By HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki
It is the natural reproductive urge of honey bees to build up numbers in the Spring in order to swarm and establish new colonies. This activity has other benefits for bees besides the increasing of numbers—it helps bees cleanse their colonies of carpetbagging diseases and pests by initiating a break in the brood rearing cycle. Many pathogens depend on a continuous occupancy of the brood nest and young bees, so when the swarm leaves the hive and takes up to two weeks to find a suitable cavity, draw comb, and the queen commences egg laying, the pathogens drop away.
So for the time being, the ongoing drought is affecting the forage sources of the bees such that fewer have the numbers to swarm successfully, are making less honey, and finding less pollen for raising brood.
The goal of the project is summarized below, as taken from the initial offering to participate sent out by BIP. I am having great fun with this, watching my bee’s growth graph going ever upward in weight gain. For the first time I am also having to learn how to use a cell phone—my son’s iphone—as the data recording and uploading device. Arghh! —this is not my strong suit.
The Bee Informed Partnership is dedicated to helping beekeepers make informed data-based management decisions. Monitoring weight changes in colonies has huge potential to help us understand disease and parasite population growth, as well as the timing of management practices. We are seeking some innovative beekeepers who are willing to help us develop and beta test the hive scale tools’ ability to develop a system that will provide the best regionally specific management practices based on real time data. We are collaborating with NASA’s Honeybee Net, under the direction of Wayne Esaias, to test this exciting effort.
Why hive scales?
Hive scales weigh individual colonies at regular intervals, keeping track of strong nectar flows, swarming, and other conditions that affect management decisions. Beekeepers may respond to rises in weight by putting supers on, inspecting colonies for swarm cells, and extracting full honey supers. Conversely, weight loss may indicate a need to feed colonies, robbing or indicate the colony has swarmed and is at increased risk of becoming queenless.
With new digital hive scales, beekeepers can track the weight of colonies without having to do a hive inspection. The scale we are using for our beta testing will utilizing Bluetooth with an Android device (e.g., Android phone or tablet), and a visit to the apiary is required to read the data. The data can be viewed on the device or be uploaded via cellular or WIFI communication. However, in the future these same scales when used with a data collector will allow for data to be automatically uploaded via cell phones or cell phone service data plans that allow for remote monitoring.
Armed with data from hive scales and other disease monitoring efforts, the Bee Informed Partnership hopes to make predictive models of honey flows and disease population growth. These models will help us develop an “alert system” that will make management recommendations based on real-time and regionally specific data.
As to my particular case, I don’t expect the disease/pest monitoring aspect will be so relevant to my bee population. The varroa mite has not been a great destroyer of my bees in the past and they seem to manage the pest well on their own. When Spring comes, it will be interesting to observe the growth of the brood nest and respond with management techniques to overcome swarming tendencies. One thing is sure—that time will be sooner than any other part of the country.
by HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki
Flower-nectar and pollen are the life’s blood of our bees and—even though we are in the month of November—much is in bloom in the city. Many plants from the Southern Hemisphere bloom in Winter and irrigation of city gardens blurs the droughty conditions naturally seen in the wild lands of California.
I’m often surprised by the relatively sparse knowledge beekeepers have about the plant resources that are so fundamental to bees’ health and prosperity. We must try to hone our observational skills on the plant life around us and what those blossoms are offering our bees. When we pay attention, we can easily conjecture what bees will be storing in their combs and how colonies may be growing. A LOT of beekeeping is taking a long view of a process and not so much a set of strict rules of what to expect.
Here are a few things in bloom I’m seeing now:
- Melaleuca quinquenervia (Paperbark tree)—white, bottlebrush flowers and thick, squishy, peeling white bark. There are several types of melaleucas.
- Eucalyptus of various kinds—E. ficifolia (now called Corymbia ficifolia)—Huge trusses of flowers in shades of red, pink or orange. E. camaldulensis (Red River Gum)—white or pale yellow flowers. And E. globulus (Blue Gum)—white flowers.
- Schinus terebinthifolius (Brazilian Pepper Tree)—Tiny but profuse white flowers.
- Callistemon rigidus (Bottlebrush tree)—red, bottlebrush flowers.
- Rosemary, Lavender and Basil—all have the small flowers bees seem to be most attracted to.
- Citrus trees—lemon, orange, lime.
Take a look around and notice something new. What plants are attracting the bees’ attention in your neighborhood?
Chelsea and Rob McFarland lure people into a sweet science: urban beekeeping
Honeybee populations are under attack but the founders of nonprofit HoneyLove believe bees’ best future is in cities.
West Los Angeles, Calif. — Butterflies and hummingbirds flit in the shafts of light behind Chelsea McFarland as she tells a group of about 20 interested volunteers – residents ages 6 to 66 from around this West Los Angeles suburb – what they can do to combat the dramatic worldwide depletion of the honeybee.
“Instead of one guy with 60,000 hives, our hope is that we can inspire 30,000 people to have two each,” she says to the volunteers who sit on folding chairs inside an auxiliary greenhouse on the grounds of Venice High School Learning Garden.
Between 1947 and 2005, the number of bee colonies in the United States declined by more than 50 percent, from 5.9 million to 2.4 million, she tells them. Researchers are now saying the once-mysterious disappearance is likely due to a combination of viruses, pesticides, and contaminated water, which makes bees more susceptible to everything from stress to parasitic mites. The bees pick up insecticides through dust and residue on nectar and pollen.
The recent Saturday gathering aims to reverse the trend. Ms. McFarland’s hope is that the information will ignite a passion within the listeners to (1) spread the word and (2) adopt a whole slew of ideas that can dramatically boost the bee population.
Those actions could range from becoming a full-time urban beekeeper – building and sustaining hives of bees and harvesting the honey – to planting a bee-friendly organic garden with bee-friendly plants, such as lavender, glory bushes, jasmine, rosemary, coreopsis, violets, thyme, wisteria, bluebells, trumpet vine, sunflowers, cosmos, and coneflowers.
Taking action also could be as simple as building a clean, outdoor, nonstagnant water source on one’s property.
“The best science tells us that the future of the honeybee is within the urban environment,” McFarland says. “Cities actually provide safer habitat than the farms and rural areas traditionally associated with beekeeping.”
That’s because urban areas offer more diversity of plants, and they are available year-round – not just in a single season, like most of the 100 crops that bees pollinate which make up about a third of the average person’s diet.
Bee pollination is worth $15 billion a year to the US farming industry, McFarland says. Bee depletion is also predicted to affect the beef and dairy industries by reducing the pollination of clover and other hay and forage crops.
The Committee on the Status of Pollinators in North America told Congress in March 2007 that if the disappearances – known as colony collapse disorder – continued unabated, managed honeybees would disappear by 2035.
That would also result in higher prices for nuts, fruits, and vegetables, and possibly increased imports of cheaper fruits and vegetables from overseas countries where CCD is less prevalent…
[continue reading on csmonitor.com]
by HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki
When I began beekeeping and reading about it, I was informed that the primary swarm emerging from a hive has the old queen with it. Afterswarms— the secondary or even tertiary smaller swarms that may leave later—are smaller and contain a virgin queen; or as it turns out, MORE THAN ONE VIRGIN! I was rescuing a swarm this summer that was on the tire of a car and it was was in two obvious lobes. Crawling in and out of the two parts were at least three queens. Surprise!
Josip Benko says these swarms with virgins are often a response to stress in the available food supply and occur in the Fall. One wonders how the bees manage this apparent lack of fealty to a particular queen, but Josip says they form something like “political parties,” guarding and surrounding the virgin they have attached themselves to. When the swarm takes flight, all leave together but travel with a factional group and when they come to rest, the factions stay somewhat apart. Regarding the swarm on the tire, by the time I actually came back in the evening to take the swarm, it had coalesced into one group and two dead virgins were lying on the ground. They must have taken to fighting for supremacy.
Another thing I am seeing and being called to rescue (and other beeks are reporting) is the arrival of VERY small swarms, often no bigger than an orange or a lemon. These little groups have such a bad chance of making it unless they can get hived with capped brood and capped honey in a container no larger than a 3 frame nuc. Again, these tiny swarms are a sign of colony stress and I have seen more than one clinging to a dead queen in a pathetic little bunch having lost the race. Our urban bees have a pretty rich source of nectar and pollen all year, but this time of year is still lean and so we beekeepers say it is a “dearth.”
via HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki
Beeks—As you are probably reading everywhere, California is in the middle of a extended drought and this significantly affects the available food—pollen and nectar—for our bees. People can get a false sense of security about this problem since all around are extensive irrigated landscapes— golf courses, industrial parks, shopping malls with fountains and lush landscaping, apartment and condo blocks, and private homes.
However, all this is carried out by the importation of precious water from underground aquifers and water resources channeled from the middle and northern part of the state. Irrigation with re-claimed sewer water—-designated by the required violet colored pipes and valve box covers—is still a anomaly, unfortunately. Our streets are still running with rivers of wasted water, too.
For a simple tabulation of the history of the rainfall pattern, go here: http://www.laalmanac.com/weather/we13.htm
You will see, since 2000, we have been much under normal 8 years and only in excess 5 years—and not that much in excess, when the average for 135 years is only 15 inches. The population of California is projected to be 60 million by 2050, from the 34 million counted in 2007. The water is not going to be there to sustain this many people in the lifestyle currently practiced.
Many beeks are noticing their bees have small stores of honey, or sometimes, nothing. I am seeing cutouts with lots of brood, but almost NO honey/nectar stores. As beekeepers, this is important for us to monitor when doing inspections of our hives and when trying to support small nucs and cutouts after the trauma of the operations when we move them. We may need to feed our bees to help them manage the loss of available food supply—called a “dearth” –if we wish for them to be around for us come Spring. The best food for bees is their natural food—honey. This can be provided by frames of honey taken from strong hives. “junk comb” from cutouts, and honey purchased for the specific feeding purpose. A bee has a natural acidic pH in her gut that is supported by many strains of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes adapted to that pH environment. When we feed sugar or high fructose corn syrup, the more alkaline nature of these sugars alters the gut pH. Some scientists believe this is not beneficial to the gut microbes that serve the bee’s immune system. However, if the situation is one of the choice between starvation or feeding sugar, we may need to feed the sugar syrup to get by until there is a natural nectar flow.
Big thank you to Susan for contributing to our blog as well as moderating the HoneyLove Forum!
Backyard beekeepers work to save the local honeybee population from collapse
Story by Rebecca Kuzins via argonautnews.com
Most people who discover a beehive in their backyard would be glad to see it gone.
Paul Hekimian is not like most people.
After discovering a hive in an avocado tree behind his Santa Monica home in 2012, Hekimian — with help from Del Rey beekeeper Rob McFarland — moved the bees into brooding boxes, which provide ideal conditions for a hive. Since then, he has been raising honeybees, extracting and bottling honey, and even adopting more bees by rescuing swarms that have gathered at places such as Tongva Park and the Santa Monica Pier.
Hekimian is part of a new breed of urban beekeepers who’ve developed organic, pesticide- and chemical-free techniques to raise smaller hives with more disease-resistant honeybees. But the way Hekimian tells it, he just sets up his brooding boxes and then leaves the bees alone so they can produce honeycombs — and more bees.
“At the end of the day, the bees do all the work,” said Hekimian, a father of two young boys who also has his hands full running both a wholesale bakery and a technology consulting business. “You’ve heard the phrase ‘busy as a bee.’ These bees are very busy.”
Hekimian’s work and that of other backyard beekeepers is more than just a hobby. It’s also an environmentally minded response to the colony collapse disorder that has plagued honeybees for almost a decade and threatens the very future of agricultural and natural ecosystems.
Save the bees, save ourselves
In 2006, beekeepers began noticing that many worker bees had abandoned their hives, resulting in a loss of one-third of the nation’s honeybees. Since then, bees have continued to disappear, with scientists and researchers citing several possible reasons for the loss. Some argue that a fungus or virus is responsible, or that the bees have died from poor nutrition or parasites. More recently, numerous articles in scientific journals maintain a specific group of pesticides is the cause of the problem.
The sudden and rapid decline of the bee population has gotten the attention of President Barack Obama, who had two hives installed at the White House garden this summer — making him the nation’s most high-profile urban beekeeper.
In June, Obama created a Pollinator Task Force to establish a federal strategy aimed at promoting the health of honeybees and other pollinators.
“Honeybee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States,” reads a statement announcing the task force. “Severe yearly declines create concern that bee colony losses could reach a point from which the commercial pollination industry would not be able to adequately recover.”
Or, as Hekimian says it: “If the bees go, they’re taking us with them. One in three pieces of food is touched by bees.”
Already struggling with drought, California’s almond industry also relies on bees for pollination. Bees also play a significant role in pollinating strawberries, watermelon, broccoli, squash and myriad other agricultural and other plants.
Some cities have responded to colony collapse disorder by legalizing beekeeping on private property, and the Santa Monica City Council adopted such an ordinance in 2011.
“The city council recognized bees are a very important link in the food chain,” said Dean Kubani, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment. “Bees play so many important roles in the production of fruit and vegetables and most of what we eat. … I think in the past, there was a fear that bees in urban and suburban areas would harm people. That has shown not to be the case.”
The fight to legalize bees in L.A.
The Los Angeles City Council has been studying how the city could adopt its own backyard beekeeping ordinance since February. Some Los Angeles residents, like Rob and Chelsea McFarland, are already keeping bees. Founders of the nonprofit organization Honey Love, the couple has conducted an extensive neighborhood outreach and lobbying campaign in favor of a bee-positive city ordinance.
Chelsea McFarland said she and her husband made the decision to become beekeepers after a swarm showed up in the backyard of their Del Rey home.
“We have an organic garden and we knew about [colony collapse disorder]. We knew the bees were in trouble,” she said.
When the McFarlands contacted the city for advice about handling the swarm, they were told “the only thing to do was exterminate [them],” she recalled. “That’s still the case. Part of the [city’s] policy should be not only to legalize [beekeeping] … but to try and rescue rather than exterminate.”
Sylvia Henry is also a Los Angeles beekeeper and Honey Love member. She started keeping honeybees in March after Hekimian brought a swarm to her Mar Vista home, where her hive shares space in the backyard with eight chickens. “I’m an old farm girl,” Henry said. “I grew up on a farm in Chino.”
Henry said she is “thrilled” with her hive, which has already produced 30 pounds of honey. She’s “read all of the books in the library on bees” and is fascinated by the “whole entire cycle” of beekeeping and the “social set-up” of honeybees.
Not far from Henry’s backyard, another group of bees live on the roof of Louie’s of Mar Vista, a popular neighborhood restaurant and bar on Grand Avenue south of Venice Boulevard.
John Atkinson and his wife Laura opened the restaurant last year at the site where his grandfather, Bill Atkinson, and Bill’s buddy Louie operated a butcher shop from 1954 to 1969.
While renovating the property, John Atkinson noticed a swarm of bees had gathered inside a large sign above the building.
“Rather than poison them, we got them out of the sign and cut off access for them to get back into the sign,” he recalled.
The bees were placed in hive boxes on the restaurant’s roof, and Atkinson hired a beekeeper to take care of them. Over the past year, the population of what the restaurant’s website calls “Mar Vista’s bees” has increased threefold.
Louie’s of Mar Vista uses honey from these hives in some of its dishes and to create its signature Bee Sting cocktail — a combination of applejack brandy, ginger beer, lemon and honey, served with a slice of lime and a mix of sugar and ginger around the rim of the glass.
“It’s not like having a goldfish”
As part of its education and support mission, HoneyLove conducts monthly seminars, including some at its bee sanctuary in Moorpark, to train backyard beekeepers.
“It’s not like having a goldfish,” Chelsea McFarland said. “You definitely want to know what you’re doing.”
Hekimian, on the HoneyLove board of directors, agrees that wanna-be beekeepers need training before they can graduate to get a beehive.
Beekeeping, Hekimian adds, is the art of observation: “You watch the behavior of the bees as they go in and out the front door. Are they going out? Are they bringing in pollen?”
Beekeeping comes fairly naturally to Hekimian. His father, Kevork G. Hekimian, kept bees when Paul was growing up in Houston.
“My dad started out with a couple of hives and then had 60 hives,” he said. “I got him back into beekeeping,” Hekimian said of his father. “It’s come full circle.”
[read the full article via argonautnews.com]
So much is in the news about pollinator declines, peril to the food supply, pesticide poisoning of honeybees—could we not help this situation by keeping our own bees? HoneyLove exists to foster this very practice, and all of us in the group were mentored and brought along our path to becoming beekeepers by others in the craft. In fact, this model is the very essence of our club—“each one teach one” or “pay it forward” to help others learn.
But, there are important things to consider when contemplating the serious commitment of beginning a life of bees and beekeeping.
Probably the most important part is to become educated by reading and speaking to knowledgeable beeks about the management techniques and time commitments involved in keeping bees in a urban environment. Getting the bees and buying equipment comes later, but a person should honestly assess whether there is the time in life to —
1) do hive inspections every two weeks in the Spring season when bee colonies are rapidly growing in population. Bee colonies that become crowded from lack of space management can swarm and this attracts very unwelcome attention from non-beekeeping neighbors.
2) keep up during the whole year to assess honey production, brood space (where the bees raise the young larva), queen vigor and other issues. Later in the Summer, inspections can be spread further apart—about a month.
3) be realistic about getting a honey crop. The colony, when young, must be given time to grow in strength and resilience. The first year of a young colony, there is NO honey crop. The second year, you may get a bit. By the third year, they hit their stride and you can have a fine honey crop! (This is my experience, anyway)
4) spend the time necessary to consistently learn the techniques and understanding of how “bee society” works. We must always keep in mind that honeybees are stinging insects and the wider public often has a well developed fear of them. How we manage our bees and speak to others about bees goes a long way towards changing perceptions and biases—or, if lax in management and monitoring, how we may reinforce prejudices. It is up to us to present our best “face” of the beekeeping world.
5) develop a mentor relationship with at least one other knowledgable beek. This takes digging, because there are not enough of us, geographically speaking! HoneyLove conducts meetings every month, has apiary visits to the bee sanctuary in Moorpark, and has lots of material on the website to guide newbees in gaining wisdom.
6) coming to HoneyLove gatherings and workshops gives the new beek a chance to interact with folks all along the spectrum of knowledge and to ask questions and network for further connections.
If these considerations seem a little burdensome for right now, it may not be the right time to actually get your own colony of bees. It is a time commitment and must be managed regularly. Perhaps just fostering the local bees with planting of inviting flowers and shrubs is a better plan.
Joining the HoneyLove forum to explore these options with others is a great way to figure out if you are indeed ready to keep bees!
Podcast via kiwimana
Want more? Watch the HoneyLove video interviews with Michael Bush below!
AND! Please click below to subscribe to HoneyLove on YouTube!!
Help us save the honey bees!!
Your contribution directly supports the educational outreach, community action and advocacy efforts to protect the health and well-being of honey bees. HoneyLove is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. Your donation is 100% tax-deductible.