I spent a little while yesterday getting over my fear of having bees on my bare skin. I found a drone walking around on the ground near the hive, and after checking a book to make sure these guys are stingerless, picked him up and carried him around for a while.
Sure enough, no matter how much I poked or prodded him, all he could do about it was stare at me with those crazy eyes.
He must have been at the end of his life or extremely lazy, because he never tried to fly away. Maybe he knew it was lousy weather for it.
It seems our comrades down south have some good PR (and a strong case of OCBEE). The movement is gathering steam! Check out the article here.
Our friends Kelly and Erik (they brought the delicious fermented mead to our last meeting) from homegrownevolution will be hosting an Urban Livestock Workshop on bees, chickens and rabbits next Sunday-March/1st from 1-4PM.
I will be presenting the bee portion of the program, trying as best as possible to channel our own guru Kirk, but mainly speaking about my experience with "them bees" and showing the supper, frames, protective gear, etc.
For location, details and RSVP, write Kelly and Erik at firstname.lastname@example.org
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!!!
The Landa beehive has just grown one extra story, or "super" for you purists. Now, don't do like me and forget that the jeans you have on have big fashiony holes in them, because wearing gloves, hat and veil will not help, the little buggers will find that hole!
How exciting to see the frames all filled in with wax cells, brood, bees and yes, honey... just standing by the hive and smelling the sweet nectar is intoxicating, can't imagine what it will be like to taste it.
Kirkobeeo came by today to check the progress of our hive. The ladies are working like crazy and have made a ton of new bees and honey. Kirk had us add two boxes to make sure they have plenty of room (AKA "unlimited brood nest" for you professionals). I can't believe we are up to five boxes already!
As you can see, the Zenmaster Kirk also had us mix up the boxes out of alphabetical order. We shuffled some frames around between the boxes as well to encourage the bees to spread out. I didn't get a chance to finish painting the "E" box before it was pressed into action. Now I get to try and get all artistic with the design while sweating in a bee suit.
We are going to harvest some honey in a couple of weeks. We will shoot a video of the crush & strain method and get it up here posthaste.
The morning after a big rain storm, the our hive's front porch was littered with bee corpses and other debris. But the workers had already started the cleanup by early morning, and before long the place was spotless. Here's a brief look at what they were doing.
In Backwards Beekeeping we don't use any chemical treatments on our bees, but during lean times and when starting a new hive, the bees need food.
We feed the bees a simple solution of cane sugar and water, mixed up in a plastic zip-lock baggie. Fill one-third of the baggie with white sugar, then about an equal amount of water. Zip the bag and mix it gently until the sugar dissolves.
Put a 4" shim (see photos below) on top of your hive, and place the sugar bag directly on the hive frames. Give the bag a moment to settle, and then gently cut a slit halfway across the top of the bag. This slit allows the sugar water to seep out so the bees can collect it.
Put the hive cover over the shim, and you're done. Your bees will quickly discover the sugar, and within a week or so the bag will be empty.
Two important notes:
1. Make sure your hive is nearly level! A slight downward tilt of the hive helps water to run out during heavy rains, but just a little tilt goes a long way.
2. Don't use brown sugar, as it can sicken the bees. Also avoid sugar made from sugar beets, as these beets are routinely treated with Roundup and other chemicals. Corn syrup isn't a good idea either.
According to Kirkobeeo, now is the beginning of the season where local bees like to set up shop in people's garages, eaves and such. Please contact us at beehumans[at]gmail[dot]com if you know of some wild bees that have settled in somewhere they are unwelcome. You can also call Kirk directly - his phone number is on his website. We've got new Backwards Beekeepers who want your bees!
The above picture was drawn by new club member Marinna Wagner. I couldn't help checking out the great sketches she was making at the last meeting. She has graciously allowed us to use a few of them here. You can check out more of her work at her website.
Here's our first episode of Backwards Beekeepers TV!
Starter strips are the Backwards Beekeepers' alternative to the wax foundation traditionally used in beehive frames; the wax sheets sold commercially usually come from hives that use chemicals and fungicides. Letting your bees draw their own comb also means that they'll build cells that are the size they want, not the size you tell them to build. This means you get bees that are slightly smaller (just like in the wild) and better able to resist mites and other problems.
Take it away, Kirk:
Just finished assembling my 3 new boxes and frames... the real fun was painting and decorating them.
I ran across Paul Kennedy's "Fun With Insects Stencils"—you can get them at Dover Publications.
They are only $1.50!
You know when you were a kid and you wished you were a bee? If only you had corbicula to gather and store pollen, then maybe all of the kids would give you the respect you deserve.
Luckily, the youth of 2009 can have what we sorely lacked. Leafcutter designs offers these patches to put on the knees of your pants so that you can pretend you are a bee. This charms me. They are literally the bee's knees.
I found a great set of photos on flickr taken by Max Westby (Max xx). I don't think he is doing backwards beekeeping but there are lots of great shots of wild swarms and hives.
One highlight for me is a group of pictures of these eccentric hives maintained by an 82 year old man.
This is a wild hive that formed in only 3 weeks between the bathroom window and shutters of a vacation home in Lyon.
See Max xx's whole set on flickr.
Labels: bee photography
The 25 min film "Pollen Nation" will be screened at 626 Cypress Ave, Pasadena CA on Sunday, Feb 22nd at 7PM, preceded by a vegetarian local food potluck starting at 5PM.
For more info and to RSVP, visit urbanhomestead.org.
The Backwards Beekeepers of Los Angeles had our biggest turnout yet today. It looks like we've outgrown home-based meetings, and need to move on to a community center or sports arena.
Erik and Kelly of Homegrown Evolution brought homemade mead, because it's never too early in the day for your dose of super-flavorful, high-alcohol rocket fuel. Thanks for getting things started off right, you two.
Kirk showed everyone how to put starter strips in hive frames and paint them with clean beeswax. We'll have an instructional video posted on the blog in the next few days.
Kirk predicts a big bunch of bee swarms once the weather here in L.A. warms up a bit. Quite a few Backwards Beekeepers are going to have their hands full very soon.
Colorado beekeeper Kitt writes a very good blog about (among other things) her bee adventures, and I found this entry from last year in which she describes bee skeps, the man-made hive of yesteryear. She writes:
What's a skep? A bee skep is an old-fashioned beehive that has since been replaced by the more practical (and humane) box hive you're used to.
In olden days, folks often would have special niches, called bee boles, built into their walls to hold bee skeps. The bees would build their honeycomb inside the skep. Before winter, half the hives would be destroyed to get the honey out, and the other half would be allowed to overwinter.
Uncle Ralph doesn't make his skeps as large as they would be if they were going to be used, but he makes them correctly, complete with a bee hook inside, from which the bees would hang their comb.
We've got three quick questions for Kirkobeeo today:
Do Bees Sleep?
-Owen in Portland, OR
I don't think so but I have read that they rest and mill around. They are like all living things that work - they get tired also.
How many times have you been stung? Does it hurt a lot?
-Owen in Portland again
I've lost count of how many times I've been stung. I don't get stung much anymore because I'm prepared and I'm a good beekeeper. Does it hurt? Not much...but it depends where. Under the chin and around the eyes hurt bad. It also depends on how many stings you get at a time. Stings don't bother me too much.
How do you decide where to place a new hive?
I just look around see whats around. The final decision is up to the bees. You will see if it is a good location on how do the bees do in there. Don't think too hard.
Got a question for Kirkobeeo? Email kirkobeeo [at] gmail [dot] com
I went out to the hive this afternoon to find a big cloud of bees flying around the hive entrance, when things had been very calm this morning.
Was this some of that hive robbing that I'd read about in the books, I wondered? Did I need to freak out and run around in circles and spray the bees with liquid smoke and close up the entrance, as the books advise?
I called Kirk instead.
"Are they all facing the entrance?" he asked.
"Orientation flight. You've got a big crop of new bees, and they're figuring out where the hive is. That's their orientation point. I'll bet they've all calmed down by now."
What makes them all come out at once?
"Well, they all hatch about the same time."
I really couldn't argue with that logic.
Apparently bees do their orientation flight at about 3 weeks of age, after they've spent time on various other tasks inside the hive. Here's Mark L. Winston, from The Biology of The Honey Bee:
These flights tend to take place on warm, windless, sunny afternoons, and the synchronous emergence of many young workers from the nest inspired German researchers to call these "play flights"...
A single orientation flight generally lasts less than 5 minutes, and successive flights appear to increase in duration and distance from the colony. Remarkably, the stem length of certain brain interneurons shorten during the first flight, perhaps preparing the worker's nervous system to record and remember orientation stimuli...
But wait, it gets better:
Workers will void their feces during one of their first flights. (One of the hazards of sitting at nest entrances making orientation flight observations is the rapid accumulation of orange spots all over the white bee suits favored by honey bee researchers.)
I was apparently far enough away to avoid the Orange Special. Thanks for taking it outside, bees.
Labels: new beekeepers