Thursday, April 27, 2023

Bee Day


Following two days of rain, the sun broke out on a crisp and cool April morning. My first presentation was scheduled to be conducted in the bee yard. As a videographer was connecting my microphone and focusing the cameras on the line of bee hives stretching into the distance, one hundred beekeepers gathered. Thus began Bee Day at Bemis Honey Bee Farm in Little Rock, Arkansas, a day when people came to receive hundreds of packaged colonies and nucleus colonies of honey bees. They also came for speaking presentations and bee yard demonstrations held throughout the day. I was honored to share speaking sessions with Dr. Dewey M. Caron, the person who literally wrote the book on the topic, Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping. Since Bee Day coincided with Earth Day, Dr. Caron led off with a discussion of the importance of trees and their condition in a world being altered by global warming. He spoke on the biology of honey bee colony reproduction through swarming, and he explained how to read the activity inside bee hives. Alternating with Dr. Caron, I made presentations on the beekeeping year, illustrating how we manage bees that can produce queens in five months but cannot produce them in seven months. I made a presentation on potential pests of bee hives, which include people, pets, livestock, raccoons, possums, skunks, bears, wasps, hornets, ants, and parasitic mites. Dr. Caron concluded our classroom presentations by covering measures to control colony-killing varroa mites. We both emphasized the use of the resources available in the Tools for Varroa Management guide, much of which was written by Dr. Caron. The guide is available through the Honey Bee Health Coalition,


Throughout the day, beekeepers attended demonstrations conducted in the bee yard. A state apiary inspector demonstrated hive inspections, and Jody Carter discussed queen rearing and making colony divisions. Jeremy Bemis demonstrated how to install packaged bees and nucleus colonies in bee hives. Today’s photo: Dr. Dewey M. Caron.


Saturday, December 24, 2022

Pax Vobiscum


The sun is setting across the snow-covered rolling hills of the PalouIse of eastern Washington State . This is the region where I am spending  the winter months with family members. Much of the country is experiencing an exceptionally strong winter storm, and beekeepers’ efforts to protect their colonies are being severely tested. Only in the spring will we find how effectively we prepared our hives for winter. The colonies relatively free of parasitic mites will survive if their hives are adequately ventilated, and the colonies have enough stored food that the bees can readily access. Healthy colonies generate heat by eating honey, the high-energy food that they make themselves, and vibrating their flight muscles. Bees can generate a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit in their flight muscles. While I visit the frigid Pacific Northwest, I am confident that my colonies in Arkansas are faring well in their stormy weather. Before leaving Arkansas, I measured their mite loads and ensured that they had plenty of stored food supplies. The bees are clustered in dry hives.


I am most grateful for the kind sentiments and words of support provided to me by beekeepers and acquaintances from around the country and even around the world following the death of Rita, one of the founders of Peace Bee Farm. As well as being a cheerful and devoted life partner, she was an integral part of the bee business. Now, other family members are learning the art and craft of beekeeping. In this cold, wintery holiday season observed by many of the world’s great religions and traditions, I offer warm wishes that peace be with you.


Tuesday, September 13, 2022

An Ancient Tradition Repeated

The death of Elizabeth II, the Queen of England brings public expressions of sympathy conveyed in traditions dating back hundreds of years. It also brings about a private expression of sympathy that also dates back through the centuries. John Chapple, the queen’s royal beekeeper, quietly notified the bees of the queen’s death, John travelled to Buckingham Palace and Clarence House to notify the bees that their mistress had died and that they would have a new master, Aware of the significance of the loss of a loved one, it was Queen Elizabeth who told us, “Grief is the cost of love.”


As summer ends, goldenrod comes into bloom and attracts bees and myriad native pollinators. Today, a honey bee collects pollen: protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals to feed her colony’s brood. Flowers bring rebirth. Reassuring, along with Elizabeth’s words.


Monday, July 4, 2022

Move the Hives an Inch


There is a tradition that has been passed down for hundreds of years in which the bees are notified of the death of their keeper. The bees are notified by moving the hives an inch. Today, we told the bees of the death of Rita Underhill, who along with her husband, Richard, founded Peace Bee Farm. Rita, formerly Rita Peace, helped convert the family farm, a row-crop operation in the Arkansas Delta, into Peace Bee Farm. Together, the Underhills managed bees in Tennessee and Arkansas. Rita bottled honey and greeted regular customers at farmers markets. She regularly helped manage the bee hives and grafted bee larvae to produce queen bees. Peace be with you, Rita.


Rita in the Honey House
Rita Inspecting Her Grafted Queen Cells

Friday, December 24, 2021

Pax Vobiscum

Beekeepers are science people. Everyday, they practice applied honey bee biology. Successful beekeepers apply both the craft of beekeeping passed down for generations by those who handled bees and the science of honey bee health. The science is our understanding of the life cycle and nature of honey bees and their pests and pathogens based upon observations and experiments. Our understanding of the science is not fixed; it changes as more observations are made and new experiments are designed, conducted, and repeated. Successful American beekeepers adjust their beekeeping practices to help their bees survive the adverse effects of viruses vectored by two invasive parasitic mite species that arrived in the mid-1980s and an invasive hive-scavenger beetle introduced in the late-1990s. Those who do not take measures to combat these invasive species see their bee colonies die. As colonies decline before dying, they spread pests and pathogens to other hives.


Beekeepers, and the public at large, are continuing to cope with Covid-19 virus, which continues to mutate into new variants. Now, within two years of Covid’s introduction into the human population, the U.S. has confirmed over 800,000 deaths. Individuals who do not take precautions to avoid the virus are likely to acquire a deadly disease. Fortunately, we have learned much about the nature of the novel Covid-19 virus and how it is passed between people via aerosol droplets. We have effective vaccinations, and we know that we can greatly limit the spread of Covid by wearing masks, sanitizing hands, and keeping a distance between people. Just as we can protect our bee colonies by controlling the parasitic mites and their vectored viruses, we can protect ourselves, our families, and our community by taking measures to prevent the spread of the Covid virus. Almost everyone knows someone who has been affected by the Covid virus. I look forward to meeting beekeepers at our training events in the coming year. The Underhill family of Peace Bee Farm wish everyone: Peace be with you.


Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Winter Solstice

People become beekeepers for a number of reasons. Some are interested in producing honey; some want to increase the number of pollinators available for their gardens; and some are simply interested in learning the craft of keeping such interesting social insects. Many new beekeepers are already aware of the environmental conditions affecting bees and people. Almost all beekeepers rapidly become environmentally conscious. They see that honey bees have the same requirements as those other social creatures—humans: food, water, a dry place to live, and an environment free of toxins. Until parasitic mites of honey bees arrived in the mid-1980s, a person could order a bee hive and a colony of live bees from a mail-order catalogue and expect that they would have live bees and honey for years to come. However, with invasive pest species, changing agricultural practices, and the ever-increasing use of pesticides, keeping honey bees alive has become much more challenging. Well-informed beekeepers have taken the challenge seriously. Individuals who keep a few hives in their backyards, those who keep dozens of hives as a part-time business, and commercial beekeepers each study the biology of the honey bee and the pests and the pathogens that affect bees. They learn the science of bee health and the behavior of honey bees from text books and training classes. They learn the craft of beekeeping from the generous sharing of knowledge by experienced beekeepers via local, state, and national organizations.


A number of urban beekeepers experienced the loss of colonies as the result of environmental poisoning in 2021. Since healthy colonies have enough bees to withstand the loss of a sizable number of worker bees, some colonies survived. Other colonies died. Some of the affected beekeepers were able to politely inform their neighbors of the importance of the bees and the need to handle pesticides prudently. Beekeepers are environmental stewards. Today, the winter solstice, marks the beginning of the honey bee year with queens starting to lay eggs again.


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Congratulations, Jon Z!


Beekeepers across Arkansas and beyond our borders know Jon Zawislak (rhymes with Zah-Fish-Lock) simply as Jon Z. Now, we are delighted to announce that Jon has successfully defended his dissertation for a PhD in Entomology from the University of Arkansas. Jon, an Apiculture Instructor with the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture is a valuable resource to beekeepers. An Eastern Apicultural Society Master Beekeeper himself, Jon often helps me analyze honey bee health issues. When I needed to respond to a beekeeper’s question about haplo-diploidy sex determination in bees, I called on Jon for an explanation ( Jon trains many beekeepers, and he is a tremendous asset to the Arkansas Beekeepers Association. Jon serves as an ex officio member of the ABA’s Executive Committee, its webmaster, guest speaker recruiter, and himself a frequent presenter. Jon’s research looks into serious problems associated with honey bee health. He participated in measurements of the effects of neonicotinoid insecticides on honey bees. In one of his research projects Jon identified pathogens retarding the growth of the invasive honey bee pest, the small hive beetle. Jon found some of these potential biological control pathogens in the soil of my Arkansas bee yards. Jon conducted research into the foraging behavior of honey bees by attaching tiny labels onto bees and photographing their movements as they flew out and back into their hives.


Jon Zawislak is a recognized leader in his profession, and he encourages others to excel. He challenged one of his sons to make good grades in school, and he rewarded him with a sky-diving experience. Jon encouraged me to complete the EAS Master Beekeeper certification program, and he recruited me to teach beekeeping in Africa. Jon’s PhD program did receive an interruption when he donated a kidney. Such generosity! I am deeply proud of Dr. Jon Zawislak, shown here at an ABA conference with Dr. Jeff Harris and Audrey Sheridan of Mississippi State University and EAS Master Beekeeper, David Burns.