Capitol Honey Bee Project Update

In spring of 2016, two honey bee hives were installed on the grounds of the Governor’s mansion in Olympia. Both hives began collecting pollen and nectar from local blossoms, carrying it back to their new “homes.” As the Olympia Beekeepers Association project team continued to check on their progress, one of the hives demonstrated signs of a problem with its queen.

For a honey bee colony to thrive, the queen must lay at least 1,000 eggs per day during the spring and summer months. The queen was not producing enough eggs and hive failure was inevitable without intervention.

New queen

Introducing a new queen to a bee colony can be tricky. The existing bees are used to their original queen’s pheromone, or signature scent. If the existing bees do not accept the new queen, she will be killed and the colony will collapse. Despite using techniques to ensure the new queen’s success, it took multiple trials to get the failing hive back on track.

Both hives continued to bring in nectar and create honey throughout the summer months, the bees’ winter survival food. The team was hopeful that the bees had built up their population enough to make it through the winter. Both colonies had also been treated for varroa mites - an external parasite that attacks honey bees. Monitoring for the hives showed the treatment had been successful.

Monitoring and results

In late December, an opportunity to peek into the hives to observe activity level and food supply presented itself. In the mansion hives, plenty of honey was observed but sadly, no sign of bee life.  

Beekeepers monitor hives to troubleshoot and intervene when conditions require assistance to ensure the bees’ survival. These hives were carefully monitored and supported since their installation. A single cause of failure could not be identified.

The cause was likely a combination of factors, such as: difficulty finding suitable plants for foraging (particularly when conditions get hot and dry and food sources are limited); pesticide or herbicide exposure or nectar, pollen or water that had been contaminated with pesticides; or some other unknown factor.

Hive survival trends

Many other beekeepers are observing similar fates to their hives. While the colony loss numbers for 2016-17 are still forthcoming, beekeepers across the United States lost 44 percent of their colonies in 2015-16. The Olympia Beekeepers Association losses were at 48 percent in the same time frame.

Honey bee colony loss is no longer just a beekeeper’s problem. Washington State has a vibrant and vital agricultural economy. Honey bee and pollinator losses, should they continue at these high levels, will have an impact on our agricultural economy. This impact could potentially affect the cost and variety of food that is produced.

What’s next

Two new honey bee colonies were installed at the Governor’s Mansion on April 21. Working in collaboration with the Governor and Mrs. Inslee and the Department of Enterprise Services, the Olympia Beekeepers Association will monitor the hives throughout the coming months. The public is encouraged to support a healthy environment to help the bees thrive.

Honey bees are interested in pollen and nectar, and not people. You are not likely to get stung by a honey bee unless you step on it, threaten its home or swat at it. Honey bees forage for their food as they look for flowers and weeds (like dandelion and clover) within a four-mile radius from their hive location.

What you can do

People who live on or manage property near the Capitol Campus can avoid spraying nearby plants with pesticide or herbicide. Doing so can be problematic because one honey bee can sip the nectar of a hundred flowers on a single foraging trip, carrying a toxic load back to its hive. Considering there are tens of thousands of bees in each hive, this can produce both long and short-term toxicity and destroy the entire colony. Pesticide exposure can also kill bees outright.

You can choose to be bee-friendly by planting things like various herbs and flowers, growing fruit trees and berries, letting the dandelions and clover grow in your lawn, naturalizing with native plants, and replacing noxious weeds with plants suitable for bees. Their survival in the long-term is a problem we all need to have a hand in turning around.

2016 President’s Message

The year is quickly winding down with the rapid approach of Christmas right on the heels of our first significant snowfall. Our bees are tucked in and it will be interesting to see what this year’s overwintering will reveal in the spring. Our next “meeting” is our annual holiday potluck and is this coming Monday, December 12th at 7:00 pm. We will NOT be conducting beginning beekeeping classes that evening. Bring a dish to share, a plate and silverware and a wrapped gift suitable (under $20) for the white elephant gift exchange. Please keep in mind that we have some children that participate each year, so if your gift is not suitable for a child, please indicate. The club will provide turkey, ham and beverages. If you’re interested in observing the fine art of honey judging, bring a jar for Bob Smith who will be demonstrating the process.

If you’d like to purchase a “These Plants Feed Bees” sign for Christmas gift giving, I will have the large and small signs available on Monday evening. What a super thoughtful gift for the pollinator lover in your life!!

I’d like to thank the OBA board and chairperson of our association for another incredible year. They all put in such a significant amount of time and work that benefits the club, our community, beekeeping and our bees. A special thanks to Kathy Miles for making sure we have refreshments at every meeting and taking the time to haul everything in and out each meeting evening. We so very much appreciate you!!!

In 2016 we continued our relationship with the Sustainability in Prisons Project folks, offering beekeeping instruction to inmates at Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Their programs have been generating a lot of buzz nationwide and other prisons are interested in implementing similar educational programs. We also continued our relationship with the Port of Olympia and the Olympia Regional Airport with hives there. The Airbee team includes Roy Manicke, Frank Scolaro, James Martin and Bruce Longmire and they have done an outstanding job managing the airport hives. This year, we were able to harvest some honey and the Port’s share was donated to SafePlace in Olympia for their annual fundraising auction. A brief presentation on the project was given at the November 14th Port Commission meeting where the team was also introduced. This fall, the team worked with Dr. Danny Najera of Green River College, (and a frequent fabulous presenter to our association) to install a sensor on one of the hives at the airport to collect humidity, temperature and weight data over the winter. We’re very excited to be working with Danny!

In February we participated in our first-ever All-Agriculture Day in cooperation with the Washington State Beekeepers Association at the Capitol. Several associations were represented, including the OBA. A honey tasting was set up, great connections were made and the day thoroughly enjoyed along with other agriculture groups and organizations that were participating. We were also thrilled to witness Governor Jay Inslee signing HB 2478 on March 29th. This bill, which will help create bee forage pilot projects will also help landowners learn how to successfully replace noxious weeds with good bee forage.

We also installed two hives of bees at the Governor’s Mansion on the Capitol Grounds in Olympia. This exciting project allowed us to bring pollinator awareness to the grounds staff, who received a special educational presentation as well as to guests, staff and visitors to the Capitol and the mansion. I was thrilled to be able to give a brief talk on the hive installation and bees during Ed Hume and Trudi Inslee’s annual organic garden planting event at the mansion. We are looking forward to this continued collaboration in the coming year. Abundant thanks to the Mansion Bee Team that includes Duane McBride, Jeff Coleman and Mark Emrich. This story became national media news and we hope it becomes a model for other state governor’s to follow suit.

The association was also well-represented at multiple community outreach events including our first “Adult Swim-The Science of Eats” and a honey tasting at the Hands On Children’s Museum in Olympia as well as participating in their kid’s camp and other museum events. We also participated in the Nisqually Watershed Festival for the second year. We had a booth at the Thurston County Conservation District’s annual native plant sale event, brought pollinators to the Master Gardener’s Children’s Program at DirtWorks (their demonstration garden), did presentations for Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary groups, participated in Yelm Cinema’s Earth Week event, another program at the WET Science Center and even landed an interview to talk “bees” with Dick Pust on KXXO’s “It’s Your Community”.

Bert Lewis is maintaining the club’s hives at our apiary in association with the Olympia Kiwanis Garden. Thank you, Bert, for all your hard work managing the hives at that location! The Kiwanis folks that run the garden (all the produce grown is donated to the local food bank) are thrilled to have the fuzzy pollinators around and we’re looking forward to the coming year with them. Huge thanks to Dixon Fellows for maintaining our observation hive bees and to Maren Anderson who helped with observation hives, too, for multiple events. Can’t do it without you guys.

Mechele Linehan took on the herculean task of package bee ordering and, once again, did a yeoman’s job of managing the details so that the club could provide a resource for folks seeking bees. Thank you, Mechele, for this and all the hard work you do for the club!

Nathan Allan took on developing the new website and we’re thrilled to have him manage the updating and evolution of our site to make it a real resource for our members and the public. Thank you, Nathan!!

Paul Longwell, now a Thurston County Fair Board member, did a remarkable job with the bee booth at the fair this year. The pollinator garden that he and his wife Penny installed is growing beautifully and is a gorgeous and important reminder of what we can do to create gardens for bees and other pollinators. Thank you Paul and Penny!! The club also received a special certificate of appreciation for the OBA’s year’s of service to the Thurston County Fair this year and we were deeply honored.

Thanks, also, to Bob Smith and Mary Haynes for continuing to provide quality education in our apprentice beekeeping classes. Learning about beekeeping is the number one reason folks come to our club, so we are very honored to have Bob lead the education department and share his vast knowledge (and enthusiasm about bees!) with attendees in the class.

Thanks, also, to Gail Booth for spearheading our swarm team. She makes sure that the swarm hotline is answered and takes of her time to connect with a team member to retrieve swarms. This can take multiple calls and we could not do it without her. You rock, Gail!

If you took on organizing an outreach event (Phil Yarosz and Perry Holtsberry!!) or participated in an outreach event, or built something and donated it or just donated something we needed, or found a way to do something better (beautiful library cart Ernie!!) please know how much you are appreciated! And, if I’ve forgotten anyone, I sincerely apologize. Please let me know and I will headline you in the next news letter after removing the egg on my face!! Board members and chairpersons, prepare to be acknowledged at the Christmas party!

We will continue to work on evolving our governance and association as well as on local and county issues pertaining to pollinators and pollinator habitat through our relationships with the County Commissioners, the Port of Olympia, the Voluntary Stewardship Program, the Thurston Economic Development Council and others and are looking forward to a new year of beekeeping, education and other fun activities this year!

Most importantly, heartfelt and huge thanks to each and every member of the Olympia Beekeepers Association. You are what makes all this happen and each of you contributes on so many levels to the overarching success and evolution of the club just by being there. From all of us at the OBA we extend our warmest wishes to you and yours for a joyous holiday season and a happy, prosperous and healthy New Year!!

Laurie

 

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