Bee-Friendly Gardening: How to Spray (If You Must)

10 Mar

Spring is here! For many gardeners, this means spraying clouds of herbicides and pesticides that can kill or weaken neighborhood bees. Fancy a cool drink of Round-up, anyone?

Here’s how you can minimize damage to neighborhood bees if you absolutely must spray chemicals in your yard or garden.
Bee Friendly Gardening

Of course, this won’t help with a new kind of garden evil — neonicotinoids — but every little bit helps. Even better, pull weeds instead of spraying and keep everyone healthy, happy, and safe.

Chestnut Honey Financiers for Winter

28 Dec

While honeybees hibernate for the winter, why not snuggle up with the fruits of their labor and toast the last harvest of the season. Like many beekeepers, my autumn harvest is typically dark and flavorful not unlike the renowned chestnut honeys of Italy. What to do with such robust flavors?

Hazelnut is a perfect pairing for late season honey and when combined with the richness of a financier, it’s comforting beyond compare.

Italian Chestnut Honey
Chestnut Honey Financiers

Chestnut Honey & Hazelnut Financiers

makes about 1 dozen financiers
(adapted from thekitchn)

1 cup ground hazelnut flour
3 tablespoons flour
pinch salt
1/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, plus a little more to grease the muffin tins
1/3 cup chestnut honey (or other dark, flavorful honey)
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a silicone financier mold. NOTE: I strongly recommend using silicone molds as these babies can be sticky to remove. DeBuyer Elastomoule are excellent molds, though costly, and there are plenty of alternatives.

Combine the ground hazelnuts, flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Melt butter in a small saucepan, add honey and sugar, stirring to melt and blend. Pour the butter honey mixture into the almond flour mixture, whisking to combine. Add the eggs, one by one, stirring until the batter is uniform.

Pour about 1 heaping tablespoon of the batter into each cavity of the greased and floured mold.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden. Let stand in the mold for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool fully. Dust with powdered sugar and let cool before eating for best texture.

Honey Harvesting Sunday!

30 Jun

Though it’s a sweaty affair, harvesting honey in 100° weather is liquid joy. This morning, I took 2 gallons from my backyard hive and the floral ambrosia flowed fast and light. Divine!

honey-harvest

And the brood is on!

14 Feb

It’s barely spring in Albuquerque, but already my backyard colony is ramping up for the big bloom! It hit 50°F this afternoon and the girls were soaring like tiny eagles.

IMG_20130214_131128_065

Which is all to say the queen has increased her egg production and the workers are out looking for food and water. Food? There’s none to be found yet in Albuquerque — not even the elm or sumac are blooming. But water? They’re drinking like champagne on New Year’s Eve.

photo (7)

If you haven’t set out water for your hives yet, consider doing so. Even if it freezes at night, the girls will be out on a warm day looking for a source of hydration to mix with pollen for “bee bread”, so it’s safest to ensure they find yours.

NOTE: I’ve found it takes about a week for my bees to find a new source of water, so yet another reason to start watering earlier than you might think.

Hands down, the best beekeeping book for beginners

2 Feb

homegrownhoneybees-coverThis is the book I wish existed when I started beekeeping in 2008. Loaded with photos and step-by-step instructions, it’s one of the few books that will help you survive your first year, especially if you don’t have a mentor.

Homegrown Honey Bees: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Beekeeping Your First Year

Pros:

  • Photos, photos, photos! Everything from eggs and larvae to wax festooning to varroa mites to Nasonov fanning gets a gorgeous photo. See examples at the end of this post.
  • Step-by-step instructions are included for a variety of beginner tasks like installing a package, lighting a smoker, and conducting your first hive check. Seasoned beekeepers often forget how scary these first steps can be.
  • A personal storyline. This book follows the author’s experience keeping backyard bees with her family. The good the bad and the ugly details are all included, making for a very forgiving and human narrative.
  • Interviews with local beeks. Backyard beekeepers from San Francisco to Austin to Chicago are highlighted throughout the book. (I’m on page 47. Yay.) The sheer variety of beekeepers presented makes a new beek feel comfortable developing their own unique approach.
  • A natural approach. Most books I used in my first year were very chemical-centric and solely devoted to Langstroth hives. This book primarily covers Langstroth hives but also discusses top bar hives and pays more than just lip-service to a chemical-free approach.

homegrownhoneybees-day1 homegrownhoneybees-checking

Cons:

Once you have a full year of beekeeping under your belt, you’ll want to move on to more substantial reference books like The Beekeeper’s Handbook or The Practical Beekeeper.

Using a stethoscope to “hear” if your bee hive is alive

18 Jan

If you’re itchy for signs of life over the winter, lord knows you can’t open the hive! But given the right “ear”, you might be able to hear the crunching sounds of life within those four wooden walls.

This week, during Albuquerque’s wicked cold snap, I borrowed a “mechanic’s” stethoscope from a local computer hardware geek and tried to spy on my hive. ZERO. I heard nothing.

The mechanic's stethoscope offered no clues about my bee's survival.

The mechanic’s stethoscope offered no clues about my bee’s survival.

Was it the stethoscope? Was it my bees?

Just when I was about to give up hope, the weather broke and Albuquerque warmed up to 50° which means the girls could get busy if indeed they were alive. Sure enough, about 11 a.m. today, I saw a steady stream of honeybees going about their winter business of pooping, cleaning out dead bees, and possibly even looking for signs of early pollen. Ahhh… beekeeper bliss.

Want to Hear Your Hive?

  • Try a doctor’s stethoscope which amplifies the sounds of bees inside. A mechanic’s stethoscope just didn’t work for me but fellow beeks testify that a doctor’s version will work.
  • Don’t hear anything? Try again at different times in the day. Whatever you do, don’t open the hive until spring!

Deep Freeze: Will my bees survive?

15 Jan

In a record-breaking winter maneuver, we’ve plunged below zero here in Albuquerque. The ever-present sun masks a cruel truth: It’s wickedly cold outside and most local critters aren’t prepared.

This morning, I knocked on my hive and listened. With an ear to the wood, I thought I might hear the faint crunching of a cluster of bees huddled inside. SILENCE.

My backyard hive in winter One who didn't make it

And so, I must wait, like a mama eagle teaching her fledgling to fly — I supported you well and this, you must survive on your own.

It’s tough love, to be sure, but if Albuquerque is to support honeybees for the long haul, I believe the species must adapt to local conditions without human intervention.

And so I wait. The first warm day above 50 will bring me news of their survival.

UPDATE 1/18/13: The weather has broken and my girls took to the sky today as only critters with cabin fever will do. They’re alive!

Bee Queen for Halloween

31 Oct

Happy halloween, fellow beeks and mellifera lovers!

May I present my niece, Sasha, Most Royal Queen of the Hive. At least for tonight.

[bee hive hair by Martha Stewart]

Sasha, Hive Queen for Halloween

Earlier this year, the Hive Queen opened her first hive with me.

Winter is coming

6 Oct

Desperation is starting to set in.

After a chilly morning today, the scene at my backyard hive was frenzied. As though all creatures knew that time was running out and that their last meal was rapidly approaching.

In some cases, that meal was a juicy honeybee snatched in mid-air like candy at the Day of the Dead paradeHay más tiempo que vida.

Mantis lunch

Fried honeybees on a stick? Bees at the NM State Fair

23 Sep

Amazement is putting it mildly.

“If you put your ear by the vent, you can hear the bees working inside… Right here.”

If the wide-eyes and motionless stares were any indication, honeybees were the hit of the Agricultural segment of the NM State Fair this month. Not that we stood a chance competing with “fried beer on a stick” or a “chile relleno corn dog” but compared to pigs? Bees are amazing.

Thousands of people stopped to visit my girls at the New Mexico State Fair this weekend, thanks to stellar organizing by Jessie Brown who wrangled the schedule of volunteers and procured an observation hive I could fill with two frames of bees. Kids and parents alike were enchanted by the hum of a real hive and the subtle vibrations they could feel with their hands on the glass.

Learn About Observation Hives

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