Friday, December 30, 2016

Hapbee New Year

     To everyone I wish a very happy and healthy new year to you and your loved ones (including your bees).  May your bees survive the cold of winter, develop a resistance to Varroa and other pests, be free of all diseases and produce buckets of honey.
     Please don't drink and fly!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Christmas Gifts for Beekeepers

      At this time of year I'm especially appreciative that I have a roof over my head and food in my belly when so many in the world have neither.  You don't need to be a Christian to celebrate the idea of Christmas which should be a time of peace, love and selfless giving rather than the modern concept of commercialized overconsumption.  Here are a few Christmas gift suggestions that we can give to beekeepers less fortunate than ourselves.  
     In many countries beekeeping is a practical solution to reduce poverty and relieve suffering.   Beekeeping requires little space, minimal cost and offers much needed income from the sales of honey, beeswax and pollen. In addition increased pollination from the introduction of these bees can substantially increase fruit and vegetable yields as well as pollinating native plants.  For most beekeeping has become a supplement to the family income but for an increasing number it has become a major part of the village economy.  This is one of reasons we created our Beekeepers' Library, to provide free localized information to beekeepers worldwide.  There are many good philanthropic beekeeping organizations worthy of your Christmas donations like "Bees for Development", "ICIMOD", "Global Hand", "Bees Abroad", "The Bee Cause", "The Bumblebee Conservation Trust", "The Xerces Society" and for me, in my community "Hives for Humanity". 
     One organization on my gift list is Oxfam's Plan Bee where for as little as $74 Canadian dollars (35 British pounds or $54 U.S.) you can buy a beehive for a struggling family in Ethiopia.  Another organization that I support is "Heifer International" which has been operating throughout the world for over 70 years.  For a mere $30 you can give the gift of honey bees.  

    Although I grow much of my own food and support local, organic farmers an organization that I support at Christmas and throughout the year is Fair Trade.  Farmers in developing countries have traditionally been exploited by greedy food distribution corporations.  A small portion of the price you pay for agricultural products from developing countries goes to the farmer.  The concept of "Fair Trade" has empowered these farmers and provided them and their communities with a fair income which has allowed them a healthier, happier lifestyle. This documentary "Hope is Golden" is about the beekeeping cooperatives in Brazil’s arid Caatinga region that produce Fair Trade certified honey.

     The Fair Trade organizations provide funding for the infrastructure required by farming cooperatives in developing countries.  "Fair Trade International" began 25 years ago and in 2012 the number of Fairtrade producing organizations grew by 16%.  It works and it is growing.  Each time you buy a Fair Trade product you are supporting the farmer and their family in the developing world rather than the multinational food distribution corporation.   Buying "Fair Trade" products (honey, tea, chocolate, sugar, fruit, flowers and coffee), easily identifiable by the "Fair Trade" symbol is a good idea throughout the year.
     Another organization that I support is "Schools for Chiapas".  Mexico is a prime example of how corporate agriculture exploits local farmers in developing worlds.  The Zapatista organization "Schools for Chiapas" struggles to educate (Schools for Chiapas projects) and empower local, native communities.  One part of this is the promotion and education of the beekeeping tradition of Meliponiculture.  Melipona beecheii are  stingless bees native to Mexico, Central America, the Carribean, and many parts of South America (Stingless Honey Bee of the Maya) which were domesticated by the Mayan people long before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.  In much of Latin America stingless beekeeping has been replaced by the introduction of the Africanized European Honey Bee (Killer Bees).  The native stingless bees are the only honey bee native to the Americas and are essential for the pollination of some native plants and Schools for Chiapas is supporting a revival of this traditional beekeeping practice.  You can support this initiative through the American Stingless Bee Recuperation Gift of Change.  They are also working to preserve the native, non gm varities of corn. (other Gifts of Change).
       In this video a group of Mayan women are challenging social norms and preserving an endangered species (The stingless bee, Melipona Beecheii).  Traditionally the prerogative of men in Mayan culture, beekeeping is providing this collective with a source of income and a reason to keep the species from going extinct.

          Organizations that I do not support or legitimize are Monsanto's Honey Bee Health, Bayer's Bee Care and Syngenta's Operation Pollinator.  There are a number of factors contributing to the demise of all species of bees including imported diseases, pests and diminished available forage but a major cause is the overuse of agrichemicals.  Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta are in the process of monopolizing the world seed market with patented genetically modified seeds that contain or are designed to accept massive quantities of agrichemicals that are dangerous to both bees and humans.  Their bee programs are a public relations ploy to divert you from the true danger of their products.

     A free gift I recommend to beekeepers of all ages is the wonderful book, "The Travelling Beehive".  This book is  written by Elena Garcia and Manuel Angel Rosado and beautifully illustrated by Juan Hernaz.  It is published by Apolo which is an organization dedicated to the preservation of pollinators and their habitat.  You can follow Polli the honey bee and her friend Dipter the hover fly as they face the challenges of a disappearing green space.  They are joined in their struggle by Bazumba the wild bee, Missus Bombus the bumblebee, Lepi the butterfly, her majesty the queen, Dorian the farmer and Ramon the beekeeper. Sit back with your children or grandchildren and enjoy the The Travelling Beehive  (Spanish version).

     The bees are snuggled in their hives waiting for Santa.  Penny, from the Natural Beekeeping Trust of the United Kingdom says "Traditionally, Christian beekeepers have visited their colonies at midnight on Christmas Eve to tell the bees of the nativity.  They also hoped to hear the special melodious humming that the bees were said to perform at this time, portending health and prosperity throughout the coming year.  It was thought that this custom was predated by an earlier pre-Christian one when the return of the sun was by no means guaranteed!" If you're wondering what to recite to your bees on Christmas Eve here is a poem by Carol Ann Duffy.
The Bee Carol

Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight's key;
all the garden locked in ice -
a silver frieze -
except the winter cluster of the bees.

Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.

Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.

Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive -
trembling stars cloistered above -
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.

     I hope that you, your bees and your family have a wonderful Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.  Peace on earth and good will to all.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Vancouver Beekeeping November Update

     Since September 1st we have had 20 more days of rain and almost 100 mm more precipitation than is normal for this time of year in Vancouver. This means 20 less foraging days for our bees.  September is usually a positive nectar and pollen (brood production) accumulation month for me and most urban Vancouver beekeepers and October is either neutral or negative depending on the weather. This year because of excessive rain I would say both months were negative and with mild temperatures active hive bees consumed more than usual winter food stores.

     Although always an important winter beekeeping task this year it is especially important to monitor our hive food supplies. The Farmer's Almanac predicts that 4 of the next 5 months will have above average precipitation which means possibly less foraging in March and April which are prime starvation months for our bees.  Also, this potential increased humidity will make in-hive moisture control essential (Moiture control).

     You can monitor the food supply or weight in your hives by lifting the rear of the hive or using a baggage scale. Taking a quick peak in is also acceptable.  For those not opposed to feeding in emergency a candyboard is a good solution.  They are easy to make and adding dry, granulated sugar can make the difference between life and death.  Here is some more information on winter feeding and natural beekeeper Michael Bush's approach to feeding.
     Winter or broodless periods are the best time to treat your hives with oxalic acid for mite control.  We are fortunate that because of our mild winters both the trickle and vapour methods can be used.  Here is some good information from Randy Oliver on the use of oxalic acid.    
     Ian at B.C. Bee Supply is taking orders for April Nucs on overwintered queens and you can contact Lindsay at Urban Bee for March and April New Zealand bee packages.
     I hope you and your bees stay warm and dryish.  Bee well. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Free Online Beekeeping Course

     Ohio State University Bee Lab has created a free "Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping Course" based on Dr. Reed Johnson's for-credit OSU Beekeeping Course.  The course consists of video lectures, handouts and readings that can be accessed through iTunes.  They need volunteers to review the course and offer suggestions.
     The Ohio State University Bee Lab has a long history of providing great beekeeping information via publications and webinars to the public.  My initial and brief observation of the course is that though it could use some tweaking it has excellent potential.  To be a volunteer to review this course fill out this simple registration to receive a link to the course.
     Another good, free online beekeeping course, "Honey Bees and Colony Strength Evaluation"  (you may log in as a guest) is presented by the University of California.  This course is offered in modules covering topics from very basic beginner beekeeping information to more advanced colony strength evaluation so that the student can choose the module suited to their skill level.  Access to both of these courses is available in the Basic Beekeeping section of our Beekeepers' Library.  Enjoy! 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Ghost in the Making

     This is an environmental award winning film about the effort to find and save a single species of bee.  There are about 25,000 species of bees on planet earth and we lose species fairly regularly of all species of life for a variety of reasons mostly related to irresponsible acts by us humans.  In this particular case the prime causes that threaten this species are probably habitat loss and the importation of European bumble bees and their diseases (Nosema) for greenhouse pollination.
     As a long time environmentalist I'm acutely aware of the devastation brought by the introduction of species to new environments which leaves me with no explanation for why I am a keeper of European honey bees in North America.  The main issues with beekeeping today are either imported through the global movement of bees or chemically created by us.  Some of our introduced problems are the Korean species of Varroa mite, Nosema, Afrianized bees, American Foulbrood and new to us the small hive beetle from the tropics.  The chemically toxic environment we have created is a reality we have to deal with.
     Why this film is important is as Louie Schwartzberg suggests we protect what we love and we can't love what we don't know.


     I love to photograph insects and one of the species I look forward to, the Orange Rumped Bumble Bee (Bombus Melanopygus) is similar to the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee.  It forages on and pollinates our raspberries, blackberries and black locust trees from May to June. 


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Introduction to Beekeeping in Vancouver Class

"Beekeeper" by Ivan Kramskoy 1872

     It's spring which means the blossoms are blooming and the bees are buzzing.  I held off prepping my soil for planting for a few days because it was covered in purple deadnettle which the honey bees were enjoying.  Every year we grow food for the Vancouver Foodbank so are busy planting seeds and seedlings.  Last week I delivered some late season (September-October) dark, flavorful Goldenrod - Aster honey to the Vancouver Foodbank.  Half of the honey from our garden hives goes to the Foodbank and half to Cottonwood Community Garden.

Bees enjoying Goldenrod Aster

     Every year in May we hold "Introduction to Beekeeping in Vancouver" classes.  Last year because of the demand we held 5 classes.  The classes are not meant to take the place of a full beekeeping course but rather to inform you of what to realistically expect in your first few years of beekeeping in Vancouver.

     A recent study revealed that over 70% of beekeepers quit within the first 3 years.  Having observed this through the years I believe the reason is loss of bee colonies and being overwhelmed with that challenge.  I believe this is because some people enter into beekeeping too quickly and are not properly prepared for the dedication of time and continuous learning that is required to be a competent beekeeper.  Also, new beekeepers often do not have the support needed to deal with problems that arise which can be aided through a beekeeping network or group.  The goal of this class is not to discourage you or take the place of a full beekeeping course but to assist you and better prepare you in your decision to become a beekeeper.

     We have a beekeeping cooperative at Cottonwood Community Garden and are faced with the challenge of colony loss this year.  Our old apiary was surrounded by fast growing trees which over a few years shaded our hives.  Bees, being cold blooded are dependent on the sun to warm the hive and begin their daily activity based on how quickly the hive warms up.  The queen lays eggs based on the amount of pollen being brought in.  As a result many of our colonies were weak and unable to survive both mites and wasps.  In response we have moved our apiary to a sunny location in the garden and are planting a pollinator garden around the hives.  We have decided to embrace the challenge. 

Honey Bee eggs and larvae
     The "Introduction to Beekeeping in Vancouver" course will provide you with a very basic overview of  honey bees and beekeeping and answer all of your questions.  The class is about 2 hours in length and as it is held outside is weather dependent.  We keep the class small so that everyone can have if they wish an intimate experience with the bees so reservation is necessary.  There is no cost and we provide the veil and gloves.  Our classes are held at Cottonwood Community Garden in Strathcona Park.  To reserve a spot in our "Introduction to Beekeeping Class" contact us at strathconabeeat gmaildo tcom.  The first class will be held on Saturday, May 21st from 10am to 12 noon. 

      All of theory needed to be a beekeeper is available for free online.  A good start is "Beekeeping 101" which is an assortment of books, videos and a course from the University of California.  Our Beekeepers' Library is also a good source of information.  While theory is important the practical application and guidance of experienced beekeepers is more so.  We look forward to seeing you at our beekeeping class.

"Being with Bees" Kurt Leibich 1869

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Telling The Bees

     Bees and beekeeping have held a great importance to many cultures through history particularly prior to the arrival of sugar cane to colder areas of the world.  A British tradition that was held by some beekeepers was referred to as "Telling the Bees".  This involved informing the bees of any important family events like birth, marriage or death.  Beekeepers would often leave small offerings like wedding cake or small sweets for a birth and drape the hives with black cloth or turn the hives away from the house upon death.  It was said that the bees would either die or leave the hives if not told of the death of their keeper.  This tradition was brought to the Americas by immigrants in the 19th century.  In Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn he wrote:

“And he said if a man owned a beehive and that man died, the bees must be told about it before sun-up next morning, or else the bees would all weaken down and quit work and die. Jim said bees wouldn't sting idiots; but I didn't believe that, because I had tried them lots of times myself, and they wouldn't sting me.”

     Another example of "Telling the Bees" is in England in 1840, a woman upon the death of their keeper leaving an offering of sweets and reciting the poem: 

Your master J.A. has passed away.
But his wife now begs you will freely stay,
and still gather honey for many a day.
Bonny bees, Bonny bees, hear what I say. 

     Here is a poem written by John Greenleaf Whittier about "Telling the Bees" of their keepers passing.

Telling the Bees
(The traditional telling the bees of a recent beekeeper passing)
Here is the place; right over the hill
Runs the path I took;
You can see the gap in the old wall still,
And the stepping-stones in the shallow brook.
There is the house, with the gate red-barred,
And the poplars tall;
And the barn's brown length, and the cattle-yard,
And the white horns tossing above the wall.
There are the beehives ranged in the sun;
And down by the brink
Of the brook are her poor flowers, weed-o'errun,
Pansy and daffodil, rose and pink.
A year has gone, as the tortoise goes,
Heavy and slow;
And the same rose blows, and the same sun glows,
And the same brook sings of a year ago.
There's the same sweet clover-smell in the breeze;
And the June sun warm
Tangles his wings of fire in the trees,
Setting, as then, over Fernside farm.
I mind me how with a lover's care
From my Sunday coat
I brushed off the burrs, and smoothed my hair,
And cooled at the brookside my brow and throat.
Since we parted, a month had passed,--
To love, a year;
Down through the beeches I looked at last
On the little red gate and the well-sweep near.
I can see it all now,--the slantwise rain
Of light through the leaves,
The sundown's blaze on her window-pane,
The bloom of her roses under the eaves.
Just the same as a month before,--
The house and the trees,
The barn's brown gable, the vine by the door,--
Nothing changed but the hives of bees.
Before them, under the garden wall,
Forward and back,
Went drearily singing the chore-girl small,
Draping each hive with a shred of black.
Trembling, I listened: The summer sun
Had the chill of snow;
For I knew she was telling the bees of one
Gone on the journey we all must go!
Then I said to myself, 'My Mary weeps
For the dead to-day;
Haply her blind old grandsire sleeps
The fret and the pain of his age away.'
But her dog whined low; on the doorway sill,
With his cane to his chin,
The old man sat; and the chore-girl still
Sung to the bees stealing out and in.
And the song she was singing ever since
In my ear sounds on:
'Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!
Mistress Mary is dead and gone!'

     There is also a tradition called "Asking the Bees" where a new beekeeper "Asks the Bees" to accept them as their keeper and to impart their wisdom to them.  These traditions died in the late 19th century but a few like myself still follow these traditions.  Though I spend a lot of time with other beekeepers in a beekeeping organization and coop I cherish those intimate times I spend alone with bees talking to them about what's happening in my life.  When I do this the bees land on my arms, feeding on the moisture and sodium, listening intently.  Emily sent me a wonderful story of the prayers read at the funeral of Clive Watson, a much loved leader and supporter of the beekeeping community.  These are the prayers that were read to his hives (Telling the Bees ).
      I hope that upon my passing someone reads prayers to my bees.  This is a beautiful, moving film about a son informing the bees of his father's passing and deciding their future.



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