Sunday, February 28, 2010

Checking for Food Stores

The thermometer outside Beelandia registered 41 degrees F today, just warm enough for me to take a quick peek under the quilt boxes of one or two of the hives. I checked each of the langstroths in the apiary and found that each still had a good portion of the fondant I put into each hive a month and a half ago left. I placed a small patty of fondant in each anyway and closed them up quickly. The bees all looked fine!

Videos of Saturday's Winter Flights

I got my cellphone working right and was finally to upload two short videos I filmed yesterday in Beelandia. The first shows some initial activity at the top entrance of Lib-BEE-taria,the langstroth hive inhabited by carniolan bees. The second is activity in front of Metpropolis, the top bar hive containing a colony of italian bees. The board most of the bees have landed on in this video is leaning against the hive in order to keep the entrance from receiving direct exposure to cold winds.

Please pardon the poor quality of this video as it was filmed from my phone. Next time I will out there with our proper video equipment.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Saturday Winter Flights

I went out to Beelandia this bright, sunny morning to discover all the hives are alive and in flight. The most active was Lib-BEE-taria with its carniolan inhabitants, but all hives seemed healthy.

I did take a video of Lib-BEE-taria but have not been able to upload it to youtube yet. I will try again later today.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Article: Procedural issues lead to ban of Bayer pesticide

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

A federal judge banned the sale of a Bayer CropScience pesticide that environmental groups and commercial beekeepers say is potentially toxic to the nation's threatened honeybee population.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Article: "Bee Mortality Has Never Been So High..."

A disturbing article by a prominent Italian beekeeper.

Ecological Implications Concerning Property

The following essay was written by a student of mine, Benjamin Scott. I thought it interesting.  If you have any comments or criticisms about this essay, post them here and I will forward them to Ben for his response.

The ecological implications concerning John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, specifically. Chapter Five on Property, manifest in three of Locke’s explications, principally: Preservation, Property and Labour, Use and Value.

The line of reasoning Locke asserts concerning preservation is essentially the following: Man must ethically preserve himself, but to preserve himself he must labour - therefore, man must labour. Locke first expounds on the duty of preservation, stating, “Every one […] is bound to preserve himself […] [and] as much as he can, preserve the rest of mankind” (Locke 9). This duty is bound to the individual by the law of nature, which wills that “the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the law of nature is, in that state, put into every man’s hands” (9). The individual is bound to this the intrinsic duty, the act of preserving oneself and one’s community, that he may keep in harmony with the law of nature.

The individual actualizes the responsibility of preservation by the procurement of property, for “the earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being” (18). The way in which the individual acquires property is through labour, which “gave a right of property” (27). The action of labour, Locke purports, is intrinsic to the human condition (22). It follows that obtaining property is a necessary action, for to do otherwise would be contrary to the aforementioned law of preservation. Therefore, the gathering of property is, within reason, an essential principle of human nature. It is at this point in Locke’s exposition that certain ecological implications become quite clear.

The first of these implications deals with the way in which the property itself is treated. Locke affirms that “the intrinsic value of things […] depends only on their usefulness to the life of man” (23). The use of an object is then treated only as an economic resource - this is shown by his idea of waste, which is, “land that is left wholly to nature, that hath no improvement of pasturage, tillage, or planting” (26). Furthermore, Nature and earth, on their own, “Furnished only the almost worthless materials, as in themselves” (27), and that without labour, land would “scarcely be worth anything” (26). When one ceases to view land as nothing other than that which should be improved upon, then any land that has been left untouched would then seem quite insignificant. This outlook is extremely narrow insofar as it does not encapsulate cultural, spiritual, and ecological value the land holds.

It is from this interpretation of property that Locke stumbles into the fallacy of the unlimited resource. His mistake in reasoning is evident in his rule of propriety, which states, “every man should have as much as he could make use of,” and that this rule “would hold still in the world, without straitening any body” (23). It is obvious that Locke did not consider population inflation in his conception of property rights. This fallacy is furthered in the discussion of individual relations concerning property:

The measure of property nature has well set by the extent of men’s labour and the conveniences of life: no man’s labour could subdue, or appropriate all; nor could his enjoyment consume more than a small part; so that it was impossible for any man, this way, to intrench upon the right of another, or acquire to himself a property, to the prejudice of his neighbour, who would still have room for as good, and as large a possession (after thither had taken out his) as before it was appropriated. (22)

The propagation of this fallacy in the dealings of property justified the rapid destruction of a majority of earth’s essential elements by the simple act of unfettered agricultural, and later, industrial development. Such infantile reasoning is undoubtedly due to the historical context in which Locke lived - the industrial revolution had yet to take place, and population inflation had not yet occurred at the rapid pace as paramount in the 19th and 20th centuries. Locke may have believed that “nothing was made by God for man to spoil or destroy” (21), but by defining nature as a resource and asserting the individual’s right to expand property, he seems to have unintentionally created an ethical paradox.

Works Cited

Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Ed. C. B. Macpherson. Indianapolis, Indiana:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Grumpy Winter Bees-- A Visit to Beelandia

With the temperature about 21 degrees F and a bright, late morning sun, I went out to the bee yard to give each hive a glance.

All three of the langstroth hives showed activity at the top entrances and, as usual, Lib-BEE-taria, with its population of Carniolan bees, was a bit grumpy at my inspection. Even in this temperature, I had one guard bee take a flight at my face, more as a bluff than an actual attempt to sting. While I do like seeing the bees alive in these hives, I do worry about them being at the top entrance. This could mean they have run out of food stores, and, while I did place fondant over the inner cover and under the quilt boxes last month, I don't know when it will be warm enough to place more fondant there. Around each langstroth, there is evidence that the bees have made cleansing flights. I hope none have nosema, a dysentary-like disease.

I saw no evidence of active bees at either of the top bar hives' entrances' but that could simply be because the winter cluster is not near the entrance that's opened. Each hive does show evidence of recent bee flights, however, so that is good.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Beekeeping Pure and Simple" Available Online

One of the biggest influences on my approach to beekeeping is Phil Chandler, author of the book The Barefoot Beekeeper. Chandler's approach is holistic, recognizing that honeybee sustainability is not simply a question of what I do as a beekeeper, but what we all do as global citizens socially and environmentally. Chandler has recently published a short pamphlet called, Beekeeping, Pure and Simple where his holistic approach is laid out in a very accessible manner. I recommend you all download yourselves a copy.

Bees, Blogging, and Citizen Science

A few months ago, my friend and colleague, Dr. Joe Tadie, remarked that my beekeeping and blogging was a fine example of citizen science:

Citizen science is a term used for projects or ongoing program of scientific work in which individual volunteers or networks of volunteers, many of whom may have no specific scientific training, perform or manage research-related tasks such as observation, measurement or computation...

The longest-running citizen science project currently active is probably the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count, which started in 1900. Other well-known examples of citizen science programs include World Water Monitoring Day[1], NASA's Stardust@home and Clickworkers, a variety of projects run by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology[2], such as Ebird, NestWatch, Project FeederWatch, and Celebrate Urban Birds and the Galaxy Zoo project. Another example of an effective citizen science project in the United States is the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), run by the Colorado Climate Center at the Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. Data from this citizen science project is used for weather forecasting and monitoring, severe weather alerts, and climate studies.

I don't know if what I do here qualifies yet as citizen science. I do collect and publish the observations I make of my hives, the biophysical area in which my bees forage and the social world of apiculture, but somethings are missing in my approach. While I do make my observations public, they are lone observations, in one area, at one time in a highly unsystematic and unfocused way. It seems to me that the citizen scientist is involved in a collaborative network of other citizen scientists who making precise observations. There should be a central locus in this network which collates, analyzes, and compares the observations made in particular places, and reports conclusions to the larger scientific world. As of yet, this is not happening.

Perhaps we beekeeper/bloggers in the world might begin developing this network, creating a research design, finding some way to bring all the observations together, and reporting the findings to the greater community.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Odds and Ends

Just a short post on a few things done today:

1. I ordered some bird's foot trefoil seeds today from Last summer, as a I biked up to Saint Mary's, I noticed honeybees foraging all over the yellow flowers of this legume in a large field. I've decided to plant some in our yard. Not only will the bees have another plant to forage, but this plant, as a legume, adds nitrogen to the soil.

2. I recently bought a frame cleaning tool from B and B Honey Farm and am really impressed with how much easier it has made my life this winter. I can be very cheap and not buy labor saving tools, but this tool has made my life so much simpler.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Building ATop Bar Hive- Video

Are you thinking you might want to manage bees? Are you a "do-it-yourself" type of person? Would you like to see your bees build comb without the use of foundation? Would you like to build a hive from recyclable materials? Are you afraid of the heavy lifting that accompanies the more traditional, Langstroth box hive? Then, you might consider building your own top bar hive, an alternative approach to housing your bees.

Top Bar hives have a long history, dating back to the ancient Greeks. Today, they are used in development projects in Africa where these hives are made from almost any materials at hand. They are gaining popularity in the developed world, perceived as a more sustainable method of apiculture.

Monta has built two hives for us and they are much more pleasurable to work than our Langstroths. The honeybees build out horizontally instead of vertically, meaning there are no heavy, honey filled boxes to move around during late summer. The bees, themselves, seem less defensive since opening up a top bar hive is less intrusive to the bee colony. The bees are allowed to build cells to their own specification, rather than working from a "pattern" provided by the wax or plastic foundation placed in a langstroth frame. Recognize, there are some disadvantages as well. The bees do produce less honey in a top bar, and it cannot be extracted using a honey extractor.

Below is a video that will discuss building these type of hives. For learning how to manage bees in these hives, visit Phil Candler's website and purchase his instruction manual The Barefoot Beekeeper. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I just discovered a blog named EarthNotes at Winona 360 that might be of interest to some of the readers of Canaries in a Coal Mine, especially those concerned with sustainability. I've copied its description below:

From renewable energy policy to the poetry of food, EarthNotes takes a varied look at the pursuit of a sustainable globe. Co-authored by faculty of Winona State University and community experts, EarthNotes is an interactive exploration of one of the most high-stakes issues of our time

I know a few of those writing for the blog and look forward to reading it in the coming weeks.

A Visit to Beelandia -- 2/16/2010

Locally, the day was sunny, a bit windy, with temperatures in the mid-30s; a pleasant break from the cloudy, snowy and cold weather of the past week. Just the right kind of weather for peeking about the beehives in Beelandia.

As has been usual the last few weeks, I was able to observe activity at the top entrances of three hives: Lib-BEE-taria, Nuc To Be Named Later, and Bee Glad... The fact that the bees are at the top entrance does worry me a bit, as this might indicate they are running out of food. Hopefully, sometime soon, the temperature will rise above forty degrees F and I'll be able to check their food storage and feed some fondant if necessary.

Metpropolis, one of my top bar hives, concerns me as well. There is excessive diarrhea around the hive which may be a sign of a nosema problem. While I did not see any bees active near the entrance of the other top bar hive, Plan Bee..., I did notice other tell-tale signs of an active hive. However, as I mentioned before, this hive may have a "mouse problem". (No allusion to Monty Python here)

"Canaries... " Featured at Winona 360

Canaries in a Coal Mine now has an RSS feed into Winona 360. We are one of the featured blogs at the site this week. Thanks, Winona 360 for the support and feed.

A Week of Winter Projects

As any beekeeper will tell you, beekeeping is a 12 month endeavor whether you live in the north or south, or whether you are a commercial, sideline, or hobby beekeeper. There's equipment to fix, buy and put together, beekeeping literature to read, expansion plans to flesh out. Winter is a busy time.

I am fortunate enough to have this week off at the university, and, besides paper and test grading, am using this time to do various beekeeping projects that I just can't seem to fit into my normal schedule. Yesterday, I spent some time putting together some mating nucs for my spring and summer increase plans. I also started a few seedlings: bee balm, chamomile, and ornamental tobacco plants. Today, I will be cleaning and refurbishing some frames. Sometime later this week, I will be putting together some hive boxes so that in early spring, I can transfer Nuc To Be Named Later out of the queen castle it's in now and into regular hive boxes.

And if there is time, I am going to read all my queen rearing books for a second and third time.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Road to Non-Sustainability is Paved with Good Intentions

Readers of this blog recognize that "Treadmill of Production Theory" underlies many of my ideas on sustainable beekeeping and what I call "social apiculture": the idea that sustainable beekeeping is not simply a matter of how we manage our hives, nor where we locate our hives in the physical environment but also a matter of the very way human beings organize their own societies. The following is an illustration of some of these ideas. Originally, it was written as a comment to a friend's facebook status, but I decided instead to simply share it here.

Let's take a very real, concrete example: commercial migratory beekeeping. Even the largest commercial pollination service is more often than not a small family-run concern. Commercial beekeepers can make a comfortable living but still are just one or two months ahead of their creditors (like most of us). They take pride in the fact that their services help keep a variety of foods on America's dinner table.

Now let's say it's February, the beginning of the migratory beekeeping season and Mr. X is ready to truck his thousands of honeybee colonies into the California almond orchards. He discovers his bees aren't doing all that well. The mite count is high in his hives and they seem to have dysentery. A long-term sustainable approach might be to let Darwinian selection weed out the weak hives and breed from the survivors, however, that would mean losing many hives and possibly going bankrupt. Not only would this threaten his business but also his children's college fund, and next mortgage payment. He, instead, takes the short-term route, using miticides and fungicides on his hives, pumping the colonies with HFCS, trucking them out to the fields and hoping for the best. He knows this solution is not sustainable in that it only creates resistant mites and fungi over the long-term but his family does have to eat. So with all his good intentions he decides in favor of non-sustainability.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Visit to Beelandia on Super Sunday

I took a break from my grading to go out to Beelandia and check on the bees. Today's weather was primarily overcast though the sun occasionally peeked out from behind the clouds. The temperature in Winona was about 27 degrees.

There were bees leaving the top entrances of both Bee Glad... (see photo above) and Nuc to Be Named Later as the bees either went off to die or make a cleansing flight. I did not see any bees flying about Lib-BEE-taria although there were signs of recent activity at the entrance (i.e. newly removed dead bees). Metropolis, our oldest top bar also had bees flying about as well. I did not see any activities around Plan Bee from Outer Space (our newer top bar), at least not of the apis mellifera-kind. I think, however, the hive does have mice. How the bees fair this invasion will be a question for a warmer day!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Almond Nectar Poisonous to Most Animals Except Honeybees

Below is a description of an interesting article about almond nectar and honeybees. To read the whole article, check this link to Newswise.

"The nectar of the almond tree produces an extraordinary and dangerous poison. This is the only known plant to have this poison in its flowers' nectar. A study carried out at the University of Haifa has revealed that bees are mysteriously drawn to the toxic substance."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Two Packages Ordered (Just in Case)

The honeybees in my five hives seem to be doing fine this winter, however, the next six weeks are a critical time in the life of a hive. Yes, my over-wintering hives look good today, but who knows what will happen in those weeks approaching spring. As a precaution, I've ordered two 3 lb. packages of bees from B and B. If all my hives survive then I will use the packages to start colonies at other out areas or give them to my beekeeping friends in the area whose colonies may not have survived.

Treadmill of Production: A CMAP is Worth a Thousand Words

I created this cmap in order to explain treadmill of production theory to my Public Policy class. I think it is such a thing of of beauty I thought I would share it with my readers. If this theory is empirically valid, what implications might this have for honeybees and sustainable beekeeping?