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405 lbs, the Great Google Honey Harvest

21 Sep

Honey-harvesting Googlers

The Bee Team at Google (80 people strong) just harvested its first combs of honey last week.

Under the helpful guidance of Bill Tomaszewski of Marin Bee Company, Googlers took turns uncapping the honey (removing the protective wax that bees use to cover a cell once it’s filled with honey), hand-cranking the honey extraction machinery to spin the honey out of the honey comb and pouring the honey through filters to remove the bits of wax and other particles that came from the hive.

Read the full story

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The Honey Harvesters at City Open Space

13 Sep

Together with Jodi and James from the City Open Space crew, we harvested a box of honey from the cottonwood tree hive. It’s a dark buttery fall honey without a hint of astringency. As part of our volunteer efforts, we kindly tracked honey and mud all throughout the Westside Visitor’s Center and used every wet towel on site.

Want to try Albuquerque Open Space honey and donate to their programs? You can buy a jar or two at this Saturday’s Urban Farm Fest but get there early as supplies are limited.

The Bee Killer

9 Aug

Like a super-powered sniper, Mallophora fautrix fixates on my Russian sage in full bloom. She waits patiently, not for the nectar, but for my honeybees that farm like a thousand seasonal workers, bobbing up and down in the purple blooms oblivious to the fact that they’re being watched. Grateful for the monsoon season’s bounty.

Unexpectedly, the bee killer swoops in like a hawk and snatches a bee mid-air!

IMG_4107-1

Whether the bee is dispatched mercifully, I don’t know, but Mallophora fautrix soon settles in the crook of a nearby vine to suck the honeybee’s fluids like a warm mango lassi on a blazing summer day. She luxuriates, wickedly sipping for nearly an hour on her prey. And then drops the carcass to the ground before resuming her ominous vigil.

Bosque fire licks my beehive!

2 Jul

Fire licked so close this week to the beehive we manage for City Open Space that leaves on the cottonwood tree above were singed. Ouch!

It was a 5 acre fire that torched a chunk of the riverfront forest (that’s “bosque” if you’re from New Mexico) burning down the entire field of trees next to the beehive and starting a grassfire  just yards away. Driving up to the hive, once the area was open to access again, we had no idea what to expect — did the bees abscond? Did honeycomb just melt off its foundation?

Surprisingly, the girls were buzzing along seemingly oblivious to the smoldering forest and the hive itself was filled with combs of honey and worker brood. We sampled a buttery chunk of honey, half expecting it to taste like smoke but it was pure and warm and… to its proud keepers, perfect.

We packed up our gear soothed by this amazing survivor hive. And I swear, as we pulled away, the bees were bearding in the shape of the Virgin, like any other modern day miracle,

We want the honey, Lebowski

14 Jun

Nihilists courtesy of Goldberg

Despite setbacks in the Valley, our Nob Hill hives are jamming. This weekend, we harvested 5 gallons of honey, rendering our kitchen a veritable storage unit for the Apocalypse (In case of peak oil or Doomsday, you now know where to find a cache of sweetener.)

It’s a gorgeous toasted-butter hue with flavors of backyard fruit trees and honey locust. You’ll find our Spring 2010 vintage on the menu this month at the James Beard-nominated restaurant, Jennifer James 101, and at the Pollinator Celebration on June 26. Ooh la la! I’m so excited.

So angry pesticide-spraying farmers be damned! I’m spreading a thick layer of honey on my toast this morning like a miniature revolution.

Or as they say, in the parlance of our times, “Sometimes you eat the bar, sometimes the bar eats you.”

Vintage Spring 2010, Albuquerque

Yes, your pesticides are killing the bees.

10 Jun

It’s not that complicated really: If you spray your fields with pesticides, you kill the honeybees in our community.

Farmer Rasband sprays the fields.

Literally 10 yards from the hives

Piles of dead bees from pesticides earlier this spring

New bees dying on the landing board immediately after spraying

These photos were taken 10 minutes apart at hives in Albuquerque’s North Valley, near some of the poshest “country estates” in the city. Farmer Scott Rasband, owner of Rasband Dairy was out spraying his fields just yards from the beehives we manage as a public service for City Open Space who sells the honey to generate funds. The hives had already experienced a pesticide kill from Rasband’s spraying a couple weeks ago but 10 minutes after the spraying today, bees were perishing yet again on the landing board. Makes you wonder how he treats his cows, doesn’t it?

As I took the photo of Farmer Rasband, I attempted to puff up like a menacing Valkyrie but honestly, I just felt helpless and sad. Truly, to keep bees in these times is to live with a broken heart.

Chemical kill at one of the hives

Related articles:

Evidence That Pesticides Are Seriously Messing Up Our Honey Bees
USDA: Pesticides and the Honey Bee
Accountability: Pay Beekeepers When Pesticides Kill Their Bees
City Bees are healthier than country bees (because of pesticides)

Update 5/25/2012: It has taken almost 2 years, but today the City decided to require Rasband NOT spray herbicides or pesticides on this farm on Open Space lands.  Congratulations on the health of humans and bees nearby!

Need to move your bee hive? Here’s the lazy way.

8 Jun

Inspired by Bush Bees, we decided to ignore the standard admonition about losing bees if you moved your hive more than 2 feet but less than 2 miles. (The rule of thumb is that if you’re moving your bees across the yard more than 2 feet, you’ll need to move them temporarily out 2 miles away so they don’t fixate on the old location.)

Too much damn work.

Instead, when a neighbor seemed fearful about a hive near his fence, we happily offered to move it on the other side of the yard… that same night.

Here’s how it works: Continue reading

My new Serge Labesque hive

31 May

Ventilation is not what most new beeks consider when crafting their first bee hive. But that’s just what Sonoma beekeeper, and my personal favorite philosophe des abeilles, Serge Labesque recommends to keep your hives healthy.

After 2 seasons keeping bees, I couldn’t agree more. Even in the American Southwest, known for being dry as a bleached cattle bone, I find condensation, mildew, and even lichens each spring after opening our hives. To me, the girls don’t need more insulation, they actually need less.

In fact, a survey I conducted with local beekeepers in 2010 shows that nearly twice as many beeks winterize their hives by ensuring there’s adequate ventilation than by suffocating their dames with a downy blanket.

From the 2010 Albuquerque Beekeepers Survey

But Serge Labesque takes ventiliation to a whole ‘nother level by leaving his hive bodies unpainted, save for the joints. As he described at last year’s NM Beekeeping Summer Seminar, the idea is that unpainted wood can breathe, allowing the bees to have more control over ventilation. Here’s what Labesque’s hives look like.

And so voila! We’ve decided to go au naturel this season, leaving our new boxes unpainted. We simply bought unassembled hive bodies from Mann Lake, uncorked a bottle of champagne one Friday night and set to work.

Learn more:

Bee Escape, the easy way to harvest honey

27 May
Bee escape board

Adding the clearer board with 2 Porter-style bee escapes.

Brushing bees off honey frames I’m about to pilfer isn’t fun for anyone. The bees get testy, I get buzzed, and by the time I’ve cleared bees off all the frames in a box, everyone’s beyond foul in mood. Waiter, make that a double!

That’s why I simply adore the bee escape, aka “clearer board”. What is a bee escape, you ask? It’s essentially a one-way valve that allows bees to leave but doesn’t let ’em back in. Perfect for clearing a box of honey with minimal stress to me and the bees.

[Here’s a diagram of the original Porter bee escape.]

So how do you use it? Oh do allow me, darlings. Continue reading

New online tool for tracking bee hives

11 May

I don’t know about you, but tracking hives with paper and pen seems awfully…. well, 20th century.

And thus I’m thrilled to find out that someone’s built just the app I’ve been looking for!

Beetight: Online Hive Tracking

This weekend I plan to give it a whirl. Are you already using Beetight? Let me know how you like it…