Sunday, December 21, 2008

Social Apiculture: An Example

Is the BBKA too close to Bayer? from Gord Campbell on Vimeo

A few weeks ago I wrote an entry about what I've called, Social Apiculture. I said, "beekeeping can no longer be an activity strictly focused on hive management techniques and our bees' immediate foraging environment but demands we also stay alert to the larger global environment and the impacts of the political economy." After reading this entry a week later, it seemed a bit arrogant, as if I was proposing something new and original when there are countless beekeepers around the globe who are already practicing this. For this reason, I am sharing this video from a beekeeper, Phil Chandler, who has had a great influence on the way I am seeing the world of apiculture.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter Lists

The semester ended yesterday, and now I have a short break in which I can consider my future bee projects. Here they are in tentative lists!

Things still to buy:
  • 1 metal hive entrance
  • 1 screen bottom board
  • 2 queen excluders
  • 2 bee escape boards
  • 1 top entrance shim
  • 30 shallow Pierco frames
  • 2 shallow boxes
  • 1 crush and drain bucket
  • 1 migratory cover
Things to construct (without Monta's help this will be impossible.):

  • 2 top bar hives
  • 1 Warre hive
  • 1 follower board to replace the one broke in Metpropolis.
Materials to read:

Materials to review:

Supplies for Beelandia:

  • white clover seed
  • bird's foot trefoil seed
  • sunflower seeds
  • borage
  • soy beans
  • alfalfa seeds
  • solar powered water pump for Lake No-Bee Gone.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cold Snap

Last week I spent some time out in Beelandia examining both Metpropolis and Bee Glad... . The temperature was in the 40s, so I watched as bees took cleansing flights, carried out dead bees, and a few just fell to the ground to die. The bees are still alive and looking fairly well, though the few dozen or so bees (mostly drones) around Metpropolis freaked me out a bit.

Within 24 hours, the temperature fell 40 or so degrees with a wind chill that made it feel like -40 degrees. I suspect the bees are inside clustering to keep warm.

Video: Bee Harvest

Another video by Ecoversity. Are those turkies calling?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The "Acknowledged Knowledge" Series

I have been asked, along with two other beekeepers, to speak this April on my journey through beekeeping at Saint Mary's University as part of their Acknowledged Knowledge series. I will publish more information as the plans are "ironed out"

Video: Introduction to Top Bar Hives

I thought I'd share this video created by the people of Ecoversity.  This is a fine introduction for those exploring the possibility of keeping honey bees in a top bar hive.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Social Apiculture

A few weeks ago, another uncivil "discussion" "broke out" on Bee-L between a complex array of factions: Commercial vs. non-Commercial beekeepers, chemical vs. non-chemical beekeepers, mechanistic science types vs. holistic science types vs. tradition-based types. All seemed to speak passed each other, accept their own position uncritically, and failed to see the partial realities of their own positions. Again, I will do something that some might see as a bit arrogant, that is, weigh in, as a novice beekeeper (but trained social analyst) on how I see some of the issues.

I am convinced that many of those involved in this debate, on all sides of these issues, fail to really take serious the implications of the global socio-environmental changes that have occurred over the last few decades. The structural and ecological changes brought on by the global 'treadmill' of production may mean that present apicultural techniques, whether based on mechanistic experimental science or "old traditions", may not work, however you understand working. Mechanistic entomological studies that control for extraneous factors may neglect the synergistic effects of multivariate factors produced by a globalized local environment. Other beekeepers who call for more 'natural' approaches are asking us to use 'natural' techniques in a globalized environment that is no longer natural, whatever that means.

What all this is beginning to mean to me is that beekeeping can no longer be an activity strictly focused on hive management techniques and our bees' immediate foraging environment but demands we also stay alert to the larger global environment and the impacts of the political economy. The latter means taking a more activist role as well. Sustainable beekeeping means working toward a sustainable environment, creating political/economic structures where bee survival is more probable, whether the bees be managed by commercial, sideline or hobby beekeepers. But this approach calls on us not to see the political/economic status quo as neither inevitable, nor desirable. Can we create an agribusiness model that makes pesticide and herbicide use, as well as habitat destruction, less necessary? Can we create a global political economy in which economic growth and its negative externalities of unsustainable resource use and waste are not necessities? Can we modify Western culture's belief in 'human exceptionalism'? In sum, how do we manage bees sustainability while "managing" ourselves in an increasingly globalized 'unnatural' environment? The answer is not 'primitivism' but, in my view, an activism based on a critical social apicultural.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Future Plans

I am beginning to lay out my plans for next season. However, as I continue to consider these things, in light of my growing background in environmental sociology, I have started to recognize how inadequate my plans for the expansion of Beelandia are for the sustainability of bees. Unless sustainable apicultural plans are coupled with activism for structural change, the future of bees looks bleak. The bees are caught on a human-created political-economic "treadmill" that threatens their existence, no matter how many natural, and organic techniques I use. This gives me a great deal to consider this winter.

As far as Beelandia, here are a few definite plans:

1. If all goes well, I will add 4 more hives. Two will be added through walk-away splits of Metpropolis and Bee Glad.... The two others will come from starting colonies with new packages. Of course, all this depends on how Metropolis and Bee Glad... fair through the winter.

2. Monta plans on constructing two new Kenyan top bar hives and a Warre. The other new hive will simply be a Langstroth.

3. Two of the new hives will be located outside of Beelandia. I think that there is really only enough room for 4 hives in Beelandia proper, so the two others will be set in some other areas. My friend, Chris, who already keeps some bees on his farm himself, has given me permission to put a top bar hive on his property. I have some other leads for placing the Warre. (My State Senator said she'd like a hive in her yard but I don't know whether she was serious or just trying to get my vote.)

4. I will be ready with nucs, just in case some of the hives thrive enough in the summer so that I can make other splits.

Video: Mike's Initiation to Bee Orientation

My son in law, Mike, went out bravely to film Monta and I, as we stood in the midst of a Metpropolis orientation flight late one July afternoon.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Video: Upper Entrance

Another video taken in mid-October of the upper entrance of Bee Glad...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Video: At The Kendall Farm

This fall Monta and I spent some time visiting the bees of our friends, the Kendalls. I filmed a worker evicting a drone, and then a guard bee decided to evict me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Videos: The Big Mistake

I shot a number of videos of Beelandia this summer and fall and have finally got around to uploading a few to my Youtube account. The video I'd like to share with you all today illustrates a dumb mistake I made as new beekeeper. I was preparing to feed both Metpropolis and Bee Glad... some sugar syrup early in the fall, got distracted, and left an open bottle of syrup on top of Metpropolis. It did not take long for the bees (and wasps) to discover the syrup and go into a feeding frenzy. Next time, I will be more careful.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Model of Reality vs. Reality of Model

I wrote this in response to some comments  I've read on facebook, concerning the election of Mr. Obama. These conservative friends expressed a fear over Obama's election, mostly because they said he was economically "naive" for not allowing the freemarket, free reign. Of course, the assumption being made by these individuals is that the "free market" model is reality, and Obama's approach ignores economic reality. While the latter, no doubt, has  a small grain of  truth, the commenters fail to examine the mote in their own eye. All economic models of reality are words about reality and not reality itself.

(I am deliberately writing this in the abstract. As Foucault once said, "Let the police worry if my papers are in order".)

In one of Mark Twain's lesser known stories about Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, the duo find themselves loss somewhere in the midwest floating in a hot air balloon. Both Huck and Tom are intently examining a map, while looking for landmarks, trying to discover just where they are. Finally, after some time, Huck states with great certainty,

"We are in Illinois!"

"How do you know that, Huck?" responds Tom.

"Well, look down there! Everything is so green!" says Tom.

"What does that have to do with where we are?" Tom asks in confusion.

"Well, look at the map... Illinois is all green. If we were in Indiana everything would be pink."

An amusing story and we can all chuckle over Huck's naive understanding of maps; we all know that a map's purpose is simply to help us with navigation and not a detailed picture of geographic reality. Maps serve their purpose well as long as we understand what their purpose and assumptions are. As sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu has pointed out, an unsimplified geographic map would be useless since it would be the exact same size as the geography it was mapping.

As amused as we are with Huck's "naive realism", don't we all do the same thing with our own political economic "maps" of reality. We fail to critically examine our own "maps" purpose and assumptions and take it as a total picture of reality. Of course, we are very good at pointing out the problems with the political economic maps of others... we see them riddled in "unreality"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

An E-mail to Kwik Trip

It's been an unseasonably warm day today and my bees have out. It seems they have created some inconvenience at a local convenience store down the block. This store has resorted to setting out traps that now are filled with dozens of drowned bees. I have just sent this message to the Kwik Trip Corporation.

As you surely know, honeybees are beneficial insects that not only produce honey but also pollinate plants and vegetables that feed us and those animals we depend on for meat. As you might also know from various media stories, there are many environmental threats that have led to a drastic decline in the honeybee population. We all must be doing something to stop this decline and this is the reason I am writing to you. I went to a local Kwik Trip tonight on Broadway and Baker in Winona MN and discovered that insect traps had been set out near the waste baskets at this Kwik Trip. In these traps were dozens of honeybees (I am a beekeeper, I can distinguish honeybees from other species of insects). While I do appreciate the fact that Kwik Trip was using a technique that doesn't spread pesticides, I still am concerned about the killing of a truly beneficial insect that, when away from its hive, is very unlikely to sting anyone. Is it possible that we might discover some other way to make your customers and employees feel protected without killing these insects?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Autumn Assessment

With both hives wrapped up, it's time I did a little assessment (I hate that word!) of what I've learned in my first year of beekeeping. So, here is my list! I reserve the right to add to it as I await spring.

1. I have found that, at least for me, starter strips do not work that well when attempting foundationless frames and bars. My bees chewed up the strips, tore them out, and built comb helter-skelter all over the place. Once I used simple Popsicle sticks as a guide, 99% of my cross-comb problems ended.

2. Related to the above, I learned not to wait for the bees to solve cross-comb "problems" on their own. It will only lead to a more disruptive problem later on when you try to move bars around for the winter.

3. You can learn an awful lot about the health of your bees by simply watching the entrance. You don't need to open them up constantly, as interesting as that might be. I have learned so much about bees simply by sitting in front of the hives and watching the bees leave and return.

4. It really pays to monitor each hives varroa count periodically throughout the season. Had I gotten lazy in August, because my mite counts had been so low throughout the year, I might've missed the rapid population increase that happened in August. I did not want to have to use any miticide, no matter how soft and sustainable the chemical, but the extra high count called from some action, other than the approaches I'd been using. To paraphrase Gary on the biobees forum says, "Dead bees can't adapt to their environment!"

5. If this first season is any indication, you can keep bees in town without annoying your neighbors. All that's needed is a few precautions (e.g. tall fence) and some consideration of those you live with in the community. I still think keeping them in town offers some nutritional advantages for the bees, compared with more monocultural areas just a few miles away.

6. I would urge any beginners to start with two hives and no more. Two hives allow comparisons to be made on the one hand, and doesn't become too much of a burden initially on the other.

Any of you readers want to add any thoughts here? I would greatly appreciate hearing about what you learned this season from your own apicultural practice, especially you beginners out there.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wrapping Up

Today, Monta and I wrapped up Bee Glad... and Metpropolis. We used some hive quilts we purchased at B&B Honey Farm in Houston Minnesota. The entrances had been narrowed and "mouse-proofed" a few weeks ago. We did two treatments of Apiguard for mites in August and September as our counts were extremely high.

This is one of those things I've really felt like I've done blindly, since packing up the hive for the onset of winter is such a local thing. We have a rather unique local climate in Winona being that on the Mississippi in a valley protected by bluffs on each side. We had a good deal of snow last year but in the previous three or four very little. I hope the Beekeeping in Northern Climates manual applies to Winona and is transferable to Top Bar Hives. I spent the day fretting. I've grown attached to the bees and feel a very deep responsibility toward them.

I also removed the fish from Lake No Bee Gone. Only one of the koi survived but the white clouds multiplied. They are now in winter quarters in my home office.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Review: The Buzz About Bees

One of the activities I planned to do with this blog was to review bee relevant books as I read them. I've never done this, at least partially, because I haven't felt myself qualified to offer an opinion about the books I've read one way or another. Well, I've gotten through my first year almost, and am ready to tackle some reviews, always recognizing I am still a novice.

I've recently finished Jurgen Tautz's book, The Buzz About Bees - Biology of a Superorganism (Springer, 2008) and was quite impressed with the book on a number of levels. Tautz presents a highly accessible and engaging summary of bee biology with special focus on the hive as an organism from the sociobiological perspective. I am not an entomologist nor a sociobiologist but found the biological explanations understandable. This not only speaks to Tautz's ability but also to the translator's (David Sandeman) as well. I've read enough German-English translations of sociological monographs to know this is no mean feat. I learned much and, better yet, have had to rethink some of those things I thought I already knew about bees. For example, in Tautz's explanation of the why's behind "orientation flights" (124-7) flies against all I've read in other works on bees.

Besides being informative and understandable, this book also contains beautiful photographs and figures taken by Helga R. Heilmann. I've shown this book to non-beekeeping individuals who have spent a great deal of time just looking closely at those pictures.

If I have one criticism of this work, it is lack of in-text citations. I would've liked to know the source of the research used in many of the chapters, but except for a few classic works, no citations were given.

One last point, this is not a beekeeping manual! There are no "how-to's" found in this volume, however, I still think the work is a necessary addition to any beekeepers library.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Deformed Wings

A few weeks ago, I reported that both hives had high mite counts. I treated them with Apiguard and the mite count dropped. Today, as I wandered about Beelandia, I noticed a few adult bees with deformed wings and am assuming the mites did some viral damage before I controlled their population. I am watching the hives carefully right now, even though there is really not much I can do about this. Today was a warm day and bees were flying about. Both hives seem strong so I am not too worried.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Post I Submitted to Biobees forum

I gave my presentation on "Using Honeybees and Environmental Sociology to Teach Global Issues" this afternoon. Follow the link below for my extended notes on the presentation:

It was received 1 million times better than you can imagine. Thanks for all I've learned from you all... You are really co-authors with me.

As many of you probably know, I applied for a sabbatical to work on this project but my dean rejected it saying "It wasn't sociological enough". Well, today I received quite a pleasant surprise from a faculty member of a competing university. She asked:

1. If I might consider teaching this as a 3 week J-term course at her university.

2. If I would be the guest speaker at their sociology department's honors banquet in May.

3. that I contact their Center for Ecology and see if they might be interested in the project.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Presentation at Sociologists of Minnesota

The following is a rough draft of the presentation I will giving Thursday at the Sociologists of Minnesota annual meeting.

The following presentation is an elaboration of parts of a sabbatical proposal (Canaries in a Coal Mine, 2007) I submitted at Saint Mary’s University. I planned to spend my sabbatical designing a honeybee focused section of SMU’s Global Issues course. Global Issues is an interdisciplinary core offering required of all juniors. While my sabbatical was rejected, I’ve continued work on this project.

I teach the interdisciplinary course called Global Issues and every semester I am faced with the same problem: How do I engage students to consider important macro-structural global issues without losing them? An understanding of the problems and benefits surrounding economic and environmental globalization is a must for any informed citizen, yet for many students, these issues are too abstract and distant from them. Their eyes glaze over with each discussion of IMF policy, or the impact of neo-conservative ideology. I do well enough on my evaluations so I could ignore this problem and coast to retirement, but I have this gut feeling, not found in any of the “positivist” assessment tools used to evaluate the course, that my students are just not getting it.
Developmentally, my students are very concrete thinkers, so I am left with the problem of getting them to somehow ponder very abstract concepts and processes. One approach to my dilemma is to get my students to cultivate “the sociological imagination”: the ability to perceive that one’s inner and day-to-day life is very much connected to the larger macro-structures we live within (Mills 1959); the concrete mundane problems that we can easily grasp are very much related to those larger global issues and policies which we see as distant. From this pedagogical approach, students would start by focusing on an engaging, concrete activity and slowly broaden this focus during the semester, learning how this activity is impacted by a larger complex web of national and global structures.

After doing some initial reading and reflection in the summer of 2007 on the complex issue of “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD) amongst honeybees (Apis Mellifera), I thought that a Global Issues course that centers on honeybees as the proverbial “canaries in a coal mine” would help students understand and engage in the global issues that impact their own lives as well. The ecological crisis that beekeepers and their bees face is not simply technical/biological issues, but a problem influenced by global socioenvironmental forces as well.
Why focus on honeybees?
  1. Media Attention- The crisis facing bees already is of interest to many students through the attention much of the media have given to CCD. Students have seen stories on 60 Minutes, or read articles on the web or in newspapers.
  2. Bees are Engaging Creatures- Once people get beyond their initial fear of bees they often become fascinated by these creatures. Some even catch what beekeepers call “bee fever”. Tracey (2008:798) describes it this way: “People of every age are simply amazed at the advanced social insect, Apis Mellifera. It is the only insect that produces food and other products used by humans. It is the only insect with flower consistency. It is an insect with a solar navigation system, an ability to create enough heat and cooling effects to keep its brood at 94 F, and a communication system that allows hive members to work for the survival of a colony as a whole.”
  3. Transparent Connections – At least to this observer, the connections between the honeybee survival and larger socioenvironmental factors seem quite transparent and communicable to undergraduates.
The Teaching Model
While the hands-on “problem-based” pedagogy (Delisle 1997) I plan to use in this course would be interesting to discuss, in this paper, I will outline the proposed model to be used for structuring course content (see Figure 1). The topics in the course are pictured as a series of 4 concentric circles: the inner circle is bee biology, the circle around that concerns the local management of bees (apiculture), the next ring represents the larger societal environment beekeeping takes place in, and last circle represents the global level. The course ends with discussion of possible future scenarios in the above context.

The arrows in the model represent the learning/teaching trajectory of the course. The course’s general path will be to move from the biological, to the local, to the societal, and lastly, to the global, with constant connections being made to the lower levels. (This is indicated by those returning arrows that veer off the straight line.) Each “topic ring” is elaborated on below.

Bee Biology

Students begin the class with a “crash” course in bee biology. Topics include: the anatomy, function and life-cycle of the three honeybee “castes” (i.e. queen, drone, worker), the modes by which bees communicate with hive-mates (e.g. pheromones, “bee dance”), their genetics and mating behavior, other behaviors (e.g. foraging, stinging), the products produced by bees (i.e. propolis, honey, beeswax, royal jelly, “bee bread”), and, finally, the bees’ nutritional requirements (c.f. Blackston, 2002:17-40)

Two other topics will be introduced at this point in the course as well: (1) the honeybees ecological relationship with the “natural” environment and (2) the bee colony as a “super organism”. (Sanford, 2008; Tautz 2008)

Apiculture in Social and Cultural Context

Besides acquiring “hands-on” knowledge of both conventional and alternative apiculture, the students will be introduced to a critical examination of bee management from a social and cultural perspective. Western attitudes toward “nature” and the process of rationalization have both shaped the technology/techniques used to keep bees in the U.S. as well as many other parts of world. These two factors affect the health and well-being of Apis Melifera to a significant degree.

Western Attitude Toward Nature— Historian, Lynn White (1967) argues that through the influence of a particular Christian ethos, the Western World has developed an exploitive and domineering view of humanity’s relationship to nature. Rather than seeing ourselves as part of nature, we, in the West, see ourselves above nature in the role of a ruler who uses nature for his/her own benefit and as the ruler sees fit. Nature was created for us, we must subdue nature and use it for our own purposes.

The ill-effects of this attitude on honeybees is a source of debates debates between the conventional beekeeping establishment and those proposing more sustainable methods. (e.g. Chandler, 2007) Conventional beekeeping’s first priority, at least since the 1800’s, has always been a concern with the products bees produce for humans, and the beekeeper’s own convenience, and, only secondarily, with the health and sustainability of bees. So, for example, conventional beekeepers may attempt to extract as much honey as possible from a hive in the late summer and fall, leaving very little honey for the over wintering bees. The beekeeper makes up for the deficit by stuffing the bees with a cheaper cane sugar syrup or high fructose corn syrup throughout the fall. (Wells, Potter, and Abramson, 2008) Debate continues in the beekeeping community on whether this is a healthy, sustainable apicultural practice and whether or not such a practice might be linked, at least partially, to bee die-off. (c.f. Oliver n.d. a)
Sustainable beekeeper, Phil Chandler (2007), proposes another practice which commercial honey producers might label as “impractical”. He argues that the beekeeper should harvest honey in the spring, taking only what the honey honeybees have not used for over wintering. Thus, the bees would have a more nutritious diet in the winter, making them more able to resist the various pests and diseases that are endemic in the hive.

The Rationalization of Apiculture— Along with this domineering attitude toward nature the process of rationalization (c.f. Weber 1921 [1968]) also impacts the practice of apiculture in sometimes negative ways. The Western world has become increasingly dominated by a concern for efficiency, predictability, productivity, and labor saving control by technology (Ritzer 2008: 25). The rationalization of beekeeping management techniques seem connected to many honeybee “health problems”.

Horn (2005: 121-4) locates the origins of the rationalization of apiculture in the mid 1800s with the invention of three new apicultural technologies: movable frames, machines to produce beeswax foundation, and the “smoker”. These technologies allowed the beekeeper to efficiently and productively (in human terms) manage many more hives then s/he could in the past. Suddenly, almost over night, “industrial” labor-saving beekeeping was possible. Coupled with the rising price of sugar cane during the Civil War, large scale beekeeping was born. Today, these technological innovations have allowed commercial beekeepers to manage thousands of hives, and transport them all around the country and the world.

Even conventional beekeepers recognize that this rationalization of apicultural has not been without costs, especially to the health, well-being, and sustainability of the honeybees themselves. (e.g. Hayes 2008: 786) Many of the current techniques that make commercial beekeeping possible may have negative, long-term consequences for the bees. Two examples will suffice to illustrate this.

Recently, Randy Oliver, commercial beekeeper and “amateur” scientist, tested the efficacy of using two sustainable “folk” methods for controlling the varroa mite, a deadly honeybee pest that came very close to wiping out managed and feral honeybees in the early 90s. He discovered that by periodically pulling out and destroying frames of capped drone brood, and dusting bees with powdered sugar, the level of mite infestation can be lowered to a threshold that the bees own hygienic behavior and immune system can deal with. This management approach does not seem to produce any resistant mites as well. Overall, this management approach is quite sustainable for the bees. (Oliver n.d. B)

While such an approach might be regarded as an excellent option for sideline and backyard beekeepers and their handful of hives, commercial beekeepers see this technique as just too labor intensive and inefficient for their large scale operations. These sustainable techniques demand the opening and management of each individual hive on at least a monthly basis. From a short-term economic standpoint, it is much more cost effective to simply use one of the various miticides available to commercial establishments, and wipe out the mites in that way. Of course, in the long-term, even commercial beekeepers recognize, that this approach is not sustainable, and breeds “super mites” who are resistant to the miticide. (c.f. Hayes 2008: 786)

The second illustration also concerns the varroa mite problem as well. The only way unmanaged hives, as a “superorganism”, can reproduce is by means of “swarming”. To put it simply, if, in late spring/early summer, a hive becomes honey-bound, and reaches a critical density, the bees may begin preparations to swarm. The hive begins to produce dozens of queen cells, and both the old queen and close to half the workers prepare to leave in search of a new suitable home in which to start a new colony. Hopefully, one of the virgin queens in the old hive successfully mates and begins work re-establishing a thriving hive within the old colony. From the economic viewpoint of the beekeeper, swarming is something that should be prevented. (Horn 2005:139) A hive that swarms is set back at least a month in honey production. In some beekeepers’ eyes, not preventing swarming can be interpreted as poor, lazy, and neglectful management of a hive. So, beekeepers have developed various techniques and technology for preventing hives from swarming.

While economically unproductive, it does appear as if swarming has some real positive benefits for the future sustainability of the honeybee, however. For one thing, a hive that swarms breaks up the lifecycle of the varroa mite, keeping the level of infestation down.

The eggs of varroa mites are laid in brood cells, and their larvae feast on bee larvae. Until a swarm finds and/or builds new comb, the old queen cannot lay eggs, and without eggs there are no larvae on which the mites can live off. In the old hive, it will take around a month before a new queen is laying eggs, so again, the lifecycle of the mite is disrupted. The reason, then, that African hybrid bees seem resistant to mites has much to do with their tendency to swarm incessantly.

Societal Level--Beekeeping as a Business in the 21st Century U.S. Economy

At the societal level, students move next to an examination of beekeeping as a business and its position within the U.S. economy. As in the last conceptual zone, students will be asked to use the sociological imagination and reflect back on how the processes located in this zone impact the survival of the honeybee.

Beekeeping is a dominated subfield within the larger social field of American agriculture. (c.f. Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992:94-114) American agricultural is a field primarily dominated by multinational corporations (farming and agrichemical firms) that possess a lion’s share of economic and political capital. These corporations, more often than not, define the rules of the agricultural game through their economic advantages and political clout. All that enter the field usually find themselves on the agricultural “production treadmill” (c.f. Scnaiberg 1980; Gould, Pellow and Schnaiberg 2008), the “speed” of which is greatly determined by the agribusiness giants. (c.f. Flottum 2008)

The dominated subfield of beekeeping is itself divided into three subgroupings, differing in the amount and species of capital: commercial beekeepers (full-timers), sideline beekeepers, and hobby (backyard) beekeepers. Commercial beekeepers dominate this field to the degree that the equipment and apicultural methods that are conventionally defined as standard to beekeeping, are largely designed for the needs and approaches of commercial beekeepers. The manufacturers of equipment survive because of the sales they make to commercial outfits. If commercial beekeeping were to disappear so would most the manufacturers. But as dominant as commercial beekeepers are in this subfield, their capital and influence is tiny compared to some of the agribusiness and agrichemical firms in the field of agricultural. The largest of commercial pollinators or honey producers are still likely to be small-scale family-run operations with workers wearing many hats. (Mares 2005:55-77)

The Agrichemical Agricultural Complex (Flottum 2008:8) which fulltime, commercial beekeepers find themselves in impacts the health and sustainability of honeybees, primarily through the monoculture used in present day farming. Monoculture affects honeybee health in two important ways. First, monoculture is dependent on the use, not only of herbicides (to kill competing) plants but pesticides as well. Insect pests thrive in monocultural environments where diversity in plant life is lacking (c.f. McWilliams 2008:59; Olkowski, Daar, Olkowski 1995: 142) demanding extensive use of pesticides. Pesticides have been linked to bee die-off and colony collapse in a number countries (Schacker, 2008). The second monoculture effect is related to bee nutrition in monocultural areas. Honeybees require a variety of pollen sources in order to maintain a proper, balanced nutrition. In monocultured areas, where bees primarily forage on one type of plant, honeybees receive an improper diet which has been linked to susceptibility to a number of viruses possibly resulting in CCD. (Jacobsen 2008:47, 147).

Global Context

With the previous concept levels explored, the student is finally ready to examine the impact of globalization on the survival of the honeybee. Historically, the health of honeybees, as an economically valuable creature, has always been tied to the global system. Honeybees are not native to the United States, being brought to this country by the first white settlers. In the 1870s, a strain of honeybees was imported from Italy because of their greater productivity and “gentleness”. (Horn 2005)

“Natural” beekeepers, Ross Conrad (2007: 184) argues that the process of globalization is a two-edge sword in relation to the well-being and sustainability of the honeybee. On the one hand, the importation and export of honeybee strains around the world expands the biodiversity of the honeybee population, leading, at least theoretically, to a more adaptable species of insect. Some researchers have linked the CCD epidemic to the narrow gene pool existing amongst honeybees within the U.S.; American bees do not have the genetic variability to adapt to environmental changes. (Jacobsen 2008: 44-5) So, over the last decade, Russian honeybees have been imported and bred in the United States because of their immunity to the varroa mite and better survival rate in northern climates.

But the importing and exporting of honeybees around the globe has its negative side. A number of the pests and diseases (e.g. Varroa mites, Nosema ceranae) honeybees are battling in the U.S. have been introduced and spread through both the domestic, and global movement of colonies. The introduction of the African hybrid into the Western Hemisphere was simply the result of an economic development project gone awry. Every gain in the import/export of honeybees is outweighed by negative unforeseen consequences.

The issue of global climate change can also be illuminated through an examination of honeybee sustainability. Drought conditions and rising temperatures have made geographical areas where honeybees once foraged, less and less suitable for sustainable apiculture. (Bartlet 2008)

Global commodity markets will be discussed, highlighting their effect on honeybees. The price of honey has declined on world markets with cheap exports from China and Argentina flooding the world market. As a result, commercial beekeeping outfits in the U.S. now focus on migratory pollination services in order to survive (Mares, 2005) which many argue has a negative impact on the health and sustainability of the honeybee population. (Schacker, 2008; Jacobsen, 2008) Migratory beekeeping not only produces stress on honeybees, it also allows the rapid spread of bee pathogens around the globe.

The globalization of neo-liberal economic practices through the conditionalities set by the IMF, and World Bank (Stiglitz 2006:25-59; Cavanaugh and Mander 2004:32-54) and its effects on the health of the honeybee has yet to be studied. We have already seen that the process of rationalization both in apiculture and agriculture do seem to effect bee sustainability. What effects has the spread of these practices globally had on the honeybee in other parts of the world?

The Future and Solutions

In the last section of the course, students will examine the future of the honeybee and that future’s impact on human survival. We begin this section examining the works of both Jacobsen (2008) and Schacker (2008). Both authors predict dire agricultural consequences if the honeybee population continues to decline. The collapse of bees means a collapse to our food supply.

We move after this to the solutions currently being debated, dividing them into two categories: (1) technological/reductionist solutions and (2) structural/holistic ones. Technological/reductionist solutions are those of so-called “green capitalism”. They seek the solutions to environmental problems in technological innovations and “silver bullets” that keep the social structure virtually intact. So for example, many conventional beekeepers await the invention of miticides that are environmentally safer and do not lead to the breeding of genetically resistant mites. Structural/holistic solutions look for answers in structural and global changes in the rather complex, multivariate global socioenvironment. Some might argue that the creation of sustainable human societies (e.g. Cavanaugh and Mander 2005: 77-104) will ensure the sustainability of bees. For example, Chandler (2007) argues that the future survival of bees depends on beekeepers’ rethinking apiculture holistically. For Chandler, the survival of managed bee colonies depends on returning to beekeeping as a cottage industry, and away from factory apiculture.
In order to engage students in the abstract, and complex study of global issues, I have begun to design a problem-based, interdisciplinary global issues course that examines the current environmental threats facing honeybees. The course includes a biological examination of apis mellifera, a study of the human management of the creature, the impact of global and socio-environmental factors on their well-being and, finally, a discussion of their future survival.
Bartlet, William.2008. “Tulip Poplar Problems”, Letters to the Editor. Bee Culture September: 10, 7.

Blackston, Howland. 2002. Beekeeping For Dummies. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley.

Bourdieu, Pierre and Loic J.D. Wacquant. 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Cavanaugh, John and Jerry Mander. Alternatives to Economic Globalization. San Francisco: Berrett Koehler.

Chandler, Phil. 2007. The Barefoot Beekeeper, 1st Edition.

Conrad, Ross. 2007. Natural Beekeeping-Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green.

Delisle, Robert. 1997. How to Use Problem-Based Learning in the Classroom. Alexandra, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Flottum, Kim. 2008. “The Inner Cover: the Complex: Selling Honey.” Bee Culture September: 10, 58.

Gould, Kenneth A., David N. Pellow and Allan Schnaiberg. 2008. The Treadmill of Production: Injustice and Unsustainability in the Global Economy. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

Hayes, Jerry. 2008. “The Classroom.” Bee Culture September:783-7.

Horn, Tammy. 2005. Bees in America – How the Honeybee Shaped a Nation.
Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky.

Jacobsen, Rowan. 2008. Fruitless Fall- The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis. New York: Bloomsbury.

Mares, Bill. 2005. Bees Besieged - One Beekeeper’s Bittersweet Journey to Understanding. Medina, OH: A.I. Root.

McWilliams, James E. 2008. American Pests – The Losing War on Insects from Colonial Times to DDT. New York: Columbia.

Miller, Wesley. 2007. “Sabbatical Proposal Revised Again”
Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Olkowski, William, Sheila Daar, Helga Olkowski. 1995. The Gardener’s Guide to Common Sense Pest Control. Newtown, CT: Taunton.

Oliver, Randy. n.d. A. “Bee Nutrition: Fat Bees 1.” . Accessed September 12, 2008.

-------. n.d. B. “Tactics: Biotechnical Methods I.” . . Accessed September 12, 2008.

Ritzer, George. 2008. The McDonaldization of Society 5. Los Angeles: Pine Forge.

Sanford, Malcolm. 2008. “The Buzz About Bees: Effects of Their Superorganismic Qualities”. Bee Culture September: 15-7.

Schacker, Michael. 2008. A Spring Without Bees – How Colony Collapse Has Endangered Our Food Supply. Guilford, CT.: The Lyons Press.

Schnaiberg, Allan. 1980. The Environment from Surplus to Scarcity. New York: Oxford.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2006 .Making Globalization Work. New York: Norton.

Tautz, Jurgen. 2008. The Buzz About Bees: Biology of a Superorganism. Translated by David C. Sandeman. Berlin: Springer.

Tracey, Dyanne M. “Preparing Teacher-Beekeepers to Teach Student Beekeepers in Schools.” American Bee Journal. Vol. 148, No. 9: 797-8.

Weber, Max. 1921 [1968]. Economy and Society. Totowa, NJ: Bedminster.

Wells, Harrington, Potter, William and Abramson, Charles I. 2008. “Which Is Best? Sucrose and HFCS.” Bee Culture September 2008: 21-2.

White, Lynn. 1967. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crises.” Science 155:1203-7.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Warre in the Future?

Monta was reading the comments to my last post and decided to check out the website of one of those who commented:  "". She was extremely impressed with his fine website, and became expecially interested in his Warre hive. When I visited her this morning at work, she showed me his site and asked whether we might have a Warre next year. She loves the bees and also loves any new building project that comes along as well. So, it looks like a Warre hive is in our future now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fall Frantic

Even after reading a handful of beekeeping manuals, I still never expected the change in behavior that would come over my bees in the fall. They are frantically scurrying about searching for another drop of nectar, or worse, bits of discarded sweets to store up for the winter and will take on anyone or anything to get it. I have viewed the rare battle at the entrance between bees of different hives, and the bees' successful attempts at repelling wasps, hornets and bumblebees who come too close to the entrance. Unfortunately, I've also found them around the corner at the local Kwik Trip, scrounging the garbage cans for candy and pop. And I've been stung while moving our cat, Finn, away from Metpropolis, as if I was a common thief and not their collaborator. Winter is at hand.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Yellow Jacket - Honey Bee Symbiosis

Since I haven't been opening up either hive for inspections recently, I've spent a great deal of time observing the entrances of each. I've noticed an interesting relationship between the yellow jackets who've been hovering around the entrance to Bee Glad..., and the honey bees who are starting to prepare for fall and winter. The yellow jackets do not try to enter the hive but instead wait hungrily in front for the next drone to be evicted from the hive. The workers, seemingly ignoring the yellow jackets, push the drones off the entrance board, where thedrones are enthusiastically attacked by the hovering yellow jackets. The honey bees get rid of some drones, and the yellow jackets get a meal.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Catching Up With the Blog

I started the semester last week and that fact has taken my attention away from keeping up with my blog.  The following are a few notes I have been meaning to write about:

I did some mite testing a week and a half ago and the count just skyrocketed over previous weeks. I recognized that this was not a good situation to go into fall and winter with so I did treat, very reluctantly, with Apiguard, a Thymol-based miticide. I hate being put on the pesticide treadmill and the bees did not like it as well. There is not really much written about the bees initial reaction to thymol use, but, between the 90 degree temperature and the Apiguard, both hives got an extreme case of bearding that scared me a bit. 

The temperatures plummetted this week, so the bees are much less active right now. I am observing them closely.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Change in Session at SOM

I have been moved to another panel at the Sociologists of Minnesota meeting in October. I will be discussing my proposal for a  hands-on "bee focused" Global Issues course. I will have more information on this soon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Final Weekly Inspection of the Season

Sunday was my last weekly inspection of Bee Glad.... Other maintenance will be done before the winter wrap but weekly inspections of individual frames is done with.

The temperature was in the mid- 70s on Sunday with full sun and a slight breeze. The colder temperatures were noticed by the bees of course -- no "bearding" on the front of the hive. The bees were bringing in bright yellow-orange pollen.

The bees in Bee Glad... were again very defensive, so I only did the minimum. Most of the frames in the top deep (one of three) were filled with capped honey primarily. (A real heavy box!) The middle box was mixed half and half with honey and brood. The bees still don't like working the green drone frame in the middle deep. If given a choice between foundationless and plastic, they seem to choose foundationless. These bees are heavy propolis makers. The queen seems to be slowing in her egg-laying.

As I mentioned, the bees were quite defensive, flying at my veiled face, and stinging my ungloved hands. (I received six stings in my brief inspection.)

Sometime this week I will also do my final weekly inspection of Metpropolis, and go back and review my Beekeeping in Northern Climates manual to plan out my September and October tasks.

This winter I will plan out any apiary expansion and continue to research and write professionally in the area of environmental sociology. My chief difficulty will be time. School started today so I will have to switch into my professorial mode as well. It should be a busy school year.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Only One Mite

I did a sticky board test of Bee Glad... and checked it this morning. Only one mite found.

One Small Step

I received the following on our campus-wide mailing list this morning:

>>Good Morning, Everyone,>If you had a chance to attend the Community Picnic last night, I hope you enjoyed yourself despite the rain (but no bees!). Attached is a very short simple feedback form if you have any ideas for improving the picnic. Please feel free to offer any opinions or thoughts. >>Best wishes for a great start to the year!

Here is my response:

I hate to be technical, but those insects that disrupt picnics are rarely if ever bees. They are most likely yellow jackets which are small aggressive wasps. One very small step in helping honeybees survive is recognizing how non-aggressive they are outside the hive and not to confuse them with other insects.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Pollen Nation" Film to be Shown

The 25 minute independent film "Pollen Nation" will be shown in the President's Room at 8:00 pm Thursday night at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. The film is a brief documentary on bees and beekeeping. I'll report on the film later this week.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Week 16: Today in Metpropolis

It didn't look like I'd be able to inspect this morning. It was cloudy and threatening. By noon, however, the weather was sunny, hot and humid and the bees were out flying. This week the bees were bringing in a dark, almost turquoise pollen.

I began with Bee Glad... but quit in a bit. They were somewhat aggressive today and while I did not get stung I was really not focused enough to deal with that. I did get to scrape off some burr comb they built under the propolis trap. The comb was sticky, full of nectar, which made me sticky as well. Earlier in the week, I'd put an entrance reducer on this hive to give them a bit of an edge against the wasps trying to enter. I placed a shallow super on today.

I had more success in my inspection of Metpropolis. The residents seem to be doing just fine. The queen (whether the original or one raised by the bees in this hive) looks like she is healthy and productive and the bees are bringing in plenty of honey. I've been worried about this hive getting too crowded so today I took two bars of almost entirely filled with capped honey out and added an empty bar and the follower board to one end. (I had taken the follower boards out to make room for two more bars.) The two capped bars I put in storage for possible use in the fall wrap up.

The supersedure cells seem empty, atleast they are not yet capped. I think they were built as a safety measure.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mated Drone?

I found this mutilated drone struggling on top of Metpropolis two days ago. I wonder if it had just mated. If it had, it makes me wonder where the drone congregation area is. (Looks above Beelandia!)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Treatment Treadmill

I have been reading Bell's Invitation to Environmental Sociology yesterday and am intrigued by his use to the treadmill metaphor. There are social, cultural, and economic routines that we get caught up in that seem to us almost impossible to stop without everything coming crashing down on us. We may get caught in the "treadmill of conspicuous consumption" where we attempt to constantly keep up with the Joneses as the Joneses relentlessly try to keep ahead of us, creating more and more consumption that seems to have no productive end and only negative environmental impact. The "treadmill of production" leads to producing more and more products, cutting more and more corners, using more and more resources, and searching for more and more potential markets, in order to attain higher and higher profits for stockholders who already seem to have enough.

Beekeepers find themselves on another treadmill that also can lead to disasterous environmental results: the "treatment treadmill". Whether we treat for prevention or because our bees have a particularly nasty pest or disease, we jump on a treadmill that can be hard to get off. Once we treat, and interfere with Darwinian laws, we help maintain bees who are weaker and will forever be dependent on our treatments.

Some may read this and say, "Well, just jump off this treadmill...Just say no to drugs!" The chief difficulty here is that the "treatment treadmill" is in a dialogical relationship (Bell) to other "treadmills" we are equally stuck on. How can I get off the "treatment treadmill" when my commercial beekeeping outfit is also stuck on the "production treadmill" or my family is stuck on the "consumer treadmill"? Hobby and sideline beekeepers face the same difficulties in their attempts to jump off the "treatment treadmill". How does the "prestige treadmill" play out at the local beekeeping club? Do I risk all the condescension and "I told you so's" by taking a "live-or-die" apicultural approach?

Metpropolis Inspection

I inspected Metpropolis yesterday and moved a few combs around. The hive has drawn up three bars almost entirely of capped honey. Two others are almost there. The rest of the hive has bars with different proportions of honey, capped brood, and pollen. The three supersedure cells are capped. I pulled one comb filled with capped drone brood for inspection and found a few mites on the larvae. The hives were brimming with workers and a good portion of drones. I couldn't find the queen in all of it however. The bees were fairly gentle considering some of the manipulations I made.

Either the queen has slowed down her egg laying, which is entirely possible at this time of the year, or she is deficient, as the queen cells seem to indicate, because there was only a scant proportion of capped worker brood, and I had difficulty seeing any earlier stages of worker larvae. The bees don't act like they're queenless, but the supersedure cells indicate that they seem to have some problem with the current queen. I will monitor Metpropolis carefully.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Beelandia Devastated Revisited

The roof is done and everything is cleaned up. Except for a strip of flattened plants, Beelandia looks largely intact. I checked on Metpropolis and Bee Glad... and both hives look unharmed. The roofers and I were amazed by the gentleness of the bees. There were no stings through the entire roofing process. This is not to say there weren't "fireworks" during the work period. It seems that the chiropractor who has his office next door became quite angry at the roofing crew because they went 15 or so minutes beyond their estimated finishing time. He called the police in order to force them to move their truck. According to my daughter Nova, the chiropractor's behavior was very condescending and classist toward the workers. The contractor showed magnificent restraint.

Beelandia Devastated

Perhaps it was misplaced wishful thinking, or maybe I was just blinded by that short-term immediate gratification reinforced by our free market economy, but I hadn't expected the new roof to create this much destruction in Beelandia. Half the garden is now trampled by tarps and old roofing materials. The bees have had to deal with constant noise, passing workers, and falling debris. What stress effect this will have on the bees I cannot imagine. I am the bees worst enemy.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Week 15: A Peek At Bee Glad...

I only peeked into Bee Glad... this Sunday; I will leave Metpropolis for later in the week. Bee Glad... is heavy with honey and thus the bees were rather defensive, so I only took a brief look into each box and left it at that. I pulled out only a few frames for inspection. I also did a 24 hour mite drop inspection as well. I pulled the shallow super as the only thing the bees seemed interested in doing there was chewing up the foundation. The hive seems to be doing quite well.

Again, the bees have avoided building any comb on the green drone frame in the middle deep. I will be pulling that out next week and substituting one of the 10 honey capped frames in the bottom most box. When this happens, all boxes will have only 9 frames.

Early Sunday evening, Mike and I rigged a protective "awning" over Bee Glad..., using some old wire spools as columns, and a plywood sheet as the "awning". Our roof is being done this week and this hive is close to the house and possible falling debris. The roofers are cool about both hives and have made some accommodations. One of the workers, who is from Costa Rica, was actually quite excited to see the bee hives. From what I could make out, he did a little beekeeping once upon a time.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Week 14: Six Stings and Possible Supersedure Plans

I was in Chicago this weekend and it rained yesterday. I was finally able to get into the hives late this morning and early in the afternoon on this muggy, partially cloudy day.

Not much to report on Bee Glad..., the Langstroth hive. The top box is so very heavy with honey. The other two contain some honey and brood in various stages. The hive is brimming with bees, all ready to sting me in order to protect the products of their own labor. I was stung 4 times working Bee Glad... this morning.

Metpropolis, the Kenyan top bar hive, is also brimming with bees but it seems that they also have some other plans afoot. There are a few bars heavy with honey but there was also an inordinate amount of capped drone brood, and three supersedure cells on the comb of one bar. While I found some capped worker brood, there was not as much as I thought there should be. I will watch Metpropolis closely over the next week or two to see what is up. I hope they can produce their own queen without my intervention.

I was stung twice working Metpropolis.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Washboarding at Metpropolis

Here are some residents of Metpropolis 'washboarding' at one of the entrances.

A Storefront Vineyard

Yesterday, I biked past an old storefront turned apartment, just a half a block down the street from Beelandia. The front of the building is covered with wild grapevines in the midst of blossoming. Sure enough, Beelandia's honey bees, along with an assortment of other pollinators, were working the tiny blossoms in mass. My neighborhood seems to provide the bees with an assortment of forage.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Week 13: Cranky Bees

This week's inspection was split between two days, as rain suddenly interrupted Sunday's inspection. Monday was a hot, muggy day, unlike much of the weather we've had all summer here in southeast Minnesota. The bees are foraging in great numbers and seem a bit defensive. I've been chased by a number of guard bees recently. As a local beekeeper told me at the Farmer's Market Saturday, "The bees must be up to something."

When we (Monta, Tristan (an interested 10 year old relative) and I) opened up Bee Glad... on Sunday, I was quite surprised. The top box, which was on the bottom of the hive last week and was essentially empty, was now heavy with uncapped honey. They had practically filled the top box in a week! The middle and bottom boxes indicated the same busy activity. The queen is still laying, there was some capped brood, and plenty of honey was brought into the hive.

While Tristan and I did not get stung during the inspection, Monta did, right near her left eye. Monta was not wearing a veil like Tristan and I, and the bees exploited that weak spot in our defense to attack... Of course, if you know Monta at all, you also know that she was right back out there after removing the sting and inspecting the wound. The eye was a little puffy this morning but nothing too bad.

I left a sticky board under the screen to get a mite check on Bee Glad... and then the rains came. I was a bit concerned about mites, having found one drone outside the hive with mite right on him.

This morning I inspected Metpropolis, the top bar hive. The weather was sunny, hot and very little breeze.

Metpropolis has turned into a big, thriving hive with a good queen and foragers bringing in much honey. I found one drawn bar filled with capped drone brood which I inspected and found a few larvae with mites. I disposed of the capped brood and placed in another bar. I will take a mite count on Metpropolis immediately.

We will see what the mite counts are in the next few days and then figure out a sustainable strategy for dealing with them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sociologists of Minnesota Conference

I sent this email today to the conference coordinator of the Sociologists of Minnesota.

I am interested in participating in the October conference but am a bit at a loss on how I might fit in.

I am a sociologist who teaches at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. Over the last two years I've taken an interest, professionally, personally and politically, in the environmental issues surrounding the "disappearance" of honey bees. I think, as social ecologists might argue, this environmental issue has its roots in deep seated social problems, rather than simply just being a technical/scientific issue with a technical/scientific solution. The application of "Tayloristic" management practices to apiculture, the "grow or die" economic model of global capitalism, agribusiness practices like monoculture of crops, and aspects of global trade are all factors that interact and impact the survival of the honey bee.

These concerns have affected my sociological practice in two ways. In my interdisciplinary global issues course, the sociological story of the honey bees plight is used to illustrated the larger global forces that impact my students' daily lives in their own local environment. On the activist side, I have become involved in a global movement of sustainable beekeepers who not only "handle" their bees in a "greener" way but actively protest against those social forces and practices threatening the bees survival. (see ) To be honest, I've only started this whole project but I'd like feedback and wonder if this might fit into the conference somewhere?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Week 12: The Reverse

I inspected Metpropolis yesterday, today I looked at Bee Glad... . The temperature was in the 80s, a slight breeze, and partial sun. The bees have been foraging all week inbetween some stormy weather. I think the bees are visiting milkweed.

Monta and I prepared ourselves to reverse the three boxes. The top box was heavy with honey and brood but the comb wasn't entirely drawn. The second box was also heavy, except the green drone frame which the bees simply don't want to draw. The bottom box was primarily empty except for three uncapped swarm cells and capped drone cells. I cut out the cells and reversed all the boxes. I added a shallow super.

Lake No-Bee-Gone

Located between Metpropolis and Bee Glad... is Beelandia's most popular resort: Lake No-Bee-Gone. Besides being famed for its waters, the pond contains Naranja, an orange and white koi who is Beelandia's answer to Shamus, the killer whale. Also popular with tourists is the famous school of white clouds, another temperate climate fish from China. As the photo demonstrates, other creatures besides the residents of the hives stop by to relax and enjoy the sights.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Another Quote from Bookchin

" ecology seeks to redress the ecological abuses that society has inflicted on the natural world by going to the structural as well as the subjective sources of notions like the 'domination of nature.' "

For Bookchin, our elitist relationship to nature (i.e., 'nature is ours to dominate and exploit') has its origin in our elitist, hierarchical social structures (e.g. patriarchal, class, racial etc.) We dominate and abuse nature as we dominate and abuse other human beings.

"Metpropolis" Filled to Capacity

Yesterday, I added two more bars to Metpropolis, the Kenyan top bar hive, making the total number of bars in the hive 33 which is its capacity. As I inspected the hive I found no queen cells whatsoever. Metpropolis is simply a large thriving hive. Of course, this leaves me with a bit of a dilemma. What do I do next? There are plenty of bars of honey in the hive but none even close to 50% capped. Hopefully, in a few days, this will be different but if it isn't I'll need to figure out a way to keep the hive "roomy". I have been cutting the brood comb off the bottoms of some comb but this isn't really all that significant.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Clarifying Issues IV: Social Ecology, Eco-Anarchism and Beekeeping

My previous reflections on organic/natural beekeeping have lead me to the work of Murray Bookchin and his philosophy of social ecology. I admit that what I know of his work (at this point, very little) fits well with my vocation as a critical sociologist and my avocation as a sustainable beekeeper. Bookchhin states:

"What literally defines social ecology as "social" is its recognition of the often overlooked fact that nearly all our present ecological problems arise from deep-seated social problems." (1)

The implications of such a philosophy to my apicultural management are tremendous. For example, while the banning of many pesticides is both necessary and commendable, I must remain vigilant even after a banning occurs, since the economic structures that make the use of pesticides necessary for agribusiness still exist. How might the next agribusiness "silver bullet" effect bees and beekeeping?

A great deal of the success I am having beekeeping this summer is due, at least partially, to living in a moderate-to-poor economic neighborhood where the middle-class status symbol of a perfect weed-free lawn does not exist to any great extent. Any type of upward change in real estate (not likely in our present economy) may totally change the nature of how I have to manage bees locally.

A live-or-let die natural beekeeping approach, in an attempt to selectively breed bees suited to my town environment, may be a tremendous idea, if we assume that the social/economic environment of Winona Minnesota remains unchanged. But under the "grow-or-die" economic imperative of global capitalism, a stagnant social environment is completely unlikely, even in Winona. Can the bees make the necessary genetic adaptations in an environment of rapid social/economic change in order survive in the long term? How might I manage bees to give them some "breathing room" in order to adapt? What does sustainable beekeeping mean in this type of environment?

The whole question, raised by Phil Chandler, of whether beekeeping is better suited as a cottage industry rather than an agribusiness brings to mind a whole host of questions about the way we structure our society and how this underlies many of our environmental problems including those facing bees. Can anyone taking on the label of sustainable beekeeper be anything less than a radical social activist?

Does all this mean a return to the primitivism espoused by many in the eco-anarchist movement? I don't think so. If I might paraphrase Daniel Quinn in his book Ishmael: The question is not whether civilization itself is incompatable with the laws governing the community of life but how do we create a civilization that is subject to these ecological laws?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Week 11: Bringing in Honey

Yesterday, I did the 11 week inspection. I only inspected Bee Glad..., the Langstroth hive, as Metpropolis was inspected two days before. The inspection occurred during some excellent weather at around 11 a.m. The temperature was in the mid-eighties, there was a light breeze, and it was sunny. The bees have continued foraging; some return to the hive covered in a greenish-yellow pollen which I haven't yet identified.

The bees have stored away much honey in the middle and top box. Every frame but one in the top box is at least three quarters drawn with honey on the sides and honey and brood (in all stages) in the middle. . The middle box is, of course, practically fully drawn with much capped honey on the sides and brood and capped honey on the middle frames. Again, the green plastic drone frame has not been worked on with the same enthusiasm as the foundationless frames. I sprayed some sugar water on the drone frame to see if I might induce them to draw it out a little better. The bottom box was almost empty of any activity. There was some capped brood, some bees, but most of the honey has been moved up above. It looks like a "reverse" might be in order for next inspection. I will also be doing the monthly sugar powdering of both Bee Glad... and Metpropolis in that inspection as well.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bearding on Metpropolis

Wednesday and Thursday we had some pretty severe thunderstorms with high winds, rain and the usual lightening and thunder. The hives got through it fairly well except that on Friday night there was a great deal of bearding at the entrances of Metpropolis, the top bar hive. My initial reaction was to panic, "Ah, they are about to swarm!". Instead, I did some research, ending up at one of my more reliable sources of bee information: Michael Bush's website. Michael's site reassured me that the bearding was not necessarily a sign of swarming, and that, in any case, it did indicate that Metpropolis was a strong hive. I took his suggestions and increased ventilation that evening by removing the bottom board. Saturday morning I checked inside the hive to see if the bees had enough space and if there were any queen cells. No queen cells were found and I added one bar to the hive. By this morning (Sunday), the bearding had stopped. Next time, I will not panic.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Week 10: Between the Raindrops

The 10 week inspection of Bee Glad... and Metpropolis took place yesterday. When I started the inspection at around 11 a.m. the weather was partially cloudy; by the end, the clouds were a bit more threatening as afternoon and evening storms moved in. The bees are foraging a variety of plants, though they don't touch those I have blossoming in The Forests of Beelandia at this moment. Cucumbers, borage, chamomile, narrow-leaf milk weed are all flowering, along with the continuation of vetch, and white clover in and about the neighborhood.

This inspection included a new associate: Robert, a son-in-law, who I think has caught "bee fever", despite the fact that he took a sting near the eye today.

The bees are now working in all three boxes of Bee Glad... The middle box was heavy with honey and brood. The top box had partially filled frames of comb and brood. The bottom box was much like the middle. I removed one frame each from the bottom and middle box and exchanged them for "empties" in the top box, in line with suggestions given in the book Beekeeping in Northern Climates. Now the top two boxes have only 9 frames each. Before inspecting this hive this morning, I examined a sticky board I had placed under the screen bottom 24 hours before. I found no mites. Bee Glad... continues to thrive.

Metpropolis is also thriving. The queen is still producing brood and the bees are storing pollen and nectar. I added two bars to this hive, one on each end. This hive also seems healthy as I found no sign of disease in it as well.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Clarifying Issues: Part III, An Example

My experience beekeeping is minimal, however, I have raised tropical fish off and on pretty much my whole life. One of the keys in the successful husbandry of "domesticated" fish is the creation of an aquatic environment where aerobic bacteria can thrive. Aerobic bacteria feed on fish waste and turn it into harmless compounds. The difficulty for any aquarist is that aerobic bacteria need some waste in which to grow and multiply in the first place but placing too much waste into a tank initially may overwhelm the system and may only produce nasty, smelly, and deadly anaerobic bacteria which will kill the fish and the aerobic bacteria as well. Setting up a tank at the beginning is an art I've found. It demands slowly raising the fish population in a tank so as not to overwhelm the environment with too much fish waste, providing a great deal of surface area in the tank (thus the gravel) on which aerobic bacteria can grow, and assuring that enough oxygen dissolves in the water through its constant circulation.

In the natural world, the production of aerobic bacteria is usually not a problem unless chemicals are introduced into the water that kill off aerobic bacteria. (Some aquarists are quite familiar with the havoc medicines can cause in their tank once their fish have been "cured"; the biological balance was destroyed since the same medicine that killed the fish's disease also killed the aerobic bacteria.) In the artificial world of an aquarium, the aquarists resorts to various mechanical "treatments" to assure that aerobic bacteria can thrive in the closed environment. They circulate the water, provide more surface area for bacteria, and syphoning/replacing 25% of the water each week so that aerobic bacteria aren't overwhelmed by too much waste. These techniques are hardly natural in any sense of the term but they do try to work with natural biological systems without the use of chemicals.

I am pondering what all this means for my beekeeping. How much of this type of thinking is transferable? What type of aquarium management might we call this? The fish may not survive in an artificial unnatural environment without such non-chemical management. Isn't their dependency on the aquarist, therefore, interfering with their genetic adaptability? Will my Italian bees of California origin be able to survive the artificial unnatural environment of Winona Minnesota without the beekeeper working with the biological systems as well? Or is the problem in both cases trying to keep creatures in environments where they shouldn't be?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Clarifying Issues: Part II

After reading my last post, I could see that it might easily be misinterpreted. I need to make something very clear: I have not given up on using organic and natural apicultural methods. If I can, I use the most "natural"/"organic" management methods available. So for example, I use foundationless frames in the Langstroth and, of course, simple top bars in Metpropolis, leaving cell size up to the bees. My varroa testing and management includes a screened bottom board, two drone brood frames, and periodic powdered sugar dusting. The bees water in a little planted pond kept balanced and mosquisto-less with white clouds and koi. Pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers are not used in the Forest of Beelandia, nor on the rest of our property. The grass (and weeds) are even mowed with an old-fashion push mower.

That being said, the foraging environment of Beelandia's bees is not over healthy I suppose. Within a two mile flying radius, the bees experience (a) the Mississippi River and all its pollutants, (b) two or three factories, (c) the West Side Public pool, (d) a golf course, (e) 4 bars :-), (f) a Brach's Candy factory, (g) the busy traffic of three main streets, and (h) the countless small gardens of neighbors who use both chemical and organic techniques in soil mixed with generations of lead paint and who knows what else. Add to this, the fact that the bees I've installed were produced in California and are not adapted to Minnesota winters, and I have a collection of interacting variables that can't help but stress the bees, making them more susceptable to an array of pests and diseases. In an environment like this, must I be infrequently prepared to set aside my "natural" apicultural management ideals when the bees are sick or plague by parasites? Or, must I just admit that sustainable beekeeping is impossible where I live? Only time can answer this.