Happy Keeping

Got this nice note from Alyssa (you may remember I gave her a tour of my hives and pointed her in the right direction for starting her own):

who knew larvae could be so thrilling!  i went out to check on the 
bees today (after reading enough books that i think i actually knew 
what i was looking for) and i was totally giddy, literally jumping up 
and down (which, granted, i always do when i get excited, which is 
why myles used to call me thumper, which everyone thought had a much 
more lascivious root,) at the sight of little larvae all snuggled up 
in their gooey beds!  and a completely full pattern of capped off 
little larvae hotels, enjoying the darkness before growth.  (i 
couldn’t help but picture japanese business men in their micro 
hotels, which seemed creepy and insect like, but it’s cute when 
they’re my bees.

and there was a bit of extra comb piled up where there was too much 
space between the frames, so we broke it off and all shared it, 
licking the honey off our our fingers.  such sweet temptation, 
insisting in patience……  but celia was overjoyed at eating our 
own honey – however immature.
a very good bee day indeed.

Left me with a happy grin.

Just One Word. Are You Listening? Plastics!

Danny came by late last week just as I was about to crack open the hives, so I pressed him into service as assistant beekeeper. The morning’s work involved adding some new frames to the hives, to give them some room to expand. Last time I was in, I had combined my dying Hive 2 with a new hive, so they already had two boxes going, but were a few frames short, and Hive 1 was entirely new with just one box going.

You start a hive off with just one box of frames, but as the queen lays eggs and they hatch, the hive population will increase and they need more room. A worker takes about 21 days to hatch (a drone takes 24 days but a queen only 16 days), and I hived these colonies at the beginning of April, so now’s a good time to start making some room.

Danny was a champ as the photo should clearly illustrate. That’s just a normal-sized bee close-up in front of his face, not an enormous monster alien zombie bee. The blur obscuring the comb in the bottom left of the picture is bee poop on my lens. This is the kind of stuff that we rugged nature photographers have to deal with.

I didn’t feel like making the drive up to Beez Neez, so I tried ordering my frames through Betterbee. Without quite realizing it, I ordered Pierco plastic frames. Normally, when you buy a frame, it’s a piece of wood with a thin layer of beeswax hung by thin wires in the middle of it. The bees build up wax cells on top of this foundation and fill it with their honey and eggs and pollen and other bee-like goodnesses. Plastic frames are the same deal, except with plastic instead of wax.

Well, not quite the same thing. As I read on the slip of paper at the bottom of the shipping container after installing the new frames, when installing plastic frames, I’m supposed to:


No, I’m not shouting at you, I’m quoting the instruction sheet. It’s in all caps. Bee equipment manufacturers have apparently not heard of the shift key.


Actually, you need the shift key to make a colon on a keyboard, otherwise you just get a semi-colon. So they probably heard of the shift key. Maybe their caps lock is broken.


There’s some additional (mixed case) info on the other side that goes roughly: “New Pierco Frames / Foundations can be inter-spersed with drawn comb. For best results run 10 Frames / Foundations in your standard 9 frame super. Insert three new Pierco Frames / Foundations in the 3, 5, & 7 positions, (you can go as many as 5 and 5).”

It goes on, but the gist of it is that I didn’t do what I was supposed to (for the umpeenth time). So, new plan: crack open the hives later this week and see what’s going on. If all is not well, spray with sugar water and intersperse the 3, 5, and 7th with the 9th 5 and 5 and. Wait, how’d it go again?

Maybe I better just stick to the all caps section.

Sonic Beem

 Got an e-mail from local artist and dorkbotter Joseph S. today, asking whether he could come over and mic my bees. He says he’s working on a musical project that needs bee sounds, did a search for Seattle-area beekeepers and turned up l’il ol’ me. Nice coincidence, as I’m a huge fan of Dorkbot, a techno-arts group that meets monthly to share their work and inspire each other.  The Seattle chapter is led by a committee headed up by Dork Overlord and fellow Hive-Minder Shelly Farnham. Their tag-line: “People Doing Strange Things With Electricity”.  Awesome.

Anyway, the mic’ing idea has me pretty excited. I was just thinking yesterday that while I often blog about the bee’s behaviors and post photos and videos, there’s a whole sensual side that you really have to be there to appreciate (no pun intended).

bee-gees The sound of the hive is one aspect. It varies depending on time of day and whether, but when it’s sunny and they’re active, there’s just the lightest hum in the air, punctuated by a huzz and suzz of incoming and outgoings passing close to your ear. If you pop the hive open, of course, the hum becomes a querulous buzz, almost like they’re tasting you with radar sound, knowing something’s changed, unsure whether it’s friend or foe.

Knock or bump the hive, and it’s a whole different story. As a single body, they all start a hewing roarish buzz, a call to arms. If you hear that sound and your bee suit isn’t tight, it’s time to take a step back. They’re angry, or frightened or just determined, and you will get stung.

If you’ve got a smoker or maybe a spray bottle of sugar water, now’s the time to lay it on. It’s like giving Benadryl to a crying baby, except faster. The menacing roar of the hive, the zapping buzzing of bees making kamikaze runs at your head suddenly melt away and you’re back to a low coo, no more fearsome than a burbling brook.  

The smell of the hive is something else again. I’ve got to think a bit on how to describe it. Another day.

Beecalypse Now

The word is out about the impending beecalypse, apparently. For a long time, anytime I told anyone I was a beekeeper, their first question would be “do you ever get stung?” In the past few weeks, however, this query has been eclipsed by a slightly more excited “The bees, they’re disappearing! Where are they going?”

Colony Collapse Disorder (previously covered on this blog in Don’t Answer!, Silent Spring, Stephen Hawking-style, Bee Phage and Bee Thieves and The End is Nigh), aka Vanishing Bee Syndrome, aka Marie Celeste Syndrome, has captured the public’s imagination (or perhaps it’s merely given bored people something more interesting to say to me then “do you ever get stung).

As a quick summary for those just joining us, CCD is a mysterious ailment that is making hives disappear across North America (up to 70% of hives in some places).  Some European beekeepers have said they seen it, as well, but it’s not clear whether that may not just be a case of glomming onto a high-profile name for a common occurence.

Given the questions, I thought it might be useful to give a quick summary of the theories that are out there and status.

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup: It ain’t good for you, it ain’t good for the bees. Beekeepers feed their hives sugar syrup or corn syrup to get them off to a good start in spring-time, when there their productivity may be limited by nectar supplies. There is some speculation that the same “bad nutrition” factors that make HFCR bad for humans may make it bad for bees. Probably true, but CCD has been seen in colonies not fed HFCS, so this is unlikely. For the record, I use cane sugar and water.
  • GMOs: They ain’t good for the environment, they ain’t good for the bees. The theory here is that something in the genetically modified crops isn’t sitting well with the bees. While there are a variety of suggestive studies, the meat of this assertion comes from the fact that GMOs are much more prevalent in the US then elsewhere in the world, and the US is where CCD has raised its head. I’m no fan of GMOs, but I’m also no fan of witch hunts. For the record, there are no genetically modified crops in my back yard.
  • Pesticides: They ain’t good, they just ain’t good. Bees eat flower nectar, flower nectar is covered in pesticides, pesticides are bad for you. Your honor, I rest my case. OK, not that simple, as pesticides have been around for a while, and we’re just now seeing a major die-off. However, there is some recent evidence that nicotine-based pesticides may be killing bees. Turns out that in addition to giving you that warm, relaxed feeling with a cup of coffee or after a romp in the hay, nicotine is what tobacco plants produce as a natural parasite repellent. Some companies took the hint and manufactured pesticides out of it. Other companies produced advertisements of puffy-lipped women holding it seductively. I don’t smoke.
  • Cell phones: Oh, relax people. Please don’t talk on your phone while you’re driving, but cell phones aren’t doing anything to the bees. Even the researchers behind the original story say so. And yes, I have a cell phone.
  • Carsickness: No, I’m not joking. Well, OK, a little. You see, big time beekeepers with hundreds of hives move them around by truck to orchards and farms, so they can pollinate the crops (farmers pay the beekeepers for the…servicing). Some think that all this moving around, getting locked into boxes and reorienting to a new place may be addling the little bees brains. Seems reasonable, except why would it be such a big deal now? No, I won’t bring my bees to your garden.
  • There’s a fungus among us: Nosema ceranae to be precise. N. Ceranae is a close relative of Nosema Apis, a well known fungus that is usually treated with the chemical fumagillin. According to the L.A. Times, N. Ceranae has been found in bees that appear to have died from CCD, but the researchers are hedging their bets: the results are “highly preliminary”.  It is “one of many pathogens” in the bees, “by itself, it is probably not the culprit … but it may be one of the key players.” I don’t use fumagillin on my bees.
  • Alien Zombie Superbees: Previously covered here. Aluminum hats required.
  • Bee Rapture: “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51–52). That. Except for bees.

That’s all, hope it was helpful. OK, not quite all. There was another theory offered by Etta Hulme, forwarded on to me by Joe Smith:

Missing Honeybee Mystery