Saving the Life Keepers

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Local citizens, farmers, small and large businesses as well as beekeepers are trying to protect bee populations around the world. This documentary offers several practical solutions including utilizing plant biodiversity, mass planting of protein-rich flowers, organic queen bee mating yards, how to combat bee parasites and diseases without chemicals and antibiotics, and finally, how beekeepers successfully work with productive and hardy Africanized honeybees. A humanistic adventure based on the extraordinary realities of the present, this documentary points the way to sustaining the future for generations of people and bees to come.

People who live in cities like Vancouver and Canada have more and more food gardens

As we walk in this long green corridor with wild areas, private and community gardens, we notice new changes

Now, here and there, we see beehives

Trisha decided to introduce bees as part of her urban agricultural project

Really, the intention behind it was to educate people on local organic food

And my background is in nutrition, so I believe that if people have the experience of growing their own food, that by default they get healthier, they make more environmentally consciously sound decisions about their food choices

And we really work to engage the community, so we have 42 raised beds here, we grow 37 different vegetables, we have about 16 different fruits from figs to grapes to blackberries, we have Asian pears, we have seven different varieties of apples

We grow things like edible flowers and we grow a wide variety so that we can create a biodiversity within the garden

My name is Markus and I'm a local beekeeper and keep bees in the city and in the countryside here in Vancouver, BC, Canada

When I started beekeeping over 20 years ago, it was often considered an old man's hobby

And when I told my friends at a young age that I keep honeybees, then it was often considered, oh, that's weird

And just in recent years, bees are all over the media, all of a sudden beekeepers are quite popular

We started with mason bees and summer mason bees to bring more pollinators in

It would just seem natural to want to bring in the honeybees and further increase the biodiversity in the garden

And really, it's been an amazing experience to have the honeybees here and it's a more concentrated form of pollinators in one area

And, you know, they're producing honey, but they're really producing a lot more than that

They're producing food within the garden

And so we see that

If you only have local pollinators, they are in small numbers

There's, for example, mason bees and bumblebees, which are good, very good pollinators

But the sheer number of honeybees in one hive ensures a way better pollination of large crops and even small crops

We do see a big difference

And it's just really, it's not about having just the honeybees or just the mason bees, but about creating that cohesive environment where, you know, biodiversity is increased and there's all different elements going on

So, you know, letting some of our plants go to seed and letting some things go to flower so that the bees have more to, you know, to feed off of

You know, we don't just harvest our vegetables, but we're really creating an environment that's self-sustaining

Now we found the queen

You can notice that her abdomen is of different color and quite a bit larger, longer in particular

And she's the mother of all the bees

She lays up to 1,500 eggs a day

And she's not laying eggs right now, but as soon as I put the frame back, within 10 minutes, she probably will lay more eggs

And now you can see clearly the attendance around her, guiding her, feeding her, cleaning her

Here in the city, I get probably 35 to 40 kilos a hive

And outside the city, I actually get a little less because the nectar season or the honey season is a little shorter

So by mid-July, the honey season is usually over outside the city

And within the city now even, you know, it's August here and there's still a lot of honey in the hives, but it will be the last harvest

Because of the, you know, extended flowering period and residential gardeners and community gardeners wanting to have flowers in their garden all year round, there's an extended nectar and respectively honey flow

So my honey yields here in the city are a little higher than outside the city

In a large organic garden in the suburb of Vancouver, we are meeting with Brian Campbell, a bee conservationist and beekeeping teacher

Books on the natural history of the honeybee say that the honeybee queen should live three to five years, but increasingly she doesn't even live one year and it's become a current practice among commercial beekeepers in the U


to requeen twice a year

So queens are even living a full year now

They're living half a year

According to Brian, we should put the honeybee health and happiness at the center of beekeeping and agricultural practices

For that reason, he is helping bees to develop great queens with his project

Providing an isolated mating yard, a place where beekeepers can bring honeybee hives that have survived here for two years or more to mate with other queens and drones from other honeybee hives that have a similar history of no treatment, no pesticides being used in beekeeping, as well as they've overwintered successfully

So these are already locally adapted bees that we're hoping to create more locally adapted bees that when the bees are ready to make queens, they make really excellent queens when all the resources are there

So they need lots of honey and pollen

They need lots of bees of the right age and the proper timing

And that's just something that takes practice and a little bit of skill at

Mostly it's just practice, the beekeeper investing the time in making the effort to do it right

And then measuring the biometrics of that queen

The bigger the queen, the longer lives she'll be

A power plant is a plant that is very attractive to bees, to not just honeybees, but to all bee species

And that is one that provides also an excellent source of nectar and pollen

Phacelia is a really great example of that

You can see it's covered in bees

And they're here, they're gathering nectar to make honey bees

But also the bumblebees are here because it's such a great source of protein

Lately, many beekeepers have made some expressions popular

One of them is bee-scaping

One of the central principles of bee-scaping is mass plantings

Put them all into one spot, it makes it easier for them to find

Try to avoid genetically engineered plants as well as overly hybridized or ornamental flowering plants such as the ornamental cherry

It's a great source of nectar, but a terrible source of pollen

The pollen is actually sterile and would be like junk food for a bee

The kind of plants you want are definitely herbs, so marjoram, oregano, basil, anything in the mint family

But also a lot of peas or legumes, so we've got a little bit of some volunteer vetch growing here

Anything like a pea or a bean, clovers, those are all super excellent for bees

This restaurant in busy downtown Vancouver has some bee hives next to the skyscrapers and a pool

We met with the chef and beekeeper, Mark

Well, I started beekeeping when I was a little kid

I started with my family

I grew up in it

The first 15 years of my life I was a beekeeper

After that I departed from it for about 15 to 20 years and I came back here at the hotel

The previous beekeeper left and I took over and that was it

I quite enjoy it

The apiary here is on the third floor on the pool deck at the waterfront here

It's right downtown, right next to the harbour here behind us

Above us and around the corner on the pool deck we've got a herb garden

We have a lot of vegetables here and we tie that in with the bees behind us here

They help pollinate all of the flowers and the items that we've got around

We incorporate all that stuff into the kitchen

We have lettuces over the other side, chives up here, we have rosemary

All this stuff gets worked into the kitchen throughout the year to help with the hotel and for special amenities and VIPs and stuff like that

From my perspective if you leave the bees alone, let them do their own work, they'll take care of everything else

Technically for each beehive you need four acres of densely populated flowers

So here on the rooftop we don't have that as such

But you'll find a lot of bees will be heading over to the convention centre, the grass roof over there

But if you look around at all the buildings around here, there's a lot of, you know, people have got little rooftop gardens such as little planters and all that stuff that the bees go to and collect the flowers from

Here at the waterfront, this is one of the things we use our Fairmont Honey Inn

So what we've got here is a hive tea

We've taken some butter and we've incorporated some honey into it

We made a honey butter there

We've got some bannock

We've got a honey almond cake

Our thyme, lemon lollipops

And then we've got our honeycomb that comes with it

And then here we've got a little bit of honey from our rooftop that we pour over our scones

So our guests get this, or there's a starter part of it, smoldering mushrooms

And honey, or smoldering cheddar and apple and honey using local ingredients

Music Brian Campbell likes to teach techniques without using chemicals or antibiotics that get rid of pests in the hive

One of them includes icing sugar

This is not quite a cup of bees

I might get half a cup or so

But because they're nurse bees, they're very not inclined to fly

They don't know how to fly very well

It causes friction and it knocks the varroa mite off the bees

There's no 100% monitoring tool

All we're doing is we're just trying to get a picture of how many mites per, as a percentage of bees there might be

And so we just roll them and they're quite annoyed with me at this point

And then you basically

My action level is, at this time of year, is 3%

So if I found 9 varroa mite per cup of bees, I would take action

This is the mite

That is one of the most dangerous pests you can find on the planet right now

The bees will clean each other from the icing sugar and as they do that, the mites will be knocked off again

They'll eat it and they'll also remove it

This is another varroa mite treatment

It uses the biology of the honeybee and the varroa mite to control the varroa mite population

It's a drone frame

It's very important that it's used appropriately at the right time of year

Early enough in the spring, the varroa mite is very attracted to drone brood

You put this in your hive

Each cell can end up with a varroa mite in it trying to reproduce

Then once the cells are capped, you pull it out, put it in the freezer, kill the drones and the varroa mite, return it to the hive and have the bees clean it up

One of the things about a sustainable future is we don't get to choose who goes into that future with us

We all have to move forward and we have to find a way to create that future

We have to find a way to build bridges with people that we don't agree with

We followed Brian Campbell in a very special place to find a beekeeper

Hi Pete

Brian, how are you? How was practice? We wanted to be able to show the world that as a luxury car dealership you can still be environmentally friendly, reduce your carbon footprint and co-exist between having bees and cars

Brian is visiting this BMW dealership to provide advices about beekeeping and to make sure Pete is still using sustainable methods

Brian's dislike for pesticides is often at the heart of the conversation

Neonicotinoids are a bit of a controversial thing

There's growing evidence that they cause serious problems for bees, but they've been around for a couple of decades now, so they cause problems

They seem to be causing problems some places, but not in every place

The issue for me really is it took over 80 years and billions of dollars in research to prove that cigarette smoking causes lung disease and heart disease

It'll take a similar investment in time and money to prove that neonicotinoids cause the same problem for honeybees, but do we really need to go there? Isn't it a fairly direct relationship? Insecticide intended to kill insects, is that such a huge surprise that it kills an insect? It shouldn't be

This farmer believes in small farms

He also thinks that sustainable beekeeping has a direct link with sustainable organic farms where farmers have local bees

My name is Harold Steeves

I'm a lifelong farmer in the Steevesden area of Richmond

We raise belted Galloway cattle, and we grow heirloom vegetables and seeds

We grow about 75 different varieties of vegetable seed here on our farm

We had problem a few years ago with not enough bees to pollinate the flowers, so we weren't getting very good seed production

We weren't getting very many apples, and many of the seeds that we're growing, we weren't getting very good production

When we got Brian's bees, the bees were able to pollinate all of our trees and pollinate all of the seed crops that we're growing, so it has been very helpful to have bees on the farm

In terms of our seed production, we have to be very careful that we grow what we call open pollinated varieties of seeds

The bees pollinate that one variety, and then we get pure seed afterwards

All of the pollination is done by the bees for the seed production that we get, because it's the type of seeds that we grow that depend upon the bees for the seed production

If we had two varieties of the same vegetable, the bees would actually cross them, so we have to be very careful in our selection of what crops we're growing at any time, and the bees do a very good job, and we get good seed production

The bees actually help also in our agricultural production for our livestock

The bees pollinate the clover

Clover is a main source of food for cattle, so the bees will pollinate the clover in the cow pastures and in the hay fields

It's very important, without pollination of the clovers, if we had very poor clover production, then you don't get as good a production of beef, because the clover is a type of plant that produces a lot more protein than ordinary grasses do, so clovers and legumes are very important to the livestock

We think that we've got a great future in terms of agriculture, in terms of small-scale agriculture

When you're able to go back to the days where you have the bees and the cattle and a mixed type of agriculture, I'm quite happy that we're seeing an expansion of small-scale agriculture in Canada and around the world today, because I think that's the way we're going to feed future generations

The Milieu of Organic Farming and Sustainable Beekeeping believe that we need to teach local farmers and local beekeepers to use their bees locally, to avoid the use of bees now available from other regions

Well, not only are they not locally adapted, so they frequently don't survive the winter

When we import bees, we're also importing bee pathogens, such as viral paralysis diseases, as well as noceema and even different strains of the varroa mite

It's overall a negative thing, but we also, by importing, we're also giving up the opportunity to develop a local bee economy for ourselves, to develop the skills to produce the bees that we need

We have all the resources, but the importation business really prevents those resources from being properly developed

Lately, the important new business of migratory pollination in the USA is reporting 80 percent to 100 percent of lost every year due to the spread of different strains of diseases associated with long-distance transportation

In the past, like 30, 35 years ago, there really wasn't a migratory pollination industry

There just wasn't any money in it

As we've gotten into a bee crisis where bee populations have collapsed, now farms need to hire beekeepers, and beekeepers can charge enough money to make it a profitable business for them

It's really a crisis industry, and overall, it's not sustainable

The media is reporting bad news about the collapse of honeybee populations

But bee conservationists are also noticing problems in the native bee populations as well

There's over 25,000 species of bee worldwide, and over 80 percent of those are ground-nesting bees

So when we hear about declines in bee populations, that's where we should be looking

We don't tend to think of bees as nesting in the soil, as being solitary and kind of lonely bees, but that's where they are

So we need to think about what we're doing to the ground

Stop using pesticides, of course

Mulch selectively

Don't mulch everywhere, you know, preserving the integrity of the soil

So let's resist the urge to turn over every square inch of our garden every year

We can keep soil intact, and a soil that has, or even a vegetable garden bed that has been allowed to reestablish itself establishes a dynamic structure that provides ample soil nutrition for growing plants

We don't always have to turn things over to get the most or the best out of our soil

And if we stop doing that, we'll also start helping to preserve some of those bee species

Here in Vancouver, or in many other cities of North America, a new generation of beekeepers is emerging

Normally when you equalize two hives, you do it by moving brood

And you don't have to shake off the nurse bees because nurse bees are very naive, so they don't fight

They're not very defensive

So you could simply move, if the foragers are out foraging, you could just pick up a frame of brood with the nurse bees on it and move it over to the other hive and balance them out

In my thinking about trying to create a sustainable way of keeping bees, I think it's very helpful to refer back to Aboriginal and First Nations traditions about a relationship with nature

And that's partly why I use the cedar and sweetgrass, tobacco and sage in my beekeeping

I'm trying to close that circle between the present and the past to build a bridge into the future

After several recommendations from beekeepers, we decided to visit the north part of the Yucatan State

Jim Conrad, nice to meet you

Good to see you



The four cornerpoles, they have a lot of weight coming down on them, so the Maya know exactly what species to choose in order for that

And then this one going across, that's one that shouldn't sag at all

That's another species

And then those poles that go up like that and fork down here, that's one that doesn't split all that easily

So that's another species

So that's probably 10 to 15 different species here that the Maya know just because they know it

They were taught this ever since they were kids

Jim Conrad is an American naturalist living at Hacienda Chichen in Yucatan

Living in the Mayan hut is a way for him to stay in close contact with the local ecosystem

The big challenge of plants and animals here is to deal with this long, very dry, dry season

So the plants and animals here are adapted to that

And one of the adaptations, probably the most common adaptation of the plants, is that a large proportion of them lose their leaves during the dry season

So right now you'll see a lot of trees out in the forest here who look like they're in their winter condition, though we never get a frost here

They just simply lost all of their leaves

So we have a semi-deciduous forest

Some of the trees are evergreen, broadleaf evergreen

I'm not talking about pines and spruces and such, but broadleaf evergreens

And those broadleaf evergreens often protect themselves with powerful chemicals that keep animals from eating on them

I wouldn't say that it's healthy

For one thing, the ancient Maya were very hard on the soil structure, and then later in the Yucatan there was the production of hinnikin, big plantations that destroyed the vegetation and grew hinnikin

And also there's been ranching, and also there's ongoing slash and burn agricultural technology, which is extremely destructive to the ecosystem, especially at the population densities we have now

But it is diverse, even if it isn't necessarily healthy

And in this diverse ecosystem, one thing you can see is that nearly all the time, even in the dry season, which we're having right now, there are things blossoming

There are flowers that bees can visit

So maybe that's the main reason we have a healthy honey industry here, is that so far, our biodiversity isn't hurt so badly that there are times when honeybees don't have anything to pollinate

Certainly around here, lots of people do keep bees

There are beekeepers

They work very hard at it

And as you drive down the road, you'll see a little path going off into the woods

And if you follow most of those, they're going to end up with a collection of beehives

So honey is a big business here in the Yucatan, and it's great honey

Here's an interesting example that there are at least two, maybe more pollinators on there

Both bees, you can tell because they have pollen sacs on the backs of the legs, but they're tiny

They're much smaller than honeybees, they're even smaller than the stingless maya bees, the meloponans

So the interesting thing about this is that for each flower size and configuration, usually that there's a pollinator that is there for that flower

I won't say that it's the only pollinator, although that may be the case

But anyway, that's interesting

We have an enormous diversity of plants here, and in response, we have an enormous diversity of pollinators

So what's happening there in that hole? Well, it looks like bees are going in and out of it

You can assume that there's a cavity inside the tree and that honeybees are in there making their combs and producing honey

From just here, it looks like they're the regular honeybee, which means that they're a bit Africanized and I'm not all that interested in getting close enough to see if it is

Some Africanized genes have drifted into the populations here

I think basically all of the local honeybees now have Africanized genes in them and their behavior certainly reflects that

They become much more aggressive

Just the other day, I bumbled upon some hives out in the woods and I got stung several times before I could get away from there

In the old days, before this Africanized gene got into the population, that wouldn't have happened

Our old honeybees that I grew up with were nice guys, you know, if you just kind of stayed away from them and didn't do anything outrageous, they would leave you alone

But these Africanized bees, man, sometimes it seems like they just chase you down

I have a friend who came through the other day and bought a liter of honey and she was so excited about it, she bought two more just because the taste is so good

And also she believes that honey is medicinal, so not only did she eat a lot of her food, but she smear it all over her body

We decided to see some Africanized bees in action in a Mayan apiary

Paolino learned how to do the beekeeping with his dad

He thanks God that he knows now how to deal with Africanized bees to help his family with this traditional honey production

We are going to see his collection of beehives in the forest, knowing that we don't have the proper equipment to protect us from the Africanized bees

The burning corn cobs are what Paolino is using in his smoker, a very important tool to slow down the reactions of bees

We will not accept this invitation to go closer

We prefer to watch at a good distance

Alright, here we go! The cameraman and his assistant are asking to see a second beehive, but they are attacked by some Africanized bees

We have no choice

We have to leave

Then we decided to go in a safe place to learn more about the local Africanized bees

Africanized bees are a hybrid bee

Originally, some African, pure African bees were imported in South America and they started a program to reproduce them, breeding them, selecting them for honey production, but some accident happened and some colonies escaped

Then they built up feral populations, which started to migrate and colonize all the tropical forests of South America, Central America, and eventually Mexico

They arrived here from Central America in 1987

Since then, the original European populations that we had here were replaced by Africanized bees

At the beginning, there were some worries that Africanized bees will cause the collapse of beekeeping because they have the reputation of being more defensive and less manageable

But after more than 20 years of having those bees here, they are more adapted to the tropics

They can better exploit the tropical resources

They are good bees

The amount of honey that you can get from a colony, it's variable because it depends on the floral resources that we have, and this vary annually because of the different environmental conditions, but you can expect amounts or harvests between 20 to 45 or even 60 kilos in a good year of honey from these colonies

The advantage of Africanized bees is that they build up very large populations of workers in a very small amount of time compared to European bees

But is it true that Africanized bees are dangerous? If any person or animal approaches a colony, they will defend themselves

So I think most accidents have occurred because people are not aware of a colony being nearby and they just get too close to it

They do respond because they have very large populations, they do respond more intensively in terms of the number of bees that attack

By law, the government forbids that people keep colonies in urban or rural areas

So all the colonies, honeybee colonies, have to be at least two kilometers away from any human settlement

To prevent accidents, it's also good for the bees because they are closer to the forest

Paolino's Africanized bees are maybe a bit defensive, but he has no problem to get the honey

He wanted to show us how the extraction is done

First, he's cleaning the extractor and get the frames from the beehive

He is placing them in the basket

The frame basket spins, flinging the honey out

With this technique, the wax stays intact within the frame and is reused by the bees

He believed that with great diversity of flowers, you get the recipe for success

Well biodiversity of plants is important for the bees

For instance, the pollen quality of different plants varies

So it's important for the colonies to have different sources of pollen, not only one throughout the year, because they have different amounts of protein, different minerals, different amino acids, and it's important for the bees to have this variety in pollen income

So we advise them to keep forests as diverse and preserved as it can be

When we were in the region, we did not see big agricultural projects, and the soil was not looking very rich either

Well the Yucatan Peninsula and mainly the state of Yucatan, which is the most northern part, the soil is not very good for agriculture, and just the southern part is used for extensive agriculture

So most of the states in the northern part of the state, agriculture is done at a very small scale, and practically using most of the Mayan techniques from the past

Well small plots are cleared when they grow different crops, but importantly, and I think it's very important to say this, that around these plots, forests is kept

So maybe that's why we don't see any, we think that there is no need for pollination or extra pollination for those areas, because agriculture here is practising on a small scale

We still have many different knowledges on aspects like for beekeeping, the traditional Maya way of keeping stingless bees, but there are also other areas like medicine

All this knowledge of ancient medicine and the use of plants and other materials to cure people for different affections is still very alive today

This lady is selling 70 different Mayan medicinal herb bags and capsules

They use plants, seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark and vegetation for medicinal purposes

And the prices are really good

Honey is also considered medicinal

It is found in many different products, for your skin, your hair and even in eye drops

If you want to make a healthy energy drink, mix honey with fruit juice

If you look closely in the forests in this region, you can see some nests of stingless Mayan bees

Eventually that branch can be cut and with few transformations it will become a brand new beehive

For the honey extraction with stingless Mayan bees, the first step is to get the log from its stand

In the Mayan tradition, the beehive is placed on a small stone

That mud was used to seal the lid

Now the beekeeper needs to remove it

The beekeeper makes sure it's free from dirt and small stones

We can see how easy to manage the stingless bees are

Inside are some brown containers

They are called pods

This is where the honey is kept

What you see is how you get the honey according to the pre-Columbian Mayan tradition

The next step is to have the lid back and to stack the hive on the stand in the shade

Each beehive has a small door on the side of the log and a bee is often present at the door watching for intruders

We need a shaded area because the Swedish colonies are quite sensitive to temperature and sunlight especially, so they need to be kept under shade

We have colonies for teaching and every year we have courses on beekeeping for honeybees and also for stingless bees

We have for instance courses on queen breeding and production of hives, also for the establishment of apiaries, for treatment of diseases and management of techniques for controlling diseases as well

In the case of stingless bees we have courses teaching rural communities how to keep these bees in hives, which we think is a more friendly way of keeping them and also to reproduce them and also to feed them during the time of drought here in the Yucatan

We have different courses for the different needs that the beekeepers and stingless beekeepers could have throughout the year

This man has 75 stingless bee logs

He wants more of those hives

He hopes to have 100 of them very soon

Inside of the logs the beekeeper is using water and the leaves of the nabanché, a very old Mayan tradition

The sap of the nabanché protects the bees from pests

He has also another secret weapon, a slingshot, to get rid of the small reptiles

There is less and less of those stingless bees, beehives and beekeepers like him

The new generation of Mayan beekeepers is more into Africanized bees, more productive and more resistant

Several studies show that many diseases are present in the region, but the population of bees is stable in the northern Yucatan

We haven't really seen any decrease or substantial decrease

We have here in this area like, I don't know how to say, ecological beekeeping because the beekeepers, they don't have much resources

They are farmers which don't have much, very big income, so they don't have this money to buy extra antibiotics or different chemicals to treat colonies against anything

So what's occurring here I think is that the populations are naturally becoming resistant to different diseases and this happens because in an apiary when a disease enters those susceptible colonies are going to die out

So when the time comes for the reproduction or the multiplication of colonies, the only material that the beekeeper will have is the resistant colonies

So throughout time all the population will become more and more resistant

There's also another very important factor

We work with Africanized bees and Africanized bees are known to be more resistant to different pests and diseases

There are two main flowers which represent the main nectar sources for beekeeping in this area

One of them is Compociti from the family of the sunflower and its technical name is Viguera dentata and the Mayan name is Tajonal and the second one is Himnopodium floribundum and then the Mayan name is Cicilche

But the main one directed to the commercial market abroad is the honey from the Cicilche, Himnopodium floribundum and that's a very good honey with dark in color and very strong aroma and this one is very sought after from the European market, mainly from Germany and over 90% of the honey that is produced from this plant is directed to the European market

Us two, we wanted to have some local natural honey

We stopped at the beekeeper's house

He told us it was from the Cicilche and the Africanized bees

Then we went to our Mexican kitchen and enjoyed the honey next to a sculpture of the Mayan God of Abundance

Audio and subtitles


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