Save The Bees This Christmas

FYI, the wildly popular “Save the Bees” poster is available for purchase from Etsy. (http://www.etsy.com/shop/NiftyGnomes)
 
plant poster

My UK beekeeping friend Emily Heath let me know that another popular bee poster is available for purchase from Friends of the Earth (http://www.foeshop.co.uk/suppliers/stuart-gardiner) as a tea towel and and an apron. Just in time for Christmas giving!!

bee plant poster

bee_apron_600x600

Portrait Of The Blogger, Accompanied By Bees

As a rule, I avoid having my picture taken.

I am not photogenic.  My eyes are usually closed. I always have a look of impatient suffering on my face.

Plus, I agree with those remote jungle tribes people that a camera steals one’s soul. (In a few years, that will be scientifically proven.)

This past weekend I made an exception to my rule.  I let Loyal Yard Dude Alex take a bunch of pictures of me in my bee suit. Yes, really.

I’m a sight to behold.

No, I'm not really handling Plutonium...

No, I’m not really handling Plutonium…

Is there any garment less flattering than a bee suit? I don’t think so.

I volunteered to be a source for an article about women taking up pursuits outside their comfort zone. Theoretically, that was beekeeping. Truthfully, being photographed made me way more uncomfortable than the 10,000 or so bees I was handling.

And then the Loyal Yard Dude got stung on the forehead by one of the Mean Bees.

Just another Saturday on Columbia Parkway!  🙂

Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em – Secrets of Lighting a Bee Hive Smoker

This is a reblog from last year. Just in time for Bee Season!

The secret of lighting a bee hive smoker is burlap. Who knew?

When I first started beekeeping, I learned that you lit a smoker using a layer of newspaper, some twigs and some fuel such as baling twine or dry leaves.

First you light the newspaper, then add the twigs. After the twigs are on fire, you add the fuel, which catches on fire and makes the smoke.

Sounds easy, right? It wasn’t for me. I could never keep my smoker going for more than 10 or 15 minutes.

Then I found a post written by Karen Edmundson Bean of the Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey Blog.  She had the same problem. I wasn’t alone!

Karen learned from a fellow beekeeper that the secret to keeping a smoker lit is using burlap. That’s pretty much it!  No newspaper, no twigs. Just burlap.  For the details, see Karen’s post.

Commenters agreed with this advice:

MikeRoberts says:

I do a similar thing, but I just light the burlap directly (I get it from the local coffee roasters), get it going well, then stuff it down in there, give it a few more puffs, then add a handful of freshly pulled green grass on top. I’m told this makes the smoke cooler. Hasn’t failed on me yet ..

willowbatel says:

I use burlap in my smoker, because it’s cheap and easy, and stays lit for a long time. The key to getting it started is lighting it outside of the smoker and letting it burn for a little bit until there’s a large flame. I usually fold the burlap up loosely, and leave a little thin corner out to start the flame on. Once that corner is lit, turn the burlap so the flame is at the bottom, then put the whole mass into the smoker. Don’t force it all the way to the bottom of the smoker, because the flame almost definitely will go out, even if it acts like it won’t. I pump the bellows a few times, slowly, to get the flame really going. Once thick smoke starts coming out of the top, you can push the burlap a little farther down (do this on one side, not in the center, so the burlap gets a little more spread out) and then close the lid. I’d recommend a long stick or a pencil to shove the burlap down.
It takes a few tries before you figure it out, and even then, sometimes it just goes out. If you forget about it while your working and don’t pump it every so often, it’s very likely to go out. I’ve found this out the hard way dozens of times. For multiple hives you’ll definitely want to have multiple bunches of burlap ready for use. When I did my split I used one clump for the first hive, and then added the second clump before moving on. I had more smoke than I needed the whole time, and it kept the bees calmer as a result. The smoker was going so well that I rarely had to worry about it, because it was angled so that wind was constantly blowing in from the back and pushing the smoke over the hives/ through the clouds of bees. Working with the wind is an important thing!
So now I know the secret of successfully lighting a bee hive smoker!  I hope this helps some other beekeepers out there as well!
Related articles

My Bees Are In Their New Homes!

The New Hives

The New Hives

Well, for the most part. At least they’re around their new homes…

Even though my new bees arrived yesterday, I decided to wait until today to hive them because it got down to 28 degrees Farenheit last night.  The rest of this week (and with luck, the rest of this season!) is supposed to be above freezing.

I had plenty to do yesterday though, what with setting up the hives, gathering up all my equipment and putting the bees’ sugar syrup into quart glass jars with lids. That’s something new I came up with this year to make the syrup easier to handle.

One of the most important rules of beekeeping is to never leave sugar syrup out in the open around a hive, even for a minute. Sugar syrup attracts robbing insects of all kinds. I learned that the hard way. (Come to think of it, I’ve learned most everything about beekeeping the hard way…)

This year I loaded up a recyclable grocery bag with 4 quart jars of sugar syrup – easy to handle and hermetically sealed!

It was fun having the bees in my kitchen last night. They really do go to sleep. I made sure to turn off all the kitchen lights so they could have a good rest before Moving Day!

Today was perfect for installing a package. Temperature in the 50’s, no wind and partly cloudy. I’m more comfortable around my bees when I’m wearing a full bee suit, so the cooler the day, the better for me. Those bee suits are hot!

The bees still in the box will eventually make it into the hives by themselves.

The bees still in the box will eventually make it into the hives by themselves.

I would love to tell you that I was the picture of beekeeping professionalism. Not so much.

At least I didn’t hop around like I had St. Vitus’ Dance like I did the first time I installed a package. Oh, for a video of that performance!

But there are things I don’t remember until I start the installation process. Like how hard it is to get the frigging bee package open. And pry out the feeding can. And find the Queen cage. And jimmy out the cork at the end.

The frigging box should come with a handy hatchet to help open it!

The frigging box should come with a handy hatchet to help open it!

And get the frigging bees out of the box and into the hive. (I did what I usually do – just left the box there and let them move in by themselves. They’ll go anywhere the Queen is residing.)

And not squish too many. (Oh, the humanity!!)

It didn’t help that my back garden is slightly less steep than Mt. Everest and I put the new hives at the bottom.

The view down Mt. Everest...

The view down Mt. Everest…

The Mean Bees live at the top of the garden, and have clearly indicated that they don’t want any next door neighbors, even if they’re relatives.

The Mean Bees at the top of the garden

The Mean Bees at the top of the garden

But, all in all, a good day on Columbia Parkway!!

P.S. No, I didn’t get stung.  I usually don’t when hiving a package. My average is two stings per season, both while I am in the process of doing something stupid. 🙂

My New Bees Have Arrived!

My new Buckfast bees have arrived, all the way from Novasota, Texas!

Since about 9:30 this morning, I’ve had 20,000 bees in my kitchen, waiting for the weather to warm up a bit so they can move into their new homes.

001

Don’t worry, my Mean Bees are doing well. If anything, the cold winter weather perked them up. I’ll post some pictures of them later.

No, I’ve decided to add two more hives at the bottom of the garden.

004

After my unsuccessful foray with Italian bees last summer, I’m sticking with Buckfast bees. Some people don’t like them because they have a tendency to be a little, er, mean. (Hence the nickname for my big hive)

Not aggressive, mind you. Just feisty.

Which brings me to one of my many unscientific theories about beekeeping. Feisty bees do better.

This is based purely on my personal experience, which I’ll freely admit is limited. But it does seem to make sense, Darwinism-wise. Survival of the fittest and all.

Did you know Charles Darwin kept bees?  He did! I’ll bet he would agree with me.

Anyway, I’ll post more about the installation (later this afternoon. I have to buy the wine first…) and about Buckfast bees. Wish me luck. 🙂

005

Do Bees Get Grumpy?

Do bees have bad days? Do they get angry? Irritable? Even vindictive?

I don’t know any beekeeper who doubts that bees get grumpy. My bees don’t like wet weather or having their honey taken.

After my spring honey harvest, one extremely pissed off girl chased me for three days until she finally caught me and stung me under my eye. I looked like Popeye for a week.

According to the December 26, 2011 issue of Scientific American, some scientists now believe that bees actually do experience something resembling emotions.

Using simple behavioral tests, Melissa Bateson and her colleagues at Newcastle University in England showed that honeybees under stress tend to be pessimistic, a conclusion few beekeepers would dispute.

Another reason to let our bees be bees and do what they want to, not what we want them to do.

Italian Week – The Secret Of Lighting A Bee Hive Smoker

The secret of lighting a bee hive smoker is burlap. Who knew?

When I first started beekeeping, I learned that you lit a smoker using a layer of newspaper, some twigs and some fuel such as baling twine or dry leaves.

First you light the newspaper, then add the twigs. After the twigs are on fire, you add the fuel, which catches on fire and makes the smoke.

Sounds easy, right? It wasn’t for me. I could never keep my smoker going for more than 10 or 15 minutes.

Then I found a post written by Karen Edmundson Bean of the Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey Blog.  She had the same problem. I wasn’t alone!

Karen learned from a fellow beekeeper that the secret to keeping a smoker lit is using burlap. That’s pretty much it!  No newspaper, no twigs. Just burlap.  For the details, see Karen’s post, which I reblogged here yesterday.

Commenters agreed with this advice:

MikeRoberts says:

I do a similar thing, but I just light the burlap directly (I get it from the local coffee roasters), get it going well, then stuff it down in there, give it a few more puffs, then add a handful of freshly pulled green grass on top. I’m told this makes the smoke cooler. Hasn’t failed on me yet ..

willowbatel says:

I use burlap in my smoker, because it’s cheap and easy, and stays lit for a long time. The key to getting it started is lighting it outside of the smoker and letting it burn for a little bit until there’s a large flame. I usually fold the burlap up loosely, and leave a little thin corner out to start the flame on. Once that corner is lit, turn the burlap so the flame is at the bottom, then put the whole mass into the smoker. Don’t force it all the way to the bottom of the smoker, because the flame almost definitely will go out, even if it acts like it won’t. I pump the bellows a few times, slowly, to get the flame really going. Once thick smoke starts coming out of the top, you can push the burlap a little farther down (do this on one side, not in the center, so the burlap gets a little more spread out) and then close the lid. I’d recommend a long stick or a pencil to shove the burlap down.
It takes a few tries before you figure it out, and even then, sometimes it just goes out. If you forget about it while your working and don’t pump it every so often, it’s very likely to go out. I’ve found this out the hard way dozens of times. For multiple hives you’ll definitely want to have multiple bunches of burlap ready for use. When I did my split I used one clump for the first hive, and then added the second clump before moving on. I had more smoke than I needed the whole time, and it kept the bees calmer as a result. The smoker was going so well that I rarely had to worry about it, because it was angled so that wind was constantly blowing in from the back and pushing the smoke over the hives/ through the clouds of bees. Working with the wind is an important thing!
So now I know the secret of successfully lighting a bee hive smoker!  I hope this helps some other beekeepers out there as well!

Italian Week – Checking Out My Italian Girls

Beekeeping is so much fun!!

I opened the hive today primarily to retrieve the Queen cage and to see if the girls needed feeding.

I am the worst bee-smoker-lighter ever!!  I swear I followed instructions to the letter, but my smoke petered out after about five minutes.  So, except for a puff or two, I opened an unsmoked hive. The girls were as calm as, well,… really calm bees.  🙂

There are some guys doing construction work at my next-door neighbor’s house. When they saw me in my bee regalia, they expressed concern that I was going to “rile them up.”

When I offered the guys some honey (bad choice of words!!) and assured them the bees were going to be happier when fed, they calmed down too.

I couldn’t find Queen Maria Amalia, but I’m sure she’s there because the bees seem so happy.

They’ve drawn out a few frames of comb, but I don’t think I’m going to open the hive again for a week or so. I’ll just check to see if they need sugar syrup. They did need some today.

More later!!

P.S. I’m going to post on the proper way to light a smoker. Maybe I’ll learn something…

Bee Sanctuaries – Spikenard Farm

Situated in Floyd, VA in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Spikenard Farm and Honeybee Sanctuary aims to restore the health and vitality of the honeybee worldwide.

Since founding Spikenard Farm in 2006, Gunther Hauk and his wife Vivian have been actively spreading their vision of sustainable biodynamic beekeeping.

The Spikenard Honeybee Sanctuary provides on-site workshops, lectures, consulting and publications. This work is possible through the support of many foundations and individuals around the country.

Spikenard Farm and the Hauks have been featured in the movies Queen of the Sun and Vanishing of the Bees.

Here are some clips:

The Tao of Beekeeping

Before I launch into the topic of selecting a beautiful hive (or beautifying the ones you already have), I want to emphasize the fact that beekeeping doesn’t have to be difficult.

In fact, I personally think it’s better when you let the bees be bees. It’s certainly more fun!!

The multi-talented Bee Guru Michael Bush wrote a wonderful piece on The Tao of Beekeeping.  I don’t do everything he recommends, but I do a lot.

This past fall, I let my bees keep their honey.  I was busy writing my novel (not about bees) and it was easier for all of us.

Beekeeping can be beautiful, and it doesn’t have to make you crazy. It’s not supposed to.