All hail queen bee Martha Stewart

MLD106618SHOT5_0688Martha Stewart is a craft goddess and DIY extraordinaire. She is also a bee lover, having many backyard beehives of her own that she cares for. Stewart likes to use her status as an influential public figure to educate others about the importance of bees and tries to get others involved in backyard beekeeping. As she puts it, beekeeping is “something so romantic”, and also something that is beneficial and rewarding to yourself and to the environment.

So in honour of our queen bee Martha Stewart and all her efforts towards helping the bees, I’ve put together a list of her best bee posts.

BEEKEEPING:

CRAFTS: 

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Guerrilla gardening

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I have a challenge for you. Go out into the suburban and urban areas close to you, and look around. What do you see? Roads? Concrete? High-rises? Not much plant life, I’m guessing. Urbanisation is one of the main threats to bee populations today as natural environments are destroyed to make way for new developments. More often than not, the plant life destroyed is never replaced, which limits the food supply available to bees.

This is where guerrilla gardening comes in. But what on earth is it? Guerrilla gardening is the act of gardening on land that gardeners do not have the legal right to work on, such as abandoned or neglected sites, council owned property and private property. It is usually done in the form of a protest or direct action to provoke change. When I walked around the area I live in, I noticed areas of land, like this planter box at my local train station (see below image), that were neglected and which could easily be re-vamped with different flowering plants that bees love.

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It’s not always easy to get your local councils permission to take action, which is why it is sometimes best to take matters into your own hands. So take a stand against the man today! Go out into your neighbourhood and start planting a variety of flowering plants that bees can feed from. This will not only help the bees, but will make bleak urban environments look more colourful and interesting.

Bee movies

I’ve searched far and wide to come up with this list of films about bees for all you film fanatics out there. These documentaries range from being light-hearted to serious, but all deal with the important role bees play in our environment.

More Than Honey (2012) 

Directed by Markus Imhoof, More Than Honey gives viewers an in-depth look into the world of honeybee colonies and their relationship with family and commercial beekeepers in California, Switzerland, China and Australia.

Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? (2010)

Directed by Taggart Siegel, Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us is an unconventional documentary that takes you on a journey into the disappearance of bees and the mysterious world of the beehive. Using stories from beekeepers, scientists and philosophers, the problems and solutions for renewing our culture with the natural world of bees is revealed.

Vanishing of the Bees (2009)

Directed by Maryam Henein and George Langworthy, and narrated by Ellen Page, Vanishing of the Bees is a documentary that delves into the economic, political and ecological implications of the global decline of the honeybees as organic and commercial beekeepers try to fight against big corporations to save the bees.

The Last Beekeeper (2008)

Directed by Jeremy Simmons, The Last Beekeeper focuses on the lives of three commercial beekeepers in the US over the course of one year as they deal with Colony Collapse Disorder.

BONUS FILM: Bee Movie (2007)

Directed by Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith, Bee Movie is an animation perfect if you want something light-hearted and fun. It follows honeybee Barry B. Benson (voiced by Jerry Seinfeld) as he sues humans after discovering they eat honey.

DIY: Flower power

A worker bee gathers pollen and nectar from flowers to feed the colony, but while they are collecting their own food, they are also helping plants reproduce by pollinating them. Without flowering plants there would be no bees, and without bees there would be no flowering plants. That is why it is extremely important to take care of the natural environment and plant a variety of plants that bees will enjoy. When you take care of nature, it will take care of you.

It’s easy enough for anyone to add a few plants to their garden space that bees will be attracted to. Whether you have a great, big backyard or a tiny apartment balcony, I’ll show you how you can create a bee haven for all your friendly neighbourhood bees.

In Australia, it is a no-brainer to select one of our native plant species. However, a number of other plant species that thrive in Australian conditions are loved by bees, such as lavender, thyme, forget-me-nots and salvia. Check out this guide for an extensive list of plant species that Australian bees will love and enjoy. Today, i’ll show you how to plant lavender in your garden. Lavender is great for most gardens as it can be planted straight into the ground as a hedge or it can be planted into a pot.

DIY: PLANTING LAVENDER

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  1. Purchase your lavender plant – Lavender can be bought from your local plant nursery or garden centre, such as Bunnings Warehouse. I’ve also seen it sold at Woolworths Supermarket for around $14 AUD.
  2. Purchase your garden supplies – If you don’t already have any, purchase a few gardening supplies such as gloves, clippers and a watering can. It is also good to purchase a bag of soil and a large pot if you need to.
  3. Choosing your location – Lavender is best suited to sunny, warm, dry conditions. It can tolerate all soil types, but they must be well-drained. To test if your garden soil is well-drained, dig a hole and fill it with water, then monitor how long the hole takes to drain. Any longer than one hour means the soil is not well-drained enough and your lavender will fail unless you improve your soil. Once you have chosen a suitable location, you can plant your lavender plant.
  4. Planting your lavender – If planting into the ground, dig a hole big enough for the plants root system to fit into. Gently tap out the plant from the pot it came in and place the root system into the ground. Refill the hole with soil to cover the root system and give your plant a light watering. If planting in a pot plant, place the root system of your plant into the pot, fill it with the soil you purchased and give it a light watering.
  5. Plant care – Lightly water your lavender plant and never over water it. You should also prune your plants in Summer by cutting off dead flowers and lighting trimming the plant back. Lavender also doesn’t need fertiliser or pesticides added to it, as the essential oils found in the plant act as a natural pesticide.
  6. Love your lavender – With the proper care and attention, your lavender plant will thrive and act as a food source for bees.

Be mindful about bee threats

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There are many different threats, both human and natural, that are detrimental to bee populations. These were briefly mentioned in a previous post, but this post will go into more detail about the various threats and what can be done to reduce or stop them.

HUMAN THREATS:

  • Urbanisation – Urban developments and the growth of cities results in a decrease in bee populations due to the destruction of natural environments. To combat this threat, a variety of flowering plant species that are favoured by bees should be planted in urban and suburban environments to increase bee populations in these areas. Urban beekeeping can also tackle this threat as it reintroduces bee populations to urban environments.
  • Negative attitudes – Some people fear bees and view them as a threat to their safety. Due to this, wild beehives are destroyed and bees are unnecessarily killed. Bees shouldn’t be feared, and unlike wasps, they do not actively seek out humans to sting. Bees only sting, and rarely, when they feel their hive is being threatened. Bees should be celebrated and cared for as they have a great role in maintaining our natural environment. Educate others about the importance of bees and put down the bug spray. If you’re really worried about a beehive in your backyard, call up a bee removal service.
  • Agricultural industry – The agricultural industry has a massive impact on bees. It creates crop monocultures where only one or two species of plants are planted on one farm. Most of the time these plants aren’t even suitable for bees to thrive off, and the ones that are, like almonds, put bees in a stressful position as they have to be shipped in and shipped out for pollination. To reduce the threat of monocultures, farms need to start planting cover crops again. Cover crops, such as clover, alfalfa and grasses, are planted in-between crops to manage a number of things including soil erosion, soil quality and soil fertility. They are also planted to maintain diversity and wildlife, as they add one more dimension to plant diversity in farms which bees can feed from.
  • Pesticides – Harmful pesticides are widely used in the agricultural industry. They are a threat to bees because plants absorb the pesticides that are applied to them. Contact pesticides are directly sprayed onto the plant, whereas systemic pesticides are applied to the soil or onto seeds and move up the plants stem, leaves, nectar and pollen. A bee can experience harmful affects or even die if it crawls over the infected surface of a plant or ingests its pollen and nectar. One of the worst is the neonicotinoid insecticide, which can result in disorientation or death in bees. To combat this threat, you should avoid all pesticides when gardening at home and purchase organic, pesticide free fruit and vegetables to support the ecological and pesticide-free agricultural industry. Signing petitions like this one, to ban the use of pesticides, is also beneficial to stop this threat.

NATURAL THREATS:

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  • Parasites – The Varroa destructor mite is one of the worst parasites to affect bees. They are an external parasite that attaches itself to the back of bees and weakens the bee by sucking hemolymph, the blood-like fluid in the bees open circulatory system. A significant infestation of the mite will lead to the collapse of a bee colony as most bee species are defenceless to the mite. Originally, the mite came from Central-Asia, but it has spread globally to parts of Europe and the Americas possibly because of relaxed border control regulations. Thankfully the mite has yet to infect Australian bees, but we still need to maintain tough border control regulations to ensure that our bees stay healthy and mite free.
  • Diseases – Diseases such as Foul Brood and Nosema are harmful to bee populations. Foul Brood is caused by a spore-forming larvae, where young larvae ingest the spores from their food. The spores feed and grow off the larvae and eventually kill them. Nosema is a small fungus that infects bees and can result in reduced honey yield, dwindling populations and death. Unlike the case with the Varroa mite, these diseases can be easily treated with good management and proper medication. However, in some cases, entire hives must be destroyed.

PART TWO: Urban beekeeping – A how to guide

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 3.39.26 pm In part one of this post, you learned what urban keeping is and what its benefits are. This post is a continuation of that, guiding you on how to become an urban beekeeper yourself! First, you must consider several factors before starting. These are:

  1. Vandals – Are there vandals in your area that will pose a threat to your bees? If so, it may be wise not to install a hive.
  2. The temperament of bees – It is best to avoid aggressive strains of bees and opt for more passive strains.
  3. Attitude of neighbours –  Have you spoken to your neighbours about the possibility of having a backyard hive? Are their attitudes positive or negative towards this idea? If negative, it may be best to install the hive at a community garden or in a friends backyard.
  4. Is it legal? – Is urban beekeeping legal in your area? Check with your local council first before installing a hive.
  5. Beekeeping associations – Are there local beekeeping associations in your area? It would be good to join one or talk to other urban beekeepers to get advice and tips from them about urban beekeeping.
  6. Plant life – Is your garden suitable for a hive? Research what plants are best suited for your local environment and plant an abundance of these in your garden for your bees to feed from.
  7. Chemicals – Avoid spraying harmful pesticides on your garden at all costs. Not only do they harm bees, but they can harm you too.
  8. Location – Is your residence a suitable location for bees? If it is in an environment with high pollution it may be wise to consider a cleaner location for your hive. If your hive is on a rooftop, you must consider environmental factors such as strong wind and rain before installing your hive.
  9. Swarming – Swarming of bees is when the queen leaves the colony with some of her worker bees to form a new colony. Removing a swarm could be tricky if bees relocate their hive to hard-to-reach spots such as air conditioning or heating vents.
  10. Storage – Do you have enough space to store beekeeping equipment?

If you have considered these factors and assessed that you can install a hive, you are ready to begin the process of becoming an urban beekeeper! Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 3.38.01 pm

  • Firstly, you should read about safe beekeeping practices. It is also beneficial for you to attend beginner beekeeping courses, and there are many easy-to-find organisations and companies in your local area that run these courses, such as The Urban Beehive in NSW and Rooftop Honey in VIC.
  • Secondly, you should join a local or state beekeeping association or club. These clubs meet regularly and members discuss their experiences with beekeeping and provide useful information to beginners on how to get started.
  • Thirdly, you must purchase all of your protective clothing. This must be worn at all times when handling your bees. These include a beekeepers hat, veil, overalls with elastic cuffs and wristbands, beekeeping gloves and a pair of boots that will cover the ankles. It is best to for clothing to be smooth in texture and light coloured, as this is most favourable to bees.
  • Fourthly, you will also need to purchase your hive. The hive is usually made up of boxes and frames, which can be purchased as 8 frame or 10 frame. You must be careful when assembling the hive to ensure it can withstand all environmental elements. An alternative to this standard hive is the top bar horizontal hive, which is a single-storey frameless hive, believed to be a more natural form of beekeeping.
  • Fifthly, you will also need to purchase your apiary tools. A hive tool is needed to separate the boxes when opening the hive and to separate and lift out the frames. A smoker is also needed to subdue the bees before opening the hive.
  • Sixthly, you need to purchase bees. This can be done in three different ways. You could purchase a nucleus colony (a small colony) from a reputable queen rearer, you could obtain bees when they are swarming or you could purchase hives with bees already in them.
  • Seventhly, you need to register yourself as a beekeeper to your local council.
  • Lastly, you need to make sure your bees are healthy and happy. Place your hive in a good location that is surrounded by a good supply of water and a variety of different flowering plant species that bees like. It is also good to maintain a quiet, passive strain of bees, control bee swarms and to keep your neighbours happy by gifting them with a little honey every now and then.

See how easy it is to start your own hive? All it requires is a little time, research, motivation and patience!

PART ONE: Urban beekeeping – What is it?

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Urban beekeeping is steadily on the rise. But what is it, you ask? Well, as its name suggests, it is the practice of beekeeping in urban areas. But why would anyone want to keep bees in urban areas? I’ll tell you why.

People just like you are becoming more aware of the global bee decline and want to do something about it. They are turning to urban beekeeping to boost bee populations in their local area, to help bee populations become healthy again and to help the plant life in their urban environment. Bees that live in city apiaries (bee yard) are in fact healthier and more productive than bees found in the country. Their presence aids in the pollination of many different flowering plant species, and as a result of this, city dwellers can be surrounded by a lush and beautiful natural environment in their concrete world, and have a source of delicious natural honey for themselves or to sell to others.

Bees thrive in many different urban areas, such as in suburban backyards, community gardens, and rooftops of residences, schools or hotels. Urban beekeeping is both beneficial to the environment and economy, but also to yourself. It is a fulfilling and meditative practice where you have your own little natural sanctuary. Here, you feel rewarded for helping the bees but you also witness the great role bees play in our environment every day as they go out to forage for nectar and pollen and return to take care of their hive.

Urban beekeeping is easy enough for anyone to do, so join the movement of a return to self-sufficiency where you can help the environment, community and economy.

Stay tuned for part two of this post to learn how you can become an urban beekeeper!

What’s harmful to bees is harmful to me

You may be thinking “Why should I even bother helping the bees?” Well, bees actually play a huge role in our natural environment through their pollination. We often take for granted the important job bees have. You may not realise it, but bees are the reason the fruit, vegetables, nuts and plants you know and love exist. Without bees, you wouldn’t have the pleasure of enjoying all of these.

In the video, distinguished professor and entomologist Marla Spivak talks about the main multiple and interacting factors that are detrimental to the global bee decline. These are:

  • Flowerless Landscape
  • Monocultures
  • Pesticides
  • Parasites

FLOWERLESS LANDSCAPE:

Bees have been in decline since after WWII when farming practices were changed. Farmers stopped planting cover crops, including plants such as clover and alfalfa, which are highly nutritious food sources for bees. Weeds, whose flowers are another important food source for bees, were also eliminated through the use of herbicides. These practices resulted in a loss in the diversity of flowers bees feed from.

MONOCULTURES:

After WWII, farmers have also been systematically limiting the plants bees need for survival by planting larger crop monocultures. These farms became a food desert as they only grew one or two types of plants, such as wheat and soybeans. Monocultures that extend to crops bees like, such as almonds, which are a good source of protein for bees, have also had a great affect on bees. Bees have to be shipped in and shipped out in order to pollinate the almond flowers. We are planting more and more crops than the amount of bees there are, and this isn’t sustainable.

PESTICIDES: 

Pesticides are used on a large scale to combat the crop pests that are attracted to crop monocultures. Pesticides are harmful to bees as their residue is found on the pollen and nectar the feed from. Every batch of pollen has at least six detectable pesticides, including insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. One of the worst is the neonicotinoid insecticide. When it is used in high dosages, such as through ground application, it travels throughout the whole plant and gets into both the pollen and nectar. If a bee feeds of a plant with a high concentration of this neurotoxin, it will die. In most agricultural settings, only a smaller concentration is used. If consumed, either nothing happens or the bee may become disorientated and not know how to get back home.

PARASITES:

The Varroa destructor mite is one the worst parasites that can harm bees. They are a blood sucking parasite that attaches itself to the back of a bee, compromising its immune system and circulating viruses.

When a bee is affected by the lack of a flowerless landscape and crop monocultures, we are also affected as it impacts our agricultural and natural ecosystems by reducing the amount of foods available to us and limiting the diversity of plants that grow around us. When a bee is affected by pesticides, we are also affected because, as well as reducing the population of bees, we are also consuming plants full of pesticide. When a bee is affected by a parasite, we are affected because it reduces the number of bees we need to pollinate our crops. When a bee is harmed, we are also harmed.  

These factors show why it is important that as a global community we start to spread awareness and take action towards the issue of global bee decline. There is hope for the bees, and in two simple ways you can help them. We need to start planting bee friendly flowers to increase plant diversity and avoid pesticide contamination of these plants. These individual efforts may seem small, but they will contribute to a larger grand solution that will help fight the global bee decline.