Bees in Space: Bumblebees Show Promise for Off-World Pollination

For years, scientists have been working to figure out how humans can grow the food plants they’d need to sustain a crew in long-distance space missions – and pollination is a big part of that puzzle.

Honeybees may be the most efficient pollinators of food crops here on earth, but the low pressure conditions and enclosed space that would be involved for a space-travelling greenhouse are not conditions in which honeybees work well. (If you’ve ever had any of your own bees get trapped inside a glassed-in porch or greenhouse, you’ll know all too well how they bump blindly against the windows and seem to forget all about the plants!)

Bumblebees, on the other hand, are already established as the greenhouse pollinator of choice, since they seem much happier to work indoors. Now, a new study from the University of Guelph find that bumblebees also seem to tolerate low-pressure conditions, such as would most likely be necessary in an extra-terrestrial plant production facility.

Will bumblebees someday provide their pollination services in space?

See: E. Nardone, P.G. Kevan, M. Stasiak and M. Dixon. 2012. Atmospheric pressure requirements of bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) as pollinators of Lunar or Martian greenhouse grown food. Gravitational and Space Biology 26(2): 13-21.

Photo: Bombus impatiens by llorban, via Wikimedia Commons

Honey Bee Disease and Mite Control – Treatment Recommendations 2012

You’ll find a lot of conflicting information about “best practices” for treating your honey bees to prevent disease and control mites in the hives, so it can be hard to know what recommendations to follow as conditions change over time and new knowledge is acquired through apiculture research and testing.

One of the most reliable sources you’re likely to come across is the 2012 Ontario Treatment Recommendations for Honey Bee Disease and Mite Control from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs of the Province of Ontario, Canada.

This information sheet is of course especially useful for Canadian beekeepers, but the treatment recommendations are often just as applicable in similar climates such as the northernmost United States.

Don’t Step On a Bee, Eh?

Imagine if you were crossing a small city’s walking bridge and saw a cluster of 400 honeybees – barely a good handful, most likely a cast from an overcrowded hive during an extended spell of hot weather.

Is that a cause for alarm?

Apparently some passerbys in Fredericton, New Brunswick, thought so. Seeing the cluster of bees on the bridge, someone decided that the only appropriate action was to stomp on them, killing a hundred or so of the insects.

The outcome? Pretty much what you might expect:

Agitated bees going into defensive mode. Stings for at least 10 people. City officials called in with a pesticide spray. Dead bees, when the world needs all the pollinating insects we can get or protect. And yet another news story about a “swarm” of bees coming into conflict with humans in an urban area.

Whatever happened to “live and let live”?

Yes, it is often frightening to people who aren’t familiar with bees, to encounter more than one or two at a time; even more so when the bees have been violently disturbed and are reacting to that. Yes, it isn’t pleasant to get a bee sting – and it can be life-threatening for the small percentage of people who are severely allergic to bee stings. But in this case, the bees reacted to nearby humans as a threat because they were “agitated” – by someone who thought it was funny or smart to step on the cluster, instead of just leaving the bees in peace.

Did you Know?

Don’t Step On a Bee Day is July 10th.

The cluster wasn’t in an area of tall grass, where the bees might have been hard to see – it was a wide-open pedestrian area, a bare wooden deck of a walking bridge. It seems highly unlikely that the bees were squashed underfoot by accident. Left alone, they would have dispersed – perhaps within minutes; certainly by the next day – and in the meantime would have caused no harm to people who simply walked by and let them be.

There will always be those among us who feel the need to destroy the unfamiliar, to inflict harm to satisfy some urge of their own, or to “poke a sleeping bear” to see what happens… but this Fredericton bee story is not an isolated one.

Honey bees need a new PR agent.

Almost every week, except in winter, there’s a rather sensationalized report of bees on the loose in an area where bees are not normally seen in quantity. Reporting on swarm stories, news headlines use words like “terrorize,” “attack,” “wreak havoc“… “like a scene from a horror movie.”

And the sensational language doesn’t seem to vary much, whether it’s an overturned truckload of more aggressive Africanized bees in the southern United States, stressed by long-haul pollination even before their hives are smashed open on a highway or it’s a handful of docile European honeybees gathered on a warm wooden bridge in a small eastern Canadian town, resting before they fly on to find a new home.

Clearly, despite all the attention given to Colony Collapse Disorder in recent years, the apiculture/agriculture community still needs to do a better job of educating the general public – not only about the importance of honeybees as pollinators for our food supply, but also about the very nature of bees and how to behave around them, for the continued health and happiness of all.

Photo:  Bienen

Common Pesticide Makes Honey Bees into Picky Eaters: New Study

For years now, beekeepers around the world have been concerned about the widespread use of agricultural pesticides, and specifically imidacloprid, which has been banned from some crops in Europe in an attempt to protect honeybees. Now, a UC San Diego study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology suggests that beekeepers’ concerns are justified.

Continue reading Common Pesticide Makes Honey Bees into Picky Eaters: New Study

Where to Buy Honey Bees in New Brunswick, Canada

If you’re a New Brunswick beekeeper – or planning to get into beekeeping this year – be advised that Country Fields Beekeeping Supplies Ltd. (Upper Coverdale) has just posted their 2012 prices for nucs and queens.

Nucs (nucleus colonies) are $150.00 each with a $5 discount for payment by cash or cheque. A deposit of $30 is required. A nuc includes 2 frames of bees and brood, a laying queen, a frame of honey and pollen, and an empty frame for the queen to build on.

Queen bees are priced according to where they come from. This year, the Wheatleys will be bringing in queens from Hawaii (Kona only, not Big Island), California, and Australia. Local queens from Nova Scotia are expected to be available in early June.

Supplies of honeybees are limited, of course, so you’ll want to get your order in right away. Find more information on their website at

Country Fields Beekeeping Supplies

The Hidden Beauty of Pollination

Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg has spent 35 years watching the natural world through a camera. His film Wings of Life, inspired by the plight of the honeybee, is a remarkable celebration of pollination and the tiny pollinators who keep our world alive:

Rarely seen by the naked eye, this intersection between the animal world and the plant world is truly a magic moment. It’s the mystical moment where life regenerates itself, over and over again.

Here, from his presentation, recorded March 2011 at TED2011 in Long Beach, California, Schwartzberg presents some of the his film’s extraordinaryhigh-speed images of pollinators in action:

If you’d like to watch at full screen size — highly recommended! — just click on the icon in the upper-right of the embedded video player.

(Note: If you’re reading this in an email and can’t see the video player, please visit on the Central Beekeepers Alliance website.)

From the filmmaker’s introduction:

Beauty and seduction, I believe, is nature’s tool for survival, because we will protect what we fall in love with. Their relationship is a love story that feeds the Earth. It reminds us that we are a part of nature, and we’re not separate from it.

When I heard about the vanishing bees, Colony Collapse Disorder, it motivated me to take action. We depend on pollinators for over a third of the fruits and vegetables we eat. And many scientists believe it’s the most serious issue facing mankind. It’s like the canary in the coalmine. If they disappear, so do we. It reminds us that we are a part of nature and we need to take care of it.

You can learn more about Louie Schwartzberg and the film Wings of Life at

Honey Bees & Beekeeping