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.