Bone Lake Meadows Apiary Blog

making the planet a better place one hive at a time.

checking hives March 27, 2011

Filed under: springtime happenings — queen frederica @ 8:29 am

Yesterday Mike and I went up to the orchard to check on some hives. As everyone knows (except me) it’s been a long winter so our goal was to clean up the hives we lost and feed the ones we still have. It’s always hard to lose a hive so it wasn’t pleasant work but little did we know there was a surprise for us..

 

 

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dear america: screw you and your corn syrup. March 20, 2011

Filed under: bees — queen frederica @ 1:44 pm

After learning where our bees come from these days, I obviously wondered about queens. A piece of my heart was chipped off last year when I found out how they were raised. Like many things in the agricultural sector here, they are mass produced to “support” the industry. — and when I say support I really mean gradually ruin it.

Mass production isn’t conducive to sustaining an industry. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out, rather just a bit of brain power. Producing a lot of anything throws off natural balances and outside tools and substances must be used to make up for that. Sometimes this means modifying nature (plants, seeds, soils) instead of practice.  Nature can adapt to many things but at it’s own rate. It might work for a while but not forever at the incredible rate we are tinkering with it. And guess what: It’s not working anymore. The bees are in trouble, as are many things but this is a bee blog.. What more does nature need to do to communicate that to us?

There are beekeepers out there that soley breed queen bees. It is an important skill that beekeepers must know how to do but to do it at the rate it’s being done is crazy to me. With most anything I think it’s safe to say that quality drops when the quantity rises – does it not? Think of Burger King vs St. Paul Grill and tell me who has the better burger. Attention to detail is somewhat lost in the madness of having to meet quotas.

In the past couple years we have been having less than ideal luck with our factory farmed queens. I really think it is due to how they are treated and raised. Maybe I am wrong but something just isn’t right. Should I really have to requeen each year? Should I not expect our bees to survive winters? Should I settle for this crap?

As mentioned in the previous post on packaged bees,  most bees in the country come from large monocrop pollinations. This means they are fed a steady diet of whatever that blossom is, let’s say almond. When that is over they are fed America’s favorite: corn syrup. Yay for diversity.. I still can’t wrap my head around why the hell silly humans are feeding corn syrup to the creators of honey, nature’s precious nectar. Oh wait! It’s because it’s cost efficient. Why waste your time waiting for bees to collect nectar when you can order a 55 gallon barrel of nutritious corn syrup? Maybe I should stop producing honey and just buy that instead..it might look good in a mason jar! (Oh wait, can’t do that either because China already did and is selling it at the grocery store nearest you. Eyo!)

The reason the bees are fed syrup is so they will have a food supply that stimulates them to work and grow while between seasons or nectar flows. If the workers are well fed they will be able to do their job better; looking after young, cleaning, guarding and rearing queens. It takes much energy to raise a queen bee so these beekeepers that make queens are sure to provide their bees with an abundance of corn in the liquid sugary form. Just to clarify: Yes, they are feeding bees corn. Apparently this is standard in the industry. It doesn’t make sense — please enlighten me if you can vouch for this one.

How is it that this has become acceptable now? When was it okay to turn off your brain and let your wallet think for you?  It’s a new year, turn the switch back on and have a great spring. Good luck to the new beekeepers on finding ethical bees this year.

 

packaged bees March 2, 2011

Filed under: bees,springtime happenings — queen frederica @ 10:10 am

Every beekeeper is a pimp to their ladies.. or at least we always joke about it. I mean, think about it.. these beautiful creatures are flying around pollinating and collecting nectar from wherever they can and then we come in and take a major cut. There are ways to do this that are respectful to the bees and there are ways not to — did I really just use respectful and pimp in the same line??

Come summer, Mike and I take our cut when there are enough winter stores to get them through early spring, never dipping into their winter honey. Some beekeepers let the bees build up all summer and take everything in the fall, leaving the bees to starve and die off. It doesn’t make much sense to me and sounds like horrible karma! It makes sense to them because apparently bees have become another victim of the great American way: disposable goods. They can just buy more bees in the spring, duh.

Buying bees? Yep. When bees first caught my attention, I looked into where one could get bees. I found out they come in packages — by the pound! Wildly amused by this, I accepted it and just went with it. Came April and it was time to pick up the packages and head over to one of the bee yards to set up some hives.

I still remember riding in the big bee truck with Mike hearing the hum of the 4 packages we had in the backseat. As we drove to the sound of the bees that morning I did the usual and asked about 34264 questions; first being ‘Where do these come from anyway?’ And that’s when I vowed to myself to never, ever support this horrible industry ever again. Day one of beekeeping and I was already planning for next year as if I knew what the hell I was doing..

Most commercial beekeepers have their hoes in different area codes for pollination. February marks the almond pollination out in California. This great pollination migration plays a big part of Midwestern beekeeping because it’s where all your packaged bees come from.

Bees are shipped from all over the country on semis in the cold for a few days, placed in almond groves via forklift and exploited for their services until the bloom is over. After the bloom, there is nothing left for the bees to forage for because it’s miles and miles of monoculture. Can I get a “wo0t wo0t” for commercial farming!? (Yes, that was sarcasm)

When the bloom is over these  bees are taken to another yard, dumped out and started down a giant assembly line. Queens are killed, bees are dumped into 2 or 3 pound packages at random through vacuum funnels and forced into an arranged marriage. A new queen in thrown in there but in her own mini cage for her protection. For the next 2,000 miles they bond over a soup can full of some type of sugary syrup and hope they don’t die along the way. Wow, how romantic..

There you have it, long story short on where your bees come from. Mike and I talked about how we don’t want to whore our bees out or support that industry this year. What can one do to avoid that? Well, our plan was to make bees from the bees we have already. Winter wasn’t kind this year and we lost a couple more colonies than expected so we sought out ethically raised queens and bees. I struggled to accept the idea of shipping bees across the country because it strays from sustainability but you can’t have it all at once.. On the up side, we are adding more diversity to our apiaries by getting new kinds of bees.

Well, there is my opinion for the day. Looking forward to a great spring. Happy March, all! and remember: question everything!