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Grow Native Plants for Bees

The moment you get your first honeybees, you start noticing all the flowers around you and begin to ponder the potential plants you could grow to support pollinator health.

Great plants for bees include blazing star.

Blazing star (Liatris) blooms late in the season when few other nectar sources are available.

You become acutely aware of hives’ surroundings for a mile in every direction. This is the effective flight range of the bee—the distance she is prepared to travel to collect nectar, pollen, water and other necessities for her colony. This represents three square miles—2,000 acres of terrain—that the bees have at their disposal.

The Omniscient Bee

Using hundreds of scouts, the colony’s collective intelligence tracks in real time the location of all significant sources of nectar and pollen, their abundance, the exact times of day when a particular plant secretes nectar, and even its nutritional value. They know there’s a single basswood tree in bloom three-quarters of a mile south-southwest of their nest. They know the location of a small patch of buckwheat that you planted as a cover crop in your garden, and that they better get to it in the morning before the afternoon heat cuts the nectar flow. Foraging maps are updated daily, new blooms are promptly discovered, and fading flowers immediately abandoned.

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Pollinators in Peril

Pollinators have a staunch ally in Graham White. White, a small-scale hobby beekeeper in Scotland, has been an international campaigner on the dangers of neonicotinoid pesticides since 2003. To this endeavor, he brings his background in environmental education and teaching, a fascination with the biodiversity of life, and his long-term involvement in environmental issues.

Graham White, protector of pollinators

Graham White, a small-scale hobby beekeeper in Scotland, has been an international campaigner on the dangers of neonicotinoid pesticides and their affect on pollinators since 2003.

Born into a family of coal miners and glassmakers in an industrial town near Liverpool, England, White developed his love of nature exploring remnant woodlands and abandoned 19th century canals. As a teenager he was introduced to hiking, and as a university student in the late 1960s he became an avid rock climber. He credits his 1976 expedition, hiking the John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney in California, with changing his life.

When White returned to the UK, he decided to make it his mission to introduce John Muir’s writings and environmental values to the people of Britain. Muir, who founded the Sierra Club in 1892, was from Scotland, but was virtually unknown there. White founded the UK’s first Environment Centre in Edinburgh in 1978 and served as founding director for 23 years. In 1994 he proposed the creation of The John Muir Award for environmental excellence as a personal development program for people of all ages. In recent years over 200,000 people have completed this national challenge award.

White is also an accomplished nature photographer, an author and editor of environmentally themed books and articles, and a radio broadcaster. His radio productions include the BBC interview series Deep in Conservation with environmental luminaries such as David Brower, Satish Kumar, Vandana Shiva, Wangari Maathai, Amory Lovins, and Bill Mollison. Continue Reading →

Beehive Construction: Innovative Beekeeping and Value-Added Marketing

Beehive construction isn’t limited to a single set of blueprints. There are options, and within those options, thousands of sustainable variations exist.

Beekeeping construction can even include a temporary box for a second swarm. Photo courtesy Sparrowhawk Farm

Les Crowder always had a great curiosity about insects when he was a kid growing up in Bernalillo, New Mexico. This interest was particularly pronounced when it came to social insects such as ants, wasps and bees. He was fascinated with the organization of ants as they adjusted their behavior to the food he would bring them. Crowder said it appeared that the ants showed intelligence, as they got to know he would feed them at a certain time and a certain place every day and had the ability to communicate this information with their “sister” ants. Later, he managed to catch a bee swarm, which he put into a box. From that point, he was captivated by bees and would eventually spend the greater part of his life studying and making a business out of them. He now owns an apiary at Sparrowhawk Farm with his wife, Beth, and family.

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Mushrooms May Save Bees

A decade ago, honeybee populations around the world began declining at an alarming rate. In the early years of this trend, beekeepers lost 60 percent or more of their hives to a mysterious phenomenon that came to be known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). In each of these cases, worker bees simply disappeared, and it doesn’t take long for a colony to collapse without workers to provide food and to care for the young. Although this trend seems to have leveled off somewhat in recent years, the current average rate of 30 percent annual mortality is still nearly double the average rate reported prior to 2006.

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Healthy Pollination: Horizontal Hives Support Natural Beekeeping

A bee pollinates a flower.

A bee pollinates a flower.

Healthy pollination is the goal almost every beekeeper starts with, but it is often easier said than done.

If you have ever dreamed of keep­ing bees but found the process com­plicated, expensive, or the potential for losing your investment to disease and pests all too real, then you have never met Dr. Leo Sharashkin. He is a prominent wild bee enthusiast, edu­cator and apiarist who practices an ancient method of catching and keep­ing wild bees in specially designed horizontal hives.

If you have had the good fortune to meet Sharashkin or to hear him speak to a room full of enthusiastic beekeep­ers or the crowd that inevitably gath­ers around his Horizontal Hive booth at growers’ conferences across the country, you already know that his knowledge of bees is boundless and the methods he uses to keep them, truly inspiring. Whether you are a budding beekeeper or an experienced apiarist, you can keep happy and productive bees with less work and money than you ever imagined pos­sible and do so in a sustainable way.

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Queen Bees Impacted by Neonics

Queen k11072-1Throughout the Northern Hemisphere beekeepers have struggled to maintain adequate numbers of honeybee colonies for crop pollination and honey production due to dramatic increases in colony deaths each year. Recent surveys of beekeepers suggest that poor queen health is an important reason for these losses, but why queen health is being affected is not understood.

A research team from Bern, Switzerland and Wolfville, Canada, has found that honeybee queens, which are crucial to colony functioning, are severely affected by two neonicotinoid insecticides, thiamethoxam and clothianidin. In 2013, governments in Europe moved to partially restrict the use of these neonicotinoids while further risk assessments could be performed. The province of Ontario, Canada, followed suit in 2015. This is the first study to investigate the effects of neonicotinoids on honeybee queens. Its findings suggest that these insecticides may be contributing to bee colony mortality by affecting queen health, and it further strengthens calls for more thorough environmental risk assessments of these pesticides to protect bees and other beneficial organisms.

The observation that honeybee queens are highly vulnerable to these common neonicotinoid pesticides is worrisome, but not surprising, says senior author Laurent Gauthier. The study shows profound effects on queen physiology, anatomy and overall reproductive success. The queen, as the sole egg-layer and the primary source of colony cohesion, is the most important individual in the colony; without her the colony will eventually fail to function.

This article appears in the December 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.