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Archive for the 'bees' Category

Got bees? Here’s who to call for help.

Honey bees in a kestrel nest box. Photo by Marina Chainey, Richmond, CA
1 bee box2 marina chainey richmond

Gary:
A swarm of honey bees moved into one of my kestrel boxes today.  I’ve heard their numbers are down.  Should I contact someone to come and get them, since they are nicely contained?
Marina Chainey, Richmond, California
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Posted on Tuesday, June 21st, 2011
Under: beekeeper, bees | 2 Comments »

Native bees play important role in pollinating plants

Bumble bee pollinating flower. Photo by Mike Gordon, Walnut Creek, CA
1bumblebee mike gordon wc

Gary:
I captured this photo of a bumble bee collecting pollen in my Oxalis flowers that are growing wild in my yard in Walnut Creek. I hope this is a good sign that maybe the honey bees will follow.
Mike Gordon, Walnut Creek, California

Mike:

Native bees play a vital role in pollinating the flowers and vegetables that are so important to us humans. A role that is even MORE critical now that the honey bees are in decline. Here are a couple of websites where you can learn more about native bees and their importance and what you (we) can do to help cultivate these special insects:

*** http://www.gardenshf.org/our-gardens/rediscovering-native-bees.html

*** http://www.greatsunflower.org/

*** http://www.xerces.org/

Go bees! /Gary

Posted on Friday, May 27th, 2011
Under: bees | No Comments »

North American Bees: Check out this beautiful calendar!

Photo by Brian Murphy, Walnut Creek, CA
hover fly brian

Gary:
Birders have it so easy with  many bird identification books to choose from!

Just try to identify a few of the 1,600 species of Native Bees who live in California in your backyard pollinating your flowers, vegetables and fruit trees! Where is the Native Bee identification book for that?

Since we don’t have one of those books yet, a good start for Native Bee identification would come from the 2011 North American Bee Calendar as it features 12 more commonly seen North American Native Bees. These Calendars are available at  http://www.xerces.org/calendar/…  or … http://www.greatsunflower.org/product/2011calendar. You not only get to learn more about those native bees, but you also get to support pollinator conservation efforts of these organizations when you buy a calendar!

Since bees are responsible for every third bite of food, it is very important we begin to help our pollinators in any way we can. Thanks.
Brian Murphy, Walnut Creek

Brian:
I can’t argue with that! Those native bee calendars are also pretty neat! I’m going to get one myself. /Gary

Posted on Friday, November 12th, 2010
Under: Bee decline, bees | 1 Comment »

Honeybees & pesticides: We’re poisoning our own food supply

Photo by Flickr user Todd Huffman used under a Creative Commons License
honeybees2 Todd Huffman

Check out the Associated Press story below. We humans just don’t get it. We’re flooding the local environment with pesticides, killing the honeybees and poisoning our own food supplies. What a disaster. /Gary

BEES IN MORE TROUBLE THAN EVER …
By Garance Burke & Seth Borenstein (Associated Press Writers)

Associated Press – The mysterious 4-year-old crisis of disappearing honeybees is deepening. A quick federal survey indicates a heavy bee die-off this winter, while a new study shows honeybees’ pollen and hives laden with pesticides.
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Posted on Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
Under: Bee decline, beekeeper, bees | 1 Comment »

Bees are dying … don’t spray the flowers!

I found this in my morning mail:

Gary:
I wrote the letter below to send to the editor, but decided to pass it to you instead. I am not asking you to reprint it, just use whatever parts you may find suitable. There is just no need for people to be spraying so much pesticides in the first place, and don’t they know how much humans need bees? (Elwira Stankiewicz)

DON’T SPRAY THE FLOWERS!
Bees have been lately in the news, with their mysterious and frightening disappearances. Our bee disappearance in the Estates neighborhood of Concord, California, was not quite so mysterious, but it certainly was frightening and heartbreaking.

Right after Easter our bees started suddenly dying. They crawled in masses away from their home, twitching and jerking (it is a dying bee’s last gift to her sisters to take herself away). Thousands died inside, littering the top and bottom of the hive. Many just never made it home. In a few days our beautiful happy hive has gone silent and still. Dreaded Colony Collapse Disorder?

Nope. According to a professional beekeeper I consulted, it was a simple case of one of our neighbors, somewhere within a half mile most likely, going too happy with a can of pesticide.

Perhaps the people who did it saw bugs around their backyard and sprayed everything. Perhaps they even believed bees attack people, while pesticides are harmless to children. But whether the cause was indifference or ignorance, the bees that only pollinate our gardens died.

It seems like a microcosm of what’s happening on a larger scale. In coming years, while someone enjoys a buzz-free yard, the rest of the neighborhood will ponder the low yields in backyard gardens. And while our chemical agricultural practices persist, wild bees disappear and commercial beekeepers go bankrupt, U.S. consumers will ponder skyrocketing prices of produce dependent on bees for pollination, and not just almonds.

There are products to repel or destroy pests in garden and home that are safe to humans and bees. Diatomaceous earth is by far my favorite, a true gardener’s best friend. There are wasp repellent sprays that do not harm picnickers (or nearby bees). And even commercial pest control companies have options for keeping “bugs” away without wiping out all the beneficial insects at the same time, and they usually know it is against the law to apply pesticides while bees are foraging.

But my bees are out of there. We moved what bees remained to a new, hopefully cleaner place in hope the queen was not fed the poison, and lives and enough of them survive to nurse the next generation.

So, there is hope for them. But is there a hope for humanity when many of us don’t realize “environment” is not some leftist/commie/liberal slogan, but the food on our table, our own health, and our survival as a species?

Sad bee friend in Concord, CA (Elwira Stankiewicz)

GARY’S RESPONSE:
“About a third of the American diet can be traced back to bees,” says May Berenbaum, head of the department of entomology at the University of Illinois. Honeybees pollinate the flowers of an alphabet of crops: almonds, apples, asparagus, avocados, blueberries, broccoli, cantaloupe, celery, cherries, cranberries … the list goes on and on and on. Think about it. No pollination … no crops.

Want to hear something shocking? More pesticides are sprayed, dusted, dumped and poured in suburban and urban backyards than on all the farms in the country.

Just walk into any hardware or garden supply store … or down certain aisles in your local supermarket … and take a BIG sniff. Ah … the bittersweet smell of poisons … just waiting for you to take them home and use them!

Hungry? Don’t spray pesticides in your yard! /Gary

Posted on Friday, March 28th, 2008
Under: Bee decline, beekeeper, bees, Pesticide | 3 Comments »

Beekeeper rescues bees from hive in fallen tree at the Times

Beekeeper Mike Stephanos of the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association (http://www.diablobees.org) responded to my distress call and came by the Times on Wednesday. He was going to try to rescue the honeybees from the large nest that had been exposed when a 60-foot tall redwood tree split in a windstorm on Tuesday morning and crashed into our building. (See “The sky is falling!” entry below.)

Wednesday, I was out checking the bee nest/hive at first light. A large mass of bees had obviously spent a very cold night “huddled” together in one spot over the exposed honeycomb. They were dormant from the cold and hardly moving.

Mike arrived a little after noon and I took him out to look at the bees. It was warmer and the buzzing insects were getting more active, zipping past our heads. Bees are gentle creatures — unless they catch you messing with their nest. (“Stay away from our hive, Dude!”)

Mike had a large rectangular wooden box he was going to use to transport the bees. He planned to place a bunch of the brood comb (comb where the queen bee lays her eggs) and honeycomb inside the box, along with as many live bees as possible, then leave the box sitting up in the hive area where the tree had broken for two or three days. He wanted to get the bees to relocate into the box so he could take them home with his other hives.

He was also going to remove as much of the exposed honeycomb as possible from the tree to motivate the bees to seek out the smell of the other brood comb and honeycomb in the box and move inside with it.

The beekeeper then suited up into the classic beekeeper’s uniform: a white jumpsuit, boots, gloves and a white hat and mesh hood. That would keep the angry bees from stinging him when he started messing with them.

Once up the ladder, Mike started removing the comb with a metal pry-bar. He placed some of the comb in the box and the rest in a large white plastic bucket so he could take it home and use it to feed his other bees. The bees buzzed in a large cloud around his head. Several angrily bounced off my face and chest. One bee stung Times’ multimedia reporter Karl Mondon on the lip as he was filming Mike’s activities with a video camera.

“Back up about 10-feet, guys,” shouted Mike. “Too late,” moaned Karl.

I started tossing questions about the bees up to Mike:

How long has the nest been there? “Maybe 10 years, a decade. A lot of old black comb here.”

How many bees do you think there are? “About 5,000 to 10,000.”

How much honeycomb is there? “At least 50 pounds, probably more.” (Mike eventually removed about 25 pounds of honeycomb from the tree.)

After he dislodged as much comb as possible, Mike took out a wide, soft brush and gently started brushing bees from the tree into his portable hive. Then he put a top on the box and braced it firmly on a ledge by the destroyed hive area. There was a hole in the top where the bees could come and go. He’d close that hole and confine the bees inside when he was ready to move his little porta-hive.

Then he climbed back down from the tree.

“I’ll stop by regularly over the next few days to check on the box. I want to get as many of them inside as possible before I take them home. I want them all to survive.”

We shook hands and I thanked Mike for coming to save our bees.

“Reporters and editors in the news room has been asking me if you’ll be able to save the bees,” I told him. “They’ll all be happy when I tell them what you’ve done.”

“My pleasure,” Mike smiled. It was obvious he loved his work and his little friends.

You’ve probably been reading lately that honeybees all across the country are in trouble. Disease, colony collapse and a lot of other problems too numerous to mention here. But that’s another story Karl and I will get back to later.

For now, it’s just really nice to know that this particular distressed hive was able to get a little help from its friends. /gary

Posted on Thursday, January 10th, 2008
Under: beekeeper, bees, Trees | 2 Comments »

The sky is falling! OK, it was a big tree against the Times!

Sweetness after the fall

If a tree falls on a newspaper building and all of the editors and reporters and photographers are there to hear it … is there any sound?

YOU BETTER BELIEVE THERE IS!!

About 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, while I was sitting at my desk writing my Wednesday column, there was suddenly a huge BOOM … CRASH … BANG … that sounded like the sky was indeed falling. Personally, I thought the building was collapsing. For a moment there was dead silence as every head in the newsroom was turned to look at the side of the room where there were now LOUD SCRAPING SOUNDS.

Suddenly, people were running for all the doors, most of them carrying video cameras, plain old ordinary cameras and cell phones. That’s what newspaper reporters, photographers and editors do when something unusual happens. They run toward the event to see what’s happening … not away from it.

Outside, the wind was blowing pretty hard. As I ran around the front side of the building, I saw a huge 30- to 40-year-old redwood tree had broken in the wind about seven or eight feet up and fallen against the Times. Amazingly, although there were lots of scratches on the side of our building, there were no holes.

The tree didn’t fare so well. Right where it broke was a large hollow with an enormous honeybee hive. The tree had snapped at that point because the hollow made it weak.

Honeycomb from fallen tree outside Times newsroomThere was a lot of honeycomb and plenty of bees still clustered all over the surface. A few bees were flying around, most were quiet … lethargic because it was too cold.

Back at my desk, I got my list of “swarm list volunteers” from the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association. The beekeeper I reached will be out to try and rescue the bees that are still around tomorrow morning.

I hope he’ll be able to save them. Honeybees, for assorted reasons, haven’t been doing too well the last couple of years. Mostly, scientists are still trying to figure out why.

Anyway, it was still good to see a large active honeybee hive in the area. Even if they did make me think the sky was falling. /gary

Posted on Tuesday, January 8th, 2008
Under: bees, weather | No Comments »