Thursday, February 27, 2014

USDA Spending $3M to Feed Bees...

USDA Spending $3M To Feed Struggling Bees In Midwest


Commercial honeybees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of produce each year. Many beekeepers bring hives to the Upper Midwest in the summer for bees to gather nectar and pollen for food, then truck them in the spring to California and other states to pollinate everything from almonds to apples to avacadoes.

But agricultural production has been threatened by a more than decade-long decline in commercial honeybees and their wild cousins due to habitat loss and pesticide use. Colony collapse disorder, in which honey bees suddenly disappear or die, has made the problem worse, boosting losses over the winter to as much as 30 percent per year.

The USDA hopes to stem those losses by providing more areas for bees to build up food stores and strength for winter. The new program, details of which were provided to The Associated Press ahead of the announcement, will be "a real shot in the arm" for improving bees' habitat and food supply, said Jason Weller, chief of USDA's National Resources Conservation Service.

Dairy farmers and ranchers in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas can qualify for about $3 million to reseed pastures with alfalfa, clover and other plants appealing to both bees and livestock. Farmers also can get help building fences, installing water tanks and making other changes that better enable them to move their animals from pasture to pasture so the vegetation doesn't become worn down. The goal is to provide higher quality food for insects and animals.
"It's a win for the livestock guys, and it's a win for the managed honey bee population," Weller said. "And it's a win then for orchardists and other specialty crop producers across the nation because then you're going to have a healthier, more robust bee population that then goes out and helps pollinate important crops."

The USDA is focusing on those five states because 65 percent of the nation's estimated 30,000 commercial beekeepers bring hives there for at least part of the year. With limited funds, Weller said, the goal is to get the biggest payoff for the investment.
Corn, soybean and other farmers can qualify for money to plant cover crops, which typically go in after the regular harvest and help improve soil health, or to grow bee-friendly forage in borders and on the edges of fields.

The program is just the latest in a series of USDA efforts to reduce honeybee deaths. The agency has partnered with universities to study bee diseases, nutrition and other factors threatening colonies. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also recently created a working group on bees to coordinate efforts across the department.

The work is already paying off with changes to once-common beekeeping practices, such as supplementing bees' diet with high-fructose corn syrup, said David Epstein, a senior entomologist with the USDA. He noted that the quality of bees' food is as important as the quantity.
"You can think of it in terms of yourself," Epstein said. "If you are studying for exams in college, and you're not eating properly and you're existing on coffee, then you make yourself more susceptible to disease and you get sick."

Tim Tucker, who has between 400 and 500 hives at sites in Kansas and Texas, said he may take some of his bees to South Dakota this year because the fields around his farm near Niotaze, Kan., no longer provide much food for them.

"There used to be a lot of small farms in our area that had clover and a variety of crops, whereas in the last 20 years it's really been corn, soybean and cotton and a little bit of canola," Tucker said. "But those crops don't provide a lot of good nectar and pollen for bees."

Tucker, who is president of the American Beekeeping Federation, said the last "really good" year he had was 1999, when he got more than 100 pounds of honey per hive. Last year, he averaged about 42 pounds per hive.

He hopes dairy farmers, beef cattle ranchers and others will sign up for the new USDA program by the March 21 deadline.

It's not a "cure all," Tucker said, but "anything we do to help provide habitat for honeybees and for native bees and pollinators is a step."


Monday, February 17, 2014

Ted Talks- "Why Bees Are Disappearing"

SpeakersMarla Spivak: Bees Scholar

Marla Spivak

Marla Spivak researches bees’ behavior and biology in an effort to preserve this threatened, but ecologically essential, insect.insect.


Why you should listen to her:
Bees pollinate a third of our food supply -- they don’t just make honey! -- but colonies have been disappearing at alarming rates in many parts of the world due to the accumulated effects of parasitic mites, viral and bacterial diseases, and exposure to pesticides and herbicides. Marla Spivak, University of Minnesota professor of entomology and 2010 MacArthur Fellow, tries as much as possible to think like bees in her work to protect them. They’re “highly social and complex” creatures, she says, which fuels her interest and her research.
Spivak has developed a strain of bees, the Minnesota Hygienic line, that can detect when pupae are infected and kick them out of the nest, saving the rest of the hive. Now, Spivak is studying how bees collect propolis, or tree resins, in their hives to keep out dirt and microbes. She is also analyzing how flowers’ decline due to herbicides, pesticides and crop monoculture affect bees’ numbers and diversity. Spivak has been stung by thousands of bees in the course of her work.
"Bees have a champion in Marla Spivak."
The Promised Land
ORIGINAL SOURCE:  TED Ideas Worth Spreading

Bee School Session 4...

Hampden County Beekeepers Bee School 2014

 Thursday, February 27th

Willimanset Heights Improvement League (WHIL)
118 Mount Vernon Rd.
ChicopeeMA 01013

All Bee School sessions start at 7pm

Topic: Dynamics of the Hive 
Queens & Swarms
Speaker: Eric Nitsch

All members are welcome to attend.  We will have our usual break between the first and second hour of each bee school meeting and anyone who would like to bring food/snacks to share with the group is encouraged to do so.  See you at bee school!  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Due to the impending snow and ice storm, our bee school class scheduled for Thursday, February 13th has been cancelled.  We will cover bee sources and installation at a later date.  Stay warm and safe! 

Bees with Backpacks...

Scientists Strap Tiny 'Backpacks' To 5,000 Bees To Learn More About Colony Collapse Disorder

There's been a lot of buzz about colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon causing bees to die off around the world, and Australian scientists are trying a new approach to studying the phenomenon: They're attaching tiny sensors to bees.

More than 5,000 honeybees are being equipped with 2.5mm x 2.5mm sensors that relay data to recorders placed around hives and known food sources.

"Bees are social insects that return to the same point and operate on a very predictable schedule," project leader Dr. Paulo de Souza, a scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, said in a statement.

"Any change in their behavior indicates a change in their environment. If we can model their movements, we'll be able to recognize very quickly when their activity shows variation and identify the cause. This will help us understand how to maximize their productivity as well as monitor for any biosecurity risks."

But how do you attach a sensor to a tiny honeybee?
Good question. It turns out that it's not that complicated.

1. Refrigerate the bee.
"We take the bee into a cold place, usually to a fridge about 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees F), for five minutes and that is enough to have the bees sleeping," de Souza told the Australian Broadcasting Company.

2. Shave the bee. (Yes, really.)
"Very young bees, they're very hairy. At times we need to do something to help us," he said.

3. Use tweezers to glue the sensor to the bee's back.
"It doesn't disturb the way the bee will see or the way the bee will fly, they just work normally," he said.

"Each sensor weight is about 5 milligrams. This is about 20 percent of what the bee can carry. So the bee can carry a lot of weight in pollen, in nectar, so this is like someone carrying a small backpack."

Buzz off
Once their sensors are in place, the honeybees are released in Tasmania, an island state located off Australia's coast.

The radio frequency identification sensors will allow scientists to build a 3-D image of the bees' movements and provide them with information on how pesticides contribute to colony collapse disorder.

But tagging the bees is only the first stage of the project.

De Souza said researchers are working to make the sensors even smaller so they can be attached to insects like mosquitoes and fruit flies.

"We want these smaller tags to be able to sense environmental conditions such as temperature and presence of atmospheric gases; not just track their location. Further to this, the sensors will be able to generate energy from the beating wings of the insects, which will give the sensors enough power to transmit information instead of just storing it until they reach a data logger," he said.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bee School Session 3...

Hampden County Beekeepers Bee School 2014

 Thursday, February 13th 

Willimanset Heights Improvement League (WHIL)
118 Mount Vernon Rd.
ChicopeeMA 01013

All Bee School sessions start at 7pm

Topics: Sources of Bees & Installing Bees
Speaker: Tom Flebotte

All members are welcome to attend.  We will have our usual break between the first and second hour of each bee school meeting and anyone who would like to bring food/snacks to share with the group is encouraged to do so.  See you at bee school!