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? 

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. 

Location, location, location

The bees arrive in a week. I will pick them up from Wildflower Ridge Honey Farm in a small box called a nucleus or “nuc." 

Compared to established hives, a nuc usually consists of just five frames of brood (baby bees), bees, and a queen. A mini-hive. 

Where will the hives go? Since Bee Public’s mission is to bring bees into cities, originally I wanted to put my hives in the most urban places I could think of. Rooftops, fire escapes. But luck, circumstance, and an amazingly supportive network of friends led me to these two locations for my first two hives. 

Hive location #1: Leah and Tito’s backyard in Fletcher Place


Internet, meet Tito. Tito, The Internet. L + T are among my closest friends and they live just a few minutes from Fountain Square in the Fletcher Place neighborhood. Leah and I played roller derby together, so we have a very special bond. She and Tito have put a lot of hard work into their home and backyard so I’m so excited to bring a hive into such a gorgeous and well-nourished space. 

Hive Location #2: Arlington Farms, Indianapolis



Christina Hatton of Arlington Farms is a busy bee. She and her husband teamed up with another family to start a brand new, 3-acre organic urban farm + CSA just south of Irvington. The bees from my hive will help pollinate the local produce growing there and I hope to learn a thing or two about what it takes to run an urban farm in the process. What a great partnership!

My next lesson will include figuring out the best spot on each property to place the hives. Sounds like future blog post fodder to me.

There's no place like hive

I met Stevie at Bee School. He’s Amish, has braces, and looks to be just shy of his 17th birthday. I’m not sure that last part is true, but I really like Stevie and I like that I can drive up to his bee supply store on his farm in Greencastle, Indiana (took me about an hour to get there from Fountain Square) to buy hives + other bee supplies.

I could just order online, but instead I wanted to 1. Buy local 2. Get my questions answered face to face 3. Have a cool experience. And I’ll take any excuse for a rural road trip + farm visit. 

Here’s where I bought my hives: 




Other places you could buy your hives + beekeeping supplies: 

I realized I forgot to pick up a few things at Crystal Waters, so I may drive to RJ Honey just to have a different, local experience.