Dinner on the Bluff at the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center on April 6 was focused on all things “honey.” Eagle Bluff interim director John Torgrimson introduced the featured speaker for the evening, Entomologist Marla Spivak, a distinguished McKnight University professor. The Sustainable Food and Farming degree program at Minnesota State College Southeast helped sponsor the program.
Spivak spoke to a full house. Many attendees were beekeepers. Her talk centered on research being done at the bee lab at the University of Minnesota. The lab looks at all bees, of which there are 450 species in Minnesota, most are native to the state. Honey bees are not. Most bees are threatened by human activity.
Bees are important. Honey bees are one of the key pollinators of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. They produce food for human beings through pollination. Much of her department’s research focuses on honey bees. She described how the socialized insects work to keep the colony healthy. Plant resins, mostly from cottonwood trees in this area, are taken to the nest to line the hive, to provide a propolis envelope. The bees scrape the resin off the tree and put it on their hind legs and take it to the nest. This helps their immune systems to fight off disease.
The bee lab is looking into the effect of fungicides on cell metabolism and growth. Studies are being conducted to learn exactly what bees are foraging on. Do honey bees forage on native plant flowers in restored prairies?
Bees like to forage on plants like white clover and birds foot trefoil before goldenrod blooms. Lawns with white clover can provide nutrition for the bees.
Another study is being conducted in southwest Minnesota where corn and soybeans dominate the crop land. Questions include: how big of area and how many pollinator friendly plants are needed? She noted farmers were anxious to participate in this study.
War veterans are helped by keeping bees. A study will show the impact on veterans with PTSD.
Spivak answered numerous questions from her audience. What effect do seeds coated with neonicotinoids have on pollinators? Spivak said they effect our water quality more, adding there is an overuse of this class of insecticides. Coatings on soybeans are gone by the time the soybean flowers. Dust coming off corn seed creates a drift issue. Neonicotinoids, a family of pesticides, are a big problem in cities as they are used by nurseries. She encouraged the planting of flowers in backyards and the complete cessation of using pesticides.
It is important that bee keepers control mites. They are a big problem. They are a parasite in honey bee colonies that spread disease and transmit viruses. Spivak explained they use organic acids and botanical oils to control mites. She added the problem with many beekeepers is they do not control mites, which then infest other bee colonies. Mites are a national epidemic right now.
Someone asked about dairy farmers. Spivak maintained they were good for bees because they plant alfalfa, providing nutrition for bees. What we really need is a diverse landscape.
All insects are aided by leaving residue on gardens until it is 50 degrees or more at night. Pollinator habitat plantings are helpful, but it requires more than throwing seeds in the ground. It requires a lot of maintenance.
Bee populations have diminished over the last 15 years. Some regions have had up to a 90% loss. This loss has been called “colony collapse disorder.” Honey bees leave their hives and do not return; they just vanish. Bees are pollinators and as such are valuable to all of us.
After learning more about bees, people enjoyed good conversation and a dinner with a “honey” theme.