Neonics and success

Bees visit corn for pollen, period. Bees visit canola for pollen. Bees visit potatoes for pollen (Danish tests). Bees visit a lot of flowers for pollen. Bees get what the pollen is enriched with. Neonics are not good for bees.

But honeybees have a very sofisticated way of living and can handle a lot of difficulties – if they’re not too many. One reason for that is the many individuals, in both adult and brood stages. They can sacrifice some brood for example when fighting varroa. If field bees die during duty due to plant protection spray, if it’s not too much, there are usually enough many new field bees replacing them. Solitary bees though may have a more difficult situation…

Why did this feral colony survive on neonic corn?

  • No or very little reinvasion of varroa mites – it was the only colony in the apiary and far to other bees.
  • No one robbed its honey and gave low value kind of sugar.
  • There was a variety of food sources which the bees could reach easily, at the end of fields giving pollen without neonics.
  • The bees built there own cellsizes and a good portion for brood was enough small in their situation, some of it smaller than 5.1 mm.
  • No one moved the bees around to different places.
  • No one put miticides or antibiotics in the bee colony weakening the bees’ own defense system.
  • The bees probably swarmed every or every second year, once or more, giving a break in rearing brood in the brood season, when they cleaned their nest from pests and parasites.

In this situation bees adapted epigentically and genitically and learned how to fight the varroa mite. They survived during this process because there was no reinvasion of mites. The mite population established on a durable level where viruses levels were not high. Thus there was no big help for nosema to thrive. And as the virus levels were low neonics didn’t increase the effects of the viruses that very much.

This colony then under these circumstances were Varroa resistant and could pollinate plants around it that needed pollination. The solitary bees in the area that didn’t live entirely on neonic treated plants survivied too and could pollinate plants, for the benefit of farmers and biological diversity.

So, the message to everyone involved, also chemical companies:

Focus on:

  1. Develope Varroa resistant bees and a plan to spread them among beekeepers.
  2. Make sure there will be enough neonic free pollen sources and nest places for solitary bees close to farm fields, ”wild plant areas”. This will ensure and increase success, crop and money for everyone.


Bees On Corn


This morning the bees flew heavily on flowering corn. I’m sure they were happy for the EU ban on treating seeds with neonics. It would have been no good for the colony with beebread made of pollen from corn grown from treated seed. How much bad that makes is discussed. It can’t do good though, especially together with a lot of other stress factor for the bees.

Towards treatmentfree beekeeping

Why treatmentfree bees when you are not treatmentfree yourself?

Every stressfactor put burdon upon the bees and lower the immune system. You can’t hinder the farmer from using pesticides, but you can stop yourself. If you manage to do that, you give your bees a much better chance to deal with the remaining stressfactors, as neonicotinoids for example.

We all know we need resistant bees!

Feral bees on corn and GMO

Feral cornhouseSmal

A lot of discussion is going on which role neonicotinoides and gmo play for die offs and ccd of bee colonies. A poison is never beneficial, neither for bees nor for man (well, many are used as plant protection). And residual substances are more difficult to discover and many times not much less dangerous.

To be able to find the true truth we want the whole picture. Sometimes new facts don’t seem to fit into the picture you have endorsed.

I got this mail from Larry Garret in Indiana in the Corn, Soybeans and Wheat belt, where neonicotinoids and gmo are used overflowing. There he took care of a feral colony that local people told him had been there in the abandoned house for 7-8 years. Now the farmer didn’t want to drive around the house with the tractor anymore, so he asked Larry to rescue the bees.

The wax filled 146 liter of the 255 liter big cavity in the wall. He harvested 20 kg of honey and many buckets of wax. The longest comb was 244 cm. Cell size was between smaller than 5.1 mm to 5.3 mm. Drone cell size was between 6.5 and 6.6 mm. The entrance was close to the bottom.

This colony was thriving in spite of a lot of plant protection poisons. Remember the conclusion that die offs are due to a complex of causes. Evidently when some are missing the bees can stand the others better.

These bees didn’t get a massive reinvasion of pests and parasites from neihgboring colonies. They didn’t have to stand miticides or an unnormal big cell size. They lived on their own food and weren’t fed HFCS.

Were they Varroa resistant? We don’t know. But we learn somewhat about favorable circumstances from which such bees can benefit.

Bees suck fluid on corn


For whatever it may mean – concerning discussion of the danger of neonicotinoid plant protection poisions – for bees in first place. Poision is never harmless, even if the harm it may cause to others than the target bug, vary quite a bit. During different circumstances.

One of the dangers for bees discussed is when the neonics are used as coating on corn seeds. When planting the kernels (dust) and during the time when the plants are small (guttation drops – water drops on the plants from within the plant).

During short periods under certain circumstances my bees were seen seeking moisture deep down in the axillaries of my homegrown corn (starchy corn as the type is used by framers). They are not flowering yet as can be seen. At this point you can speculate that the plant fluid is still toxic to bees, if the plant seed is treated with neonics.

It hadn’t rained for some time. The corn was not irrigated. They grow on a place where their roots can reach moisture.

If you have corn field close to your bees it may be good choice to give them a water supply of your own.

The bee colony that refused to die

In 2007 Karin worked on becoming a commercial beekeeper. She wintered 30 bee colonies. She invested in honey extracting facilities. In spring 2008 she had 2 colonies left. In the county where she lived Varroa had just arrived and the same winter many died in the county due to the mite. Life was full of duties and she forgot about the bees and the two surviving colonies was forgotten. They were the only bee colonies in the neighborhood now. Corn has been farmed in big areas, starting about the same time as the bees began to die. But where Karin has her survivor there are a lot of white clover as well blooming at the same time, much more visited by the bees.

Sven got some swarms a couple of years later coming from the direction from where Karin lived some 3 km from where she had the survivors.

October 2012

Last year it was one colony left and I said to Sven we had better visit Karin and make sure the colony survived another winter so we could breed from it. It might have some valuable survivor traits.  Sven talked to Karin late in autumn, an unusually warm one. A week later we arrived to find the colony. Karin had put on a bucket of sugar solution which was empty after just a week then, inspired by her conversation with Sven. She added another one which they also took. Actually earlier last summer in 2005 Karin had harvested 2 frames of honey, which was the first time since autumn in 2007 she had opened the hive.


The colony seemed to be healthy in October 2005. It was not super strong, but a cluster big enough to be able to survive in the well insulated plastic hive.

April 2013

Today April 27 it was a sunny day. Willow was giving nectar and pollen. I went to visit Karin to find out if she was a beekeeper. So I asked her. Yes, she said. They are flying. Ok, let’s go and look. So we opened the hive.


Somewhat weaker colony than in October. It looked healthy with no signs of spring problems, no spots on the frames. And capped brood. Vibybin-6

This is the last comb with bees with some brood. As far as I could see the bees were not on small cell size, but the two honey frames taken last summer in 2005 had been replaced with 4.9 mm cell size foundation. The bees had not succeded in drawing it well. It was not too badly drawn, but many cells were bigger.

Now we saw another surprising thing. At on lower front corner the bees were entering. Below was a lot of pollen. The bees were squeezing themselves into the hive above the wooden list of a queen excluder on the bottom board! How in the world… could they have swarmed and get themselves a new mated queen – or had they lived small all the time due to small incoming amounts of pollen due to the excluder on the bottom and the queen were still the same old one?

In June Karin plans to split the colony and start expanding her beekeeping again. Will her bees endure the changes in the management now taking place and still survive?

Neonics and birds

Comb_imadoclorid Imidacloprid structure overlaying honeycomb of the Western honey bees (Credit: Williamseanohlinger/Wikimedia, and Waugsberg/Wikimedia)

The effects of neonicotinoides on bees are wellknown today. Reports are emerging of effects on other creatures making us wonder if they are that innocent for our own life as humans as have been said. Check out this report here.

Thanks to Bengt Nihlgard in Skane who made me aware of this report. Bengt Nihlgard, prof. em. – – Institute of Biology, Lund University.

Die-offs in America 2013

Kim FlottumB

Kim Flottum i s editor of BeeCulture in USA, one of the big bee magazines over there. In his April issue he had an editorial, named as always ‘Inner Cover’.  He covered a serious and difficult issue, as well as very much focused on in bee world today. I asked him to use it, and I do it here and will too in my Swedish blog.


Kim Flottum BeeCulture April 2013 – editorial Inner Cover

A month ago on these pag­es, and a couple of weeks ago in an Editorial on the Buzz I talked about the trainwreck waiting to happen in the California almonds this year. Not enough bees to pollinate those ever expanding orchards, and many of the bees there too weak to do a good job – bees still stressed since the last time they were there by the drought at home, so’s there’s not been nearly enough good food almost anywhere all year; Varroa still unchallenged by beekeepers or bee scientists and all the while spreading viruses to every bee in every colony everywhere they go. Meanwhile, nosema up the ying yang and the Coup de grace – just a touch of poison from everywhere and anywhere crops are grown – systemic insecticides and fungicides, herbicides – all extreme biocides each with its own special carrier, adjuvant, spreader or sticker – every one of them bring­ing their own secret synergistic partner in crime, the stuff that makes bad poison worse.

But those first mentioned challenges – food, Varroa, virus, nosema – bees can actually handle them – it’s tough, but so are bees. Really. They don’t thrive when they’re under attack and, yes, sometimes they die, though mostly they deal with them. But the game changer is when they add that last drop of poison, that last straw, that final curtain. And everywhere honeybees go there’s that good to the last drop waiting for them.

Corn, for instance. Over 100 million acres of it this year. The high prices paid for biofuels have refueled an expansion unparalleled in U.S. farm histo­ry. And every one of those acres is saturated with systemic pesticides. Two, three, four, five, six, seven years running. The buildup in the soil continues unabated. More and more and more. One year’s worth, no problem. Two, some’s still left from last year, but not so much. But after five, six, seven years…there’s almost more poison than soil left in those fields. And every year more is added. More and more and more.

The research says, rightly so, that it’s not the poison that’s the problem. Not when the bees are given only one dose at a time from a first year field when there’s no other problems going on, like Varroa, Nosema or virus. Then, after a single dose they’re measured for reactions to the pesticide they encountered for only a few days or a few weeks – nothing long term, nothing of substance, actually. Kind of like that canola study. And the second one. But you can’t argue with the refereed journal facts. When you take out the Varroa, nutrition, nosema and virus variables, the poison isn’t an issue. A little bit of poison all by itself just isn’t an issue. Those science folks have it exactly right. It’s just a little bit of poison. And that’s the problem.

Here’s the real world story. When you compress beekeepers from all over the U.S. into the tiny world of the central valley of California for a few weeks, they get to talking. Not that they don’t otherwise, phonewise, but when they’re there it’s face to face over breakfast, lunch, or a beer after dark. And they’re from all over. From the east, where these not-so-new poisons have been used for more than a decade. From the Midwest, where they’ve not been around for not quite so long but there is oh so much more of them. And now heading west – there’s no place to hide and no bees can escape the onslaught. The poison is everywhere corn is, and corn is everywhere. And you know, it’s not just the corn because a whole grocery basket worth of crops are involved.

And when beekeepers get to talking it always comes back to where to go and the conversation always, always comes down to ag bees compared to woods bees. Ag bees seem to crash and burn on a regular basis. All the variables are there – Varroa, virus, nosema, bad food . . . and poison. And like I said, it’s that last one that’s the kicker – it’s like jumping off a 20 story building – it ain’t the fall that kills you, it’s the very sudden stop right at the end. That poison, years and years of poison buildup, that’s the very sudden stop that kills bees on a regular basis every year it seems. And it’s not just us. The research people have seen this again and again and again. Just ask them. I heard a Penn State report this weekend that said exactly that. Add a pesticide to this industrial waste mix our bees have to deal with – maybe a systemic insecticide or a fungicide and things go south – fast.
Spores build up, viruses skyrocket, bees die. Trainwreck. Woods bees, however, seem to avoid that sudden stop – that dose of poison that tips the scales. They have Varroa, virus, all the rest, ex­cept they don’t get that dose of poi­son. And for the most part, they don’t crash and burn. But even then sometimes they do, spectacularly. The virus and nosema especially, couples with not enough food, and sometimes that combo wins no mat­ter where they are. Sometimes. If your bees crashed and they aren’t in Poison County, maybe this is the demon you have to deal with.

But one instance in California told to me by a beekeeper there this year sort of demonstrates the real world when poison is involved. The bees checked in from Dakota-used-to-be-clover-but-now-corn-country – got evaluated at seven to eight framers no problem. Lookin’ good. Less than a week later the beekeep­er’s looking for those good colonies to show off – and they had only three or four frames, and a bunch were already empty – dead. Gone. What happened? I saw the same thing last year wandering the orchards so it’s not a rare occurrence. It happens a lot, and a lot more this year. What happened? Trainwreck.

And the story gets told over and over and over. Ag bees mostly crash, woods bees mostly don’t. But folks,

Ain’t No Safe Place To Go

anymore it seems there ain’t no safe place to go at all. We’re running out of places and we’re running out of bees. I’m listening to a late Saturday night geezer music festival on PBS finishing this up and a tune catches my attention . . .

And you tell me

Over and over and over again, my friend

Ah, you don’t believe

We’re on the eve

Of destruction.

By Barry McGuire




On a sort of related note . . .


Have you noticed the attention honeybee health has been getting of late? It’s been gratifying to see. Lots of folks are concerned about our charges all of a sudden. Well, in the last couple of years anyway. I’m not talking about people taking up bee­keeping – that’s been going on lon­ger. No, it’s the folks who are worried about actual honeybee health that I find interesting. Haagen Dazs and others came in early and are still in the game, certainly. Two others in particular have surfaced. Monsanto, who suddenly found out there were honeybees out there, and maybe they have something that can be used, and Bayer, who hasn’t been killing them left and right, day and night for some time now.

Have you seen Bayer’s traveling road show yet? Or seen the plans for their Honey Bee Health center opening soon in North Carolina? Or have you read about Monsanto’s generous donation to Project Apis m’s forage planting program, provid­ing food for almond’s bees in Cali­fornia? I’m sure there’s more these agricultural giants have done for bees and beekeeping. I know they do a whole lot of good stuff for the rest of the world – giving money to worthy causes and making gener­ous donations to all kinds of folks for all kinds of projects. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not finding fault with either of these behemoths, at least when it comes to good money given to good programs.

But we all know that these are the companies everybody loves to hate. Monsanto has this thing with seeds and food, and Bayer has a thing with poisons. And they both have more money than God.

So, how hard is it to take money for a good cause – bees and beekeep­ing and beekeepers – from compa­nies who haven’t paid attention to any of the above, ever, for any rea­son at all until now?

But recently it seems there must be good reasons, though by any met­ric the money spent so far is pocket change to these guys. But they have very deep pockets.

So I’ll ask again, is it OK to take money from these, and in all prob­ability others who have not had our best interests at heart in the past. Good money from, maybe, not so good companies?

The British Beekeepers Associa­tion was in a situation for several years where they received financial support from a pesticide company because they simply agreed with the label on the bottle, “. . . when used according to label instructions these chemicals are safe for bees.” They paid a heavy price for that money from beekeepers that wouldn’t sup­port the organization and refused to benefit from those pieces of silver.

I understand that they have, or will shortly quit that position, and with that stance end the chemical welfare they were on. But they did good things for beekeepers with that money. Good money from, maybe, not so good companies?

Is ‘money’ bad? Or, because it comes from someone perceived to be bad, the money is bad?

Should you say, “no don’t ask, don’t offer, don’t even think of giving us money? You can’t buy your way out of this.” Or, do you take the easy way out “… you caused it, you fix it. Of course you give us money. In fact, you should give us a lot of money, you should change your ways and you should offer a (financial) mea culpa to us all for being greedy, short sighted and downright evil.”

Well, that they are evil isn’t a given, at least when it comes to bees. Not yet anyway, though there’s plen­ty of evidence pointing in that direc­tion. But the sudden influx of cash and attention gives pause, doesn’t it? It was only a couple of years ago that they fought us at every turn, out lawyered us at almost every tri­al, and simply outweighed everybody that got in their way. Curious, no?

Well, I have a thought. You knew this was going somewhere, right? Since these giants didn’t cause any of the problems they are now trying to fix, which is a good thing, if they really want to help advance the busi­ness and science of keeping honey bees, why don’t they also fund re­search that doesn’t have anything to do with any of the things they are trying to fix? Not the same amount of money simply spread further, but more money.

Things like drone congregation areas. Or better wintering equip­ment. Or better honey ID science to snoop out those Chinese crooks they finally caught. And what about just setting up some graduate pro­grams, so Universities could study whatever they wanted to do with bees or beekeeping? Wouldn’t The Bayer Chair On Honey Bee Genet­ics look good on your annual report? What about supporting both of the national meetings, so they don’t cost so much to attend so Joe Beekeeper can learn the latest in disease con­trol, management techniques, and marketing. In fact, why aren’t they supporting far more than just the nationals?

But of course you immediately reply, you cynic, what’s the price of that support? Speakers on the pro­gram, full page ads, an open bar at the banquet? Nope. Nothing. No mention. Just a check.

So if any of you companies out there are feeling a little bit guilty, what about helping out where you’re not causing a problem. That’d go a long way in convincing me you have our best interests at heart. Not just yours.