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

Search This Blog

Follow by Email

Monday, July 25, 2011

Investigation aims to keep bees on Maui flying strong

July 20, 2011
By CHRIS HAMILTON - Staff Writer ( , The Maui News

WAILUKU - For the past several years, America's honeybees have been disappearing in record numbers - but for reasons not yet understood completely by scientists, Maui and Kauai's bees have been spared.

Today, Danielle Downey, apiculture specialist for the state Department of Agriculture, will travel to Maui to investigate why. She will meet with the island's dozen or so beekeepers, or apiarists, to conduct a thorough survey and inspection of Maui's bees and their colonies or hives.

The official term for the destructive phenomenon is called Colony Collapse Disorder. It's particularly frightening for Hawaii's agriculture industry and economy.

Not only is the state's honey considered some of the finest on Earth (and typically costs $35 a pound, one of the highest prices on the honey market), but bees pollinate all kinds of plants, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said in a statement.

Downey said that, before her visit today, beekeepers should be on the lookout for non-native mites and beetles in the colonies. They are proved to carry diseases that can nearly kill off a hive or entire colony.

However, so far, the bugs have not been spotted on Maui or Kauai. And Downey and others in the tight-knit bee community said they absolutely want to see the spread of the invasive species stop before they arrive here.

"This is something we have to suss out together," said Maui beekeeper Jonathan Starr, who has 35 colonies with about 1 million bees on his Kaupo property. "I really hope her skills and inspections turn out not to be a horrible news story for us."

Some of the telltale diseases, and the invasive insects that carry them, were first spotted on Oahu and the Big Island in 2007, Abercrombie said.

How long Maui and Kauai can avoid the devastation could be just a matter of time; or people could rally together and work to stop the problem before it arrives; or beekeepers could destroy infected hives themselves on sight, so the bugs and their diseases don't spread.

A public meeting with Downey is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the University of Hawaii Maui College's Pilina Building Multipurpose Room, Starr said. In the meantime, beekeepers are welcome to contact Downey via email at, She also works for the university, which also is assisting beekeepers.

According to a recent study by the University of Illinois and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January, American bumblebee populations are seeing declines in some species by as much as 96 percent in recent years. And some bee species could be on the verge of extinction.

However, studies have not determined if any particular reason is to blame for the loss of bees, which would be detrimental to the country's agriculture industry because bees pollinate so many plants, entomologists have said.

Pesticides, destructive beetles and mites, diseases and climate change have all been either blamed individually or in combination for the demise of bees, the studies said.

Parasitic varroa mites and small hive beetles are blamed as well as pesticides for the bees' destruction so far in Hawaii, Starr said.

The mites carry a "horrible disease where it attaches itself to the neck of the bee and then literally sucks the life out it," Starr said. Meanwhile, he said that the beetles carry nosema disease, which "is like dysentery for bees."

A beetle outbreak attacking Hawaii's bees since last year is foul blood disease. This sort of turns the eggs to "a smelly mush," and they are unable to hatch, Starr said. The slime also destroys beekeeper equipment, and those eggs that do hatch sometimes contain maggots.

"In the last few years, most bee producers on the Mainland have lost a third to a half of their bees," Starr said.

Downey said that one thing absolutely no one should be doing - and is illegal in Hawaii - is buying bees online and having them shipped here.

Most beekeepers either buy queens from one another or go into the wild and capture a queen from a hive on a tree.

Abercrombie recognizes the importance of protecting bees and "saving vital contributions to our food supply and environment." Bee-dependent crops include Hawaii's beloved mangos, lychees, avocados and macadamia nuts.

But it's not all defense, doom and gloom, Downey said. Bees can be resilient, just look how they can survive nature's harshest winters.

To promote the natural growth of bees in the wild, and thus keep a fresh supply of queens for beekeepers, Downey is asking residents to play their part. That means planting more flowers that bloom year round or the fragrant herbal gardens, she said.

And, of course, Downey and other experts are asking everyone to make sure they are buying real Hawaii-made honey.

* Chris Hamilton can be reached at
© Copyright 2011 The Maui News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sister Bee: a lyrical documentary about beekeepers and honeybees, focusing on women beekeepers

(I wasn't able to get the code to embed the trailer for this 1/2 hr film, but you can go to the site and see it there, as well as order it).


Sister Bee is a lyrical documentary about six beekeepers who find beauty and wonderment in their work with honeybees. Beekeeping is more than a hobby for the beekeepers of Sister Bee. It’s a source of laughter, learning and connecting with the natural world.

Sister Bee follows the arc of the beekeeping year beginning with spring queens and ending with the fall honey harvest. The beekeepers approach their hives. One lights a smoker. Another lifts a cover from a hive revealing the wax city below. A third laughs as she hoists a six-year-old boy to peer inside her tallest hive. “There she is! There she is!” says another when she finds the queen. Each beekeeper’s outlook is revealed through thoughts and gestures. Expressive sound effects and a score of vocal music, antique whistling songs and acoustic guitar unify Sister Bee into a celebration of honeybees, beekeepers and the changing seasons. Mortality, sisterhood and the palpable sense of connectedness some beekeepers experience while working with honeybees are addressed.

Running Time: 29 minutes 50 seconds
Shooting Format: Mini-DV and 16mm
Completed: July 2006
Country: United States
Language: English

Being kind to bees

Warmer weather has finally arrived in Boulder, as have the buzzing blurs of black and yellow that herald colorful tidings of summer.

As nature's most prolific pollinators, bees ensure that flowers, trees and farmers' crops get into the growing spirit.

There are dozens of native bee species in the Boulder area. Most have fairly short active lives and co-evolved with specific plant communities.

Take the mason bee. It emerges around the end of March and is active through the first week in May. Within that time, each female has laid about 20 or 30 eggs.

Like anywhere, Boulder needs its native bees.

Why? Tom Theobald's answer is simple and succinct: "Because we like to eat."

One of the founders of the Boulder County Beekeepers Association and its president for more than 30 years, Theobald notes that bee pollination is necessary for roughly one-third of American agriculture.

"And it's the good stuff that they're responsible for," Theobald said of bees. "If you can be satisfied with corn and wheat and rice, you'll be perfectly happy, but if you like strawberries or apples or peaches ... If you remove the bees, you don't have them."

The pollination process is relatively simple, but extremely nuanced. A bee gets pollen grains on its body by brushing up against a flower's stamen. When the insect then flies to a different flower, it unknowingly drops grains of pollen into a second plant's stigma. The pollen then travels down a tube to the flower's ovary, which will later become a seed.

"The bees are doing a job that is so important for our food system," said Laura Tyler, who co-owns Backyard Bees L.L.C. with her husband, Andy Schwarz. "They do pollination."

Though wheat, barley, corn and alfalfa -- crops historically grown in Boulder County -- do not rely on bees for reproduction, Theobald points out that the insects are tremendously important for the organic farms that have cropped up in the area.

"That sort of farming is critically dependent on the honey bee," he said of organics. "(Bees have) always been important, but in terms of Boulder County agriculture, they're much more important today than they were 25 years ago."

But big problems are befalling Boulder's bee populations, as they are elsewhere in the United States.

A century ago, Boulder County was the leading bee-keeping region in the entire state, and one of the leading regions in the country, Theobald said. But locally, as well as nationally, bees are suffering. Their numbers peaked in the 1950s, when Theobald estimates there were five to six million colonies nationwide. That number has since decreased by roughly half.

Many local experts place the primary blame on systemic pesticides, which inundate the soil. They are then taken up by plants and ingested by bees. These pesticides compromise the bees' immune systems so that other irritants ultimately kill the insect, somewhat comparable to AIDS in the human population.

"Commercial bee keepers are losing a sizable portion of their colonies every year, probably 50 to 60 percent," Theobald said. "That's not sustainable."

And unfortunately, relying on native bees isn't a viable option.

"There's this thought that maybe we can just overcome the shortage of honeybees by promoting the native bees," Theobald said. "That just doesn't hold together."

Though it's more difficult to monitor populations of native bees, those that have been measured show similar declines as the honeybees, likely from the same problems.

So what can individual Boulderites do to help keep up the buzz?

The first, and perhaps most important, step is to make sure no pesticides or herbicides are sprayed in your yard.

Then, make your lawn inviting.

"What individual homeowners can do is to provide what bees like or what they need," Mikl Brawner, owner of Harlequin's Gardens, said. "You want to provide them with water, and you want to provide them with nectar."

He recommends putting rocks or gravel in a shallow container and keeping it filled with water without covering the pebbles completely, so the bees "can still walk around on something and get to the water."

Those with growing room can plant red bud trees, lilacs, maples, willow trees or many other tree and bush varieties, as well flowers like sunflowers, asters, golden rods and blue mist spirea.

Connie Smith, a manager at florist and garden center Sturtz and Copeland, says customers are starting to understand how big a role bees play.

"People realize the importance of the bees and pollinating," she said. "The danger is if we don't have them pollinating some of our food crops, then we won't have some of those foods."


Read more: Being kind to bees - Boulder Daily Camera

National Pollinator week celebrated in Boulder, CO