Mother Earth News Blogs > Homesteading and Livestock

Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


First bee call of the year, poisons in the food and a microscope

I got the first bee removal call of the year yesterday. It’s a bit early, but hey, I won’t complain. The woman said that she thought there were three colonies in her wall.

I asked her to call me come spring when she starts seeing them again. It has to be warm out before I’ll do removals, and it helps if there is a nectar flow on so that they can build up fast.

A bee colony starts looking for forage pretty early. They know that after it warms up enough for them to fly the flowers won’t be far behind.

You’ll see the bees on the pussy willows collecting pollen pretty early around here in Michigan. That’s the first local pollen source that I’ve seen them going to. There is skunk cabbage in these parts too, but I’m guessing they haven’t found any nearby.

After the bees have located a pollen source and there is nectar to be had they start to build up their numbers. The queen starts laying in earnest.

I’ve been reading a lot about neonicotinoid insecticides lately. It’s pretty depressing. It’s highly toxic to honeybees. And guess what? A lot of the GMO corn that is being raised in the United States has been tweaked to produce it. They also coat seeds with it and spray it on plants too.

The problem for bees is that they will collect corn pollen to feed to their young via bee bread. The bees mix pollen that they have collected with a little honey or nectar and microorganisms break it down into something that they can feed to their little ones.

But if the pollen has neonicotinoid poisons in it… Well, nobody really knows what happens. Some are speculating that it may be one of the factors in Colony Collapse Disorder. At first I discounted this because I had heard that several countries in Europe had banned the use of the pesticide and GMO crops in general, but they were still experiencing disappearing bees. But then I found that they had only been banned in certain types of applications. The pesticides were still in use.

I’ve decided that I want to track what the bees bring into their hives in my apiary. I’m thinking that I will purchase a decent microscope for my project and begin logging the flowers they are harvesting from by identifying the pollen that the bees bring back. That way I will have a better idea of what they are foraging on throughout the year. I will also be able to better identify diseases and pests.

bob reveley
3/26/2011 2:32:24 PM

Hopefully, with all the fruit orchards around us (I know that you are near me in SW MI) the bees won't have to gather too much from the corn. One can't swing a rake around here without hitting a bunch of blueberry bushes. There is a commercial blueberry place about a mile and a half up the road but I don't know if they would use any neonicotinoids or other pest control chemicals. The photos of the building of your top bar hives make it look pretty easy and there is some scrap wood around here that I can use. I think I'll go with one that's about the same size as those (31") to begin with unless you think it's better to start with one about the size that Bush shows (46 1/2").