Discussion in 'Environment' started by jjl, Feb 18, 2016.
What You Don't (but Should) Know About Bees
By Andy Snyder, Founder
As our essay today mentions, honeybees aren't native to North America. So how did all the species that scientists are so worried about pollinate before their arrival? Simple. Those species either didn't exist here or relied on other bugs and the wind. The environment we see today... isn't the environment explorers saw 400 years ago. Far from it.
If we want the good stuff in a few months, we've got to do the work now.
It's bee season on the homestead. And it keeps us busy.
The fruit of our labor - gallons of sweet honey - is a long way off. It will be months before we taste a drop... long after the hard work is done.
Perhaps we like the toil because it's a good analogy for life.
Few folks know the true story of honey in America. (And even fewer, we reckon, know the true story of life.)
We hear so much about the plight of the bees, their trouble with man and our great dependence on them.
We make lots of assumptions.
What's happening must be bad, we say. It must be man's fault.
But it's hard to get the facts when we don't know the truth.
The Truth About Bees
As some would say, honey bees aren't from 'round here. They're not native to North America. And Mother Nature tends to think they don't belong here.
But like so much of what we've done since Europeans stepped foot on the continent, that hasn't stopped folks from trying to keep bees in the U.S.
It's believed that Dutch settlers first brought the honey makers here in the early 1600s. The bees helped pollinate the crops they were bringing with them.
From that time on, bees tended to lead our way west, always in front of man by 100 miles or so.
Their proclivity to expand their range was a trait welcomed by men who had the same idea in mind. With honeybees pushing ahead into the frontier, they helped spread clover and other grasses that imported livestock needed to survive.
As bees and their honey made their slow journey to the West Coast (they didn't see the Pacific until the 1850s), they transformed the land and the culture.
Until Europeans introduced bees to the continent, Native Americans had never seen wax or honey. In fact, they had no words for it.
But that soon changed.
The "White Man's Fly," as the natives called it, transformed their culture and their way of life. Nearly as soon as it was discovered, the bountiful crop of the honey bee was used for food, medicine, candles and even art.
As men of different walks tend to do, they fought over it. They stole from each other. And they made money from their newfound industry.
Soon after realizing everything bees could do for the new land, Europeans began importing them.
By 1621, the English were sending ships loaded with honey bees to their infant colonies.
Most bees at the time, though, weren't kept in the sort of hives we know today. Almost all of the crop came from feral hives that spread out from those initial imported hives.
It wasn't until 1841 when Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth developed the frame-filled hive that the idea of "domestic" beekeeping really took off. With his hive, men could better control the growth and spread of the bees... and efficiently harvest the honey.
His invention is fascinating.
The entire thing is based on a peculiar yet wonderfully perfect measurement he called "bee space." About three-eighths of an inch, it's the "Goldilocks" measurement for bees. It's not so big that they fill in all the voids with comb... and it's not so small that the bees can't fit through the hive's critical passageways.
Today, most beekeepers (including yours truly) use Langstroth's patented design.
But these days we don't head down to the port to get our bees off a ship (we raise Italian bees)... we order them online and pick them up from our pals at the local shop. (You can also have them shipped right to your front door via U.S. mail.)
They come in 3-pound boxes - one queen and a can of food in each package.
Our four new hives' worth of bees came up from Georgia earlier this month. They arrived, with hundreds of other boxes, in the back of a box truck.
It's far different from what went on just a century ago... but it's a good reminder that what's happening today was never all that natural.
We have no doubt there's something wrong with our environment and our bees. They're dying at alarming rates.
The news has turned it into a bit of a scandal.
But man must know the facts.
We must wonder if it's all just Mother Nature's way of righting a wrong. Or if it's the dirty deeds of man wreaking havoc.
We're not sure.
But we know our bees are trying to tell us something.
They're a good analogy for life.
That's why we keep them.
another podcast from Steffi and our very talented Cig!
and one more, if you can stand listening to me.
But it is well produced and orchestrated by a very talented team.
My locale is smack dab in the middle of swarm season and the Russian colony in my mother's garden swarmed at least once while I was not there.
I hate it when I fuck up.
Before my mentor left for a month-long vacation (I was to feed her Bees), she promised that we would start splits at the end of the month.
"But I caught my first swarm on May 14th," I objected.
"We're weeks behind, weather-wise," my mentor assured me.
She was wrong.
From the 14th on I knew I needed to split 3 of my hives (The drowned one is just limping along.)
But each day I let something get in the way.
I lacked the courage to open the overwintered hives to remove brood and bees for a split.
It was too cold, or rainy, or someone needed me.
One bright morning, heading out to help a friend with a broken leg and disabled mother, I decided come hell or high water, I was spitting hives that day.
Usually, when I return from my crack 'o dawn task, I will lay down and sleep for another hour. But this morning I went into my new Bee room and assembled all the equipment I would need to make splits. I thought I would do my two in the backyard and then split the hive at my mother's the next day.
I had another obligation to help someone else mid-morning, so I sent Jim out to my mother's to deliver something to her and have a look at the bees. As the morning progressed, I began to think up excuses why I couldn't split my hives.
I had never done it taking the lead. But my mentor was still on Holiday.
Around 10:30, he called me. "The Russians have swarmed."
"Can you get them?" I asked hopefully.
"They're about 60 feet up a dead pine," He informed me.
"Fuck it," I told him. "Just hurry home, we're splitting hives today."
"Damned straight we are," Jim said grimly.
See, we didn't lose a Colony, that box is still full of productive Bees and a queen. What we lost was an additional hive. For Free.
So I did not split my hives in the way the gent in the video above did. I simply took frames with bees and brood and put them in a five frame nuc box along with food stores on each end. 3 frames of bees and brood, two frames of food. Then I transferred them to a bigger box on Dr. Jon's property. Yesterday I purchased two queens for the two new splits I had made.
This year I will be trying "Lamb Italians" in one hive. It will be a treat after the bitey Russians and Carniolans.
I also got some Canadian lineage in a queen from Saskatchewan. They are called Saskatraz (pronounced like Alcatraz only with a sazz in front). In this part of the world, I can only experiment with each lineage for about a year and a half before the hive starts turning Italian. Because after the Bees swarm, the new Virgin Queen mates with local bees which are invariably Italians from Georgia.
After watching the video, I have to wonder if I mistakenly took the queens from the hives I split. Even though I DID look for her before taking the frames, I am not the most observant under pressure. In one hive the queen is marked so it is very unlikely I would overlook that.
But now, before I release the caged queens into the new hives, I have to go back and scrutinize each frame.
Thank Heaven my mentor is back in town.
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