Ducks in a row

We’ve had unusually mild weather for September and October in Calgary. The heat gave us a chance to clean up some odd bits of beeswax – and turn them into ducks.

I bought this melter, built by Uncle Lee’s Bees in Calgary, a couple of years ago. It quickly builds a high temperature. It is easy to load and clean. Very light to move. Easy to store over winter. I find it hard to believe that it was designed, produced, and sold for just a few hundred dollars. (You can buy one from Worker and Hive in Calgary.) On the other hand, it would take a hobby beekeeper a few years of wax sales to earn the $335CAN ($260US) that it cost. But that’s not the point. Producing nice-quality wax and doing it cleanly, efficiently, using the sun’s energy – and not on the kitchen stove! – is the real point. We found that this melter took the pressure off the kitchen, kept bowls and cutlery from being destroyed, and saved on our electric bill.

It can be expensive running an electric or steam-powered wax melter – and frankly, a waste of energy and money. Of course, there is some energy input in the manufacture and delivery of this unit (glass, insulation, metal, plastics, delivery trucks) but there are equivalent costs in any melter. At most, I would make a wide guess that after labour and profit to the manufacturer and retailer, there might be $40 in actual energy expenses building and delivering this solar wax melter. That’s a couple dollars a year over the lifetime of this melter. All the other energy needs are supplied by the sun.

This melter won’t be for everyone. Nothing ever is. And if we all loved the same thing, we’d all be married to my grandmother, as my grandfather was. But if you are looking for a way to turn cappings into ducks, this is it.

Posted in Beekeeping, Climate, Tools and Gadgets | Tagged , | 1 Comment

CBC’s 2022 Nonfiction: Advice to a new beekeeper

Susan Cormier, author: “Advice to a new beekeeper” (credit: CBC)

“Do not keep bees. . .

“Keep cattle, or chickens or dogs. Their emotions are recognizable, their ailments familiar. Their speech, though foreign, is in a language we understand.”

Thus begins Susan Cormier’s seasoned advice to beekeeping wanna-bees. There are sufficient reasons to refrain from beekeeping, but I hadn’t thought of the communication gap – the bees’ foreign speech. We relish the knowledge (with a bit of pride) that a human among us was able to decipher the code, the language, of scout bees who tell forager bees the distance and direction to fly to visit a meadow of sweetly scented nectar-bearing flowers. That human, Karl von Frisch, sat at a glass-covered colony of honey bees and watched their strange little dances. A bow to the right and a quick wiggle to the left told the other bees to fly two kilometres at a right angle from the sun’s position. The human who interpreted this language was given a Nobel Prize by suitably impressed other humans.

But our communication ends there. It’s a one-way path, from bee to human, and coveys little news of interest to us. Of course, bees communicate other signals to each other (odours when annoyed, brisk movements when defensive) and an astute beekeeper learns to hear this language, too. But we have no real conversation with the bees.

We humans have a much more nuanced intraspecies vocabulary to convey our thoughts and feelings. The CBC Nonfiction award-winner, Ms Cormier, exemplifies this with her light treatise on the gulf between the bee and human species. And she has advice.

“Do not fear deaths, or stings. Both of these happen frequently. Fear fire, drought, dusty parched earth and scorched, wilting flowers. Fear fire, yet carry one with you, waving smoke like fairy dust, like a priest’s incense-filled thurible, quietly chanting blessings and calm.

“Do not fear stings, or the possibility of them. Carry in your arms a box housing 50,000, and think nothing of it. Place your bare hand softly on 200 moving bodies at once and know only warmth.

“Fear tiny mites, the spread of spores and viruses — watch for twisted wings, spasming bodies, the rotting stench of dying brood.

“Fear animals with paws, and hornets. When a small midnight shadow scurries across your lawn, throw rocks, apples, anything at hand. Hiss and growl. Set up traps and hope for the best.”

There is more to Susan Cormier’s story. Her lyrical style should be read for comfort, not for a beekeeper’s enlightenment. To enjoy more passages from her work, read this piece from CBC’s Literary Prize committee; To learn about Susan’s story, see this.

Learn the language of bees. There is no lexicon, no dictionary. They speak in song and scent and secrets and dance. The closest similar language is that of a school of fish, or octopi, or trees. 

Learn the smell of anger, sharp and thin like spilled bleach. Learn the sweet air and low, soothing hum of a balanced colony.

Posted in Beekeeping, Books, Culture, or lack thereof | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Synthetic Apiary Revisited

The Synthetic Apiary. (Image:
The Synthetic Apiary. (Image: MIT Media Lab)

I posted this piece a couple of years ago, but it’s timeless. I was reminded of this blog post when my WordPress splash alarm went off – someone was linking to this page on their own blog. That’s OK, of course. The idea here is to throw ideas out into the ether and see who can make use of them. Since my story describes a dystopian apiary, it feels appropriate to have it included in this piece on Artificial Intelligence at a Vancouver art gallery. Enjoy my piece, below, then hop on over to Mad, bad, and dangerous to know. for a cool look at modern art.

Here’s my Synthetic Apiary story. The video at the end of this link is great, but the whole concept is weird. It’s an artificial, synthetic apiary. I’ll rank it with the Flow(TM)Hive for a reason that will become apparent in a moment. But the weird concept we’re looking at is an artificial indoor living space for frolicking honey bees.

Most beekeepers like the natural touch of wood, the taste of honey, the buzzing in the ears, and the sticky wax on the fingers. I guess that’s one of the many reasons that I’m against the dreadful honey-on-tap hive. The Flow(TM)Hive is perfect for an artificial plastic world – a turn-the-tap and here’s-your-honey mentality. Well, the synthetic apiary I’m about to review should be filled with flow hives. And then forgotten.


In ArchitectureDaily’s piece, called “Neri Oxman + Mediated Matter Create Synthetic Apiary to Combat Honeybee Colony Loss”, we learn about an artificial apiary that looks like a Star Trek holodeck.

“Computer,” demands Captain Picard, “make me an apiary.” And this is what he gets: a weird white world of perpetual spring where bees have an unending supply of sugar water and fake pollen. You see, Jean Luc Picard forgot to order trees and grass and flowers and stuff.

   (Image: MIT Media Lab)

Regular readers of this blog know that I rant against silliness whenever I find it, yet I’ve got a soft spot for technology and design. As Neri Oxman says, the synthetic apiary is just a ‘proof of concept’ – investigating whether bees can be kept alive in an artificial environment. I understand the design experiment. It’s interesting and laudable. But weird, from a beekeeper’s perspective.

Proof of concept was established long ago when commercial beekeepers (including some of my friends) began parking tens of thousands of colonies in huge wintering warehouses where temperature, light and humidity are controlled.  Bees can survive in an artificial space, we already know that. To me, the synthetic apiary looks too much like a dystopian future – some warlord has captured two hives and two beekeepers and has put them in his man cave while just outside his walls, Paris has been incinerated in a nuclear war. Or something.

                    (Image: MIT Media Lab)

The article about the Synthetic Apiary (“to combat honeybee colony loss”) duly notes that seven (of the world’s 22,000) bee species have been placed on the endangered species list and this experiment points the way to combat honey bee colony loss. Fortunately, honey bees are actually increasing in number, though some other species are, in fact, threatened. Had the designers done their homework, they may have chosen one of the threatened bee species, a nice bumblebee, for example, but that’s another issue.


In a practical sense, the synthetic apiary fails on many fronts: Bees will survive a few months on concoctions of sugar syrup and substitute pollen, but they need a natural variety of amino acids and minerals to actually thrive. They need propolis and floral pollen. They need a ceiling 100 metres high and a 2-kilometre hallway if drone and queen will mate, or they’ll die after the old queen dies. They need an artificial sun that travels across the sky, otherwise, the bees will be attracted to artificial lights and won’t return to their hive. They need flowery meadows, fresh water, open skies. They need a better holodeck.

Anyway, I hope that you will check out the video and the story. I honestly liked the film. The photography is brilliant – even if the entire concept is, well, a bit weird.  And knowing that the bees won’t survive like this, it all becomes macabre.

h/t Robert

Posted in Bee Yards, Culture, or lack thereof, Reblogs, Strange, Odd Stuff, Tools and Gadgets | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Support the Students

I don’t usually ask readers to help (even with good causes), but you will feel great about this one.

The University of Calgary, where I am looking at the interaction between honey bees and native bees, has a smart group of students studying biodiversity – and quite a few are keen to know as much as possible about pollinator diversity. This means observing, counting, photographing, mapping, and documenting. You can donate to help these future ecologists through the University of Calgary Giving Day.

Among the many projects raising public interest and awareness for pollinators at the University of Calgary, there is a brilliant field guide to bumble bees. Get your own free copy from this link. Productions like this take time, effort, and even a little extra money to produce, so please help us through the University of Calgary’s Giving Day project. Meanwhile, here’s a glimpse at one of the pages from the bumble bee book. (The actual visual quality is much better than my repro, as you’ll see when you download the original book.)

Want to know more about Giving Day? Here’s the announcement from the university’s Biodiversity and Bee Campus Initiative:

The University of Calgary is a designated Bee Campus, where students, faculty, and staff research and promote pollinator, invertebrate, and plant biodiversity on campus and beyond. Your gift allows us to continue offering course-based and co-curricular research and experiential learning experiences for students, outreach and community events, creation and sharing of biodiversity resources and training tools, and community/citizen science initiatives to study and advance the understanding and conservation of biodiversity.

More information on our designation and the efforts your contribution will support can be found here:

You make it happen

When you donate to the University of Calgary, you’re investing in the community — and on Giving Day, your gift can have double the impact! Whether supporting scholarships, faculties, research or any one of our other designated funds, all eligible Giving Day donations made by April 21 will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $2,500 per gift while matching funds last.

Since its launch in 2017, Giving Day has raised more than $6 million to create lasting, positive change — on campus, in the community and beyond — by creating exceptional student experiences, advancing critical research and empowering the next generation of business and community leaders.

Posted in Books, Ecology, Native Bees, Outreach, Save the Bees | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Keeping the Bees: Netflix

It’s great to know a lot about bees, although it sometimes comes between you and a good time. I enjoyed Keeping the Bees, a Turkish-language drama (2019; 93minutes), but some bee-science was forgotten in the lab and the jars of thin honey was cringe-worthy. But the movie was good.

I don’t know how long Keeping the Bees has been playing on Netflix, but we caught it last night. I’ll try not to post spoilers, but here is a very brief synopsis. The central character (Ayse, in the photo above) returns to her village from Germany, where she had been working for ten years. Her mother is dying, which prompted her return, and indeed, the elderly lady dutifully checks out of the script in the first few minutes. But first, she bequeaths her apiary to Ayse. It’s not a good fit. Nor is the return of the bright and pretty young lady to her homeland.

There are some rather weird bee scenes, which are unforgivable from my perspective, but also some local bee lore (indigenous knowledge), which I fully appreciate, even knowing we can disprove some of it. The fact that Ayse imports an English queen to the apiary of Caucasian bees made me gasp. The local bees had resided and adapted to the environment of the Turkish Caucasus mountainside for thousands of years. Now comes the new British queen. Well, this, of course, is a major theme of the movie. You really can’t come home again. Or can you?

The film has gorgeous scenery, a fairly good script, excellent acting and directing. If you don’t understand Turkish, you’ll have to read the sparse dialogue, as I did. Look past the mistakes that the bees make along the way and enjoy the movie. It’s worth it.

Posted in Bee Yards, Beekeeping, Culture, or lack thereof, Movies | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

April 7: Day in the bees

Photo-bombing my bees. Look at the pollen flying past my forehead!

April 7. Our backyard hives are collecting real pollen! Last week, I showed you some fake pollen coming into the colonies. Nothing beats the real stuff. Although desperate honey bees will carry worthless sawdust as a pollen supplement, nothing inspires a colony like a bit of natural pollen and nectar.

My honey bees and I are a long way north, high in elevation, and affected by vagaries of our continental climate. We are in Calgary, a thousand metres above sea level with some rocky mountains in sight along our western horizon. Our semi-prairies, semi-foothills location invites wide fluctuations in weather. For instance, in the past week we’ve been as cool as minus 11C and as warm as plus 21C. (12F to 70F).

The colonies average 6 frames at least 3/4 brooded, which means populations should be up 25,000 more workers in the next three weeks. And there are a lot of fuzzies – I would guess that more bees are already emerging than are dying of old age. This is a critical time for this change-over in bee demographics, with new replacing old. Beekeepers often lose wintered colonies at this time of year when cool wet weather keeps bees from foraging, reduces food resources, and induces nosema. If they get through this, the honey bees will probably be fine.

To help them, I make sure they have enough honey in reserve. Syrupy sweets can push them to expand their brood nest. I also give them all the pollen cakes they’ll take. That’s about two pounds every week. If you choose to pollen-supplement your bees, don’t stop until the weather is stable and the bees are collecting enough natural pollen. When there is a consistent, reliable abundance of natural forage, honey bees will quit eating your supplement. But if you stop feeding the bees too soon, they will likely not be able to feed their developing larvae, which will die. Although honey bees are usually vegetarians, they have been caught eating their own young when food is scarce.

Another reason to feed pollen supplement is that honey bees strip an awful lot of pollen from their neighbourhood’s flowers, potentially leaving less for other bee species. In the spring, when flowers are scarce and foraging days few, your nests of honey bees will need about 200 grams of pollen each day to feed the developing brood. That’s four pounds every ten days. Maybe more. If you feed a high-quality supplement, you do the local wild (non-Apis) bees a small favour because your honey bees don’t need to collect as much from flowers, leaving more for the natives.

Doing the bees a small favour.
Posted in Bee Biology, Beekeeping, Ecology, Native Bees, Personal | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

The invisible hive tool

At last! A hive tool I can see!

I am severely colourblind, which generally means that the difference between red and green makes little sense to me. I have been told (by enough people) that grass is green, so I have learnt to associate that word to the peculiar hue of grey that I see when I look at grass. Unfortunately, hive tools have been red for most of my life. Therein lies a big problem.

If I drop a red hive tool onto green grass, the tool disappears in greyness. Kind of like this:

OK, you can still see it easily enough. That’s because it’s still falling. But, take a look at this:

This may seem trivial, but for someone like me, this is a big deal. I once painted a hive tool white, but the paint wore off, it turned back to red, and yes, I lost it somewhere in green grass. I am hoping that my new yellow hive tool will last the rest of my life.

When people came up with the clever idea of painting queens, they used red and green marks among a mix of three other colours. A paint dab on a queen thorax makes her easier to spot and also, if a certain universal code is followed, makes her age known at a glance.

The queen, above, is marked with yellow, which means she emerged from her birth cell in either 2017 or 2022, according to the beekeepers’ colour code. If I saw this bee this summer, I’d know she’s a 2022 queen – I wouldn’t expect a 5-year-old to look nice and fuzzy like this. Lucky for red-green colourblind people like me, we still see yellow, blue, black, and white quite well. But sadly, the bee gods chose to put red and green on consecutive years in order to inflict the most damage upon colour-disabled beekeepers.

If you’ve forgotten, here is the Queen displaying the sequential coding: white, yellow, red, green, blue.

Posted in Beekeeping, Personal, Queens, Tools and Gadgets | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

What does that extra apiary cost you?

Our neighbourhood gasoline prices in April 2020, left (58.9 cents/litre) and April 2022, right (167.9 cents/litre)

With fuel prices going scary high, I thought that a few comments on bee yards away from the home fortress might be timely. My father, an early migratory beekeeper, had about 800 hives and trucked them into apple pollination in West Virginia, winter locations in South Carolina and Florida, and clover patches in Wisconsin. But his business was centred in western Pennsylvania where he also had thirty locations close to home. That was seventy years ago. Gasoline cost him $0.30/ gallon; his honey sold for $0.10/ pound. Three pounds of honey to buy one gallon of gas. Even with our ridiculously high prices, gasoline is cheaper now than when he was getting started – and vehicles get better mileage.

By the time I had a drivers’ license, my father had just 300 hives in Pennsylvania. My older brothers had taken over the other hives and other states. Those 300 hives were in fifteen locations. Because of robbing concerns, none of the hives were on the farm where we had our extracting shop. So, I couldn’t actually manage his hives until I was sixteen and could drive a truck on the rural roads. When I started driving, I usually worked a cluster of three or four yards that were close to each other, to save travel time and gasoline money.

Part of a 200-hive bee yard in Pennsylvania, 1906.

We could have kept 300 hives in one spot. Some New York and Pennsylvania beekeepers did that, way back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But forage has changed and smaller apiaries (twenty hives each) began to perform better. For one person working alone, smaller yards are better because work can usually be finished before robbing or extremely defensive behaviour erupts. I was never chased out of any bee yard, but I would speed up my chores or skip some hives if the bees were getting out of hand, then come back another day. I was neither an especially good nor fast beekeeper.

I understand why a beekeeper has outyards. Sometimes you move hives for pollination. Sometimes to improve wintering. Sometimes to catch other flows. Sometimes to make life easier in the bee yard – smaller apiaries make happier bees and happier beekeepers. But what does it cost to keep extra bee yards going? If you have three hives, should you have three apiaries? I think not.

We occasionally meet beekeepers with ten hives and six bee yards or something like that. Perhaps a single extra yard can be justified for small holders – it might be needed for splits or queen rearing, though even that can be managed in one spot with appropriate techniques.

Concerns hobby beekeepers should have include these issues:

  • Convenience: You will look at your backyard hives more frequently than those kept anywhere that requires a hop in a vehicle and a supply checklist (smoker, veil, feed, equipment, swarm box, super).
  • Time. You might be adding an extra hour to your beekeeping for each out yard, especially if you have to drive home to get something you forgot (or didn’t expect to need).
  • Accessibility. You may find an area where you’d like to set a hive or two. You may find a willing landowner in that area. Unfortunately, the only place they’ll let you set the hive is on the far side of a deep muddy ditch. In the enthusiasm of the moment, you may agree, forgetting that you’ll need to carry heavy, filled honey boxes a hundred steps back to your vehicle. Also, are there days of the week or hours of the day that the landowner doesn’t want you to enter their property?
  • Safety (1). Who is at the out yard to help livestock or people who get tangled up in your hive?
  • Safety (2). Fires, bears, and under-aged drivers in over-sized pickup trucks may find remote hives interesting. Or a strong blast of cold wind might take off lids, leaving your property exposed for days.
  • Insurance. Does your liability insurance cover out yards? Do you pay extra insurance for each spot?
  • Rent. What do you give the landowner? Cash or honey? Each have a cost.
  • Vehicle expenses. A yard ten miles away costs about $5.00 for each round trip in fuel alone. Add in wear, tear, tires, and depreciation, and you might as well figure ten dollars for that trip.

In rare situations, an away yard may do better than the home yard, but if forage and climate are equal, it won’t. Too often, you’ll reach the spot, discover that it would be smart to add one more super, but you won’t have time to drive back to your garage and get it that day – so you lose some honey and maybe a swarm. Adding vehicle costs, liability insurance, and landowner’s rent, the apiary may cost you $250 a year. That’s OK if you have twenty hives in the spot. Not OK if you have one or two.

We all put a lot of thought into having an out apiary, especially if we have just a few colonies. At this time of year, people may be begging you for a hive. If you are nice, you will load up a box of bees, drive over to their ditch, haul the hive in, make a dozen trips over the year to tend the bees, and then give the landowner jars of honey. But if you are smart and less nice, maybe you won’t.

My own backyard hives, 2021. Twenty steps from the deck. No driving. No gasoline.

Posted in Bee Yards, Beekeeping, Personal | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

World Apitherapy Day

Today is World Apitherapy Day. And it’s my birthday.  Coincidence? Maybe not.

Apitherapy, which means using bee stuff for health, can include eating pollen, propolis, wax, royal jelly, bee larvae, and honey – or rubbing them on your face. But for many, apitherapy is bee sting therapy. Stings are sometimes promoted as a treatment for autoimmune disorders, like MS and rheumatism. Less frequently (but with more notice), bee venom is an ingredient in skin creams  – as you can read here. (And herehere, and here.) However, a recent death due to a bee sting administered as apitherapy is newsworthy.

Just winking?

I don’t want to deflate the World Apitherapy Day balloon, but if you’re not careful, bee sting therapy can be fatal therapy. Most long-time beekeepers have been stung thousands of times (That’s not an exaggeration.) without adverse effects. But for some people, a bee sting can be much worse than a bit of swelling, redness, and pain. A single bee sting can kill. Although bee sting therapy may work wonders on some auto-immune syndromes, stings might send a patient into systemic shock. That’s what reportedly happened to a woman in Spain.

She had been treated without incident on several earlier occasions, but this time, the woman went into shock and never regained consciousness. She later died from organ failure at hospital. Such bee-therapy fatalities are rare. Only one other treatment is known to have ended a life. However, a meta-analysis of several hundred studies showed that a significant number of therapies have caused serious reactions. The figure given in the analysis (Risk Associated with Bee Venom Therapy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis) indicated that 12% of people undergoing bee venom therapy from live stings (as opposed to physician-administered controlled injections of bee venom) experience serious reactions.

In two of the courses which I help teach – Making Money from Honey and Beginner’s Beekeeping, We always show a slide about bee sting therapy. For the beginners’ group, I mention it because many new beekeepers know the health benefits of a jab of bee venom, as seen on YouTube. We try to be sure that they understand the risks involved. For more advanced beekeepers, I mention bee sting therapy as something they may have considered as a source of income (and a way to help people). In both courses, I strongly advise against applying stings on anyone. Intentionally inflicting bee venom so that a client may gain health benefits might be considered “practising medicine without a license.” And you could kill someone.

This leads me to look again at the role of bee-sting therapy as a treatment for Covid-19. Back in June 2020, I wrote about scientists in Wuhan, China, who claimed that beekeepers in the area didn’t get the virus. They claimed that bees had protected the beekeepers:

“In Hubei province, the epicentre of COVID-19 in China, the local beekeepers association conducted a survey of beekeepers. A total of 5115 beekeepers were surveyed from February 23 to March 8, including 723 in Wuhan, the outbreak epicentre of Hubei. None of these beekeepers developed symptoms associated with COVID-19, and their health was totally normal.”

I was skeptical. In fact, I wrote: “I have limited confidence in their study because it has grandiose statements and is a one-off. But it was allowed on the US government’s National Institute of Health website, so maybe it carries some truth. I’ll leave it to you to decide, but I still don’t fully trust it. The paper makes bold claims about the extreme effectiveness of bee stings as protection against Covid-19. In short, it seems too good to be true.”

It looks like I’m not the only one who had doubts about the report from China. Maybe honey bee stings aren’t really working against the Covid virus. A peer-reviewed paper, Beekeepers who tolerate bee stings are not protected against SARS-CoV-2 infections, published six months after the Chinese study, disagreed with the earlier report. In the new study, German researchers contacted the German-beekeeping community requesting information on beekeepers who had been in contact with Covid. Based on Germany’s population (82 million), and the percent who are beekeepers (0.2%), along with the number of people exposed to the corona virus during the study period, the researchers calculate that about 540 beekeepers in Germany were in direct contact with the virus. They managed to find 234 of them. Of those 234, 2 died and 45 became quite sick from the virus. Remember, the Chinese scientists claimed that out of 5115 Wuhan-area beekeepers, none died nor became ill. The German researchers reject the Chinese findings:

“The study shows that beekeepers are not immune to infections caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Especially, our data do not support the hypothesis that beekeepers are not affected by SARS-CoV-2 due to their exposure to bee stings and the associated immunity. The severity of the disease was not influenced by various variables like how long they had been a beekeeper, total number of bee stings received, number of bee stings received in the year 2020 and potentially allergic reactions to bee stings.”

This doesn’t mean that bee sting therapy has no use in medicine. But it does remind us to be cautious and question what we hear or read. Maybe the German study isn’t perfect, either. However, my blue-pill aversion swings into overdrive whenever anything sounds too good – or any study shows extremely confident numbers, as the Wuhan study did.

Filip Terc apitherapy
Filip Terč, Father of Apitherapy 1844-1917

You may wonder why March 30 is World Apitherapy Day. You think it’s because it’s my birthday, right? Well, it’s also the birthdate of the most important early promoter of healthy bee stings, Filip Terč, whom you see glaring at you adjacent to this sentence. Terč practiced medicine in Maribor, Slovenia, over a hundred years ago. As a young man, he suffered badly from rheumatoid pain until, at age 22, he was accidentally stung by an defensive mob of irritated honey bees. It changed his life. His pain was gone.

Terč began a serious study of the effects of bee venom therapy. He published the first clinical trials of the therapeutic effects of bee stings in the 1888 publication “Report on the Peculiar Connection between Bee Stings and Rheumatism”. He presented the results of treating 680 patients with the collective application of 39,000 stings. (An average of 60 stings/patient, administered over several months.)  He claimed that 82% experienced a complete cure, 15% had partial recovery, and just 3% had no relief from their rheumatoid condition. Although his work was published over a hundred years ago and his results have not been disputed, the medical profession is still cautious about the link between rheumatism, auto-immune dysfunctions, and some of the elements of bee venom. With immune disorders ranging from multiple sclerosis to allergies on the rise, the use of apitherapy treatments are finally becoming more accepted and generally more widely available. So, with cautious caveats, celebrate World Apitherapy Day. (And send regards to all those beekeepers with birthdays today).

Posted in Apitherapy, History, People, Science, Stings | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Early Pollen?

Over-wintered hive in Calgary on March 22, good strength and ready to grow.

A couple of days ago, on March 22, we had sunlight and heat. Honey bees were gathering pollen. I don’t remember such a rush of pre-season pollen in this area. It’s a lot earlier than expected. I figured their goodies were from pollen-producing trees. Here in the city of Calgary, non-native elms provide some early pollen. Other trees, such as poplar, also give up a bit, even while snow is still scattered around the landscape. We don’t have much oak or maple here, though in milder parts of North America, those are great for spring pollen and nectar. Since it is too early for willow or crocus, I decided that the pollen flow was likely from some big trees. The pollen was pale yellow, apparently from a single source or species, and was packed in extremely small bundles. Here’s a short video clip:

Tiny bits of pollen, all the same colour. Could be from trees, but could be from something else.

But then I saw something that made me wonder about the pollen source.

This looks strange to me. We don’t often see a honey bee hustling unconsolidated pollen at the front door. She has only a bit in her visible corbicula. It isn’t sticky the way pollen usually is and quite a bit of the dust is scattered outside her baskets. This pale pollen resembles pine, but conifers won’t shed here for a few weeks. It occurred to me that the bees, collecting this uniform-looking bland pollen might be carrying pollen substitutet from another beekeeper’s backyard.

We have a dozen hobby beekeepers within a short foraging flight of our home. Although I don’t set up open-feeding stations for soy or other pollen subs, some neighbouring beekeepers might be trying this latest feeding fad. Pollen supplement feeders can attract a lot of bees on a nice day when nothing else is blooming. Activity can look like this, from’s website:

Honey bees collecting pollen substitute,

I don’t set out substitutes like this myself. I don’t want to send my bees off to feast at an all-you-can-eat buffet where they will meet bees from neighbouring hives, perhaps pick up mites, soil their feet with AFB spores, or get pushed around by bees from colonies that are greedier and bigger. (Maybe you’ve seen similar activity at your local all-you-eat dinner spots on late Friday afternoons, another place where big and greedy is amply rewarded.) In early spring, I like to place pollen cakes on the top bars above the brood. This assures that even weak hives will get some help. Protected, in-hive feeding also keeps food available when a cold snap or rain interferes and the bees can’t access the fly-in diner. What do you think? Pollen or Pollen-lite? What are my bees collecting?

Posted in Bee Biology, Honey Plants | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments