The Bee Keeper

Where to Find the Beekeeper

The Beekeeper has moved, but is still talking about bees and beekeeping. Actually, he’s at two different places now. Check out the long time favorite Mother Earth News web page on their Community Beekeeping Blog. He’s talking bees, and even top bar hives there. But The Beekeeper steps outside the box a bit in his newest blog, sponsored by Bee Culture Magazine.

For the best in bees and beekeeping, look for us at your nearest Barnes and Noble bookstore, Tractor Supply store, or give us a holler and we’ll send along a free copy of the best beekeeping magazine there is. (That's Bee Culture. Free.) In the meantime, remember to keep you veil tight, you hive tool handy, and your smoker lit... there’s still lots to do.

tags: beekeeper

What the Winter Loss Survey Tells Us About Colony Collapse Disorder

bee on flower

The Daily Green has changed its pointer a bit recently, and The Beekeeper hasn’t been as active here as before. But TheDailyGreen still hosts all of the Beekeeper’s contributions because they support the fundamentals of getting, and keeping a healthy honey bee population. The Beekeeper has moved though, and is still making contributions to other blogs. The most recent is a Mother Earth News blog, which harkens back to my youth certainly, and now again because they are seeking good information on bees and beekeeping. Interestingly, my people here at Bee Culture Magazine have put together a blog page for me also, so there will be regular updates for colony collapse disorder and other beekeeping issues, plus all the regular information on getting started and keeping going with bees, just like here. That blog address will be, but it’s not up quite yet... I’ll pass along that information as soon as I have it.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already heard, the USDA has released the results of their latest winter loss survey.

The last four paragraphs are telling, and rather than rewrite them I simply copy them here...


7 (Yes, 7) Causes of Colony Collapse Disorder

bee on flower

After four years of intense study, research, sampling, and just plain guessing, scientists have made more discoveries in the last year than all the honey bee research in the last 25 years put together. Still, Colony Collapse Disorder is still mostly a mystery. What they have found, though, is helping honey bees and beekeepers. Here's a look:

Poor nutrition.
Honey bees forced to dine on only a single source of pollen have problems. Imagine living for a month on only Twinkies. The first one is great, the second good... the 123rd is disgusting, and, you are slowly starving to death. When researchers looked closely at the diet for our honey bees, they saw the problem and todayn - after four years – there are almost a dozen healthy food choices on the market we can feed our bees. That's progress. (But look at your grocery store and see how many kinds of dog food there are... wouldn't you think hard working honey bees should have the same choices?).

Old pests revisited.
A common problem with honey bees now is that old pest called Nosema. Simply put, this one-celled parasite damages the stomach of a bee, shortening its lifespan, and the damage allows some of these other pests entry into the bee itself. It's like having a bad cut, then having it get infected. It's a no-win for the bees.


Which Cities Have Legalized Beekeeping?

brooklyn beekeeping

Rooftop bees, like those kept by Yeshwant Chitalkar in Brooklyn, N.Y., were illegal up until very recently in the five boroughs of New York City. Beekeeping is still illegal in many communities across the U.S. and around the world.

How kind has 2010 been to beekeepers?

Earlier this year, The Daily Green and Bee Culture asked readers to tell us where beekeeping is still illegal, in hopes of prodding more communities to follow New York City's lead and legalize this gentle art. Now, we want to identify any cities, towns, or counties that have seen the light on keeping urban bees during the past year. Did your city have a change of heart, allowing citizens to legally keep bees? We want to recognize any locality that has changed the rules and legalized bees.

New York is the Brightest Light this year, but there must be more. If you know a city, a town or a county that turned it around in 2010 let us know. We'll spread the word and let everybody know what a great place that place is to live in... now that bees are allowed.

Send us (email the name of your city, the state, and (if you care to) a very short (1 or 2 sentences) story about how it happened. Governments don't move unless someone pushes, and we'd like to know a little bit about those who did the pushing.

And thanks for helping out...

If your community recently legalized beekeeping, and you're considering taking up the hobby, we have 5 questions all aspiring urban beekeepers should ask themselves.


An Interview with a Bee Genius

Often called a "Genius" Award, this $500,000, no strings attached award is given each year to "explorers and risk takers, contributing to their fields and to society in innovative, impactful ways. They provide us all with inspiration and hope for the future." It's the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Award, and this year one of the winners was a honey bee researcher.

marla spivak

Dr. Marla Spivak certainly fits that description. She received a B.A. (1978) from Humboldt State University and a Ph.D. (1989) from the University of Kansas. She has been affiliated with the University of Minnesota since 1993, where she is currently Distinguished McKnight Professor in the Department of Entomology. She is the author and creator of numerous beekeeping manuals and videos, and her scientific articles have appeared in such journals as the Journal of Neurobiology (now Developmental Neurobiology), Evolution, Apidologie, and Animal Behavior.

But she earned her hive tool the hard way, working with commercial beekeepers all during her career in several states and several countries. She understands the needs of both bees and beekeepers, a rare commodity in any research program. She learned the basics of bee breeding from some of the most controversial, and intelligent breeders in the U.S., and has brought that experience and her education to bear on a variety of problems beekeepers face.


How Do Honey Bees Survive Winter?

winter bee hive

Photo: A beekeeper lifts a frame out of a hive. Frames hang vertically in a hive and the bees "stand" on the vertical surface. The surface is made of beeswax and is composed of "cells" that the bees fill with honey, baby bees, or pollen. When a cell is full the bees cover the contents of the cell with a layer of beeswax to keep the contents clean.

Right now beekeepers are getting their bees ready to handle winter. Insects are cold blooded, so their body temperature reflects the ambient temperature. If they become too cold they lose the ability to move their muscles, quit breathing and die. Too cold is below 50 F. So how do cold blooded insects stay warm? Good question.

First, bees are furry. And that fur keeps air from just rushing by. It provides a dead air space that insulates them. And when two bees get close together they have more dead air space and if 15 or 50 or 5000 bees give a group hug they can all stay a bit warmer for even longer, using ass that fuzz as an insulator to keep warm air in.

But that only works until there's no more warm air to hold. What then? Well, just for a moment, slide out of your chair and give me 20 pushups. Quick. No loafing. Go ahead, I'll wait.


The Cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, As a Crime Drama

A new study has fingered a villain and her henchman. Here's what investigators have learned about the mysterious illness that's affected U.S. honeybees.

What Do Bees Do in Winter?

A Webinar for beekeepers will answer all the questions you have about keeping bees alive and healthy through the winter.

How Pesticides Can Be Safe for Bees and Frogs, and Still Kill Them

Scientists in Florida wanted to know why frogs were disappearing from ponds. They suspected all manner of things... homeowner pesticide runoff, global warming, a new, exotic disease... anything and everything was up for grabs. What with bees and bats crashing and burning, who knew what it could be.

What they found wasn't what they were expecting, however. It turns out that the agricultural herbicide atrazine, a chemical that inhibits weeds from growing in crop fields, was washing out of the farm fields, flowing into groundwater and draining, eventually, into the ponds the frogs were disappearing from. But earlier tests had shown that atrazine didn't affect frogs if they had to live in water polluted with small amounts of the stuff. So it couldn't be that, could it?

The next level of tests discovered that the atrazine (remember, it's a plant killer) was, once in the pond water, killing the green algae bloom that always grows on top of most ponds in Florida. Well, that makes sense... but how could that harm frogs?



See the Beekeeper (and a Whole Lot More) In Philadelphia

Celebrate the dedication of Lorenzo Langstroth's birthplace and observance of his 200th birthday in Philadelphia in September.

As part of the Philadelphia Honey Festival, our very own Beekeeper, Kim Flottum, will emcee the celebration of the placement of a historical marker at 106 South Front Street, the birthplace of L.L. Langstroth, the inventor of the modern beehive, in Philadelphia, Pa., on Sept. 9 at 3:30 p.m. Included in the celebration will be speeches by Pennsylvania's Secretary Of Agriculture Russell Redding, the Pennsylvania Honey Queen, and several others. A nearby reception hosted by The Beekeeper and the Philly Beekeeper Association will top off the event.

Later on Friday, and on Saturday and Sunday, a host of events are planned by three groups (the Wagner Institute, Bartram's Garden and the Wyck Association), all having to do with bees, botany, honey bee art and more. A highlight will be a talk given by Kim Flottum, "The Joys Of Urban Beekeeping," and talks by authors Elizabeth Capaldi Evans, Professor of Biology at Bucknell University and author of the book, Why do Bees Buzz? Fascinating Answers to Questions about Bees, and Dean Stiglitz, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. Also, Historian Matt Redmon will do a short presentation about Lorenzo Langstroth, Philadelphia's own inventor of the modern beehive on Saturday as part of the Wyck Association's celebration.


No Buzz Zones: 90+ U.S. Cities and Towns Where Beekeeping Is Still Illegal (Update)

brooklyn beekeeping

Rooftop bees, like those kept by Yeshwant Chitalkar in Brooklyn, N.Y., were illegal up until very recently in the five boroughs of New York City. Bees and beekeeping still are illegal in many communities. across the U.S. and around the world.

For about a month now we've been locating the towns and villages and cities that don't allow honeybees on their streets or in their back yards. Below is the initial list to be posted on the WALL OF SHAME by The Daily Green and

There are many here, but we suspect there are more. If you live in a No Buzz Zone and you don't see your town named here let us know ... we want to add it to the list and we'll update the map....


Hope You Like Beets, Because The Bee Crisis Could Soon Be Hitting the U.S. Food Supply

Recently we've explored several seemingly unrelated subjects.

bee on flower

* For the last several years, 30% or more of the commercial honey bee colonies in the U.S. have perished each winter due to starvation, disease and pesticides.

* During the summer, that many and more perish for the same reasons, but they are partially replaced by beekeepers by dividing their remaining colonies... but colonies are vanishing so fast that beekeepers can't keep up.

* We have to import thousands of Australian honey bee colonies each spring because the the U.S. can't produce enough bees to replace those we lose each winter, but even with imports, we still aren't staying even.

* The USDA thinks there might be problems with Australian bees and, finally, it is investigating. But USDA keeps changing the importation rules, so it seems that no matter what, Australian bees can keep coming.

* Somebody in Congress is finally upset about contaminated, cheap, illegal Chinese honey being smuggled, sneaked into this country, putting U.S. beekeepers out of business, and feeding you something you weren't expecting in your Honey Nut Cheerios...


Young Women in Cities Lead Trend in Backyard (or Rooftop, as the Case May Be) Beekeeping

The Beekeeper Kim Flottum was featured in an NPR story this morning about women in cities leading the backyard beekeeping trend. Check it out.


The Grove Gamble: Will There Be Enough Bees to Pollinate This Spring?

It's the best of times for beekeepers in this season right now... the weather has been more favorable than not, and honey prices are steady and even increasing, and doing well enough to support a beekeeping operation for a change. Life isn't so bad at the moment.

But the memory of a 30%+ colony loss last winter hasn't gone away, and some beekeepers are still struggling to catch up rather than being able to make some head way with the good weather and the good crop. And for those commercial operations who contemplate pollinating almonds again next year, here's some food for thought, brought to you courtesy of those in the know in the almond industry in California.

bee on flower

There will be 740,000 acres of almond-bearing groves next February... an increase of 20,000 acres (2.7%). Realistically, almond growers will need between 1.3 million and 1.5 million strong hives this February to pollinate all those acres.

What's a strong hive? The hives they'll need must have eight of 20 frames full of bees and brood. That's a pretty strong hive for February because most hives, at least in the northern portion of the continent, have only four or five frames full at that time of year. With the exception of those in the South, beekeepers will have to move their bees to California around Halloween and start feeding them sugar and protein to maintain or increase their size so they will be strong enough for an almond grower to rent them. An eight-frame or stronger colony is a good rental for an almond grower. Though sometimes six- and seven-frame colonies can be rented for smaller trees, and for less money, a colony with fewer than six full frames usually doesn't get rented at all because it is simply too small to be productive... Doesn't get rented, that is, unless a grower hedged his bets and waited to see if beekeepers came west without first signing hive-rental contracts; if there are more bees than are needed, demand is greater than supply, and the almond grower wins. It's a gamble.

Of course it works the other way too....


How Much Land Does It Take to Feed a Bee Colony? More Than You Think

There's a lot going around about the ties between honey bee nutrition and Colony Collapse Disorder. Some of it is going around because I have been preaching this gospel for years now, and finally some are beginning to listen. Of course I'm not the only one... I just happen to have more places to preach than most people, so I get heard more.

bee on flower

But the question remains: how much does it take to feed a honey bee colony? It's not like I can go to the store and simply get a bag of Purina Honey Bee Chow... although beekeepers do feed their bees protein supplements on occasion. But even the best of these – and for the most part the formulas are secrets – are only short term fixes for a short term lack of food... sort of like that Power Bar thing you bring along on bike rides or hikes. Don't read the ingredients 'cause you don't want to know: Even though it tastes like sawdust and cardboard, it's filling and good for you, says the label. That's pretty much what honey bee chow is to a honey bee, too.

Mostly, beekeepers feed bees when there's nothing else for bees to eat, and beekeepers want their bees to be raring to go before a crop blooms. That's a key beekeeping secret: have lots of bees in your hives before the bloom, so those lots of bees can gather lots of nectar and pollen. If you let them raise lots of bees on that bloom, like they are programmed to do, then when the bloom is over you have lots and lots of bees, and they eat all the honey they just made. For a beekeeper, that's not a good plan.

But how much do bees eat? Well, the rule of thumb is that it takes an acre of flowers to feed a colony of bees. But that's a constant acre of bloom to feed a colony of bees, not just a field of dandelions blooming in May then gone and the bees have enough for the rest of the year. Nope, doesn't work that way.

Related: How to Buy Organic Flowers Online

Bees need that blooming acre as early in the season as possible... say, January in the far south, March in the mid-section, and April in the north. And that bloom usually comes in the form of trees: Willows, maples and the like. There are about 40 full-sized trees on an acre. For one colony. That's about a million blossoms, by the way.

But trees quit after a week or two and the bees are still eating. Then, under the trees, come dandelions for a week or so, but then what? Where do the bees go then? To other trees maybe, on another acre somewhere. Black Locust trees are wonderful, if it doesn't rain during bloom, then tulip poplar maybe, then basswoods. Meanwhile on some other acre white clover starts to bloom, then the alfalfa in that farmer's field nearby. By late summer a strong, healthy colony of bees have burned through about 20 or so acres of blossoms. I'm going to talk more about nutrition, lots more because it has become very, very apparent that more needs to be said.

But for now, in case you can't picture an acre... it's the size of a football field without the end zones. And by the end of this month a colony of bees will have eaten 20 of them (maybe more), each full of flowers.


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The Beekeeper writes about colony collapse disorder and the beekeeping life. read more.
about the author
Kim Flottum

Kim Flottum

Kim Flottum is the editor of Bee Culture magazine. read full bio.

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