Thursday, May 28, 2009

Capturing our first feral swarm!

We've captured our first feral swarm! Have you ever seen on television a huge cluster of bees stuck to a tree branch? That's what we've captured and now have in our front yard! This will make an even ten hives, which is exhilarating considering we only had the one hive last year and we're growing and doing so well with the business start up. We're getting our official DBA license from the State of Michigan, and we've already got our business cards stocked and our information in with animal control, pest exterminators, and wildlife control!

Keith and I received a call last week, that a small mobile home park in Brighton had a swarm stuck in a tree. We were lucky that it was in a 6 foot crab apple tree, otherwise it would have been difficult to capture. We took an old hive body that we had leftover from our last years colony and were on our way. It was such a rush to see all of those little honey bee's there just enjoying their time, not bothering anyone. The residents of the Starlite Mobile Home Park said they have seen swarms around the park before and believe it was from an apiary that is stationed nearby but not well maintained. It is a wonderful feeling to see the bee's and to tell people about them and let them know they are not dangerous to you, they're not even agitated, a honey bee in a swarm of bee's is probably the most docile you will ever see a honey bee.

When a hive senses that it is getting near maximum capacity, meaning they have filled their allotted space, and must either expand or find a new larger place to dwell, they will create a queen cup out of wax and affix it to the bottom of a frame of wax or honey. A queen cup is just a different shaped cell that the current queen will drop an egg into a cell, and worker bees will move that egg into the queen cup and begin feeding it. The main difference between a standard female worker bee and the queen bee is the matter in which they are fed before reaching the pupal stage. The worker bee is fed with the correct combination of nectar, pollen, and honey, but for the queen, her diet will also consist of royal jelly. Once the queen is developed and ready to hatch, she will do so, and flee with a swarm, or a population of the bee's that abandon their current hive for a new queen, food source, and location.

Before that swarm can establish itself as a colony it must find a suitable food and water source and adequate living space. That in between period is when you will find that all of the bee's that left with that new queen will gorge themselves on honey, almost to the point where they could not support themselves by flight because they have added so much weight to their body in honey stores alone, and that distends their abdomens so they cannot sting. If you were a nomadic creature that had to leave your home, you would pack enough food for the trip wouldn't you? That's all the bee's are doing, and in doing so, they've made themselves more docile and less likely to be agitated by outside disturbances. You can stick your bare arm into a swarm of bee's and not be stung, just remember that!

We were getting a crowd around us to, and as soon as we cut the limb off the tree and shook them down, bee's were a-flying! It's a good feeling to see people your own age just standing there watching you save a hive of bee's from termination (The family wanted to burn them, which is not a good idea, they're an agricultural animal and provide you with every third bite of food.) After the swarm was in the hive body, we left it there to collect the last of the remaining bee's. After a bit of time they would all regroup and cluster around the queen, or in this place, prepare their new living space that we put the queen into.

On top of all that, the owner of the tree we cut the swarm from, is a fan of mead! A lot of people have heard of mead in passing, so it was also a prime time for us to network with people that are interested in trying our mead made from our own bee's honey! I can't wait to harvest honey stores off of the swarm we captured! Hooray swarms, from a beekeepers perspective it's just free bee's (Get it? Freebies!)

And if you see a swarm of bee's in a tree, remember pest control can't help you, but we can! Save the honeybee!

We've won a mead competition!


Keith entered our traditional sweet mead into the World Expo of Beer up in Frankenmuth, MI and he won first place! Steller Sweet took first place in category 24C at the Homebrewers at the WEB. We entered through the Cass River Homebrew Club, and I actually drove this batch up to Saginaw myself to be entered! He received his medal and his score sheets in the mail, but we are currently waiting on his gift certificate. He will receive an undetermined amount for more mead making supplies, which is great, we need more mead in the world!

Speaking of more mead, last week I made my first batch of mead. We picked fresh apple mint from our garden and crushed the essence into the mead to make a methoglyn. It will be drier than our traditional sweet mead, this particular batch only used two pounds of honey per gallon whereas the batch we entered into the W.E.B. (World Expo of Beer) was nearly 5 pounds per gallon! I'm anxious to try it once it is finished, which should be around the time we get married next year!

Here is a link to the competition results!
http://hbd.org/cassriver/2009results.html

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Great Sunflower Project

http://www.greatsunflower.org

This website has a great idea for tracking honey bee health. Just sign up and enter your information about your yard or garden and they will send you free sunflower seeds to start, and just check out the bee's once in a while and report what you see.

The number of bee's located within a specific small in a certain period of time is crucial for understanding the population of bee's. I usually look at a square foot of the lawn (full of dandylions and unmowed of course!) and time it for 30 seconds to a minute, and if I see three or more bees in that time then there is a healthy population of bees and a definite increse in pollination!

Don't forget that keeping bee's will increse your blooms and yields in just one season!! Want more flowers? Want more fruits on your tree's? Get a beehive!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Colony Collapse Disorder

So last year Keith and I were both in a composition class that required a final thesis paper. We chose to write ours on CCD, or colony collapse disorder. It includes a ridiculous amount of information on the honeybee, what factors are contributing to CCD, and what people can do to help prevent it (And no, you don't all have to become beekeepers, but I do encourage it!!)
It's still a research paper, so it's by no means an enthralling read, but there is a lot of great information within it regarding bee's, and what we can do as civilians. We all need to start doing our part! This world is no longer at a point where it can save itself! We need to take action, plant a garden, recycle, compost, get a beehive, DO SOMETHING!

Keith and I have started our garden for the year. We're still renting our house in Whitmore Lake, so we've decided to invest our money for landscaping into our parents' houses. Last year we had our one beehive at Keith's parents house. This year we are anticipating nine hives and have three of them at my parent's house, where we plan to have our garden this year. It will also be beneficial to have good landscaping at my parent's house because so far, our wedding looks like it will be a rather small affair in their backyard. Anyway, I have started seedlings for over 40 different types of fruits and vegetables this year! With the help of our bee's last year we had (Personal) record breaking crop yields. We ended up canning 6 1/2 gallons of tomatoes alone! So I am hoping that this year having three hives at my parent's house will do wonders for their flowers, trees, fruits and vegetables. Keeping a garden is the next best thing you can do to help the honeybee! We need plants to pollinate to keep the bee's! There are actually provinces in China that are no longer able to house honeybee's because due to growing populations and pesticides they killed off pollinatable plants, and ultimately killed off any chance of having honeybee's return to pollinate future crops. Most pears that we import from China have to be hand pollinated because they did not heed the warnings of others that if we strip the land of pollen and plants, then surrounding areas will suffer with a lack of pollen, blooms, and fruits and vegetables to bear! If you like, I've included our essay on what is CCD and what we can all do to help! We all must before it's too late!

What is Colony Collapse Disorder and can we save the honey bee?

What is colony collapse disorder? Do you know how drastically it can affect you? Apis Mellifera, or the honey bee is a truly fascinating animal (Schingler, 2008). We rely on the bee for pollinating plants and trees, producing honey, and making possible the harvest of foods from earths’ end to earths’ end. But lately across the globe, bees have been disappearing. Bee keepers have reported record losses in colonies since 2006, and many are still asking where the bees have gone to? With our dependency on bees, the epidemic known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) could take away the amazing creature known as the honey bee and all its’ bounty we too often take for granted. CCD has made itself known in 45 States, as well as South America to Europe; the bees are leaving the hive never to return again. Since CCD’s discovery in 2006, approximately 600,000 bees have disappeared, nearly 1/3 of the worlds’ bee population never to return again (Long Island Business News, 2008). All too often the honey bee is under-looked when it comes to the role of importance it plays in the food we eat all across the world. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating over 90 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts annually around the world. Research has been done only to come to the conclusion the colony collapse disorder is stemmed from many stresses and is often brushed off as a “case by case basis” (Cox-Foster, 2007). This simple answer must not be good enough and we as students and citizens of Michigan must be made aware to take action. Flowers bloom each and every spring, and with that will come new life. Gardens rich with vegetables, fields blooming with wild flowers, and orchards brimming with fresh fruit is what is at stake here. Colony collapse disorder is a serious and growing matter, but with a helping hand we can give a much needed boost to our friend the honey bee.
Becoming a backyard beekeeper is the single most effective step that can be taken by a single person. Mass agriculture is a growing trend in America. Farmers are aiming for larger and larger crop yields every year, far beyond the normal measures of nature. Not to mention we as a society have come to love the convenience of year round fruits and vegetables. With mass agriculture comes the need for more cleared land, as well as the necessity for pesticides to be present. Cleared land forces the natural pollinators of that habitat to take flight and the ultimate cost of creating more land for farming is to have to truck in honey bees to pollinate the larger crop. With a single person creating massive crop for our consumption, there is a greater pressure to produce as much of that crop as possible. Two factors that have also been attributed to CCD is the use of pesticides and malnourishment. To produce as much out of a crop as possible often only leaves one answer to a grower: Pesticides. They were designed for producing fruits and vegetables that are free from pests, but one “pest” in particular that it is affecting happens to be the life source for crops to begin with. Beekeepers have also found that bees used to pollinate single crop harvests were more likely to develop malnourishment because they are not receiving other nutrients to aid in their digestion. Pesticides have been becoming more prevalent since the 1980’s in North America; today we still use neonicotinoid, a pesticide that’s use has become limited or banned in other countries due to its’ possible link to CCD (Shultz, 2007). Becoming a backyard beekeeper, or hobbyist, is a strong way to support bee colonies overall health (USDA, 2007). The honey bee can travel miles to gather pollen, but why make the little guy work so hard? Having a vegetable and flower garden in your backyard is enough to produce pollen to full fill a hives’ satisfaction and at the same time bring you more robust fruit and larger blooms. If donning a bee veil and opening an active hive is not your way of giving back then perhaps just a trip to your local nursery will do. Planting gardens of fruits and vegetables, as well as flowers is an easy way to bring a beautiful array of color to your backyard, as well as the little honey bee (Loeck, 2008). Bees can travel up to eight miles to collect pollen and nectar, and have the ability to tell their fellow bees where more food can be found. The presence of variety will encourage the honey bee when it comes time to collect nectar and pollen.
Agricultural departments, doctors and scientists alike are trying to bring awareness to factors that can cause a colony to collapse or disappear, but stop short of recognizing colony collapse disorder, and labeling their research as such(Cox-Foster, 2007). The honey bee is a creature of form and function, designed to do a specific job with great efficiently. It is na├»ve to think that something as noticeable as 1/3 of the worlds’ population of bees dying off in a matter of months could be left to chance or a streak of freak occurrences’. Studies have been conducted regarding the chemicals found in pesticides, but what is being done once those chemicals have been found? “Studies have shown that pollen found on bees can contain over 40 different types of chemicals (Schultz, 2007). There have been many myths that have been disproved regarding massive colony deaths, but fall short of being studies for the purpose of colony collapse disorder. Recognizing these studies that are only of face value and ignoring the real problem will never solve the original issue. Bringing up one portion of a problem will never produce an answer to correct 100% of the issue. One famous fable that has been dispelled is that cell phones are confusing bees and getting them lost. Only one study has actively been demonstrated and the scientist in fact, refuted the original claim. Yet, so many are looking for a quick fix and simply an answer to their problem; when it comes to CCD there is no quick fix. It comes with awareness and action.
Many have attempted to correct the massive amounts of dying bees, but it will not save them from the chance of colony collapse disorder. Americans use approximately 400 million pounds of honey annually and we are currently unable to meet that need within our borders. With the effect of honey bees affecting the overall amount of honey, many apiarists are taking to shipping in bees from abroad. This ultimately will lead to more loss because we are unable to produce enough bees to pollinate what we reap every year. For every year that we are bringing bees abroad, we are pollinating fewer plants, and ultimately producing fewer products. Add to that the cost to ship bees in and out of the country and you have supplied yourself with one very inferior understanding of solving CCD. Continuously replenishing a supply of sick and weakened bees is in no way bringing answers to the problem, but looking at one solution for one portion of the problem. One cannot look simply at the population of bees as purely a number and try to increase that number to cover the main issue. Colony collapse disorder needs to be recognized as a serious problem and real answers for the problem as a whole. Bringing awareness to only one third of the problem will only delay the inevitable devastation by masking it with slight-of-hand research. Bees will sacrifice themselves for the good of the hive. Meaning if one is sick, she will leave the hive never to return again to prevent her fellow worker bees from infecting and bringing down the hive as a whole. One major problem with the noble honey bee lately has been the sick bees aren’t just leaving the hive, they’re vanishing. To fully understand what is becoming of the honey bee, we must look at what we can do to study them. Research and funding are necessary to discover where the bees are going and why.
Honey bees are responsible for pollinating over 100 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, totaling in the United States alone nearly $15 billion in revenue. Without action, prices will increase for the farmer that needs to have crops pollinated, which will in turn cost more to have those fruits and vegetables harvested and shipped. Higher shipping costs will add to your total when it comes time to purchase those favorite fruits and vegetables from your local grocer. The ultimate loss if nothing is done about colony collapse disorder will not stop at the loss of the honey bee; we will also lose many specialties such as, honey, varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts across the world, and even a loss of rice, grain, and corn, which are staples for cattle and livestock. If honey bees continue to disappear at their current rate, the honey bee population in the United States will cease by the year 2035 (Schengler,2008) . That is the generation of our children and I just don’t think I can imagine a world without the honey bee, the flowers, and the trees.
Take to your local nurseries; buy native non-invasive Michigan crops to plant in your backyard. Write to your local congress to encourage research on the honey bee and colony collapse disorder (USDA, 2007). Encourage local cities and parks to participate in community gardens. Contact your local University or Agriculture department for more information on amateur beekeeping or even an agriculture class or two. You never know when something as small as the honey bee can change your life.



References
Bee keepers: Colony collapse disorder not a problem for Long Island beekeepers.” Long Island Business News. (August 1, 2008): NA. General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Baker College. 8 Dec. 2008
Cox-Foster, D. Statements for hearing to review the colony collapse disorder in honey bee colonies through the United States. (March 29 2007) http://agriculture.house.gov/hearings/statements.html
Loeck, K. The buzz on vanishing bees.(GREEN GAZETTE). Mother Earth News. 230 (Oct-Nov 2008): 25(1). General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Baker College. 7 Dec. 2008
Schultz, D. (Writer). (2007). Silence of the bees [Television series episode]. In D. Schultz (Producer) Nature. New York: PBS

Shingler, D. BEE SHORTAGE COULD STING; Believe it or not, we need 'em, and recent losses have state and agriculture officials buzzing. Crain's Cleveland Business. 29.27 (July 7, 2008): 1. General OneFile. Gale. Library of Michigan. 7 Dec. 2008

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. (13 Jul 2007). USDA announces colony collapse disorder research action plan. Retrieved 11 Dec. 2008 from http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2007/070713.htm

Monday, May 11, 2009

Saving the honeybee- and starting a business


My fiance, Keith and I have decided to become beekeepers. Not only become beekeepers, but to make it our career, our passion. I don't know what it really was that drew us into creating a business out of it, but our idea is to keep honey bees more naturally, focus on their health and the production of flowers and crops for the bees to pollenate, rather than keeping the bees for solely honey production. Although we do have plans for some if that honey we're going to harvest. With that excess honey, we plan to create mead, the oldest fermented beverage in the world. If you're looking for an adequate depiction of vikings consuming mead look at the movie Beowolf. Or visit http://www.gotmead.com/ . We currently brew beer and mead as a hobby and have entered it in international, as well as state, competitions. Not only will we receive happy bee's and honey from our hives, we will also harvest a great deal of excess wax, and with that wax we can sell it as-is, create candles, soaps, lotions, and chapsticks, etc. Not to mention, use the wax for future beehives as we grow and expand our way of life!

We began keeping bees in spring of 2008. We purchased a nucleus hive from Time and Kathie Bennett of Turtle Bee Honey Tree Farms ( http://www.turtlebeefarms.com/ ) and began an adventure that has changed our lives. They have been very helpful with our beekeeping venture and always available for questions and supplies. Our first hive did not make it through the winter, and we were left heartbroken. To see an empty hive and realize the lives inside are no more is sad, like your pets, your babies are gone. But luckily, one can pick up where they left off. Keith and I began doing research on a more natural approach to beekeeping, and looking at alternate hive designs that could possibly effect the bee's productivity and lifestyle. We began looking at the Top Bar Hive (Also called TBH) It is currently used more popularly outside of the United States, with similar designs that have been traced to both Africa and Rome. We obtained blueprints online and did further research about not only the benefits of the top bar hive, but also some of the concerns associated with the modern Langstroth hive design. This winter Keith and I attended the Michigan Beekeeper Association's annual beekeeping conference at MSU and learned a great deal about handling bees, collecting swarms, installing packages and harvesting honey. One sad thing about using a new hive design, is that most American beekeepers like to use universal equipment, and reuse it year after year. Many currrent beekeepers conform to standard designs and do not support using new or improved hive designs. Keith and I were full of information, yet discouraged at the lack of information available to us about different methods for keeping bees.

Colony Collapse Disorder is alive and prominent across most of the world, and there are definite factors that are contributing to it. We believe that not only are pesticides an issue but we as humans are a cause to this disease as well. Our population, our pollution, our increase in roadways and decrease of mass transport are factors that leave humans with room to reign, but not the honeybee. We have become obsessed with mass agriculture and record breaking honey harvests and it's killing the thing we depend on to pollenate our foods.

Over time I intend on keeping a blog about the ways of beekeeping. I'll include pictures of our hives and mark their progress. We will be keeping strict records of all of our bees to insure that we're doing all we can to save the honey bee. For further information about our bees, or our mead, feel free to email me, or call our office at 734-449-8437. I hope this has been informative and I will be posting our progress regularly! Save Apis Mellifera (the honeybee)!