Tag Archives: Honey Bee

A Leary Eye Towards Government

Honey Bee Hive

It would be an understatement to say that I oppose the reach of government, but – BUT – when I do support such intervention I support more local solutions than federal ones.  So, if I have to live with the ‘tyranical beast’ at least it can benefit me once in awhile:

Because of housing developments or agriculture as well – clearing out – you don’t have the small fields anymore where you would have buffers of plants,” said Jen Keller, a research specialist in North Carolina State University’s Department of Entomology.

Sen. Andrew Brock R-Davie, said studies show more beehives means better crops, so he has signed on to the so-called Birds and Bees Act, which is scheduled to get its first hearing next Wednesday before the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

“With agriculture being our No. 1 business, we’ve got to make sure we continue to grow, grow, grow and grow a lot more food for people, not just here in this state but across the world,” Brock said.

His bill would address some of the loss of habitat Keller noted by requiring state agencies to look for ways to increase and promote highway rights-of-way, utility easements and other areas as places for the flowers and trees that bees need for food.

“One thing that we’re trying to promote is to have buffer zones. Let some of those wild flowers and weeds continue to grow,” Keller said.

THAT is an awesome idea.  One  of the reasons that I don’t use my own money to seed county roads where I live is that the county mows the ‘effin roads!

And more:

Senate Bill 225 also would prevent cities and counties from enacting ordinances preventing people from having as many as five backyard beehives.

Keller said she thinks allowing more people to have hives could boost bee populations.

Again – if  I have to live with tyranny, it should benefit me ONCE in awhile 🙂

However, there is one area where I would correct the story:

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bee colonies have dropped 25 to 30 percent per year in recent years. A mix of parasites, pathogens, pesticides and a lack of diversity in pollen or nectar is blamed for much of the losses.

While us keepers suffer colony  losses to that degree, we’ve gotten good at adapting:

But here’s something you probably haven’t heard: There are more honeybee colonies in the United States today than there were when colony collapse disorder began in 2006. In fact, according to data released in March by the Department of Agriculture, U.S. honeybee-colony numbers are now at a 20-year high. And those colonies are producing plenty of honey. U.S. honey production is also at a 10-year high.

Cool New Honeybee Technology

mite protection

The varroa mite is really working a number on honey bees here in America – and we need help.

Nature might be starting to combat the scourge in her own way by producing queens that are able to bit the legs off the mites.  But working with Bayer – we may have another option:

…A four-year field study by the Bee Research Institute in Oberursel, Germany has found that the parasite is at the heart of the problem: “If we keep up our efforts at controlling the varroa mite, many more bee populations will survive,” explains Professor Nikolaus Koeniger, who was the institute’s director for many years; he and his wife have been devoted to studying the varroa mite for decades.

As this famous bee expert couple knows, it is horizontal infection that is most dangerous. “Particularly at the end of the flowering period, foraging bees from healthy colonies invade colonies weakened by varroa to steal honey.

They then become infected and take back large numbers of mites to their own population.” The researchers want to prevent this transfer of mites, since “it is vital for effective mite control to stop new pests constantly entering the hive.”

They have therefore concentrated on the strategically most important point, and the joint efforts of the Bee Institute and Bayer have led to the creation of the varroa gate, a structure at the entrance to the hive. Every bee must climb through this gate when leaving or returning to its own hive. At first sight it doesn’t look anything special: just a plastic strip with holes through which the bees fly in and out.

Only a closer look shows the immense benefits of this innovation. The plastic strip is coated in chemicals. Whenever a bee passes through the gate, it touches the edge. This transfers a mite poison (acaricide) to the bee and kills any mites it may be carrying. The substance needs to be permanently available on the surface of the strip so that protection can last for several weeks. This proved to be a particular technical challenge. It was solved when Bayer’s scientists thought back to an earlier project: the flea and tick collar Seresto™ for dogs and cats.

This innovative collar was the result of a joint venture by scientists from Bayer HealthCare’s Animal Health Division, Bayer MaterialScience and Bayer CropScience.

They used a little physical trick: “The active substance molecules move between the polymer chains of the plastic matrix. They are always trying to balance out the gap in concentrations between the collar and the animal’s coat, and so rise to the surface. When some of the active substance is removed, it is automatically replenished,” says Krieger, explaining the principle.

Scientists are now using the same system to protect bees: “The acaricide is embedded in the plastic. When some is transferred to the legs or hairs of a bee, fresh supplies are automatically released from the strip to balance out the gap in concentrations between the plastic matrix and the surface,” he explains. This means that the device remains fully effective for the several weeks needed for treatment. At the same time, the amount of chemical available is never more than necessary. Scientists are still fine-tuning the formulation and application rate, and are testing two Bayer substances on bee populations in the field at various concentrations.

Very cool


January Flight

Honey Bees in January:

They’ll leave the hive sometime around 52 degrees.

The Death Of The Honey Bee

Honey Bee

I’ve been keeping bees for, what – 1 or 2 months now?  It’s really cool.  AND it’s added to my concern for the plight of the honey bee.

Imagine my surprise at this headline:

Rise Of The Robotic Bees

You just HAVE to read more:

Do bees, swarms of bees, make you nervous? Maybe not. Maybe they remind you of honey, flowers and warm summer days. You stay out of their way and they stay out of yours. What if, however, the bees weren’t bees at all but hundreds (or thousands) of autonomous microbots, facsimiles of the real thing, buzzing around in the real world?

That’s not Hollywood fantasy any more. It appears to be within reach. Researchers in the at Harvard’s say that they expect their project will demonstrate flying, autonomous micro-air-vehicles modeled on insects within the next 2 1/2 years.

It won’t be easy, according to Rob Wood, the project’s principal investigator.

“The challenges that you get when you scale these things down mean that you have to reinvent everything, everything has to come from scratch, every one of the technologies,” Wood said in an interview last week. “There is nothing off the shelf.”

But can they solve the pollination problem?

The real question hanging in the air, so to say, is how the bees themselves might be used once they’ve been endowed with the power, sensor and control mechanisms needed to fly and operate on their own.

The obvious answer is surveillance of all types, whether it’s for the military in combat or scientists tracking changes in the environment or spooks keeping tabs on their targets. Oh, and they might also be able to pollinate crops of vegetables and flowers, too.

We have a few years, at least, to figure out how how swarms of robotic insects might fit into our lives. The Robobees team is working along three tracks: body, brain and colony. Each one presents its own challenges. Integrating the three strands, which are being worked on in parallel, is a whole other set of hurdles.

Mobee is just one hurdle cleared. We’ll have to wait and see two years from now if the swarm is really on the horizon, and a little longer to decide if we need to run from it.

Very cool.

Wherein Pino Becomes A Bee Keeper

I set the camera at hive level.  I forgot I was taller than the hive.  Forgive the annoying “headless-horseman” footage:

I do not know what the “banging” is at 3:10.  Creepy though.

However, in addition to how cool bees are, I’m struck by the sounds of nature in the background.

I love my yard!

Honeybees – Colony Collapse Disorder

Honey Bee Package

I picked up my package of honey bees the other day.  This is one of two methods that a new hive is started if you are beginning from scratch.  This method has three pounds of bees with a queen been in her own little queen box.  The idea is that the new beekeeper has the hive ready and waiting, removes the queen box, a matchbox sized container that keeps the queen separate from her swarm, and installs the little box in the waiting hive.

Because the queen is trapped in her little cage, it takes a day or two for the swarm to set her free.  This trick is performed by eating through the sugar candy that plugs the escape hole.

So, once the queen box is placed in the hive, the whole rest of the package is also set in the hive and let to sit.  The bees will leave that box and swarm to protect the queen and, indeed, as I mentioned, work to set her free.

This is where I’m at now and am just waiting for the bees to work and set her free.

So, while I wait I read:

The winter of 2012-13 was another rough one for honeybees, threatening an industry that is integral to a large part of fruit and vegetable production in the U.S. said the number of honeybee colonies declined 31% last winter, by about 800,000 colonies, the latest reported toll of the mass die-offs with multiple causes that have been plaguing the U.S. for several years.

The impact of the premature deaths is significant for the honeybee industry and the broader agriculture industry. Beekeepers can generally bring populations back up during the warmer months, but while they do so, honey production can suffer. Also, the largest single driver of demand for bee colonies is California’s almond crop, which requires bees for pollination and blooms toward the end of the winter when bee populations are at their nadir.

Overall, more than $20 billion of annual harvests rely on pollination, according to U.S. estimates, with the almond harvest alone valued at $4 billion a year.

A 31% failure seems high to me but reports are that it’s been the normal loss since 2006.

But what’s causing these failures?

The Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency said last week that “multiple factors” were behind the population declines, including parasites, disease, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.

Last month, the European Commission said it would soon restrict the use of three seed-coating pesticides known as neonicotinoids while scientists review concerns about the chemicals’ impact on bee health.

The neonicotinoid pesticides under debate are widely used in the U.S., including on corn in the Midwestern states where many beekeepers keep their hives during the summer. The pesticides are considered less harmful to the environment than other insect killers because they are often applied to the seed and contained within the plant, rather than sprayed onto fields.

U.S. officials said they didn’t have enough evidence to ban neonicotinoids and warned that other pesticides could be more harmful to the environment.

From what I’ve been able to read and understand, the beekeeper goes to the bee yard to check on the hives and finds that some of those hives have simply “failed”.  It’s a here today gone tomorrow kinda scenario.  In fact, there isn’t any evidence of dead bees; they’ve simply abandoned their hive and left the queen to die.

While I tend to believe that the chemicals we use on our crops has an impact on the bees, my intuition tells me that we would see dead bees.  Further, hives wouldn’t simply thrive and then fail, they would struggle, shrink and perhaps stop producing.  With a average lifespan of only 6 weeks, the bees would be impacted by “poison” somewhere along the way, but it would seem to hit bees at a certain point in the lifecycle.

That is, exposure to these pesticides would begin to kill of bees at week, say 3.5.  But the younger bees wouldn’t yet be affected.

And the pattern doesn’t hold.

So, what else could it be?

When I went to move the queen box from that package into my hive, I noticed that the queen wasn’t alone; there were about 3-4 other bees in that little cage.  I became worried that she had been “infiltrated”, killed, escaped or whatever.  So I called a guy and asked him.  He assured me that such arrangements are normal and I had nothing to worry about.  I asked him about CCD and it’s causes.

He mentioned mites.

This sounds to me like a strong possibility.

The mites attack the bee brood, killing the young yet to be hatched bee and laying eggs in the cell.  The first is always a female with the remaining 3-4 being males.  They then move on to the next cell and so on.

The bees are not able to kill the mites and really try just to build comb around them and keep them separated from the rest of the hive.  My guess….when the hive becomes too infested with the mites, the hive swarms and leaves the nest to find a new home.  No dead bees, no hive failure, just a natural method of out with the old and in with the new.

As I build experience with my new pets, I’ll investigate and try to develop a strategy for those pesky mites.  A strategy that doesn’t destroy my crop of honey along the way!