beekeeping

Year in Review

We can learn a lot from the bees.

In the summer, a female worker bee only lives for about 40 days and she'll spend each day diligently gathering nectar from flowers to turn into honey - her food source.

With around 40,000 - 60,000 bees in a hive, you can imagine how many bees literally work themselves to death to prepare for a winter they will never see. That kind of altruism, a sacrifice made for the greater good of society, seems all to rare in the human world these days.

2016. What a year it's been. For many of us, beekeepers included, it's been a challenging year and it can be hard to maintain a positive impression of the whole 365 days when a few may have left a sour taste in your mouth. 

I can't speak for everyone who follows this project, but I can guess that if you're reading this, you care deeply about bees, sustainable farming, healthy food, mother nature's complex systems and the ways in which these (and we) are all inexorably linked. 

And so, we're going to focus on the positive. 

In 2016, we helped pass pollinator-friendly legislation in Indianapolis and we waggle-danced with the mayor. We spread our message to many young faces (more than 2,000!), and young voices were heard. Students and teachers got hands-on with their very own hives, made bee art and counted pollinators

It's been a good year. In 2017, let's resolve to leave things even better than we found them.

An Earth Day to Remember

On April 22, 2016, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett kicked off Earth Day with a bang. Or rather, a buzz.

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Our Save the Bees Indiana project - a collaboration between the Arts Council, Earth Charter Indiana, and Bee Public - has an art exhibit on display now at the Artsgarden downtown. 4th and 5th graders from all over Indiana created 3-D bee sculptures from recycled materials to raise awareness about bees and pollinators. 

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We gathered at this space on Earth Day morning, along with students and teachers from Sidener Academy, Center for Inquiry (they walked there!) and Butler Lab School (they rode IndyGo!). 

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The Mayor spoke and proclaimed it Indianapolis: A Bee Friendly City Day, recognizing that we depend on pollinators for a third of our food supply and that Indianapolis can do more to help their declining populations. This is the first step to creating a bee-friendly city! 

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At the end of the event, students presented bee sculptures to the mayor and we all did the waggle dance! 

If you liked it then you shoulda put a sting on it

I always get asked this question: “How many times have you been stung?” I’d say no more than 8 or 9 times - pretty great odds is you consider how many hundreds of thousands of bees I’ve been around over the last few years. I’m here to tell you that getting stung is really no big deal and can easily be avoided by wearing the proper gear. The sting itself doesn’t really hurt, it’s the reaction that follows that is the most annoying (unless you’re allergic, in which case you need to get an Epi-Pen and carry it with you.) But most of us have a fear of getting stung, it’s human instinct. 

No stings here - a sunny mid-summer day means most of the bees are out of the hive foraging for nectar and they’re happy as can be. 

They say you don’t really become a beekeeper until you get stung. It’s bound to happen, whether or not you’re working with bees on a regular basis - bees and other bugs that can sting are everywhere! In fact, there’s a good chance that bug that stung you wasn’t even a bee.

Often our bad experiences with black-and-yellow-striped-flying-stinging things are with wasps, yellow jackets, or hornets. There are a few key differences between bees and these other species. Wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, and the like, while still important pollinators, can, and often will, sting more than once.

Honeybees, on the other hand, are gentle in nature and only sting when they feel threatened. And when a honeybee stings, she dies. A honeybee’s stinger is barbed and usually stays behind when she stings, removing some vital organs in the process.

So what should you do if you get stung by a honeybee? The most important thing is to remove the stinger immediately. The bee’s stinger will continue to pump bee venom into your skin so the sooner you get it out the better. There are two methods that work for this: one is to pinch and pull it out with your finger or tweezers. Many beekeepers say this poses the risk of squeezing more venom out of the stinger and into your skin. The second method is to use a flat object, like a credit card or hive tool, to scrape across the skin until the stinger pops out. Either method works just fine- it’s most important to get the stinger out ASAP.

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I waited a little too long to get this stinger out. 

After-sting treatments such as ice and baking soda work pretty well to reduce swelling and neutralize the acidity of the bee venom. If you your sting starts to swell or doesn’t get better in a few days, see a doctor. If you have trouble breathing or show other signs of an allergic reaction, get to the emergency room right away and make sure that you carry an Epi-Pen in the future.

Sources: 

http://www.webmd.com/first-aid/allergy-insect-sting-treatment

http://www.pollinator.org/PDFs/NAPPC.NoFear.brochFINAL.pdf

#Repost @beelocal 
・・・ 
Spent the afternoon with @katefranzman of Bee Public. Kate is doing fantastic work in Indianapolis around bees and education. It was a privilege watch her work one of our rooftop hives. #apiculture #beekeeping #oregon #portland #indiana #indianapolis #pdx #urbanbees #rooftopbees (at Imperial)

#Repost @beelocal
・・・
Spent the afternoon with @katefranzman of Bee Public. Kate is doing fantastic work in Indianapolis around bees and education. It was a privilege watch her work one of our rooftop hives. #apiculture #beekeeping #oregon #portland #indiana #indianapolis #pdx #urbanbees #rooftopbees (at Imperial)

Wanna bee?

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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 beepublicproject@gmail.com. 

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

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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.  

It finally feels like summer here in Indiana. After a polar vortex reprise during what should be our hottest months, hot-sticky-humid has arrived. 

When the temps soar, bees collect water and deposit it around the hive, then fan air through with their wings causing cooling by evaporation. Sounds familiar? It’s the same technology we use to cool our own homes.

The video above was taken yesterday evening just as the bees began to return from a long day of foraging. You can see three girls fanning at the hive entrance. Crank up the air, Maude. 

Don't Spray it.

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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.