Wanna bee?


It’s okay to be curious. Curiosity is the key to invention, the wick in the candle of learning. Heck, even bees are curious. 

Studies show that scout bees exhibit novelty-seeking behaviors similar to humans in order to find food and housing. Scientists found that genes related to dopamine and glutamate signaling between neurons, which are involved in regulating novelty-seeking in humans, are differentially expressed in scouting and non-scouting bees.

So make like a bee and get curious about beekeeping. Here are a few lists and links to get you started. Stay tuned to the Bee Public Facebook page for upcoming beekeeping classes.

Stuff you’ll need: 

  • Hive + hiveware (I wrote a little bit here about local (Indiana) resources for beekeeping equipment.) 
  • Smoker (lighter/matches + stuff to burn)
  • Hive tool
  • Bee brush
  • Jacket/veil
  • Gloves
  • Entrance reducer
  • Mouse guard
  • Feeder + jar
  • Bees! 

First, you’ll need to decide where your hive will live. 

All of my hives live on urban farms around Indianapolis, which is ideal for many reasons. The bees have a smorgasbord right outside their front door, and the crops benefit greatly from their pollination services. You can keep bees in your backyard or even on your roof if you have a sunny, 5 x 5 space. If possible, the entrance should face the south, so the sun wakes up the bees and they get busy foraging first thing in the morning. Consider your neighbors and make sure a water source is readily available for the bees. They need to drink, too!

Other ways to ready yourself: Read as many books as you can. Here are a few recommendations. 

There’s an endless catalogue of beekeeping videos on YouTube. Go nuts. You should also attend Bee School or a local beekeeping meeting and get to know other beekeepers. Beekeepers LOVE to share! And stay tuned to Facebook and Twitter for Bee Public’s 2015 classes.

If you have a specific question, please feel free to email me at 

Look who's #7

I picked the worst year to become a beekeeper. Since 2006, bees have had a rough go of it and 2014’s polar vortex-induced deep freeze wiped out around 50% of the hives in Indiana (some areas had a 90% die-off rate). My first year keeping bees and I lost all five of my hives. 

It was also kind of a crappy year to take up farming. The winter delayed progress on my site’s build-out and spring plantings. I rushed to build the farm in time for spring plantings and it left me sore and exhausted. Then we had a weirdly wet and mild summer that stunted my fruiting crops like tomatoes.

All this might have been enough to discourage me, but it didn’t even come close. Because I had a tremendous amount of support from friends, family, the people I work with, and my community, it hardly made a dent. Thank you. 

This recent article from the Indy Star says they expect big things from me in 2015. And who am I to let them (you) down? 

Happy New Year!

What’s in store for 2015? 

- Bee Public will manage hives at each of Growing Places Indy’s urban microfarms, including the rooftop “Sky Farm” on top of the Eskenazi Hospital and the Public Greens farm along the Monon Trail in Broad Ripple. 

- More classes and talks including a beekeeping talk at Earth Day Indiana

- Bee Public is working with City Council members to regulate the use of neonicitinoid pesticides in Indy’s parks and public spaces. (Read more about this here.) 

I speak for the bees


When I started Bee Public two-ish years ago, all I really had in mind was that I wanted to become a beekeeper and maybe I would make a little extra cash selling honey. That idea flew out the window along with another iteration that involved a lot of driving and a lot of managing hives in other people’s backyards. I decided early on that I was here to be a voice for the bees. A Lorax of sorts. 

I read up on the science and drama and magic that takes place inside the hive, a mini society just below the surface, and the molecules in my brain began to rearrange. I became giddy. Then I read articles and studies about Colony Collapse Disorder and migratory beekeeping and our horrendous agricultural practices in the U.S. and became angry. I believe it’s this combination of anger and giddiness that turns an ordinary person into an activist. And so activism, awareness, and education became the cornerstones of this project. It’s not about the honey or the money.

I taught probably a dozen Beekeeping 101 classes last summer to both kids and adults, made visits to co-op grocery stores and classrooms. But I have the nagging feeling it’s not enough. And so here I go getting into politics. I put my journalism background to good use and connected with someone at Beyond Pesticides who handed me a ton of information. I’ve met with two of our city council members in the hopes that I can get regulations passed on the use of neonicitinoid pesticides in our parks and public spaces. Indy’s Department of Public Works (DPW) is in charge of the bug killing in our city. DPW uses at least one neonicitinoid (bee-killing) pesticide called dinotefuran aka “Safari” to treat for the Emerald Ash Borer. A recently study from USGS found “widespread occurence” of neonics in groundwater in the Midwest. According to the USGS map for clothianidin, Indianapolis is right in the middle of high application levels of neonics. 

I can’t really expect Indianapolis to halt use of all pesticides, so I’m obliged to give an alternative to the neonics– one of three parasitoids that have been approved for release as biological control agents of EAB in the U.S. by the USDA. The least-toxic alternative is Azadirachin, a natural neem oil extract that has very low toxicity to honey bees, but good efficacy against EAB. Additionally, neonics are mobile in soil, which means that any amount that doesn’t get taken up by the ash tree can be taken up by flowering plants in the area, and then expressed in the pollen, nectar, and dew droplets that the plant produces. And, while bees don’t seek out ash trees, they will occasionally visit their flowers.

Cities including Spokane, WA and Boulder, CO have already banned present and future use of neonics. Anyway, this will be a long process. We have a new mayor coming in and I can only hope he is receptive these ideas. Wish me luck and give me lots and lots of advice.  

Don't Spray it.


A few weeks ago, I was working outside with volunteers on my urban farm, which happens to be located on a high school campus. A man approached us as we ladled wood chips into a wheelbarrow, his shoulders weighted with a Ghost Busters-like backpack sprayer full of God-knows-what. I couldn’t take my eyes off the contraption as I greeted him, propping my shovel against my hip and wiping my hands on my bandana.

“How’s it going? Can I help you?” I asked. 

He cut right to the chase. “Can I spray that?”

I squinted and looked to where he was pointing. A small patch of white clover bubbled up from the grass at the edge of the farm. “That?” I asked, a little too incredulous. “No way,” I said, realizing that he probably had already sprayed here a hundred times before. I got a little steamed.

I gave him half an earful about organic farming, how pollination works, and the dying bees before he finally walked off. Once he was out of earshot, I let out a frustrated groan. “Whyyyyyy!?” I nearly shouted. “I just don’t get it, why does he need to kill every little weed? It’s clover for God’s sake; it’s a flower.”

“You’re asking the wrong guy,” said the volunteer next to me. I had forgotten he just happened to work for a local lawn care company, the kind that uses chemicals to make obsessively green, manicured, weed-free lawns. Maybe volunteering with a young, generally pleasant urban farmer/beekeeper would have a positive influence on him and he would rush home to build a rain barrel and read Silent Spring. 

“Please, tell me. I need your perspective,” I said. 

“To tell you the truth,” he said, “that clover was bugging me from the second I got here. It just bugs me.” I continued shoveling in silence. He didn’t come back after that. 

Every time I speak about bees, I emphasize that one of the most important (and simple) things you can do to help honeybees (birds, too) is to plant flowers. Flowers = bee food. Even more importantly, don’t contaminate that food. This means synthetic fertilizers (Miracle Gro), pesticides and even herbicides and fungicides are harmful to honeybees and other pollinators. Honeybees that consume pollen that contains amounts of commonly used fungicides at levels too low to cause the bee’s death still may leave them more susceptible to infection by a gut parasite (according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and University of Maryland).

Last week, while visiting a friend who farms in a city park, I learned that DPW had sprayed Round Up around his hives, wiping out 10,000 bees and two queens. He called the city and complained. They told him it wouldn’t happen again, but he sounded just as dubious and defeated as I had the day Ghost Buster man asked if he could kill my clover. The folks who were spraying weren’t evil. They were just doing their jobs, right? 

“Man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself,“ wrote Rachel Carson. How do we shift the cultural mindset, so at war with nature, so obsessed with eradicating weeds and pests with quick-fix chemicals? Mosquitos in the backyard? Douse yourself in bug spray. Yellow Jackets make a home in your shed? Raid ‘em. Dandelions an eyesore? The perfect lawn is just a spray away.

"A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows,” said Doug Larson. I’m still looking for that inspirational quote about mosquitos. 

Catch Up


Let’s check in. This beekeeping season had a rather solemn start, but my spirit was soon rejuvenated with the warmth and support of friends. In early April, I was sad to learn that during our particularly brutal winter, all five Bee Public hives were lost. A devastating blow, and more than enough to make a beginning beekeeper like me (more than) slightly depressed. 

A couple weeks later, an article I had written about my foray into beekeeping was published in Indy Monthly. And then I was asked to be on NPR, along with George and Chris Plews, two enthusiastic honeybee advocates who offered to help fund rooftop bees at our Sky Farm (they also funded the rooftop bees at WFYI). At the same time, a flood of unprecedented support came from friends, family, and complete strangers, helping me to raise funds online for replacement bees. The universe was giving me a much-needed pep talk. 


In May, I placed two three pound packages of bees at South Circle Farm and Growing Places Indy and then donated one additional package to each farm with the extra funds raised. This gave me an idea– I’m thinking of holding a fundraiser of sorts every spring to replenish any lost bees at urban farms that need them. 


So how are the new bees doing? Really, really well. We’ve had a fairly mild summer and I think everyone’s enjoying it. Because I have fewer hives to tend this season (I didn’t find any swarms, darn.), I’ve been focusing more on Bee Public’s mission of outreach and education. In 2014, I have held workshops and taught beekeeping classes at Whole Foods, Georgetown Market, Twenty4Change, Pogue’s Run Grocer, Books and Brews, and Fall Creek Gardens. Coming up very soon, I’ll be talking about honeybees and their integral role in our food system at The Good Earth Natural Foods in late August and at a panel discussion on animal husbandry at City Market on Wednesday, August 6. 

Feelin’ the love today! An excellent writeup about Bee Public by local urban homesteading/sustainable lifestyle writer and all-around inspiring woman,  Shawndra Miller :  
 “Kate Franzman is one of many fabulous people who keep the “indie” in Indianapolis. Concerned about the die-off of honeybees, she started Bee Public with a goal of increasing the number of honeybees in our city. The organization has placed hives at several urban farms, including one right in my neighborhood.” 
 Check out the full post  here .

Feelin’ the love today! An excellent writeup about Bee Public by local urban homesteading/sustainable lifestyle writer and all-around inspiring woman, Shawndra Miller

“Kate Franzman is one of many fabulous people who keep the “indie” in Indianapolis. Concerned about the die-off of honeybees, she started Bee Public with a goal of increasing the number of honeybees in our city. The organization has placed hives at several urban farms, including one right in my neighborhood.”

Check out the full post here.

Bay-bee, it's cold outside


Here in the Midwest, we’re experiencing some freakishly frigid weather. I’m talking record breaking, with its own catchy/ominous name– the Polar Vortex

As the snow fell and temps plummeted, lots of folks dashed to the grocery store to stock up on essentials, returning home to cuddle up for warmth. That’s not too far off from what bees do for the winter months.


Honeybees are one of the only insects that survive the winter as a hive. They form a “winter cluster” inside the hive as soon as the temperature dips below 55°F. The winter cluster remains remarkably warm (95°F).

Bees don’t hibernate like bears, instead they keep moving and rotating, the queen in the center, to keep the cluster’s temp up. No doubt working up quite an appetite. 

As a beekeeper, I can help them out by creating a windbreak (making sure to keep the entrance open) and tilting the hive ever-so-slightly forward so any condensation drips out, not on the bees.  

Today it’s very cold. The bees are clustered up, conserving energy, and eating their nutritious honey stores, which they spent all summer long gathering in preparation for a day like today. Not unlike our own frantic, pre-snowpocalypse trip to the store for the bread and milk.