Saturday, February 21, 2015

Urban Beekeeping

Beekeepers are increasingly placing hives within urban areas. While honey bees make good city dwellers, beekeepers planning on keeping urban bees should consider several important issues. The first consideration is the safety of people and animals in the vicinity. While honey bees are usually gentle insects, they will defend their hive by stinging. Young children, elderly people, and confined pets are particularly vulnerable in the case of a stinging event. Bee hives should not be placed near a property line or an area where people walk or frequent. The next important consideration for locating bee hives is ease of access. Bee hive equipment and honey are heavy; try to minimize carrying distances. A group of dedicated individuals wanted to place bee hives on the roof of the urban church in today’s picture. I suggested that they consider the difficulty in carrying live bees, equipment, and bee feed through the church as well as returning with dripping supers of harvested honey. They chose to build a fenced enclosure next to the building to safely house the bee hives. A fence or hedge bee hive’s entrance forces the bees to fly up above the heads of people. While bee hives are placed on rooftops in many cities, these locations are often extremely hot and lacking in shade. Honey bees consume lots of water and need to have water available at all times.

Some in the public are fearful of stinging insects; urban beekeepers usually conceal their hives from view. Some municipalities place constraints on urban hive numbers. However, most communities realize the benefit of having trained beekeepers and managed bee hives. They serve as advocates for the role of pollinators and beneficial insects. Understanding the interconnectedness of pollinators and our food crops, informed citizens reduce their use of chemicals in the environment. Knowledgeable beekeepers are capable of handling Africanized honey bees, and maintaining a healthy population of managed honey bees prevents creating environmental niches for undesirable insects, like hornets and yellow jackets.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Neonics Questioned

Neonicotinoids are now the most widely used insect killers, and their safety to beneficial insects remains in question. “Neonics” are used to control pests in soybeans, cotton, and corn crops. The use of neonicotinoid insecticides coincides with the massive die-off of honey bees in Europe and North America. This means that the use of these new insect poisons and the deaths of bee colonies occurred at the same time. This timing alone does not mean that the insecticide killed the bees. However, nothing has cleared the neonicotinoids; Environmental Protection Agency scientists and others suspect that these insecticides are contributing to the colony losses. If they are contributing to the bee colony deaths, the situation will continue as long as these insecticides are being used. A number of studies are looking at neonicotinoids. The International Union for Conservation of Nature reviewed 800 peer-reviewed reports and prepared a Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA) of their findings, They concluded, “In reviewing all the available literature rather than simply comparing one report with another, the WIA has found that field-realistic concentrations of neonics adversely affect individual navigation, learning, food collection, longevity, resistance to disease and fecundity of bees.” Meanwhile, EPA scientists noted in a memorandum,, involving the neonicotinoid insecticide Clothianidin that its “major risk concern is to nontarget insects (that is, honey bees). Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid insecticide that is both persistent and systemic….Clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis.” The scientists site incident reports involving other neonicotinoid insecticides that “suggest the potential for long term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects.”

A promising study conducted in Arkansas found low levels of neonicotinoids in the reproductive parts of soybean and cotton plants—good news, since this is where honey bees gather nectar. Following the Arkansas study, Little Rock television reporter, Sarah Fortner, interviewed Jon Zawislak and me. View the “Science with Sarah” episode at That’s Sarah and me examining a honey bee hive.