On April 22, 2016, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett kicked off Earth Day with a bang. Or rather, a buzz.
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.
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!).
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!
At the end of the event, students presented bee sculptures to the mayor and we all did the waggle dance!
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.
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.
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.
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.