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BEES TO DETOX

The Impact of Landscapes on Bee Health and Survivorship by Marla Spivak

A summary of a presentation at the State Conference last November.

One of the strands of the web of problems facing honey bees is environmental (insecticides, herbicides/ fungicides, and flowerless landscapes) which affects honey bee nutrition, which in turn impacts the ability of the bee to combat viruses and pathogens.

Pollen contains vitogellin and lipids, which favorably impact gland development, which is passed on to the larvae via bees’ brood food, impacting the immunity, health and survivorship of bees. And when combined with nectar in the form of honey, pollen can not only up-regulate the detoxification and immunity genes in Apis mellifera but also turn on genes to make P450 enzymes, which metabolize pesticides.

Honey bees digest pollen, with some ability to detoxify pesticides it contains, before passing it on to larvae as brood food. The larvae of wild bees, by contrast, feed directly on the pollen balls provisioned by the mother bee.

We need foraging areas for bees to detox!

Instead of good, clean bee food we have acres of lawns and monocultures (bee deserts) which are treated with a variety of chemicals. Honey bees, wild bees and other pollinators are reduced to feeding on scraps. Marla suggested selecting flowers on which one sees bees to plant in our gardens, interplanting lawns with low growing flowering plants than can be mowed (e.g. creeping thyme) and planting flowering cover crops in fields in winter, e.g. borage, calendula, echium and cuphea.) It is not only the quantity of pollen this is important, but also a diversity of sources of pollen.

A flowering bee lawn not only supports pollinator health but also reduces the intensive use of water, fertilizer and mowing. Marla showed a slide of the root systems of native plants compared to lawn grass: the depth and complexity of the former by comparison was dramatic.

Marla made reference to herd immunity in humans (i.e. comparing the extensive spread of a virus when some people get vaccinated v the limited spread when most getting vaccinated) and herd immunity for bees. i.e. if only some colonies are treated for varroa, the mite and the viruses spread, v treating most colonies and containing the spread of mites.

Marla concluded with a description of the UMN Bee Squad, which is a group of UMN students who mentor backyard beekeepers, educate the public on wild bees, promote bee-friendly pollinator plantings, and offer a beekeeper service for homeowners and businesses. In this last service, in return for the woodenware and an annual fee of $1000, the Bee Squad will provide, setup and maintain the colony, and share the honey with the owner. She showed an impressive list of companies who participate in what is called there Hive-to-Bottle program, arguing that it was not only good exposure for businesses with a green platform, but also led to a discussion as to what kind of forage the bees needed to be healthy and in some cases, a change in the plantings made within the vicinity of those customers. The Bee Squad also provides a site at which backyard beekeepers can join a national effort to other data about varroa and gain access to a varroa test kit: beesquad@umn. edu

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