Thursday, March 21, 2013

Outside My Comfort Zone

Perhaps the autumn die-off of nearly half of the United Nectar hives was a gift in disguise. How so, you ask?

WomenVenture is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting women-owned businesses by providing microloans, working capital, education and ongoing consultation through all stages of business.

In early March I began a WomenVenture small business class through the generosity of a grant from the Kingfield Neighborhood Association.  The 'Be Strategic' class is aimed at people who have been in business but want to take a more professional approach to growing that business.

I have spent the last seven years learning how to tend hives; every visit to the apiary teaches me something new.  That said, I have not succeeded as well at splitting my time and energy between my family, my apiary and my full-time job.  

I am reaching outside my comfort zone being so planful. United Nectar was born out of my love of beekeeping and I have been following my bliss, as they say.  With a job and two kids, pets and all that entails, I have not taken the time to sit down and look at the iniative long-term.  Also, subjecting my ideas to the scrutiny of others does not come naturally, so the class is certainly a stretch for me. 

Because of the class workload, I have decided not to replace any of the colonies that failed last fall.  I will split the remaining colonies and tend them throughout the summer and the lighter workload will allow me to finish the class and come up with a sustainable business and financing plan for United Nectar.  My goal is to tend hives seasonally and work part-time in the winter.

So far the class has been fruitful.  United Nectar now has a Mission Statement:

In support of honey bees and a balanced environment, United Nectar tends healthy, sustainable hives producing high-quality minimally-processed raw honey and beeswax for sale and resale.

My goal is to create a business where I can keep bees, mentor new beekeepers, teach beekeeping and honey education classes and sell honey, beeswax and value-added apiary products both wholesale and retail.

The trick will be to hammer out the numbers for a financially feasible business model and find some funding.  I have no doubt, given the current environment, that the business, planned-well, will be successful.

Onward & Upward!

Neonicotinoid Lawsuit Filed!

With the bad news today that the Monsanto rider was approved in the Senate today, this lawsuit comes at a good time.  The use of neonicotinoids has to be stopped one way or another.


EPA Slapped With Lawsuit Over Ongoing Bee Deaths

Uncle Sam is blamed for not doing enough to stop harmful pesticides from decimating bee populations and threatening our food supply.
EPA Slapped With Lawsuit Over Ongoing Bee Deaths
Can the government do more to protect honey bees from dying? (Photo: Getty Images)A group of beekeepers and environmentalists announced today that they are suing the Environmental Protection Agency in an effort to curb the use of insecticides they say are decimating bee populations and putting our nation’s food supply in jeopardy.
The four beekeepers and five environmental and consumer groups involved in the lawsuit, including the Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety and Beyond Pesticides, say the link between neonicotinoids—a nicotine-like class of pesticides that include clothianidin and thiamethoxam—and bee die offs is crystal clear. And they claim the EPA acted outside the law when it allowed for “conditional registration” of their use. Syngenta and Bayer Crop Science are the primary manufacturers of clothianidin and thiamethoxam.
“We are taking the EPA to court for its failure to protect bees from pesticides,” Paul Towers, spokesperson for the Pesticide Action Network, tells TakePart. “Despite our best efforts to warn the agency about the problems posed by neonicotinoids, the EPA continued to ignore the clear warning signs of an ag system in trouble.”

Towers says the bee shortage for this year’s California almond crop, a story we told you about a few weeks ago, was proof enough that the EPA needs to act now, and must reconsider this class of pesticides.

Unlike older classes of pesticides, says Towers, neonicotinoids are applied before planting to coat seeds. The pesticide is then taken up through the vascular system of the plant and expressed through the pollen and nectar, which bees rely on for food. Their introduction onto farms in the mid-2000s, also coincides with more widespread bee colony collapses than had been seen before.
“These are persistent pesticides,” he says. “They remain in the soil and persist into the next generation of plants.”
This isn’t just a California problem. The finger pointing has been active across the country, including Ohio, where bees are needed to pollinate more than 70 crops, including apples, pumpkins and berries. Bee die offs there were rampant last spring. (Bayer, by the way, sponsored seminars for beekeepers in Ohio—a move that stung critics. Doh!) And the story is repeated from Illinois to the Carolinas. The Europeans are alarmed at bee population crashes as well, and tried to limit a trio of pesticides, but failed.
On Tuesday, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) called for a ban on their use, because, they say, the pesticides have moved up the food chain and are now impacting song birds.
“A single corn kernel coated with a neonicotinoid can kill a songbird,” said Cynthia Palmer, pesticides program manager for ABC, one of the nation’s leading bird conservation organizations. “Even a tiny grain of wheat or canola treated with the oldest neonicotinoid—called imidacloprid—can fatally poison a bird. And as little as 1/10th of a neonicotinoid-coated corn seed per day during egg-laying season is all that is needed to affect reproduction.”
University of California-Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen tells TakePart that the disappearance of bees is extraordinarily complicated. Pesticides, nutrition, disease and mites can all play a role in colony collapse disorder, and that scientists simply don’t know what’s causing bees to vanish at a 30 percent rate.
“It’s a combination of all these things. I certainly wouldn’t let the neonicotinoids off the hook. They are negatively impacting honeybees and other insects that we don’t know anything about, but if the neonicotinoids were yanked from the market, I don’t anticipate seeing a rapid return to the ‘good old days’ of pre-mite 5-10 percent losses,” he says.
When you go into thriving hives versus collapsed hives, the chemical soup scientists measure is still the same, says Mussen.
“But there is something different between the two. We still haven’t determined what that is.”

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Welcome, Spring!

It's been a snowy winter and, since this week is the Vernal Equinox, I am looking forward to Spring. I wound up the fall with a lot of colony losses and was pretty dispirited about what that was going to mean for the apiary both in population and in financial terms.

The biggest stress factor last summer was some unseasonable hive moves that had to be made mid-summer. 
  • One hive, of a long-standing hive host family with three children very interested in the bees, had to be moved because of a the discovery of a sting allergy on the part of the new family dog. Sorry, Maggie!
  • One hive, of a long standing hive host family with chickens and a killer garden, because of my ineptitude with the Saint Paul licensure process.
  • Two other hives in Saint Paul for the same reason.
  • A new hive had to be moved because of an insistent neighbor who refused to sign the license.
Though my long-suffering assistant and I started out early each morning, we needed to move too many hives too close in succession and the moving ran into mid-day twice, which was really bad for the bees and very exhausting both physically and mentally.

Because of the large number of colonies lost at the end of the summer, I had a lot of equipment to get back into the garage.  Consequently, I didn't get my honey extracted while it was still warm.  Feeling pretty demoralized, I didn't heat up the garage to extract, so I'm looking forward to getting that done this spring.  Fear not, hive hosts, the honey is coming!

I learned a lot last summer about organization and realized how thin I'd spread myself. I learned a lot about moving hives.  I learned a lot about what NOT TO DO.