Monday, January 27, 2014

Dream on Bees

Thanks to Dusko of Che Guebee Apiary for posting the following video "Dream on Bees" today. It is, without a doubt the coolest thing I have ever seen. A Ukrainian beek named Nikolai Yaravoy has built some hive sleepers. You read that right! Hive sleepers! Basically, they contain a compartment on top of several beehives in which a person can catch 40 winks. On Yaravoy's website, he extols the virtues of sleeping on bees, claiming that it "gives a person the ease, vivacity, and freshness and youth."

It turns out that Nikolai isn't the only one sleeping on bees. Here is video showing a dorm-style bunk beds.

In fact, a YouTube search will yield all kinds of hive sleepers, predominantly located in the Ukraine and Russia. Dang! I'm going to have to brush up on my Russian so that I can actually follow the audio for this instead of just picking out bits and pieces of conversation.

Oh, I am soooo jealous. I'm sure that my husband is going to purchase a strait-jacket for me when he reads this, but I totally want one of these!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Being Stung is a Good Thing

This morning, I came across this video of Mike Palmer discussing the importance of getting stung in order to prevent the development of bee allergies.

Mike is a beekeeper, not an allergist. However, he's brought up an important topic, I think, for beekeepers with spouses, significant others, and/or children. Mike states that number of people who have bee-sting allergies is much higher in bee-keeping families (approx. 1/10) than in the general populace (approx. 1/100). He claims the reason for this is that the family members of beeks are often exposed to bee venom though they may never get stung. The reason behind this is the body reacts differently to venom that is "adminstered" by the bee than venom that is contacted more casually.

After watching this video, I feel terribly guilty because I was a bit careless with my beekeeping garb last year. To be honest, I didn't always wash my jacket after an inspection. Usually, I would just hang it up in the mudroom off the kitchen when I was done. However, we are constantly coming and going through the mudroom door, which means I exposed my family to bee venom and whatever else wafted out of the hive during my inspections.

I haven't researched this topic thoroughly; however, I think Mike is onto something. Last June and July, I had several humongous local reactions to some stings. By November, I'd received so many stings that I barely reacted at all. However, my husband, who had no known bee sting allergies prior to my getting bees, was stung just after the bear mauled my hive. Almost immediately, he experienced an allergic reaction that included a metallic taste in his mouth, nausea, headache, dizziness, stomach pain, and some tachycardia, I think. I can't help but wonder if I accidentally caused his misery. For sure, allergies are something I'm going to be more conscious of now.

I shudder to think what might happen if my children have developed allergies. (Yes, my husband is important, too, but he isn't like our three-year old nudist who runs outside in nothing but her undies and shoves her face up to the hive despite all instruction to wear clothes and keep a respectable distance.) This upcoming season, I am definitely planning to change my ways. For starters, I will immediately launder (not simply dump them in the hamper) all clothes worn during inspections (not just the jacket) and keep all equipment in an area well separated from our living space. I also plan to continue stocking Benadryl (liquid and/or capsule form) in my bee kit and in the kitchen, which is where the kids normally enter the house. (Additionally, I keep a tube of mud clay in the kitchen in the event of stings. A paste of vinegar, baking soda, and meat tenderizer is also effective for reducing the pain of stings.)

BTW, I did ask my pediatrician last spring about keeping an epi-pen on hand. He recommended against it since our family had no known allergies at that time. However, he advised seeking immediate medical attention for any reaction that was not at the sting site. Swelling at and congruent to the sting site was fine, he said, no matter how large the swelling became. For instance, if I got stung on the calf and I started to swell at the site spreading to nearly the entire calf, he said he wouldn't worry too much as long as all of the swelling was connected to the sting site. Pain, swelling, redness, itchiness, or burning at the sting site is normal, too. But if I got stung on the leg and then developed a rash on the chest or arm or couldn't breathe, then that would not be ok.

If you experience any of these symptoms after a bee-sting,
please, seek medical attention immediately.
These are all symptoms of anaphylaxis.

In any case, I thought it was interesting that Mike Palmer recommends beekeepers getting stung at least once a month to avoid developing allergies. (Oh boy, did I meet that quota last year!) While apitherapy seems to be a growing practice for treating arthritis now, I've heard very little discussion about the other benefits of bee stings. Ok, some people claim it makes the honey sweeter, but other than those two reasons given, I can't think of why people are promoting bee stings, and I'm very interested in hearing more. If you have any insight or comments on this subject, I'd really like to hear your input!

The Sustainable Apiary by Mike Palmer

Thanks to Beverly Bees for posting this on Facebook this morning. This is Mike Palmer on how to create a sustainable apiary by overwintering nucs.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Do you know where your honey came from?

Every beekeeper in America is going to tell you to get your honey from a local beekeeper. A "natural" beekeeper will tell you to buy honey that is not treated (i.e, bees are not dosed with antibiotics and no chemicals are used in the hive) or heated. There are many good reasons for doing following this advice. Here are a few:
  • If you have allergies, pollen in the honey may help.
  • Untreated honey will not contain antibiotics and it should have fewer undesirable chemicals.
  • Raw honey contains all the enzymes, propolis, etc. that give honey its superpowers.
  • It supports the livelihood of someone in your community.
  • You'll know your honey is the real deal and not some kind of Frankensyrup (more on this in a minute).
I like this chart, but I have 2 disagreements:

  1. Most (but not all, e.g., tupelo, acacia) raw honeys
    start out as a syrup and then crystallize quickly.
    After a long period of time, though, I've seen processed
    honey crystallize. So I don't think appearances are a
    foolproof indicator.
  2. Theoretically, apiarists who use antibiotics apply
    them after harvest. But I think these fat-soluble antibiotics
    can be absorbed by the honeycomb. So if your raw honey
    comes from treated hives, I think it may contain antibiotics.
Whether the honey is from a domestic or foreign source, a lot of honey sold in stores/used in food products, has been heated and filtered to help prevent crystallization. If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not keen on this practice. However, what really bugs me is "illegal immigrant" honey. ;-)

If I haven't misremembered, I think the U.S. imports about 60% of its honey. A lot of this honey comes from China via laundered sources in order to avoid paying taxes and tariffs. Why do I have a problem with it?

  • Typically, this laundered honey is a lot cheaper than domestically-produced honey, and buying it undercuts our own honey industry. 
  • This laundered honey also goes through a heating/straining process to remove the beneficial pollen. Processing decreases the nutritional value of the honey. And without pollen, the honey's source is disguised, increasing the ease with which it can be laundered. 
  • This cheap honey is adulterated with sugar syrups, corn syrups, dyes, flavorings, etc. It has also been known to contain illegal animal antibiotics, which promote bacterial resistance and can be harmful to people.

A number of honey companies and importers are calling attention to the problem of illegally sourced honey. Their initiative, True Source Honey, LLC, "seeks to help maintain the reputation of honey as a high-quality, highly valued food and further sustain the U.S. honey sector."

One neat little feature on the True Source Honey homepage is a program for checking whether your store-bought honey comes from a certified source. If you purchased your honey from someone other than a local beek, all you have to do is click the link and enter your honey's UPC code. Pretty cool! (But if you can, I still say buy raw, untreated honey from a local beekeeper! Even better, get some bees!)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Update on Bees

If you read about my big bear attack last November, you might recall that I saved some of the bees and put them in a nuc with whatever comb I could salvage and some candy. The nuc has been residing, completely unattended, in the garage since then.

After weeks of company, holidays, and single-digit weather, I finally got a free warm day (above 50 degrees F.) on Saturday. I figured I'd see what was going on with the nuc. Turns out that the bees were quite active and even wanted to fly, so we left the garage door open until sunset for them.

In the image here, you can see bees coming in and out the entrance. I was a little surprised at this. The rubber bands I'd used to hang combs from the top bars were a less than ideal tool. The weight of the comb caused the bands to stretch, and when I moved the nuc into the garage, they all swung flush up against the entrance, effectively closing it. However, it seems that my bees are resourceful, and they've worked things out inside the nuc.

Do I have a queen? I have no idea. Another beek advised me to check for one. If she's there, he said to feed and wrap them. If not, he told me to dump the bees out into the snow and salvage whatever comb and honey there is. However, I just can't bring myself to follow this suggestion. 

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, bees are very short-lived. Even if my girls survive the winter without a queen, they will no doubt perish soon after in the spring. However, after tending to them so lovingly all summer, I simply can't bear the thought of tossing them out like rubbish into the cold.

At this point in time, I don't know what to do, and I don't even have a plan, so I will do nothing. While opening the nuc would satisfy my curiosity, I can't help the girls at this point. I would probably hurt them.

If they're still alive in late Feb/March, I may take a look then. If I find a queen, I can worry about how to relocate the bees into a new hive at that time. (The combs in the nuc were a disaster when I put the bees in there, but that's a story for another day.) If not, I've ordered two new colonies. I'll shake the bees in front of those hives and see if they can beg their way in. Yes, I know, I know, they're going to die in the spring anyway, but I feel responsible for giving them a home if only for a little while. I'm a sap.