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

Advertisements

The Pollen Files: Deploying the Ground Troops

8 Jul

Apparently the air force isn’t enough to unload the Pagoda Tree (Sophora japonica) blooming in my backyard. It’s a vigorous, glorious explosion at a time when resources have gone dry in Albuquerque, so the girls have decided to call in the ground troops for timely assistance.

Japanese pagoda tree in luscious bloom

While their airborne sisters rush to extract pollen each morning from the delicate pea-like blooms, a few dozen honeybees scour the ground for fallen blossoms still containing a bit of pollen.

Scouring the ground for pollen-filled blossoms from the Pagoda Tree

It’s an unusual two-pronged approach. Never before have I seen seen bees gathering pollen from the ground so here’s yet another item on the growing list of the existential pleasures of beekeeping.

Save Your Wine Corks for the Bees

7 Jul

If you’re like me, you’ve got a drawer full of wine corks imbued with optimistic ideas about cork bathmats or cork trivets and yet they continue to lead an empty existence.

Waste no more.

Whether you’re a beekeeper or a bee lover, you can help your neighborhood honeybees AND recycle a few wine corks all in one superhero swoop. Here’s how:

  1. Take a handful of corks
  2. Toss ’em in a bucket or birdbath filled with clean water
  3. Watch your neighborhood honeybees come drinking
  4. Keep the water replenished regularly

Wine cork drinking bucket for bees at the Lurie Garden, Chicago.

Meet the Millennium Park Beekeeper, Chicago

20 Jun

Nestled in Chicago’s Millennium Park hides a sliver of nature’s wild heart called The Lurie Garden. It’s an unruly place with prairie grasses and purple coneflowers, butterflies and cottontail rabbits. There in the gardens, tucked behind a tall double hedgerow, is an even bigger surprise — two bee hives.

Today I was lucky enough to interview the willowy keeper of these hives — Laura Young, horticulturist and beekeeper for Lurie Gardens. We tasted honey, talked VIP hive watchers, and dropped the scoop on a new cocktail made with Lurie Garden honey.

Lurie Garden, in Chicago’s Millennium Park

So, madame beekeeper, are these bee hives controversial?

Not so far. People are becoming used to the idea of honeybees in our community and so they’re not so concerned. We were able to capitalize on the existing hives at City Hall and the Cultural Center, so there’s momentum for supporting honeybees.

Many of our plants here in Lurie Garden are pollinator magnets, so we’re quite open to the idea of bees on our plants and so is the public.

Do most people know about these hives? Have you been written up anywhere?

We got our first hive in April 2011, so this is still a somewhat new program. Some people are hearing about it through social media like our Facebook page for The Lurie Garden.

No, the bee hives at Lurie Garden haven’t had any press but Michael Thompson from the Chicago Honey Coop (who helped us get started) talks about us every chance he gets.

Let’s talk honey. How does yours taste? More importantly, can people buy some?

We haven’t harvested yet this year, but last year’s honey tastes lemony, minty, and a bit like linden trees which grow in nearby Grant Park.

At the moment, we don’t sell our honey. We just give it to garden volunteers and our board. Rumor is though that Terzo Piano, the restaurant across the street at the Art Institute, will start mixing a drink on Thursday nights made with our honey. You can call to find out more from the mixologist.

Have any VIPs visited your hives yet?

Yes! Ann Lurie! We didn’t open the hives, but she wanted to come up close and see them.

Tell me about the notorious Chicago winters. What did you do to winterize the hives?

Nothing, actually! We just left the bees about 50 lbs of honey (2 extra shallows) and used an entrance reducer. That’s it. And the hive from last year was so strong this spring, we had to make a split.

What do people say when you tell them you’re a beekeeper?

Most people ask, “Oh have you ever been stung?”

Increasingly, people are getting excited about beekeeping. It used to be just a fact among facts about oneself but now it’s something people are interested in when you tell them.

Coneflower and honeybee in Lurie Garden

Thanks to Laura Young and the Lurie Garden. You can reach Laura at laura.young3@cityofchicago.org.

Meet the New Regent: A successful hive requeening

14 Jun

Last month, this bee hive near Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood was in dire straits. Queenless and eggless, the colony was on the brink of collapse when I requeened her with a virgin from Zia Queen Bee in northern NM.

It’s been three weeks since then and yesterday I popped open the hive to see what I could see. Did the queen die in her cage? Did she fly out for her sky orgy and get snatched by a bird? Did she start laying with sufficient skill to be accepted by the workers?

Here’s what I found…

Freshly capped brood as far as the eye can see

Meet the new queen!

And peace and prosperity reigned across the land…

[View photos of the requeening process]

There’s a Virgin Queen in My Pocket: A Photo Essay

25 May

The queen bee’s gone missing. And all the tell-tale signs are there: no brood, a restless wings-spread stance, and an anxious hum when you open the colony. I’ve got to give this otherwise strong hive a new brood mare, pronto.

Last night, I scored a virgin queen from Zia Queen Bee Co but night’s no time to install a queen. So Queen Elizabeth and I spent the night together chastely waiting for sunlight and attempting to stay warm.

Keeping the queen warm in my pocket til I can take her home

The queen spent the night in a sock on a shelf 6 inches above my head

This morning before my 9 a.m. meeting, I installed Good Queen Bess in the lonely hive. And now my job is to wait 3-4 weeks for her to:

  1. Engage in a productive sky orgy
  2. Return safely and start laying
  3. Be deemed acceptable by the colony

In the meantime, nature doesn’t need any meddling from me.

Anatomy of a queen cage

The chicken wire keeps our chickens away from the hive

I hope to see something like this: Fresh bee eggs on black foundation with spring pollen nearby

UPDATE 6/14/12: Success! The queen was successfully mated and is laying a monster batch of brood as we speak. View photos if you’re curious.

A Happy Birthday Bee Swarm

11 May

For almost a year now, this hive has stood silent in my backyard. Today, just in time for my birthday, we caught a wayward swarm (likely from my other hive)  and installed the girls all snuggly into their new home.

Swarm!

A gorgeous swarm in the neighborhood

Our swarm transfer process

Swarm!

Exposing their Nasonov glands to waft a “homing” pheromone

For more on technique, see: https://mistressbeek.com/2010/05/13/how-to-catch-a-swarm/

Ideas for Beautiful Honey Packaging

7 May

I won’t lie: Beautiful honey packaging matters more to me than it should.

“Why are we spending $80 on labels?” my husband asked. “We don’t even sell our honey!” And he’s right. Our 1040 reads a fat zero on the “Honey Income” line but, I might argue, if the IRS measured quality of life, mine would skyrocket every time I bottle a jar of honey. This weekend I harvested 2 gallons of honey from my Nob Hill hive, and the bottling process was pure pleasure.

My honey jars, inspired by the Chicago Honey Co-op

If you’re an aesthete like me, or if you aim to sell your honey, here are a few ideas for inspiration and sourcing.

Inspiration

Beeline honey jars

Beeline cylinder jars

Abella’s custom jars

Concept by Ah&Oh

Chicago Honey Co-op

Classic hexagon revisited

Honey trio by Bee Raw

Jar Sources

For interesting jars, consider alternative glass sources like candle jars or salve jars. Here are a few low-cost options to move beyond the plastic honey bear. Click an image to find the product page.

Tall French square

Candle bottle

Blue straight jar

Black lid straight jar

Unusual round jar

Tall cylinder jar

Find a few more ideas at: http://www.sunburstbottle.com/glass-jars

Label Sources

The Silent Bee Hive

30 Apr

7 months later, it’s time to clean the hive of doom, utterly devastated by wax moths last September. Like the unbearable pain of losing your sweetest love, sometimes denial works best. Denial and the slow plod of time’s anesthesia.

But eventually, one must don a pair of work gloves and dig in. This weekend, I finally lifted the lid of my devastated hive and began the slow and disgusting work of cleaning her out.

Cleaning up a hive destroyed by wax moths

Fortunately, the chill of winter had killed all remaining wax moths, and robber bees had removed all remaining drops of honey. So, you see, avoidance seems to have worked in my favor after all.

Cleaning up a hive destroyed by wax moths Cleaning up a hive destroyed by wax moths

What would have been a sticky slime-filled mess, was now simply dessicated and devoid of life.

Cleaning up a hive destroyed by wax moths

And so, I’ll clean off the cocoons and webbing. I’ll freeze the frames to kill any remaining moth eggs. And I’ll pick up my heavy heart and start over.

The Beekeepers of Albuquerque, New Mexico

21 Apr

2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers

We’re an eccentric crew.

With over 400 teachers, students, attorneys, engineers, scientists, accountants, fighter pilots and more, the Albuquerque beekeeping scene is endlessly varied. And one of my greatest pleasures is to volunteer as co-chair with Jessie Brown to organize our collective efforts.

Hands down, the highlight of our annual event series is our Spring Field Day. Lucky us, today was another beautiful and bee-filled day in the Rio Grande Valley.

2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers 2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers
2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers 2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers
2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers 2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers
2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers 2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers
2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers 2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers

View a slideshow of the full photo set.

Learn more about beekeeping in Albuquerque.