Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Saturday, July 9, 2011
"Weeds are just plants whose virtues have not been discovered."
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Friday, May 6, 2011
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Monday, April 11, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Learning about bees has been one of the most rewarding endeavors I have ever embarked on. I have been a treatment free beekeeper since 2007. The way that I keep bees requires me to pay much closer attention to my environment because I have to understand what health and disease truly are. Coming from a point of view that all life is sacred and connected, I appreciate the profound message of interconnectedness that is permeating our society via the ancient honeybee. Bees have been the focus of much study lately due to the mass die-offs that are happening in commercial beekeeping. There are many factors that can be attributed to this problem, and swarm prevention may be a part of that. Swarms are a natural progression in a healthy hive, and allowing such reproduction may very well contribute to the overall health of the colony.
Inside the hive the queen bee does not rule, for there is no hierarchy. She maintains the hive with her scent and by the remarkable fact that she lays hundreds to thousands of eggs a day. A queen bee egg is laid vertically, in alignment with the sky and earth, and fed a continuous diet of royal jelly as she grows into a fully formed queen. By contrast, the worker bees (the females in the hive) and the drones (the males) are formed from an egg laid horizontally and fed a diet mainly of bee bread -- a mixture of pollen, nectar and microbes.
When a hive is healthy and strong it will want to multiply. This is the absolute beauty of the honeybee colony. The old queen will lay a fertilized egg(s)s in a vertical queen cell(s), and the workers will begin feeding the new queen(s)-to-be a milky substance excreted from their heads called royal jelly. When the queen cells are about to hatch, the old queen and about a third of the colony will engorge itself with honey and fly off to find a new home. Biodynamic beekeeper and author Günter Hauk likens this to parents reaching their 60s, leaving the home to their kids, and going off to start a new life elsewhere. This is another selfless act of the bees.
All at once the queen and thousands of bees take flight. They find a nearby spot to gather while scout bees venture off to find the perfect hollow vessel in which to start building comb. Once a spot is agreed upon, the cluster of bees will disperse and fly off to their new home. This new home will be a hollow vessel such as a hollow tree trunk, an eave of a home, a pot, or a birdhouse. They do no structural damage to the vessel they choose as their new home. The hive begins building comb as soon as it settles in; the queen beginning to lay eggs as soon as there are cells to fill. Thus a new colony is born and life continues on for the great honeybee.
Many beekeeping books and courses discourage swarming. Coming from a capitalistic standpoint, swarms could mean a loss of field force, which would mean a loss of honey production. Given that most authors and teachers are coming from a commercial background, it makes sense that this is routinely taught. But upon further examination of all that plagues the honeybee faces, we might want to reconsider our actions of swarm prevention.
As I mentioned earlier, swarms are an indication of a healthy, vibrant hive. Swarm prevention is like birth control. In a climate where hives are dying at such a rapid rate, it seems only logical to allow the reproduction of healthy hives. Swarm season in this area begins in May -- an exciting time for beekeepers. There are many tools beekeepers can use either to encourage swarms or split hives in a way that mimics the natural inclination of the bees. Beekeepers can even register with local police or fire departments to be on call to trap a swarm if spotted in the area. (Free bees!)
I have seen that hives that are allowed to swarm have a much higher survival rate than those routinely prevented from swarming. In addition, swarming creates a period of time in the brood chamber where there is no brood: an excellent way to purge mites from the hive, since the parasite’s larvae is deprived of its food source during this time.
When a hive is strong and robust it will reproduce. Trusting nature and not interfering is the recommended course of action. If you are focusing on hive health and pollination, it is best to support the natural instinct of a colony rather than impose your own will. When we let the bees be we can learn much about their health and healing. I do believe that there are times to help bees when they are in need (such as when they appear to be starving), but swarming is not a time of distress; it is a time of celebration! May our skies be filled with buzzing this summer!
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Monday, January 31, 2011
I am working with Grow it Green Morristown on Feb. 10th at 6:30 at the Dodge Foundation Board Room (14 Maple Avenue, Morristown, NJ) to find out just what it takes to start your own hive.
In this introductory class we will cover the basics of equipment (including
both langstroth and top bar hives), where to get bees and equipment and the
most ideal location to house them. We will also touch on what
organic/biodynamic beekeeping means. Educational resources will be
This class is Free and open to all.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
No one other than the farmer notices the weather. Most people around these parts only notice the weather when it gets in their way; when it gives them something to complain about. "I hate the snow". "Damnit, it is snowing AGAIN!" "Why is it so cold?" Indeed, we hear it daily around here!
This morning on my walk, the world was quietly being showered in big white fluffy flakes. The neighborhood felt so serene and safe. The small layering of snow covered up the harsh reality of trash and ice and dead christmas trees and made the world fresh again. The blanket apparently protects the delicate earth underneath. The jays are currently screaming. Maybe they are commiserating with the humans "I hate the snow!" "It's too cold!" Skreetch skreetch! "I hate the quiet!" Who knows what they are saying, I don't speak bluejay!
I love the snow. I love the forced stillness. I love the opportunity to go inside myself and look around. What am I needing? What am I wanting? What do I want to accomplish this year, what are my dreams telling me? The snow falls so heavily to the ground and the steam from my oatmeal effortlessly rises up. The warm cup of tea by my side brings me comfort. How fortunate I am! To be able to sit and watch and dream. A cupboard full of good food, a switch to make the room warmer, and blankets to snuggle into.
How fortunate am I to know that under the snow there is life stirring. That in a month's time there will be green bursting forth from the wet cold soil. That the trees will be opening their buds and feeding my little wonders assuring their survival and feeding them their first pollen of the year! How fortunate are we all to be a part of such a magnificently perfect cycle of life and death? We have lost loved ones in these cold dark months and while the pain of loss is real and difficult, chances are that we will welcome new loved ones into our lives and feel the joy and celebration of life anew. Life just does that. It carries on.
As I look forth into spring I have some sadness. As of today I am unsure as to where my seeds will be planted. Nothing worse than a landless farmer. But as I look back on my life I see that as long as I have seeds to plant and a will to carry through the life of the plant, I can do anything! I may just take to the streets and continue the gorilla gardening movement. No crack in a side walk will be safe from this seed bomber! Maybe I will meet new neighbors in Maplewood who would like their yards turned into food producing gardens. Maybe I will teach more. Maybe I will find lovers of the honeybees who want me to keep bees on their property.
Like the weather one cannot predict such things, but rather look at the patterns and commit to the journey. Life and death will naturally continue. The earth will thaw, soil will be exposed and a new path will be revealed.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
"What are the bees doing now?" is a question I often hear this time of the year. The temperature is often below freezing and the snow keeps piling up. What also keeps piling up are the dead bees at the bottom of the hive.
This time of the year is difficult for most of us in the northern hemisphere. The bees' strategy is to cuddle together around their queen mother and generate heat by flexing their wing muscles. The bees rotate from the outside to the inside of the cluster and from the inside to the outside. The ones on the outside move into the center when they get cold and the ones close to the center move towards the outside. They do this or they just fall to the bottom to their icy death. The weather is too cold or the hive is too moist, it is unclear as to what makes one bee drop dead and another move back towards the center.
When the weather warms up a bit (which happens every now and again throughout the winter...freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw...you get the point), the ladies will break cluster and go to the 'outhouse'. Some bees venture out for a cleansing flight (the bees slowly eat through the food stores and fly away from the hive to defecate) and are rendered impotent when hit with the cold air. They are unable to move when this happens and unless the air warms up a bit or the beekeeper puts the heat of her breath on the apparently dead bee, she will die.
By now the queen has started to lay eggs again, hopefully building up force for the first signs of pollen in the next couple of weeks. Willows and maples will feed our insect ally during the hard month of February and hopefully they will have enough honey to get them through to the first major push of dandelions! And if they have left overs when dandelions hit...Tammy will get some sweet stuff for her culinary enjoyment :)
Sometimes though, the bees just don't make it through the winter. The hive might be too big and starve, or too small and freeze. A mouse might get into the hive and destroy the comb and the queen has nowhere to lay eggs. CIrculation might be week in the hive and moisture builds up and chills the brood or bees. So many possibilities in the next couple months, it can worry a beekeeper sick! But I am trusting the dreams that I am having (last night I had a dream where some children had beehives at their school and were actually PLAYING with the bees!) are telling me that the bees will carry on and the human relationship to them is reforming based on understanding and respect and not fear of being stung. When I go to my hives and I put my ear up to the cold boxes, I hear the sound of the bees alive, a quiet humming that resonates with my heart. I sing with the bees and trust that they will be just fine.
top bar hive in winter