Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Call off the bee-pocalypse: U.S. honeybee colonies hit a 20-year high


Editor's comment: I don't think he quite understands that if you split a hive with disease or pest issues, the new hive will also have issues.  So, perhaps there are more new hives, but they are not necessarily healthy ones.
 -Dr. Kathy

Call off the bee-pocalypse: U.S. honeybee colonies hit a 20-year high

You've heard the news about honeybees. "Beepocalypse," they've called it.Beemageddon. America's honeybees are dying, putting honey production and$15 billion worth of pollinated food crops in jeopardy.
The situation has become so dire that earlier this year the White House put forth the first National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, a 64-page policy framework for saving the nation's bees, butterflies and other pollinating animals.
The trouble all began in 2006 or so, when beekeepers first began noticing mysterious die-offs. It was soon christened "colony collapse disorder," and has been responsible for the loss of 20 to 40 percent of managed honeybee colonies each winter over the past decade.
The math says that if you lose 30 percent of your bee colonies every year for a few years, you rapidly end up with close to 0 colonies left. But get a load of this data on the number of active bee colonies in the U.S. since 1987. Pay particular attention to the period after 2006, when CCD was first documented.
As you can see, the number of honeybee colonies has actually risen since 2006, from 2.4 million to 2.7 million in 2014, according to data tracked by the USDA. The 2014 numbers, which came out earlier this year, show that the number of managed colonies -- that is, commercial honey-producing bee colonies managed by human beekeepers -- is now the highest it's been in 20 years.
So if CCD is wiping out close to a third of all honeybee colonies a year, how are their numbers rising? One word: Beekeepers.
2012 working paper by Randal R. Tucker and Walter N. Thurman, a pair of agricultural economists, explains that seasonal die-offs have always been a part of beekeeping: they report that before CCD, American beekeepers would typically lose 14 percent of their colonies a year, on average.
So beekeepers have devised two main ways to replenish their stock. The first method involves splitting one healthy colony into two separate colonies: put half the bees into a new beehive, order them a new queen online (retail price: $25 or so), and voila: two healthy hives.
The other method involves simply buying a bunch of bees to replace the ones you lost. You can buy 3 pounds of "packaged" bees, plus a queen, for about $100 or so.
Beekeepers have been doing this sort of thing since the advent of commercial beekeeping. When CCD came along, it roughly doubled the usual annual rate of bee die-offs. But this doesn't mean that bees are going extinct, just that beekeepers need to work a little harder to keep production up.
The price of some of that extra work will get passed on to the consumer. The average retail price of honey has roughly doubled since 2006, for instance. And Kim Kaplan, a researcher with the USDA, points out that pollination fees -- the amount beekeepers charge to cart their bees around to farms and pollinate fruit and nut trees -- has approximately doubled over the same period.
"It's not the honey bees that are in danger of going extinct," Kaplan wrote in an email, "it is the beekeepers providing pollination services because of the growing economic and management pressures. The alternative is that pollination contracts per colony have to continue to climb to make it economically sustainable for beekeepers to stay in business and provide pollination to the country’s fruit, vegetable, nut and berry crops." We have also been importing more honey from overseas lately.
But rising prices for fruit and nuts hardly constitute the "beepocalypse" that we've all been worried about. Tucker and Thurman, the economists, call this a victory for the free market: "Not only was there not a failure of bee-related markets," they conclude in their paper, "but they adapted quickly and effectively to the changes induced by the appearance of Colony Collapse Disorder."
Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ban lifted on controversial 'neonic' pesticide in UK

Science & Environment

Ban lifted on controversial 'neonic' pesticide

The ban was put in place after some scientific studies showed that the pesticides harmed bees

The government has temporarily lifted a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in certain parts of the country.
An EU-wide moratorium was put in place after some studies showed the pesticide caused significant harm to bees.
But following a second emergency application by the National Farmers Union, two neonicotinoid pesticides can now be used for 120 days on about 5% of England's oilseed rape crop.
Environmental and wildlife groups have called the decision "scandalous".

The areas where farmers will be allowed to use neonicotinoids has not yet been decided. According to the NFU, it will be those areas where there are records over the last season or so that the pests - primarily the cabbage stem flea beetle - have inflicted most damage on oilseed rape crops.
Farming Minister George Eustace MP told BBC's Farming Today that it was "predominantly farmers in Suffolk" who would now be able to use neonicotinoids. He said that the government was approaching the issue "with an open mind" and that there was "a lot of ambiguity" about the evidence.
The temporary relaxation of the ban will cover an area of about 30,000 hectares.
This is the second time that the NFU has applied to the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD). The first application was rejected on the basis that it was not limited enough.

'Too late'

The NFU has welcomed the decision, but argues that it will come too late for many farmers.
Dr Chris Hartfield from the NFU said: "It is very nip and tuck. There is a lead time involved for the farmer. They will have to get hold of the seed, have to treat it, and have to apply it. For some it will come too late. For others, they fall outside the area, which is mainly in the east of England."
Two products from Bayer and Syngenta will be allowed to help protect crops from the flea beetle.

Bees and other pollinators are vital for the majority crops but are in decline due to habitat loss, the use of pesticides, and disease.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Paul de Zylva said: "It's scandalous that the government has caved in to NFU pressure and given permission for some farmers to use banned pesticides that have been shown to harm our precious bees.
"Ever more scientific evidence shows just how dangerous these chemicals are to bees and other pollinators - they should have no place in our fields and gardens."
The group argues that the decision-making process has not been transparent.
"It is completely unacceptable for the government to refuse to make the NFU's decision publicly available - and even asked its own independent advisors not to publish the minutes and agenda of key meetings."

'Evidence-based legislation'

Dr Hartfield from the NFU countered the suggestion that neonicotinoids have been shown to harm bees: "The majority of the research that has fuelled this debate has been based on artificial dosing studies. The big question in this area is, does this accurately reflect what happens to bees foraging in and around neonicotinoid crops?
"We don't know, but the field studies haven't shown that they are causing population declines in pollinators."
A Defra spokesperson said: "We have fully applied the precautionary ban on the use of neonicotinoids introduced by the EU, and we make decisions on pesticides based on the science only once the regulators are satisfied they are safe to people and the environment.
"Based on the evidence, we have followed the advice of the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides and our chief scientist that a limited emergency authorisation of two pesticides requested by farmers should be granted in areas where oilseed rape crops are at greatest risk of pest damage."
Dr Lynn Dicks, a biodiversity and ecosystem services research fellow at the University of Cambridge, told the Science Media Centre: "We now have robust evidence that neonicotinoids have a serious impact on free-living bumblebee colonies in real farmed landscapes.
"The Bayer ingredient allowed under this derogation - clothianidin - is the one tested in the recent study. It showed that bumblebees in landscapes with treated oilseed rape produced only a third as many queens as those in landscapes treated with other insecticide sprays, but not neonicotinoid.
"On this basis, areas with 5% of the UK's rape crop might expect to lose two-thirds of their wild bumblebee queens going into the winter of 2016/17 because of this decision. I would like to ask the two companies who gain from this decision - Bayer and Syngenta - to pay scientists to monitor the impacts on wild bumblebees and solitary bees, in comparison with areas that remain under the ban."
The two-year ban comes to an end in December.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Comment Period for EPA's New Pollinator Health Plan

from PCT magazine July 6, 2015...

Comment Period for EPA's New Pollinator Health Plan Ends on July 29

EPA is seeking comment on a proposed rule to adopt mandatory pesticide label restrictions.
June 30, 2015

In mid-May, President Obama announced a White House plan to promote pollinator health. The plan focuses on increasing honeybee and monarch butterfly numbers through the creation and maintenance of pollinator habitat. In conjunction with this effort, the EPA has also issued a Proposal to Protect Bees from Acutely Toxic Pesticides
EPA is seeking comment on a proposal to adopt mandatory pesticide label restrictions to protect managed bees under contract pollination services from foliar application of pesticides that are acutely toxic to bees on a contact exposure basis. 

Burt, of Burt's Bees, has passed away at 80.

Burt Shavitz, co-founder and namesake of natural personal care company Burt's Bees, has passed away at 80.

"We remember him as a wild-bearded and free-spirited Maine man, a beekeeper, a wisecracker, a lover of golden retrievers..." the company said in a statement. "Above all, Burt was always Burt -- an uncompromising individual of his own invention."
Shavitz died of respiratory complications in Maine, and was surrounded by family and friends.
Burt's Bees started by chance -- Shavitz, a bearded beekeeper who sold honey from a roadside stand, pulled over one day in 1984 to pick up hitchhiker Roxanne Quimby. The two hit it off, and Quimby started making candles from Shavitz's beeswax.
The pair made $200 at their first craft fair selling the candles, and within a year, pulled in $20,000, according to a company timeline. Soon, they started making all kinds of other products -- featuring Shavitz's face and beard on the labels -- including Burt's Bees' iconic beeswax lip balm.
Burt's Bees was sold for $1 billion to Clorox (CLX) in 2007.
The company remains one of the most recognizable natural care brands in the U.S.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay...

You may have heard this poem in the past, and not known what it meant. Here is an entomological explanation. -Dr. Kathy

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly.

This is a proverbial beekeepers' saying, mid-17th century; meaning that the later into the summer it is, the less time there will be for bees to collect nectar  from flowers in blossom to make the honey the beekeeper wants and needs to make a living.

For instance, it is currently May, and my back yard hive queen bee is laying eggs right now (over a thousand a day) to build up the colony and make more foraging worker bees.  These workers will go out and gather nectar.  If I'm not cautious, and I don't get into my hive at least once every 10-14 days-depending on temperature- (the time it takes for a new queen to develop inside of what's called a swarm cell), then one day, I will find that the old queen has left with half of the workers, and a new queen has emerged in the hive to take over the other half of the workers remaining.  This cuts down on my nectar-gathering work force severely (by about 50%!), and so I will ultimately have less honey and make less money if I’m a beekeeper who sells my honey.  In May, the work force is building through the complete metamorphosis process; (all of the eggs develop into larvae and then pupae, and then they ultimately emerge as adult bees); this workforce peaks in June, timed when the nectar flow from blooming flowers is best; and then, the workforce drops as the drought begins with the heat in July and there are fewer flowers. 

By the way, if a hive swarms and you find a swarm of bees hanging out on your balcony or eave or bench, do not treat them with a pesticide.  Go to the local Beekeepers Association website for a list of beekeepers willing to collect swarms.  This must be done the same day you see the swarm, before the scout bees find a permanent new location for the colony to move and live in.  

Bee swarms, although scary looking perhaps, are very gentle.  The bees are confused, not used to being out in the bright daylight, and just want to be near their queen who is in the center of the swarm for protection. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Backyard beekeeping Washington Post article 4-29-15

Editor's note from Dr. Kathy: 

This is the beekeepers group 

to which I belong and 

participate in as a mentor.

Classes are held every year

in Feb. through April.

In parts of Virginia, backyard 

beekeeping is more popular 

than ever

 April 29
Concern about the plight of the honeybee has sparked a surge of interest in backyard beekeeping in Northern Virginia.
Interest is so high that two local beekeeping clubs say they are being stretched to keep up with the demand. Introductory beekeeping classes offered in Loudoun and Prince William counties fill up quickly every year, and waiting lists carry over from one year to the next, beekeepers in both counties said.
“Backyard beekeeping is extremely popular and on the rise,” said Louise Edsall, a member of the Prince William Regional Beekeepers Association. “I meet people every day who say, ‘I want to do this.’
“They know the bees are in danger, and they want to do their part,” she said.
Edsall, who lives near Manassas, said that the Prince William club began having a surge of applicants for its classes five or six years ago.
“We fill up before we even advertise,” she said. One year, about 100 people showed up for an open house promoting a class that had only 25 slots. Class members are assigned a mentor to help them during their first year of beekeeping, so the class size is limited by the number of available mentors, Edsall said.
The Loudoun Beekeepers Association, which brings in 60 new beekeepers a year, also assigns mentors to families and individuals who take the eight-week Introduction to Beekeeping course, said Britt Thomas, association president.
Members of both clubs credit the growing interest in beekeeping to reports of significant declines in the worldwide population of honeybees that started about 2007. The reports attributed massive die-offs of honeybees to “colony collapse disorder,” a phenomenon that is still not fully understood, club members said.
Matt Gaillardetz, a former president of the Loudoun Beekeepers Association, said that honeybees, as pollinators, play a critical role in agriculture and the environment as a whole.
“When bees are disappearing, there’s certainly a great amount of concern,” Gaillardetz said. In addition to colony collapse disorder, the honeybee population is also threatened by varroa mites and chemicals in fertilizers,herbicides and pesticides, he said. Thomas said a healthy colony typically has 40,000 to 60,000 honeybees. Unless the hive is closed, the bees are free to forage and pollinate, and they can travel up to five miles. “They have an amazing homing sense,” he said.
Thomas, of Purcellville, said he got started four years ago with two colonies of bees. This year, he will have close to 40 colonies.
“I got into it because it was doing something right for nature. It’s kind of like this win-win-win thing,” he said, noting that one of the “wins” for successful beekeeping is a crop of fresh honey.
The prospect of harvesting raw honey also appealed to Jennifer Del Grande of Purcellville, who attended a field day for beginning beekeepers in Loudoun on Saturday.
“I have three kids, and I thought it would be a great way to help with seasonal allergies,” Del Grande said, citing reports that raw honey can help with allergies. “They love honey, and it’s a wonderful way to help the bees.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The White House annual Easter Egg Roll interrupted by Bee Swarm

Editor's note from Dr. Kathy-wonderful teachable moment if you ask me! :)

Obama’s White House Easter Ruined By Bees [Video]

Obama at the Easter Egg Roll, courtesy of Time.
President Obama’s attempt to read Where the Wild Things Are to a group of children at the White House was thwarted by a small swarm of bees.
According to WND, Obama’s annual Easter Egg Roll was interrupted by the insects on Monday morning on the South Lawn of the White House. The bees didn’t attack President Obama himself, but by flying around the heads of the children, the bugs evoked a sense of terror and panic among the kids. In the middle of Obama’s reading, many of the children started to scream and shout about the buzzing insects. Obama tried his best to calm the kids down, but too many of them were too rattled by the bees to listen.
You can see footage of the bees swarming Obama at the White House Easter event in the video below.
According to the Associated Press, when Obama heard the screams of the children, he looked up from Where the Wild Things Are and attempted to ease the nerves of the children by telling them that bees are good.
“Oh no, it’s a bee!” Obama said. “That’s OK guys, bees are good. They won’t land on you. They won’t sting you.”
Despite Obama’s reassurance, the kids were still not happy with the lingering bees. One child shouted out that the bees were “scary.” Obama tried to keep the children focused on the book by tying in the story of Where the Wild Things Are.
“Hold on! Hold on!” Obama said over the children’s shouts. “You guys are wild things! You’re not supposed to be scared of bees when you’re a wild thing!”
After awhile, the kids calmed down and Obama was able to finish reading the story.
The irony of the swarming bees ruining Obama’s Easter reading is that his administration has worked to protect honeybees and other endangered creatures that work to pollinate plants. Scientists agree that bees are essential to the continued stability of the ecosystem, and with more and more bees disappearing every year, it’s important to maintain the population of the helpful insects. In fact, at another station of the White House Easter Egg Roll, the Obama administration was handing out Burpee garden seeds to children to encourage them to plant flowers and other plants to help the bees.
According to a previous report from the Inquisitr, Obama and the White House have been urged by four million environmental activists to establish legislation protecting the habitats of honeybees.
[Image of Obama courtesy of Time]