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.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Clarifying the Issues

This week on the Organic Beekeeping List, a heated discussion developed between a more conventional beekeeper, Jim Fischer, and members of this "no chemical" beekeeping list. The debate centered around the efficacy of Dee Lusby's "no dope" approach in saving hives from the threat of CCD. Fischer, a devotee of "scientism", claims that a good portion of Lusby's bees succumbed to CCD like symptoms this spring, and that she has hid this fact from her own "true believers" on the email list. I'm a new beekeeper, still learning, still critically digesting the vast amounts of beekeeping information available, so I will not presume to weigh in on the issues. However, this discussion was important for me in that it helped me clarify a few issues about my own apicultural "philosophy" and the importance of fairness, honesty, and compassion.

Firstly, the debate only highlighted for me why I call myself a sustainable beekeeper and not organic or natural, since my chief concern has always been the long-term survivability of bees and not being right, or ideologically "orthodox". If something doesn't work apiculturally in my locale in the long-term, I have to be willing to critically question my approach, whether it be a chemical treatment, or a method of "organic" orthodoxy. I have to be willing to even give up beekeeping if I find that I serve as a detriment to the bees. I know this might mean admitting I'm wrong, or ignorant, or, worse yet, incompetent, but my objective is not to be right; my objective is to sustain bees in the long-term. I need honesty and humility to be a sustainable beekeeper, remembering "I Could Be Wrong!"

Secondly, the debate showed me the need for compassion. When a beekeeper loses his/her bees, no matter what methods s/he uses, I hope we might all show some empathy for the loss and not glee. Before you organic beekeepers think I am only wagging my finger at Mr. Fischer, you might consider why he got such a kick at rubbing your face into Dee's losses. Isn't there often a certain self-righteous glee taken on this list when reports of conventional beekeepers' losses appear on the 'net? Most beekeepers I know are looking into the "glass darkly". We are all sorting through a complex array of interacting factors that impact our bees. No one has all the answers, and while I may not agree with other beekeepers' choices, I do not rejoice anytime a hive dies.

I do not rejoice in writing this. I feel very presumptious and hypocritical.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Smiley the Spider

Some face-to-face shots of Bee Glad...'s own spider, Smiley.