During Thursday's hearing in the Minnesota House Agriculture Finance Committee in which HF1906, a bill clarifying language about labeling horticultural products as pollinator-friendly, Minnesota state representative Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) shared his experience in beekeeping.
Bluestem Prairie thought our readers might enjoy the anecdote as much as his colleagues did:
. . .I just gotta say, this bee stuff fascinates me. I got called by a local farmer in my district, a good friend of mine from growing up actually in the southern part of the state when we lived in Rochester, and I got conned into getting these bees and going and picking them up and putting them in my trunk.
Well, I had no idea they were actually like [pause] ...
[Committee member]: Like bees?
They were. . .when you grabbed the box and it gets shaken, you get a little worried, especially when you realize that you don't have a truck, and the thing's sitting in your trunk and there's plenty of spots to get through. So I drove as fast as I could back home, within the perimeters of the law of course.
Here's the audio in YouTube format:
Metsa later learned that the hive did not survive the winter as they were "southern bees," and that "Russian bees" might have been better for Minnesota's winters.
While Metsa's expertise in apiculture isn't particularly well-developed, there's a pollen grain of truth in what he was saying. As Solomon Gustavo reported last October in Representatives hold pollinator conservation forum in Montevideo:
Pollinators, like butterflies, moths and particularly honeybees, are integral members of the Minnesota River Basin, doing the part of fertilizing plants by transporting pollen. Hansen spoke of four detriments to health of pollinators - poor habitat, poor nutrition, parasites and pesticides. Pesticides weaken pollinator food sources and habitat, which weakens pollinators that are finished off when fighting parasites below full strength.
Metsa's "Russian bees" are a strategy beekeepers are adopting to cope with parasites as the strain is better able to fend off the varroa mite, according to the USDA's 1999 Agricultural Research Service article, Varroa-Tolerant Bees Keep Hives Buzzing.
While the strategy is new to Representative Metsa, researchers and beekeeper have looked kindly on Russian bees for many years. The strain was first imported by USDA researchers in 1997. Russian bee colonies are better able to survive cold weather in part because fewer bees winter over in the hives. They also emerge from the hive later than the Italian strains do, and thus are not so stressed by the relative lack of pollen of our later springs.
Obviously, researchers have years of work with Russian bees. The bill that was the subject of consideration when Metsa shared his hilarious education was a matter of tweaking language about consumer labeling for plants and seeds as pollinator friendly. It's mostly a provision for home gardeners who want to provide habitat for bees that won't inadvertently kill the bees.
Under a law passed last year in Minnesota, plants and seeds cannot be labeled as pollinator-friendly if they have been treated with a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, which are lethal to bees.
One point that the committee was trying to work out was which fund in the Minnesota Department of Agriculture would pay for spot testing of seeds and plants to make sure lots met the labeling requirements.
To learn more about why the subject is being studied, we recommend the Xerces Society report, Are Neonicotinoids Killing Bees?
Here's an embedded copy of the report:
Photo: Not Jason Metsa's trunk, but bees in a trunk nonetheless.
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