Allergies and Honey

More confirmation that local honey can help alleviate allergies. The theory is that by eating a few spoonfuls of local honey each day for several months leading up to your pollen allergy season, you expose yourself to low doses of the allergens, allowing you body to habituate to them.

I’d mentioned this in a talk I gave at Ignite Seattle a few months back, and someone from the audience asked if he could have some of my honey to try it out. He just wrote me a few days ago:

that honey has been liquid gold to me!  I was pretty skeptical when you talked about how it can help with pollen allergies, but it’s now far enough into my allergy season that I’m absolutely confident that it helps.  A lot.  At least it does for me! … Thank You!!  This has made my summer so much easier to deal with, as compared to recent years. 

He was writing to ask if he could buy my honey. Partly because I’m a big believer in gift economies and partly because the amount of work I put into the bees would make its “real” price ridiculously expensive, I refuse to take money for the honey. I suggested that if he didn’t feel comfortable taking it for nothing, he should feel free to come up with something in exchange: a bottle of home brew beer, a tray of lasagna or perhaps a new design for my web site (which I desperately need). He came by tonight to pick up a jar, and now I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with in return.

Bee Sculpture, Part Next

(You’ll need to have read these two previous posts, in which I describe putting dolls into a bee hive in the hopes that they will form wax cells around them, for this to make any sense)

I decided the girls have had enough time sculpting their way around the figurines I added to their hive, so it was time to take them out. I wanted to make sure that the honey cells were capped (and thus wouldn’t crystallize and leak), which they weren’t last time. They’d been quite busy this past week, and I was fairly confident they’d done as much as they would do. Plus, I’m wicked impatient.

I think it came out beautifully. Because I placed the bride and groom in an empty slot where a frame would have been, they created a whole slot of comb freestanding, and I was able to cut it out virtually whole. I had a wooden box I picked up at a garage sale (or tag sale, as we used to say back on the East Coast) years ago in anticipation of some art project or other needing a wooden box, and it fit in perfectly. Just take a look:

Bee Scuplture 011 Bee Scuplture 025 Bee Scuplture 029
Bee Scuplture 036

So now what? I suppose I’ll display it in my living room, but I’d like to find a gallery show where I could display it with live bees (just for a night, then return them to their home, past their bedtime, but safe, of course). Ideas welcome.

On the strictly beekeeping front, it looks like I’m going to have a banner year for honey harvest. Hive 2 is doing great, they’ve filled four honey supers back breakingly full. Betterbee delivered twenty new medium frames and Michelle popped up to Beez Nees to pick up two medium super boxes, so I was ready to expand. The frames are the Pierco plastic frames, again (earlier posts on their use here and here), which I’ve had mixed success with so far. I think the reason I had trouble in the past was that the girls needed a place to put drone cells and the cell size doesn’t allow for that on the Pierco’s. Since these are honey frames, not brood frames, that shouldn’t be an issue. I got 10 white frames and 10 black frames. Not sure what the difference is, so I figured I’d experiment.

Bees tend to fill from the middle out and from the bottom up, but I had to fill in the spot where the sculpture was, so I played some re-arrange games with the frames as I built the hive back up. I’ve noticed that they tend to leave the outermost frame half empty, so slid a full frame into that spot on each of the boxes, and moved partially filled frames into the outer layers (but not the outermost).

On Hive 1, although they had completely filled one honey super, they hadn’t moved in to the second super I gave them last week at all. The frames remained undrawn except for one side of one of the innermost frames. I’d read that this might happen, so I tried swapping filled frames in from the lower super into the empty upper super to lure them up.

Hive 1 is still taking sugar water, Hive 2 is not.

A Thousand Bees at a Thousand Typewriters

My bee sculpture looks like it’s going to be a success. You may remember that I tried coating some objects in a light film of beeswax, then placed them into the bee hive to see if the bees would wrap their comb around the objects.

I went in over the weekend to check the progress and it looks like they’ve been very, very busy. As I’d hoped, they completely entombed the bride and groom figurine, the eyeball, the plumber and the message in a bottle in comb. Unfortunately, because of where I put the objects, it’s really hard to take pictures of. Trust me, it’s beautiful.

I’ve decided to wait a few weeks until the honey in the comb around the objects is capped, to avoid honey dripping out all over the place when I remove the objects and comb and mount them for display. Here are a few pictures in the meantime. The first two pictures are the “before” pictures (i.e., before I put them in the hive at all and after one week) and the others are from this weekend. Cool, neh?

Beekeeping 2281 Beekeeping 2316 Beekeeping 2432

Beekeeping 2440


As noted a few days ago, the girls did, indeed, swarm, and I was a bit upset I missed it. I mean, if you’re going to lose half your hive to a sudden mass migration, the least you can do is enjoy the show: a black cloud of tens of thousands of bees humming and zooming their way to a new home.

Don’t feel sorry for me to long, they swarmed twice!

Yeah, I didn’t really get it either. Maybe the first swarm was just a dry run and they went back, or maybe there were really two separate swarms (comments from more experience beekeepers welcome), but a couple days later, Michelle came hollering up the stairs that they were at it again. Behold, my backyard filled with bees:

Beekeeping 2351 Beekeeping 2349 Beekeeping 2353
(photos by Michelle, more on Flickr)


As I was home this time, I thought I might have a chance at catching them (though, like the barking dog who’s caught the car, I’m not sure what I would have done had I succeeded), but they never came low enough for me to do anything practical.

Here’s the quick cheat sheet on swarms: when a hive gets overcrowded or otherwise in the mood, they’ll pick a worker cell to feed extra royal jelly and make a second queen. One bright sunny day, that second queen will gather her belongings, along with ten or twenty thousand of her closest friends, and they stream out of the hive like a buzzing yellow and black fire hose. Eventually, they’ll settle somewhere in a thick mass while scouts go looking for a new home. If you can get at them at this stage, you can recapture them just by scooping them into a box (they’re very docile at this point, this can be done in shorts and t-shirt). Otherwise, when they’ve decided a new home, they’ll spread wing en masse and set out to build a new hive.

In past years, I’ve had some success in capturing such migrant hives. This year, however, no luck. They decided to settle for the scouting phase in a high branch of a tree, meaning there was not much else to do but crane my neck from my neighbor’s backyard, my cat fretting and mewling between my feet, and wait for the inevitable.

On the bright side, while over there, my neighbor Lesli offered me some of their delicious home made ginger ale. I got the recipe (based on a recipe here):

  • 2 liter plastic bottle
  • 3 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. granulated baking yeast
  • 1 cup sugar
  • water

Shake to dissolve sugar, let sit in warm place 2 days or until bottles get hard to squeeze. Put them in the fridge. Optional – Add some fresh lemon juice when it’s done.

Lesli adds “He makes a big deal about the grater – we just use a regular cheese grater. We don’t like it so fizzy, & just use 1/8 tsp yeast, let it sit just a day. We use more ginger too – maybe to make up for less sitting time.”

Yum. I wonder what it would taste like with honey substituted for sugar…


Michelle just called. One of the hives is swarming. I’m at work. Sigh.

Ants in Second Life

For anyone that was interested in the post about how hive mind’s work or the similary themed talk I gave at Foo Camp, you might be interested in this YouTube video someone’s created of an ant simulation in Second Life. In a nutshell, ants use a similar system to bees for communicating and make decisions as a group and it can be modeled mathematically. In this video, someone has created ant simulations in the massively multi-player reality simulation game Second Life and then recorded the results. Very cool, helpful narration.