Monday, May 3, 2010

Save the honeybee - save the world...

A buzzing in my ear:

As an artist I find myself subconsciously collecting and cataloguing information and experiences in the dusty corners of my mind. Occasionally something will trigger the memory of these prior experiences and themes will re-emerge further convincing me that everything is interconnected.

Six years ago I spent a year studying printmaking at the Glasgow School of Art in Glasgow, Scotland. I spent some time researching and making work about honeybees before moving on and this particular interest receded to the background.

The honeybee has once again flown to the fore of my mind. Over the years my concern over the methods of food production has led me to work towards greening my thumb and growing my own food (currently attempting a small container garden on my balcony). Thoughts of gardening have led, once again, to thoughts of apiculture (beekeeping). These thoughts have led to conversation and recently bees have buzzed their way into conversations with a friend that coincidentally had a honeybee situation of her very own. I invited Anna to relay this experience and accompanying documentation.

A sweet invasion:

A honeybee trap used with a modified shop vac to suck up the bees so they can be transported to their new location.

Last fall my husband and I noticed bee activity outside our back window. Through the winter we didn't see many bees, but this spring bees began appearing inside our apartment. It started with one or two, until one day a troop of 25 or so entered our apartment. Fearful we were under attack, we swatted a few of them. After examining the residue, we realized these were not dangerous invaders, they were honeybees! After discussing the situation with Amy, she identified several ways honeybees could be rescued and relocated rather than exterminated. We found that bee removal is not so uncommon. We often try to rescue wayward creatures in our home which, until now was mostly in the form of geckos and spiders. After talking with our landlord who luckily shared our desire to rescue rather than exterminate, she sent us Steve, a local beekeeper and hobbyist, with a license from Texas A&M University.

After inspecting the outside of the building, Steve identified the entrance of the hive as a small crack in the eaves that was being watched by a single guard bee. Based on the location he said it was likely the bees had built into the ceiling of our bedroom.

(drawing of a guard bee "rescued" from Amy's old sketchbook)

Sure enough, the following day Steve located the hive through the ceiling using an infrared thermometer. (The bees maintain a hive temperature of around 90˚F). The honeycombs he removed filled a five-gallon bucket and weighed about 40 pounds – most of which was honey. This time of year honeybees become more active, producing more honey to feed the brood and increase their number. The newest parts of the hive can be identified by their lighter color while the oldest parts are almost black (you can see both in the photos we took). Steve left us with some of the light colored comb, which can be eaten as is (chewing and spitting out the comb). It's delicious, with a hint of jasmine due to the flowers blooming near our apartment.

40 lbs of honeycomb removed from the ceiling. This comb has been relocated to a new location for the bees.

Spending a few hours with Steve allowed me to learn about the complexities of honeybees. He spoke about how each colony has a different temperament. For instance, one colony he recently rescued was very angry and did not settle down when he transported them back to his farm. Instead, they left in a swarm the next morning. Apparently, our colony was very mellow and an Italian "breed" of bee, meaning they like the Texas heat. This experience made me realize how much I had to learn about honeybees and gave me a new appreciation for this small creature.

Since Steve began his hobby he has rescued and relocated many bee colonies. Currently he is lending one of his honeybee colonies to a farmer in Sugarland, TX to pollinate strawberries. With the decline of honeybees, and other pollinators, crops won’t produce high enough yields, which could result in serious consequences for the future of agriculture.

Steve said that this colony was about 20,000 strong judging by how much they filled the bee trap. Because of the way they clustered toward the top that meant that the queen had been captured as well. The colony follows the queen by the pheromones she releases.

Save the pollinators!

Flowering plants (which include every fruit bearing plant) depend on insects and animals for pollination. Without these pollination we will have no fruit.

Some things you can do to help the bees here.

To learn about honey bees and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) watch the documentarySilence of the Bees online free here.

More fascinating facts about honeybees here.

Learn about the anatomy of a hive on pbs's website here.