On-Going Research: Apis mellifera nectar, pollen and propolis sources

I haven’t really written about this per se, I think some people know that I’ve been working on this since I was in Senegal (2012) and found “Plants for Arid Lands” published by International Bee Research Association on the bookshelf which had a small chapter Bees and Honey in the Exploitation of Arid Land Resources by Eva Crane. Through more and more literature review and a cross-referencing local plant databases/writings with known nectar sources I’ve gotten to have a pretty comprehensive list going.

So a little background. There are 7 species of the 200,000 bees that specifically produce honey in massive amounts. These we call honey bees or Apis mellifera. There are races of these that have been breed over time. Much like we have races of humans, we are all still people, we all come from certain places making us identify with those locations and in some cases even have specialized characteristics. Example of races in honey bees would be Italian (A. mellifera ligustica), Carniolan (A.  mellifera carnica), Caucasian/Russian (A. mellifera caucasica) and African (A. mellifera adansonii)

From Tropical and Subtropical Apiculture (1986) FAO
So of these 7 honey bees in the world, many of them are region specific. As you can see from the map bee originated in a few place and migrated into others. Typically assisted by humans, bees there were able to colonize and survive. This is due to a few factors, one being food or fodder resources, second being habitat, and third would be climate. All of these factors are interconnected.
Not scientific based, but an idea on differences between race characteristics
Honey bees are generalist when it comes to plants, meaning they will touch many different flowers for a multitude of reasons. Some for nectar, others for pollen, some for propalis, but few plants can provide more than one of these. The plants themselves are specialized. Also the bee will follow the bloom of one plant until it’s finished. So if a mango tree is in bloom it will continue to look for mango flowers until the bloom has ended.
Color is also a major part of how pollinators find food

Evolutionary plants have created flowers to attract pollinators to increase fertilization and thus dissemination of themselves. Nectar within the flowers assists in attracting certain pollinators, such as honey bees, to visit the flower taking pollen and transferring it to the stigma, or female part, in order to create a seed. Nectar us a sugar-rich liquid produced by glands called nectaries. Bees use nectar, mixing it with an enzyme in their ‘honey stomach’ to create honey once it’s stored in wax comb, water content is evaporated to below 18.2 percent and is capped with wax. Honey is the main food source for bees in the hive.

 Bees also use pollen, plant’s male gametes, as a food source. Pollen is the protein source
needed for rearing one worker bee from larval to adult stage requires approximately 120-145 mg of pollen. An average bee colony will collect about 20-57 kg (44-125 pounds) of pollen a year. By natural instinct, bees will collect only the best entomophily pollen grains that are higher in nutritional value.
Propolis, often referred to as bee glue, is used in the hive to seal cracks, crevices or encase carcasses that cannot be removed from the hive. Typically collected from the sap or resin of certain trees and small number of flowers. Propolis has been used medically
for its antimicrobial, immunostimulant, and antioxidant properties which vary due to location in which it is procured based on plant sources in the area.

So based on region, in any given place there are bees (everywhere except Antarctica and the South Pole) there are only 250-300 plants that bees are able to take nectar, pollen and propolis from. And given you need approximately one million blooms to produce one cup of honey, you need many many blooms of those given plants.

Looking at plant phenology (the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life) the way in which these 250-300 plants’ blooms appear is also quite amazing. Many of them do not overlap and if they do, there is one in which the bees prefer due to either quantity each bloom produces or more likely the amount of sugar in the nectar. Much like if oranges are in season you’d eat them, but if mangoes came in to season you’d prefer the mango as it’s sweeter and juicer.

Great example of nectar source calendar for Western North Carolina


Due to climate change and the change of priorities when it comes to research, little has continued to be documented on these ideas (nectar, pollen and propolis source plants and their phenology). Many of the cited literature I have found is from the 60’s and 70’s. Also at the local level internationally, many host-country nationals are aware of this and have a vast knowledge of these plants. The names they known them by are local names rather than the scientific, but capturing this information and further researching to find the Latin names and some times specific varieties I believe will be instrumental to maintain and increase honey bee habitat.
Example of local nectar source list per Beekeeper Richard Underhill from his trip with Winrock International to East Africa

So I have started collecting lists, as many as I can find and cross referencing them. Most are through scientific literature. Dr. Eva Crane (foremost researcher on honey bees) was no slouch, her Trust has 40,000 abstracts available to search along with her publishing 300 papers and many books over her lifetime. Others are found through beekeepers I’ve heard of or found through the wonderful place of the internet. Most beekeepers are amazing people who are willing to help out each other to further honey bees, habitat and generally overall goodness on the planet. Currently I have reviewed many many articles and journals, 22 of them have viable lists that I’m extracting, cleaning and adding to my main list. Then sorting, removing duplicates, verifying correct taxonomy (science of defining groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics and giving names to those groups as these tend to change over time especially with plants) and adding in any bloom dates, propagation information or nuance information of the plant.

After all of that, I would love to share it on a website such as Zooniverse, to further have citizen scientists help identify where the plants grow and the bloom pattern in that location, hopefully on a global scale. This information would then assist beekeepers, land owners, farmers, environmentalists, policy makers, and others to maintain and increase habitat and food sources world wide.Lack of knowledge is one thing, but in this day and age of information the world is becoming and smaller and smaller place. People want to help bees, I don’t believe we need more beekeepers, we need better beekeepers, farmers, stewards, with better information to make a better place for all of use.Currently my abstract for this project as been submitted and accepted to Apimondia (the international beekeeping conference), I am looking for support in order to attend and present my abstract in Daejeon, Korea in September. I have contacted various organizations for support as well, but is currently pending response.Please feel free to pass this along to anyone who might be interested in the information, I would love to collaborate further on it. Thank you for your time and support.


Grenada:Three Month Review

So now that I have a few months here under my belt I can talk about some of the work that I’ve done. The most common comment I get from people is: is that really ‘work’ you’re doing there, or just having a long vacation.

There are 12 holidays and then many ‘fete’ or party days, that are taken off of work. Leaving most weeks to be short. But I do believe that most people work hard and play hard too.

My biggest ‘win’ for being here after just 9 weeks, was hearing that a passing conversation I had with my host sister is coming to fruition. She happens to work for a large estate (300 acres) and just getting started planting out a few acres and mentioned how bees could help increase production. She mentioned this to her bosses and she mentioned that they had just hired a local beekeeper to but 20 hives out on the land. Now to see if it works.

A short list of some of my work I’ve done in the short time I’ve been here:
  • Met personally with 28 beekeepers/interested people in
  • 6 of those my counterpart(s) and I visited their apiary/bee
  • 3 of the visited apiaries we worked the bees that day
  • Met 12 extension officers, ministry officials, SGU contacts,
    other individuals that work in the agriculture industry
  • Met the Association Executive Board along with the Chief Veterinarian
    Officer for the Ministry of Agriculture and the Extension Agent for Beekeeping (this last week-finally)
  • Attended the 4 day St. George’s University Bee College in
    St. George
  • Emailed Inter-American
    Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and National Vocational
    Qualifications (NVQ) or Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQ) certification
    about current and past trainings held in regard to beekeeping (none as of
    lately nor in the near future)
  • Attended GAB membership meeting (14 people in attendance)
    and The Goat Dairy board meeting & On-Farm Workshop
  • Networked with many people on the island along with
    inquiring about resources on the island for beekeepers and the association
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    Discussed, researched and wrote Response Counterpart Workshop
    proposal with assistance of Mr. Gittens, fellow Response volunteers and
    27-month volunteers

  •  Met and followed up with Ms. Melissa Tyson, 4-H Extension
    for St. Andrew’s, on term-long project proposal for 12-16 year-olds on
    pollinators, habitat and importance.
  •  Partnered with Belmont Estate to create simple business and
    action plan for bees to be established on the estate, including training-of-trainer for estate to also train staff on better understanding and best
  •  Attended Saint Andrews Development Organization (SADO)
    planning meeting for Rainbow City event in Grenville happening before Carnival
    to assist beekeepers in preparing for possibly exhibiting
  •  Followed up with meeting with Dr. Louison specifically for
    filling out paperwork on Grenada clearance for honey to be accepted into the
    U.K. for beekeepers to enter London Honey Show October 29-31st 2015
  •  Created project plan for self-started projects, events, and
    notable dates, holidays, etc.
  •  Continued researching and compiling world honey, pollen, and
    propolis plant sources to create Caribbean and Grenada specific plant lists
  •  Wrote abstract and applied for Travel Award to attend
    Apimondia, an international beekeeping conference being held in Seoul, Korea
    September 15-20, 2015 (And had it ACCEPTED, now looking for funding to travel to the event)

As you can see I keep ‘busy’ doing ‘work’. Living on an island makes it easy to keep my nose to the grind stone and keep on top of things, as I do need to summit a monthly report to Peace Corps. 
Hopefully in the next month (Mid-August due to Carnival taking over now until 2nd week of August) I hope to get Introduction to Beekeeping training going twice a week, and soon after a Pollination/Pesticide course for beekeepers and farmers and hopefully Ministry officials as well. There are many more classes to write, people to get involved, and equipment and resources to procure as well as funding for some of it.  I will be visiting more beekeepers in the next weeks leading up to this as well. I believe there are close to 100 beekeepers on the island.
The best complement I got this week from a 27-month volunteer that he thought I was working ‘quickly’ as things take longer than normal here as change is very difficult for people in general. But learning and doing something different is a whole other beast entirely.

Bees wax and Honey Product Tourney in Kolda

This happened back in June of 2014. After traveling to Gambia for bee training, Jessica, an Agro-forestry volunteer who is from the southern region of Kolda decided to organize a tourney training. Which is a series of trainings, usually the exact training repeated, to various villages;  usually villages that also have a volunteer to help coordinate people and sometimes food for us. Jessica and I had both attended the conference in Gambia. Jessica’s region is more lush with higher rainfall and known for beekeeping and honey.

So in June 2014 I traveled to Tambacounda to
start a week long tourney or series of trainings. We biked over 150 km in one week, got to see so many
volunteers, (which was a blast) and then spent a day traveling back to my part
of Senegal-literally 17 hours of travel in one day. It was fun and Kolda knows
how to make cake and avocados!!

Toubacouta (near where I live) is on the far left and the first pin on the right is where we started

“Agfo Jessica Moore and Megan Wannarka traveled
through the Kolda region June 18-23 training on using bees wax and honey for
making soap, body creme and lip balm through 5 villages from Tambacounda to
Kolda”-Blurb on PC Senegal’s website

I had a lovely time and fully
enjoyed not speaking or hearing barely any wolof for a week since I was in Pulaar land. This southern part of the country identifies as being in Guinea since most of it’s goods come from there rather than Dakar, which is also 15+ hours away. So when asked where I was from, saying the Fatick region didn’t help. Most volunteers I was with, just said I was from Dakar to simply and what the people there understood.
TUESDAY 6/17/14 First I traveled with my bike (tied down to the top of a car) and traveled to Tambacounda. I think it’s the hottest part of the country (farthest right pin on the map) From there I met up with Jess and traveled to Veligara to see an Urban Ag volunteer, Jordan and stayed with her for the night.

In Jordan’s hut, Jordan on the left and Jess on the right.

WENDESDAY 6/18/14 The next morning we stayed until lunch and headed south 15km (9.3 mi) to visit Callen and then later meet Danny and go to his village near by to do a training.

View riding into Callen’s village.
First stop in Saricoli with Callen and her little!
Dan soon arrived, with a sweaty dramatic entrance.
Yes the roof over hangs that much and you have to duck to get in. Jess & Callen in front of Callen’s hut

We were soon on a village tour. For a village of 850 people and 15 km from a semi-large city of Veligara, Saricoli is strangely well put together with a water tower, grain storage, a small hospital and a Peace Corps volunteer!

Water tower in the background
We went to the top of a 2 story house for the wonderful view. Callen, Dan and Jess
Back to the huts to grab bikes to head to Dan’s village.
Just a few kilometers away is a Master Farm and Dan’s village of Fola Nory Demba where we would do our first training.
Master Farmer’s son pulling water-typical thing we all see and do in village daily
But there are many bees around this one wanting some water!


Dan turning a mob of kids into polite little ones by greeting every one of them, this took a few minutes)


And once they were calm and I was already taking pictures, group picture was needed AND all of them needing to see it on my camera after.
Walking back into the village
Dan’s backyard.
A Tostan sign, a NGO from Theis that works throughout West Africa on female genital cutting among other topics.

Once in the village and put our bikes in Dan’s backyard and getting a tour of his village we make snacks, pulled water for showers and chatted. Soon the rain came. Rain in this region is different that what I got farther north. Once the rain started you literally had minutes until it poured. It rarely poured where I was and typically started as a light sprinkle.

THURSDAY 6/19/14 The next morning we got set up to do our first training. We went to a neighbor’s compound, layed out some mats, our supplies and started building a small fire as people showed up and greeted each other. Since I don’t speak Pulaar, Jessica had the honor of leading the trainings while Dan and I assisted.

Jessica greeting the group
More of the group
Showing samples of what we were going to make.
Starting the process of making soap
Stirling to get ‘trace’ so we can pour it in molds, we just used cups
Love the variety of people who showed up.
Jessica finishing the training and asking someone to pass out samples of what we had made.

Traveling in another region is so much fun as not only do you get to see volunteers we rarely get to see but also eat food that is only in certain regions.  Like above. It’s rice or mainly fonio, with ground peanuts, and a leaf sauce on top. I have something similar in my village, but it would be eaten for breakfast and be considered ‘cheap’. While this is primarily lunch here and more tasty than what I have.

After we headed back to Veligara to stay another night with Jordan. Once we found her near the market we found avocados for dinner/snacks

Jess and Jordan walking towards the market
Jordan finding some mangoes in the foreground with a few avocados on a plate in the background

FRIDAY 6/20/14 We had an early morning 5:30 AM to make it up to Manda Village where Becca would be with her village. 
Nice paved roads for a change



Honey house we passed on the way to Manda Vilage


And the scenery starts to change to lush


Becca’s compound

I have to say through this experience I’ve learned that each village has it’s own character that you can almost feel as soon as you are there. Becca’s village was the first realization how different this region of Senegal is. As soon as we arrived Becca’s host family took our bikes from us, greeted us, and lead us in the shade with water for us to drink. So lovely and welcoming!


Becca’s awning that I fell in love with because of the flowers, also not very common around there, but wish it was. (Becca is on the left)


Typical breakfast porriage


Becca’s backyard with personal mango tree!


Garden area where training would be held.




Setting up


Another volunteer Carson that lived near by also stopped by to attend the training


Group before we got started.


Jess doing her thing in Pulaar.


Whole group under mangos about half way done with training.

We later had a light lunch and waited till it was a little cooler as we finished around noon. Attaya (sweet tea) and naps while I continued to talk bees. This group loved picking my brain. The beekeepers here are very knowing and I would have loved to spend more time working them as they seemed very organized.

On the way back we started to make the 20km bike ride back to Velingara, drop a bike off and then take a car to Kinkani where volunteer Allie was.  This did not happen we were tired and there were no cars to be had, along with Jess’s bike needed some maintenance making it hard to pedal.

We started looking for cars to take us the rest of the way. Problem was it was political season and cars of all kinds were being used with loud speakers to advertise. So when a large transport truck got near we flagged it down instead!


Super glad to be in the back to a truck, with bikes, and only had charcoal in it previously.


Very empty truck except for us.

We made it back by 7:30pm which means we had to move quick to get into another car before it was completely dark out. We grabbed a car and were at Allie’s at 9:50pm. Sadly I did not take any pictures of her compound, HUGE circular hut, her OR her family, but we slept well with more rain that came that night.

SATURDAY 6/21/14 We were up at 7am and had breakfast in the garage before walking and meeting the Agforestry Peace Corps boss Demba gave us a lift to Dabo, where we met a Community Economic Development volunteer Alisha.

Alisha outside of her circular hut with a long over hanging roof


Hand roof except for when having a conversation with your host grandmother

2 hour pedal into the country to Fode Byoe to see agriculture volunteer Amanda.

More lush next to dirt rodes


Jessica pedaling through a small forest on our way to Fode Byoe.


Very large baobob out the edge of town

This town is Mandinka, which is unusal for this area. This became very obvious when everything that was said needed to be translated sometimes twice. In Senegal, where 10% of people are literate this may happen when people do not speak the same language and typically Senegalese will speak up to 5 languages and sometimes only 1.

I wasn’t sure if this was okay as much is lost in translation. But I guess this is how things are done here.

Group assembled for our training around 11:30am


Better view of the group


Amanda sitting watching out training

Training went well, but I think the translation was a problem. We asked a series of questions at the end of the training to see how much information was retained. No one got the questions right. There were also many children running around, a few people came and left causing the attention span to wane.

This entire week was a learning experience of how important it is that volunteers are here and how well they know their village, but also how they compare and contrast to the region. Knowing what works better, how better to teach, learn, share knowledge with these people as it’s sometimes not as straight forward as one would think.

Fish balls with sauce over rice for lunch!!

Each village was not asked to do lunch for the group or for us as it causes too many people to come to training only for food than for information. Each volunteer simply had their family make us a nice lunch, typically what they would have normally but maybe what they would make for guests.

I loved seeing the variety of food, huts, volunteers, villages through this region. My region of Fatick was not as varied like this from what I’ve seen and traveled.

From left to right, Me, Laran, Amanda, Jessica Cho, Jessica Moore. It was very hot by the time training was done.

Around 3pm we headed back out to the main road to catch a car. Again we had trouble finding a car, it was hot, so we wanted to wait and get a car if we could but that wasn’t the case. We started to pedal.

It was hilly on the way there but sadly it was more going up hill on the way back. We had a large town we’d pass on the way back but unfortunately no cars going the way we were or that were able to transport bikes.


Lush low part near Dabo

SUNDAY 6/22/14 We made it back to Kolda and took a day off to relax, rest, enjoy some shade, showers and email.

MONDAY 6/23/14 Our last training was held in Kolda city, with another community economic development volunteer, Steph. Her host mom is a bad-ass when it comes to business, which is not said lightly in the least. We had a wonderful turn out. I took pictures of each step.


Jess getting set up. Since she speaks pulaar it’s easier for her to ask for things.



Finished samples of hand cream (left) and lip gloss (right)


Soap hardening in cups

Because the group of women we had only a few of them did not understand
Pulaar so instead they asked if the training could be done in Wolof. So I
trained and explained to this group, which was fun!

Steph also explained some marketing strategies to the group. This group was by far the most promising to work with. They asked questions along they way, were taking notes.

Steph adding marketing details to our presentation


Final group with certificates, sadly I wish we would have done this for each group.

Overall, it was a very tiring but great week. My region does not do training tourneys like this but I like the format and it makes a lot of sense when you have volunteers in a region to do a training that would work in so many places. Also having a volunteer there gives them a resource if they decide to try to do it themselves.

I will be following up with these volunteers this week as doing this is seasonal as they would need honey and wax to make these products. It takes some consideration on the beginning to get something like this going. But if they want to do it, they can.

We took many pictures along the way and they can be seen here on my facebook album.


West African Trainers of Trainers Conference in Banjul, Gambia

This happened back in February 3-8 2014 and I wrote about it on Facebook, but now once getting home, being able to relax and go through some of the notes I took from this and other events that happened in the last year. I killed not one but TWO laptops so my writing sadly lessened due to that.

I hope to write on a regular basis and  about the events in the last year as well.





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Spending a week in Gambia
West Africa to attend the West African Bee Conference.

Abuko Nature Reserve
Beekeeper Saikou and one of the boubobs on his land that is a home to many hives
Silk Cotton Tree (Ceiba pentadra) are locally known as bee trees as a tree will have many swarms in it
Traveling from my village,
Keur Mallick Fady (see map below), just over the boarder going to Banjul. Staying in Serrekunda
and then traveling a few times  during the week daily to BeeCause in Lamin.

First day was presentations and getting to know everyone from the 6 West African countries represented with Peace Corps volunteers and staff. Looking back at this, it was so great to meet a few volunteers from these countries, as in-service we very rarely come in contact with them. A few months after many of these volunteers were sent home due to Ebola outbreaks.

Once acquainted with the various West African
countries experience & examples seen we traveled daily to Bee Cause, a local non-profit that works very closely with locals to improve beekeeping skills, techniques and improves honey and wax quality throughout Gambia. A stunning place that used to be a music camp set in Lamin where we did our
hands-on training. 


After the gate the compound just inside

The unusual round style huts with layered bricks reminded me of comb

The lush area around us with lots of palms, ferns and trees with hives in between

We saw examples of Kenyan Top Bars, Cement and other text
hives; went over apiary management and calender; made catcher/swarm and baited boxes,
worked a few hives at dusk, learned about melting and cleaning wax, making
candles, honey harvesting techniques, as well as honey quality and had a honey
tasting. Very throughout training for many first time beekeepers!

Typical  wooden KTB, Kenyan Top Bar
Looking at a wooden small capture hive 5m+ in a Kapok tree, baited and waiting for bees

Hallowed Palm trunk used as a hive, a bit deep though.

Similar cement to Vautier hives

We also visited the Darwin Field Station in the
Abuko Nature Reserve with who BeeCause had started to work with. 

Small Reserve that has been very well taken care of and wish we would have spent more time here
Walking back into the field station
Variety of scenery!

We were told not to go too close as there were crocs in the water

All suited up to check capture hives and transfer them. Love this photo of the group!

And the highlight for me was visiting beekeepers
Saikou Nyassi, Salifu Jarju, and Bakary Manga in Bwiam and visited there
various apiaries (bee yards). The exposed nests and ground hive were quite

Volunteers Jessica, Darrin, Dodo, Me and  Beekeeper Saikou. The banner says
“More frowning when you are working, and more smiling when you are eating!” in Jola
Ground hive that has been here for a few years!

Local Gambian beekeepers at a local market selling and explaining differences in honey quality and wax products

Local traditional log hives that are used occasionally to bait swarms

There are so many pictures! You can see more of them on my facebook album here.  This trip was the highlight of my service by far! Some of the volunteers I met on this trip were from Liberia, Guinea and Cameroon which were later evacuated due to ebola. It has been nice to keep in touch with them and see what they are doing now and pass along potential jobs that have seen. Can not wait for the chance to go back and see everyone there!!!