Friday, July 3, 2015

New Minnesota Laws Concerning Beekeepers and Pollinator Advocates

On June 15, 2015, Jamison Scholer from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) visited our club and gave us an overview of two new laws in Minnesota that concern beekeepers.  Jamison helped guide us through the murky and swirling waters of these confounding laws, all the while being peppered with questions from the lively audience.  A humongous thank you to Jamison Scholer!

The Bee Kill Compensation Law and the amended Pollinator Label Law were discussed.  Here is a summary and additional information that will hopefully clarify (or not!) these laws.

Bee Kill Compensation Law

In 2014, the legislature passed this law to compensate beekeepers at 'fair market value' for any losses obtained from 'acute pesticide poisoning'.  If a beekeeper suspects that his hive has been affected by pesticide through either drift or direct contact, the beekeeper can submit a complaint to the MDA.  The hives will be inspected and determination will be made as to whether the kill was from pesticides.  Further, the MDA will attempt to determine whether the pesticide was applied properly, and if misuse is found, then the pesticide applicator will be responsible for the compensation cost of affected bee hives.

Here are the specifications:
  • You must have your hives registered to be eligible for compensation.  The 2014 law was amended and as of Aug 1, 2015 specifies that the beekeeper must be registered with a yet to be determined registry.  In the meantime, beekeepers should register with
  • 1000 or more bees (about 1.5 cups of bees) are dead or twitching near the hive entrance in a single day. 
  • The compensation value of a colony and damaged equipment is currently $230, with the opportunity to adjust upward via the compensation claim form.  
Here are the steps to be taken by an affected beekeeper:
  • A complaint must be filed for the MDA to begin an investigation.  This can be made here:  Bee Kill Investigation
  • If a beekeeper suspects a bee kill due to pesticide exposure and has the 1000 or more dead bees at the hive entrance, a compensation claim can be made here:  Compensation Claim for Loss of Bees
  • The process will start quickly and will look something like this:

"Acute Pesticide Poisoning"

Currently, a beekeeper can only be compensated for losses due to "acute pesticide poisoning", and if the dead bees are present at the hive entrance area.  An 'acute pesticide poisoning' event can affect bees while they are out foraging, but we will never know if they came back.  The panel of experts who advised the MDA on implementation of this law determined that this was all too difficult to quantify.  To read about the panel and their notes, go here:  Expert Panel

What this law does not include:
  • This law does not take into account sublethal pesticide poisoning, which is more difficult to determine because the tell-tale signs (dead or twitching bees) of obvious acute poisoning are not present.  Sublethal pesticide poisoning will weaken the colony over time.  
  • This law relates only to honey-bees.  Those raising bumblebees or mason bees are not eligible.
  • This law does not protect other pollinators from pesticide poisoning.
  • This law does not put conditions on when and where a pesticide applicator can spray, whether or not a hive is registered in the area.  

The Pollinator Label Law

The 2014 Pollinator Label Law was a huge victory for pollinator advocates and passed with wide support.  In 2015, this law was changed through heavy lobbying of the nursery industry, particularly the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association.  The MNLA was not keen on the 2014 writing because of the inconvenience of labeling when much of the nursery stock sold here is from out of state.  Here is the law as written in 2014:  2014 Pollinator Label Law.

The specific "pollinator label" part of the 2014 bill stated that:  "A person may not label or advertise an annual plant, bedding plant, or other plant, plant material, or nursery stock as beneficial to pollinators if the annual plant, bedding plant, plant material, or nursery stock has been treated with and has a detectable level of systemic insecticide that: (1) has a pollinator protection box on the label; or (2) has a pollinator, bee, or honey bee precautionary statement in the environmental hazards section of the insecticide product label".  
The amended 2015 law: Amended Pollinator Label Law states (the underlined portions are additions, and the crossed out portions are deletions from the 2014 bill):  "A person selling at retail or providing to an end user may not label or advertise an annual plant, bedding plant, or other plant, plant material, or nursery stock as beneficial to pollinators if the annual plant, bedding plant, plant material, or nursery stock has: (1) been treated with and has a detectable level of systemic insecticide that: (1) (i) has a pollinator protection box on the label; or (2) (ii) has a pollinator, bee, or honey bee precautionary statement in the environmental hazards section of the insecticide product label; and (2) a concentration in its flowers greater than the no observed adverse effect level of a systemic insecticide. (f) For the purposes of paragraph (e): (1) "systemic insecticide" means an insecticide that is both absorbed by the plant and translocated through the plants' vascular system; and (2) "no observed adverse effect level" means the level established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for acute oral toxicity for adult honeybees. " 

Major Problems 

It's important to remember that the MDA did not write this law, but it is up to them to enforce this law.  And this has to be a challenge for the MDA, because there are some REAL problems with this law.  

Just a little neonicotinoid, please!

The 'end user' is basically the customer of the garden center.  The garden center may now label a plant as "pollinator friendly" if it has been treated with neonicotinoids and has residues at or below a "no observed adverse effect level (NOAEL) for acute oral toxicity for honeybees that is acceptable to the EPA. The EPA NOAEL does not take into account the fact that even "a little" neonicotinoid harms pollinators through sublethal and chronic toxicity.  Nor do they take into account that the neonics travel through the soil affecting surrounding plants, and persist in the plant for months and in the soil for possibly years.  So, pollinator friendly this plant is NOT.  The well intentioned "end user" is led astray by this flawed and untruthful law.  

The problem the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA) had with the original law, is that the law did not allow for any detectable neonicotinoids.  The MNLA says that this is difficult in an industry where plugs and seeds are from sources that apparently cannot verify the presence of neonics.  Perhaps some accountability and a paper trail of chemicals applied for all stages of the growing operation would provide some clarity to the final grower or garden center so that these plants can truly be labeled in such a way as to not dupe the "end user" and most importantly, to not kill pollinators.  Hopefully we can work with the MNLA to develop a program that will work better for all, but for now, the MNLA has decided that the EPA NOAEL for acute oral toxicity is good enough.  

The EPA is currently looking further into neonicotinoids, and is accepting public comments until July 29 of this year.  The European Union, Ontario, Canada, and other communities across the US, have banned or put restrictions on neonicotinoids.  Submit your comments to the EPA here:  Mitigating Exposure to Bees from Acutely Toxic Pesticide Products; Extension of Comment Period

Next month....beekeeping gadget day!  Come and see what other beeks are doing.  There will, as always, be great discussion for all levels of beekeeping.  

Aprils meeting re-cap will be coming.....sorry for the delay.


Note: July 20th We've got Bob Bystrom on Honey Bee Pests and Predators
at Stillwater Junior High Media Room: 523 Marsh St. W., Stillwater, MN


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bees' beers a-brewin'!

Big news from Brewmaster Nic Grau at Maple Island Brewery, 225 Main St N, in Stillwater, MN. He has brewed a firkin (10 gallons) of Kolsch (a white German beer) with crushed rose hips and a pound of wildflower honey from Betsy, as well as a full 250 gallon batch of ESB - now known as "ESB-hive" with 60 pounds of honey from Jim and Wendy at Nature's Nectar. The firkin is about half gone as of 5/20/15 with great customer reviews. The ESB-hive is conditioning in the fermenter and will be available soon. Check the Maple Island website for its release date. No growlers of the Kolsch because it's a small batch, but consider sipping some honey infused local beers from Nic at Maple Island while you enjoy springtime along the St. Croix!
Cheers, from Betsy!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Minnesota Nice Bee Breeders

We Are Special

For beekeepers here in Minnesota, we have our own special challenges.  Most of our challenges come with over-wintering hives in extremely cold temperatures, but many of us also have to contend with big black bear challenges. The bear challenge can be met with a high voltage electric fence, so that may be the easier of the two. The climate challenge is made more difficult by the ironic fact that most of the bee breeders are in southern or coastal locales.  

Here They Come To Save The Day!  

Guess what?  Now we have local bee breeders in our own back yard!  Joe Meyer and Yuuki Metreaud from Four Seasons Apiaries are breeding bees with selected traits for our unique environment.  Joe and Yuuki generously trekked to our town to educate the Honey Bee Club of Stillwater  on their operation and techniques. Here is a summary of this most interesting meeting.

They Ain't From These Here Parts.

Our beloved honeybee is not native to the US.  Subspecies of the apis mellifera have been transported and propagated around the world. Natural selection has been at work, and beekeepers have been artificially selecting for specific traits for centuries.  The traits that beekeepers desire have changed over the years. Back in the day before our fancy bee-boxes, beekeepers used to select for colonies that swarmed.  After the advent of boxes, beekeepers selected for less propolization so they could remove a frame without the use of a jack-hammer.  

Rearing local bees is what Joe Meyer and Yuuki Metreaud do at Four Seasons Apiaries.  They understand that beekeeping is regional.

Selecting for winter hardiness and hygienic behavior is just part of the work.  Joe and Yuuki endeavor to use as few treatments as possible.  When and only when the mite concentration becomes intolerable (threshold is 3-5%) do they use treatment, and then they use only 'soft' treatments, such as thymol or formic acid.  Part of the laborious hygenic selection process is the testing for nosema by squishing and counting spores. 

Raising Minnesota Nice Queens

We have our standards here.  Joe and Yuuki have no tolerance for aggressive bees or bossy queens.  The queen you buy from Four Seasons Apiaries is the daughter of queen that has gone through a Minnesota winter....hardy with impeccable manners.  

By placing queen cell cups in a well-fed, chemically free swarm box, the cups will be packed with royal jelly for the sturdiest queen possible.  A well provisioned 2-frame mating nuc in the mating yard serves as the "Queen's Castle". This is conveniently located near the carefully selected drone yards....the rest is all about the birds and bees.

Timing is Everything

Four Seasons Apiaries has queens available June - August, weather permitting.  Perhaps you are thinking, ....well I split my hive in May, and I need a queen earlier than June.  FEAR NOT, there are solutions.  You can:
  • Use a queen cell from Four Seasons Apiaries.  Purchase queen cell cups by contacting this address:
  • Simply walk away.  Ok, not that simple, but pretty simple.  Split a strong colony, and let the queenless split make its own queen.  
    • You can use a nuc for this.  Make sure you have a frame of eggs and two frames of brood, capped and uncapped, and a couple frames of pollen and honey.  Remember brood in the center.  Have loads of nurse bees covering the frames.  Give them some sugar water, and leave it alone for 4 weeks.  When you check back, you should see eggs.
    • It is important to have 2 weeks of 70 degree days before doing a walk-away-split.  This is to ensure drones are present.
  • You can move capped swarm cells to a mating nuc.
    • And allow some colonies to make drones.  *Caution* on this!  Varroa mites prefer drone cells.  
  • Re-Queen bad stock by buying a local queen from  

Overwintering Nucleus Colonies

There was a discussion regarding overwintering in nucs.  Joe and Yuuki are in consultation with our own Honey Bee Club of Stillwater member Adrian Quiney to define the best methods for overwintering nucs.  The power trio of Joe, Yuuki, and Adrian, feel that overwintering in nucs is the key to sustainable beekeeping in northern climates.  As a BONUS to you, Adrian will be speaking on this very topic on April 14 at the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association meeting.  Here is info:

Matt Brooks will discuss landscape design as it relates to pollinator habitat.  

As always, we thank our members and to those reading this blog.  

Marcie Forsberg
photo credits to Laurie Schneider