Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Urban Apiary has moved

It's been quite a while since I last update the blog. I've been extremely busy with work. I've seen Detroit, Chicago, Charleston, Indianapolis, Memphis, Washington D.C., Dallas and a few other cities in recent weeks.

Due to my ever expanding "hobby" I moved the hives about 5 miles from the house. The hives are now located just outside the city limits. This is a beautiful piece of property and the bees are working it extremely well. I anticipate harvesting about 15 medium supers of honey. Brian will be working with me to extract the honey in the next 7-10 days.

We are now up to 9 hives at this location & I have 3 NUCS at Lazy Acres.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

HoneyBee Removal - Lazy Acres

A few weeks ago I placed an ad in the Georgia Farmers & Consumers Market Bulletin advertising bee removal services. I had intended only to remove low hanging swarms, etc... But I received a call from Lazy Acres Farm in Brooks, Georgia inquiring about removal of bees from a stucco driveway entrance wall. The bees had taken up residence inside the hollow 2x4 walls. I was a little hesitant at first but decided to give it a try. I arrived and immediately was able to pull the wire mesh, stucco & foam back to expose the hive. I wasn't concerned with getting the brood comb,etc... I just wanted to get enough brood for 1 frame, find the Queen and get several handfuls of worker bees. I was able to complete this job in less than 45 minutes. I left the nuc box in front of the area in hopes that most of the remaining bees would join the Queen. I will return tonight and remove the nuc.

I came to the conclusion that I need a "bee-vac" and some containers to save the comb, honey,etc.. I simply discarded everything. I had made a trip to Moultrie, Georgia earlier in the day to pick-up (2) 3# packages of Italian bees. Had I planned a little better and wasn't so tired I may have spent some aditional time and save more of the comb.

Additional pics:

Picture # 1

Picture #2

Picture #3

Picture #4

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Gardening the hard way has its rewards"

Anne Brennan has left several comments on my blog so I followed the link to her name and found that she has a pretty neat gardening blog. There's also a section on beekeeping & Anne appears to be a new "beek" herself. I highly recommend you spend a few minutes browsing her blog. It will be worth your time.

Beekeeping Section

Queen shipment

The 6 Italian Queens I ordered from Rossman Apiaries several weeks ago arrived today. The "little brown truck" was at my doorstep about 9:30a.m. I immediately opened the package and inspected each and every one of the cages. I had 6 live Queens!

I decided to wait until after lunch to begin installing the Queens. I wanted the temperature to get above 60 degrees and also to see if it was going to rain. I have 3 hives with Queens of unknown age/viability that I want to replace. I also want to split each hive. This would require 6 Queens total.

Hive #1
This hive has a lot of "bee traffic" in/out and the population has increased a good bit over the past 6-8 weeks. I was amazed to find no Queen, no eggs, larvae, pupae, open or sealed brood in this hive. NONE. ZIP. ZILCH! Not even any Queen cells. There isn't any evidence of a Queen for atleast several weeks! I was also surprised to see the both 9 5/8" deep brood boxes are 70-80% filled with nectar/capped honey & pollen. Did the recent cold weather coupled with a lack of space for eggs prevent the Queen from laying? I re-checked and did NOT find a Queen. Oh Well! I removed the cork from the candy end of the Queen cage and placed it in the hive.

Hive #2
Several weeks ago this hive was by far my weakest. I'm certain this hive was Queenless for several weeks and decided to leave it alone and see what happened. Today I found little evidence of a Queen. I did find a couple of frames with eggs. No larvae, pupae, capped brood. This hive looked just like Hive #1. I did find a Queen! She appeared to be a bright golden brown and moved very quickly across one of the frames. Was this a young Queen that just recently mated? Would that explain the lack of brood and just a few freshly laid eggs? What is going on with my hives? I removed her from the hive and placed her into a nuc box. I placed a new Queen in this hive and moved to the next.

Same damn thing! Hive booming with population & full of nectar, pollen & capped honey. No eggs, larvae, pupae, capped brood. Can't find the Queen either. At this point my lower back is killing me. I checked again and didn't find the Queen. What is going on here? I placed a caged Queen in the hive and closed it back up.

As you can tell, today isn't going very well. I intended to kill the 3 existing Queens in each hive, replace them with 3 new Queens, split each hive and use the remaining 3 Queens. This would have been perfect. I used 3 Queens, couldn't find 2 older Queens, found 1 older Queen, and I have 3 left over. I couldn't find ANY brood in ANY hive so I can't make a split. I did put the one Queen I found in hive #2 in to a nuc. She's suspect at best. I don't know if she's a young, recently mated Queen or one of the older Queens. I suspect she's a new Queen. I don't know how viable she is. I will take her & the 3 other new Queens to my other beeyard and hopefully make splits. I really don't want to split them because of the Spring nectar flow....but oh well. Heck, I may get down there and find they're in the same shape as these.

How can these hives get in this shape so quickly? What exactly happened? Did I overlook 2 Queens? If so, why aren't they laying? Where's all the brood? Where is the current population coming from? What will happen if I did overlook a couple of Queens and the new Queens get released in to that hive? Who will win out? The new Queen or the old???

This beekeeping thing isn't as easy as everyone makes it appear to be ! ! !

I would love some input from some of the blog readers!

Monday, April 09, 2007's cold ! ! !

Wow! The warm weather disappeared just as fast as it came. The past few days the overnight lows have been around 30 degrees. This comes after 3 weeks of very warm weather. I've planted several varieties of Butterfly Bushes as well as a small garden. I'm hopeful the cooler temperatures didn't kill what I've planted.

I have a shipment of 6 Queens coming from Rossman Apiaries, they should arrive on Wednesday, April 11th. The forecast for that day is wet, rainy & cold! GREAT!!! I was hoping to be able to do some splits but the recent colder weather has me concerned. I will most likely bank the Queens until the warmer weather returns & not split any of the colonies until Summer.

I recently acquired some bee hives through a little horse trading. Jeff rode the 3 hours with me to South Georgia to pickup the hives. There were 4 hives mounted to a pallet that we needed to get loaded onto the back of a trailer. We got a late start and instead of arriving just after dark, it was well after midnight. Has anyone ever mentioned how testy honeybees can get when they're disturbed late at night? Well...we found out. Before it was over I sustained 3 stings and Jeff was stung about 12-15 times!!! Remember what I said about Jeff in a previous post? "Somehow Jeff managed to escape sting free. If you knew Jeff you would understand how miraculous this is! Jeff is usually the 1st person to get hurt or get into trouble."

It was quite entertaining to say the least. About an hour or more after we headed back, Jeff was asleep in the passenger seat and got a nasty sting to the inside of his right thigh. This caused Jeff to breakout in an epileptic type fit, jumping and squirming all over the passenger side of the truck. What was even funnier was his attempts to kill the bee(s) by punching himself in the groin area. This little frantic display by Jeff was more than worth the 6 hour roundtrip drive that it took to pickup the bees. Jeff also learned a valuable lesson about properly securing your veil! Overall, he sustained most stings to the lower legs when the bees crawled up his pants legs. This occurred because he was standing in front of the hives while trying to properly fasten his veil. He hurredly put on his veil and initially ignored my warnings to re-do the veil. I believe he stated "it'll be alright, we're only going to be a minute". Well....about a minute into the move he began dancing around slapping himself in the face/veil trying to kill the 2 bees that were trying to sting him in the face!

I have a new nickname for Jeff - "The Epileptic, Dancing BeeKeeper"

Chris - 11
Brian -5
Ronnie - 1
Jeff - 12....atleast ! ! !

Cost of Beekeeping

An Estimated Cost of Beekeeping for Your First Year.

One of the first questions to come up at Beekeeping classes is, “How much does it cost to keep Honeybees?” This is a very good question. Most hobby or back yard beekeepers will keep one or two hives their first year. I always suggest keeping two hives so you can compare the difference. You will gain more knowledge and experience with two hives. The following is a breakdown of cost for your first year based on purchasing all new equipment:

One Hive Setup ----------------------------------- $200
(Includes bottom board, 2 Deep supers,
20 Deep frames, 2 Honey supers, 20
Honey frames, queen excluder, Inner cover,
Outer cover, entrance reducer and feeder.)

Package of Bees----------------------------------- -$75
( 3lbs of bees with a queen)

Clothing and Tools --------------------------------$125
( Veil, gloves, smoker,2 hive tools, bee brush)

Medications and Feed---------------------------- $35
( Mite & Nosema medication, Sugar, and
Pollen Pattie)

Bee School------------------------------------------ $75
(School sometimes includes a text book)

Extraction ----------------------------------------- $15
(Some clubs rent extraction equipment)

Total First year with one hive------------------$525

Total First year with two hives----------------$835
(Additional hive setup, package of bees
And medication and feed)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Yard Work

Today I got started on my yard work. I needed to cut the grass, pull some weeds, decide what to do with the Pompous Grass in the front beds and ultimately plant something different in the front beds. Last year I planted some Pompous Grass in the front beds and it grew too big. I dug up the Pompous Grass today and planted the following: (2) Queen's Robe Butterfly Bush, (2) Sungold Butterfly Bush & (2) White Profusion Butterfly Bush. The Queen's Robe needs partial Sun so I planted those around back and the other 4 are full Sun, so they went in the front where the Pompous Grass used to be.

Pollen Count

The pollen count is off the chart the last few days. I have a black Ford F-150 that is now bright yellow! Everything in town is coated in a light dusting of pollen. When it rains it will look like a yellow river running down the street. Let's just hope we get some rain soon. I have been watering the back yard most of the day, hopefully this will kickstart it to turn green. I have Emerald Zoysia grass planted in the back yard and it really looks great!


I have been watering the area around the bee hives a lot this week. Remember I planted some corn, giant sunflower, cantaloupe, watermelon & wildflowers this past Monday. I'm traveling out of town this coming week for a project and am trying to get a jump on my watering. Hopefully Katie will remember to water while I'm out of town.


Click here to see the front beds planted with Sungold & White Profusion Butterfly Bushes, Queen's Robe planted around back, the Emerald Zoysia back yard & the area that will hopefully produce a garden!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The buzz business

Printed in High Country News
by Ray Ring

Some people try to make a killing on killer bees

TUCSON, Ariz. - Twelve years into the killer bee invasion of the United States, Tip Tisdale steers his pickup truck into the driveway of a custom home in the desert outskirts of this desert city. It’s a hot Monday morning in late April and this is the U.S. city where the invaders, also called Africanized bees, are most established

The bright yellow-and-black logo on Tisdale’s truck, repeated on his T-shirt, identifies which side he’s on - AAA Africanized Bee Removal.

With the bravado that characterizes the men on the front lines, Tisdale walks toward the buzzing sound without protective gear, his face, arms and hands exposed. Pausing on the porch steps, he scouts the enemy: a loose cloud hovering under the porch roof overhang, composed of maybe 30 to 40 bees.

Like the symbol for nuclear energy, electrons circling round and round, the bees occupy their air space and emit a feeling of contained energy that might explode any moment.
I’m hanging back a few feet behind Tisdale, here to research how the bees are succeeding in the city, how people are adapting, and why the great national media machine has forgotten this once-sensational topic. Knowing that killer bees can take up residence in any nook or cranny of civilization - in the eaves of buildings, in the cushions of sofas and chairs left outside, under storage sheds, in cardboard boxes, flower pots, light fixtures, old tires, utility boxes, bird houses, culverts, woodpiles, trash cans, towers and windmills, even in vehicles, including airplanes - I’m ready to run.

In a half whisper, trying not to trigger the bees, Tisdale explains what we’re seeing. These must be foragers for a colony that’s hidden inside the wall of the house. He points out that some are crawling into a hole gnawed through the wall. Inside the wall there must be a lot more bees carrying out a range of duties, and a queen. If the colony is only a week or two old, there are maybe 10,000 bees in the wall; if the colony is several months old, there could be 30,000

"The foragers are bringing water in - see?" Tisdale says. Squinting, concentrating on the tiny moving shapes, I can make out water droplets on the bees’ legs. If they were foraging for pollen, they’d have yellow sacks of it bulging on their legs. The water helps them survive the drought that has withered the desert for months; they haul the droplets from swimming pools, hot tubs and landscaping irrigation in this upscale neighborhood. They bring the water inside the wall and use their wings to fan and evaporate it, to keep the colony cooler than it would be otherwise. The insulation in the wall also helps.

"They like houses, because people provide cooling in the summer and heating in the winter," Tisdale says. "They are a tremendously intelligent animal."

He glances around, alert for any patrol bees that might be coming at us. Fully established colonies have storehouses of honey and brood to defend, and it begins with a perimeter of patrol bees. "The patrol bees look for trouble," he says. "They’ll buzz in your face. If you don’t react right or if they get a signal from you they don’t like, they tag you." Meaning, they sting you.

He advises that we’d better stand still and hold our breath if any patrol bees check us out, because one thing the bees really don’t like is any mammal’s breath - mammals are predators who might be after the honey. We’re lumped in with badgers, skunks and bears. Above all, we’d better not swat a patrol bee or even try to brush one off. Just one sting or one smashed or ticked-off patrol bee would send a chemical pheromone signal to the rest of the colony, and in a split second the next level of defense, many thousands of guard bees, would come streaming out.

"Every female with a venom sack would dump on you," Tisdale says.

So far, it’s a Western thing. Since the bees invaded from Mexico, they’ve stung four people to death in Arizona (including one who was allergic to bee stings). As many as eight more people have been killed in New Mexico, Southern California and Texas. There is disagreement about how many deaths the killer bees can be blamed for: Do we count the bulldozer driver in Texas who jumped off to run from bees and got run over by his own machine?

As the bees continue to spread, several thousand people as far north as Las Vegas have been stung, many of them hundreds of times each, without dying. Tisdale, a lanky 53-year-old who has worked the front lines about five years, has been stung too many times to count, at times so severely that his arms swelled up painfully or his eyelids swelled shut for days.

At this house, where a family inside has called for help, only a few patrol bees come forward to check us. Tisdale says it indicates this colony has only been here a short time and doesn’t yet have much stored up to defend. Even so, before proceeding any closer, it’s time for us to suit up - thick cotton coveralls, canvas gloves to the elbows, pith helmets draped with hoods that seal to the coveralls, and strategically applied strips of duct tape.

Getting down to business, Tisdale closes in with spraycans of professional grade pesticides. He whacks down the bees we can see, climbs a ladder so he can spray into the hole, uses a prybar to widen the opening, keeps spraying. Alarmed bees pitter-patter against us, trying to sting us through our gear, but it is not the folklore classic killer bee explosion. In a few minutes the whole colony falls silent and still, and Tisdale presents the customers with the bill: $235.

The Triple-A dispatcher relays another call for help and we drive to another neighborhood, where there is another kind of problem - a swarm. Thirty times a year or so, a killer bee colony divides: Some of the bees swarm away with the queen looking to colonize new territory and the rest stay put and raise a new queen. It is a way they maximize their territory.

We find the swarm in the backyard, clinging to a tree branch. It’s a writhing, solid mass of maybe 12,000 bees surrounding the migrant queen. The swarm is resting on the branch. Tisdale and Paul Gerard, another Triple-A pro who rolls in, discover that the swarm has just split from a big colony under a storage shed. We suit up again and the pros attack the swarm in the tree and then the colony under the shed. They use a smokepot to slow the bees, a soapy spray that clings to the bees and clogs their breathing, and the pesticides. Ripping up the floor of the shed to expose the colony, they find the eerily beautiful fins of honeycomb, pupae in the wax cells, and the emergent queen. It’s sweaty work in the thick protective gear, staving off the bees’ defense. Thousands of dead little bee bodies curl on the ground. But it only takes about an hour and half to do this job and present the bill: $600.

Tisdale’s cell phone keeps jingling. On an average day, he estimates, he does six service calls; on a busy day, he averages 10 to 15. Triple-A’s going rate is roughly $200 per hour per man on the jobs I observe, split between those on the front and the head of the company, who does the dispatching. Triple-A is probably the biggest anti-killer-bee company in the world, with five pros in Tucson and eight in the Phoenix metro area, a statewide toll-free number and 24-hour-a-day dispatching. Even the company’s name is a marketing ploy - AAA to be first in the Yellow Pages when customers under siege are looking for bee removal in a hurry.

I’m beginning to see that this is a story not only of ecology, but also of the good old resilient American instinct to make a buck out of anything that presents itself.

Read the rest of the article posted here:

The Buzz Business

Preparations for a garden

This past weekend while working on the deck I also rented a rear tine tiller and turned over the soil in "the dog run". This is the area where I keep the 3 honeybee hives. I've decided to give my little Italian friends something to do in my backyard this Spring & Summer. After I returned from a business trip to Valdosta, Georgia on Monday, I planted sweet corn, watermelon, giant sunflower, cantaloupe & a mix of wildflowers. I did this all from seed. It is my hope to "fill up" some of the dead space in the dog run with some vegetation and bright colors. I'm currently watering the whole area really well and this should start the germination process. Also, I started germinating some Anise Hysopp & Bee Balm indoors last night. I will also plant these in/around the hives.

I've never planted a garden before and don't really know what to expect. The soil is very dark and rich in color. I noticed a lot of earth worms when I was tilling the area. Earth worms are good aren't they? I was always told that worms were a sign of good soil. I planted the seeds "guerrilla style". Meaning that I didn't concern myself with planting them in perfect rows, spaced perfectly apart. I figure that I get what I get, and that will be good enough. I just want to fill the dead space and if I get something for my efforts, it will be a big plus.

Does anyone else plant for their bees?

Phase 2 - Finishing the Deck

Last Summer my Father built a deck on the back of the house for me. I of course assisted greatly but my skills are more directly related to the IT/computer field than carpentry. We completed "Phase 1" which was everything except the handrails coming off the back steps, the railing around the deck and the steps from the deck to the yard. If you've purchased any amount of pressure treated wood and all the associated materials to build a deck lately you will understand why this project was broken in to 2 phases...I ran out of $$$.

This past Saturday we began "Phase 2" which will be the final phase. The railing around the deck will look like the railing on the back steps. This deck is well built and everything is either screwed or bolted together with carriage bolts/lag screws. Additionally, we used joist hangers & metal corner brackets everywhere. This has posed somewhat of a challenge when we attached the posts for the handrail. We had to adjust accordingly to work around the metal brackets. We are hoping to finish the handrail around the deck this coming weekend and then the step from the deck in to the yard the weekend after next. I'll keep you updated on our progress and will also post some more pictures.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Saturday was a work day...

My order from Mann Lake arrived mid-week while I was away on a business trip. Saturday morning my good friend Ronnie Tindle (pictured at left) helped me assemble & paint the following:
4 -9 5/8" deep brood boxes
3 -Nuc's boxes
2 -honey supers
4 - outer covers

This only took us a couple of hours from start to finish and was a real efficient process thanks to Ronnie's assistance. I would have spent most of the day on this task if I didn't have his help! As a side note, Mann Lake did short my order by leaving out the 3 bottom boards for the Nuc boxes. I called and left a message with the after hours receptionist. Someone is supposed to call me on Monday. I hope they ship the missing parts without any hassle. I have ordered from them on several occasions and been very pleased.

Just after we finished the assemly/painting of the materials (timing is everything!) from Mann Lake my brother Brian showed up with his sidekick Jeff Harrington. Ronnie & Jeff stood at the fence while Brian and I inspected the 3 hives we currently have. Unfortunately, I believe we have 1 hive that is Queenless at the moment. Almost no brood, no eggs and a low population. I did find several capped Queen cells. We thought about combining this hive with one of the others but decided not to. I want to see if the Queen will emerge from her cell, mate and begin to lay eggs. This hive will be one to watch over the next several weeks. Stay tuned....The 2 other hives appear to be booming and I'm going to attempt a split around the first part of April. I have 6 Italian Queens coming from Rossman apiaries on April 10th.

I have had a Fire Dancer fire pit for quite some time. I wanted to make it a more permanent part of my deck and Jeff offered to help me out. We went to Lowe's and got some Liquid nails & concrete adhesive to use. We were able to assembly the stones around the fire pit and "glue" them together. It looks great! I'm really pleased with the work Jeff did!

Click here to see a group picture of all 4 of us. We are a Motley crew that's for sure. If you only knew the stories we were telling on Saturday!!! We've had some good times together that's for sure!

Brian got stung twice when a couple of bees went up his pants leg.
Ronnie got stung on the forehead while watching from the fenceline.
Somehow Jeff managed to escape sting free. If you knew Jeff you would understand how miraculous this is! Jeff is usually the 1st person to get hurt or get into trouble.

Sting Count:

Chris - 7
Brian -5
Ronnie - 1

Monday, February 19, 2007

Beekeeping Tips

  • Treat for Tracheal mites with menthol in August
  • Treat for Varroa mites on October 1st
  • Treat for Nosema in late October or November
  • Prevent robbing before it starts, equalize your colony populations
  • Feed 2:1 sugar syrup to provide 70 pounds of winter stores
  • Requeen your colonies in late August or September 1st
  • You will have NO DEAD BEES IN THE WINTER, and big, strong, HEALTHY colonies ready to make a record crop in the spring.

Sugar Syrup Ratios

Sugar syrup can be made up into three different strengths, and you use different strengths for different purposes and at different times of the year, as follows:

1:2 -1 pound of sugar dissolved in 2 pints of water is primarily used as a egg laying
stimulant for the queen in late winter and early spring

1:1 -1 pound of sugar dissolved in 1 pint of water is primarily used as an artificial
nectar to get bees to build comb and feed brood larvae in spring and summer

2:1 - 2 pounds of sugar dissolved in 1 pint of water is a winter feed substituting
for honey in the fall or early winter

How to Make a Split

How to Make a Split

A split is made to either increase colony numbers or to prevent swarming. In either case, a colony is NOT split unless it is strong in numbers of worker bees, has a prolific queen, and is healthy. Although sometimes desirable to be done in very early spring, a split should NOT be made until decent flight weather for pollen or nectar collecting in the spring. In Maryland, because our total honey crop is made in April and May, and little, if any, is collected during the rest of the year, the new split is NOT going to produce any honey in its first year. This might be dramatically different in states that have nectar collection during the summer and/or fall.

Order a new queen, preferably MARKED, and upon its arrival, give the queen a drink of water and put her in a cool, dark place until the next day. Go to the colony you want to split, find the queen and ISOLATE the frame she is on and the adhering bees in a spare hive body while you select the frames you want to remove and move them to the new split. I select 2 frames of honey, 2 frames of CAPPED brood, 1 frame of OPEN brood, and 1 frame of nectar and pollen ALL WITH ADHERING BEES which is a total of 6 frames.

Put these 6 frames in a new hive body and add 3 more frames of drawn comb, totaling 9 frames, put the new queen cage in place between the frame of OPEN BROOD and the frame of nectar, and then SHAKE the adhering bees off 2 BROOD frames from the old colony. Add a bottle of 1:1 sugar syrup and do not touch for at least 3 days and if the queen is out of her queen cage, remove it, and put the 10th frame of drawn comb in place. Going back to the original colony, return the old queen on her frame to the colony and replace the 6 frames you have removed for the split with 6 frames of drawn comb. YOU HAVE A SPLIT!

If you do NOT have drawn comb frames, if you are LUCKY, you might get by using foundation, but there MUST BE A STRONG NECTAR FLOW PRESENT and/or a CONTINUOUS FEED OF 1:1 SUGAR SYRUP to get that foundation drawn and drawn properly. As I have repeatedly said for over 40 years FOUNDATION IS NOT DRAWN COMB.

Making Fondant

Bring a quart of water to a boil in a medium to large pot. Turn off the heat and add five pounds granulated sugar, stirring constantly. When dissolved, bring water back to a boil and keep stirring. Use a candy thermometer and bring the mixture to 260-270 degrees (hard ball candy state). Do not burn the sugar. Pour the mixture into molds (cookie sheet lined with wax paper works well). When cooled and set, break into convenient-sized pieces and store in freezer, between wax paper sheets until needed (Adapted from Beekeeping, A Practical Guide, by Dick Bonney).

A Larger Recipe:

15 pounds granulated sugar
3 pounds corn syrup
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Prepare in the same manner as the smaller recipe only use a larger pot.

Simply place a cake of fondant on the top of the frames closest to the main cluster of bees. A super or a one-inch wooden rim should be put in place to allow room for the fondant and bees. A six-pound cake may last 10-15 days if the colony is large.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Treating for Varroa, Small Hive Beetles & American Foulbrood Disease

Brian came by to give me a hand on Saturday. We needed to treat against American/European Foulbrood disease, Small Hive Beetles & Varroa Mites. I'm not too concerned about "organic" beekeeping at this time. I'm more worried about protecting my investment and keeping the hives alive & strong. Perhaps as I gain more knowledge & experience I will work my way towards all natural or organic hives. Until then, I will use the recommended chemicals to treat for disease. We installed Apistan & Check-Mite strips for the SHB & Varroa Mites and used Terramycin powder for the AFB. Note in the picture the pollen patty I added last week. They really seem to eat this up fairly quickly. I would guess there's about 30-40% of this patty left. I removed it and discarded what was left because the SHB will lay eggs in the patty and this causes the SHB populations to explode. Overall all 3 hives seem to be thriving. We are expecting the weather to be well in to the 70's by mid-week and I'm hoping this will last for several weeks. I want to split all 3 hives and some warm weather will make this possible.

Brian & I now have a game plan for his future beekeeping. I'm going to place an order for enough equipment for 5 hives. I'll order this from Mann Lake. Once this arrives, I'll do a split to fill 3 of the hives and the other 2 hive we'll use the packaged bees I ordered from Rossman Apiaries. I will still need another package of bees for the Top Bar Hive that I have.

Sting Count:

Chris - 7
Brian - 3

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Mystery ailment strikes honeybees

By GENARO C. ARMAS, Associated Press Writer
Sun Feb 11, 6:12 PM ET

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - A mysterious illness is killing tens of thousands of honeybee colonies across the country, threatening honey production, the livelihood of beekeepers and possibly crops that need bees for pollination.

Researchers are scrambling to find the cause of the ailment, called Colony Collapse Disorder.

Reports of unusual colony deaths have come from at least 22 states. Some affected commercial beekeepers — who often keep thousands of colonies — have reported losing more than 50 percent of their bees. A colony can have roughly 20,000 bees in the winter, and up to 60,000 in the summer.

Read the rest of the article: Mystery ailment strikes honeybees

February inspection - getting ready for Spring...

I did a very thorough inspection of my 3 hives today. I also did a quick inventory of my extra tools, supers, frames, etc...I'm getting ready for the upcoming season!

I found all 3 hives to be in really great shape! I found eggs, larvae & capped brood along with plenty of pollen, nectar & capped honey. I was worried that with the mild temperatures and increased activity in November & December this would have a negative effect on the colonies. So far I have been proven wrong! I did remove the hive top feeders that are used to give supplemental sugar syrup. I also added a 9 5/8" deep hive body to one of the colonies. It was busting at the seems and needed the extra room. I also took this opportunity to add 1 pollen pattie to each colony. This is done to give the hives a "kick-start" and the Queen should start laying pretty heavy. This will allow for a fast Spring population build up. More bees = more honey, right?

You may remember from an October post that I had a 4th hive that "diappeared" on me! I'm going to order (2) 10lb packages of bees w/Queens. One will replace the hive that absconded & the other will be used for my Top Bar Hive.

I've also put together a list of items I will need to order from Mann Lake. I will need to medicate for Varroa mites, tracheal mites, American Foulbrood & Small Hive Beetles. I also need (3) 9 5/8" hive bodies for brood boxes, (30) plastic rite-cell frames & (1) swarm trap.

Sting Count:

Chris - 7
Brian - 3

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Astronaut Lisa Nowak

You can only imagine how stunned I was to hear "Astronaut Lisa Nowak has been arrested in Orlando, Florida....."..blah-blah-blah! The words hung in the air for several moments as I tried to place the name I was certain that I knew. I was assigned to VAQ-34 at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California in the early 90's. Although I don't specifically remember Captain Nowak, I have verified we were attached to the squadron at the same time. I have been following her career closely for several years and have been waiting for her 1st shuttle flight. Oh Well! It looks like her first flight will also be her last.

Other VAQ-34 notables:

  • U.S. Navy Commander Rosemary Mariner. 1990 - Commander Mariner becomes first woman to command an operational aviation squadron (VAQ-34).
  • Chuck Palumbo - now a professional wrestler
  • CW03 Chris Palumbo - Army helicopter pilot awarded a Silver Star. (Chuck Palumbo's brother). Chris was stationed at NAS Lemoore. He was also assigned to an F/A-18 Hornet squadron.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bee sting treatments buzzing in modern China

Updated: 11:40 a.m. ET Jan 23, 2007

Ancient remedy believed to ease pain, curb diabetes, even cure cancer

BEIJING - With doctors urging amputation to stop the gangrene spreading upwards from his toes, Liu Guorong was skeptical when a friend said bee venom might save his foot.
“I was doubting this place,” the 58-year-old diabetes sufferer said in a raspy voice during a visit to the Xizhihe Traditional Medicine Hospital on the outskirts of Beijing.
“When I got here, I had no idea what I was doing and what the bee sting treatment was all about.”

As Liu found out, it was painful.

Bees were placed on his foot and provoked to sting him in a bid to rejuvenate the blackened, rotting flesh by flooding it with a rush of protein-rich blood.

A folk remedy for treating arthritis, back pain and rheumatism for 3,000 years in China, practitioners say that such pinpointed stings can repair damaged cells, stave off bacteria and ease inflammation.

Doctors at Xizhihe hospital believe they can even cure liver ailments, diabetes and cancers.
They admit, however, that they do not really know how it works.

“Our knowledge has increased over the years,” said Xu Xiaowang, Xizhihe hospital director.
“But there are still large areas that are unknown to us all... There are too many unanswered questions,” Xu said.

Western-trained doctors dismiss the treatment as unscientific and dangerous.
“It’s alternative medicine and has no basis in western medical science... I would doubt its efficacy,” Professor Christopher Lam, a chemical pathologist at the Chinese University in Hong Kong said.

“People allergic to bee stings can develop hypersensitivity reactions like a sudden drop in blood pressure, swelling of the airways, cold sweats... it may be life threatening,” Lam said.
Hazy science notwithstanding, at 20 yuan (about $2.50) a sting, the treatment offers a cheap alternative to mainstream medicine.

“Doctors at other hospitals were telling me that they needed to cut my foot off,” Liu said. “I’d spent loads of money.”

Liu has been to Xizhihe several times to get stung and is now on a course of orally-taken bee venom medication. He now expects to keep his foot.

“The flesh is growing back ... I’m feeling better,” Liu said.

Dying traditionBee venom is just one of an exhaustive catalogue of ancient folk remedies involving bugs, herbs, animal parts and massage that make up traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

Incorporating elements of mysticism and based on a philosophy developed several thousand years ago, TCM is regarded as an alternative medicine in the West, but in China it remains a central plank of modern health care.

About 3,000 private clinics provided TCM treatments to more than 230 million people in 2005. Health officials say it generated 95 billion yuan that year -- more than a quarter of the medical industry’s total income — and revenues have grown an average 20 percent a year over the past decade.

The government, sensing an export-driven cash cow, ploughed 740 million yuan into research and development last year in a bid to bolster TCM’s scientific credistinbility and standing in Western markets where alternative remedies are increasingly welcomed.

Read the rest of the article here:

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Happy New Year!!!

Lots of hive activity today! The temperature is about 68 degrees here in the Atlanta area and there's a lot of traffic in/out of all 3 hives. I'm still amazed at the amount of pollen that is being gathered. The pollen sacs on the bees are absolutely packed full!

The hives are thriving and they have plenty of food stores left. I look forward to the beginning of February when the Queen should start laying eggs to increase the population. I still anticipate adding a pollen patty to each hive to assist in getting the population to increase.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

December Update

Sorry for the delay in posting! So far the Winter in Georgia has been relatively warm and uneventful. I've done some supplemental feeding with 2:1 sugar water. I did this because the hives felt light when I lifted them & it also gives me a little piece of mind. The upcoming season is rapidly approaching. Sometime in late January or early February I will give the hives a kick start by adding some pollen patties to encourage the Queen to begin laying. I may also feed some 1:1 sugar water. I expect to successfully over winter all 3 hives and am looking forward to watching the hive populations explode this Spring. I have extra hive bodies and honey supers ready to go when they are needed. I have decided to use the 9 5/8" deep hives for the 2nd brood box. This will ensure they have enough room to expand. I travel a lot for work and am skeptical about using the medium supers for the brood chamber. The last thing I want is to lose most of the population to a swarm.

I have been surprised by the amount of traffic most days. As I previously stated the Winter hasn't been too cold and most days warm up enough for the bees to break cluster and fly. I was surprised to see that a lot of pollen is being gathered. Most returning foragers are loaded with pollen. I wonder what the source of this pollen is?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Hive Activity

I was outside today preparing 8lbs. of boiled peanuts for Saturday's UGA vs. Florida football game and noticed a lot of activity around all 3 hives. The last few nights have been near freezing and the daytime high has only been in the upper 50's. I presume the warm weather today has a lot to do with the amount of activity I'm seeing. Click on the picture for full-size.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

ALMOND POLLINATION - 2006 and Beyond

from November 2005 BEE CULTURE (pp.39,40)
by Joe Traynor

With the bee shortage of 2005 receding into the past, both almond growers and beekeepers are curious as to what the 2006 season will bring. 2006 pollination prices have doubled over 2005 and are in the $100 to $150 range (the highest prices for the strongest colonies). The two entities that drive the stock market, fear and greed, are also in play for almond pollination: fear (of going without bees) on the part of almond growers, and greed on the part of a few beekeepers who feel they are entitled to a $150 rental fee for substandard bee colonies. Beekeepers can also experience fear - of theft, of excessive winter losses, of growers not paying their almond pollination bills.

The driving force behind 2006 pollination prices is the unprecedented high prices for almonds - $3 to $4 a pound vs. $1/lb a few years ago. Growers don't mind paying high prices for bees if they know they are dealing with a reputable supplier that delivers a quality product.

There will be only a modest in bearing almond acreage in 2006, perhaps 20,000 more acres than in 2005; the real crunch for bees will come in a few years when bearing almond acreage hits 730,000 acres (vs. 550,000 today). Growers are looking to lock in long-term relationships with bee suppliers and are actively courting beekeepers; beekeepers are in the heady position of being able to pick and choose among anxious suitors (a position that can lead to a temporary "Master of the Universe" syndrome if one is not careful). What happens when almond prices drop back to $1/lb, as many expect they will, is anybody's guess.

If you've never brought bees to almonds before, you need to do some serious homework, just as the most successful pioneers that settled the early west were the ones that did sufficient homework before embarking on the trek. Good contacts are invaluable in this regard. Talk with beekeepers that have made the journey. Have a thorough knowledge of whom you're dealing with, whether it be a broker, a grower or another beekeeper that is placing your bees. Know that the most desirable almond locations are taken first and your truck may wind up in a muddy orchard or be forced to spend a day or more scattering bees to 10 different orchards 10 miles apart. Know the specific orchard where you will be taking your bees. Dealing with good people can mean the difference between a happy or a dismal experience. If you're dealing with strangers, ask for references and follow up on these references.

If you live outside of California, getting a reliable trucker is a key to being successful in almonds. Her again, it pays to do some diligent homework. Ask for recommendations from other beekeepers - you don't want your trucker taking a 4 hour break in Las Vegas on a warm afternoon. Get someone experienced in hauling bees and line up trucks well ahead of time. Give your trucker exact pickup dates and make sure he meets those dates even if it means multiple phone calls.

If you're from a southern state, make sure your equipment is free of Red Imported Fire Ants (RIFA) and arrange for an RIFA inspection certificate from your home state (current RIFA rules require an inspection certificate from the state of origin). Your load will also be thoroughly inspected at the CA border and if more than five ants are found (up from zero ants in 2005) your load will be turned back (an expensive one-time clean-up at the border and another go at crossing is an option). In order to pass border inspections, most beekeepers transfer bees to new or steam-cleaned pallets and pre-treat the ground in their holding yards with pesticides. Loads can also be rejected for weed seeds. Any debris of any kind on hives or pallets will trigger a meticulous inspection of your load at the border. Know the exact location where your bees will wind up in California (you will be asked this at the border). Make every effort to arrive in CA on a week day so that county inspectors are more available to check the load on arrival. For the latest RIFA (and small-hive-beetle) regulations, call (916)653-1440.

It is difficult for many beekeepers in eastern states to work up enthusiasm for almond pollination since most got into beekeeping for the life style and to make honey, not to put their livelihood on a truck and ship it to California (that crazy left coast). Some are looking to sell their bee operations rather than submit to a new life style.

There is long-term optimism for higher honey prices as developing countries, particularly China and India become more affluent and become major buyers of U.S. honey. If every person in China put a teaspoon of honey in their tea every day, U.S. beekeepers would be hard-pressed to meet the demand. With both India and China producing 10 times as many scientists as the U.S., it is likely that by 2040 China will surpass the U.S. as a world power, esp. if the anti-science bias of our current administration continues. South Korea (South Korea!) already surpasses the U.S. in cloning success. According to Dr. R.E. Smalley, Nobel Prize winning scientist from Rice University by 2010, 90 percent of all Ph.D. physical scientists and engineers in the world will be Asian living in Asia (Imprimis February 2005).

The best and brightest of our young people are looking to become lawyers rather than scientists (or beekeepers - and many beekeepers, whether they know it or not, are also scientists) because that is where the money is (and the accumulation of money is deemed to be a virtue in a capitalistic society). No other country comes remotely close to the U.S. in the number of lawyers per capita. Our bright young (and old) lawyers have a negative effect on the gross national product of our country. What a waste - and what a drag on the long-term prosperity of America.

But never mind. Looking at the world 30 years from now, U.S. beekeepers, although considered 2nd class citizens compared to the average Chinese, should fare well in the new world order. They should find a ready market in a prosperous China as millions of affluent Chinese peruse their (China-owned) Wall Street Journal while they sip their morning tea sweetened with premium U.S. honey. What a role reversal!

Getting back to almond pollination, the current situation offers new opportunities for individuals with beekeeping experience:

Supplying bulk bees - with 3 lbs of Aussie bees (+ queen) going for $100 an enterprising beekeeper in Alabama is offering 3# package bees (sans queen) for $45 to be delivered to CA just prior to almond bloom in order to boost up weak colonies.Why ship all that wood to California when you can just ship the bees?

California managers - Many out-of-state beekeepers would like to ship their bees to California but don't want to go with them. They are looking for a reliable person in California to care for their bees in the winter (if they winter in California) and to deliver the bees to almond orchards at bloom time.

Winter location scouting - with winter holding yards in California becoming increasingly scarce, a California based person could develop a good business securing yards and renting them to out-of-state beekeepers.

Colony strength inspectors - High pollination fees are causing almond growers to look more closely at what they are getting. A person should do quite well in a short period of time by offering an independent inspection program to growers.

Will there be a shortage of bee colonies in 2006? It depends on how you define "bee colony." There has been a shortage of strong bee colonies (defined as 8 or more frames of bees) each and every year since almonds were first planted in California 100 years ago; 2006 will be no different if two strong colonies per acre is the accepted standard. There will likely be the requisite number of bee boxes to cover CA's 570,000 bearing acres in 2006 but the content of these boxes won't be known until almond bloom commences in early February. If almond growers are satisfied with two 3# packages per acre as some were in 2005, we will see an influx of packages from Australia to make up any shortfalls. Florida bees will likely be used to cover any last-minute spot shortages as they were so used in 2005.

Whether there will be sufficient bees to pollinate 730,000 acres of almonds in 2010 is a question without an answer at this time. One solution would be to supply the same number of bees now being supplied but in fewer containers (boxes). One strong colony per acre will do the work of 3 or 4 weak colonies and should be sufficient. Two colonies per acre is the accepted standard for almonds and it is difficult to persuade growers to use less, no matter how strong the colonies are. If almond growers are satisfied with two 3# packages of Aussie bees, as some were in 2005, why wouldn't they be happy with one 10-frame colony per acre?

The solution to the upcoming bee shortage will not come from the bee industry, but from developing March-blooming almond orchards so that bees can be transferred to these orchards when February bloom is completed. Genetic material is available for March-blooming almonds. Perhaps South Korea can be prevailed upon to use their cloning expertise to make March-blooming almonds a reality.


From Dec. 1995 and March 1996 beekeeper newsletters.

Your friends think you look better with your veil on.

You take off your hat in a restaurant and someone throws a dollar in it.

You're heading back to Montana after the almonds and see a sign saying "Welcome to Phoenix".

You put a little Bee-Go behind your ears before heading out for a night on the town.

The Mayo clinic requests permission to use you as an example of the cumulative effect of bee stings.

You find your coveralls stuck to the seat at the local cafe and are forced to leave them behind.

A biker asks directions to the nearest restaurant and you perform a short waggle dance. He punches your lights out.

You wear an Apistan strip around your neck to formal events.

You're asked to give a talk at a local school and you give an hour demonstration on frying varroa with a magnifying glass.

Your wife kicks you out of the house in the fall and doesn't let you back in until spring.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

New York City Honey

David Graves is the owner of Berkshire Berries and markets New York City Honey.

You can purchase it here:

New York City Honey

Honeybees Thrive in New York City

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Bears are nonexistent. Skunks are rare. Rats, pigeons and humans, though plentiful, are reluctant to approach.
New York City, it turns out, is a great place to be a bee.

``They do really well here,'' says David Graves, who has hundreds of thousands of honeybees in seven hives in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan. ``There are so many parks and gardens and rooftop flowerpots. Even if it's dry, they can get the water they need from the East River.''

Read the entire article here:

Honeybees Thrive in New York City

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ready for 'Ole Man Winter

I did a very thorough inspection in all 3 hives today and I'm very pleased with the overall condition of each hive. It would appear the 2:1 sugar syrup I've been feeding with the hive top feeders has really paid off. All hives are about 85% honey bound. I've very optimistic about the chances for surviving the Winter. There are a fair amount of eggs, larvae & capped brood in each hive, so I know the hives are all Queen right.

The weather has been cool, wet & humid over the past few days. I've noticed since installing the hive top feeders a lot of condensation is accumulating on the underside of the inner cover. Propping the outer cover up with a stick or rock would reduce the moisture level of the hives but also allows direct access to the syrup and the bees could drown. I used some mesh screen to cover the hole in the inner cover. Here's a picture of the modification to the inner cover. I can now prop open the outer covers and I don't have to worry about losing bees to drowning. This will allow the hives to ventilate and reduce the moisture content.

I also added a couple gallons of syrup to each hive top feeder after my inspection today. I doubt they will take it all and I anticipate this being the last time I feed them for awhile. I also noticed the population of the small hive beetles has drastically been reduced. Finally...I've got the upper hand over these little *&%#$@ ! ! !

Since these hives are elevated, I'm not too concerned with mice or other critters. To be on the safe side I have installed wire mesh in the entrance to reduce the chances of any un-invited house guests.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Life-Giving Secret of Bees

by Jeannine Ouellette, Photographs by Scott Streble - September 2005

The long, pointed whisker stands out sharply from the undulating mass of curious bees beneath the Plexiglas. Next emerges a lonely ear. And finally the whole, unmistakable outline of the tiny skull: a common field mouse. It is completely lacquered in something dark, sticky, and resinous. Just three days earlier, this little skull—not much bigger than a quarter—rested in the rather undignified open-air coffin of a petri dish atop the desk of Marla Spivak, a University of Minnesota entomologist and a national leader in honeybee research. Spivak—trim, suntanned, short-haired, and outdoorsy in a way more revealing of her work in the hives than in the hallowed halls—discovered the mummified skull in one of her bee colonies on the St. Paul campus about a year ago. She fished it out for a closer look.

An experienced beekeeper would recognize right away what had happened: A mouse had gotten into the hive, and it was killed. But rather than letting the intruder fester and breed bacteria and potential disease, the bees covered the corpse with something called propolis.

Propolis, or bee glue, is resin that bees collect from the leaf buds and bark of some trees. Though relatively unfamiliar in the United States in all but a handful of co-op grocery stores, apothecaries, and health-food shops, it has been used in folk medicine since antiquity. Propolis has long been credited with healing powers by people throughout Eastern Europe and parts of South America, where it is widely used for a host of minor health and skin ailments. In those areas, propolis products are as commonly available as are echinacea and chamomile in the United States.

But the mouse mummy captured Spivak’s imagination. “It was just so weird, I couldn’t stand to get rid of it,” she told me. So this bizarrely hygienic partial cadaver remained, perfectly preserved, through five seasons in Spivak’s Hodson Hall office. There, it bore distant and unlikely witness to the thrilling frenzy that ensued when, over the course of last year, an interdisciplinary team of university researchers, working with Dr. Phil Peterson of the medical school, synthesized and wrote up their remarkably promising findings from dozens of lab trials testing propolis against HIV. “Actually, it all started about five years ago,” said Spivak, “when Dr. Genya Gekker, who was working with Phil Peterson on lab trials with various substances against HIV, came down with a cold.”

Gekker, originally from Lvov in the Ukraine, grew up using propolis to fend off life’s bothersome viral miseries. And she might have picked up a propolis-based remedy from the Wedge, or from Present Moment Books and Herbs in South Minneapolis. But instead, she went to the Minneapolis farmers’ market looking for raw propolis. There, she visited Bob Dressen, owner of Cannon Bee Honey and Supply, who was selling his wares, including propolis.

“For several years we would have requests for propolis from Russian immigrants,” Dressen told me. “Finally, I brought some to the market packed in two-ounce plastic bags and I thought, Now I’m ready for them.” Dressen says he doesn’t normally have raw propolis on the display table. “We do have capsules displayed and ready for sale, but the raw propolis isn’t that appealing. We do sell it when it is asked for. The raw propolis I sell comes off of the hives’ bottom boards, which I clean in the spring. Other propolis I gather is from the scrapings of hive bodies, and this is sent to processors to be made into other propolis products like chewing gum and toothpaste.

”With a little alcohol, Gekker extracted a tincture from Dressen’s raw propolis, and began treating her cold. And that’s when the unbidden thought struck: We’ve never tried propolis on HIV. Gekker set up the trial, and it worked. Propolis killed HIV.

“The testing went on for about three years. It was difficult work,” said Phil Peterson, who heads the university’s Division of Infections Diseases and International Medicine, and co-directs the Center for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Translational Research. As a clinical investigator, Peterson has been especially interested in infections of the brain. “And HIV attacks the microglia of the brain—that’s where the virus grows when it gets in the brain cells. Its other main targets are T-lymphocytes, specialized white blood cells that effect immunity. And we found, lo and behold, that when you put this propolis in a cell culture system, it has potent activity against the virus in both microglia and T-lymphocyte cell cultures.”

Spivak supplied the propolis samples for the many lab trials that followed Gekker’s first serendipitous test. Every propolis sample the team tried (sourced from three sites in Minnesota, three in Brazil, and one in China) killed HIV in lab cultures. Even better, the propolis also appeared to at least partially inhibit HIV’s ability to enter cells—an elusive and sought after property in potential HIV treatments.

Perhaps best of all, propolis is a cheap, natural substance. “We know that of the forty million or so people affected by this virus, ninety percent of them are living in the developing world, where they can’t afford retroviral drugs at ten thousand dollars a year,” said Peterson. “Propolis, by comparison, is available for pennies. And it’s been used with relative safety for medicinal purposes for five thousand years, since Biblical times at least, all over the earth. We know it has activity against many bacteria, fungi, viruses—it’s a warehouse of antimicrobial activity. Because of propolis, a beehive is one of the most sterile places on earth. I have much greater respect for bees than I ever did,” he said. “They’re very clever beasts.”

Gekker and Peterson, with some input from Spivak, wrote up the results of the HIV-propolis study last year, and it will be published this fall in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. But a propolis-based HIV therapy is a long way down a steep and twisting road. Cheap and natural propolis from the co-op cooler is more like a prototype, or a proof of concept. Science needs more detailed evidence.

“There are major obstacles,” said Peterson. “Propolis is very potent in regard to its anti-HIV activity, but would I recommend that people take it for HIV? No. Because you have to see that it works in humans. You have to see whether, when taken orally, it’s absorbed and works against the virus in a live person. And in order to do that, you have to address safety, and this batch-to-batch issue. With the FDA, batch variability is not going to be tolerated. Think of the challenge with propolis, when the bees collect it from all these different trees. There are at least three hundred compounds in propolis, and maybe as many as a thousand. So we haven’t really pursued it, because we’re not set up to identify the needle in the haystack.”

Peterson was referring to the arduous process of identifying and isolating the active HIV-inhibiting component or components in propolis. “Right now, we don’t have the right people to pursue it. I’m not a separation chemist or a medicinal chemist. Over in the school of agriculture they have a lot of terrific scientists, but no one with the particular skills we need for this task. You could say the project is on hold. We’re in a position right now where we’re trying to figure out the best strategy to take.”

With any luck, the journal article will spur some fresh excitement. “My hunch is that other people are going to take an interest. Certainly there’s been work with propolis itself, looking at the various aspects of it, especially in the field of ethnopharmacology. But I’m sitting here in the Center for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Translational Research, and, as the name implies, our goal is to translate this stuff into the humans who suffer these diseases. Our mandate is to pursue answers to the questions.”

At the current pace, it will be years before someone who is HIV-positive might walk into the pharmacy and fill a prescription for a new drug based on this team’s pioneering propolis research—if it gets that far at all.

Meanwhile, as the gears of medical research grind laboriously onward, Spivak is turning her attention back to the source—the bees. She’s focusing on the function of propolis in the colony. What exactly is this mysterious substance, anyway? How does a bee locate a source of propolis? How does that bee recruit other bees in the colony to collect more of it? If it can kill HIV in human cells, what good might it do for the bees themselves? Such questions take on considerable weight in light of the well-publicized scourges that have afflicted U.S. honeybees for the last several decades. Few people realize that our honeybee population has dropped by half since 1950. Lately, it’s the Varroa mite—a vicious beast about the size of a grain of sand—that’s been wreaking havoc on commercial beekeepers’ stock. In the past few years, these mites have gained resistance to the only two effective conventional chemical treatments. Spivak estimated that losses in the winter and spring of 2005 slashed the number of honeybees in Minnesota by up to a third.

The national picture is similarly dismal, and “dismal” is not too strong a word considering that honeybees are responsible for the pollination of about one-third of all U.S. food crops. The main thrust of Spivak’s work is to preserve the honeybee population by breeding honeybees that can fend for themselves. “I think it’s sad that these bees have become so utterly dependent on humans to administer various forms of chemical management.,” she said. “They’ve lost the skills they need to fight for their own survival.” Since 1993, Spivak and her assistant, Gary Reuter, have been painstakingly breeding queen bees to propagate a new strain of bees with the genetic instincts to protect themselves. They carefully select and breed queens who demonstrate the “hygienic” genetic traits that will promote survival. It’s simpler than it sounds. Basically, a bee with the right hygienic tendencies will literally sniff out and eradicate (by eating or hauling out of the hive) diseased and mite-infested brood in larval cells before the colony suffers major damage. Spivak’s program is no quick fix—but over time, her specially bred bees have been proving their merit in a variety of working apiaries.

Now Spivak wonders if or how propolis might be used to further her honeybee cause. Could manipulating propolis somehow help fight deadly bee infections and parasites? Spivak finds early signs encouraging, especially when checking into variations in propolis from other hives. For instance, she found that one tropical propolis sample was as effective as a conventional antibiotic in lab trials against American foulbrood (the most dreaded bee disease of all, until Varroa mites were inadvertently introduced into the U.S. in 1987). “Our local propolis didn’t work,” Spivak said, booting up the computer in her cool, cinder-block Hodson Hall office. “But this tropical stuff did. Here, this is the tropical sample next to the antibiotic.” On the monitor are images of two petri dishes, each with an essentially clear circle surrounded by dots of defeated bacteria; the tropical propolis attacked the bacteria as aggressively as the chemical pharmaceutical.

Would propolis exist if not for bees? Scientists aren’t sure. That’s because it’s not clear whether propolis is unadulterated resin simply collected and stored by bees, or whether the bees somehow transform it—perhaps via glandular secretions—during or after the gathering process. “We have so many questions,” said Spivak. “We know the bees use propolis to seal cracks in the hives, and for other purposes—like embalming invaders—but there’s a lot we don’t understand. And it’s challenging, because propolis is not like nectar or pollen, which the bees are collecting all the time. Propolis is different. They don’t collect very much of it, and not all of them are that interested in it.” She sighed.

“This is behavioral research. If you want to observe bee behavior with propolis, then you have to induce them to collect it repeatedly and reliably to get sufficient data, right? And how do you do that?” Spivak explained that the matter of observing propolis collection for behavioral research is entirely different from collecting propolis for human health studies. To collect clean, pure propolis for human use, commercial plastic traps are used in full-size colonies. But these traps simply don’t work well in small observation hives. “That’s the question I was wrestling with when a visiting beekeeper from Mexico said, ‘Put a cadaver in the hive. The bees will embalm it in propolis.’ Of course! I thought immediately of my mouse skull, which was already embalmed, but I thought, ‘Why not? Maybe they’ll keep working on it.’ ” Spivak asked a graduate student to return the mouse skull to an observation hive on a scorching Thursday morning in late July, just as she finalized her presentations and loaded her car for the drive to the summer meeting of the Minnesota Honey Producers Association in Fergus Falls.

Three days later, on a sweltering Sunday morning, Spivak was back at the bee lab, checking to see how the bees were reacting to Thursday’s uninvited guest. Specifically, she wanted to see if they were adding more propolis. This colony lives in a hive inside an observation shed near the bee lab on the U of M’s St. Paul campus. Spivak and I crowded together into the shed—about the size of an outhouse but blessedly air-conditioned—looking for the skull. A few bees zigzagged around us. “Don’t worry about them,” she said, pressing in to get a closer look inside the colony. Suddenly she pointed. “There it is. That’s the whisker, right up there.” Her finger rested on the upper left corner of the Plexiglas plate. “Hey, look, they’re really interested in this guy,” she said. The bees appeared to be concerned about the mummified mouse head—which was at first hard to see amid the bees, but which became obvious once Spivak identified the resin-coated whisker. Several worker bees crawl over and around the skull again and again. “I don’t think they like it,” said Spivak. “Hey, wow, look at that!” She pointed again. “They’ve added more propolis to the ear. And look here: The whole bottom part is attached now to the frame. It’s stuck down with propolis.

“Well, that’s cool,” she said, laughing. “That’s very cool.”

Chances are, if you see a honeybee in your garden today, it’s because some beekeeper within a mile of your home is keeping that bee alive with chemicals. The once-thriving feral bee population in the United States was composed entirely of descendents of the first honeybees—the ones that went native after escaping from hives hauled over by colonists in the 1600s. But feral bees were pretty much wiped out in the 1990s by Varroa mites. “There essentially are no feral honeybees left in the United States,” said Spivak. “There’s some talk of a comeback, but it’s hard to know where that will go.”

When it first arrived, the docile European honeybee, Apis mellifera, adapted well and thrived in North America. Escaped swarms took off as far as the Great Plains, often outpacing colonists on the trek westward. Feral honeybees couldn’t cross the Rockies, but by the 1850s they were shipped into California. So ubiquitous was the honeybee that the Native Americans called it “the white man’s fly.” Many of the farm crops that now depend on honeybees for pollination have also been imported since colonial times. Today, pollinating insects are responsible for every third bite of the food we commonly eat—including apples, blueberries, broccoli, cauliflower, cherries, cucumbers, melons, pears, pumpkins, soybeans, squash, and cranberries. Indirectly, pollinators affect the dairy industry, too, since alfalfa and clover—both insect-pollinated—are important components of dairy cattle feed.

Insect pollination begins, as does most of life, with hunger. As the bees forage among flowers, gathering food in the form of nectar and pollen, they spread the pollen (which, like propolis, they carry on their back legs) from one flower to another, thus promoting cross-pollination and increasing production of fruit and seed.

Maybe early colonial beekeepers recognized and appreciated the good luck of this inadvertent pollination all along, or maybe they didn’t, but at some point, people caught on and started placing beehives purposefully in fruit orchards and gardens. From there, the management of honeybees slowly evolved to what it is today: a specialized commercial activity that still produces most of its revenue through honey sales—worth an estimated 250 million dollars annually—but deriving an increasing proportion of income from contracted pollination services.

As the general bee population declines, pollination services may face even greater demands, especially in California, where hundreds of thousands of acres of almond trees greatly depend on honeybees for pollination. All this pollination means a lot of bee migration, which is actually nothing new. The earliest beekeepers in ancient Egypt followed the blooming flowers by floating their clay-covered wicker hives down the Nile on reed boats. (They also used propolis to embalm the bodies of the pharaohs, a trick they presumably learned from the bees.) In the U.S., many beekeepers migrate their bees—and frequently their families—thousands of miles across several large-scale migration routes in pursuit of both nectar and pollination work.

The coordination of beekeepers, farmers, and consumers through pollination, crop management, and honey sales is no less strange and complex than the bee dance itself, and it offers a fascinating glimpse into the delicate partnership between biological science and market process.

To a common city slicker, Sundberg Apiaries looks just like any other farm. There’s a house, some fields and outbuildings, a swampy undeveloped area, and a large pole shed with a few semitrailers parked beside it. There is also a patch of lawn with an impressive collection of antique cars. You wouldn’t guess it was a bee farm by driving by, unless you slowed down to read the faded blue metal sign hanging from a slender post on the roadside.

Situated in Fergus Falls, three hours northwest of the Twin Cities on Interstate 94, Sundberg is a large commercial beekeeping business, managing seven thousand hives. The main honey house is across the road from an expansive cornfield. In the third week of July, these wind-pollinated cornstalks stand high and shimmer in the heat, providing a picturesque backdrop for the bumper-to-bumper cars and pickups flanking Sundberg’s long dirt driveway.

Tonight is the barbecue social for the hundred or so members of the Minnesota Honey Producers Association who are gathered in Fergus Falls for their three-day summer convention. Twice each year, this group comes together so members can connect with others involved in this unusual work. Formal presentations are held in town at the Best Western, where throughout the convention Spivak has been networking with the beekeepers who’ll attend her slide-show presentation tomorrow morning. The association donates ten to twelve thousand dollars annually to Spivak’s research program. Spivak, in turn, donates twenty inseminated “Minnesota hygienic” queens from her breeding program to the association. Spivak’s queens, with their desirable genetic traits, have the influence to change behavior in the hive. On the open market, they’d sell for two hundred and fifty dollars apiece. Here at the convention, they are auctioned off for cash, which is funneled straight back into association’s general funds. Eventually, it funnels out again in the form of the association’s annual grant toward Spivak’s research. In essence, Spivak’s queens are given freely to the beekeepers in return for the financial support the university has received from the Minnesota Honey Producers for decades. “I started donating the queens in 1997,” Spivak said, “when the beekeepers asked what they were getting for their research dollars. Somehow, I knew the right answer wasn’t ‘research.’ ”

But donating the queens also furthers Spivak’s work, since it enables her to propagate and monitor her selectively bred bees in working apiaries. Generally, that has gone well. Dave Ellingson and Darrel Rufer are two outspoken beekeepers who’ve been working with Spivak’s bees for years. Neither Ellingson nor Rufer suffered large-scale losses during this last devastating spring season. “It’s been mostly good,” said Spivak about her queens in the commercial apiaries, “though not always. There have been some disasters.” That kind of straight talk has, after twelve years, earned Spivak the beekeepers’ respect. “It’s taken time,” she admitted. “They weren’t sure at first that I could do this.”

Spivak says the afternoon’s roundtable discussion on pollination at the Best Western was especially good. But after this year’s tough hits, there’s a certain din of commiseration in the buffet line as the beekeepers inch up to the Elmer’s Texas Bar-B-Q and au gratin potatoes. Spivak lets the rush die down while she guides me through the Sundberg honey house for an abbreviated tutorial on the extraction process.

Everything here is a little sticky. Evenly spaced along the inner wall of the large room are vintage posters splattered with countless years’ worth of all things bee. Faint line drawings of various beekeeping tasks are explained in brief captions such as “Weighing packaged bees for shipping and shaking swarm into hive.”

“Wow,” said one beekeeper passing through Sundberg’s extraction room with a cold beer. “This equipment is getting ancient.” What would a more modern system look like? “Basically the same, just newer,” said Spivak. Both the process and the equipment used for honey extraction are remarkably simple, and largely unchanged since the first wave of mechanization. In simple terms, the frames of honeycomb are freed of their wax seals, then loaded into a cylindrical chamber and spun at high speeds until the honey is extracted by centrifugal force. The honeycomb remains intact for reuse in the hives, and the extracted honey is sold to commercial food producers across the country for use in cereals, baked goods, barbecue sauces, and, of course, jarred honey. At one time, all honey was packed by the same beekeepers who produced it. But in the years since World War II, specialization has set in, and most bee farms no longer package their own honey. Darrel Rufer’s bee business experimented with packaging in the eighties, and, as he put it, “That just wasn’t my deal.”

“Darrel is a character,” Spivak confided. “He’s colorful and outspoken. That’s why I like to have him using the hygienic bees in his apiaries. If he thinks it’s working, he’s going to spread the word and he’s going to be heard.” Broad and darkly tanned with gray hair and a mustache, Rufer was dressed in a leather vest thickly decorated with Victory Bikes insignias. His father kept bees not far from Fergus Falls, in Tintah, Minnesota. “The best bee country in the world used to be right here, in the Red River Valley,” he told me. Once carpeted with clover and alfalfa, Rufer’s childhood stomping grounds are now heavily planted with other crops—corn, soybeans, barley, and potatoes—meaning less clover and less bee pasture. These days, his main focus is not honey or pollination, but selling bees to other apiaries. “We sell queens all over the country,” he said. “They’re daughters of Dr. Spivak’s artificially inseminated queens, and they have the traits we’re looking for. Dr. Spivak and I have been testing her stock in my apiaries for three years now. The goal is to use less chemicals, softer chemicals.” He stopped short and looked toward the horizon. “Beekeeping,” he concluded, “was a lot easier in the past.”

So it was. And as a result, beekeeping as a way of life has dropped off substantially since the 1950s. At first, the shift was fueled by the transition to an industrial economy and the loss of land to subdivisions and highways. But in recent years, price competition from imports teamed up with the spread of disease and parasites in a double whammy that’s driving a lot of U.S. beekeepers out of business. Between 1976 and 1990, the estimated number of commercial beekeepers in the U.S. dropped by almost half, from 212,000 to 125,000. And things have only gone downhill from there.

Bonnie Woodworth, a petite blond woman with a perfect manicure, presides over the North Dakota Beekeeper Association. Bonnie married into beekeeping in 1972, and since then she’s seen all manner of unbelievable change in the bee business. “It used to be so easy,” she said. “You had feed, labor, and trucking. Now we spend more on medication than on feed. Just keeping your bees alive is an insurmountable task. If you let your guard down for one minute, something will take you out.” Bonnie has watched the number of new beekeepers entering the field dwindle and disappear. “It’s too hard a life, it’s back-breaking work, and then there’s the moving back and forth . . . as far as the money, well, there is none. It’s just not there.”

Woodworth said the bee business she owns with her husband practically went broke last year due to Varroa.” We lost more than half our bees and had a bad honey crop,” she said. “It was disastrous, just disastrous.” Furthermore, Bonnie is truly saddened by the onslaught of imports and imitations sidling up next to the real honey on grocery shelves. “It’s threatening the whole industry,” she said, handing me an article on the imitations. “It’s so fraudulent. Everyone loves using the name ‘honey,’ but the actual ingredient is corn syrup instead. Do Honey Nut Cheerios have any honey in them? Very little.”

With her very next breath, Bonnie renewed her pluck as if, by sheer force of will, she might reinvigorate an entire dying way of life. “Beekeepers are tough,” she said. “Life hasn’t been easy, but it was never boring. It takes a lot to get a beekeeper to quit.”That’s true. Beekeepers, not surprisingly, tend to maintain a certain “getting stung’s just part of the job” mentality. But is there an eventual breaking point? What would happen to the honey market, to the pollination of crops, to the propolis research—what would happen to it all if the last of the beekeepers quit tomorrow, and the colonies all flew free?

“About eighty percent of the current bee population would die off fairly quickly,” said Spivak, “if beekeepers stopped chemical treatments cold turkey. But the survivors—those ten or twenty percent left behind—would propagate a whole new, tougher breed of bees with the traits they need to take care of themselves.”

Essentially, that’s what happened in Brazil and most of South America when Varroa struck, primarily because the beekeepers there couldn’t afford chemical interventions. “Now their bees are resistant,” said Spivak as she rummaged through the bee suits, searching for one my size. She handed me a wide-brimmed, veiled hat. “Let’s adjust that,” she said. “I think it’s a bit loose.” She snugs it in a notch and we’re set to visit the hives. “You won’t be able to write with the gloves,” she warned. “But you need to take them anyway, because it’s really important that you’re comfortable. Just don’t put them on unless you need to.”

The sun was white hot in a clear sky as we entered the apiary through the chain-link gates that enclose it. A few paces away was the university’s soccer practice field, which explained the number of cars parked along the apiary fence. “They have no idea what’s sitting right here,” said Spivak. “Few people do. But we like it that way.”

Spivak has a smoker (it looks like the Tin Man’s oil can) to calm the bees before she opens up hives—which are actually wooden boxes painted in pastel pink, blue, green, yellow, and white to help the color-driven bees find their way back home. “We probably wouldn’t really need the smoke,” Spivak said, and I wonder aloud whether this is because the bees are in a good mood today. “These bees are always in a good mood,” she said. This morning she was checking in on some artificially inseminated queens she recently introduced to her colonies, and some from stock sent by a friend in Vermont. “He doesn’t use any chemicals, not to be organic per se, but for his own reasons. He’s sort of an oddity.” She fished around on the frame with her bare hands, oblivious to the bees crawling between her fingers. “There she is—see, she’s marked. Blue 51,” Spivak said, releasing the inseminated queen with the blue numbered tag on her back from her containment cell. “Come on, sweetie,” she cooed. “She looks great. I can tell the bees like her. She’s looking for something to eat right away, so she’s fine.”

In one colony after the next, Spivak checked on the queens. “Blue 52 is doing well,” she said. In fact, all but one of the queens had been accepted by the workers. “Uh oh,” she said, sifting through another colony. “That’s a shame. I don’t see any eggs. I don’t think she’s here. We’ll have to go to the queen bank and make a withdrawal.” All around us, bees were flying and buzzing. One landed on the veil right in front of my eye, and stayed there for a good while. When Spivak shook the frames, there was an angry roar to which she was seemingly oblivious. Getting stung, she said, is a given. But it’s not as bad when you’re used to it, because you know exactly how much it’s going to hurt, and for how long.

This must be true, or people wouldn’t keep bees. There are many reasons beekeeping is in decline, but stings are not one of them. “Oh, I know they say beekeeping is a dying art,” said Spivak, “and times are tough. But I’ll tell you what I think. Beekeeping will never disappear, for one simple reason: Some people are drawn to bees. There’s this peculiar relationship that exists between bees and certain individuals. It’s primal and ancient. There are rock paintings of the interaction between humans and bees in Europe, Africa, and Asia from 8000 to 2000 B.C. That’s how far back this goes. What’s the likelihood that’s going to change—now or ever?”

Spivak has seen all she needs to out here; the heat is too thick for dawdling. But she’ll be back soon. She is, after all, pulled by the bees, with whom she undoubtedly shares the enigmatic bond she so passionately describes.

Original article here:
Life-Giving Secret of Bees