In this episode, Master Beekeeper, Katharina Davitt reveals the nutritional benefits honey bees derive from bananas. Yes, you read that correctly, bananas! We all know that bananas are good for people. They are full of carbs, minerals, vitamins, are...
In this episode, Master Beekeeper, Katharina Davitt reveals the nutritional benefits honey bees derive from bananas. Yes, you read that correctly, bananas!
We all know that bananas are good for people. They are full of carbs, minerals, vitamins, are good for digestion and just taste good. But the one thing all beekeepers learn when they start out is that when bees are threatened, they release alarm pheromone and that smells like bananas. So up to now, wise beekeepers didn’t bring bananas to the bee yard.
But it turns out feeding bananas to honey bees is actually a good way to get good food into a hive. Really. Katharina Davitt tell us why and how. Her University of Montana Master Beekeeper research project explored the nutritional requirements of honey bees and the properties of bananas. Katharina shares data behind this! The conclusions reached from this study found that colonies cannot live on bananas alone, but bananas will help in the spring, during a summer dearth and in the fall.
But who would have thought – bananas for bees?!
Before the talk with Katharina, Kirsten, Kim and Jeff discuss the ongoing debate pitting the honey bee against native bees and pollinators. Why the debate? What’s the issue and what’s the real problem? Kim, Kirsten and Kim explore it all.
Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:
Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website: https://www.strongmicrobials.com
This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will help ensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode!
We want to also thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor of the podcast. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine destined for your coffee table. Each page of the magazine is dedicated to the stories and photos of all pollinators and written by leading researchers, photographers and our very own, Kim Flottum.
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Podcast music: Young Presidents, "Be Strong", Musicalman, "Epilogue"
Jeff: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.
Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.
Kirsten: I'm Kirsten Traynor.
Sherry: Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honeybees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs.
No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you. Visit them today at www.globalpatties.com.
Jeff: All right, thanks, Sherry. We really appreciate our sponsors support. They helped make all of this happen and provide us the opportunity to expand and grow in as you'll see in the coming months. With that, thanks to the Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture has been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873.
Subscribe to Bee Culture today, and while you're there, check out Bee Culture's Beekeeping your first three years of quarterly magazine for beginning beekeepers. We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms has sponsored this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine dedicated to protecting all pollinators. Learn more in our Season 2, Episode 9 podcast with editor and I guess co-host today Kirsten Traynor, and from visiting www.2millionblossoms.com, and that is with a number two.
Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining and we're glad you're here. We got another great episode lined up for you today, and more of that in a minute. Hey Kim, hey Kirsten, how are you guys doing?
Kirsten: Hey Jeff, good to hear from you.
Jeff: Yes, good to see you too.
Kim: Jeff, it's still summer here. It's 77 degrees today, and almost the middle of November. I'm sitting inside, what's wrong with this picture?
Jeff: You needed to quit planting those tulip bulbs.
Kim: Yes. I got 80-something in the ground yesterday.
Jeff: Wow. How's your back feel?
Kim: Don't ask.
Kirsten: Speaking of bulbs, I just learned about dahlias for an upcoming article in my magazine by Rusty Barlow and what a great source they are for nectar for pollinators if you don't go with the crazy Dinner Plate dahlias, but the more original ones that have the center with nectaries that are still visible. It's fascinating.
Kim: Jeff, you probably don't know Nancy, Buzz's wife, Nancy Riopelle is an officer in The National Dahlia Society. She sponsors programs, she grows 100 different kinds. I've been watching her dahlias and Buzz's bees for years.
Jeff: Wow. I know dahlias are a big thing, but I've never really gotten into them. They are pretty though. Interesting. Interesting. Speaking of pollinators, and flowers, and honey bees, that's why we're here, there's been a lot in social media and even in popular press magazines recently pitting the honeybee against native pollinators. That's pretty big, but it's a reoccurring topic of discussion, isn't it?
Kim: For a lot of reasons, and I guess today, one of our country's better spokespersons is with us who can address this probably better than either you or I can.
Jeff: That's for sure.
Kirsten: Yes, that's actually one of the reasons I launched 2 Million Blossoms is to help smooth over this divide because most beekeepers and native pollinator enthusiasts really have the same goals. The goal is increased habitat.
The United States used to be home to over 5 million colonies. We're at 2.6, 2.8 depending on growth in the last few years. In the 60s and 70s we weren't having pollinator issues the way we have them today. It's not a question of too many honeybees. If you asked me it's a question of too few flowers.
Jeff: Well, that's for sure.
Kim: I think also Kirsten part of that is, what is out there, what is available for native or honeybees, is the safety of that very land is questionable in terms of can I avoid pesticides everywhere I go? And the question is absolutely not. Another part of this comes down to can I avoid pesticides anywhere?
Kirsten: This is definitely true, and good forage land is becoming harder and harder to find. That's why beekeepers are always looking for those untouched places, those places away from ag lands and away from sub-developments because homeowners and farmers are often grasping for pesticides to keep weeds under control. The evolution of the lawn in the United States with powered lawn mowers, we've replaced what we used to have growing in our front yards.
We've moved our vegetable gardens to our backyards and we just have become a pretty weed-intolerant society. It's very very difficult when you want that perfect lawn. We grow way more lawn than we grow agricultural fields for that not to have an impact on both honeybees and native bees. Native bees do forage in a much shorter radius than then our honeybees.
Our honey bees, I put in a pollinator meadow for my 20 plus colonies that I had in Maryland. I put in seven acres. It was completely full with flowers, and I was expecting my honeybees to enjoy this amazing smorgasbord I had put in with the help of the USDA, the CREP program, and for the first two months, they completely ignored it. I found all these bumblebees popping up.
I found sweat bees, I found these hairy legged solitary bees I had never encountered before. It was absolutely fascinating. Were my honey bees in that field? Forget it. They were not interested in the least. It wasn't until other sources dried up that they finally started appearing. So is there competition? Only when there aren't enough nectar sources. The problem is to me I find is not the honeybees versus the native bees, the problem is us humans and us tearing up so much of the landscape.
Kim: That kind of sums it up.
Jeff: Yes, it does.
Kim: I like your phrase, weed intolerant. That's a very good, very apt description of almost everybody I know that isn't a beekeeper.
Kirsten: I think this is one of the things. We try to paint beekeepers as awful, but I know so many beekeepers. I'm not talking about the ones who get into it to save the bees and then are out of it a year later because they can't keep their colonies alive. Those are not beekeepers, those are bee havers anyway, but true beekeepers, ones who are very concerned with their bees and keeping them healthy, they are the best advocates out there for increased pollinator protection laws, for increased habitats in neighborhoods.
We're talking about a vast population of beekeepers that are very politically active and very savvy in getting rules and regulations passed to help protect their bees. I think pitting native bee enthusiasts against honey beekeepers is really misplacing the problem.
Jeff: Isn't there some-- so a lot of times pointed out in these articles or in the discussions is the almond pollination comes into play and the number of bees are in those areas and holding yards. How does that play into the whole discussion?
Kirsten: I think holding yards can be problematic. Holding yards are places where we put large amounts of colonies, very little forage and then just like kids on the playground, the big guys like to beat on the little guys, or in this case, these strong hives tend to rob out the weaker hives. We do know from an analysis of viral titers throughout the United States that they usually when we have new viruses starting to appear in our population, they tend to first show up in California and then they radiate throughout the United States because we are moving so many colonies into California, and then back into other areas in the United States.
Could we improve holding yards? California is desperately trying to work with farmers to put in more forage on the edges of orchards, almond orchards. There's now a lot of seed funding available. There's programs.
I think it's KIND, which is one of the largest purchasers of almonds in the world, they're working with farmers to have bee-friendly certified orchards, and will be purchasing all of their almonds from those companies. Those things make differences long term, because they're advocating with their wallet, and their purchasing power. I think the almond industry is really, really good at lobbying for improvements, not just for almond farmers, but for the bees they depend on.
Honey bees are definitely managed livestock. Honey bees in the United States are not at risk of extinction. I do think beekeepers, commercial beekeepers, can be at risk of extinction because it's become more and more complicated to keep hives alive due to lack of forage.
Kim: One of the arguments-- we had Britney Goodrich here a while back and one of her goals is to get almond growers even more involved in helping honey bees. One of the things that-- the second argument you always get is, is there land available to do that and is there water available to do that? If I was living in California, I can imagine an argument being I'm going to give water to plants to feed bees or I'm going to get water so I can have a shower at home, because in some places in California it's that big of a difference. There's either water or no water and if I'm going to have no water, how can I afford to feed honeybees? I don't know the answer to that. I don't know that anybody knows the answer to that but it is the question that needs to be solved.
Kirsten: I think we will probably end up looking towards Israel for a lot of those solutions. Desalinization at the moment is still very expensive. If we can find a less expensive way to make water more freely available from our oceans, it may help solve some of these issues, but you're absolutely right. We're going to be facing more drought especially on the West Coast.
We saw that with last week's episode where we talked with Sharon in Oregon and fires, droughts, extreme weather events, we face more and more of those challenges. These are not easy problems to deal with and I think we have to think creatively and often outside of the box.
Kim: I have grown accustomed to eating and I don't want that to change. These are problems that have to be solved.
Jeff: The honey bee's being made out as scapegoat in some ways, as the source of the problem. As you pointed out, perhaps the real problem is the lack of forage, lack of available space and perhaps even climate change as all of that changes around the United States and around the globe.
Kirsten: I think it's important to have these discussions and I think we don't want to posit a strawman argument where we focus on something that is more a symptom than the actual problem and the solution, even if we got rid of all our honeybees, native pollinators are still under threat due to these very same issues that honeybees are facing. I think we need to come up with creative solutions that work for all of our pollinators.
Kim: That's the key. All of the pollinators because if you solve it for one and not the other, you haven't solved it for either really?
Jeff: One last question on the subject. Is calling a honeybee an invasive species. Is that an accurate statement these days?
Kim: It depends on who you ask.
Jeff: It's been- well, so--
Kirsten: They're definitely not native to the United States. I would say that with the Africanized in South America and the way they've come up through the United States, you could make the argument that those are invasive because they are spreading beyond their initial introduction point.
Are European honeybees that we manage in the US invasive? If you ask Native Americans, they called them white man's flies and they predicted where settlers were coming. Perhaps they are invasive at that time period.
However, we've also brought over all of these European crops that depend on pollination from those managed honeybees. I would say that with parasites and pathogens, the feral population has in many places collapsed.
I wouldn't call European honeybees in the current situation invasive, they're a managed pollinator. Are cows invasive? I guess that depends on your perspective of whether they're showing up in your lawn and munching your flowers.
Kim: Sometime back there was a discovery, I believe it was in Montana of an apis species bee fossilized.
Kirsten: Yes, correct. There's a fossil. I believe it goes back 30,000 years. We did at one point have a honeybee species in North America that died out. However, the honeybees that we manage in the US were brought over from the European population.
Jeff: It's like there were horses in North America at one time, they died out and the Europeans brought them over probably pulling carts of honeybees.
Kirsten: Invasive, native, non-native, these are all human terms that we put on things to describe how our ecosystems function and would honeybees eventually have ended up in North America? Probably not but they've been here for at least 500 years and we are very, very dependent on them.
It's the same with dandelions. Dandelions are not native to the United States, but on no classification list do they appear as invasives. They spread more than homeowners might like, but they do not become unmanageable and take over the way kudzu takes over. I would say that honeybees do not have the same impact as something like Multiflora rose or kudzu, which are truly invasives and on many unwanted lists.
Jeff: As out here scotch broom, it's really invasive out here. Any closing thoughts, Kim?
Kim: No, I think we're not done with this problem because I still want to eat and that keeps things moving along.
Kirsten: I fully concur. I think this will be a reoccurring issue and I do think it's important for beekeepers who are very active for habitat improvement to voice how they actually participate in changing the conversation and there's a wonderful article called The Gordian Knot that really talks about this political engagement of beekeepers and how valuable it is.
Jeff: I'm sorry, where was that article?
Kirsten: It's a peer-reviewed paper that was published in 2020. I can give you the link and we can put it in the show notes.
Jeff: That'd be great. That'd be great. Thanks everybody for joining that discussion. I'm sure we'll be coming back to that. Hey Kim, you talked about eating, you eat bananas?
Kim: I love bananas.
Jeff: Love bananas Kirsten?
Kirsten: I am a big fan of bananas and I do enjoy and do enjoy them on occasion.
Jeff: Have either of you fed your bees bananas?
Kim: Wait a minute. What?
Jeff: Kim. Several episodes ago Kirsten had Simeon Valkenberg on the show. He talked about feeding bananas to his bees and it just stopped everybody in their tracks. We asked him where did he hear that?' He told us and so on this show, we were able to get Katharina Davitt on to talk to us about her research and what she found about feeding bananas to bees, interested in listening?
Kirsten: Most definitely.
Jeff: Good. I'm glad to hear it because we have it coming up and that'll be right after this quick spot from Strong Microbials.
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Jeff: I want to thank Katharina for joining us on the Beekeeping Today podcast. Welcome Katharina.
Katharina Davitt: Oh, thank you for having me.
Kim: It's nice to finally meet you, Katharina. We first got wind of what you are doing when we were talking to the beekeeper from Australia with Kirsten and he referred us to your paper on feeding bananas to bees and that's why we're here today.
Jeff: Sorry if we giggled during this, I've been looking forward to this discussion ever since we heard Simeon talk about this a couple episodes ago.
Katharina: I quite often get the jokes and the giggles about the bananas. It's pretty common.
Jeff: I bet. Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your beekeeping and then we can get into why you started studying bananas and bees?
Katharina: My name is Katharina. I was born and raised in Germany, in Berlin. I left after the wall came down, there was a big chunk of the war taken with me. That of course dates me. Later on, I started beekeeping and then I was trying to master beekeeper program, but in my lifetime I didn't only live in Germany but also lived in Africa.
What I learned in Africa was from the natives there that very often they do things that are not very commonly accepted in the Western world. What I have learned when I lived there was listen and watch, you may learn something. I certainly learned a couple f things where we Westerners would probably raise an eyebrow and say "Oh really?" and that was the same thing with the banana. In 2017, I was in one of the online forums, and I was talking to beekeepers worldwide. There were some African beekeepers and it was nectar [unintelligible 00:20:11] at that time in Africa. He said he was feeding bananas to his bees. I was like, "Really? Why? What's the benefit of it?"
He is like, "Well, it raises brood by 10% and increases honey production by 20%." I'm like, "Really? Is there any research about that?" Certainly, there was. He gave me one link. I read the research that was done in Nigeria, by Akinwande, a professor, by the way, or now he's a professor. I thought it was really interesting. It was written well.
Was the study done the best way it could have? Probably not, because they kept their swarms and put them back in the hives during the experiment, but it was more like a point saying, "Hey, there may be something there."
As I was searching further, I found some other research in other nations like India, in the Himalayas, for example, they did some research for three years, and they all had the same conclusions that it does increase brood, but the question was, how does it work? What in the banana is increasing the brood? That was the biggest question, and that's when [crosstalk]
Jeff: Katharina, just wait, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but before we get any further on this, because this is going to be the first question, first concern of everybody listening to the podcast right now. They're frightened right now because everybody in America knows, or in North America, anywhere, you don't eat bananas in the bee yard.
Jeff: Oh my gosh. What are you talking about? Can you talk about that before we go much further into your research and what you found?
Katharina: I was actually running a short test on behavior of the bees, to see how they act if we have bananas swinging in front of the hive, being put in the hive. What I learned very quickly is that the IPA, which is part of the pheromone complex, which people attribute to the artificial banana smell does not increase the aggressiveness in bees. If you look further, IPA is used in perfumes and cleaning supplies, and hair products, in soaps of our clothing.
If that would cause aggressive attacks by bees, the industry would not use it. They would not. That's really clear, but part of the pheromone is it's a complex of different formulants and IPA is basically the main carrier saying, "Hey, pay attention. We have to do something." IPA elicit bees to do something, but it does not tell the bees that they have to sting. It just tells them that they have to do something. The other pheromone that tells the bee what to do.
What we notice is, when we take the banana and we slice the banana in half and just slapped it on top of the bars and we squished it down, they were calm until we squished it down. When you squish it down, then you get their attention. Then you get maybe a few that bounce off on you, but as soon as he put the lid on, they let go. They're not pursuing you if you walk to the next hive.
As a beekeeper, if you apply bananas to the hive, if you mess up as a beekeeper, besides putting a banana and you may get stung, yes. If you drop a frame of the banana on it, you're probably going to get stung, but banana itself does not make bees aggressive. We have shown that in our test that was--
Kim: Are there studies?
Katharina: I don't think there are studies out there about that, but you can basically test it. If you go on YouTube and you Google some videos, I've seen some videos of guys standing in front of the hive, slapping the banana over the front entrance and nothing happens.
It gets their attention, but it does not make them aggressive, so you don't have to worry about getting attacked and so on. I don't know. I've eaten banana before, rubbed my bees, and no difference.
Jeff: All right. Well, thanks for clearing that up. I hope that--
Katharina: [chuckles] That's the first thing I always hear, people say, "Yes, they're going to sting you." I'm like, "No, they won't."
If I go back to when I heard from the African beekeeper, that was winter here. We had in February, I believe it was February or March we had some warmer days and just enough to take a peek and see who's flying and maybe do a peek under the lid real quick if you had to. Everybody looked good except one colony. The colony wasn't flying much.
I took a peek under the lid and there was not much left. They had plenty of food, but the bee cluster was so small it was basically when you open up a winter have and realize saying, well, they're dead in a week or two, and you're like, "Okay, close the lid," and you just walk off because you have written them off. I was at that stage.
Then I thought how about putting banana in and see what happens? They were dead to me anyway, so I figured putting a few overripe bananas, which we had in the kitchen anyway, and then see what happens. So I fed them bananas and by the time we had the first nectar flow, those colony was as strong as all the other colonies. That gave me an indicator there was something to it. I did not know what, I could only guess, but there was something to it. That's when I started researching more material about it. I was also in the Montana Master Beekeeper Program.
Kim: Katharina, I want to interrupt you for a second. You gave it one banana, just one, or did you give them one a day or one a week or one a month?
Katharina: Yes. What I did with this colony, I give them banana pieces, not a whole banana because they were too weak and they couldn't eat it all, but I kept on giving banana pieces until we had the first nectar flow. I just continued [crosstalk]
Kim: That's a banana in the peel or just the banana inside?
Katharina: Yes. I took a banana, sliced it in half, and then cut it into pieces and put a piece of peel on it. The peel has to be ripe, very ripe. If you look at the banana, the banana should look like it's yellow with freckles on it. If it doesn't have freckles, it's not ripe enough, because it needs higher sugar concentration, and also there's some other, like dopamine and the amines that get higher as the banana ripens.
However, the banana peel is black, then all the moisture from the peel moved into the pulp and the peel becomes hard and the bees can no longer eat the peel. For them to eat the peel is one major key of this whole story.
Jeff: That's about the time I throw out bananas is when they get really freckly.
Kim: They're too ripe.
Katharina: We always end up with some like that. Don't spoil them out, utilize them, your bees will take them. That colony survived and that gave me an indicator. Of course, I was in the Master Beekeeper Program, by The University of Montana, under Dr. Bromenschenk and if you are in the master level, you have to do a research project, it can be a literature review, or it can be an actual test.
The way they run it is, you have to put in a proposal of what you like to do, and either they're going to say, yes, you'll go, or they're going to shut you down. My proposal was that Cavendish bananas, those are the bananas you find in grocery stores here in the US, improve bee hives. Dr. Bromeschenk right away said, "No, not going to happen. This is all anecdotal. There's nothing to find."
I said, "No, no, wait a minute. I have some material already on it, and there is something to it, but I try to explore it." I have to say, Dr. Bromenschenk shuts things down when he thinks that you may fail and he does not want students to fail. Here's a valid thing. He's not evil. He's a good person. He's very valid about that.
Jeff: He'll be happy to hear you say, he's not evil.
Katharina: I don't want to make him nasty. He's a nice guy. He had a valid point. He doesn't want you to fail. I said, "Look, I have something there and I'd like to explore it, and any research, even if the outcome is negative, it's still research. It answers the question. That's what I'm trying to figure out here."
He was consulting with Dr. Dale. Dr. Dale is pretty known nutritionist when it comes to bee nutrition. He was looking into what I had to say. He said, "Yes, I'd like to see this. This is interesting. This is something new. We haven't talked about anything like that," and so they let me do it.
I provided a good document, Dr. Bromenschenk said it was a high A because we taught him something new and he's happy that he no longer has to think about all those anecdotal things that are out there. It was a good thing. I was happy, but what they didn't tell us is if you teach the professor something new, you get an A grade. I didn't know that, but hey, I'm proud of it.
Jeff: If you taught Dr. Bromenschenk something new, then yes, you deserve an A or high A.
Katharina: Well, I keep telling people it's in the program, you have to think outside of the box, don't do what other people already did. Try something new. You don't have to be a professor. You don't have to have access to university. You just have to be open-minded and maybe catch something up if somebody suggests something.
That's how I slipped in the bananas with the African beekeeper. Before I wouldn't have thought about it.
Anyway, then I was looking, basically, what I was doing, I was analyzing what was in the banana and what was in the peel. There's data out there because some countries actually use the peel to make flour out of it, so you can bake bread from it. Something you never heard in America, right?
Jeff: Well, banana bread. Yes, but that's not-- It's a different thing.
Katharina: The peel is high in starch, so it's a good bread, except when it gets ripe and it becomes mushy, but in African countries, they utilize what they have. That was part also of some of the research that had been done in the past is how can we feed bees doing nectar droughts when the African beekeeper doesn't have a car? He walks 10 miles a day, he lives in a shack, he doesn't have electricity, and he needs feed that is either free or very low-cost because he doesn't have the money. He doesn't make enough money.
They were looking at what people were growing in their yards, which they could utilize. Banana came up because it is high in sugar. I must say banana is not high enough in sugar content for honeybees. Honeybees like it sweeter, but they will utilize it if there's nothing else there. I was looking into it.
I needed also something to compare it to, what we know about nutrition and the sad news is there is not much about nutrition out there since De Groot in 1953, who did actually nutrition analysis on amino acids on honeybees. There is not much out there when it comes to all the other elements. The only research I found was actually done in Australia by Mr. Black and he wrote two books about it. You can actually download online. It's actually published by the government there.
He went now further looking what bees need when it comes to minerals, vitamins, et cetera. That was my base to compare to what banana has in content and what is considered actually very good for bees. I found out we create carbohydrates. Yes, bananas are sweet, over- ripe bananas are really sweet. They get up to 26% sugar content while bees prefer 30% to 50%. If you want to feed bananas, don't lay it in front of the hives. They won't touch it. It's just too much work, but if you put it inside of the hives, they will eat it.
What I also found out is that bananas have about 70% sucrose, preferred sugar for bees. Bananas do not have any of the known toxic sugars, which is good. You don't have to worry about poisoning bees with bananas.
Vitamins, not of high value to bees in there. You can forget the vitamins. Let's see minerals, really good sources of minerals. The one that stood out the biggest is potassium.
Jeff: Are these in the pulp of the banana or in the banana peel or is this in general?
Katharina: Very often, they're in both parts, but sometimes one item is higher in the peel than in the pulp. You should always feed the pulp and peel. The peel is high in dopamine. You don't find the dopamine in the pulp. That's why you want it. I can explain why that is important, but potassium is very important because if you look at research, it shows that bees seek higher potassium sources in fall for winter survival.
One of the researches by Neil Scott showed that bees that eat a lot of potassium in fall actually deal better with viruses during winter and with varoa, we know that winter bees have viruses. If they have something that suppresses the viral activity in their body, that gives them a better winter survival weight. We know bananas are high in potassium. You feed some bananas in fall to your bees and you load them up with potassium to give them a better winter survival rate. I thought that was interesting.
Another thing that is very interesting, well, there are no lipids and not so you can forget it. There's no amino acids in bananas. We know that. It's a sweet product. There are, let's see, the amines like dopamine or serotonin are both in the peel present and they increase actually as the peel ripens. In my test where I did behavioral test, I was trying to see because most beekeepers say, "Oh, you put a peel in a chalkbrood hive and the chalkbrood hive will just takes the peel out and do hygienic behavior and that kill the chalkbrood that way.
Well, in my test, I found out that they were not discarding the peel. They were eating it. You can put a tray in front of the hive and see what they discard or see what's on the bottom board. I never found a single evidence or piece of peel there ever. They were eating it.
Kim: Catherine, a quick question then. You mentioned feeding the peel and the colony that you fed it to that had chalkbrood, the chalkbrood symptoms anyway were reduced or went away. It wasn't because of hygienic behavior apparently because they were eating the peel. Was there something in the banana peel that is working against chalkbrood?
Katharina: Yes. I must say there is no research supporting that peel cures chalkbrood. There's none out there. I call that actually a plausible part. The reason why I call it plausible is as the peel decays, it releases gases like-- let me see, like ethylene and as I think there's another gas. I don't find it right now. I have it somewhere here on my desk, but I hid it somewhere.
It releases gases and those gases, they have done tests where they took oranges that had mold on the skin and they put banana peel with them and they let the gases release and then noticed, and there is an actually study out there, there are shown studies that it actually suppresses the spore growth on those oranges. That's why I call it plausible because I think it does a similar thing the hive.
Now is it really curing it? I don't know, but at the same time, we know that the nutrition in it, the potassium and the amines in there actually puts the bees in overdrive. I think maybe that helps with the suppression of it. Then at the other, hand, when you have a chalkbrood colony and you feed them up and you make them stronger, they can overcome it. That's why I call it plausible what they're doing in Australia. I'm not saying that the peel is going to cure it. I don't have enough proof of that. Maybe somebody else can do a study on it, but there is no study out at this point.
The study was done by [unintelligible 00:36:15] showing that it inhibits the growth of mold growth on oranges, but it was done on oranges, not in a hive, but it is a plausible. The amines, which are manly serotonin and dopamine, they are causing hygienic behavior in bees. They put them actually to work. You find some, for example, also in the brood, that hives that are high in dopamine, they can raise more brood and more sustained brood for a longer time if they get dopamine.
That puts a question, should we add dopamine and serotonin into our bee patties? Maybe because there may be something to it. If you look into it, what dopamine and serotonin does, there is really some effect on bees on that one. Also serotonin decreases the responsiveness to IPA, and that means that the bees get more serotonin and they are less aggressive. They stay more mellow because they don't respond to IPA as much anymore, or to the alarm pheromone. I call it happy bees. Keep your bees happy, I guess.
Jeff: The same effect on people too, the dopamine and serotonin.
Katharina: Yes, it does. Serotonin also affects the behavior, lifespan, reproductive cycle. It has a big influence what's happening in the hive. The banana peel is high in those components and the bees are eating it. I think there's a lot to it. I always tell people, put the bees in overdrive if you give them serotonin and dopamine.
In 2019 after I finished my Master Beekeeper, I said, it's time to do a real study and see what happens because some of the studies have shown 10% up to 16% increase in brood. I said, "Well, let's see if we can replicate it." The only difference is the other studies they maybe just blended it up and filtered it or they've filtered it and added more pulp to it, or they added some honey to it. They didn't give it straight up. They just processed it in a way. I just wanted to do straight banana. I wanted to see how it goes.
We bought packages from a breeder down in California. I created custom boxes that were holding six frames in it and a special feeder on top. The feeder on top had actually sugar syrup feeder, and it had a compartment where you can put the banana so that'd be wide on top of the frames. Then we bought frames. They were from Mann Lake Plastic Foundation. Everything was brand new, nothing was contaminated.
The packages that came from the same source, they had the same queens, they were all Carniolan queens. We installed them and we started feeding bananas and we kept on measuring the weight and see how they were doing. What we learned very quick was actually the control group that did not get the banana was getting faster heavier while the one that was getting the banana was not getting heavier, but was expanding fast in brood.
Apparently, honey weighs more than brood. That's something we learned quick from that, but what we were really interested in was actually seeing how much broods they had on the frames. We were coming and counting the surface or each frame how much broods they had. We were actually saying, "Okay, this frame had a quarter, was quarter full of food, or had none, or was full." We were going by that and we were running this experiment for 30 days.
After 30 days, the banana group, there were so busting full of brood that they did not have space to put honey in it. They were so brood-bound, they were close to swarming us basically. We had to stop at that point, otherwise I would have gone further. What we noticed, all boxes had six frame in it, and once the banana had one extra frame of brood after 30 days. Our calculation came down to 18% more brood.. I'm like, "Wow, that's something." Considering how cheap banana are nd we did not give them pollen patties, so all the protein was coming from outside. They had to forage for it. The only thing they got was sugar syrup and the bananas. That's it. That was pretty interesting. Yes.
I suspect they were doing a little bit better here than the other studies that were done because we were not blending the banana. My guess is that if you put the banana in a blender, you oxidize it. That's my guess. That's a wild guess. They blend it in the water, down the sugar syrup. Maybe that's the difference that we give it straight up.
I talked to a friend who is a beekeeper in Oklahoma City. He had 100 colonies. That same year, he was feeding bananas. I'm not kidding, I have a picture of it. He was putting six bananas at a time in one colony. I was like, "Wow, here I'm with my 200 grams max per week." He was putting six in per week.
The way he did it, he said when he was testing, first he put it outside, outside, nobody would touch it. You put it on the entrance, very little activity. You put on the top bars. Yes, they were taking it. Then he said, what about if I put it between the brood chamber? He cracked the hive open, put six bananas in it, closed it up, and walked away.
What he noticed is that the bees were expanding brood so rapidly that he had to spend about $140 a week on sugar to feed them because they were expanding so crazily because he gives so much. He also noticed that out of 100 colonies, 95% made it through the winter in Oklahoma City. He said he never had such a high winter survival rate. I thought that was interesting.
I did not do a winter study because I don't have enough colonies. Also, there are too many variables going in when you have a colony like that. I stuck with my way of study because it was easier. You start off from scratch. You don't work with something that's already existing.
Kim: Katharina, there's obviously some nutritional advantages to doing this, and there are some management advantages. If I'm listening to this for the first time, how can I incorporate feeding bananas to my bees into my management package?
You already told me about packages, so I can see that next spring when I get packages, I'm going to try this with some of my packages. For my overwintered colonies, if there's a honey flow on, will they eat the bananas? Will they only eat them when there's no honey flow on?
Katharina: Good question. Very good question. When we did our behavioral study, we were giving them in spring some bananas and they were consuming the bananas, but as soon as we had a nectar flow, they started ignoring the bananas. They made a decision there.
I get sometimes the question, people say, "Oh, you do bananas and they want to feed all year long banana." I'm like, "No, you don't." You should have a purpose why you feed the banana. You don't just slip bananas in the hive now for no reason, right? [chuckles] Yes.
Kim: Are you feeding either with packages or my colonies next spring that have all wintered? Am I feeding just bananas or bananas and sugar syrup or bananas and sugar syrup and pollen patties? What's the mix here that is going to do best, do you think?
Katharina: It depends on your goals. If you want them to build wax you should give the sugar syrup 100%. I would give sugar syrup anyway, because bananas when they're overripe, they go any up to 23% sugar content, but bees prefer 30% to 50%. So you should give them sugar because there's just not enough sugar in the banana really to make them happy. I think what they really like is the nutrients and it's the minerals and the dopamine.
Kim: I'm looking for a balance of both the bananas and sugar syrup. If I feed sugar syrup and bananas at the same time, the bananas are going to stimulate brood production and the syrup is going to be there to help feed them until there's a honey flow. Once that starts. All right.
I asked you this before, and I'm not sure I understood. A banana a day, five bananas a day, put one in, and wait until it's gone? Five in?
Katharina: Right. I was very conservative by going maximum 100 grams of banana, which is a quarter banana a week. As Jason showed me, you can go much higher. I would suggest only to put as much in as they will consume within a couple of days because the banana peel will dry up, and once the banana peel turns black, they won't touch and just leave it in the hive and you see mold on it. Don't put a boat load on unless they take it.
My suggestion is feed banana if you want to rear up. For example, if you need to go to pollination, you want to make sure your colonies are really strong I would say, "Yes, feed them for two or three weeks with bananas and see what happens." If you rear queens, you may want to feed some banana, too, because they're raising brood and you want to make sure the queen is off to a good start.
Fall, winter preparation. We know that the potassium, bees seek potassium in fall, we know that they need it for winter survival. I would say give them some in fall, but I would not give it to them if the bees are busting through the highest and they're doing honey, I wouldn't do it at that time.
Kim: It's probably too early in this to be able to give an answer. Do you have any thoughts on cost analysis of this relative to if I'm going to produce brood versus I'm going to produce honey, do I feed sugar or do I feed bananas? Because to be honest, I have no idea how much bananas cost. [laughs]
Katharina: I have no idea. We always end up with some that are overripe, and then either you freeze or make bread out of it or you say, "Oh, I give it a weak colony." If I have a weak colony, I just give it to them first. I would say stay on the moderate side, don't go crazy. Don't force it down the bees. Just put it on the top bars. Don't break up to brood cluster unless you really want them to explode like crazy or force them.
Put some on the top bars, put inner cover on, the lid on, walk away and see what's left in a week then maybe ina top in the week. As I said, we have been putting 100 grams in, which is a quarter banana. One banana does your four hives in one week. That's not expensive.
Kim: Jeff, I can see one thing right now. I know we're going to move along here, but I can see one thing is I'm not going to try this this fall because I don't want a ton of brood. Next spring we're going to have to come back and revisit this and try some different mixes.
Katharina: I have to tell you, I do it in fall, but not six bananas per hive, that's not going to happen. If you put quarter piece of a banana per week and then you do it for two months, you're not going to increase brood by much because it just doesn't stimulate them enough.
Jeff: I might do it just to see if they like it.
Katharina: They will like it. They will take it. I think there's a health benefit to it. You want your bees to go healthy and strong into winter. You just don't want them in winter, in fall starting wearing new brood, that's the wrong thing. You want them to grow strong in winter with the winter piece and not replacing the summer bees.
Jeff: Very good, Katharina. We're really at the end of our time right now and really, thank you for being on the show and having this discussion with us. I'm sure you'll get a lot more feedback and visits to your website and some questions from listeners, I'm sure, because this will stir up a lot of questions.
Katharina: Well, I have presented this at different bee conferences in the past because I was invited. I went to Tulsa and Salt Lake City in a couple of ones. Nashville was beautiful, but I can always present over Zoom. If a club is interested, I can do that. It's a possibility. I have wonderful slides to go with wonderful pictures. You can see things. Actually, my slides I always share with everybody. If somebody is interested, you can download my slides, read through it, and see what I have to say.
Kim: I think that about wraps it up, Jeff.
Jeff: Yes. Katharina, appreciate you being on the show and your husband in the background. I didn't catch your first name, husband.
Jeff: Thanks, Paul, for being there and being the technical support and the background researcher there sounds like.
Katharina: If you have some questions, contact me, because I try to put a lot of material in here in a short period. My presentation is usually an hour and a half long on the subject.
Jeff: No doubt.
Katharina: That's without the intro. That's straight on the material itself.
Jeff: All right. Thank you so much. We appreciate your time, and we'll look to have you back, maybe in the springtime when it's time to feed. You guys take care and stay safe.
Katharina: Thank you.
Kim: Just quick, Jeff, we'll get all of that contact information up on the web page.
Kim: All right. Thank you, Katharina.
Jeff: Hey, Kim, handle the show for a few minutes. I'm going to go grab a couple of bananas and go feed the bees.
Kim: Well, grab a couple from me. Will you? because like I said earlier, I like to eat and I'm not giving my bees my bananas. Let me tell you. Right now there may be some value there but I draw the line somewhere.
Jeff: That was a pretty interesting discussion.
Kirsten: Yes, I think it's great that she took on the initiative to run these trials. I hope she does a follow up larger scale study and gets these published in peer-reviewed journals. I do think that's still really important for results but I also love that beekeepers are jumping in feet first and getting their hands dirty.
Jeff: That was a fun discussion. It's this whole entire episode's been fun. If not slightly controversial with the invasive species and honey bees and native pollinators and feeding bananas to bees. It's been a good show.
Km: It's been fun. I'm glad you could come along this time, Kirsten.
Kirsten: Oh, it's been fun. I know I often have strong opinions on this. I've spoken to so many beekeepers who that really was their first window into ecosystem services and how plants and pollinators are connected. I think that's a very important voice because beekeepers become touchstones.
I'm sure you guys have all experienced you go to a party, they're like, "Oh, you keep bees?" All of a sudden you're the center of attention and people are asking you countless questions and what you tell them about changes in that you've made in your backyard has these ripple effects, right?
I have friends now sending me videos, not of honeybees, but of all these native pollinators that show up on their balconies in Berlin. They wouldn't be as aware except for the fact that we are friends so yes, it's it. I think of honeybees as a gateway bug.
Jeff: All right. Well that about wraps it up for the podcast. Before we go. I want encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts, whenever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like about this one.
As always, we thank Bee Culture, the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support at Beekeeping Today Podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor, Global Patties. Check them out at www.globalpatties.com and we want to thank Strong Microbials for it becoming the latest supporter of our podcast.
Check out their full probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com. Finally, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions and comments at questions@ beekeepingtodaypodcast.com. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else? Kirsten? Kim?
Kim: Jeff, I'm going to tell you if I'm going to feed my bees, if anything it's going to be the Global Patties' patty rather than my bananas.
Jeff: As it should be. All right. Thanks everybody.
[00:53:00] [END OF AUDIO]