Monday, August 17, 2015

From the Mouths of Babes

I have a love hate relationship with my neighborhood. I love the diversity, the older folks, the park behind my house. I really don't love my crazy neighbors, the ones who make life miserable for the rest of us. We have had some challenges this year that has finally prompted me to start whatever process I have to do to move to a safer, quieter, more sane area.

There are two little girls that live across the street, beautiful blonde-haired blue-eyed princesses. One even wears an impressively sparkly tiara. The girls ride their bikes up and down the sidewalk day after day after day. They have grown up in that house, well, as grown up as they can be at age seven or so.

The girls discovered a paper wasp nest hanging from a tree and have been totally intrigued, riding their bikes under it then sharply turning around screaming "the Queen is out the Queen is out!!!" and racing back home.

Over the weekend I saw the two little girls plus their little female cousin and a couple of high school girls approach the nest. I figured the princess and the pea were going to show the older girls their discovery.

Was I wrong.

Before I knew it all five had picked up rocks and were winding up for the pitch. I thought only boys did this kind of thing.

"Knock it OFF!" I yelled, just in the nick of time. I began my lecture from across the street and they sulked back to their house. It wasn't long before I heard "the Queen is out the Queen is out!" and saw them tearing back down the sidewalk to their homes. I had visions of wasp formations zooming out of the nest, stinging the shit out of the girls. "It would serve them right," I thought.

I grumbled about those kids the rest of the weekend, along with my complaints about the rest of the dweebs I share this street with. In my mind they grew into rats, blond haired blue-eyed rats. Stupid girls acting like stupid boys trying to kill yet another helpless little bunch of creatures.

Tonight I went to check my bees out at a farm, and when I pulled in my driveway up rode the one without the tiara.

"Are you the lady that yelled at us the other day?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied, waiting for her smart ass remarks to start flying.

"Thank you" she said.


Thank you?

Not, "You're a mean old lady and we're gonna smash your tomatoes!"

She said thank you. A seven year old.

I told them I was afraid they would get stung. I asked if they wanted to learn about the wasps. She said she loved nature and wanted to learn all about them. So I told her. Soon Princess arrived, then they called over the little cousin. Question after question poured out of their little blonde mouths.

"If a possum or raccoon is in my backyard will they kill our dogs?"

"Do you know about every kind of animal in the whole world?"

"I found a bug with red legs and a red body, and it was real big. What is it?"

"I found a green caterpillar and gave it leaves and it turned into a butterfly and it was so cool!"

"I want to learn about Moose."

And on and on they chattered.

I went back into the house feeling like a bigger asshole than my neighbors. Lord it's hard to be humble when you are ALMOST perfect in every way.

After I put my things away, I went to the basement and searched my nature library. There, on the top shelf, was my collection of Golden Nature Guides. Reptiles and Amphibians. Birds. Insects. Trees. Butterflies. One by one I pulled them down, blew the dust off, and went to find my new friends.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Fear of Nature or What We Really Need to be Scared Of

I NEVER watch the news on TV. Damn if it wasn't right there when I turned on the television this morning. A story on ticks and Rocky Mt. Spotted Fever. They were making a huge deal of the fact there were 2000 cases of it in the US last year. The "expert" said before you go outside, you should spray yourself with insect repellent that contains DEET (never mind all the health implications associated with that use), wear long pants, long sleeves, and tuck your pant legs into your socks. Right. All this on a 90 degree summer day. 2000 cases out of 3,800,000 people in the US. That is 1 in 1900 chance of getting the Fever. There is a 1 in 3000 chance of being struck by lightening, for comparison.

My insurance agent told me the association where her business is voted to spray chemicals on the lawn to kill ticks (and a whole lot of other creatures) because one person saw a tick on the floor of the dentist's office there. Seriously!

When I worked in the field as a biologist, I had ticks on a regular basis. My record was 14 in one day. No big deal. They were like mosquitoes, just part of being outdoors. I had numerous tick bites and never contracted Lyme's disease, never got Rocky Mt. Spotted Fever.

One of my co-workers was bitten by a mosquito on her eyelid and she picked at it until it got infected. She went in and got tested for West Nile Virus.


This is yet another symptom of people being removed from Nature and thus unfamiliar/uncomfortable with things that are common place if you spend anytime outdoors. There is a beautiful paper wasp nest in a tree across the street. Of course the neighbor guys (it is always the guys) informed me (with a graduate degree specializing in insects) how dangerous they are and that they will fly out and chase you down and that they can kill animals. They gloat about how many of these nests and wasps they have destroyed.

Mind you the only reason those or any of the other stinging insects would attack anyone is if you disturb their nest or harass them.

I heard a story on the radio the other day about a man who chased another man down because he had broken into his home. He then proceeded to shoot him dead.

Who do we really have to fear?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Liberals vs. Fox News Ain't Got Nothin' on Small Cell vs Large Cell Beekeepers

When people have their beliefs threatened they can get nasty. It goes far beyond just a difference of opinion. Just talk to a Fox News fan and ask about Hillary Clinton. Whoa.

I am finding that this hostile beast sometimes rears its ugly head in the seemingly mundane world of beekeeping. Why, I am not sure.

I was recently told about a workshop held over the weekend that was attended by novice, newbee, wannabee, and experienced beekeepers. This description is second hand but from reliable sources. When the alternative beekeepers offered observations different from a couple of the traditional beekeepers, a storm started brewing. The traditionalists dismissed the alternative folks, basically telling them they were lying about results they were seeing using small cell bees. Tensions kept building, and later in the afternoon, one of the traditionalists threw his hive box in anger, killing hundreds if not thousands of bees. Apparently with no remorse. Folks left the workshop feeling angry, confused, upset. Some said they would never come back. Who can blame them?

One of the heated topics surrounded small cell bees. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a long time ago commercial beekeepers supersized the honey bee with hopes that they would produce more honey. Some folks over the past several decades have been raising "small cell" honey bees, the original size bee. Many believe that these small cell bees are more resistant to mites, live longer, and are more healthy than their larger sisters and brothers.

I thought I might do some research on small cell bees, given the vast difference of opinion on the subject. There are numerous scientific studies looking at whether small cell bees have fewer varroa mites, live longer lives, etc... I found more research studies supporting small cell than not. But like many controlled scientific experiments, they don't address the larger complex set of factors affecting the honey bees. Are they feeding the bees sugar water or corn syrup? Chemically treating the hive? Are they in a lab or in an organic agricultural field? A conventional farm field or inner city? No study can be developed that can factor in all those variables. This is nature we are talking about.

If you think about our bees from an ecological perspective, they are being assaulted on many fronts. Are they healthy enough to sustain themselves from the pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides being dumped on the planet every day? What about all the chemicals some beekeepers put in their hives, believing it is absolutely necessary for the bees' survival? Sadly, the honey bees' lifestyle puts their lives at risk 24 hours a day. They have no choice but to venture out into their toxic world, a world we have created. Both inside and outside their hives.

We can argue with folks that work their bees differently than we do until the cows come home. But really, each beekeeper needs to find what works best for them. My way works for me, it may or may not work for you. However, there is one thing I feel very strongly about and that is that anyone who works with bees should know their life history inside and out. They should understand the effects of the food they give them, whether is is sugar water, corn syrup, honey, or some commercial product. Beekeepers need to understand how the chemicals they put in the hive affect the pests they are targeting AND how they can affect the bees. We should know exactly what will happen if we switch brood boxes in the spring, or moves frames from here to there. How will these things affect the ecology of the hive? The communication network? We should know why we do what we do, not simply relying on the fact someone told us this is what we should do. We are responsible for researching and understanding the lives we are working with. I was taught very differently 20 years ago than how I practice today, simply because I took the time to learn as much as I could. I always question "authority".

I can only hope that by the time I turn 80, I will more fully understand the ways of honey bees and not make too many mistakes along the way. I also hope that we beekeepers can learn from each other and respect that there are many ways to keep bees, what works for me may not work for you and vice versa. There is a bigger war going on against our beloved honey bees and they need us to stick together and be their voice.