Saturday, December 24, 2016

Pax Vobiscum

A scene in an upcoming motion picture depicts a young man’s chance encounter with a swarm of bees that results in life-changing awareness for himself. The movie, Dayveon, will be aired in Utah on the first day of the renowned Sundance Film Festival in late January 2017. Emily and Jeremy Bemis and I were the film’s bee wranglers, producing an artificial swarm for the camera. The film, directed by Amman Abbasi of Little Rock, tells the story of a 13-year-old who joins a gang in a rural Arkansas town. You can see the bees and read how we created a swarm on a tree limb on my August 18, 2015 posting, “Wrangling Movie Bees.” Throughout history, people have been intrigued by honey bees. Often it is such a chance encounter with swarming bees that excites people to learn how to handle bees.

In the United States, beekeeping is both an important part of our agriculture and an engaging hobby. In the highlands of Ethiopia, beekeeping is a major part of a mixed agriculture, adding significantly to insuring food stability. I am proud to have had the opportunity to train eager beekeepers in the art and science of managing honey bees in both countries. Beekeeping classes, taught by Jeremy Bemis and me, at Bemis Honey Bee Farm in Little Rock attract large numbers of beekeepers, some starting and others expanding their knowledge and skills. Individuals travel great distances to attend my beekeeping classes in Arkansas State University’s Community Education program at three campuses: Heber Springs, Searcy, and Beebe, Arkansas. Today’s photo is Sugar Loaf Mountain, which overlooks the ASU Heber Springs campus. Almost anyone can keep bees. All that is needed is an interest in observing and attending to marvelous, industrious little creatures living harmoniously in wooden boxes. Classes, books, and mentoring teach the art and science of keeping bees. Be forewarned: Beekeeping can become a life-changing endeavor. The Underhill family of Peace Bee Farm offers that peace be with you.

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: 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.