September 24 – October 4, 2023 – Ukraine and Apimondia

I wrote this article for Walter T. Kelley November newsletter, but I thought I would post it here too for those of you that do not have access to the link.

 Like a duo of scout bees, my travel partner Therese and I set out to explore a new bee land far from the comfort of our local flower patch. We oriented with a variety of bee aficionados from around the world, huddled as a small swarm in the ‘bee’ bus and set out to discover Ukraine before attending the 43rd Apimondia.

Like a duo of scout bees, my travel partner Therese and I set out to explore a new bee land far from the comfort of our local flower patch. We oriented with a variety of bee aficionados from around the world, huddled as a small swarm in the ‘bee’ bus and set out to discover Ukraine before attending the 43rd Apimondia.

 We were welcomed into the hives of local beekeepers, which in general run small scale operations. Commercial operations average 500 hives in Ukraine, these family run businesses were colorful and spotless with modern feeding/harvesting techniques. The traditional single layer 15-16 deep (Dadant) frame hives are still in use, while Langstoth hives seem to slowly be gaining in popularity.

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 We foraged marvelous apitherapy beds where an individual is healed by sleeping with/on beehives. Upon one luscious whiff of the hive scent and the lulling buzzing sound of the bees, we instantly planned backyard installations for next year.

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 The Agricultural University was scholastic yet revealing in the socio-economic agricultural ways of Ukraine. An eco-settlement was enlightening.

 Our ‘Bee Doctor ‘ rolled out the royal carpet to share the tastes and techniques of procuring drone milk and royal jelly, which he ships around the world.

 We were greeted like queens with the traditional gift of bread and salt by enthusiastic, traditionally dressed children at a K-12 school. For more than 20 years, school children have enrolled in an integrated mandatory beekeeping program. Many of the children graduates are now beekeepers.

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 And finally, a small city beekeeping supply store gifted us honey bears while we bought their bargain colorful veils and suits.

 We were amazed by the innovative and integrative nature of beekeepers throughout Ukraine. We were also struck by the amount and variety of bee products produced and used both locally and worldwide. The Ukraine ranks fifth in the world in honey exports. Especially, we were touched by the endearing Ukrainian beekeepers we met on our tour.

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 On to Apimondia, the international bee congress and its scientific program.

 Back in Kiev, our small swarm was suddenly combined with a much stronger colony. The organizers of Apimondia forgot to remove the entrance reducer as 8 thousand delegates and exhibit hall participants bearded at the registration desk. Like diligent little bees, foregoing any personal space, festooning and at times even levitating with the crowd, we waited between 4 and 6 hours, many of us in the rain, to gain our registration badge. It was indeed a scary nightmare… but we must admit that the rest of the congress experience was successfully pollinated by this memorable queue. Pressed extremely close together for hours, we quickly bonded with people from all over the world, exchanged bee stories and areas of interest and passion.

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 Once in, we of course divided the labor.  There were 7 themes; Apitherapy, Bee Biology, Bee Health, Beekeeping Economy, Pollination and Bee Flora, Beekeeping for Rural Development and Beekeeping Technology and Quality. Each of us went out to survey the different rooms and presentations, and brought back the valuable food for thought. For the next 4 days, the information flowed like the nectar on a sunny day in August.

 Colony losses and varroa destructor were hot topics and coveted by many, with the exception of new friends from Colombia and South Africa dealing with scutellata and capensis bees respectively who have no such problems.  These issues are felt almost worlwide although the survey numbers are significantly higher in the United States. The Swiss documentary More Than Honey directed by Markus Imhoof was showcased on the first day following the opening ceremonies. The main message strongly hinted at the intensive beekeeping practices in America as a cause of the demise of our bees.

 Tom Seeley’s keynote presentation forced us to look at honey bees surviving well in the wild and reconsider our current approaches to beekeeping. His conclusions might advise us to think about smaller colonies, spread further apart and allowed to swarm regularly. And we might want to keep them 30 feet high, if only we can figure out a practical way…

 Another keynote presentation by Koos Biesmeijer from the Netherlands approached pollination as a complex interaction system. He concluded that a sustainable pollination system requires integrated and holistic data collection and modeling to assess where pollination deficit will occur, involving managed and wild pollinators and landscapes. We were fairly sure vast monoculture areas don’t fit his area of study.

 There were also many talks about selection, the variety of crops and GMO’s in the environment, much about pollen and other bee products, as well as a variety of pesticide residues in the hive, honey adulterations and hive monitoring.

Apimondia 2013 covered just about everything bee. The experience was fascinating and overwhelming all at the same time.

 Now back in the nest, we will revisit and digest this new found knowledge, stored and capped to sustain us through the cold winter days while we long for the eternal hopes of the new season to come.

 Anne Marie Fauvel

Grand Valley State University

September 21, 2013 – Who is the STAR of the Show?

Filming crew came to do a little ‘blurb’ on the apiary today. Experienced beekeeper Jack Hartman and Randy Slachter, GVSU beekeepers Club students, faculty, staff and community members came out for the occasion. I was so excited, this is exactly the exchanges I want to happen, the education and opportunities to take place! What a beautiful day. We were all suited, performed inspections, interviewed and such for over 3 hours. In the end I believe the ‘blurb’ will be approximately 3 minutes… I will post the link as soon as it is available.

 In the mean time, the Smart hive saga continues… During our inspection, Linda noticed something odd about the queen. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The queen was behaving the same way Superstar had the day I put her to rest. We ‘noticed that eggs were coming out of her before she could lower her abdomen to secure them in a cell while workers would furiously cannibalize the extra eggs destined to fail.’ After consulting with both Jack and Randy, this queen to was put to rest. I did keep my composure this time.

 Now one mystery was elucidated, the queens cells were not in preparation for a fall swarm but rather for the supersedure of a failing queen. I rudely interrupted the process and now it was getting even later in the season. Lucky for us, Randy can always come up with a spare queen and we would have to do an emergency introduction.

 Randy will bring a baby nuc over, complete with a queen, a few mini frames with brood and some nurse bees,  he will set it on the colony atop a sheet of newspaper. The queen will make her way down in a few days. He has great introduction success this way.  Linda will have to assist because I will be on my way to Apimondia 2013 in Ukraine in 3 days!

 My question to the beekeeping world out there is: Have you ever witness this uncontrolled egg production before? It seems really odd to me that both of my failing queens this year had the same issue. What is this???

September 13, 2013 – 1 Class Visit – 3 Group Rotation – 1 Surprise!

My colleague Levi Gardner, the Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP) founder and manager as well as energized teaching faculty member brought his students from Allendale for an Apiculture morning. On a 3 station rotations, students watched a few inspiring videos on bees, sat on a bee biology lecture with me and took a turn suiting up to open a bee hive. Each group got to perform an entire hive inspection.

 During the inspection of the SAP hive (so appropriate), one of the student who is already familiar with bees pointed to a beautiful UNmarked queen!!! You know what this all means my dear beekeeper friends… yes this hive had survive my queen cell killing spree by a week and the workers had not only crowned a new queen but she was also fertile already! See, what good things happen when you let nature take its course? Or at least, when you don’t butt in TOO early???

 I know if I didn’t kill all these queen cells in the Smart hive, it wasn’t a guaranty that a queen would have survived all the perilous steps to become a new fully performing fall queen, yet I should have given them a chance to try it.

 Now the question remains, should we re-queen the Smart hive? It doesn’t look broken, but why did the bees build all these queen cells in the first place, they know something I don’t…

September 5, 2013 – Damage Control

It is getting the best of me, I messed up the Smart hive plan, now surely there must be something to do! The queen should probably be replaced, yes, that is what we will do! When we look in, the queen is doing just fine, good brood pattern, no more queen cells. Why change a good thing right? I’ll let them bee… yes, now I will let them bee, trying to appease my conscience that I didn’t do anything to compromise them. All is fine!

August 29, 2013 – WARNING!!! Queen Cells WARNING!!!

You would think I would learn from my mistakes after a while! You would think I wouldn’t be so impulsive in the hive anymore! You would think I have acquired a bit more ‘beewise’ over time! Well, you would be WRONG!!!

 Linda and I looked in on Smart hive (on the scale) today, and guess what we found? Queen cell galore! I jumped the gun, knee jerk reflex, I am transported back to last fall when the hive swarmed late and I had no bee on the scale for the entire winter. No bees, no data!

 So what do I do? I kill all the queen cells and I try every thing I can to change their plans. Yes, that is what I shall do! And that is exactly what I did! What if that wasn’t the right thing to do? What if they were never going to swarm but rather supersede the queen that came with that package they probably should have replaced earlier anyway? What it?

 Well, it’s too late now, I didn’t give them a chance to do what they intended to do! I didn’t give myself a chance to think about it just a little more carefully… nope! I just had to butt in… 

July – August 2013 – No News is Good News

This might be hard to believe but we have had NOTHING interesting really to report. We have been inspecting hives periodically every other week or so and all is in order. I guess this is a GOOD thing as the usual interesting things to report are not usually good news for the hives. The rowdy Glass hive is back and performing normally again. Both the Smart hive on the scale and the 10 frame SAP hive were slow to build but seem in good enough shape to enter the fall. We extracted 2.5 supers from the Glass hive even after our emergency boot camp, and artificial queen supersedure. We have a few cases of fresh GVSU honey to sell over the winter.

 

Most of the students in the GVSU Beekeepers Club graduated in the spring and even with good intentions of staying involved, I have yet to see any return to the hive this summer with the exception of my faithful Linda, who now has a hive of her own and is becoming quite the little beekeeper. Let the recruiting begin all over again!

July 16, 2013 – Ode to Superstar

Back in 2012, the Glass hive workers superseded 6 times before they finally found the right Queen. The goldilock was born and she loved the attention; we named her superstar! Any frame lifted, it seemed she was there posing for all the curious eyes to see. She would show off her egg laying abilities, she would strut about the frame like she owned it (well she kind of did!). She got that colony up and going, produced fairly well for an original package of bees and went into the winter with confidence.

 

Superstar bee’s survived the winter!

 

So when Superstar colony started to act up a few weeks ago, it was hard to believe there was anything wrong with our celebrity. After removing her from her large queendom and giving her room to grow a new one, failure to do so became evident. The behavioral issues may have arose from a failing queen after  all. Superstar, the young queen may have abused her stardom, and aged before her time.

 

As I sat by her new hive to observe her, intent on figuring out why the colony was not thriving, I noticed that eggs were coming out of her before she could lower her abdomen to secure them in a cell, while workers would furiously cannibalize the extra eggs destined to fail. Superstar was ill-suited to rebuild her queendom!

 

Up to today, I was always able to avoid having to ‘dispose’ of a queen. I took pitty on Superstar as I felt she was in distress. I know, probably anthropomorphizing my bees again but that is still how I felt. So I took her in the palm of my hand, walked away from the hive, thanked her for her services and the hours of entertainement and education she had rendered, made a hole in the ground, lowered her in, ‘applied pressure’ and covered her with a good layer of soil and marked the spot with a stick. Then I got up and I sobbed!

 

After I regained my composure, I called Randy to tell him I was coming over to pick up a queen. It is getting really late in the season to let them raise their own and the colony was pretty small, only one deep barely half full.  This colony will become part of my personal apiary and cut all ties to GVSU’s apiary…

June 27, 2013 – Newbie in the Apiary

Working at the Holland Campus for the past few years as the beehives have been dreamed about, planned, and installed, I thought I knew all about them but I learned so much in my first short 30 minute trip out to the hives this morning.  It was exciting to not only learn about but to see the differences between the eggs, larva, capped brood, capped honey, workers, drones and the queens.  Anne Marie always refers to the bees so lovingly as “her girls” and it’s a contagious feeling, after just a few minutes out there working with them I felt like I wanted to take care of them and respect the work ther work in the hives.

 

We spent a little while inspecting each frames from each boxes to make sure eggs were laid, they were producing honey, and just generally doing what they are suppose to do.  We did flip the deep brood box and another super of brood from the SAP hive to encourage them to fill out the deep box a bit more. Other than that the bees were productive and working hard.  It was an experience I won’t soon forget and can’t wait to go back out again!

 

Kate VanDerKolk, GVSU Campus in Holland Student Service Coordinator

June 24, 2013 – Visit to Reform School, bringing down the house!

I had the weekend to plan my attack on the ‘rowdy’ Glass Hive. I had a few options after all. I could find the queen and destroy her, but after a year together we have developed quite de relationship my Superstar Queen and I, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I could break the big hive into 3 or more new colonies, but at the moment I have more colonies that I know where to put and certainly not enough honey. So I opted for a small colony made with the old faithful Superstar and keeping the remainder of the hive intact and introducing a couple of Randy’s queen cells in the hopes of getting a few gallons of honey from them. It turned out that Superstar was in the first brood chamber, a medium box I simply put move 10 feet away on a new bottom board complete with new empty medium box, an inner and outer cover. The left over of the Glass hive is now composed of a full deep brood box and 2 fairly full mediums. We gave them an extra empty honey super to keep them busy packing in honey until their new queen hatches, mates and starts laying for them.

What I am hoping for here is a new start for the Superstar, a second chance at a smaller queendom and a more down to earth attitude. As for the bigger remains of the hive, I hope that the change in location, the break in the brood cycle, the newly introduced genetics and 4-5 weeks will also adjust their mood. If all goes well, I am hoping to return the reformed with their new queen to Campus later this summer. Of course, we are talking about bees, I may be living in fantasy!!! To be continued…

June 20, 2013 – Rowdy Bees

More Bee Drama! After Linda’s solo expedition in the hive on Tuesday to make sure the queen was below the queen excluder, I was getting a bit concerned with the Glass hive’s behavior. Getting to my office this morning, I received an e-mail titled: Angry Bees! Oh oh! 2 of my students preparing for an educational program with the Heights of Hope kids here in town were working in the pumpkin patch located a good 200 yards from the hives. The e-mail reported a sprint back to the campus building after a handful of bees found my 2 students in the patch and ‘assaulted’ them. 1 student got stung around the eye twice. Thankfully, the heights of hope kids were not present at the time.

We are not talking about a one windy day or a few female students wearing a particular shampoo fragrance the bees seem to dislike. This is a behavior observed more and more clearly the past 2 weeks during 3 distinct inspections. This is an educational facility and I have 25+ kids ranging from 5-17 years of age coming to work in the pumpkin patch next week. The bees have to go!

The decision was made quickly, the Glass hive would have to be moved! I contacted my faithful and ever helpful beekeeper colleague Randy Slatchter and arranged to move the hive tonight after our beekeeper’s association meeting conveniently scheduled this evening and close by.

This brings up an interesting question. Why do some colonies develop more ‘rowdy’ behaviors?

Lets keep in mind this is the same hive that championed the winter and the same queen that has been laying for a year, with no noticeable behavior issues prior to a few weeks ago. Doesn’t this fact alone eliminate the possibility of aggressive genes and the role of genetics in this particular instance? Not exactly. The wonderful and insightful Jack Hartman here in Holland reminded me of my honey bee anatomy after tonight’s meeting. The queen holds the sperm of 10, 20 (and now some researchers say up to 40+) drones in her spermatheca. The spermatheca however is not an open chamber filled with the mix and match of all these drones’ contributions. It is composed of tiny sacs holding the sperm of fewer drones yet. So it would be possible for a queen  to get to a particular sac and lay a series of eggs fertilized with the more ‘rowdy’ genes of one or a few specific drones. This argument is plausible but more likely not the single simple answer I would like.

If we look at other factors potentially involved, one can argue this season has become fairly challenging for a big hive. The honey flow is on, I have been told. On the other hand, my bees are not acting like it is. Is it possible the nectar is not flowing as freely as 4 boxes filled with bees would need it to be? And without a full nectar availability, the bees are looking for trouble? Or rather defending more fiercely what they have?

If you thought I would provide an answer to this question, I fooled you! I can advance a few hypothesis but that is as far as I will go. Please feel free to provide your own explanation to this phenomenon and start a discussion.

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So after the meeting, I managed to recruit yet a few more experienced beekeepers to come help. Full disclosure here: I didn’t want to throw my back trying to lift the darn thing alone with Randy although he seemed to think it was no big deal. So, we arrived back on campus around twilight, Jack with his hive lift which made the job so much easier, Roy, Chuck, and Brian all suited up and of course Kamikaze Randy with no protective equipment. Now most beekeepers have their own way of working with thehives so it was interesting to see some planning the ambush while others just went to the hive and got started. Within approximately 15 minutes, the big hive was closed, loaded and fastened to Randy’s truck bed. Voilà!!!

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The Glass Hive Bees are on their way to Boot Camp/Reform School at Randy’s.