Feb 16 2011

Some Youtube treasures

It’s my intention to do a lot more video in the future, because more can be shown than is possible in still photos. Video is very difficult, espectially of fast-moving and spooky insects in the act of pollinating flowers.

Meanwhile, from time to time, I discover some very well done videos online. One needs to be careful of online resouces. Some are quite amateurish or worse, give innacurate information. Here are some that I find are good enough to recommend to this blog’s readers:

1.  Bee Pollinators of Southwest Virginia Crops:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_etyEdu9fQ
There is sheer beauty in this video of honeybees, bumblebee queens & workers, bumblebee and halictid bee buzz pollination, orchard mason bees, digger bees, mining bees, longhorned bees, small and large carpenter bees, and squash bees mating.

There’s even a bumblebee “giving the tarsi” (the possible insect equivalent of “giving the finger”). One can watch this several times, and see new things in each viewing. This is also an excellent way to begin learning to identify common groups of bees. 
By Virginia Tech Entomology Department

2. Pollination Methods: Cucurbits:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5a-coN2Xgg&NR=1
This video starts off somewhat slow, but don’t get bored by the lengthy description of the various cucurbit species. It morphs into a good illustration of one means of hand pollination – a technique that may be quite valuable for gardeners who lack bees. Then it shows how hybrids are created, and shows the modern technology of “seedless” triploid hybrids.  Finally it ends with a clip on how to save cucumber seeds.
By the University of Wisconsin, Madison

 3. Honeybee collecting pollen:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD1u86rWx38&NR=1  Few people realize that honeybees make an active choice when visiting flowers. This may be based on the resources of the flowers, or, more likely, on the needs of the hives.

To collect nectar, or to collect pollen is the choice. Worker bees that are collecting nectar take longer in each flower, probing the flower’s nectiaries with their tongues for sweet droplets which they carry in their crops back to the hives. Bee that are gathering nectar will accomplish some pollination by accident. 

But other bees make the choice to deliberately gather pollen, likely because there is quite a bit of open brood in the hive that requires the pollen for protein for its development. This is the subject of this shore clip.

These bees do not probe with their tongues; rather they “doggy paddle” through the stamens to get as much pollen as possible to adhere to their fuzzy bodies. Then they comb this polle into their pollen baskets and carry it home.
Bees that are deliberately gathering pollen are as much as ten times more efficient pollinators than those who are gathering nectar.

Beekeeper who provide pollination service try to manage the hives so that they maximize open brood at the time of the crop’s bloom. This provides incentive for the worker bees to gather pollen, and makes them more efficient for the farmers’ needs.

I am always looking for more good videos, so if you have an especially good site to recommend, please do!

Dec 10 2010

Did you think beekeeping is impossible in the city?

Many cities do have ordinances that ban keeping honeybees, but there is a move afoot to rescind these restrictive rules that are based on phobias rather than fact.

Good beekeepers keep gentle bees, and they manage them in such a way that they pose  minimal hazard to anyone. At the same time they pollinate people’s gardens and they fill an ecological niche that could be just as well filled by much more feisty bees.

Years ago I recall that a swarm of Africanized bees apparently came into one of Florida’s ports and quickly multiplied. By the time it was discovered, there were eight descendent colonies – guess where they went? Of course, seven of the eight went to communities where beekeeping was banned.

The New York Times published an interesting article about the comeback of urban/suburban beekeeping today.

While the article is quite informative, there is one piece of poor writing that makes me shudder – the article refers to “pesticides and herbicides.” Since herbicides ARE pesticides, just like insecticides, miticides and fungicides, the article makes little sense, unless you would be the kind of person who would say, “Christians and Baptists,” or “wood and oak.”

According to the article, one city, Minneapolis, is pretty much restricting the hobby to people of means, by imposing a $100 fee per hive for the keepers. Other cities have more sensible requirements.

Much of the movement is in the form of beekeeping clubs, which help individual members learn the best management techniques for their unique environments. It’s all a move to go back to a more natural way of living.

Dec 4 2010

Best paper yet on Colony Collapse Disorder

Without any additions, clarifications, or critiques, I can freely endorse the linked article as the most balanced and comprehensive article I’ve seen on the subject of CCD:

Bees in Crisis: A comprehensive situation report: 


While this article specifically concerns honeybees, it is of great interest to those concerned about wild bee species as well. Honeybees have more research and more protectors, and may well serve as indicators as to what is happening with wild bees.

Apr 6 2010

Hiving (or not) a nervous swarm

Swarm of honeybees

Saturday, April 3 we noticed a low swarm in our redtip hedge. It was a fairly good-sized one, but obviously jittery. It may have come from one of our hives, but we also have bee trees in the woods behind our home.
It’s usually best to hive a swarm in the evening, so as to get them to stay in a hive overnight. This increases the likelihood they’ll stay.
But dancing scouts all over the surface of the swarm indicated that they may have already chosen a spot to make their new home. They might leave at any time.
I’ve found that much disturbance of such a nervous swarm will usually cause them to take off immediately, so I tried to gently entice them. Experience has taught me that dumping them into a box isn’t likely to succeed.
Fortunately I had just gotten a row of concrete blocks on the back of my trailer, and this made it the right height for a stand, upon which to place a hive body. I slowly backed up, until the hive body was in contact with the bees. With the cover ajar a bit, they could enter from the top.

Neighbor kids watch hiving the swarm

Neighbor kids watch hiving the swarm

Neighbor kids quickly gathered to see what was going on, and it became a good opportunity to educate them about the bees. They showed no fear, and of course the swarming bees did not offer any agression. At this time, bees have their minds on swarming; they have no home to protect. Actually they are quite vulnerable, as the only resources they have at that point is their queen and their bellies full of honey. If they do not find a home soon, they may well die. In fact I’ve seen swarms die on the limb, when the weather turned cold and they could not feed themselves.

Offered flowers

Offered flowers

About half the bees went into the box, but the rest seemed determined not to go in. The kids brought them offerings of vetch and camelia flowers, but they weren’t paying attention to them.
Meanwhile the scouts continued dancing. Finally I got a sprayer and soaked them with sugar syrup. This kept them busy licking themselves off, while I removed the cover and shook the rest of the bees inside.
Apparently the bees recognized the queen was now in, as some bees immediately began fanning at the entrance, with exposed glands emitting the scent that invites the remaining bees to enter.

(Click on video below)
20100403 fanning

The kids were quite impressed with the sweet smell of the fanning bees.
They stayed overnight and all day Sunday in their new home, leading me to believe that they had decided to stay after all. But alas, Monday morning, there was not a bee to be seen in or around the hive.
They are free creatures, and they make their own choices. We try to entice them, by providing a nice home, to stay with us and be our partners. Over the years, I’ve hived a couple thousand swarms, but they always have the final say.
We usually fail in beekeeping by trying to get the bees to do what we want them to do. Rather, we must study them to understand them and do the best we can to help them do what they want to do.

Mar 30 2010

Spring check a little too late

Our “survivor” bees were looking a bit swarmy Saturday, so I made preparations to open them, but some other responsibilities kept me from the job. Sunday afternoon was rainy, and by Monday morning, as we were getting ready to open them, a swarm issued from the hive.

Swarm Leaving

A swarm takes off from a hive

Swarm in air

The bees follow the odor of the queen.

It was too late to prevent the swarm; it may have been anyway, because once the bees have made up their mind, it’s pretty hard to change it. The good part of it was that I think they will go into a stack of bee equipment I have, since the scouts were all over it Saturday. We left them perched high in a tree for the time being. Only the young and foolhardy climb to capture swarms.

Opening the hive, I found queen cells the swarm had left behind. I expected several, but only found three. I moved the hive to a new spot and made up a nuc with two cells and three frames of brood, making sure they had plenty of young worker bees as well.

Ripe queen cell

A queen cell ready to hatch

A smaller nuc was made and placed on the site of the old hive, thinking it would pick up extra field force and get all the boost it would need. Normally I would have split such a good hive three ways, but having lost the swarm, I decided not to push my luck.

Bee brood in the frame

A frame of healthy bee brood

Looking at the bees on the frame; they looked healthy – fuzzy and clean looking, with a sweet smell. Sick bees usually look shiny or greasy, often have deformed wings, and smell “off” or sour.

There was plenty of sealed brood. Young brood was missing; however this is the normal pattern when the bees are swarmy. The bees shut down the queen from egg laying to make her slim down enough to fly.

I poked around in burr comb, looking at drone larvae where any varroa mites would be found, if there were varroa. This hive has not been treated for varroa (or disease) in three years. It originally was a swarm captured from the wild in an area where it is doubtful there were any kept bees. So it is survivor stock – able to live without treatment for the vampire mites.

Honeybee drone pupae

Honeybee drone pupae

It likely has been several years without any treatment whatsoever.

After extensive searching of many clean drone pupae, I finally did find one mite. This tells me that their survival is not from lack of exposure, but that they have some mechanism that is able to cope with the mites, and the various pathogens they carry.

Varroa mite

Only one mite was found on a drone pupa; obviously the bees are keeping mites at a low level.

I also saw two hive beetles – another potentially serious pest.

However, the hive was strong enough so they seem to be able to cope with this pest as well.

These bees have never evidenced any sign of Colony Collapse Disorder, despite being kept near migratory beekeepers. By selecting survivor stock, and not treating for any bee pest or disease we believe we are breeding a better bee. The bees are monitored and evidence of problems will be handled on a case by case basis.