Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Neonicotinoid Argument Continues

Last week David Aston, the chairman of the British Bee Keepers Association, sent out a letter to members regarding the BBKA position (or lack of one) on neo-nicotinoids. As this letter arrived at the time that the UK Government's Environmental Audit Committee was finalising the taking of evidence on the use of neo-nicotinoids, and as the EU were about to make a decision on banning three specific neo-nicotinoid pesticides, it has generated quite a bit of debate.

The "pro" pesticide lobby, which includes DEFRA and the BBKA, and I say that only because they have consistently ignored the scientific evidence on the effect of these chemicals on bees for years, have grasped at the straw that whilst the European Food Safety Agency press release on the proposed ban said that neonicotinoid use on plants that attract bees was unacceptable, the EU report did not. This is both true and disingenuous. The report, and I have read all 55 pages of it, is aimed at the scientific reader and lists many combinations of crop and formulation that pose "a high acute risk to honey bees". The press release, which is aimed at the general public, uses the word "unacceptable" in place of "high acute risk".

Personally I am waiting for the EU decision later this month, and am hoping that will trigger DEFRA into banning, or at least imposing a moratorium, on neo-nicotinoids for the next few years whilst further testing takes place. Should DEFRA drag their feet, then Buglife, the invertebrate charity, are waiting in the wings to take legal action against them for failing to protect the environment.

I hope that this will eventually lead to an investigation into why DEFRA, and specifically the National Bee Unit have such close links with the agro-chemical companies. It should also focus on why the Chemical Regulation Directorate and the Advisory Committee on Pesticides were so slow to realise that the testing and risk assessment regimes they used were totally inadequate for this generation of systemic, seed treated and cumulative pesticides. After all they have only been around 15 years.

It seems that governments and regulators have yet again been found wanting and it is only persistent campaigning by special interest groups with the help of sympathetic journalists that lead to improvements in society.

Dr Bernie Doeser
Small Blue Marble

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

TO ALL LEADING UK SUPERMARKETS: Please remove bee-killing pesticides from your shelves!

Please write to all of the above and any other addresses you can find. If you are not in the UK, send something similar to your own supermaket HQs.

Dear Sirs,

You will be aware by now that two leading UK retailers are to remove products containing neonicotinoids from their shelves:

We ask you to follow their example and make a point of demonstrating your 'bee-friendly' credentials to your customers, who will, I am sure, respond positively.

The European Food Standards Authority has established that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptable risk to bees and there is considerable scientific evidence that they are also lethal to other important pollinators.
Friends of the Bees request that you consider:
1. Removing all garden products, include lawn treatments, and spray presticides containing neonicotinoids, from your shelves.

2. Ensuring that suppliers of plants, bulbs and seeds have not and will not use neonicotinoids in soil, or neonicotinoid treated bulbs and seeds.
Neonicotinoids include the following chemicals (some not present currently in garden products, but for your information): imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, thiacloprid, clothiandin, Acetimacloprid, Dinotefuran and Nitenpyram.

Philip Chandler
Friends of the Bees Ltd

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Bee Behaviour

This an extremely interesting and thought provoking essay on the complexity of bee and ant colonies.
COMPLEXITY EXPLAINED: 2. Swarm Intelligence

“In Part 1 of this series of articles, I gave a general and simple-minded definition of a complex system. Before we go into the details of how complexity can be quantified, I shall describe here a couple of interesting and well-investigated examples of how something approaching intelligence arises in a complex system comprising of non-intelligent individuals. I shall explain how honeybees in a beehive, and ants in an ant colony, operate as a single, intelligent, super-organism. I shall also point out how we humans can draw some practical lessons from studies on these complex systems.”

“I end this article by quoting what Doyne Farmer had to say about the importance of investigating complex systems of all types:
So when we ask questions like how life emerges, and why living systems are the way they are – these are the kind of questions that are really fundamental to understanding what we are and what makes us different from inanimate matter. The more we know about these things, the closer we’re going to get to fundamental questions like, ‘What is the purpose of life?’ Now, in science we can never even attempt to make a frontal assault on questions like that. But by addressing a different question – like, Why is there an inexorable growth in complexity? – we may be able to learn something fundamental about life that suggests its purpose, in the same way that Einstein shed light on what space and time are by trying to understand gravity.”

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Pollen-free? Not for me!!!

This blog post was written in response to Kim Flottum's CATCH THE BUZZ Email on 4/24/12:  There’s More To The Highly Filtered Honey Story.  Read more here:

I am shaking my head in wonder....  why would somebody want to "filter" the pollen out of honey?

People -- POLLEN is not an IMPURITY!

So I have to wonder - what is the point of filtering all the life-giving wonder out of the most amazing, special, magical, sacred food on the planet?  Have we become THAT disconnected to think that POLLEN is an unwanted thing in HONEY?

It's a bit like peeling a potato and eating only the starchy insides, throwing away the nutrient dense skin.  Well, isn't it?

Or... are the honey packers hiding something?  And if so, what?  Who would want honey that had been stripped of its signature nectar source or geographical origin?  Or are they just taking advantage of the fact that not enough of us are aware (yet) that honey can be so abused by processing, and made valueless (in the search for the almighty dollar,) and yet still be beautiful enough to be sold as honey?  Even though it's essentially *dead* at that point?

A jar full of glowing golden liquid, with light shining through it - is beautiful, yes - but if the honey has been processed to within an inch of its life, you can get the same effect by collecting pretty bottles and filling them with colored water.

A veritable rainbow...
Red, Orange, Yellow... Honey!
So without the pollen, where's the value in honey?  I mean, I guess we all used to want the perfect, round, red, unblemished apple... thinking it some sign of "new and improved", or "perfection" - or maybe we just hoped it would impress the teacher better...  But aren't we past that grade school mentality by now?

Don't we get it that nature is a little messier than that?  A little more "real"?  That it requires a little more of us - that it requires us to think, to understand, to actually be connected to it, to know that we are a PART of it?

And - pay attention, pollen allergy sufferers (like me) - there is no MEDICINE in the honey if there is no POLLEN in it.  Just as well put sugar in your tea for all the health benefit it provides... 

POLLEN is why, if you have pollen allergies, you want unprocessed honey from as local as you can get it... like for instance, your own backyard.

So if this makes sense to you - and if backyard beekeeping is something you've been wondering about - stop by to learn how you can become your own backyard beekeeper - and have REAL honey - pure, natural honey that is FREE of the chemicals that industrial beekeepers use in their hives, and FULL of the lovely pollen that is SUPPOSED TO BE THERE!

Pollen is what prevents honey from being a runny, crystal clear, amber colored, liquid sweetener - kind of like brown Splenda in a Squeezy Bear.  Get the real deal.  Because it matters.  Really, it does.

Ways to Get Bees for in your Top Bar Hive

Ways to Get Bees for in your Top Bar Hive

Collecting a fantastic swarm!
A swarm of honey bees
A swarm. The beautiful thing about a swarm is that swarming is the natural reproduction process of honeybees. That means that the bees in a swarm are a finely tuned, well-organized “colony”. The bees are the right ages for the tasks they will be performing in their new home when it is found, and they are all related to each other, and they are all related to their queen. This is about as close to natural as you could ask for!

A swarm’s ability to build wax and fill your top bar hive with honeycomb is just amazing!
HOWEVER – The difficulty with starting your hive with a swarm is that you cannot predict its arrival time – or even if a swarm will come your way at all. You might say that they are a “gift of nature.”

Or a package. A package of bees has advantages for the beekeeper. You can “order” a package. So you know you’ve got bees coming, and when.

A beautiful package of bees!
A 3# package of bees
While it's not the most natural method, at least you know when it’s expected to arrive.

A drawback of package bees is that they likely have not had the best time of it just before they come to live in your top bar beehive. They are bees of random ages, tumbled together with bees from many other hives in an apiary – they are unrelated, disorganized, and expected to get on with an artificially raised queen that they have never met before.

The package process is an artificial process and not so good for bees, but they seem to be able to adapt and overcome, and organize themselves into a colony and go forward. Our goal is to offer you the very best, healthiest package bees with emphasis on natural cell size and treatment-free management.

So – with those options to consider – you can now make a choice. Swarm or Package?

Start your top bar hive off right – download our free Hive Start-up Handbook here.

We will be selling package bees in 2013. Joining our newsletter will get you the information as soon as it posts:

Now, let’s talk about nucs. Just what is a nuc in the bee world? A nuc is the nickname given to a “nucleus colony”. It works like this – you buy a nuc, which is like a little starter hive of bees – you take it home, and you remove five empty frames from your Langstroth hive, and you replace them with five frames (and the comb, and the accompanying bees) from the nuc. Voila – instant beehive. If you are using Langstroth equipment, this works beautifully… because it comes on Langstroth equipment!

A 5 frame "nuc" colony
A Langstroth "nuc"
But sometimes novice beekeepers don’t realize that a conventional “nuc” isn’t going to fit in a top bar hive. And they may not be quite sure what questions to even ask, so the company they are purchasing from doesn’t even know how to keep them from making this error – buying bees that won’t work in their top bar hive.

Primarily, it’s a question of non-compatible, non-interchangeable equipment. Top Bar Hives, with their natural wax, are not shaped anything like Langstroth hives. Yes, there are tales of brave (or crazy?) beekeepers who cut apart the frames of a conventional nuc in order to make it fit into a top bar hive – we call that a “hack and slash” or “chop and crop” job.
We would like to discourage you from doing that – and one obvious reason for that is because it’s very hard on the bees, who also get pretty angry about the whole process. But another reason to avoid a nuc is that it means that you are introducing the Langstroth hive’s foundation wax into your clean top bar hive. And since standard-sized wax foundation is a bit the wrong size, and has also been found to contain about 170 different chemical contaminants – it’s sort of like shooting yourself in the foot before you even begin. Let’s at least let the bees have their own way about making clean, natural comb – they know what’s best.

So a nuc is just not the best choice for populating your top bar hive.

Make sense? We thought it would.

Thanks for listening!

It’s not about the honey, Honey - it’s about the Bees!

Back in the early days of Gold Star Honeybees, when it was a beekeeping service, long before I offered the first Gold Star Deluxe model top bar hive for sale, I had some brightly colored t-shirts printed up, as many enthusiastic entrepreneurs are wont to do.  On the front the shirts said, “It’s not about the honey, Honey” – and on the back they said, “It’s about the bees!”

When talking about a super organism (and what is a hive of bees if not a super organism?) it can be difficult to get far enough away from the subject to get the kind of perspective on it that is broad enough to see all the parts.  You get a case of that “can’t see the forest for the trees” thing going on.  So I had some people say to me… “What? How can bees not be about honey?”  I think they thought I was missing the point.

Well, as it turns out – there are three very important things that bees are about – and that they do without any encouragement from us at all:

Thing One:  Bees make more bees.  Bees do this amazing thing called “swarming” – a little bit scary, a little bit magic.  It’s a bit like cell division, a process involving the entire hive.   It’s nothing like when a mommy dog and a daddy dog get together, and then you get little dogs.  Bees just don’t work like that.  They reproduce the entire colony at one shot – at the hive level.  If they weren’t able to do this – we’d likely be all out of bees by now, with the problems bees have had over the years, thanks to us humans.

Thing Two:  Bees pollinate a lot of the food we eat.  That means:  fruit, vegetables, herbs, nuts… if we didn’t have those foods, we would have only oatmeal, bread, essentially, grain or “gruel”, if you will.  What about meat, you ask?  If nobody’s pollinating the alfalfa – what’s a cow to eat?  (It’s all connected remember?  Oh wait, that’s another blog post…)

Thing Three:  Bees make honey.  Oddly enough, honey is what honeybees EAT!  And bees are pretty smart about that – they know to be industrious and make honey while the sun is shining – in preparation for times when there isn’t any other food.  That’s what they are spending their time doing when you’re watching them – that, and pollinating, and getting ready to make more bees.

So the upshot of the whole conversation is that if you’ve got healthy honeybees – there will be some honey!  It’s all part of the natural system that goes on inside a beehive.  But it has to start with the bees.

Healthy bees do all the important things that bees do without any coaxing or cajoling or forcing or manipulating.  So it would seem that the important thing for us humans to do would be to focus on healthy honeybees.

So you could say it IS about the honey, Honey.  But only AFTER it’s about the bees.

Bottle of honey

Friday, 18 January 2013

How To Make Your Own Bee-Friendly Zone

Here's an idea that is simple, easy to implement, and that will make a difference to everyone's quality of life!

The idea is to create Bee-Friendly Zones in as many places as possible, from window boxes to gardens, from public parks to whole towns and cities.

This is complementary to the excellent work done by the Bee Guardian Foundation - please support them!

What is a Bee-Friendly Zone?
Simply a safe place for bees and other pollinators to forage and go about their business.

A Bee-Friendly Zone has:
  • bee-friendly flowers - especially wild flowers - and 
  • no toxic chemicals.
This means you can make a BFZ really easily by: 
  • planting some wild flower seeds, and 
  • avoiding the use of any insecticides or herbicides 

Literally anyone with access to even a small patch of land can make a BFZ - and if you only have room for a windowbox or a planter, that can also be a BFZ.

OK, it sounds simple, so what's the big deal?

Imagine if you make your garden a BFZ and put up a sign that says,

'This is a Bee-Friendly Zone

Your neighbours get curious and ask you about it and some of them also make BFZs. They tell their friends on Facebook and Twitter... You get the picture: soon we could have BFZs springing up all over the place - schools, public parks, whole neighbourhoods...

And all these BFZs are free from toxic pesticides. Which means that fewer and fewer people buy them and all the big stores and garden centres don't even sell them anymore, because people kept asking them, 'Why do you sell this stuff that kills bees?'.

How quickly could we make this happen?

Find out more here.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

New member

Thanks, Phil for the invitation.  Great to be aware of your involvement with beekeeping and to hear about your new book.  I see that you intend to host a conference at Green and Away.  As you know, it was pretty wet there this year.

The photos of their site look good and I'm happy to see that they have several bookings for 2013. If you think I can be of value for you there, please let me know.
I remember how much help you gave the WFA there in 2006.  Seems like ages have gone by.

Let's catch up sometime.

Best wishes,


Once upon a time...

Once upon a time - not so very long ago - all farming was 'organic'. The soil was fed with manures and compost; pests were managed by multi-cropping and rotation; crops were grown according to their suitability for the local climate and soil type. Farming and food were the focus of seasonal celebrations, and haymaking brought everyone into the fields.
     In those days, the air was alive with multitudes of birds and insects, each with its ecological niche,  dependent on one another and ultimately on the living soil, full of bacteria, fungi and myriad creatures that silently maintained its fertility. Farmers knew that healthy soil was everything; neither plant nor beast could thrive without it.
     When mechanization made it possible to plough faster than a horse, farmers were encouraged to rip out hedges to make bigger fields. Instead of a few acres of a variety of crops, they began to grow hundreds of acres of the same crop, attracting insects and birds that found a monoculture of their favourite food irresistible. Chemical manufacturers found a new market for poisons that could be spread on the fields to kill these 'pests' and crop rotation fell out of fashion in favour of the 'modern' way: short-term fertility induced by drugs, turning farmers into junkies at the mercy of agri-chemical pushers.
     Now, there are many fewer farmers and almost none who knew farming before chemicals. They sit in air-conditioned tractors, high above the soil, heedless of the lack of life below. Or they sit in front of a screen, viewing satellite images of their land, looking for patches in need of yet more artificial fertilizer.
     Where there was  once a thriving community of worms, nematodes, beetles and countless other creatures, there is now a sterile wasteland incapable of supporting life. Soil has become merely a support medium for plants, which are utterly dependent on synthetic chemical inputs, supplied by the same companies that manufactured poison gas for the Nazis.
     Bees, once integrated into the farming economy and respected and nurtured for their pollination of orchard fruit and hedgerow, now struggle to survive among the systemically-toxic crop plants. Insecticides are now added to the plant's vascular system by means of seed coatings - like putting a nicotine patch on your arm - so every part of them is now poisonous to bees and any other creature that dares to nibble a root, a leaf, a stem, or drink its nectar or take its pollen. 
     For the sake of glossy, out-of-season fruit and vegetables on supermarket shelves year-round, we have put at risk the very survival of the species on which we - and the health of the planet - ultimately depend. If we continue to allow a handful of super-rich, trans-national corporations free rein to peddle their poisons, regardless of the devastation they cause, then we will be held as culpable as they when our grandchildren ask why we, knowing what was happening, sat back, watching TV, while their planet slowly died.

Phil Chandler