Honeybees do not have the most discriminating taste. If it is sugary, they will eat it.
We've known that about American honeybees since 2010, when beekeepers got weirded out by the strange red color in batches of Brooklyn honey and traced it back to Dell's Maraschino Cherries, a Brooklyn business in possession of vats of cherry syrup. The bees were sucking down that manufactured goodness like a 5-year-old with a Shirley Temple in both hands and the dye was turning their honey red.
Now, we know that French bees don't have much better taste. According to Reuters, bees were making batches of blue and green honey after feasting on "residue from containers of M&M's candy processed at a nearby biogas plant." Delicious? Yes. Classy? No. At least, not enough for French beekeepers. Reuters:
As for the M&M's-infused honey, union head Frieh said it might taste like honey, but there the comparison stopped.
When Meredith Turk, a Fulbright scholar in Slovenia, talked to local beekeepers about their colonies, she found that their bees hadn't been mysteriously dying off in the same way that American bees have been. Now, there's probably a scientific explanation for this, but we’d like to believe that the gorgeous painted beehives that Slovenes provide for their colonies also have something to do with it.
Slovenians have painted their beehive panels for centuries, with the idea that bees have better orientation when panels are painted bright colors. When the paintings first appeared, the themes were drawn from Biblical imagery, held in high regard by a strongly Catholic population. After Slovenia’s entry into Yugoslavia, organized religion was banned and panel images depicted more cultural and landscape scenes rather than religious ones prior.
Celeste Ets-Hokin stood before a garden of tall flowering plants inside Oakland’s Gardens at Lake Merritt. A bevy of blooms and a series of tiny holes drilled into a nearby tree stump-turned-nest had wooed a mist of bees. The apian army sang in a collective hum as the pollination garden’s lead volunteer stared at her wristwatch, notepad in hand, ready for some fun.
Ets-Hokin had 15 minutes to count bees. As her watch ticked, she peered at a sun-drenched stand of cosmos flowers, spotting, identifying, and noting everything from tiny sweat bees to honeybees and lumbering bumblebees. Between 11:40 and 11:55 she wrote frenetically with messy handwriting like a newspaper reporter (she was so excited that she accidentally went a little over the time limit).
All 37 of the bees Ets-Hokin spotted in her counting flurry happened to be native species, which have a sweet spot for the cosmos, although European honeybees were also abundant on nearby plants. The pesticide-free, flower-rich garden provides a sanctuary for all kinds of bees, which are critical for agriculture and vegetable gardens.
This timed bee-spotting exercise may sound like a game, but it’s more than that. For the past two years, thousands of volunteers have spent 15 minutes at a time counting and identifying bees for something called The Great Bee Count.
Beekeepers in the U.S., looking for a way to stop or slow the die-offs devastating their industry, are watching their options dwindle along with the bees. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected a petition [PDF] that beekeepers and environmental groups filed back in March asking EPA to stop sales of clothianidin, a pesticide believed to be harmful to bees. EPA said use of the chemical does not present an “imminent hazard” -- the requirement to suspend registration of a pesticide.
EPA defines an imminent hazard as harm that will occur “within the one to two years necessary to complete cancellation proceedings” and said it didn’t think that was likely with clothianidin.
And the agency is right. As scary as the bee losses are (beekeepers have seen an average 30 percent population decline every year since 2006, and 70 percent of our flowering plants need pollinators to reproduce, so … you do the math), we probably aren’t going to see a full-scale collapse of our food system within the next two years solely as a result of poisoned bees. We probably aren’t going to see a full-scale collapse of our energy system within the next two years, either -- but is that as far out as we’re planning these days?
Not so long ago, it was difficult to venture outdoors anywhere on the East Coast without encountering the rusty-patched bumblebee.
Named for a small brown patch on their abdomens, these bumblebees have been pollinating plum, apple, alfalfa, and other crops since long before farmers came to rely so heavily on boxed and trucked European honeybees.
Amid the plague of colony collapse disorder (CCD), some farmers are looking back to native pollinators like the rusty-patched bumblebee -- as well as hummingbirds and butterflies -- to help ensure that the nation can continue growing food. And in the process, they’re discovering a stinging reality that researchers have known for more than a decade: Many of North America’s once-plentiful bumblebee species have all but disappeared.
It’s a dreamy combination of hipster clichés: an urban farming-themed pop-up store made of salvaged materials. In Brooklyn. Maybe that’s why, when Hayseed’s Big City Farm Supply opened at the beginning of April, founder Meg Paska thought, “We're going to get mocked.” But mockery did not ensue; instead, an enthusiastic community response showed that Paska was on to something with this small, seasonal shop catering to the needs of people growing food and raising animals in the city.
Paska, who blogs about her own backyard garden, chicken coop, and beehive at Brooklyn Homesteader, started Hayseed’s with the folks who run Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm in Queens. The store will be around until early July in a space Paska rented from the design studio Domestic Construction. We chatted with Paska recently about the project.
Q.How did Hayseed’s Big City Farm Supply come together?
A. My business partners and I both kind of have our own urban farm things going on. We were talking one night over beers, and we both admitted that we had thought about opening a farm store. But we were concerned about retail spaces being really expensive. We kept our ears to the ground and hoped that something would present itself, and it did. A bunch of friends of mine had posted a Kickstarter campaign for a design studio a few blocks from my house. They were going to try and save the lot next to their studio and turn it into an urban farm. I asked them how they would feel about hosting a pop-up store, and they were really into the idea. Their studio is in a big mechanic’s garage. They rented out the front space to us and then actually built out a storefront with pallets and old wood. We didn’t spend a single cent on materials; they built it all with salvaged objects.
In 2009, lifelong beekeeper Dan Harvey faced an existential crisis when he lost much of his honeybee stock to colony collapse disorder (CCD). So the former Vietnam-era Special Forces veteran did what came naturally: He took to the deep dark woods of the Pacific Northwest, searching for answers to his predicament.
Harvey began by hunting for wild and feral bees living near his home in Port Angeles, Wash. (These bees have escaped from commercial colonies and find refuge in the tall timber and glens enveloping the Olympic Peninsula). For years, he crossbred the feral bees he captured with honeybees in order to produce hybridized hives that would be well-suited to the dank climes of the temperate rainforest region.
Turns out the honeybee colonies we've all been so concerned about didn't collapse after all -- they just moved to New Jersey. Specifically, they went to stay at a former bed and breakfast in Cape May, where 30,000 bees were just taken out of the attic.
Town and Country Pest Control is a father-son business in upstate New York that takes a holy-shit approach to its work. For instance, in the video below, they remove a bee colony with their bare hands and a box:
But as any bee-savvy keeper will tell you, this isn't as crazy as it looks. Swarms of honey bees like this one are likely searching for a new place to establish a hive. Since they've broken off from an established colony and aren't sure when they'll have a new home, they'll have fattened up on a bunch of honey, which makes stinging difficult. In general, though, honey bees just aren't that dangerous [PDF], beekeepers associations say:
A honey bee sting is rare indeed -- even when bees are swarming. If a honey bee stings, it is usually to defend the hive that contains its young and its food supply -- the honey bee dies as its stinger is ripped from its body.
There's even a long tradition of "bee bearding" -- attracting bees to you and letting them hang out on your body in the shape of a beard.