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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Sunday, December 11, 2011

In memory of Giorgio Celli (1935 - 2011)

It was thanks to Giorgio that the project investigating
the bee as an environmental sentinel for the presence of
pesticides, radionuclides, heavy metals, etc. became a
point of reference for the whole of Italy and a model for
the development of similar programmes internationally.
The project began about forty years ago and involved
various collaborators including Dr Claudio Porrini (the
most assiduous of them all and still today fully involved
in the issue of defending bees against the dangers resulting
from environmental pollution). Giorgio focused on the ethological side of apidology and in particular studied the visual perception of honey bees and bumble bees.
And Giorgio’s interests could not help but include
(starting from the ‘70s) the protection of the honey bee,
unfortunately still very much prone to suffering from
the harmful side-effects of pesticides, at both acute and
sublethal levels.

In his book “La mente dell’ape” [The honey bee’s
mind], published in 2008, he tackles the dramatic topic
of pesticides in an amiable and down to earth manner:
here again I will quote, word for word, what Giorgio
tells us through the mouth of Sherlock Holmes: “The
diffusion of molecules, old and new, that for over fifty
years have invaded the cultivated field, contaminating
the entire territory, is preparing the way for an ecological
catastrophe. Consider also that, like the cultivated
field, the hive too is subjected to numerous chemical
treatments, to combat unwelcome visitors to the bee’s
home. This flood of chemicals can only have brutal consequences
resulting from the simplification of biodiversity.
We notice the disappearance of bees because we
breed them, but how many other beneficial insects are
vanishing? In the spring we just see the occasional erratic
butterfly flying around”.

Bee swarms behave just like neurons in the human brain

By Alasdair Wilkins
Dec 8, 2011 2:20 PM
When it comes time for honeybee swarm to split off from their mother colony and find a new place to live, something remarkable happens. To communicate most effectively, they organize themselves exactly like the neurons of a complex brain.
Sometimes, a honeybee colony grows too large, and so a swarm breaks off in order to find a possible new home, usually somewhere like a secure opening in a tree. Different bees check out different possible new homes, and those that have found a suitable landing site communicate this to the others by dancing, repeating a simple figure eight pattern that the other bees can interpret in order to know the direction and distance of their potential new home.
Time is of the essence here, since the entire swarm is exposed and vulnerable to the elements, and they're also missing out on crucial honey harvesting time. The problem is that scouts will often come back having found multiple good sites, and so the swarm has to very quickly decide which of these options is the best one. They can't afford to spend too much time deliberating, but at the same a bad choice could wipe out the entire colony.
Researchers P. Kirk Visscher of UC Riverside and Thomas Seeley of Cornell have discovered a crucial way in which bees come to these decisions as quickly as possible, and it actually precisely mimics what goes on with neurons in the complex brains of humans and other primates.
While the house hunting bees continue their figure eight dance, a different set of bees known as sender scouts will sometimes give them a "stop signal", which is a short buzz punctuated by the sender butting her head against the dancer. This makes the dancing bee stop moving, and it allows the swarm to stop focusing on this repeated information and come to a better decision. Monkeys' brains send out similar signals to inhibit their neurons while making decisions. Visscher comments on this similarity:

"It appears that the stop signals in bee swarms serve the same purpose as the inhibitory connections in the brains of monkeys deciding how to move their eyes in response to visual input. In one case we have bees and in the other we have neurons that suppress the activity levels of units – dancing bees or nerve centers – that are representing different alternatives. Bee behavior can shed some light on general issues of decision making. Bees are a lot bigger than neurons for sure, and may be easier to study!"

This phenomenon, known as cross inhibition, serves precisely the same function with bees that it does in nervous systems. It's a way of avoiding decision-making deadlock when presented with a set of equally viable alternatives. Visscher explains:

"The message the sender scout is conveying to the dancer appears to be that the dancer should curb her enthusiasm, because there is another nest site worthy of consideration. Such an inhibitory signal is not necessarily hostile. It's simply saying, 'Wait a minute, here's something else to consider, so let's not be hasty in recruiting every bee to a site that may not be the best one for the swarm. All the bees have a common interest in choosing the best available site. This is critical, because the swarm must choose a single nest site, even if two sites of equal quality are available. This cross inhibition curtails the production of waggle dances for, and thus the recruitment of bees to, a competing site."

For honeybees to choose a new home, a given site must attract a certain number of scout bees. Once it becomes clear that a "quorum" of scouts have settled on a single place, a piping signal goes through the swarm, telling the rest of the bees to prepare to fly. This is also where another round of stopping signals are sent to the dancing scouts, both those for and against the chosen site. Visscher explains:

"Apparently at this point, the message of the stop signal changes, and can be thought of as, 'Stop dancing, it is time to get ready for the swarm to fly.' It is important for the scouts to be with the swarm when it takes off, because they are responsible for guiding the flight to the nest site."

While we don't yet know just how precisely honeybees mimic our neurons, it's a fascinating reminder of how a lot of the same basic structures can be found throughout nature, even in two groups as completely dissimilar as a swarm of honeybees and the neurons of the primate brain. This is quite possibly the craziest example yet of convergent evolution, if nothing else.
Via Science Express. Image by kaibara87 on Flickr.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Up to 12 million bees found dead in Florida and no one knows why

Authorities have already ruled out disease, including the infamous “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD), as the cause of a recent honeybee holocaust that took place in Brevard County, Florida. The UK’s Daily Mail reports that up to 12 million bees from roughly 800 apiaries in the area all dropped dead at roughly the same time around September 26 — and local beekeepers say pesticides are likely to blame. CCD is the term often used to describe the inexplicable mass die-off of honeybees around the world, which typically involves honeybees leaving their hives and, for whatever reason, never finding their way back home. Mass die-offs associated with CCD often occur at seemingly random locations around the world, and typically involve a gradual process of disappearance and eventual colony collapse — and the dead bees are typically nowhere to be found. But the recent Florida event involved hundreds of colonies from 30 different sites in a one-and-a-half mile radius literally dropping dead all at the same time and leaving their carcasses behind, which is why authorities have dismissed CCD as the cause. Based on the appearance of the dead bees, as well as the synchronous timing of their deaths, pesticide sprayings appear to be the culprit in this case. “I’m a pretty tough guy, but it is heart wrenching,” said Charles Smith of Smith Family Honey Company to News 13 in Orlando. His family’s company lost an estimated $150,000 worth of bees in the recent die-off. “Not only is it a monetary loss here, but we work really hard on these bees to keep them in good health.” The Florida die-off coincides with a recent county-wide mosquito eradication effort, during which helicopters flew over various parts of the county and sprayed airborne pesticides. Officials, of course, deny that this taxpayer-funded spraying initiative had anything to do with the bee genocide, though. “The fact that it was so widespread and so rapid, I think you can pretty much rule out disease,” said Bill Kern, an entomologist from the University of Florida (UF) toFlorida Today. “It happened essentially almost in one day. Usually diseases affect adults or the brood, you don’t have something that kills them both.” Many of the beekeepers who lost their hives in the mass killing raised their bees to sell to American farmers, who then used them to pollinate food crops. Because of their massive losses, many of these beekeepers could end up losing their entire beekeeping businesses.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

UPDATE ON THE BEE CRISIS (from: Queen of the Sun email posting)

With less media coverage, many people ask us at screenings if the crisis is getting better. Unfortunately, we can't say that it is.

This past year was yet again a very challenging year for bees. Nationwide, the USDA states that beekeepers have reported 31% losses over the winter, with a third of these reports directly attributed by beekeepers to Colony Collapse Disorder. These numbers are no better than the declines in the winters of 2006 and 2007.

The future of our food is very much at risk, and beekeepers face an uphill battle. Pesticides, genetically engineered crops, monoculture and climate changes are deeply affecting the bees health. Recently, Dan Rather spoke with scientists both insides and outside of the EPA and they revealed how the EPA's regulations have allowed pesticide companies to release dangerous neonicotinoid pesticides on to the market. He writes in a companion article:

"How neonicotinoid pesticides got onto the market illustrates the real deficiencies of pesticide regulation in this country, and the questionable role of industry in these decisions."

Major televised investigations like this help get the word out about theses issues, and we hope the work we are doing with Queen of the Sun makes a difference as well. The changes that must take place are massive, and we must look always to the small triumphs, not only within, but in our society at large and continue to breathe hope into this crisis.

Link to several videos about current bee and honey stories 11/2011

**South Africa's Overworked Bees

**Germany – Bees for Hire

**Hives Stolen From Florida Bee Farmer

**Honey Farms: Uniting Traditions with Modern Business

**Historic Honey Factory Celebrated

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Beekeepers ask Boulder County to ban class of pesticides

By Laura Snider Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 11/24/2011 11:00:00 AM MST

Hovering around the debate over whether GMO crops should be allowed on Boulder County open space has been a less vocal buzz over bees.

Some beekeepers say a class of commonly used insecticides is killing their bees.

Last week, when two Boulder County advisory boards held a meeting to listen to public comments on a proposed cropland policy, a half-dozen bee advocates showed up among the GMO protesters to ask the boards to ban neonicotinoids.

"I speak for the insects, specifically, for the bees," said Tom Theobald, who has been a beekeeper in Boulder County for 36 years. "My most specific concern is with the systemic pesticides -- the neonicotinoids."

The two advisory boards -- the Food and Agriculture Policy Council and the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee -- made a decision on the part of the proposed cropland policy that has garnered the most public attention: whether farmers should be allowed to plant genetically modified organisms on land that they lease from the county. Both boards agreed that GMOs should be phased out over time.

As for neonicotinoids, neither board is now recommending a ban.

The county commissioners will make a final decision about the entire cropland policy next month. And before they do, Theobald -- who owns Niwot Honey Farm -- plans to make sure they hear from beekeepers.

He said he thinks corn pollen from plants treated with neonicotinoids is responsible, at least in part, for the devastating losses he has experienced over the last several years in his bee colonies.

Poisonous pollen?

Neonicotinoids are often used to treat seeds before they're planted to protect the seedlings from insect damage.

"They are a seed treatment -- a powder that's applied to the seeds," said Adrian Card, a Colorado State University extension agent for Boulder County. "When the seed germinates, it takes the insecticide into the seed. As the plant grows, the insecticide is systemic."

Because the insecticide is taken up through the plant and incorporated into the plant's tissues, neonicotinoids can be found in pollen.

Bee colonies across the country have been wiped out in recent years by an unexplained phenomenon dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists have not agreed on a cause of the problem, though many now say a variety of factors may be at play.

Theobald -- who has lost as much as 60 percent of his bee colonies in some years -- has recently started to do some of his own research, and it has led him to target neonicotinoids, which have been in widespread use for about a decade, as a probable villain.

"About three years ago, in the spring, I sat down in one of the yards that had really high winter losses, and I went through those colonies very carefully -- Sherlock Holmes-style," he said. "These colonies went into the winter apparently strong and healthy, plenty of honey, and then nothing. Dead."

Theobald said he thinks the corn pollen collected by bees in the summer is stored in the hive as a reserve while bees continue to eat whatever other pollen is fresh at the time. Then, toward the end of September, when other kinds of pollen become scarce, the bees begin to feed on stored corn pollen that may be laced with neonicotinoids.

"It disrupts the fertility of the queen and the viability of the brood," he said.

Considering a ban

After Theobald and several other local beekeepers made their case to the Food and Agriculture Policy Council and the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee last week, both boards discussed the possible connection between neonicotinoids and bee death when they voted on the cropland policy proposal.

Several members of the agriculture council said they were concerned about the systemic insecticides. Member Erik Johnson suggested that the council adopt language from a minority report that was included in the draft cropland policy. (Only three of the nine volunteer members of the county's Cropland Policy Advisory Group, which wrote the draft policy over the last year, agreed with banning neonicotinoids.)

Johnson's motion did not pass.

Dick Miller, a conventional farmer on the council, said he did not support banning neonicotinoids because he didn't think there is evidence that the insecticide is connected to bee death. Miller also said his own bee colonies appear to be doing fine.

"I just have a problem just blanket-banning it because I don't think it's credible information," he said.

But Shanan Olson, an organic farmer who also serves on the Food and Agriculture Policy Council, said she is concerned that insecticides may be having an impact.

"I have a relationship with the bees and other pollinators -- we are a seed farm, there are a ton of flowers -- and I absolutely see the effects," she said.

Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee members also did not vote to recommend a ban on neonicotinoids, though they did approve language that would prohibit the insecticide "should neonicotinoids be shown to play a significant role in Colony Collapse Disorder."

"I checked in with a couple of scientists I know who work on Colony Collapse Disorder, and there's no evidence (connecting it to neonicotinoids)," said committee member Janice Moore, a biology professor at CSU. "What they think is that colony collapse, if there was one cause, they would have pounced on it by now. They've really looked at (neonicotinoids) as a solitary cause, and it doesn't cause colony collapse. It may work in conjunction with five or six other things from climate change to Lord-knows-what to induce this. But as far as a stand-alone cause, this is not it."

Before the county commissioners vote on the entire cropland policy, Theobald plans to make sure they know the beekeepers' concerns, whether or not all scientists agree with them.

"They've crucified us on this you-don't-have-the-evidence thing -- you don't have peer-reviewed science," Theobald said. "But (beekeepers) have global experience with this. There is no higher peer review than that. We have experience, and the experience is that there are some very, very serious questions surrounding these systemic pesticides."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Laura Snider at 303-473-1327 or

A really good site (in French) about Warre Hives

Friday, November 25, 2011

Making the Connection: Honeybees, Food, and You - a TED talk by Christy Hemenway of Gold Star Honeybees

Help Save the Annual Bee/Honey Production Report:Annual Report Still in Jepordy

A couple of weeks ago Bee Culture’s Buzz informed you that the Annual NASS Honey Report was slated to be discontinued, and, perhaps the monthly ERS Honey Price Report was in trouble, too. We urged you to write a short note requesting that they NOT be discontinued because of the their importance to the beekeeping industry.

Now it seems some money has been reinstated, and that some of those reports will remain…those that get the most support from their members. The American Federation has joined the parade and they are urging their members to support continuing these reports. Below is their letter. The Buzz report generated some response, but more is needed. If you sent a letter to the original cause, send it again to the person listed below. We need these reports.

USDA-NASS had announced that it would discontinue the annual bee/honey production report along with a wide range of agricultural survey programs. Now, Congress has passed the 2012 Agricultural Appropriations bill, which gives the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) sufficient funding to continue some of these reports – those that receive the most support from their industries.

Beekeepers need to contact NASS to urge that the agency continue the annual bee/honey report.

“This is the only production report NASS provides for the honey industry,” says ABF president David Mendes. “We have a chance to save the report. It is important that the honey industry let NASS know how critical this annual report is to the industry and support the reinstatement of its publication.”

In addition to giving producers information on honey production and colony numbers in the various states, the annual report is used by the National Honey Board as a comparison to its domestic assessment collections and is a vital component of the fledgling beekeeper crop insurance program.

“When we go to Congress and USDA to make our case for programs to benefit beekeepers, we rely on the annual bee/honey report as an indication of the health and trends of our industry. Without the NASS report, we would have nothing to base our requests on,” said Mendes.

Beekeepers, packers, state associations and others associated with the honey industry are encouraged to take a moment to send an e-mail to the Joseph Prusacki, NASS statistics division director, at, explaining the importance of this report to you and to the industry.

The same communication should be sent to your members of Congress and to the NASS field office in your state. To locate the NASS office in your state, go to

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bayer's top-selling pesticides continue to cause bee deaths worldwide


The worrisome deaths of bee populations worldwide is likely to continue as the German agrochemical company Bayer remains unrestricted in its manufacture and sale of neonicotinoid pesticides.

Bayer's accountability in the phenomenon known as the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is among the cases to be heard at the Permanent People's Tribunal (PPT) Session on Agrochemical Transnational Corporations (TNCs), a landmark international opinion tribunal that will try the six largest agrochemical TNCs for various human rights violations, to be held from December 3 to 6, 2011.

"Bee deaths are a global problem, so it is crucial to discuss this issue and to find solutions on an international level. It is encouraging that the PPT as a global initiative is addressing this problem, which is both an environmental and an economic threat," said Philipp Mimkes, spokesperson of the Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, a Germany-based public interest group.

Mimkes revealed that imidacloprid (product name Gaucho) and clothianidin (product name Poncho) remain Bayer's top-selling pesticides, despite the fact that this class of pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, is strongly linked to CCD.

In 2010, Gaucho sales were valued at US$ 820 million while Poncho sales were valued at US$ 260 million. Gaucho ranks first among Bayer's best-selling pesticide, while Poncho ranks seventh. "This is the reason why Bayer, despite the serious environmental damage they cause, is fighting tooth and nail against any application prohibition of neonicotinoids," said Mimkes.

In Europe, many dangerous uses of neonicotinoids have been banned. Germany, Italy, France and Slovenia have stopped the use of Gaucho and Poncho as a seed dressing for corn, their most important application. However, the use of these pesticides is unrestricted in many countries, including the U.S. where one-third of the bee population has died every year since 2006.

Honeybees pollinate over 70 out of 100 crops that provide 90% of the world's food. They pollinate most fruits and vegetables-including apples, oranges, strawberries, onions and carrots. The declining bee population thus has potentially serious impacts on food security and livelihood of farmers. It can also affect the range of food crops that can be grown and consequently the nutritional value and variety of our food supply.

Decline of bee populations

CCD is used to described the drastic decline of bee populations across the world, which started in the mid-1990s. This was also the same period when neonicotinoids were introduced in the market. In 1994, honeybee populations started dying in France, and later in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Poland, England, Slovenia, Greece, Belgium, Canada, U.S., Brazil, Japan, and India.

Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides that are chemically related to nicotine. They are taken up by a plant's vascular system and released through pollen, nectar and water droplets from which bees then forage and drink.

While CCD is likely caused by a combination of many factors including the stresses of industrial beekeeping and loss of habitat, many scientists believe that exposure to pesticides is a critical factor. Neonicotinoids are of particular concern because they have cumulative, sublethal effects on bees and other insect pollinators. These effects include neurobehavioral and immune system disruptions that correspond to CCD symptoms.

CCD has severe impacts on the livelihoods of beekeepers around the globe. In the U.S., where beekeeping industry is valued at US$ 15 billion, losses due to CCD are estimated to be from 29 to 36 percent per year.

In 1991, Bayer began producing imidacloprid, which is now one of the most widely used insecticides for field and horticultural crops, especially maize, sunflower, and rape. In 1999, however, France banned imidacloprid as a seed dressing for sunflowers, after a third of French honeybees died following its widespread use. Five years later, it was also banned as a corn treatment.

Bayer then produced clothianidin, a successor to imidacloprid. This was brought into the American market in 2003, and the German market in 2006. Clothianidin is also a neonicotinoid and highly toxic to honeybees.

A recent United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report described the Bayer pesticides clothianidin and imidacloprid as a risk to numerous animals. It revealed that these chemicals potentially cause toxic chronic exposure to non-target pollinators, as well as animals such as cats, fish, rats, rabbits, birds and earthworms. "Laboratory studies have shown that such chemicals can cause loss of sense of direction, impair memory and brain metabolism, and cause mortality," the UNEP report said.

Due to their high level of persistence, neonicotinoids can remain in the soil for several years. Thus, even untreated crops planted in fields where the pesticides were previously used can take up the toxins from the soil via their roots.

In 2008 in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Southern Germany, two thirds of the honeybee population along the Rhine River died when dust from the clothianidin seed treatment on corn drifted onto neighbouring fields as the corn was been sown. This resulted in an average loss of 17,000 Euros for affected beekepers. Tests on the dead bees showed that 99 percent had a build-up of clothianidin. Butterflies and other useful insects disappeared at the same.

Aggressive push to stop neonicotinoids

Mimkes' group has been campaigning against neonicotinoids since 1997, when the hazards of neonicotinoids were more or less unknown to the broader public. He said that it is about time that Bayer is aggressively pushed to stop the manufacture and sale of these pesticides, and is made accountable for the economic loss and environmental damage brought by their products.

"The most important development is that today there are thousands of reports, articles and studies around the world about the correlation of exposure to pesticides such as imidacloprid and clothianidin, and the widespread decline of bees. Beekeepers and environmental groups in many countries have become active, and have pressed governments and authorities to protect bees," he said.

Environmental and beekeeping associations worldwide have gathered 1.2 million signatures to demand that clothianidin be removed from the market, which were presented to Bayer's Chief Executive Officer during a shareholder's meeting. The signature campaign was prompted by the public leak of an internal memo from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which confirms the risk that the pesticide poses to bees and describes Bayer safety studies to be inadequate.

The EPA in 2003 provided "conditional registration" to clothianidin, pending Bayer's conduct of a chronic life cycle study on its effect on bees. Bayer asked for more time to finish its research, during which period it extensively sold the product. Bayer finally submitted its study in 2007, which the EPA declared as "scientifically sound" and used as a basis for the continued registration of clothianidin.

But the leaked EPA memo revealed that EPA granted Bayer permission to conduct its study on canola, instead of corn-a crucial distinction, since canola is a minor crop compared to corn. Furthermore, the studies were conducted on test fields that were too small and close together. With bees foraging in a range of up to six miles, it thus seemed most likely that the test bees dined outside of the test fields, the memo further said.

The upcoming PPT Session on Agrochemical TNCs will include in its indictment governments and institutions that in several instances colluded with agrochemical TNCs in violations of the right to life, health, and livelihood, among other basic human rights.

According to Mimkes, "Previous PPTs have helped to put pressure on companies, so we hope that it brings additional momentum for the campaign to stop the mass death of bees."

The PPT has its historical roots in the tribunals on the Vietnam War and Latin American dictatorships. In the more recent era of corporate globalisation, PPTs have tackled and exposed TNCs which operate above national laws and can commit human rights violations with impunity.

The PPT Session on Agrochemical TNCs is the first to target Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow Chemical, DuPont, and BASF or the six companies currently in control of the world's food and agricultural system.

Support the tribunal. Sign the petition at

Friday, October 21, 2011

Farmers add plants to attract, nourish bees

Associated Press
Last modified: 2011-10-21T08:40:16Z
Published: Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 - 12:14 am
Last Modified: Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 - 1:40 am
Copyright 2011 . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

DEL REY, Calif. -- Dozens of farmers in California and other states have started replacing some of their crops with flowers and shrubs that are enticing to bees, hoping to lower their pollination costs and restore a bee population devastated in the past few years.

On an October morning, peach farmer Mas Masumoto planted more than 3 acres of wild rose, aster, sage, manzanita and other shrubs and trees in a former grape field near Fresno, Calif.

To the north near Modesto, Calif., David Moreland was preparing to plant wildflower seeds and flowering shrubs in a ravine along his 400-acre almond orchard.

Their goal is to attract and sustain native bees and strengthen dwindling honeybee populations, joining in an effort organized by the Xerces Society, a Portland, Ore.-based nonprofit group.

"For bees to thrive, they need a diverse diet, so we're trying to bring more pollen diversity to farms, more plants to be part of the bees' buffet," said Mace Vaughan, the group's pollinator program director. "This isn't a panacea to pollination woes. This is part of the solution overall."

The effort comes as honeybees - maintained by beekeepers - and native, or wild, bees are perishing in great numbers. Bees are essential pollinators of about one-third of the United States' food supply, and they're especially important in California, the nation's top producer of fruits and vegetables.

The die-off is blamed on colony collapse disorder, in which all the adult honey bees in a colony suddenly die. The disorder has destroyed honeybee colonies at a rate of about 30 percent per year since it was recognized in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Before that, about 15 percent of colonies died per year from a variety of pests and diseases.

Researchers aren't sure what causes the disorder, but they suspect a combination of stressors, including pesticides, mites and parasites, and lack of proper nutrition.

The problem is especially dire in California, where large farms often grow single crops that rely on pollination but don't offer bees a varied diet.

Almond orchards, which have grown dramatically in recent years, have some of the worst problems. Two-thirds of the nation's honeybees are now trucked to the state during winter for almond bloom, but the arriving bees don't have enough forage.

Beekeepers feed bees with supplements, including corn syrup, weakening bees and increasing costs. Prices for renting bee colonies have more than tripled over the last decade, from $43 per colony in 2000 to $150 per colony in 2010. Almond orchards require about 2 colonies per acre.

Getting farmers to plant bee habitat is key, Vaughan said, because bees with nutritionally sound diets are better able to fend off diseases and other problems.

Bee habitat can also reduce a farmer's costs and alleviate the stress on honeybees. Through research on California's watermelons, University of California, Berkeley, professor Claire Kremen found that if a farmer sets aside between 20 percent and 30 percent of a field for bee habitat, the farm can get all or most of its pollination from native bees.

That's unrealistic for most farms, but Kremen said adding hedgerows and other plantings can help sustain a beneficial combination of native and commercial bees. Research has found that native bees make commercial honeybees more efficient pollinators by getting in their way and making them take a more circuitous route from plant to plant.

"What it means is you don't have to have a huge number of native bees, but if you have some then the combination of honeybees and native bees has a huge effect," Kremen said.

Other researchers have found that setting aside bee habitat leads to better crop production on the remaining land, compensating the farmer.

The California State Beekeepers Association is also helping farmers to improve habitat. Run by Project Apis m. - which funds and directs research to improve the health of honeybees - the program has enlisted growers to dedicate acreage to bees and is identifying which seed mixtures make for best bee forage on farms and in orchards.

"We want to make sure bees don't starve to death before and after almond pollination," said Christi Heintz, executive director of Project Apis m.

The goal, Heintz said, is to make it economically viable for farmers to plant bee habitat. One option, Heintz said, is to plant a bee-friendly crop that can be used as biofuel, such as canola and camelina. Another is partnering with the cosmetics industry, growing oil seed plants such as cuphea and echium that are used in creams.

Another California-based nonprofit, Partners for Sustainable Pollination, awards a bee-friendly farming label to farmers who set aside at least 6 percent of their land for bee forage, minimize pesticide use and have nesting areas and a water source. So far, 120 farms in 29 states have received the label.

But for many farmers, such as almond growers, increasing bee habitat remains difficult.

Farmers keep orchard floors clean because they harvest almonds off the ground and because bare ground warms faster and is less prone to frost. Pesticide sprayed on trees also is harmful to bees, and mature orchards can be too shady for flowers and shrubs. And plants can be expensive, requiring irrigation for the first few years.

To get around the problem, Moreland has opted to grow flowering shrubs in a nearby ravine and has planted wildflower seeds in a young orchard that won't go into production for several years and isn't treated with pesticides. Giving bees access to more food makes a big difference, he said.

"The bees can continue to forage and get stronger, so it's one less stress on them, one less having to feed them artificial food, one more chance for the bees to survive," Moreland said.

Although bees aren't needed to pollinate Masumoto's peach orchard, studies have shown bees move pollen quickly and help produce better fruit.

But the biggest benefit, he said, is not about money.

"A real farm is not just a factory in the field, but a way to work with nature," Masumoto said. "The more nature plays a role, the more opportunities will arise to make things better."

Read more:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Osaka company employees breed bees to help environment

OSAKA -- A group here has created a buzz with its latest "green" project -- breeding bees on the roofs of company buildings.

The project, called "The Umeda Bee Project," launched in March this year by several employees at the engine-manufacturing Yanmar Co, is an initiative to promote a greener environment in Japan's large cities. Inspired by a similar project in Tokyo's Ginza, a 39-year-old Yanmar employee brought up the idea to the company and after receiving permission, set up bee hives on the roof of his seven-story company building. If the project is successful, the organizers -- whose number has now increased to 18 -- will establish an Osaka-original honey brand, including a rich collection of various honey products.

The building -- and now home to nearly 100,000 apis mellifera bees -- is located in Kita Ward, near Umeda Station in central Osaka.

"At first we had our doubts," a representative of the group says, "There is little green in Osaka in comparison to Tokyo, so we were not sure whether the project would be successful."

However, since the project was launched half a year ago, the organizers were able to collect nearly 240 kilograms of honey. The bees' habitat of three kilometers around the building allows them to fly to various places with plenty of greenery and flowers, such as Osaka Castle Park and the Japan Mint, from where they regularly carry nectar.

The organizers are currently discussing ideas for future honey products, and often carry samples to nearby restaurants and bars. By having many people taste their honey, they are hoping to promote their project and create a city where people and bees can cohabit naturally, they say.

(Mainichi Japan) September 12, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bees: The Threatened Link in Food Security Sept. 20, 2011 National Radio Project

Listen to it here:
Honey bees help pollinate 1 in every 3 bites that we eat… They are vital in our agricultural industry and essential for the survival of the almost 7 billion people who inhabit this planet. And, as the world’s population continues to grow, so does our reliance on honey bees. Unfortunately, most pollinating insects throughout the world are endangered today, including the honey bee. On this edition, we’ll discuss the honey bee’s fight to survive amidst a rapidly changing landscape filled with pesticides and parasites. We will also learn the latest about colony collapse disorder and hear from beekeepers, researchers, and gardeners who are trying to protect them.

Hannah Nordhaus, author of the Beekeepers Lament- How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed the World; Gretchen Lebuhn, San Francisco State University professor & founder of The Great Sunflower Project; John Miller, migratory beekeeper; Brian Johnson, University of California, Davis’s entomology professor; Bill Rhodes, David Hackenberg, beekeepers; Dee Lusby, Organic Beekeeping discussion group founder; Dennis Van Engelsdorp, Penn State University entomology scientist; Vince Rosato, Great Sunflower project participant; Khaled Almaghafi, beekeeper & Bee Healthy Honey Shop owner.

Special thanks to the producers of Vanishing of The Bees and Claire Schoen.

Bee-keeping in Yemen


These are just some observations by an amateur bee-keeper travelling with the Society’s three week tour of Yemen in October 2000; they are by no means a comprehensive account of what is becoming an important industry and source of wealth in the rural economy.

One thing manifest over the whole route was the burgeoning of bee-keeping in Yemen. Stacks of bee-hives appear by the roadside all over the country, from small banks of half a dozen or so to large arrays of dozens — veritable apiaries. Clearly the profitable niche market traditionally held by the Wadi Du’an and Tihama honey producers is being tapped by a great many others; why not, when the bees, who do the essential work, are free to all? We saw hives on the road to Manakha, in the plains east of Sana’a and in Marib, in Wadis Beihan, Yashbum, Hadhramaut and Du’an, and in the Hujjariyah and Tihama; and they are doubtless to be seen elsewhere.

Log and box hives in Wadi Surdud.
Photograph: Julian Lush

Bees have been social insects for 10-20 million years and have had time to develop varieties adapted to many localities. The variety of honey-bee endemic toYemen is the apis yemenitica - a small, dark bee which thrives in the hot, dry conditions. Traditional bee-keeping methods using a long, thin hive-box hollowed from a log, can still be seen. Modern hive-boxes, based on the same principle, are wooden, 80-100 cm long and 12 x 12 cm in cross-sectionThe front has a hinged door with a V-shaped bee entrance, and the rear closure is plugged and sealed with mud. Alternatively, as we observed in the suq at Seiyun, hives can be of pottery pipe, made in three sections and supported on a metal frame, enabling the hive to be opened at two points in its length.

Box hives in Wadi Yashbum.
Photograph: Julian Lush

In all these long hives, the queen and brood generally inhabit the front of the hive, while the honeycombs, naturally built by the bees in parabolic shape, are suspended longitudinally for maximum ventilation and cooling. The honeycomb is extracted through the rear of the hive which is sealed with mud and thus easily opened, causing minimum disturbance to the brood (larvae and developing bees) inside.

Apiaries are in banks of 10-100 hives, stacked 3—4 rows high on a metal stand, covered by grass or similar cooling material, which in turn is covered over with a blue plastic sheet. One is struck by the extreme proximity of the hives to one another, and by the amazing ability of bees to know which is home.

The favourite forage of the yemenitica bee is from the flowering al-sidr tree or ziziphus spina-christi, the kasas, a Euphorbia, and from acacia trees, all of which are found throughout the country. But the bees are not particularly choosy and will glean pollen and nectar from a surprising range of plants even in arid regions. However, their forage may not be plentiful at all seasons, andYemeni bee-keepers supplement their diet with sugar. Water also has to be available at all times, for this is essential for the bees’ health and the honey-making process.

To gauge the pace of bee-keeping development, I asked a hive maker in Bait al-Faqih what his production and sales rates were. He said that he was selling 700-800 box-hives per month at a price of YR 600 (£3) each; by contrast, log hives cost YR 2000 each. His market covered just one part of the Tihama. If the rates which he quoted are extrapolated over the rest of the country, one can see the likely scale of the growing industry.

A timely local press article provided some statistics on Yemeni honey production, stating that Hadhrami honey led the field (as expected) with 35 tons per year, a large proportion of which is exported to other Arab countries (where it commands huge prices). Next comes Shabwa Governorate with 29 tons annually, followed by Mahwit with 15 tons, Tihama with 13 tons, Hajjah with 8 tons, Osaimat, Ibb and Taiz with 4-5 tons each, and around 35 tons from other areas, making a total production of some 150 tons a year. The article adds that a kilogram of good honey sells for $150 - hence the real attraction of bee-keeping inYemen: no amateurs there!
July 2001

The Beekeepers of Wadi Du'an (article published in 1999)

Written and photographed by Eric Hansen

Standing in the midday sun, surrounded by towering sandstone cliffs, I gazed into a trough made from half of a battered oil drum. It was partly filled with sugar syrup, and on the syrup floated chunks of rubber-sandal soles and a few dead bees. Looking around for the beekeepers' camp, I wondered where they had moved now.

It was mid-November, and at this same spot 12 months earlier, I had eaten lunch with the beekeepers in their tent. But this year, the ilb , or buckthorn, trees had flowered earlier than I had expected, and the men had moved on with their tents and-hives. My driver, Mohammed al-Osabi, smoked a cigarette and chuckled to himself at my bewilderment. He had just spent two days driving me across 500 kilometers (300 miles) of desert to meet again with the beekeepers of Wadi Du'an.

Wadi Du'an is a remote, little-known valley in Yemen, just south of the Rub' al-Khali, the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia. Here, generations of beekeepers have been perfecting their craft for at least a millennium. They work hard, using labor-intensive techniques of managing bees. Combined with the dry climate and short flowering season of local plants, their efforts have helped to produce the most expensive and sought-after honey in the world. The most frequent customers come from Saudi Arabia, and in Wadi Du'an, a two-pound tin of the very best honey in the comb can command a price of $100 or more.

Wadi Du'an produces what specialists call a dry-land, monofloral, wildflower honey, renowned for its unique buttery flavor, rich aroma and high viscosity—and for its medicinal qualities. The honey is thought to be the perfect medicine to help women regain their strength after childbirth. Elderly men maintain that a daily spoonful keeps them young, while young men believe that regular doses will help produce a male heir.

During this morning's drive, I had had plenty of time to mull all this over. A gravel track had taken us past storefronts selling the local honey, and farther out, in the villages, we met turbaned men sitting behind kick-wheels, fashioning mounds of slick clay into cylindrical beehives more than a meter tall.

One of the shopkeepers, Islam Ahmed Ba Dhib, had opened tins of honey to let us sample the three different types he had on hand that day. "There are many tests for purity," he said, "but none of them are certain, and, as with friendship, the honey business is based on trust."

The first type he showed us is known to merchants as bariyah , "the cream," a winter honey made from buckthorn (Ziziphus spina-christi) blossoms. The honey tin—25 centimeters (9") across, the same diameter as the terra-cotta hives—was filled with a double layer of round comb. The heady floral fragrance was unlike any honey I had ever smelled, and the taste was a complex mixture of butter, wildflowers and mysterious, aromatic herbs. Bariyah is eaten mostly by wealthy men.

Next, he opened a tin of marbahey , a summer honey also called sa'if ("of the summer"), after the trees' flowering season. This, I was told, is a "hot" honey, thus good for such things as getting rid of intestinal worms, but to be avoided by pregnant woman, because it can cause miscarriage. Marbahey is usually eaten by dipping warm bread into a mixture of the honey and clarified butter, and sprinkling the mouthful with nigella seeds.

The third type of honey Ahmed Ba Dhib brought out is called mardjah , and it, he explained, is collected between the winter and summer seasons. It is produced when fewer flowers are in bloom and is thus one of the most expensive varieties. He confirmed the stories I had heard of merchants from Gulf countries flying into nearby Wadi Hadhramaut to buy honey from the wholesalers.

Before we left, Ahmed Ba Dhib had told me of a traditional Yemeni way to preserve meat in honey. "Cut up either sheep or goat meet and submerge it in honey for six months. You must be careful to use a ceramic or glass container," he cautioned. "It is a dish that rich people eat for breakfast or at weddings." He had also mentioned that tins of honey are sometimes given to a bride's family as a special wedding gift.

Standing by the oil drum in Wadi Du'an that hot afternoon, I wondered who had taught the beekeepers the cheap trick of using sugar syrup to increase the yield—and lower the quality—of the honey. Mohammed al-Osabi, who had kept bees in his father's village, told me that the cut-up rubber thongs floating in the syrup served as platforms from which the bees could drink the syrup without falling in. He assured me that reputable buyers would avoid honey from beekeepers who ran such an operation.

Not far from where we stood, a band of wild baboons emerged from a nearby date grove. Gliding across the stony ground, they paused to glare at us and then, without hesitation, swarmed up the 90-meter (300-foot) cliff and disappeared from sight. Watching them, al-Osabi noticed a single abandoned beekeeper's at the foot of the cliff. Walking closer, we came upon rows of several dozen terracotta hives, set on metal frames and wrapped in. burlap and cardboard to protect them from the sun.

No one else was in sight, so we approached the hives on hands and knees to take a closer look. Unperturbed, small docile-looking bees with black and gray stripes flew in and out of the hives. I wondered about honey thieves, but then al-Osabi cleared his throat and nudged me. The shimmering profile of a man materialized in the heat waves. His body gradually transformed itself into a recognizable shape, and then I heard the sound of his footsteps on the hot gravel. We stood up to greet him.

"You have some interest in bees?" he asked. He introduced himself as Omar Sa'eed Abdullah, honey producer and owner of the hives. He lit a scrap of burlap sacking and waved the smoke toward the entrance of a rectangular wooden hive before opening the back of the hive to reveal a section of golden comb. The metal legs of the hives were set in tins of motor oil to keep out ants. Hornets are another enemy of the bees, and Abdullah showed us a cleverly constructed screen trap, baited with poisoned fish and swarming with confused hornets. Gesturing to the overhead sun, he invited us to his home so that we could discuss beekeeping in comfort.

We sat on the carpeted living-room floor, kept cool by the thick walls of the four-story, mud-brick building. Shuttered windows with decorative lattice screens overlooked an expanse of date groves and, farther off, small dusty plots of farmland awaiting the seasonal rains. On a flat roof a satellite dish was perched. "CNN," my host announced proudly.

I asked him how long his family had been keeping bees.

"For generations," he said as he poured out cups of ginger coffee and offered a plate of fresh dates. "We used to keep the jabali [mountain] bee," he said. "I can still remember it from my childhood 30 years ago. It was reddish in color, but now it's gone. The new bee we use is from Ethiopia, from people who grow crops, but the problem is that this new bee [Apis yemenitica] is not as drought- and hunger-resistant as the wild mountain bee was."

When I asked him about bariyah , he told me that it was named after a particular star that appeared above the horizon at the time of year when this honey was produced. Honey seasons are calculated in accordance with the sidereal year, he explained, rather than the Muslim lunar calendar, because the latter doesn't keep step with the flowering cycle of melliferous plants.

Behind a heavy wooden door that opened onto the sitting room, tins of honey were stacked waist deep. From this storeroom, Abdullah brought out a tin of buttery kharfi ("of the autumn"), a 100-percent-pure ilb honey selected from his private supply. This quality of honey is reserved for family, friends, and—as in my case—the arrival of an unexpected guest. Connoisseurs of Yemeni honey recognize a wide range of varietals within each growing region, and this tin contained a kilo of the finest honey from a special area of Wadi Du'an known as Jardan. We cut off small portions of the comb, and sat back to enjoy the sensation of thick honey melting in our mouths, revealing layer upon layer of delicate and unexpected flavors. I realized again that eating wildflower honey from Wadi Du'an is an entirely different experience from eating commercial honey—just as the finest Belgian chocolate is different from supermarket brands.

According to Abdullah, the nomadic beekeepers had recently moved their camps to the south coast in order to set their hives near the late-flowering ilb trees in that region. Honey profits had motorized their migrations in recent years, and they transported the hives in four-wheel-drive vehicles today; years ago they would have used camels, moving only at night in order to allow the bees to work during the day. But now as then, the mostly landless beekeepers follow their established semi-nomadic migratory pattern, and their families stay behind in often remote villages, tending the fields. Abdullah too stays put: He inherited beekeeping rights to sufficient nearby land to make it unnecessary to shift his hives with the seasons, and prefers to produce a limited amount of high-quality honey from a specific region, hoping to command a premium price that way. This strategy, he said, has brought him individual buyers from as far away as Kuwait and Bahrain.

In addition to honey, the Du'an area is also famous for its bee sellers. In March, there is a market out on the main road, known as suq al-mib, the bee market. There, swarms of bees are sold just prior to the spring season, along with hives, the only significant piece of equipment used by the beekeepers. A plastic-grid hair curler, with foam-rubber stoppers at either end, may be used as a miniature cage to transport the queen bee, and few people use protective clothing or honey extractors. Indeed, traditional beekeepers prefer to sell honey in the comb to attest to its purity, or simply squeeze the honey from broken combs into plastic water bottles. Bits of wax and the odd dead bee float into the neck of the bottle, offering another indication the honey was locally produced,

That night, Mohammed al-Osabi and I camped on the edge of a volcanic plateau overlooking Wadi Du'an. A full moon illuminated the villages far below. Donkeys brayed, camels roared, and the headlights of lone vehicles lurched along distant tracks until well after midnight.

The following morning we drove north to the city of Shibam, where I met Said al-Sakoti, a dealer specializing in honey from Wadi Du'an. He explained that modern beekeeping techniques were being introduced in the area, and,looking at his shelves, it seemed that the Walter T. Kelley Company of Clarkson, Kentucky, had virtually cornered the market on beekeeping devices, ranging from wooden hives to sheet wax to bee drinking stations. Al-Sakoti admitted that the new methods of mass-producing honey, with modern, large-capacity hives set at the edge of cultivated fields, were rapidly changing traditional practices. Quantity was becoming more important than quality, he said. The bees were being fed sugar syrups and cheap imported honey to increase yields. New customers from outside the area were less discriminating than the locals, he explained, and consequently more gullible. With their time more valuable, many beekeepers now preferred to drive their hives from place to place in order to produce honey year-round, rather than just during the short seasons, as before. "But, there will always be a market for the very best honey," al-Sakoti assured us.

I asked how the old-fashioned kind of honey could possibly maintain its high price in the face of inexpensive imported brands and now mass-produced local honey as well.

"Demand and limited supply is what drives up the price," he replied. "For the people who can afford it, there is no substitute for the flavor and taste of great honey, which is the result of the gathering skills of certain beekeepers. There are many ways to adulterate honey, but an expert judges it mainly from the aroma. The taste merely confirms what the nose tells you."

"And what is the best way to eat high-quality honey?" I asked.

"Sometimes with a spoon, but among friends I like to cut the comb like cake and eat it with my fingers. That is the very best way. And now," he said, "shall we see what the bees have brought us this year?" He smiled and reached for a nearby tin.

Eric Hansen is the author ofMotoring With Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea. He lives in California.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Around Bee Rescue, Honey and Rancor

August 30, 2011, 7:24 pm New York Times
Lane Ramsey, 7, and Jon Derow, a beekeeping student, extracted a bee hive from a hollowed-out log at the Hart to Hart Community Garden in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Monday.

Tropical Storm Irene moved through New York City on Sunday knocking out power, causing flooding in some neighborhoods and knocking over many trees.

In one corner of Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, the storm also set off a fight — over bees.
Wind ripped off a hollow tree limb in a Brooklyn park, leaving the bees unprotected; the situation developed into an ownership debate over the hive.Andrew CotéWind ripped off a hollow tree limb in a Brooklyn park, leaving the bees unprotected; the situation developed into an ownership debate over the hive.

In a gale wind from the storm, a hollowed-out branch of an enormous tree was ripped off, exposing a hive of 30,000 to 40,000 honeybees. The hive’s discovery was a jackpot for the beekeeping community and word spread quickly on Facebook and Twitter that a feral hive was up for grabs.

Two beekeepers jumped at the chance to claim the bees, unknowingly setting off a feud between two of the city’s main beekeeping groups.
Anthony Planakis, also known as Tony Bees of the N.Y.P.D., used a chain saw to free an exposed beehive inside a hollowed-out branch of a tree damaged by Tropical Storm Irene.

Liz Dory, an amateur beekeeper, is caring for 30,000 to 40,000 rescued bees on the roof of her brownstone in Prospect Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn.

One of the beekeepers was Margot Dorn, an arts teacher at a charter school in Brooklyn who had taken a class at New York City Beekeeping, a nonprofit group that offers free courses, workshops and gatherings for beekeepers. When she discovered the hive, while taking a stroll through the park on Sunday morning, she called the group, and James Fischer, her former teacher, immediately drove down from the Upper East Side.

But he was not alone.

Another beekeeper, Liz Dory, a cinematographer, noticed a message sent out on Facebook by another beekeeping group, the New York City Beekepers Association, informing followers that it had a team at the ready to rescue any endangered bee swarms.

Ms. Dory contacted Andrew Coté, a prominent beekeeper and president of the association, who went to the park on Sunday to deal with the imperiled hive.

Mr. Coté and Mr. Fischer had once attended beekeeping functions together. But Mr. Coté had a more ambitious plan for a professional beekeeping association and started his own group in 2008.

Because Mr. Coté’s group regularly worked with the health department and the New York Police Department’s Emergency Services Unit on such rescues, he said he was able to secure a police van with a crane, a chain saw, and the services of the Police Department’s resident bee handler. Mr. Coté oversaw the rescue work.

As throngs of beekeepers and the curious congregated within the thin piece of yellow caution tape roping off the area around the tree, tensions rose. And even as the wood chips were flying, the two beekeeping groups squabbled over how the rescue should be conducted and who the rightful owner of the bees was.

“It was as though I brought the North and South back to the Mason-Dixon line again,” Ms. Dory said about the dispute.

The six-hour rescue operation involved hoisting the Police Department’s beekeeper, Anthony Planakis, known as Tony Bees of the N.Y.P.D., 30 feet in the air wielding a chain saw.
Anthony Planakis, also known as Tony Bees of the N.Y.P.D., used a chain saw to free an exposed beehive inside a hollowed-out branch of a tree damaged by Tropical Storm Irene.Andrew CotéAnthony Planakis, also known as Tony Bees of the N.Y.P.D., used a chain saw to free an exposed beehive inside a hollowed-out branch of a tree damaged by Tropical Storm Irene.

Mr. Fischer said he tried to halt the operation on Sunday because the high winds trailing the storm added to an already potent combination of stinging insects, heights and chain saws. But when his words were not heeded, he left the park.

“There was a lot more testosterone floating around than common sense,” he said.

But Mr. Coté defended his decision to carry out the mission.

“I was happy to be a bystander if someone else could handle the situation,” he said. “I only moved ahead with my methods when no one else could manage the job.”

That a swarm of bees would draw a swarm of people reflects the growing interest in beekeeping, or apiculture, which has been expanding since the city legalized it in March of last year. Although there are no statistics on the number of beekeepers in the city, some involved in the practice estimate that there are over 200 keepers tending hives on their rooftops or in their backyards. (Beekeepers are required to register their hives with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, but it’s likely not everyone does.)

Mr. Fischer, who teaches about 100 students each year, said he was amazed by the number of young mothers and teachers, like Ms. Dory and Ms. Dorn, who had been drawn to bees.

“Five years ago the beekeeper demographic was an old white man who had retired after working 30 years as a machinist somewhere,” he said.

Beehives are the new ant farms, it seems.

And in the end, who would claim the Fort Greene bees? A compromise, of sorts, was reached.

As the sun went down on Sunday, Ms. Dory and Ms. Dorn loaded up a truck with the bandaged tree limb and a back seat full of bees and took them to a community garden in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where the hive rested for the night.
Liz Dory, an amateur beekeeper, is caring for 20,000 to 30,000 rescued bees on the roof of her brownstone in Prospect Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn.Andrea Morales/The New York TimesLiz Dory, an amateur beekeeper, is caring for 30,000 to 40,000 rescued bees on the roof of her brownstone in Prospect Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn.

On Monday, the comb was carefully excised from the branch and the bees were transferred to wooden frames in a procedure that involved a vacuum, serrated bread knives and rubber bands. Mr. Fischer was on hand to settle the bees on the top of Ms. Dory’s brownstone in Prospect Lefferts Gardens after successfully introducing a new queen to the hive.

Ms. Dory will house the bees and, if they survive the winter, she will give half of them, in what is known as a “split,” to Ms. Dorn.

And, in an effort to maintain good relationships with her fellow beekeepers, she called Mr. Coté to thank him for efforts. Without his help, she said, her hive would not have survived.
Wind ripped off a hollow tree limb in a Brooklyn park, leaving the bees unprotected; the situation developed into an ownership debate over the hive.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Bee Show, online radio show about bees

This is a podcast that you can listen to, download, or share. Lots of interesting speakers and topics related to beekeeping!


Bees are responsible for forty percent of the food we put in our mouths. It sounds astonishing, but without bees, we could find ourselves facing food shortages and a collapse of the green and flowered world. In this hour of To the Best of Our Knowledge, a peek inside the world of bees, from the once-in-a-lifetime mating flight of the queen bee to the California almond agri-business, where most of the bees in North America go to work. And, the poetry of bees.

Steve Paulson
Anne Strainchamps
Jim Fleming
Hugh Raffles
Jon Betz
Taggart Siegel
Pattiann Rogers
Justin O. Schmidt
Erin Clune
Veronica Rueckert

Taggart Siegel & Jon Betz on their documentary "Queen of the Sun"

Filmmakers Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel talk about their documentary "Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us?"

Erin Clune on Urban Beekeeping

Erin Clune is a reporter for Wisconsin Pubilc Radio and a blogger. She visits the hives of urban beekeeper Bob Falk from Madison, Wisconsin.

Poet Catherine Jagoe shares her poem about bees and honey.

Pattiann Rogers on Bee Poetry

Pattiann Rogers is a celebrated essayist and poet. She's won numerous awards and is the author of fourteen books. She shares some of her favorite bee poems with Anne Strainchamps.

Hugh Raffles on Bee behavior and the work of Karl von Frisch

Anthropologist Hugh Raffles talks about the work of celebrated bee biologist Karl von Frisch and the remarkable ways bees reach consensus.

Justin O. Schmidt on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index

Justin O. Schmidt is a research biologist and professor at the University of Arizona School of Entomology. He's the creator of Schmidt Sting Pain Index.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Vanishing by Sharon Levy

This man's bees are in grave danger. So is our food supply. Why something so small matters so much.

Bees crawl all over my body. I sit in the mud of a road embankment, watching the throngs that have landed on my legs. At the peak of one knee, three worker bees stand in urgent conference, sniffing: They stroke one another rapidly with their antennae, which house their organs of smell.

All around them, their sisters tumble. Pairs of bees seize each other around their minuscule midsections and wrestle. Others go about their private business in the midst of the crowd, using their forelegs to groom their furry faces and long tongues.

I watch, calm and safe inside my borrowed beekeeper's gear: white coverall, veiled pith helmet, protective gauntlets. Just down the road, Jeff Anderson and his three assistants methodically pry the lid off each of hundreds of hive boxes to check the health of the colonies inside. As the day wears on and the March sunshine warms this little-used ranch road in California's Sierra foothills, more and more bees take flight.

Wild buckthorn bushes lining the road carry clusters of tiny white flowers, their anthers bright with pollen. Bees work the blossoms, packing the yellow grains into smooth depressions on their hind legs, specially designed to carry this fuel (pollen is a high-protein food) back to the hive. On their travels, they transfer pollen from plant to plant, flower to flower, fertilizing the blossoms and allowing them to set fruit. This ancient partnership of pollinator and plant is essential to life as we know it. One-third of the food we eat comes from crops that need animal pollinators, a role often filled by bees but sometimes by butterflies, beetles, birds, or bats. Bee-pollinated foods include squash, tomatoes, peppers, apples, and pears. Unfortunately, the honeybees surrounding me are members of a threatened tribe, whose loss would have a dire effect on farmers, not to mention everyone who eats fruits and vegetables.

Bees became the focus of Jeff Anderson's life 30 years ago when he married his wife, Christine, a beekeeper's daughter. He joined his father-in-law, Joe Tweedy, in the family business. Ever since, he's been shuttling a carefully tended stock of honeybees cross-country, following the bloom of crops from California's early spring fruit orchards to Minnesota's summer fields of clover. Anderson's grown son Jeremy, working beside him, represents the fourth generation of beekeepers in the family. Without the services of managed honeybees, provided by migratory beekeepers like the Andersons, billions of dollars' worth of crops across the United States would fail.

I join Anderson as he opens another hive. Inside, eight wooden frames hold honeycomb whose surface is crowded with bees, all in constant motion though there seems to be no room to move. Speaking with an upper-midwestern lilt -- Anderson grew up on a Minnesota dairy farm -- he points out the queen, about 30 percent larger than the thousands of her worker-bee daughters who feed, build, and clean the hive. One or two black drones, males whose only function in life is to mate with a queen, stroll among the busy workers.

As he moves through the bee yard, Anderson can tell at a glance how each colony is doing. If all is well, the frames of honeycomb will be thick with bees giving forth a contented hum. But sometimes half the frames are bare and the bees just don't sound right. Sometimes the ground beneath a hive box is covered with bee carcasses.

Since Anderson began, in 1976, raising healthy bees has become more and more difficult. In the 1980s, two non-native species of parasitic mite infested North American honeybees. One of the species, Varroa destructor, has proved especially deadly. Meanwhile, safe pastures where bees can forage without being poisoned by pesticides are becoming increasingly rare.

The domesticated European honeybee was introduced to North America 400 years ago by colonists at Jamestown and Williamsburg to provide their settlements with honey; few bees native to the continent produced enough honey to make harvesting viable. Since then, the honeybee has spread into every farmable corner of North America. The cultivation of honey is an age-old pursuit: To maximize its production, beekeepers in Egypt during the time of the pharaohs floated their hives down the Nile to areas of abundant bloom, with some success. Early American beekeepers also transported their colonies -- on buckboard wagons, Mississippi River steamboats, and trains -- also with mixed results; the hives could not always be moved at the right times, the wax in the honeycombs often melted, the worker bees were sometimes left behind while their homes drifted downriver. In the 1940s, when new interstate highways and reliable long-haul trucks made it practical, beekeepers began regularly migrating long distances with their hives, following the flow of nectar as crops bloomed with the changing seasons.

In the boom years following World War II, large swaths of natural habitat across the United States were devoured by suburban development and agriculture. Patches of wild woodland, shrubs, and flowers that had supported native bees dwindled. The common practices of modern agriculture -- the widespread use of pesticides and the tendency to wipe out every wild flowering plant in sight -- began to destroy the pollinators that make farming possible. Beekeepers, accustomed to paying farmers for the privilege of stationing their beehives on land with blooming crops, started to receive payment from farmers for their pollination services. Today, migratory beekeepers follow this trail of money back and forth across the country as pollination fees continue to rise.

The United States and Canada are home to at least 4,500 species of native bee, from the sleek, iridescent blue mason to the plump, lemon-yellow bumblebee. All are at risk. "Where we live in Minnesota," says Anderson, "the local farmers will let their second cutting of alfalfa or red clover bloom, to feed the bees. A number of those people will tell you that the native bees just aren't there anymore."

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Feature Story
The Vanishing
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With the accelerating decline of native bees, honeybees are becoming ever more critical to farmers. American agriculture is addicted to honeybees -- and in the past few years has begun to run short of them. Anderson's spring starts in February, when the almonds in California's Central Valley come into bloom. California has more than 580,000 acres planted in almonds, though commercial beekeepers living full-time in the state hold enough bee colonies to pollinate only about half that acreage.

In the spring of 2005, many of the migratory beekeepers who work the California almond bloom discovered that their colonies had suffered heavy losses during the winter. Across the country, about one-third of all commercial honeybee colonies died out. The result was a pollinator panic in the Central Valley. Fees for renting beehives shot up from about $48 to as much as $140 per colony, a previously unheard-of amount. Beekeepers traveled from as far away as Florida and North Carolina to service California's almond groves. For the first time in 50 years, U.S. borders were opened to honeybees from New Zealand and Australia. The fate of a $1.2 billion crop -- more than half of all almond production worldwide -- rested on the slender back of the embattled honeybee.

Many bee experts assumed varroa mites were a major cause of the severe die-off in the winter of 2005. Yet when researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, traveled to Oakdale, California, where Anderson and a number of his fellow beekeepers spend winter and spring, they could find no correlation between the level of varroa mite infestation and the health of bee colonies. "We couldn't pin the blame for the die-off on any single cause," says Jeff Pettis, a research entomologist at the lab.

Anderson has his own ideas about what caused the almond pollination crisis, and what is most responsible for wiping out honeybees across the United States. "Varroa is a bit of a red herring," he says. "One of the biggest problems is irresponsible use of pesticides and the failure of regulators to enforce the rules meant to protect bees from poisoning."

Over the past few years, Anderson has become a reluctant expert on one particular pesticide, Sevin, and the quirks of the system meant to govern its use. In the summer of 1998, Anderson's hives were stationed on farmland next to hybrid poplar groves managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the International Paper Company. Both sprayed the trees with Sevin to control infestations of the cottonwood leaf beetle, which damages poplars. Soon after, Anderson's bees began to die. He videotaped sick ones as they lay twitching, just outside their hive boxes, in the throes of nerve poisoning from the insecticide. The poisonings would continue long after a Sevin application, he says, because worker bees carried contaminated pollen back to the hive, where it affected the colony for months. More than 50 percent of his bees died.

"I can't comment on the specifics of Anderson's case," says Pettis, "but I do know that Sevin and honeybees do not mix. What he purports could certainly happen. If the bees are storing Sevin in the pollen, when they get to California and feed on it over the winter, it's going to be as toxic as it was when they first picked it up."

In 2001, Anderson and two neighboring beekeepers filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and International Paper seeking $2 million in damages. Anderson has found himself enmeshed in the strange world of pesticide law. He's learned to speak fluent pesticide legalese, committed to memory whole sections of FIFRA (the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act), and has become both cynical and stubbornly hopeful about the state of pesticide regulation in the United States. "The law is not broke," he says. "It's the lack of enforcement that's the problem."

A district court judge initially dismissed Anderson's suit. But in January 2005, the Minnesota Supreme Court breathed new hope into the beekeepers' case, noting that by allowing the use of Sevin, Minnesota state policy seemed to conflict with the federally mandated bee caution on the pesticide label, which states that the chemical is highly toxic to bees and warns, "Do not apply this product . . . to blooming crops or weeds if bees are foraging in the treatment area."

The latest court decision makes it possible for the lawsuit to go forward, but Anderson is still hoping for the case to be heard by a jury. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reached an out-of-court settlement with the beekeepers, in which it agreed to stop using Sevin, but International Paper continues to spray its more than 30,000 acres of poplars, which it harvests to manufacture paper pulp and fiberboard.

Unable to keep their hives healthy near the sprayed poplar groves, many beekeepers have moved away from Eagle Bend, Minnesota, where Anderson and his family have summered for decades. After a particularly disastrous series of die-offs in 2002, Anderson moved his hives to fields far from the sprayed poplars, and he now makes a long commute every time he works his bees in the summer. Since the move, the survival rate of his colonies has improved. Even last spring, when many of his colleagues suffered major losses, his colonies did relatively well. He sees this as confirmation that Sevin contamination is finally fading among his hives.

"I'm standing my ground," Anderson says. "If I pick up and move to another state, they'll just blast me with some other pesticide." He's familiar with the chemical disasters that struck beekeepers in Nebraska, Colorado, North Carolina, and Washington in the 1990s, when the insecticide Penncap-M became popular as a defense against corn rootworm, the larval form of a beetle that attacks the roots of corn plants. Penncap-M, a microencapsulated form of methyl parathion, could have been designed as the ultimate bee-killing weapon: a highly toxic, long-lived nerve poison enclosed in tiny, pollen-size beads. Foraging bees packed these pellets into their pollen sacs along with the real thing and carried them home, devastating their colonies.

Corn is easily wind-pollinated, so although bees gather corn pollen, growers don't need them. They see Penncap-M as the cheapest, most efficient answer to their rootworm problem, and its impact on bees has not convinced them to give it up. Significant honeybee die-offs due to Penncap-M are on the wane, but not because of pesticide regulation. Beekeepers who weathered major losses from Penncap-M now keep their hives far from anywhere the pesticide is used. Some beekeepers, however, were driven out of business by massive bee kills, becoming statistics in the long-term decline of commercial honeybees in this country. In the late 1940s, U.S. beekeepers held about 5 million colonies; gradually that number has dropped to about 2.3 million.

At the compound in Oakdale, California, where Anderson and his family spend the winter, his two youngest children, dressed in Confederate gray, are staging a very small-scale reenactment of a Civil War battle beneath tall valley oaks. Anderson walks with me to my car as I get ready to leave. A wry smile creases his face, ruddy from long days out in the weather. "You know," he says, "it's a catch-22. If my bees are nowhere near the poplars anymore, then International Paper can claim it's OK to spray Sevin. So those bee pastures, which we've depended on for so many years, may be lost forever."

The decline of honeybee populations has brought the agricultural community to the brink of a pollination crisis. The best hope for the long-term survival of many American farmers may be the revival of native bees. Yet they, like their domesticated cousins, face some daunting obstacles.

California's Central Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the West, is a forbidding wasteland for native bees. Endless acres of orchards, fields, and suburban ranchettes are kept clear of anything that's perceived as a weed -- and that includes wild shrubs like ceanothus, buckthorn, and redbud, whose flowers are rich pollen sources for bees in early spring.

A few dozen honeybees patrol the dazzling purple-pink blossoms of a redbud growing in a small arboretum, tucked along the banks of a creek that crosses the campus of the University of California, Davis. Flying among them is a single native bumblebee, insulated on this chill afternoon by her thick lemon-yellow fur. She's loading pollen onto her corbiculae, hair-rimmed, basket-like structures on her back legs that hold the bright grains for transport to her colony.

Robbin Thorp waves his net like a magic wand and extracts the bee from the tangle of twigs where she's been foraging. With expert movements, he guides her into the pointed end of the net and pops her, unhurt, into a glass tube where I can study her up close. Thorp, an emeritus professor of entomology, has devoted a long career to native bees. As a graduate student in the 1950s he identified five species previously unknown to science. Now, though his beard has turned snow white and he's been officially retired for a decade, Thorp continues to spend time in the field. But these days he's more likely to be tracking the decline and disappearance of once-abundant bees.

When Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, set out in 1999 to study the contribution of native bees to crop pollination in the Central Valley, she called on Thorp to train her research crew in the art of identifying bees on the wing. Under his tutelage they learned to tell the common local species of bumblebees apart, to recognize the narrow yellow-black striping and streamlined shape of a squash bee and the blue-green iridescence of a metallic bee.

Kremen's study focused on watermelon, because the blossoms need a lot of pollen -- about 1,000 grains per flower -- to produce a marketable fruit. If native bees can do well pollinating watermelon, they're likely to succeed with just about any other crop. She and her field assistants spent long summer days walking transects in watermelon fields, counting the numbers of each kind of native bee they saw working the flowers. Kremen's research, among the first to examine the status of native bees on agricultural land in the United States, produced dramatic results.

Farms with no nearby oak woodland or chaparral have too few native bees to succeed without the services of rented honeybees. But those near remnants of wild habitat host native bees of many species, in numbers high enough to pollinate even a demanding crop like watermelon. The farms that fell into this category were all organic operations set on smaller plots of land tucked into hillsides where native vegetation survives. By contrast, conventional farms not only use a variety of pesticides but are set in the midst of the Central Valley's hostile landscape.

"Pollination is a valuable service that we're destroying through our land management practices," says Kremen. But she points out that there are many ways conventional farming could change to support bees. One is to grow cover crops like rye and clover, which aren't harvested but instead plowed under to enrich the soil after they've flowered. Farmers could also use roadsides and ditches to restore native plants and create bee-nesting areas. They could reduce their use of pesticides or apply them at night, when bees aren't flying. Growers ought to do these things, Kremen believes, not out of selfless concern for threatened bees but because, in the end, it will protect their own bottom line. Since honeybees -- which now pollinate up to $14 billion worth of crops annually in this country -- are in steep decline, native bees are needed as a backup. The costs of managing bee habitat could be offset by reductions in the amount a farmer spends on renting honeybees, a cost that continues to increase for many crops. In 1999, for example, U.S. plum growers paid about $6.4 million for honeybee pollination.

Kremen was able to discover which species are most efficient by "interviewing the bees." This involved shrouding watermelon blossoms in bee-proof veils, uncovering them just long enough for a single bee to visit, and measuring the pollen left behind. Some of the natives, including two species of bumblebee and the squash bee, do a far better job of delivering pollen than do honeybees. Kremen also noted that over the two years of her study, the numbers of native bees shifted. In one year, a few types of high-efficiency bees accounted for most of the pollination. The next, many species contributed. That finding argues for the need to maintain a diversity of bees, leaving enough flexibility for crops and their pollinators to survive shifting conditions.

"We need to have a balanced pollinator portfolio, and we don't right now," says Stephen Buchmann, founder of The Bee Works, an environmental consulting firm specializing in pollination issues. "Just like in investing, we need to have a balance between short- and long-term risk."

Buchmann acknowledges that honeybees are indispensable to modern agriculture, but he points out that they can't carry the burden of crop pollination alone. He believes that protection of native bee habitat and active management of native species must also be part of the solution to the pollinator shortage. The rise and fall of the alkali bee, recounted in his book The Forgotten Pollinators, coauthored with Gary Nabhan, illustrates both the great agricultural potential of native bees and the threats they face.

The native alkali bee, a solitary creature that digs its nest near seeps in the alkaline soil of western deserts, is a champion pollinator of alfalfa (alfalfa hay is a staple food for dairy cattle and other livestock). The plant's flowers are typical of legumes: The sexual parts are held under tension, and to gather pollen a bee must trigger their release, receiving a smack on the head in the process. Alkali bees, which are particularly well suited to pollinate wild legumes like lotus and locoweed, are unfazed by this experience. European honeybees avoid it.

In the 1950s, alfalfa farmers in Nevada, Idaho, California, eastern Oregon, and Washington began to create artificial nesting areas for alkali bees, seeding them with plugs of soil from natural bee beds. One result was a lasting expansion of the alkali bee population in the places where humans needed them most. Another was a boom in alfalfa seed production in the American West. With alkali bees working the blossoms, the yield of seed used to replant hay fields skyrocketed.

Then, during the 1970s, managed alkali bee populations began to crash. Some alfalfa growers believe that a shift in pesticide use on neighboring crops did the bees in: Alkali bees will fly a mile or more in a day and forage on a variety of flowers, so they could easily have picked up poisons beyond the alfalfa fields. Or perhaps alfalfa farmers' own use of insecticides to combat a common pest, the lygus bug, destroyed the bees. In any case, the lion's share of the U.S. alfalfa crop, worth $5 billion a year, now depends on the alfalfa leafcutter bee, a nonnative species. Canadian farmers produce the bees, which feed on the pollen of canola and alfalfa, and sell loose cocoons by the gallon to growers in the United States. About $30 million worth of leafcutter bees are purchased each year; efforts to raise them in this country sputtered when infectious diseases wiped out the young bees. One such disease, chalkbrood, is now hitting the Canadian industry. A collapse in the leafcutter bee population could wipe out most alfalfa production in the United States, with serious consequences for the dairy industry.

The alkali bee is not the only native with impressive agricultural talents. The blue orchard bee, an opalescent creature native to the western United States, can pollinate almonds, cherries, and other orchard crops far more efficiently than honeybees can. Since it's adapted to local conditions, it's hardier, too: It will fly at lower temperatures than the honeybee and work blossoms in the rain. In a four-year experiment at a cherry orchard in Utah, William Kemp of the USDA Northern Crop Science Laboratory in Fargo, North Dakota, found that fruit production doubled when blue orchard bees (affectionately known to bee fanatics as BOBs) were used in place of honeybees. Kemp and his colleagues are encouraging fruit growers to nurture BOBs on their land. A few entrepreneurs have begun to trap the bees in the wild and rent them to growers.

There can be risks in the commercialization of native species, however. When alfalfa farmers began to manage for alkali bees on their land, they were working within the bee's natural range. But when tomato growers discovered the power of bumblebees to increase their yields, the bees were treated like any other product in a globalized economy and were shipped from continent to continent, with disastrous consequences.

For decades, hothouse farmers used electric vibrators to pollinate their tomatoes, an expensive and sometimes labor-intensive process. The flowers of certain crops -- notably tomatoes and members of the tomato family including potatoes, eggplant, and peppers -- hold their pollen inside chambers with tiny openings. The grains are trapped, like salt in a saltshaker. For a bee to release the pollen, she must vibrate her body like a violin string, grasping the flower while using rapid-fire contractions of her flight muscles to produce a high-intensity buzz. Honeybees don't do this.

But bumblebees are masters of buzz pollination -- a fact that farmers did not think to exploit until Roland de Jog, a Belgian medical doctor and bumblebee enthusiast, came up with the idea of placing his pet bees among a friend's tomatoes. The experiment was a huge success, and in 1987 de Jog founded Biobest, a company based in Westerlo, Belgium, that rears bumblebees and sells them to tomato growers in both Europe and the United States.

In the early 1990s, a U.S. breeder shipped American bumblebee queens to Biobest. The resulting colonies were shipped back to the United States, carrying with them an infectious disease to which native American bees had no resistance. "That exotic disease wiped out Bombus occidentalis," says Robbin Thorp, who has documented the disappearance of the species, which was once commonly found everywhere from central California to British Columbia. The USDA restricts the use of bumblebees shipped from Europe, in an effort to keep them inside greenhouses and out of the wild. But the bees still escape, carrying infectious diseases with them. A recent study in Canada showed that levels of infectious disease are much higher among wild bumblebees near tomato greenhouses. Mistakes like these could cause other species to follow B. occidentalis into oblivion.

n the long run, our own survival is deeply entwined with the lives of bees. And the bees' survival depends on the ways we manage not only rural farms, but also city parks and gardens and the landscape of suburban America, where native bees can survive in even small patches of habitat, such as native shrubs and plants. "There's an economic benefit to taking care of native bees," says Thorp. "But until people understand this, they won't spend time and effort on it."

Full Belly Farm, an organic operation where Kremen and her research team spent five years studying pollination, has begun to plant hedgerows of native shrubbery to nurture native bees. Other organic farmers in California's Yolo and Solano counties are following Full Belly's lead. Convincing conventional farmers that it's worth their while to do the same -- and to limit their use of pesticides as well -- poses a greater challenge, requiring major shifts in attitude and focus.

In his time, Thorp has seen many acres of native bee habitat vanish beneath plows and under pavement. Some of the data he gathered as a young man are now being used by a new generation of scientists as a baseline to measure the bee diversity that has been lost. Yet Thorp is not a pessimist. He describes a recent trip to the southern Central Valley, a place now dominated by vast fields of cotton, safflower, and alfalfa. For much of the year -- when the crops are not blooming -- these fields, devoid of flowering weeds, are about as welcoming to pollinators as the surface of the moon. Yet in cracks in the ground, in the ditches between crop rows, Thorp found what he had not dared to hope for: the nests of wild sweat bees.