Thursday, December 27, 2012

Recommended Magazine on Gardens and Bees and More

If you're looking for reading material, I'd like to recommend an interesting, new-ish independent publication out of Colorado called Greenwoman Magazine. The editor publishes a selection of nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and visual art. It's an 8.5x11 size of magazine with newsprint pages and a stapled binding--the color cover always looks nice, and the inside pages include some color images, too.

There's a nice variety of topics, from gardening to art. I especially enjoyed a long interview with an artist who often paints images of backyard chickens in a formal portrait style. If you enjoy creative writing about gardening, plants, and backyard wildlife (including domesticated animals), I think you'll like this magazine.

I just received some copies of the current issue (Winter 2012/2013) as I have two poems about bees published in it. Greenwoman is definitely a bee-friendly magazine!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

If Only We Could Run Errands Like Bees

We've been running a lot of last-minute holiday errands over the past couple days, and this reminds me of our inefficiency compared to that of honeybees. I've seen articles before about the ways that bees maximize their time/effort when they gather pollen and nectar. I just read this article on the Denver Post's website, and I like how the author also mentions other cases where humans (and computers) can't match the natural abilities of animals.

Well, it's just one more reminder that we'd better help take care of bees because we're not going to be able to replace them!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Interview with Brian Dykstra of Ethnobeeology

There's a great community on Facebook called Ethnobeeology. The moderator, Brian Dykstra, maintains the page to "share stories of bees and people," and he includes a range of images and stories from cultures all over the world to demonstrate the many ways people have documented their respect for living with bees. Brian was kind enough to respond to some questions so that I could post an interview with him here. He has other Facebook pages such as Ethnoherpetology and Ethnoornithology as well.

Mandy: How/when did you become interested in bees?

Brian: There are multiple reasons for my bee interest. I became interested in bees partly because of an interest in flowers! My interest in plants helped hone an attention to detail, form, and color in nature, and of course that is helpful when observing bees. After working for a season doing botany surveys, my colleague/team leader gave me the book Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey by Holley Bishop (2006). Later, I chose to conduct my Biology Masters research on the pollination of a rare flower, the golden inside out flower, because I wanted to explore a new area of botany (I was already interested in ethnobotany, taxonomy, and ecology). So I spent a good amount of time with some great helpers observing bee visitations to these beautiful flowers. We saw bumble bees and solitary bees primarily. Honey bees were not observed visiting the golden inside out flower in the two years worth of observations. We found that bumble bees are needed for this plant to make seeds for the next generation.

My interest in the diversity of human cultures and their relationships with the planet and its diverse life forms contributed to my interest in the cultural aspect of bees, beekeeping, and honey hunting. I have a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology and Environmental Policy, and have long been interested in ethnobiology (or the study of human relationships with other species). Traditional cultural relationships with plants and bees are both important to the future of life on this planet--being aware of and strengthening our relationships with life improves our quality of life.

Mandy: For readers who haven't seen it yet, could you describe your Ethnobeeology page?

Brian: Ethnobeeology is a page dedicated to sharing stories about human cultural relationships with the bees around the world. Bees are diverse and cultures are diverse. As Luisa Maffi (of Terralingua) and others have pointed out, cultural and linguistic diversity is positively related to biological diversity. I think people benefit from gaining an awareness and perspective of humans and bees that includes other peoples and places. I do not expect a beekeeper in Louisiana to take up Indonesian chanting and prayer when harvesting honey; I believe that awareness of the way other people, cultures, and countries respect, revere, and care for bees promotes harmony, both among humans and between humans and bees.

Mandy: When did you start Ethnobeeology, and what gave you the idea to start it?

Brian: I started the Ethnobeeology page in December of 2011 (it has been a whole year!). I know that many people are expressing an interest in learning about and helping bees (as well as being helped by bees), but often the contemporary information about bees is very scientific. I wanted to include the human element to bees. Truly I started the page as a way to initiate a personal study into human cultural relationships with bees around the world and through time.

Mandy: Where/how do you find your sources for Ethnobeeology?

Brian: I use books (libraries) and the internet. You will find most of my posts have a link to another website, or refer to a published book or article. I want readers to see the truth of the stories I share, and I want them to have a way to continue learning if it is a topic that interests them. I would not be able to share anything if other people had not already written and photographed and shared their experiences. So I owe so much of what I do to others. I want people who write about, photograph, and create art about bees and people to be credited, have their popularity increase, and have their stories and images available to people so that awareness of these stories increases.

Mandy: What are a couple things that anyone can do to help bees?

Brian: I think everyone can do something to improve their relationship with bees.

Learning more about them is one easy way. While tabling at an agricultural event with bee information, I had an encounter with someone who approached the display exclaiming, "I hate bees," but by the end of the conversation, he voiced respect and need for bees. It was his love for various bee-dependent fruits and nuts that helped bridge the gap. So learning the truth about bees and sharing it is a powerful way to help bees. Many people do not understand the importance of bees to wildflower and agricultural pollination. Additionally, there are other benefits to some species of bees such as honey, wax, and propolis (used in food, medicine, technology, etc.). Bees will continue to inspire us.

In order to help bees, we must be informed as to who they are. Start seeing bees. Slow down. Look at the flowers in your yard, neighborhood, and wherever you go. Not all bees look like honey bees. Becoming a bee-watcher is a great way to generate enthusiasm and passion for helping them.

Another great step towards helping bees is planting flowers. Planting flowers in your yard, in pots on your porch, or a community garden provides a means for bees to obtain their foods (nectar and pollen). Bees benefit from the preservation of wild areas. This is especially true because areas that are left to be wild spaces have many nesting opportunities for native bees (which nest in the ground, wood, twigs and stems). Planting a diverse set of native plants is a great way to positively impact the lives of bees near you.

Some people are helping renew interest in solitary bees, which can be amazing pollinators; although few people are aware of them, they make up over 80% of all bee species. These bees have often lived very close with humans without our notice. To learn about solitary bees I suggest (which has a great blog) and Native Buzz, a citizen science project. Both of which maintain great Facebook pages ( and

For some good reading about pollination, bees, and other pollinators, I suggest The Forgotten Pollinators by Stephen Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan (1997 paperback). For the cultural side of bees, I suggest The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting by Eva Crane (1999). If your local library does not have these books, I suggest using their inter-library loan.

There are about 25,000 bees and 4,000 wasp species that are documented pollinators and "there are perhaps 40,000 species of bees alive today" (from The Forgotten Pollinators).

There are many ways to help bees, so this list is just the tip of the iceberg. Thank you for taking the time to write me and ask me questions.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Handmade Beeswax Ornaments and Magnets

We've enjoyed the warm scent of beeswax in the house as we've been melting and pouring wax to make sets of handmade ornaments and magnets. We have three bee-themed designs: a beehive, a sunflower, and a piece of comb.

Here are the ornaments:

And here are the magnets:

We're selling sets of three (one hive, one flower, and one comb) for $5 each plus $2 shipping. If you'd like to buy a set, you can click here to order with PayPal (please specify if you want the ornaments or the magnets), or you can also buy them through my Etsy shop.

Here are a couple more photos to show what the back side of the magnets look like as well as a close-up of one of the ornaments. For the string to hang the ornaments, we used the same cotton thread we use for wicks for beeswax candles.

We hope you'll consider sharing these as stocking stuffers for your friends and family who share your love of bees and the natural world.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Well, it's been rainy and blustery lately (a typical Thanksgiving week in Seattle!), but we woke up to sunshine today. Looking at this picture of beehives taken around 1900, our weather is downright pleasant and mild!

Bees in winter quarters, packed in chaff hives. Bee-house at left. About 1900.

We hope you (and your bees if you keep them) are having a peaceful holiday weekend.

Note: The image is from Cornell University Library's collection and has no known copyright restrictions.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks for Honey

In celebration of Thanksgiving, here's our adaptation of the Apple Krisp recipe from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook. This recipe is sweetened with honey and is very tasty! We've made it many, many times, and we're making it for this year's Thanksgiving gathering, too.

Trish adds that we're also thankful that our beehive hasn't blown over in the blustery Thanksgiving week weather. Seems like this is always a rainy and windy week in Seattle!

Apple Krisp

8-10 medium cooking apples (a mix is nice--we often use Fujis)
juice of 1 lemon
3 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup flour (we like white whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup butter (Trish suggests you might try coconut butter instead)
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice (we sometimes use nutmeg instead)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup orange juice

Cut the apples into thin slices (we don't peel the apples, but peel them if you wish). Drizzle the apples with fresh lemon juice. Spread half of them into a large baking dish (we generally use a 9x12 dish).

Melt the butter and honey together (this will smell delicious!). Combine with oats, flour, salt, and spices. Crumble 1/2 of this mixture onto the apples in your pan.

Cover with the remaining apples and the rest of the topping. Pour the orange juice over the top (water works fine in a pinch).

Bake 40-45 minutes, uncovered, at 375F.

You could add raisins or dried cranberries or dried cherries, etc, if you want. In the summer, we make this with fresh peaches and blueberries instead of apples--if you use peaches or pears instead of apples, Mollie Katzen suggests you reduce the baking time to 25 minutes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Heading into Winter

I just read a couple of interesting posts on other beekeeping websites about bees in winter. The first is a thorough overview about what honeybees' lives are like during the wintertime, with details on how they cluster to stay warm and when and why they'll leave the hive in the colder months. See this page on All Things Plants for more details.

Then from Bee Rancher Buzz, a bee blog based in San Francisco comes a little tip about bee-friendly gardening as we head into winter. If there's something flowering in your garden, why not leave it for the bees? The blogger talks about letting herbs flower to give the bees a late-season treat. We did this with herbs this year as well as with some veggies in the garden that went to seed. In particular, we found that the bees loved fennel when it flowered. It may be a bit late for us Seattle gardeners to leave much to the bees, but if you're doing some cleanup and find something that's still flowering, why not leave it a little longer for our bee friends?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Happy Friday to You

Thanks very kindly for reading our new blog and following us on Facebook, where the blog feed shows up on our Hands off Bees page. Several people have just started reading/following us this week--hello and many thanks!

You may not know that in addition to being a fan of bees, I write poetry about bees. (My day job is teaching English at a community college.) Trish suggested that I share a bee poem of mine to end the week, so here's one that also appeared in the literary magazine, Softblow. The title is the scientific name for the European honeybee.

Apis Mellifera

From the Latin for honey-carrier,
from the Greek for healer,

bees may fly six hundred miles
if not squashed, sprayed with insecticide

eaten, or killed by disease. Worn-out
worker bees will die in about

six weeks and must quickly
be replaced if the colony will take

all the pollen and nectar of summer.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What Is a Warre Hive?

A Colorado beekeeper named Nick has a great website about his experiences using Warre hives. He even has the instructions posted if you want to build hives yourself. This page in particular gives a good overview of what a Warre hive is.

There are a couple of differences between the hives on Nick's page and the hive in our backyard. Trish built a higher stand for her hive whereas Nick's hives are closer to the ground. Also, Trish just put a piece of burlap between the top box and the quilt box, rather than pasting a cloth down. But basically, this is the kind of set up Trish builds when she builds a beehive; the nice thing is that the Warre is fairly adaptable--for example, you can put a feeder inside the quilt box, and the bees can eat without leaving the hive.

There's lots of useful information on Nick's site, and I could refer to specific parts of his site for days and days, but I'll just share one more tidbit I found there, a link to Heifer International, where you can donate a hive of bees to a community in need. I've given Heifer gifts in honor of family members before; maybe for the holidays this year, I'll give bees!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tea for Bees

We're seeing honeybees on clearer, warmer parts of the day, but it's getting to be that time of year where we just have to hope there are enough bees in the colony to keep each other warm through the winter and that there's plenty of honey, too. We're pretty sure they have a good amount of honey, and Trish did decide to supplement their stores with a bit of bee tea.

Instead of just serving up plain old sugar water, Trish uses 1 part organic chamomile tea to 2 parts organic sugar. In the spring, it would be 1 to 1, but a thicker syrup is better this time of year because it requires less energy for the bees to convert the thicker syrup to honey. She also adds lemon to bring the pH of the sugar closer to the pH of honey. Then she adds a pinch of salt, which reduces the strain on their metabolism (according to Gunther Hauk). Finally, she adds a tablespoon of honey she saved from the beehive last year; this contains important enzymes for the bees.

Over the past week, the bees have consumed 1 pint of bee tea.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Friendly Neighborhood Bee

This tiny bee came to trick-or-treat on Halloween. Her mom (who gave us permission to post this picture when we told her we have a bee blog) was also dressed as a bee, and her dad was dressed as a beekeeper. We were pleasantly surprised to find an updated version of the vintage bee costume in our post from earlier this week.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bees on Campus

Did you know there are hives of honeybees at Edmonds Community College (which is where I'm busy teaching when I'm not busy writing about bees)? If you scroll down a little on this page about some of the campus efforts around sustainability and food, you'll find a little background info about the bees as well as links to four issues of the "Bee Facts" newsletter with the latest Edmonds CC bee news. The bees moved in during April of 2011, thanks to Chemistry instructor Mary Whitfield. There's also a nice article about bees on campus in the Edmonds Sphere blog.

Do you know of other schools where bees are happily coexisting with students?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Vintage Halloween Bee

If you're still not sure what to be for Halloween, maybe this vintage photo (circa 1920) from the Field Museum Library's flickr page will inspire you to dress as a honeybee...

Girl dressed like a bee

The Field Museum's notes say this photo was from a Wildflower Preservation Society. I wonder if her friends were dressed like flowers... :)

Note: this photo has no known copyright restrictions.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

To Feed or Not to Feed

This morning while I finished up a craft project I'd started the night before, Trish went to the Ballard Farmers Market (if you check out their website, you may feel inspired to get hold of some fresh produce right now as they've posted photos of delicious-looking fall vegetables!). She got to chatting with a vendor who was selling honey, and he said the flurry of activity we've seen around the hive lately is probably robber bees.

He also said that we should be feeding the bees because there hasn't been much of a nectar flow for the last two months. Trish came home and did some reading on the subject because while commercial beekeepers feed their bees regularly (since the bees' honey gets harvested), we figured our backyard bees should have enough of their own honey to be eating well throughout the winter.

First, Trish looked at Toward Saving the Honeybee by Gunther Hauk. He's her favorite bee expert as he led the bee workshop she attended back in 2010, and he's an internationally known beekeeper who specializes in biodynamic and organic methods. He says that converting sugar to honey is exhausting to bees, so it's preferable not to feed them sugar water unless you must. To quote Hauk: "Only on rare occasions--when a colony is in danger of starving in late winter--do I mix some sugar with honey and a mild herb tea made with chamomile, sage, and a pinch of salt."

She then consulted Abbe Warre's Beekeeping for All (also available as a free PDF download from a natural beekeeping site in the UK). Warre suggests that with the design of his hive, bees can survive on a smaller store of honey in the first place because the honey they've stored is more readily accessible as the hive is more compact--the bees aren't using up energy to reach the honey, etc. Warre says the bees are kept "safe from overexertion."

We're interested to find out what other beekeepers do in terms of feeding or not feeding bees in the fall to help them through the winter. Trish sent a question out to some beekeeping friends of hers, and we welcome ideas from any beekeepers who are reading this. Do you feed your bees in the fall and/or wintertime?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Goodbye, Drones?

It's been a warmer and drier fall in Seattle this year, and on sunnier days, we're still seeing bees entering the hive carrying pollen here in late October. Trish read that this could be troublesome news as it might mean the bees are still raising brood this late in the season, but since we're not opening up the hive to look, we don't know. The interesting thing about seeing bees with pollen this time of year is that it really makes us look around when we're walking around the neighborhood to guess at possible pollen sources.

The other thing we're seeing is a lot of bee activity and interaction, and we think the workers are kicking the drones out of the hive. Trish saw a couple of specific incidents where it was like one bee was escorting another bee out of the hive, just flying it right outta there and dropping it across the yard. I know bees will remove dead bees from the hive, too, but these seem to be interactions between live bees. Another theory is that maybe there are some robber bees from other hives trying to steal some honey. Well, maybe both of these things are happening!

A couple of savvy yellowjackets have been hanging around the hive, just waiting for any bees who happen to die. The yellowjackets don't care if they snack on drones or robber bees or just plain worker bees at the ends of their busy lives. I guess you might say that yellowjackets are the vultures of the insect world, at least in our backyard.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Vintage Bees

From The Library of Virginia's collection of photos on flickr, here's some bee appreciation from years gone by.

1953 Tobacco Festival

This had to be the best float in the "Tobacco Festival," I'd say! Well, all the kids and ponies seemed to think so anyway.

Note: This photo has no known copyright restrictions.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Novels about Bees?

I was thinking tonight of a novel I read over the summer, Generation A by Douglas Coupland, in which honeybees are a central part of the plot. In this futuristic novel, bees have all disappeared, but then out of nowhere, a few individuals from different parts of the world are stung by bees and then gathered together by researchers in hopes that somehow this series of stings might hold the secret to restoring bee populations all over the world. In the meantime, fruits and vegetables are rare commodities, except for people rich enough to buy "hand-pollinated" products. I'd read several of Coupland's novels before, but I didn't know he'd written anything to do with bees at all until I happened upon a used copy of this book in a local bookstore. The book is sort of a contemporary counterpart to his 1980s classic, Generation X. If there's something to worry about in our world, Coupland's on top of it, and colony collapse disorder is no exception.

I guess we've all heard of The Secret Life of Bees, but I'm curious to know about other bee-related novels. (I have to admit that I haven't read that novel, only seen the movie.) If you have a moment to leave a comment, please do share the titles of any novels you've read that mention honeybees.

Welcome, Friends of Bees!

My name is Mandy, and I'm the author of this blog about honeybees. My partner, Trish, is a backyard beekeeper and a woodworker who builds her own beehives. I'm a writer, so I'm taking the lead in the writing side of our bee-related efforts. We've started this blog to share our experiences around beekeeping with other people who are interested in beekeeping (especially if you're contemplating getting started!).

In addition to describing the bees in our own backyard, we plan to post reviews of books, movies, and other materials we've encountered as we continue to learn about bees. Plus, we want to make the beehives Trish builds available to a wider audience. Her hives are built to support a bee-centered, hands-off method of beekeeping that helps sustain local honeybee populations in a natural way. See the "Our Beehives" tab at the top of this page for more info.

In 2010, Trish attended a conference on natural methods of beekeeping at a Waldorf school in Portland, Oregon. Later that year, she bought a pattern for a beehive she could build herself. In winter and early spring of 2011, she modified the pattern to build a wooden beehive and placed it in the backyard of our north Seattle home. Then the bees arrived! As I write this, we're in our second year of beekeeping, and the weather has been mild enough this October that our bees are still active, flying in and out of the hive during the warmer parts of the day.

Thanks for reading our first post, and stay tuned for more bee-related news from Seattle!