Here’s a great new podcast. I’ve just listened to the first episode (twice!). If all the future episodes will be as good as Episode 1, PolliNation will be a great resource and a fun listen for beekeepers. Since beekeepers spend lots of hours chauffeuring bees and boxes to their apiaries, bee podcasts are really popular. I’ve been told that podcasts keep bee folks awake during late-night long-hauls.
PolliNation’s focus is pollinators, of course. The show’s host, Andony Melathopoulos, is from my hometown, Calgary. He’s been a long-time friend. But that’s not the only reason I’m enthusiastic about his podcast. It’s seriously good, cleanly produced, and Andony’s enthusiasm and years of practical experience and research in bees shine in this venue. He’s operated his own hives, worked ten years as an apiculture research tech at Ag Canada’s Beaverlodge bee lab, and recently his investigations into the “Insect Pollination Benefits to Lowbush Blueberry” earned him a doctorate.
Andony recently accepted an assistant professorship at Oregon State where he specializes in pollinator health. Not limited to the managed species (honey bees, orchard masons, leafcutters, and alkali bees), he is tasked “to design, develop, implement and evaluate a state-wide pollinator health program” for all of the region’s pollinators. As part of the outreach for that role, Andony has created the PolliNation Podcast. It is set to excite the pod’o’sphere – at least that part of it that gets excited about bees and ecology. (Which should be most of you.)
Episode #1, a conversation with Sussex Professor Francis Ratnieks on The Benefits of Bees in Urban Areas, mostly deals with the practical stuff which city-dwelling beekeepers need to know. You’ll hear tips on metropolitan beekeeping, selecting flowers for bees (though bees may ignore what you plant and fly 12 kilometres to fetch food from other people’s flowers, we’re told), and some safety notes regarding urban hive keeping.
Professor Ratnieks knows what he’s talking about – he once kept 180 beehives, has done basic bee research, and is grounded in practical beekeeping. He helps us understand that if beekeeping is motivated by the noble desire to “Save the Bees” then the urban ecologist’s efforts might be better spent planting nectar/pollen-rich flowers rather than keeping honey bees. Ratnieks suggests eschewing lists of pollinator plants on the internet. Instead, he says, use your own eyes to see which flowers attract insects in your area. When you visit a garden centre or a neighbour’s bright blooming spot, note the plants with the most pollinators on them and consider planting those varieties.
Regarding the why-for of urban beekeeping, Ratnieks says that some people claim that cities are better than the countryside for bees. However, on average, the professor believes there is no clear advantage for your bees to live in town. In Ratnieks’ opinion, the main reason to keep bees urbanly is if you live in the city and want the joys of beekeeping close at hand. However, he adds, beekeepers probably shouldn’t be learning (and making mistakes) in a small garden behind the house.
I’ll leave it to you to listen to the entire 30-minute podcast, but here are some of the questions considered on the program:
– What are the particular challenges of a city beekeeper?
– Where are you going to put the hives?
– What if the bees become aggressive?
– How should you handle city swarms?
– If you use a lattice windbreak in the garden, will the bees fly up and over it, avoiding pedestrian traffic, or just fly thorugh the lattice holes and scare everyone?
Check out PolliNation for the scientists’ thoughts on these. Oh, and my favourite quote from Professor Ratnieks: “A bee is a hairy vegetarian wasp. In the case of the honey bee, it’s a social hairy vegetarian wasp.” PolliNation is available from I-Tunes or directly from Oregon State University’s home site for the program – don’t miss it.