Bees- Chemicals and Ideas Part 2

Hi Everyone;

The other day a lady made a post about bees and she had some questions. If I read the post correctly, it was originally a question that someone else had posted in another group about bees. This person was considering getting bees and was concerned about some of the typical agricultural chemicals out there and the possibility of her bees bringing residues back to the hive. I made a comment, but as I think about it, it would make an excellent point of discussion, so let's discuss it even more.

To qualify my comments and what I am going to say, I want you to know that around 30 or so years ago I became a beekeeper.  I did it for a number of years. I learned some lessons from the University of Hard Knocks while majoring in Beekeeping. lol. (How was that?).  But on the other hand, I had some wonderful, rich and rewarding experiences with the bees. The very best bees that I ever had was some bees I got one year when I expanded the operation. They were the common Italian variety that had gotten hybridized with the famous "African" bees. They were productive, aggressive and very much into turf protection. I learned that one the hard way. One day I had my two older sons with me and we decided to check the hives. When I popped open the first one, those bees came out in force to meet us. I think the whole hive came after us. Ammon, my oldest, took off on the run, swatting the bees from his back. He ran about a 1/2 mile before they backed off of him. Some went after Peter, the younger of the two. He ran and got in the pickup and kept swatting them until they were none left. While they were doing that, the only option I had was to run about 200 yards and jump into a canal of water. When I came up, they were waiting for me. I had to go under and stay as long as I could hold my breath, several times before they gave up. I waited for the sun to go down and went back with the smoker to put the cover back on the hive. The main reason I told you about this event was later on that summer, I had the hives vandalized. They kicked over the hives, scattered the frames and stole the other equipment that I had by the hives. Yeah, they wiped me out, lol. This is a common event with beekeepers everywhere. My only real consolation was that if the bees were as aggressive with those who vandalized the hives as they were with me, well, I still smile every time I think about it. They earned what they got on that search and destroy mission. OK, let us get back to the main idea of this discussion. 

Most of the time and in this case of the lady asking about what the bees might bring back to the hive. It is a legitimate concern. But many times it gets bogged down and people will end up taking a hard position, whatever that position might be. Some people will claim that the bees will travel like 25 miles on foraging trips. I can't see that to be truthful. While they might be a good sounding idea, they are very active, but going out 25 miles and returning would be more than their wings would bare. Even 5 miles would be pushing it. So the general idea is that for most domesticated bees is that they will confine their foraging to within about a mile or so radius of the hive. Perhaps a little further if the conditions were desperate. So for the most part, if you can keep the hives away from a place where Insecticides and Herbicides are used, you might be pretty safe from having chemicals introduced into your hives by the bees. Anytime you get out there much further, the likelihood of the bees dying from exposure to the Insecticide will likely do them in before they get back tot he hives. Now if they pick up some residues from Herbicides, that is a different story. Those won't do them in before they get back to the hive. Then those would show up in the honey, in theory anyway. In my opinion, the Insecticides is not too big of a concern because those types will either kill the bees while they are out foraging or if they do make it back to the hive, they will die, along with the other worker bees that clean up the hive. So in short order, your hive will have the bee population of the hive decimated and you won't have any honey, so the concern is non-existent. 

The Herbicide aspect is a dangerous one. Now, this whole argument is akin to the whole vaccinate-don't vaccinate heated debate out there. One side will claim that the herbicide will become inert in a short amount of time, others will claim the opposite. Yes, I am biased. I would rather play it safe than sorry. Besides, in my opinion, the use of Herbicides is stupid and a needless expense in about 95% of the applications. It also is a form of trying to cheat nature and for some dumb reason, I figure it is a lose/lose situation to try to cheat nature of its normal course. I opt to work within the parameters that nature will allow you to do so and not make you pay for it. 

Many of you are familiar with the chemical that is perhaps the most widely used Herbicide out there, that being Glyphosate. More commonly is known as Roundup. But as with most chemicals like this, the resistance to them soon develops. Glyphosate is on it's way out as the most commonly used one. A new one is making headway. Actually, it is older than Roundup, but they have reformulated it slightly and it is being touted as the new and upcoming Herbicide. That one is known as Dicamba. With Glyphosate, we have a number of studies that seem to show that it is a bad chemical for mammals (people). With Dicamba, we don't have the long term studies on the newer formulations. so we are groping in the dark as to any potential direct danger. Another older Herbicide that is widely used is 2,4, D.  The big danger with all of these are drift. Drift in the wind, for example. A molecule can be transported for a long way, miles, as in multi miles. This is where the danger lies in all of these Herbicides and Insecticides (and of course Pesticides).  The conversion to inertness is not within a short period of time. So the real danger in all of this is not what the bees bring back to the hive, well directly anyway, but what gets "drifted" in from a considerable distance away and gets introduced to the hive directly by the wind or by hitchhiking on the bees as they come back to the hive.  

So can you provide for complete insulation from these toxins being introduced into the hive? The reality if it is no. But the likelihood of it happening can be controlled to a large degree. So much so that it can become an issue of not of much concern. But if it does happen on a slight introduction, the extremely small amount could be a good thing. Here is why. Think Homeopathic  This concept is where a very diluted amount, as in extremely diluted amount will cause a situation where the more concentrated form will be attracted to the smaller amount, I guess you could say an attempt to equalize, according to the laws of nature. Then when this happens it can be expelled out from the body. Sounds like a winning situation to me. The theory is sound and we know for a fact that Homeopaths work.  So just remember this, there is nothing in this world that is pure. Everything will have some degree of contamination. Just because you don't observe it at the ppm (parts per million) when measured, it may very show up at the ppb (parts per billion). So at ppm it is as pure as pure can get, but at the ppb level, it can come in as being contaminated. 

Just as a perspective, as you have heard from me, the general rule is that anything with a molecular weight greater than 300 is not likely to come over in the steam distillation process. Agent Orange comes in at 321.96. So it isn't likely to be in steam distill essential oils. But you can become contaminated through other means. Glyphosate weighs in at 169.07, Dicamba is at 221.03, 2,4, D. is at 220.04 and Atrazine at 221.03. So with these 4, they can be found in a steam distilled essential oil. And their residues are found everywhere. So, yes some of these things can be a concern. But the challenge is how to deal with it. It can be dealt with, so don't lose hope. 

But since we are supposed to be talking about bees. On May, 20th, of this year is World Bee day. Here are some facts about bees. I sourced this information from Successful Farming, May 2019 issue, page 5.
One honey bee can produce 1/12 th. of a Teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.  So it takes 12 bees their whole lifetime to make one, 1, teaspoon of honey. Every 3rd. spoonful of food is dependent on pollination. Bees pollinate as many as 170,000 plants. The majority of these pollinators are wild and includes over 20,000 species of bees. Pollinators affect 35% of global agricultural land, supporting the production of 87 of the world's leading food crops worldwide. About 40% of invertebrate pollinator species- particularly bees and butterflies- are facing extinction and lastly, Agricultural production is dependent on pollinators has increased by 300% in the last 50 years. 

So there you have a small primer on bees and the surrounding ideas and concerns of beekeeping.  The beekeeping idea can be a lot of fun and full of rewards. I would encourage you to learn of bees and if it tickles your fancy, consider becoming a beekeeper.  That sweet honey makes it well worth the effort. 

Again, as always, thank you for your time and interest.

Kent King