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Organic bees not dying

[UPDATE Welcome, organic gardeners!]

Surprise! Most commercial beekeeping is just as bad as the beef industry or any other form of petroleum-based farming.

Not, of course, that this aspect of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is getting covered in our famously free press.

Via Information Liberation:

Sharon Labchuk is a longtime environmental activist and part-time organic beekeeper from Prince Edward Island. She has twice run for a seat in Ottawa's House of Commons, making strong showings around 5% for Canada's fledgling Green Party. She is also leader of the provincial wing of her party. In a widely circulated email, she wrote:

I'm on an organic beekeeping list of about 1,000 people, mostly Americans, and no one in the organic beekeeping world, including commercial beekeepers, is reporting colony collapse on this list. The problem with the big commercial guys is that they put pesticides in their hives to fumigate for varroa mites, and they feed antibiotics to the bees. They also haul the hives by truck all over the place to make more money with pollination services, which stresses the colonies.

Her email recommends a visit to the Bush Bees Web site. Here, Michael Bush felt compelled to put a message to the beekeeping world right on the top page:

Most of us beekeepers are fighting with the Varroa mites. I'm happy to say my biggest problems are things like trying to get nucs through the winter and coming up with hives that won't hurt my back from lifting or better ways to feed the bees.

This change from fighting the mites is mostly because I've gone to natural sized cells. In case you weren't aware, and I wasn't for a long time, the foundation in common usage results in much larger bees than what you would find in a natural hive. I've measured sections of natural worker brood comb that are 4.6mm in diameter. What most people use for worker brood is foundation that is 5.4mm in diameter. If you translate that into three dimensions instead of one, it produces a bee that is about half as large again as is natural. By letting the bees build natural sized cells, I have virtually eliminated my Varroa and Tracheal mite problems. One cause of this is shorter capping times by one day, and shorter post-capping times by one day. This means less Varroa get into the cells, and less Varroa reproduce in the cells.

Who should be surprised that the major media reports forget to tell us that the dying bees are actually hyper-bred varieties that we coax into a larger than normal body size? It sounds just like the beef industry. And, have we here a solution to the vanishing bee problem? Is it one that the CCD Working Group, or indeed, the scientific world at large, will support? Will media coverage affect government action in dealing with this issue?

These are important questions to ask. It is not an uncommonly held opinion that, although this new pattern of bee colony collapse seems to have struck from out of the blue (which suggests a triggering agent), it is likely that some biological limit in the bees has been crossed. There is no shortage of evidence that we have been fast approaching this limit for some time.

We've been pushing them too hard, Dr. Peter Kevan, an associate professor of environmental biology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, told the CBC. And we're starving them out by feeding them artificially and moving them great distances. Given the stress commercial bees are under, Kevan suggests CCD might be caused by parasitic mites, or long cold winters, or long wet springs, or pesticides, or genetically modified crops. Maybe it's all of the above...

Everything supersized must fall....

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Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

I just hope my 14 year old daughter doesn't read this. I'd read that some researchers had linked the trouble to microwaves. I've been using the disappearing bees as yet another reason cell phones are a mistake and why she won't be getting one.

But this is really great news from the bee-keeping world. My family buys organic and that includes the honey we use.

And I do feel comforted knowing we'll have bees and honey right up to the cataclysmic "climate change".

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Better to tell your daughter the truth, dad. The bee issue is enough to scare the hell out of her, and she doesn't need that.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

I am watching this with interest, because there are European studies that suggest that the saturation of our environment with wireless signals may have a great deal to do with this sudden collapse of colonies.
I wish that it were true that organic hives are not affected- it may be true that the dieoff is different. But I know that the beekeeper at a nearby biodymnamicfarm (it does not get more organic than that,folks) also lost a lot
of bees.
Prince Edward Island may be still out of the wireless loop. I strongly suggest people interested google the subject- and Dr. Carlo- whose studies implicated the possible hazards of the wireless expansion...

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

This article definitely sounds plausable. I would imagine that bees are as strongly affected by pesticides as other insects, and Bee mono-culture and breeding could certainly be relevant. I, however, find it very unlikely that wireless signals have anything to do with this. First of all, wireless signals from cell phone towers have been ubiquitous for about 10 years now, so a sudden collapse of colonies in the last year or so would be rather strange - why didn't this happen slowly over the last 10 years? Secondly, other sources of radio waves have been around for a very long time with no detrimental effects on bees. If you don't believe me, I suggest you grab the leads of an oscilloscope - everything in the US at least is bathed with 60Hz radio waves. Likewise, microwave towers, radio, television and shortwave have been around for a long time. I don't think that cell phone transmissions have added substantially to the general radio wave background.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Many pesticides used on trees and plants contain a nicotine-based ingredient called Imidacloprid. And here's the funny thing about Imidacloprid. It was banned in France after beekeepers staged an angry protest in Paris, charging that it kills bees.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Hello, everyone. I have a kind of hive called a "top-bar hive" and in this kind of hive the bees build their cells without the aid of any kind of foundation. So the cells are all "natural sized." But that doesn't mean that you can't get varroa mites! I've had some--they haven't caused big trouble in the hive, but it's not true that natural sized cells will automatically mean no trouble with mites.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Lamburt claims above that there is a "natural" size comb for the apis melifera to produce that is smaller than the commercial sized foundation creates. She then claims that using this size will prevent varroa mites from building up.

If this was true then feral colonies would not have been wiped out. My question to her is, "Do you prevent the building of drone comb in your hives?"

The mites focus on the drone comb as they are "natually" larger and live in the cell for many days longer. Does Sharon allow 30% of her hive to become drone cells as in a "natural" hive? She does not mention that drone comb produces a 1000 times more mites than the same amout of worker comb.

Her argument is flawed also in the fact that even in commercial comb, after 3 brood cycles, the cells are smaller as the bees leave behind their caccoon sheddings. In fact after 4 to 5 years the cells are so small that the bees rip them out and rebuild.

It is a fact that the varroa mite coevolved with Apis Cerana, which is a smaller asian honey bee. When the mite transferred to Apis Melifera, our common honey bee, it could in fact reproduce in the smaller worker comb and exponentially grow to wipe out the hive. And unlike apis cerana, our bees have not learnt to bite and knock off the mites as well. Although selective breeding is getting us closer.

The commercial industry does need to look at its practises, but her misinformation isn't focused in the right direction.

Brenda Reid
Small commercial Beekeeper who does not use pesticides or antibiotic, but still must deal with the varroa mite.

Submitted by lambert on

You have a level of expertise that I do not. What is the state of beekeeping generally, do you think?

Do genetically engineered foods affect beekeeping at all?

No authoritarians were tortured in the writing of this post.