by Lady Spirit Moon, CB, CN, MH
Commercial beekeepers keep from 100 to over several thousand beehives for pollinating and creating nucs (a small colony of bees with a queen), usually treating Varroa mites with harsh chemicals, such as fluvalinate and coumaphos. These affect the queens (http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1603/0022-0493-95.1.28). Both build up in the wax, and both cause problems for the bees and contaminate the hive. Some commercial beekeepers may use essential oils, such as Thymol. Synthetic chemicals of any kind upset the bacterial balance bees need in the hive. There are hobbyist beekeepers keeping anywhere from one to twenty or more hives; and some of those may use harsh chemicals or essential oils. Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) defines natural beekeeping as using organic chemicals in the hive, i.e.: oxalic acid and formic acid, essential oils, powder sugar, etc. What sets me apart is my being in a growing group of Natural Beekeepers. I don’t treat my bees with anything. If the bees don’t take it through the front door, I don’t put it into the hive. Watching my bees over the years I have learned they can take care of themselves as long as I assist in keeping them healthy. A healthy hive will take care of itself, including pests and diseases. I now have about 17 hives in my two yards, where my bees are resistant to pests and diseases.
They are not, however, resistant to chemicals. Studies have shown bees don’t fatten up in farming communities growing commercial GMO crops where they are using three classes of neonicotinoid pesticides: clothianidin (http://grist.org/article/food-2010-12-10-leaked-documents-show-epa-allowed-bee-toxic-pesticide/), thiametoxam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thiamethoxam), and imidacloprid (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120405224653.htm). All three of these chemicals are sprayed on GMO crops: corn, soybean, cotton, rape, sugar beets, etc. Clothianidin is used in the coating of corn seeds, especially GMO. These and more studies indicate how neonicotinoids are killing the honeybees and other pollinators, worldwide. The chemicals rise up through the plants into the nectar and pollen for bees to harvest. The bees gather and store the nectar and pollen to feed the young in the next spring. Some are saying these chemicals are one of the leading causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which can be defined as a hive full of bees disappearing without cause or evidence.
Neonicotinoids affect the bees’ nervous systems and learning abilities. The forager will go out to collect pollen and nectar, but will forget how to come back, causing the colony to dwindle down to nothing. The chemicals also affect the queen. A queen lays on the average of 2,000 eggs a day; but I watched one march across the honeycomb for three months, acting drunk, without laying one egg. I never had problems until a farmer increased his GMO crop of corn. Apiary 2 is located within 2000 feet of his corn crops and suffered a 3-hive loss in the spring of 2012. At the same time Apiary 1 suffered a 2-hive loss. There are other illnesses causing hive loses, but there are usually evidences indicating the cause or the bees can be tested in a lab.
The honeybees, and many other pollinators around the world, are in a global crisis because of major losses each year. I feel the honeybee is trying to evolve and man is not letting them by over managing the bees; constantly moving them for pollinating purposes; using chemicals which upsets the bacterial balance in the hive; etc. If bees are not happy they will leave/swarm. When keeping bees I always keep a visual image of a tree, which is where honeybees usually (I used ‘usually’ because they will reside wherever the scout bee figures there is enough room, which could be inside a house, barn, eaves, swarm boxes, etc. Anywhere they can reside is natural to them.) reside. They are alone, where no animals can reach them other than those living in the trees. The animals know to leave the bees alone because bees sting anything wearing fur or something dark. The leaves protect the hive from the elements and intense sun. And bees don’t move their kitchen of stores around or swap out their brood frames, or anything else humans do to the hive. They will create queens so the old one can swarm with part of the hive. This is their natural way of making sure their race continues in the grand scheme of things. They will requeen if the old one is no longer laying eggs as she should, or if the queen dies for some reason or another. Part of their mystique is sometimes that they get notional and kill their queen for reasons we may not always understand.
I plan to expand to about 30 hives and into a 3rd apiary by the spring of 2013. I use diverse genetics by placing my nucs where there are feral hives, trading a nuc from another apiary, or getting nucs from another source within a 100-mile radius, if I know their genetics and the breeder. There are a few of us giving a hive to another on the condition they get the mated daughter back. There are only a few breeders selling queens all over the country. This only weakens the stock strain for future generations. Another thing weakening bees is feeding them sugar water. As an Apitherapist and Nutrition Consultant, I can tell you sugar has no value in the way of vitamins or minerals. After the honey harvest in late summer, some beekeepers feed sugar syrup to their bees. That sugar water is stored as honey for feeding when the queen starts laying eggs after the winter solstice. Honey is the bees’ prebiotic. A prebiotic is a nondigestible food ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines. For humans they are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The bees collect pollen and crush it if they can. They then add lactic acid to the honey placed on top of the pollen. As the honey sinks down through the pollen, the combination becomes beebread as it ferments over time and becomes their probiotic. A probiotic is a preparation (as a dietary supplement) containing live bacteria (as lactobacilli) that is taken orally to restore beneficial bacteria to the body; also: a bacterium of such a preparation. Much like a yogurt product is our probiotic, having lactobacillus. Bees have lactobicillicus in their gut. And just like humans, the lack of probiotics compromises their digestive tract. In honeybees, it causes Nosema (a bee’s diarrhea), which in turn lowers their autoimmune system. Bees and humans both have lactobacillus in their guts and if the bad bacterium feeds first, the gut suffers. Both humans and bees need pre-& pro-probiotics for the same reasons.
Calming bees with smoke is a myth. When a bee smells smoke they think their surrounding area is on fire. They suck up a lot of honey and wait for the fire to get closer to their hive before they swarm. Bees can communicate. I don’t smoke my hives because the smoke stops that communication. My girls tell me when I should be in the hive or out of it. I listen to my girls and always ask, “What can I do for you?” Each hive has a special song in the spring when they are busy increasing the brood and prepping for the first honey flow. I sell nucs with four frames of brood and one frame of honey, with beebread if possible. Each bee has a duty in the hive based on their ages. Young nurse bees taking care of their brood don’t fly out to forage until they are older. The honey and beebread helps the nurse bees feed the young. By the time the young have hatched, the nurse bees have become foragers and there is a mated queen in the hive laying eggs in all five frames. My nucs are expensive at $275 and I don’t sell to anyone who treats their bees. I also don’t ship. My girls create their own queens when needed, so I don’t sell queens.
The honeybee is responsible for 85% of our food because it is the only pollinator in the world maintaining the integrity of our fruits and vegetables by carefully pollinating each plant species. Unlike the bumble bee going from flower to flower with no regard to species, the honeybee stays with each species until pollination is done. Because the honeybee pollinates different kinds of plants, I harvest my honey at the end of the season to be sure I have all the honey and its pollen from a full year’s cycle of plants. This annual harvest is then sold with each jar having the pollen properties to help with allergies the following season. Even then the honey is not sold until after I’m sure my girls have enough to get them through the winter. – I have a large extractor, but there hasn’t been enough honey to warrant using it, so I use the poor man’s method. I crush the wax and let it strain over a tiny-meshed cloth to filter out dead bees and debris. I don’t even use a hot knife to cut off the honey cappings because heat just above body temperature kills enzymes in the honey. The honey I harvest and sell is pure, unadulterated, contains a year’s worth of pollen, and is chemical free.
After harvest and in the winter, I research bees and write about bees. This past winter I started creating a mini-lab in the honey house. A monitoring system will be set up to watch a nuc 24/7. The goal is to learn what goes on in the nuc during all the stages of its development, from creating a colony, making a queen, and cleaning out and prepping cells for new eggs, to honey capping, etc. There are things going on in the hive we still don’t understand. The Center has several professionals hooking a few hives to a monitoring system keeping track of weight, coming/going of bees, hive temperature, stationary viewing the inside of a hive, etc. This will eventually be put on the Center’s website. All research data we collect is free to the public. All funds we get go to research and projects. No one gets paid. We have 50+ volunteers of beekeepers and professionals. As Ambassador for the Center for Honeybee Research I have traveled to Europe and have visited other beekeepers, scientists and professionals in bee labs, and organizations working with beekeepers. I listen to everyone and glean what I can for my bees. But in the end, I listen to my girls. This year I traveled to Senegal, Africa, to teach beekeeping in a partnership program between BEe Healing Org, my business, and the Center. I plan to go back in May, 2013. I have been asked to teach in Haiti when a bee project comes up. I teach and educate through my articles, my website, and other beekeepers in my apiaries. I do mentor other like-minded beekeepers. I write articles for magazines, organizations, and am the editor and writer for the Center’s newsletter. One can sign up for it at www.chbr.org.
Lady Spirit Moon, CB, CN, MH
Ambassador for the Center
for Honeybee Research