Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Be Careful Out There

Organic acids are among the chemical treatments available for controlling parasitic Varroa mites in honey bee hives. In March of 2015 the EPA approved oxalic acid for use in the U.S.; it has previously been used in Europe. Researchers at the Laboratory of Apiculture & Social Insects in Sussex, England report their findings on the use of oxalic acid: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00218839.2015.1106777. Varroa mites occur in the hive both inside the capped brood cells and on the bodies of adult bees. Oxalic acid only kills the phoretic mites, the ones on the adult bees. There are three methods for treating bee hives with oxalic acid: trickling or dribbling, spraying, and sublimation. The Sussex researchers found the sublimation method, which uses an electrical heating element to cause oxalic acid crystals to convert directly to a gas, the most effective killer of mites. Treatments should be applied when temperatures are between 39 and 61 degrees Fahrenheit and when no capped brood is present in the hive. The EPA states that oxalic acid should be used in late fall or early spring when little brood is present. The Sussex researchers explain that even a little brood can protect a lot of Varroa mites from oxalic acid. The Sussex researchers placed 2.5 ml of oxalic acid crystals (half a teaspoon) in a heating device and placed it inside the hives sealed with foam to confine vapors. After the crystals vaporized, they left the hives sealed for 10 to 15 minutes.

As a word of caution, the EPA states, “In addition to the standard beekeeping suit (veil, long-sleeved shirt, long pants and gloves) as personal protective equipment, a respirator and goggles are required.” While oxalic acid occurs naturally in foods, such as carrots, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, parsley, and rhubarb, the chemical can be extremely dangerous if it is breathed or if contacted with the skin or eyes. I highly recommend using other methods than oxalic acid to control Varroa mites. Photo: honey bee on early December sunflower.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Casqui Foods

Before Europeans brought the honey bee to the Americas, flowering plants were largely pollinated by native bees and insects. American Indians ate a diverse assortment of plants and animals. Anthropologist and beekeeper, Dr. Melissa Zabecki Harvey, the staff of Parkin Archeological State Park, and a number of devoted volunteers recreated a meal of the foods available at the Mississippian village of Casqui, the east Arkansas site visited by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541. See https://www.arkansasstateparks.com/parkinarcheological/.

The bountiful meal served to the public at Parkin included the Three Sisters from the park’s Mississippian Garden: maize, squash, and beans. I sampled the following American Indian foods collected on the site and nearby: Roasted Custaw Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, and Sunflower Seeds; Pecans; Black Walnuts; Hickory Nuts; Roasted Burr Oak Acorns; Popcorn; Persimmons; Pumpkin Bread with squash, persimmon paste, corn meal, duck eggs, and milk; Acorn Bread from burr oak acorn flour, sunflower oil, duck eggs, and milk; Dried Cushaw Squash; Dried Serviceberries; Persimmon Leather; Meat Pemmican of shredded venison jerky, elderberries, and butter; Cornmeal Pemmican of cornmeal, serviceberries, and butter; Venison Jerky; Raccoon; Duck; Rabbit; Smoked Venison; Buffalo Fish baked in Tyronza River clay in an open pit on the park grounds; Crawfish Stew of Jerusalem artichokes, corn, crawfish, sassafras leaf powder, sunflower oil, onion grass, and salt; Squirrel and Cornmeal Dumplings; Acorn Stew with venison, acorn flour, and hominy; Indian Stew of venison, pumpkin, sunflower oil, blackberries, beans, hominy, maple syrup, and salt; Pumpkin Soup with, maple syrup, spicebush berries, and animal fat; Kanuchi made from pecans and amaranth grain with salt and maple syrup; Roasted Sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes; Hominy; Bean Cakes of beans, cornmeal, water, duck eggs, salt, onion grass, and sunflower oil; Sunflower Seed Cakes with cornmeal, and maple syrup; Hoe Cakes of cornmeal, water, butter, and pawpaw paste; Poyha made from ground venison, oil, onion, duck eggs, cornmeal, and corn; Persimmon Paste; Hickory Butter; Salt; Wild Garlic; Pine Needle Tea; Prickly Pear Juice; and Sumac Tea.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Fall Hive Management

The roadsides are bright yellow with bitterweed; pink-flowered smartweed covers any damp ground; and field margins bloom with goldenrod and various colors of fall asters. It is time to start preparing the hives for winter. The queens have gradually reduced their egg laying through the end of summer. Now, we would like to extend their egg production throughout October so that the colonies will have plenty of longer-lived worker bees going into winter. Unlike the bees that emerge in spring and summer which have a short lifespan, late season bees can survive the winter. These workers will be the ones that produce the food for the first brood reared early next year. We can stimulate the queen to continue to lay eggs by feeding protein to the hives. An easy way to do this is to place pollen substitute inside a weather-protected container outside the hives.

Our bees must have plenty of honey in the hives to eat over winter. If the hives are short on honey stores now, reduce hive entrances and feed sugar syrup to help the bees build up adequate food stores. It is important that the honey is positioned in the hives so that the bees can access it during cold weather. There should be some honey on the sides of the brood nest and plenty of honey above the brood. If one hive has more frames of capped honey than will be needed, the beekeeper may move some of these frames to hives that are short on honey stores. If queen excluders were used, we must remove them from the hives in the fall. Since bee clusters move upward in the hive during the winter, it is possible for a queen to be left trapped below a queen excluder accidentally left in a hive. A final issue in fall hive preparation regards ventilation. We must make sure that there is adequate air flow, especially at the top of the hive. Today’s photo: fall asters.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Alfalfa Leafcutting Bees

Idaho’s Treasure Valley is an irrigated high desert, making it a diverse agricultural region producing crops for humans and animals. Many of these crops require pollination, so there are plenty of managed bee colonies in the area. Most of the crops are pollinated by the honey bee, Apis mellifera, that American beekeepers house in familiar Langstroth bee hives. However, one crop, alfalfa, an important animal food crop and the principal hay crop for dairy cattle, is largely pollinated by another bee species. When alfalfa is grown to produce seed, the alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundaata, may be brought into the fields to ensure adequate pollination for the production of seed. The alfalfa plant, a member of the legume family, produces ample amounts of nectar and pollen and is attractive to honey bees. However, honey bees don’t like foraging alfalfa due to the physical structure of alfalfa flowers. When a honey bee forager attempts to access alfalfa nectar or pollen, the flower slaps the bee’s face with considerable mechanical force.

The reluctance of honey bees to forage alfalfa makes the alfalfa leafcutting bee a favorable choice especially for alfalfa seed production where ample insect visits are necessary for pollination. Alfalfa leafcutting bees are not social bees like honey bees; they are solitary. Honey bees live in large colonies housed in wooden hives. Gregarious alfalfa leafcutting bees are solitary bees; large numbers of beekeeper-managed solitary bees live in close proximity in tubes bored into wood or plastic boards. The alfalfa leafcutting bee nesting tubes shown in today’s photo are cut into blocks of polystyrene. Adult leafcutting bees are emerging from some blocks. Other blocks with empty tubes are available for leafcutting bees to occupy. After mating, a female leafcutting bee cuts leaf material and carries it to an available tube where she deposits an egg along with pollen and nectar to feed the developing offspring. A large amount of chewed leaf matter is visible under the leafcutting bee hive blocks.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Dry Swarm

Before honey bees swarm, the workers gorge on stored honey to have energy to survive from the time they leave their old hive until they can forage from their new hive. By gorging on honey they also build up the carbohydrate resources they will need to secrete the beeswax needed to build new combs. In the swarming process, bees usually stop to rest on a tree limb or other structure. Here, they are generally quite gentle because they don’t have a nest with brood and food to defend. However, if the swarm does not find a permanent nesting cavity within a couple of days and remains in its resting place, the bees will consume the honey that they are carrying in their honey guts. This is called a “dry swarm.” The swarm may even start to build comb on their temporary structure. Once they do this, they then have a hive to defend, and they defend their hive by stinging, adding excitement to gathering a swarm!

This year has been an exceptionally “swarmy” spring and summer in the Mid-South. Regular rains brought about good nectar flows which often contribute to brood nest congestion. Having the brood nest cells used by the queen for egg laying filled with nectar stimulates the colony to swarm. Today’s photo shows the comb built by a summertime swarm that settled underneath an urban bee hive. The colony built combs and even raised brood before abandoning the exposed combs. When the entire colony of bees flies away from its nest, accompanied by the queen, we call it “absconding.” The beekeeper was able to capture the absconding colony when it stopped nearby to rest, and he hived the bees in a modern Langstroth hive with plenty of sugar syrup to replenish the bees’ expended food stores. The colony has accepted its new home; and with the help of the beekeeper, who will be supplying supplemental feedings, the bees should be in good condition to survive the winter.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Searcy: Bee City USA

Speaking to one of Arkansas’s garden clubs, I became keenly aware of the environmental stresses our honey bees face. I mentioned to the group that gardeners and beekeepers share a close relationship just as flowers and bees share a close relationship. Flowering plants depend upon bees for reproduction; bees depend on flowers for food. The mere existence of each is dependent upon the other. Bees and native pollinators are important to us, and they have the same requirements as humans: a dry house, food, water, and an environment free of toxins. An agricultural state, much of Arkansas is depicted by miles and miles of monocultural plantings of a few agricultural crops: cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, and sorghum. Today’s industrial agriculture involving the complete destruction of weedy forage plants and heavy usage of pesticides make these row crop areas a harsh environment for bees and pollinators. Eastern Arkansas, one of the nation’s principal honey producing regions, is now one of the most threatened for honey bees. Of particular concern to beekeepers is the heavy use of insecticides and fungicides applied to soybeans, cotton, corn, and sorghum.

Beekeepers play an important role of protecting both the honey bees and native pollinators. While most of the pollinators are bees and other insects—fragile creatures with no voice—they are important to us as they play an essential role in providing one third of our human food supply. They rely upon environmentally aware and concerned gardeners, farmers, extension agents, golf course managers, and beekeepers. The gardeners were eager to design their plantings as pollinator gardens. Beekeeper Allan Isom and 45 enthusiastic citizens have been instrumental in getting the City of Searcy and White County, Arkansas designated as a Pollinator Friendly Community. See http://m.thedailycitizen.com/community/image_948687a5-66c3-5e88-af43-77239cfe832f.html?mode=jqm. The city celebrated their first-in-the-state effort at Searcy’s City Hall. Congratulations to our friends in White County! Other communities can explore how to protect pollinators and receive recognition for the effort at http://www.beecityusa.org/. These Arkansas strawberries require healthy pollinators.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Honey Bee Secondary Swarms

A Little Rock beekeeper captured a swarm and hived it in his Kenyan Top Bar Hive. Ten days later he checked on the bees and found the sizeable colony building combs and filling them with pollen and honey. The bees were gentle and their behavior was normal. Carefully inspecting the combs, the beekeeper found no eggs or larvae, however, he located a small queen in the hive. It is likely that the beekeeper captured a secondary or “after swarm,” a swarm emitted after a primary swarm. Beekeepers across the Mid-South have seen many primary and secondary swarms this year. The above normal number of swarms may largely result from this spring’s wet weather that encouraged profuse blooming of plants like the invasive privet shown being visited by a carpenter bee in today’s photo. Privet nectar fills brood nest cells needed for egg laying; this congestion leads to swarming.

As a honey bee colony prepares to swarm, it typically produces a number of queen cells. Then, when the colony divides and swarms, the old queen leaves with roughly half of the bees. The original hive is usually left with a sealed queen cell for a queen to emerge, mate, and remain in the hive. If the hive emits one or more secondary swarms, they will contain virgin queens. All virgin queens need five or six days to mature after emerging as adults before their mating flights and another five or six days of further ovary development afterward before they begin laying eggs. A secondary swarm’s virgin queen will not be able to lay eggs as quickly as a primary swarm’s queen. After a secondary swarm moves into its new hive, its virgin queen must make mating flights before she can begin laying eggs. Thus, there will be a couple of weeks delay before egg laying begins in the new hive. Throughout this time the virgin queen emits pheromones that organize the colony in a similar fashion to mature, mated queens.