Meanwhile, Back In The States…

Honeybees earn their keep at Dallas hotels, businesses

By MICHELLE PITCHER

mpitcher@dallasnews.com

Published: 03 July 2012 09:36 PM

Guests at several Dallas hotels and restaurants are beginning to discover what all the buzz is about.

Honeybees are among the long-term residents at the Fairmont Hotel on the edge of the Dallas Arts District. They also have taken up residence at several restaurants, including Bolsa in Oak Cliff, and they may soon get a sweet deal at the city-owned Omni Dallas Hotel downtown.

The bees are not unwelcome guests.

Placed there and maintained by the Texas Honeybee Guild, the bees represent the next step in the “hyperlocal sourcing” of ingredients among hotels and restaurants. For the Dallas-based guild, a conservationist group that highlights the role of honeybees in maintaining the environment, the hives are part of an urban conservation model.

Having bees on-site also helps the hosts enhance their status as eco-friendly companies, tapping into growing consumer interest in sustainability.

When the guild receives a call from North Texas residents with unwanted bees on their property, a team of beekeepers goes out to remove the hive. These bees are taken to willing residents or business owners.

Rescue hives

The guild has been placing rescue hives around the area for several years. There are colonies at grocery stores, in parks and on the roofs of restaurants like Bolsa, where they’ve been for more than two years, said manager Kyle Hilla.

Many businesses express interest in hosting a rescue colony, said Susan Pollard, co-founder of the guild. Dallas does not require permits to host beehives.

No colony is set up, however, unless the guild deems the location suitable for the honeybees based on space, stability and commitment from the host.

The Fairmont, part of a chain in which almost 20 locations nationwide host rescue colonies, was one of the first businesses in the Dallas area to adopt the model.

“The Fairmont offers a great place for this because [the company has] done it before,” Pollard said. “It was the first hotel we chose. We do different venues. Not a lot, just enough to let people know that bees can live among us.”

The guild gives half of the honey produced on the hotel’s property to the Fairmont to be used in its Pyramid Restaurant & Bar, and the other half is sold at farmers’ markets and organic stores. For the restaurant, it’s a convenient and cost-effective way to provide fresh, local ingredients to customers.

Chefs help out

No money changes hands and the guild keeps the skimpy profit from the honey sales, which is just enough to live on, according to Pollard and her husband, guild co-founder Brandon Pollard. Members of the guild regularly visit the sites to maintain the hives, with occasional help from the hotel or restaurant staff.

In the event of an accident, the guild has a $2 million liability insurance policy.

The chefs at the Fairmont, who also maintain the hotel’s vegetable garden, have become well-acquainted with the bees during their two-year stay. The honey is used in food and drinks in the restaurant and bar, and the culinary team works with the bees and provides support by moving the bees or extracting honey, according to executive sous chef Paul Peddle.

“Through the palate and presentation, our conservation effort is born,” Pollard said. “The chefs capture a different audience than we do at conservation centers.”

At the Fairmont, the hives are on the rooftop terrace, which also features the hotel’s vegetable garden and swimming area.

For guests at the Fairmont, the presence of the bees is often a surprise, as is the explanation that they are not pests. Since the bees are not contained in a secure habitat, guests can encounter them while strolling through the terrace gardens.

Fear of injury

The bees frequently leave the hive to collect pollen from the flowers, but they rarely stray far and are not within splashing distance of the pools.

Valerie Broussard, the W Austin’s chief “forager” and director of purchasing, is solidly behind the local sourcing movement. But she expressed concern about having bees on-site, fearing an increased risk of injury or that misconceptions about bees may make some guests uncomfortable.

However, the guild insists the safety of guests is not compromised by the bees, which will not approach guests unprovoked.

Katie Norwood, the Fairmont’s marketing manager, said business at the hotel has improved, in part because of its commitment to sustainability.

“I hope other businesses follow the example,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way to help the environment — even in an urban environment.”

Ed Netzhammer, general manager of the Omni, said the hotel is interested in hosting hives but has not finalized a deal. Executive chef Jason Weaver has been in contact with the guild since before the Omni opened in November. He said a deal will probably be completed in a matter of weeks.

The honey from the bees will be used in the hotel’s Texas Spice restaurant, one of only two restaurants in Dallas to receive a two-star green certification from the Green Restaurant Association.

“We use locally produced ingredients in our restaurant wherever we can,” Netzhammer said. “We like to make sure everything is hormone-free and humanely raised.”

Netzhammer sees the adoption of beehives as “a step in the right direction.”

There are several other hotels on the guild’s radar, Brandon Pollard said.

Last week, the Pollards attended a restaurant trade show in Dallas to boost interest in and awareness of locally sourced honey.

If the “planets align and conditions are perfect,” Brandon Pollard said, new deals are expected to go through within the year.

Are Defensive Bees Healthier?

Warning!  This is a totally unscientific proposition!

I’m wondering whether defensive bees are healthier than gentler strains.

This is based on my own (limited) experience.

I have two hives:  One very established Buckfast hive and one new Italian hive.

The Buckfast bees are defensive.  No question about it.  I treat them with respect.

But they are incredibly healthy.  I’ve had the same hive for four years, and it is bigger and stronger than ever.  I’ve never seen any evidence of disease.

On the other hand, my Italian bees are sweethearts.  I don’t even bother to smoke them for inspections. But they seem frail somehow.

I’ve seen larvae dumped on their landing board, and the colony isn’t building up as quickly as I’d hoped.  I’ve seen evidence of Varroa mites.

I’m considering taking a frame of Buckfast brood and putting it in the Italian hive.  Maybe the Italian hive will become more defensive.  But maybe that’s what it needs to survive.

I’d be interested to hear what others think about this!!

My Garden Hive – Third Inspection

The Garden Hive

It’s been three weeks since I hived my Italian bees. I was a bit concerned after my last inspection since I didn’t see any capped brood, and there were some queen cups at the top of the frames. Was Queen Maria Amalia laying eggs? Were my bees trying to replace her?

Queen Cups

I shouldn’t have worried. Today when I inspected the hive, there was an almost perfect brood pattern on four of the eight frames. There was also capped honey stores. The bees are coming along beautifully!

Capped Brood and Honey Stores

Next week I’ll remove the sugar syrup feeder, and my bees should have a good start on the summer!

The Garden Hive Groweth

I hived my Italian bees on Saturday, May 12, the day before Mother’s Day.

It’s been 11 days, and the bees have drawn out comb in 5 of the 8 frames.  I don’t like to crowd my bees, so it was time to add another medium super.

Before

After

I’ll add at least one more medium super, and probably two, to accommodate the growing colony. I would be surprised if I harvest any honey at all from this hive this year.

I did a very quick inspection and found Queen Cups along the top quarter of a few frames.

Queen Cup

This may or may not mean something.

Since the cups are at the top of the frames, their presence may mean that the workers are considering replacing Queen Maria Amalia. If they are, the Queen will lay an egg in the cup, and the workers will begin raising a new Queen.

The Queen Cup will then become a Queen Cell, which looks like a peanut.

Queen Cell

I’m not too worried about Queen Maria Amalia though. It’s not unusual for bees to make Queen Cups, and even Queen Cells, this time of year. Some beekeepers consider them a normal part of the “hive furniture.”

I won’t open the hive again until the weekend after next. It’s good to let the bees do their thing with as little disturbance as possible!

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!

Le Mie Nuove Api Sono Arrivati!

My new Italian bees have arrived! They are presently relaxing in my kitchen, waiting to be installed in their new home.
My Buckfast bees are fascinated by their new sisters. One of them insisted on coming inside with the package. She was very gentle and calm when I escorted her back outside via a paper towel. A big change from last week!
I am very happy with the white wicker table I found at Pier 1 to serve as a hive stand. It’s not only lovely, but it is made of woven plastic. I think the eau de nil colored hive will look wonderful on it. I’ll post pictures later this afternoon.
I’m waiting until my guys come to mow my grass before installation. I want my new girls to be as comfortable as possible in their new home, and I don’t think the sound of lawnmowers  and leaf blowers will assist in their transition!
My morning garden was beautiful!  I just had to take some pictures…