2020 Rewind

Never thought I’d see masks hanging by the door. But here they are in 2020.

Like an unruly house guest staying far past midnight (and still visiting the liquor cabinet), 2020 should have left long ago.  It’s a year we won’t forget.  A hurricane in an earthquake, delivering volcanic pyroclasts. Our 14-year-old will forever remember the year (years?) she wore exquisite home-made masks to her junior high. Science, history, math, language – taught without a visible frown from any of her classmates.

2020 began with a blistering heatwave in Australia, followed by the inevitable fires and loss of life.  A friend sent me photos of her family’s former apiaries where millions of honey bees perished. I shared them, and my story about the Australia blazes, here. The fires, of course, brought billions of dollars of damage to structures and businesses, but we are haunted by reports of beekeepers. They told us how they arrived in distant apiaries, finding ash heaps where hives stood. In surrounding forests, the cries of wildlife, suffering burns, deepened their dismay.

Approaching an Australian apiary, January 2020.

Back in Alberta, a warm spell arrived in late February, but I noticed that there were no bees flying from our backyard colonies. Dead, both of them. Full of honey, wintered with good queens, and adequate populations in well-insulated hives.

I soon discovered that nearby friends lost 34 of their 36 hives. Across the western Canadian prairies, winter losses were the highest ever. In Alberta, over 40% of all colonies died. (Although the long blizzardly winter received much of the blame, 60% of the thousands of colonies wintered in climate-controlled shelters also died.) Over 100,000 Alberta hives needed cleaned and restocked by people who were barely making a living producing honey and running pollination services.  I think the losses were mostly due to bee viruses. Viruses dominated the news in 2020.

Restocking deadouts wasn’t easy this year. Responding to the Covid virus, cargo flights of honey bee packages were cancelled, leaving Alberta beekeepers without replacements. Some operations reduced their holdings, split some of their own hives, or bought domestic nucs and hives – though the source couldn’t meet the demand. At the first rumblings of Corona, back in February, I ordered replacement nucs from British Columbia. I was nervous taking receipt of the little hives in mid-May, but ultimately, I made a huge honey crop from those bees in my backyard.

I started by transferring frames and shaking out every bee from the nuc box:

See how they grew, from tiny hives May 22 (left) to gigantic, July 25 (right):

Because of the virus and cancelled flights, commercial beekeepers and farmers were also unable to welcome all of their seasonal farm help from abroad. In order to produce the dirt-cheap food we buy, thousands of foreign beekeepers, fruit-pickers, greenhouse workers, and other farmers normally arrive in Canada each spring. (We don’t have enough Canadians willing, able, or skilled enough to do this hard work.) This year, scheduled flights weren’t flying. To bring in essential farm workers, planes were chartered. For example, the Canadian Honey Council spent $200,000 bringing 80 Temporary Foreign Workers from Nicaragua to Canada. Other seats on that flight were occupied by Canadian tourists and business people who were stranded in Central America, but were coming home thanks to the beekeepers who had arranged the charter for their helpers.

Meanwhile, my honey bees that had arrived in nucs from British Columbia developed into strong hives. When the clovers began blooming (late June here), nectar flowed into the hives, and the bees gave us over a hundred pounds per hive – plus they filled their own pantry with winter stores. I don’t remember a year with as much lush clover (both Melilotus and Trifolium) carpeting parks and roadsides.

Here is some of the honey from those nucs, poured by my 18-year-0ld and his friend:

Unfortunately, I spent the summer rather ill, with extreme fatigue and brain fog. Luckily, my teenagers helped me with the honey bee hives in our backyard. They also did the hard work among my experimental hives, which I’d established around the city, and over a hundred bumble bee domiciles and biodiversity traps. The traps required four summertime visits to collect pollinating insects and refresh the traps. I would not have done this without my kids serving as my arms and legs.

One of the University of Calgary research subjects:

Brain fog and fatigue also made it difficult for me to analyze data and write my Masters’ thesis. I am months behind schedule, but I have a wonderfully patient supervisor. Although I am likely the worst grad student he’s ever had, we have been doing some great research. Eventually, I’ll produce a worthy analysis and write a valuable report. Meanwhile, my work is inching along.

More fires, this one near Penticton, BC.

                                                                             Photo, Daniel Miksha

In mid-August, my son took the photo above while he was visiting friends in British Columbia. It looks dramatic, but no one was killed and not much property was lost. By autumn, reports of more fire tragedies arrived, this time from California. More honey bee hives and property were reduced to ash. This, along with thousands of Corona deaths, accompanied by lost businesses and unemployed folks weaken the spirit. Mental stress, displaced families, friendships placed on hold take a toll.

Photo: Ohio State

Almost as a joke, 2020 brought us some murder wasps. A bit of levity delivered by a giant insect with a lethal sting that kills dozens of people each year and extinguishes the vitality of entire colonies of honey bees. Sportingly, murder wasps have jaws that snap bees’ bodies in half, taking down a 40,000-population hive over tea time. The Asian Giant Hornet made news this year with its discovery in a couple of places along the west coast. A denizen of Asia, queens probably crossed the Pacific in a container ship. I suspect they are now fully established in Washington state and/or British Columbia.

Finally, let’s throw in a few hurricanes, swarms of tornadoes, and a year-end earthquake that demolished a town near my grandfather’s childhood home in Croatia. We hope that the door smacks 2020’s backside on its way out. And hello, 2021.

Posted in Beekeeping, Strange, Odd Stuff | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Visit the UK National Honey Show – Free!

2019 National Honey Show

I’ve always wanted to visit the UK National Honey Show, renowned as the ultimate in honey judging. But, it’s in the UK and I’m in Canada. Well, because of COVID-19, the event has moved on-line and we all have a free ticket to attend! Of course it will be different this year. (I’m not sure how the judges will do a virtual honey tasting.)  But the professional line-up (and the cost to us) makes this too good to miss!  Here’s a note I received from Jeremy Burbidge of Northern Bee Books. Thanks, Jerry!


From the UK National Honey Show:

As you know, due to Covid 19 and resulting restrictions, this year’s National Honey Show will be an on line conference, the first of its kind in the UK, welcoming beekeepers worldwide.

It is free for all to attend, worldwide. We look forward to welcoming you.

On Monday 12th October, registration will open, please visit our website for the registration link, top left. Once you have registered you can attend as many or as few of the events as you wish.

Conference Programme 

(Please note: The schedule below is in the UK time zone!)

Thursday 22nd October

13.45 Welcome

14.00 Mike Palmer: A year at French Hill Apiaries

15.30-16.30 Demonstration: Gwyn Marsh Making Beeswax wraps

17.00-17.15 National Honey Show AGM

17.30-17.45 National Council AGM

18.30 The Central Association of Bee-Keepers Lecture: Medhat Nasr: Wintering honey bees – but not as we know it

Friday 23rd October

11.00-12.00 Demonstration: Chris Park, Skep making

14.00 Etienne Bruneau: The honey market in turmoil 1

5.30-16.30 Demonstration: John Goodwin, Showing honey

18.30 Bees for Development Quiz

Saturday 24th October

11.00-12.00 Demonstration: Same day soap: The Robb recipe

12.30-13.30 Bill, Bob and Bees. Bill Turnbull and Prof Robert Pickard interview

14.00 Jeff Pettis: Long live the queen, please!, why are queens failing?

15.30-16.30 Closing

If you miss any of the demonstrations, they will be available on YouTube afterwards for six months; and similarly if you miss lectures, they will join our programme of lectures on YouTube to watch and revisit at your leisure.

We look forward to welcoming you to the conference, and hope to see you in person in 2021.

www.honeyshow.co.uk

Don’t forget, this is a world event. Adjust the schedule to your local time.

Posted in Beekeeping, Culture, or lack thereof, Hive Products, Honey | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Ready for the cold?

Podcasts continue to grow in popularity. People are spending about two hours each day following the wise musings of their favourite word-weavers. I heard that Joe Rogan signed with Spotify for $100,000,000 (though he’s locked in for ten years).

I rarely listen to Joe Rogan. He’s OK, I guess, but he doesn’t talk about bees. (I mostly listen to beecasts.) One of my favourites is PolliNation, hosted by ex-Calgarian Dr Andony Melathopoulos. Andony is one of the best bee presenters you’ll ever have a chance to meet. He works at Oregon State University and his podcast originates there.

You can catch Episode #156 of Pollination on your podcast provider’s app. This episode, Preparing hives for winter,  is another great one. Andony meets Dr. Shelley Hoover in one of her research apiaries. Shelley has worked for Alberta Agriculture, been president of the Entomological Society of America, and is now the Apiculture and Pollination Scientist in the Department of Research and Innovation at the University of Lethbridge, in southern Alberta. Her research focuses on honey bee health, breeding, management, pest management, and nutrition, as well as canola pollination. She knows a lot about honey bees.

Shelley Hoover and Andony Melathopoulos, in Lethbridge, Alberta, in 2016.
I took this photo when they were both working at the agriculture research station.

This week’s PolliNation podcast covers wintering from a northern prairie perspective. Shelley Hoover manages 95 hives across the border from Montana. Don’t miss this podcast. Among the topics:

Starvation is still a common cause of over-wintering colony death. (Especially among hobby urban beekeepers, where it ranks as the leading cause of honey bee mortality.)

Shelley gives her bees 20 litres (5 gallons)  of 2:1  sugar syrup in the fall. At over 25 kg (60 pounds), that’s a lot. Feeding finishes by early October.

The bees are fed heavily in the fall so they don’t have to be fed in the spring. This reduces the chance of accidentally getting sugar into honey supers. Also, fall feeding is easier – it’s warmer and colonies have larger populations, so the feed is stored quickly.

She combines weak hives that would die over winter.  All wintering hives have at least  two deeps full of bees.

Dr. Hoover recognizes the importance of ventilation. Hives have multiple entrances, including upper ones. The alternative is, she says, wet dead bees.

Hives are wrapped with insulating material by mid-October and unwrapped in April or May.

Finally, listen to the podcast to find out why Shelley never drives next to a potato chip truck on Alberta highways.

Posted in Beekeeping, Tools and Gadgets | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Frosted Honey

My cousin, who lives in Europe, sent me the photograph above. She was wondering what had gone wrong with her honey – and how she could fix it.

First, I have to wonder if this is something ‘wrong’. Honey with this mottled, marbled, frosted look isn’t necessarily bad. If you produce honey with moisture below 18.6%, and keep all stages of the process clean, you can almost certainly safely eat the product. However, if you hope to sell it, you may want the honey to look “normal” – you don’t want to explain anything unusual to your customers. As I child, I worked in our family’s produce stand. We sold tomatoes, peppers, squash, and such. I learned, around age seven, that trimming outside leaves from a cabbage head made it sell better. Often, there was nothing wrong with the parts peeled off, but by offering less, we sold more. It’s usually the same with honey. Filter out the wax and pollen, and it sells more easily.  Maybe this is what we should do with ‘frosted’ honey – melt it and pour it back into the bottles. It will look better. That’s probably easier than educating a consumer about the higher quality of natural honey over heated honey.

What causes ‘frosted’ honey? I don’t  have much experience with this, so I passed the question along to some friends. They had a range of ideas. As usual with beekeepers, my five consultants had different opinions.

Since a lot of readers are harvesting, packing, and selling their late-season honey this weekend, I figured that I’d post the responses here for everyone’s benefit. Not only will you see some answers, but you’ll see how beekeepers think about things.  If you have thoughts to share, take another look at the photo above, read the paragraphs below, and add your ideas in the comments.

Here is what I asked my friends:  “My cousin sent me this photo from Europe. She’s wondering why her granulated honey has two types of crystallization, how to ‘fix’ it, and how to prevent this from happening in the future.”

Answer 1)  In the honey quality and defects workshop at Apimondia, the guy told us a theory I’d never heard before. He said honey contracts a tiny bit when it crystallizes and it’s that contraction that causes the “frosting.” He said honey that crystallizes quickly shows this more. He said to avoid it, one should slow down the crystallization process by keeping it at some temperature. Unfortunately I don’t remember the temperature. Based on my own experience, I’d say 14-16C, maybe as low as 12. The degree of contraction also depends a lot on the variety of honey, which is basically the sugar ratios and crystal size. Based on my own experience, I tend to agree that certain varieties of honey are much more prone to this than others. Again based on my own experience, moisture content may also play a role.

I’ve heard the air bubble theory too. In a way, they’re kind of the same thing because the white parts are where there is more air. I guess the ambiguity is whether the air is there because the honey contracted when it crystallized or whether it was in the honey before it started crystallizing. It could be a combination of both.

So Ron, I would amend your proposed solution by saying pay attention to the speed at which the honey is allowed to crystallize and aim for a moisture content of somewhere around 17.3%, keeping in mind that some varieties of honey will do this regardless of the packer’s best efforts.

Answer 2) Frosting is a component of storage temperature with increased risk if jarred honey is stored too cold, low humidity honey is at greater risk. Best storage temperature is 14-15 C. Never put jars with honey in a colder environment after jarring.

Answer 3)  The whitish colored stuff is wax, pollen etc. I usually don’t filter honey. Just settle it out. When the honey granulates – the very small non-sugar stuff separates out. Some of it floats on top but we always see some of the white streaks in nearly all jars. We just stir it in before use. This retains the good flavor elements in the honey. Well that’s our thoughts.

It is a visual that makes people think it is bad – It does not look like the processed  honey from commercial packers. Our food seems to need to look perfect to some commercial standards. I think that’s not a good model.  When I got a chance to go to Mexico and went to the supermarket – saw all kinds of produce that was not as “pretty” as the produce here. The food was perfectly OK.

Answer 4) It could be a bit of fermentation. If not blended together and was a some trace of wet honey, it may have risen to the top as the jar settled. It could also be different nectar sources that are not well blended and crystallizing at different rates. My proposed solution, warm it liquid and shake it up well.

Answer 5) I went to a talk at Apimondia given by the company that had won the best creamed honey in the world in 2018. They called this “frosting”. The speaker said it was caused by tiny air bubbles being trapped between the honey and the sides of the jar. I guess that is why it normally forms near the top or the shoulder of the jar. I had this problem one year when I took cold jars from the basement and added my honey without warming the jars first. This “frosting” started out like your cousin’s but continued to spread over time. I heated the honey in the jars and stirred the warmed honey. Depending on how many jars she has, this will work. It looks weird but it tasted the same. Sometimes, I can get the same white coating on the top of my 50 pound honey pails where the honey/air bubbles have crystallized on the surface. It is fine when I reheat the honey.

So, a variety of opinions on the cause of frosting. Most answers focus on temperatures (of jars and of storage conditions), on air trapped in the honey, and on moisture (most said ‘too much’ but answer #2 suggested the honey’s moisture was too low.) There was also a comment on honey variety – poor blending of two different varieties, or simply the fact that some honey may be more prone to frosting because of sugar chemistry.  There was also the suggestion that fermentation or excessive wax/pollen caused this, though I don’t think that’s right.

My friends’ solutions to fix the jars? Melt the honey and repackage it. Answer #4 also says that the honey should be ‘shaken’ after melting. I’d say ‘gently stirred’ to avoid introducing air bubbles.

What do you think? What causes frosting and how would you fix jars that have it? Feel free to comment below.

Posted in Beekeeping, Friends, Honey | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Covid: Saturday at the Hive

Mark Soehner’s Saturday at the Hive
in his idyllic backyard apiary.

Our local bee club (Calgary & District Beekeepers Association)  coordinates a nice summertime event, Saturday at the Hive. Experienced beekeepers offer to show their colonies to newer beekeepers. The guest list is limited and cleared through the bee club, but all the risk, planning, and teaching is left to the host. I thought it would be cancelled because of Covid-19, but after the province eased meet-ups a bit, these Saturdays at the Hive gatherings proceeded.

Mark, welcoming his guests to his socially-distanced bee event.

A friend asked me to attend his event. I was the old-timer who could help answer questions and demonstrate beekeeping tactics. Of course I said yes – it was a chance to meet some new beekeepers and enjoy a light delicious dinner and bee talk. Who could say “No” to that?

So, last Saturday, I drove over to Mark Soehner’s home and rolled my wheelchair into his back yard. I arrived late – Mark had already set up some tables with bee equipment and samples of his award-winning backyard honey. Ten folks showed up, most wearing covid masks. You can see mine, left.

After introductions and some background (Mark has kept bees for four years and has lived at his lovely home for 41 years!), the history of each hive was detailed: Mark had made 2 splits a few days earlier; a couple hives were strong honey-makers; another was a swarm that Mark caught eight days earlier. There was a lot to describe and demonstrate to the group of visitors.

If you decide to host a similar gathering in these awkward deadly days of Covid, you will be doing a big favour to a lucky group of beginning beekeepers – a long as you don’t make them all sick, of course. Encourage them to wear masks. Have plenty of space around the demonstration hives. Search for a couple of good example frames (pollen, queen cell, pearl brood, etc.), hold the frame away from your body and let people walk by, single file, like they might when they are visiting Mona Lisa at the Louvre. You can do this and keep everyone safe, entertained, and informed.

Guests, coming by single-file, to get a bit of learning slapped on them.

Left to right: Guest Michael, me (Ron), and host Mark.

Posted in Bee Yards, Friends, Outreach | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Covid: How we got our bees

Some really unusual things have been going on in the bee world since the advent of Covid-19. These include a big setback for beekeepers in my community and the rescue of stranded Canadians in Central America – a rescue performed because of commercial beekeepers. I’ll get to these in a moment.

First, let’s talk about beekeeping in the time of Covid. Hobby beekeeping is pretty much the same as it was last year. We wonder and worry about the rains, the temperatures, the flowers, the mites. Commercial Covid-beekeeping is a bit harder. The government of Alberta even issued a Covid-19 Beekeeping Guidelines bulletin.  It is mostly for the 200 commercial beekeepers in our province, but if you are a hobbyist and haven’t learned how to wash your hands by now, that’s included.

As I said, hobby beekeepers have it easier. We can go out to our backyard bees without a mask and take bee communion. (So far, there’s no evidence that our bees will pick up this respiratory virus.) Unfortunately, hobby beekeepers who need mentors will find that a bit awkward. Social distancing and sharing bee inspection techniques are almost mutually exclusive. Also, bee clubs are generally not clubbing, so the newbee looking for help may be turning to the misinformation-depository known as YouTube. But perhaps you are lucky enough to have a bee club with a strong on-line presence sharing questions and answers. Next blog post, I’ll write a bit more about this.

I used to be a commercial beekeeper, but now I putter around with two backyard honey bee colonies and use a few other hives for research. My research required some new colonies, so I set up a nuc purchase. Buying nucs was a new experience for me. Over the years, I’ve made thousands of nucs, but not bought any. A couple years ago, I acquired packages through our bee club, just for the experience of growing a couple hives from scratch on all new hive equipment.

This year, needing a few new colonies, I decided to try the nuc experience instead of packages. (There’s nothing wrong with packages – they do very well and you enjoy the thrill and tension of watching a colony dwindle to a tiny cluster during that three-week period when older sisters die and young ones haven’t yet emerged. Then, Ka-Boom, the little colony explodes into a powerful hive and you know that you have picked an interesting hobby.)

This spring, I bought several 5-frame nucs. I made arrangements in early March for May delivery from coastal British Columbia (Canada’s Florida, but with fewer palms and covids). A friend drove his truck and trailer down to the coast, helped the seller prep the nucs, then drove about a hundred of them up the Fraser Valley, across the continental divide, and into Alberta’s land of honey.

I was lucky to have these extra colonies. (Here’s one, right, being transferred from the white box into a full 10-frame box.) I had nucs, but most Alberta beekeepers had ordered packages. Packages didn’t arrive this year. They were supposed to reach Alberta in late April, coming from New Zealand. Because of C-19, flights (even those carrying bees) were cancelled. Some commercial beekeepers purchase thousands of packages to replace winter losses or expand their outfits. These folks couldn’t get the bees they needed and are running fewer colonies this summer. Unfortunately, this past winter was one of our worst ever for winter losses, with about 40% of the province’s honey bees dying. With high winter-kill and no way of using packages to build up their apiaries, they would have wanted nucs, but Canada retails fewer than 5000 nucs, while in a normal spring, 70,000 packages are brought into the country.

The scarcity of replacement bees means that Alberta’s hive count is down. This made some home gardeners nervous about their backyard gardens. There is no reason to be overly-concerned – honey bees focus on big fields (and forests) of uniform flowers for nectar and pollen; backyard gardens are mostly pollinated by bumble bees and other native species. It’s mostly those minor bees that take care of gardens, not honey bees.

The local TV news heard about the plight of farmers and gardeners so they phoned. I suggested that they would learn more from farmers and beekeepers and sent them off to interview some of those folks. They did, but then they came back to me to get the city-side of the story. I’ve linked the news piece here.  You can watch the video interview of a bee-man, farmer, and me here:

Now, a completely different corona beekeeping story.

Commercial beekeeping in Alberta depends on Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs). These folks are experienced beekeepers who live in Nicaragua, the Philippines, eastern Europe, South America, and other places four months of the year, then show up in Canada to help the big outfits – bee farms with thousands of colonies. The workers come back year after year, usually working at the same bee businesses. Without them, commercial beekeeping wouldn’t survive in the manner it is conducted today.

Most of the TFWs fly into Canada in April or May. This spring, Covid-19 stopped most air traffic. Canadian commercial beekeepers chartered a plane to carry about 100 beekeepers north from Central America. Then they discovered that Canadian tourists and business folks were stranded in Central America and also needed a trip north. Here’s an excerpt from Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail:

A chartered plane carrying an unlikely combination of travellers is scheduled to depart Nicaragua for Canada on Monday: temporary foreign workers bound for commercial bee operations, and Canadians who had been stranded in Central America amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flights out of the capital of Managua have been suspended as international travel slows to a near standstill, complicating efforts to bring workers into Canada to help manage the spring hive-building season – a vital time when bees reproduce and burgeon into healthy colonies. Led by a queen that lays up to 2,000 eggs each day, honey bees are good for more than their name implies; they are critical to the cross-pollination of fruits, vegetables and canola.

To stave off a labour shortage that could impact the food supply chain and hurt the beekeeping industry, the Canadian Honey Council took matters into its own hands. At a cost of roughly $200,000, the council chartered a plane to fly 80 skilled workers from Nicaragua to Canada, touching down first in Calgary, and then continuing east to Saskatoon, Brandon and Toronto.

 

Posted in Beekeeping, Commercial Beekeeping, Pollination | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Don’t Step on a Bee Day

squashed Benny

There’s a day for everything.

Today is Don’t Step on a Bee Day.

See if you can keep it up all week!

Posted in Humour, Save the Bees | Tagged | 3 Comments

Covid: Do your bees have the cure?

Well, I hope you enjoyed your break away from my blog. I did. Sometimes its nice to hit that big fat reset button in the middle of the desk. I hit it when my head fell on my desk one afternoon and just stayed there. I’m feeling a little better now.

You must be tired of all the Covid-19 stuff by now, but that’s exactly where I’m picking up my blog today. I just read a paper written by someone in Wuhan, China – the place the virus began. 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.

However, as a matter of general interest, here’s an excerpt from the study (read the full piece here) that relates how beekeepers in the Wuhan area seemed immune to Covid-19 during their epidemic:

“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.

After that, we interviewed five apitherapists in Wuhan and followed 121 patients of their apitherapy clinic. These patients had received apitherapy from October 2019 to December 2019, and all the five bee apitherapists have the habit of self-apitherapy for their own health care (apitherapy means making use of bee venom from the honeybee’s sting to treat or prevent certain diseases). Without any protective measures, two of the five apitherapists were exposed to suspected COVID-19 cases and others were exposed to confirmed COVID-19 cases, but none of them were infected eventually. None of the 121 patients were infected by SARS-CoV-2, and three of them had close contact with immediate family members who were confirmed SARS-CoV-2 Infection cases.”

There have been other claims that apitherapy (bee stings) will prevent or cure the novel corona virus. I don’t follow unproven, untested medical advice. Bee sting therapy may be effective in relieving some ailments, but the newness of Covid-19 has not allowed proper and thorough testing. And, as always, we need to remind ourselves of the potential fatal impact of bee stings on hypersensitive people. Further, practicing medicine without a licence is a serious offence.

However, this whole thing is intriguing. Bee stings can stimulate the immune system. If you get stung regularly, please comment below. Have you been tested for C-19? Did you have the virus? Whatever your answer – or thoughts on this story – be sure to let us know.

Posted in Apitherapy, Science, Stings, Strange, Odd Stuff | Tagged , , | 21 Comments

Big Bee Meet

This is sort of a public service announcement for Alberta beekeepers. Alberta is a place in Canada, population 4 million, north of Montana, home to the Calgary Stampede, some NHL teams, and the best honey in the world. Deer and antelope roam here, too. I mention all this because most of my readers are not from Alberta, so this gives some context about what follows. If you’re not in western Canada, you might not care about this. In that case, you can come back later when you can stay longer.

I’m a director of United Beekeepers of Alberta. Our next AGM and conference is two weeks away. If you are in Alberta, Saskatchewan, or BC., come visit us at this big bee meeting. It’s in Spruce Grove, near Edmonton, the second-largest city in Alberta (home of the High Level Bridge Streetcar, among other fine attractions).  Our meeting includes ten entrancing speakers, a lunch, edible snacks, non-edible honey competition, trade show, and a chance to get my autograph – if you successfully bid for a copy of one of my books.

Seriously, folks, the cost is trivial ($25), the folks are delightful, the talks entertaining, and you should be there. Don’t miss the United Beekeepers of Alberta Conference, Saturday, March 14, in Spruce Grove, Alberta.  Learn more about the event and register before it sells out.

Posted in Outreach, Personal, Strange, Odd Stuff | Tagged , | 3 Comments

A Guide to Controlling Varroa

Varroa (Scott Bauer, USDA)

Morgan Roth

Spring is arriving in the north, and a young man’s mind thinks about romance. And varroa. There’s a nice new single-page guide that offers a quick look at integrated pest management (IPM) for the varroa beast. You can read some of the details, here, at the Entomology Today website, or read a complete paper on the topic at the Journal of Integrated Pest Management. Both pieces were written by Morgan Roth (et al.), an entomology research assistant at Virginia Polytech.

Here are a few lines from the abstract of “Biology and Management of Varroa destructor (Mesostigmata: Varroidae) in Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera: Apidae) Colonies”, which appears in the integrated pest management journal.

…overuse of synthetic acaricides in the past has led to widespread acaricide resistant V. destructor populations. The application of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques is a more recent development in V. destructor control and is suggested to be more effective than only using pesticides, thereby posing fewer threats to A. mellifera colonies. When using IPM methods, informed management decisions are made based upon sampling, and cultural and mechanical controls are implemented prior to use of acaricide treatments. If acaricides are deemed necessary, they are rotated based on their mode of action, thus avoiding V. destructor resistance development.

This, of course, is relatively well-known advice. But the quality of the article, published this month, is worth your time. You can follow the historic migration of varroa from a largely benign existence on Apis cerana in Asia, to its nearly world-wide domination as a parasite that chews out bits of Apis mellifera. The paper covers biology and reproduction, current controls (synthetic and organic acaricides), non-chemical treatments, and of course, how all things fit together in the IPM model.

Here’s a bit more, from the section Soft (Organic) Acaricides:

Soft acaricide treatments have been steadily increasing in popularity, as they rarely accumulate to harmful levels in hives and bee products (Rosenkranz et al. 2010). Oxalic acid that can be sprayed, trickled, evaporated into hives, or used as crystals, is thought to be preferable for use in autumn and winter months (Rademacher and Arz 2006). Lactic acid is also used in small apiaries during the autumn and winter, is administered by spray, but is a time-consuming treatment strategy (Kraus and Ben 1994). Formic acid is administered as a fumigant, inserted into hives on saturated pads or in gel pads (Elzen et al. 2004), or in gel packs, and is best used during summer months, or during a period of the year when average daily temperatures reach 15°C (Satta et al. 2005). These organic acids all occur naturally in honey (Kraus and Ben 1994, Rademacher and Arz 2006, Gunes et al. 2017); however, high levels of formic acid vaporization can be toxic to bees, therefore, acid concentrations and hive temperatures should be monitored while treatments are being administered (Elzen et al. 2004). It is recommended that day temperatures range between 10 and 33°C when formic acid strips are in use (Honey Bee Health Coalition 2018). Despite the risks, formic acid is also the only soft acaricide that is known to kill mites in A. mellifera capped brood cells, which makes it an attractive option (Fries 1991). The modes of action for these acids are unclear, but it is suspected that oxalic and lactic acid lead to mite death via solution acidity, and formic acid is thought to eventually interfere with V. destructor metabolism and respiration (Rosenkranz et al. 2010).

Many essential oils have also been tested for use in V. destructor control, however, thyme (thymol), marjoram, sage, wintergreen, clove, and turpentine (camphor) oil, are most commonly implemented, and have been somewhat successful (Imdorf et al. 1999). These treatments may be administered as fumigants, sprays, powders, saturated absorbent materials, or gels (Mondet et al. 2011). These essential oils are believed to be effective due to their neurological effects on V. destructor (Blenau et al. 2012). Tobacco extract was also shown to be an effective acaricide, especially when used in combination with clove oil (Mahmood et al. 2014). Thymol, purchased as Apiguard gel or powder, is the most commonly used essential oil. Thymol is considered to be more effective than tau-fluvalinate, which could be due to resistance (Ahmad et al. 2013) even though it can have different effects on bees of various ages and is still ineffective on mites in bee brood (Mondet et al. 2011).

I think that the articles, in Entomology Today (a synopsis) and the Journal of Integrated Pest Management, are worth your time. They will certainly help you know your enemy and maybe even restrict the voracious vermin to destroying your neighbours’ hives, instead of your own.

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