Saturday, December 3, 2011

Beekeeping in 2011

Beekeeping in 2011 was an interesting endeavor for new and experienced beekeepers alike...
For starters the bees "season" was delayed due to the cool weather. New packages of bees weren't delivered until May (normally this would happen no later than Mid-April). Hives that made it thru last winter were slow out of the gate, and extra feeding was required just to keep them going until foraging plants became available. Swarms occurred from April to August, normally these would stop around June. And hives that had no apparent reason to swarm, swarmed anyway! Speaking of swarms, I caught a real bee-utiful swarm in Burien this year. Pic at left.
Seattle Bee Works expanded hives this year, to 16 hives. The majority of these are placed with homeowners in West Seattle, but a few were placed with friends in far reaching neighborhoods such as University Village, Queen Ann, and Columbia City. This made beekeeping a little more challenging this year- requiring additional equipment prep to maintain 16 hives and the extra drive time to visit all the hives. However, the addition of new hive locations brought with it the chance to meet and become friends with many new "hive host" families. I've enjoyed getting to share beekeeping in this way and am thankful that so many people are seeing the joy and benefit of having honeybees in their yards.
All in all the year turned out great and I was even featured in an urban farming segment on the Seattle Channel. Additionally, Seattle Bee Works upgraded our packaging and labels, and expanded distribution of West Seattle Honey to multiple outlets including both Husky Deli and West Seattle Produce. Thank you West Seattle for supporting the bees!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What can you do to help bees?

Members of PSBA educating on bees at the West Seattle Sustainability Fest, June 5, 2010.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at the West Seattle Sustainability Festival, in the Puget Sound Beekeepers booth. Our club was there selling our club's honey and educating folks on bees. We had a couple of observation hives there, which seem to mesmerize all ages of people. (see pic above). When I signed up for the booth, I was actually kind of dreading giving up 2 hrs of my time on a sunny day in seattle...but, once there, I was immersed in telling everyone about bees! I ended up staying for 4 hours without even noticing the time pass. I guess I love talkin' about bees.

In the process, I think I unintentionally recruited at least 3 new beekeepers- all women- just by spending a few minutes answering their questions. (while eyes were glued to the observation hive- the bees were working their charm!) Each woman was extremely interested in bees. One even had previous exposure to bee research from her college days... but they all were hesitant to start into beekeeping, mainly because they didn't have enough info or support to begin as an urban beekeeper in Seattle. They thought it took alot of space or they didn't know where to start. I explained how I live in a condo and that I've leveraged my garden-rich friends to offer up space for my hives. I told them about our club meetings and beekeeping mentors. There were no more excuses...they each said they were going to be at our next club meeting to learn more- and to get started as beekeepers. how exciting!

While at the festival, the Frequently asked question I was asked, was what's killing the bees? quickly followed by, How can I help save the bees? (especially if I don't want to/can't be a beekeeper).

While I offered some good general answers to those questions, such as: support local beekeepers, avoid pesticides and plant friendly plants.... I wanted to be able to provide specifics. Hoping that, with specifics, people will more easily take action.
Thus, I'm pursuing a path of research and planning- to educate (myself) and others on possible causes for bee decline and how we can help- specifically. As a start to gathering such info: I used my break at the festival to check in at the Master Gardener booth. The gardener there seemed excited to help support me. I walked away with lists of bee friendly plants and a contact for collaboration in creating some educational materials for future booth events and beyond.

My initial research is below, for specific answers to "what's killing the bees?" and "how can I help save the bees?" (future blog posts will address additional ways we can help bees, as I continue to compile info):

In General- Avoid Pesticides:
Specifically- avoid neonicotinoids: Even more specifically, avoid Imidacloprid. I've read that pesticides of the class "neonicotinoids" are lethal to bees. Symptoms of this class of pesticides in bees includes death, and if not death- disorientation- i.e., not being able to get to food sources and back to hive- the very life of a bee. ( Of note: these symptoms are strikingly similar to the hallmark symptoms of "colony collapse disorder", or CCD. However, neonicotinoids have not been identified -as of yet-as the sole cause of CCD).

Neonicotinoids have been banned or limited from use in Germany, France and Italy, given concern over the lethal effect on bees, and health effects on humans. In those locales, bee populations have improved. See link #4 at bottom. However, the U.S. still allows neonicotinoids to be used (and plentifully) in agriculture (e.g., beets, corn), in termite control in your home, as well as in common lawn/plant care products - which you can buy in any hardware or lawn care store. (Imidacloprid is the specific neonicotinoid found in these products). Imidacloprid has even been found (and allowed by the EPA) as a contaminate in sugar, since imidacloprid is regularly used in beet production, ultimately ending up in beet sugar.(see health effects to humans in link #1 at bottom). This fact is important to you as a consumer of sugar and to beekeepers. (Beet Sugar comprises 55% of refined sugar consumption in the U.S., and Beekeepers regularly feed 1:1 sugar syrup to bees during times of low nectar flow).

Neonicotinoids are absorbed into the plant structure and soil (depending on the method of application). See link #3 and #4 at bottom. The pesticide will live there and be effective at killing insects over a long duration- meaning: treating a crop, tree, lawn, or plant with this stuff will cause pesticide to remain IN the plant or soil- and if bee comes in contact with it (or the pollen produced from the plant) means a likely death for the bee (and other beneficial insects- butterflies, ants, spiders, the like). This also means, even if YOU don't apply the neonicotinoid pesticide, you could unknowingly purchase a plant at the store which HAS been treated, and plant it in your yard. Perhaps unknowingly, you are wreaking havoc on insects such as bees. Scary. Even more scary are the effects of imidacloprid on humans- read content from link #1 at bottom of post.

What can you do to help bees (and other beneficial insects)? Avoid use of neonicotinoids, and buy plants which have not been treated with them. If you don't know, ask the producer of them. Rose bushes, Fruit trees, beets, & certain ground covers are commonly treated with imidacloprid as they are grown. (I'm working on a list of these plants). You should also know the common lawn and plant care products which contain neonicotinoid class pesticides. Once you do, you can avoid them and educate your neighbors about them. Here's a petition, urging for the ban of neonicotinoids.
The Sierra Club has a campaign to save the bees and recommends a documentary called "nicotine bees" to understand the impacts from neonicotinoids on bee populations.

In a quick jaunt to my neighborhood home depot and true value today, I documented the following products containing Imidacloprid. Please avoid them, for the sake of bees and other beneficial insects- as well as human health:

  • Bayer Advanced, 12 month Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed
  • Bayer Advanced, All -in-one Rose & Flower Care
  • Bayer Advanced, Fruit, Citrus,& Vegetable Insect Control "Season Long Protection"
  • Bayer Advanced, Complete Insect Killer for Soil & Turf ready to spread granules (comes in bag) "Kills insects up to 3 Months"
  • Scotts GrubEx Season long Grub Control. Comes in bag, for spreading on lawn
  • Ortho Flower, Fruit & Vegetable Insect Killer. "Kills 100+ insects on contact"
  • Ortho Max Tree & Shrub Insect Control. "One application protects for 12 months"
From the packaging of these products, the sales and marketing message is to kill insects for beautiful lawn, rosebush, tree, etc. And, the packaging very prominently displays the fact that the killing effect will last for a long duration of time - "with just one application!" (12 months). You will know this is dangerous stuff when you buy it based on the labels, but perhaps you won't realize (or don't want to think) of all the downstream effects from using it.

Naively, before my trip to Home Depot, I'd hoped that most people had figured out ways around using insect killers (especially here in the ecofriendly and eco-conscious seattle). I'd hoped there'd be a sign saying- "we don't offer these products because....". If that didn't exist, I thought there wouldnt be that many imidacloprid containing products available -and there'd be dust on the products on the shelf.
Insead, to my dismay, there was an entire aisle devoted to these types of products- lots of stock, no dust. Curiously, I noticed none of the packages included a picture of a dead honeybee. They did have pictures of scary looking aphids and caterpillars - portrayed as the intended evil targets, though. I guess those marketing folks think putting a dead honeybee on the packaging would deter a consumers choice in buying, especially given all the publicity about bee decline and importance of bees on our food supply. No, I guess they wouldn't go that far in marketing all the possible impacts from using their products.

This was my first day on the task of documenting specific answers to "what's killing the bees?" and "how can I help save the bees?". I am no expert, but will continue to compose more specifics for your consideration, in future blog posts. In the meantime, I encourage you to do your own homework. Think through your day to day choices, and consider more bee-friendly (and human friendly) options, for all our sake.

Some resources I used to write this-are below in the links. Most of these are captured in my twitter feed (to the right) too. (I usually send them there first, when I run across them.) So , be sure to follow me on twitter, for regular updates on source info I discover. Over time- I'll recap what I find in blog posts, such as this one.
Follow me on twitter: @seattlebeeworks

From articles I've researched:
Link #1: great overall article on neonicotinoides, impacts and usage. Quote from Link: Sierra Club statement on Imidacloprid: "It has been shown to cause acute health effects, including spasms and thyroid lesions," the Sierra Club stated. "No chronic toxicity tests have been made available to the public, but we do know that it has effects on mammalian reproduction. The reproductive health of birds is also affected, with reduced egg production and egg thinning. It affects a multitude of beneficial insects, as well as earthworms."

Linke #2: Imidocloprid contamination in beet sugar. Quotes from link:

  • "Imidacloprid is a powerful neurotoxin, lethal to bees in doses as small as five parts per billion, and has serious sub-lethal effects - including disorientation - at much lower doses. To put that in context, if you took ONE THOUSAND METRIC TONNES of 1:1 syrup made with beet sugar, and stirred in just ONE TEASPOONFUL of Imidacloprid, you would have a mixture capable of killing bees. Please read that last sentence again and think about it."
  • "The US 'Environmental Protection Agency' has approved permitted levels of Imidacloprid in sugar beet of 0.05 parts per million - that is at least TEN TIMES the lethal dose for bees."

Link #3: Sunset Magazine Fresh Dirt: Quote from link: "Imidacloprid is a nerve toxin. It is highly toxic to insects, including beneficial ones such as bees. It persists in the soil and is taken up by plant roots and spreads to all parts of the plant, including the pollen"

Link#4: Bee populations restored with neonicotinoids ban Quote from link: "Nicotinyl pesticides, containing clothianidin, thiametoxam and imidacloprid, used to coat plant seeds, are released into the lymph as a permanent insecticide inside the plant. But after just sucking dew from maize leaves that absorbed neonicotinoids, disoriented bees can't find their way to the apiary. Massive numbers of bees get lost and die"

Hive Update June 2010

You may have noticed in my twitter feed that my latest check of my 4 hives has yielded some sad news- 2 hives dead, 1 has a laying worker. The remaining hive is well, but is the one I started fresh from a package of bees. (the Marine Drive hive). So, none of the hives from last year have lived...despite making it through the winter. My celebration of getting hives through the winter was short lived.
I'm still assessing the cause of the hive deaths: The 2 dead hives, on queen ann, still had some (small amounts) of honey in them along with some random bees, which were there to rob it (I perceive). There was No big cluster of bees dead inside and no evidence of a swarm cell. What I saw: Some honey, Some capped brood (dead) , robbers present (bumble bees, random honey bees (from nearby active hive).

Some possible causes, which I need to assess further/get advice:
  • new queens I introduced in April Failed- not sure how to discern if this was the failpoint- need to ask mentors
  • Starvation (there was evidence of bees w/ butts in air in search of food so this is a contributor, no doubt)
  • Pesticides (I put this on the list because of no big cluster of bees in hive- despite big population in April)

If you have ideas, feel free to comment.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pics from Summer 2009

Here's some great pics by Dan Cole: Ada Cole and I visiting the Admiral Hive.

View more of the pictures at Dan's site- here

Pointing at the queen!

My Favorite shot:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Another season under my beekeeping belt...

Not many blog entries this year, but attempted "tweeting" as a way of recording my hive activities and passing along other tidbits of info on beekeeping. (See tweet feed on right side of this screen). Feel free to follow me if you are on twitter, @seattlebeeworks.
The Puget Sound Beekeeping Association is going strong and I've been elected to Vice President, so am looking forward to supporting the non-profit's efforts in educating the community and other fun beekeeping/honey events and mentoring of new beekeepers.

This year was a bad year for honey harvests, for most beekeepers. My mentor, with 8 hives, declared no honey harvest due to drought and weak hives. I was lucky to claim ~60 lbs from 4 hives, mostly medium to dark honey. (to compare: three yrs ago I had 100lbs from 1 hive!)
I'm currently in the process of bottling and supplying holiday orders, as well as preparing my usual supplies to Husky Deli in West Seattle. (Their holiday tasting event is Dec 4th 5-9pm)

Learnings this year:
  • I suffered only one queen death this year, even before she was released in the hive- thus, I claim no fault, but learned I could get a queen "on warranty"- who wouldda thunk?
  • One of my hives was pretty arnory-stinging me thru my gloves and very active/aggressive guard bees. I didn't do much to support this hive during this season, figuring they had it under control if they didn't want me visiting- so bee it. :-) (this obviously was the "lazy beekeeper" approach.) Next year, to remedy, I will likely requeen in the spring- that is, if the hives make it through the winter.
  • I also learned that it isn't good to have a mixture of equipment sizes- especially when your hives aren't in the same locale. I prepared alot of shallow hive bodies, for honey supers this year... but found it frustrating to end up not having a western size when I needed, or the wrong equipment in the wrong locale, or mismatched frame sizes prepared. I may sell those shallows for westerns, to make it easier on myself.
  • Honey Labels- design matters. I took a letterpress course this year to both foster a curiosity I had about this lost art, and to establish a new honey label design. My letterpress label turned out really cool, but more asian looking than I'd expected/intended. I learned west seattle buyers don't go for honey that appears is from Asia- my sales reduced as a result. (Read about china tainted honey imports to figure out why). Back to the drawing board on my labels- a good winter project.

I still love beekeeping, but I do think I am at my limit of hive count,given the lack of my own beeyard. I seem to get many offers from folks for hosting more hives in their yards...which surprises me, but am glad to see the support for bees.

If you are looking for a neat gift this year, don't forget you can always give bees!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New Season of bees

I again have 4 hives this year, didn't have any survive last winter...which is my #1 goal this coming year. I left plenty of honey for their winter food but I dont think there were enough bees to cluster and stay warm enough to make it through the long winter here in seattle.
Anyway on april 19th, I hived the 4 new packages and left the queens in their little cages so the bees could get acquainted with them, and improve acceptance. A week later it was time to release the queens. My friend who hosts the Admiral hive discovered my queen, dead in her cage :-( The other three hives were just fine, so not sure what happened there...
I got a replacement queen- under "warranty" as a result of this death, so early after receipt.
I will go back and let her out this weekend, and check the other hives to make sure the queens that did live are laying eggs.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I'm a lazy beekeeper

well, not really, I am behind on my chores though. Primarily due to not having enough equipment put together to manage 4 hives.

I scheduled the extractor rental for the last weekend in october. I need to go by my hives this weekend and pull off honey supers..which should have been done a few weeks ago.

Now, I need to recruit helpers and a place for extracting. Now that my mentor lives in the boonies, I need a place to do the extraction. I am halfway tempted to go rent one of those storage units 1) to place all my beekeeping gear in it year round, as well as 2) to perform the extraction there. hmmmm. another thing for my to do list.