Everything having to do with my beekeeping adventures.

May 2015

A Bee-less summer at Steinthal

By |2017-02-16T11:18:30-06:00May 10th, 2015|Categories: Beekeeping, Steinthal, The Lodge|

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Working the then docile bees in the north field

For the past several years the northern field was teeming with buzzing honey bees as I restarted an old childhood hobby of mine.  The winter was once again bitterly cold and although early this spring I had one surviving hive that I fed to give it a change at restarting, we were subsequently hit with more frigid weather and unfortunately all of my hives have succumbed to the seemingly never ending Wisconsin winter.  While it would have been fairly easy to restart the hives with new packaged bees which are interestingly sent through the mail, I took some time to think about my current situation and decided that perhaps a hiatus was in order.

You see, last Labor Day weekend I was mowing around my hives during a light rain without my gear on.  The stupidity of mowing in the rain and also mowing around hives without gear is embarrassingly evident, but at the time I was in a hurry to get the job done so I could enjoy the rest of my time with my kids so I rushed to get it done.  Normally, I mow around the hives (in nicer weather) without the protective gear and I have never ever been harassed by the bees.  This is because the bees are too busy out of the hive foraging and their goal is more centered on collecting nutrients than it is protecting the brood and honey stores.  When it is raining, however, all the bees are in the hive, not foraging and only concerned with protecting the brood and honey stores.  Anyone walking around a hive in light rain is going to be asking for trouble and a guy driving a large zero radius John Deere rider lawn mower that makes a lot of noise and shakes the ground around the hives is essentially doomed from the start.

To make a long story shorter than it actually was….I got nailed about 20 times in the face and head while trying desperately to get away from the extremely aggressive “ladies”; my former friends.  My entire body swelled up, I couldn’t wear shoes and I had hives (not the bee variety) on every inch of my body… (I documented this with photos, of course, but am too embarrassed to share those…) I laid down for about 5 hours, continued to check my own pulse and breathing (although I did have a little laryngeal edema.. a major red flag for anyone in the medical field) and chose unwisely to NOT go to the hospital for proper care.  I gave my car keys to my teenage son and asked him to check on me every 15 minutes to ensure I was still conscious and if not to drive me into the Chilton hospital.   Needless to say,  I survived and made an appointment with our allergist to discuss my situation and also my concern that I was now seriously allergic to bees.  She confirmed, after extensive skin testing, that I was in fact allergic and that I stood a 35-65% chance of full blown anaphylaxis the next time I got stung.  She could reduce this to below baseline, however, with desensitization shots and a life-time supply of epi-pens close in hand.  She recommended, surpisingly, that I could and should continue to keep bees in the future.

To date, I have yet to get the shots, but plan on making my appointment soon and in the meantime I just don’t want to risk taking any chance of getting stuck in the field by myself stung and not able to get the assistance I need.

The bees will return in years to come, either at Steinthal or in a new home down the road.  I still have a fond appreciation of what they provide to our environment and look forward to enjoying their activity and the enjoyment they provide to me in the country.

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April 2015

Bee studies stir up pesticide debate

By |2016-09-16T14:20:53-05:00April 26th, 2015|Categories: Beekeeping|

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Nature Magazine, Daniel Cressey.

The case for restricting a controversial family of insecticides is growing. Two studies published on 22 April in Nature12 address outstanding questions about the threat that the chemicals pose to bees, and come as regulators around the world gear up for a fresh debate on pesticide restrictions.

Many bee populations are in steep decline, with multiple causes identified, including parasites and the loss of food sources. Also blamed are neonicotinoids, a widely used class of insecticides that are often applied to seeds, and find their way into the pollen and nectar of plants. The use on seeds of three — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — is temporarily banned in the European Union because of concern that they might harm pollinators; the ban is up for review in December. In the United States, there are no such restrictions, but the US Environmental Protection Agency said on 2 April that it was “unlikely” to approve new outdoor neonicotinoid-pesticide uses without new bee data.

So far, the data are mixed. Many studies that link the poor health of bee colonies to the pesticides have been criticized, for example for not using realistic doses. Some defenders of the chemicals have argued that if neonicotinoids are harmful, bees will learn to avoid treated plants.

Geraldine Wright, an insect neuroethologist at Newcastle University, UK, and her colleagues investigated this aspect. They confined honeybees (Apis mellifera) and bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) to boxes and gave them a choice between plain nectar and nectar laced with imidacloprid, thiamethoxam or clothianidin. The researchers found that the bees showed no preference for the plain nectar. In fact, the insects were more likely to choose the nectar containing imidacloprid or thiamethoxam1, although it is not clear whether the preference would occur in the wild.

Wright’s team also analysed the response of the bees’ taste neurons to neonicotinoids, and found that they reacted the same regardless of concentration — indicating that the bees cannot taste the pesticides and that the preference is caused by some other mechanism. Other studies have shown that neonicotinoids activate receptors in bee brains linked to memory and learning.

In contrast to Wright and colleagues’ work, the second paper2 looked at honeybees and wild bees, including bumblebees, in the field. Maj Rundlöf, an ecologist at Lund University in Sweden, and her colleagues analysed eight fields of oilseed rape sown with seeds treated with clothianidin and eight fields sown with untreated seeds across southern Sweden.

Honeybees did not respond differently in the treated and untreated fields. But the researchers found that wild-bee density in treated fields was around half that in untreated fields. Nests of solitary bees and bumblebee-colony growth were also reduced in treated fields. “I’m worried about the effects on wild bees,” says Rundlöf.

She suggests that honeybees have larger colony sizes, which could sustain higher losses of foraging bees before showing overall health effects. But that suggests another problem. “Honeybees are the model organism that is used in toxicity testing for pesticides,” she says. If they are not representative of bees in general, it could explain why more studies have not detected negative effects.

Dave Goulson, a bee researcher at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, also suspects that honeybees are more resilient than wild bees to neonicotinoids. Rundlöf’s paper is “probably the best field study done so far”, he says, and avoids many previous problems, such as contaminated controls. “Any reasonable person would have to accept this is a real effect,” he adds.

The debate is heating up. In March, Goulson reanalysed3 data from a 2013 study by the UK Food and Environment Research Agency, which had concluded that neonicotinoid pesticides do not harm bees: Goulson found that they do. In the same month, work from the United States found4 that the probable harm from exposure to imidacloprid in seed-treated crops was “negligible” in honeybees, and last year a study5 done in Canada reached a similar conclusion for clothianidin on oilseed rape.

Christopher Connolly, who studies human and bee neuroscience at the University of Dundee, UK, and has published work6 showing that neonicotinoids interfere with neuron function in bumblebees, says that he was already convinced that the pesticides are bad for bees. Now, “the questions need to move to a different level”, to elucidate the mechanisms.

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Good News for Wisconsin Beekeepers!

By |2015-04-08T14:38:16-05:00April 8th, 2015|Categories: Beekeeping|

Bees-jpg-300x169The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency says the emergency assistance was reauthorized as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. Wisconsin dropped out of the top 10 honey-producing states in 2014 after brutal fall and winter weather wiped out a significant number of hives. The assistance program will help beekeepers who experienced losses from Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014.

The State Journal reported Wisconsin honey production has dropped about 21 percent, placing the state 15th among honey-producing states.

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November 2014

The Final Feeding

By |2015-04-01T21:34:59-05:00November 14th, 2014|Categories: Beekeeping, Steinthal|

Fed the bees for the last time this fall.  Hoping they make it through this winter.  Last winter was tough on the bees and the predictions for this winter do not look very promising.

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September 2014

Bee Careful!

By |2015-04-01T21:35:06-05:00September 15th, 2014|Categories: Beekeeping, Steinthal|

While I have countless times mowed around my hives without any bother from the bees, I made the mistake of doing this routine activity on a wet, misty day on Labor Day.  Bees are not able to forage for nectar during this type of weather and instead focus all their attention on protecting the hives.  Additionally,  since no bees are out foraging, the number of bees in and around the hive are at their max.   You can probably tell where this story is going…….   Yes, I got hammered in the head and face by at least 15 bee stings while mowing!  It was one of the most unpleasant experiences I have ever endured (and trust me, I have endured some very unpleasant things in my past).  I was on my rider driving as fast as I could away from the hives with bees following and stinging me for a good 50 yards before they finally gave up.  Despite being stung in the past, the quantity of venom I experienced resulted in a severe systemic allergic reaction.   After consultation with a local allergist later that week, I am currently planning on skin venom testing and possibly a series of allergen immunotherapy shots for a very long time.   I am still hopeful that my reaction was merely due to the amount of venom I received rather and a more serious allergy.  
Newly painted hive bodies ready for placement
An active hive in front of one of the solar arrays

A super full of honey waiting to be extracted

The Beekeeper

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August 2014

Swarm!

By |2015-04-01T21:35:11-05:00August 11th, 2014|Categories: Beekeeping, Steinthal|

Found a swarm in the garden yesterday morning.  The bees had taken over a young sunflower and I honestly didn’t notice them until after I had watered the garden for several hours.  They were drenched and I feared many of the workers were lost, but in the end, they all survived!  I got an empty hive body prepared and headed out to the garden to convince them that they would be better off in their new home.  After cutting off the sunflower at it’s base, I was able to get about 75% of the bees into the new hive body and then over about 30 minutes I coaxed the rest of them towards the entrance with my hand.  They formed a line heading towards the entrance and eventually all ended up inside the new hive.

Believe it or not, there is a sunflower plant underneath this mass of bees.

The new hive body ready for new occupants.

After I got the majority of bees inside, the rest just knew what to do and followed a line into the entrance.

The swarm getting used to their new home.

30 minutes later and the entire swarm was in the hive!

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July 2014

Expanding hives in Door County

By |2015-04-01T21:37:57-05:00July 9th, 2014|Categories: Beekeeping, Steinthal|

Finally had the opportunity to drive up to Door County to add hive bodies to the group!  They were in desperate need of expansion.  Opening the hives, they were packed with bees and honey! They finally have the opportunity to grow and I plan on adding supers to the hives in a week.    
New bodies being prepared to be placed on the hives in the background

The hives were overflowing with bees and honey!

The two-story upgrade!  

Healthy bees enjoying the Door County cherry trees!
Spent the day making more hive bodies to be added to the Steinthal bees tomorrow.

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June 2014

USDA announces funding for honeybee habitats

By |2015-04-02T00:57:03-05:00June 24th, 2014|Categories: Beekeeping|

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture on June 20 announced $8 million in Conservation Reserve Program incentives for Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin farmers and ranchers who establish new habitats for declining honeybee populations. President Barack Obama announced a government-wide strategy to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators that will include an Environmental Protection Agency analysis of the impact of pesticides on honeybees.

More than half of the commercially managed honeybees are in these five states during the summer, USDA noted. The announcement comes in addition to $3 million USDA designated to the Midwest states to support bee populations earlier this year through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

The honeybee population in the U.S. has been declining for decades. The number of managed U.S. honeybee colonies dropped from 6 million in 1947, to just 2.5 million today, USDA said.
Meanwhile, in his announcement, Obama said, “Given the breadth, severity and persistence of pollinator losses, it is critical to expand federal efforts and take new steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels. These steps should include the development of new public-private partnerships and increased citizen engagement.”

Through a memorandum, Obama established a Pollinator Health Task Force to be co-chaired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The task force, which is to include representatives of other major agencies including the departments of Defense and State, will undertake studies and share data on pollinators, including the Monarch butterfly, and orders the agencies to take efforts to increase pollinator habitat on federally controlled lands.

The memorandum also says, “The Environmental Protection Agency shall assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bee and other pollinator health and take action, as appropriate, to protect pollinators; engage state and tribal environmental, agricultural, and wildlife agencies in the development of state and tribal pollinator protection plans; encourage the incorporation of pollinator protection and habitat planting activities into green infrastructure and Superfund projects; and expedite review of registration applications for new products targeting pests harmful to pollinators.”

Some environmentalists have called for a ban on neonicotinoids, but the companies that produce the pesticides and some academics have said the causes of colony collapse disorder are much broader.

by Jerry Hagstrom – Agweek

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US sets up honey bee loss task force!

By |2015-04-01T21:38:11-05:00June 23rd, 2014|Categories: Beekeeping, Steinthal|

Good news for bees and their keepers!

From BBC News:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the agriculture department will lead the effort, which includes $8m (£4.7m) for new honey bee habitats.

Bee populations saw a 23% decline last winter, a trend blamed on the loss of genetic diversity, exposure to certain pesticides and other factors.

A quarter of the food Americans eat, including apples, carrots and avocados, relies on pollination.
Honey bees add more than $15bn in value to US agricultural crops, according to the White House.
The decline in bee populations is also blamed on the loss of natural forage and inadequate diets, mite infestations and diseases.

There has also been an increase in a condition called colony collapse disorder (CCD) in which there is a rapid, unexpected and catastrophic loss of bees in a hive.
But other North American pollinators, like the monarch butterfly, have seen decreases in their populations as well.

Some environmental groups have criticised the president for not acting more directly, including taking action against neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides linked to bee deaths.

“The administration should prevent the release and use of these toxic pesticides until determined safe,” Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica told Reuters.

In the plan announced on Friday, Mr Obama directed the EPA and the agriculture department to lead a government-wide task force to develop a strategy within six months to fight bee and other pollinator declines.

Also announced on Friday was funding for farmers and ranchers in five states – Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin – who establish new habitats for honey bee populations.

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October 2013

Weddings, Wrecking and Winterizing

By |2017-11-02T12:24:40-05:00October 22nd, 2013|Categories: Beekeeping, Family, Steinthal|

Spent last weekend at a wonderful wedding in Door County and this weekend we worked on cutting up the old paddleboat for final removal.  The boys loved working with the sawzall!   Finally, the bees were winterized despite their ornery disposition and extremely rude behavior with me…..

A beautiful celebration at Stone Harbor!

 

This Sunday, the Easter eggs were painted for a Halloween craft!

 

The boys “wrecking stuff”!

 

 

Extremely aggressive bees while trying to limit their entry for the cool weather!  They did not appreciate my efforts…

 

One hive wrapped….

 

Bring it on, winter!

 

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