CCD

1.  What is CCD?

2.  Why do the bees “just disappear?”

3.  Where does CCD occur?

4.  How long has CCD been going on?

5.   What are the causes of CCD?

6.   What are some of the practices in conventional beekeeping that weaken bees?

   Migratory beekeeping

   Hives that are too small

   Using treated wood or paint and varnishes

 Feeding Bees sugar/HFC/other chemicals

The distance between frames

Commercial foundation

Cell size

 Intervening in the brood

 Genetic modification of bees

    Wintering practices

7.    What can you do to prevent CCD from striking your bees?

1. What is CCD?

CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder is a name that describes the sudden disappearance of bees from the hive.    Bees abandon the queen, the brood, and their honey stores.    Dead bees are not found inside or around the hive.   Furthermore other bee colonies or insects do not immediately pillage the abandoned honey stores.

In 2008, Brett Adee lost 40,000 colonies to CCD in the course of 2 weeks.

2.  Why do the bees just “disappear?”

According to the 2007 PBS documentary Silence of the Bees when bees have some kind of infection they will leave the hive so that the other bees don’t get sick.   In other words, abandoning the hive is a technique that evolved to aid the survival of the species.

3. Where does CCD occur?

CCD has affected hives across Europe, the U.K., North America, South America, and countries in Asia, most notably China and India.

4. How long has CCD been going on?

Though the American Bee Journal reports that similar disappearances have occurred on and off since 1869, these cases were in isolated regions and lasted for little time, some lasting as little as only one year.

At other times such as the 1990s, beekeepers in the U.S. were losing around 1/5 of their hives, but typically the cause of death could be attributed to mites, disease, or mismanagement.

The first reports of what is now known as CCD came in 2006 from Pennsylvania beekeeper David Hackenberg, who went to check on his 400 hives in Florida only to discover that there weren’t any bees.  Once he went public with what had happened, other beekeepers started reporting that they had suffered similar losses as well, some even saying that up to 90% of their hives had gone missing.

Since 2006, the number of annual commercial hive losses attributed to CCD in the U.S. has ranged from 25% to 36% of hives.   Rates in other parts of the world have been even higher.  In northern Mexico the past two years the annual loss has been around 80%.

5. What are the causes of CCD?

After more than four years of research, scientists have still not been able to pinpoint a single cause for CCD.   Entomologist Dr. Reed Johnson of Ohio State University claims the most probable explanation is that there is a whole slew of contributing factors, which “lead to immune collapse.”   We believe these factors can be divided into three categories:

  1. Destruction of the environment, natural habitat loss
  2. Use of pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs in agriculture
  3. Conventional beekeeping practicesThere is already a lot of high quality media focused on the first and second categories, so we’re going to here focus on the third.

6. What are some of the practices in conventional beekeeping that weaken bees?

Migratory beekeeping:

Each year in the U.S. billions of bees are moved thousands of kilometers to pollinate crops like blueberries, almonds, and apples.  Unfortunately bees do not travel well; the movements of a road trip combined with being stuck inside a truck for days trigger stress.  Additionally since the bees can’t go foraging, hives on the road receive artificial chemicals for food.  The bees either arrive at their destination with a weakened immune system or dead.

Those that survive the trip will spend the rest of their life (an average of 30 to 40 days) in a monoculture field or orchard treated with pesticides where they will only be able to access one type of pollen.   However, bees need approximately ten different proteins to develop and raise brood, and it is very rare that they can satisfy all their nutritional needs with only one type of flower.

Finally in migratory pollination, hives from all over the U.S. (and some other countries too) come together in one place each bringing their region’s illnesses or mites.   Hannah Nordhaus, author of The Beekeeper’s Lament, reports that each February two-thirds of the U.S.’s commercial honey bees are in California’s almond orchards, which beekeepers have referred to as “one big brothel,” due to the mass swapping of diseases that occurs there between the bees.

Hives that are too small:

When it comes to colonies, the bigger the population the stronger the hive, and the stronger the hive the more resilient the hive, but a bee colony can only grow as much as its home allows, so the larger its home is, the larger it can grow.   Bees have the innate ability to make immense comb with immense populations:

Most types of hives do not provide enough space for bees to properly expand their population so that they can meet their full potential.  The resulting colonies then are smaller and weaker than they would be if they had more room.

the space allotted for brood in a Langstroth (dark circular part)

The amount of brood space Perone believes bees need. By the way, these are European bees in Chile.

Using treated wood or paint and varnishes

Many beekeepers paint their hives bright colors to waterproof them, and while these may look pretty, the majority of the time such paints and varnishes contain insecticides or other substances that are detrimental to bees.   Some woods used in hive construction may have been treated with chemicals like arsenic that linger in the wood.

Feeding Bees sugar/HFC/other chemicals

While a bee’s natural diet consists of fermented pollen, nectar, and honey (it’s main food source in the winter) many bees are fed artificially because they are traveling or all/most their honey stores are harvested for sale.   There is a common but erroneous belief that sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and honey are all the same.   Actually raw honey is much more structurally complicated, containing 181 natural ingredients including vitamins, enzymes, and microbes that have been shown to aid in digestion.    Sugar and HFC on the other hand are processed at high temperatures, void of any nutrition whatsoever, and linked to several human health problems namely obesity, Type II diabetes, insulin resistance and cancer .

If sugar and HFC can do that kind of damage to us, imagine what kind of damage they can do to a smaller more delicate creature like a bee.

The distance between frames

In Langstroth hives the distance between the center of one comb to the center of the next is around 38 mm due to how the frame is designed to be easily removed.

However this 38mm makes it harder for the bees to form a tight cluster in the winter, so the bees can’t maintain as a hot a temperature as they can in hives where the combs are closer together.  In addition to that further heat is lost because bees cannot attach their combs directly to the body of the hive, creating various spaces that allow warm air to escape.

The temperature difference between the brood in a Langstroth and the brood in a feral hive (in which the centers of the combs are closer together) is only about a degree or so, but that degree makes all the difference.  While Varroa can tolerate the temperature of the brood in a Langstroth, they do not tolerate the temperature in the brood of giant feral hives well, and therefore are confined to the periphery of the hive, if they are present at all.

Commercial foundation

Commercial foundation is either made of plastic that leaks chemicals or recycled beeswax, which may sound bee-friendly as first, but the problem with recycling beeswax is that it’s a lipid, and lipids absorb and retain substances forever.   So recycled beeswax is basically an accumulation of all the pesticides and chemical treatments that were introduced to the hives where the wax originated or was previously used.

Cell size

A bee will grow to be the same size as the cell in which it develops.   If cells are larger the bees will be larger; if cells are smaller, the bees will be smaller.

Commercial foundation is stamped with hexagonal cells, which the bees use to draw out their comb.   The cell outlines pressed in the foundation are purposely larger than the cells honeybees make in nature, because in the first half of the 20th century, when mass-produced commercial foundation was becoming popular, beekeepers believed that bigger bees meant better bees.

Today though a growing group of scientists and beekeepers believe that there is a direct connection between the enlarged cell, the enlarged bee, and Varroa mite problems.  Some beekeepers have been able to get rid of Varroa by using reduced cell size foundation or letting the bees draw out their own comb since they gradually return to making natural size cells.

Natural cell size shown here by Bee Natural Guy
You can visit his site at beenaturalguy.com

Intervening in the brood

Beekeepers frequently enter the brood of their hives to change foundation, do “mandatory” inspections, or conduct other such interventions……also, a lot of beekeepers just really like to be able to open up a hive and see what’s going on out of a fascination for the bees.    However bees work really hard to keep conditions “just right” in the brood, in terms of temperature, humidity, and light (or lack there of).   It is very difficult to calculate then, just how much damage is done to the bees by opening up their home, letting in air and light, meddling inside, and stressing them out.

Genetic modification of bees

Heartier beehives have a greater variety of genes.   When bees are bred for certain characteristics, the genetic pool is reduced, resulting in less resilient bees.

Furthermore when we toy around with genetics we don’t always fully understand what we’re doing until much later when the consequences of our tinkering are staring us down.    For years in the U.S. bees were bred so that they would not make propolis, because the sticky propolis was considered an inconvenience to the beekeeper when he had to meddle in the hive.    Just recently have scientists realized that propolis has anti-viral properties that are KEY to the hive’s immune system.

artificial insemination of a commercial queen bee

Wintering Practices

In winter many beekeepers reduce the space of the beehive by removing the supers or placing some sort of cover between the brood and the supers because they think if the space is smaller the bees will have an easier time staying warm.   The problem is the bees cannot reach their honey reserves without breaking the cluster they form to generate heat in the winter, so many times they end up starving to death.

The honey and wax above the brood also serve as a form of thermal mass and insulation, so their presence actually helps the bees maintain heat within their cluster.    Condensation settles in empty comb cells above the brood, instead of hitting a roof and dropping back down onto the bees, as can happen in a reduced space or a hive that is wintered in a plastic wrap.

“The Poncho”

7. What can you do to prevent CCD from striking your bees?

You can help your bees out a lot by choosing a beekeeping system that will reduce their stress as much as possible.   PermApiculture and the Perone Hive are careful not incorporate any of the above-mentioned practices that are harmful and unnatural to bees.

It is also very important to keep your bees in an environment where a variety of all-natural pollen and nectar are available.    Bees will fly as far as they have to to forage, so if you have created a friendly environment for them you can help deter them from foraging in places where pesticides are used.     If you can, try to keep your bees at least four miles from such areas.

One of the many bees in the Melissa Bee Garden Sanctuary, Healdsburg, California

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