Feeding Upgrade

May 21, 2015

The plastic yellow in-hive entrance feeder was giving me trouble as my bottom screen curled upwards, making it impossible to push in without having to hold it down with something else, like my hive tool.  But it was also proving bothersome because the bees would empty it in less than a day, after a bit of spilling when I finally got the thing where it wouldn’t fall off.  So it was time to do some research.

Here are some video links that I looked at:

https://youtu.be/lrFErz3SoVE – this one is one of the best videos on the topic from Brushy Mtn where he explains the advantages and disadvantages of several types of feeders.  As it turns out, I had the one he sends with his beginner hives.  I had bought it on my own before even seeing this, so beginners luck on me!  However, as mentioned above, it wasn’t very satisfactory.

https://youtu.be/oWpqEKT7FuI – This video from Don “The Fat Beeman” is another good one.  Don’s videos are all pretty good, and this is no exception, going through advantages and disadvantages of the different feeders.  Don tends to be a cheapskate; a man after my own heart.  He manages so many hives, he isn’t about wasting time or money.

There are lots of other videos about feeders that I looked at.  However, when I found the one about the Collins Ultimate Feeder, I had a “eureka!” moment.  It’s basically a plastic container with holes in the lid.  It just so happens that I had a bunch of these sitting in my cupboard!  I watched the whole video, and they pretty much show you how to make one with a thumb tack.  They are selling these for around $7.00 each if you buy 5 or more.

I’ve been using my new “Dage’s ultimate Bee Feeder” for several days and it seems to be working exactly as designed.

Beefeeder stick

My ultimate bee feeder

My ultimate bee feeder

Just look at these calm, stress-free bees!

Just look at these calm, stress-free bees!

 

The good thing about these feeders, is that I get free potato salad with each one!  It takes about 3 days for them (the bees) to finish off one of these.  Which is about how long it takes us to finish a container full of potato salad. And in the top two pictures, you can see the level of syrup that is still left.  This makes it really easy to check the level, without having to tear into the hive.  My micro perforations were made with the smallest nail that I had.  I didn’t have any thumb tacks at hand.

I have it in the empty super to guard against robbing, although that is not a huge concern since I only have one hive and the next closest must be over a mile away.  I also have another reason for this configuration.  This summer, the boys and I will be traveling to see grandparents about 1000 miles away for a couple of weeks.  Which means my very nervous and skittish wife might be left to do the feeding.  In order to have any chance of that happening, I need to make the process as easy and painless as possible.  And so far, this might fit the bill.

We have several things blooming in my backyard.   Blackberries, dandelions and white clover.  Up until now, I hadn’t seen much activity from my bees on any of these as they seem pretty happy flying off into the north woods and bringing back whatever they are finding there.  But today, I finally did see one of my girls working over our clover patch by the back porch.

Working the clover

Working the clover

The key thing seems to be getting the numbers up in the hive.  I did a frame-by-frame inspection last weekend and most of the bottom box is built out, with lots of larvae, eggs and brood.  My oldest has named our queen “Elizabeth I” but I’ll probably end up just calling her Lizzy.  She’s been doing a good job so far, laying her eggs and her growing court is doing well feeding and raising the next generation that will eventually graduate into becoming foragers.  I added a super and have been feeding steadily in hopes that they finish the lower story and begin on this second one.

Feeding

May 15, 2015

I’ve *really* enjoyed having these little critters around since I got them.  And we’ve had some dandy weather this week, so not a single day has gone by without at least a visit.  A lawn chair is definitely on my list of things to buy, so I can sit beside the hive in the shade and just watch them zip in and out of the hive.

I did crack open the hive yesterday, just to see how they were doing and to see if it was time to add another box yet.  There are still at least 3 frames that haven’t been touched and they are still drawing comb on the other 2.  The queen has been busy being her queenly self, and the population continues to grow as she makes use of the comb that is already drawn from the initial 5 frames.

My oldest was anxious to wear his bee suit today, so I decided I would familiarize him with feeding the bees.  I don’t wear a suit or veil when doing it, but he’s still getting used to them.  Up until this point, he’s been very afraid of bees most of his life.  so getting up close and personal with them is a very big deal.

joeykeeper Feeding IMG_6940 Curiosity

In the last picture he’s looking inside the entrance as curiosity won out over any fear that he might have had.

Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport is considered the busiest airport in the world with a plane landing or taking off about every 60 seconds or so.  It has absolutely nothing on my hive, where they are taking off or landing in groups of 3-4 every second.  In the first picture above, I’m taking the picture while standing right in their flight path and it was amazing being in the middle of a horizontal shower of bees whizzing by me in both directions, swerving around me at the last second.

I’m not sure what they are working on, since they appear to fly right by my blackberries that are blooming at the moment.  I suspect they are working the tulip trees in the woods north of us, but that’s just a guess.  I didn’t notice much pollen being brought in but there are sources within my backyard and the neighbors’ if they need it, including some white clover and dandelions.

Moving Day

May 9, 2015

Last night it was dark and I didn’t risk shining the light on the entrance on the nuc after releasing the bungi that was holding the screen.  I should have.  So when I went to check them this morning I was greeted thus:

Waiting to get out

Waiting to get out

The girls were impatiently waiting to get out so I managed to knock the screen loose.  It was the closest they would get to being really mad all day.  But they still didn’t get really aggressive so much as they went about the business of orienting.  I gave them an hour or so and then went back to watch them for a bit.

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These are some very gentle bees.   They never got really defensive even when I got inside, inspected the frames and moved them to their new home.  One of my concerns when I initially met them was that they seemed so quiet and low key that I wondered if my box was empty and didn’t have many bees at all!  They seemed so quiet and low key!

However, when I removed the lid, the box was bursting with bees.  They were on every frame, on the floor, on the lid– that box was definitely full of bees.

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I did finally find the queen on the last frame that I took out of the nuc.  She was very skittish and shy but that’s not really a bad thing.  She knows she needs to be kept safe for the sake of the hive and went about making herself scarce.  She wasn’t as hard to pick out among 5000 bees as I thought she might be, being 3x bigger than any of her youngins.  I did pay a bit extra to have her marked and while that made it easier I’m pretty sure I could have  spotted her anyway.

My 16 and 13 year-old boys were luke warm about the bees going into this.  In fact my youngest was wondering if he would be able to ever go outside again.  My wife was also really ambivalent about having bees around.  But my youngest was the one who took the pictures and once he saw how gentle they were, he was okay with being around them.  The first days and year in keeping bees is a bit of a political exercise in getting people okay with the idea that they aren’t always going to be in danger of being swarmed, stung and attacked on a constant basis.  Honeybees are probably the most docile breed of any stinging insect, having been domesticated the last 1,000 years or so.

I did wear a veil, smock and gloves while working them, but it probably wasn’t entirely necessary.   It was hot work, even with the light smock and being in the shade on a day in the low 80’s.

No longer Bee-less

May 9, 2015

They are HERE!

In my backyard!

When I got the email from Buster’s Bees, saying that my bees were ready, there was a lot of anticipation.  It seemed like tonight would never come.

Buster’s bee yard is about an hour’s drive away from my back yard, so when I left I kept wondering how exactly I would get them back home safely.  Put them in the backseat, or let them ride in the back of the truck bed?   I arrived with this on my mind in the early evening just as the sun had set, and there was already a bunch of people there.  Everyone else was there in fact, so Buster’s wife, Fran, already knew exactly who I was.  The operation was pretty well organized with signs and a nice long driveway to facilitate everyone being able to load up and move out.

But before we could get our bees, there was a bit of a wait and so I had a chance to stroll through the modest bee village with all sorts of labelled hives and nucs.  None of the entrances were covered yet, so I was right there amongst all the bee homes as the bees were all milling around the entrances of their hives after having spent the day working.  None of them paid me or any of the other visitors any mind at all and it was easy to go right up to them and watch a few straggling workers fly in and land on their own front porches and great their other sisters who were gathered at the entrance.  On a few of the hives, the bees were crowded outside of the entrances as if they were having a little party before settling in.

Finally Buster decided it was time, and grabbed his smoker and began putting wire coverings over the entrances.  By this time I had already found my little box of little bees.   My bunch were mostly already bedded down.  In fact when he came by my nuc to fasten on the screen door with the bungi cord, he didn’t have to use any smoke at all.  a few were standing just inside the door, but they were already quite settled and ready to make their move.

I opted to let them ride in the bed of the truck with the box strapped down securely with a safety strapped and made the hour-long drive home.  After arriving, I carried the small through a very darkened backyard and set the nuc on the hive I had already set up.  Then I shined my flashlight on the screen door to see a few of them crawling around.  They didn’t appear too awfully agitated after their trip, with only a very modest amount of buzzing deep within the hive.  In fact I had to put my ear to the entrance to really hear that much.   But I waited about 15 minutes before loosening the bungi that secured their door and letting it fall before gingerly walking away into the darkness.

I’m looking forward to moving them from their little singe-wide mobile home to their more permanent housing tomorrow.

The Flow Hive

April 15, 2015

The Flow Hive: honey on tap

This thing is making huge waves in the beekeeping world and so I wouldn’t be much of a bee blogger if I didn’t mention it and say a few things about it.  You can check it out and look at all their pictures, videos and information on their own site here.

I saw their info in early February, before they formerly launched their crowd funding campaign and signed up for their emailing list as well as liked them on Facebook.  as a result I’ve been able to follow the Flowhive folks during much of their exciting journey.  They initially set a funding goal for $70,000 for their kickstarter (which they moved to indigogo right before launching their campaign).  They met their goal within 477 seconds and went on to become the most successful crowd funding project ever.

So what is the deal?  It makes beekeeping look extremely easy and painless.  And their marketing certainly does push this aspect of their product, where you no longer have to put on the bee suit, light a smoker, tear the hive open, take out the frames and then extract the honey from the comb.  Basically you get the honey with only a fraction of the muss and fuss of how people normally go about stealing the honey from the bees.  In fact the bees don’t even realize the honey is being taken from them until it’s already gone.

when this was first announced, the more grizzly old beeks had absolutely nothing good to say about this, and called it the world’s biggest scam.  Many of them on the backyard beekeeping group that I follow thought is was a foolish waste of money and that it simply was not possible for this thing to work as advertised.

However, judging by the response to their crowdfunding efforts, this is not a universal sentiment.  The response has been rather enthusiastic albeit the folks buying into the venture are slightly less vocal than the detractors.  I’ve seen the pictures, the patent application, the plans and most of the videos the Flow hive folks have put out.  I would enjoin anyone interested to do their own research and make their own decisions.  This site has several nice external links about some early opinions on the flow hive.

I’ll give you  my opinion, but keep in mind this is from someone who has studied all about bees and beekeeping without actually keeping a hive.

One of the first things that grabbed my attention is that these bees are not building their own comb at all, but merely inserting the nectar into the plastic cells and then capping it when it is ready.  Even without the Flow technology, this strikes me as a rather big deal since much of beekeeping involves managing comb in the way of frames, foundation, providing guides for the bees to draw along, and making sure it stays straight and facilitates inspection and extraction.  If plastic cells are such a good idea, why hasn’t this been done before?  I’m not talking about plastic foundation, I’m talking about entire plastic cells where the bees don’t have to expend so much energy drawing wax.  Why not just have plastic frames with plastic cells of whatever size and not fool with foundation at all?  All they have to do is fill and cap.  I could find some info hinting at such a thing, but there has not been wide spread adoption of this technology so that limitation might stand in the way of the Flow’s acceptance and use among many beekeepers.

As far as getting the honey easily, it’s hard to argue that this would be a lot less trouble for beekeeper and bee if it truly works advertized.  Many beeks don’t like this as it seems to get in the way of relating to the bees in the way of traditional beekeeping.  And there’s some concern about more less informed and lazy people getting into beekeeping.  There is a very real potential for casual beekeepers to emerge in the early days of the Flow only to abandon it when more work is required.

I can see the revolutionary potential of this invention but can’t say whether there is a net good or net evil to it.  Plus the things cost over $50 per frame or $600 for a full box with the frames installed,  The Australian inventors of the Flow Hives have taken the time to release many education videos about honeybees and deserve some recognition for this.  This leads me to believe it is a bit more than about the money.  But they will have an abundance of it for a very long time as long as their invention works even moderately well.  I have a few friends who have already ordered one and I’m anxious to hear/see how they work.

However I’ll have to wait until next year, since they won’t start shipping until this December (2015) and it’s for this reason, along with the relatively high cost that I’ll wait this one out before investing any of my own money.  Overall, I have a positive impression of the creators of this invention and of the Flow Hive as there is considerable promise of this to change how bees are kept.  I could see commercial beekeepers getting into this, as the way they tear hives up as they extract the honey at the present time can be time consuming and labor intensive. And it can look almost violent at times.  When I saw the way the American Commercial beekeeper extracted his honey from the hives, in More Than Honey, it really did turn me off from any ambitions of going big or commercial I might have secretly harbored.  It was downright ugly and disturbing.

For those who are into raising bees, like the Fat Bee Man, they might benefit from more people buying bees as they get into beekeeping.  You’ll never see him spending that much money on a frame, though.

Australia has a relatively benign habitat for honeybees, where they don’t have mites or Africanized bees.  It will be interesting to see how these hives work in the U.S. and whether the operation of manufacturing these frames becomes scalable enough to bring the costs down.   So while I’m a bit excited I’m also cautious about sinking any of my own money into these.

Meanwhile, there are some other innovations that are already proven that might be a better fit for commercial beekeepers than what they are already doing that might be beneficial either by themselves or in tandem with the Flow Hive technology.

Update on the “No Bees”

April 12, 2015

I did get a response from my email to Buster’s Bees and the news is pretty much this:

I won’t be seeing my bees anytime soon since there are 450 other people ahead of me in the line.  I didn’t pay until March 4th, which is very late for ordering nucs.  I kind of knew this when I ordered, and was actually pleased to be able to put in an order at all since most other places were sold out by then.  It’s a first-come-first-serve sort of deal.  This might actually work out okay, since I’ll be out testing until May 1st and won’t be able to attend them much at all until after then.  Much of my anxiety and worry centered around this two week window of being over 100 miles away and how I was going to manage.  The worst case scenario would be if I got the call to come get them while I was away and have to drive all the way over, then to my house and then back to my testing location and the box having to sit for a few days until I could install them on a weekend.

If I had installed them this weekend, I would be facing a scenario of having them swarm on me while I was away.

None of these are very appetizing prospects.

However, the prospect of completely missing the spring nectar flow is also not very encouraging.  That means having to feed my new bees almost the entire summer, nurse maiding them along until the fall flow and then keeping my fingers crossed, hoping they survive the winter in order to catch next year’s flow and letting them loose on all the stuff that will be blooming in my backyard.

One of the things whoever replied to my email pointed out was that this spring has been very bad for raising bees.  It has rained and rained and then rained some more throughout March and April.  So when the sun does come out, the bees are scrambling to forage as much as they can and probably not ranging as far as they might if there was more than one day of sun.  Even when it hasn’t rained, it has been overcast and bees rely on the sun to navigate to their favorite spots that are any distance away.  This explains why I have not seen many bees of any sort working my stuff.  I’m not sure how far the hardy bumblebees are having to fly but it’ll wager it’s not as far as the honeybees who were working my trees a month ago.

So the bottom line is that I’m going to be waiting at least another year before I get to see the benefits of having my own bees working my own yard.

The single biggest barrier to starting beekeeping has been this: obtaining the bees.  You can get equipment almost anywhere at anytime but getting the actual bees has been a persistent challenge.  Unlike gardening, where you can buy seeds and plants on a whim at any store during the sunny, spring days, getting bees requires reserving them months in advance.  Like December or January if you want to get some in March or April.  The supply of bees remains tight across the country as demand always exceeds the supply, according to the USDA Honey Report.

Finding a reliable supplier of bees is right up there with finding a good mechanic or doctor: it takes time and effort and a lot of asking around.   The uncertainties of climate make it an even dicier proposition.  It’s been frustrating and challenging.  Bee keepers can be a very open, helpful, fuzzy and fun community.  They can also be just as cantankerous, moody and prickly as the bees they keep.

I replied back to the email with a warm and sincere thanks for replying and affirmed that this would somehow work out for the best.

11 April Backyard Update – no bees :-(

April 11, 2015

The lonely hive is still lonely…

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I ordered my bees 6 or so weeks ago and got my confirmation shortly after I sent Busters Bees my $200 check for a nuc that I would be notified when it was ready.  So I’ve been waiting with great anticipation for some sort of notification, indication or update from Buster’s Bees.  I check the website everyday for something– anything.  Some bit of news.

Did the bees all die from the last cold snap that we had?  Is Buster okay?  Were all the nucs delivered and I somehow missed my notification?

The mind is a treacherous thing when a body can do nothing but wait.   I finally did send an email response to my confirmation today, just asking for some news.  I sort of drew some hope for this weekend largely because Linda had posted something on her blog about getting her nuc last year.  Notice the date she got her bees last year.  And the date today.

And last year was a much colder, more severe winter than what we had this year.  In fact, it seems that we were running 1-2 weeks ahead as far as the nectar and bee timeline than 2014.

I attended my first beekeeper’s meeting at the East Metro Beekeepers club a couple of weeks ago and some of the guys had gotten packages of bees from south Georgia already!  I always thought nucs would arrive well ahead of packages, since they are already semi-established hives.  And Georgia generally runs far ahead of the rest of the country but people in the the North are getting bees as well, according to the forums on BeeSource.

It’s always an education in this business.  This is something I’ve been working toward and looking forward to for over 3 years!  So close and yet so far.  In other news…

It was a glorious day today to be outside, filling up the gas tank in the lawnmower so my oldest could get the backyard mowed while I ate peanuts on the porch.

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While you can still see a few bare trees in the neighbor’s yard, most tress are leafed out.  The plums and peaches are done with their blooms for the year and the blueberries are winding down.  On a day like today, I’ll go and scout those plants that are blooming just to see who is pollinating them.  And today, there were very very few out, much to my surprise.  My first peach tree had tons of bees of all sorts but over the season I’ve seen a decline as there are other trees blooming now.  My blueberries were visited by the humble bumble bees but even those are less numerous lately.

I have an apple tree that is gearing up, with just a few early blooms but will be ready next week and then the blackberries will be popping their early flowers.

Sure would be nice to see some honey bees working them!

Update on the Neonic post

April 11, 2015

After my last post, I decided to put some of the knowledge I had acquired to good use, so I emailed one of the greenhouses (Metrolina Greenhouses) that supplied plants to my local Wal-Mart.  And to that, I never got a reply.  However, they DO have a facebook page and I posted a question on there:

Hello! I have a quick question: Do you use Neonicotinods to treat your plants to protect from insects? I’m just curious as to how you manage pests in your greenhouses. Thanks!

And they were were pretty swift to respond to that:

Metrolina Greenhouses Daniel….thanks for your question. Metrolina has reduced the use of chemicals OVERALL by 25% over the last 3 years through better growing techniques, the use of beneficials, and other new technologies. Our stated company goal is to use as little chemicals as possible in the growing of our product. We still use minimal Neonicotinoids for particular crops (i.e. poinsettias)and they are applied as directed by the approved EPA labels. (i.e. when bees are not foraging, only at certain times of day, and never when there is an open flower present). Hope that helps. . Lastly, these was just an article released in Forbes Magazine that talked this issue and might shed some new light on the discussion. I attached the link below.http://www.forbes.com/…/bee-deaths-reversal-as…/

There are a couple of take-ways here.  First, companies ARE responsive to social pressure.  Afterall, their image and trademarks are important to their marketing efforts.  With social media, it’s more and more difficult to hide shifty practices and generally poor customer service.  I’m sure whoever responded was very conscious of how to respond as my profile pic had my (still) empty beehive on it.  So even though my question was intentionally neutral, there’s a veritable minefield behind any answer.  I give them high marks for being honest.  It would have been real easy just to lie and say “Absolutely not!  We use no chemical additives or preservatives in any of our products!”

Coming from a traditional farm background I’m sensitive to the necessity of pesticides, especially when mass producing anything to any degree of scale.  My backyard is less than one acre, so I can get away with using almost nothing.  However I still use Amdro to get rid of the crop of fire ants that try to take over my yard every spring.  I still spray around my house if it looks like it is being invaded.   But I don’t spray my fruit trees, vines, bushes or garden beds.  Larger operations have to suppress pests in order to produce something that customers will buy.  Customers don’t like pesticides but they generally don’t like wilted, chewed up plants either.  So it becomes a balancing act, using several strategies that hopefully can work over a long period of time that is cost effective.  It’s actually in the producer’s best interest to keep the use of pesticides as low as possible in order to reduce the pressure that results in resistant strains of weeds and pests.

So on the balance, I would be okay buying stuff from this company but at the same time would feel more comfortable buying from a local outfit if we had one close by.

The article cited is interesting and merely shows that there is more research needed into factors that influence the population and habits of pollinators, especially the honeybees.  While the use of neonics continue to increase, populations seem to be remaining static or even increasing, according to the article.  While the use of neonics may or may not be the smoking gun many claim, something is impacting the pollinators in my backyard causing a reduced number of them to visit my blueberries and other flowering plants.

If only I had a colony of bees…

 

Neonics and My Backyard

March 22, 2015

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My hive is set up and ready to receive my bees.  The spot is fairly shady, hence the grass doesn’t get long here which should help keep the entrance clear and not have to fiddle disturbing them to keep grass and weeds down.  I’m getting my bees from Buster’s Bees.  You can visit his site and see the environment that his bees are raised in.  He has a a big pond where his bees live.  I have a drainage ditch, which drains into  a large pond about 100 yards away, back in the woods.  There is standing water in the ditch, especially where the water drains from a culvert.

Two weeks ago, I saw a lot of honeybees working one of my peach trees that was the first tree in my neighborhood to bloom.   I was excited to see so many since I have so rarely seen honeybees around in the 15 years we’ve lived here.  But today I did not see any honeybees.  I saw mostly these guys who have been my main pollinators..

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The bumblebees have been out in force this week and I have to give them credit.  They tend to be less fussy about how bright the sun is shining compared to honeybee activity.  However, unlike the honeybee, they don’t always stick to one sort of plant.  They’ll go from the peach to a plum tree on a whim, whereas the hooneybees tend to work one sort at a time, making them more efficient pollinators of my stuff.

While I was replacing some of my frames, I also had another visitor who was a lot less camera shy:

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Wasps and hornet and yellowjackets are the most notorious stingers, but they have their place when it comes to both pollination and pest control.  Speaking of pest control…

Today I was getting ready to plant a raspberry bush in amongst the blackberries in hopes of getting a new and different crop of berries this year.

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I bought this from our neighborhood Home Depot.   As I removed the plant from the pot, a lottle plastic tag slipped put.  And this is what I saw:

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It’s hard to read so let me retype what is on the front of the tag with the lovely green foliage:

This plant is protected from problematic aphids, white flies, beetles, mealy bugs and other unwanted pests by Neonicotinoids.

Here’s the reverse side

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Treated with Neonicotinoids

These pesticides are approved by the EPA

For more info please visit us at:

http://www.ecooptions.homedepot.com/healthyhome/gardening

So I typed in that address and got an error msg.  With a little more snooping, I found this page (http://www.ecooptions.homedepot.com/healthy-home/organic-gardening/) which seems to be an attempt at addressing the my concern.

For those not in the know (which is most people in the country) these chemicals that are more commonly called “neonics” (and infinitely easier to spell and pronounce) and are usually found in treated seeds.  The seeds take in and ingest this pesticide which then turns into a broad spectrum insecticide that enables the plant to defend against those insects that are listed on the label plus a lot more “unwanted pests”.

I’ll give you two different views of this pesticide:

Here from the U.K.

Here from the makers of the pesticide, Bayer (yeah, the guys who came up with aspirin!)

They affect insects and not mammals or birds (unlike previous generations of insecticides) and so were lauded as a very eco-friendly way to help preserve and protect our food supply.

I have several problems with introducing this chemical into my backyard.  I’m not coming from an entirely ignorant perspective, as I did graduate from Iowa State University with a degree in agriculture education.  And I did take a course in entomology where we learned about the perils and pitfalls of broad spectrum insecticides.  But when I was in school, neonics hadn’t been invented yet.  So maybe I’m just partially ignorant.

The major peril, is that any broad spectrum insecticide has two very undesirable side effects.  These are two effects that simply can not be avoided, especially by the broad spectrum– the ones that treat all bugs the same way.

1. Eventually the bugs develop resistance.  And there are already cases of this happening with the neonics.  This resistance requires either applying higher and more lethal doses or finding something else that is lethal to the offending insects.

2. It is non-selective. That means that the insecticide can’t tell the difference between a harmful insect and a good insect.  Which is the thing that upsets beekeepers about insecticides in general.

You can see a nice list of the difference between broad and narrow spectrum insecticides here.  The take-away is that you want a narrow insecticide that does not affect natural enemies of the insect you are trying to control.  Neonics are a class of insecticide that actually falls all along this spectrum, depending on the specific sort and how it is applied, whether sprayed, treated on the seed or treated in the soil.  When I see it controlling beetles, white flies and aphids and “other unwanted pests” this raises a huge red flag for me but I am going on the extreme side of caution.  Basically, it is aimed at pests that suck the juice out of plants or eat its leaves.  Bees don’t do either of those things, but they DO consume the pollen and nectar which is a sort of plant juice.  Bees also have a much more highly evolved (thus fragile) neural system than many other insects.  So while it might not kill them, it can still hurt them.

So what can a body do that wants to protect both the bees and their plants?  The answer may suprise you.

When you buy a plant from Home Depot, at least they do include a tag that says they are using this stuff

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What angered me about my raspberry purchase was that I did not see any of those little tags until I had already paid the money and taken it home.  I drove me and my plant back to the store today, but when I got there the tags were in abundance although sometimes obscured.  I don’t remember seeing them when I bought my plant a week ago, but I hadn’t even thought to look.  So I couldn’t accuse the store of deliberately trying to con me as I would not have bought this thing.  Returning posed a bit a bit of a dilemma.  Sure, I might get my money back, but the plant might still find its way back into a neighbor’s yard.  So I ended up tossing it.  But even the guy at our recycling place had issues with this idea of disposing the thing.  (Note to self: bag anything you intend on getting rid of)

I took a trip to Wal-Mart to look at their plants, just to see how they would purvey this evil upon us.  Would they have the little tags or would they deliberately omit any information about pesticide use?  I kind of expect Wal-Mart to be evil because for the most part they seem to have been branded that way by most of the public, especially their employees.

Walmart did not have any tags specifying how their plants are sprayed/treated or not.  However, Wal-Mart did have something Home Depot didn’t.  They had tags on all of their pots, specifying which nursery the plant came from.

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Dewar Nurseries

This is one of many different nurseries used by Wal-Mart.  You can click the link to learn all about them and they do have some sort of Veriflora certification.   I couldn’t find much information about where this particular certification standard stands as far as the use of neonics.  However, to their credit, Wal-Mart does at least provide some mechanism for a consumer wanting to do due diligence.

I do understand the need for pesticides when you want to raise any sort of plant (or animal) on any kind of scale.  But any sort of battle against bugs should be done in a way that is sustainable– meaning that you can use it over a long period of time without killing yourself or what you are growing.  Killing bees is the same as killing ourselves unless you want to live on a 3rd world diet devoid of fruits, vegetables or nuts.  Or honey.

My bees are probably a lot more likely to die from mites and my neglect than a neonic-laden flower, but I have berries, fruits and trees that are NOT treated with anything, and they all do fairly well.  With more efficient pollination, I can get more fruit and actually tolerate more pests.  But without bees, I get nothing.  So while I’m okay with taking risks, I’m not okay with taking risks needlessly.  I’ll find some other way to introduce raspberries into my backyard, preferably without introducing poisons to my introduced (and native) bees.

November Update

November 28, 2009
butterflybush

Bumble bee forgages in my butterfly bush

It’s supposed to be cold this time of year, but we really haven’t even gotten a decent frost yet!

It is slim pickings for most bees except in my yard, where my golden butterfly bushes still bloom. The purple and white ones are long done, but the yellow ones still flourish. They might not be the most attractive of colors, but definitely the most vigorous and hardy of all my flowering plants. There are also still a few dandelions around, but those are mostly gone, too.

So when I think about bee pasture, these bushed look like sure winners, provided the bees can what they need from them. And so it was, a few days ago I was inspecting one of my bushes, looking at the various pollinators who were foraging when I saw her…the first honey bee I’ve seen since I started scouting several months ago!

I have no idea where she was coming from. I know of no hives within 3 miles, but there is plenty of territory for wild hives, if they are around. There was just the one bee, foraging and working the yellow flowers, while the large bummble bees were being lethergic by comparison. She didn’t hang around too long, either. Certainly not long enough for me to get my camera!

Butterfly Bush

This is the big bush on the front yard

This bush is about 7 years old and each year I cut it back down to just 2-3 feet high. And every year, it grows back to over 8 feet tall and nearly as wide! I have successfully rooted and raised several cuttings from this bush as the pruning yields a lot of material and these do root fairly easily.

The bees and butterflies do love these, and this variety is called “Honey Comb” oddly enough.

I have registered for the short course from the Metro Atlanta Bee Keepers association in January, so that is something I look forward to blogging up the line.


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