Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Results

-Posted by Isaac

Well, the results are in. Not only from our little corn planting experiment, but the USDA winter loss report made the press this week. First, a little on that...  23.2%

Wow. Now I really feel like a crappy beekeeper. We lost 65% of ours. Jim lost 67% of his. I've talked to two commercial beekeepers in northern Ohio, each with close to 1000 hives. 75% and 79% loss. (And these guys are generational. As in, they know what they're doing.)

Where is this 23.2% coming from? (Well, it says where it's coming from, right on the above website. 7,200 self reporting beekeepers. It's just really hard for me to believe. Especially after the worst winter in recent memory.)

 The bee magazines are reporting higher:
Only two regions were lower then 23.2%... these regions were not in the corn belt.
I don't know. It leaves some of us scratching our heads. And many of us thinking these figures are either skewed somehow or completely bogus
Oh well, enough of that.

The corn planting:
You can barely make out the planter in the background
The results were favorable. No dead bees. Well, just a few. But nothing like we saw before. To catch you up, what we tried here was a different seed surfactant. This was a waxy substance, not graphite, not talc, put in the planter boxes to try and control the planter dust problem. Sorry I didn't get a picture... it's in a tractor pulling a planter at the moment. The product is produced by Bayer CropScience. And so is the seed treatment, a systemic insecticide. The thinking is that the dust behind the planter is carrying a little of the seed treatment in the wind. This causes a real problem for bees... as we saw a few weeks ago.

I was working a yard not far away when Adam called.
The big sprayer in the adjacent field gave me some company. And more than a few worries.

Adam had been planting corn for an hour or so when I got there.
Very few bees seemed adversely affected.

A day later:
Still nowhere close to the death we saw before.
Hooray! It worked!
Well... not so fast. There are many different variables to contend with, and this was just one small trial, an extremely small data set. (Don'tcha just love science, Rachel Scior?)
But I am happy that we didn't see piles of bees and I'll willingly praise Bayer for something in the right direction.

This all happened after I got mad enough to fire off a snotty little email to Bee Culture Magazine. What provoked me was an article about the "great" things Bayer is doing for bee health.
It's all lip service! I did some research. I made some calls. The result... I got really angry. I'll share this with you in the next post. (Why stop the rant when I'm on such a roll?)
Thank you to so many who have shared your thoughts and feelings on this chemical issue. You feel marginalized. You feel ignored. And mostly you feel like the environment is becoming spoiled at the hands a few companies. With the government's blessing! I think I'm joining your camp.

Adam found this article in a farm magazine:

He was not ready to rejoice that our little experiment turned out favorably.
As I said... many variables:

And the real issue:
Although the initial bee kill is striking and grabs the attention, this is not the real worry. The problem is what is coming into the hive? What is out there, year after year, pervasive and insidious.

And back to the little complaint I started out with:

23.2%  ???
Mark Twain may help us ferret this one out.

"There are three kinds of lies: liesdamned lies and statistics."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Where are the Good Guys?

-Posted by Isaac

One more rant and I'll lay off.

Unless our little experiment with the corn planting turns out to be ugly. Then you can be sure I'll be back at it.
This present experiment continues to be ugly:
Bees keep piling up. Foragers and nurse bees alike.

I'm almost ready to call this a true bee kill.

The researchers have gone home. The reporters have gotten their story. The EPA has been notified.

I continue taking samples:
Hey Barbara Bloetscher! Reed Johnson! Robert Miller!
Want more?

But will anything become of it? I'm very skeptical.
And here lies the rant...
It's so painfully obvious that something is wrong here. It was obvious in 2012 with Jim's bee kill and beekeepers nationwide during the last decade.
Something is wrong!
Why are the wheels turning so slow?
Why does it take months to run a test on a few bee samples?

A small beekeeper in podunk Williamsport Ohio garners some attention for just a moment... and then gets ignored.
Big beekeepers, Jim Doan, Dave Hackenberg, scream about neonics... and get ignored.
Jim North had the spotlight:

and got ignored...
Maybe "ignored" is the wrong word. There are people working on this, I know. Very smart people.
But the money is on the wrong side. The good guys don't have the money.

It's hard to read the above article, but one maddening thing that caught my eye was the spokesman for Bayer CropScience.  His explanation for the 2012 dead bees was the early spring: "...bees are coming out earlier and there is not enough available food for them."
Are you kidding?  Not enough food?
There were flowers everywhere! The bees were making honey!
What a load of crap! And that statement actually stood. It got published... and believed! I had a friend who works for the ODA repeat much the same thing when I confronted him with the issue.

What we needed was a good guy. Someone to step in and say, "Um, Mr. Bayer CropScience you should shut up now because you sound like an idiot."
"Bees don't starve in big dead piles in front of the hive."
"Bees don't starve when it's 70 degrees out and the honeysuckle is in bloom."
Where was our good guy? Someone to point the finger, unleash the hounds, make the laws, change the chemicals...
Muffled and choked, that's where. Bayer has the money.

And speaking of honeysuckle. It's blooming!

Bees just love this stuff.

And as I said in that blog post that got all the attention, this plant lines the fields. It's a great thing but could turn deadly... if millions of flowers happen to be catching dust from a corn planter.
 We just have to hope that the bloom and the planting don't coincide. Cross your fingers.

Should it really have to come to that?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lessons Learned / More Experiments

-Posted by Isaac

If my lazy wife would ever do a blog post, you could take a break ("Honey! The baby is crying again!"). As it is, here I am again still picking up the pieces from the corn planting discovery. I have learned some lessons:

-If you're going to spout off about something, it's best to stick to one issue. Namely, the most concerning one. For me, it's the bees. Sorry I sidetracked.

-When spouting off, get your facts straight. Be 100% sure, as my brother said.

-No more sneaky pictures without permission. That was low of me and I still can't shake a rotten feeling of breached trust.

-On a blog like this, it's fine to have opinions (especially if they're always right, like mine), but I'll be toning it down in certain areas. My mental health takes a beating when people are mad at me. I'll never go into politics. Or back to teaching.

That post touched a nerve with many people. And a few of the right people. It culminated in a little publicity on WBNS-10TV
Another lesson: I need a haircut.

So my cousin Adam is on board for another bee / corn planting experiment. I have another bee yard that sits right on a field due to be planted as soon as it dries up. Probably next week. I put cardboard beneath the entrances today. The bees seem healthy and plenty of pollen was coming into the hives as I watched.

This time a new flowable seed surfactant will be used in the planter boxes... instead of talc or graphite. They ordered it special for me.  I am truly grateful. And interested to see if anything changes.

A side experiment will be going on also. In the background you can see how covered this field is with the yellow wild mustard. It will have to be burned down with (I think) 2-4D.  I'll find out for sure.

I have in the past claimed that 2-4D has no adverse effects on bees. This is based on my observations over years of spraying on the golf course and having bees in close vicinity. Many beekeepers say I'm wrong.
We'll see what we see.
My hypothesis: we won't see dead bees with the initial 2-4D burn down, but after the corn gets planted, we'll see much of what we saw before... definite pesticide kill. I hope I'm wrong, but think this new product is just lip service to quiet the screams of pollinator protection advocates.

So we're set up and ready. I'm grateful and happy to have the farmers helping in this. Regardless of what happens, I'll fill you in on the results.
"It's about science, Mason!"

Thursday, May 8, 2014

More Chemical Fallout

-Posted by Isaac

I'm still fired up about this. Bear with me, things will simmer down and be back to normal soon.

So this morning I checked these nine hives here at home.
Many more dead bees out front:

This is still nowhere close to what I would consider a true bee kill, but I did find one rather distressing thing-- a queen! Out in the pile in front of one of the better hives.
My mood turned sour from the get-go.

Late in the afternoon, Buzz Taylor pulled in the drive.
Bee Kill!
Years ago I helped Buzz get started in bees and he's still going strong.

But this kind of thing can make even the strong quiver with apprehension.

The corn was planted yesterday.

So for just a moment I was thinking maybe I was a little harsh on the EPA in that last post. You know, they're intelligent people, government employees all doing the best they can for the public good. So what if the wheels turn a little slower here in the US? We'll get it right eventually. They're staying busy... right?
Well now... that explains some things. 
My mother, with her wry sense of humor, dropped off some reading material.
Very interesting.
...The employee caught viewing ponograghy is still on the payroll, earning about $120,000 a year...

Be careful, Mom. You never know what's going to end up on this blog.

This is what I saw today.

-Posted by Isaac
 (At the risk of opening a major can of worms)

This is going to be a long post and I'll be straying away from the usual chit-chat. If you want more of that, tune in next week. I'll tell you all about this year's apple pollination.
I'm really on the fence about even broadcasting this because it's bound to ruffle some feathers. I don't like controversy and the last thing I want to do is land myself in the middle of it.  But this has been weighing heavy on my mind all day, so here goes...

It sort of started with a message on Facebook. My good friend, Layne Schwier sent me this link yesterday. He asked, "Is there any truth to this?"
Just another stupid petition about neonic pesticides..The kind that does nothing, but makes somebody feel good. Instead of the appropriate response (Layne, don't get your panties in a bunch. And stay off of Facebook.), I chose not to respond. Mainly because I don't know how. There is so much screaming about neonics... and pesticides in general. I hear it every week at market. I read about it-- bee mags, farm mags, blogs, etc...  And still I really don't know what to think. I'm from a farm background and I'm torn. The only up-close experience I've had with a bee kill was two years ago. Jim North had hundreds of hives with big piles of dead bees. This kill coincided with the corn planting on a hot dusty week in April. We visited several of his bee yards. He called the Circleville Herald and the Columbus Dispatch. They came and did interviews.
By May the dust had settled, the hives were looking healthy and life went on. A flash fire of controversy that Jim said (bitterly) would all get swept under the rug. He was right. Jim had lost his spring honey crop, but as it turned out it was a pretty good year for making honey. Jim made a lot. We made a lot. Our hives? Almost all of ours were in the apple orchards for contract pollination during the same week Jim's bees were dying.
So months later, having collected dead bee samples all over the state, the report came from the ODA that nothing was found. (Which stank to high heaven.) By this time I had learned that commercial beekeepers statewide had experienced this same type of bee kill in April, 2012. I have since talked to several of them. One saying sarcastically, "Gee, I'm so happy to find out that nothing killed my bees."

So the whole thing sort of got whitewashed. But it stuck with me... enough to bring us to what I discovered today. This accidental experiment just fell in my lap.
I was loading the truck to head out around 9 a.m. this morning when my cousin Adam pulled the tractor into the field to plant corn. This field surrounds our place.

With Layne's Facebook query in the back of my mind, I thought, well... we've got bees... we've got corn planting... could there be anything to this... pesticide thing?

Conditions were perfect not to see anything abnormal. Adam was planting in a no-till field, there was still dew out, virtually no wind and little dust. If the pesticide was going to stay put on the seed and go in the ground like it should, these would be the ideal conditions.

It took just a few minutes to throw cardboard down in front of the hives. These were small hives, 4 to 7 frames of brood, not many foragers at 9:30 in the morning.
From what I could observe with the incoming pollen, most foragers were working the small crabapple in our front yard.
I went back to loading the truck, fully expecting to see nothing.

Maybe 30 minutes later, truck loaded and ready to go,  I checked back.

Holy Crap!

Dead bees twitching and writhing on their backs!
I couldn't believe it... in just that short of time.
 I showed these pictures to Jayne.
Same reaction: Holy Crap!
"Is Bridger out there? Get him inside!"

Checked the temperature as I was leaving for the out-yards.
 At 60 degrees there are not many foragers. Good.

With all this hitting home and really beginning to distress me, I took some liberties.
The seed truck was parked at the end of the field. Here's what was being planted:
 (Apologies at the end of this post.)

On the way to the Dunlap out-yard my thoughts were unsettling. Was this total coincidence? Could this  actually be normal for old dying bees, the twitching and writhing? Maybe I just never noticed?

The Dunlap yard (just three miles from home) had 16 hives. You can bet I was checking in front of every one as I worked though.

I found not a single instance of foragers squirming on their backs in front of the hives.

Ok, so what I was seeing at home wasn't normal.

Back home, maybe two hours later: more dead bees. All on their backs, legs twitching.

 Here's a 30 second video.

I collected a sample and took another liberty-- This is the tag off the seed corn bags.

Thoughts, Questions, Observations, Statements, Extrapolations...

-This is not a bee kill you're seeing. A hundred or so dead foragers hardly deserves a mention. The distressing thing is that these bees died so quickly after the planter went through. Foraging? Were they on the deadnettle? Were they drinking some dew? Did they fly through the planter dust? 
This begs the question: How many died away from the hive? It's a big field.

-These hives are healthy and should make plenty of honey. Even a true bee kill like Jim's doesn't kill the entire hive (right off the bat), it just diminishes the work force. Jim estimates he lost $20,000 to $30,000 in potential spring honey that year. Later he had higher then normal winter losses. But we're all having higher then normal winter losses.

-What were these bees bringing into the hive? You can be sure I'll check tomorrow and over the next several days. If there are nurse bees out on the cardboard in numbers... then we've got a problem.

-The future of a beehive is in the brood. Foragers are what you see at the moment but all that incoming stuff (nectar, pollen, water...), all the work goes toward the long term preservation of the hive. Adult foragers live, work, and die for the benefit of future generations. (This concept at times seems lost on human beings.) So what if some of that stuff is bad stuff? If a neonic pesticide is systemic as they say, wouldn't pollen and nectar from corn or soybeans be somewhat harmful? I'm not the first person to ask this. It's been researched to death. And (according to big Ag chem) by the time the plant has reached pollination stage the effects of the pesticide have been so diminished it would be negligible to a pollinator.

-Ok. How much poison would it take to mess up, say, the brain cells of developing larva in February when fed pollen that was collected off of field corn in July? My guess is not much. But that's only a hunch.

-Am I aiming at the right target here? Can this small kill be attributed to neonics? I really don't know.

-So why are the neonics banned in Europe? Is there no incentive to have these pesticides au Home Depot magasin de la Paris? Hmmm...  Are the research scientists here at home just smarter, knowing that there's really nothing to worry about. Go USA! Does the same chemical work differently on opposite sides of the Atlantic?

-Jim says our EPA is the laughing stock of the world.

-Jim also says that the neonics have a long residual. As in years.
This is all from him. I'm just a layman... haven't researched in any great measure. But I take his word for it. He's got more skin in the game. Anyway, a long residual means that the chemical stays with us. In the soil. In the water. This is what got me edgy this afternoon as I thought longer on it.
In the background, across the planted field is a stream.

I walked across just to have a look.

Sure enough, it took me all of ten seconds to find some bees having a drink:

-This didn't settle my thoughts.

-Laughing stock of the world? Hey, he said it.

-When was the last time you saw a butterfly? In numbers, I mean. When I was a kid we had a "play yard" near the house where I spent most of my kid hours. I can absolutely remember watching monarch butterflies drift across the yard all day long. This fall I saw one. I had just finished working a bee yard and it surprised me so much I had to take its picture:

This seems like a major change in my short life. I mean for something to be so different in just thirty years. Does this seem major to you? I don't know. The price of progress? 


-How are they doing in Europe with all that pesticide banning? Surely by now they're into a famine or something. Are farmers out of business? Are they being overrun by cockroaches and ants?

-Laughing stock of the world?

-Here's a more typical day for planting:

When the 2012 bee kill happened in the midwest it was hot, dry, dusty and windy. Right here in south-central Ohio the russian olive and bush honeysuckle happened to be in full bloom. These plants line the forests and fields. I remember this because at the time I felt frustrated that my bees were tied up in the apples and not able to take full advantage of the bounty. The pesticide, the dust and the blooms turned out to be a terrible combination for Jim.

-Are we (as beekeepers and regular people) forever going to be ducking for cover and worrying? Worrying about what happens to be blooming during planting season. Worrying about what ends up in the stream... or in the food... or in the pollen?

-I don't want to pick a fight. I'm not good at fighting. This is not an environmentalist vs. chemical company vs. beekeeper vs. farmer thing. I like this blog to be informative and funny (Funny sells honey!) I'm simply documenting what I saw today and getting it out there. 

Ok, apologies:

*To you readers. Sorry for the sudden change of pace with this post. Now you've got something heavy to think about.
*To Adam- sorry to drag you into this.
Adam is a good guy. I didn't ask his permission for any of these pictures.
*To Jim North. I think he would want his quotes and opinions to be on here. But I didn't ask.
*To farmers in general. I've already ticked at least one farmer off with this blog. I know this is a sensitive subject.
*To my family (who would support me in posting this) My farming family put me though college and has given me a pretty rich life. It's not the farmers at the root of this neonic controversy. Farmers farm. They buy the seed that works and put it in the ground with equipment that works. Simple as that, they make money doing us all a great service.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

It's a Girl My Lord in a Flatbed Ford

-Posted by Isaac

Ok, it's not a Ford.
 And she's definitely not slowin' down to take a look at me...

But we are takin' it easy. We've got a new bee truck! New to us, that is. Those of you who follow this blog closely probably noticed this slick new machine in previous posts.

Unlike so many past vehicles I've owned, this one isn't total junk.
It was purchased from Jim North, the Zen master of beekeeping in Pickaway County. Jim, big rich commercial beekeeper that he is, decided to upgrade to a newer flatbed.
So we're reaping the benefits.
Bee life is so much easier with a flatbed. You can simply haul more. -supers and equipment (above)      -bee junk (below)

....and of course, beehives themselves. Below shows the start of a load heading to the apples. The Lynd Fruit Farm wanted 40 hives this year and they all went on the truck with room to spare.

I'm happy we got it. It's paying for itself by the day. And driving down those county backroads, we now get more friendly waves of recognition... there they go, the beekeepers!
Three spots???
What a Jerk!