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13 September 2010

Postalo Vleeptron / First Day Issue (4-sheet): Apis mellifera / the Western honeybee / aperiodic tessellation of hexagons / wonderful honey becomes sublime mead

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Postalo Vleeptron
First Day Issue: 4-Sheet / Apis mellifera
honeycomb and nectar-gathering
aperiodic tessellation of hexagons

stamps & text © 2010 by Robert Merkin, All Rights Reserved
honeycomb image © Jiri Bohdal /

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 ISSUE TIME: 9/13/2010 4:03:00 PM
VALID UNTIL: 9/13/2010 8:00:00 PM

Hiya L**** --
Sorry I was snoring when you dropped over yesterday. Thanks a gazillion for tending the cats. Since we moved to C***********, it was the first time [we] felt comfy being away from the kitty-cats. We're very happy to take care of S****** when you guys take time away.
We're very lucky this year. All the cats are youthful, healthy, robust, and reasonably smart. 
We've learned that all cats get sad when their regular humans go away, but with visits from a nice, cat-loving neighbor, they get through any length of it just fine. (Stewie has a particularly short limit for Hunger Strikes, and is not likely to waste away.) Even jumpy Mimi got back into the swing of things the night we came back. 
(Benny has a funny Cat Zodiac sign: Nothing fazes him. He's the most sensitive and perceptive, but gets through all changes and challenges smoothly and quickly, never sulks or pouts, never hides.)
Did you enjoy the Honeybee Festival? What did Mr. C. have to say about CCD? 
(We enjoyed another lecture -- and samples -- by the young man who turns Mr. C.'s honey into delicious mead.)

The last time I spoke with Mr. C. about CCD, he came very close to a flat denial that CCD really exists as an authentic, new disease threat. Obviously there is a well-documented, feverishly researched continent-wide worrisome phenomenon, but Mr. C. says it's never affected the hives in his network of small-scale small-farm local-activity New England beekeepers. 
(I think he and his fellow wizards hob-nob and do magical tricks with their bees every summer at Cornell.)
He attributes CCD to a troubling modern development: industrial-scale agribusiness pollination, in which convoys of 18-wheel tractor-trailers constantly transport tens of thousands of hives all over North America, to pollinate huge seasonal monoculture crop regions. 
(I don't know what they do with all the honey; maybe it becomes Sioux Bee brand supermarket honey.)
Honeybees just didn't evolve to withstand the enormous, unnatural stresses of this huge-scale practice, and these huge populations of long-distance transport bees predictably succumb to a variety of well-known hive diseases which small-scale local farm apiaries never have.
You saw how scrupulously and obsessively Mr. C. tends to his hives -- I'm guessing Warm Colors Apiary has fewer than 100 hives. It's pretty obvious that a "beekeeper" who trucks 5000 hives thousands of miles every year will not take nearly the same scrupulous care of such hives. I suspect these agribusiness caravans are more truckers than expert, dedicated beekeepers. 
Not far away in season, at the southern entrance to the Maine Turnpike, you can see convoys of hundreds of tractor-trailers bring Texas-based hives to the blueberry fields. Systematic honeybee pollination doubles the blueberry fruit yield compared to fields pollinated by the wild bumblebee population. (Roberts Family Farm gets sufficient results -- and delicious blueberries -- from bumblebee pollination. But no honey byproduct, darnit.)
Once Mr. C. told me he's grateful to CCD. The federal government traditionally paid no attention to beekeeping and never funded any research or support for it. But when the CCD threat began grabbing the national headlines, one member of Congress from the Dakota farmlands made beekeeping his personal mission, and for the first time beekeeping research and support are getting a huge infusion of federal money, interest and attention,. So, as the kids say, it's all good.
I mentioned Warm Colors' rare and delicious American Basswood honey. Mr. C. says it will be bottled and put on sale in about a month. (The mead brewer says Basswood makes terrible-tasting mead.) At the last festival, I bought the very handsome Apis mellifera t-shirt, and wear it proudly. Nephews and nieces adore the animal [figure] beeswax candles.
Thanks again for making our getaway to the Cape happen!
Bee-Crazy Bob


PatFromCH said...

According to several newspaper articles CCD is not a myth. I grew up in a rural area of CH and heard about this years ago. Your mate must be one extremly lucky beekeper.

CCD has reached worldwide proportiions nowdays. According to a survey among beekepers in the Canton of Bern only 19 % were not affected in 2010, 30 % of all colonies perished. Beekepers were affected by CCD for the fourth year in a row this season. For an agruciltural area like the Canton of Bern this is quite a threat. Scientists claim that there is more than one reason for CCD, ranging from electromagnetic pulses (cell phone antenna towers ?) to pesticides and invasions by arroa descructor, a small mite that attacks honeybees and possibly blossom blight. As of yet there is no scientific proof what exatly causes CCD or which factors might be involved since ecosystems are extremely complicated. Local beekepers wait in vain for a new breed of CCD-resistant colonies. That might be a niche for your mate.

Man on The Ground shall go to the pub on Friday and have a chat with some of the local beekepers and get the latest buzz as it were so Vleeptron can get a european perspective and I can put the drinks bill on my expense account.

Vleeptron Dude said...

My beekeeper mate keeps his dependency on luck down to a minimum. Long ago the state beehive inspectors stopped inspecting his hives; it was a waste of time and gasoline, his hives are the model of healthy, busy bees.

Of all the traditional diseases and threats to hives (and beekeepers have been keeping careful detailed records of their apiaries for centuries), the bees in healthy, unstressed hives cure the dieeases and cleanse the hives themselves with ceaseless attention to ridding the hive of mites (tiny, almost microscopic spiders) and all other natural pests and pathogens.

What the bees can't control or cure are modern pesticides. So in modern times chemical pesticide residues come into the hive in the collected nectar, and build up in the honeycomb wax. This is a new hive stress bees never evolved to control.

Whatever the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder is, pesticide residue (the synthetic chlorinated hydrocarbons like DDT and her many industrial children) is almost certainly a significant background factor in its recent appearance.

The Western Honeybee is native to Eurasia, but not to the Americas. American Indians called them "white man's flies," because their presence was the first sign that European colonists were nearby and getting closer.

I'm guessing that because Europe and Asia havs a beekeeping culture thousands of years older than the Americas, the patterns and scope of CCD are probably significantly different in the Old and New Worlds. The agricultural use of beehives for crop pollination (rather than just honey production) may also be significantly different.

Yeah, absolutely earn your Pizza by chatting up your Swiss beekeepers about their experiences with CCD.

During WW2, the German-Austrian agricultural authorities asked Konrad Lorenz to solve a bee problem.

In cold climates, beekeepers have to give sugar to their bees so they can survive the winter.

But sugar had become a big prize on the Black Market. Sugar legally given or sold to beekeepers was ending up on the Black Market, and not helping the bees.

Lorenz' solution was to add quinine to the sugar intended for the bees. It tastes terrible to humans, but the bees can't taste quinine, or don't mind the taste, so quinine-flavored sugar is just fine with the bees.

Black Market is what, Schwarzmarket? Simple as that?

PatFRomCH said...

Yup, Schwarzmarkt. Simple as that.

I was not aware that the bee is not native to the Americas. Somehow that makes it even worse. Bees are indeed absouletly essential in crop pollution, quite a lot of farmers here still have apple trees, corn fields etc. One of the factors that might be underrated is EMP, CH has a bigger concentration of cell phone antenna towers (due to the mountains and hills, I kid you not, almost 100 % coverage) than the Americas, we have not even begun to understand what effects this might have on man and beast.

Arroa destructor has been "imported" from Asia, the german wiki article on them claims that they might significantly contribute to this desaster before our very eyes. Might be different in your part of the world tho.

Yay, I'm going to the Pub on Friday in the name of investigative journalism !

Vleeptron Dude said...

Oh I meant Eurasia and Africa -- don't forget the terrible mean vicious African Killer Bees, which some beekeeping research idiot in Brazil let loose. The horrible African bees produce more honey; he wanted to mate the ordinary (Cyprian, I think) honeybee with the Killer Bees, and a Killer Queen got loose. They're well established in the Southern USA now. I'm sure there are thrilling YouTubes of Killer Bees chasing innocent Girl Scouts.

Vleeptron Dude said...

Excellent reporting plan! Did you think up {journalism + drinking alcoholic beverages % pub) all by yourself? Very imaginative, a new dimension in journalism!

What will you be drinking?

PatFromCH said...

And maybe a few shots of Bailey's.

I am sure you probably know that the ancient egyptians used honey to brew beer. A local brewery used this ancient recipe as a gag during the Tut Anch Amun exhibition (which I saw) as a sort of gag. Tasted quite nice. And before sugar came to Europe honey was the only way to sweeten some things up for centuries.
Newsies + Drinking ìs an old standard as they say in showbiz. Like musicians never being on time, also an old standard.

Oh here are some killer bees on youtube. BBC first:

National Geographic

CCD from PA, quite interesting. However it can't be the only factor