Wild bees moving, adapting to urban areas

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Researchers in France have found a large number of species of “wild bees” living in and adapting to urban and semi-urban environments.

Mark Kinver, a BBC environmental writer, reports:

Writing in Plos One, they (the researchers) added that 60 species were also found in very urbanised areas in the city of Lyon.

There is widespread concern that wild bee populations in rural areas are being adversely affected by a number of factors, including pesticides.

“For a bee species to be present in [an urban] habitat, it must be able to find food and nesting substrate,” said co-author Laura Fortel, a researcher from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).

“Urban and periurban (the transition between rural and urban) sites can provide high quantities of flowers all year long; they show a high diversity of land cover types and are often warmer than surrounding landscapes.” (quoted material)

One of the reasons the researchers gave for the bee-friendly environments of cities and suburbia is the reduced amount of pesticides that are likely in these places.

 

Key words: wild bees in urban areas, suburbia, periurban areas, pesticides, lack of pesticides in urban areas

Are we done with colony collapse disorder (CCD)?

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Is colony collapse disorder (CCD) over?

Apparently, an increasing portion of the scientific and governmental community concerned with bees believes that it is.

If so, it’s good news. But it isn’t all good news, as Noah Wilson-Rich, founder and chief scientific officer of the Best Bees Company and the author of The Bee: A Natural History, writes in an op-ed column published in the New York Times.

While this is undoubtedly good news, we cannot let it blind us to a hard truth. Bees are still dying; it’s just that we’re finding the dead bodies now, whereas with C.C.D., they were vanishing. Bees are still threatened by at least three major enemies: diseases, chemicals (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.) and habitat loss. (quoted)

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C.C.D. created momentum for the greater cause of bee health, of acknowledging the importance of pollinators. We cannot lose this momentum now. Honeybees pollinate more than 100 fruit and vegetable crops that we rely on for food. According to the entomologist Nicholas W. Calderone at Cornell, bees contribute more than $15 billion annually to the economy in the United States alone, and that number soars past $100 billion globally. (quoted)

jpegWilson-Rich points out that we still lose about 30 percent of our colonies each winter. He also makes a number of good points in the article:

  • Migratory beekeeping, which is necessary for sustaining our current system of agriculture, is not good for us and not good for the bees.
  • Our concentration on honeybees has diverted our attention from the many other types of bees (20,000 species in all) that contribute greatly to the pollination that must be done for our food crops.
    • To make our pollination practices efficient once again, we need to pay attention to the data. Just last year, Jeffery S. Pettis of the United States Department of Agriculture and his colleagues published data indicating that honeybees appeared to be getting credit from farmers for work that other bee species were actually doing. We continue to get crops of blueberries, cranberries, cucumbers, watermelons and pumpkins, but honeybee hives in those fields are not filled with pollen from those crops. (quoted)
  • The government needs to change its policy of rewarding monoculture and instead start supporting diversity in agriculture.

Wilson-Rich’s article gives us much to consider.

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Where do Italian bees come from? Not necessarily from Italy

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This will be amusing to those who know something about beekeeping.

The Washington Post has published a photo essay under the headline: How Italian honeybees in Main are helping to sustain our food supply.

The photos are very good. They were shot by  Andrees Latif of Reuters. The story’s editor at the Post is Nicole Crowder, editor for the Washington Post’s photography blog, In Sight. The story says:

In the summer, photographer Andrees Latif followed beekeepers who have been trekking large crates of Italian honeybees across the country from one farm to another in the effort to pollinate crops. (quoted)

Italian honeybees, of course, don’t come from Italy. That’s just their name. Somebody — the photographer or the editor — got it wrong and leaves readers with the impression that we’re bringing over bees from Italy to help us solve our food problems.

Several commenters on the story pointed this out, and one of them (identified as “beezations”) took the opportunity to go on this anti-commercial beekeeping rant:

This is terribly misleading. Italian honeybees are nothing new, but many of us backyard beekeepers have learned the hard way that they tend not to be as hardy in northern climates as the Russian and Carniolan bees.  
But that’s beside the point here. The practices described here are utterly unsustainable and these commercial beekeepers are a large part of the problem. Small farms traditionally included local hives to pollinate their crops, which also tended to be far more diverse. (Think of the wide range of vegetables that show up at your farmer’s market) Commercial beekeepers load hives on pallets, truck them under a plastic wrap in all weather conditions, drop them in the middle of monocultures — the almond groves of Central Valley in CA is responsible year after year for killing more than 75-percent of the commercial hives that are brought there — where they’re fed corn syrup with a ph that wreaks havoc on their guts. The die-offs are astronomical. You’re just seeing the same people import more bees so they can continue the same unsustainable practices. (quoted)

Well, anyway, take a look at the pictures. They’re very nice.

Key words: Washington Post, Andrees Latif, Nicole Crowder, Italian honeybees, beezations, beekeeping, commercial beekeeping, beekeeping in Maine, photos of beekeepers

Researchers finding ‘high level of genetic diversity’ in bees

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Honeybees have a “surprisingly high level of genetic diversity” and probably originated in Asia, not Africa.These are some of the findings researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden who have recently published an article in Nature Genetics.

Here is what phys.org had to say in its summary:

Honeybees face threats from disease, , and management practices. To combat these threats it is important to understand the evolutionary history of and how they are adapted to different environments across the world.

“We have used state-of-the-art high-throughput genomics to address these questions, and have identified high levels of in honeybees. In contrast to other domestic species, management of honeybees seems to have increased levels of by mixing bees from different parts of the world. The findings may also indicate that high levels of inbreeding are not a major cause of global colony losses”, says Matthew Webster, researcher at the department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Uppsala University. (quoted material)Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-08-evolutionary-history-honeybees-revealed-genomics.html#jCp

Matthew Webster of Uppsala University

Matthew Webster of Uppsala University

The chief researcher, Matthew Webster, adds: “The evolutionary tree we constructed from genome sequences does not support an origin in Africa, this gives us new insight into how honeybees spread and became adapted to habitats across the world”

Keywords: honeybee genetics, genomes, genetic history of honeybees, evolutionary history of honeybees, Uppsala University, Matthew Webster, Phys.org, Nature Genetics

 

The joys of buckwheat, part 4: Langstroth’s take on buckwheat

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Lorenzo Langstroth, father of modern beekeeping, recognized the value of buckwheat to his honeybees.

Buckwheat furnishes an excellent Fall feed for bees.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 10.50.02 AMAs those of you who follow this blog regularly will know, I am a huge advocate of growing buckwheat to supplement the natural diet for honeybees. (See the previous posts: here, here, and here.)

Father Langstroth was, too.

In his book, A Practical Treatise on the Hive and  Honey-bee, published in 1857, here’s what Langstroth had to say about buckwheat:

Buckwheat furnishes an excellent Fall feed for bees; and often enables them to fill their hives with a generous supply against Winter, The honey being gathered either in the early part of the day, or when the atmosphere is moist, is often quite thin; the bees sweat out a large portion of its moisture, but still they do not exhaust the whole, and in wet seasons, it is somewhat liable to sour in the cells- Honey gathered in a dry season, is always thicker, and of course more valuable than that gathered in a wet one, as it contains much less water. Buckwheat is uncertain in its honey-bearing qualities; in some seasons, it yields next to none, and hardly a bee will be seen upon a large field, while in others, it furnishes an extraordinary supply* The most practical and scientific agriculturists agree that so far from being an impoverishing crop, it is on many soils, one of the most profitable that can be raised. Every bee-keeper should have, some in the vicinity of his hives.

The following facts respecting the cultivation of buckwheat, were communicated to me by Mr. A. Wells, of Greenfield, Mass. He had a piece of land so exhausted by successive crops of corn and rye, that it would produce nothing but buckwheat, which he cultivated upon it for twelve or thirteen successive years. At the end of this time the land had recovered sufficiently to produce good corn! Each year, the weeds and self-sown buckwheat, which grew upon it, were plowed under, in seeding for the new crop, and the result proves, how erroneous are the common notions respecting the exhausting effects on the land, of this grain.

Dzierzon says: “In the stubble of winter grain, buckwheat might be sown, whereby ample forage would be secured, to the beesr late in the season, and a remunerating crop of grain garnered besides . This plant, growing so rapidly and maturing so soon, so productive in favorable seasons, and so well adapted to cleanse the land, certainly deserves more attention from farmers than it receives; and its more frequent and general culture would greatly enhance the profits of bee-keeping. Its long continued and frequently renewed blossoms, yield honey so abundantly, that a populous colony may easily collect fifty pounds in two weeks if the weather is favorable.”

Key words: Lorenzo Langstroth, buckwheat, honey, bees, beekeeping, A Practical Treatise on the Hive and Honey-bee

Vietnamese beekeeper getting rich with his network of beehives

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Beekeeping, we’re happy to say, knows no political or ideological boundaries.

And apparently, you can get rich doing it even in a communist country.

A screenshot of the story on VietnamNet about a successful Vietnamese beekeeper.

A screenshot of the story on VietnamNet about a successful Vietnamese beekeeper.

That’s the case with Tran Xuan Phong, 31, of An Khang Commune in northern Vietnam. In 2002, he inherited his father’s 150 beehives and tried to make a go of it. As with almost any new beekeeper, he lacked experience, knowledge and equipment.

But he was determined to make a go of it.
He traveled around the country and discovered that the bees he had were not as productive and others, so he mated them with a strain of Italian bees. His beekeeping skills slowly improved with experience. As reported in a recent article on VietnamNet, the nation’s first online news website:
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As his hives quickly expanded, Phong took his insects to other provinces for pollen during different flowering seasons.

In 2008, he signed a contract for beekeeping and honey distribution with Dak Lak Bee Co., a Vietnamese firm. His products have since sold particularly well.

Phong’s farm is currently home to 1,700 beehives, which produce over 100 tons of honey per year.

He earns around VND2 billion ($94,135) in profit each year and provides stable jobs for many young people. (quoted)

For those of us who have been around since the 1960s and 1970s, the nation of Vietnam has a special meaning, and the memories for both us and the Vietnamese of those times are not good ones. That’s why, to this beekeeper, this story is a heartening one.

Key words: beekeeping in Vietnam, honey, beehives, Italian bees, communist countries, Tran Xuan Phong

Manuka honey has believers but still lacks evidence

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Manuka honey has a special place for those who believe in apitherapy and the medicinal powers of the sweet product of honeybees.

41VA-YmR5rLNow there’s a book about it from Cliff Van Eaton, a Canadian-turned-New Zealander beekeeper and one of the chief proponents of using manuka honey. (See the Amazon page promotional copy for the book, Manuka: The Biography of an Extraordinary Honey, below.)

Van Eaton has just been interviewed by Radio New Zealand, and the interview (nearly 30 minutes) is worth listening to. The description of the interview is below.

Despite the claims, there’s still no hard evidence for the claims many people make about honey.

Here’s what WebMD.com, a large and well-regarded health site, has to say about manuka honey:

Hydrogen peroxide is a component of honey. It gives most honey its antibiotic quality. But some types of honey, including manuka honey, also have other components with antibacterial qualities.

The major antibacterial component in manuka honey is methylglyoxal (MG). MG is a compound found in most types of honey, but usually only in small quantities.

In manuka honey, MG comes from the conversion of another compound — dihydroxyacetone — that is found in high concentration in the nectar of manuka flowers.

MG is thought to give manuka honey its antibacterial power. The higher the concentration of MG, the stronger the antibiotic effect. (quoted)

***

The main medical use for manuka honey is on top of a wound. It is generally used for treating minor wounds and burns.

Manuka honey is also marketed for use in many other conditions. These include:

  • Preventing and treating cancer
  • Reducing high cholesterol
  • Reducing systemic inflammation
  • Treating diabetes
  • Treating eye, ear, and sinus infections
  • Treating gastrointestinal problems

But the evidence is limited on whether or not manuka honey is effective for these conditions.

The honey used to treat wounds is a medical-grade honey. It is specially sterilized and prepared as a dressing. So the jar of manuka honey in the pantry should not be considered part of a first aid kit. Wounds and infections should be seen and treated by a health care professional. (quoted)

 

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