It Came from the Apiary

November 7, 2013 under Spotlight on Success

It Came from the Apiary: an educational thriller about honey bee pests.

Jen LoDico, Becky Burgess, Lauren Cruz, Melissa Richard, Matt White

Hope you like it!

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Interdisciplinary study shows honey producers how to market their product

September 11, 2013 under CANR News

DelanyMesserWith honeybees facing a population decline and the number of beginning beekeepers surging, the ability for those beekeepers to properly price and market their product is vital to their success.

To assist the industry, an interdisciplinary team in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has conducted research on consumers’ willingness to pay for honey products originating from different locations.

The team was led by Debbie Delaney, assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, and Kent Messer, Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, along with doctoral students Shang Wu and Jacob Fooks.

The study was funded through a grant from the Northeast Center for Risk Management Education (NECRME) and began in December 2012 at the Laboratory of Experimental and Applied Economics in Townsend Hall.

From December through February, the group asked 115 adult participants recruited from the local community questions about their willingness to pay for honey from three specific production origins — local, national, and international.

Once participants provided initial answers, they were given information about honey, such as the benefits of insect pollination and the potential for local honey to ease seasonal allergies and the potential risks of consuming international honey, which in some cases contains no pollen at all or may be not even be from bees, but instead just honey-flavored corn syrup.

“Our results indicate that consumers are willing to pay more for local and U.S. honey, compared to international honey,” Wu said. “With no information given, consumers are willing to pay 20 percent (98 cents) more for a jar of local honey, and 10 percent (48 cents) more for a jar of U.S. honey, compared to a jar of international honey.”

The researchers also found that providing consumers with labeling information about local and international honey changed the consumers’ valuation of the products. When informed by a label about the potential risks involved with consuming international honey, their willingness to pay for local honey increased by 57 percent ($2.78). When provided with information about the pollination benefits of local honey, the valuation for local honey increased by 22 percent ($1.07).

The information about potential allergy benefits, however, did not change the consumers’ willingness to pay.

Importance of local honey

Delaney has helped establish a Honey Producers Working Group, which includes more than 30 honey producers in six different states. The goal of this group is to figure out ways to better market local honey in order to increase consumers’ willingness to pay for their unique product.

“Honey is a very special product,” said Delaney. “First of all, we steal it from very industrious bees. It’s something that’s very varietal and each location is unique.  Honey is artisanal and somewhat like coffee, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It’s a special product and it can’t just be generic in the supermarket.”

As to concerns about international honey that can be found on the shelves in supermarkets, Delaney said much of it, when studied carefully, has had the pollen removed. “Why has it been removed?” she asked. “Is it because they don’t want us to know that it’s from China, where it’s banned from being imported? Or is it watered down with corn syrup?”

She said there is “definitely an integrity issue with international honey” that goes beyond being diluted. “There is much concern that it’s coming from places where it’s banned and that are known to have contaminants and things like traces of metals.”

Messer echoed these sentiments. “If you go out to the hives at the University of Delaware, you’ll see that honey from bees comes in all different types of flavors and colors,” he said. “That’s because it depends on what plants are blooming that day. But if you go to the grocery store, honey generally looks and tastes the same. To get this consistency, it is not surprising that firms will be tempted to make honey from substances that do not come from bees. Most consumers do not know that, in the United States, there is no legal requirement that something labeled as honey is actually from bees.”

This year, local beekeepers have been facing a serious problem in that the bees are not making as much honey as previous years.

Delaney said that this is primarily due to the unusual amount of rain the area has seen. When there are numerous torrential downpours like the area has experienced this summer, the rain will wash the flowers and hinder the work of the bees as they collect the nectar. In addition, because the bees are stuck inside hives waiting for the weather to improve, they eat a good amount of the stored honey.

“I talked to one beekeeper and he harvested 900 pounds last year and he’s harvesting 100 pounds this year,” Delaney said, adding that the problem is specific to certain regions. She noted that beekeepers in Vermont have said that they are having a great year.

Now that the research team has data in hand, Delaney said she plans to have another Honey Producers Working Group meeting to inform beekeepers about how they can encourage customers to buy from local honey artisans.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Beekeeping 101

December 17, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

Dr. Deborah Delaney, assistant professor and extension specialist, will be a presenter at a “Beekeeping 101″ workshop offered on Saturday, January 12 from 8am-4pm at Delaware State University’s Research and Outreach Center in Smyrna, Delaware.

Sponsored by the Delaware Beekeepers Association and Delaware State University’s Small Farms Program, this one-day course is a great intensive learning opportunity for anyone interested in the art and science of beekeeping. For more information or to register, contact Bill Leitzinger at e-mail – DEBeekeepers@gmail.com.

The cost for the workshop is $50 and includes lunch, a one year membership in the Delaware Beekeepers Association (a $20 value), handouts for each topic covered, and the popular beginning beekeeping book “The Backyard Beekeeper” by Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine (list price $24.99). Married couples/life partners are welcome to both attend – and only pay for one person. (Only one book will be given out per family/couple who attend.)

Other workshop presenters include:

  • Bill Leitzinger, President, Delaware Beekeepers Association
  • Robert Mitchell, State Apiarist, Delaware Department of Agriculture
  • David Carter, Backyard Beekeeper & Experienced in Woodworking

AGENDA

8:00      Registration & Networking – Muffins, donuts, fruit, coffee, tea, juice, etc…

8:30      “Why Beekeeping is a Great Hobby”

8:45      “Essential Beekeeping Equipment”

9:45       BREAK

10:00    “Hive Management in the First Year of Beekeeping”

10:45    “Flowering Plants Important to Honey Bees”

11:30    “Inspecting, Feeding, & Placement of Your New Hives”

12:00    Lunch – sandwiches, fruit, dessert, & drinks provided

12:45    “The Secret Life of Honey Bees”

1:45      “Identifying Honey Bee Diseases & Pests”

2:30      BREAK

2:45      “Integrated Pest Management”

3:30      “Ask the Beekeeping Experts” – Panel of Beekeeping Experts

4:00      ADJOURN

DIRECTIONS: From Route 1 – Get off at the South Smyrna Exit. Turn right onto Rt. 13 North. At the next light, turn right onto Smyrna-Leipsic Road. Go ½ mile, see sign on right for Delaware State University – Smyrna Research & Outreach Center. (look for yellow “BEE MEETING” signs). The snow date is Saturday, January 19th.

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UD researcher offers the buzz on why bees, wasps are busy in autumn

October 9, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

You buy a cider doughnut at the apple orchard and they quickly find you. Your kid opens a sports drink at the soccer field and they show up. You dine on the deck on a warm afternoon and sure enough, there they are.

This time of year, bees and wasps seem to be everywhere. Why won’t they buzz off?

University of Delaware bee researcher Debbie Delaney can’t clear the bees and wasps from your backyard barbecue but she can shed some light on why these insects are busy in autumn. Given how beneficial these species are to humans (yes, wasps, too) she hopes people will become more tolerant of their activity this time of year.

“Bees aren’t trying to sting you or ruin your outdoor fun,” says Delaney, assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “It’s just that autumn is a particularly important time for honeybees and native bees as they get ready for winter.”

In late summer and fall, worker bees labor long hours, collecting enough nectar to feed and maintain the colony throughout the winter. Bees visit flowers to obtain carbohydrates (nectar) and protein (found in the pollen).  Late-blooming flowers that feed the bees include asters, chrysanthemums, goldenrod and Russian sage.

“As the days shorten, the bees know it’s time to go into this food-gathering mode,” says Delaney. “If supplies run low during the winter, beekeepers can feed bees various sugary concoctions — for example, sugar syrup, corn syrup or granulated sugar in the form of sugar boards. But wild bees are out of luck in this regard. Their colonies may not survive if they didn’t make adequate preparations.”

For the most part, bees hunker down and stay in the hives all winter. On unseasonably warm winter days, they will come out to remove waste from their abdomens and the hive, clean themselves, and forage. Of course, there isn’t much to forage in the dead of winter so provisions gathered in fall are critical to the success of the hive.

While bees are busy getting ready for the season ahead, wasps are taking advantage of a brief, well-deserved retirement.

“In late summer and fall, when the queen wasp stops laying eggs, the worker wasps change their food-gathering strategy,” says Delaney. “Earlier in the season, the wasps were busy collecting insects – a protein source – for the colony’s young. But now they’re intent on getting sweets and carbohydrates for their own consumption.”

Adult wasps have just a few weeks to binge on carbohydrates before they die off at the first hard frost. They deserve some fun, considering the good that they do.

“I don’t think many people realize that wasps are beneficial insects,” says Delaney. “But they are true carnivores and engage in a lot of insect collecting earlier in the season. They are predators of a number of pest insects, including mosquitoes, flies and beetle larvae.”

Wasps that do enjoy a longer lifespan are the newly mated gynes (aka, queens). They over winter alone, awaiting the first signs of spring, which signals them to start the creation of their own nest.

Compared to wasps, there’s much more awareness of the critical role that bees play to human life. If honeybees disappeared, food would be scarce, as colonies stopped pollinating fruit, nut and vegetable crops. And if all 20,000-plus species of bees in the world were to disappear, the results could be catastrophic.

Here in Delaware, residents can thank honeybees and native bees for pollinating a cornucopia of crops, including apples, asparagus, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, peaches, pears, peppers, pumpkins, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon and more, notes Delaney.

Plus, the honeybees share their honey with us, too. Delaney and her students pulled honey from the UD Apiary in late July and August and it’s now for sale for at the UDairy Creamery. This is the second season that UD honey has been available to the public.

Branded with the moniker “Dare to Bee,” the first harvest was golden in color and had a light taste, which reflects the fact that the bees obtained a lot of pollen and nectar from a stand of black locust trees near the apiary. The second harvest is darker in color and has a caramel flavor representing a blend of late season native and introduced species such as asters and knotweeds.

“Dare to Bee” honey sold out fast last autumn. If you’d like to try it, buzz on over to the UDairy Creamery soon. It’s located behind Townsend Hall on the university’s Newark campus. For store hours and more info, go to the website.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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CANR’s Delaney has the buzz on UD’s new research apiary

June 21, 2012 under CANR News

Debbie Delaney has two million new best friends.

That’s the number of honey bees buzzing about in the recently opened University of Delaware research apiary, which joins an existing 30-colony teaching apiary on the university’s Newark Farm.

Delaney, a UD assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, has been researching honey bees for years but continues to be amazed at their abilities, ranging from the way they precisely maintain colony temperature to their figure-eight dances that tell hive mates where to find patches of flowers and water.

She has a hunch that her insect friends have some undisclosed talents, too. For example, in her own backyard beekeeping, she has noticed that hives that swarm and split into separate colonies seem to have fewer mites than hives that don’t split up.

“Varroa mites are the single biggest threat to honey bee health. Most backyard beekeepers and commercial operations treat for mites,” says Delaney. “But I think mites can be reduced naturally by interrupting their brood cycle. Mites require bee brood for reproduction but the brood cycle is interrupted when colonies are split, thus slowing mite reproduction rates. This reduces the total number of mites in each new colony.”

Delaney doesn’t treat with miticides in her personal hives; she simply allows certain colonies in the apiary to swarm and make new colonies when they are so inclined, rather than repress such efforts. Although she relies on gut instinct in her own backyard, Delaney knows she can’t advise other beekeepers until she puts her theories to rigorous test.

That’s where the new research apiary comes in. Delaney received a $50,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency for the facility, which is operated in collaboration with a new apiary at Penn State University. Research at both locations will focus on non-chemical ways to manage parasites in small colonies. The goal is to reduce pesticide use by small beekeepers by as much as 80 percent.

Varroa mites are only the size of a small freckle but they can wreak havoc on hives. First reported in the U.S. in 1987, varroa mites are now the major killer of all bee colonies, wild or managed.

“I don’t think splitting and swarming is sufficient to control mites in large, commercial operations but our research project may show that it’s a good management practice for small-scale beekeeping,” says Delaney.

Historically, beekeepers have tried to prevent their bees from swarming because they thought the process was detrimental to honey production and pollination. But existing research already shows that colonies allowed to swarm show lower mite numbers and decreased bee mortality. Delaney’s research may help beekeepers look at apiaries as dynamic systems that require constant turn-over to stay healthy.

“I’m trying to re-define what’s considered to be a healthy apiary,” says Delaney. “We want to reduce the use of chemicals and create sustainable, long-term solutions to the issue of mites and other pests in honey bee colonies.”

Katy Evans is a new UD graduate student who will be overseeing the research apiary. She also will be managing varroa mite research at Penn State’s apiary, with assistance from researchers there. A 2009 graduate of the University of Florida, Evans most recently worked for the state of Florida as an African honey bee lab technician.

A Florida native, she says she is excited to be part of a varroa mite project because the pest is an even greater problem in Florida than here in Delaware. “It’s hotter in Florida, and gets hotter sooner,” says Evans. “This weakens the bees and gives the varroa mites a greater opportunity to infest the hives.”

“I’m really pumped about working in a brand-new apiary and being in charge of the project,” adds Evans. “I hope that our research is able to help small beekeepers better manage their hives.”

UD’s teaching apiary had a good winter and the number of colonies is up. However, this bucks the overall trend of declining honey bee populations. Since 2007, there has been a loss of approximately 33 percent of over-wintered colonies in the U.S. each year.

“Colony declines in domestic honey bees continues to be a major concern,” says Delaney. “We still don’t know the cause or causes. But our research project may give us a better understanding of the role that natural resistance plays in fighting disease or environmental stress, as well as a better understanding of genetic components that contribute to ‘survivor stock.’”

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Ag Day visitors can do the ‘waggle dance’ at beehive exhibit

April 27, 2012 under CANR News

There’s something for almost everyone at Ag Day, this Saturday, April 28, at the University of Delaware. There’ll be pony rides, farm tours, the UD Botanic Gardens plant sale, sheep-shearing demos and free-flight bird shows. And, at one of the most popular attractions, a chance to see an open beehive and learn how to do the “waggle dance.”

Debbie Delaney, a UD assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, is responsible for the Ag Day bee exhibit, which is staffed by her graduate and undergraduate students.

“Visitors do seem to like the bee exhibit,” acknowledges Delaney. “In recent years, I think people have become more aware of the critical role that bees play in pollinating crops – here in North America they’re responsible for pollinating some 90 crops.”

Beyond that, notes Delaney, “bees are fascinating social insects. People want to learn more about them. Take the ‘waggle dance,’ performed by honeybees. With this figure-eight dance, honeybees are able to tell their hive mates where to find patches of flowers, water, new housing locations and more. The direction of the dance demonstrates the angle other bees should fly to find the nectar source.  And the speed of the movements indicates the value of the source.”

At Ag Day, waggle dances and open beehive demonstrations (by veiled beekeepers in a cage) get the most attention. But visitors who check out the rest of the exhibit will discover that UD’s bee program is abuzz with activity.

“It’s an exciting time to be a bee researcher at UD,” says Delaney. “We have lots of going on, from the addition of a second apiary to several innovative research projects.”

Delaney is starting the second year of a research study to see if bumblebees improve crop productivity. Before this project, bumblebee research hadn’t been conducted in Delaware since the 1940s. But Delaney and her co-researcher, Gordon Johnson, a Cooperative Extension fruit and vegetable specialist, see potential in bumblebees.

“Over the past decade, managed honeybee populations have been in decline due to colony collapse disorder and other factors,” says Delaney. “In response, growers and researchers have started to pay a lot of attention to native pollinators, and in particular, to bumblebees.”

Delaney also is excited that the University will soon be home to two apiaries — the existing 22-hive teaching apiary and a new research apiary operated in collaboration with Penn State University and supported by the Environmental Protection Agency. Delaney and other researchers will use this apiary to study non-chemical ways to manage parasites in colonies.

The teaching apiary, tucked below mature black locust and tulip poplar trees, is the hands-on classroom for Delaney’s beekeeping class. Her students steward their own hives and learn bee biology and beekeeping skills. Plus, the honey that these students collect can now be purchased. “Dare to Bee Honey” is sold exclusively at the UDairy Creamery. The first batch of the 2012 season should be available for sale in late July or August.

Grad student Katherine Darger doesn’t utilize either UD colony for her bee research. Working closely with Delaney, Darger is testing for Africanization tendencies in unmanaged colonies from Florida to Maine. However, since Darger says she is “happiest when knee-deep in a colony,” she tries to get out to the UD hives as much as she can.

She will be showing off her hive-handling skills at Ag Day, performing several of the caged demonstrations, which take place at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Darger likes Ag Day and other public events almost as much as she likes being in the apiary. “I love doing outreach,” she says. “I hope to inspire more people to become beekeepers, plant gardens to attract and support native insects, and reduce the fear that draws people to insecticide cans.”

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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Twilight Tour with Bees

August 23, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

The Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA) and UD Cooperative Extension are presenting a Twilight Tour with Bees from 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM on Monday, August 30, 2010, at Lister Acres, 5417 Milford-Harrington Highway, Harrington, Delaware.

DDA and UD staff will have tour stops demonstrating the importance of healthy, abundant bee populations to Delaware’s fruit and vegetable crops, the diversity of native bees found in the state, and farm management to enhance pollinator conservation.

The speakers from DDA include Entomologist Heather Harmon Disque, State Apiarist Bob Mitchell from DDA. Assistant Professor Dr. Debbie Delaney, Extension Entomologist Joanne Whalen, and Vegetable Specialist Gordon Johnson are among the speakers from UD. Funding for the event is provided by a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant.

The nearly 4,000 species of bees found in the United States are the premier pollinators of fruit and vegetable crops, as well as a wide variety of native plants. Protecting and conserving bees is vital to our food supply and our quality of life.

The Twilight Tour with Bees is the culminating event in the four-year long SARE grant funded pollinator initiative (Farming for Native Bees) undertaken by DDA and UD. From 2006-2010, several thousand native bees were collected from vegetable farms as well as state parks and lands. These bees represent more than 100 species. Of these, 18 were state records, namely bees that had not been collected in the state before. Assessments of bee population diversity, and pollinator conservation farming practices were conducted on 15 farms. The project also produced two publications, “Delaware Native Plants for Native Bees” and “Farm Management for Native Bees”, funded by NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service). The host of the Twilight Tour, Chuck Hurd, was chosen as the 2008 National Pollinator Conservationist of the Year by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. For information on attending the event, contact DDA at 302-698-4577.

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