hive

Catch Up

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

Bay-bee, it's cold outside

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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.

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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.

Like a virgin

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So, good news/bad news. Bad news: the queen in my hive at Arlington Farms ceases to be. How do I know? I found some gnarly-looking queen cells while inspecting the hive a few days ago.

Man, was I bummed. 

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But glad to see the bees have already been hard at work to raise a new queen. Which leads me to my good news. See that weirdo bee on the left? She’s a virgin queen. I say “a” and not “the” because there can be several at once. 

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When a young virgin queen emerges from a queen cell, she will generally seek out virgin queen rivals and attempt to kill them. 

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The surviving virgin queen will fly out on a sunny, warm day (probably today) and mate with 12-15 drones. She’ll store up to 6 million sperm so she can continue to lay eggs for the rest of her life– about 2,000 eggs /more than her own bodyweight in eggs every day.

If all goes well, we should see some eggs and baby bees in 4-6 weeks. Long live the queen.