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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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Secret Life of White House Bees

Posted by Jason Djang on June 23, 2010 at 01:04 PM EDT

When White House carpenter Charlie Brandts told some of First Lady Michelle Obama’s staff about his latest hobby in beekeeping, Chef Sam Kass was quick to ask him if he knew how to make honey that could be used in the White House kitchen. Fortunately, not only did Brandts know how to make the honey, but he also had a spare beehive at home that he was happy to donate to the White House. Now Brandts is the White House’s official beekeeper tending a hive of approximately 70,000 bees near the new Kitchen Garden.

Watch this new "Inside the White House" video on the first ever White House beehive:

At German Airports, Bees Help Monitor Air Quality

Airports in Germany have come up with an unusual approach to monitoring air quality. The Düsseldorf International Airport and seven other airports are using bees as “biodetectives,” their honey regularly tested for toxins.

“Air quality at and around the airport is excellent,” said Peter Nengelken, the airport’s community liaison. The first batch of this year’s harvested honey from some 200,000 bees was tested in early June, he said, and indicated that toxins were far below official limits, consistent with results since 2006 when the airport began working with bees.

Beekeepers from the local neighborhood club keep the bees. The honey, “Düsseldorf Natural,” is bottled and given away as gifts.

Biomonitoring, or the use of living organisms to test environmental health, does not replace traditional monitoring, said Martin Bunkowski, an environmental engineer for the Association of German Airports. But “it’s a very clear message for the public because it is easy to understand,” he added.

Volker Liebig, a chemist for Orga Lab, who analyzes honey samples twice a year for the Düsseldorf and six other German airports, said results showed the absence of substances that the lab tested for, like certain hydrocarbons and heavy metals, and the honey “was comparable to honey produced in areas without any industrial activity.” A much larger data sampling over more time is needed for a definitive conclusion, he said, but preliminary results are promising.

Could bees be modern-day sentinels like the canaries once used as warning signals of toxic gases in coal mines?

Assessing environmental health using bees as “terrestrial bioindicators“ is a fairly new undertaking, said Jamie Ellis, assistant professor of entomology at the Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory, University of Florida in Gainesville. “We all believe it can be done, but translating the results into real-world solutions or answers may be a little premature.” Still, similar work with insects to gauge water quality has long been successful.

Many experts say aircraft are not the only, or even main, source of pollution at airports. Cars, taxis, buses and ground activities as well as local industry are often major polluters.

Not surprisingly, Nancy Young, vice president of environmental affairs at the Air Transport Association of America, an airline trade group, defended the air quality at airports. “Airports are not significant contributors” to local air pollution, she said, adding that aviation emissions represent “less than 1 percent of the nation’s inventory and typically only a few percentage points in any given metropolitan area with a major airport.” She said the United States had improved the air quality at its airports through more stringent standards and improved monitoring techniques.

Internationally, there have been similar improvements, said Steven Lott, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association. Since the 1960s, carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons, smoke and nitrogen-oxide emissions have been substantially reduced, he said. Standards for most of them are set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations body.

“It’s a challenge for an industry that continues to grow,” Mr. Lott said. But the industry has invested in developing cleaner aircraft engines and ground-support equipment and vehicles as well as improvements in how equipment is operated. Initiatives like its Green Teams, for example, allow industry consultants to visit airlines to identify and share ways to reduce fuel burn and emissions. More than 105 airlines have participated, he said.

Still, some community groups are not persuaded that air quality at airports has improved.

“It’s way worse than people think,” said Debi Wagner, a board member of Citizens Aviation Watch USA, who lives in Seattle. Some emissions are not adequately sampled and measured, Ms. Wagner said, and other potentially dangerous ones are not monitored at all. She said she was concerned particularly about the health of people living within three miles of commercial airports.

Two recent studies also raise questions about the quality of air at airports. Both focus on small general aviation airports, like the one in Santa Monica, Calif., which was studied in both reports.

“The traditional pollutants did not seem to be a local issue,” said Philip Fine, atmospheric measurements manager for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, an air quality regulatory agency for most of Southern California. “However, there were issues for ultrafine particles and lead.”

Dr. Fine, who oversees a network of air-monitoring stations, was a lead researcher on a study financed by the Environmental Protection Agency that is to be released in the next few weeks.

The lead levels from non-jet aircraft emissions did not exceed federal limits, but were significantly elevated, Dr. Fine said. Elevated levels of ultrafine particles, primarily from jet aircraft, were also a concern. The particles are short-lived, but because they are in high concentration down wind during takeoff, they are particularly worrisome for people who live close to small airports or who are repeatedly exposed, he said.

Most large airports are farther from residential communities, and also have buffer zones separating them.

The health implications of ultrafine particles are not yet known, but some medical research suggests they could pose a serious risk because the extremely fine particles pass through cell walls easily and are able to penetrate far into the brain and circulatory system.

Epidemiological studies have shown there are health risks from elevated levels of these particles emitted by cars and trucks, a concern for people who live near or frequently travel on busy highways, said Suzanne E. Paulson, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. But “we know next to nothing about the health effects of aircraft emissions” of these particles, Dr. Paulson said. She was a lead researcher on another study, published late last year in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

The federal government sets standards for pollutants like ozone and particulate matter, Dr. Fine said, “but ultrafine particles are not currently regulated.”

Europe has limits on ultrafine particles from vehicle emissions, Dr. Fine said. But Emanuel Fleuti, head of environment services for Zurich Airport, said there were concerns in Europe as well. Meanwhile, he said, he is confident about the biomonitoring work the German airports are doing with bees, as the results are consistent with traditional air quality monitoring in Europe.

“If you look at the honey, it’s perfectly fine,” Mr. Fleuti said, adding that he often gets jars of it when he visits Germany. “It’s good honey.”
A version of this article appeared in print on June 29, 2010, on page B6 of the New York edition.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Ritual for our Times: An Evening in Honor of the Sacred Honey Bee

Paper for Uncommon Kinship Class
by Urania (Barbara "bee" Framm)

Institute of Transpersonal Psychology

June 10, 2010

Instructors: Luisah Teish, Judy Grahn, Dianne Jenett

In “Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect our Lives, our World”, Joanna Macy writes: “…in our time, these three rivers—anguish for our world, scientific breakthroughs, and ancestral teachings, flow together.” In creating a community ritual, it was these three rivers that informed three women, including myself, who banded together to create an event which would educate, honor and grow community around concern for the honey bees.
Our ritual developed synchronistically: we were three women who had known each other over many years, mostly in the context of world music and dance. A chance conversation about the plight of the honey bees, triggered by a lecture given Marguerite Rigoglioso on the Delphic Oracle and bee priestesses, or Melissae, of Ancient Greece, led to the discovery that my two friends had traveled with Joan Marler on an anthropological tour to Bulgaria several years back. In the course of this tour, they had been introduced to the Bistrisi Babi, grandmothers from the villages of Bulgaria who still maintain the traditions of singing and dancing. The Babis taught my friends Karina and Jana a song to the honey bees, which would have traditionally been sung in a circle of six women --mirroring the sides of the honeycomb-- with a ceremonial matriarch standing in the center.
Hearing this, and discovering that this had only been performed once for the public, the idea arose that we could create an entire evening around this one song in praise of the honey bee. We met together and brainstormed. First we came up with the name: An Evening in Honor of the Sacred Honey Bee. We wanted the word “sacred” to be prominent, so that it was apparent from the outset that we were honoring the honey bees; this would also be reflective of a long history of cultural connection between the honey bee and the sacred –in literature, poetry, mythology, stories, saints, and symbols. We decided that we would use several different mediums throughout the evening: film, lecture, poetry, participatory ritual, music, and dancing.
The Evening began by greeting each participant at the door with a beeswax taper. When everyone was gathered, a candle was lit from the altar, which we had elaborately decorated with imagery relating to the bees, and this flame was passed on, one by one, to everyone in the audience. We then all processed up to the altar, and placed the lit tapers in a large bowl filled with sand. The procession was accompanied by live Eastern European folk music. This was followed by the showing of a film trailer of “The Vanishing of the Bees”, a work-in-progress which just recently premiered in London. Marguerite Rigoglioso then spoke about the bee priestess of ancient Greece and illustrated her talk with images relating to the Melissae and bees. After this, the heart of the evening was enacted: the Bulgarian bee ritual, originally performed out in the fields, surrounding the beehives. In the place of an active beehive we had placed a traditional woven “skep” (bee-hive) at the center of the room. Six singers surrounded me, arms entwined with each other, as I stood in the middle of the circle, holding the place of the matriarch. We each wore ceremonial headdresses composed of grain and greenery, and were dressed in either Bulgarian finery or special ritual clothing of our own choice. I carried a small cauldron of water, and a whisk made up of green grass. The singers sang the bee song: “Pchelice medna iliadina”, in praise of the sweet, small honey bee. (The song can be heard online:
After the song was sung several times, the matriarch (myself, in this case) took the grass whisk, dipped it in the cauldron of water --now blessed, by the singing of the song-- and sprinkled each of the singers, and the audience, with it. The conclusion of the ritual, and the evening, consisted of the entire audience participating in Bulgarian circle dancing, accompanied by village folk music of Bulgaria, played on the gaida (bagpipes) and daval (large drum).
When we actually enacted the ritual evening, we ended up with over 150 people, in a space meant for closer to 120. The advantage of this was that, although we were definitely crowded, we had somehow created a ‘hive’ of our own. The closeness lent an intimacy and friendliness to the evening. At one point towards the conclusion of the night, when the dancing had come to an end, but we still remained in a standing spiral, a spontaneous hum arose from the group, as if on cue; it had not been planned! If anything was an affirmation of the power of our shared community ritual, this moment was emblematic of that. We all stood in the glow of that hum, aware of the connection between ourselves, and aware that something special had just occurred: for several moments we had dissolved together—become unified--through our joined focus on the bees. Through the music and circular dancing, we had momentarily, at least, erased divisions between ourselves, and perhaps even forged new long-term connections and understandings.
As Native American poet Victoria Lena Manyarrows writes, we were ‘dreaming together’. Her poem “See No Indian, Hear No Indian” speaks to the importance of sharing dreams with each other:

“i tell you how we the indians always listened
listened to one another and
talked out our differences.
i tell you this world
this world, strangled and distorted by white men
will die a bitter and harsh early death
if no one learns to listen
and dream together.”

Through the presentation of information on the honey bees, as well as music, dance and ritual, we were able to create a space for listening, hearing, and dreaming. We also had a question/answer time when members of the audience could ask questions and voice their opinions about the current state of the honey bees; this led to a passionate discussion about Colony Collapse Disorder and it’s possible causes. Many members of the audience were already bee lovers, but few had actually heard the statistics, or understood the implications of massive bee die-offs that have been occurring since 2006, around the world.
I think we were dealing with two different levels of uncommon kinship in this crowd: on the one hand, we had devoted beekeepers and persons who already had an interest in the honey bees. On the other hand, we had curious participants, who came out of an attraction to the cause as well as the knowledge that ritual, music and dance would be part of the event. There was some disconnect between these two groups, as the beekeepers—not a homogenous group by any means—had their own agenda (some of them rejected the “sacred” label), while the more ritually oriented participants were passionately attached to their belief system regarding the care and breeding of the bees (which in many cases diverges from standard beekeeping methods), using an entirely natural, pesticide free, approach.
As an example of this divide, I even received a “hate mail” letter from a Marin County beekeeper the morning of my second bee event in August of 2009. He wrote something to the effect that I was a “greedy, money-mongering, hypocritical new -age space cadet”, and I should desist from presenting such events --which apparently I was only doing for the massive amounts of money I was making (!!). This really opened up my eyes to the opposing mind-set that I was dealing with as I embarked on the path of “bee activism”. I was temporarily shocked, depressed, and daunted by his hateful email, but since I received it the morning of the event, I was forced to put it out of my mind and carry on, which was just as well. It was a good lesson in an unfortunate type of diversity, however, and it made me reflect on the ways our presentation could be fine-tuned so as not to be offensive to mainstream beekeepers.
Joy James, in her essay “Truth Telling” writes: “ I have found that, while it is easy to dismiss my opponent’s humanity and use that heightened anger and that “moral justification” to push things through, anger is not the best energy to work with if it doesn’t have a loving perspective…A very important aspect of the idea of community is that you can’t learn this loving in isolation. You really only can learn this kind of loving when it is not easy. It is almost as if through struggle you learn love that is reconciliation without acquiescence. This requires understanding the lay of the land and then doing what is necessary to change the terrain, to change the landscape and make it more habitable for human beings.”
When I originally began this project of getting involved in honey bee activism, it never occurred to me that this subject could in any way be controversial. Who doesn’t love honey? And who wouldn’t love a honey bee, or want them to survive and thrive? I never imagined that this sub-culture (which I have discovered it to be) could be so diverse in its own way, and also so quirky. The range of people who keep bees encompasses a complete spectrum. There is as much variety in this group of people as any cross section of the population. Interestingly, the current problems afflicting the bees have brought together beekeepers in an unlikely accord; the overriding concern about the survival of the bees has transcended differences, and united individuals under the banner of saving the bees.
I feel strongly that nature is speaking to us through the bees, as well as many other insects, mammals, and fish: if we do not wake up to the call of the animal world, and the natural environment which sustains them, we risk our own survival, as is becoming increasingly evident. Referring to this awakening as “the Great Turning”, Joanna Macy writes: “the shift that is happening now, both as cognitive revolution and spiritual awakening…is the third, most basic dimension of the Great Turning…The realizations we make in the third dimension of the Great Turning save us from succumbing to either panic or paralysis. They help us resist the temptation to stick our heads in the sand. They also help us withstand the temptation to turn on each other, finding scapegoats on whom to vent our fear and rage. But when we know and revere the wholeness of life, we can stay alert and steady. We know there is no private salvation. We join hands to find the ways the world self-heals—and see the chaos as seedbed for the future.”
I think that both of our “Evening in Honor of the Sacred Honey Bees” events, one in February of 2009, and one in August of 2009, did provide a forum for deep listening; we were able to engage the community in discussion regarding issues surrounding the disappearance of the bees, as well as provide a historical, cultural background of their prominent place in ancient history. The seed of this discussion was rooted in a concern—love—for the honey bees; through compassion we can arm ourselves to make this fundamental shift in consciousness—the “Great Turning”, as Macy names it.
On another level, we were also engaging in a conversation with the bees—insects which have been misunderstood and feared, as much as they have been loved and appreciated. By presenting information about the bees, their importance to the planet and their integral role in the life of all of us, we hopefully were able to undo
some misconceptions about the bees, and replace those falsehoods with credible knowledge.
Gunther Hauk, a German beekeeper, disciple of Rudolph Steiner and the Anthroposophic philosophy he formulated, writes in his book “Towards Saving the Honey Bee”: “At this time, I cannot ward off the feeling that the GREAT BEE herself is in despair for the general misuse and treatment of her colonies. It is withdrawing, collapsing, unable to give of her blessings because she is simply too exhausted by our exploitation…Let us consider, in our mind and heart, a renewed approach of reverence and care for all of our earth’s creatures. Let us help the honey bee regain her health and joy of living.”
Interestingly, the life of the honey bee provides a model of community interaction and cooperation. Without this intensely focused cooperation, the colony would not survive. A strong colony of honey bees can contain between 40,000 to 60,000 bees. The majority of the colony are female worker bees, who are responsible for feeding larvae, feeding drones, nectar ripening, producing heat, collecting water for cooling, housecleaning, guard duty, and field collection of pollen, propolis, and nectar. A female worker lives approximately 6-8 weeks in the summer, and she will work until her wings give out. If the workers stopped feeding the drones (responsible for mating with the queen), they would die. Additionally, the workers must feed the queen royal jelly, without which she would not be a queen, or be able to produce in excess of 1000 eggs per day.
“Honey bee colonies employ strategies remarkably similar to those of mammals, and raise relatively few, but extremely well-prepared and carefully protected reproductive individuals to release into the world. To this end, honey bees have developed specific abilities and behaviors that belong among the most amazing in the living world. We are only just beginning to understand this highly complex tapestry….Maurice Maeterlink, a scientist from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, was still able to perceive the life of the colony as an organism and express deep awe and reverence for the greater forces and mysteries indicated by the life of the bees (Maeterlink 1915). Modern science creates a dichotomy out of this very advanced and integrated life expression. On the one hand, researchers marvel at the intricacies of activity, timing and production that the bees so amazingly execute among themselves, to provide gifts for the rest of the world (not only pollination, honey, wax). Yet under the sway of our technological mentality, they try to define the life of the bee colony by separation and delineation of its ‘individual’ components: queen, workers, and drones.”
Even as scientific knowledge about the bees has increased, our “technological mentality” has stripped us of a compassionate understanding and approach to beekeeping. We have “commodified” the bees, turning them into--like everything else in this Western society-- a “product”. The standard method of reproduction is now no longer the naturally occurring mating of the queen with her drones; queen bees are now routinely artificially inseminated. This process, available for viewing on the internet, is akin to torture: the queen is placed in a holding tube of an instrument and anesthetized with carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, the drone’s head and thorax are crushed, effectively turning the drone inside out, so that semen can be collected. Hooks are used to help insert a syringe with the semen into the queen bee. Noah Lewis, who has posted a page about artificial insemination of the queen bee on her website, writes about the practice: “I do not mean to trivialize human rape and certainly an individual human rape is far worse than an individual honeybee rape, but as a cultural phenomenon, they are equally evil and, in fact, flow from the same source.”
When considering the current plight of the honey bee, we cannot overlook this insensitivity to the basic impulses and natural functioning of the honey bees. In nature, the queen normally mates once in her life--in mid-air with 7-17 drones (male bees) who then die. By submitting the queen bee to this ‘rape’, we are erasing a fundamental function within the hive, of both the drone and the queen. Gunther Hauk feels that “the single most serious factor causing the lowered state of health and vitality of the honey bee (is) our ‘great’ achievement of artificial queen production”. Michael Bush, of Bush Bees Farms, Canada writes, “We have a narrow gene pool to start with, and between pesticides, pests, and overzealous programs to control Africanized Honey Bees, many of the pockets of feral bees have been depleted leaving only the queens that people buy. When you consider that there are only a handful of queen breeders providing 99% of the queens, that's a pretty small gene pool. This deficiency used to be made up by feral bees and people rearing their own queens. But the recent trend is to encourage everyone to not rear their own queens and only buy them.” This is ultimately leading to a situation where the gene pool is deteriorating. Marin County Beekeepers recently have launched their own program called “Survivor Stock Queen Project”. Under the guidance of master beekeepers like Serge LaBesque of Sonoma County, the Marin Beekeepers will attempt to raise their own queen bees, without resorting to artificial insemination methods, removing the necessity of purchasing queens from one source, as is the current custom throughout the United States.
Awareness of all the above facts—the commodification of the bees, artificial insemination, and other contemporary beekeeping practices—has led to a slow shift in consciousness; beekeepers throughout the United States can no longer ignore the fact that the bees are dying and that this will have an immediate and highly detrimental impact on the production of produce, their jobs and livelihoods, and in general, the continuation of life as we know it.
The bees are communicating to us through their demise. We have to make that shift, entering into the “Great Turning”, and direct our energies to focus on ways that we as a global community can come together, in the richness of our diversity, in an uncommon kinship, and find ways that together we can help the honey bees. In helping the bees, we will also be aligning ourselves with “our deepest desires…we will choose life.”

Photos: August 15, 2009
An Evening in Honor of the Sacred Honey Bee. Pt. Reyes Dance Palace. Pt. Reyes, CA
The Melissae Chorus, dressed in Bulgarian traditional costume

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Opera house starts new production in key of bee

Urban hives seen as way to reverse decline of hard-working honeybees

By Tobi Cohen, Canwest News Service May 23, 2010

The Canadian Opera Company is abuzz with the sound of bees.

Taking a cue from its world-famous counterparts in Paris, which began urban beekeeping 25 years ago, Toronto's new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts buzzed in its first black and yellow tenants this month.

Part of a blossoming movement that's taken hold across Europe and North America -- Manhattan just lifted a ban on beekeeping in March and Michelle Obama added them to her White House garden last year -- urban apiculture is touted as a means of boosting local food production, reversing the trend of declining bee populations and strengthening city gardens.

"When bees come to an urban setting, they avoid the pesticides that farmers use in the countryside," says Fred Davis, the man behind the Toronto project, adding the Paris opera house's "prolific pollinators" are now producing more honey per hive than their rural counterparts.

"They're doing wonderful things for the local environment in Paris ... I thought maybe I could replicate that in a similar setting.

"We've got all these urban gardens and flowers and trees. With the honeybees, they help strengthen, prolong and diversify all the green stuff we've got in our city."

The project started last fall when the commercial contract manager had a "eureka" moment while peering out the 15th-floor window of his downtown Toronto office building. Across the street, some storeys below, was the flat, loose stone roof of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Home of the Canadian Opera Company, it got him thinking about a recent article he'd read about Paris's Palais Garnier and Opera Bastille -- believed to be the only opera houses in the world to house hives until now.

The amateur urban apiarist, who had already partnered with nearby Casa Loma to manage a pair of hives atop the historic Toronto castle, immediately set out to convince COC management that bees and La Boheme were a perfect match.

Little did he know that director Alexander Neef would be so easily sold.

"Before I came to the COC I had been working for the Paris opera for a few years," Neef said. "It didn't seem like a strange idea to me at all because I was used to having them."

Having just moved into its new digs a few years ago, the COC sees beekeeping as way to be a good neighbour.

Noting honeybees are dying off at an alarming rate -- the North American population has dropped about 30 per cent in three years -- Neef said the COC is proud to be among a handful of Toronto companies helping the insects recover their numbers.

They're also good for morale. "Ever since we've introduced them, the people in the company have really embraced them," Neef said. "They're a little bit like the company pets."

The Canadian Opera Company now boasts two hives which, by peak season, should each contain about 60,000 bees. They are expected to produce between 18 and 32 kilograms of honey.
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

Read more:

Ancient Beehives Yield 3,000-Year-Old Bees

Honeybee remains found in a 3,000-year-old apiary have given archaeologists a one-of-a-kind window into the beekeeping practices of the ancient world.

“Beekeeping is known only from a few Egyptian sources, from a few tombs and paintings. No actual hives have been found,” said Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Amihai Mazar.

The hives were uncovered in 2007 at an excavation in Tel Rehov, Israel, home to the flourishing Bronze and Iron Age city of Rehov. Mazar and his team found more than 100 hives, capable of housing an 1.5 million bees and producing half a ton of honey.

In a paper published June 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers analyzed bees preserved in honeycomb that was charred, but not completely burnt by fire that likely destroyed the rest of the apiary.

Unfortunately for would-be makers of ancient honey, heat damaged the bees’ DNA, making it impossible to revive their genes in modern bees. But the researchers were at least able to identify them as Apis mellifera anatoliaca, a subspecies found only in what is now Turkey. It’s possible that A. m. anatoliaca’s range has changed, but more likely that Rehov’s beekeepers traded for them.

Local bees are notoriously difficult to handle. During the 20th century, when beekeepers tried to establish a modern industry in Tel Rehov, they ended up importing A. m. anatoliaca — a literally sweet example of history repeating itself.

Image: Top, micrographs of a drone head and larva; bottom, micrographs of a workers’ head and thoracic flight muscles./PNAS.

Citation: “Industrial apiculture in the Jordan valley during Biblical times with Anatolian honey bees,” by Guy Bloch, Tiago Francoy, Ido Wachtel, Nava Panitz-Cohen, Stefan Fuchs, and Amihai Mazar. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 107 No. 23, June 8, 2010.

Brandon Keim’s Twitter stream and reportorial outtakes; Wired Science on Twitter. Brandon is currently working on a book about ecological tipping points.

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4th Annual National Pollinator Week, June 21-27!

This week is dedicated to raising awareness of the value of those hard-working pollinators that account for every third bite of food we eat. Governors of more that 30 states have designated the last week in June as “National Pollinator Week.”
And it is being celebrated in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and around the globe as more and more people are realizing the value of pollinators as part of our food web.

“A World of Pollinators” is the theme for 2010 National Pollinator Week. Find out what is happening in your area at: (link name)

What can we do for pollinators? Start with one observation. And from there a whole new world can open up. Each observation you record and report will be part of a growing body of data that we can use to measure pollinator service around the country. But observation is only the start. We can take action, too!

Add a yard to your yard
In a recent study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, loss of habitat was identified as a major cause of the decline in the number and types of bees nationwide. By planting for pollinators, we can rebuild pollinator habitat and make a significant, positive impact on the survival rates for honey bees and other pollinators. Whether urban, suburban or rural, pollinators rely on “key species” to obtain the vital nectar, pollen, and nesting resources they need to keep thriving. These key plants are critical for survival and can be incorporated easily into your garden. If everyone added another square yard of habitat species to their gardens, just think of all the additional resources that would be available for bees to get what they need to give back what we depend on.
So if you have the room, take action! Add a pollinator yard to your yard and let us know how it goes for you.
Here’s how it works in six easy steps:

1. Select a spot in your yard that gets sun and would look great planted out with more flowering plants.
2. Measure out three feet by three feet and mark it off. You may have to remove turf, large rocks, or lawn furniture.
3. Condition the soil, by adding organic topsoil or compost and working it in.
4. Select plants that offer a variety of pollen and nectar through out as much of the year as your climate supports flowering plants. Check with your local nursery, master gardener group or botanical garden for ideas. Native plants are always a good choice.
5. Plant it out and enjoy the benefits of providing critical resources for pollinators in your garden.
6. And, make sure to take “before and after” pics of your garden- you can post them on our flickr site here (link name ) We will be awarding a jar of delicious honey from Gretchen’s hives to the lucky photo winner.
We invite you to celebrate National Pollinator Week with us. Take action and add a yard to your yard. We also suggest that you check out for a list of ideas throughout the year. This new program sponsored by the Pollinator Network highlights specific actions that school groups, farmers, gardeners, and others can take to “Take Action for Pollinators.” You can purchase or download this beautifully done poster there, too. Happy National Pollinator Week!

Freddy B

Loss of bees could be 'a blow to UK economy'

If bees and other pollinators were to disappear completely, the cost to the UK economy could be up to £440m per year, scientists have warned.

This amounts to about 13% of the country's income from farming.

In a bid to save the declining insects, up to £10m has been invested in nine projects that will explore threats to pollinators.

The Insect Pollinators Initiative will look at different aspects of the insects' decline.

The initiative brings together specialists from a number of UK universities, as well as from the Food & Environment Research Agency and the Natural Environment Research Council's (Nerc) Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

It is funded by several public and charity organisations, led by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Honeybees, hoverflies, wasps, bumblebees, moths and butterflies play a vital role in feeding people through the pollination of crops.
Continue reading the main story

Bumblebees have declined worldwide, largely due to the loss of flowers and other habitats they need to survive in the countryside

Claire Carvell Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

Speaking at a news briefing at the Science Media Centre, Professor Andrew Watkinson, director of the Living with Environmental Change programme, said that the new initiative "allowed us to bring in new skills in gene sequencing and epidemiological modelling with the expertise that already exists in the pollinator research community".

Some projects will look at factors affecting the health and survival of pollinators in general. Others will focus on specific species and diseases.
'Catastrophic' decline

Professor Watkinson said there was no single factor that could explain the pollinators' decline.

"There's a whole range of agriculture and land use, disease, environmental change [and] pesticides," he said.

"To tackle a complex problem like the decline of pollinating insects, where there are a number of potential causes, requires wide-ranging research."

For some species, such as bumblebees, the decline was "catastrophic", he added.

"It's really difficult to quantify [the extent of the decline of pollinators] and that's one of the problems we really need to address.

"What we need is some robust science and I think that this programme is going to provide it."

Another speaker, Claire Carvell from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said that since the 1970s, there had been a 75% decline of butterfly species in the UK.

Also, out of 25 species of bumblebees, three had gone extinct, she added.
Bee Inspector at work Inspectors are monitoring the health of honeybee colonies in England and Wales

These "extra special" bees with large hairy bodies are very effective at transferring pollen between flowers, she commented.

"They are also active at lower temperatures than other bees, so you'll see them out working earlier and later in the day.

"But bumblebees have declined worldwide, largely due to the loss of flowers and other habitats they need to survive in the countryside."

Dr Carvell said that her team will use a method of collecting DNA from live wild bumblebees to estimate how far queen bees fly to start new nests and how far workers fly to forage.

"These findings will allow us to manage landscapes in ways that are effective in conserving bumblebee populations," she concluded.
A brain disorder?

Neurobiologist Chris Connolly, of the University of Dundee, is leading research into the effect pesticides have on bees.
Continue reading the main story

A single pesticide or miticide is not likely to be responsible… but a cocktail of different pesticides or miticides might [have a combined effect] to amplify the brain problem

Chris Connolly University of Dundee

In particular, his team will assess any possible damage to the insects' abilities to gather food, navigate and even perform their special "waggle dance", which they use to let other bees know where nectar can be found.

He said that the pollinators' decline could be partially explained by a brain disorder - triggered by chemicals in pesticides.

"A single pesticide or miticide is not likely to be responsible… but a cocktail of different pesticides or miticides might [have a combined effect] to amplify the brain problem," explained Dr Connolly.

His study will concentrate on identifying these dangerous combinations in order to advise farmers about how to avoid them in the future.

It will include fitting tiny radio frequency ID tags to pollinators, which will act like "barcodes at the supermarket", recording when insects enter and leave the nest.
Wasp feeding on figwort flower Wasps are also in decline

Other projects include investigating ecology and conservation of pollinators in cities, researching the impact of a mite named Varroa destructor, and looking into the effects of agriculture on bees.

The vital thing, Professor Watkinson stated, was for the scientists to communicate the results of their studies to the people in the field - beekeepers and farmers.

"It is imperative that the science that's being done is fed through as quickly as possible to the conservationists and to the agricultural community, so that we can ensure food security and also the maintenance of our biodiversity," he said.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Beehives installed in Fairmont Hotel's culinary garden

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- There was a lot of buzz surrounding San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel Thursday when four beehives were installed in the hotel's new culinary garden.

It is designed to support the bee population which has decreased in number by 90 percent since the 1980s.

Beekeepers say each hive contains approximately 20,000 bees. When matured, each hive will house up to 50,000 bees.

The homegrown honey will be served to the hotel guests.

Bees at the Fairmont Hotel!

Tomorrow morning, workers at Fairmont Hotel will hoist four live beehives — in burlap sacks, mind you — through the historic Nob Hill hallways. The beehives will come from Marshall Farms and are part of hotel executive chef JW Foster’s new, 1000-square-foot culinary garden.

The role of the bees is two-fold: first of all, bees are pretty much needed for any serious culinary garden. Secondly, Foster plans to eventually use the uber-local honey around the hotel, be it at afternoon tea services or in the three restaurants.

Right now, there a few beds on the garden terrace, with lavender ready to welcome the bees. An herb garden will soon follow, and eventually, Foster will plant a vegetable garden too, with a focus on heirloom varieties. He plans to use the fruits of the garden — be it sage or tomato — throughout the hotel restaurant. Laurel Court is the most seasonal of the three restaurant (sorry, Tonga Room) and will be the most direct beneficiary, but cocktails, ice cream and syrups are other ways that the garden will be incorporated. As for the bees, Foster thinks the Fairmont is one of the first — if not the first — hotel to bring in hives; anyone know of other local hotels with bees?

The Fairmont: 950 Mason Street, at California; (415) 772-5000 or

beekeeping video

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Great Sunflower Project

Welcome Fred! I am delighted to introduce our new Outreach Director, Fred Bové. Fred brings a combination of skills to the position that will help us work with you to improve and expand the Great Sunflower Project. Fred combines the knowledge and insight of a trained market researcher with extensive horticultural knowledge gained from a lifetime of study. In his former life, he worked conducting surveys, focus groups and in-depth interviews for a range of technology and Fortune 500 companies. He served as chapter president of the American Marketing Association and was president and founder of the Mariposa Group, a company specializing in niche audience research.

According to family sources, Fred knew the names of the plants and flowers in the gardens and woods surrounding his home at the age of four. His lifelong study of plants as food and medicine led him to permaculture – a system of design that mimics nature. He is a Certified Permaculture Designer, consultant and teacher, having studied Permaculture techniques and practices in Northern California and Hawai’i.

Recently, Fred served as Associate Director of Adult Education at the San Francisco Botanical Garden, where he developed programming, exhibits, tours, and public events designed to connect plants with people. He currently teaches permaculture at UC Berkeley Extension, and regularly leads edible forage walks in the wilds of San Francisco.

To make it easier for you to get in touch with Fred (our email inbox is just overwhelmed), we have set up the “Ask Freddy B Forum”. Please share your ideas and questions with Fred there!

Other species reminder. In 2009, we have expanded the plants from which you can collect data. If you have limited time, please ONLY do the Sunflower!! The other plants we are interested in are: Bee balm, Cosmos, Rosemary, Tickseed, and Purple coneflower. We chose these because there are not many varieties so, we can be sure that the reward offered by each plant is fairly similar from garden to garden. We'd love to pick a plant like sage but, there are thousands of varieties. While we have included rosemary, we strongly encourage everyone to plant natives!

Phenology. We also want to encourage everyone to keep track of their plant phenology! Last year, we contributed more data to the National Phenology Network than any other group. We’d love to do that again.

Chia. And finally, if you don’t have enough to do this summer, Chia (Salvia hispanica) is a promising pollinator provider and cover crop. Don Weber of USDA Agricultural Research Service is encouraging trials under a variety of growing conditions to see what its full potential is. Yes, it’s the same chia as in “Ch-ch-chia Pet”! But aside from sprouting on whimsical ceramic figures, it is a tall annual in the mint family, native to Central America and Mexico, and was the 3rd most important staple of the Aztecs, to say nothing of its special nutritional benefits. Many mints are great bee plants but many are also aggressive perennials which will take over a garden. Not chia, which may offer the pollinator benefits of the mint family without the aggressive, weedy side. Please see Don’s website and links for more info. Email with exact subject line “Chia seed” for your free seed (subject to availability) and instructions on planting it and reporting your results!

Happy Spring! Remember to do your Garden Description online!

The Queen Bee
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