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Honeybee news, entertainment, notices and new products for beekeepers

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

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

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 http://cba.stonehavenlife.com/2011/11/schwartzberg-pollination-film 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 www.MovingArt.tv.

Vernon R. Vickery, Canadian Entomologist & Beekeeper: Obituary

It is with sadness, respect and regret that the Central Beekeepers Alliance notes the recent passing of Vernon Randolph Vickery, entomologist, beekeeper, and author of The Honey Bee: A Guide For Beekeepers, the “beekeeping bible” that taught many of us how to keep honeybees in a cold damp climate like that of eastern Canada.

Vernon Randolph VickeryIn 2004, Vernon R. Vickery was made an Honourary Member of the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA), in recognition of his contributions to Apiculture.

Vernon Randolph Vickery
1921-2011

Prominent Entomologist Passes Away

Vernon Randolph Vickery – 90, of Kentville passed away on Tuesday, August 30, 2011 in the Valley Regional Hospital, Kentville. Born in South Ohio, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, he was a son of the late Leo and Maude (Moses) Vickery. He was a Veteran of the Second World War, serving with the RCAF/RAF in the United Kingdom, North Africa and Italy. He was a radar technician 1941-1945. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, Kings Branch No. 6, Kentville. He was a retired Professor of Entomology from McGill University and also taught at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro. He received a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture an MSc and his PhD; FRES, FCES. He worked on pollenization projects on various kinds of crops and was a pioneer of industrial pollenization. Vernon was the founding President of the Orthopterist’s Society and was Emeritus Curator of Lyman Entomological Museum at McGill University. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, the former Muriel Jewl McAloney; a daughter, Susan (Peter) Arntfield, Winnipeg, Manitoba; two sons, William (Judith Nowlan), Sainte Anne de Bellevue, Quebec; Edwin (Amy Creighton), Westmount, Quebec; grandchildren, Karen, Allison, Margot, Laura and Lexington; sister-in-law, Linda; brother-in-law, Victor Greene. He was predeceased by two sisters, Pearl and Leona; a brother, George. A celebration of life and reception will be held at 2:00 p.m. Saturday, September 3, 2011 in St. James Anglican Church, Kentville, Reverend Pam Bishop officiating. Burial will take place in South Ohio at a later date. Family flowers only by request. Donations in memory may be made to the charity of your choice. Funeral arrangements have been entrusted to the White Family Funeral Home and Cremation Services, Kentville. On-line inquiries may be directed to www.whitefamilyfuneralhome.com.

Maritimers Learn About Backyard Beekeeping at Sackville Workshop

On the weekend of the 23rd and 24th of July, participants from all around the Maritimes came to Sackville, New Brunswick, to take part in Community Forests International beekeeping workshop. Emphasizing natural management techniques and hands-on learning, this weekend learning event was led by Peter and Kathleen Hardie.


[Backyard Beekeeping 2011 photographs by Canadian Forests International on Flickr.com]

The beekeeping workshop was written up in a recent CanadaEast article by Molly Cormier, which emphasized the growing appeal of hobby or backyard beekeeping by Maritimers with an interest in a sustainable lifestyle:

Sackville-based Community Forests International hosted its second apiculture course last month and welcomed prospective beekeepers for a weekend of learning the ins and outs of the beekeeping world. You might say it was a hive of activity.

All bee jokes aside, CFI’s Nick Belanger organized the workshop with an emphasis on all-natural techniques and hands-on learning.

“Backyard beekeeping is a loose term for a small operation,” he says. The honey and wax produced by the bees doesn’t have to be used for profit, but it can be a nice way to supplement an income, he noted.

Read more:
Busy as a Backyard Beekeeper by Molly Cormier, 18 August 2011, CanadaEast.com.

Community Forests International (http://forestsinternational.org/):
“Community Forests International connects people to the forest, fostering sustainable environmental relationships while strengthening communities against climate change. Driven by farmers, foresters, and their rural communities, CFI’s programming spans the globe: planting trees with rural villages in Pemba, connecting environmentally-minded youth in India, Tanzania and Canada, and promoting ecological forestry in Atlantic Canada.”

Honey Laundering: Toxic Chinese Honey is Sold in US Stores

As if fans of honey needed yet another reason to buy straight from local beekeepers — or, better yet, to keep their own honey bees — a new investigative report from Food Safety News warns that tainted honey from China is ending up on American store shelves and on the tables of consumers.

Asian honey, tainted with illegal antibiotics, heavy metals, and in some cases agriicultural chemicals that are banned from use in many countries including Canada, has for some time been smuggled into Europe and North America. Alarmingly, Food Safety News, this practice continues, “despite assurances from the Food and Drug Administration and other federal officials that the hundreds of millions of pounds reaching store shelves were authentic and safe following the widespread arrests and convictions of major smugglers over the last two years.”

Experts interviewed by Food Safety News say some of the largest and most long-established U.S. honey packers are knowingly buying mislabeled, transshipped or possibly altered honey so they can sell it cheaper than those companies who demand safety, quality and rigorously inspected honey.

“It’s no secret that the honey smuggling is being driven by money, the desire to save a couple of pennies a pound,” said Richard Adee, who is the Washington Legislative Chairman of the American Honey Producers Association.

“These big packers are still using imported honey of uncertain safety that they know is illegal because they know their chances of getting caught are slim,” Adee said.

Read the full report by Andrew Schneider at Food Safety News: Asian Honey, Banned in Europe, Is Flooding U.S. Grocery Shelves