Friday, March 27, 2009

Bees coming to a park near you!

My aunt sent me this article from the SF Chronicle about a proposal before Berkeley City Council to create bee habitats in public parks by planting native "pollinator-friendly" plants. Concerned by news reports of declining global bee populations, Berkeley wanted to do something to help. Did you know former City Councilwoman Betty Olds was a beekeeper? She was one of the first to support this notion. Mayor Tom Bates also came out in support of it, saying that it won't cost more than the regular landscaping budget.

Some people are concerned about their kids or their picknicks, but as you all know, the bees at CPS are not even noticeable from on campus. They disperse, and although there will be more bees visiting the plants, they won't be attracted to the barbeque or the watermelon like Yellowjackets would be. And many Berkeley residents and parents are looking forward to it. One father of a three year-old in North Berkeley's Codornices Park, said, "bring on the bees. Definitely more people will get stung. Bees are vital to the world, and we need them."

Here is the update from yesterday:

Berkeley to draw bees with plantings in parks
by Carolyn Jones
Thursday, March 26, 2009

The bees are coming to Berkeley.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the City Council voted unanimously to create bee habitats in city parks and open spaces by planting "pollinator-friendly" landscaping. The intent is to help pollinators, particularly bees, whose numbers have been rapidly declining worldwide due to habitat loss and pesticides.

Park staff will plant native, flowering plants at least 30 feet from children's play areas, garbage cans and restrooms to minimize the risk of bee stings. Nests will be removed.

The city's gardening superintendent will decide how, when and where the landscaping will be planted, but the plan should get under way within the next few weeks.

New research on CCD

K.O. sent me this interesting article about the connection between pesticide use and CCD. The pesticide Fluvalinate is commonly used against Varroas. Shockingly, the concentration of toxicity has increased dramatically over the past twenty years, and with no new warnings or instructions for use. According to the article, the chemicals are now 300 times more toxic to the honey bees, not to mention the traces that get into honey we consume.
(Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus and electromagnetic radiation from cell phones are also discussed in the article.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Update 2/24

We have rearranged the configuration of the hive so it is easier to keep the ants out. We've also added a new super. A super is a box that beekeepers use for honey only, no larvae. There is a mesh called a queen excluder between the super (on top) and the box below. The mesh has holes big enough for worker bees, but not for the queen since she is larger. I am adding 3 empty frames to that box tomorrow. Those will probably soon be filled with honey.

Here's a picture from flickr of a beekeeper with a queen excluder.

The bees are still suffering from varroa mites. Outside the hive can be spotted a number of dead bees that have been dragged out of the hive. I saw two bees with wing damage from the varroas. Here's an extreme example from flickr.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


The beehive has some chalkbrood, which is a caused by the fungus Ascosphaera apis. It infects larvae that are then killed and shrivel into white chalk-like bits. There is no treatment per se, but there are various techniques used to combat chalkbrood. They include replacing the queen, discarding infected brood comb, providing water with a little clorox, and keeping hives well-ventilated but dry. We aren't at a very drastic stage of chalkbrood right now; that's not our biggest worry.

There is some new larvae in the bottom box (none in the top). The newest generation however is full of varroa mites!!! Bad news. I will put more powdered sugar soon.
Honeybees are Dying Out by amycho90.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bee stages of development

Inside a beehive, there are different types of comb. The brood comb is where the queen lays her eggs. The upper corners of the brood comb will usually have pollen, nectar, or honey. The rest of the cells are used to house bees as they develop from an egg. During the summer, the queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs in one day. The bees go through different stages of development. The term brood refers to the egg stage. The next stage is larvae, a time during which the young bees are fed by other bees. The final stage is the pupae. The bees grow larger at this point and reorient vertically in the cells, spinning a sort of cocoon. The other bees will create cap on the cell. When the bee is fully grown, it emerges from the cell!
Drones are the male bees, produced from unfertilized eggs laid by the queen. Their brood are larger in size.
In this picture, the paler flatter area on the left is capped honey. The large protruding cells are the drone brood. [picture from flickr]
Honey & Drone Brood by chantal foster.

another picture
Worker brood, honey, and pollen by chantal foster.
The nice brown flat cells are the capped brood that are in the pupae stage.

And lastly, another picture of the larvae stage. After the tiny egg stage, the bees look shiny and white and worm-like!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sweet! a tasty way to deal with Varroas

Another tactic to combat against mites is sprinkling powdered sugar on the bees (pictured). This causes them to groom themselves to get off the sugar, which keeps them clean and can remove the mites. They can then use it in the honey production process. Some beekeepers actually give their bees sugar water to supplement their diet (for instance during the winter). It makes for better honey if bees make it naturally, and we don’t really need to do that in California since things are in bloom all year.

A couple weeks ago, I did see one bee that appeared to have Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), which is carried by Varroa mites. Not good! But it could have also been torn wings.

Lastly, the ants are finally gone! Ants not only are attracted to the honey, they also eat the bee brood. Bees are somewhat powerless against them since they are too small to sting. Two other things were attracting them in large quantities: the powdered sugar residue on the ground, and the bits of wax and other sweet things that fall out of the mesh bottom (pictured). The hive is propped up on upside-down flowerpots inside plastic bowls filled with water to keep out ants. The problem is that the water evaporates pretty quickly. Bees and leaves also tend to fall in the cups creating a bridge for the ants. I tried putting chalk in the areas where there were trails of ants because that can cover up the pheromones. That kind of worked, but there were so many that I finally used some “Grant’s Kills Ants” poison, which is not harmful to bees, and I haven’t seen any ants since.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Varroa mites and drone cells

In our hive, we have taken a number of precautions against Varroa mites. K. O. (the beekeeper) gave us a box that has a mesh bottom, so the mites will fall out.

The drones (which are created from unfertilized eggs) are more susceptible to Varroa mites because the development time of the drone brood matches that of the mite. The drones are larger in larval state than other bees. We have special frames that are open (pictured in the bottom two). Drone cells are larger than normal, so the bees choose these open frames to put the drone brood. Once the frame that is pictured is filled up, I will cut out the wax again. This may seem harsh, but it is important to get rid of the drone brood because that is where the mites tend to concentrate. You can also see some honey in the cells in the last image. Tasty!

The first picture shows a fresh frame that we had just put in. The bees will build the honeycomb on either side of the sheet (I’m sure they already have; they are incredibly fast workers).

Saturday, November 15, 2008


In 2006-2007, a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD was recorded when a worldwide decline in bee population began to occur. North America has been hit especially hard by CCD, but the cause of the syndrome is not fully understood. Some attribute the collapses to Varroa destructor mites, which are small red parasites that attach to the body of the bee, sometimes in the brood stage. Varroa mites can spread viruses such as Deformed Wing Virus, as well as generally weakening the bee. A variety of other parasites and insect diseases have also been associated with CCD, including the fungal parasites Nosema apis, and Israel acute paralysis virus. Another possible cause is environmental change-related stresses, including the effects of climate change, particularly on nectar flow, as well as electromagnetic radiation from cell phones that interfere with bees’ orientation. The practice of migratory beekeeping in the agricultural world also puts stress on the hives. There are many other possible causes of CCD, including pesticides, antibiotics, and genetically modified crops.

Honeybees are not only important for our vegetable gardens, but also for our economy: they are the predominant pollinator for an estimated $15 billion-worth of crops, 90 different species. They are responsible for pollinating about one third of U.S. crop species.

Here's a 15 minute video from 60 Minutes last year about CCD.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Honeybees are here

These honeybees are new inhabitants of the College Prep campus! They live on the hill behind the Rech Room. They are Apis mellifera Western honeybees, a species that is really important for pollination, especially of agricultural crops. Bees all over the world are facing a huge crisis with the proliferation of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a syndrome that is not fully understood.

Luckily, our bees are doing very well so far. You might have seen two beige boxes on the hillside. Inside the boxes are frames that the bees build their comb on. (I will post more photos later.) I got this hive from a beekeeper who goes by K. O. who lives in Oakland. The queen appears to be very strong. We saw lots of brood (eggs, larvae, not yet developped bees), as well as plenty of honey (honey is pictured). You might already know that most bees are female. The males are called drones and they are useful only in mating with the queen, eating, and not being able to take care of themselves (sorry, guys). We have been taking a lot of precautions against Varroa mites, which are associated with CCD that I will tell you about later.

Bees lifespans are measured not in the usual way. K. O. explained to me that a bee lives "50,000 wing beats." So, she said, during the summer this could equal only two weeks, in the winter it is more like four months.