Spongy Soils to the Rescue!

In a publication by the Union of Concerned Scientists, many papers were reviewed to come up with recommendations for  improving water retention, reducing the need for irrigation, slowing runoff, and improving soil fertility.

Continuous living Cover Crops in between commodity crops and no-till agriculture were among several methods to achieve these improvements.

The ‘Executive Summary’ linked from this page is a concise roundup of the UCS findings in this area:

Here’s a quote:

Between 2011 and 2016, flood- and drought-related
claims to the subsidized federal crop insurance program resulted in $38.5 billion
in payouts, approximately two-thirds of the total paid by the program. Such claims
could double as a result of climate change, costing taxpayers an additional $4 billion
to $9 billion annually by 2080.


We ask a lot from our soil.  It’s great to see that a small shift in practice can not only improve soil health and productivity, bur reduce the negative impacts of drought and flooding.

Links of note from the 100th anniversary NC State bee conference

There were many good speakers at the summer state beekeeper’s meeting here in North Carolina.  Here are a few links I became aware of as a result of the conference.


Jon Zawislak’s performance in this video isn’t nearly as good as his presentation in person, but this is a very good talk on bee genetics.


Dr. David Tarpy talking about the decline of honey bees:


Register your hives to get notified for regional pesticide applications.



NC State’s Beekeeper Education and Engagement System (online classes for beekeepers!):


Honeybee Health Coalition:


University of Arkansas ‘Raising Quality Queen’s’ publication:


Plant Flowers, different flowers, lots of them.

A common mantra of many amateur bee clubs is, “Treat and feed.”

I hear this all the time, and I think that new research is showing that the ‘you must treat your bee’s’ camp, is out of touch with modern beekeeping, evolution, and nature in general (see previous posts for references).  Here’s a new paper I hadn’t seen until today from frontiers in microbiology showing that common chemical mite treatments modify the gut bacteria of honeybees:

Previous research has shown that sub-lethal pesticide exposure results in increased nosema levels:


There is increasing evidence that the ‘you must feed your bee’s’ camp may not be far behind…

The following two recent articles from Bee Culture drive the point home that Marla Spivak made so well in her ted talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/marla_spivak_why_bees_are_disappearing).


PL A N T   M O R E   F L O W E R S .


This short easy article tells me, I need to make sure I have plenty of sunflowers in the already diverse flower mix that’s now taking up nearly all of my back yard:

And this one, a little heavier on the science, presents something of a ‘review’ of many studies, seems to me to indicate that by feeding our bees, we may actually be short circuiting their natural ability to raise off spring capable of surviving limited forage conditions:

At least one of the studies referenced shows that larvae that didn’t get enough to eat, resulted in adult bees that were better able to survive in a forage poor environment.

This makes me wonder if feeding our colonies in times of dearth might actually be exacerbating the problem, by preventing them from raising adult bees tuned to the current environmental condition–ready to survive when food is scarce…


Our (human’s) natural desire to “DO SOMETHING” can sometimes really get in the way of nature–especially insects so well evolved that they’ve managed to make it on their own for millions of years:


Something of an aside, but related to feeding bees sugar water:

Although I knew pre-harvest glyphosate sprays were common for many food crops (flowering and non-flowering):

and for a less ‘sciency’ article:

and that the use of pre-harvest roundup on wheat shows a direct correlation with the increase in many health problems including thyroid cancer (just glance at the graphs in this study):


It wasn’t until recently that I learned this pre-harvest ‘ripening’ herbicide application practice was being performed with Sugarcane as well…a google search for ‘sugarcane glyphosate’ gives you all manner of research on the practice dating back more than 10 years.

I’ve not been able to pinpoint when glyphosate ‘ripening’ sprays started being used for sugar cane, but most of the earlier research publications I’ve found date between 2004 and 2008 (whereas, wheat/soy/etc…started getting the pre-harvest sprays in the 1990’s).

CCD was first reported in the US in 2006 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colony_collapse_disorder)…could there be a correlation between wide spread commercial application of glyphosate pre-harvest for sugar cane and CCD? … or for that matter the increasing child development and obesity epidemic we’re seeing at present?

While there’s still debate about glyphosate’s acute toxicity for honey bees (just like there’s still debate that cigarettes might not give you lung cancer) there is no question that it’s use is devastating pollinator habitat, and as a result, their health:


Do we really want to be feeding our bees sugar syrup made from cane sprayed with roundup?  Do we want to be feeding our bees at all if it’s going to short circuit their natural defenses against dearth where undernourished larvae naturally develop into adults better able to survive low forage conditions?


I don’t have any answers or piratical apiary experience with this, but I will next year as this new (to me) information has pushed me to decide to run not only a chemical free apiary, but one with, at least for this year, no supplemental feeding as well.

If anyone knows of research or hands on experience with chemical free, food supplement free apiaries, please share!

Guest Speaker on the Treatment Free Beekeeping Podcast

After getting back from studying with Dr. John Kefuss in the South of France this past March, Solomon Parker from the Treatment Free Beekeeping podcast reached out to see if I’d be interested in sharing my experience.


He’s a gracious podcast host, and we had fun talking, genetics, introduced pests, the overblown rift between ‘treatment’ and ‘treatment free’ beekeepers (which seems to stem largely from miscommunication rather than practice) and ‘apiculture sans chimiques’, bien entendu (of course)!

His previous podcast was with Dr. Kefuss himself so you can hear about his queen breeding operation direct from the source as well.

Merci et bon chance avec les abeilles!



The key to varroa resistant management — re-queen (with local, hygienic stock)

This was a reply to a question that came across our local club’s mailing list (wncbees.org) but seemed worth putting here for future reference:


Heidi and Amanda,

Jennifer gave a great rundown of things for you, Thanks Jennifer!

Like Robin, I have also had good success performing queenless splits, where the queenless bees create emergency queen cells using normal brood cells from larvae of an appropriate age as determined by the queenless hive.  The two queens I have reared in this way both returned from their mating flights and did a great job with nice laying patterns.

I only had time to dig up one reference, but according to this site, supercedure cells, unlike emergency queen cells, are purpose built for rearing new queens, but in the middle of the frame to keep the existing queen they are attempting to replace from knowing about her successor:

Emergency cells can produce viable queens, as I have observed, and it is the natural (meaning evolutionarily devised) method bees use to handle an injured or missing queen.  There is the potential of getting a smaller queens out of emergency cells since they didn’t start out intended for a queen.  In some circumstances, once an emergency queen returns mated, the hive will choose to perform a supercedure to replace her if they deem she is not fit for the job, with a queen emerged from a supercedure cell purpose built for raising a queen (sorry I don’t have a reference handy for this statement, pretty sure it came out of either the Crowder and Harrell “Top bar beekeeping” or “The Beekeeper’s Handbook” by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile.

At the ‘Born and Bred’ workshop last weekend, (put on by the NCSBA) I was impressed to hear how many of the speakers repeated this theme, in multiple ways, that we need to encourage stronger, regional genetics and get away from keeping bees on life support with treatments and imported queens from different regions.

Several of the speakers also went on to say in a nutshell that, the more we work _with_ the natural process bees use to perpetuate themselves, not only will our job be a lot easier, but we’ll wind up with healthier, regionally robust genetic stock which can including natural varroa resistance!

Hives not resistant to varroa that die can no longer spread their weak genetics–sad for the hive, good for the species (this is why I have no problem with ‘bee havers’ or ‘ornament hives’–natural selection dictates they will ultimately die, OR benefit the species by spreading healthy genetics).

How can you tell if your bees are naturally resistant?  If you treat without careful monitoring, you can’t.

 If your varroa population only increases a few percent in the lat summer and levels off, ‘winner winner chicken dinner’ you’ve got a queen with varroa resistant characteristics!

 But this is something you won’t know if you chemically treat your bees at the first sign of increase in varroa numbers.

 Now if you’re varroa % in the hive increases substantially above baseline in the fall with no indication of leveling off, you’re going to need to take action by some form of management and re-queening if you don’t want to lose those bees.  This doesn’t mean you have to chemically treat, you can make the hive queen-less until all your brood have hatched to break the varroa reproductive cycle before re-queening.  Or, if you’re ok using toxic chemicals on your bees (and yourself) you can treat the hive to kill the mites and then re-queen.

What is really important regardless of your management choice, is to re-queen–preferably with a hygienic queen of local stock.

 Why re-queen if you’ve treated the bees to kill the mites?
1). Because you don’t want the weak genetics of your non-varroa resistant hive spreading via drones to your neighbor’s apiaries, weakening the genetics of the entire region.
2). no ‘treatment’ is 100% and the mites that survive are the strongest of the bunch.  Soft or hard chemical, all treatments push the evolution of mites to a stronger condition.

Introduced species represent a challenge best resolved though natural selection.  Unlike huge commercial beekeepers who admit openly that they don’t have time to monitor their colonies, we as smaller beekeeping operations can substantially improve the genetics of the species by pushing evolution in the right direction through management practices that include re-queening when we don’t have a varroa resistant queen.

 Hope all this helps and good luck for the summer.
Best Wishes,

Peter Brezny
Psycho Chicken Eco Farm
NCSBA Journeyman Certified Beekeeper