flour + water + bees
As a new beekeeper, finding mentors to help guide me through my first year has been invaluable. I began learning with Michael Thiele of Gaia Bees. Michael provided me with a firm philosophical foundation and has always been extremely generous with his time, offering me advice along the way. Sometimes my fears (I don’t know what I’m doing. / People are going to criticize my methods/philosophy. / Surely “x” is a sign that the colony is on the verge of collapse!!) can lead me off track and Michael never fails to help me find my way back.
I’ve been extremely fortunate, however, to find some other beekeepers closer by who have been able to help me on a more day – to – day basis. I can’t express my gratitude to them enough. Because my methods and philosophy are somewhat counter to a lot of the conventional wisdom, and because I am such a novice, it’s easy for me to feel intimidated by my critics. Having a few more seasoned beekeepers behind me has made it much easier for me to stand my ground.
One such person is Bryon Waibel, proprietor of Her Majesty’s Secret Beekeeper in the Mission.
Here’s a really lovely little video about Bryon and his shop:
I really want to take a moment to say, “THANK YOU, BRYON!!” from the bottom of my heart, for your friendship and support!
A paper was published yesterday on a study performed by SFSU biology professor John Hafernik on the effects of the Phorid Fly on honeybees. The study suggests that the Phorid Fly might provide another missing piece of the Colony Collapse Disorder puzzle. The Phorid Fly is a parasitic fly previously known to attack bumble bees and paper wasps.
The study is still in its early stages, but so far we know that the flies lay eggs in a bee’s abdomen. Days later, the bee makes an uncharacteristic nocturnal departure from the hive. Once the bee dies, the larvae hatch and emerge from the bee’s body.
The study also suggests that the flies may be carriers of other viruses which contribute to colony loss – notably – Deformed Wing Virus and Nosema ceranae.
More info on the study here: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/01/03/zombie-fly-parasite-killing-honeybees/
You can read the full paper here: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0029639
A couple of weeks ago the San Francisco Beekeeper’s Association offered a class on overwintering at the Randall Museum. As a new member of the SFBA as well as a new beekeeper, I was excited to spend the afternoon with “my people”.
I have only attended a few SFBA meetings so far, but I’m really impressed with the diversity and passion of the group. It’s great to see people with different perspectives on beekeeping involved in constructive dialogue.
At the overwintering class, I was most interested in learning about the signs that indicate the colony is preparing for winter. I learned that the colony will begin to store honey in comb formerly used to raise brood and that the size of the brood nest will shrink – the queen laying less eggs during this time of year. The decrease in numbers will necessitate less space, and the colony will not draw new comb. All of these signs were consistent with what I observed about a week prior while inspecting the hive. At that time, I removed the two empty frames I’d added on a previous inspection – it was clear that the bees were done building for the year.
Now is the time of year when the beekeeper is faced with some difficult decisions. Fewer numbers in the hive mean a weaker line of defense against pests and disease. This is when losses occur – colonies often become overwhelmed by a number of threats from pests and parasites to bacterial and viral diseases. Perhaps the most insidious of these threats is that of the Varroa mite.
The Varroa is a parasitic mite that was first identified in American bees in 1987. It feeds on the bees in all stages of life and is a carrier of the Deformed Wing Virus, which inhibits a bees ability to fly and, therefore, to forage. Since its discovery in the United States, Varroa has decimated multitudes of colonies and has been at the forefront of conversations about management. In the spring and summer, Varroa does not pose much of a threat, as the colony is generally strong enough to combat it. Growing mite populations can overtake a hive preparing for winter, however, and destroy the colony.
As the days grow shorter and colder and I watch my colonies become smaller and less active, my thoughts turn to the Varroa mite and my philosophy of a more holistic form of apiculture is seriously challenged. There is of course concern that I will be seen as an irresponsible beekeeper by my peers if I choose not to treat for mites but more than that: I do not want my bees to die.
Up until this point I have tried to provide them with the most natural and loving environment I could. They have freely built natural comb and arranged their hives however they have seen fit. I have not used queen excluders or cut out drone comb. I have not taken a single frame of honey. I have performed inspections with the utmost care and without the use of smoke so as to disturb them as little as possible. Finally, I have refused to treat them with any chemicals, natural or otherwise.
There are times when I really want to intervene – when ants attacked my colony at home a few weeks ago I stood by, nervously biting my nails, waiting to see if the bees could effectively fight back on their own (they did). I had a moment of panic when they told us at the Overwintering class that a colony not treated for mites had a less than 50% chance of surviving the winter.
So why won’t I treat?
I am learning – slowly – that oftentimes that which seems to be the best course of action in the immediate moment can have disastrous effects in the long term. In 1923, Rudolph Steiner warned us that the mechanization of natural processes performed in the hive would have catastrophic effects in 80 to 100 years. Eighty-three years after Steiner delivered his now famous lectures on the honey-bee, American beekeepers were hit with crippling losses – an epidemic that came to be known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). While the cause of CCD is still somewhat of a mystery, it is difficult to ignore Steiner’s prediction. Is it true that we are gradually making ourselves into the architects of our own demise? Isn’t there something terribly wrong when the bees can no longer navigate the changing seasons without our “help”? Are we weakening the bees while at the same time, creating stronger mites, more resistant to all of the chemicals we throw at them year after year?
While it may be true that colonies treated for mites have a better chance of surviving this winter than those which go untreated, it is my belief that the survival of the species on the whole in the long term is dependent upon its ability to develop stable bee-mite relationships on their own. Recent studies show that this is happening in feral colonies (Seeley). If this is true, should we not encourage our own bees to foster such relationships? Here in San Francisco, the mild winters and available forage throughout these cold and rainy months provide us with an ideal proving ground for a new approach to living with bees.
Seeley, Thomas.“Honey bees of the Arnot Forest: a population of feral colonies persisting with Varroa destructor in the northeastern United States.” Apidology. Cornell University, 29/11/20016. Web. 7 Nov 2011.
It was a windy day, but we wanted to check on the colony to make sure they were adjusting to their new home.
The empty frames we added when we transferred the colony were almost completely full. We returned later in the day to add more frames.
“As stewards of this earth we certainly are called upon to become co-creators, not just to leave nature as it has been created. We have ennobled grasses into grains, created beautiful landscapes, and have introduced culture into nature as our human contribution. Up until very recent times these changes were achieved with the aid of deep wisdom of the creative forces of the cosmos, out of deep reverence and love for creation. These qualities seem to be lacking more and more, and our motives, not only our senses, have become impoverished. Now we let the microscope and the stock market, not the cosmos and ideals, dictate our actions: we want to save time, money, effort and discomfort; and we sow seeds of disharmony, illness and ultimately death.”
- Gunther Hauk, Toward Saving the Honeybee
In his book, Bee-Friendly Beekeeping: A Sustainable Approach, David Heaf delves deeper into the environmental and agricultural ethics of beekeeping. He outlines four distinct approaches (dominator, steward, partner and participant) and acknowledges that depending upon individual circumstances, the boundaries of these approaches may, at times, becomes blurred. The ethical matrix which Heaf puts forth takes into consideration the health and welfare, freedom and fairness of the bees, the beekeeper, consumers (of honey primarily) and what he called the biota, or living environment. Striking a balance between the interests of all involved is our greatest challenge. I would love to say that there’s an easy (and easily defensible) position to take on this – beekeepers tend to be quite tenacious in backing up the choices that they make – but I believe that we are living in interesting times in which we must tread lightly – we are in the midst of a very sensitive transition from man as dominator of the natural world to man as, at the very least, steward of the natural world.
We are learning, as we go along. I believe the best that we can do is to be attentive and willing to make certain sacrifices for the overall wellbeing of our ecological systems.
If anyone is interested in exploring a more holistic approach to living with bees, Gunther Hauk will be speaking on Sunday, October 16th at this year’s Bioneers Conference in San Rafael!
Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – marvelous error! -
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my past mistakes.
(excerpted from “Last Night, As I Was Sleeping” by Antonio Machado)
The colony here at flour+water has been growing steadily over the course of the spring. It was only a matter of time before they outgrew the nucleus hive they’d started out in. We enlisted the help of our friend, Tabitha Solomon, to build the new hive we would eventually move the colony into.
The hive that Tabitha built is known as a Golden Hive. Its dimensions are based on the Golden Ratio - a mathematical proportion closely related to the Fibonacci sequence found to be expressed in various natural forms from pinecones, flowers and tree branches to the human body. The Fibonacci sequence can even be found inside the honey bee colony: While the females in a colony both have two parents (a queen and a drone), the male bees are hatched from unfertilized eggs. The Fibonacci sequence is thereby expressed in the drone’s family tree: one parent, two grandparents, three great-grandparents, and so on!
Our decision to use this design over a more traditional one was based on our desire to provide the bees with an environment in which they could develop more naturally. As our primary goal is not to harvest honey but rather to observe and learn, we are less concerned with a system that allows for easy honey extraction and more interested in how bees live in nature without human interference. To this end, we are using foundation-less frames placed in a “one room” hive box – we are not using separate honey supers, brood boxes or queen excluders to divide the space within the hive. The bees have free range to raise brood and to store honey and pollen wherever they like. As the colony grows, I will add more frames.
In July we received our hive – Tabitha did an amazing job using locally sourced, untreated wood. Finally, it was time to move our friends into their new digs. We transferred the colony on a sunny day in July:
The transfer went smoothly and the colony looks happy, healthy and well prepared for the rainy winter months ahead!
A bit about bees at flour + water, from our resident Bee Lady, Miss Niki Shelley:
As people in the food industry, our initial interest in bees was motivated, unsurprisingly, by the exciting prospect of producing our own honey for the restaurant. Our investigations, however, led us to an unexpected place.
Through photographer Amanda Lane we met Michael Thiele, an holistic apiculturist in Sebastopol with a much different take on our relationship with bees. After spending time with Michael, we began to view the honeybee and our endeavor to keep them, as something bigger than the honey we’d originally planned to harvest.
The honeybee is a vital facet of our agricultural ecosystem – we depend on them to pollinate over 30% of the produce we consume. In the fall of 2006, what has come to be known as Colony Collapse Disorder became a hot topic in the media. Beekeepers across the United States that year reported losses of 30% of their hives with some beekeepers reporting losses up to 90% of all of their colonies. Looking for an answer has led some to re-evaluate the way in which we live with bees.
Focusing on sustainable and organic agriculture at Flour+Water, it was a natural progression for us to endow the honeybee with the same respect we have for the animals and produce we use in the restaurant. This meant encouraging the hive to operate and evolve in a much more natural manner; to refrain from treating with pesticides, to build free hanging comb without the use of foundation – to interfere as little as possible and to let the bees do what they know is best for their own health and well-being. This also meant dramatically scaling back our expectations for harvesting honey.
We are currently in the process of letting the bees teach us what they need in order to thrive. The bee program at Flour+Water is very much an experiment in sustainability. The gift of pollination is of much greater importance to human survival than that of honey – the bees are telling us that, unless we are willing to re-evaluate our own sense of self, as well as our relationships with, and expectations of, the natural world, we could find ourselves in a very bleak situation.
Interested in learning more? Check out The Melissa Garden or email email@example.com
Our first look inside the Nuk
We are curious to see how they are doing, and particularly if they are building comb in line with the frames as we will be moving them to their permanent home in a few weeks.Share Tweet