One of the best reasons for being interested in bees is not that they are fascinating — they are that, certainly — but that they are vital to our system of food production.

But it doesn’t take much study or investigation to know that our system of food production is in trouble.

Losses of honeybees and other pollinators are a big part of the problem.

It’s only a part, however. Another big part of the problem is what we eat and the way we eat it.

how-to-cook-everythingThat’s what was on Mark Bittman’s mind when he wrote a recent article for the op-ed section of the New York Times, and the point he makes is a good one: Individually, we’re not going to change the food system, but individually we can change what we do.

So much of this is so big that it’s out of our individual control, and it’s easy to become disheartened and even skeptical. We are the underdogs, and to emerge victorious will take so much time that it’s likely many of us will not live to see the changes we know are due.

Which makes the so-called little issues that much more important. You can swear off McDonalds and Pepsi — iconic brands, but not the only ones worth boycotting — right now. Most of you can begin to cook. You can teach your youngest kid to eat better than your oldest. You can garden, or grow parsley on your windowsill. You can cook your favorite dish for your kid’s classroom, or get your kid to cook his or her favorite dish with you. You can force yourself and your loved ones to eat a salad every Monday, or Wednesday for that matter. You can probably pay a little more for food and support a farmer who isn’t growing a thousand acres of corn. You can eat an apple instead of a cookie. For breakfast, you can eat leftovers of something you made for dinner. (quoted material)

Bittman is a food writer for the Times and there is a new edition of his book, How to Cook Everything.

Key words: Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything, honeybees and other pollinators, system of food production, changing eating habits, New York Times, op-ed, what we eat and the way we eat it


What is the purpose of a colony of bees?

Pollination? Wrong.

A swarm of bees marches into its new home after being dropped from a tree.

A swarm of bees marches into its new home after being dropped from a tree.

Bees do this by accident. They don’t realize how much they’re helping humans and wouldn’t care if they did.

Making honey? Wrong.

Bees make honey because this is a stable food source. The fact that humans like honey is again irrelevant to the bees.

Bees are like any other wild animal. They exist for two reasons: to survive and to reproduce.

Except that, in the case of honeybees, most of them don’t reproduce. They are part of a colony, and the colony tries to survive and to reproduce.

Which brings us to “casting swarms.”

I don’t recall ever coming across that term until veteran beekeeper Jim Tew used it in a presentation to the Blount County Beekeepers Association meeting in August. Jim said then that bees will try to survive until they can find a suitable place to live — a good hollow tree or something like that — and “cast a few swarms.”

The term popped up again when I was reading Thomas Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy, a fascinating book that is built around Seeley’s decades of study of swarming behavior.

In upstate New York, where I live, my colonies begin sending forth their drones in late April, and they begin casting their swarms . . . a week or two later in early May. (p. 35)

* * * 

An enduring mystery about honeybees is what exactly stimulates a colony to begin rearing queens and thereby initiate the process of swarming. Beekeepers know that certain conditions inside a colony’s hive (congestion of the adult bees, numerous immature bees, and expanding food reserves) and outside the hive (plentiful forage and spring time) are correlated with the start of queen rearing for swarming. Nevertheless, to this day, no one knows what specific stimuli the worker bees are sensing and integrating when they make the critical decision to start the swarming process. (p. 36) (quoted material)

Swarming is what bees do. It’s one of their basic purposes. As good beekeepers, we should let them do it.

Related articles

Jim Tew describes the inside of a feral beehive

Tew: the natural hive is not a ‘permanent’ home for bees

A different view of swarms

 

Key words: bees, beekeeping, casting swarms, pollination, Thomas Seeley, Honeybee Democracy, swarming, honey

 


The video embedded in this post is more than a bit over the top.

So, make sure you’ve taken your anti-schmalz meds before you watch it.

Still, the sentiment is correct. We should plant more bee-friendly flowers. That’s something everyone can do to help arrest the massive losses of honeybees we are experiencing.

The video comes from Cascadian Farm, an organic foods brand owned by General Mills, as part of its Bee-Friendlier campaign.

The video promotes something called Seedles, a gumball-sized pellet that contains wildflower seeds, compost and clay. All you have to do with these is drop them on the ground, push them in with your food, and . . . voila! the bees are happy.

Among other things, the video shows an airplane spreading these things across a field while small children and their parents stand behind a fence cheering.

As I said, all a bit over the top.

Good sentiment, but there is a problem, not with the sentiment but with the messenger.

 

Read the rest of this entry »


For baseball fans — and that would include me — there are two seasons: winter and baseball.

That’s like beekeepers. We have winter, and then we have the rest of the year.

The baseball season is about to end. The World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals begins to night. Barring rainouts or other delays, it will be finished in a little more than a week.

What else do baseball and beekeeping have in common?

Not too much, although when the pitchers and catchers report to spring training in mid-February is about the time that we here in East Tennessee begin to anticipate the warm afternoons when we can open up the hives.

And Opening Day signals the beginning of swarm season.

Speaking of swarms, that’s one more conjunction of baseball and bees. Bees can occasionally interrupt a baseball game. Below are a couple of videos where that happened. In the first, the bees gathered around one of the automatic cameras in the stadium.

The second shows bees at a collegiate game where a couple of intrepid beekeepers actually hived the swarm.

Enjoy the videos, and enjoy the Series. Winter for all of us is on the way.

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Key words: bees, baseball, World Series, San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Royals, YouTube videos, swarms, spring training, opening day


The sugar water/corn syrup/fruitcose vs. honey debate for feeding your bees is a long-standing one.

A bee on the buckwheat. Photo by Doug Hardwick

A bee on the buckwheat. Buckwheat is a good late summer-early fall feeding plant for your bees. Photo by Doug Hardwick

 

Recently, I found a Scientific American podcast interview from 2009 in which May Berenbaum, University of Illinois entomologist and bee researcher, discussed that very question with Steve Mirsky of Scientific American.

Here are some of the main points Berenbaum made:

  • Honeybee grubs (baby bees) eat a mixture of pollen and honey we call “bee bread.”
  • Sugar doesn’t provide bees with some of the enzymes that help bees process plant chemicals.
  • Brenebaum: “. . . feeding on nectar or honey derived from nectars [is a] very different proposition from feeding on other types of plant tissue because plants load up their vulnerable tissues with chemicals, you know, natural pesticides, so that insects won’t eat them, but they want insects to eat nectar; that’s the whole point [of nectar].”
  • When you substitute a natural food for an artificial one, there may unintended consequences.

Berenbaum has been awarded one of the 10 National Science Medals by President Barack Obama.

The beekeeper in this corner is a big advocate of honey over sugar water in this debate. It’s a lot easier to leave honey in the hive than to take it off and then have to feed them sugar water to get them through the next season. Sometimes that’s not possible, of course, and you do what you can to keep your bees alive. But beekeeper should think ahead and keep as much honey on the hive as possible.

They should also try to provide their bees with plants to feed on during as much of the year (Year-around (almost) blooms for the bees) as possible.

***

Below is the transcript to this part of the interview, and you can hear the entire interview at this link.

Read the rest of this entry »


When I was exploring getting into beekeeping, I was standing in the barn of a friend who had kept bees for more than 30 years. The barn was full of “bee equipment,” and my friend was trying to explain some of it to me.

I remember one thing he said.

“If I had to start all over again, I would use only mediums.”

Beehives build with just one size of bee boxes.

Beehives build with just one size of bee boxes.

What he meant, of course, was medium-sized boxes, or Illinois supers. What he said — even though I did not completely understand it at the time — made sense to me, and it translates into a larger principle: the simpler the better.

As most beekeepers know, there are three sizes of bee boxes for the hive: deeps, mediums, and smalls. Each size has its uses, and some beekeepers use all three.

The argument for using deep boxes is that they are for brood (sometimes they are called “brood boxes”), and beekeepers say these boxes allow the queen to develop a good brood pattern. The small boxes weigh less, particularly when they are filled with honey, and if you are harvesting honey by the box, that’s what you should placing on top of your hives.

For my money, the medium is the one-size-that-fits-all box. Medium boxes allow the queen sufficient room to develop a brood pattern. They can get heavy if they are filled with honey, but removing a frame or two can lighten them quickly if that’s a consideration.

If you use only one size of box, you never have to worry about having the wrong size of frames for the boxes you have. That becomes a huge consideration when you are changing boxes and frames at any time of the year.

The arguments for using only one size of box seem to me to far outweigh the arguments for using three sizes.

Besides, I’m pretty certain the bees don’t really care.

 

Key words: beekeeping, beehives, bees, bee boxes, supers, Illinois supers, brood boxes, small bee boxes, brood patterns, harvesting honey, simplicity in beekeeping

 

Related articles

The joys of crimson clover, part 1

A paneca for hives with queen problems

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Manuka honey has a special place for those who believe in apitherapy and the medicinal powers of the sweet product of honeybees.

41VA-YmR5rLNow there’s a book about it from Cliff Van Eaton, a Canadian-turned-New Zealander beekeeper and one of the chief proponents of using manuka honey. (See the Amazon page promotional copy for the book, Manuka: The Biography of an Extraordinary Honey, below.)

Van Eaton has just been interviewed by Radio New Zealand, and the interview (nearly 30 minutes) is worth listening to. The description of the interview is below.

Despite the claims, there’s still no hard evidence for the claims many people make about honey.

Here’s what WebMD.com, a large and well-regarded health site, has to say about manuka honey:

Hydrogen peroxide is a component of honey. It gives most honey its antibiotic quality. But some types of honey, including manuka honey, also have other components with antibacterial qualities.

The major antibacterial component in manuka honey is methylglyoxal (MG). MG is a compound found in most types of honey, but usually only in small quantities.

In manuka honey, MG comes from the conversion of another compound — dihydroxyacetone — that is found in high concentration in the nectar of manuka flowers.

MG is thought to give manuka honey its antibacterial power. The higher the concentration of MG, the stronger the antibiotic effect. (quoted)

***

The main medical use for manuka honey is on top of a wound. It is generally used for treating minor wounds and burns.

Manuka honey is also marketed for use in many other conditions. These include:

  • Preventing and treating cancer
  • Reducing high cholesterol
  • Reducing systemic inflammation
  • Treating diabetes
  • Treating eye, ear, and sinus infections
  • Treating gastrointestinal problems

But the evidence is limited on whether or not manuka honey is effective for these conditions.

The honey used to treat wounds is a medical-grade honey. It is specially sterilized and prepared as a dressing. So the jar of manuka honey in the pantry should not be considered part of a first aid kit. Wounds and infections should be seen and treated by a health care professional. (quoted)

 

Read the rest of this entry »


May Berenbaum, a well-known entomologist and bee researcher at the University of Illinois, has been awarded a National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama.

May Berenbaum (photo: University of Illinois)

May Berenbaum (photo: University of Illinois)

The medal is the nation’s highest honor for achievement and leadership in advancing fields of science.

Berenbaum’s work has concentrated in how bees and other insects interact with plants.

But she has also worked to demystify insects and to make them less scary in the minds of the public. Berenbaum was the inspiration for the X Files television show’s fictional entomologist Bambi Berenbaum.

She has written numerous books and articles about bees, including

Berenbaum was one of 10 scientists to receive the medal, which will be awarded at a White House ceremony later this year.

In making the award, Obama said of these scientists:

“These scholars and innovators have expanded our understanding of the world, made invaluable contributions to their fields, and helped improve countless lives. Our nation has been enriched by their achievements, and by all the scientists and technologists across America dedicated to discovery, inquiry, and invention.”

The National Medal of Science was created by statute in 1959 and is administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation.

Other recipients of the medal include

·        Bruce Alberts, University of California, San Francisco, CA

·        Robert Axelrod, University of Michigan, MI

·        Alexandre J. Chorin, University of California, Berkeley, CA

·        Thomas Kailath, Stanford University, CA

·        Judith P. Klinman, University of California, Berkeley, CA

·        Jerrold Meinwald, Cornell University, NY

·        Burton Richter, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University, CA

·        Sean C. Solomon, Columbia University, NY

And a posthumous medal to:

·        David Blackwell, University of California, Berkeley, CA

 

Key words: May Berenbaum, entomologist, National Medal of Science, White House, President Barack Obama, University of Illinois, bugs, insects, The Earwig’s Tail: A Modern Bestiary of Multi-legged Legends, Honey I’m Home-Made: Sweet Treats from the Beehive Across the Centuries and Around the World, X-files, Bambi Berenbaum


The annual auction of the last night raised $1,514.50 for our grants and scholarships fund.

Maggie McDade shows off one of the items for sale during the annual BCBA auction at the October meeting.

Maggie McDade shows off one of the items for sale during the annual BCBA auction at the October meeting.

Members and friends of the BCBA contributed dozens of items, mostly bee related but some not, to the auction, and we had a grand time in seeing them go up for bits.

Several members expressed appreciation to those who contributed and to all who made bids.

In other action last night, the membership approved a slate of officer nominees for the 2015 year. Those nominees include the following:

President: Harlen Breeden

Vice president: Bill Manuel

Secretary: John McDade

Treasurer: Bernie McGraw

Alternate officer: Jim Stovall

Board of directors: Mike Berry (one year), Travis Benson (two years), Luke Newman (three years)

Related articles

About the Blount County Beekeepers Association


Beekeeping, we’re happy to say, knows no political or ideological boundaries.

And apparently, you can get rich doing it even in a communist country.

A screenshot of the story on VietnamNet about a successful Vietnamese beekeeper.

A screenshot of the story on VietnamNet about a successful Vietnamese beekeeper.

That’s the case with Tran Xuan Phong, 31, of An Khang Commune in northern Vietnam. In 2002, he inherited his father’s 150 beehives and tried to make a go of it. As with almost any new beekeeper, he lacked experience, knowledge and equipment.

But he was determined to make a go of it.
He traveled around the country and discovered that the bees he had were not as productive and others, so he mated them with a strain of Italian bees. His beekeeping skills slowly improved with experience. As reported in a recent article on VietnamNet, the nation’s first online news website:
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As his hives quickly expanded, Phong took his insects to other provinces for pollen during different flowering seasons.

In 2008, he signed a contract for beekeeping and honey distribution with Dak Lak Bee Co., a Vietnamese firm. His products have since sold particularly well.

Phong’s farm is currently home to 1,700 beehives, which produce over 100 tons of honey per year.

He earns around VND2 billion ($94,135) in profit each year and provides stable jobs for many young people. (quoted)

For those of us who have been around since the 1960s and 1970s, the nation of Vietnam has a special meaning, and the memories for both us and the Vietnamese of those times are not good ones. That’s why, to this beekeeper, this story is a heartening one.

Key words: beekeeping in Vietnam, honey, beehives, Italian bees, communist countries, Tran Xuan Phong

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If you're interested in joining the Blount County Beekeepers Association, call

Stephanie Tarwater
865-805-1994

or

John McDade
207-669-5569

Welcome


Welcome to the web site of the Blount County Beekeepers Association in Maryville, Tennessee.

This site will tell you a little about the association and how to become a member. It will also tell you a little about beekeeping.

Bees are an important part of our environment and particularly our agricultural system. They are also fascinating creatures.

We hope you will be interested enough to join us at some point, even if you're not interested in keeping bees. There are lots of ways you can join in with what we do.

Follow us on Twitter at @blountbees.

Schedule of BCBA meetings for 2014

The Blount County Beekeepers Association meets on the second Monday of every month, except for September and December, at 6:30 p.m. in the Blount County Library.

All of the meetings are open to the public, and anyone interested in learning more about beekeeping is welcome and encouraged to attend.

The following is the schedule of meetings for 2014:

January 13 - regular meeting

February 10-11 - Short course for all new and potential beekeepers. There is no charge for this course, and you do not have to sign up in advance. The public is welcome to attend.

March 1 - Wooden ware workshop, 9 a.m. - noon, Masonic Hall, 797 Vose Street Alcoa

March 8 - New beekeeper workshop, Class 2, 9 a.m. - noon, Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church

March 10 - regular meeting

April 14 - regular meeting

July 14 – regular meeting

August 4 – BCBA board meeting

August 11 – regular meeting

September– no regular meeting

October 13 – regular meeting: Auction to benefit scholarship fund will be held at the regular October monthly meeting.

November 10 – regular meeting

December 8 – Christmas dinner

January 12 – regular meeting

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