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Some honey can make you sick.

Some nectars can kill your bees.

Don’t worry. The “poisonous honey” is not likely to be on your grocery self, and it is very unlikely to be in the jars of stuff you took from your apiary this summer.

Rhododendren (University of Illinois)

Rhododendren (University of Illinois)

For us East Tennesseans, however, the poisonous nectar is not that far away. The nectar produced by rhododendron and mountain laurel, plants we’re pretty familiar with, are not good for the bees. Fortunately, these plants are found mostly in the mountains where the honeybee population is not high.

Miss Apis Mellifera, a beekeeping website run by Emma Sarah Tennant in Great Britain, has an excellent summary article all about poisonous nectars and honey. Tennant keeps bees in the London area along with Emily Scott, whose website is Adventures in Beeland.

Tennant says of poisonous honey, particularly having to do with rhododendrons:

An incident of poisoning reported in honeybee colonies on Colonsay Island off west-coast Scotland in 1995, referenced in Yates Beekeeping Study Notes (Modules 1, 2 & 3). “The bees had died out completely in 2–3 days after starting to collect nectar from Rhododendron blossoms (Rhododendron thomsonii) caused by the poisonandromedotoxin or acetylandromedol.” Ted Hooper writes on the case of Colonsay Island’s bees: “The West of Scotland College of Agriculture Study showed that the poisonandromedotoxin was involved”.

It sounds like rhododendrons are not a desirable source of forage for bees! However, to put the risk of honey poisoning from rhododendron, or any other toxic plant, into perspective, I asked John Robertson of The Poison Garden website: “Put simply, something has to go wrong for toxic honey to be produced and then it has to go wrong again for it to cause human poisoning.” OK, so what can go wrong?

“The first thing that has to go wrong is to have a lack of species diversity. Generally, bees visit so many different plants that they don’t get a concentration of any particular toxin. This can go wrong, as in the west of Scotland, where Rhododendrons are almost the only thing in flower early in the spring. But, nectar from Rhododendron is toxic enough to kill the bees so they tend not to return it to the hive. Experienced beekeepers know not to let their bees out at this time of year. I haven’t seen any reports of poisoning from honey made from Rhododendrons.” John writes more on The poison garden blog, entry forTuesday 27 September 2011. (quoted material)

There’s much more of this kind of information in the entire article, and for those interested in what happens to bees when they forage and what they produce, it’s worth a look.


Key words: bees, honeybees, poisonous nectar, poisonous honey, Emma Sarah Tenant, Emily Scott, Miss Apis Mellifera, Adventures in Beeland, rododendren, mountain laurel


Many of the viruses now being discovered in beehives are introduced by the varroa destructor, according to Philip Moore, a bee researcher at the University of Tennessee.

Philip Moore

Philip Moore

Moore spoke to the November meeting of the Blount County Beekeepers Association on Nov. 10 on emerging trends in honeybee health. The picture he painted is not a pretty one for bees or beekeepers.

There are more than 20 viruses that researchers are looking at that infect beehives, he said. Most of these — though not all — are introduced into the hives by varroa.

Moore made the following points during his talk:

  • For most of the viruses, a beekeeper is going to be unaware that they are there. When the hive starts showing symptoms of having a virus, it’s usually too late to do anything about it.
  • Beekeepers should be careful about taking frames from weak hives and putting them in strong hives. Doing this often brings viruses into the strong hive.
  • Beekeepers should inspect their hives regularly for any unusual activity or unusual-looking bees. These are indicators that something is wrong with the hive.
  • The most important thing a beekeeper can do to fight viruses is to try to keep the varroa levels in the hive at a minimum.
  • Some types of bees, such as Africanized bees or Russian bees, exhibit behaviors that help them fight varroa.

Moore said more information about all of this can be found at the University’s website:

Here’s an article that Moore co-authored with Michael Wilson, Dr. John Skinner about beehive viruses:

Key words: honeybees, beehives, bee health, Philip Moore, varroa, varroa destructor, beehive viruses, University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, Blount County Beekeepers Association, Russian bees, Africanized bees, beehive inspection, John Skinner, Michael Wilson

Good beekeeping involves planning for two or three seasons ahead, according to Michael Wilson, a bee researcher at the University of Tennessee.

Wilson spoke to the November meeting of the Blount County Beekeepers Association on Nov. 10 on “overwintering” and said that any plans a beekeeper has for overwintering bees should start in the spring of the year. Now is the time to plan for spring and summer.

Michael Wilson at RosecombApiaries

Michael Wilson at RosecombApiaries

Wilson also made the following points during his talk:

  • As winter approaches, it is best to feed solid food, such as a mixture of sugar with small amounts of water. Because we experience warm days in November and even December, sugar water can possibly ferment in the hive even this late in the year.
  • Don’t overfeed. Hives can become “honey-bound;” that is, they will fill all the cells with honey, and the queen will have no place to lay eggs.
  • Much of the research about good beekeeping practices will have to be done by beekeepers. “It’s hard for us (in schools of agriculture) to get money to do that.” However, according to Wilson, through the Bee Informed Partnership ( Universities and the USDA work to better enable beekeepers to evaluate their beekeeping practices so they can make better management decisions based on objective measures in their own apiaries and comparisons among other beekeepers.
  • New techniques and equipment are being developed for monitoring what is going on in the hive. He referred to SolutionBee and Arina, which produce hive monitoring equipment

Wilson’s website is

Key words: bees, honeybees, beehives, overwintering bees, Michael Wilson, UT Institute of Agriculture, honey-bound hives, research on beekeeping, Blount County Beekeepers Association, SolutionBee, Arnia

One of the things I tell people who ask about bees is that in this country, bees pollinate 100 percent of the almonds we grow.

And almonds, I add with only a slight flourish in my tone, are California’s number one agricultural export.

It won’t happen anytime soon, but one of these days, I may have to change my tune.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia are working on developing a self-pollinating almond tree, one that would put the honeybee out of that particular business. With all of the scrambling that almond growers have to do to get beehives for their almond crops each year, you can be sure that almond growers in California are paying attention.

The National Rural News of Australia reports this week the researchers . . .

. . .  are also trying to breed higher yielding trees with better taste, nutrition and disease resistance.

The Nonpariel tree is the most widely grown variety in Australia, and the benchmark for measuring improvement in new varieties.

The project which has been running for several years now has three major trial sites along the River Murray in South Australia, and the leader of the breeding program, Dr Michelle Wirthensohn says by 2016 growers will have commercial access to the new varieties. (quoted material)

Wirthensohn said they hope to have trees growing almonds by 2016. The report also includes an audio clip of Wirthensohn which is worth listening to.

The prospect of a self pollinating almond tree offers a vision of fewer beehives being trucked across America as imported pollinators. That is bound to do the bee populations on this side of the continent some good, although it wouldn’t be particularly pleasing to those beekeepers who make their living by trucking bees.


Key words: honeybees, almond trees, varroa, National Rural News of Australia, Michelle Wirthensohn, Nonpariel tree

Thomas Seeley’s book, Honeybee Democracy, describes all sorts of fascinating behaviors of honeybees.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 10.46.03 AMNone of those behaviors is more interesting than how a swarm of bees chooses a place to live.

Here are the basics:

  • Scout bees — older, more experienced bees — leave the swarm to look for a good location.
  • The bees that find possible locations spend as much as 30 minutes or more investigating them. They take into consideration a number of factors such as size of the cavity, direction of the entrance, distance from the ground, condition of the wood, etc.
  • If a scout is convinced that this could be a good place for the swarm, she returns to the swarm and does a waggle dance. The enthusiasm of her dance indicates how she “rates” the site.
  • Other bees take off for the site to do an inspection.
  • If they agree with the original scout’s assessment, they will return and join the waggle dance, and other will go out and do the same thing.
  • Meanwhile, other scouts may be making the case for other sites.
  • Eventually, one site becomes the favorite of most of the bees, and the other bees — whose genetic make-up developed over eons of natural selection — fall in line. In other words, the bees form a consensus.
  • The site is selected, and the bees take off for it.
  • The queen has little or no say in any of this.

But there’s more.

Robert Krulwich, science reporter for National Public Radio, has developed an informative and amusing audio about this process. During the audio (about seven minutes long), he interviews Thomas Seeley. It’s well worth listening to.


Related articles

Casting swarms – it’s what bees do

A different view of swarms

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


Key words: bees, honeybees, swarms, how bees select a new home, Thomas Seeley, Honeybee Democracy, Robert Krulwich, National Public Radio, queen bee, scout bees

One of the developing non-chemical methods to fight varroa is to use Russian bees and to acquire Russian queens.

On Marsh Island, Louisiana, an isolated ARS research facility used for producing pure stocks of Russian bees, technician Gary Delatte prepares hives for transport. Photo by Scott Bauer. (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)

On Marsh Island, Louisiana, an isolated ARS research facility used for producing pure stocks of Russian bees, technician Gary Delatte prepares hives for transport.
Photo by Scott Bauer. (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)

That’s what Tom Conlon, a beekeeper in Massachusetts and a member of the Russian Honey Bee Breeders Association, is doing. A recent article in a local Massachusetts newspaper about him says:

As a member of the Russian Honey Bee Breeders Association, Conlon began introducing honey bees from Russia’s Primorsky region into his hives 14 years ago. The Russian bees, which are from the same area as the mites, have developed a natural defense against them: They groom each other, removing the bugs and tossing them out of their hives — a behavior which their European cousins don’t exhibit.

But the adult bees aren’t the only ones threatened by the mites. During the pupal stage — the period in which a bee transitions from a larva into an adult — the mites force their way into the cells and try to eat the pupa.

According to Condon, the Russian bees have developed a way to sense when that is occurring and are able to pull those mites out as well.

“In nature, a lot of these mechanisms appear over long periods of time, and some have these abilities that help them survive,” said Condon. “It’s probably the best solution yet, it’s very exciting. They’re hardier bees. Eventually there won’t be any treatment necessary.” (quoted material)

Conlon is serious about keeping his Russian bees as pure as possible, as the article explains. It makes good reading and is food for serious thought for us beekeepers.

More support for using Russian bees to fight varroa can be found on this page of the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Key words: bees, honeybees, varroa, Russian bees, Russian Honey Bee Breeders Association, Tom Conlon, beekeeping in Massachusetts, non-chemical methods of fighting varroa, Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture

If you were looking forward to sitting by the open fire on Christmas Eve and the reading the report on how to save pollinators that President Obama mandated in June, forget it.

The White House has announced that the report will be delayed until after the holidays, according to Greenwire, a service of EENews.

The report — which aims to cull studies on honeybees, wild bumblebees, and other insects and animals considered crucial in agriculture — will be released after the holidays, said Michael Stebbins, assistant director for biotechnology in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Stebbins also announced that both the General Services Administration and the Council on Environmental Quality will release a guidance today for agencies to integrate pollinator-friendly landscaping on federal facilities, the first fruits of Obama’s June memorandum on pollinators (Greenwire, June 20).

“The dead of winter is not a good time to be sending a message on pollinators,” Stebbins told the annual North American Pollinator Protection Campaign conference in Washington, D.C. He declined to clarify when the report would be released. (quoted material)

Exactly why the “dead of winter” is such an awful time is not clear.

Some of us would welcome this report at any time — the sooner, the better.


Related articles

Obama puts feds behind efforts to save pollinators


Key words: honeybees, bumblebees, pollinators, pollinator report, Michael Stebbins, White House, President Barack Obama, dead of winter, Council on Environmental Quality

Bittman’s at it again.

Mark Bittman, a food writer for the New York Times, wants to change the way you eat. He wants to change the entire food system, too. The way we produce, distribute and consume food.

But that’s impossible, so he’s having to content himself with telling us how we should eat, what we should eat, and how we should think about food.

(Typical, isn’t it, of those liberal know-it-alls who produce and read the New York Times.)

The thing is, I agree with him.

He’s put out another column saying he had only — ONLY — two rules for us to follow (maybe three):

1. Stop eating junk and hyperprocessed food. This eliminates probably 80 percent of the stuff that is being sold as “food.”

2. Eat more plants than you did yesterday, or last year.

If you add “Cook your own food” to this list, it’s even more powerful, but these two steps alone allow you to reduce the amount of antibiotics you’re consuming; pretty much eliminate GMOs from your diet, lighten your carbon footprint; reduce your chances of becoming ill as a result of your diet; save money; cut way back on sugar, other junk and unnecessary and potentially harmful nonfood additives; and so on. (quoted material)

Bittman makes some point points in his column that are well worth reading.

So what does this have to do with beekeeping?

Well, just about everything. Bees are central to our food system. And that system is abusing them terribly. We truck them across the country to pollinate crops that are grown in places that cannot sustain bees. Then we truck them home.

So, who would argue that our system of food production doesn’t need changing?

Bittman is showing us a way to start.

Related articles:

Marla Spivak on why we are in a honeybee crisis

Changing the food system, one mouth at a time

Key words: Mark Bittman, New York Times, food system, junk food, beekeeping, honeybees, pollination, food production, rules for diet, liberal know-it-alls who produce and read the New York Times,


Well, you can’t accuse the Environmental Protection Agency of making a snap decision.

The EPA announced that a recommendation on the use of neonics won’t come until at least 2016 — and maybe 2017. That’s the good news, I suppose. The earlier project was 2018.

Jim Jones, the agency’s head of its chemical safety and pollution prevention division, made this announcement recently by saying:

“We are frustrated with the pace. But at the end of the day we need to recognize the science.”

That “at the end of the day” stuff must be Washingtonese for “at the end of the decade.” That’s the kind of cliché that bureaucrats in D.C. like to use when they want to sound smart. For those of us out here in the hinterlands, it’s meaningless and pretty lame.

The EPA has been studying the effects of neonicotinoids on bees and other pollinators for seven years. Yet, we haven’t reached “the end of the day” just yet.

Would that the EPA had taken this much time to study neonicotinoids BEFORE it approved their use. There would probably be a lot more bees alive today.

Read more about this here:

Related articles

Beekeepers in Canada file suit against Bayer, Syngenta Going to court on behalf of the bees

Tammy Horn says future of bees, beekeeping is in the trees

Key words: neonicotinoids, honeybees, bees, pollinators, pesticides, chemical safety, pollution, Jim Jones, Environmental Protection Agency, neonics, at the end of the day, bureaucrats, EPA


Coal ash spill in Kingston, Tenn. (Tennessee Valley Authority)

Coal ash spill in Kingston, Tenn. (Tennessee Valley Authority), one of the nation’s largest environmental protection law firms, is claiming victory in its fight to regulate coal ash dumping.

Here’s part of a recent announcement:

For nearly 6 years, we have pressured the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the White House and our elected officials to protect thousands of communities and millions of Americans from the toxic threat of coal ash. During that time, coal ash has continued to spill into rivers and poison drinking water supplies. Some coal ash dumpsites, if they fail, would flood nearby communities, likely killing anyone in their paths.

But on December 19, we will celebrate our biggest victory. Thanks to a lawsuit by Earthjustice, and because of your actions to pressure decision makers, the EPA is under a court-ordered deadline to finalize the first-ever federal safeguards for coal ash. Millions of tons of this unregulated waste must finally be cleaned up, and power companies will need to take steps to ensure that their waste pits are safe. (quoted material)

It was six years ago when the nation’s most devastating coal ash spill occurred in Kingston, Tenn., just a few miles west of us here in Blount County. Environmentalists cite this incident as a mammoth environmental disaster. has also taken a leading role in trying to persuade the EPA to ban neonicotinoids in pesticides. Studies are piling up that show neonics are harmful to honeybees, but the EPA refuses to move away from its approval of these pesticides.

Related articles

Beekeepers in Canada file suit against Bayer, Syngenta



Key words:, coal ash, Environmental Protection Agency, environment, environmental regulation,  neonicotinoids, neonics, pesticides, honeybees, coal ash spill in Kingston

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Blount County Beekeepers Association

Join us

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

Dale Hinkle
423-261- 5234


Kathy Flaherty
203-314- 0270


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 2019

The Blount County Beekeepers Association meets on the second Monday of every month, except for September and December, at 6:30 p.m. at the Maryville Church of Christ, 611 Sherwood Drive in Maryville.

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 and activities for 2018:

January 14 – regular meeting

February 11 – regular meeting

February 16 – BCBA short course for new beekeepers

TBA– New Beekeepers class

March 11 – regular meeting

March 17 -Wooden Ware class

April 8 – regular meeting

April  27-Field Day for new beekeepers

May 13 – regular meeting

June 10 – regular meeting

July 8 – regular meeting

August 12 – regular meeting

October 14 – regular meeting

November 11 – regular meeting

December 9 – Christmas dinner

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