Chinese Honey Laundering?

No, this isn’t an ethnic slur, I’m talking about the other kind of laundering, like money laundering.

Mike and I were chatting about feeding the bees sugar syrup over winter and how long to feed them in sugar syrup into the spring, when he mentioned something a bit surprising. The beginning beekeeping books typically recommend that you feed sugar syrup to the bees “until they stop taking it.” For me, this sometimes meant clear into July (although this past year, I got lazy pretty much right off the bat and didn’t feed them anything past the first gallon to get them established).

What that does, though, is give you honey that’s basically transformed sugar, rather than real nectar honey. Obvious, if you think about it. It surprised me to learn that that’s part of the reason that Chinese honey is so cheap: they’ll feed them buckets of sugar all the way through the season, so that the “clover” honey they sell is little more then lightly flavored, bee-processed sugar syrup.

Well, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, and a little bit of Google is even worse. Try Googling Chinese Honey, and your first two articles are:

“Oh, that’s not a problem, though, because I don’t buy Chinese honey,” you may be thinking? Well, it turns out that China accounts for over 40% of the world’s supply of honey and growing!

As if you didn’t have reason enough already, I implore you: buy local honey!

Harvest News and Free Bees

I headed up to Everett to pick up my extracted frames from Mike Doleshell on Sunday. My six full supers turned out 174 lbs of honey, just shy of 15 gallons: a fine, fine harvest, if I do say so m’self. (More info on the harvest process back here).

Mike was a bit late for our meeting, as he’s in the midst of his own harvest, and apparently fell off the side of his truck in the process of doing some loading. If his frequent winces and grimaces were anything to go by, he did himself a fair bit more damage than he wanted to let on. Thanks, Mike and heal!

Good egg that he is, though, he sat with me and answered all my questions, and the bits of wisdom so gathered, I’ll pass along:

Mite Control
It’s too late for me to add formic acid to control for mites. Formic acid is the stuff that ants produce, so considered safe and “organic”. Problem is, it’s heat dependent because it’s meant to evaporate into a gas, which is the way it works its magic on the mites. Sounds like I should have done that in late August / September, right after the harvest but before the cold set in.

He also related that a friend of his in North Carolina had good success with substituting his entire bottom board with a piece of 1/2″ hardware cloth stretched between a wooden rectangle. That means nothing solid on the bottom at all, just set the screened board on something over the ground and you’re good. I see the logic: the mites fall of the bees all the way to the ground and thus don’t make it back into the hive, but was surprised that having that big an opening for breeze to get in (the entire bottom board) would be OK.

I guess the bees just huddle for warmth and it doesn’t bother them (although you may not want to try this in Canada or northern Maine).

At first he thought I had a bad case of Nosema, from the stains on my frames, but when we established that I just didn’t scrape them from last year, he felt better about it. Not sure yet whether I’ll treat with that, as I really, really don’t like the idea of adding chemicals to the hive. If I do, it’s mixed in with sugar syrup and fed to them 2 tsp to a gallon.

Overwinter Supplies
I was unsure how much honey to leave in the hives over winter. Mike says rule of thumb is a full super / brood chamber’s worth. I left about half a super in each, so I figure I’ll have to feed them some sugar mid-winter sometime. I’ll check in on them around December / January and see how their stores are lasting.

Free Bees
Want a free hive of bees. A lady he knows wants to get rid of them. You can pick ’em up, they’re ready to go. Contact me and I’ll pass along her info.

Harvest News

I just spoke with Mike Doleshell, who’s taking care of extracting the honey from my hives for me. He says that I was right about having a good season, looks like we’ll fill 3 5 lbs buckets!

He also said that he was surprised at how light my honey was, especially compared to another beekeeper’s in my area. It sounds like with the weird weather we had in the Pacific Northwest this year, the blackberry season was shorter than usual, so the bees spent more times in the grasses, which can lead to a darker, and sometimes not as tasty, honey. Mine, though, sound like they found the right stuff.

Must be all those beautiful flowers and vegetables my neighbors have been growing.

Hive Mind Halloween

I’ll bet you didn’t know that in addition to keeping bees, we at Hive Mind throw some kick a** parties. Specifically, 14 years running, we’ve been throwing a huge Halloween party, with all the proceeds going to charity. Here’s a little FAQ on it:

What’s Hive Mind Halloween? An outrageously fun Halloween party (check out some pictures from last year: Chrissy’s and Grover’s.) It started as a house party in 1994, with everybody just piling in and doing the decorating and cleaning up together in one crazy couple of days. It outgrew the house, clocking in at just under 1,000 people last year, but somehow has never lost its house party feel. I hope it never does.

Where does the money go?
100% of the proceeds get split between two flat out awesome charities:

  • Room to Read ( This group helps build schools and libraries in developing countries where poor villages simply don’t have the resources to get books for their children to read or even the rudimentary shacks in which to hold classes. Basic literacy is key to freedom and independence. I can’t think of a better way to help people then to teach them to read and to think. And get this: by partnering with local communities, they can do it really, really efficiently.

    In 2006, for example, the Hive Mind Halloween party raised enough money to build an entire school in a village in Nepal, Shree Seti Devi. See the report and pictures of the school with the kids we helped! See it on a satellite map! Feel it!

    In 2007, we raised $9,700 to fund scholarships for girls in poor countries, totalling 32 years of education. Be clear: this isn’t scholarship for an elite college, this is scholarship so young girls, 9 and 10 years old, can learn to read instead of working in fields, or worse. Want to see pictures of the girls we helped? Check out the Room to Read Yearbook.

  • Youngstown Cultural Arts Center is a multi-purpose facility committed to providing space and support for creative expression, community building and positive youth development in the Delridge and surrounding neighborhoods. Besides our 150-seat theater, Movement Studio, and other community rental space, Youngstown houses seven non-profit organizations dedicated to youth empowerment through artistic development, and also has two floors of artist resident studios in the renovated Cooper School classrooms. Donations from Hive-Mind Halloween will go towards our All Access After School Programming, offering free classes every weekday to youth between the ages of 13 to 19 in Basic Studio Recording, Yoga, Spoken Word Poetry, Band 101 and more. The Delridge neighborhood has traditionally lacked safe and creative spaces for young people and funds will be used to pay the teaching artists and enable outreach into the high schools of West Seattle.

Sounds preachy. Is it any fun?
Ummm…yeah. Two rooms of DJ’s plus outdoor antic area, tons of art, everybody in costume. Not for the faint of heart. Really.

Can I help?
Yes! First: tell your cool friends about it. Second, we need volunteers to create it, set it up and clean it up. Join the Hive Mind Halloween Planning List if you want in! (Volunteers come for free, of course, if the $20 entrance is a concern)

When is it again?
Saturday, October 25th (the Saturday before Halloween). Full deets at

What’s with the “Hive Mind”?
A “hive mind” is the super-intelligence that arises when a bunch of individuals act together, achieving things that each couldn’t alone. Think of how useful a single neuron is compared to a brainful of neurons. That’s us, everyone who works on something like this, coming together to make it happen. Read more about it.

Beekeepers for Obama

My friend Marcus just sent this “Beekeepers for Obama” badge to me. I don’t know where it came from (here, maybe?) and it just tickled me too much not to share.

It’s not unreasonable, either: in terms of being a custodian of the environment as well as a voice for the small business-person (and let me tell you, nobody’s buying a second house in Vail off of beekeeping money…it’s golden, not gold), Obama’s definitely the right man. Check out this amazing graph illustrating the distribution of tax cuts in Obama’s plan versus McCain’s.

Now, home come my 60,000 girls don’t get to vote?


As always, some good advice showed up in the comments to Harvest post.

Andrey suggests using 9 frames not only in the honey supers, but also in the brood chambers. Interestingly, he says “let bees draw out foundation first then remove one frame.” I’m curious, though: why let them draw out ten frames and then remove one, rather than just start with nine?

On the mite front, Andrey pointed me towards Thymol as a natural remedy, in addition to affirming the need for a screened bottom board. I did a bit of reading on Thymol, a derivative of thyme, and it does seem safe (although I’ll admit I’m often skeptical of the belief that anything “natural” or “plant-derived” is somehow intrinsically safe). An article from BBC News suggests that it can kill off 90% of the mite population. Might be worth a go.

Finally, Beek pointed me towards a “clearer board” or “Porter”, a device for getting the bees out of supers without wasting hours trying to brush them off. Best I can tell, it’s a sort of one-way door you put into your hive, so that they can exit the supers but not re-enter. Leave it in for 24 hours and all the bees inside will have dropped off honey and headed out to gather more, then not been able to get back into those boxes. The nurses and such that don’t leave the hive will be down with the brood, so you should have relatively bee-free honey supers you can just pluck off.

Great. NOW you tell me.