The Western Apicultural Society (WAS) held its annual conference in Boulder this year (Oct 1-3) and even though I had hernia surgery 3 days before it started, I just had to attend! (plus, I’d already paid for the conference). I was in a semi-haze and some pain, but I managed to attend all three days – mostly standing in the back of the room since it hurt to sit down for too long.
Overall, most of the speakers highlighted that there are three problems facing the bees these days:
- Varroa mites
- Loss of forage
Different speakers gave different weights to each of these factors as being the primary cause and it was interesting to see the contrasts. I won’t recap the entire conference (since I’m not as good as some as taking notes and many of my notes were incoherent), but here are some highlights that I can remember. I don’t necessarily endorse what the speakers were saying, but I’m just relating what they said.
Elina Lastro Nino from UC-Davis gave some updates on the work being done at her lab. (I love her name (E.L. Nino) since my group at work is studying the impacts of the current El Niño on the weather of the US). She is primarily interested in queen reproduction and health. She presented some results of work done on artificially inseminating queens with small (1 microliters) and large (8 microliters) of semen. There seemed to be no difference on how the workers responded to either queen but that the 1 ml queens seemed to overwinter better than the 8s. Other factors that affect queen health were viral infections and pesticides. (notes are kinda sketchy – I was in an Alleve haze that morning).
Jim Doan gave a talk on “The New Era of Beekeeping” in which he described how beekeeping has changed for him since the use of systemic, neonicotinoid pesticides has become prevalent. I thought Jim had given up on beekeeping after suffering many losses, but apparently he is back at it. Jim is a migratory beekeeper, transporting his bees where they are needed to pollinate the food crops we rely on. He trucks his bees from FL (strawberries), to California (almonds) to New York (apples) each year. This past year, he lost 1060 of 1100 of his hives in Florida. He had a list of 10 things bees don’t do any more (or things that have changed in the past 9 years):
- Do not catch swarms
- they don’t survive
- many swarms don’t hang – they just lay on the ground.
- Hives don’t supercede – they don’t realize they are queenless sometimes (that seemed to be the case for me in BnB1 this year)
- Queens have much shorter lifespans
- Hives need to be fed lots of syrup
- Must feed hives protein patties – he relies on Honey-B-Healthy
- You have to deal with small hive beetles more
- honey gets slimed before processing by the beetles
- eggs hatch in 3 days
- You have to give the bees a break (take them to the woods) after pollination for a rest away from agricultural areas.
- Time spent looking at hives has increased – more problems to look for and lots of time spent consolidating weak hives.
- The many mysteries of varroa mites
- treatment can be the problem – some are not effective
- miticides are not as strong
- miticides are being neutralized by other chemicals in the hive
- Systemic pesticides – Jim thinks this is the elephant in the room and is causing the other 9
He left us with some good news, though:
- There’s more research going on about honey bees
- Varroa Sensitive Hygeine (VSH) queens are being developed to fight the mites
- Honey prices are up
- There’s more awareness about bees and the problems they are facing
- Pollination prices are up
He had one quote that I really liked:
“The good thing about bad things is that they make way for even better things.” Mike Dooley – Notes from the Universe.
Jamie Weiss, Habitat Heroes coordinator for the Audubon Rockies, presented some information on “wildscaping” (creating healthy diverse habitats that include native plantings to feed, shelter, and nurture wild creatures) which I thought was a cool word. (At least that’s what my notes say). I was interested in this because I’m in the process of turning some of my lawn into a “wildscape”.
Michele Colopy, Pollinator Stewardship Council had a presentation, but I have no notes and don’t remember anything from it. I’m sure it was interesting. There were some afternoon sessions that I really wanted to attend on disease monitoring and queen rearing, but the pain was too much so I bugged out for the day.
Peter Loring Borst from Cornell University gave a talk titled “Bees are what they eat, too!” about pollen. One thing he said was that pollen that is overwintered is not used and you will see the bees just ignore it. I had saved some pollen from old hives that died to give to new colonies, but I guess I won’t do that any more. I’ve noticed that the bees are not using it. Peter noted that high quality pollen is necessary for proper development, but that combinations of pollen can make up for any deficiencies in any one pollen. Pollen contains amino acids for the bees. Nectar does not have enough protein for the bees – they have to supplement with pollen.
At lunch, Mark Winston, author of “Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive” gave a talk on bees and art.
The best talk I saw at the conference as by Jonathan Lundgren from the USDA on “Risk Assessment and Honey Bees”. Jonathan was not there as a representative of the USDA so he couldn’t talk about his current research but gave an interesting lecture on pesticides and the problems the bees are facing. He talked about how DDT was the savior pesticide when it first came out, but as we all know now, it started accumulating in the environment, had human health consequences and pests became resistant to it. Rachel Carson brought these to the forefront in her book, “Silent Spring”. Jonathan also talked about work being done on using RNA Interference (RNAi) for crop improvement. RNAi is a method of of blocking gene function by inserting short sequences of ribonucleic acid (RNA) that match part of the target gene’s sequence, thus no proteins are produced. The video below (which Jonathan showed in his talk) explains the process.
Heck, what could go wrong?
He also presented some examples of farmers who are using no-till methods on a large scale to produce food crops. There will be a conference this winter, “No Till on the Plains” that he will be speaking at where he will be able to show off his research.
My favorite quote in his talk was, “Heal the soil, solve the bee problem”.
Dr. Michael Breed, from the University of Colorado, gave a talk on guard bees. A couple of items I picked up from his talk:
- Guard bees only last about an hour on average. They are constantly replaced by new guard bees.
- Guard bees will keep following you and hassling you even after they’ve already stung. They don’t die right away.
- Bees are more defensive later in the season in mid-latitude climates.
Again, there were some afternoon breakout sessions, but the sessions were running late and I had to get home for the cross-town rivalry football game of my son’s high school. (Patrick doesn’t play, but his girlfriend was in the halftime dance team show). By the time I got home, I was in bad pain, so I opted out of going to the game. I was lucky too – while I was lying in bed under the influence of a couple of vicodin (Vitamin V), we had a hail, then rain storm. I felt bad for Diana who had gone to the game (but not too bad for me).
On the third day, the morning talks were all about honey and health. For the first time all week, I felt a bit more clear headed.
Dr. Ron Fessenden, author of “The Honey Revolution“, talked about the health benefits of eating honey. He advocates taking 1-2 tablespoons of honey before bedtime to improve sleep, which leads to better health in general. A couple of other highlights:
- Honey can help for allergies not because it contains pollen, but because it improves the immune system. He claimed that bees don’t forage on the plants that cause allergies.
- Known Anti-Cancer Properties of Honey (of interest to me with my PCa):
- HONEY stimulates the production of antibodies, lymphocytes and other natural cancer killer cells
- HONEY inhibits the production of cortisol
- HONEY reactivates the mitochondria (or was it Midi-chlorians?)
- HONEY inhibits the mutagenic ability of cancer cells
- Honey lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels and increases HDL (good) cholesterol
- Fructose from honey “recycles” the enzyme in the liver necessary for detoxifying alcohol (he said this was the one thing that most people remember from his talks)
He claimed that low fat diets have contributed the most to obesity and had a couple of slides (below) about what to/not to eat:
Sad to see potatoes, pasta and bread in there, but I generally avoid the others.
Bacon and coffee – who needs anything else?
Ron suggested consuming 3-5 Tbsp of honey per day, but that the dose should be weight related. 3-5 Tbsp is for a 175 lb person.
The next talk was by Dr. Allen Dennison, from Brown University on treating wounds with honey. Dr. Dennison works at a nursing home and treats his patients with a honey salve for open sores and some skin problems. He went over the history of using honey for wounds and the reasons that honey works well. Manuka honey is promoted for this, but he thinks any honey should work. His conclusions:
- Honey is an effective would dressing
- Honey is hard on micro-organisms
- Honey protects the wound, cuts swelling, and prevents scab formation
- Honey sends signals
- Honey cuts healing time by as much as half
- Honey results in less scarring and pain during dressing changes
- Honey eradicates odors in wounds
- Honey is a cost effective treatment
- Honey ointment allows extended period between dressing changes (2x per week)
- Honey ointment prevents chaffing (can be used to prevent SDS (Sore Dick Syndrome) :-))
- Honey should supplant use of all wound care products.
Dr. Dennison and his wife Jane, who is a pediatrician (and their kids who live in Colorado) had a hands on session in the afternoon where we all got to make some of his honey ointment (1:1 honey and Aquaphor) to take with us. I volunteered to have him treat my hernia “wounds”, but he said that they looked like they were healing okay without it. He treated Marla Spivak’s mother who had a cut on her leg and another gentleman who had some diabetes related issues on his feet. While he was doing that, Ed Colby who has a column on the last page of every issue of Bee Culture magazine was taking notes. I got to meet Marilyn, Ed’s “gal”. As she told me, “I am a real person!”
The next couple of talks were on treating MRSA and animal wounds with honey which I would have liked to see, but I had to duck out to run a couple of errands while I was in Boulder.
David Wheeler, from Bee Safe Boulder, talked about their efforts to create Bee Safe Neighborhoods where neighbors agree to not use neonicotinoid pesticides and plant bee safe/bee friendly plants. This idea was started by the Living Systems Institute in Golden and the Bee Safe Boulder group got the first certified bee safe neighborhood in the world last year. I’ve been trying to do this in my neighborhood, but got sidetracked this year with my health issues. However, our church (First Congregational Church of Boulder) just received the Bee Safe designation through my efforts there. We stopped using pesticides and plant flowers that are certified pesticide free and pledged at the highest level. David is quite a showman and gets my vote for the best bee costume:
The lunch speaker was Dr. Marla Spivak, from the University of Minnesota who is one of the premier bee researchers in the country. Some highlights from her talk:
- Pollen provides proteins and lipids for the bees
- Bees need good forage
- nectar provides carbohydrates and more
- bees need a diverse pollen source
- pollen contains vitelogenin and lipids for the bees
- honey bees are able to “dilute” the pesticides in pollen because the partially digest it before feeding it to the brood. Native bees feed the pollen directly to the brood so there is no buffer and the harm to native bees is probably worse.
- She talked about “herd immunity” for vaccinations
- if only a couple of people get immunized, most of the population (herd) is at risk
- if most people get vaccinated, then the risk to the general population is less
- she used this as an analogy for treating for mites and advocated that we all treat our colonies for mites or else they will spread to affect other colonies. She said there are natural treatments like formic and oxalic acid which can be used “safely”.
- She talked about the UMN “Bee Squad” and the work they are doing to mentor beekeepers and promote bee safety with businesses
- Her team is doing research on flowering bee lawns – natives that can withstand mowing to provide a lawn-like appearance without being a desert for bees.
- “Bees need good, clean food”
After lunch, there were more hands-on sessions. I went to the wound dressing one and then to a talk by Jane Shellenberger, who edits the Colorado Gardener Magazine and is the author of “Organic Gardener’s Companion: Growing Vegetables in the West“, two of my favorite reads. (She’s a yoga buddy of my wife and shares the same last name, but they aren’t related that they know of). Jane gave a presentation on native plants that are good for bees and I wrote down a bunch of them that I plan to use in my lawn-to-garden project. I can’t wait to start planting!
All in all (and despite my haze), it was a great conference. Beth Conrey, the Colorado State Beekeeper’s Association president and this year’s WAS president did an excellent job of putting this together. Next year’s conference is in Hawaii – I wonder how I can get to that one?