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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a!
Master Beekeeper Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Delight of Hearing Mark Winston

When I studied for my Master Beekeeper in 2010, it was Mark Winston's book, The Biology of the Honey Bee, that was my mainstay.  I read it cover to cover, underlined important places, dog-eared the pages.  I consumed the book.  And thankfully, I passed and got my Master Beekeeper.

This weekend I had my first opportunity to hear him in person and he was delightful.  When he speaks, he is poetic and lyrical, so he is easy to listen to and easy to absorb.



First I heard him speak on queen pheromone.  I learned some things about QMP (queen mandibular pheromone) that I didn't know before.  The workers absorb the QMP both through touch and with their tongues.  The pheromone is passed throughout the hive by touch and tongue until about thirty minutes have passed.  Then the rest of the pheromone the worker is carrying is absorbed into her.

QMP, the presence or absence of, may have impact on swarming.  If the colony is congested, then the pheromone is less dispersed and the workers may feel more impelled then to leave.  QMP also has an effect on worker development.  It slows down speed of the worker's development as they move toward the job of foraging so that the worker is a more mature bee when she finally begins foraging.

My previous understanding of QMP had only to do with its effect on the workers in the hive.  Apparently artificially created queen pheromone (we can't actually duplicate the exact product because we know five elements of it but there are others yet unidentified) is sometimes sprayed on crops.  When blooms are sprayed with artificial QMP (called FruitBoost), bees are drawn to the flower for pollination, thus increasing crop production.  Amazing.

I also heard him give what I would call a photo essay on the anatomy of the honey bee.  He had lovely photos of the bee, up close and personal.  He spoke of the pollen gathering anatomy of the bee, with hair everywhere, including her tongue.

A mystery question that he asked was, "Why do bees have hair on their eyes?"  I didn't know but it turns out that the hair on their eyes helps the bees sense wind and speed of flight.  They have to know how far away home is and the hair on their eyes helps them gather this information.

I'm always amazed that the bee can carry out one of her dead sisters in a housekeeping effort.  That bee is the same weight as she is.  Winston said that a bee can carry her own body weight in honey.

He spoke today on his new book, coming out in October, titled:  Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive.  In talking about his book, he addressed three issues:  agriculture, beekeeper issues, and pesticides.  Agriculture is hard on the bees because of the stress of bees being moved for pollination.  In addition, the fields to which the bees are moved are monocultures - only almonds and no weeds; only plums, no weeds; only pears, no weeds, etc.

He discussed the need for agriculture to change.  The concept that there must be no weeds in the fields leaves the bees with a diet of one item, unhealthy for them.  He pointed to a recent study on economics of crops.  The study used canola fields for testing.  In the study, the farmer left 30% of his/her fields fallow and only planted 70%.  The other 30% was left to lie fallow, grow weeds, whatever.  The comparative data was taken from farms planted 100% with no weeds.  The farmer made a profit of $70000 in the 70% planted group.  The farmer only made a profit of $65000 in the 100% planted farm fields.  The first farmer had the luxury of making more money with less area planted and the bees were healthier.  Not so for the second farmer.

The promotion of ecological services is essential, he said.  The bees need forage and less is more.  Natural life depends on a natural type of agriculture.

He spoke of the beekeepers overusing pesticides.  He described beekeeping today as a chemically dependent occupation.  In addition there is the problem of beekeepers treating with both pesticides and antibiotics in the hive, both of which are overused and often used off-label.  I didn't ask him if he treats his bees and I so wish I had.

He also talked about the collaborative nature of discussion, interaction and essentially trust in other people.  His example was a project by two young women, 11th graders, in Canada who spearheaded a project called Once Upon a Bee.  The project brought awareness of the honey bee to young people in school and resulted in a grant of $70,000 to accomplish this.


He mentioned the Hives for Humanity project in Vancouver.  This project is another example of cooperation and collaboration involving bees and bee hives.  And he showed us a lovely photo of two dancers and Mark Winston involved in collaborative art, showing the connection of art and the scientist.

Finally I participated in a Writing about Bees workshop with him.  This was just pure fun.  He talked about his own joy derived from his writing.  All of us discussed elements that make writing effective.  Then we took ten minutes to write an essay and heard some of the essays read.

In a moment of pure shameless GBA Spilling the Honey promotion, I suggested that anyone who wanted to could send their essay to gbanewsletters@gmail.com for publication in the state newsletter.  I do hope some of the participants will.  Gina and I would love to publish them!

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