Posted by Laura Hagen, Honest Weight Food Co-op, HWFC, Member-Owner and family to an ‘organic practices’ beekeeper
GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.
ACTION ITEM – HWFC Member-Owners: This is a reminder that there is a quarterly HWFC Membership Meeting on Sunday, October 22, 2017 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church (FUUSA), 405 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY. The meeting consists of:
4:30 – 5:30pm: Meet the Governance Review
Council (GRC) Candidates
5:30 – 6:00pm: Dessert potluck
6:00 – 8:00pm: Meeting, with GRC elections to
take place at the meeting
This is Part 2 (here is Part 1) of my continuing series about honey bees, pollinators, gardeners… …and neonicotinoids, that unwelcome ‘invasive’ poison in our gardens about which we gardeners need to immediately take up arms. Each successive post will focus on a particular issue relating to the need to ban neonicotinoids from our gardens, our farmlands…
…and our planet.
“Wee haue by this Shipp and the Discouerie sent you … Beehives…”
Letter written December 5, 1621 by the Council of the Virginia Company in London and addressed to the Governor and Council in Virginia 1
There are over 20,000 species of bees in the world; honey bees – both ‘managed’ and wild – are the most well-known by the public. Honey bees have been thriving for 50 million years! (In contrast, we’ve only been around for 6-7 million, 2.5 million or 200,000 years, depending upon your anthropological criteria.) They have a highly-complex and ordered social life; different from the majority of the world’s bees, which are solitary. Each honey bee has a distinct job within the hive, all contributing together to its order, harmony and productivity.
That hive is home.
How did honey bees happen to become part of the ecosystem of this continent?
Well, the honey bees with which we are all familiar here in the United States are actually an import. The first English settlers arrived on this continent in 1607 and created the permanent English colony of Jamestown, located in present-day Virginia.
Fifteen years later, in 1622, the very first bee hives on the continent were brought over from England.
In her outstanding introduction to the history of bees in American, Honey Bees Across America, Brenda Kellar informs us:
“The only evidence we have of the initial importation of honey bees to North America is a letter written December 5, 1621 by the Council of the Virginia Company in London and addressed to the Governor and Council in Virginia, “Wee haue by this Shipp and the Discouerie sent you diurs [divers] sortes of seedes, and fruit trees, as also Pidgeons, Connies, Peacockes Maistiues [Mastiffs], and Beehives, [emphasis added] as you shall by the invoice pceiue [perceive]; the preservation & encrease whereof we respond vnto you…” (Goodwin 1956; Kingsbury 1906:532). The Discovery (60 tons, Thomas Jones, captain, and twenty persons) left England November 1621 and arrived in Virginia March 1622 (Langford Ship Information; Brown 1898:469-470). The other ship described only as “this shipp” could have been either the Bona Nova (200 tons, John Huddleston, master, and fifty persons) or the Hopewell (60 tons, Thomas Smith, master, and twenty persons), also known as the Great Hopewell. The Bona Nova was a month behind and arrived at Jamestown in April (Langford Ship Information). This was the Hopewell’s first voyage to Virginia and there is no record of the date of its arrival (Langford Ship Information), although Brown claims it arrived at Jamestown within 24 days of the Good Friday March 22, 1622 massacre (Brown 1898:469).
Historical documentary sources tell us that from Jamestown the honey bees multiplied and spread out. It would be another 16 years before the next successful shipment of honey bees made it to North America (Free 1982:116; Ransome 1937:260). However, the feral honey bee population boomed and by the mid 17th century honey bee hunting or ‘lining’ was a popular activity and would continue to be so well into the 20th century.” 2
Among all of the items critical for the survival of this fledgling English colony in Virginia – shipped over on a four-month long winter journey across the north Atlantic and explicit in the bill of particulars from 1622 – were “Beehives.”
This highlights just how important the English colonists – many of them farmers – knew honey bees to be!
How did these bees survive a journey, in the cold hold of a ship from November, 1621 to March, 1622? (Were they in the hold or, perhaps, somewhere in warmer quarters? I don’t think history tells us.)
It’s nothing they haven’t done before – perhaps not often in the hold of a ship! – but certainly, for millenia, in forests and in trees, dotting winter fields covered in snow.
Clearly this delivery was a carefully-timed event.
Approaching fall, the queen normally stops laying summer bees, which normally live for six weeks. The remaining bees, consuming a bit of royal jelly, hatch out and live for six months: they’re called winter bees. Due to the lack of brood (baby bees), the remaining winter bees would have balled up around the queen (forming a literal ‘bee ball‘), keeping her at 70 degrees. This ball, due to lack of brood, would be free to move about the combs, consuming honey and ‘beebread‘ (fermented pollen) as necessary, to maintain core temperature.
This is all normal behavior in any winter honey bee hive.
Bathroom breaks? Bees are quite patient, they can wait! In the early spring, the hives would have begun to raise the core temperatures of each bee ball from 70 degrees to 98.6 degrees, at which point the queen would start laying eggs, which are destined to hatch as brand new summer bees.
This would have coincided with a March, 1622 arrival in Virginia: early spring, at which time the bees would have left shipboard, been placed in fields, and immediately begun foraging.
The beekeepers on both ends of this winter, trans-Atlantic journey would have carefully chosen the departure and arrival dates of the beehives. They understood how hives work; they worked with the seasons – and with the rhythms of the hive – to assure the successful transplant of those fledgling beehives.
Clearly the transplant took!
Here we are in 2017, almost 400 years after those first hives arrived. Ninety-nine percent of American beekeepers are made up of small, community-based apiaries; hives managed by a farmer for his or her own farm; or backyard beekeepers, called ‘sideliner’ or ‘hobbyist’ beekeepers. There are simply thousands of American families, across all fifty states – some gardeners like you and me – who maintain one or a few hives in the backyard, a larger apiary on the lower forty, many hives spread over several farmsteads, or a small or medium-scale business supplying honey and beeswax to the local community.
The American beekeepers who have been hitting the news since 2006 with massive bee die-offs, called colony collapse disorder (CCD), are – for the most part – large, commercial, migratory beekeepers: those who truck thousands of hives across the continent, following one or another mono-crop about to bloom, providing pollination services to the farms; California’s almond crops are, perhaps, the most well-known of these crops.
Many of the mono-crops their bees are pollinating in the United States are grown from neonicotinoid-coated seeds: some examples are corn, soy, wheat and sugar beets (used to make white sugar). Neonicotinoids are systemic, water-soluble pesticides which have been implicated in CCD and massive honey and bumble bee die-offs since 2006. (Please see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
These large-scale, commercial operations only make up about 1 percent of America’s beekeepers.
A backyard beekeeper conducting an inspection of a Kenyan Top Bar Hive (KTBH), which is shaped like a hollow log (a preferred wild honey bee habitat). Note the dish of water, which is shallow and has stones placed in it, so that the bees may safely drink.
The community and neighborhood apiaries, the backyard hobbyists and their bees are, by the way, providing (free!) pollination services to all the neighbor farmers and gardeners in a three-mile radius from each hive. Your own flower and vegetable gardens thrive, in part, because of the attentive work of a beekeeper – somewhere local to you – and his or her apiary.
These beekeepers – the 99 percent spread out across America in every village, town, city and community – are your neighbors.
The 1 percent of our beekeepers traveling America’s roads, trucking hives, are providing pollination services for many, many of the crops your family eats: e.g., corn; almonds, citrus fruits, blueberries.
From those very first hives in 1622 up until today – we gardeners, farmers and beekeepers on this continent have had a symbiotic relationship – a very rewarding and a very essential relationship.
We gardeners and farmers are very, very lucky to have such accommodating neighbors, that is, those who keep bees!
FLOWERS: THE PLACE WHERE GARDENERS & BEES ‘MEETUP’
“…each of our individual actions can contribute to a grand solution … So, let the small act of planting flowers and keeping them free of pesticides be the driver of large scale change…“
Dr. Marla Spivak, Bees Scholar
June 2013 at TEDGlobal 2013
Honey bees which, like all of us, need food, gather that food from simple, ordinary flowers. They derive virtually all of their food from flowers. Those flowering plants which you and I, as gardeners, delight in digging in, watering and caring for and, occasionally, moving around madly and obsessively until we create the perfect palette, are the main food source for bees. For flowers yield nectar and pollen.
From each flower – and bees have their favorites, just like you and I, with white clover blossoms and Linden trees in bloom (also called American basswood or ‘the Bee Tree‘) being two of them! – a bee will gather nectar which – when fermented back at the hive – creates ‘honey,’ the hive’s source of carbohydrate, and pollen which – when fermented back at the hive – creates ‘beebread,” the hive’s source of protein.
The ‘pollen baskets’ on this bee are packed to the brim with yellow, tacky pollen, stored behind the bee’s knees. The term ‘That’s the Bee’s Knees!’ was made popular in the roaring ’20’s; it is flapper slang, similar to our use of the terms ‘cool‘ or ‘way cool.‘
Pollen is that fine yellow dust – slightly tacky, yes? – which most of us have had occasion to encounter on our gloves or hands while gardening. Those of you who are alert and attentive gardeners – and who among us is not alert and attentive! – have actually seen the so-called ‘bees’ knees:‘ a bee, zipping by, appearing to have large, weighty, yellow appendages on her back legs. This is actually the storage spot, right on the bee, for that pollen, on its way to being delivered to the hive. She is a sort-of UPS driver of the hive!
That pollen will end up back home, get placed in a cell, and it will ferment for just the right amount of time, until it is capped off for long term storage.
Nectar, that sweet liquid produced by a flower, once harvested, will remain in the bee, until it is regurgitated back home, get placed in a cell, and it will ferment for just the right amount of time, until it, too, is capped off for long term storage.
Fermentation is a key word here, hang on to it.
What is nectar? Well, do you remember, in the early summer as a child, encountering a honeysuckle bush?
I remember, in early summer, a warm, sunny day, sighting the first honeysuckle stand in full bloom, and eagerly running over with my brother …each of us plucking off a flower and gently snipping off the petal end, without breaking those long, thin, delicate things with yellow pollen on them. We would each – oh, so gently – pull and tug and draw it apart until the very end of the flower yielded that one precious drop of crystal clear, sweet, sublime liquid.
I remember holding the blossom above my tongue, letting that one drop take its sweet time and eventually drip down onto that tongue, eager to taste the sweet liquid. This was repeated over and over again – brother and sister sharing a tiny moment of heaven, blossom after blossom – piles of flowers in the grass at their feet. That is nectar!
That is the raw material for honey, yet another of nature’s sweet fluids, created not by a flower, but by a flower, a honey bee and a little time and fermentation!
On the first day of autumn, this field bee travels back and forth between her hive and the flowers, taking full advantage of the warm, sunny day! She is gathering pollen and nectar. (Learn about that oh-so-innocent-looking vine – known as the evil ‘lesser bindweed’ – in my gardening-metaphor post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and invasives ARE POWERFUL!, here.)
Honey bees also need water, which is why it is essential that you, as a gardener, provide a source of clean fresh water – in a shallow dish with stones – for all of the pollinators which live in or visit your gardens.
Now, bees also gather sap from conifers, sap flows, tree buds, and other botanical sources, to create propolis (‘bee glue‘), out of which they create a resinous mixture to seal small spaces in the hive, keep the hive antiseptic, and defend against invaders, like ants and beetles. But that is another story!
WE SIMPLY CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT OUR BEES
Bees, in the course of simply living their lives, do an essential thing for us humans: they pollinate flowers. This essential act of procreation, the moving of pollen from one flower, one plant, to another, assures that somewhere down the line there will be food for us: a cherry tree will bear cherries, an almond tree will bear almonds, a tomato plant will produce tomatoes, a pumpkin vine will yield those big, orange pumpkins we all delight in for Halloween and for the pies which grace our Thanksgiving dinner tables.
If there is no pollination, down the line there will be no cherries, no almonds, no tomatoes, no pumpkins.
Honey bees are directly responsible for pollinating 30 percent of our food supply and 90 percent of our most commonly-grown foods; we rely upon all pollinators to pollinate 70 percent of our food supply. Pollinators – and honey bees – are essential to human survival.
This bears repeating: honey bees pollinate 30 percent of our food and are responsible for pollinating 90 percent of our most commonly-grown foods; all pollinators pollinate 70 percent of our food. They are all essential for the survival of our species.
If we do not – as a species – have pollinators, we do not have food.
RACHEL CARSON WAS RIGHT: WE ARE INTERCONNECTED
I think you are beginning to understand that fermentation plays a rather big role here among honey bees, especially of interest to those of you who follow a ‘Paleo’ or ‘traditional’ diet or who are learning about the incredible health value of ferments in our own diets. For healthy, unstressed bees utilize bacteria (and other micro-organisms) to create their fermented foods for long term storage.
That beebread and that honey have to last the winter, a time when there are no flowers to visit.
I learned a visceral lesson about fermentation this autumn.
One night, an unusually warm late September evening about 8PM, I pulled into the driveway, opened the truck door, gathered my bags, stepped out, slammed the door shut …and I was met with a thick, foul stench. Now, the door opens right next to the garbage pail, so I assumed something had been left in the pail and was busily rotting. (Since we, as organic gardeners, re-use all our kitchen leavings and always maintain a tidy compost pile and the weekly garbage had just been picked up – I could not understand what that might be.)
I went to check.
About 10PM that evening the odor simply went away.
Now, understand, this was not just your everyday kind of an odor. It smelled exactly like the liquid which dribbles out of the back of a garbage truck which you (unfortunately) happen to be driving behind on a hot, humid, steamy summer morning.
As my Mom would have said, “It stunk to high heaven!”
Several days’ later, the same thing happened. Dining room windows wide open, this malodorous, horrific odor wafted in. I ran out, checked everywhere and determined something – somewhere – must have died.
Again, about 10PM the odor simply vanished.
A few days’ later, again at night with the windows, again, left wide open, this ungodly, foul odor blew in, as I was, thank goodness!, finishing up my dinner. This time – aha! – the beekeeper-husband happened to be home. He could smell it; there would be a witness to my olfactory discomfort.
I sent him out to investigate.
Twenty minutes’ later, perimeter check completed, he opened the back door with a big, secret smile on his face. But, will he tell me what he’s discovered? No. He leaves me in olfactory-limbo.
I noticed, though, that he had been rooting around the hive.
10PM rolls around, and, for the third time, that odor simply vanished. Sweet, warm evening air blew by my face.
By this time there was a definite pattern anybody would have noticed!
Well, the beekeeper in the family finally informed the gardener in the family that the bees had been very busily gathering nectar and pollen from all the golden rod, which was still, by the way, in full bloom. We had had unusually warm, fall days and cool nights; the cool nights were keeping the late season, high-sugar nectar from being delivered to the plants’ roots over night and, instead, it remained in the flowers. The bees took full advantage! They were having a continuous party feeding upon super-sweet nectar and golden rod pollen!
They gathered all the pollen they could individually carry on those bees’ knees, and collectively placed it in the hive cells – allowing them to sit open, for just the right amount of time …and ferment.
They did the same with the super-sweet nectar, allowing the cells to sit open, for just the right amount of time …and ferment.
Well, ferment… …or stink, depending upon your point of view, they did!
At 10PM, right as rain, the bees had finished capping off their brand new beebread and honey, and, low and behold, that odor simply vanished!
The bees – so to speak – put a lid on it!
Since we make our own sauerkraut and Kombucha from a Jun culture (an ancient culture which specifically requires honey not sugar for fermentation), I know what fermentation can smell like! It can stink to high heaven!
Mystery solved! My goodness, I was amazed at the production plant which is a beehive! Those bees were busy stocking up for winter.
We, human beings and tiny little honey bees, share this basic survival strategy: don’t waste time, ferment your excess to get you through the winter.
We also share in another one: we each need to have bacteria to assist us in not only fermenting our foods, but also in the very survival of our species.
I am willing to bet, once I research it, that I will find out that bees, like us, need a healthy gut ‘biome’ with tons of ‘good bacteria’ keeping the immune system going strong. Maybe those bee bacteria, too, are ill-affected by antibiotics and chemicals and poisonous, pesticide residue in the food.
I will let you know what I find out. A closer look into just how honey bees ferment pollen and nectar is definitely in order.
Anyway, it was at that moment – in the evening just after 10PM – that I gained a deepening understanding and appreciation of the intimate connection between our species’. We both prepare foods for the long-term survival of our families through winter: we both ferment food and, yes, it can smell! The bees, in gathering their own food, pollinate flowers, literally creating food for us. We also share in the bounty of their hives, for we humans have, for thousands of years, harvested honey, one of their fermented foods. A book no less than the Bible is testament to that!
In fact, everybody must have heard, by now, the story that they found thousands-of-years-old honey in an Egyptian tomb, tested it, found it pure …and they ate it!
“Milk and honey on the other side,’ is not, apparently, just a myth. Pharaoh planned to have some honey put aside for his journey!
However, as any natural or ‘organic practices’ beekeeper will tell you, the best time to harvest excess hive honey is in the spring, when the hive is safely through the winter and the queen wants that honey out of her way! so she can get to work making brood and summer bees!
“To everything there is a season.” 3
I need to pay more attention to the seasons and the cycles and the interconnections between me – a human being – and the beings – some very tiny – which whom I share an ecosystem. For I, we all, do share living together in an ecosystem. We each have a responsibility to preserve it, to defend it, to safeguard it, to protect it and, equally as important, to understand it. For in our hands is the stewardship of the land and the protection of our ecosystems.
I am going to go back and re-read Rachel Carson’s works, all of them, 4 for she gifted us with these messages – ‘gifts‘ whose reason for being was ecosystem crisis by systemic pesticide – almost 60 years ago. 5
It is at our own peril that we ignore the warning signs that the honey bees are – many with their lives – giving to us in 2017. 6
© Laura Hagen
The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.
John Philpot Curran
1. Kellar, Brenda. “Honey Bees Across America.” Oregon State Beekeepers Association. http://orsba.org. Web. 12 October 2017. http://orsba.org/download/Honey%20Bees%20Across%20America.html.
We are in debt to Ms. Kellar for this carefully researched information. I appreciate the time she took to create this story, with its detailed, original source material, all carefully cited. We can enjoy her well-done story… …and, because of her scholarship, also go and read the original sources for ourselves! (Ah, the blessings of librarians – my heroes – and the internet!)
I was so impressed with her article I went looking for others. In fact, I found Ms. Kellar had completed her Master of Arts in Applied Anthropology. Granted in 2004, the title of her thesis is: One Methodology for the Incorporation of Entomological Material in the Discipline of Historic Archaeology Using the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera L.) as a Test Subject. With the wonders of the internet, here is her thesis!
Ms. Kellar goes into much more detail about those first beehives which arrived in Jamestown in 1622. Curious? Please sit down and read her thesis!
3. Seeger, Pete. “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season).” The Bitter and the Sweet. Columbia. 1962. Vinyl: LP.
Listen to Pete Seeger as he sings, at age 93, the song he wrote in 1962, Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season), which uses – almost word-for-word – the first eight verses of the third chapter of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, King James version. This recording took place on November 9, 2012, with the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Foundation honoring legendary musician David Amram with the “Power of Song Award” at Symphony Space in New York City.
Pete lived near the Hudson River – a pristine river first explored in 1609 by an English captain on a mission for the Dutch: Henry Hudson in the ship the Halve Maen. Pete Seeger, in the Sloop Clearwater, helped clean up that same Hudson River, some 350 years later.
Consider, for a moment, the lifelong legacy of this one, simple musician. One of the many, many things he did was to take on the corporate polluters of the Hudson River … and win.
A little over a year after that Power of Song Award concert down near New York harbor, we – especially those of us on and near his beloved Hudson River – lost Pete Seeger on January 27, 2014. He was 94.
4. Rachel Carson was a scientist, ecologist, and writer. Employed for fifteen years by the federal government in the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she rose to the position of Editor-in-Chief of all publications for that agency. Linda Lear, who wrote a biography of Rachel Carson, lists Ms. Carson’s four books as:
Under the Sea-Wind (1941)
The Sea Around Us (1952)
The Edge of the Sea (1955)
Silent Spring (1962)
Ms. Lear’s biography of Rachel Carson is entitled Biography Witness for Nature (1997); it was was re-issued in 2009 by by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, as Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature.
Ms. Lear also references the 1970 book by Frank Graham, entitled Since Silent Spring Rachel Carson has been proved right. What have we done about it?
A research archive of the life and work of Rachel Carson, the Lear-Carson Collection, is maintained at Connecticut College in New London, CT.
5. My generation will never forget the images of piles of dead fish on our river banks and in our streams, birds’ eggs not hatching, and the dire warning that the American bald eagle was poised to go extinct, all due to a systemic pesticide, DDT.
It is directly because of the impact which both Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Pete Seeger had upon me (my family lived near to the Hudson River and knew how polluted it was), that I, with a bunch of other like-minded students, co-founded our high school’s first-ever Ecology Club and we initiated its first-ever Earth Day celebration, which became a yearly event throughout the entire high school. Town-wide, monthly newspaper drives, initiated and organized by one of our French teachers, dear M. George Johnson, were the beginnings of ‘recycling’ in our community: a brand new concept in the late 1960’s – early ’70’s.
During high school, the Sloop Clearwater used to (and still does!) dock at key towns and cities up and down the length of the Hudson River from New York harbor up to Albany, New York; the sight of her majestic, tall mast and beautiful, white sails slowly floating downriver was unique, memorable and inspiring to a young adult concerned about the plight of the living beings we share the planet with.
Is it vacant, silent honey bee hives, backyards bereft of floating monarch’s and birdsong, and piles of dead bumble bees in store parking lots which are to be this generation’s systemic pesticides’ warning klaxon?
It was the Sloop Clearwater, Pete Seeger and a whole bunch of concerned citizens – Moms, Dads, kids (and musicians!) – who all changed the Hudson River’s story. People like renowned naturalist and Illinois beekeeper, Terence Ingram and his Eagle Nature Foundation, Ltd., (he began studying bald eagles in 1962, the same year Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published), positively changed the story of the bald eagle.
Who is changing the systemic pesticide / neonicotinoid story for our pollinators here in 2017?
Can we gardeners make a difference, each in our home communities?
6. On September 20, 2017 the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP), an international body of scientists, released its latest, updated warning about neonicotinoids, Severe Threats to Biodiversity from Neonicotinoid Pesticides Revealed in Latest Scientific Review.