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!