To Inseminate or Not to Inseminate?
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Posted on August 1, 2011 in Beekeeping Classes | Short Link

Today I stood beside a row of Christmasberry trees in North Kohala, listening to the buzzing of bees around newly opened blossoms. Some were gathering pollen, others, nectar. I leaned in close to inspect their bodies for that dreaded and all too prevalent parasite, the varroa mite. I was pleased to find not a one among the hundred or so bees I examined!

Last week in class, Ethel Villalobos from the UH Manoa Honeybee Project spoke about the research being conducted on diseases spread by varroa, various methods of controlling the mite, and ongoing outreach and education efforts. It seems the battle against the eight-legged pest is never-ending and laborious. Synthetic chemicals find their way into honey, so the use of more earth friendly organic chemicals like thyme oil and formic acid is preferable. Biomechanical methods of mite control include removing drone (male) brood as they are developing. As the drone larvae are larger than worker (female) larvae, mites find them more attractive and feed upon them in greater numbers. Thus, by removing developing drones, the mite population can also be greatly reduced. Ethel warned that without proper management and intervention, infected colonies can die within a year.

Tom Glenn, a bee breeder from Southern California, has yet another approach to varroa control. He selects for a remarkable trait–bees carrying the Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) gene that can sense if a capped cell holds mite-infested larvae. Workers will chew through the beeswax caps and eat or discard these larvae, reducing the number of mites in the colony. Since introducing VSH queens into his hives, Tom has not had to treat his bees for mites in ten years.

Accelerating the process of natural selection for desirable traits through artificial insemination of queen bees seemed advantageous to many in class. Others found the idea distasteful, suggesting that instead of tinkering with Mother Nature, we should allow bees and mites to achieve a balance where the two could live together without the bees being decimated. It was argued that the use of toxic chemicals and selective breeding might cause the mites to adapt, becoming even stronger, more formidable foes!

Later that afternoon I watched as Tom anesthetized a queen with carbon dioxide, delicately pulled open her “bottom end” and injected 8 micro liters of semen (collected from 100 drones) into her. An identifying number was then super-glued to her thorax, and one wing-tip clipped to prevent her from flying and mating again. I felt an anthropomorphic pang of sadness. She would never zoom 600 feet up into the sky on a glorious and dizzying flight – never merge in ecstatic union with drones on the wing.

My wild swing from VSH enthusiasm to a sense of having betrayed the queen was purely in the realm of emotion, and I hadn’t even begun to understand the scientific consequences and ethical concerns of artificially inseminating queen bees! But, despite my inner qualms, I must admit that if I acquired a hive tomorrow, I would introduce a VSH queen. I don’t want to watch a colony struggle with varroa and I’d hope that greater diversity in the Hawaiian bee gene pool would outweigh any possible negatives of selective breeding.

Posted by Monika Hennig

wsare_logo_lowThis project was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

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The Moment I Have Been Waiting For…
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Posted on August 1, 2011 in Beekeeping Classes | Short Link

For several years I have known that I want to be a beekeeper. I became infatuated with bees and honey after reading a chapter in the book “Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers” that claimed that people who eat a primarily honey diet have been known to live to well over 100 years old. I was sold! Since then, my love relationship with bees and honey has mostly existed in books, movies, and online articles.

However, how could I be sure I was ready to be a bee guardian without ever having any hands on experience with bees? What if I freaked out at the moment that mattered most? What if I had gotten a hive, only to realize that I would be paralyzed with fear?

The true test finally came for me last Saturday during our second Beginning Beekeeping Class with Richard Spiegel and Jenny Bach at Volcano Island Honey Company. We suited up and practiced the proper way to open up the hive, inspect a frame, and light our smokers. Then it was out to the field we went, three people per hive to practice with the real stars of the show—the bees!

A classmate, Larry, was the first in my group to open up the hive. Wow! All of the bees were pouring up to the top. We puffed a little smoke their way, and they immediately began retreating to engorge themselves on honey. The bees were so quiet and peaceful with us, despite our alien space suits and invasion of their home.

Now, the moment I had been waiting for… I used my hive tool to pry a frame out of the hive. I held in my hands, an entirely different universe of awe and wonder. Hundreds of bees were crawling all over beautifully capped honey cells. I could see eggs and larva indicating that the Queen was alive and well. Bees were eating honey and talking to each other. There were a few drones that I spotted, and lots of female workers.

I could have stared at the frame in my hands for hours. I was amazed with how calm I was–not an ounce of anxiety, only pure fascination! After a while though, the bees let us know they had enough of our unexpected visit. Their buzzing became louder, and the whole hive seemed to be in a bit of a frenzy. It was obvious that it was time for us to let them bee.

Even though I plan on doing this a million more times, I will never forget this first experience for the rest of my life! Thank you Richard and Jenny!! You have made my dreams come true!

Posted by Callie McNew


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What is Natural?
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Posted on August 1, 2011 in Beekeeping Classes | Short Link

Larry, Noel and I talked excitedly about bees all the way to class. Larry has already built several top bar hives, and is building one for me this week.

We’re ready!

However, the class this week was a difficult one both visually and emotionally. Seeing pictures of a slime out caused by small hive beetle was just plain yucky. We saw, up close and personal, what today’s beekeepers face with the arrival of new pests to the Big Island—the varroa mite and small hive beetle. We were extremely lucky to have Danielle Downey, a State of Hawaii Apiary Specialist, and Ethel Villalobos, from The UH Honeybee Project presenting the most scientific up to date information, and offering their help and expertise.

But perhaps the most controversial guests were Tom and Yuki Glenn from Glenn Apiaries in California. Tom had come with semen from drones from VSH Queens and we watched him artificially inseminate some of Richard’s queens. VSH is for Varroa-sensitive hygienic behavior. How does this work? Bees with this trait will detect mite infested brood, open the cell, and eat the mite offspring and bee larva. Even though the mother mite survives, her reproduction is interrupted, which eventually reduces the mite population in the hive. VSH queens will retain a level of mite resistance even after free mating with unselected drones, so genetic diversity can be maintained. These bees are also resistant to tracheal mites, (which are not in Hawaii), American Foulbrood and Chalkbrood. The website claims this is “the natural way to control mites and brood diseases.” It certainly seems better than chemiclals–check mite, pyrethins or antibiotics.

Artificial insemination and VSH Queens seemed like the perfect natural solution, until Jenny Bach presented a counter argument by asking the question, “What is natural?” Her reasoning was as follows: We have interfered with bee genetics for a while now, producing calmer bees which produce more honey and less propolis. We’ve put them in boxes that make honey production easier for us. We’ve transported them across a whole continent to pollinate mono crops such as the almonds in California, where they inter-mingled and spread diseases. We’ve flown bee packages all over the world, spreading mites and Africanized bees. So should we let natural selection take place so that the bees can recover on their own, or should we help them by speeding up the process with VSH queens?

I came away from the class discouraged. Can I really do this? Am I starting at the right time?

When I got home I emailed my friend Christy in Berkeley, California to ask about her bees. She had just gotten her bees in March at which time she proudly showed me her new hive. This week she told me that her bees are doing great and she’s almost ready to harvest 2 supers of honey. She sent me the picture of her backyard hive (at right.) Her next step is renting an extractor from the same place she got her hive and supers, and took her classes. Her package of bees came in the mail, she bought her hive and supers locally and can even rent an extractor!

OK, Big Island, this seems like a business waiting to happen! In the meantime, I’m once again encouraged. It can be done. Now I’m just waiting for my bees to find me.

Posted by Mary Ann Smiles


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The Big Picture
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Posted on August 1, 2011 in Beekeeping Classes | Short Link

Last week I wrote about my distress at finding Hive #3 without a queen. This week, I was glad to find out that Hive #3 has a queen and is doing fine! She was newly introduced last week and we just missed her in our examination of the hive. It sounds like things are going to be looking up for the bees in that colony.

One of my favorite things about the learning process is when new information fits like a puzzle piece into the “Big Picture”. The bees are an indicator species of what is going on in our mutual environment. Over the past two years I have been studying natural farming methods, beneficial insects and invasive species (both plant and insect). The introduction of invasive species has reduced the honeybee’s numbers by half. What can we learn from that catastrophe?

I agree with my fellow students that importing 90% of our food into Hawaii is a bad idea. The bees, for example, gather everything they need within 2-3 miles radius of their hive. What would it look like if we too a hint from the bees? Buying and/or growing local food, reducing our dependence on imports and fossil fuels?

This class on honeybees is turning out to be a teaching on emotional life lessons. I am inspired by Jenny and Richard’s commitment to live and work in the “right” way. It is such a pleasure to be learning from them, my fellow students, and most of all the honeybees. I can’t wait for next week!

Posted by Christine Young


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Dancing with the Bees
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Posted on July 21, 2011 in Beekeeping Classes | Short Link

It is a romantic image… bees hovering over delicate blooms, gathering nectar and pollen ripened by sunlight. Then, in the darkness of the hive, wax is produced and shaped into comb the color of cream. It is as if sunlight had found its way into the very center of the hive! We take the gifts the comb offers, golden-hued honey, and in the darkness of night or the depths of winter, we light candles crafted of beeswax. As they glow with brightness and warmth, we are again reminded of the sun’s light, now before us in miniature.

Learning to use a smoker for the first time.

In our second beekeeping class, we had the opportunity to open a Langstroth hive, remove frames, and examine bees. Equipped with hat, veil, thick gloves, smoker and hooked hive tool, we gingerly lifted the hive lid. Clumsy under my gear and weakly grasping my hive tool, I seemed to move in slow motion. Hawaii’s bee expert, Danielle Downey, took my tool and deftly pushed the first frame to free it from the others. Encouraged by her vigor, I lifted the frame out, and the humming and buzzing of the bees quickly brought clarity and purpose to my movements. The gloves seemed more of a hindrance than a help, so off they came, and the bees crawling over my fingertips felt surprisingly more comforting than panic-inducing! My classmates took turns removing frames and examining brood and honey cells. I lifted out yet another frame when someone excitedly chirped, “There’s the queen, on the back of your frame!” She was instantly recognizable, her amber abdomen long and tapering, her thorax dark and mostly hairless.

Closer inspection of the colony revealed some bees with shiny small rust-colored ovals clinging to their bodies. This was our first encounter with the varroa mite, a blood-sucking parasite that spreads disease, weakens colonies, and is responsible, in part, for the massive bee die-offs in Hawaii over the last few years. Beekeepers have long been dealing with this pest on the mainland, but its fairly recent introduction to the islands has kept Hawaiian beekeepers scrambling to learn techniques for keeping the parasite populations in check.


After replacing the frames and lid, I walked away from the hive with mixed feelings: a “zingy” excitement at having held bees just inches from my face, but also concern over the mite that was weakening bees and causing some to emerge from their cells with deformed wings. For me, beekeeping will be a dance between the awe I experience when I am around bees, and the care I must provide to maintain healthy colonies.

Posted by Monika Hennig


wsare_logo_lowThis project was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

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Bees Make Their Own Homes
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Posted on July 21, 2011 in Beekeeping Classes | Short Link

With the sun over our shoulders, we took turns holding up the frames of our beehive to look at the bees. At first we saw a blanket of bees, but by blowing gently, the bees moved and we saw the six sided cells capped with honey, then some eggs, and larva. We saw bees drinking honey, with only their bottoms sticking out of the caps. We saw bees exchanging nectar. It was mesmerizing. We were surprised at how heavy the frames were. I certainly felt awkward at dislodging the propolis, moving the frames, prying them up with my new hive tool and trying to grab them with gloved hands. We were so afraid of crushing a bee!


How amazing it is that bees make their homes with their own bodies! Except for the wooden part of the frame, the bees had made everything we were looking at. The beginning of their home is the comb, which is the womb of the hive. They make the comb by eating honey, then turning it into wax through glands situated on the last four segments of their abdomen. They sort of “sweat” the honey out through these smooth areas of the bodies called wax mirrors. These glands reach their peak in worker bees between the 12th and 18th day of their lives. The bees must eat about 8 lbs of honey to produce 1 lb of wax. They can make up to eight plates of wax a day, which harden into paper thin scales. They then maneuver the scales into their mouths, mix it with secretions, and knead it into workable wax. The most amazing part is they make perfect hexagons with the wax, which fit together without any spaces. They can even form chains of bees and use gravity to get the shape of comb they want. A healthy, fertilized queen lays eggs to fill these cells nonstop for years, creating the eggs and larva we were observing.


Suddenly, the sound changed from a pleasant hum to a higher pitched louder noise. The bees started darting around my veil. They were coming out of the hive, and seemed agitated. Maybe we had smoked them too much, or maybe we had introduced too much cool wind to the brood, or maybe they were just done letting us view the inner workings of their self made home. Whatever changed their mood, we decided it was time to close up the hive. We quickly put two frames back in, trying to coax the bees out of the way, then the queen excluder, the super, and the top. They bees were in the dark again. The pleasant hum returned, as our second class was over all too fast.


Posted by Mary Ann Smiles


wsare_logo_lowThis project was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

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Reflection on First Opening of a Hive
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Posted on July 21, 2011 in Beekeeping Classes | Short Link

The intoxicating aroma of beekeepers’ smoke
The fond smells of summer campfires does invoke
For a while we were able to share
For a while we were able to watch and stare
Amazing this hive, this amazing place
Thank you, bee friends, for sharing your space

Posted by Maria da Silva


a href=”http://www.westernsare.org/”>wsare_logo_lowThis project was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

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An Intimate Look at a Difficult Struggle
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Posted on July 21, 2011 in Beekeeping Classes | Short Link

Our second class was an “awakening” for me. Richard and Jenny did a super job of transferring their vast wisdom about the bees and the equipment needed for a beekeeper. It is clear how deeply they both care about the bees and about us newbies trying to grasp all the critical points. Richard and Jenny have both developed great teaching styles in the way that they present the information verbally, visually, by demonstration and then allowing us to do it ourselves.


My “awakening” came when we opened Hive #3. The process felt invasive to me and I was feeling uncomfortable about my trespass. Then my feelings turned to real concern as we witnessed the bees struggling. We searched for the queen with no luck, finding only queen cells–some empty and one being fed. We found small hive beetles and the deformed wings of bees that were victims of a virus transferred by the varroa mite. So many battles to fight for these little honeybees. I have read about the challenges and threats to the bees for years, but I was never this close to the battle.

I can understand why re-queening is so important to the colony. You could almost hear their clocks ticking without the queen. Bees are much more vulnerable to pests and population decline without her leadership and strength. It is evident how colony collapse can happen without the constant vigilance of the beekeeper. With Richard showing the way we ran through a diagnostic of the colony in the least invasive way. He explained how we can help them by monitoring their health and wellbeing and by stepping in where we can to boost them up. Richard was very concerned about the colony being queenless and said he had just re-queened several colonies earlier that week.

So with that short visit into a hive, I am now emotionally invested in Hive #3 and hope to find out how they are doing first thing next Saturday.

Posted by Christine Young


a href=”http://www.westernsare.org/”>wsare_logo_lowThis project was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

Bees Find their Beekeepers
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Posted on July 14, 2011 in Beekeeping Classes | Short Link

I was excited and a little anxious about my first bee class. The bees chose me awhile ago, and I feel like I’m catching up to their decision. A whole afternoon devoted to a class about bees seemed like a long time, but it turned out bees are just plain fascinating!

Richard and Jenny are the perfect yin and yang of the bee keeper and the bee guardian. Like the queen producing eggs, Richard is producing honey, and like the drone, who’s only job is to fertilize a queen, Jenny’s cause is to perpetuate the species. And we, the students, are like the worker bees, busy learning our new craft.

To learn that 50% of the Big Island’s bee population was lost in 2010 is heartbreaking. So a new breed of bee keeper emerges. 50% of the class is more interested in pollination than honey. To me, the bees are saying, take care of me, I’ll pollinate, AND I’ll share my honey with you. How can I say no?

The class out with the bees for the first time.

At the end of the day, awkwardly dressed in our new hats and veils, as Richard opened the hive, there was a perfect peace. The bees were calm. We were calm. No one seemed to want to leave. As Richard put the top back on, closing up the hive, the spell was broken, but I drove home thinking about the bees.

Written by Mary Ann Smiles

wsare_logo_lowThis project was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

How Well Do We Communicate With Our Ohana?
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Posted on July 14, 2011 in Beekeeping Classes | Short Link

Richard unveils the bees, busy communicating in their hive.

How is it with all our human verbal skills we have so much less quality communication that the beloved honey bees? Learning about bees communication this week, I was struck by how great they are at communicating throughout the colony that may number from 20,000 to 60,000 individuals.

They take care of the colony, the queen, the environment and give selflessly to others. Their communication through out the colony is faultless. How many of us could say that about our small family units? The bees share with all the other workers about where to find the best nectar and pollen sources. They communicate that information through a bee dance that triangulates the exact location, even factoring in the movement of the sun. They also share a sample of the product they are so excited about. No selfishness here. In the pollen and nectar gathering they can mark the flowers as “used” so another bee does not have to waste their time. The bees even communicate with us in an auditory way. They emit a happy hum or if they have lost their queen they give off the “queenless roar” in discontent. These wonderful creatures have so much to teach us and I am blessed to be in their classroom.

 

Written by Christine Young

wsare_logo_lowThis project was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

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