Current Newsletter
Archived Newsletters

Buzz Words - July 2014

PLEASE NOTE: There will be no formal meetings of the BCBA in July and August due to members’ commitments to the Barnstable County Fair.

From the Board
The Greek philosopher Socrates said, “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance”. While beekeeping and certainly honey were around in his era there is no evidence that Socrates himself was a beekeeper. However, that particular statement seems to be one that beekeepers can identify with and could have been uttered by an ancient apiarist. That feeling is often borne out when seeking the sage counsel of older and more experienced beekeepers. As the old adage goes ask 10 beekeepers a question and you will get ten different answers. It is a phenomenon that does not change with time and individual experience. As one gains in these areas, we become yet another differing opinion on whatever the question is at hand. I think the diverse opinions of beekeepers are a testimony to the interest, enthusiasm and dedication of the humans involved as well as the resilience of the honeybees as a species. They manage to survive and often thrive despite our best efforts, opinions and innovations.

When we first get involved with keeping bees we are all looking for absolutes and the exact right way to properly care for and sustain a colony. We soon find that there are few absolutes and a wide variety of techniques involved in becoming a beekeeper. While we a dream of a golden harvest and showing up as a dinner guest with a jar of honey proudly proclaiming “Yes, it’s from MY hive”, we can also find ourselves standing over an empty box asking the existential question, ”What happened here?”

Like the fortunes of war the fortunes of beekeeping can be arbitrary and capricious, and our search for the “right” way to do everything connected with it very elusive. Perhaps the one aspect of beekeeping that could come close to an absolute is, “Ya gotta pay attention!” The bees can well survive on their own and often do, but to gain any measure of success in the face of all the challenges to the bees and their keepers, attention has to be given to the colony and their activities on a frequent and timely basis. For example, at this point in the year the colonies are usually experiencing very rapid growth and expansion. If attention is not given to that growth and the indicators of a potential swarm, a large portion of the work force will “walk” off the job and production set back considerably. The hard reality of this event is that instead of showing up for that dinner party with that special jar of “MY Honey” one is obliged to hit the package store for that cheap but meaningful bottle of wine.

Socrates was an astute observer of the human condition. Maybe being a successful beekeeper requires us to become careful observers of the apis condition. Paying attention to the hives, their activities, and taking timely action can help ensure that we keep thriving colonies and maybe even increase their numbers.

—Brian O'Donnell

back to top

Check Out Club Member Blogs

Julie Lipkin @

Mark Marinaccio @

Tamar Haspel @

Disovery Magazine has compiled nearly 50 articles relating to issues and challenges facing bees. They can be read at:

back to top

Barnstable County Fair - Help Needed
Here is the schedule for the upcoming Barnstable County Fair. Please note the times and dates as they have changed from past years. If you have not done so already, please let Marte Ayers know what shift (or shifts!) you are willing to fill. Newbees most welcome…you know more than you realize! This is really is a lot of fun! Marte’s email is:

—Marte Ayers

back to top

Are you planning on Competing with Honey and/or Wax?
As thousands of fairgoers walk through the exhibit halls at the fair, it would be spectacular to see multiple jars of honey lined up for competition. Perhaps you make beeswax candles, cut-comb honey, or can compete with a perfect frame of honey.

If you have already extracted, or have two 1-lb. jars of honey left from last fall, drop them by on 7/?? Between 5 and 7 p.m., or the following morning from 8 to 10 a.m. for competition in the Adult Hall.

Jars should be unlabeled and free on fingerprints, filled to the line (ridge) above the bottom of the cap. No honey can be on the inside of the lid, so bring an extra set of caps to replace. It is not about the ribbon, but about the quality of the product you are producing.

See Apiary Products, Dept 28 in Fair Competition Guide

back to top

Mason Jar Bee Hive
You probably see rows of organic honey jars at the farmers market got you thinking about starting your own backyard beehive? If you live in a suburban area, you may think that starting a beehive cannot be done. However a common suburban backyard can be a perfect place for beehives if done correctly and you do a bit of research and planning before ordering your bees and supplies…. Read more at:

back to top

Looking for A Great Beach Read?
I came across a book that people might want to read. It's called "The Bees" by Laline Paull. This is a novel, not 100% accurate, but a good "beach book" & fun to read. It tells the story of a worker bee named Flora 717 and her life in the hive, including a run in with the queen!

Here is an excerpt: Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive’s survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw but her courage and strength are an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.

—Leslie Lichtenstein

back to top

Interesting Blog

Can Spider Venom Save the Honeybee?
Posted by Stefan Sirucek in Weird & Wild on June 6, 2014

Controlling pests is a constant challenge for farmers. Months of hard work can disappear in no time as insects munch their way across a planted field.

Synthetic insecticides can beat back the swarms, but they also affect other creatures. A new study, just published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, offers hope for the future—a bio-based poison that zaps only the bad bugs.

The new pesticide, based on the venom of a particular spider, kills common agricultural pests but leaves honeybees unharmed. (See “Honeybees in East Africa Resist Deadly Pathogens.”)

The bee-friendly nature of this pesticide is a big selling point. Honeybees are vital pollinators, but their numbers are declining around the world. There’s still much debate about the causes, and about the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), but conventional pesticides are thought to play a major role in the increased mortality. Toxins known as neonicotinoids have already been banned in the European Union because of their adverse effects on honeybees.

Pesticide Recipe
The new pesticide recipe starts with the venom of an Australian funnel-web spider, Hadronyche versuta. Spider venom is a good candidate for an eco-friendly insecticide base because it’s created to kill pests in the first place. “Most spiders, when they try to get their prey, they’re targeting other insects,” says Elaine Fitches, a science officer at the Food and Environment Research Agency in the U.K., who co-authored the new study.

The venom contains useful component parts called peptides that differ in their targets and effects.

“The venom of funnel webs has been well studied and contains hundreds of peptides,” explains Pierre Escoubas, president of VenomeTech, a French company that specializes in developing venom-based therapies.Many of those peptides are toxic to vertebrates, adds Escoubas, who was not involved in this study. “But some specifically target insect nervous systems while being harmless to vertebrates, and are thus good candidates for the development of novel biopesticides.”

To make the new biopesticide, scientists created a “fusion protein,” combining a spider-venom peptide and a kind of protein called lectin from the snowdrop plant.

The venom peptide would normally degrade in the insect’s gut when eaten. But the lectin acts as a carrier that allows the venom to pass from the gut to the central nervous system, where it has its intended lethal effect.

Researchers tested the venom-based pesticide on several common agricultural pests, including potato beetles, aphids, and armyworms. The toxin worked, disrupting nerve transmission and causing paralysis.

Happy Honeybees
The results were quite different when researchers tested the biopesticide on the European honeybee, apis mellifera mellifera. It was harmful to bees only in very high doses. At lower doses, in the range that bees might encounter in the field, it had no effect on survival or on the bee’s memory or ability to learn. (See “U.S. Honeybee Losses Not as Severe This Year.”)

The fact that the venom doesn’t bother bees is a significant discovery. “You’re talking about something that’s going to be pretty much benign,” says Fitches. “It benefits the environment.”

Why bees seem to be largely immune to the biopesticide’s effects may be rooted in genetics. “Receptors of toxins … can vary slightly between insect groups,” says Escoubas. “Therefore various insect classes may be more or less sensitive to the effect of a given toxin. In this case, bees are apparently not very sensitive.”

The potential of the new pesticide lies in its specificity, say researchers—in its ability to target pests without harming threatened pollinators.

Major Step Forward
“It is important that governments and industry develop pesticides that are as specific to their target pests as possible,” says Geraldine Wright of Newcastle University, another study co-author. “Our work shows that, depending on the metabolic target, it is possible to make insecticides that do not affect honeybees.” (See: “Intimate Portraits of Bees.”) Escoubas called the findings “a major step forward,” noting the importance of both the apparently selective nature of the pesticide and the fact that a protein-based pesticide would degrade rapidly and not linger in the environment long-term. More research is required to assess the safety of the new pesticide—especially how it affects other beneficial insects such as bumblebees and wasps. But if it comes into regular use someday, that could be very bad news for pests and very good news for everyone else. Follow Stefan Sirucek on Twitter

back to top

Here is More Good News
We’ve learned that Home Depot has announced that they will start to require growers to label plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids by the end of the year, with an end goal of phasing them out completely. Here's a link to the article:

back to top

Looking for used wax melter. Please call or email George Purtill, Orleans, 860-918-5442 or

Carpenters/Beekeepers Needed!
Swarm season is waning as we creep into summer; however, the calls are coming in from homeowners who find honeybee nests in their homes. These are the swarms that got away from you folks. Our swarm retrieval list is quite sparse, thus we are looking to rebuild it. Who out there would like to help out? Email

back to top Last updated 08/6/14