It’s the beginning of bee season in the south and many people are getting their packages and nucs. We are having a discussion at the Atlanta Beekeeping Meetup tomorrow night about rookie mistakes. That made me want to write about them here.
Some rookie mistakes that come to mind:
1.Not knowing what to do about the bees that stay in the nuc box you just installed or the package you just shook into a hive.
My first installation (and others after that) stopped the instructions with shaking the remaining bees into the hive. No matter how much you shake, bees remain in the nuc box or the package that still smells like home to them. So when you are finished with your work of installing, there will still be a large number of bees clinging to the old box or remaining on the package’s screen wire. When I installed my first nucs, I called five beekeepers before I found someone who told me to stand the “empty” nuc box on end in front of the entrance and all of the bees would eventually find their way home to Mama.
2. Failing to light the smoker
I often only use the smoker once to puff at the front door to announce my presence to the bees. Then I set it in front of the hive and rarely use it. I get away with it because I use hive drapes. The very day that you, the beginner, go out to the hive without the smoker is the day that the hive is roaring mad and you really get stung. Never open the hive without having lit the smoker.
3. Not having enough equipment ready to use
Beekeeping is not a cheap hobby. But that being said, the worst thing that can happen is to run out of equipment. The bees don’t understand that the equipment that they need to be happy (a new box, more frames) is on a UPS truck. They need you to have it when they run out of space. Always be several boxes ahead of your bees.
4. Feeding when the bees don’t need it
You’ll have to feed a package and you might want to feed a swarm. A nuc comes with its food already being stored in the hive. If a nectar flow is on, the bees don’t want/need your sugar syrup. If you keep feed on the hive when there is a nectar flow, the bees may back fill all of the brood cells as well as their honey cells, leaving no room for the queen to lay. Also I am convinced that much of the honey in the US is partially sugar syrup because new beekeepers are so eager to feed their bees.
5. Leaving frames out of a box (not respecting bee space)
When you put a hive box together, you need to fill it with the requisite number of frames. If you don’t the bees will make a mess. They only need bee space, and the area left open by the lack of a frame is an invitation for them to fill the space with unsupported comb. Once I fed new hives by putting baggie feeders on top of the hive bars instead of on top of the inner cover. I returned to find that the bees (all eight hives of them) had built beautiful comb from the bottom side of the inner cover. What a mess.
6. Cutting queen cells when you see them
Often nucs are so crowded in their nuc box before they are picked up, that they are eager to swarm and make more room. When they do, they leave queen cells behind. The rookie beekeeper may see these cells and cut them. But guess what? The hive swarmed when you weren’t around and by cutting the queen cells, you render your new hive queenless. Besides as you work harder at bee-ing, you’ll discover that the best way to deter a swarm is to use checkerboarding and that those queen cells can be used to make splits!
7. Opening hive too frequently
Great way to kill your hive. PN Williams in Atlanta always said to start with two hives: one to kill by over inspecting it and one to survive! Always have a reason for your hive inspection (just to look is not a reason – checking to see if the queen is laying is a reason). That might keep you from opening more than about once a week at most.
8. Going out to hive with no protection, wearing black, having drunk a coke, and at 4:30 in the afternoon.
Many beekeepers cut down on the amount of protective gear they wear as their beekeeping experience expands. However, at first, we are typically awkward and may drop frames, smash bees, or have a hard time handling the bees that fly into your face/veil. Wear your gear. Also bees don’t like black (makes them think you are a bear), don’t like caffeine (don’t drink coffee right before an inspection) and are a little frantic at orientation time (around 3:30 – 4:30 in the afternoon. Avoid all of the above when you are inspecting.
Yes, there is a story here – I was singing in a choir in my early beekeeping years and was so enamored of my bees. We had an all day choir workshop and I had on black, had drunk a coke and we got a break at 4:00 before an evening get together at 6. So I went home and sat down between my hives at about 4:30. I was just peacefully sitting there, but the bees were orienting, I had on black and had drunk caffeine. So one of them zapped me on the side of my face. I was teaching at Emory at the time and had to go to work with one side of my face totally swollen and red. I don’t get those large local reactions anymore, but at the time, I was a sight to behold!
9. Dropping a frame. My second to the worst sting occurred when I dropped a deep foundationless frame of brood in my second year. I forgot that I couldn’t hold the frame at a slant to look at it (you can’t with foundationless because they are often not attached at the bottom of the frame). The honeycomb and brood dropped off and all the angry nurse bees came after me, crawling up the legs of my pants and getting me everywhere they could find purchase for their stingers.
10. Harvesting too much honey in first year. The idea is for your first year bees to survive the following winter and be alive for a second year. In Atlanta, I always leave at least a box and a half of honey on each of my hives. Find out what your bees need in your area and leave at least that amount for your bees. If you just really want to taste your honey (and of course, you do), then take one frame out of your heaviest box and crush and strain it so you can have something to show for your labors. Leave the rest for the bees and your reward will be great the next year.
Beekeeping is a constant learning activity. I learn new things with each talk I hear, each website I visit, and each book or article that I read. The more you learn, the less likely you are to make rookie mistakes.
I went bottomless in the bee yard last season. And I liked it. But first, here’s why. I kept noticing that my foundationless frames were being drawn out nicely on the top (of course), and the sides, but a space was always being left straight across the bottom without attaching to the bottom bar. This didn’t really bother me for any other reason than that it just seemed like a waste of space. The bottom bar just kind of “existed” there serving no real purpose (at least for me). So I decided to leave the bottom bar off of about a dozen frames to see what would happen.
The few people I mentioned my “experiment” to warned me of the impending doom to come in the form of attachments to lower frames, and in one case, possible loss of vision and death. But I soldiered on. This was the result:
I only took a picture of one frame because they all looked virtually identical. Not one attachment to a frame below. I’m not saying they will never attach it, but so far they have not. So here are a few reasons I’ll be going bottomless for the most part from here on out:
On each frame, the bees now have about an extra inch of space to build comb downward. Multiply that by ten frames, and its like an extra frame in every box for brood or honey.
With each bottomless frame, there are now four fewer surfaces for beetles, mites, moths, or yellow jackets to walk around on and for the bees to protect. Again, multiply that by frames in your box.
It takes half the time to put together bottomless frames.
I can’t think of any downsides for the bees, only the beekeeper (if any). Topbar hive beekeepers have been doing it forever. If you’ve already done this in a Langstroth, or can think of any downsides to bottomless frames, please comment below.
It’s bee season again! As your going through your hives, you may notice they are putting on queen cells. There are three types of cells you will see: Swarm Cells, Superscedure Cells, or Emergency Cells.
The swarm cell is typically the one you will see. This type cell is an indicator that your hive is preparing to swarm. The beehive is a super organism, and bees are eusocial. This means that each individual bee can not survive on its own for very long. Superorganisms reproduce in different ways. Honey Bees do this by swarming. They will raise a new queen, and after that queen hatches, the old queen and a number of the worker bees will leave the current hive in search of a new home. Swarm cells are typically located on the bottom of frames or around the edges. There can be several in a hive at one time.
Supersedure cells are different. These are made to replace an existing queen. Sometimes the hive views the queen as inferior. There are many reasons for this. I have had hives do it when I put in marked or clipped queens. Sometimes they do it when the think she is not laying enough brood, or is not mated properly. These cells can be anywhere on the face of the frame. Typically there are 1-3 at a time. There has been some debate over whether the workers put the eggs in, or if the current queen lays in the cell cup.
Emergency cells are easy to spot. They are made in the absence of a queen. The worker bees realize there is no queen within an hour. They respond by selecting a couple of eggs that are the correct age. The reform the wax around that egg into a queen cell. These cells can be anywhere on the frame, and are usually somewhat recessed into the frame. There is some debate over the quality of these queens. However, I have had some good success with emergency queens. I raise some of my own queens, and when the season is over I purchase them. However, sometimes a quality queen from a reputable source is not available. So I let thousands of years of evolution do what it has learned to do.
Recognizing what type of queen cells are in your hive can help you to make decisions about your hive. Sometimes it can mean the difference in whether or not you loose the hive. If you are new to beekeeping, and are unsure, ask your mentor, or take a picture and send it to another beekeeper to find out what’s going on.
Remember, swarm cells are a great time to make increase. If you have a good supply of brood, honey, pollen, and bees you can make at least one split with a swarm cell.
One of characteristics that distinguishes inexperienced and experienced beekeepers is the time taken finding the queen. Generally an experienced beekeeper will be much, much faster. Not every time – anyone can have a good day or a bad day – but on average.
An inexperienced beekeeper will carefully scrutinise every frame, turning it end over end with the half-way rotation they were taught during the midwinter beekeeping beginners course they attended. They’ll examine the end bars and the bottom bar. They’ll look again at either side of the frame and will then slowly return it to the box.
The experienced beekeeper will gently open the hive and lift out the dummy board and the adjacent frame. They’ll look across the remaining seams of bees before splitting them somewhere in the middle. They’ll lift out the frame on the nearside of the split and expect to find the queen on it or on the frame on the far side of the split.
And they usually do.
No, experience. And not necessarily in actually spotting the queen. Mostly this experience is in better handling of the colony in a way that maximises the chances of seeing the queen.
In the couple of paragraphs above I hinted at these differences. The beginner goes through the entire brood box thoroughly. The experienced beekeeper ‘cuts to the chase’ and splits the box at or near the middle of the brood nest.
The beginner takes time over the scrutiny of every frame. The time taken by the beginner – probably coupled with additional smoking of the hive – disturbs the colony. Disturbance results in the bees becoming agitated, which causes the beginner to give them a couple more puffs of smoke … all of which unsettles the colony (and the queen) further. Ad infinitum.
In contrast, the experienced beekeeper only bothers with the frames on which the queen is most likely to be present. The experienced beekeepers is quick, as gentle as possible and causes as little disturbance as possible … and probably uses only a small amount of smoke.
Focus where needed, skip the rest
With minimal disturbance the queen will be in or around the brood nest. She’ll almost certainly be on a frame with eggs, young larvae and ‘polished’ cells. Polished cells are those that have been prepared by the workers ready for the queen to lay in. They usually have a distinctive shiny appearance to the inner walls; this is particularly easy to see if the comb is old and dark.
There’s little chance the (undisturbed) queen will be on sealed brood and even less chance she’ll be wandering around on frames of stores. All that time taken by the beginner examining a frame of sealed stores contributes to the disturbance of the colony and reduces the likelihood of the queen being where she should be.
The experienced beekeeper splits the box at or near where s/he expects to find eggs and very young brood. There’s probably only a couple of frames in the box that are at the right stage and it’s experience – of the concentration of bees in the seams and the behaviour of those bees – that allows most of the other frames to be safely ignored.
Reassuring but unnecessary
The reality is that, during routine inspections, finding the queen is not necessary. The only times you have to find her is when you’re going to manipulate the hive or colony in a way that necessitates knowing where the queen is e.g. an artificial swarm or vertical split.
The rest of the time it’s sufficient to just look for the evidence that the queen is present. The first of these is the general temperament of the colony. Queenless colonies are usually less well tempered. However, this isn’t alone a dependable sign as lots of other things can change the temper of the colony for the worse e.g. the weather or a strong nectar flow stopping.
The key thing to look for is the presence of eggs in the colony. If they are seen the queen must have been present within the last 3 days. In addition, the orientation of the eggs – standing near vertically or lying more horizontally – can provide more accurate timing. Eggs start vertical and end horizontal over the three days before they hatch. This is usually sufficient evidence that the queen is present.
Of course, just finding eggs isn’t sufficient evidence that the colony isn’t thinking of swarming. To determine that there are other things to check for e.g. the rate at which eggs are being laid and the presence or absence of queen cells, but I’ll deal with these in more detail some other time.
If you still feel the need to see the queen on every inspection my advice is to stop looking for her … at least consciously. Instead, concentrate on what really matters. Look for the evidence that the colony is queenright, by comparison with your notes work out whether the queen is laying more or less than at the last inspection, observe the laying pattern and look for signs of brood diseases.
By doing this you’ll predominantly be concentrating on the frames the queen is most likely to be on anyway. By doing this with minimal disruption to the colony the queen should remain undisturbed. Instead of running around frantically she’ll be calmly seeking out polished cells to lay eggs in. Therefore your chances of finding the queen are increased.
Observe the behaviour of bees to other bees on the frame – not by staring at every bee, but by quickly scanning for normal and unusual behaviour. Get used to the rate they walk about on the frames, their pattern of movement and how closely they approach each other.
When undisturbed, the queen is the one that looks out of place. She’s bigger of course, she walks about with more purpose and often more slowly than other bees. The workers make way for her, often parting as she approaches and closing up again as she passes. She may stop regularly to inspect cells or to lay eggs. Bees may be more attentive to her than to other bees. She’s the odd one out.
If you’re intent on finding the queen, stop searching and start seeing.
It’s been a while since I made a stir-fry. I kept telling myself I didn’t have time to make one… if you have ever made a stir-fry you will know how absolutely ridiculous that statement is. There is generally a lot of chopping involved in a stir-fry, but the cooking takes mere minutes. This recipe doesn’t even involve much chopping, so it’s super-quick.
The paprika, ginger and honey do a sexy little dance on your tastebuds, it’s a bit like sweet ‘n’ sour but not quite – however you care to define it, it is absolutely delicious. It works all by itself with some flatbread as a starter, or you can cook up some Basmati rice and it makes a great evening meal. I made this with Basmati rice with butter and lemon, I cannot begin to tell you how well they go together.
RECIPE – serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course
4 tbsp olive oil
3 banana shallots, finely chopped
1 long green chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
3 fat cloves of garlic, finely sliced
a big thumb of ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp paprika
250g peeled raw tiger prawns
250g large tiger prawns, shell on
the juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp runny honey
the zest of half a lemon
a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
lemon wedges, to serve
First, prepare all your ingredients, this cooks quickly so you need to have everything to hand.
In a large pan or wok, melt the butter with the oil and when it is hot fry the shallots for a couple of minutes until translucent.
Add the chilli, garlic and ginger and cook for a further couple of minutes, then add the paprika, stir thoroughly then add all the prawns. Stir-fry over a medium heat – adding the lemon juice part-way through – for a few minutes until the prawns are just pink, they will cook on so take them off the heat sooner rather than later.
Once you have taken the wok off the heat, add the honey to glaze the prawns, stir well then add the lemon zest and parsley, then adjust the seasoning and take it to the table.
In prehistoric times there was no sugar. Sweetness was only to be found in fruits and berries–with one gleaming exception. Pre-agricultural humans were obsessed with hunting honey (in fact there are rock paintings from 15,000 years ago showing humans robbing honey from wild bees). The golden food made by bees from pollen and nectar of flowers was not merely delectable: honey is antiseptic and was used as a medicine or preservative. The wax was also valued for numerous artistic, magical, medicinal, sealing, and manufacturing purposes.
But wild bees were hard to find and capable of protecting themselves with their fearsome stinging abilities. One of the most useful early forms of agriculture was therefore beekeeping. The first records we have of domesticated bees come from ancient Egypt. An illustration on the walls of the sun temple of Nyuserre Ini (from the 5th Dynasty, circa 2422 BC) shows…
Well, I’d never seen one of these before. There it was outside the walled garden at Attingham Park, one of Shropshire’s grandest historic houses. Closer inspection and the spotting of an information panel inside one of the half-moon ‘windows’ yielded the knowledge that it was in fact the bees knees in accommodation – a grand house commissioned specially for the Second Duke of Berwick’s bees.
The house was originally sited in the Duke’s extensive orchards to encourage the pollination of the fruit trees. Behind each opening there would have been a traditional hive or skep – an upturned, domed basket made from coils of straw. This apian ‘des res’ apparently dates from the early 1800s and is only one of two known Regency examples in the country. The great landscape designer Humphry Repton and architect John Nash were both employed at Attingham around this time, and so either one could be responsible for the design.
The hall and park are in the care of the National Trust, and it is currently one of their most visited properties – over 400,000 visitors last year and growing. Millions have been spent on the house, and the next huge project is the recreation of Lord Berwick’s pleasure grounds. Nor have the bees been forgotten. There are a quarter of a million honey bees in the Park, and the Trust has recently established a large, new apiary in the Deer Park. There is also a National Observation Hive in the orchard where you can watch the bees coming and going. Attingham honey may be going on sale soon. So a big cheer to the National Trust for championing the bee cause, this in the face of determined eradication of the species by the Big Unfriendly Pesticide Giants. We’ll all be very sorry if bees become ‘a thing of the past’.
The walled garden in winter: a restoration project in progress. You can just glimpse the orchard beyond the far wall.
I’m such a huge fan of seasonal cooking, and never more so than in Autumn. Figs are in season for such a short time, but I think they may be the most beautiful fruit in existence – slicing through the dusky, purple-velvet exterior to reveal the vibrant reds and pinks inside genuinely excites me. Perhaps I need to get out more, but I challenge anyone to tell me they aren’t something special.
This recipe is a simple one, and makes for a great pudding or an indulgent breakfast. You can adapt it to whatever you fancy – for a dessert, you could switch the yoghurt for a rich vanilla ice cream, and add a nut brittle if you’re feeling adventurous.
It’s the middle of the night, you’ve driven miles outside of town. You’re a nomad, traveling around the country, staying out of the public eye. Out of sight, out of mind. This is how Dan Wyns (a faculty research assistant and ex-commercial beekeeper) describes the reality of beekeeping: a merging of agriculture and science. “Part farmer, part carpenter, part biologist, part machine operator.” He explains. This image sparks the imagination, but this is not what many people think of when they think beekeeper. This idea is not what has caused an undeniable spike in hobbyist beekeepers in recent years.
Within the last decade, media has latched onto bees, creating a story about the extinction of bees. One fascination is Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, which was spotted around 2006, and quickly made the news. These sudden reports put bees in the spotlight, and this spotlight inspired average people; there’s nothing like a sob story to get people to take interest in an issue, and this interest soon became a trend. Bill Catherall is just one example of someone who was captivated by the news, which was one of the motivations for him to begin beekeeping in 2012. Catherall is now the president of the Portland Urban Beekeepers, an organization that aims to support both honeybees and native bees in the Portland, Oregon area. Catherall is only one of many that can confirm the sudden spike in beekeepers, “Portland beekeeping is exploding, our club almost doubles in size every year. A lot more people are in it to save the bee.” This is where many beekeepers begin: by joining local clubs, and caring for a single hive, of up to 80,000 bees .
There are three types of beekeeper: the hobbyist beekeeper, the semi-commercial beekeeper and the commercial beekeeper. Beekeepers are sorted by size and agenda, not skill level. In fact, there is a wide range of skill levels across all types of beekeeping. Commercial beekeepers keep bees as a job, this is how they make their living. According to Wyns, commercial beekeepers are also the smallest group there are only 2,000 commercial beekeepers, but, they keep thousands of hives and are responsible for about one-third of food production. The hobbyist beekeeper, or the small-scale beekeeper, keep bees as pets in their backyard. They have a small number of hives for personal enjoyment, and nothing else. This is the most common group, and the group that was inspired by the media to take up beekeeping. Semi-commercial or sideliners, fall into the middle and keep several hundred hives. At this level beekeeping is more than just a hobby, often semi-commercial beekeepers do make some money off of their bees, but they do not depend on it.
So, news teams caught wind of the struggles that were being faced primarily by commercial beekeeping , the public read these stories and became worried. This prompted individuals to begin keeping bees, and the pendulum swung upwards. But the media may have deceived us all. Dr. Michael Burgett, professor emeritus and published entomologist disagrees with the media’s claims, pointing out that “The death of large numbers of bees in an area didn’t start in 2006, there have been lots of instances in the past where large numbers of bees have died.” Dr. Burgett also pointed out that Aristotle wrote about the subject of bee die-outs and diseases 2,000 years ago, bringing to light that this is neither a new, nor surprising phenomenon, in his opinion. Bees have always bee important enough to pay attention to, and now is no different.
Overtime beekeeping has become an essential part of human life, even if you do not keep bees yourself, the pollination industry is a $15 billion industry (in 2000) in America alone  it is responsible for 35% of the food that we consume daily . According to Burgett, it’s not a beekeeping industry, its industries: the pollination industry, and the hobbyist industry. Because of the importance, and size of the pollination industry, this is where the news is focusing, but the media does not understand how this industry works. Pollination is done on a contract basis. Farmers hire hives from commercial beekeepers all around the country. Each hive cost about $50, and stays in the crop from 3 weeks to 2 months, depending on the need of the crop. Every year the bees begin their journey in the almonds in California. In late January, about 2 million beehives are shipped from all over America to California for almond pollination. All commercial hives are fed syrup and protein pellets to give them the energy that they need to begin pollination after the winter. After the almonds, bees are driven around the country on palettes to pollinate tree fruits, then blueberries, then vegetable crops, and so on until September, when there is nothing else to pollinate. At this point, the bees are fed more syrup and protein pellets, the hives are inspected, and treated if needed. This is to prepare to the bees for winter, the hives will sit until they are needed for pollination again, and the bees will stay inside the hive to keep warm, and eat reserves.
Because of the reality of commercial pollinators trucking their bees around the country, feeding them syrup, and keeping them from sickness with the use of chemicals, it is easy to see how one could blame the pollination industry for the sudden decline in bees. But this is not the case. While commercial beekeepers are losing more hives by sheer numbers, hobbyist beekeepers lose more hives by percentage. Burgett emphasized how the success of a beekeeper depends on their experience. “Commercial beekeepers cannot afford to lose hives, so they have a higher learning curve.” He says, “I have no worry whatsoever about the extinction of honeybees. I have no worry whatsoever about the extinction of commercial beekeeping. Simply because the need is so great.”
There is a misconception that you can stick a beehive in your backyard, and have honey “on tap.” This is what Catherall first thought when he had the initial idea to begin beekeeping. Then he began doing research, during this time he was fascinated by bee biology, saying, “The honeybee biology is really exciting and interesting, because they are such a weird insect, they behave in ways that we don’t find normal, or natural.” Honey bees are eusocial, meaning that they have a complex social structure. Only a handful of animals share this type of complex hierarchy in their daily lives.
The honey bee hive is run entirely by female bees, which are sorted into subcategories: the queen, and the workers. Each worker has their own role, some collect pollen, some care for the brood (the larval stage in the bee life cycle), some make honey, and so on. Every worker in the hive is controlled by the queen, who emits pheromones which allows the hive to work as a single unit. Her pheromones control the workers mood, and makes the workers unable to reproduce. The queen has one other job: to lay eggs. Without a queen, the hive will slowly die off because the workers have a lifecycle of 2 to 8 weeks, while a queen can live for years. Every bee in the colony is a daughter of the queen bee, and every bee is related to her. Genetic diversity in the hive, and in bees is entirely related to queen bees.
In 1621 the European honey bee was brought to the colonies in Virginia by settlers to aid with food production. In Europe the honey bee was already an important part of the economy . This was the beginning of the genetic diversity bottleneck. Because the European honey bee is not native, and the only means of getting honey bees to the New World was by boat, not many hives were brought over. By 1856 bees were in every part of the United States . Soon after, the importation of honey bees into America was banned. The millions of beehives that are in America today are products of the hives initially brought over from Europe.
When a queen bee is created she must go and breed with male bees or drones in order to birth workers. The queen leaves the hive once in her life, and mates with many drones as she can store the sperm for later use . After, she returns to the hive and begins to lay eggs. Unfortunately, most queen bees are only at their prime for the first year or two, then they begin to lay less eggs; for this reason, many commercial beekeepers will “re-queen” the hive yearly. To do this, they buy a new, already mated queen from a supplier, and squish the old queen. This may sound harsh, but a hive cannot have two queens, because the bees are loyal to their queen, they will kill any new queen that enters. Next, the new queen is added to the hive in a cage, and the bees get used to her scent, and will accept her. They will only accept her if the old queen is gone, the new queen is then released into the hive to live her life for the next year.
Commercial beekeepers rarely breed queens, this is often done by an outside company. There are several problems with queen breeding that is leading to a problem in genetic diversity. Firstly, in the wild, a queen bee will lay 2 to 3 eggs that will become queens, but a breeder will create up to 5,000 queens from one mother bee. Catherall puts the largest problem best, “The genetics that are found in the breeders are very tight, there are about four or five different mothers, and that’s all. But in the wild, feral populations, there is a lot more diversity, in fact the genetics in the wild populations are different than the ones in the commercial population; showing that they are not interbreeding.” Because all of the genetics in bees are so close, commercial beekeepers could easily run into problems. Should a disease come to your hive, your bees genetics are so similar, that one thing could easily wipe out your business.Genetic diversity is the key to the survival of the species, and more genetics lead to stronger, healthier hives now and in the future . Genetically diverse colonies are stronger foragers, thus creating more food storage for the winter, and the ability to grow their populations, and swarm faster and more easily . Genetic diversity also leads to a boost in fitness, and thus higher survival rates for over-wintering. The more people keep bees, the more opportunity there is for genetic diversity, luckily, bees can be kept in almost every space imaginable.
In 2014, about 1,500 people kept bees in the city of London. Camilla Goddard was one of the first, she began beekeeping in the city around 2005. The beginning was rocky, as she struggled to find place where her bees would not be disturbed. But when beekeeping became fashionable, the city of London was just one city that embraced the trend, and began keeping bees within it’s walls . Wyns says, “It is definitely possible, in a lot of ways urban bees potentially can do a lot better than bees in agriculture. Because of the diversity, everybody has their flowers and vegetables, even in real true urban areas, inevitably there are flowers and trees in city parks, and people have their verandas with a couple plants on it.” Because bees can fly several miles away from the hive, they will find the flowers. Not only are there many of diverse forage opportunities, but there are also less pesticides used in urban areas due to the close proximity to humans, and the lack of a monoculture.
“It’s in that vein of self-sustainability, grow your own food. It all fits together.” Says Wyns, who believes that monocultures, and big agricultural farming is a big cause of the current struggles that honey bees are facing. The pollination of urban areas is the opposite of monoculture.
Beekeepers agree that the current public interest in bees is a good thing. The more people who keep bees, the greater the opportunity that bees will outlive these problems . Hobbyists become very attached and protective of their bees, which is one way that this will help the bee population . Even if you’re not a beekeeper yourself, education and awareness is the key. People who begin beekeeping pay attention to the bees by planting more bee friendly flowers, and avoiding pesticides in their own gardens. There is no argument that European honey bees are facing more challenges than ever, but with the spotlight on bees, “the future looks rosy to tell the truth” says Burgett. There is more research, more interest, and more information about bees than ever before.
Wyns paints a picture of the future, saying, “It’s pretty cool to be standing on the rooftop of some giant building in the middle of a metropolitan area looking at the skyline playing with bees. I think that there’s potential there.”
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4. Mattila, Heather R., and Thomas D. Seeley. “Genetic Diversity in Honey Bee Colonies Enhances Productivity and Fitness.” Science 317.3836 (2007): 362-64.
5. Sammataro, Diana, and Jay Yoder. Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 2012. Print.
6. Shimanuki, H. “Beekeeping.” Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003. 436. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 1 May 2016.
7. Wilson-Rich, Noah, Kelly Allin, Andrea Quigley, and Norman L. Carreck. The Bee: A Natural History. Lewes: Ivy, 2014. Print.
Catherall, Bill. Interview. 14 May. 2016.
Burgett, Dr. Michael. Phone Interview. 18 May. 2016.
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? (Matthew 6:26)
Imagine the mathematics of a nectarivorous hummingbirds’ metabolism, as it busily accumulates food energy form flower nectar, as it visits one flower after another. The flowers are benefiting the high-energy hummingbird – yet the hummingbird itself, by pollinating one flower from another, is also benefiting the flowers, helping them to successfully reproduce. There is a balance in all of this.
“The rate at which such a flower supplies its nectar has to be carefully controlled [i.e., fine-tuned by God]. If the plant is miserly and produces very little [nectar], a bird [such as a hummingbird] will not find it worthwhile calling. If it is too generous, then the bird might be so satisfied after its visit that it will not hurry to seek more nectar elsewhere and so fail to deliver the pollen swiftly. Many [flowering] plants have arrived [i.e., have been made by God to arrive] at such a perfect compromise [i.e., mutualistic equilibrium] between these two extremes that the hummingbirds pollinating them are compelled to keep continuously active, rushing from one flower to another, getting just enough each time to fuel their high-energy flying equipment with just sufficient calories left over to make the trip [metabolically] profitable. At night, when they cannot see to fly and the flowers have closed, the birds have no alternative but to shut down all their systems [“torpor”], lower their body temperature and, in effect, hibernate until dawn.” [Quoting David Attenborough, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF PLANTS (Princeton University Press1995), page 119.]
In a recent article of the CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, wildlife biologist Kathy Reshetiloff stresses the importance of animals that pollinate plants: “Pollinators are nearly as important as sunlight, soil and water to the reproductive success of more than 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants. They are crucial to the production of most fruits, nuts and berries that people and wildlife depend on. More than 150 food crops in the United States depend on pollinators, including blueberries, apples, oranges, squash, tomatoes and almonds. Worldwide, there are more than 100,000 different animal species that pollinate plants. Insects [like bees] are the most common pollinators, but as many as 1,500 species of vertebrates [like bats] also help pollinate plants.”(1)
And truly, the role of pollinators is critically valuable for flowering plants to successfully produce the next generation.
Yet not all pollinators serve the same flowering plants, so pollination is another one of the countless examples of God’s variety. “Different types and colors of flowers attract specific pollinators. Hummingbirds are attracted to scarlet, orange, red or white tubular-shaped flowers with no distinct odors. Bats are attracted to dull white, green or purple flowers that emit strong, musty odors at night. Bees are attracted to bright white, yellow or blue flowers[,] and flowers with contrasting ultraviolet patterns that have fresh, mild or pleasant odors. Flies are attracted to green, white or cream flowers with little odor[,] or dark brown or purple flowers that have putrid odors. Butterflies are attracted to bright red and purple flowers with a faint but fresh odor. … Beetles are attracted to white or green flowers with odors ranging from none to strongly fruity or foul.” [Quoting biologist Kathy Reshetiloff.(1)] In other words, the “courier service” of pollination may be provided by bugs, bats, birds, or other beasts.(1),(2)
But what is “pollination” and how does it facilitate reproduction of flowering plants? “Pollination occurs when pollen grains [male gamete-bearing particles] from a flower’s male parts (anther) are moved to the female part (stigma) of the same species. Once on the stigma the pollen grain grows [i.e., extends] a tube that runs down the style of the [plant’s] ovary, where fertilization [i.e., joining of male and female gametes] occurs, producing [fertilized] seeds. Most plants depend on pollinators to move the pollen from one flower to the next, while others [i.e., other types of plants] rely on wind or water to move pollen.” [Quoting biologist Kathy Reshetiloff.(1),(3)]
All of this is wonderful information, but the obvious question remains – how does that fascinating process – that occurs daily around the world – fit the journal article’s title, “If You Like Plants, Bee Grateful for Pollinators This Month”? The information surely proves that we should appreciate the genius of the pollination process, as well as the variety of details that accompany it in its multitudinous applications, — but word “thankful” presumes that someone is due our gratitude, i.e., that we should express our appreciation for pollination to that someone who deserves to be thanked for arranging pollination to work, worldwide, as it does.
Yet Kathy Reshetiloff’s CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL article never mentions who should receive our thanksgiving, for the many magnificent and beneficial services that these pollinators provide. But are we really expected to “thank” the pollinators themselves – the hummingbirds, bats, bees, and beetles? (Doing that would be like ancient polytheism, although the pagan animism mythology of today’s anti-creationists usually goes by the Darwinist mantra “natural selection”.)
Obviously, we should be thankful for pollinators – especially if we like to eat on a regular basis! But the One Who is rightly due our gratitude should be rightly identified. Accordingly, there is “something wrong” with the “picture” portrayed in the above-quoted CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL article, because something most important is missing – in fact, it is the Someone Who is not mentioned, but Who should be: God, the author and sustainer of all pollination arrangements.
It is God Who feeds the birds (Matthew 6:26) — sometimes using the pollination process to do so, — and it is that same God Who feeds us, both physically and spiritually (Acts 14:17; Matthew 4:4).
Kathy Reshetiloff, “If You Like Plants, Bee Grateful for Pollinators This Month”, Chesapeake Bay Journal, 26(4):40 (June 2016).
“Most insects have a highly developed sense of smell, so they can be attracted by perfume. Many also have excellent vision. Their eyes, however, are very different from ours, being made up of a mosaic of several hundred tiny elements. Each of these receives a narrow beam of light and registers no more of it than its intensity, but all together they produce a complete if somewhat granular picture. And there is a further difference – in the perception of colour. At the red end of the spectrum, the insect eye is not as sensitive as ours. Most insects are unable to distinguish between red and black as we can. At the other end [of the spectrum], the blue end, they are very much more sensitive than we are and can detect ultra-violet colours that are totally invisible to us.” [Quoting David Attenborough, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF PLANTS (Princeton University Press, 1995), page 98.] Besides bugs, other pollinators include mammals, especially bats, — yet pollination is performed even by pygmy possums, lemurs, rock mice, and shrews [Attenborough, pages 121-124], and birds, such as hummingbirds, sunbirds, and honey-eaters [Attenborough, pages 114-121], and even reptiles, such as gecko lizards [Attenborough, pages 112-113].
“Wind is a very efficient transporter. It can take the tiny dray grains as high as 19,000 feet and carry them for three thousand miles or so away from their [plant] parents.” [Quoting David Attenborough, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF PLANTS (Princeton University Press, 1995), page 98.]
I remember my first bee order. I was excited and watched and read everything I could about installing bees into my hive. The one thing that I never even thought about was if the bees I would pick up were healthy. It wasn’t until I was on my way to pick them up that I started to wonder about what a healthy package should look like. I wasn’t really sure if I would be able to tell.
As I walked into the room with hundreds of boxes stacked on top of each other, the only thing I could think of, was that I wanted one with lots of bees and one with the screen secure and not leaking bees.
Here are the two packages that I chose:
Each package consisted of a screened wooden box, 1 can of sugar syrup, 1 queen cage with a mated queen, 3# of bees and a wooden lid. The amount of honey bees is dependent on what is ordered, typically it’s 2 or 3 pounds of bees.
There’s a few things you should look for, when you get your package, before you pay. Once you pay, they are yours, even if they die within the week. It is assumed that once they leave the beekeepers property it is in your hands to keep them alive and healthy:
Bees should be in a cluster, as seen in the picture above.
A few dead bees on the bottom is ok – you don’t want the package if there is a thick layer of dead bees on the bottom.
There should be more workers (female bees) than drones (male bees) – drones are just a drain on resources. Drones do no work within the hive and they feed on stored honey or get the nurse bees to feed them.
The screen on the box should be secure on all sides – bees flying around in your car is not always appreciated by your passengers.
Bees should not appear swollen – swollen bees can be an indication that you have sick bees.
Once you have picked up your bees you should immediately install your bees into their new hive. If you can’t:
Store them in a cool place
If weather is hot you can use a fan to lightly blow air through and around the cage – a sign of them being too hot is that they will no longer be in a cluster.
If too hot, you can mist with water or a weak sugar solution on the screen to help cool them off.
I hope this helps you to choose the right package.
~May all your wandering take you to many wonderful places.
I’ve noticed an increased interest in blog posts containing honey recipes. I share that interest. So, going forward I’ll make Saturday mornings, Honey Recipe Day! If you’re like many people the weekend gives you the opportunity to shop the market and experiment with recipes. Let’s see how this works. If you really enjoy honey recipes I also host a FaceBook Group dedicated to honey recipes titled, Raw Local Honey Recipes. Come visit!
Total Time 5 min
Prep 2 min, Cook 3 min
Yield 1 cup (120 calories)
Try this warming beverage for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, or as a pre-bedtime drink. The mix of spices—turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves—gives the drink a sweet flavor and the drinker a gentle, relaxing sensation. Honey and vanilla help sweeten this drink just a touch, so you can feel like you are drinking a latte.
Research on specific spices and their role in cancer prevention is still ongoing. Many studies find significant results when the spices are consumed in large amounts or doses. This can be hard to do in everyday life, and potentially dangerous, as large doses of spices may interact with certain medications.
Turmeric is one spice which has been extensively studied, with more than thousands of lab studies published over the past few decades. Clinical trials are currently examining the role that turmeric may have in cancer prevention. In general, use small amounts of spices in your cooking to enhance the flavor of your food (and drink) and provide some potential cancer preventing properties in the long run.
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/16 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup low-fat milk
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix together the spices in a small bowl and set aside.
Warm the milk on the stove top over medium heat.
Stir in the honey and vanilla and cook another 30 seconds. Add the spices, stir, and warm for another 30 seconds.
Pour into a mug and serve.
Ingredient Variations and Substitutions
Want even more heat to this spiced beverage? Add a few grinds of black pepper to the mixture for a subtle yet delicious extra spice.
To turn this warming beverage into a meal, stir in half a cup of rolled oats and simmer for 5 minutes. You will have a delicious spiced oatmeal breakfast full of soluble fiber, protein, and whole grain goodness.
Cooking and Serving Tips
To keep your spices fresh, purchase them in small sizes (this is especially important for spices that you do not use frequently) and label them with the date that you first open them. Toss any spices that have been sitting in your cabinet for more than one to two years. After a while, spices tend to lose their flavor or go rancid due to their high oil content. Store spices in a cool, dark area of the kitchen.
FIVE DIFFERENT PRODUCTS I MAKE FROM BEE HIVE CLEAN UP
As you can see above, there are five different products I make when I clean up my hive frames.
First, the ice cube tray is the collection of the dirty wax that are now formed up for firestarters we sell wrapped in cute ways for people who have wood stoves and want an easy storable firestarter. Remember, wax burns!! Second, is rendered wax we use and sell. This pile to the left will be melted down into blocks. Third, are the paper towels that were used in the oven to render the wax. This now becomes another form of firestarter that we also sell for survivalists who go into the back woods to camp. It stores very small in a pouch. Fourth, is honey that was extracted when I separated the wax. I did not show that step but inside my wax clean up jug was this honey and the wax around it was what I rendered out. Amazing right? Honey does not spoil if stored in a dry place. And, this honey has been incased in the wax from this falls harvest and thus is as pure as it can get. And, of course, the fifth product here is the calendula salve made from our own organic calendula, organic olive oil and our own organic bees wax.
How is that for a productive value added SET of products.
This is the wonder of nature and being resourceful.
For a beekeeper, queen cells can symbolize success and failure simultaneously. Personally, it’s one of my favorite things to find during a hive inspection. Something about opening up the hive and seeing multiple, healthy queen cells reminds me that our bees will, more often than not, do just fine without us.
There are three different “types” of queen cells –
Supercedure Cells – When the colony chooses to replace the existing queen. This usually indicates a problem with the previous queen – poor brood pattern, health problems, etc.
Swarm Cells – built when a colony is preparing to swarm. These queen cells are left behind when the colony leaves with the old queen.
Emergency Cells – These are made from existing eggs / larvae when something happens to the queen. This is how a hive naturally recovers from queen death.
Using Queen Cells to start a new colony can be a great way to utilize your apiary’s natural resources. You can carefully remove select queen cells and place them in the hive that needs a queen. This is best done on day 14 or 15.
One of the best resources for queen rearing that we’ve found online came from Glenn Apiaries – he’s got the best and most simplistic diagram so we’ve included that and the explanation he has along with it below:
Day 1 – Give breeder hive an empty dark brood comb to lay eggs in.
Day 4 – Transfer (graft) larva into artificial queen cell cups, from the breeder comb. Place the frame into a strong colony (cell builder) made queenless the day before.
Day 14 – Remove completed cells from cell builder. Leave one cell behind to replace the queen. Keep queen cells warm (80-94 F) until they are placed in queenless hives (mating nucs).
Day 22 – Virgin queens are ready to mate. They require nice weather (69 F), and an abundance of drones to mate with. A few colonies within a mile are adequate for providing drones for mating.
Day 27 – If queens mate without weather delay, they should now be laying eggs.
Weather delays in mating will add days to the process, after 3 weeks delay, virgin queens may start to lay unfertilized eggs.
Time your activities so that warm temperatures and drones are available when the queens are ready to mate.
Baby it is COLD outside and what better way to celebrate the cold then with a cup of hot chocolate. Here at The Honey Cottage we are not big fans of sugary hot chocolate! So here is my favorite recipe for honey hot chocolate!
-Four ounces of baker’s chocolate unsweetened
-about a 1/4 cup of honey
-5-6 cups of milk.
Take the baker’s chocolate and heat on low until it is melted; then add honey and mix until smooth. Slowly stir in a cup of milk at a time; this will keep the chocolate mixture from becoming chunky. I don’t let the mixture get to hot, just warm to keep the honey from cooking too much. I like 5 cups to this ratio, but you can add a cup more or less; depends on how chocolatey you want the hot chocolate to be. The best part is adding honey marshmallows or homemade honey whip cream on top. We like to pop some popcorn and watch movies. ENJOY AND STAY WARM!!!
Good weather broke out, finally, in July. This is news at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey here in Maple Falls Washington. The month of June gave us 5 days of sun, 5 days of overcast, and all the rest was rain. So when the sun started shining on July 4 (after 2 inches of rain on July 3) it was actually a cause for celebration – and the sign that I could return to painting bee boxes, tops, and bottom screens.
But that’s a bit dull to read about. Some musings, and studies, on what colors bee see would be a bit more interesting.
Honeybees Do Not See The Same Colors We Do
Bees get to see in the ultraviolet world. We can use photographic techniques to mimic that world, but all resulting colors are approximations of what a bee MIGHT see. (More photos by scientist-cameraman Bjorn Roslett can be found at his web site NaturFotograf.com (click on Infrared in the left side menu)
We can never see colors the way bees see them.
Bees see “primary colors” as blue, green and ultraviolet
They can distinguish yellow, orange, blue-green, violet, purple, as combinations of their three primary colors.
Humans see “primary colors” as red, blue, and green
We can distinguish about 60 other colors as combinations of our three primary colors.
Bear in mind that not all the studies agree on the exact colors or preferences bees see, but they all agree red is black
Some studies propose that honeybees see orange, yellow, and green as one color (green in that group surprised me). Blue, violet and purple are seen as a second color.
Ultraviolet being their third color.
Honeybees Do Not See Red
It’s not that they don’t get angry (as in “to see red”), but honeybees see the color red as black.
Their favorites are said by some to be: purple, then violet, then blue (which all look different to them). I could not find the study that came to this conclusion, but I like it, as my favorite colors are purple, violet, and then blue.
How Do We Know All This?
We don’t know it all; studies vary. However:
Bee’s color sense was partially demonstrated by Karl von Frisch. In 1915, he showed that bees could discern green, yellow, orange, blue, violet, and purple. He did this by using colored cards and bee feed. He imprinted the bees with the idea that feed could be found on a blue card, but not the other colors. When he removed the feed, the bees still went to the blue card. He then tried this with green, yellow, orange, violet, purple and red. The only color it did NOT work with was red.
In 1927, Professor A. Kuhn took the study of honeybees’ color sense further. He tested bees using the visible spectrum for humans, but also used longer and shorter wavelengths : the ultraviolet and infrared. The infrared was black to the bees, but ultraviolet was a color.
You CAN Try This At Home
A very nice PowerPoint presentation at this Link from the University of Nebraska, will walk you though an experiment on which colors in our visible spectrum honeybees can see. Sorry, there’s no test for ultraviolet.
Back To Painting Bee Gear
As you can see over time I have used purple (ok blue to them, but I like purple), yellow, orange, blue and green. It turns out this is helpful to the bees as it distinguishes their hive from the others in the yard. I did it because I thought the bee yards looked prettier with all the colors and red has never been a particular favorite of mine.
My most current bee hive top color choices of mariposa lily orange and forest green (the husband says it’s British Racing Green) came from long, diligent thought (kind of). The green was in the hayloft, left over painting trim on my house. The orange was last year’s color, and I had a bit left. That paint ran out before I was done with the tops and the Stockton’s Paints, my favorite paint store is an hours drive away (one way).
That’s my one tip on painting: if you are going to take the time to paint your bee gear, use good quality paint. Primer and two coats of color, just like a house. I’ve bee gear that I painted over a decade ago and it is still just fine, even in our 8 month rains.
That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls, Washington. It’s still bright and sunny, so I’m back to painting bee boxes…
What colors have you chosen for your hives? Why did you make those choices? I think the colors in a bee yard are one of the fun parts of beekeeping.
Language is fascinating, particularly the way in which it changes over time to incorporate new words, or old words used differently. In science this has important implications for understanding: semantics matter. With this in mind I’ve been curious about the alternative ways in which authors write the informal names of species. Scientific names (Genus species) should be fairly stable in their spelling and presentation (though not always, especially in the older literature); but “common” names of species vary widely geographically and temporally.
Here’s an example using Google’s Ngram Viewer which is a useful tool for tracking changes in word use over time. Different authors currently use the terms “honey bee” and “honeybee”, sometimes in the same publication. But as the image above shows. historical analysis suggests that “honey bee” is the more traditional term, and that “honeybee” only came into common usage from the start of the 20th century, and by the late 1920s had taken over “honey bee”.
Likewise “bumblebee” and “bumble bee”; despite “bumble bee” having a much earlier usage, “bumblebee” has dominated since the late 19th century:
It’s interesting to speculate about what might have caused these shifts in use, and it’s possible that in these examples it was the publication of especially influential books that used one term over another and influenced subsequent writers. Could make a good project for a student studying how use of language varies in different time periods.
For my own part I tend to prefer “honey bee” and “bumblebee”, but I can’t precisely articulate why; perhaps it’s because in Europe we talk about “the honey bee” as a single species (Apis mellifera) but not “the bumblebee” because there is usually more than one co-occurring Bombus species in a particular area. Do others have a particular preference?
When a friend of mine took up beekeeping this spring, I started keeping track of recipes that prominently feature honey. Given that my friend’s a bit of a pie guy, when Katya pointed out this recipe, I knew I had to try it. I received my first jar of Spiderdoodle Honey from Doug about a month ago, and while I’ve been enjoying it in my weekend coffee (and in honey-lemon-ginger teas while recovering from a cold), I hadn’t baked with it just yet. This weekend we went out for dinner to celebrate his birthday, so I figured it was the perfect occasion to bake him a pie.
I got a tiny bit creative with the crust, since the rest of the recipe was pretty straightforward. I keep seeing gorgeous pie crust designs various places on the web, and I’ve never tried anything fancier than a lattice. Since this didn’t have a top crust, the only place to play was the border, so I braided it.
It was easier than I thought, but you have to be really gentle with the strips of dough. Fortunately, the cream cheese pie dough from Rose is super forgiving – and I use nothing else for pastry, any more.
I haven’t quite hit perfect timing on partially pre-baked crusts, yet. You want it baked enough that it won’t get soggy when a wet filling is added, but not so baked that it burns during the second baking cycle.
Despite my careful watch, it got just a bit too dark in the first round. As a result, I actually partially cooked the filling in a pot on the stove, before putting it in the shell & back in the oven. I didn’t want it coming out with a burnt crust and under-done filling.
This is what it looked like straight out of the oven. At this point, it was still super jiggly, but given that it was still bubbling furiously, I figured the filling would still be cooking for a few minutes even after removal from the oven.
After it cooled, I sprinkled it with coarse sea salt. The recipe called for flake salt, which I couldn’t find, and I thought the crunch of the coarse salt would make a nice contrasting texture, which it did. The recipe also called for 1-2 tbsp of salt, but I just couldn’t bring myself to sprinkle on more than a few (large) pinches. The tasters said it was just the right amount of salt.
I’m not sure if I’d change anything if I were to make this again. Maybe throw in some raisins, like a giant butter tart. This is basically sugar pie (tarte au sucre), but with honey.
I ended up exchanging the pie for another jar of honey. Fair trade, I think! I want to try honey caramels, next!