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Vanishing of the Bees, an intriguing new documentary about Colony Collapse Disorder, is back in town for a FREE one-night screening.  

Date: Sunday August 21, 2011
Time: 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
Location: Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
10901 Old Cutler Road
Coral Gables FL 33156

Back in May, Vanishing of the Bees showed for only one night at the new, state of the art Coral Gables Cinematheque. And it was a good turnout — over 200 people packed the auditorium. Proceeds from that screening went to support Slow Food Miami’s school garden program.

Beekeeper John Herring and filmmaker Maryam Henein at the May screening.

The filmmaker, Maryam Henein, was present to introduce her film and answered questions after the showing. She was accompanied by John Herring, a beekeeper from Broward County, who brought a sample hive and various tools of his trade, who also answered questions about bees. Farmer Margie Pikarsky and interns Mike and Sadie from Bee Heaven Farm came with many boxes of local honey and wildflower bouquets for sale.

Vanishing of the Bees is a real-life mystery story which begins with two commercial beekeepers, David Hackenberg and Dave Mendes, who tell similar stories of how one day they came to check on their hives and found them inexplicably empty. They realized their problem wasn’t only with their hives, or happening in Southwest Florida where they were located. It was a growing, serious problem in 35 states and also in Europe. Bees were either vanishing, or their immune systems were succumbing to all kinds of pathogens. Populations were dying faster than they could be replaced, and nobody knew why. The film goes on a journey that follows David and Dave as they try to solve their mystery, and in the process they discover how they can keep their bees healthy and productive, and their beekeeping businesses alive.

Through the course of researching and making her film, Maryam became a passionate and tireless activist for the honeybee. Her love and concern is clearly apparent in the film, which weaved a magic spell around the audience that night. As the story unfolded, people were pulled in; and at one scene in the middle, you could almost hear a pin drop as facts built up and pointed to the most likely causes of bee die-offs. The camerawork is amazing, bringing you very close to slow-motion bees in mid-flight, and editing and animation are superb.

Support the bees

The film does end on a hopeful note, that it’s not too late for ordinary people to save the honeybee. “Colony Collapse Disorder is a wake up call,” Maryam said after the screening. “There’s a big abyss between the people who know and the people who don’t know. Every one of you is a worker bee” to get out the word and take action.

She mentioned several ways you can help the bees and support your own good health. The easiest thing to do is buy organic produce and local honey. (You can find both at local farmers markets.) Organic farmers are not allowed to use systemic pesticides or other dangerous chemicals that can harm bees. Most organic farms tend to have a happy mix of several kinds of plants that support bees, and most farms keep hives and sell local honey. 

Mike and Margie from Bee Heaven Farm with honey and wildflower bouquets for sale at the screening.

Another simple thing you can do is avoid buying “honey-flavored” breads, cereals and other products. They are sweetened with honey blends imported from China. “Funny honey” is diluted with lactose syrup, high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners. It is also tainted with strong antibiotics and lead residues. Corporate bakeries — and the film named General Mills and Pillsbury — buy imported honey because it is very cheap. (Real honey costs a lot more because U.S. beekeepers can’t produce enough to meet demand.) 

If you have the space, a fun thing you can do is plant a bee-friendly garden, with an assortment of plants that bloom throughout the year to attract pollinators. Choose low-maintenance native plants and wildflowers, keep fruit trees, or raise vegetables in your garden or in containers on your patio or balcony. Whatever you do, DO NOT use systemic pesticides! Those are the kind that are applied once a season or once a year as a soil drench, and “provide protection without spraying.” Plants suck those chemicals up through their roots, and all their cells and pollen itself become poisoned. Bees then gather tainted pollen, bring it back to their hive, and make themselves very sick from it, sick to the point of death. 

Support the film

Vanishing of the Bees is a completely independent production, and it took a long time and a lot of money to make it happen. From researching and writing the script to the final edit took about four years to make, and it cost half a million dollars. (Just the editing alone took a year and cost a good chunk of money.) Maryam raised funds a little bit at a time, from donations and sponsorships, and they went toward paying film expenses. When she wasn’t filming, she supported herself at times as a waitress, and admitted that for a while she was on food stamps and maxed out credit cards to survive. 

Maryam and her producers are making their money back with donations and DVD sales. Right now, they are running a promotion and selling the DVD on their web site for a reduced price of $14.99 for a personal viewing license. (They might also be selling the DVD at Sunday’s screening.) Maryam wants to get her DVD into schools. “Education is the beginning,” she said. “We are the generation waking up. The change is coming up in the generations behind us.” At the time of the May screening, she needed to raise about $12 thousand to develop a companion study guide. She is self-distributing her film, and is actively seeking venues for future screenings. The next Florida screening is in Tampa on August 29th.

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Bee Yard wanted

Beekeeper Miguel Bode

You might have seen beekeeper Miguel Bode selling honey and beeswax candles at fairs and festivals and markets all around town. If you bought wildflower, avocado or lychee/longan honey from him (or Farmer Margie), those are the products of his bees kept at Bee Heaven Farm, among other farm locations. I caught up with him at Ramble, and noticed he had a sign saying he was looking for a bee yard in suburban Miami. Your reward? All the honey you can eat — and an opportunity to do something to help honey bees survive.

“A bee yard is a place where bees can be put and survive,” Miguel explained. The ideal location is secluded or isolated, in an area where people will not go often. It would be a place where the bees won’t be disturbed or disturb anyone else, and preferably close to a fence. When choosing a spot, consider the other side of the fence, so that bees coming and going from their hives don’t disturb the neighbor having a barbecue, for example.

A row of bee hives at Bee Heaven Farm

Specifically, Miguel is looking for a space big enough for multiple hives, at least 15-20 at the most. The hives are boxes stacked in a row 2 feet wide by 12 feet long. He would like to set up 3 rows, with an 8 foot buffer in between. That translates to a patch of yard that would be 12 feet by 22 feet in size, not including any space immediately around the hives.

Currently Miguel is keeping most of his bees in agricultural areas. He explained that bees produce less in Redland that in the suburbs. In spring when avocado, lychee and longans bloom there’s plenty of food for the bees, but during the rest of the year there’s not as much variety. Miguel would like to move his bees to the Pinecrest or Old Cutler Road areas where the yards are large and there’s plenty of different things blooming year round. The typical yards in the city are too small for so many hives, though. Special landscaping is not that important. Bees will fly to wherever they find flowers. They usually range about one mile, and will go as far as three miles.

Bee yard wanted, sweet reward!

Pets and kids are usually not a problem, and will quickly learn not to bother. Generally, honey bees are not aggressive and will not willfully attack you. Just don’t go up to the hive and start hitting it, then they will get upset! Bees only sting as a last resort. Open pools (not screened in) are a red flag because bees are attracted to water to drink, and might frighten or sting people in or around the pool. Yes, bees drink water (I have seen a bee sipping water from a puddle), and during the dry months of March, April and May they need lots of water.

If you like bees and honey and think your back yard is the perfect spot, contact Miguel Bode at beemyhoneymiami(at)yahoo.com .

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