Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bees and Wasps Far and Near

The honeybees at Edmonds Community College (where I teach English) have their own Facebook page now. While looking at some recent posts, I found a link to Facebook page for another honeybee program at a Seattle-area school, Green River Community College.

The Edmonds CC page also offered a link to a recent Seattle Times story about the large amount of wasps people have spotted in the area lately. While wasps are also pollinators, they unfortunately will attack honeybees (as well as people, as we all know too well!).

If you ever are seeing a lot of yellow/black/gold insects and aren't sure what they are, this page from Colorado State University has some useful information about distinguishing types of wasps and bees.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Looking Good

Our bees still seem to be happy and healthy. We see them in the yard enjoying the flowering herbs especially. They like our fennel plants quite a lot.

We realized this year that we want to start planting more flowers that bloom later into the summer/fall. Maybe some mums and asters? Please let me know if you have suggestions.

Last year the nectar flow dried out at this time of year, so I know Trish is keeping an eye out this year to see if she wants to supplement their diet with some bee tea.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Buzzing Along

Both of the hives are doing well! We see bees in the flowers and flowering herbs in our yard every day. The bees enjoy lavender and borage, of course, and we also see them in the oregano. If you aren't already planting borage, I would encourage you to plant some if you want to attract pollinators; here's some good info about borage. It has pretty, star-like flowers, and it's also believed to have medicinal benefits.

The other plant our bees love is Crocosmia, or "Lucifer" flowers. Here's a photo from Wikipedia--and it's perfect because we have had hummingbirds visiting ours quite a lot, too (or maybe just one hummingbird who returns quite a lot).

We have been seeing butterflies in the yard a lot, too. It's been nice to see so much activity. Trish's close attention to gardening shows a lot of rewards!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Meanwhile in the Garden: Peas!

We've been enjoying fresh peas from the garden lately. Here are a couple pics I took when the peas were in blossom. Trish stakes them with bamboo.

I think simple preparation is best for peas. I like them raw, or just lightly steamed. Of course they are always good in a salad or stir-fry, too. How do you like to cook peas?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Hive in a Hurry

This week Trish hurried to finish a hive for our friends Yun and Jade because their hive split. The swarm of bees took up residence in their neighbor's yard, and they called a local bee expert to collect the swarm. The bees waited for a couple days in a screened (ventilated) box (courtesy of the bee expert) while Trish finished up building a hive. Then yesterday she went over and helped install the bees in their new home.

Meanwhile the two hives in our yard are very active, and both seem to be growing every day. Trish thinks the hive by the garden may split/swarm, too, so she is going to add a fourth box to the hive soon.

Remember that if you're in the Seattle area and interested in a Warre hive, let us know as Trish would love to build you one. You might very well be able to get a swarm for your hive as this is a great season for bees so far, and I would think that many local hives will split/swarm.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bees in Lavender

I snapped some photos in our garden today, and I happened to catch a couple of bees enjoying the lavender on the south side of the house. Bear in mind that I have a point and shoot digital camera, so these are not the best quality photos!

First off, here's a honeybee in the lower left corner of the first shot. Of course I can't know for sure that this bee lives in one of our hives, I'd bet that she does.

Then here's another kind of bee toward the center of this second shot. Not sure what kind of bee this is. It's a black color with a bit of yellow and white. We think of these as bumblebees, but they aren't the big kind. If you happen to know what kind of bee this might be, please do leave a comment on this post and let me know.

There are so many varieties of bees out in the world, enjoying the different blooms they find. It's a pleasure to see both in our yard.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Warm May Weather, Active Bees

I've lived in the Seattle area my whole life, and I can't remember such a long streak of summer-like weather in May. Well, apparently this is the longest rain-free streak in May since 1946 and 1958.

The bees are super-active, as you might guess. Here are two pictures I snapped today, both showing the hive in the backyard. The other hive is located in the side yard, and it's also been plenty busy.

It's been interesting to have two hives to be able to compare and contrast. The bees in the side yard have always seemed more boisterous, something we noticed the day we picked them up. We heard them buzzing as we drove home from Beez Neez, while the other bees were silent. Trish thinks that possibly the side yard bees are sometimes going into the hive of the backyard bees to rob them of some honey, but we can't be sure.

In other bee news, Trish had a look through the observation windows of the backyard hive this morning and was pretty sure she saw some brood emerging from cells of comb. The timing sounds about right: I read that it takes 21 days for a worker bee to hatch.

I wish I could get a picture that shows how you can look up into the air near the hives and watch the bees heading back and forth. They're pretty high up, like 10-12 feet or more, I'd say. There are so many of them flying so quickly on their looping paths. I've compared them to bottle rockets before in a poem, and today they reminded me of stunt pilots.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Bees Are Settling In

Last Wednesday (April 17) we were lucky to have a sunny day for our drive to Snohomish to pick up two packages of honeybees. Even better, the sunny weather made for a perfect afternoon to install the packages into the hives. This is our first year having two hives instead of just one.

Trish has become quite the pro as far as the bee installation goes. My job is more to make sure our two cats stay inside during the process because they're very curious and want to interfere (I think if we could ask them, they would say they're "helping"). Right when we got home, one of the cats sort of leapt/charged at the package that was waiting near one of the hives. Anyway, the cat wrangling is the easy part.

The more complicated part, of course, is Trish's role as the bee-installer. Over time, she's come up with a lot of ways to make this easier. For example, she lays out all her tools on a bench she puts near the hive so that everything she needs is just at hand (smoker, pliers, bee brush, etc). She also has learned that it works best to cut away more of the screen from the bee package rather than to try to force all the bees out of the small hole at the top (the first year, we'd watched a YouTube video where the beekeeper shook the package until all the bees came out the hole, and most of them do come out, but many of them linger in the package, and it's easier to get those bees out by just cutting away one of the walls of the package). Well, I'll have to ask Trish for a list of tips she's put together. This was her third time installing packages of bees.

From an observer's perspective, the process went pretty quickly, but I'm sure it felt longer for Trish inside her protective gear. The bees have been very busy and active in their first week here, even over the weekend when the weather was on the rainy side. Go, bees!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bees Coming This Wednesday

This Wednesday is our bee pick-up day at Beez Neez in Snohomish. Unfortunately, the bees in our backyard didn't make it through the winter, so Trish is installing a new package of bees. Also, she's decided to start a second hive in the yard. We'll have one hive in the backyard and another in the side yard. We have a nice wide space in the side yard where the bees can live, with ample space between the hive and the neighbor's yard.

Did your bees winter over? Are you getting new bees this year? Are you just starting a hive? We'd love to know if you have a moment to share!

Friday, March 8, 2013

We Bought a Goji Plant

Today we bought an established goji plant from a local gardener who is selling her collection of plants. We're looking forward to seeing how it does this spring and summer--and how the bees like it, too, of course! I'd love to discover that we can do well enough with goji berries here that I could put my food dehydrator to good use with them.

In the meantime, when it comes to berries to eat, we'll keep buying our organic goji berries from SunFood--I actually signed up for an affiliate account with them because they have the best organic goji we've found.

Back to gardening, Trish planted peas in the garden at the end of February, as well as some potatoes. Last year the biggest success in the garden was the cucumber plant--I hope this year will be a repeat. We enjoyed Greek salads with garden cucumbers all summer.

How is your yard/garden coming along as spring is (finally!) around the corner?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hands off Bees in the Local News

Our local news blog, PhinneyWood, which covers the Greenwood and Phinney Ridge neighborhoods of Seattle (and nearby areas), just posted an article about Trish's backyard beekeeping and the hives she builds.

Thanks to Sarah who wrote the article, Doree who manages the blog, and everyone who is visiting the blog (and our Facebook page) as a result of reading the article!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Growing Goji Berries

I did a bit more reading about goji berries and bees, and I started thinking that the goji berry plants could be a bee-friendly addition to our yard. Plus, the health benefits of goji honey would be good for honeybees as well as people.

I found an organic nursery in California (Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply) that sells a variety of goji berry tree started from a plant in Utah. The folks at the nursery have produced a helpful video about planting and maintaining goji berries which I've embedded below. Trish and I are thinking about planting a couple in containers.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Goji Berries for People and for Bees

Trish is a great fan of goji berries. She buys the dried ones and adds them to the "green drinks" she makes in her Vitamix. Other ingredients for the green drinks include spinach, pear, and a variety of vegetables and fruits. They say these little berries have high concentrations of antioxidants, vitamin A, and all sorts of helpful compounds which we probably don't understand yet. Anyway, I got to thinking about bees and goji berries, and sure enough, the plants are a favorite of honeybees in China. Check out this page with beautiful close-up photos of bees and goji berry plants taken by Zachary Huang of Michigan State University. The author also has other articles with tips on "beetography" (or photographing bees).

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Beekeeper as Murder Suspect

Last night we watched the last episode of the second season of Vera, a series of mystery films made by ITV in Britain. In this episode, titled A Certain Samaritan, one of the suspects is a beekeeper. Actually, in the opening sequence of the movie, some beehives are vandalized, so we were hooked from the start to follow the bee-related thread of the story. While the beekeeper isn't the main character, he's an interesting supporting character, and the varroa mite becomes a metaphor in the story.

Oh, and as a special bonus for fans of Downton Abbey, the actress who plays Mrs. Hughes has an important role in this episode as the mother of the murder victim. It was fun to see her in a modern-day role.

In general, this is a great series of made-for-TV movies starring Brenda Blethyn as a police inspector in the north of England. Toward the end of the episode last night, I was saying it's too bad there aren't more episodes to watch! But there are two sets of dvds available in the US, and a third series of episodes will be available one of these days, too.

If you like thoughtful mysteries, I think you'll like Vera.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Great Bee Blog from Applegate, Oregon

"Applegate" just sounds like a good place to live, doesn't it? The name of the town makes me want to retire to an orchard right now. Actually, the house where we live in northwest Seattle used to be on an orchard, but that was a long time ago.

Back to Applegate, Oregon. This morning I happened upon a website from a family (identified as the Shockey family on their site's about page) who lives in Applegate and, among other things, has a strong dedication to natural beekeeping. In fact, their website is named after the Roman goddess of pollination, Mellonia. They have a nice little page which gives an overview of their beekeeping practices, which include beekeeping with the Warre style of hive, which they like because "because its theory and construction is such that you don't keep disturbing the bees to see what they are doing."

I also like that the Shockeys talk about how they "are not in the honey business" and thus wait until spring to harvest any honey that the bees don't need after getting through the winter: they "[believe] that honey, not sugar or high fructose corn syrup, is meant to feed bees."

See also this nice post by the mom of the Shockey family, Nadine Levie, about her excitement regarding the construction of her first Warre hive.

I'll definitely check back on the beekeeping adventures of the Shockey family in the future.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Positively Charged Bee

Trish sent me an interesting article about bumblebees and flowers from NPR. Here's a little quote: "'When bees are flying through the air, just the friction of the air and the friction of the body parts on one another causes the bee to become positively charged...' It's like shuffling across a carpet in wool socks. When a positively charged bee lands on a flower, the negatively charged pollen grains naturally stick to it."

There's always more to bees than we know!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Buying a Package of Bees

When I first learned that honeybees are sold by the package, this sounded strange to me, as I couldn't make sense of comparing bees to other items that come by the package. I was picturing bees arriving on the doorstep like other brown cardboard boxes that come via UPS or FedEx or the postal service. I've heard that some people do in fact get bees by mail order, but this isn't how Trish orders her bees. She buys her bees from the Beez Neez in Snohomish.

If you're in the greater Seattle area, the Beez Neez is a great place to buy your bees. Trish orders a three-pound package of bees for one of her Warre hives. (They also sell four-pound packages.) The way it works is that you order online ahead of time (they are taking orders now!), and then you get an email notifying you about bee pickup day, which is sometime in April. On that day (well probably the day before), the bees are driven north from California on a big truck and dropped off at the Beez Neez warehouse, where they await pickup.

It's a unique experience to see a crowd of people lined up to get their packages of bees, but that's exactly what you see on bee pickup day. I know because I've been there! It was a little unsettling for me because there were a lot (A LOT!) of bees flying around, but the beekeeper/bee-retailer explained that these were just "hitchhiker" bees who had been attracted by the large number of bees (especially queen bees) all in one place. He brushed the extra bees off the sides of each package before giving it to the beekeeper who had come to pick it up. There were no loose bees in the car or anything like that.

Well, if you ever wondered, "where do you get your bees?" when you want to start a hive, buying a package is a great option. You can also get a wild swarm, which is a whole other story and not something we personally have done. For more about swarms, check out the swarms page on the Urban Bee Project site (also maintained by Seattle beekeepers).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bee Mine

In honor of Valentine's Day, here's a bee-themed card from The Simpsons.

Remember the Valentine's episode from early in the series where Lisa gives Ralph a Valentine, and then he thinks she's his girlfriend? Later she makes things right by encouraging him to be friends instead. :) A classic.

Happy Valentine's Day to all of our honeybee friends--and all of our fellow friends of bees!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Spring Is Coming

Well, it feels like spring is coming as the weather hasn't been too chilly, and it actually stays light out past 5pm. But as Trish and I were discussing earlier today, it can still get pretty cold in February!

The good news is that it's warm enough that Trish can enjoy doing woodworking in the garage again, and she's been building some beehives. If you're near the Seattle area and looking for a handmade Warre hive to use this spring, let us know. She's making the hives from pine and finishing them with EcoFin, a soy-based nontoxic stain.

Haven't seen any bees out and about, so it can't really be near spring yet, can it? Has anyone seen a bee lately?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Do You Bake with Honey?

I baked some banana muffins yesterday, and the recipe called for white sugar, but I decided to substitute honey. I've always been a little hesitant about substituting honey for granulated sugar, but why not experiment a little? I referred to Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair in hopes of finding some guidelines, and I was happy to find a list of natural sweeteners and suggestions for using them. As it happens, the edition of this book that Trish has doesn't mention honey, and I'm not sure if Lair mentions it in later editions of the book, but this list of alternative sweeteners on the Bastyr Center's website--inspired by Lair's list--does include honey.

Basically, you just substitute honey one-for-one for the sugar in a recipe and then add a little flour or reduce other liquid content. My recipe called for 1/3 cup white sugar, and I used a little less than 1/3 cup of honey and added a couple extra tablespoons of flour. I used whole wheat pastry flour from Bob's Red Mill--great stuff! The recipe turned out nicely with a subtle honey flavor.

I'm not sure how it goes if you try to sub honey for brown sugar. Has anyone tried? I experimented with date sugar in the past and found it was a good substitute for brown sugar in zucchini bread, but it was not so great for cookies.

I'd also be very curious to hear other thoughts about and experiences with baking with honey and other alternatives to processed sugars if you have a moment to share! :)