Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW

Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW
Click on this photo for a video of "Evening in Honor of the Sacred Honey Bee". Photo by Daniel Bahmani

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Friday, January 29, 2010

A Sample of Life on a Bee Farm

Zachary Kaufman, The Columbian

An array of honey produced in hives near different crops sits on a table to be sampled during Jacqueline Freeman’s class on bee-friendly beekeeping Saturday.
Zachary Kaufman, The Columbian

By Michael Andersen
Columbian Staff Writer

Sunday, January 24, 2010

By Zachary Kaufman

The Columbian,WA

Jacqueline Freeman, right, listens for activity inside her Warre hive Saturday at Friendly Haven Rise, her teaching farm east of Battle Ground.
If you go

What: Natural farming classes

Where: Friendly Haven Rise farm, 20309 N.E. 242nd Ave., Battle Ground,WA

When: Year-round. The next beekeeping class is Feb. 20.

Cost: Varies, but often $50 per six-hour class.

Information: or 360-687-8384.
Natural beekeeping tips

• Who knew? Bees love seaweed. Pick it up and leave it where they’ll find it. “Seaweed has every mineral known to man,” Freeman said.

• To make a traditional Langstroth wood-box hive more bee-friendly, remove the artificial comb bases and thread a wire through each frame. Bees will build their own structures.

• Consider other hive types. Long, low top-bar hives are easy to use but work best where it’s warm and dry. Warre hives are upright and harder to move, but they closely resemble bees’ natural home: a hollow tree stump.

• Love bees but don’t want to keep them yourself? Plant an herb garden. “Herbs are bee medicine,” Freeman said.

Thirteen cotton-clad bee aficionados, ages 22 to 63, piled into Jacqueline Freeman’s little country kitchen.

Freeman hoisted a yellow jar of butter-thick honey and explained, sadly, how things are done at big bee farms.

“They take their honey, and they feed them — guess what?” Freeman said.

“Sugar water?” one woman wondered.

“High-fructose corn syrup?” asked Ray Marshall of Hockinson, standing beside her.

Freeman nodded, swinging her long blond hair. “It used to be they fed them sugar,” she said. “Now it’s cheaper to feed them high-fructose corn syrup.”

“I hear they’re doing that with the humans, too,” Marshall quipped. The crowd in Freeman’s kitchen laughed knowingly.

Welcome to Clark County’s backwoods boot camp for natural honey production. From the Venersborg teaching farm she runs with her husband, Joseph, Freeman said she’s taught the secrets of bee-friendly beekeeping to hundreds of people who drive in from as far as Bellingham and Ashland, Ore.

They pay $50 for the daylong introduction to bee-raising, including a detailed slide show, hands-on time with three different wooden beehive models and (occasionally) Freeman’s vocal impersonations of different bee sounds.

Freeman’s been leading the sessions every month for three years, one of 20 different classes on natural and organic farming they offer on their 10-acre lot east of Battle Ground.

Freeman said bees have a special place in her heart. They have a special place in her house, too: she estimates that 50,000 of them have been living in their north-facing wall for at least eight years.

That hive was one reason Freeman wanted to buy the place.

“I definitely want to live in a house that bees live in,” she said Saturday. “I put my ear up against the wall, and I can hear them in there. All winter long. There’s something comforting about that.”

Some would find a nest so close disturbing, she knows — just as they’d find bees disturbing in general. But people often have the wrong idea about bees, she said.

“Bees are hygienic,” Freeman told her class. “They don’t put up with any mess in the house. … As long as we don’t take them out, we don’t have a problem.”

Freeman’s 13 students hung on her recommendations Saturday, taking careful notes and cracking jokes with each other during intervals.

Nancy Roberts of La Center said she’d wanted to raise bees “for years and years” but only taken it up two years ago.

After losing her bees both years running, she said, she’d tracked down Freeman to learn more about hives that let bees build their combs in natural patterns rather than following human-designed wood frames.

“That makes more sense to me,” Roberts said. “Let the bees do it their way.”

Michael Andersen: 360-735-4508 or

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Beekeeping in Koraro, Ethiopia

Nicholas D. Kristof - A New York Times Blog
January 19, 2010, 5:36 pm
Beekeeping in Koraro

The following is the third in a series of reports from the Ethiopian village of Koraro, an important testing ground for the Millennium Village Project, an experiment in global development strategy spearheaded by economist Jeffrey Sachs. The reports, written by Jeff Marlow, a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, consider which parts of the project are working and which ones aren’t, and what can be learned from it to help billions of people escape extreme poverty.

On a steep hillside overlooking a dusty creekbed, several dozen bright yellow boxes stand on wooden legs, conspicuously out of place against the red and brown soils that dominate the Koraro region. The telltale smell of honey, a welcome change from the manure-littered scrublands used for cattle grazing, gives it away: beehives.
DESCRIPTIONTyler Miller Beehives are providing a new income source for farmers in Koraro.

Traditionally, the people of Koraro have depended upon their crops and animals for survival, toiling year-round to scrape enough food from the rocky, unforgiving land. One objective of the MVP is to identify new ways for farmers to generate cash, allowing villagers to invest in costly items like water pumps or farming tools during good harvests, while providing a financial buffer for the leaner years.

Beekeeping appears to fit the bill, and although the program is still in its pilot stage, initial results are promising. With minimal time commitment (chores include keeping rodents and ants away from the hives), Debalkew Weres was able to produce 35 kilograms of honey in each of his four hives. The viscous white honey fetches 25 Ethiopian Birr (approximately $2) per kilogram at the local market, and the accompanying wax can be molded into candles.

The real potential, however, lies in cracking foreign markets, a job that falls to Rustom Masalawala, the Director of Business Development for Millennium Promise. “Beekeeping is an easy way for a farmer to vastly increase his income,” he says, “and with the right marketing, the honey could demand an extremely good price internationally.” Koraro produces a viscous, opaque honey, which, with the right marketing (“exotic white honey from the highlands of Ethiopia” anyone?), could hit paydirt among foodies in the West. Even more promising is the Middle East market, where honey features prominently in nearly every meal.

Given the early successes, planners are scaling the beekeeping project up, hoping to include 1500 farmers and produce 230 tons of honey in the district. However, the ecological implications of introducing millions of bees into the ecosystem remains unclear. If the region’s plants can’t support the sudden influx of bees, many farmers may find themselves in debt, struggling to pay off the $120 up-front cost for each hive.

Nonetheless, the program looks promising, and it could not have started at a better time for Mr. Weres. During the harsh 2008 drought, his crops withered and died in one of the worst harvests in recent memory. “Right now the honey is my only source of income,” he says, “and fortunately I can buy food. Next year I will buy the more modern hives in order to produce even more honey; then my children will be able to go to school.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Disease dooming native bumblebees


Native bumblebees, such as this western bumblebee, are in trouble, victims of diseases some scientists say are spread by commercial bumblebees.

Disease dooming native bumblebees

By Lynda V. Mapes

Seattle Times staff reporter

They work in the cold when honeybees are still snug in their hives, and cloudy days don't stop them either.

Bumblebees are workhorse pollinators, depended on to pollinate everything from cranberries and blueberries to hothouse tomatoes.

But native bumblebees are in trouble, victims of diseases some scientists say are spread by commercial bumblebees shipped around North America to pollinate crops.

While much attention has been given to the plight of European honeybees, dying in droves in so-called colony collapse disorder, the sharp decline of some species of native bumblebees has been largely overlooked.

The Xerces Society, based in Portland, several other environment groups and prominent entomologists joined together this week in supporting a citizen petition asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to regulate the commercial bumblebee industry.

The petition asks the department to ban shipments of bumblebees outside their native range, and to require that bumblebees shipped within their native habitat be certified as disease free.

Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, said the rules are needed to prevent further decline of native bumblebees already in deep trouble, including the western bumblebee, the fuzzy bee of every Northwest kid's summer.

"The western bumblebee was one of the most common. If you lived in Seattle, Olympia, Vancouver, this is a bumblebee you would see in forest edges, clearings, yards," Black said. "Today it is gone from pretty much the entire Puget Sound area, as well as east of the Cascades."

He partly blames the escape of East Coast bumblebees, buzzing out of the vents of commercial greenhouses around the country where the bees have been shipped to pollinate crops.

They can carry diseases to which native bees — there are about 30 species on the Pacific Coast — have no resistance.

The Department of Agriculture had no immediate comment on the proposal, said Larry Hawkins, a spokesman for the agency.

States take a varied approach to bumblebee regulation. Oregon bans all importation of commercial bumblebees to protect native stocks, said Dan Hilburn, administrator of the plant division for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Washington doesn't regulate bumblebee shipments at all.

Rene Ruiter, general manager for Koppert Biological Systems in Romulus, Mich., one of two companies commercially growing and shipping bumblebees in North America, said his company already has to certify its bees as disease free for its exports to Canada and Mexico.

Doing so for domestic shipments might not be a burden, depending on how a rule was written, he said.

In business since 1994, his company serves growers using bumblebees to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes, including about 800 acres in the United States. Only bumblebees can execute the deft maneuver required to pollinate a hothouse tomato, vibrating their entire fuzzy body to shake pollen loose.

But under regulations requested in the petition, the company's shipments of Bombus impatiens, a bumblebee native of the Eastern United States, would be shut down to the West.

"That's life," Ruiter said, "but we disagree with it. Our bees are already certified disease free for export and it's not as if we have one bee for export and another for shipping in the U.S."

He bristled at a study published in 2008 documenting much higher disease rates among wild bees collected close to greenhouses in Canada. "Those weren't our bees," he said.

Michael Otterstatter, a research biologist who did the work for the paper while at the University of Toronto, said the results of the study alarmed him.

The levels of disease around the greenhouses was much greater than he found in wild populations.

"It was a nasty shock," Otterstatter said. "I was holding on to the idea that even if the commercial bees are sick, they were isolated enough that they would not be having an effect on the native pollinators. But that turned out not to be the case."

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or

Saturday, January 2, 2010

International Bee Research Association

Just discovered this wonderful resource for studies about bees:

Maya Beekeeping Tradition Fades

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
June 28, 2005

According to Maya history, meliponine bees—native to the tropical forests of Mexico's Yucatán peninsula—symbolize a link to the spirit world, a bequest of the god Ah Muzen Cab.

For centuries, beekeepers in Yucatán have harvested honey from the log nests of the large-bodied, stingless bees. Then Africanized honeybees arrived.

Introduced to the Americas by Europeans, Africanized honeybees became popular with Yucatán beekeepers. While aggressive, the bees are far better honey producers than the stingless bees native to the American tropics.

The Africanized honeybee is a hybrid of European and African bees. Hybridization resulted when African bees brought to Brazil half a century ago interbred naturally with European bees previously introduced to the area. Since then Africanized honeybees have spread over South and Central America and into the United States.

Now, facing loss of habitat, the future of native meliponine bees is in peril—and the ancient tradition of stingless beekeeping is on the verge of dying out.

That would be a cultural blow, because "there are very few animal husbandry traditions, bees or otherwise, in the world," warned David Roubik, an entomologist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), which is headquartered in Panama City, Panama.

The bees' demise is also an ecological loss.

"It is a bee that represents the forest and nature's great dependency on the irreplaceable, beneficial relationships between plants and animals," said Roubik, who was nicknamed "The Bee Man" in a National Geographic television special about his work on Africanized bees.

Religious Ceremony

The Maya cultural practice of bee husbandry dates back thousands of years. In the ancient Maya culture, honey was used as a sweetener, antibiotic, and as an ingredient in the Maya version of mead, a fermented drink.

Of the 500 or so species of stingless bees in the tropical world, the favorite species among Maya beekeepers has been Melipona beecheii. Its traditional name, xunan kab (or kolil kab in the Mayan language), means "royal lady."

In the Maya tradition, a priest harvested stingless bee honey as part of a religious ceremony twice a year. To increase the number of hives and honey production, beekeepers would regularly divide existing nests.

But Africanized bees, with their far greater honey production, presented a more economically attractive option for the beekeepers in Yucatán. While a colony of stingless bees may produce a few pounds of honey per year, Africanized honeybees can produce 220 pounds (100 kilograms).

"Moreover, the Africanized honeybee colonies are free, or nearly so, and don't have to be looked for but merely gathered by trapping mobile colonies in suitable hive boxes," Roubik said.

"The stingless bees only reside in forests within living trees," he added. "They're not easy to find and not attracted to bait hives."

Few young people seem interested in the ancient art of stingless bee husbandry.

"For many the colonies are an heirloom, like their father's stamp collection, and they don't feel a burning desire to carry on the tradition," Roubik said.

Ecological Blow

Roubik started working in Yucatán in 1987 to find ways to study the impact of invasive Africanized honeybees.

In the 1980s researchers estimated there were more than a thousand active hives of native bees on the Yucatán peninsula. In 1990 that number had shrunk to around 400. In 2004 there were only 90 hives left.

"At this rate, we would expect the art of stingless beekeeping to disappear from the Yucatán by 2008," Roubik said.

The dramatic decline has ecological consequences.

Take pollination, for example. While both stingless Maya bees and the Africanized honeybees visit many of the same flowering plants, there are some plants, such as the tomato family, and some forest shrubs and trees, that are not visited by Africanized bees.

"From my long-term work in French Guiana, where I documented the gradual takeover from Melipona [stingless bees] of certain flowering plants by African honeybees and their spread, I measured a 40 percent decline in seed production by one native shrub as the result," Roubik said.

Furthermore, the native bees may starve as deforestation, forest fragmentation, and hurricanes reduce the availability of the floral resources they need.

Another threat may be human.

"It comes from well-motivated but clumsy attempts to domesticate or propagate colonies … by transferring [the colonies] to hive boxes or move them to places where the conditions are not particularly good, like windy, open areas or places near the sea coast," Roubik said.

The ancient beekeeping technology is "all but lost," he added. "We would like to see it turned around, not only to ensure the survival of meliponiculture as a way of life, but also to build up breeding stock to be reintroduced into the wild where bees play an important role as pollinators."