Wednesday, June 29, 2011

cranberry bees

This week, Tom is moving the bees to Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh to pollinate the blossoms. The bees have to be moved at night so they will re-orientate themselves with the sun in the morning. As a matter of fact, if you move a colony of bees even ten feet in the middle of the day, the bees can’t find their way back to the hive. So, it’s night work.

Last night it rained, and made for a nasty move (read: bee knuckles). It was warm, too, so many of the bees were hanging outside the boxes. Tonight is very cool, so all the bees will be inside and less stinging for Tom. We’ll only be moving about 30 of our 120 hives. In addition to the cranberry blossoms, Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh has a diversity of forage derived from wetland and boreal plant species that will provide a multitude of pollen and nectar sources for the bees.

In contrast, about a million and a half bee colonies are moved into the California almond orchards in February. More than 80% of the world’s almonds are grown there and more than half of all the beehives in the U.S. are trucked in for pollination. These huge tracts of almonds create enormous swaths of monocultures – whereby the bees have only almond pollen to feed the hives. This lack of diversity is potentially problematic for bees.

"Monoculture is the original sin of agriculture," asserts author Michael Pollan. Scientists are finding that bees fed pollen from a range of plants showed signs of having a healthier immune system than those eating pollen from a single type.

Monoculture of almonds growing in California.
Spectacular losses have been seen in the U.S. where entire colonies have been wiped out. However, the exact cause has remained elusive. A possible conclusion of the new research is that the bees need to eat a variety of proteins in order to synthesize their various chemical defences; without their varied diet, they are more open to disease.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

black eyed bees?

Came across a great video produced by Haagen Dazs – the ice cream folks. They’ve done lots of work to increase awareness in the honeybees' precarious plight. Yo, yo, yo, get low – black and yellow in de hood.

how are the bees?

Tom inspecting one of the nuc frames (yellow coreopsis blooming in the field)
A lot of people ask us, “How are the bees?” I suppose the answer depends on the time of year. Coming off a spring that was wet and cold, the bees looked pretty dismal going into May and June. This spring for us saw a loss of about 40%. The norm has historically been around 15%. 

Because there are so many losses, larger beekeepers are now realizing that in order to have enough bees to provide the honey demand, they have to build up colonies. That usually means splitting the healthy hives, and re-queening them as well as putting new queens in many of the other hives. This ensures a healthy and vibrant queen who gets down to business laying brood and building up the colony. 

Last week Tom started a number of nucs (pronounced “Nukes”) and set up an electric fence to keep bears at bay. We’re pretty lucky here as far as bears go, but I did wake up not too long ago to see a huge male bear out in our wildflower field. When I said that I saw a bear, Tom nearly levitated out of bed holding visions of the bear tearing apart the beeyard. It sniffed the oak tree and lumbered away over the fence row.

Now at the end of June, the bees are filling up the hives to overflow. Beekeeping is so weather dependent. If we have a week of overcast weather, the bees tend to stay inside the hive, and the population will get larger very fast until they start to swarm. Then we may lose half the hive if they fly off. Sometimes you get lucky and just happen to be in the yard when they start to swarm and we (Tom) may be able to catch them. It’s loud, full of energy and quite exciting, but very frustrating to watch 25,000 bees fly away.