Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Pax Vobiscum

The year 2012 brought Tod Underhill and me three opportunities to travel to Ethiopia to train beekeepers. The USAID-funded projects were conducted by Little Rock, Arkansas based Winrock International. I want to recognize and thank those who shared in my experience and helped make my training sessions meaningful. Thank you, Winrock International staff who made arrangements for my travel: Johnnie Frueauff (USA), Daniel Kocha, Gemechis Jaleta, Kassahoun (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), Bonface Kaberia (Nairobi, Kenya), and Winrock International volunteers, Damon Szymanski, and Jennifer Bowman (USA) who provided friendship and assisted in communications. I give my special thanks to my Ethiopian hosts, Wubishet Adugna, managing director of Apinec AgroIndustry, and Guta Abdi, founder and managing director of Education For Development Association, for their hospitality, generosity, and friendship. While making sure that their people received the training that they requested, my hosts showed me their beautiful country and shared with me their food, and traditions. Among those who helped me in my planning for training in Ethiopia: Pam Gregory (Wales, UK), Kushal Chandak (India), Nita (Bangkok, Thailand), Hafeez Anwar (Pakistan), and Wondimu Teferi and Lemma Tamiru (Ethiopia)

I fondly remember those I encountered during the dry season in southwestern Ethiopia:, Abraham Tesfaye, Wondimagegn Tadesse, Tsegaiye Haile, Fasika Habtemariam, Johannes Bekele, Atrise Abebe, Ademe Abebe, Tigist Wildemichael, Abeba Rausha, Johannes Abebe, Gezahgn Tadesse, Hemlem Tesfaye, Eyob Assefa, Silishe Katama, Misaurets, Achi, Aklil Cnewn, Hadella, and Michael. During the rainy season in western Ethiopia I had the pleasure of meeting: Jotte Hailu, Tucho Enkossa, Gedefa, Mengistu, Gobena, Debisa, Buze, Melaku, Teshome, Tolera, Gurmesa, Lemma Goya, Mekonnen Egziabher, Tewelde, and an additional 50 seasoned beekeepers. These are but a few of those who I encountered in my travels. They were friendly toward me and interested in helping Ethiopia’s people. I had the opportunity to observe in Ethiopia Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Evangelical Protestant Christians, and naturalistic believers living harmoniously and setting an example of tolerance. The Underhills who operate Peace Bee Farm offer: Peace be with you.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Honey Bees in the Winter

The honey bee is well adapted to live in diverse environments. Honey bees are found from the hottest equatorial regions to extremely cold temperate regions. In the temperate zone, bees are able to regulate the atmosphere of their hive from the heat of summer to the cold of winter. Honey bees have adapted behaviors to accommodate abundances of food as well as dearth. When flowers are in bloom, bees make honey; when no flowers are blooming, bees eat that honey. Bees regulate the temperature of the brood nest at 95 degrees Fahrenheit. In the summer they often need to cool the hive; in the winter the workers generate heat to keep the bees warm. To stay warm, the bees form a round cluster, a three-dimensional ball of bees divided by sheets of honeycomb. Tightly packed bees on the outside of the cluster insulate those inside. Bees on the inside eat honey, a high-energy food, and generate heat in their flight muscles. Honey bees don’t waste energy warming their entire hive, only the brood and bees. It would be wasteful to warm unoccupied corners of the hive.

Certain honey bee races, particularly those that evolved in the colder regions of northern Europe and Asia, exhibit behaviors that further conserve precious honey reserves needed to warm and feed bees over lengthy and severe winters. Since adult bees can survive at lower temperatures than brood, these cold-hearty bees force their queen to stop laying eggs in the winter. Without brood in the hive, bees only warm the cluster to about 70 degrees.  The longer that the hive remains without brood, the less food is consumed. However, the queen may begin laying eggs anytime after the winter solstice. Egg laying is stimulated by workers bringing in pollen. On warm days, like today, workers seek pollen. Here they are mistakenly collecting dust from cracked corn and grain sorghum that I am feeding to ducks. Many people find honey bees in their bird feeders in the winter.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Winter Solstice

Human societies throughout the world have measured their calendars according to the changes in seasons. Today is the winter solstice, the day with the shortest sunlight and longest night. Peoples around the world have studied the change through the year in the length of the day and the angle of the sun. Early agrarian societies observed the movement of the sun and learned to time the planting of their crops with changes in seasons. This timing was important for maximizing the reproduction of precious crop seeds for feeding expanding human populations. Just as plant reproduction is associated with the seasons, so is the reproduction of many animal species. Today, on the winter solstice, honey bee queens start reproducing the first young for the next year. Most colonies interrupted their queen from laying eggs in the fall by restricting the food they feed her.

Successful reproduction is so important that it leads the activity of most species. The process is not always accurate, though. A report in The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/27/science/in-nature-fatal-attractions-can-be-part-of-life.html, describes attempts in nature for reproduction between members of different species. Antarctic fur seals occasionally attempt to mate with king penguins, birds that the seals normally hunt and eat. It is unknown whether such acts, known as “misdirected mating,” are simply a matter of mistaken identity or if there is another cause. The Times piece also describes misdirected mating involving California sea otters and Pacific harbor seals. In the Bahamas, bottlenose dolphins regularly attack smaller spotted dolphins in acts of sexual violence. Similar occurrences of misdirected mating occur in a number of other animal species. At Peace Bee Farm, we regularly observe drone honey bees chasing purple martins as if they were following a queen bee. Today’s photo, taken in July, shows three drones in pursuit of a purple martin. Today, the winter solstice, the migratory martins are in their winter home in South America. Two bald eagles circle the bee farm; the bees remain clustered in their hives.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Replacing Old Honeycombs

Beekeepers build hives for bees, and the bees build their nest inside the hives from beeswax, a substance that the bees produce. Young bees secrete beeswax from glands on the lower side of their abdomen. Beeswax makes a strong and lightweight nest to hold the developing bee brood as well as a storage area for bee food. The individual cells of the bee nest are used repeatedly to house bees developing from egg to larva to pupa to adult. As the bee brood changes from larva to pupa, the workers cap each cell with reused beeswax from the hive. However, workers use freshly secreted beeswax to cover the cells of ripened honey. Honey bees are attracted to the odor of old honeycombs, but old comb is a potential problem for bee health. Beeswax absorbs chemical toxins from the environment, making the hive increasingly toxic. Old honeycombs also hold the reproductive spores of a number of pathogens, namely American foulbrood, chalkbrood, and Nosema disease.

Periodically replacing old beeswax combs is a key element in Peace Bee Farm’s integrated pest management plan. Honeycomb replacement has a similar effect as changing the engine oil in a beekeeper’s truck; the impurities are removed. In today’s photo, I am using a high-pressure power washer to remove the old beeswax comb and hive materials from frames of plastic foundation. The stream of water removes pollen deposits, old bee larvae cocoons, wax moth webbing and cocoons, and small hive beetle “slime,” the waste deposits of the larvae of these hive scavengers. Once the old comb is removed from the frames, I will coat the plastic foundation with fresh beeswax, capping wax saved from harvesting honey. The bees will rapidly form this beeswax with their mouthparts into smooth sheets of comb. During a strong nectar flow, young worker bees will secrete additional beeswax to complete the honeycombs. The colonies will rear brood in clean, chemical-free beeswax cells. Providing a clean brood nest helps ensure a healthy bee colony.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Restoring Three Forests

I follow with interest the growth of replacement forests in three areas, the mountains of Appalachia, the highlands of Ethiopia, and the flat bottomland of the Arkansas Delta. Efforts are being made to correct man-made removal of natural forests from each of these areas. The work in the mountains of Appalachia is centered on areas exploited for a surface coal mining technique known as “mountain-top removal.” Our friend, beekeeper and author Tammy Horn, is instrumental in bringing people and resources together to change coal mining reclamation sites from hard packed gravel beds into forests designed to increase forage for honey bees and native pollinators. Writing in the newsletter of The American Chestnut Foundation, http://www.acf.org/newsletter11.21.12honeybees.php, Tammy describes the work of her Coal Country Beeworks. While establishing a beekeeping cottage industry, the group is planting the mountains of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia in native trees including sourwood, a famous source for premium honey. The mountain-top restoration efforts also include the planting of American chestnut trees from blight-resistant seedlings. The American Chestnut Foundation and the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative are working to replace the native chestnut, which once accounted for one third of the trees in the southeastern forests. The tree was valuable for its lumber and important as a food source of wildlife.

Beekeepers of Ethiopia rely upon forest nectar sources to produce honey as a staple of their agriculture. They are planting highly erodible volcanic slopes of the Bonebunga Area of western Ethiopia in trees to restore land previously cleared for planting crops. They protect the forests from poaching for firewood and building materials by “social fences,” imaginary protective fences built in the minds of those served by the forest. The third replacement forest is a Wetland Reforestation Project on Peace Farm on a tributary of the Mississippi River. We planted native hardwood trees to prevent soil erosion. Today’s picture shows native oaks, hand planted from seed, competing for sunlight. Bayou ridges include nectar source plantings to support honey bees.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Moisture in Honey

A Memphis beekeeper is concerned that his honey may not store safely. If honey is fully ripened, the bees have completely converted flower nectar sugars and evaporated the moisture to about 18 percent. At this point, the worker bees cap the cells with fresh beeswax; and the honey will last forever. This honey may be harvested and stored safely. The surest way to determine that honey is ready to harvest is to examine the honeycombs and only harvest frames that are almost completely capped. It is important for beekeepers to remember that honey is “hygroscopic,” which means that it readily takes on moisture. Harvested frames of honey may take on moisture from the air after they are removed from the hive. The beeswax cappings are somewhat porous, so even fully capped frames of honey may absorb moisture from the air. Honey house dehumidifiers protect honey before it is sealed in air-tight containers.

All honey contains yeast spores from the atmosphere and from environmental surfaces. Honey with a moisture content above 19.5 percent will likely ferment. To prevent fermentation, most commercially handled honey is heated to pasteurization temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit and held at this temperature for 30 minutes to kill the yeast spores. Beekeepers test the honey with a refractometer, a simple device that measures the bending of light passing through the honey. If high moisture honey is stored, it has a tendency to ferment. Fermentation readily occurs as honey naturally crystallizes. Crystallization reaches a maximum as honey cools to 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Crystals start forming at the bottom of the honey container, and lock-up the sugar solids. Honey with excess liquid at the top of the container ferments. Honey with 16 to 18 percent moisture content will last indefinitely in sealed honey pails or drums. Beekeepers who want to bottle highly sought-after raw honey that has not been overly heated carefully measure moisture content and only bottle honey with moisture of 18.5 percent or less. Today’s photo: capping honey.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

What Happened to the Hive?

A beekeeper asks for my thoughts about the loss of a colony of bees. He explains, “I had a good sized colony, three boxes high, bottom and part of second were a mix of brood and honey, and top was all honey. Earlier in the summer I had another six inch super on top which was filled.” In late August, finding his hive empty, he explains, “There was no sound, in fact there was not one bee, and there was not one dead bee either. Every bee was gone.” However, on the day before, the hive showed much bee activity. Attempting to understand colony losses is curious and worthwhile.

The complete abandoning of a bee hive, called “absconding,” is not common in the temperate zone unless conditions make the hive completely undesirable. Colony Collapse Disorder has drawn much attention in recent years, but the conditions here don’t fit its definition. With CCD, there is a loss of older adult bees, but the hive is left with a queen, nurse bees, and brood. A very common cause of the loss of a colony of honey bees, however, is colony collapse due to Varroa mite infestation. This is particularly common in the time period of late summer, as in this late August case. Honey bee colonies grow rapidly in the spring to produce large populations of foragers to harvest nectar and pollen while flowers are in bloom. The queen slows her egg laying in the summer and the colony population gently declines. Parasitic Varroa mite populations follow a different pattern. Mites in a bee hive increase in number gradually throughout the year. By late summer bee numbers are declining while mites are increasing. As the Varroa mites bite bees, they spread bacterial, fungal, and viral infections throughout the colony, eventually killing it. Why was there plenty of hive activity the day before? Robber bees were removing honey stores. Today’s photo shows guard bees challenging incoming foragers. Guards are absent from dead hives.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cotton and Bees

Crops grown in today’s modern industrial agriculture employ improved seed, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, irrigation, and heavy machinery. Farmers are keenly aware of industrial agriculture’s impact on the natural world, and most producers are diligent stewards of the environment. They take great care in protecting their land and the wildlife that lives on it. Cathy Foust, Shelby County, Tennessee’s Extension Director, invited me to attend a presentation on protecting pollinators by Dr. Don Parker, Integrated Pest Management Manager with the National Cotton Council. Also attending were several other beekeeping friends, Richard Coy, president of Arkansas Beekeepers Association, Charles Force, president of Memphis Area Beekeepers Association, and Jon Zawislak, apiary instructor with University of Arkansas Extension Service. The audience of interested agricultural producers listened intently as Dr. Parker discussed the impact pesticides make on honey bees and native pollinators. Many of the producers were not aware that honey bees forage cotton fields. Some had not considered the effect of cotton insecticides on beneficial insects; they had only concentrated on killing pests. Cotton growers asked numerous questions of the beekeepers and seemed to be equally interested in protecting pollinators.

Dr. Parker spoke of some of the difficulties involved in protecting beneficial insects while trying to control pest insects with insecticides. One suggestion was to only apply insecticides at night while bees are not flying. Dr. Parker mentioned how dangerous it would be to fly a crop duster at night with cotton fields surrounded by trees and power lines. Such practices are completely unacceptable. Cotton growers and beekeepers were interested in discussions of the effect on beneficial insects when spraying insecticides on crop plants with “indeterminate growth” in which pollinators are continuously attracted by nectar. Here, bees can be poisoned even when the crop is not blooming. Other insecticide spraying challenges exist with plants, like cotton, which have “extrafloral” nectaries secreting nectar outside the flower. Today’s photo: a honey bee and a bumblebee, a native pollinator, share fall goldenrod near cotton fields.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Abandoned Bee Hives

When honey bees swarm they frequently move into cavities previously used by other colonies of bees. They are attracted to old bee nests by hive odors of beeswax, honey, propolis, pollen, bees, and their pheromones. It is common for a colony of honey bees to occupy a hollow tree for a couple of years and then die after being weakened by parasitic Varroa mites. Even if the combs are destroyed by hive scavengers, like wax moths and small hive beetles, the cavity is likely to attract another colony of bees. The same sequence of events commonly occurs when people attempt to drive honey bees from the walls of their houses. Old colonies are soon replaced by new colonies. Colonies of bees replace one another so frequently that it may appear a hive is occupied continuously when it actually held a series of different colonies. The attractiveness of hive odors makes old bee hives effective bait hives for capturing swarms in the spring and summer. Old abandoned bee hives are attractive to swarming honey bees as well.

I received a call asking me to remove bees from some abandoned hives. I found a very large feral colony occupying a stack of rotting hive bodies. While wood rot and termites had consumed most of the woodenware, combs were held together by propolis. One by one, I transferred the frames of brood into new hive boxes. After all intact frames were moved, a number of broken pieces of brood comb remained. I placed these in a nucleus hive. After several weeks I found the feral queen hiding among the broken combs in the nucleus hive. The bees in the larger hive produced a new queen. I now have two strong hives with good behavior and characteristics. I welcome these locally-adapted feral genes into my bee yards. Was the colony in the abandoned hive equipment truly feral? Possibly, or its queen may have been purchased from a breeding program by another beekeeper. Lucky find.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Parasitic Mite Syndrome

Beekeepers are detecting large populations of parasitic Varroa mites in their hives this fall. The Varroa mite is the most serious pest of honey bees in America. Though the mite weakens honey bees by sucking their blood, called hemolymph, they cause the most hive damage by spreading disease through the bee colony. Varroa mites reproduce inside the capped bee hive cells containing the pupa stage of developing bee brood. The parasitic mites pierce the exoskeleton of honey bees with their mouth parts to suck nutrients. The perforations caused by the mites allow entry of bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. At least 15 honey bee viruses are spread by Varroa mites. The combined effect of these honey bee diseases is known as Parasitic Mite Syndrome. Hives experiencing PMS often show reduced populations of bees as they decline and eventually collapse. One easily recognizable symptom of PMS is the existence of young bees in the hive with diminished, curled wings as the result of Deformed Wing Virus. Varroa mite populations increase steadily in bee hives anytime that bees are reproducing. Mite populations large enough to collapse colonies typically occur in the late summer and early fall. Beekeepers should measure mite populations and, if necessary, treat the hives with “soft” treatments of organic acids or essential oils.

Parasitic Mite Syndrome produces brood patterns with numerous empty cells as opposed to continuous patterns of capped cells. Some of the empty cells result from workers removing honey bee pupae that they detect having mites reproducing and developing with the bee pupae. This genetically heritable honey bee activity, known as “hygienic behavior,” is the basis for Varroa resistant honey bee stock. In today’s photo we see a brood frame from a hive showing signs of Parasitic Mite Syndrome. The brood pattern is “spotty;” a number of capped cells have been opened, and the bees are chewing out the pupae. Other hive conditions, such as American foulbrood and chilled brood, may have a similar appearance.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fall Bee Hive Management

In the fall it is important to look inside the bee hives and set them up for winter. Fall bee hive management is designed to help the bees survive the winter. This week I checked bee hives with Corinth, Mississippi beekeeper, Heidi Hendrix, and my 12-year-old grandson, Ethan. There are two important issues for over-winter success: food and hive ventilation. We make sure that the brood nest is located low in the hive with frames of capped honey above. To get this arrangement, we may need to move frames or rearrange hive bodies. It is the tendency of honey bees to move upward in the hive over the winter. The heat of the bees’ winter cluster warms the stored honey above the cluster; the bees eat this honey; and then they move up to occupy the empty cells. If the bees begin the winter with their brood nest located high in the hive, they may not move down to feed on available honey stores. It is frustrating for beekeepers to find honey bee colonies that starved while there is plenty of available honey stored inches away from the bees’ winter cluster. If the hive is light in weight when one end is lifted, the bees need feeding. For fall feeding, “heavy” syrup of two parts sugar to one part water is readily converted to honey and stored.

The second important issue in bee hive set-up for winter is ventilation. Bee hives are warm and damp on the inside. Cold winter temperatures outside the hives cause condensation to form on the inside hive walls. The effect is opposite that of a glass of iced tea on a hot, damp Delta summer day where condensation forms on the glasses’ outside surface. Water dripping in the hive can kill bees. A small vent at the top of the bee hive is all that is needed to remove hive moisture. Today’s photo shows a full box of capped honey above the brood nest.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Superweeds and Superpests

The use of genetically modified crops was intended to reduce the need for herbicides to control weeds and insecticides to control pest insects. However, The New York Times reports that instead herbicide use increased over 16 years, while insecticide use decreased somewhat. The widespread use of a single herbicide glyphosate, sold under Monsanto’s brand name Roundup, has resulted in the evolution of a number of glyphosate-resistant weeds. The Times piece, http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/05/the-legacy-of-pesticides-superweeds-and-superpests/?src=rechp, describes different approaches to the use of these genetically modified organisms. “Roundup Ready” corn, soybeans, and cotton seeds were planted on 1.37 billion acres from 1996 to 2011. The GMO plants, tolerant of the herbicide glyphosate, were supposed to reduce or eliminate the need to till fields and reduce the need for harsher chemicals. The use of these GMOs was supposed to also save money and be less stressful on the environment. As glyphosate-resistant weeds increased, increases in the use of glyphosate slowed; and in 2010 the National Research Council warned that, “Eventually, repeated use will render glyphosate ineffective.”

Those deploying the genetically modified seed containing the Bt gene producing toxins from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis recognized the potential for evolving resistant insects, and they took precautions. They required that a percentage of non-Bt seed be planted with Bt crops to ensure that some insects susceptible to the Bt toxin survive to mate with survivors of the Bt crops. Otherwise, surviving pest insect populations could become increasingly resistant to the Bt toxin with each generation. The mechanism for ecological harm from chemical pesticides was described by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring 50 years ago: “First, many of these chemicals are indiscriminate, killing not only pest but also the predators and parasites that help to keep them at bay. Second, surviving pest populations become increasingly resistant to the applied toxins with each generation, as those most susceptible to the toxins die off. It’s natural selection in overdrive.” Today’s photo: applying herbicide to control grasses in GMO soybeans.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Three types of bee hives are used in Ethiopia. Ninety-seven percent of the hives are traditional hives, long baskets built at no expense of cane and banana leaves. These hives are usually hung high in trees, but they are also attached to the outside walls of houses. Some traditional hives are placed inside houses under beds. Modern bee hives similar in design to the Langstroth bee hive comprise two percent of Ethiopia’s bees. The remaining one percent of Ethiopian bee hives is top bar hives, described as “transitional hives.” These simple boxes are also built from locally available materials at no expense. Transitional hives provide an economical method of managing honey bees that allows for the benefits of modern beekeeping: ease of hive inspection, ability to combine and divide colonies, move brood between hives, requeen, and improve genetics. Most importantly, transitional hives allow for the non-destructive harvesting of high quality honey. Beeswax is harvested by crushing honeycombs. Hive products are collected without killing or losing the honey bee colony. Today’s photo from Ethiopia shows one of Teshome’s transitional bee hives mounted in a tree. This top bar hive is covered in plastic and foliage as is the custom in Ethiopia. I recommended that Teshome consider removing the foliage to improve air circulation. Chalkbrood, a honey bee fungal infection, is a major hive problem in Ethiopia’s rainy season.

Many transitions are occurring on Ethiopian farms. Beekeepers earn additional income with transitional and modern bee hives. Using standardized sized hives, beekeepers can move combs from one hive to another. Teshome recognizes the benefits of improving queen bee genetics; he uses similar techniques in cattle breeding. He foresees the ability to produce gentler bees by selecting queen stock from his best hives. His farm is steadily transitioning to a broader based economy. Teshome eagerly traces the design of my hive tool so that he can have the local blacksmith produce tools for area beekeepers to take a more hands-on approach to beekeeping.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Biological Controls

Before embarking on my latest beekeeping trip to Africa, I checked the hive that I was using to transfer a colony of feral honey bees from a hollow tree. All was progressing well, the capture hive was full of bees; the bees even filled two honey supers with summer honey. When I returned a few weeks later, the hive was completely “slimed” by small hive beetle larvae; the bees had abandoned the hive; and the honey was fermented. The hive was overtaken by small hive beetles. Bees and beekeepers find invasive small hive beetles difficult to control. Currently, chemical and cultural controls are used to reduce small hive beetle populations.

Researchers at the University of Arkansas asked a question: Could the small hive beetles have brought their own parasites with them when they entered the US? The presence of such a parasite of the small hive beetle could possibly lead to a biological control for these bee hive scavengers. To investigate the possibility that there may be a not-yet-discovered parasite, Natasha Wright collected small hive beetle adults and larvae and samples of soil from bee yards in Arkansas and adjacent states. She dissected 749 adult beetles and 230 larvae from 13 counties in Arkansas and one county each in Oklahoma and Missouri. Natasha found no microbial pathogens in the SHB larvae, but she did find a protozoan pathogen in adult SHBs from three Arkansas counties. Most of the infected beetles were from a single apiary in nearby St. Francis County, Arkansas. One infected beetle was found in a Peace Bee Farm apiary in Crittenden County, Arkansas. In total, 5.3 percent of the adult beetles sampled were infected with the protozoan pathogen, which forms cysts in the beetles’ Malpighian tubules. The heavily infected beetles detected in St. Francis County were described as having an “impaired function in life.” Hopefully, research will find safe and effective controls for small hive beetles. For published results: www.springerlink.com/content/b103041x41163216/. Today’s photo: SHB larvae slime a hive.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Honey Bee Super-Sisters

A reader asked a question about the mechanism in which honey bees pass their genes along to the next generation. Honey bees employ a reproductive scheme called “haplodiplodity.” For an informed answer, I called upon my friend, Jon Zawislak, apiary instructor with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. I quote him below. It appears to me that an evolutionary advantage of haplodiploidity may be in altruistic behavior in which individual bees act for the protection of the colony over self. From Jon Zawislak:
“Begin with the strict Darwinian principle that an organism is considered to be most "successful" by passing on as many copies of its genes as it can.

Worker honey bees get half of their DNA from their mother. Of that 50%, about 25% is identical (basic Mendelian genetics). The same is true for humans, you get 50% of your DNA from your mother, of which you share about 25% identical maternal DNA with each of your siblings (although not the same 25% with each). The lopsided relationship among honey bees comes from the paternal side, from the drones. Drones have only one set of chromosomes, so their sperm does not undergo reduction division to halve the number of genes, which effectively mixes them up first. Each of the millions of sperm that a drone produces is identical, and contains his entire set of DNA. So when worker bees are "super sisters" they share 75% identical DNA: 25% from the queen and 50% from the drone (all he has, so all incidental). Workers who have different fathers share only maternal DNA, and are said to be 25% related. If this particular queen mated with 20 drones, on average each will be the father of only 5% of the workers in the hive, and each worker will share this super-sister relationship with only 5% of her family.

If a worker helps one of her super-sisters to become the next queen, she ensures that she is 37.5% related to every new bee in the colony (50% of 75%). Even if one of her half-sisters becomes the next queen, she will still be 12.5% related to all of them. But this is still better odds than if she has her own sons. If a worker becomes a laying worker, then she can produce only drones, which are 50% related to her. If one of her drone sons successfully mates, she will be 50% related to her granddaughters as well (because the drone passes on all of its DNA). But, each drone has a fairly slim chance of mating at all (a conservative estimate might say one in 1000 chance of finding a virgin queen). And if he does, he will only be one of perhaps 20 drones to do so. Therefore if a worker becomes a layer, she has less than one in 1000 chance of her son passing on 50% of her genes to just 5% of another colony.

A worker is more closely related to her super-sisters than she is to either of her parents or her own potential offspring. And even though she's only this close to as few as 5% of a colony, consider how many bees that is. In a colony of 40,000 bees, that's still 2000 super-sisters. Close kinship also promotes altruistic behaviors, where an individual promotes the well-being of close relatives, even at a potential risk to themselves. Bees demonstrate several examples... spring bees work themselves to death so that wintering bees will have food to eat during the cold months; individual bees sting and die to defend and protect the rest of the colony; and workers "give up" their own reproduction to help raise their sisters and nieces. But as we have seen, the family unit is more successful at passing on some of its genes if they all work to help their queen. Solitary bees that go it alone produce only a handful of offspring each year, rather than the thousands that a honey bee queen can produce.

Of course this idea of kinship and altruism assumes that bees know that they are closely related. Studies have shown that workers reared in isolation can distinguish between full- and half-sisters (Getz & Smith. 1986. Animal Behav. 34:1617-1626). Workers preferentially rear queens from more closely related larvae (Visscher. 1985. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 18:453-460). Workers are most willing to groom and feed closely related sisters (Frumhoff & Schneider (1987) Animal Behav. 35:255-262). And workers may cannibalize eggs less closely related to themselves (Ratnieks & Visscher (1989) Nature 342:796-797).”

Today's photo: transitional top bar bee hives in Ethiopia.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Traditional Thanksgiving

Winrock International, www.winrock.org, sends volunteers to developing countries around the world on USAID-funded food security projects. Africa is a fond memory now. I reflect on my assignment teaching beekeeping trainers in Ethiopia’s Oromia region. I travelled with Guta Abdi, the founder and managing director of Education For Development Association. Guta’s name means “full of hope” in Oromifa language. With Guta, I observed the beautiful, volcano-strewn land, resourceful farmers, and Oromia’s rich customs. My training sessions in the mountain-top village of Shambu began and ended with prayers by traditional belief elders. These people, numbering five million believers, deeply respect the land and attribute all existence to a single deity without praying to any prophet. They gather annually around six volcanic lakes for thanksgiving. Guta Abdi is shown at the thanksgiving in the center of today’s photo wearing a gray sweater and open collar. When he took me to the site, I knew I was in one of the earth’s special places.

Travelling through Oromia, I saw children proudly wearing banana leaf hats. The children of each village fold their banana leaf hats in a distinct regional design. Along mountain ridges, I saw “fachas,” tall poles with tin roofs covering a cape buffalo’s tail. The facha is a sign proclaiming that a man accomplished a feat such as killing a lion or leopard with a spear. In earlier times, a facha was placed to proclaim the killing of one’s tribesman has been revenged by killing nine of the opposing tribesmen. Fortunately, this is a past practice. I especially enjoyed sharing Ethiopian food with my host. A typical day started with eggs and red peppers, enjira, Ethiopia’s flat bread made from fermented teff grass seed, bread, and tea. Coffee and bread was served at morning and afternoon breaks. Lunch included enjira, potatoes, and a “wot,” or stew, of sheep. Supper included enjira, cabbage wot, roasted sheep with carrots, “tej” honey mead, Ethiopian beer, and “areke,” locally-made vodka. Thank you, Winrock and EFDA.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

This Will Not Be Kicked

Explaining that the natural home of the honey bee is a hollow tree, I relate that all beekeeping efforts should provide a bee hive similar to a hollow tree cavity. Each of the Ethiopian beekeeping trainers in my Shambu class sits quietly with pen and tablet listening to Tucho translate my beekeeping lessons from English to Oromifa. They take notes and write questions for me. As soon as Tucho reads their questions, I realize that my students are knowledgeable; they are paying close attention to me; and they are interested in exploring new techniques in beekeeping. They ask specific questions about ways to manipulate modern bee hives. The students see the usefulness of moving frames of brood to produce new queens, strengthen weak colonies, make colony divisions, and select for better genetics. They ask about working bees in the daytime. Their traditional practice of nighttime honey harvesting gives the beekeepers few opportunities to observe the bees’ brood nest. Having only used smoke to drive bees from the hive, they want to know how smoke works to calm bees. The students question the causes of migratory swarming and hive absconding, both frequent problems for Ethiopian beekeepers. Several follow-up questions come from my suggestion that increasing bee hive ventilation and requeening can lessen the incidence of chalkbrood, a common fungal infection of honey bees in this semi-tropical land.

Some question commonly held practices and beliefs. When they see pictures of Peace Bee Farm hives painted white with stripes of color, they ask why mine are not painted yellow like modern Ethiopian bee hives. They all laugh in understanding when I ask if they ever saw a hollow tree in the forest painted bright yellow. One asks if my hair is gray from touching it with honey on my hands; I explain that it is merely due to my age. EFDA-trained leather worker, Tolesa, crafted the soccer ball signed by my Ethiopian beekeepers in Amharic and Oromifa. This football will never be kicked.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Shambu Area Projects

I see evidence of the influence the Education For Development Association, www.efhda.org.et, makes on the lives of Oromo farmers. Travelling Ethiopia’s western highlands, I see multiple projects in effect. Providing sanitation and clean water for drinking are great challenges, so the EFDA provides well water and fixtures to deliver spring water for drinking and cooking. A solar water disinfection project effectively purifies water in clear plastic soda bottles at almost no cost. Bottles are placed on the roofs of houses, and UV rays from the sun purify the water in six hours. Concrete drinking troughs for cattle and livestock reduce the animals’ pollution of streams as well as helping to keep animals healthy in times of drought. On individual farms and at the EFDA’s resource centers in Shambu and Walisso, farmers gather to learn sustainable agricultural practices, animal husbandry, water conservation, and methods of improving food production. EFDA pioneered in introducing apples to Ethiopia’s highland area to generate additional income for farmers.

This is Ethiopia’s rainy season, and the western highlands appear lush and green. Everywhere I look farmers are plowing the rocky volcanic soil with teams of oxen. A closer look reveals lean oxen with bones showing; the animals simply don’t have enough muscle to safely pull their plows. Tucho shows me horse and donkey harnesses used for plowing when the mighty oxen are not capable of pulling the plows. The green grass is grazed close to the ground. Tucho explains to me that this year’s rains are not sufficient to sustain the grasslands and fill the reservoirs. Fincha Lake remains unseasonably low. Tucho fears the land may not sufficiently support the population’s food requirements Tucho and Gedefa explain EFDA’ efforts to protect the environment, prevent the loss of topsoil, provide drainage systems, and encourage crop rotation. Oromo farmers are working to prevent deforestation, and degradation of the environment. They protect flood areas and forests. My beekeeping project is designed to take advantage of the resources of the forest.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Steady, Little Donkey!

Riding with Gemechis Jeleta of Winrock International and driver, Kassahun, on a busy four-lane, divided road through the streets of Addis Ababa to meet my host Guta Abdi of the Education For Development Association, I see a startling sight: donkeys in the air! Yes, a herd of donkeys crossing overhead in a pedestrian crosswalk. I tell Guta about the sight; he laughs, and gives me today’s picture of five people and a donkey sharing a very small dug-out canoe. When a western Ethiopian river was impounded, forming Fincha Lake for hydroelectric power, area farmers lost land and were presented with a transportation problem. The EFDA taught craftsmen to build canoes at Chitu Island to cross the lake. As their boat-building skills improved, the size of their boats increased. With larger boats, the EFDA trained the farmers to fish for tilapia in this western highlands reservoir. The fishermen now face a lifetime of food security. In the next few days, I see first-hand the breadth of EFDA’s work. The boat building and fishing training are just two of EFDA’s job skills training projects designed to upgrade existing skills and introduce new skills. Among those trained are leather workers, blacksmiths, basket weavers, and clay workers who produce “jabena” coffee pots, clay water jugs, and fuel saving stoves. EFDA’s rural livelihood programs work to provide jobs for women. I meet women trained to build low-fuel cook stoves, distribute sacks of cane sugar and dig bicarbonate of soda from volcanic soil for the manufacture of medicine.

Guta states that development should first take place in the minds of the people. The EFDA, which operates in the Oromia and Benish Gumuz regional states, builds schools to increase the quality of life through quality education. Schools encourage children to learn traditional knowledge of their community. EFDA’s health projects include women’s reproductive health, HIV/AIDS programs, and a campaign that abolished female genital mutilation in the Jimma and Horro districts. Oh, I have much more to see.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Traditional to Modern

The beekeepers in the Oromia region of Ethiopia collect honey and beeswax from traditional bee hives mounted in trees. However, problems the farmers encounter in handling and storing honey often mean a harvest of inferior quality that brings a low price. My Winrock International assignment is to teach modern beekeeping methods and to demonstrate how to move bees from traditional bee hives into modern hives. Most Ethiopians are farmers, and nearly all Ethiopian farms have bee hives. Ninety-seven percent of the hives is traditional hives like those placed high in trees for thousands of years. These hives are truly beautiful sights; tall trees holding the five to six-foot long cane cylinders resemble trees covered with weaver bird nests. One percent of Ethiopia’s honey bees is held in transitional bee hives, known as top bar hives. The remaining two percent of Ethiopia’s bee hives is the modern Zander hive, and half of the Zanders sit without bees. With the vast majority of Ethiopia’s bees being held in traditional hives high in trees, beekeeping in this semi-tropical land is based on attracting swarms of bees and then making a one-time harvest of honey and beeswax. The method of harvesting is destructive of the bees’ nest, and it usually results in the loss of the bee colony. Keeping bees in modern hives makes harvesting high-quality honey possible with no loss of the bee colony.

I planned a move of brood comb and bees from a traditional hive into a modern Zander hive. Unlike traditional bee work done at night using large amounts of smoke, I told my students, all seasoned beekeepers, that we would attempt to move the bees during daylight hours using a small amount of smoke. In today’s photo, I am shoulder-deep in the traditional hive cutting out brood combs which my helpers tie into modern frames with string. After I have removed all of the combs, I dump all of the remaining bees into the waiting hive with one sharp bump.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Training in Shambu

My training of beekeeper trainers in Shambu includes both classroom and practical experience. Ninety-seven percent of Ethiopia’s honey bees are housed in traditional bee hives high in trees. Traditional beekeeping primarily involves placing in trees a number of hives, rubbed with a native plant as a bee attractant. In western Ethiopia, the plant is “kusaya” in Oromifa or “kosereta” in Amharic, a plant with a lemon odor similar to honey bee Nasanov pheromone. After swarms move into the hives, beekeepers wait for the bees to expand their colony and build up stores of honey. Then, at night, a beekeeper climbs a tree and lowers a hive down to a waiting partner. Using large amounts of smoke, the beekeepers drive the bees out of the hive and cut out the honeycombs. The evicted colony of bees is lost. The honeycombs are crushed by hand, and the honey and beeswax are collected together. The traditional beekeepers actually have little interaction with the hive and the bees. The students, each seasoned beekeepers, are extremely interested in the workings of a honey bee colony.

Ethiopia’s rainy season dictates our training schedule. Intermittent rains and power outages bring us indoors. Using a portable generator, we view photos of healthy bee hives and hive problems; many are the same photos seen in this blog. Some have not seen inside a hive with the bee colony intact. Their only experience involves driving bees from the hive at night. For practical experience, the beekeepers prepare a modern Zander hive and transfer the bees from a traditional hive to it. This procedure will allow beekeepers to catch swarms of bees in the treetops and then move them to modern hives where they can be tended allowing for continuous harvests without destroying the bee colony. First, beeswax is melted and cleaned to produce foundation. In today’s photo, skilled hands embed support wires into the freshly made sheet of foundation using a knife heated in an open fire.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ethiopian Bees

Driving through Ethiopia’s western highlands, we pass Asgory town; the name means “come here.” We see bright yellow Zander bee hives on the roadside for sale. A small woman walks down the road carrying a Zander slung on her back in a blanket. My host, Guta, driver, Jotte, and I stop briefly for coffee and bread in Ambo, a town known for its highly independent citizens. We continue driving. A large wild bee flies into our truck, striking both Jotte and me in the face, but not stinging either of us. The bee, twice the size of a honey bee worker and considerably larger than a drone is colored half black and half orange. We stop for me to get a close-up view of traditional bee hives hanging from limbs of a tree next to a niger seed field. Niger, Guizotia abyssinica, a seed grown for cooking oil, is native to Ethiopia’s western highlands. The niger plant requires fertilization by honey bees to produce the seed which is exported to the United States as bird food for finches.

We arrive at the farm of beekeeper, Teshome, who proudly shows me his bee hives. The thatch-covered structure in today’s photo holds traditional hives, long cylinders of cane and banana leaves. Traditional hives are often hung high in trees, but they are also mounted on the walls of houses under the roof eaves and inside houses under beds. Trapezoid-shaped transitional hives, or top bar hives, are constructed of cane covered with mud and dung. Other hives are clay pots similar to water jugs. Elsewhere, Teshome shows me transitional bee hives mounted in trees and modern Zander hives mounted on poles. To protect the hives from ants, Ethiopia’s greatest bee hive pest, the hive stands are painted with burned engine oil. Teshome and other highland beekeepers also harvest medicinal honey from underground stingless bees. Guard bees from the traditional hive on the upper right back me away from their hive entrance.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Social Fences

Humans, like honey bees, are social creatures. We live in societies, and we rely upon the behavior of each other for protection and well being. The farmers of Ethiopia’s Bonebunga area recognize the importance of the forest to their environment. Most of the natural forest was removed in years past. Now new plantings of native trees are turning open, highly erodible agricultural fields once again into forests. These growing forests and the few remaining natural forests require protection. Without controls, the forests could be rapidly cleared to provide fire wood, charcoal, and building materials. My Ethiopian host, Guta Abdi, explains to me that the forests in the Bonebunga area are protected by a “social fence,” an imaginary protective fence built in the minds of the people served by the forests. The people recognize the importance of the forests and how vulnerable they are to poaching of trees. Standards of behavior, such as protecting trees, are maintained by “social courts,” committees of citizens who set standards of behavior, make them clearly understood, and enforce adherence.

Guta Abdi explains that he and the staff of the Education For Development Association recognized that there were in their community a number of harmful traditional practices which should be addressed. Among these were the abduction of unwilling marriage partners, rape, and the frequent practice of female genital mutilation. He developed a plan to end female genital mutilation completely in their region. To gain complete acceptance of the plan, he approached every social group and the clergy of each religion, Orthodox Christian, Protestant, Muslim, and traditional believers. He asked them to search their holy writings to find any support for this injuring practice; they found none. He next approached police, government, and community leaders asking for support in eradicating the practice. After gaining total support, the entire community celebrated stopping the practice with over two thousand attending a celebration. Today’s photo shows community leaders in traditional dress for the celebration of girls protected by a social fence.

Bonebunga Area Projects

Guta, Tucho, and Gedefa take me to see a number of the projects that the Education For Development Association is supporting. While my part of their effort involves teaching the farmers ways to employ modern bee hives in their beekeeping operations, the EFDA is involved in numerous other efforts to improve the lives of the Ethiopian people. A number of their ongoing projects involve agriculture and the protection of the land. In today’s photo, EFDA staff member Gedefa points out to me terraces being built on the steep, highly erodible hillsides being farmed in the Western Highlands. In the foreground, a trench is planted with vertiver grass which will become a hedge to slow rainy season torrents of water rushing down the hillside and hold the soil. The vertiver hedge slows water run-off and increases water absorption into the soil. The four-foot tall foliage of vertiver grass is a useful agricultural product as well. It is harvested as animal feed; and it makes a good thatch for the roof of their round farm houses, called “toculs.” Vertiver grass is used in traditional medicines, and essential oils extracted from the plant’s roots are used in the production of perfumes.

In the deep valley in the distance, coffee plants are propagated under slatted shades. The coffee trees will be transplanted to grow in the shade of larger trees. Surrounding the coffee tree nursery we see the growth of a forest planted to replace natural forests cleared in times past. Beyond the ridge line, natural forests exist in the mountains leading down to the Blue Nile River. As we cross the ridge line the forest is hidden today in a blanket of heavy rainy season fog. Other projects we visit include training of leather workers, blacksmiths, boat builders, fishermen, and clay workers who build fuel-saving stoves. Almost all Ethiopian farms include honey bee hives. The farmers eagerly embrace my ideas for increasing their family income with transitional top bar hives and modern bee hives

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Teshome's Farm

Guta, Tucho, and Gedefa of the Education For Development Association staff take me to Laku Igu village to visit the farm of Teshome, one of the individuals being trained and assisted by the EFDA. The farm illustrates the diversity of farming activities employed in Ethiopia’s highlands. I wade through knee-high potato plots to see Teshome’s traditional bee hives, clay hives that look like large water jugs, and top bar hives. These hives are mounted on stands under a covered shed near his house. The covering protects the hives from the heat of the dry season sun in this land close to the equator. Teshome also keeps top bar hives in trees and modern Zander hives on high platforms that he proudly shows me in today’s photo. These hives are elevated to protect them from ants, Ethiopia’s principal bee hive pest, and other animal raiders. Elevating bee hives also protects them from grass fires. Surrounding the bee hives are gardens, orchards, and pastures with cattle. The EFDA introduced apples to the Ethiopian highlands and taught Teshome how to care for the new addition to the agricultural economy. Teshome grafts cultivated apple stocks and produces apple trees for himself and to sell to other farmers. He learned to prune fruit trees, and care for the trees that are thriving on the porous volcanic soil amended with organic matter from the farm. Family members turn the soil with steel-tipped plows pulled by teams of two oxen. The EFDA trained a blacksmith in the village who supplies steel tools to the area farmers.

Teshome invites us into his house for a lunch of potatoes and Lage coffee from the Abe Dongoro district. Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia, and the rich Lage is not yet available anywhere else in the world. I am delighted to have the experienced Teshome as a member of my beekeeper training group at Shambu. In the training sessions, he welcomes suggestions for improving the honey bee stocks through selective breeding.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Up in the Air

It’s a long trip from East Arkansas to East Africa. Rita drops me off at Memphis International Airport. Inside the terminal, a television producer notices my khaki clothes, good for hiding dirt when unable to wash clothes for extended periods, and my stack of airline tickets leading to the Horn of Africa. She explains that she’s making a program featuring interesting usage of environmental resources by non-profit agencies. My assignment sounds like a good fit for her program, so we agree to discuss my work training beekeepers in Ethiopia after I return to the states. The four segments of the lengthy flight offer opportunities to meet other travelers. One lady, working for a Chinese automobile equipment maker is traveling from the United States to Budapest, Hungary to study manufacturing to return the work to the US. From Detroit to Amsterdam we discuss Chinese and Indian investment in Ethiopia’s infrastructure and American investment in Ethiopia’s agriculture and food security.

I meet a physician working with the Centers for Disease Control in Ethiopia. With hours of time to share on the long flight from Amsterdam to Khartoum and then to Addis Ababa, we discuss health matters for the Ethiopian people. Sanitation is a major concern for the physician; the life expectancy of Ethiopians is estimated at 48 to 51 years. Periodic droughts have brought famines in recent years. I explain that my work in training beekeeper farmers is designed to increase food security. By improving the quality of honey the farmers produce, they can increase their income, sometimes doubling their family’s earnings. I explain how much of the honey produced in developing countries is used to produce mead, or honey wine; and I tell of our earlier project producing Ethiopia’s mead, tej. The physician tells me that he knows the microbiologist well who worked with me on the tej project, having been in his classes in medical school. Today’s photo: Me and my Oromifa interpreter, Tucho, at Shambu, Ethiopia.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Preparing for the Tropics

Preparation and planning is important for a successful outcome in beekeeping, so I started preparing as soon as I accepted my Winrock International Farmer-to-Farmer assignment for Food Security. I gathered literature about beekeeping in the tropics. My son, Tod, and I sat down and shared ideas from what we had observed from our experiences. We both travelled to Ethiopia earlier this year on separate volunteer beekeeper training assignments in Ethiopia’s southwestern highlands. Tod described his experiences working with Ethiopia’s national standard modern bee hive, the Zander hive. He explained how the attached solid bottom board prohibits some hive manipulations, like brood box reversing, that are regularly employed in temperate zones. Tod also explained that the single rather small entrance to the hive can lead to difficulties in hive ventilation and cooling.

I contacted Pam Gregory in Credigion, Wales, UK, and she graciously sent me her Manual of African Beekeeping for Beekeeping Trainers. Pam, who has extensive experience training beekeepers in Sub-Sahara Africa, also shared her ideas with me about which items are most suitable for the farmer beekeepers of Africa. She offered me plans for a standard-sized Kenyan top bar hive that can be made from locally found materials and for a bee veil which can be made from a grain sack and a piece of mosquito netting. I put together a veil to test the ease of producing the most important piece of beekeeping safety equipment. The veil proved to be quite satisfactory. The grain sack’s stiff fabric of woven plastic held the veil comfortably away from the face to prevent stings. Rita tested the hand-made beekeeper’s veil shown in today’s photo. Tod and I also discussed differences in descriptions of some authors’ opinions about the behavior of bees in the tropics. My previous host in Ethiopia, beekeeper Wubishet Adugna, explained that many assumptions regarding bee behavior don’t apply across all of Ethiopia’s diverse geographical regions. Some, he says, are simply wrong. I have much to learn.

Friday, August 31, 2012

From Proctor to Shambu

I give all of my bee hives a quick check to make sure that they are healthy, queenright, and stacked with enough honey supers to accommodate the end of the summer’s nectar flow. I will leave Proctor for a few weeks. A request to train beekeeping trainers sends me back on another volunteer assignment to Ethiopia on a USAID-funded trip to this land where almost every farm includes bee hives. Two days of flying from Memphis to Detroit to Amsterdam to Khartoum, and then to Addis Ababa brings me to the Winrock International field office. Here, in Ethiopia’s capital city, I meet my host, Guta Abdi, the founder and managing director of the Non-Governmental Organization, Education For Development Association (EFDA). An early morning start takes Guta, me, and our trusted driver, Jotte, through volcano-laced Ethiopian highlands of the Oromia Region to the mountain-top town of Shambu. Travelling by truck in Africa’s rainy season is completely different from my travels during the dry season. In February, I experienced brown fields and blinding dust; in August, I face lush green fields and muddy, sometimes washed-out roads. At one point a broad, shallow rain-swollen river rushes over our dirt road.

From Shambu, I visit farms and educational projects of the EFDA. I train leaders of seven beekeeping self-help groups. Those individuals attending my training sessions are all seasoned beekeepers selected to spread their skills among farmers in their home areas. Having a varied terrain, Ethiopia is considered a semi-tropical land. Ethiopia’s honey bees exhibit different behaviors from by bees in America’s Mid-South due to seasonal differences in climate and the flowering of plants. I come to Ethiopia hoping to offer these seasoned beekeepers some outside ideas to consider adding to their endemic beekeeping knowledge handed down from generation to generation over thousands of years. I know that I will learn much from them. Today’s picture is a view from Winrock International’s field office in Addis Ababa where taxis share wet streets with cattle.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bee Transfer Continues

The transfer of feral bees from the tree to the modern Langstroth hive continues. Here is the plan for moving honey bees from a hollow tree to a modern bee hive: As bees leave the tree, they are unable to return to their nest, but they find an acceptable nest inches away in a modern bee hive holding a queen-right bee colony. When the transition started, the feral bees left their nest in the hollow catalpa tree as usual to forage. When the foragers returned, they found their entrance hole blocked by the one-way screen funnel. Desperate to get back to their nest, the foragers probed the area around the entrance hole until they found an alternative entrance around some broken tree bark. As long as bees can return to their feral nest in the hollow tree, the transfer is ineffective. Once I blocked the bees’ new entrance around the broken bark with window screen, duct tape, and roofing shingles, the transfer to the new hive progressed effectively. Beekeepers should return to the transfer site daily to observe the condition of the screen funnel and the bees’ activity. At night, skunks or raccoons may damage the funnel. During daylight hours, the beekeeper should see bees exiting the tree through the funnel. Darkening the funnel with duct tape encourages the bees to walk to the end of the funnel. A lack of bees may mean that the funnel is blocked with dead bees.

Every feral transfer attempt progresses differently, and at times corrective action is required to complete the bee transfer. After a week in place, I checked the Langstroth hive and found a large population of bees, plenty of capped brood, but no eggs or open brood. It appears that the bees killed the marked queen. This required me to bring in another colony of bees in a Langstroth hive body and combine the hives using a newspaper separator. After another week it appears the bees accepted this second queen.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Paul Mallory

Beekeepers across the Mid-South moved their bee hives an inch this week in the Old English custom of notifying the bees of a death in the family. The Memphis Area Beekeepers Association lost a dear friend, Paul Mallory, a beekeeper for 68 years. Almost every Short Course in Beekeeping held annually by the MABA began with Paul’s tale of following a young beekeeper driving a pickup truck overloaded with bee hives. Paul related that every few minutes, the truck pulled to the side of the road; the driver got out, beat the hives with a stick, and then continued driving. When the truck reached its destination, Paul asked the young man why he was banging on the hives. The explanation was simple: he had a ton of bees to carry in a half-ton pickup truck, so it was necessary to keep half of the bees flying. Paul introduced new beekeepers at the local association’s annual Short Course in Beekeeping with the most understandable explanation of why a person would want to become a beekeeper. After his brief presentation, a few attendees were relieved to understand that handling stinging insects was not for them; others knew exactly why they wanted to learn the art and science of beekeeping.

Once, a swarm of honey bees moved into the MABA’s storage shed and built a huge nest behind a stack of hive equipment. I assisted a group of association members to expose the feral nest, cut out the combs, and band them into two deep hive bodies. However, we could not find the queen. At the end of the lengthy operation, Paul, sitting quietly, suggested that we look into the opposite corner of the room where a number of bees were posed with tails high and wings fanning. There, we found the queen. Paul’s picture and other stories of his significant beekeeping career can be seen at http://peacebeefarm.blogspot.com/2010/02/beekeeping-short-course.html. Flowers celebrating Paul’s life, like today’s groundsel, are seeded on roadsides across the Mid-South.