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

Save The Bees, Part 2

save the bees in lights

“Save The Bees.” by NTLB North Texas Light Brigade.
Photo credit: Linda Cooke – via BEE STRONG and SCOUT BEE

Beautiful Beekeeping – I Was Framed!

My Buckfast bees refuse to build on easy-to-use, pre-assembled cheap plastic frames. I can’t say that I blame them.

So I spent the bulk of my weekend hand-crafting wooden frames with wired wax foundation. Thirty-eight of them!

Twenty-eight of the thirty-eight frames I built this weekend

Twenty-eight of the thirty-eight frames I built this weekend

When I bought my first hive almost a decade ago, I had the option of having it assembled or assembling it myself. The difference was $60.00. In an uncharacteristic fit of thriftiness, I chose self-assembly.

About $200 dollars worth of tools and countless woman-hours later, I had built my first bee hive, complete with frames!

I’m still proud of that accomplishment. I also learned a whole lot about the structure and function of every part of the hive.

Which is why I wasn’t daunted by the prospect of assembling thirty-eight frames from what looks like a bag of sticks and some sheets of wax.

Bag of sticks and sheets of wax...

Bag of sticks and sheets of wax…

Two of my three hives are now happy campers. The third hive is another story. They’ve rejected wax in favor of building their own digs.

Combs built from the hive cover

Combs built from the hive cover

The bees are happy even if I'm not...

The bees are happy even if I’m not…

I removed a frame from each hive box and placed comb between the spaces. I hope it works!!

In any event, I’m going to try going foundation-less in my next hive. The bees seem to really like building their own homestead.

I’m going to let my bees be bees!

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!
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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.

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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.

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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. 🙂

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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.

Beautiful Sunset

My postings have been scarce of late. Let’s just say that my personal life has taken a turn toward the unusual. Not bad, just different.

Today I was thinking of the Yeats’ poem Lake Isle of Innisfree:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

I yearn to escape to that peaceful glade, but my place is in the bustling world, at least for now.

But there is still beauty here. Some pictures of sunset…

A Few Things I Learned In London Yesterday

Portrait of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Well...

Portrait of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m dreadfully behind on my British beekeeping-related posts, but I swear I’m working on them! In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few things I learned in London yesterday…

1.  Unless you are the actual Duke of Wellington, you can’t get a drink in the Ritz Bar wearing wellies. And carrying a bee suit in a bag.   Jeans are okay though.

2.  The Maitre’ D at the Ritz is a lovely man. He gave me a warm invitation to return, provided I lose the wellies and the bee suit.

3.  If, by sheer obtuseness, you fail to pay the full bus fare, the bus driver does not stop the bus and throw you off.  He probably figures you are mentally deficient.

4.  If you go into the local Off Track Betting Shop, they happily give you bus change.  You don’t even have to bet on anything. They seem to find it very amusing.

5.  I speak a dialect of the English language that is very difficult for most people to understand. Especially when I’m asking for directions.

6.  Jet lag is real. Very real. Somehow I thought I could will it into submission. Nope!! I’m fine today though.

More later…

Why Do We Call Them Spelling Bees?

The expression “spelling bee” is circuitously related to the industry and sociability of the honey bee!

The term ‘bee’ has been used in the US to mean a ‘gathering’, either for work, pleasure or competition, since the mid 18th century. The first such usage was the term  ‘spinning-bee’, as in this example from The Boston Gazette, 1769:

“Last Thursday about twenty young Ladies met at the house of Mr. L. on purpose for a Spinning Match; (or what is called in the Country a Bee).”

“Gatherings” became “Bees” by quite a roundabout route. The Middle English word for a prayer was a ‘bene’, from which we derive words like ‘benefit’. This migrated to ‘boon’, with the meaning of ‘a favour granted’. The English Dialect Dictionary, 1905, records the country term ‘boon’ as meaning “voluntary help, given to a farmer by his neighbours, in time of harvest, haymaking, etc”.

Migrants from England to the US would have taken the term ‘boon’, which was also spelled ‘been’ or ‘bean’, with them. Communal activities were an essential ingredient of survival in frontier America and the word would certainly have been called on there.

The imagery of the social and industrious nature of  honey bees was sufficient to change the word ‘beens’ into ‘bees’.

Many of the activities where people congregated to undertake communal work became known as bees of one sort or another – ‘husking-bees’, ‘quilting-bees’, ‘barn-raising-bees’.

A less pleasant form of assembly was the hanging or lynching bee. A reference to such was made in The Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel in August 1874. The paper reported a story of an incident in Maysville, Indiana, in which a case of mistaken identity almost resulted in a lynching:

“And he came very near being the chief attraction at a Lynching Bee.”

However, the best-known ‘bee’, and the one that remains in common use, is the ‘spelling bee’. Such events were originally called simply ‘spelling-matches’ but, being social gatherings, they came to be referred to as ‘spelling-bees‘ by the early 19th century.

And we still call them spelling bees today!