National Pollinator Week: Shrews and Mongooses, too.

Bombus Georgius Vilhelmus (photo credit: EHS Pest Services)

National Pollinator Week is June 19 – June 25, but summer is an odd time of year to celebrate pollinators. The big honey bee migration to California’s almonds ended in March. Bees, birds, bats, and butterflies have finished their work on spring fruit trees. Sure, zucchini buds beckon, but even Dipteran pollinators (flies) slacken visits to entomophilous flowers. Now that summer is happening, our biggest pollinator is unseen (the wind!), but it’s as busy as a bee, blowing pollen from wheat flower to flower – doing its job without much notice. (Did you know that more than two-thirds of the food we eat is pollinated by wind or gravity?)

The elephant shrew, practicing on sugar before moving on to nectar.

Among the more unusual/ignored pollinators are bats, toads, and mongooses (mongeese?). The BBC has a fun page that talks about mongoslings which transport pollen while snacking on nectar (to wash the taste of cobra from their mouths, I suppose). BBC also mentions the elephant shrew which uses its elephant nose to probe flowers for pollen and nectar, spreading goodies from blossom to blossom. (Incidentally, this mouse-sized creature is genetically closer to elephants than shrews – as you can see from its face.)

In China, some farmers carry little brushes into orchards, dusting pollen on pear and apple blossoms. In areas bordering Tibet, apple crops must be hand-pollinated by humans. These are areas so remote and rugged that it’s not possible to haul in native eastern honey bees (or any other non-human pollinators). Although wind and gravity may do some apple pollination work, Wired magazine credits local farmers with doing “100% of the pollination” – depending on variety and need for cross-pollination, that might be true. Both Wired (Will We Still have Fruit if Bees Die Off?) and Huffington Post (Startling Effect of Shrinking Bee Populations) claim that the impending extinction of bees has caused humans to hand pollinate. They are wrong. Read their articles and see for yourself.

Dusting pollen on pears in China. (Credit: HuffPost)

So, National Pollinator Week has a wide variety of pollinators to celebrate: Birds, bats, toads, butterflies, shrews, humans, gravity, and wind. We, of course, want to give due credit to bees. After all, they help pollinate our gluten-free favourites: squash and blueberries. (Not to mention apples, almonds, rambutan, mangos, kidney beans, canola, and kiwis. And a few dozen more.)

Yesterday, a friend asked me what she could do to encourage pollination in her garden. I fumbled for an answer. Do you buy a hive of bees, bring in leaf cutters, masons, bumble bees, or elephant shrews? Or do you plant flowers that will attract bees, shrews, and maybe humans to your backyard? If it’s bees you are after, you might like to look at this website: You’ll find excellent (really excellent) guidebooks that will help you decide what to plant to attract bees and butterflies to your own garden. Though, alas, no mention of attracting shrews, mongooses, or humans. You’re on your own with those.

Posted in Culture, or lack thereof, Honey Plants, Humour, Pollination, Save the Bees, Strange, Odd Stuff | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Urban Beekeeping Mug

Yesterday, Father’s Day, my family surprised me with this homemade mug. They had conspired to co-create this bit of art for the past few days. I heard the hushed tones and I saw people and things quickly disappear when I approached. My new coffee mug says “Urban Beekeeper”.  My first thought when I saw it was that the coffee cup is really sweet and cute and thoughtful.  Then I remembered John Travolta, the Urban Cowboy, and his 1980 movie. These days we have urban lumberjacks (who cut and prune city trees) and urban farmers (backlot gardeners but also landscapers and groundskeepers), so why not the urban beekeeper? An Urban Cowboy is less easy to imagine – even if the cowboy is just maintaining mechanical bulls and riding them for trophy money, as happened in the movie. Though I live in Calgary, the home of the great Calgary Stampede and the heart of Canadian cowboy culture, I couldn’t tell you if my city has even a single mechanical bull. I’ve never seen one here. Maybe they all died out in the 1980s.  Mechanical bulls may be rare, but urban bees are not.

So, shall I be an Urban Beekeeper? I’ve gone without doing much beekeeping for the past little while, just helping friends and neighbours with their own colonies. But my wife and kids are encouraging me to move a hive into our backyard, hence the coffee mug. But an urban beekeeper?  I used to be an entirely rural person – born a farm boy, I’ve owned swampland in Florida and some aspen forest in northern Saskatchewan. For quite a few years, my home was perched at the edge of a sea of grasslands on the prairie. On all of those places, I’d kept hundreds of hives.  But now I’m in a city with a million neighbours, so the moniker and a single colony is appropriate.

Calgary, with some potential bee yards

I never thought the phenom of urban beekeeping would explode as it has. It conveys the welcome message that people (even in towns of more than a million) want to connect with nature. Urban beekeepers usually encourage their hometowns to provide more greenspace, more parks, more nectar-rich flowers, and less poison  – helping their own hive or two, but especially encouraging wild native bees. Today, there are more urban beekeepers keeping bees in our huge agricultural province (Alberta) than there are commercial beekeepers. Many of these folks are conscientious keepers and are supporting apiculture in a big way.

When I get around to setting up my backyard hive, the bees will have to share their spot with rabbits, coyotes, and deer which sometimes wander through here. The hive will sit almost exactly were this fawn is in the picture below. It’s sheltered from wind, sloping, and south-facing. In our area, bees in town make less honey than those out on the range. But that’s OK with me –  massive honey production is no longer my goal. I’ll be satisfied with two or three hundred pounds from a single backyard hive every year. My biggest bonus will be the short ten-metre commute for me when I visit my urban beefriends.

Posted in Bee Yards, Beekeeping | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Return to PolliNation

Last month, I mentioned a great new podcast, PolliNation. It’s produced by Andony Melathopoulos, a university professor at Oregon State. The PolliNation podcast series is very nicely produced and Andony has a voice made for podcasting. As a bonus, he has a background in practical beekeeping as well as research. He knows what he’s talking about when he talks about bees.   The 30-minute PolliNation interviews are so good that I can’t begin to imagine how a new one gets published every few days. Number 9 was just released!  Each is worth your ears’ efforts, so if you have not yet tuned in, you’re now behind by four and one-half hours of good beekeeping talk.

PolliNation’s  most recent entry is a chat with Dr. Meghan Milbrath. She is owner and manager of The Sand Hill Apiary, a queen-rearing operation. It’s rather unusual, as far as queen companies go, because it’s not located in a semi-tropical southern region. Meghan is in Michigan. Her intent is to help develop bees more suited to northern climates. Although southern queen breeders often have northern mother stock (and may hope to saturate their area with northern drone stock), if they are in southern California (for example), the queens will end up mating with at least some local drones. Meghan does not diss the good southern queen breeders, but by definition, they cannot provide ‘local’ queens to northern beekeepers.

Dr Meghan Milbrath, Michigan State University academic specialist

Because of the scarcity of northern breeders, one of her initiatives involves pairing ‘local’ queen producers with ‘local’ queen buyers. A task slightly more challenging than pairing cheese and wine, I think. In the past, most local queens were matched to new beekeepers by word of mouth, said Meghan. Sometimes you’d ask someone at the local bee club who would know someone else who would pull a paper from a pocket and pass along an elusive connection to a local queen breeder. You could see this going down in a McDonald’s parking lot sometime after midnight, too. To make this system easier and more transparent, one could turn to the Northern Bee Network, which Dr Milbrath runs. If you look at NBN’s website, you’ll see that it’s now easier to find a local, northern, small-scale queen or nuc producer. Here’s an image of the map on the site last night:

The interview with Dr Milbrath is just the latest in Andony Melathopolous’s series of bee talks. Be sure to subscribe. It’s free, but the information is priceless. You can listen or download on your computer through the podcast’s main website or search PolliNation in iTunes and load up your device with bees, beekeeping, and pollination stories.

Posted in Culture, or lack thereof, Friends, Outreach, Pollination, Queens | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Annual ALS Fundraiser

My 10-year-old daughter giving me a push. Almost done with the 5K walk/run/roll!

Almost every year, I diverge from my usual beekeeping nonsense on this blog and write a bit about our annual ALS fundraiser, Betty’s Run for ALS.

You probably know someone who had ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease. Right now you are reading a blog written by someone with a non-typical form of the malady. (That’s me!) I was diagnosed 19 years ago, though for about five years before that, I realized that something wasn’t quite right with my balance and my muscle tone. Most people with ALS suffer a very quick and devastating progression. Mine has been about 20 times slower than normal. It’s non-typical and we’ve been calling it ‘motor neuron disease’. No one knows why mine isn’t following the usual path.

As a family, we have been active with the Alberta ALS Society for a long time. My wife worked directly with/for them for a few years and was on the executive fundraising committee for years. I’ve been the recipient of wheelchair ramps and other equipment when I’ve needed the help. Each year, we participate in the big annual fundraiser. This year, we were among over a thousand others who helped raise money to fight ALS. Pure Sweet Honey Farm, Inc., owned by two of my best friends, has contributed to our Calgary fundraiser for years. This year, they were our sweetest Gold Sponsors!

Whenever we have this ALS fundraising event, I invite people to sent a few dollars to our group, Betty’s Run for ALS.  Betty’s Run is named for a Calgarian who passed away from ALS 22 years ago. This event has been held in her memory every year since. Donations are used to buy equipment (vans, power wheelchairs, special beds, and so on) and to support research in finding a cure.  Great progress is being made, but the cure is still elusive. With everyone’s help, it will come.

Here are some pictures from yesterday’s Betty’s Run for ALS.

This is what the starting line looked like for people getting ready to walk the 5 kilometres. I appreciated that our city’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi,  walked with us. He’s supported this fundraiser for years.

My wife and I and some of our family

It was a beautiful, sunny day in Calgary.
Here we are near the halfway point on the 5-kilometre trail.

My friends at Pure Sweet Honey are sponsors of the ALS charity.
It was really cool for me to see their company listed on the 1,200 or so T-shirts!

Guess who the sweetest sponsors were this year.

My tag said “I’m Here For Everyone”.  Anyone could get this disease. But I was also thinking of all the families and friends affected by the illness. Everyone.

Posted in Culture, or lack thereof, Friends | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

(Vice-) Presidential Bees

The hive at the Veep residence

Beekeeping transcends politics. At least, at the ‘stick your hand in the hive’ level, it should. In the past, I’d written about how the Obamas planted hives next to peas and carrots at the White House. The president uttered a profound, “Bees are good” when he calmed a group of school children who had panicked at the sound of a honey bee on the White House lawn. (See the video here. It’s cool.)  Michele Obama brought a high-profile acknowledgement of ecology, bees, beekeeping, healthy eating, and wholesome living to the public’s eye. Now it’s the new VP family’s turn to keep the flowers pollinated in D.C.

Vice-President Pence’s wife, Karen, has brought honey bees to the vice-presidential grounds, which sits on a 13-acre spread belonging to to the US Naval Observatory.  In the official unveiling of the hive, Mrs Pence said,

“All types of pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, birds and bats, are critical to providing our nation’s food, fiber, fuel and medicine… However, our beekeepers have been losing colonies for many years. This presents a serious challenge to our ability to produce many of the agricultural products that we enjoy today.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue helped announce the arrival of the new beehive on the grounds of the vice-presidential residence, adding to the Second Lady’s comments,

“…our honeybee population has been losing ground at an alarming rate. The problem represents a diverse mix of challenges requiring a wide range of solutions. And at USDA we are leading the way in research to help out our pollinator friends.”

Well stated. If this translates into increased funding for research and better controls on the use of chemicals such as those sprayed on Florida’s citrus while trees are in blossom, it should result in more than symbolic sympathy for the plight of bees.

I think that the vice-presidential wife’s hive is more than a political gimmick. Karen Pence has maintained hives before, including a colony established when her husband became governor of Indiana in 2014.  These are animal lovers. The Pences have a pet rabbit (which has already visited the VP’s office) and today Karen Pence’s Twitter page starts with a tribute to their late feline, Oreo, a two-tone cat which apparently died this morning. I take the menagerie to be a healthy sign of a family committed to animals and (hopefully) nature.   The beehive seems a sincere effort on Karen Pence’s part to participate in improving our environment. Veils off to you, Mrs Veep.

Posted in Outreach, People | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Miel Carlota – Once the World’s Biggest Bee Farm

“Removing supers during harvest” – from Speck & Wulfrath’s 1955 bee guide

One of the world’s largest honey farms was a Mexican outfit started by a couple of guys on holidays from Germany. The Second World War broke out while they were rambling around the Mexican coast, so they stayed for an extended vacation. That vacation turned out to be the rest of their long lives.

Miel Carlota was began as a hobby when the two friends, Arturo Wulfrath and Dr Juan Speck, picked up five hives from a farmer. Apparently looking for an interesting way to make a living and contribute to their new country, they became beekeepers. According to their company representatives at Miel Carlota, it all started on this day (June 5th) in 1943 when those five hives came into their possession.

They were incredibly progressive beekeepers. Their part of Mexico historically produced 15 kilos (35 pounds) of honey per hive when the young men arrived. Their first hives were in rustic boxes. These were hard to manage and contributed to Mexico’s low honey production. They transferred the bees to modern Langstroth-style equipment and learned to move hives to seasonal blossoms.  By 1958, Miel Carlota, headquartered in Cuernavaca, operated at least 20,000 hives of honey bees. According to a Waco Tribune-Herald reporter who interviewed Dr Speck, the business produced six million pounds of honey a year. This would be a yield of 300 pounds per colony, which is unlikely, but not impossible. (Bee colonies typically produce between 50 and 250 pounds annually.) Speck indicated to the Waco paper (January 26, 1958) that they operated 318 apiaries. Elsewhere, Miel Carlota indicated they had about 100 hives per apiary, which would imply over 30,000 hives. Others have stated that the company had 50,000 colonies during the 1960s. The fuzziness around the numbers may be due to seasonal variations and whether or not their vast collection of mating nucs were counted as hives.

Regardless their challenges managing such a huge number of hives, Miel Carlota was among the most innovative and progressive honey companies in the world. They designed and patented unique hive equipment, build their own wax foundation mill, and wrote books which educated thousands in practical beekeeping. I have a copy of one of their first texts, Pequena Guia para el Apicultor (Small Guide for the Beekeeper), written in 1955 by Speck and Wulfrath. The book is refreshingly open in sharing practical and even privileged details about their techniques in successful Mexican beekeeping. For example, the authors disclose their best choice for hive equipment and, at the end of the book, they itemize expenses for establishing one’s own beekeeping enterprise – complete with all the dollars and cents in an investment.

By the mid-1950s, Miel Carlota was the world’s largest queen producer. Dr Eva Crane, a bee science writer and researcher, visited the outfit in 1957.  Dr Speck took this picture of Dr Crane as she watched Miel Carlota beekeepers grafting queen cells in the shade of one of the company’s trucks. In addition to queen rearing, the firm also led the world in royal jelly production. They invented a vacuum pumping system that sucked the food out of day-old queen cells. They could produce a tonne of royal jelly from 2,000 hives in three months. Their surplus helped create a craze for the stuff as a dubious health food. One of Miel Carlota’s biggest royal jelly fans was Pope Pius, according to Dr Speck in that 1958 Waco Tribune interview. (The pope died a few weeks after that interview, so by the next year, his endorsement was less convincing.)

Below is a picture taken at one of Miel Carlota’s queen rearing stations. It’s from their guide, Pequena Guia para el Apicultor. The instructional point here is that even in 1955, when this book was published, they knew that they needed hives dedicated to drone production, as it says in the caption, “Hives for raising queens. On the left, hives for drones.” It took most North American queen breeders another decade of so to really catch on to the need to introduce and promote selected drone stock into their breeding programs. I still know some who don’t understand the need! 😦

In 1973, 1974, and 1975, Canadian beekeepers imported thousands of these skillfully produced Mexican queens. (For example, 4,500 queens in 1974.) However, the lineage was tropical, so the Alberta government pioneered an effort to have winter-hardy Canadian stock sent to Miel Carlota for breeding stock. Here’s the Alberta government press release from 1975:

November 3, 1975
Three hundred honeybee queens left Alberta by air recently for Mexico! Their destinations were a number of commercial Mexican beekeepers, including Miel Carlota, the largest queen breeder in the world. Alberta Agriculture, which is sponsoring this Mexican Queen Bee Project, hopes to get about 1 0,000 young queens from this initial investment by next spring. Dr. Ulf Soehngen, provincial apiarist in charge of the project, explains that Alberta sent its own queens to Mexico so that the Mexicans could produce the strain of bees that are most suitable for our climatic and environmental conditions. “The majority of the strains currently being used in Mexico,” he says, “have been selected for aggressive characteristics to discourage hive pilfering in outlying areas of the country. However, since these aggressive traits are not needed here, and since they make the bees more difficult to handle, it was decided to send our own honeybee strains to Mexico for multiplication.”

Most of the queens that have gone to Mexico were produced this year from stock that was originally selected in northern Saskatchewan. They are primarily Caucasian queens because this strain tends to be more winter-hardy than the Italian strain, which is the other main type used here. Dr. Soehngen says there is a growing trend in this province towards overwintering honeybees because of the difficulty of obtaining package bees and queens in the spring and because of their ever increasing price. The queens were sent to Mexico in cages, each cage containing one queen and half a dozen workers. Except for Miel Carlota, package bee production and queen breeding are new to most Mexican beekeepers with the result that the present project involved a considerable amount of preliminary work on the part of Alberta Agriculture personnel.

The reason the government decided to import bees from Mexico was to ensure that Alberta beekeepers will have a supply of relatively high quality queens and that the price of these queens will be lower than the price currently being charged in the United States.

The project soon failed. Not because of poor craftsmanship from Miel Carlota, but because of timing. Tracheal mites (and then varroa) were soon discovered in Mexico. African honey bees were approaching Mexico. I can’t say that this was a government boondoggle, but overseeing a bee project in Mexico during the Canadian winter at taxpayers’ expense would have been enticing. And surely Canadian scientists clever enough to know something about raising queens would have known about the potential maladies that were on their way.

Miel Carlota started with five hives June 5, 1943. In 12 years, they had perhaps 50,000. (According to R.B. Willson, 1955, Gleanings) The growth was amazing. They had huge crops, were extraordinarily progressive, and entered an area with no commercial beekeepers. In their beekeeper’s guidebook, they present a plan for other beekeepers wishing to expand. It’s almost childish in its simplicity. Start by purchasing two hives, then split them every four weeks. You can see how they got to 16, 385 colonies in just one year. It’s the magic of compound interest!

What happens to famous progressive honey companies after the founders shuffle off to unknown bee pastures? Well, by the 1980s, the company began operating mostly as a packer and distributor of honey and various bee products. In 1989, the Mexican-based international Grupo Herdez purchased Miel Carlota and added their honey line to goodies such as canned peas, shrimp, and tomato paste. Grupo Herdez had started in 1914 but in the 1940s was selling McCormicks products, and adding other lines. Herdez acquired a series of other labels, and built Grupo Herdez into one of Mexico’s largest firms. They even spread to the USA where they own several zesty brands and Chi-Chi’s restaurants. If you’ve ever eaten MegaMex, a popular label in the states, you have purchased indirectly from Grupo Herdez and possibly eaten goods sweetened by Miel Carlota honey. Meanwhile, back in Mexico, Miel Carlota signature honey continues to make up a part of Herdez’s sales.

Posted in Beekeeping, Books, Commercial Beekeeping, History, People, Queens | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

The Serious Lawn

Three Hills, Alberta, Friday, June 2, 2017. Credit: Cecilia Wessels

Do we take lawn care too seriously? Whether we are wasting water on Kentucky bluegrass in the great American southwest, or soaking tonnes of weedkiller and insecticide into pleasant little villages across the continent, much of our obsession is just wrong. (And I’m not saying this simply to justify my own half-wild, unkempt backyard.)  Considering the harm we’re doing to ourselves, our neighbouring ecology, and our bees, what good comes from that perfect lawn?  Even the aesthetics are sometimes questionable. (I’ll refrain from venting about golf courses for the moment.)

On the other hand, I tip my hat to the homeowner in the photo above. He keeps a neat yard a bit north of me, up in the town of Three Hills, Alberta.  Theunis Wessels’s wife snapped this sensational picture of him finishing up lawn work while a tornado descended.  There’s much to admire in that unflappable Canadian demeanor and sense of duty. Well done, neighbour.

Posted in Ecology, Strange, Odd Stuff | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Mind the Gap!

If you travel metro in London (and many other cities) you might hear a polite admonition from the public address system, “Mind the gap!”  It’s advising you not to get your footwear stuck between the train and platform while boarding. Beekeepers have their own gap to mind and it’s here now.

The June Gap is pretty common across the northern hemisphere. (Perhaps there’s a December Gap down in Chile.) The gap is so renowned among beekeepers that someone built a wikipage called “June Gap”. It relates mostly to the UK, but we also gap here, in western Canada, too.  This is what the wiki says:

The June Gap refers to a phenomenon in which a shortage of forage available for bees occurs (typically in June) and has been observed in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Subsequent to the massive volume of pollen and nectar produced by trees and hedges in the spring, there is a reduction in the amount of nectar available to the bees due to long grasses and dandelions suppressing many wildflowers.[1] Before the herbaceous “summer rush” of July-through-September which reinstates the high level of nectar, the high hive populations brought around by trees in the spring struggle to produce honey and may lay fewer eggs. Beekeepers need to pay special attention to the levels of honey in the hive as well as the level of water the bees use during this gap.  Annual weather patterns can cause this event to occur later or earlier.

Some plants which can help provide nectar in this gap are Cotoneaster, the closely related Pyracantha, common garden [herbs], and perennial garden plants.

That’s all the Wikipedia entry says, then a few references are cited.  The June Gap isn’t limited to England and Ireland.  We also gapped in western Pennsylvania, where I learned to keep bees, we saw a nice early flow from of willow, dandelion, and fruit blossom. Most years, black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) straddled late May and early June followed by tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) and basswood (linden, or Tilia americana). Then there was a (summer) gap until the autumn goldenrod and aster. Farther north and west, most beekeepers on the American plains and Canadian prairies also suffer a real June Gap, a dearth between spring flows and our main summer honey flow.

A great pasture for bees: dandelions, before the gap

What happens during the gap? There is often a little pollen coming in, but rarely is there much nectar. For those of us lucky enough to live in Alberta, Canada, we may have a good flow from dandelion (this year it peaked on May 25th, which is normal) but the drop after that major source is precipitous. We have sparse flowers (goat’s beard, buffaloberry, Siberian olive, caragana) which tease the bees a bit, but we can see hives lose weight, even on sunny mild June days. Most years, we have gaps (of varying significance) from about June 5th to June 25th. During those three weeks, queens curtail egg laying. Crucial workers that will help make the late July and August part of the honey crop might not materialize in the numbers you need.

Beekeepers have taken to feeding their bees up to a few days before honey supers go on. If the dearth is severe and hives have built up strongly on the early season flows, the gap will result in less brood rearing. But the gap can be so serious that bees destroy their developing brood and then, as it continues, they may starve. It’s possible to lose hives from starvation days before the main flow starts. Leaving plenty of reserve honey in the hive will, of course, prevent such a fate. But even a well-provisioned colony usually stops egg laying when the nectar shuts off and pollen becomes scarce.

The solution? Mind the gap. Keep a couple of eyes on your hives at this time of the year. The crop (for most of us) will start flowing in less than a month. This is not the month to ignore your bees.

Posted in Beekeeping, Ecology, Honey Plants | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

Bee Man Freeman

Born in 1938,  Morgan Freeman is 79 years old today, June 1, 2017. (Happy Birthday!) You know him as the actor (Driving Miss Daisy; Shawshank Redemption; Million Dollar Baby) with the resonating voice. But did you know that Freeman resonates among the bees, too? A couple of years ago, he turned his 124-acre ranch into a “sanctuary” for honey bees, starting with 26 bee hives. (Most beekeepers start with just two or three!)

I’ve long admired Freeman as an actor, but I really began to appreciate him when I started watching his series of science documentaries on Discovery, the astrophysics lectures called Through the Wormhole. Respect for the actor is deep – he was born in Tennessee, grew up in rural Mississippi, yet became comfortable in Hollywood. To top it off, at age 65 he earned his pilot’s license and he flies a Cessna 414.  It seems almost natural that he decided to become a beekeeper a couple years ago. As you”ll see on these clips, he actually knows a little about bees.

Here are a couple of clips of Freeman the beeman on late night TV:

More bee talk, with Stephen Colbert:



Posted in Culture, or lack thereof, Outreach, People | Tagged | 4 Comments

Swarm Season

It’s swarm season here in the north. That will end soon enough, but right now it’s pushed by long days and a heavy dandelion flow. Hives just can’t help themselves. In the old days of skep and gum beekeeping, a whole family would run outside, banging pots and pans and shouting, “Yippee! The bees are swarming!” It meant that they’d have new bees to replace some of the colonies that had died over winter.  Fast-forward two hundred years or so and it’s not the same. “Craps! The bees are swarming!” But swarms are still cool – even if they might point out your beekeeping missteps and represent a probable loss of money.

Today, I’ve got a swarm photo essay. Most of the pictures are mine, but some are vintage images from many, many years ago.

Almost 500 years separate these two images. (Left, 1500s, woodcut by Jan Van der Straet in Flanders; right, 1980, photo by me in Florida)  Not much has really changed: both beekeepers are climbing ladders, wearing veils, holding a tool.  On the right is my brother David, propped against his honey house. On the left are some folks whom I’ve never met, but their honey house is also near them.

🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝

How do you carry your swarms to your bee yard? This guy had a cool solution. From Gleanings, early last century.

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OK, you’ve caught your swarm, made it home, and need to box it up.
This is how it was done in 1883.

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This is the first picture I ever uploaded to the internet, way back in the early 1990s. About two years later, I did a search for ‘swarms’ and found my own picture on a USDA website. It still had its original file name, SWARM_M.jpg, but no reference to Pennsylvania (where I snapped this with an SLR Minolta). By the way, in those days we had to keep file names under 8 characters. How do I feel about the American government pilfering my photo and offering it to the world? I’m cool with it. This time.

🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝

Here’s my final picture for today. This was sent to me by my friend Ursula, who manages Medivet. Medivet makes the world’s supply of Fumagillin-B, the anti-nosema medicine. Ursula met this swarm on a golf course in southern California, near the Arizona border. It’s undoubtedly populated by Africanized Honey Bees. It looks like the swarm was once much bigger but might have been going through a dearth when the picture was taken. At one time, all those (now) dry combs must have held a lot of honey.

Posted in Beekeeping, Friends, History, Swarms | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments