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.