Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How to Wear Bees

Bee Bearding, doesn't this man look happy to be doing it? How does it work you ask? You take the queen bee and attach her to your body, (your chin in this case,) and wait for the girls to "come to mama". In theory, the wearer does not get stung, because the girls are not protecting their territory, as they do while in or near the hive.
Here you can see the bees forming a natural beard as a swarm.
Sara Mapelli prefers to dance with the bees. A very elegant dance, ending with a tea party. I cannot tell if her bee stung lip is indeed a bee stung lip. This dance was featured in an amazing documentary about bees called "Queen of the Sun".

Wang Dalin wanted to wear as many bees as possible.  So many that he won an award in 2011 for attracting 26.86 kg of bees in 60 minutes.
Here he is at the weigh in.
Jeroen Eisinga decided to make an art piece out of bee wearing.  
He doesn't look to happy about it though.
And this fellow decided to take his bees to a clarinet lesson.

Season Six

The under appreciated drone does not have a stinger. While holding him, I also noticed that his proboscis was noticeably shorter than that of the worker bees, perhaps because he does not forage and therefore does not need a longer one.
But first, a few words regarding the demise of the Flaming Maples. After a final hive tipping in mid November, the bear seemed to disappear. I assumed he had bedded down for the winter, but in December, a neighbor informed me that a black bear had been killed near Melzingah Resevoir, about four miles south of us. He had in fact seen said bear after it was shot (killed with one arrow), and told me that it weighed in at 175 pounds dressed (which apparently means undressed). Given that we have seen neither hide nor hair of the beast since then, I am assuming that that was him.
The Flaming Maples tried their best to regroup, but with no queen, a sharp decrease in numbers and high stress levels, I did not have much faith in their making it through the winter. Sure enough, a quick knock on the hive in February was answered with resonating silence and a peek in confirmed my fears of a dead out.
From the top of the hive box, I could see that the cluster was very small, the size of a softball versus that of a soccer ball that a strong hive would form.
Pulling the frames out, I could tell that even though the girls had honey right below them, they starved to death, unable to move around in the dead of winter. I was amazed that even without a queen, their instinct for survival told them what to do, and it broke my heart to imagine them in there, struggling to keep their small cluster warm and fed.
The House Hive got through the winter swimmingly however. Taking a peek in March, I found the hive loaded with nectar and pollen.
And frames covered with bees!! Note the puffy capped drone cells. Since March, I have watched as the mite levels have soared, and two rounds of Oxalic acid did not made a dent. This past week, I put in Mite Away Quick strips (Formic acid) and hopefully that will do the trick.
Sam is getting braver with the bees. (This is a drone, so there was no danger of him getting stung.)
A beauty on a beauty.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bears and Bees

Fall..... on day four of the power outage caused by the freak October 29th storm, I arrived home and took my customary glance up at the hives while collecting the mail from the mailbox. But this time, I could only see one hive. I walked up to see what was going one, and immediately saw that we had been visited, in a not so graceful manner by a bear. The "Flaming Maples" hive was on its side, with dead bees and chunks of comb all around. We had received twenty inches of snow just four days prior, and the darkness of the dead bees scattered on the white snow was stomach turning. Due to the snow, I was able to verify my hunch by the paw prints all around the hives. Were it not for the overturned hive, I might have been able to simply appreciate the overlap of our worlds, but all I could see was the destruction of the stores that the girls had worked so hard to build up over the past few months.

My mind was spinning. Not only was I trying to process the carnage in front of me, but I was also trying to conceive of the fact that a bear had recently been right where I was now standing. I was hit with a pang of guilt for not having strapped this hive down like the other hive.

After taking a few photos and suiting up (I knew the girls would be rather pissed off), I reassembled things as best I could and tightly strapped the hive down. Looking up into the overturned hive boxes, I could see a large cluster of bees, which left me hopeful for their recovery.

The next morning, I took a peek before heading off to work, and was shocked to see the hive once again taken apart, this time even worse than the day before, with frames of honey and comb scattered about. Apparently the lack of a strap had not been the issue the first time. Surveying the damage, I felt a deep sense of helplessness and frustration. Bees were scattered everywhere, full frames of honey were ripped in half, and wooden ware was torn up and scattered around. Putting the hive back together for the second time, the temperature hovering around 40, I knew the chances of the queen still being alive were slim.

By the end of the day, I had two straps lashing the hive to the two cinder blocks that sit under it, and had installed a "critter gitter" (a motion sensitive alarm, thank you Chris and Grai) along with a motion sensitive light pointed at the hives. The next morning? The hive had been knocked over, but had stayed in one piece. Kind of like "I've fallen and I can't get up." versus "I've been knocked over and had my guts ripped out."

On the next warm day, I went into the Flaming Maples to consolidate the remaining frames. I could tell from their behavior (distinctive roar, disorganized behavior) that the hive was queenless. Hopefully, they will make it through the winter and I can introduce a new queen in the early spring. My heart goes out to them.

No more bear activity for a week or so, until late one night when Matt and I heard a loud noise. We went out onto the back deck of the house and saw that one of our bird feeders, which had stood at the top of a copper pipe that came off of the deck, was now dented and lying on the deck alongside the pole that it had been attached to. Turning around, I noticed that the second bird feeder, which I had filled with seed that morning and hung in its customary spot in front of the kitchen window, was gone. I shined my flashlight on the kitchen window and saw a large, muddy paw print. It was then that we spotted the bear in the backyard, bird feeder in paw, chowing down. After watching him for awhile, we went inside but soon heard a snuffling coming from the back steps. We leaned out the back door and watched as he lumbered up the back stairs, undeterred by the flashlights shining in his eyes. Finally, as it dawned on us that this bear was indeed coming up onto our back deck, we started making enough noise for him to decide to turn around and wander off to somewhere else.

As expected, both of the hives were knocked over the next morning, but luckily neither one had been taken apart. My theory is that the "critter gitter" has a bit of a lag time before it goes off, allowing the bear to knock the hives over, but scaring/annoying him enough that he does not stick around once it starts going off.

An electric fence is the only sure way to keep the bear away, but that will be a lot of work and money. For now, I am wishing him away and hoping that he has just been passing through and will relocate himself. Feel free to wish along with me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cross Pollination of Bees and Art

After five years of keeping bees and many more than that of making art, the two paths have intersected, leading me to compose a post that will appear on both my Bee Blog and my Art Blog.

This fall, some work of mine will be shown at Wave Hill (a beautiful botanical garden/gallery in the Bronx), in a show called "Hive Culture: Captivated by the Honeybee". The show will be up from September 13 through December 1, 2011 with an opening reception on October 2, from 1:00-4:00.
For more information, you can read the press release. Hours and directions can be found at Wave Hill's website.

Looking for a preview of the show? Can't make the show? Saw the show but can't remember what work was mine?
Here it is again.

When Winter Comes

March, 2011

Having watched the honey bees as they make their way through the seasons, I have come to believe that from the time they emerge from the hive on the first warm spring day, they are preparing for the arrival of winter. From the first crocuses to the last of the goldenrod, the bees are taking stock of what is going on around them and what is coming their way.
This video is an investigation of that awareness, both in the bees’ world and in ours.

Also included in the Wave Hill show are two pieces that I made that have to do with Bee Lining, an activity that involves luring honey bees to a sweet bait and then following them back to their hive.

Bee Lining Kit and its contents.
To read what the envelope says, click on image to see it larger.

Looking to create a link between myself, the bees, and the viewer, I devised a portable bee lining kit. Below are some photos of the kit in action. A limited edition of 1,000 will be given away over the course of the show. Although the stated function of the kit is to locate feral colonies, I consider the piece fully realized if the receiver takes the time to read the directions and imagine him/herself going through the steps. As with a small first aid kit, a compass or a pocket flashlight, the bee lining kit is there when one needs it, and that knowledge is sufficient to offer one comfort.

Bee Lining Box
In using this rather complicated box, light ports, hinged doors and a sliding gate are opened and closed as bees are trapped, moved from room to room, tanked up on bait, and finally released.

It has been a rough month for the bees. Unrelenting rains are keeping them in their hive and washing the pollen and nectar off of the flowers during what should be the fall flow. Rather than reaping the harvest of their labors, I am doing what I can to ensure that they have enough stores for the winter. Now, more than ever, I appreciate the fine line between bounty and dearth.
It is a good time to come out and celebrate this noble creature, the honeybee.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Summertime, and the living is easy.

The hives in June
The hives in August
It has been a good summer for the bees, and if the saying "slow but steady wins the race" turns out to be true then they are in good shape. The new hive, the Flaming Maples, arrived strong, but small, and is still working to draw comb in the second box (the other boxes are due to my wishful thinking). The House Hive has a full super of honey on it, but I am not touching it until I know how much they have going into the winter. The bees look healthy and plentiful, but there was no spring harvest, no swarming, no bee covered hives on hot summer evenings. (See August of 2010 to see what I am referring to.) Why such a sluggish year? Maybe due to the long hard winter that we had followed by loads of rain that can wash valuable pollen off of the flowers. Maybe a sleepy queen. Every year is different, and I am doing what I can to make life a bit easier for the girls.

Propolis: For those of you who swear by my Propolis Tincture to cure your colds and sore throats, here is a close up of me scraping some of it off of the inner cover. One of my favorite smells...

A shot of the top of a box of frames.

A shot of the bottom of a box of frames. From this angle, I can peek up between the frames and see if comb has been drawn and if so, what is in it. I can also check the bottoms of the frames for queen cells. In this way, I am able to see a lot of what is going on before I even pull out a frame.

August 20th marked the third annual National Honeybee Awareness Day! How did you celebrate? Vacationing 7,000 feet up in the air at Sequoia National Park, I had two terrific honeybee experiences while at a bbq. The first was communing with myriads of honeybees while meandering through an immense field of Goldenrod.
When I returned to the tables of fellow tourists, Matt informed me that he had met a beekeeper. My pulse quickened! How many hives do you have? I asked (the equivalent of "how many kids do you have" in the bee world). "My husband has 2,800 hives." was the reply. Said husband is a commercial beekeeper in Southern California, and we had a great conversation that I had to be dragged away from. I've never spoken much with commercial beekeepers, and Larry did not seem to be annoyed by my barrage of questions. Such as how does a hive move through the year when there is no winter to shut down for? (The hive works year round, with the queen slowing down her egg production during periods when there is nothing to forage.) What do commercial beekeepers do with the tons of honey that the bees produce as they are shipped around to pollinate crops? (Nothing, it is used by the hives as they are divided. Bit of trivia: honey from almonds tastes horrible.) We talked a lot about various treatments for varroa mites (the downfall of many a hive these days) and I was heartened to learn that Larry has experimented (and had success) with using essential oils. This used to be considered a far out alternative treatment, kind of like eating garlic to cure bronchitis (which works by the way). But as beekeepers are finding more and more that conventional chemicals only work in the short term, they are becoming more willing to try other things, and low and behold, they work! Larry also said that he is paying more attention to the bees themselves, and is better able to notice how a hive is doing before things go bad. Preventative medicine versus cleaning up the mess afterwards. I must admit that my preconceived notions of commercial beekeepers had been less than positive; images of folks hurling hives around, dousing them with chemicals and high fructose corn syrup without regard or respect for the bees themselves, and Larry helped me to see past this.

On our way out of the mountains, we were issued the strangest "bon voyage" by a roving group of honey bees. While stopped at a red light on a long sizzling hot road with endless groves of fruit trees, we suddenly became aware of insects flying around the car. Matt was the first to identify them as being honeybees, and I have never seen the girls behave in such a disorganized, random manner. Flying this way and that, spiraling, dipping and weaving around, over and around the car. I could sense their disorientation and can only figure that it was a recent delivery from a pollination truck that had not yet found its way back to its hive.

The number of honeybee related blogs has become immense, but one that struck me especially worthy of note is this one, which features folks who sing and dance in honor of the fine Apis Mellifera.
May the rest of your summer be as sweet as honey.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Flaming Maples

Ahhhh.... honey and daisies.

My second hive finally arrived! Due to the cold and seemingly never ending winter, bee losses were very high this year and the apiary in Pennsylvania where Chris gets his nucs was no exception. Nucs usually arrive mid May, but this one did not made its way to New Paltz until June 4th. A nuc is a mini hive, consisting of five frames. This nuc was amazing; two frames of capped brood, pollen, larvae, and one full frame of capped honey, which gives the girls a terrific head start for wax building and feeding brood. Their temperament was calm and gentle. In a word, a box of dreamy bees. I studied the frames carefully as I moved each frame into their new home, sure that this was my chance to spot the queen, but once again, she alluded me.

A top view of the nuc

Sam got the honor of naming this hive and after much deliberation he chose The Flaming Maples.

One of the first things a new hive goes in search of is water, and given the extreme heat of last week, I wanted to have something to offer them. This bird bath has been frequented pretty steadily all week and I love standing by and watching them.

Do you like my new veil? (see Go Dog Go for point of reference). It's the little things in life, like finally finding a veil system that works just right. Mann Lake sells the black veil and it works perfectly with my new flat brimmed straw hat. I had to alter the veil by adding elastic loops to go under my arms. With this veil/hat combo., I can see much more clearly what is going on in the hive, and I can flip the veil up over the hat when it is not needed. It is also great in the garden when the gnats find me.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Friends the Mason Bees

Every spring I am visited by Mason Bees. On a mission of utmost importance, they investigate the nail holes on the side of my house, the small holes on the underside of the table on the deck, the hollow legs on the old bird cage that hangs above our patio, and anything else they can find that might suit their egg laying needs. Mason Bees are small, fuzzy bees that lay their eggs in holes that are approximately 5/16ths of an inch in diameter. Once they have filled the hole with eggs, they pack it with mud. Over the years, they have found the strangest places for doing this. Above is one such example, the fuel hole on Sam's Fischer Price garage. A few years ago they filled every hole on a multi-plug extension cord that had been left outside.

This year, they discovered the oh so convenient empty frames of comb that were stacked in boxes in front of the house. I was so confused when I discovered that they had started laying eggs in this comb. Here I am, trying to raise honeybees, and another, equally wonderful creature moves in and co opts the equipment. There was no way I could choose one over the other, but I could not stand by and just let the Mason Bees spread the word about what they had found.

So I decided to sacrifice a handful of frames for the Mason Bee cause and quickly constructed an improvised Mason Bee home on the opposite side of the house from where the honeybee equipment is stored.

If you are interested in providing a cheap and easy home for the Mason Bees, take a log and drill rows and rows of 5/16 inch holes in it. Hang it from a tree or on the side of your house and see what happens. Unlike Carpenter Bees, Mason Bees don't make holes in wood, they just use existing ones, so you don't have to worry about them damaging your house.