Posted by: Tony Brown | June 4, 2010

Bee’s Good for Life

A new box of Queen Honey Bees arrive
with worker bees in order to keep the queen

The European or
Western Honey Bee (Apis millifera) is not native to the Americas.
They where brought to the Americas by settlers in the early 1800.
Now, have you every stopped to wonder how life would be if the
Honey Bee’s where to disappear? Well think about this, each day
farmers around the world have thousands of tiny winged workers
pollinating the crops of the food that we eat and the plants we
use. Why is that so important? Tree’s and plants need to mate just
like animals and humans and the offspring of the mating process are
the fruits and vegetables we eat. Pollen is the male germ cells
produced by all flowering plants for fertilization and plant embryo
formation. The Honeybee uses pollen as a food. Flowers would also
be at risk of decline if they are not pollinated. Bees are the main
source of pollination and bees make up 80% of the insect world.
Without the bees the farmers would have to find other way to
pollinate which would be time consuming and costly to the farmers
and to the consumers.

Olsen of Olsen Honey Farms of Albany prepares for the day as bee
crews load the truck with feeder bottles to be distributed to the

Beekeepers job is to help this process along and Commercial
Beekeepers like Dirk Olsen of Olsen Honey Farms make a living
working with honey bees. Dirk Olsen has two subspecies of western
honey bees, the Italian and the Carniolan bee. Dirk and his
beekeeping crews start early in the morning in order to check the
hives, move the hives and feed the bees for more than 100 sites.
Feeding the bees cost Olsen Honey Farms $2000 a day. Feeder jugs
are filled with sugar water and placed on top of the hives. Without
this food during the winter the bees would die. Olsen Honey Farms
provides bees to almond orchards in central California as well as
meadow foam fields in Oregon. Farmers pay $48 per hives at two
hives an acre in order to have bees placed on their farms to
pollinate crops such as kale, turnips, clover, pumpkin, cherry,
almonds and much more.

bottles are filled full of sugar water and are lined up in boxes in
the warehouse at Olsen Honey Farms. The feeders will be loaded onto
a truck and taken out to the bee hives so that the bees can

Andy Gambardella fills a feeder
bottle with sugar water.

Gambardella and Pablo Möller distribute feeder bottles to the hives
as Dirk Olsen (seated) follows with a forklift carring a box of
feeder bottles.

A hive consists of
two boxes which is where the Queen lays her eggs and up to seven
supers which are used just for honey production. Boxes and supers
are divided by a metal barrier that prevents the Queen from
entering into the super and laying eggs but allows the workers to
enter and fill the combs with honey. The honey is then extracted
from the combs to be sold at the market. Dirk Olsen also sells the
beeswax which is use to make candles, molds, and much more. The wax
is also used in grafting grapes and beeswax can be used for

Olsen of Olsen Honey Farms sells honey at the farmers market in
downtown Albany.

A colony of bees
consist of one queen per hive, 200 to approximately 500 drones and
thousands of workers. The drones are the only males in the hive and
their only job is to mate with the queen. Drones are formed from an
unfertilized egg from the queen and the female workers are formed
from fertilized eggs. The queen mates only once in her life but she
will mate with several drones and stores the sperm in a sac called
the spermatheca. After the drone mates, his penis will break off
and he will die. If drones remain during the winter months, they
are removed from the hives and they will die.

Olsen of Olsen Honey Farms inspects a hives for the condition of
the colony.

Bee hives must be
check regularly to determine if the queen is producing and to check
on the condition of the colony. If a queen is not producing the she
is destroyed and replaced with a new queen by the bee keeper. Hive
population has suffered due to the cold and wet weather conditions.
In the United States alone we have seen a decline in the bee
population due to a syndrome called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)
wherein the worker bees are disappearing. Although there is no
definitive answer as to why this phenomenon is occurring,
researchers and beekeepers have found some contributing causes.
Dirk Olsen said that some of the causes are varroa mites, disease,
and the lack of greater genetic diversity of the queens.

Greg Hansen of Olsen Honey Farms
prepares a smoker for inspecting the bee hives. Burlap is burned in
the smoker to calm the bees. Experts say that the bees, sensing the
smoke, go into a survival stage rather then protecting the hive by
gathering as much food as they can from the combs.

Queen Bee pictured just left of the center is the largest bee in
the colony and the only bee that lays eggs. Seen here, the worker
bees will make a pathway for the queen as she moves about the

Varroa mites are one of the largest contributor of CCD. Varroa
mites can be seen with the naked eye as a small red or brown spot
on the bee’s thorax. Varroa mites feed off the bodily fluids of
adult, pupal and larval honey bees. Varroa are carriers for a virus
that is particularly damaging to the bees. Bees that are infected
with this virus during their development will often have visibly
deformed wings.

disease nosema lives in the stomach of the bee and is widespread
among adult honey bees. The symptoms of the Nosema are relatively
nonspecific. This makes it easy to confuse with other diseases of
the honeybee. It arises mostly in the spring after periods of bad
weather, although it may also be a winter disease that is only
noticed in the spring when beekeepers first inspect their hives.
The most notable symptom is dysentery. This appears as yellow
stripes on the outside of the hive and in severe cases, inside the
hive. Bees may also be unable to fly (“crawling”) due to disjointed
wings. Further symptoms include increased girth of the abdomen,
missing sting reflex and early supersedure of the queen. If the
queen is infected, its ovaries degenerate and ovum production drops
due to atrophy of the ova, after which it is likely to be

though bee population has been down in the United States,
beekeepers are building their hives back up. Ongoing research will
determine the causes of CCD, but ultimately it will take the
diligent efforts of the ever watchful beekeeper to ensure the
successful restoration of the bee population.

closeup of the Italian honey bee shows just how hairy the bee is.
This hair is essential for gathering pollen dust. Once the bee
gathers all she can carry she will return to the


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