Monday, October 19, 2009

Romantic, candle-lit dinners: An unrecognized source of indoor air pollution

Article I came across this article recently. Conventional wisdom is backed up by modern science.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 2009 — Burning candles made from paraffin wax –– the most common kind used to infuse rooms with romantic ambiance, warmth, light, and fragrance –– is an unrecognized source of exposure to indoor air pollution, including the known human carcinogens, scientists reported here today. Levels can build up in closed rooms, and be reduced by ventilation, they indicated in a study presented at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Candles are tested for pollutants.

In the study, R. Massoudi Ph.D., and Amid Hamidi , Ph.D., said that that candles made from bee’s wax or soy, although more expensive, apparently are healthier. They do not release potentially harmful amounts of indoor air pollutants while retaining all of the warmth, ambience and fragrance of paraffin candles (which are made from petroleum).

“An occasional paraffin candle and its emissions will not likely affect you,” Hamidi said. “But lighting many paraffin candles every day for years or lighting them frequently in an un-ventilated bathroom around a tub, for example, may cause problems.“ Besides the more serious risks, he also suggested that some people who believe they have an indoor allergy or respiratory irritation may in fact actually be reacting to air pollutants from burning candles.

Original article

Friday, July 31, 2009

Honeybees and Beekeeping

By Roy Nettlebeck

Tahuya River Apiaries

The future of honeybees and beekeeping in general is critically imperiled. The problem is systemic in nature. Agriculture has evolved into an industry dependent upon un-natural food production. The use of chemicals and monoculture has profited some for the short term, but Nature is too complex for man to interfere and think he can improve it. The honeybee is now exhibiting the tragic results of this mentality.

The industrialization of beekeeping has put us into a position of, “too big to fail.” Thirty percent of all the food we rely upon for sustenance is directly dependent upon the honeybee for pollination. Another fifty percent is indirectly linked to the labor of honeybees.

The collapse began in 1990 with the importation of the Varro mite into the United States. A program to isolate the mite failed, and then chemicals were enlisted to eradicate it. Nine years and three chemicals later, the mite still survived.

When we were short bees in the United States for the pollination of California’s almond groves, the USDA opened the door to the importation of bees from Australia. It was known in 1979 that Australian bees carried three viruses that were not existent in the United States[i] More than 200,000 Australian hives were mixed with American honeybees, and the following winter American beekeepers saw their livelihood disintegrate in Colony Collapse Disorder (“CCD”).

Now we are faced with a more complex problem.

An intrinsic part of honeybee sustainability is genetics. In a study completed some years ago by Dr. Steve Shepard of Washington State University, it was discovered that we only have three families of honeybees in the United States. We have been breeding Queen Bees from a very small amount of genetic diversity. Genes produce proteins that kill viruses, so they are very important to the survival of the species. There is a lot of work being done by researchers to evaluate the genes for protein production. One gene was found to give off 10,000 different proteins, a critical component to the survival of the species.

Agriculture is tumbling toward a very large black hole of genetically modified organisms (“GMO’s”). As time, nature, and industrialized food production move forward, ever increasing problems surface from the use of GMO seed. We were told in the beginning that it would NOT jump species, but evidence is to the contrary, and we are left to accept the answer that “the science is better now.” The real question is why did the USDA allow that technology to go out into nature and our food source without complete scientific research?

The answer lies in profits.

Now we have plants that are insecticides themselves because of their genetic makeup. The pollen from these plants is a neurotoxin to honeybees or any other insect. We do not know what the long-range effects will be for humans. Unfortunately, this genetic genie cannot be put back into the bottle.

Knowledge is power, but you must be very careful to find out where the information you rely upon for food nutrition and safety comes from. Industrialized food producers are only worried about their bottom line and will continue to lobby Congress and market consumers away from the truth.

[i] Drs. Ball and Bailey in the UK, Honeybee Pathology, 1990.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I'm working on searching the web for beeswax recipes and general information. Wax craft is one of the most informative though hard to decipher sometimes with some of the more antiquated and arcane terminology.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bees Book

We are very fortunate to have a book that documents beekeeping and other aspects of life around our little world. This book goes into three years of our beekeeping operation with great detail:

"THREE SEASONS of BEES and Other Natural and Unnatural Things: A Pacific Northwest Journal" Nirvan Hope

$16.00 Paperback

Also available through

The sweetness of beekeeping and country life turn sour when meth labs arrive on a neighboring property. Bee yards. Swarm catching. Moving bees in mountain migrations. Harvesting hive products. In this lyrical memoir, beekeeper Nirvan Hope gives the reader a taste of beekeeping at the beginning of the twenty first century. When not beekeeping, she explores changing seasons in forests, rivers and lakes on the Tahuya Peninsula. River wading, gardening, mushrooming, a baby eagle rescue, bear sightings and spawning salmon offer gentle pleasures. But as if to balance the slow tempo of pastoral bliss, the shadow side of Pacific Northwest rural life show up: a not-so-happy world of vandals, brush pickers, clear cuts, frightening found objects and escalating frustration and paranoia spawned by the arrival of suspected identity thieves and meth labs on neighboring property.

Praise for the memoir "THREE SEASONS OF BEES": "A great read!" "a skillful photographic way with words." " one chapter at a time, a great meditation." "You have mastered the critical trick of writing in the now."

"Written in beautiful, lyrical language that transports the reader to the fields and forest of the Pacific Northwest. A modern day Walden Pond." Valerie West, writer: No Brother of Mine"

Short Video that gives an Idea of extracting on a small scale

We'll have to get a video online of our larger 20 frame extractors. The key is keeping them balanced. This small extractor is perfect for the small operation.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Future of Beekeeping? An article from the Vancover Sun

I found this interesting. I was aware how hummingbirds and other birds are no longer migrating because cities have plenty to forage even during the winter, but this article does give much hope to a more integrated urban environment.

Vancover Sun 5-3-09

A family consisting of a single mother and her large brood of offspring moving in across the back fence may not be considered the ideal new neighbours.

And there's no need for the neighbourhood to chip in and host a welcoming barbecue because the newcomers are all vegetarians anyway. Truth is, most neighbours will never know they're there - which is quite a feat for a queen and her several thousand attendants.

In backyards all over Surrey, spring means more than lawn maintenance and planting flower and vegetable gardens. In the corners of some yards, activity is frantic from sun up to sun down as the residents industriously go about their business. Their work involves pollinating flowers, collecting nectar and pollen, tending to the ever-growing colony and producing hundreds of pounds of honey. Welcome to the world of urban beekeeping.

"It's more common in Europe than it is here but it's picking up speed in North America," said John Gibeau, president of the Honeybee Centre in Cloverdale.

"The yield in the city is far greater than it is in the country for beekeeping. For instance, here in the heart of Surrey at 176th and Fraser Highway, we're lucky to get 85 pounds of honey per colony per year - 40 kilos. But in my home hive in New Westminster, I can get 265 pounds of honey per year; that's well over 100 kilos."

The urban environment is actually ideal for honeybees. There are more flowers that blossom year round, and they are close together which means shorter flight paths for bees. The bees work faster and more efficiently plus it's warmer in the city so they can work longer days.

In addition to parks and gardens, the rougher areas like ditches and waterways or protected areas for wildlife provide additional benefits for the bees. Plants such as dandelions and blackberry bushes that grow in those areas supply two of the essential food groups for bees in the Fraser Valley.

Dandelions are the first significant source for nectar and pollen in the spring and help kick-start the colony after the cool winter months. Blackberry vines are also essential in their role as the most important honey producing plant in the Fraser Valley. With help of the bees, blackberry bushes create a clear, sweet honey with a neutral flavour ideal for baking or tea.

"We haven't done any medicinal tests on urban honey but that will be done in the future," Gibeau says.

"What we do know for sure is that urban honey is delicious; it has a spicy texture to it and it's medium to sweet-sweet. It has a wonderful aroma with almost a hint of brown sugar and it's consistent almost across the region. I get roughly the same flavoured honey from the hives at the Fairmont Waterfront downtown as I do in New Westminster and Coquitlam and downtown Langley."

Gibeau estimates there are more than 400 urban beekeepers operating in Surrey, basing that number on sales of beekeeping equipment and people who have signed up for his introductory courses at the Honeybee Centre.

Gibeau adds there is no such thing as a typical urban beekeeper as everybody has their own motivation for getting involved in the hobby.

Some people want to do something good for the environment, to give Mother Nature a helping hand. A few people get into it as a source of income and some people love the science of the hobby and are fascinated by the bees and how they operate. Newly retired people will take up beekeeping because it is something new while still others are drawn to the hives for their medicinal properties.

One trait is common, however: a dedication to their industrious little buddies in the hive.

"Beekeeping as a craft requires a type of personality that is perhaps a little bit stubborn," Gibeau says. "They don't mind getting stung - I mean, they don't like getting stung but they'll keep working through it. Other people get stung once and that's it for them; they're not interested any more."

Klaus Schalli? is one of those urban apiarists. The Cloverdale biologist professes a life-long fascination with science and when he retired after a 34-year career with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, he took up beekeeping as a new hobby.

Schalli? understands first-hand Gibeau's description of the hazards faced by urban beekeepers.

"Sometimes when the hive isn't very active I'll go in and check it without a bee suit on," Schalli? says.

"Once in a while I'll feel a bee go up my shirt sleeve or down my collar and I'll think, 'Whoops, that's going to hurt.' I know the bee is going to freak out when it can't get out and then I'm going to get stung. It's not something I'm paranoid about though; the stings I get are more by accident than on purpose."

The fear of getting stung is what fuels most people's fear of bees. Throw in a lack of understanding for what the bees do and an inability to differentiate between a docile honeybee colony and an aggressive wasp's nest and it's no wonder many people see all flying yellow and black insects as a threat.

"First off, bees are vegetarians while wasps are meat eaters, they're omnivorous," Gibeau says. "Honeybees generally ignore people. They go straight to the flowers and if people are around the flowers, that's where they will encounter them."

Gibeau added the scariest stories people have about bees is when the insects swarm. Such a scenario is frightening for some people but the danger is actually quite minimal.

When bees swarm, they are in the process of dividing the colony. Roughly half the bees will leave with the old queen while the rest will stay and raise a new queen. The group that is leaving will form a cluster which is what human observers see as a swarm. Unlike what is portrayed in countless B-grade (no pun intended) Hollywood movies, at this time the bees are not aggressive and are, in fact, in their calmest and most gentle state.

Because of paranoia some people have about bees, many backyard apiarists keep their hobby secret from their neighbours. Not Schalli?. He shares his honey with his neighbours and they pay no mind to the efficient little workers in their midst.

"My neighbours on either side of my house were OK with it, especially when I gave them some honey," Schalli? says with a laugh. "The neighbour across my back fence was more than OK with it because he is an avid gardener and he has a small orchard of fruit trees. He was just thrilled to have the bees here. It's a non-issue for my neighbours and they all like the honey."

Tom Lee, one of Schalli?'s neighbours confirms this assessment.

"You hardly notice anything," says Lee while taking a break from gardening as several honeybees foraged nearby. "You see the odd bee here and there but that's about it. I like the bees actually; they pollinate the flowers and they help the garden.

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"The side benefit is getting the honey from my neighbour. It's really good honey, better than what you get in the store."

The average backyard beekeeping operation consists of two colonies or hives, each ranging in size from one wooden box (10-inches high) to a stack more than five levels deep. Start up costs are roughly $250 and that includes the wooden ware and the honeybee livestock. Bee suit and tools cost a further $200.

Schalli?'s operation in Cloverdale can be one or two colonies, depending on the year. When he first took up the hobby, Schalli? completed an introductory beekeeping course at Gibeau's Honeybee Centre. He returns regularly to learn of new developments and to complete follow-up courses like Revive the Hive and No-Freeze Bees.

"My training really helped me so I was ready for most things that arose," Schalli? says. "What did surprise me was how much work it was. It's not just a matter of getting a couple of beehives, put them in your backyard and forget about them. You have to stay on top of it. You should be in your hives every week to 10 days just to make sure everything is OK and growing according to Hoyle."

Schalli? pauses before adding: "If you are a responsible apiarist, you're not going to have the disease problems with your hives and, beyond that, your hives are not going to be a disease source for other bees."

Schalli? admits his hobby has created some problems in his home. His family was less than pleased when they discovered he had given away all of his first honey crop, leaving none for the Schalli? pantry.

Last month Schalli? discovered another unexpected benefit to his hobby when he was filing his tax return. Thanks to honey money generated by his colonies, Revenue Canada now classifies Schalli? as a farmer and he can write off his beekeeping expenses.

"If you make the commitment to get involved in bees, it's a great hobby," he says. "It's fascinating. I never get tired of it. In fact, I'm really excited right now because I got to see the queen today. That's the first time I've seen her since October and it's pretty rare to see her even when you check the hive regularly. That's really exciting for me."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Colony Collapse is not New, just with a modern spin.

Colony collapse or disappearing bees has been noted since the mid to late 1800's however just isolated. From the USDA's website :

"There have also been unusual colony losses before. In 1903, in the Cache Valley in Utah, 2000 colonies were lost to an unknown "disappearing disease" after a "hard winter and a cold spring." More recently, in 1995-96, Pennsylvania beekeepers lost 53 percent of their colonies without a specific identifiable cause."
A link to the full page :

With global trade and an interstate freeway system that moves bees all across the country pollinate various crops as they bloom. Just as when one kindergartner gets the sniffles the whole class will get it and then they bring it home, the same can be true with bees. Honeybees already stressed by travel through several different climates and forced to forage on one crop, will not be as strong to fight off any disease. Keeping your honeybees immune system strong will be the key to minimizing the effect of CCD. Traveling into areas with pesticides and genetically modified crops made to be poisonous to pests (though they don't discriminate against good and bad insects) weakens even healthy bees and compromises the immune system. Any disease in the area will then spread like wildfire.

To manage this problem we need to rethink industrial agriculture and look to smaller local solutions, and focus on the overall health of an agricultural region not just in terms of an individual farm that is organic.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Colony Colapse Disorder not affecting Africanized Bees

From what I have been hearing, bees in South America that are Africanized (killer bees as the press likes to say) have not had the problem with Colony collapse disorder. Africanized bees do not have the same problems that we have with mites, they are mite resistant, build strong colonies quickly and are great honey producers. The only caveat is that they are extremely aggressive, beekeepers can work with them but only in full bee suits. What strikes me is that they are mite resistant, mites carry a number of diseases which one is probably CCD. Africanized bees would not lend themselves well to pollenation especially in populated areas, farm hands and passers by could fall victim to their aggresive ways. But if we continue to lose bees modern industrial agriculture may need to "bite the bullet" and look into this option.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The myth of organic beekeeping.

Often I get the question "is the honey organic" Unlike other agricultural products bees can't be limited to a certain area since they fly up to 3 miles or more to forage. Organic cattle, sheep, chickens and other certified organic livestock can be easily kept on one plot of land, this is not true of bees. The bulk of commercial beekeeping is done in agricultural areas which can be problematic since these are the same areas where pesticides are use and other chemicals. Another issue is pollination. Pollination is where commercial beekeepers really make there money and pollination is what we depend upon to increase crop yields and keep reasonably priced produce coming to market. The issue is how healthy is this for the bees and are there any implications. The bees are feasting upon a mono nutrient. Lets say orange blossom or almond blossoms; for those who have seen the movie "supersize me" we know how healthy it is to eat one type of food. I believe that unlike in nature where there is a diversity in forage, that industrial agriculture is contributing to colony colapse disorder which is probably a disease that has been around for over 100 years but has reappeared recently due to bees with compromised immune systems. The image that is exploited and marketed by organic labling is that the product is naturally produced. How natural is 1000 acres of oranges, apples, almonds etc.. Even if the farms are certified organic it is still not what you find in nature like the organic image connotates.

A good article on the subject can be found at :