The Bee Lady nominated for Versatile Blogger Award!

Many, many thanks to Anita at Beverly Bees (Boston, Mass.), who nominated me for a Versatile Blogger Award! It’s refreshing to know that people out there are actually reading the posts on your blog and appreciate your work. I keep two blogs — The Bee Lady and Kowalogy, which focuses on my reflections of teaching and education. I need to post on that one a bit more often!

So a shout out to Beverly Bees and Anita, who’s got a BEAUTIFUL website and lovely blog about beekeeping and below you will find the rules for a Versatile Blogger nomination and a list of my favorite blogs, whom I’m also nominating for the award. I’m pretty selective about who I follow so I can’t quite meet the 15 blog quota but these are really great bloggers who deserve some serious kudos. Keep on bloggin’!

Rules for the Versatile Blogger Award:

1. Thank the Blogger who nominated you.
2. Include a link to their site.
3. Include the award image in your post.
4. Give 7 random facts about yourself.
5. Nominate 15 other Bloggers for the award.
6. When nominating, include a link to their site.
7. Let other Bloggers know they have been nominated.

SEVEN RANDOM FACTS:

  1. Like Anita, my next backyard barnyard endeavor is chickens. My husband will be building the coop this fall and we plan to get five ladies in January. I plan to name them Truvy, M’Lynn, Annelle, Clairee, and Ouizer — not all that original, I know, but I love it!
  2. I have two fancy goldfish — Sunny and Happy. They are so cute and I love them, but watching them while I’m eating grosses me out and makes me nauseous.
  3. I think the city bus system is actually a social experiment being secretly filmed and studied by a covert government agency.
  4. If I could, I would eat a pound of cherries every day.
  5. My husband makes me laugh more than any person I know. It’s one of the prime reasons I married him.
  6. My favorite food is pork soup dumplings.
  7. I have lost or misplaced a beautiful piece of jade that I got in Ireland and it’s currently driving me crazy that I can’t remember when I last wore it or where I put it.

Blogs I’m nominating for a Versatile Blogger Award:

Kitchenette Foodie: My friend Ilona who does a lovely foodie blog!

Gen Y Girl: Kayla Cruz — You’re my hero! I wish I were as outspoken as you when I was your age.

The Paper Graders: Sarah M. Zerwin (Doc Z) and Jay Stott (Mr. S) and Paul Bursiek (Mr. B)  — three teachers who write openly and honestly about what it means to be public school teachers and intellectuals.

Education Alchemy: Same as above.

LetMBee: Jason Bruns in Indiana, who — like me — let the beauty of the bees carry him in a new direction in life.

Bees & Chicks: Two women who combine two of my favorite topics — bees and gardening — and write about their experiences.

Mistress Beek: My fellow ABQ Beek Chantal Forster, who has done so much to advance beekeeping in The Duke City.

Backwards Beekeepers: Another amazing urban beekeeping group — in Los Angeles, nonetheless.

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Anatomy of a Bee Sting

When I tell people I am a beekeeper, they inevitably ask two questions: (1) do I get stung, and (2) how often do I get stung.

Being stung by your bees is an occupational hazard that is gladly welcomed by beekeepers. Most beekeepers accept that when we are fiddling with 50,000 to 100,000 bees we are bound to get walloped. Many of us take precautions during our hive checks, such as a veil and gloves; however, there are some beekeepers, like my husband Ryan, who conduct beekeeping practices in shorts and a t-shirt, no veil, no gloves. There are definitely days when this is possible — days when the weather is cool and the bees are easy-going about their business with nary a concern for this smelly giant who’s conducting a serious home invasion. But there are also days when the bees are just downright pissy and it doesn’t matter how careful or covered you are — those little buggers are going to find some flesh and when they do they’re gonna getcha.

So, yes, we do get stung. How often? Well, again, that depends on the circumstances. The most I’ve ever been stung at once is eight times and it was, quite honestly, all my fault. I was meandering around a hive and noticed that one of the boxes was askew. Wearing a sweater and jeans (both dark in color, which bees hate), I decided I could “scoot” the box into place. I accomplished this only to be attacked by a couple dozen guard bees who did not appreciate my intrusion. I must add here that there is nothing more amusing and entertaining as a human running away from a group of bees. The arms flailing, the head jerking from side to side, the look of pure panic, alarm, and agitation, all in a full-run, mind you, across the yard while a handful of creatures no bigger than a pinto bean pursue indefatigably until the intruder has gotten his just desserts. This was me. I ran into the garage and stripped down to my underwear to ensure that all the little terrorists had been extracted from my clothing and then stood there, hoping that none had followed me inside.

Bee also have a pattern, that is there is a series of events that will lead up to the actual sting. The first thing you notice is the sound of their buzzing. A foraging bee creates a buzz equal to a soft hum. An annoyed bee’s buzz is considerably more high pitched. They will also give you a warning shot, popping you on the head or fluttering around your ear or under your neck. If you experience this, it’s in your best interest to move out of their range. They’re telling you nicely to bugger off. If you walk away, they’ll leave you alone. If you don’t then comes the attack sequence. You can run, but most of the time you can’t hide. And swatting and flailing? Forget it! it just makes them more game for the chase. Most bees that are in hot pursuit will not follow you through a threshold — a doorway, through some trees or bushes — so this is an option. Still, chances are that if you got stung, you ignored the warning signs.

We have nine hives in our back yard — that’s about half a million bees at minimum — but for the most part the bees leave us alone. I can and have worked unbothered in the garden when my husband is checking a hive and bees are everywhere. My daughter also plays in the garden in front of the hives without being disturbed. The only time we are harassed is after the honey harvest. Sometimes the hives will send out sentinels to hover at our back door and will buzz antagonistically around your head if you venture outside. We consider it payback for stealing their hard-earned honey. And then there’s water — when we have our daughter’s little splash pool filled the bees will come around to gather water and this can sometimes cause some problems, which is exactly what happened to me on the 4th of July this year.

Charlotte and I were relaxing in her plastic pool and I was blasting squirts of water from the hose up into the air. After a few moments, I felt what I thought was a large drop of water dripping down my head. I instinctively reached up to wipe it away and WHAPPOW! She stung me right in the center of the top of my head, then got stuck in my hair. Anyone who’s had a bee stuck in her hair knows how disconcerting it is (there’s a reason for the saying “Got a bee in your bonnet?”). I was more concerned about extracting her than I was about extracting the stinger from my scalp. I eventually pulled her out, then went inside to dig through my coif and find the stinger so I could pull it out. For those of you who are not aware, honeybees have a barbed stinger, which means that when the stinger goes in your skin it stays there. The problem is that her stinger is attached to her intestines, so when she pulls away her intestines and stinger are yanked out and she eventually dies. The stinger pumps venom into your skin for nearly a minute, however, ensuring a painful reminder of her presence and how committed she was to making you go away.

Lots of people have never been stung by a bee so they’re not really sure what it feels like — it hurts like you got poked hard with a needle, then it feels sort of numb. When I’ve gotten stung on the arm or leg, it’s not all that painful. But the sting on the scalp was like the worst brain freeze I’ve ever felt. It hurt real bad. But for me, it’s not the initial pain of the sting that is so bothersome. For me, it’s what comes in the four or five days following the sting that is intimidating — the allergic reaction. Yes, I am a beekeeper who is allergic to bee stings.

People’s reaction to bee stings varies. Mostly, you get what’s called a local reaction. If you’re like my husband and his mother, a local reaction might amount to a bit of soreness for all of about 30 minutes. For me, a local reaction means four or five days of soreness, followed by a hot, swollen welt, followed by an itch that almost drives me mad, and then sometimes blisters and bruising. Fortunately, I’ve never had what is called a systemic reaction, which is where your throat closes up and you go into anaphylactic shock. Still, my local reactions are quite painful and require constant care for the duration: Benadryl, both internally and topically, ice, and ibuprofen. I’ve just recently started taking the homeopathic remedy called Apis Mellifica, which helps with the swelling. Here’s an example of what a local reaction might look like on me.

Now, because this sting was on my head I thought that all evidence of the reaction would be masked by my hair. I of course, did not take into account something called gravity, which ensured that the swelling would travel down the front of my face over a course of five days. So what you see below is the swelling slowly draining from my head to just under my eyes. I woke up one morning with my eyes swollen shut, but , fortunately, with absolutely no pain. My husband said I looked like a Klingon, which I thought was a compliment. Fortunately, I recovered — as victims of bee stings will almost always do.

Do I hate the bee for stinging me? No. Am I afraid to venture in my back yard? No. Am I afraid of being stung again? No. It just is what it is. So the next time you see a bee, give praise to the power she wields with her tiny body and respect her for fighting to the death to protect what is hers. She’s just doing her job.

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REPOST Importing Bees: High Demand Creates a Huge Dilemma

Great article by Melanie Kirby of Zia Queen Bees in the Green Fire Times this month. Please read and share.

IMPORTING BEES: High Demand Creates a Huge Dilemma.

Queen/Mating Nucs

As part of Ryan’s queen-rearing project, he created these “mating nucs,” which, in effect, are little queen nurseries (Ryan jokingly calls them brothels because they’re purpose is to house the queen until she’s mated). He took a deep hive body box and split it into four sections using clear plexiglass. He takes a viable, unhatched queen cell out of his queen-rearing box and puts her in with one frame of honey and one frame full of brood (eggs, larva, and pupa), so each box contains four nucs-in-the-making. Each section has it’s own entrance (see holes in front) so that when the queen emerges she can come out and do her mating flight.

 

Preparing for the Honey Harvest

Ryan putting together all of our new honey supers. He’s preparing for the harvest, and getting some hive bodies for the new nucs that he’s creating.

We are Langstroth beekeepers, which means we use the stackable box hives as opposed to top-bar hives, and instead of using the shallow honey supers we use regular deep-hive bodies for the honey supers as well as the brood boxes. We didn’t do this for any  particular reason, just a matter of choice. There’s only one disadvantage to using deep-hive bodies for our supers: our extractor only fits three deep frames, whereas if we used the shallow supers it would take six at a time. It just makes the harvest take a little longer.

We’re eager to rob our girls!

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Swarm, Catch, Scratch

Wednesday was an interesting day for beekeeping.

At about 2:15, Ryan emails me to let me know that his queen-rearing experiment has succeeded. He opened the box and found that he had mis-timed the extraction of the queen cells by a day. Some had hatched, which meant there were multiple queens in the box. In all he counted about 16 broken cells, which means that about 50 percent of what he grafted were reared successfully. Now, where the queens went, we have no idea. They may have slowly battled it out until the mightiest took reign. It’s a bit sad to think that we missed out on so many healthy queens, but at least we know that we don’t have to go out and buy our queens elsewhere.

He did find one queen crawling around the box and deposited her into one of our queenless colonies. She immediately began fluttering her wings to spread her pheromone throughout the new hive. Amazing.

Then at 3:15 Ryan emailed again and said that we’d had our first swarm from a split that he had created a couple of weeks ago. He said he and Charlotte watched as the cloud swirled and buzzed and landed on our neighbor’s basketball post. When I got home they were still there (see photos below), thankfully, and I helped Ryan get a box and balance it above the swarm. True to form, they were so docile he worked them in shorts and a t-shirt with no problems. Then he smoked them from the bottom, and up, up, up they went into the box. Shazam! A new colony.

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THEN…

Ryan decides to check the hive that swarmed to see what’s up. Again, he’s out there in his shorts and T-shirt looking in the box and then he hears this scratching noise on the frame he’s looking at. He brings the frame over and asks me if I hear it. Sure enough, we look closely and there’s the new queen emerging from her supersedure cell. I guess the old queen knew it was time to go, so she swarmed with half the colony.

The beauty of it all is that we got this video of the queen emerging from her cell. (Sorry for the slightly fuzzy zoom moment.) Enjoy!

Grafting Queens

As I mentioned in a previous post, we found three of our hives queenless this year. Challenging as it may be, it was a perfect opportunity for Ryan to hone his queen-grafting skills.

Grafting queens entails taking various levels of brood (eggs and larva) and using a “grafting tool” to transfer them into plastic queen cups and then placing them vertically on special frames. The idea is that the bees will recognize the vertical nature of the cup with the egg/larva inside and will begin feeding royal jelly to the brood inside and building a queen cell around it as it develops.

The photos below were taken last weekend as Ryan built special queen frames, equipped them with said queen cups, and grafted larva into them. The photo of the hive brimming with bees was taken today, as Ryan crammed several hives together into one queenless colony to stimulate them to start rearing their own queen.

We will update as things progress.

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The Beekeeper’s Spring

As you can guess, springtime poses the greatest challenges for beekeepers. It’s a make-or-break time when you could easily lose a colony to cold snaps or starvation or swarming. This spring has been a particular challenge as Ryan has discovered that three of our colonies have become queenless in the past couple of weeks. Normally, the colony will notice if their queen is on her way out by her sparse laying pattern (or no laying at all). Their instinct is to rear a new queen so that she can begin laying eggs and building colony strength and numbers in preparation for the nectar flow. You don’t want your colonies to go queenless for too long, as it weakens the hive over a very short period of time. We’re not too certain what happened to these queens, but Ryan has instituted a queen-rearing project and hopes to have at least five new queens within the next couple of weeks. It will be interesting as this is the first time he will be doing this. As usual, he’s the consummate beekeeper — always equal to the task and ready to help his girls in any way he can.

On a lighter note, this spring has been a presentation spring for us. We were called upon to do a beekeeping presentation for Marissa Hamilton’s second-grade class at Hawthorne Elementary School here in Albuquerque. Ryan has been planning to make an observation hive for some time, and this was the perfect motivation for him to get the project completed. It was so great to see the looks on the childrens’ faces when we brought in our “glass” hive with the bees hard at work inside. Of course, I forgot the camera. {Post sad face emoticon here.}

We do have photos of another presentation we did for the Albuquerque Urban Beekeepers Association (ABQBeeks). Chantal Forster and Jessie Brown, co-coordinators of the group, invited us to the Spring Maintenance Meeting, where Ryan and I talked about maintenance of our Langstroth Hives. My presentation was pretty straightforward, but Ryan did a great talk on how he over-wintered a very weak colony by placing it on top of a stronger colony with a screened bottom board to allow for the warmth to sustain the weak hive during the coldest months. He also introduced his two-sided nuc hives, which were a great hit.

We hope to do more of these types of educational programs in the future, as we are both working toward our Master Beekeeper certification through the Washington State Beekeepers Association (New Mexico does not have such a program).

The greatest hit of all was the Observation Hive. Below are photos.

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Hive No. 2 — Getting Back Into the Game

I first started beekeeping back in 2007 after my then-boyfriend (now husband) encouraged me to get a hive. I fell in love with it immediately. Then the PhD came along in 2008 and a baby girl in 2009 and my commitment to the bees waned considerably in lieu of these other intense roles I was playing. I would help with the harvest and offering advice, but I rarely took part in the “true” work of beekeeping — the hive checks. Fortunately, Ryan stepped in and under his guidance our beekeeping endeavors have grown to five hives (soon to be more) and selling our surplus honey at the farmer’s market. He is the finest beekeeper I know — so loving and nurturing to the ladies, and they respond with heavenly honey flow every year.

But now that my PhD is almost done and our baby girl is a self-sufficient two-and-a-half year old, I realized that I needed to get back in the game. Ryan has turned over Hive No. 2 to my capable hands. This hive happens to be the first one I ever owned. So me and my girls are once again going to merge our efforts.

Today was my first hive check in more than three years. I wasn’t nervous, and once I opened the box and started looking at the frames I felt at home. But it didn’t take long for me to realize I was moving too fast. After about 10 minutes I had a small swarm of more-than-slightly-perturbed bees buzzing around my head. Time was this would not have bothered me in the least, but after three years out of the saddle I was more than a bit unnerved. It’s one thing to have one or two bees trying to get under your veil, but a dozen or more?

I decided to stop after checking the upper hive body and return tomorrow to check the lower box and find the queen, check her laying, and make sure they are generally OK. I realize it will take some time for me and the ladies reacquainted. Small steps, right?

Tale of a Queen

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Early last summer, Ryan got a call about a swarm not far from our house. One of our honey buyers said she noticed a small cluster of bees on a pinon tree. Ryan drove over to check it out. Sure enough, there was a swarm about the size of a large grapefruit — fairly small for a swarm, and pretty late in the year for a swarm to take flight. He put a hive body down, clipped the tree branch, and shook the cluster of bees down into the box.

Within minutes, he and others who were watching began to observe large clusters of bees tumbling and fighting on the ground and near the hive body. It became clear that a new colony had smelled the sweet scent of honey nearby and attacked the small swarm. Before he knew it, there were dead bees everywhere. He sealed up the box and drove it home, not knowing what to expect when he opened it the next day.

As suspected, he opened the box the following morning and found nothing but a dozen or so bees wandering around. He assumed all of the bees from the swarm had perished or flown away during the robbing attack. He closed the box and figured the remaining bees would leave or die off.

The next morning he opened the box to clean out and re-store the frames. As he pulled out a frame, he saw a cluster of four or five bees hiding down in the corner. And lo and behold, there was the queen. Her majesty’s wing had been damaged and was askew, probably as a result of the robbing and the move, but she was alive and being attended to. He put Her Majesty and her attendants into a jar and fed them. The girls eagerly took the honey and fed it to their queen.

Later, he created a nuc hive using brood and egg and honey from one of our stronger colonies and placed the queen and her attendants in it and figured nature would take care of the rest. The new nuc took famously to their new queen and it looked like we had a brand new colony on our hands, which we were thrilled about.

Then as fall came about we worried that the nuc wouldn’t have the numbers necessary to keep warm during the long winter. So Ryan created a screened board that he placed between a strong full colony and the nuc. He placed the nuc on top of the strong colony with the screened bottom that kept the two groups separate but would allow the heat from the stronger colony to rise up and warm the nuc throughout the winter. There was also the worry that this new queen was fertilized and able to lay eggs.

The photos you are seeing is this queen, with her crooked wing, and what remains of her colony. They survived the winter and the queen is now laying eggs in preparation for building her foraging family up for the spring. Success all around — a result of a strong queen and an amazing and caring beekeeper.