Newsletter of the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association
July 2011 Volume X1, Issue 7
Next Meeting: August 1, 2011, 7:00 pm
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, 3561 Foothill Boulevard, La Crescenta, CA 91214
Topic for August Meeting:
Minutes from the July Meeting: Attendance: 47, 43 members, 4 guests
Contents in Brief:
New Business - Q&A
Queen Excluders – Walt McBride
Gardening for Bees – Stacy McKenna Seip
- Seeking light wildflower honey for the fair – if you’re willing to sell to us at $2/lb to help supply our fundraising honey sales, bring your bulk bucket o’ honey (unfiltered is fine) to the August meeting labeled with your name so we can credit/pay you
- American Bee Journal –subscription discount – contact them at 1-888-922-1293 and tell them you’re a LACBA member to get a 25% off
- Bee Culture subscription discounts – simply contact them at 1-800-289-7668 and let them know you’re a LACBA member to get a discounted subscription
- Buzzings – if you’re not getting a copy, let Stacy McKenna Seip know (firstname.lastname@example.org) so we can update your information
- Don’t forget to grab your nametag and keep it in your glove compartment or such so you have it handy for meetings.
- County Registration – they DO call you for swarm removal, so get on your list if you want to receive notifications in your area - Ariel Verayo (626)459-8894
Bill Lewis visited the Backwards Beekeepers - Since they list him as a source of bees, and he often gets calls for help from people who’ve gotten bees from the Backwards Beekeepers, Bill took a field trip to one of their recent meetings. Their meetings attract a crowd at least as big as ours, and generally speaking they’re a great group of people. The only trouble Bill sees is that they’re collecting feral hives/swarms and redistributing them to members (generally folk new to beekeepeing) and thereby spreading Africanized genes, often to people unfamiliar with bees and unprepared to handle a difficult hive.
Several of their members were instrumental in getting the codes changed in Santa Monica to allow beekeeping. They are also working on making similar changes in other cities.
Their founder, Kirk Anderson, only visits his hives once or twice a year – in January to harvest and otherwise just leaves enough boxes to give them (hopefully) plenty of room during the spring/summer. His methods yield about 30-35 pounds of honey per hive per year. This is not a commercially sustainable model of beekeeping. Keith Roberts notes this qualifies under the term “bee haver” rather than “bee keeper”.
Randy Oliver’s recent ABJ article references the “Beekeepers Taliban” which is how Bill saw this group as well – they’re very dogmatic or religious in how they follow Kirk’s advice and don’t easily hear or listen to other opinions or information. The word “disciples” is a description of what members can be like. Several of our own members corroborate this impression. They refer to him as highly enthusiastic, like being at a revival meeting. He’s very anti-establishment in a variety of arenas. He brushes off the issue of Africanized bees by just referring to them as “angry”.
Some of the reason they endorse using feral bees are the resistance they show to mites. One thought is that by allowing the bees to form their own comb without foundation is that they’ll form smaller cells, and that this somehow helps eliminate mites (it is commonly accepted that mites prefer brood cells – larger size, larger larvae to feed off of, and longer gestation period which better matches mite development calendars). Commercial beekeepers have long used a slightly larger cell size in their foundation because it helps increase honey storage capabilities and ease of extraction. Gloria de Grandi-Hoffman (USDA Tuscon. AZ) did a study into the effect of cell size on mite production and could find no significant link between mite success and cell size. Dee Lusby, a self-described “naturalist” beekeeper in AZ has often published in ABJ about the benefits of small-cell beekeeping, and is oft-cited by the Backwards Beekeepers. Another advantage of Africanized bees against mites is that their frequent swarming breaks the brood cycle, which inhibits mite populations. Sadly, the frequent swarming means less honey and fewer bees for the beekeeper.
Queen Excluders – Walt brought in several examples to show us during our honey harvesting season. A queen excluder is often used when you want to prevent a queen from entering/laying in the honey supers. When you apply a queen excluder, you need to put it above ALL the bees to make sure the queen is below, or risk trapping her in an upper box and insuring your honey supers get brood in them.
There are three types of queen excluder on the market – the wood-framed metal excluder, the all metal excluder, and the stamped plastic excluder. In Walt’s experience, the plastic bends and flexes too much to make it worthwhile as it often becomes bonded to the frames below with propolis or burr comb – stick to the more rigid metal versions if you actually want to restrict the queen’s movement. The metal grids still need to be inspected before every application. If a wire is bent or loose, the queen can get through making the excluder pointless. Hold the excluder flat at eye level to check for bent wires. Make sure to check from both ends/sides. Also check to make sure the spacing hasn’t slipped laterally allowing her room to get through a wide gap. Walt cleans his excluders by boiling them in TSP to remove the burr comb and propolis buildup.
It is possible to use typical bee behavior to eliminate the need for an excluder. If you have a box that is solidly full of honey, any additional super put above it will be “safe” from the queen laying in them. This natural “honey barrier” signals the queen to drop back down into the brood area. Bill and Clyde typically use this method, applying queen excluders only when they’re trying to make comb honey. Many in the industry refer to queen excluders as “honey excluders” claiming the restricted access means the workers also will be less likely to go to the effort of climbing up and through to the honey supers. Walt hasn’t seen this to be a significant problem.
Smokers – Klaus Koepfli brought in some smokers to show us the extremes available. First was a large smoker – a giant “standard” smoker purchased at Brushy Mountain and it pretty much filled one of those big blue IKEA bags.
On the other end of the spectrum was a Swiss smoker – essentially a mouth-held cigar holder. The design was intended to enable the beekeeper to fumigate the bees with cigar smoke without actually smoking the cigar. The totally hands-free aspect of this smoker is a definite benefit. A picture is found on Klaus’ website, fifth picture from the left: http://www.klausesbees.com/swiss_beekeepers/swiss_beekeepers.html
You can see an example in use here: http://mainebeekeepers.org/the-bee-line/notes-from-further-afield/a-swiss-bee-house-inside-and-out/
MAQS (Mite Away Quik Strips) – Bill and Clyde tried them this past season. Sadly, despite following package instructions and having moderate weather (in the 70s) they saw a 20% kill off of queens in treated colonies. They used the treatment only on their larger colonies, and had the treatment significantly above the brood nest. Their colonies tried to requeen, so they spent significant time and money gouging out queen cells and requeening with hastily acquired replacement queens. When/if they try it again, they will be going with a half dose, perhaps even cutting the strips in half to spread it out within a hive.
Swarms – are we getting more calls this year than in past years? Walt’s getting more swarm calls. Keith’s getting more cutout, but fewer swarms. Clyde’s getting roughly the same as usual.
Queen of the Sun - the director did not put down any group of beekeepers or exaggerate data. He filmed all over the world, and seemed to fairly represent commercial, hobbyist, organic/natural, etc. It was a very worthwhile show. He was very oriented ata holistic approach to improving beekeeping – keep all of the factors (forage, pesticides, disease control) into consideration.
LA County Fair – the fair runs 5 weekends, Saturday September 3rd through Sunday October 2nd and is open Thursdays through Mondays. This is our big fundraiser for the year, which helps pay for things like educational outreach and sending folk to the state convention. We need volunteers to sell honey and talk about bees – contact Russ Levine to sign up. Parking passes and admission will be provided for those volunteering. Even if you don’t think you know much about bees, you can help out selling honey and answering the most basic of question for visitors who come by to see the observation hive. (Ed: I learned more my first year volunteering at the fair than I had reading up on the topic for the previous 7 months, not to mention getting to know my fellow beekeepers better!) Anyone who volunteers for 30 hours or more will be sponsored to go to the state convention November 15th -17th. We will also be setting up the booth the previous weekend, Sunday august 28th from 8-11.
Honey to share – members brought honey to share, both interesting varietals and a bit of a mishap. First there was Colorado Tallow Tree and El Paso desert wildflower to sample. (the desert wildflower was THICK – predictably low in moisture, almost crystalized).
On the unfortunate side, Maurice had a jar of honey to show that demonstrated the drawbacks of harvesting “unripe” honey. Maurice does a lot of hive removals, and they often have significant amounts of honey that he harvests in the process. One of those batches of honey included some that was not yet fully dehydrated, and the entire jar started to ferment. The lesson is, if you’re harvesting uncapped honey out of a hive removal, make sure you use it right away, only harvest the capped honey, or make plans for mead right away!
On the issue of honey extraction, if anyone needs an extractor, Bill and Clyde will make their small 4-frame unit available by appointment.
Faith Arnold reminds us that honey is HEAVY – don’t confuse yourself with the “pint’s a pound” idea – honey is about 1.5 times that, so a pint is 1.5 pounds. Don’t short yourself when packaging/selling your honey!
County employee issues – El Rey was recently talking with folk over at the county Dept of Ag and found that his contact in pesticides was involuntarily transferred to a new position, as was Mary Ann Nolan, our previous apiary inspector. It turns out, the LA County Deputy Commissioner’s Office current policy is to encourage all employees to be cross-trained in as many positions as possible, but they lack the funding to actually train anyone. Sadly, this means employees are often thrust into jobs where they have no prior experience, like bees or pesticides. The county employees are about as happy with this as we are. The key here is that when you run into a county employee who’s new to their job, and you have info that can help them out, offer to help train them! El Rey has offered to take folk out to his apiaries to show them what we do in the field and what our issues and difficulties are, so they can better understand what we need, and what their job can do for/with us. The CSBA sponsored Apiary Research Commission is aimed at developing a training program to remedy exactly this situation – getting all apiary inspectors in the state on the same page with what to look for, and how to look for it. Until that is up and running, we need to all work together with our county employees to help educate and inform.
Gardening for Bees – Stacy McKenna Seip When planning a garden for bees, one of the first questions to ask is which bees you’re planting for. California has 1500 native species, and none of them are the commonly known apis mellifera, or honey bee. Now, it may seem like a silly question – bees are bees, right? As long as the flowers have pollen and nectar, they’ll be fine. Well, not exactly. When Kate Frey went to Japan and planted a pollinator garden, nothing came! She had planted flowers that none of the local pollinator species recognized or were specialized for, so her garden was a total flop and had to be redone from scratch using locally familiar plants.
We’ve got a bit more wiggle room here in SoCal where European bees, native bees, and even the Africanized variants all are on the lookout for viable food sources, so we’ve got a wider range of plants available. European and Africanized apis mellifera will do well with most of the familiar European varieties of plants, including most of your commercially available fruits and vegetables. Anything that requires a pollination contract or shows up on your farmer’s market honey table is a good bet (stone fruit, citrus, strawberries, blueberries, avocados, eucalyptus – Wikipedia has a list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_crop_plants_pollinated_by_bees ). Things that self-pollinate (tomatoes, roses, grasses/grains, etc.) are less helpful.
Another thing to consider is your definition of “weed”. Many of the plants we commonly pull, poison, or mow down are actually great for pollinators – dandelions, tarweed, clover, mustard, etc. If we let them flower for the bees and then only remove them when they dry out and become a potential fire hazard, we’ll be doing the bees a favor. At my first CSBA convention Keith had spent all week trying to figure out why commercial guys spent $160-$200/hive every year to take them to almonds to earn maybe $150-$175 in pollination fees instead of leaving them all at home in their yards and making a living off the honey. At the final banquet night one of the migratory beekeepers finally heard the question and understood where we were missing a basic assumption. “We can’t leave them at home – they’d starve. There’s not even the dandelions we used to rely on for their off-season forage we used to have.” Just because a plant doesn’t offer an obvious commercial benefit doesn’t mean the plant isn’t important.
Also, letting some of your vegetables bolt and go to seed instead of harvesting them is a great way to help the bees – leaving a few carrots, beets, radishes, onions, and broccoli plants just for the bees will help them, and might even result in some of your crops reseeding on their own next year.
If you look into locally native or adaptive plants, you can make your gardening even easier. Local wildflowers are great for supporting local native species, and they require very little irrigation, making them cheaper and easier to maintain than many European plants accustomed to cooler climates. We live in a Mediterranean climate, so anything adapted to places like southern Italy will do well here. Basil, rosemary, bay laurel, pomegranate, etc. Many herbs are also drought-hardy and great for bees – parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme is not only a familiar tune, but a bee paradise. Many of the local bee-friendly plants are also attractive – poppies, sunflowers, mallow, sage, buckwheat, yarrow. Check out some local native gardens to see what you like and which plants the bees seem to enjoy most. Make sure to check at multiple times of year – the plants attractive now might have nothing to offer in three weeks and vice versa.
This brings up another important point – planting for all seasons. Try and make sure you have plants that bloom in spring, summer, and fall. The longer your garden is in bloom, the better it is for the bees, and the more attractive it will be.
Finally, make sure there’s water in your garden for the bees. It can be as simple as a bucket of water with some water hyacinth and mosquito fish. It can be a solar-powered waterfall with rock streambed for the bees to land on. It could be a birdbath with some sand mounded in it for the bees to stand on. Having a stable water source will mean your bees are less likely to annoy neighbors or harass swimmers in nearby pools.
See the following page for some ideas on plants to try or gardens to visit. In addition, members add these suggestions:
Madrona Marsh Native Plant Garden, Torrance (hosts a monthly “Out of the Wilds and Into your Garden” class, as well)
Spring – Yucca
Summer – Desert buckwheat, Laurel sumac, Toyon (California Holly), Deer weed
Summer/fall – Wireweed
Fall – Blue curl
California Poppy Eschscholzia californica
California Gilia Gilia achilleifolia
California Phacelia Phacelia californica
CA Desert Bluebells Phacelia campanularis
White Sage Salvia apiana
Black Sage Salvia apiana
California Hedgenettle Stachys bullata
California buckwheat Eriogonum fasciculatum
Coast Buckwheat Eriogonum latifolium
Sunflower Helianthus annuus
Slender Sunflower Helianthus gracilientus
Mountain Monardella Monardella odoratissima
Coyote mint Monardella villosa
Germander Sage Salvia chamaedryoides
Bog Sage Salvia uliginosa
Planting native plants can help you save water, and support local native species of bees in addition to local honey bees. Try to plant varieties for all blooming seasons to keep your gardens beautiful and your bees well fed.
This list is by no means complete, just some of the most common or popular local plants bees enjoy. Other varieties in the same families, and some other plants not even mentioned here, can be excellent choices. Talk with your local nursery or search for California Native Plants online for more information. Many of these seeds/plants can be found online at www.theodorepayne.org (located in Sun Valley, CA).
Data compiled from www.nature.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens and www.theodorepayne.org