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The Cincinnati Zoo “Pollinator Garden Challenge”

Friends, I’ve just been outside planning a spot for another apiary, and THE WEATHER IS DOWNRIGHT SPRINGLIKE OUT THERE! Packaged bees arrive in Cincinnati on Easter Sunday morning, April 21, 2019….if you need a package, contact me.

But planning the site and ordering the packaged bees are only the first steps…once the bees arrive, they have to eat. And build honeycomb. And raise brood. And that takes nectar. Which comes from blooming plants. And that’s where the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens comes into play right now.

The CZBG has begun a Pollinator Garden Challenge, and I implore you to register your garden on their website. I registered mine a few weeks ago, and then I received their very nice little garden sign in the mail. The sign indicates to my neighbors, any visitors to my yard, or all the Sunday-afternoon drive takers who cruise down my street that the glorious flowers they’re seeing are recognized by the Zoo as a pollinator garden.

If you don’t already have pollinator-supporting flowers or bushes or trees planted in your yard, you can start right now, right here.  Then register your garden and let the Zoo know you’ve become a part of Cincinnati’s garden solution.

 

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Out of work women

Of Course They’re Pissy

Out of work women

And who wouldn’t be pissy, friends?

Several of my fellow beekeepers have recently complained that their otherwise sweet-tempered honeybees have become “aggressive” this past week or so.

At the end of June, most of Ohio’s yards and fields and farms enter a period of dearth when it comes to nectar flow. From March to late June, even our turf-dense suburban yards are alive with blooms in trees and bushes and little flowering things. But eventually these blossoms disappear to make way for leaves, and once that transformation occurs, because we’ve not made room in our lives for wildflowers, pollinators suddenly face a lack of food.

I mean, this is a ridiculous burden to place on any species…they have bounty for only three months, and suddenly NOTHING. NOTHING FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE YEAR.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking—you’re thinking that you have all those nice knock-out roses and those daylilies and those hostas in your flower beds, right? You think that you’ve purchased those pretty impatiens and petunias and planted them in your window boxes and that that should help the bees. But it doesn’t.

Bees need wildflowers, my friends. But I’ll save this issue for another post.

I’ve come to think that nectar is to bees as money is to humans. Worker bees head off every day to earn their pay. They feed their colony what they collect. Furthermore, when the nectar flow is on (when flowers are blooming), bees convert that nectar to wax and build their infrastructure comb with it, and they then store any surplus for use in the winter.

But when the nectar flow ends and bees enter a long period of dearth, there’s nothing to show for their foraging work. They head off to work but they can find none. They can no longer convert nectar to wax because there’s no nectar. They can no longer store their surplus…instead, they’re forced to eat into their savings which then risks their winter survival.

Wouldn’t you be cranky?!

You know, the more I think about it, the more I understand why so many humans are currently angry and violent and aggressive and short tempered, too. Many people are living in their own kind of dearth…a dearth in which there’s not enough work, which means there’s not enough money, which means there’s not enough food, and certainly, then, not enough (if any) savings.  We all need work to do, and that work should be enough to provide our families with food and housing without risking our futures.

If we all planted more wildflowers, the bees would not enter such an early dearth and could provide better for themselves. And we can do better by our fellow humans, too. We can do this, friends. We can do this.

Wildflowers and a wild fence

I was delighted when my friends at Ohio Prairie Nursery invited me to write a brief blog post for them. They published “The Year of Plenty” last week, and now you can click on over there to read it. :)

And if you want your own wildflowers, I highly recommend buying them through OPN.

Be wilder, friends. Plant flowers. Be a hippie.

 

Wildflowers and a wild fence

Sam Comfort and Anarchy Apiary queens

So far, so good from Anarchy Apiaries

Sam Comfort and Anarchy Apiary queens

 

The temperatures these past couple of weeks have given those of us in Ohio an opportunity to check on the bees and to feed sugar candy or honey to those colonies running low on stores. I’ve made a wonderful discovery, Reader: By my calculations (which might be off by a smidgen because my record keeping isn’t perfect), every single hive in which I introduced a queen from Anarchy Apiaries is still living. What a joy to open a hive in which a colony is quietly working toward spring.

Colonies with genetics from my own queens…queens that I started from local surviving stock…are still flying as well. Though I’m not ready to produce quantities of queens, Sam Comfort is. So, if your hive died this winter, I suggest you consider replacing your queens mid summer with those from Anarchy Apiaries.

 

bees on honeycomb

Take it Down a Notch

Okay, friends. I’m just gonna post this little WKRC video about the bees at the zoo farm right here. But I cringe when I see it. Because I must have been hyped up on adrenaline when the news people came around. I hate to think I really talk this fast and that I sometimes sound so know-it-ally. I don’t know what it is about the presence of a video camera that makes us act differently. And I don’t know what it is that makes me feel as if I need to have all the right answers when journalists ask their wonderful questions. I prefer humility. I don’t mind self confidence, but I dislike sounding as if I am certain of every single thing.

I’ve decided to speak more slowly. And to take that extra moment to think before I speak. And to smile as I think. All of which should make me a more pleasant person to hang with, don’t you think? Sometimes I miss that slight drawl in the conversations of my native Texans. Because there’s a certain casualness to it. A drawl makes you feel as if not everything is an emergency. And it’s usually drawled out with a slight smile as if to say, everything will be all right.

Swarm! copy

A swarm is a gift to the world

 

Honeybee swarm

Mother’s Day marks an exciting time for beekeeping in Ohio, Reader—it is now officially swarm season. So, if you’ve discovered a swarm of honeybees hanging in a tree or in a bush or on a lamppost or in some other unexpected place, please please please contact TwoHoneys. If your swarm is at all reachable, we’ll come right over and collect it (and if I can’t personally run right over, I know people who can).

We’ll then take your swarm to one of our bee yards where we’ll introduce it to a nice, dry, comfortable hive box where the bees will immediately begin to set up housekeeping and collecting nectar from our local flora.

In a time of unprecedented bee losses, Reader, the swarm you discover is the sign that something is right in the world. :) A swarm at this time of year indicates that a strong hive near you successfully overwintered in a snug location and has outgrown its space. The swarm you’ve discovered is the sign of a strong hive…I call it a “survivor hive.” And all smart beekeepers want local, survivor hives…these survivor genes are those we hope to propagate in order to develop hardy bees that can withstand Ohio winters and forage on Ohio flora.

A swarm is a gift to the world, Reader. And it has come to you. How wonderful is that?!

Brazee Street Studios: Prairie Flowers and Honeybee Hives

Give Me the Wild Life

Brazee Street Studios: Prairie Flowers and Honeybee Hives

 

Reader, some of my bees are starving while other hives are packed with honey.

The difference is in the wildness. No…not in the wildness of the bees but in the wildness of where they forage.

The starving bees are located in suburbs and on big farms. Two locations which oddly enough actually have one big thing in common…they’re both boring. Boring to death. Sorry to say this.

If you and your neighbors love nice green grass, and if your grass is treated with herbicides and if the lawn-service truck routinely sprays and if you think clover and dandelions reflect that you’re a bad homeowner and if you keep all of your flower beds perfectly groomed and free of weeds, then the bees in your trees are probably starving. Because this is a sickly idea of beautiful. It’s not our fault. We bought into this idea that thin is beautiful. Not only when it comes to our bodies but also when it comes to our lawns and our lives.

I am getting off that stupid train. Hear me.

And those farms that grow one crop…say, soybeans or corn…and it hurts me to say this because I love corn so much…but that single crop is a bee killer. It’s not the crop that’s bad, it’s the singleness of it. Monoculture farming is unbelievably boring.

The bees in my care that are rolling in honey live in wild…and I mean WILD places. Some of these wild places were intentionally planted. Some of these wild places are intentionally managed to keep them natural. But some of these wild places are completely accidental.

Frankly, Reader, I think I’m about to go off the deep end into this wildness.

The bees doing best live near and forage in

  • Community gardens. These gardens are diverse and wonderfully wonderfully wonderful and there are weeds and wild flowers growing between bed and at the margins of the gardens. There is a thrilling energy in community gardens, and THIS IS WONDERFUL FOR BEES! Also, Reader, bees are wonderful for the gardens. This is the miracle of it.
  • County parks. These parks (such as California Woods Nature Preserve) have trails and managed meadows filled with wildflowers, and the bees revel in those meadows. REVEL! The meadows receive full sun and are unmown havens in which natural prairie flowers grow all season long. And the bees in these parks go like gangbusters. Thank God for spaces in which good park systems (such as the Hamilton County Parks) thoughtfully steward the land in their care.
  • Downtown. Because downtown is a wonderful mix…including some wild areas along the margins. People who live downtown don’t have grassy lawns and they don’t hire lawn services. People who live downtown have wild garden spaces. And vacant lots. In which community gardens sometimes pop up under the wonderful stewardship of people (such as Catherine Comello Stehlin) who care.
  • Urban neighborhoods. Take Oakley (near downtown Cincinnati), for example. Because some people such as Sandy Gross and John Hutton and their creative friends know that it’s best not to mow. So they plant wild prairie flowers and plan Monarch way stations. And they care how it looks, so it’s planned to be gorgeous and wild and save money and save the environment and save the bees and the butterflies. And it’s drop-dead gorgeous wherever these people are, so we should all do what they do. I plan to follow their examples.
  • Go to Brazee Street Studios…to the parking area behind the studios (on Enyart Street) and take a look. THAT, my friend, is beauty.

Reader, I am the steward of a one-acre yard. In a nice suburb. And it is almost all mown. And the bees that share this yard with me are begging me to change it. And I’ve learned to listen to both the bees and my gut…so I intend to allow some wildness into my yard and thus into my life. The bees in my care here are whispering to me that I’ve grown dull. And that it’s high time I strike out into something unpredictable.

 

 

 

 

Bee Love 2013

The 2013 Bee Love Tee

Bee Love 2013
Bee Love T-shirt 2013

Introducing the Bee Love 2013 T-shirt. Designed by Jody Fritz Pieper. If you want one, contact me and I’ll get it to you. I wear it almost every day. Because it’s wonderful and feels good.

The Accidental Queens

I’m here to report SUCCESS on the queen-rearing front.

I read the books, watched the videos, asked my questions on the beekeeping forums. I bought the little plastic queen-rearing cells, the queen-rearing frames, the little larvae-lifting device, the queen-rearing nucs, and the mating castle. But before I could even begin my actual experiment employing all those suggested gizmos, a queen-killing accident in my strongest hive resulted in a slew of drop-dead gorgeous queen cells. They were sublime…at the same time horrifying and thrilling beyond imagination. I harvested the cells. From which queens emerged and mated and began getting down to work laying eggs in breathtaking patterns.

That accident taught me a lot.

So, I am now rearing my queens without all those devices. No larva-scooping device. No fancy cells or frames. I am simply populating a 5-frame nuc with a very strong number of bees, giving it a frame of honey, a frame of pollen, and a frame of brood…and once it realizes it’s queenless (24 hours after I make the nuc), I give it a frame containing four-day old larva. I then wait seven days and harvest the queen cells and Viola!, within three weeks I have beautiful queens with developed ovarioles ready to get to work.

This whole experience reminds me of my bread-baking experiments a number of years ago. While many of my friends were getting all heady about their fancy bread-making machines, I began makign the best bread imaginable using only my hands and a wooden spoon. I don’t even use a bread pan. I simply toss my hand-formed loaf onto a baking sheet. Something deep within me wants to avoid gizmos.

All of this is to say, Reader: I now have a strong number of very beautiful queen bees who are laying in some drop-dead gorgeous patterns. It makes me dizzy to see the beauty. I’ve chosen my queens from swarms I collected early this season…and from my surviving stock. Which means that these queens embody strong Midwestern genetics and stand a chance of surviving our winters. And their offspring know how to forage our Midwestern flora.

If you need a queen, my friend, I’ve got her right here (as long as I can keep up with demand while still producing strong queens…I’m not a queen factory. I delight over every queen…which, for some reason, seems important). And I can get one of these sweet queens to you.