Archive for the ‘beekeeping’ Category

The Silence of the Bees

I checked my bees today.   Wiped the first snow away from the entrance of their hive.  Not sure they are going to make it through the winter but I am trying to be optimistic.  

Then saw this article on the Bill Moyers site.   It’s from back in May when the European Union banned the pesticides that are the main culprit in the die off.   ” A [US] federal study attributes the massive die-off in American honey bee colonies to a combination of factors, including pesticides, poor diet, parasites and a lack of genetic diversity. ”    They left out the stress that most commercial hives are subjected to by being trucked around from mono-crop to mono- crop throughout the year.   True migrant workers.    And subjected to some of the same appalling conditions as their human counterparts.

“Poor diet”   may be  code for this phenomenon.   I think it is.   Bees are meant to live in one place gathering the pollen and nectar from that spot throughout the season.   The varied diet that keeps organisms healthy.  Not that I think that the pesticides and the lack of genetic diversity aren’t important factors, too.    But we all know that if you are stressed and poorly fed your immune system is not up to the job of fighting off the things in the environment that tend to make you sick.   This is what is happening to the bees.  

So my wild hive got as cushy a summer as I could give them.   I will feed them through the winter and hope for the best.


…and then A Miracle Occurs



This year finances have been a little tight and since none of my hives made it through the winter and I was unable to find a nuc I could afford I was bee-less this spring and into the summer.   And then a miracle occurred.    I was cleaning out my barn for a yard sale and had decided to sell off some of my surplus beehives.    I set them out in the front yard along with the other accoutrements of a yard sale in preparation for the three-day event.    Hot and tired I had lunch and lay down on the couch to read through the heat of the day.

And then I heard it.   “That sounds like a swarm,” I said to myself.    Walking out on the deck of my house…..well here’s the first video I took (you may have to cut and paste it for now or go to my Facebook page to see it, sorry):

Ross Conrad in “Natural Beekeeping” says it so eloquently:   “”The confidence the swarm shows in itself and the faith it has in the universe’s ability to provide for its future well-being are inspiring.   Certainly the mother and her daughters do not make the decision to swarm carelessly, typically timing their move to coincide with conditions when the hive is chockfull of bees, honey, pollen, and brood, and there is plenty of nectar still to be gathered.  It makes good sense, after all, to wait until times are plentiful and prosperous before deciding to build a new home and start another family.  However, when compared to human parents, the widowed mother bee shows unparalleled generosity of spirit in her actions.”

July is not the best time for a swarm.   The little ditty goes:  “A swarm in May is worth a load of hay, a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon, but a swarm in July isn’t worth a fly.”   Here I am reciting and debunking that myth (again thanks to FB):

So the best part of all of this is that Marta and Heath (two non-bee-fans) were excited and happy for me when they got home and found out about the wondrous occurrence.    Here is Marta’s blog post about it.

I took the leap of faith in quitting my paycheck and the universe keeps telling me again and again I am doing the right thing!!!!   I am truly a blessed woman.

The Evil Empire, Again

My Bees! Bless 'em!

So now that it’s sunny again I feel like I can stomach talking about the Evil Empire. (I know, I know, Red Sox fans, I know!  The Evil Empire is the Yankees and DAMN them for winning the 100th Anniversary game at our bandbox of a ballpark, Fenway, but in agriculture the EE is Monsanto.)  The EE has been up to it’s nefarious best lately.  They bought the leading bee research firm to have control over the narrative.  Now Monsanto will be telling us what is killing the bees. And you can bet you Red Sox hat it will turn out NOT to be the insecticides in the GMO corn.    Read the article.

But on a slightly happier note OSGATA et al have filed the appeal to Judge Buchwald’s abrupt, unfounded dismissal of our case.

NEW YORK – March 28, 2012 – Today, in Federal District Court in Manhattan, family farmers filed their Notice of Appeal to Judge Naomi Buchwald’s February 24th ruling dismissing Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al v. Monsanto.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will hear the farmers’ appeal, seeking to reinstate the case, which has received worldwide attention. The farmers are determined to move forward with their lawsuit challenging Monsanto’s patents on genetically engineered seed technologies to continue their pursuit of Declaratory Judgment Act court protection from Monsanto’s claims of patent infringement should their crops become contaminated by Monsanto’s seed.

So the struggle continues.  Now with one scientifically objective voice gone.  The USDA may believe the findings of Beeologic but from now on we cannot.  “Dedicated to restoring bee health” my great Aunt Fanny!!!!

Not Exactly a Sunday List but Kinda

So here is a grab bag of stories that I have been meaning to write about for awhile:

The Grist Mill in Skowhegan has met it’s KickStarter goal and will get it’s funding!!!   Here’s the thank you from Amanda:

“So what makes people give $63, or $28, or $2 to Kickstarter projects?  I have been tickled to hear from many of you about what inspires you.  These have got to be lucky numbers.

I presume this because since we met our goal yesterday, the pledges are still rolling in.  IT’S WONDERFUL! Thank you.  Every dollar makes a difference and helps secure a strong launch for Maine Grains flour mill.

Thanks everyone.”

A little blurb about the new Farm Bill:

The 2012 Farm Bill comes amid an increasingly fierce public debate over food and farming. The industrial model of agriculture and food production is continuing a decades-long drive toward fewer farmers, more factory-style meat production and more processed food—largely to benefit a handful of powerful agribusiness and food companies. At the same time, support is growing for a fair and sustainable food and farm system based on a different set of values: paying and treating farmers and food workers fairly, providing enough healthy food for all, integrating environmental sustainability, and more closely connecting farmers with consumers and communities.

In the U.S., the biggest and most influential farm policy tool is written by Congress every five years: the Farm Bill, which includes programs for crop production, farmers, rural development, energy, conservation and international food aid….70 percent of the money is part of the Nutrition title, which includes the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps….cuts are expected…

There is a lot at stake in the 2012 Farm Bill. In the current political climate, Congress and the Obama administration are more focused on cuts than serious reform…Important conservation programs that protect waterways and wildlife and those that support conservation practices on working farms are also likely to face severe cuts. Efforts to enforce antitrust policy and ensure fair markets in agriculture have already been curtailed, and could face further limitations.

And just in case you think I missed the whole PINK SLIME story.  Here is a good commentary about the whole issue  reprinted from Local Harvest:

If you didn’t see the debate on the “pink slime,” this response, from someone who actually handles meat, feels important to highlight:
Azo Rodrigue
I have been a meat cutter for 30 years. This is what Pink slime is : but first, the basics… when you cut a steak or roast,it requires ‘trimming’. Trimming is like sanding the rough edges off a piece of wood- you are making the steak or roa…st look uniform and give it better ‘eye appeal’. When you trim, you are removing both lean meat and fat. The trimmings accumulate. If I cut a side of beef that weighs 300lbs, then about 50lbs of that is bones, 50lbs. discarded fat, about 50lbs. hamburger trim – depending on how much ‘external fat’ (as opposed to marbling) that particular animal has. That leaves about 150lbs steaks,roasts,and stew meat. As a meatcutter tends to do – waste not – we save all the trimmings to grind into hamburger. If I keep every pound of fat chances are the hamburger would come out 50% lean or less-which is no good. So, we know that most of the external fat has to be discarded and the remaining trim will grind out to the desired 75%-85%-95% lean, what ever the target is. You get good at guessing the % as you cut.So close to 100lbs. per animal is discarded fat – on a fatted animal, also known as ‘prime’ grade.

Pink slime is the end product of a process in which, they claim, they take ‘bits of fat and lean meat’ – or trimmings- add ammonia, put it in a centrifuge much like a washing machine, and spin it hard. the ammonia is not used to sterilize but to release the fat from the meat, the fat dissolves and is spun out and away and they’re left with the lean meat. that meat is then frozen into blocks and added to the real hamburger generated by the meatcutters.

In my opinion, there is something wrong with the industrys’ explanation. First, when I cut up an animal, I have already removed any meat that is any good for hamburger. What I throw away is fat and bone. If you look in my refuse barrel at while I am on lunch break, you will see whiteness… white bones, and white fat. Almost no red – the little red you might see will be negligible bits of lean meat on the bones and the fat I trimmed off. This must be what they are trying to re-capture. So, I guess that when you kill 150,000 bulls a week, this could add up.

Second, ammonia is poison. When ammonia enters the body as a result of breathing, swallowing or skin contact, it reacts with water to produce ammonium hydroxide. This chemical is very corrosive and damages cells in the body on contact.

I propose that if they want to sell the stuff that I as a meatcutter have discarded – then they should be selling it to Purina or Little Friskies – not Wal-Mart or Piggly Wiggly. They used to be happy putting this stuff in hot dogs,bologna,pepperoni etc. but those sales have dipped in recent years, so in the burger it now goes. I’d like to point out here – that if we have been reading about this for 10 years then that means they have been doing it for 35.

And from our friends at the Corporate Criminal Headquarters:

Monsanto Threatens to Sue Vermont

“Despite overwhelming public support and support from a clear majority of Vermont’s Agriculture Committee, Vermont legislators are dragging their feet on a proposed GMO labeling bill. Why? Because Monsanto has threatened to sue the state if the bill passes. The popular legislative bill requiring mandatory labels on genetically engineered food (H-722) is languishing in the Vermont House Agriculture Committee, with only four weeks left until the legislature adjourns for the year. Despite thousands of emails and calls from constituents who overwhelmingly support mandatory labeling, despite the fact that a majority (6 to 5) of Agriculture Committee members support passage of the measure, Vermont legislators are holding up the labeling bill and refusing to take a vote.”

Here is a very interesting event I wish I could attend but will probable not be able to fit into my schedule:

Food Connections: The Conference.

Reconnecting Hands, Mouth & Mind through Food Systems Education
April 20 through 22 – COA Campus

What is the full story of food? While today many people are looking into food production and healthy eating, the intermediary activities – of packaging, processing, distribution, sales, consumption, and waste – are seldom investigated. Yet these activities, and how they are controlled, have tremendous impacts on the well-being of entire populations.

From April 20 through 22, College of the Atlantic will be hosting a sustainable foods conference, “Food Connections: Reconnecting Hands, Mouth & Mind through Food Systems Education.” The conference will feature discussions on what people need to know to transform food systems, and how these subjects can best be learned.

“While many colleges and universities have farms where students can learn about food production,” says Molly Anderson, PhD, COA’s Partridge Chair in Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems, “learning about the rest of the food system is still fragmented and not integrated with surrounding farms or the community where higher education occurs.”

Keynote speakers are Eric Holt-Gimenez, executive director of Food First/Institute for Food & Development Policy in Oakland, and Gary Paul Nabhan, author and research scientist at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center. Discussion leaders will include those who are forging paths in new distribution methods, policies that favor small organic farms, ways of getting more sustainable food to campuses, cultural connections with foodways, and advocacy for food justice and sovereignty.

The conference will be based on the COA campus, at 105 Eden St. in Bar Harbor, ME, with field trips to local farms, including the college’s organic Beech Hill Farm and its new Peggy Rockefeller Farms, as well as to Acadia National Park. In addition to COA, sponsors of the Food Connections conference are Elm Farm Organic Research Centre and the Faculty of Organic Agricultural Sciences at the University of Kassel through a Trans-Atlantic Partnership with generous funding from the Partridge Foundation.

For more registration information and other inquiries, visit, or contact Matthew Doyle Olson, Sustainable Food Systems Coordinator, at or 207-801-5688.

And for my fellow Beeks:

2012 Northeast Treatment Free Beekeeping Conference: “The Practical Beekeeper” July 24-29 2012 Leominster, Massachusetts

Confirmed Speakers: Michael Bush, Kirk Webster, Dee Lusby, Les Crowder, Dr. Paul Arnold, Sam Comfort, Erik Osterlund, Laurie Herboldsheimer, Dean Stiglitz….More TBA!

2012 Northeast Treatment Free Beekeeping Conference will take place July 24-29 in Leominster, Massachusetts. Bees on site for daily hands on workshops (weather permitting), 3 amazing meals a day (prepared onsite by our talented and experienced staff from scratch) are included, nearby affordable camping available.

Beginners Intensive (not just for beginners!) July 24 and 25: Michael Bush, Sam Comfort, Ramona Herboldsheimer, Dean Stiglitz instructors. Bees and beekeeping from the treatment-free perspective. Langstroth, Top Bar and Warre styles will all be addressed. $140 (early bee price until May 15…$150 after May 15).

Field Day July 26: This is free for all attendees of either the beginners intensive or the main conference (including 3 meals). There will also be a day rate for others who wish to attend the field day only (TBA).

The evening talk (which we like to span a bit beyond beekeeping) will by by Dr. Paul Arnold, where he will speak about his specialty, “The physiological ecology of mycorrhizal fungi, the effects of toxins in mutualistic relationships between plants…” (this is all the fungi that are fed up to 20% of the plants’ sugar and draw nutrients to the root system in return).

Main Conference July 27-29: Topics will be grounded with the “Practical Beekeeper” in mind.

Michael Bush (Nebraska): After two years away, we’re excited to welcome Michael back to Leominster! Michael’s book, “The Practical Beekeeper”, website, and reprints of old beekeeping books are all most highly recommended…see his website for details.

Kirk Webster (Vermont): Bee breeder,honey producer and organic farmer, Kirk returns to Leominster in the middle of the build-out of his organic farm/beekeeping school. is a collection of Kirk’s writings (with new ones on the way).

Dee Lusby (Arizona): The mother of treatment-free beekeeping, Dee manages 700 hives in the remote desert rangeland of southern Arizona. Dee runs the organic beekeepers list and the annual Organic Beekeeping Conference in Oracle Arizona. Her writings can be found on Beesource.

Les Crowder (New Mexico): Les has been a methodical and observant keeper of Top Bar Hives (TBH) for over 25 years. His upcoming book on top bar management will be published by Chelsea Green soon.

Dr. Paul Arnold (Georgia): In addition to the topics listed above for his evening talk, Paul is a beekeeper, and is well known for his expertise in pollen analysis in honey.

Sam Comfort (New York/Florida): Sam is (the appropriately named) Anarchy Apiarys…no rules, no boundaries. Sam always brings bees, spirit and song…if Johnny Appleseed had contracted terminal bee fever, he would have been Sam.

Erik Osterlund (Sweden): Our great friend from Sweden will again be joining us. Erik is known for his Elgon bee and breeding program, his insight, his wit, and as editor of the Swedish Beekeeping Journal. Eirk always brings us observation,

So enjoy all of these or some of these or none but pass on the information.   Blessed be the interweb!

Yippee Skippee! We beat Monsanto again!

Honeybee covered in pollen.

We’ve done it again!!!  David has beat Goliath!!!!  The beekeepers in Europe have won their suit against Monsanto for contaminating their honey with GMO pollen.   Can you tell how excited I am????

From the Associated Press 9/6/11:

“Honey that contains traces of pollen from genetically modified crops needs special authorization before it can be sold, the European Union’s top court said Tuesday, in a judgment that could have widespread consequences on the bloc’s policy on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The ruling from the European Court of Justice came after several Bavarian beekeepers demanded compensation from their government for honey and food supplements that contained traces of pollen from genetically modified maize. The beekeepers had their hives close to fields where the Bavarian government was growing Monsanto’s MON 810 maize for research purposes. The EU has strict guidelines on authorizing and informing consumers about foods containing GMOs – a policy that has caused problems for producers of genetically modified seeds such as U.S.-based Monsanto Co. that are used to much laxer rules in other parts of the world. Environmental activists said Tuesday’s ruling will force the 17-country European Union to strengthen the rules even further. “This is a victory for beekeepers, consumers and the movement for GM-free agriculture in Europe,” Mute Schimpf, a food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said in a statement. “This ruling rewrites the rule book and gives legal backing to stronger measures to prevent contamination from the likes of Monsanto.”

And from “The Greens-European Free Alliance in the European Parliament” 9/6/11:

“The European Court of Justice (ECJ) today issued a groundbreaking ruling in a case concerning the contamination of honey with pollen from genetically modified crops (1). The court ruled that honey contaminated by pollen from a GM maize variety (MON810) cannot be sold on the market, as this maize has not been specifically authorised in honey. The case concerns German beekeepers, whose honey was contaminated by pollen from GM maize during field trials of GM maize from Monsanto. The Greens welcomed the ruling, which directly challenges the abandonment of the policy of zero tolerance for GMOs that have not been authorised in the EU (2). Commenting on the ruling Green MEP José Bové said: “This case is proof that coexistence is a fallacy and that GM cultivation does not leave a choice for GM-free products. Permitting the cultivation of GM crops clearly leads to the contamination of non-GM crops and other foodstuffs like honey. Beekeepers are powerless to prevent the contamination of their honey by GM pollen, as farmers are for their crops, and thus powerless to prevent the tainting of the foodstuffs they produce and the integrity of their product. The only sure way to prevent this is by precluding the cultivation of GMOs.” Green MEP Bart Staes added: “The biotech lobby always talks of freedom of choice, the question is freedom for whom? This ruling clearly underlines the need for EU regulation that would protect farmers, food producers and consumers against the contamination of their products from GM cultivation. Zero tolerance must mean just that: traces of GMOs, no matter how small, cannot be tolerated (2). The European Commission should revise its GM legislation to take account of the interests of consumers and food producers, and not the biotech industry.

“Beekeepers in the EU need their honey to be as high quality as possible, so they have an economic interest that GMOs and other kinds of contamination do not end up as traces in their honey. Today’s outcome could have far-reaching implications for the honey market, with EU countries importing honey from GM producing countries and two of the main EU honey-producing member states (Spain and Romania) having authorised the production of this GM maize.  Clearly, EU beekeepers should not be held responsible for the negative implications of the contamination of their honey.”

So we can’t  kill Monsanto and their GMOs all at once but here’s hoping that they die “the death by a thousand cuts”.

The Sunday List

one of my new girls

Yesterday I got my new package of bees and installed them in their hive-home.  Today is a glorious spring day and they are very happy.  They inspired this Sunday’s list.  (yes, yes I know it is a judeo-christian holiday but I choose to ignore that fact).

Ten things I love about my bees:

1)    I love watching them.  I often take my lunch up and just sit by my hive(s) and watch them come and go.  It is very soothing and I think probably lowers your blood pressure in much the same way watching a tank of fish is supposed to according to the medical research.
2)    Pollination.  When I discovered that I had indeed lost the last of my six hives over the winter I panicked a bit worrying about pollination for my apple trees.  Fortunately I was able to get an early package of bees from Harold and Hilda Swan (two more of my beekeeping heroes).
3)    Their social structure.  The queen mother is the glue that holds the hive together.  Her attendants pamper her but in return she gives her whole life to creating new little bees.
4)    Bees are sexy and magickal, mystical even.  The function they serve in the natural world as well as their mysterious hold on those of us who are beeks.  If you have any doubt of this you should read “The Shamanic Way of the Bee” by Simon Buxton.   Quite a hot little book.
5)    The medicine they give us.  Honey, pollen, royal jelly.  All of these things are ancient aids to healthy living.
6)    Mead.  I love making apple cider mead from my honey and the cider from my apples (which they pollinated, how ‘bout that?).
7)    How much they need us.  Now that we have compromised their immune systems by our treatment of them we owe them tender loving care until they can recover and get on with their marvelous lives.
8)    Capturing a swarm.  What an adventure.  I kind of hope we will have another “swarmy” summer like last year.  We had such fun capturing swarms last summer.
9)    All the poetry they have inspired:
The pedigree of honey
Does not concern the bee.
A clover, anytime to him,
Is aristocracy.
—Emily Dickinson.
Other than getting the gender wrong a nice little piece of verse

10) Being at the cutting edge of organic beekeeping.  We are where organic farming was 20 years ago; little respect from the “conventional” beekeepers but in our hearts we know we are right!

Beekeepers are gonna save the World!!!!

Honeybees are the canary in the coalmine of today’s environmental crisis.  I have been a beek (beekeeper) for 7 years now starting just about the time that Colony Collapse Disorder was being discovered, described and research was beginning.   I watched as various theories were proposed and disproved: it’s the cell towers, it’s the aliens, it’s the beekeepers.  I have always thought and said to anyone who would listen it’s an immune system problem.  The bees are too stressed by the constant moving of the hives to follow the pollination to be able to effectively fight off the various disease pressures to which they are exposed.

Last night my Sweetheart and I went to a showing of  “The Vanishing of the Bees”.   I went expecting to be saddened by the state of the bees and to join in the discussion if there was one after the film.  When the documentary started out with a lot of footage of David Hackenburg I was skeptical.  I have not been a fan of this guy since seeing him on 60 Minutes weeping and wailing about how he was losing his bees.  They showed him trucking them from Pennsylvania to California to Maine to Massachusetts for the various crop pollination seasons and I had no sympathy.  As far as I was concerned he was a greedy jerk who refused to see that you couldn’t stress an organism like that and expect that it’s immune system will be able to fight off anything.  Let alone be able to combat the viruses, mites and fungi that the bees are exposed to over and over again.   But after watching this movie I find him a much more sympathetic figure.  If he is not quite the folk hero that they make him out to be at least he is very likeable and appears to be trying to do the right thing.

They did however include several of my organic beekeeping heroes:  Dee Lusby, Gunther Hauk, Marla Spivak, and Simon Buxton.  I found the fact that they left out Ross Conrad and Kirk Webster puzzling.  Ross and Kirk are two of the gurus of organic beekeeping.  And Ross is such a great guy.  I saw him speak at the annual meeting of the Maine State Beekeepers Association and he handled the heckling from the conventional/chemical beekeepers with such grace, style and good humor.  I think he would have been a great addition to the film.

So why are the bees dying?  Systemic pesticides seem to be the answer that this film offers.  Monoculture agriculture.  An Environmental Protection Agency that as Hackenburg says really should take the word Protection out of its title.  And maybe, just maybe the practices of commercial beekeepers.

So Bayer (Dupont, Monsanto, etc etc) is the enemy.  This is not new news, as my kid would say.  We have known for years that pesticides are a bad idea.  Remember “Silent Spring”, Agent Orange, the apple pesticide scare?   Organic agriculture is the way to go.  It has been proven over and over that we can feed the world without chemical input.  In fact the research shows that production in central African has actually increased since they have returned to more traditional methods of agriculture.  Compost, cover crops, diversified cropping etc.  Why is our government pushing the chemicals?  Well as usual it is because there is little money to be made from compost but lots of money to be made from monocultures that need intensive chemical support to be productive.

So back to the bees.  When they started to die in record numbers they were trying to tell us that the environmental degradation wrought by chemically intensive agriculture is at the breaking point.  We need to be paying attention.

In the film the French beekeepers marched on the headquarters of Bayer and their country’s minister of Agriculture paid heed and moved to ban the two systemic pesticides linked to the mass deaths in the bee colonies.  Maybe we should try something like that here.

Beekeepers can save the world!


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