Protective Gear for the Introduction. It’s definitely a time to celebrate, so call your friends over and kids love it.  I wear a veil and give one to whomever is actually doing the introducing, but everyone else will be just fine.
  6. Put the Queen in Your Pocket. When the moment comes, and you have your bottom board, hive body, frames, inner cover, feeder jars, and cover exactly where you intend to keep them, gently bang the bees to the bottom of the package.  Turn the package on its side and remove the syrup can.  The queen is in the little box hanging from the center.  Take her out, admire her, and put her in the pocket over your heart so she doesn’t get chilled.
  7. Bang on the Package! Remove four of the frames and spread the remaining six to each side inside the hive body.  Vigorously dump the bees into the hive, shaking them, even banging the side of the package to get them to roll out of the hole.  Don’t worry; they’ll be fine, and you won’t get stuck there wondering how to get all the bees out.
  8. Introduce the Queen. Take her out of your pocket.  Give her a good look over because unless you go looking for her, the next time you see her will be a real gift.  Notice how slender she is… pretty soon she will be royal and matronly.  Holding her over the mass of bees on the bottom of your box, remove the cork from her mini package, and let her crawl out and join the colony.  Sometimes she won’t go through the little passage, and you’ll have to pop off the screen with a knife.  Don’t let her fly away….
  9. Let Them Do Their Thing. Close up the frames gently around the bees, adding the others to the outside of the cluster.  Put on your inner cover and feeding jars, put a hive body around that, and then put a lid on it.  Wish them well.

Introducing the Queen (2009)

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A Spring Without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder Has Endangered Our Food Supply, Schacker, M., The Lyons Press, Guilford, CT, 2008.

Having suffered the loss of four colonies this winter with some indications of winter starving but a lot of unanswered questions, I have turned my attention toward understanding Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Heat Map Showing Gene Expression

Last year, the breakthrough discovery [article] was the ribosomal RNA fragments in bees’ stomachs suffering from CCD symptoms: “If your ribosome is compromised, then you can’t respond to pesticides, you can’t respond to fungal infections or bacteria or inadequate nutrition because the ribosome is central to the survival of any organism. You need proteins to survive,” May Berenbaum, head of the department of entomology at the University of Illinois, said to the Illinois News Bureau.  Although two new viruses, IAPV and Nosema Ceranae, are present in American bees, neither has been isolated as a cause, and this study found no unusual expression of DNA responsible for immune response.  The main thrust of this argument and research is that the abundance of pathogens affecting honey bees is resulting in RNA degradation that results in CCD symptoms.

In his book, A Spring Without Bees, Michael Schacker goes through the list of common ailments afflicting honeybees and the implausibility of their implication in CCD, and then asks the obvious question: has the world seen CCD-like symptoms before?  Not surprisingly, the answer is yes, and for more than a decade French beekeepers have been fighting the Bayer Corporation to remove a new type of systemic pesticide, the neonicotonids, from agricultural use.  Through painting the pesticide on the seeds of agricultural crops, or soaking the soil with it, these pesticides enter every part of the plant, including the nectar and pollen, causing disorientation and eventual death to insects feeding on it.

French Beekeepers Protest Use of Systemic Pesticides

Through his analysis of the French situation beginning in 1996, he illustrates that the Bayer Corp’s research indicated that the new products were safe for bees, but they only did research down to 50 PPB (parts per billion).  As the French Ministry of Agriculture was forced to acquiesce to the demands of beekeepers to halt the use of these pesticides and begin a thorough study, they found that these pesticides can exhibit detrimental influences to a hive at 6 PPB, and even show indications at 3 PPB.  Bayer’s studies also did not focus on the concentration of pesticides in the soil due to repeated seasonal use, which takes several years and adequate rainfall to disintegrate.

2007 States Affected by CCD

Then he asks the question I had been asking.  Has anyone done a study correlating areas where CCD is present and any new use of pesticides in America?  Looking at the 2007 map of states with reported cases of CCD, it didn’t make sense that every state wasn’t affected by CCD.  Schacker’s research shows correlations between Environmental Protection Agency permissions to use systemic pesticides through an emergency use act and the presence of CCD in those states affected.

While the first half of this book illuminates the horrors of our modern agricultural world–millions of tons of pesticide use, pesticide companies heavily lobbying our representatives, and research grants to universities being largely funded by pesticide companies–it ends on several brilliant notes: bring bees into your backyard, keep bees organically, plant a bee garden, and call for government regulation of these pesticides.

Michael Schacker on Saving the Bees:

His blog, Plan Bee Central, offers lots of current reports of CCD and pesticide use in other countries.

I highly recommend this book for it offers the only informative and reasonable analysis of CCD I have found.  I have come to feel that here in Seattle, CCD is not a direct threat, as only one of our colonies failed and the symptoms can be attributed to starvation.  At Smoke Farm, in rural, agricultural Arlington, where we lost all three colonies, I’m still concerned.  We don’t know what types of farms are across the river and what types of pesticides they use.  The main threat of CCD is not that bees will necessarily go extinct (although many important pollinators have gone extinct because of habitat loss and pesticide use), but that our agricultural system could collapse on a national scale if CCD persists.  In a 2008 report, Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine, wrote for thedailygreen that CCD is only effecting 5% of America’s beekeepers.  About 1,000 of today’s beekeepers manage about 95% of all the colonies present in the US.  These are the beekeepers providing pollination services for almonds, blueberries, and citrus, keeping the agricultural system buzzing, and whose livelihoods are threatened with the loss of their livestock.  And while the government, universities, and media hesitate to point the finger at pesticides, master beekeepers, like Richard Blohm, seem to know from experience that pesticides are to blame, “Yeah, my hives survived very well.  I had normal losses.  Each winter, we expect to lose approximately 10 percent under normal circumstances. And my hives – I keep my hives in – it’s more of a non-agricultural area. So it’s more residential, suburban area, and they’re not exposed to as many pesticides.” [NPR Science Friday with Ira Flatow] Thanks to a recent study showing remarkable levels of pesticides in bee’s wax and stored pollen, and Schacker’s work, pesticide use may finally bee the topic of 2010.

Additional Reviews: http://ecolibris.blogspot.com/2008/08/spring-without-bees-by-michael-schacker.html, http://planbeecentral.wordpress.com/2008/06/04/one-of-the-first-reviews-of-a-spring-without-bees/

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