Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oregon to Require Specific Label for Neonics

From PCT enews letter online http://www.pctonline.com/Oregon-neonic-label-requirements.aspx

Oregon to Require Specific Label for Neonics

ODA is requiring specific label statements restricting use of products containing the active ingredients dinotefuran and imidacloprid.
November 22, 2013

The Oregon Department of Agriculture has announced a series of measures designed to protect bees and other pollinators from exposure to certain pesticide products. ODA is requiring specific label statements restricting use of products containing the active ingredients dinotefuran and imidacloprid while strengthening its outreach and education efforts to pesticide users regarding pollinator protection. The steps were outlined today at a hearing held by the House Interim Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“In response to this summer’s large bumblebee deaths connected to the use of these pesticide products, our agency has come up with a good and comprehensive plan that we believe will minimize the chances of these incidents from taking place in the future,” says ODA Director Katy Coba. “We take these incidents seriously and we are stepping up both our regulatory and educational efforts.”

As a condition of annual registration for 2014, ODA is requiring an Oregon-specific label statement on dinotefuran and imidacloprid products being sold or distributed in the state that prohibits the application of these products on linden, basswood, or Tilia species. Bee deaths reported this year involved products containing these active ingredients applied to European linden trees. It appears the tree species’ natural toxicity to bumblebees in combination with the pesticide contributed to the deaths. Taking the rare step of requiring an Oregon-specific label statement on pesticide products indicates the importance ODA places on protecting pollinators.

Secondly, ODA Director Coba has sent a letter to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting additional evaluation of these pesticide active ingredients and other neonicotinoids to determine if use limitations on a national basis should be considered.

ODA is also expanding its educational efforts on pollinator protection to licensed pesticide applicators and the general public. For applicators, additional emphasis on pollinator protection will be included in the required testing and re-certification process to become licensed. Outreach to the general public will include information on ODA’s website as well as brochures and other materials distributed through master gardener programs and retail outlets.

In June, ODA adopted a temporary rule that restricted use of 18 pesticide products containing dinotefuran while it continued its investigation of bumblebee deaths in Wilsonville and Hillsboro. That temporary rule will expire next month. Meanwhile, the pesticide use investigations into the pollinator deaths are expected to be completed by mid-December.

ODA’s Pesticide Program has established a website with more information on pollinator protection and the steps the agency is taking.
Source: Oregon Department of Agriculture

Friday, October 25, 2013

Neonicotinoids let virus thrive in bees – Another nail in the Neonic Coffin?

And the other side of the story from the beekeepers...
I highly recommend subscribing to this ezine as well.

Neonicotinoids let virus thrive in bees – Another nail in the Neonic Coffin?
From Chemistry World
Scientists in Italy believe they have found a molecular trigger by which neonicotinoid pesticides may harm colonies of honey bees. The team’s experiments suggest that exposure to neonicotinoids results in increased levels of a particular protein in bees that inhibits a key molecule involved in the immune response, making the insects more susceptible to attack by harmful viruses.
Francesco Pennacchio, of the University of Naples Federico II, and colleagues identified a gene in insects that codes for a protein family similar to that found in other animals that is known to regulate the immune response. This leucine-rich repeat protein family, or LRR, has been shown to suppress the activity of a key protein involved in immune signaling, called NF-κB. When the researchers exposed bees to sub-lethal doses of the neonicotinoid clothianidin they saw a significant increase in the expression of the gene encoding the LRR protein, and a concomitant suppression of the NF-κB signalling pathway. These effects were not seen when bees were exposed to the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyriphos.
When the team infected bees with a common pathogen – deformed wing virus – and exposed them to clothianidin and another neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, at concentrations similar to those that would be found in the field, there was significantly increased replication of the virus, which was not seen either in untreated bees, or those exposed to chlorpyriphos. The virus is common in bees and usually remains inactive – kept in check by the bees’ immune system. The results suggest that insecticide-induced suppression of bees’ immune systems lets the virus replicate unchecked.
‘The reported effect on immunity exerted by neonicotinoids will allow additional toxicological tests to be defined to assess if chronic exposure of bees to sub-lethal doses of agrochemicals can adversely affect their immune system and health conditions,’ says team member Francesco Nazzi of the University of Udine. ‘Moreover, our data indicate the possible occurrence in insects, as in vertebrates, of a neural modulation of the immune response. This sets the stage for future studies in this research area, and poses the question on how neurotoxic substances may affect the immune response.’

Susan Kegley runs the Pesticide Research Institute, an independent consultancy in the US. She tells Chemistry World: ‘The EU has already implemented a minimum two-year suspension of the use of the most toxic neonicotinoid insecticides – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – on bee-attractive crops, to take effect December 1, 2013. The US EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] remains unconvinced that neonicotinoids could be a primary factor in recent pollinator population declines. This new study, in conjunction with other observational studies showing enhanced susceptibility to pathogens caused by exposure to neonicotinoids, should prompt US EPA to re-evaluate the science.’

Pollinator health, Why bee health matters, by Anne Nagro

Pollinator health, Why bee health matters, by Anne Nagro


This article is in the most recent Pest Control Technology trade journal issue. You may obtain it by subscribing to PCT magazine.   It's great to see pest management professionals and the NPMA (National Pest Management Association) taking a serious interest in bees and pollinators in general. EPA of course is driving this.   Read this article for more up to date information from the pest management perspective on things.  Being both a pest management professional and an entomologist/beekeeper, I try to read both types of articles and stay up on these issues.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Droning on...the downside of being male in the insect world!

There's been a lot of talk of drones lately in the news.  I don't think they were thinking of peace-loving bees, however.  But, if you are a male (drone) bee in the insect world, your future is bleak at this time of year.
The hive becomes anti drones!

With the first hint of cold temperatures, the female worker bees are getting the hive ready for the winter. It will be an all-girl's club for the winter months!  The drones are all kicked out.
The drones have been building up in numbers in the hive all summer long.  And, a healthy summer hive, in order to be healthy, MUST have at least 20% drones present.  But, come fall and the first hint of frost, that percentage drops to 0% for the winter months.

Bluntly put, drones are a drag on the hive's resources and efficiency.  Drones cannot feed themselves (or anyone else) and are entirely dependent upon the workers for feeding. They do none of the work of bringing in and storing nectar or pollen. They do not make honey. They do not lay or tend eggs or larvae or pupae. They just hang out in the hive, or fly to nearby drone mating fields and hang out there all summer long.  And, their presence in the hive tends to attract pests, Varroa mites in particular, that develop in drone cells as they mature into adults.

The only reason drones exist is to mate with a queen bee.  This is not done in the hive; mating occurs near the drone mating fields (perhaps 5 miles away) where the guys are all hanging out like lusty teenage boys.

The virgin queen that flies by has a pheromone that attracts them.  Then the drones that fly the fastest and highest to keep up with her majesty are the ones lucky enough to get to mate her in mid-air.  The prize for that, sadly, is once the deed is done (sperm sac passed to female), he explodes in mid-air and drops to the ground, dead as a doorknell.  Some reward, huh?  No cigarettes; no, "how was it for you?". Nothing!

So, it's doubly sad this time of year to see the workers kicking these poor remaining big eyed guys out of the hive.  If you look in front of the hives you see them; on their backs, with legs flailing in the air, as they either freeze or starve to death, whichever comes mercifully first.  They are no longer in the nice warm 93F degrees hive that their sisters are keeping warm by vibrating their thoraces (pl. of thorax) around the queen in the middle of the cluster.  They are no longer being fed by their sisters.
They are just thrown out of their house and sent packing to an early death.  I do feel badly for them. But, they've had a good life.  The process of the birds and the bees goes on, and the cycle of nature continues, cruel though it may sometimes appear to be.

Image from Encyclopaedia Britannica 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

National Pest Management Association (NPMA) statement on Pollinator Health

from NPMA enews alert:


October 4, 2013

Thousands of dead and twitching bees were found near honey bee colonies in a suburb of Minneapolis on September 12.  Researchers at Minnesota's Department of Agriculture and the University of Minnesota's Bee Lab and Bee Squad have just reported that residues of fipronil were found in the dead bees. The state is investigating the incident and working to determine how the bees were exposed to fipronil residues.

This incident follows on the heels of another occurrence this summer, in which 25,000-50,000 bumblebees and other insects were killed in Oregon after exposure to dinotefuran, a commonly used neonicotinoid. In that case, a property maintenance contractor applied the pesticide to 55 flowering linden trees in an effort to control aphids. As a result, the state of Oregon enacted a temporary ban on the use of many dinotefuran-based insecticides.  (See complete list here) The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) will reassess the temporary restriction after officials finish their investigation into the pesticide applications in question. The temporary ban only affects certain pesticide uses that could harm pollinators, including outdoor applications on lawns, landscape ornamentals, trees and crops.  

The health of pollinators has received unprecedented attention in recent months, even garnering a cover story on the August 19th issue of  Time magazine, and corresponding live Twitter chat on the subject, featuring guests from the EPA, USDA and author of The Beekeeper's Lament, Hannah Nordhaus.

Many of the products that are applied by professional applicators have the potential to be toxic to bees when exposed to direct treatment or residues on plants in bloom, including crops, ornamental plants or weeds.  Such products should not be applied when bees are visiting or expected to visit the treatment area, or if the applied product may drift outside the treatment area. By limiting the direct and potential exposure of pollinators to pesticides, pest management professionals can reduce the likelihood of similar events in the future and beneficial organisms like bees can be protected.  It is very important that the applicator know the potential toxicity to bees for the products they are planning to apply.   Also, the applicator should always read, understand and follow labels in their entirety, including the environmental hazard and precautionary statements, prior to product application.  This information should be reinforced immediately to all service technicians. 

NPMA Statement on Pollinator Health
Pollinators play an essential role in the nation's food supply chain. We are dependent on bees, flies, moths and other insects to help pollinate crops.  However, some of these insects - bees in particular -are also known to pose health and safety risks to the public. In fact, stinging insects send an estimated 500,000 people to the hospital every year.  They are the leading cause of anaphylaxis-related deaths in the United States. In light of this, bees are - and some government entities have deemed them - a public safety hazard. 

So how do we, the American public, protect our families and our children, from these insects that are both vital and potentially harmful?  The answer is carefully.  The federal government, farmers, the professional pest management industry, and home and business owners must cooperate together to ensure effective tools are available to keep the public safe from stinging insects, yet do so in a manner that will enable pollinators to thrive in appropriate settings.

The National Pest Management Association is working with the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), state regulators, and other stakeholders equally committed to ensuring an appropriate symbiotic relationship exists between the safety of the American public and the essential role bees play in agriculture. 

Additional Resources

The National Pest Management Association and the Professional Pest Management Alliance will continue to monitor issues surrounding pollinator health and share relevant information as it becomes available.

No one likes diesel fumes! Not even bees!

from Reuters news agency:

Exhaust confuses bees, study finds

Diesel fumes mask scent of flowers


— Exposure to pollution from diesel ex­haust fumes can disrupt honeybees’ ability to recog­nize the smells of flowers and could in the future af­fect pollination and global food security, researchers said on Thursday.

In a study published in the nature journal Scientif­ic Reports, scientists from Britain’s University of Southampton found that the fumes change the pro­file of the floral odors that attract bees to forage from one flower to the next.

“This could have serious detrimental effects on the number of honeybee colo­nies and pollination activ­ity,” said Tracey Newman, a neuroscientist who worked on the study.

Bees are important polli­nators of flowering plants, including many fruit and vegetable crops.

A 2011 U.N. report esti­mated that bees and other pollinators, such as butter­flies, beetles and birds, do work worth $203 billion a year to the human econo­my.

Bee populations have been declining steadily in recent decades but there is scientific disagreement over what might be causing it. Much attention has been focused on whether a class of pesticides called neonico­tinoids may be the culprit.

A report from the Eu­ropean Food Safety Author­ity in January said three widely used neonicoti­noids, made mainly by Switzerland’s Syngenta and Germany’s Bayer, posed an acute risk to hon­eybees.

EU leaders voted in April to ban three of the world’s most widely used pesticides in this class for two years because of fears they could be linked to a plunge in the bee populations.

But the British govern­ment, which recommended abstaining in a previous EU vote in March, argues the science is inconclusive and advises caution in extrapo­lating results from labora­tory studies to real-life field conditions.

Guy Poppy, an ecology professor who worked with Newman, said that to be able to forage effectively honeybees need to be able to learn and recognize plants — a process their results showed could be disrupted by so-called NOx gases, par­ticularly nitrogen dioxide, found in diesel exhaust and other pollution.

For their study, the scien­tists took eight chemicals found in the odor of oil rape­seed flowers and mixed them in one experiment with clean air and in anoth­er with air containing die­sel exhaust.

Unrecognizable smell

They found that six of the eight chemicals reduced in volume when mixed with diesel fumes, and two disap­peared completely within a minute — meaning the pro­file of the chemical mix had changed. The odor mixed with clean air was unaffect­ed.

When the researchers used the same process with NOx gases — nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide — found in diesel exhaust emissions, they saw the same results, suggesting NOx is key to how and why the odor’s profile was al­tered.

When the changed chem­ical mix was then shown to honeybees — which are known to use their sensi­tive sense of smell to forage for flowers — they could not recognize it.

Giles Budge of Britain’s Food and Environment Re­search Agency said New­ton’s study highlighted “a fresh issue to add to the many problems facing our insect pollinators.”

But he said that since the study was based in the lab­oratory, more research is needed to see if the problem is occurring in the wider environment.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Nabbed by a European hornet in mid-air!

From last weekend's observations...

I was just out by my hives watching the girls bringing in pollen on this next to last day of September. It's sunny and warm, a late afternoon, about 85F degrees outside.

Asters, some clover and goldenrod are in bloom in my yard; otherwise there is a dearth of flowers available, as it is very dry and we've had no rain.  I see the girls are especially fond of a small purple aster near to my house's back door, and along with bumble bees and wasps and sweat bees, they are all over this stuff for the pollen.

I watch the beeline back and forth from the two healthy hives to these asters.  It's a very predictable pattern.

I soon see someone else has noticed and figured this out as well.  A European hornet, the largest North American hornet we have (see image below), is hovering in front of the first hive looking for an opportunity. With horror, I watch as it nabs one of my hardworking girls, with full pollen sacs, right out of midair as the worker is returning from the asters to the hive!

My little worker struggles and flaps violently as she tries to break loose, but the hornet has a good grip on her with its mid and forelegs.  The weight of the bee is causing the hornet trouble flying, and she pitches, rolls and yaws as she tries to fly to a stationary object where she can eat her early evening meal.  She lands with her hind legs on a nearby birdhouse.  I creep up secretly to watch; and momentarily, I consider releasing the worker! But then, I quickly remember how painful a European hornet sting has been reported to be.

The hornet starts on my worker's head and thorax.  Even headless, my little worker is still flailing her wings and legs.  Oh, this is horrible! I can't watch; and yet,  I wish I had my camera with me to document this. The hornet has large muscular mandibles and picks away at her flesh; little bit by little bit.  Then, it tires of the birdhouse perch and decides to fly with only my worker's abdomen remaining; it goes up to a higher roost in the silver maple tree.  I lose sight of them in the dappled sunlit leaves.

Wow!  I don't know where this European hornet's nest is located, and I see no other hornets currently, but I hope they don't all decide to come over to my hives and feast!  Of course, the worker hornet no doubt has already communicated (with pheromones) its find; and that information has been passed along now, and it may soon be happening.  Fortunately, it will soon be nightfall.  Then, I remember an obscure fact from Entomology 101 class. European hornets are the only hornets that can fly at night...but, usually to porch lights, and there are thankfully no lights near my hives!

Photo image from wikipedia, European hornet
File:Vespa crabro-dorsal.jpeg

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2013 Great Frederick Fair Results! A Trifecta! ...Blue, red and yellow!

A Trifecta of results: 1,2,3;  Blue, red and yellow ribbons.  Hooray!

We went to the fair this past weekend with the grandkids to see how my honey, hive products and photography had performed.

I was excited to see that my photograph of worker bees fanning on the top board of hive 1 won a 1st place (blue ribbon)!

And, my honey won a 3rd place (yellow ribbon).  (The usual guy won 1st place again! But, I have to admit that his honey was crystal clear and beautiful.)

My gift pack with hive products in it won a 2nd place (red ribbon).

(Here are some photos of the fair table in the honey exhibit area.  Very colorful and pretty ribbons.)

I don't pick my items up from the fair until it closes next Sunday, so I don't know my judging scores on each item in specific. 

 The demonstration hive was intriguing to the kids! Young and old!

 Where's the queen?

Happy with this year's fair results!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Honey 101 and Dr. Kathy Enters the Honey Competition at the 2013 Great Frederick County (MD) Fair!

Dr. Kathy Enters the Honey Competition at the Frederick County Fair

It is September and time to be thinking about what I might enter in the 2013 Great Frederick County (MD) Fair!  (I have entered my honey, a bee photograph, and other photos, and a bee-related gift basket for the past 6 years.)
I will stick to the entering the honey part of things for this blog! But first you need a primer about honey itself.
Honey 101: Types of Honey!
Wherever you buy your honey, it is likely to be different! Honey varies by region and beekeeper practices. Believe it or not, there are over 300 uniquely recognizeable flavors of honey in the US! In terms of color, health benefit and taste, honey is very much like wine. There is a spectrum of colors and tastes and health benefits of honey.
Bees Honey Frederick County
The honey corner in building 14 
(land and ag)
at the fair!
Color and flavor of honey differs depending on the flower nectar source (the blossoms) available to be visited by the honey bees. The bees will always visit those flowers closest to the hive, but can travel up to 5 miles away to visit a flower source.
Honey color ranges from nearly colorless or white honey to the more familiar ambers and dark browns; and flavors vary from mild to bold, depending on where the honey bees have buzzed. As a general rule of thumb, light-colored honey is milder in taste and dark-colored honey is stronger in taste. Darker colored honey has more flavonoids and antioxidants and therefore is supposedly (health-wise) “better for you.” Indisputably, honey is good for you regardless.
Near my hives in my area of Western MD, the bees buzz on maple flowers in January and February, dandelion and skunk cabbage flowers in March, cherry, apple and peach blossoms in April, locust, rose, privet, and wild berries flowers in May and June, clover and lavender flowers in July, not much in August, goldenrod flowers in September, October and November. And, of course, I plant my yard with various flowering plants with my bees and their almost year round visits in mind!
Anyway, as you have already read in a previous post, I extracted my honey in late July, and the honey I took was from the top supers of my hives and that which had been most recently manufactured by them at that time, so it was mostly locust flower blossom honey as a result.
In mid-August, I registered my anticipated entries online. Now, in mid-September, I pay $10 for every 3 items entered. In the honey and beeswax category, you must enter 3 jars of honey for judging to be done in a subcategory of color-either white, light amber, amber, or dark honey. I typically enter the white or light amber honey category. My locust honey seems to fit more of the light amber color category this particular year, but has been white color in previous years.
The judges (local beekeepers who volunteer) are looking for several things and will compare all three jars for consistency of these items.
First and foremost of course, is taste! I tend to score very well on this one-20/20 points, or at least I have in the past. This is because my hives are blessed to be located in an area that boasts good tasting nectar and thus honey. The flowers my bees visit from April through June (before I harvest in July) are largely locust blossoms, rose, various wild berries, dandelion and clover. So, technically, this is called wild flower honey. But, my honey has a very light almost white color and a light sugar and pleasant fragrance and taste, an indication that the majority of the blossoms visited were locust tree flowers! Good for honey indeed!
Honey Bees Frederick Fair
Honey display at previous year's fair. 
(Mine won 3rd place,
 and has a yellow ribbon on it above.)
Color and clarity of the honey is judged next. I also tend to score well in this category, thanks to the locust trees and the double sieving to remove any unwanted particulate matter, such as wax, pollen, etc. They also look for any crystals forming. Locust honey seldom crystallizes with age due to its low water content. By contrast, clover honey crystallizes quickly. (BTW: Crystallized honey is not spoiled or bad. In fact, honey never goes bad! And some people prefer crystallized honey for glazes for hams or fish or other meats. But if you prefer liquid honey, simply, reliquify it by placing the jar in a pan of water in the oven at 120F for 20 minutes or so. Do not place it in the microwave! It’s still edible if you do, but the microwave will destroy all of the good enzymes in the honey, these are the enzymes that help you with fighting off local pollen allergies, and a reason you get local honey in the first place, and not some grocery store honey.)
Water content within the honey is then judged. The judges use a refractometer to measure the moisture content of my honey. I typically score well here in the 11-12% range. (Any honey over 18% is automatically disqualified.) Again, I have the locust blossoms to thank. Predominately clover honey has much higher water content and tends to crystallize faster than other kinds of honey. This is because clover nectar has more water in it to start with, and there is also a greater ratio of glucose to fructose  in clover nectar. Locust blossoms have less glucose. But, also in my extraction method, I try to extract on a lower humidity day, and I run the AC (air conditioner) in my extracting area (read kitchen) the night before and all day of the process. I also immediately bottle and cap my honey tightly and do not let it sit out in a bucket overnight. Honey is hygroscopic and absorbs water quickly, increasing moisture content.
Then, presentation of the 3 bottles is judged. 1 lb. front paneled jars are expected. To allow fair judging, no labels can be on the jar, and nothing identifying it as yours other than the standard folded fair tag at the neck that is not opened until you pick it up. Is the glass or plastic panel without blemish or smudge or streaks of honey on it? Is it sticky or clean? It seems that glass jars often score better than plastic jars (in my experience), as that is where I sometimes seem to lose a few points.
And then, what seems to separate the girls from the women (or the boys from the men) is a judgment called fill line. And, each year I’m frustrated to find I lose points here. And, each year after the fair, I ask the judges what exactly is considered the fill line. And, each year each judge gives me a totally different answer!  (I have read and re-read the standards for honey judging in MD and hope I have it right, finally.)
So, my quest this year is to try and find the proper fill line and proper judge and get more than a 3rd, 4th, or 5th place ribbon if possible! I mean I’m very pleased to say that each year my honey has placed and gotten a ribbon in the six years of doing this! But, it would be nice to figure out this elusive fill line and get a first or second place for a change; on the other hand, the competition is stiff, and I know just to place is an accomplishment of its own accord!
In a week or so, I’ll be getting back to you with the scorecard results of my honey at the Frederick County Fair! Wish me luck! Oh, fill line, where are you?!

(Portions of this article are taken from a previous year's-2011-fair entry for a blog at AmericanPest where I work.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

New Bee Advisory Box Required for Some Pesticides (from Entomology Today, Aug. 16, 2013)

From Entomology Today.


New Bee Advisory Box Required for Some Pesticides

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday that new labels will be required for products containing the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, and these pesticide products will be prohibited when where bees are present.
“Multiple factors play a role in bee colony declines, including pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking action to protect bees from pesticide exposure and these label changes will further our efforts,” said Jim Jones, assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
The new labels will have a bee advisory box and icon with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions. Today’s announcement affects products containing the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. The EPA will work with pesticide manufacturers to change labels so that they will meet the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) safety standard.
The EPA recently sent letters to pesticide manufacturers regarding the new labels, the hazard icon, and the language to be used.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Probosci in the sugar syrup, and tails in the air! It's August, time to get ready for winter! Feed feed feed those bees!

Yes, it's only August now.  But, what you do or don't do now, this month, will make the difference in whether your bees survive the winter months ahead in this area.  As stated previously, for this region of the mid-Atlantic in the US, a healthy beehive will need about 60-70 lbs of stored honey to make it through the winter months and survive, and that's for a normal winter.  If it's more severe, they will need more honey stored.

By now, you have removed all honey supers and honey from the hive that you have intended to take.  There will be changes in the hive.  The queen will start to lay brood that are winter bees, not summer bees; (more on this in another post.)  At the first hint of cold weather, the drones will all be kicked out; (more on this in another post).  It's now time to pull out your feeders. (Top feeder from Brushy Mountain shown.)

Feeders come in a variety of forms and fashions.  (I like and use top feeders with floats for the bees to stand upon while they drink.) Before putting them on, be sure they are water tight (ie. do not leak).  Keep in mind that there is a dearth of nectar out there until the fall nectar flow starts with Golden rod and asters in this area, usually mid to late September.  Until then, the bees have nothing to eat except what you feed them or they opportunistically find.

This was brought home to me when my neighbor mentioned last week that some of my bees had been at her hummingbird feeder that morning!  They are starving this time of year.  They also are not happy about the situation.  So, you don't really want them raiding bird or butterfly feeders of your neighbors!  (They can also go to corn syrup sources like recycle bins with soda left in cans, although yellow jackets are far more likely to be implicated doing this.) Keep the bees at home by feeding them.  Also, it's a good idea to wear your beesuit and use smoke this time of year!

Robbing from various insects will be an issue.  I have two hives next to each other.  In the past, if one hive was weak and the other strong, the strong one would rob the weak one of their honey stores.  To prevent this, crack the lids of both hives when working in either one. This puts the guard bees on defense in both hives and discourages robbing in either.

But, robbing can also be a problem with other hymenopterans-bees, wasps, ants, and other insect orders like butterflies, or even mammals-like field mice. Reduce your hive entrances somewhat, so that other bees and other pests cannot get into the hive to rob your bees of feed or honey stores.

Pests of the hive, such as small hive beetles, wax moths, and varroa mites all seem to sky rocket in August, too.  So, it is good to monitor for these pests.  Do a mite drop with an IPM bottom board to check on the mite thresholds in each hive.  If you count more than 20- 25 mites in a hive, begin treatment for them.  (More on this in another post.)  I saw 8 small hive beetle adults in my 2nd hive and 4 in my 1st last weekend when I looked inside. I plan to place beetle traps in both hives and also place containers of DE (diatomaceous earth below the screen bottom boards to catch any small beetle larvae that fall down; this prevents their becoming adults).  Kill any larvae or adults you do see running in the hive; the bees will be chasing them around; just take a finger and squish them! (It gives me great pleasure to do this, as they ruin the wax comb, honey and pollen, and stress the bees.

In August, Costco, and other whole sale distributors of sugar, become your best friends!  You will be buying sugar in largest quantities, usually 50 or 100 lb bags, from now until the first freeze, or whenever your bees stop taking the sugar syrup.  You will also ask all of your friends to save gallon milk jugs for you to use to mix the sugar water.  This time of year you mix your sugar to water in a 2:1 ratio.  It's thick.

Here is the recipe I use for a one gallon milk jug.

8 cups of sugar
4 cups of water
2 tbsp of white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar (this facilitates the conversion of table granualated sugar to honey)

My dear Walt was at Costco the other day to buy sugar for my bees.  He was in the sugar aisle and a strange man walked over to him and said, "how many hives do you have?!"  The man was there to also buy sugar for his bees!  So, bakers, moonshiners, and beekeepers will all be in the sugar aisles of local grocery stores in the months of August and September!

When you pour the sugar mixture into the top feeders (in my case), you will see immediate results.  All the girls will line up like little piggies at a trough to feed.  Probosci in the sugar syrup and tails in the air!
My girls drain two gallons in a hive in 1.5 days.  Then it's time to resupply and so on until they stop taking it.  So, get cracking, if you want your hives to survive the winter months.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Sweet rewards-honey harvest!

photo from: 

There are sweet rewards in store for all the labor invested in your beekeeping venture.  Mid-summer is honey harvest time.  When you hear the male annual dog day cicadas start to sing in July, it's time!  This is as the nectar flow has begun to cease. Things are starting to change in the hive.

As you think about how much honey to take, keep in mind that for this area (of Western Maryland) and our winters which can be anywhere from mild to severe, about 60-70 lbs of honey must be stored up in each of your hives for them to safely make it through the winter.  (So after you take what you will take, you will start feeding the bees to replenish their stores.)

Be proud of your accomplishments, but I'm just saying, "you do not want to be a glutton when you take honey off of your hives!"

 As an example, my hive #1 has produced a lot of honey this season.  The top two supers have been consistently full of honey.  Pests have not been a concern and the queen has been healthy; she has been laying eggs in a nice looking brood pattern-it looks like pie crust and is completely filled in across each frame.

On the other hand, my hive #2 has had hardly any honey on it at all, maybe 3 frames in one super. Brood patterns have been blotchy, even poor.  On occasion, I've seen small hive beetles in amongst the frames of the hive.  Whereas hive #1 probably has had over 100,000 bees in it, hive #2 probably has had no more than about 35,000.  All season, it has appeared as if hive #2 was about two weeks behind hive #1 in development.  Now, they have vastly diverged, and it seems even more weeks difference in development exists.  I knew I would not be taking any honey from hive #2.  And, I probably should have re-queened it long ago.

Each year, I find that once you do remove honey from your hive, the whole dynamic of the hive changes.  Pests are suddenly everywhere.  Small hive beetles and mites on the inside, and opportunists like European hornets, ants, paper wasps and yellow jackets on the outside. Drones have built up.  The queen seems stressed.  Robber bees from other nearby hives suddenly appear. There is no nectar flow anymore and between the heat and drought, the attitude of the bees from August on is much more aggressive. You are much more likely to be stung.  You need smoke, and often lots of it, and you need to wear your beesuit.  So, once you take the honey, be forewarned, things will be changing in your hives.

Normally, I would extract honey in early to mid-July.  But, this year, I had lots of commitments that prevented this. So, I finally got to do it in early August after returning from my vacation to the Outer Banks of NC, a most relaxing time!  I pulled out the old equipment, Walt fixed the broken extractor, and we began the task.

Equipment needed:
An extractor- a hand cranked centrifuge that "throws" the honey after being released from the wax comb cells in the frames.
An uncapping knife- (I like heated ones!)- to remove the caps of wax off of the cells to allow honey to be thrown from the frames in the extractor.
A comb scratcher is useful for running over stubborn wax caps on cells to release the honey stored in the cells.
A double sieve for filtering the raw honey from the extractor into a bottling tank.
A bottling tank with a honey gate that allows control of flow for bottling the liquid gold!
And, of course, bottles, lids, and labels.  (These can come later.  Honey may be stored if in an airtight container.  I prefer to go ahead and do the whole process as it can get pretty messy and sticky!)

I purchase almost exclusively from Brushy mountain beefarm beekeeping supplies.  They've never done me wrong and I don't mind giving them a nice sales plug here!  See photo from their setup above.  (Mine looks almost exactly like this.)
Go to:
But, any beekeeping supply distribution warehouse will have what you need.

A few hints for a better extraction...
When you remove the frames from the hive, be sure the queen is not on one of them!!! Typically the queen does not come up into honey supers or walk on them, but this is a good way to lose your queen!  The workers will be present on the frames; so, I use a bee brush to brush off the frames and place the frames into a waiting empty super with a cover to keep these workers out.

You are going to be unpopular with your girls when you do this!  They have worked hard for their honey and are not pleased you are taking it.  They will tend to be a bit aggressive and follow you back to the honey house/kitchen, persistently.

Be sure not to pick frames with eggs, larvae or pupae in them with the honey.  This will make for bad honey, if you extract anything other than the capped honey.  The filter will remove wayward legs, antennae, wings, larger pollen grains, etc. that's fine.  But, larvae and pupae are not desirable in honey.

Be sure to pick frames that are completely capped with white caps and have no open watery nectar cells. Again, the more water, the more likely fermentation and crystallization will occur.  So, choose only frames with completely capped over cells.

Wait for a less humid day if at all possible.  Honey is hygroscopic and absorbs water quickly.  The more water present in honey, the more likely it will crystallize. So, I typically run the AC all night before, and the day of the extraction to help lower the humidity.

I extract in my kitchen and prepare it with everything I'll need first.  Some beekeepers have "honey houses." Make sure all equipment is clean and dry and that this food processing and prep area is clean for what you will be doing. (No pets in the area.)

I like to wear my hair back or in a hair bonnet.  Be sure you are clean, but have a shirt on you don't mind ruining with sticky honey!

Fortunately, honey is a naturally strong antibiotic, and antiviral agent.  So, sterilizing of bottles is not required. This differs from most other canning and preserving food processes.  (Note: never feed honey to infants or children less than 3 years of age.  Botulism spores may be present in some honey; anyone over the age of 3 with an intact digestive system has enzymes able to destroy these spores.  Babies do not, and can get botulism, which can be fatal.)

So, back to my harvest...
I took no honey from hive #2; but, we got close to 30 lbs from hive #1.  Most of it is light amber to almost white in color, indicating it was made from locust flower nectar, some of the best.  Some of it is also a little darker in color,  indicating clover flowers.  It all tastes yummy!

Now, it's time to get busy bottling and fulfilling existing orders, give bottles to neighbors who support the bees and don't mind a neighbor doing this, and get ready for the local upcoming fair in September! (I always set aside three jars to enter into the fair!)

Now the best part of extracting to tell you is that the bees do all of the cleanup of the equipment! You finish the process and then just place the extractor, the sieve, the tank, all of it in front of the hives.  Next day there is not a drop left!  Just be careful as this can encourage robbing and fighting of bees from neighboring beeyards.  It turns out that in addition to the bees cleaning, you will also see all manner of bumble bees, wasps, butterflies and ants assisting in this process, too.  I saw some gorgeous metallic blue spider wasps helping clean up.
(Walt, dear that he is, cleaned my sticky kitchen floor for me the following day!)

EPA press release -New Pesticide Labels Will Better Protect Bees and Other Pollinators

New Pesticide Labels Will Better Protect Bees and Other Pollinators

WASHINGTON – In an ongoing effort to protect bees and other pollinators, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed new pesticide labels that prohibit use of some neonicotinoid pesticide products where bees are present.
“Multiple factors play a role in bee colony declines, including pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking action to protect bees from pesticide exposure and these label changes will further our efforts,” said Jim Jones, assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
The new labels will have a bee advisory box and icon with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions. Today’s announcement affects products containing the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. The EPA will work with pesticide manufacturers to change labels so that they will meet the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) safety standard.
In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and EPA released a comprehensive scientific report on honey bee health, showing scientific consensus that there are a complex set of stressors associated with honey bee declines, including loss of habitat, parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.
The agency continues to work with beekeepers, growers, pesticide applicators, pesticide and seed companies, and federal and state agencies to reduce pesticide drift dust and advance best management practices. The EPA recently released new enforcement guidance to federal, state and tribal enforcement officials to enhance investigations of beekill incidents.
More on the EPA’s label changes and pollinator protection efforts: http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/ecosystem/pollinator/index.html

View the infographic on EPA’s new bee advisory box: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/ecosystem/pollinator/bee-label-info-graphic.pdf

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A World Without Bees, by Bryan Walsh-TIME-Cover Story, August 19, 2013

A World Without Bees, by Bryan Walsh-TIME-Cover Story, August 19, 2013

"If the bee disappears from the surface of the globe, man would have no more than four years to live."
-attributed to Albert Einstein

Please find time to read this well-written, lay article now out on news stands; it is comprehensive in nature covering honey bee biology, behavior, health -CCD and parasites, and pollination concerns. It certainly makes one think about the consequences of a loss of bees (both native and honey bees) to our environment.

Be especially cognizant of the fruits and vegetables listed that are 50% to 100% bee pollinated for crop cultivation (from almonds (100%), apples (90%), asparagus (90%), and blueberries (90%), to Watermelon (65%).  Our menus and plates and diets would be VERY bland without bees in our lives.
You can do something!  Plant bee flowers in your yard and target and only cautiously use backyard pesticides if there are no further alternatives. Ask your local university entomology extension agent or  master gardener or pest management firm for ways to manage backyard pests best, so as not to impact pollinators like bees, both native ones and the honey bee.

(See my previous blogposts regarding bee flowers and native bees.)

Thank you TIME for a great and timely article!

For more by the same author regarding the "bee-pocalypse" check out his blog at

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Purpose of Propolis, crack that is healthy!

Have you ever tried to open a beehive to inspect or retrieve honey when the hive has not been opened in a long while?  It's quite the challenge.  Depending on how long since the last opening, it can be next to impossible to lift a lid or move a frame within a super or even to separate the supers from one another.
When you finally do get your hive tool wedged and pounded in between two supers and really add some leverage (a lot of leverage) suddenly you hear a loud craaaack! And it sounds like something is splintering. The two supers separate.  What was that noise?  That was propolis cracking.

                                                    Photo From Wikipedia

Propolis is nature's glue.  Honeybees make it by taking bits of tree resin and other cellulose material from tree buds and sap flows and chewing on it and adding some salivary materials; they are then able to apply this glue to seal the hive. All open surface edges with openings of 0.3 in (6 mm) or less are sealed. (Larger spaces are of course filled with beeswax.) So any areas where pests or pathogens might try to enter are closed up. Propolising the hive also ensures proper insulation for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.  All gaps are sealed where air might leak out.  Energy is conserved in heating or cooling of the hive, which can demand a lot of the worker bees attention and efforts of fanning with their wings and vibrating their thoraces.

Propolis appears as a dark rusty color in my hive (but may be colored dependent upon the source from red to green) and is the consistency of thickened glue or chewing gum.  It shows up in heavier quantities when temperatures become more extreme-hot or cold.  So, in MD where I live, it shows up in greater quantities in July, as that's when our temperatures start to approach 100F and drought tends to set in.  Beekeepers must chip it away to be able to move frames easily for viewing and a proper hive inspection.  No matter how often you chip away at it, it will be re-propolised to some extent by the next time you reopen the hive.  So, if you never check your hive, don't expect to be able to get into it easily to inspect or retrieve any honey this time of year.  (Propolis is sticky at and above room temperature, 20 °C (68 °F). At lower temperatures, it becomes hard and very brittle.This time of year, the propolis is a bit more pliable with which to work.)

As with most hive products, propolis is claimed to have beneficial health qualities.  Propolis has a long history of medicinal use, dating back to 350 B.C., the time of Aristotle. Greeks have used propolis for abscesses; Assyrians have used it for healing wounds and tumors; and Egyptians have used it for mummification. It still has many medicinal uses today, although its effectiveness has only been shown for a couple of them.

Natural medicine practitioners use propolis for the relief of various conditions, including inflammations, viral diseases, ulcers, superficial burns or scalds.  Many beekeepers collect it from their hives, wash it and send it in to organic and health food stores where it is made into throat lozenges and chewing gum and 3% propolis containing ointments. The French have long held that these lozenges and gum keep sore throats and canker sores at bay; and throat lozenges of propolis are sold in French pharmacies.  With two small hives, I've not collected my propolis scrapings to send in, but on occasion I suck or chew a little piece if my throat is raw; I like to think it does make a difference.  Hard to know for sure.

Propolis is now believed to:
  1. reinforce the structural stability of the hive;
  2. reduce vibration;
  3. make the hive more defensible by sealing alternate entrances;
  4. prevent diseases and parasites from entering the hive, and to inhibit fungal and bacterial growth.

Some more unusual uses of propolis are as resin for musical instruments and wax for polishing cars and as sealants in endodontic procedures.

Special precautions & warnings:

There isn't enough information to know if propolis is safe. It can cause allergic reactions, particularly in people who are allergic to bees or bee products. Lozenges containing propolis can cause irritation and mouth ulcers.

Pregnancy and breast-feeding:
Not enough is known about the use of propolis during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Some experts believe some chemicals in propolis may make asthma worse. Avoid using propolis if you have asthma.

Don’t use propolis if you are allergic to: bee by-products including honey, conifers, poplars, Peru balsam, and/or salicylates.

Check out http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/390.html for more information on the health related benefits of propolis.