Good News, Twice, for Bees

It’s been a busier than usual week for bees. According to an October 3 story in the Washington Post, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to put seven species of yellow-faced bees, all native to Hawaii, on the Endangered Species List – the first time bees have been so designated.

These bees – whose name derives from their distinctive yellow-white facial coloration — pollinate many of Hawaii’s trees and shrubs, and are key to maintaining the health and diversity of the state’s forests.

Also on October 3, the Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution declaring the state’s largest metropolis a “Bee Friendly City,” according to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The resolution was designed “to encourage and promote urban beekeeping and to raise awareness of the importance of bees to our environment.” More than 200 apiaries are registered in Philadelphia County, and the city itself is where the “removable-frame hive was invented in 1851,” the Inquirer reports.

Back to Hawaii and the Endangered Species List. According to the Post, it took almost a decade to achieve the Endangered Species designation. Karl Magnacca, a Hawaii-based entomologist who helped research the bees for the Oregon-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, told the Associated Press that the designation “is excellent news for these bees, but there is much work that needs to be done to ensure that [they] thrive.”

The article also notes that while honeybees get most of the bee-centered publicity because of their pollination efforts, some scientists contend that wild bees deserve just as much attention, “even if fewer wild species are responsible for crop pollination.” Native bees also help maintain habitats for other species.

Interesting fact: The Xerces Society is named after the Xerces blue butterfly, “the first butterfly known to go extinct in North America as a result of human activities,” Magnacca told the AP, the Post reported.

Butterflies are pollinators, too. We should all hope that bees — honeybees, bumblebees, native bees, all bees — don’t suffer the same fate as the Xerces blue.



Recent “Bees on the Roof” Sightings

Sirius Radio interviewed me and a local beekeeper last week about the book, beekeeping and Colony Collapse Disorder; and the National Geographic Voices site published an article about the book and my comments on CCD on its home page on Tuesday.

In addition, I appeared at the Baltimore Book Festival on Sunday with a girls’ reading club that had read “Bees on the Roof” and were on stage with me to discuss the book during a 38-minute podcast.

It was a wonderful event. The girls pointed out themes and characters they especially liked, while the emcee encouraged them to talk about topical issues like cheating, bullying, disobeying one’s parents and so forth – all touched on in the book’s plot. I will be returning to Baltimore for another book discussion, this time with a group of sixth-grade boys. I think the discussion will be vastly different, but I have no idea how.fullsizerender8

One Beekeeper, Two Wright Brothers

Leave it to a beekeeper to make aviation history. An Ohio entrepreneur/beekeeper named Amos Root was, according to reports, the only person to actually witness the Wright brothers’ airplane flights in 1904 and 1905. And not just witness them, but write about them in a publication he founded called “Gleanings in Bee Culture.”

Root makes an appearance in David McCullough’s “The Wright Brothers” and also in an article on PBS’s Nova site. As the Nova site says, “almost as astonishing as the fact that a pair of bicycle shop owners invented the airplane” is that the first “accurate reporting on their earliest flights appeared” not in The New York Times or Scientific American, but in “an obscure journal for beekeepers.”

Root, a beekeeping hobbyist from his early twenties on, started a company in Medina, Ohio, that made beehives and beekeeping equipment. One of his best inventions was developing removable frames so that a beekeeper could harvest honey without destroying the hive.

Root also started a candle-making company called Root Candles that is still in existence today. According to an article in The Cleveland Plain Dealer, the company, which sits next to Amos Root’s old homestead in Medina, makes 20 million home décor candles every year. The company’s president is a great-great grandson of Amos.

Root, who showed a lifelong interest in technology, heard about the Wright brothers’ efforts to fly and drove to Huffman Prairie outside of Dayton to witness their first successful effort.

According to the Nova report, he had the following comment on the historical event that he witnessed: “…These brothers have probably not even a faint glimpse of what their discovery is going to bring to the children of men. No one living can give a guess of what is coming along this line, much better than anyone living could conjecture the final outcome of Columbus’ experiment…”



Photo from Wikipedia

Bees: Collateral Damage in the Fight Against Zika

More than two million honeybees were killed earlier this week after being sprayed by a pesticide intended to wipe out mosquitoes, including ones causing the Zika virus.

An official in Dorchester County, S.C., where the spraying occurred, said it was “a mistake,” according to an article in The New York Times on September 2.

A mistake? Apparently a county official had failed to “follow the local government’s standard procedure of notifying registered beekeepers about the deployment of pesticides,” the Times wrote.

One of those registered beekeepers found the dead honeybees shortly after the spraying when she went into her apiary and noticed that the usual hum of activity had gone totally silent.

Dorchester County recently reported four travel-related cases of Zika in the area, according to the Times, which caused officials to decide on aerial spraying using a mosquito-eradication pesticide called naled. Naled is said to kill not only honeybees, but other pollinators as well.

The website of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that while naled “does pose some risk to aquatic invertebrates (such as shrimp and water fleas) and terrestrial wildlife, it dissipates rapidly and does not persist in the environment…” However, the site also suggests that “applications made between dusk and dawn, while bees are not typically foraging, can reduce exposure to honey bees.”

Only if you are told by your local government that the “application” is about to occur.

Clearly the need to fight the Zika virus should be high on everyone’s list, but it’s equally clear that we should be taking every precaution to limit the collateral damage caused by pesticides. Two million honeybees can’t exactly be replaced overnight.

I don’t think Colony Collapse Disorder – with all its still unknown causes – is yet on enough people’s radar screens. This most recent catastrophe is just one example. As Juanita Stanley, owner of the stricken apiary, noted to the Times: “One word is very fitting. It’s ignorance. We, as humans, are not doing the research and finding out the facts before we make decisions.”


The Honey War Down Under

Try reading this out loud: “In converting the nectar into honey, the bees also convert the dihydroxyacetone into methylglyoxal.”

It’s from a photo caption in a September 1, 2016, Wall Street Journal article reporting on manuka honey, a very expensive New Zealand brand of honey that is thought to help in the healing of wounds, burns and ulcers, among other uses. The honey’s popularity has led New Zealand-based Unique Manuka Factor to apply for a trademark, effectively “preventing producers outside New Zealand from labeling their honey manuka,” says the Journal. The article points out that the export value of ordinary honey is about 20 U.S. cents an ounce [while] manuka honey can bring $3.40” an ounce.

The trademark application has angered honey producers in Australia where manuka trees, known there as “jellybush,” also make the sweet, costly concoction. Australia’s honeybee council plans to contest Unique Manuka Factor’s application.

The labeling war reflects the burgeoning popularity of this “superfood,” which, according to the Journal, has been acclaimed by TV personality Kourtney Kardashian and tennis star Novak Djokovic. Part of its appeal reflects the fact that it can either be eaten or, alternatively, added to products that can benefit from the antibacterial properties of methylglyoxal.

And you thought honey was one of those rare, non-controversial, much-loved, natural products that couldn’t possibly cause any dissension anywhere?


Sweet September

honeyweekSeptember is back-to-school month for many kids, but it’s something even more important, at least if you’re a bee or beekeeper. It’s National Honey Month — so designated by the National Honey Board back in 1989 as a way to support the beekeeping industry and to remind people of honey’s role as a sweetener and a source of nutrition. National Honey Month is also a nod to all the beekeepers who typically spend August and September harvesting honey from their hives, making sure to leave enough for the bees to eat during the winter.

Below, in honor of the occasion, are two favorite — and simple — honey-bearing recipes.

Honey Chicken:

Melt 1/2 stick butter in shallow baking pan. Stir in 1/2 cup honey, 1/4 cup prepared mustard, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. curry powder. Roll six chicken breasts in the mixture to coat both sides. Cook in same pan at 375 degrees for approximately 50 minutes (depending on the thickness of the chicken). Baste periodically.

Honey Muffins:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In large bowl, mix 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 tsps. baking power and 1/2 tsp. salt. In a small bowl, mix 1 egg, 1 cup 2% milk, 1/4 cup melted butter and 1/4 cup honey. Stir into dry ingredients until moistened. Add blueberries (try 1/2 cup), and fold in gently. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups 3/4 full and bake 15 to 18 minutes. Cool 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm (with strawberry jam or more honey, if desired).



Texas Honey

mikailaulmeruse this.jpg

An 11-year-old girl from Austin, Texas, will soon be seeing her product – Me & the Bees Lemonade – on the shelves of Whole Foods.

According to an article in the Huffington Post by blogger Mary Snapp, Mikaila Ulmer has adapted a 1940s recipe for lemonade by adding in local Texas honey. Her concoction won an investment from the ABC series “Shark Tank” plus the Whole Foods distribution deal.

Better yet, from beekeepers’ point of view, she is investing some of her profits to, among other groups, the Texas Beekeepers Association, according to Snapp, who is corporate vice president of Microsoft Philanthropies.

The seventh grader is also trying to spread the word about the dangers honeybees face in today’s environment, and what young people can do to help protect them. Snapp says Ulmer is learning how to code “so she can build a mobile app as an educational resource for bee protection.”

Meanwhile, Microsoft is partnering with WE Day in a broadcast celebrating Ulmer and others that will air August 28, 2016, on ABC. The event is organized by WE Charity, a group that, according to its website, “motivates youth to take action on local and global issues.”