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.