It’s getting harder and harder for Bayer to continue to deny the link between neonicotinoids and bee decline, especially with this new study from Harvard. Unlike the “facts” from Bayer — which claims insecticides are perfectly harmless when it comes to bees — Harvard scientists have used actual field studies to come to their conclusions. Mother Jones called the report a “smoking gun” that targets the neonics imidacloprid and clothianidin as causes of Colony Collapse Disorder.

The study tracked the progress of 18 hives beginning in July 2012. Twelve hives were fed sublethal amounts of pesticides via sugar syrup over 13 weeks, and the other six hives were kept as controls. According to the report, all 18 hives exhibited similar behavior throughout the summer months, but during the winter, bees from six of the 12 contaminated colonies failed to return to their hives, demonstrating classic behavior of CCD. On the other hand, none of the control hives displayed signs of CCD, but one showed symptoms of nosema.

What’s exciting about this study is scientists were able to replicate Colony Collapse Disorder through the experiment. Previous tests — like the ones cited by Bayer — have just occurred in laboratories and often only focused on bees in one stage of life. The Harvard study actually administered the insecticide to full colonies from July through September and monitored their response.

However, it could be said that the sample size in this latest study was too small. Jeff Pettis from the USDA said an 18-colony study was too small to confirm the link between neonicotinoids and CCD.


Teaching beekeepingI like to think I helped create some future beekeepers today. After boiling another sugar-water mix and walking out of the house carrying our masks, gloves and syrup, the same secondary school boys from last week immediately perked up. They actually remembered, and were excited about helping me feed the bees!

But, I only had one mask, so the group of six could only sacrifice one. Luis was the lucky winner, and donned the green beekeeping getup and radioactive gloves to help me open the hives and pour some more sugar syrup on the sheet of plastic that’s laid over the 10 frames in the bottom super. Fortunately the hives are still relatively calm because they were only installed a few weeks ago, so Luis was perfectly comfortable.

They’re finally here! All 20,000 are snugly tucked into their new hives at Almeria, on a eucalyptus table right next to our newly-planted potatoes and largest lagunita. It was somewhat of a struggle to get to this point — and it only happened today through sheer coercion — but it happened! We have bees!

See Jossua, our bee guy, is a bit slippery when it comes to nailing down important details like times and places and how much things cost. Like an ugly date he stood us up last weekend for our Sunday installation. But, having been the fourth time he pulled this trick, at least we knew enough not to believe him and didn’t bother making the schlep from Cusco to get there early Sunday morning. Yesterday, however, we stopped at his tienda and asked him when he planned to come by. Telling us manana, we told him we’d meet him at his shop that morning and “help” him out by coming along for the ride to Almeria. That seemed to do the trick. Finally.

This morning, Jossua, Madeline and I, all piled into a taxi and drove from Cusco to Almeria with two nuc colonies and two hives in the trunk, ready to be installed. Not really sure how Africanized bees would handle the bumpy ride, Mads and I decide it couldn’t hurt to put our masks on while inside the beat-up taxi.

After the hour drive, Baltezar met us at the gates and helped us unload the boxes and bees. All in all the installation went smoothly. It was my first time in a bee suit, and I can’t tell if the get-up made me more or less uncomfortable. The Africanized bees certainly are more aggressive and continued to ping my mask even at 20 feet away. But other than that, we had no problems and no stings. Even after Baltezar got two stuck in his hair, somehow he managed to shake them off and walk away unscathed.

DSCN1534There was one snag though, when Jossua pulled a frame from his nuc colony that had grown a little skewed because it didn’t have starter wax. Like a surgeon he asked for a small saw to cut the excess, and after that he was able to slip it in as number 10.

Now it’s up to us to feed them for at least the first three days to one week.

WE BOUGHT OUR BEES TODAY! Our director, Oscar, came back from his business trip, corralled me, Mads and Baltezar into his car, and drove us to his “bee guy” in Cusco. Well, this was a friend of his former bee guy who now is apparently a fugitive avoiding law enforcement somewhere in Argentina. Sounds a little crazy, but apparently todos los apicultors en Peru son un poco loco, and actually, that’s pretty much the same in DC too. Anywho, I digress. Once we got to the Mundo de las Abejas de Jossua (a self-proclaimed Gringo, according to his flyers) the Quebecoise owner, Jossua, immediately starting falling all over himself to help us out. We told him about Almeria and our current state of funding, or better yet, lack thereof, and immediately he jumped on board, handing us some sort of cure-all diluted propolis spray por los ninos.

Over the course of what seemed like five hours, Jossua had — very thoroughly — gone over the beekeeping basics, rattled off the same bee statistics that Jeff Miller and I quote for DC Honeybees engagements, scooped out taste-testers from each of his honey/pollen products, and last but not least, showed us his nucleus colonies on the rooftop behind his shop (sound familiar Jeff?).

An expert salesman, the former Frenchman had no shame in pointing out which pieces of his equipment were crap, and which were the best. He positively lit up during our lengthy conversation, bouncing from the medicinal properties of honey, to explaining how an extractor worked. Though it was impossible to get a word in, and follow his train of thought, Jossua was extremely helpful and accommodating. When all was said and done we walked out with two complete hives (each to be started with a nucleus colony), two suits, two pairs of gloves, two veils, two kilos of wax to start the frames and one smoker.

A huge thanks goes out to Global Bees, which agreed to fund this installation. As executive director of DC Honeybees, we decided to partner with Global Bees, a DC-based organization that aims to initiate small-scale sustainable development projects, in order to expand our mission of propagating beehives and promoting beekeeping.

The way Jossua works is this. Today we signed a contract for all our beekeeping needs, and on Sunday he’ll come out to Almeria to scout a location — one that’s far enough away that no ninos are tempted to tamper with the buzzing boxes. After that he’ll come back and set up our nuc colonies and give us a tutorial on apicultura. With the rainy season approaching — and accompanying nectar-flow I presume — he said we’d be ready for our first harvest anywhere between three and six months.

So a few things are different between beekeeping here and in the states. (I’m about to go pretty bee-nerd right now, so if you’re just in it for the honey, I’d say get out now.) When Jossua set up a model hive, it only consisted of two standard supers, and your regular inside and outside covers. I asked about honey supers and he said we wouldn’t need them. Hmmm, skeptical. I pressed him (with Mads’ help) and he said pretty confidently that the queen doesn’t move up into the top box. Not only that, but he also said the bottom box should have ten frames, but the top only nine, but not to make room for some kind of feeder. Jossua said the more-than-bee-space would allow for fatter honey frames. At least this one made more sense to me.

Also he said the breed of bees we’d be getting is an Italian-African hybrid — best of both worlds, which, I’ve also heard about Italian-Russians. And, as I suspected, Jossua warned emphatically about always wearing your suit when handling frames, adding that hot smoke would only make them more aggressive and suggested using cooler smoke. The Africanized bees are no cool DC-Italians. They’re “persnickety” at best, as Jeff likes to say, and they — as their name would suggest — aren’t the best at over-wintering. Still, they are the most disease-resistant breed out there.


And yes, these are the notorious “killer bees,” but Jossua assured he hasn’t had any sort of issue with the Italian-Africans in the 12 years he’s been working in Peru. For the most part these bees operate just like my sunny Italians, coming to a full population about one month after dropping in a nuc. Sounds like it’s time to get my nectar-flow on.

Las palabras del dia
Abejas – bees
Miel – honey
Polen – pollen
Propoleos – propolis
Colmena – beehive
Apicultura – beekeeping
Apicultor – beekeeper
Humedor – smoker
Cera – wax
Mascara – veil
Caja – box
Guantes – gloves
Trajes – suits
Marco – frame
La reina (guapa) – the queen (beautiful, as Oscar likes to say)
Obrera – worker bee
Zangano – drone bee (my favorite palabra de hoy)

Jeff Miller rolls up in his BMW convertible to the gleaming new headquarters of NPR one wet, gusty Monday morning. Miller, a real estate developer, isn’t there to check out the building, a modern mass of concrete and glass and lights on North Capitol Street. He’s delivering cargo: 20,000 European honey bees, buzzing in two wooden boxes destined for NPR’s rooftop.

Miller moonlights as a beekeeper with DC Honeybees, a nonprofit devoted to growing and sustaining bee colonies in the city, and NPR is the latest to solicit his services. Miller has already installed 100 hives this year (including one at a house in Tenleytown earlier that morning), a huge uptick from the 50 he set up during his first year with DC Honeybees in 2009.

Miller is joined by Katy Nally, a 25-year-old Center for Clean Air Policy employee with a bee tattoo behind her ear, who assists with installations. Maury Schlesinger, NPR’s director of real estate and administrative services, follows as Miller pushes a dolly stacked with a vat of sugar water and the two bee boxes through the back channels of the NPR building.


A two-year moratorium on the systemic insecticides known as neonicotinoids is slated to kick in no later than Dec. 1 throughout the European Union. The decision was left up to the European Commission after member states failed to come to a qualified majorityagain — on whether to initiate the two-year ban.

The measure would apply to the application of imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin on corn, oil seed rape (canola), apples, carrots, strawberries and other flowering crops.


You’ve probably heard about them — the ubiquitous insecticide that lurks within the plant and isn’t sprayed on like traditional pesticides. Neonicotinoids, as the name suggests, are similar in composition to nicotine and cause certain neurological receptors to be over-stimulated in insects. As a result, bugs that feast on plant tissue that has absorbed the chemical soon incur neurological damage, which can cause paralysis and death. This systemic type of pesticide, which includes imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin, is applied to seeds and absorbed into the plant as it grows, creating an life-long resistance to mostly corn- and soybean-hungry insects. Throughout the European Union, they’re also applied to sunflowers, oil seed rape (canola) and sugar beets.


Keeping step with other urban-ag-conscious cities, DC Mayor Vincent Gray recently signed a bill into effect that would formally legalize backyard beekeeping in DC. The legislation, which is part of the Sustainable DC Plan, specifically targets urban beekeeping as a means to promote urban agriculture.

Highlighting the broad initiative of sustainable “food,” the plan aims to “put 20 additional acres of land under cultivation for growing food” by 2032. The legislation notes, “A stronger local food supply and distribution system will ensure that District residents have better access to healthy and affordable food from full-service grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and community and commercial agriculture projects within their neighborhoods.” Where local garden and agriculture projects are taking shape, honeybees are an obvious step toward increased crop yield and easier access to nutritious food.


Jeff and I hopefully inspired some new beekeepers in DC this weekend!

At the sixth annual Rooting DC — a forum for urban gardeners — DC Honeybees held two workshops, packing a classroom at Woodrow Wilson High School. Organized by DC Greens, the forum pulled in around 800 participants. Our session broke down the process and pitfalls of raising honeybees in the city.


Roses are red, violets are blue…unless you’re a bee, this much is true.
While we might be used to the Roy-G-Biv acronym to remember the colors of the rainbow, for bees it’s more like oyG-Bib-UV. Bees cannot see red wavelengths, but this doesn’t necessarily prevent them from landing on red flowers. Humans perceive light base on combinations of red, green and blue, while bees base colors on green, blue and ultraviolet light. Because of this distinction, bees see flowers in an entirely different way.