colony collapse disorder

Wanna bee?

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It’s okay to be curious. Curiosity is the key to invention, the wick in the candle of learning. Heck, even bees are curious. 

Studies show that scout bees exhibit novelty-seeking behaviors similar to humans in order to find food and housing. Scientists found that genes related to dopamine and glutamate signaling between neurons, which are involved in regulating novelty-seeking in humans, are differentially expressed in scouting and non-scouting bees.

So make like a bee and get curious about beekeeping. Here are a few lists and links to get you started. Stay tuned to the Bee Public Facebook page for upcoming beekeeping classes.

Stuff you’ll need: 

  • Hive + hiveware (I wrote a little bit here about local (Indiana) resources for beekeeping equipment.) 
  • Smoker (lighter/matches + stuff to burn)
  • Hive tool
  • Bee brush
  • Jacket/veil
  • Gloves
  • Entrance reducer
  • Mouse guard
  • Feeder + jar
  • Bees! 

First, you’ll need to decide where your hive will live. 

All of my hives live on urban farms around Indianapolis, which is ideal for many reasons. The bees have a smorgasbord right outside their front door, and the crops benefit greatly from their pollination services. You can keep bees in your backyard or even on your roof if you have a sunny, 5 x 5 space. If possible, the entrance should face the south, so the sun wakes up the bees and they get busy foraging first thing in the morning. Consider your neighbors and make sure a water source is readily available for the bees. They need to drink, too!

Other ways to ready yourself: Read as many books as you can. Here are a few recommendations. 

There’s an endless catalogue of beekeeping videos on YouTube. Go nuts. You should also attend Bee School or a local beekeeping meeting and get to know other beekeepers. Beekeepers LOVE to share! And stay tuned to Facebook and Twitter for Bee Public’s 2015 classes.

If you have a specific question, please feel free to email me at beepublicproject@gmail.com. 

I speak for the bees

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When I started Bee Public two-ish years ago, all I really had in mind was that I wanted to become a beekeeper and maybe I would make a little extra cash selling honey. That idea flew out the window along with another iteration that involved a lot of driving and a lot of managing hives in other people’s backyards. I decided early on that I was here to be a voice for the bees. A Lorax of sorts. 

I read up on the science and drama and magic that takes place inside the hive, a mini society just below the surface, and the molecules in my brain began to rearrange. I became giddy. Then I read articles and studies about Colony Collapse Disorder and migratory beekeeping and our horrendous agricultural practices in the U.S. and became angry. I believe it’s this combination of anger and giddiness that turns an ordinary person into an activist. And so activism, awareness, and education became the cornerstones of this project. It’s not about the honey or the money.

I taught probably a dozen Beekeeping 101 classes last summer to both kids and adults, made visits to co-op grocery stores and classrooms. But I have the nagging feeling it’s not enough. And so here I go getting into politics. I put my journalism background to good use and connected with someone at Beyond Pesticides who handed me a ton of information. I’ve met with two of our city council members in the hopes that I can get regulations passed on the use of neonicitinoid pesticides in our parks and public spaces. Indy’s Department of Public Works (DPW) is in charge of the bug killing in our city. DPW uses at least one neonicitinoid (bee-killing) pesticide called dinotefuran aka “Safari” to treat for the Emerald Ash Borer. A recently study from USGS found “widespread occurence” of neonics in groundwater in the Midwest. According to the USGS map for clothianidin, Indianapolis is right in the middle of high application levels of neonics. 

I can’t really expect Indianapolis to halt use of all pesticides, so I’m obliged to give an alternative to the neonics– one of three parasitoids that have been approved for release as biological control agents of EAB in the U.S. by the USDA. The least-toxic alternative is Azadirachin, a natural neem oil extract that has very low toxicity to honey bees, but good efficacy against EAB. Additionally, neonics are mobile in soil, which means that any amount that doesn’t get taken up by the ash tree can be taken up by flowering plants in the area, and then expressed in the pollen, nectar, and dew droplets that the plant produces. And, while bees don’t seek out ash trees, they will occasionally visit their flowers.

Cities including Spokane, WA and Boulder, CO have already banned present and future use of neonics. Anyway, this will be a long process. We have a new mayor coming in and I can only hope he is receptive these ideas. Wish me luck and give me lots and lots of advice.  

Catch Up

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Let’s check in. This beekeeping season had a rather solemn start, but my spirit was soon rejuvenated with the warmth and support of friends. In early April, I was sad to learn that during our particularly brutal winter, all five Bee Public hives were lost. A devastating blow, and more than enough to make a beginning beekeeper like me (more than) slightly depressed. 

A couple weeks later, an article I had written about my foray into beekeeping was published in Indy Monthly. And then I was asked to be on NPR, along with George and Chris Plews, two enthusiastic honeybee advocates who offered to help fund rooftop bees at our Sky Farm (they also funded the rooftop bees at WFYI). At the same time, a flood of unprecedented support came from friends, family, and complete strangers, helping me to raise funds online for replacement bees. The universe was giving me a much-needed pep talk. 

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In May, I placed two three pound packages of bees at South Circle Farm and Growing Places Indy and then donated one additional package to each farm with the extra funds raised. This gave me an idea– I’m thinking of holding a fundraiser of sorts every spring to replenish any lost bees at urban farms that need them. 

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So how are the new bees doing? Really, really well. We’ve had a fairly mild summer and I think everyone’s enjoying it. Because I have fewer hives to tend this season (I didn’t find any swarms, darn.), I’ve been focusing more on Bee Public’s mission of outreach and education. In 2014, I have held workshops and taught beekeeping classes at Whole Foods, Georgetown Market, Twenty4Change, Pogue’s Run Grocer, Books and Brews, and Fall Creek Gardens. Coming up very soon, I’ll be talking about honeybees and their integral role in our food system at The Good Earth Natural Foods in late August and at a panel discussion on animal husbandry at City Market on Wednesday, August 6.