Saturday, April 13, 2013

What's With the Bees?

After a bumper crop of honey in October, really far more honey than we could process, eat or give away, a check of our hive by Stew and (Bee) Bob Lewis last week showed production had dropped  drastically. This after a bountiful, if short, spring when the landscape was filled with yellow jarrilla and huizache flowers and bees buzzed around the ranch in a frenzy.

Bee Bob, the local apiculture maven who has helped Stew set up his hive and who teaches beekeeping to the locals under a grant from the Audubon Society, is not quite sure what's going on but surmises it might have been caused by a couple of unexpected killer frosts in late February, which wiped out most of the bumper crop of flowers. No flowers, less honey. Bee Bob said that some apiculturists in nearby Dolores Hidalgo had seen production drop off by between one-half and two-thirds.

Bee Bob had planned to take two "supers" from our beehive—supers are the flat boxes with slots where the honeycomb frames are placed and on which the honey collects—but removed only one because of the decreased production.

Bad news from the beehive. 
He will send the one super to a processing plant in Dolores Hidalgo where they have centrifuges for extracting the honey, instead of Stew doing it manually in the kitchen, a process during which he spreads honey all over the counters and floors, and lets bees loose in the house.

Our dogs, who have been stung during some of Stew's apicultural abracadabras, were relieved to hear the news about the outsourcing of honey processing.

If the cause of our production drop-off was the frost that would be the good news. Far worse would be if our beehive were also affected by the apparent pesticide poisoning and other problems that have been blamed for the collapse of bee colonies in the U.S. and Europe.

Bill Dahle, a commercial Montana beekeeper quoted in the New York Times sounded distraught about the alarming bee die-off last year. "They looked so healthy last spring," he said. "We were so proud of them. Then, about the first of September, they started to fall on their face, to die like crazy."

I don't believe Stew is quite that emotionally attached to his bees yet, nor have I seen a bee fall on its face, but the problem is very serious because many commercial farmers use borrowed bees to pollinate their crops. No bees then no apples, grapes, almonds or whatever.

Our lone beehive may not have such transcendental environmental impact, but it would be good to know what's going on.

In the U.S. and Europe some scientists blame the use of a powerful new family of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, and which plants incorporate into their systems, for the alarming collapse of honeybee colonies. Environmental authorities in the European Union are considering a ban on the neonicotinoids but makers of the pesticides say their product is not to blame and more research is needed. Scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are also looking into the matter.

In Mexico, where environmental regulations and controls are far more loosey-goosey—or nonexistent—we'll just have to continue scratching our heads and/or praying to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Our man Bee Bob says commercial vegetable producers, a big business around San Miguel, could be using nicotinoids but no one knows that, much less regulates their use.

Some of the produce grown around here is sold in the U.S. under the brand "Mr. Lucky." If nicotinoids are to blame for the collapse of honeybee colonies let's hope environmental regulators North of the Border act and any bans eventually ripple down to Mexico, to give our bees a lucky break of their own.

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4 comments:

  1. Fascinating information, thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Are you all familiar with a device called a "bee excluder?" It's a sort of one-way valve you put between supers when you want to harvest the honey. You install it, then wait a week or so, and voila! You can remove the super, and it won't have a single bee in it. That solves the problem of having random bees attached to the honey you want to extract.

    As someone who grew up keeping bees, I'd recommend against mass extraction anyway. Fresh honey is delightful, while honey which has been sitting in jars is much less so. After a while, honey in jars develops crystals, darkens, and hardens. It stops tasting so delightful too.

    I could never figure out why we always harvested so much honey. It'd be much better to take a comb at a time, use that, then go back for more. That way, it stays much fresher, and the bees can also use it if they need it.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, Ma
    Where we occasionally think about starting a hive, but then figure that the neighbors wouldn't likely be bemused.

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  3. P.S. I'm really not a robot. I swear!

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  4. Kim: Wow. I didn't know you knew so much about bees. I'll pass on the excluder idea to Stew and Bee Bob. And you advice for extracting a comb at a time is one of those that makes sense yet never occurs to you. You're right that stored honey turns cloudy and icky and is really a waste.

    THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUGGESTIONS!

    AL

    ReplyDelete