Beekeepers are Worried: Dan Rather Reports

Unexplained honey bee die-offs in recent years, filed under Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), have been the focus of considerable research but very few solid answers. Now, according to the folks at the investigative news program Dan Rather Reports, the situation is worse than at first thought: “the whole food chain is at risk.”

Where is the finger pointing this time?
Systemic pesticides, self-regulation by the chemical industry, and a flawed process for testing and registration of products by the EPA…
Continue reading Beekeepers are Worried: Dan Rather Reports

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

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

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]

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,

Community Forests International (
“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.”

Project RoboBee: Can a Robot Learn the Bees’ Waggle Dance?

Can a robot bee learn to do the “waggle dance” well enough to fool honeybees into following its directions?

At the Free University of Berlin, researchers are working on a mechanical bee they hope will be able to communicate with real bees about the location and quality of a food source. The implications for pollination services are enormous — if the robot bee can master the complex “waggle dance” language of bees, could it encourage a colony to work a field of canola rather than, say, more attractive wildflower forage in another direction?

What an idea! But it’s a steep learning curve for the scientists and their robot bee, according to Rebecca J. Rosen’s article in The Atlantic online:

So far, the dancing robotic bee has not been able to successfully communicate the location of a new food source, according to a new paper in PLoS ONE. The scientists list a couple of possible reasons: For starters, the robot can’t seem to get enough other bees to pay attention to its dance for long enough, perhaps because of a lack of buzzing wings (whose role in the waggle dance is unknown), sufficient body heat, or legs for creating vibrations in the honey comb. It’s also possible that chemicals on robot are off-putting to the other bees.

Read more:
The Atlantic, 20 August 2011: Attack of the Robobees! A Mechanical Bee Tests Its Wings.

Photo credit:
Chittka L: Dances as Windows into Insect Perception. PLoS Biol 2/7/2004: e216.

Will Your Bees Have Food for Winter?

August is a tricky month for beginning beekeepers. With many fall flowers in bloom, the field bees are still out collecting nectar and pollen and winter seems a long way off. But the last few weeks of true summer are deceptive. The nights are starting to chill down here in New Brunswick. In a healthy colony with a good queen, drone brood production will be noticeably down. You may even start to see a few drones kicked out of the hive, as the season starts to wind down.

Starvation is a major cause of winter bee losses.

The past few years here in New Brunswick, Canada, we’ve been seeing an unusual thaw in mid-December, even getting heavy rain and spring-like flooding in much of the province in December 2010. When the weather acts up like that, it fools the bees. That’s when many colonies break their cluster and the bees become more active, moving about the hive and consuming more of the stored honey than they normally would.

The result is too often that the colony runs out of easily accessible food before spring, when snow melts and temperatures rise enough for beekeepers to get in to start spring feeding.

The answer is to make sure your bees go into winter with plenty of food — both honey and stored pollen — to see them through to spring.

How much food do bees need for winter?

Unless you are in the semi-tropical or tropical regions of the country your bees should have somewhere between 50 and 100 pounds of honey safely stored away when the first signs of autumn show. The colder and longer your winter and spring, the more they will need.

Kim Flottum, the editor of Bee Culture magazine who lives near Cleveland, Ohio, says that his bees typically use about 60 – 70 pounds of honey and 5 – 7 frames of pollen between the end of October and the beginning of April. Here in New Brunswick, beekeepers often prefer to have more like 85 to 100 pounds on a colony when it gets wrapped for wintering. Obviously, the further south you go, the sooner spring comes, and bees in don’t need as much in the way of winter food stores as they do here in Atlantic Canada.

New beekeepers: do not expect to take much if any honey off your newly established colonies in the first year. That honey belongs to the bees, to help build them up for next season.

If you figure about eight pounds of honey for a deep frame mostly filled on both sides you can estimate how much honey your bees really have. A medium frame like I use holds 4+ pounds if it’s filled completely on both sides. Either way, that’s a bunch of frames of honey that the bees need. And don’t forget the pollen.

There is some controversy in warmer climates, with a longer growing season, about whether or not to feed bees. Up north here, especially if the fall honey flow is weak or we get a dry spell during the late summer and early fall, beekeepers often have no choice about whether to feed. After all, if it’s a choice between bees starving and bees surviving…

One good reason to start feeding as soon as possible after the honey harvest is because bees need time and warm temperatures to convert the sugar syrup to “honey” — this is not the real honey bees make from flower nectar and you would never harvest it for human consumption, of course, but simply the bees converting the sugar-and-water syrup into a form they can use for food.

Pollen is needed for feeding brood in the spring, so it is just as essential as honey stores for the bees. If you don’t see lots of pollen stored in the frames, consider feeding a good quality pollen substitute. And unless you are absolutely sure your bees have enough stores to get them through the winter (and then some extra, in case of a late spring), you’ll want to feed 2:1 sugar syrup as well. This is a good time to medicate against nosema as well, as you can put the medication right into the syrup.

Read more:
Mother Earth News: Getting Your Bees Ready For Winter…Already by Kim Flottum

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

Honey Bees & Beekeeping