Reverie - n. a state of being pleasantly lost in one's thoughts; a daydream or fantasy; a visionary or impractical idea

"To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,—
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.

The revery alone will do
If bees are few." - Emily Dickinson

Monday, May 28, 2012


Give me a day
That is balmy and shimmering;
Give me a field
Where the clover blooms sway;
O let me linger
Where nectar is gathering,
Deep in the blossoms of flowering May.

Give me a shelter
Where sunlight is filtering,
Tempering music
Of humming and whirr,
Then I will gather
A treasure so glistening,
Fragrant as incense, and precious as myrrh.

--Florence Holt Davison

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Working Queen

Here is one of Beeman's queens, inspecting cells and laying eggs.  She is the larger bee in the center, with a longer abdomen, smaller wings and a yellow mark.  Click the YouTube link for better resolution.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pardon My Manners

I love to taste honey, but eating honey is a completely different experience. 

Tasting it off the spoon is luscious and pure, but eating honey off the comb feels messy and primitive.  If you finish honeycomb with clean lips and fingers you are doing it wrong 

This must be the way bees intended us to experience their masterpiece.  It is a raw, primal way of eating that is equivalent to ripping meat off the bone with your teeth.  This is honey you have to chew.  You can feel the individual cells explode in your mouth, and after all the warm sweetness is gone you spit out the wax. 

It’s not graceful.  But it’s amazing.   

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bloom Phenology - Or, What the Bees Love this Week

Angelica archangelica

We have been enjoying our first week of truly warm spring weather, and the flowers and bees have responded.  As part of my apprentice beekeeper training it is suggested that I keep a bloom phenology record, and what better way to do it than with photographs from my garden?

Angelica, covered in bees and beneficial insects

This post should probably be called "A Love Letter to Angelica". I love herbs with a good story, and Angelica archangelica has a history littered with intriguing references to angels, witchcraft, and protection from evil.  Scandinavian poets used to wear crowns of angelica for inspiration.  Like other members of the Umbelliferae, the bees love it, which is reason enough.  It’s a biennial, and mine is about four feet tall now, although I’ve seen them grow much taller.  This plant will always have a place in my garden. 

Here are some other bee favorites I have observed this week:

Wisteria sinensis
All varieties of culinary thyme

Bees don't have a care in the world when chives are blooming

Lavandula stoechas - Spanish lavender

...And various offerings from "The Garden of Bolting Greens".  I always let some Brassicas go to seed for the insects, they can't get enough of them.  These beauties are 6 feet tall!  I noticed some early blackberry blossoms opening, and when they do the real show will begin. 

Swarm Season

Bee Swarm, Leah Yin
The bees are restless and so am I.  There is electricity in the air this time of year, and I suffer from wanderlust along with the bees.  Contained within hives their wild hearts still beat, just like mine.  Once a swarm impulse has begun there is little you can do to stop it.   

Even though my bees may leave me, I understand.  Wanderlust is a powerful emotion, and I am a longtime sufferer.  I am bound to responsibility as they are bound to their queen.  But I still daydream about running away, traveling, experiencing new adventures.  And while I would be devastated, I understand.  My heart travels vicariously with them. 

That’s why I love them so much.  There are no guarantees. 

This evening a small swarm decided to rest in Beeman's garden.  He was not so secretly hoping they were my bees, but I know they haven't left me.  Not yet. 

This will be their new home.  His garden is beautiful, isn't it?  I agree. 

Catching them requires some effort.  You have to earn them.  Nothing worth having should ever come too easily (says the girl taking the pictures). 

There you go, little bees.  See if you want to stay... we hope that you do.

And just like that, a new hive is born.  The origin of the queen is a mystery.  She could be a marked, mated queen that just this morning belonged to someone else.  Or she could be a feral virgin just starting out.  I hope it is the latter, it sounds so much more delicious.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

This is the Key of the Kingdom...

Rich, dark comb honey from my mentor extraordinaire

My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste: So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off.
Proverbs 24:13-14 KJV

Lots of biblical references to honey. I think about how saturated we are with "sweet." How, 3000 years ago, in that culture, they had only natural sweet...figs, dates and honey. (Thus giving rise to the expression "I want a date with my honey..." but I digress.)

Can we appreciate how special honey must have been to them, with so little concentrated "sweet" available in their lives? It must have been extremely valuable. Then to compare it to wisdom.

Now, information has increased; we are saturated with data. But wisdom is still rare and precious. Like the honey you guard selfishly.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Lucky Girl

In addition to being an amazing friend, mama, musician, and gardener, Melanie makes fantastic jewelry.  And the best part is that she surprises me with these fabulous little gifts at very random moments.  Like today, walking along a forest path.  Surprise!  A little bee gem. Now I don't have to get stung to wear the bees on my skin. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Another "Perfect Day"

Every once in a while, Melanie and I sneak off for what we call "perfect day", a magical space of time we set aside to do whatever we want with no timetable. It's like "book club", daytime edition. This time we shopped for plants, drank chai, ate french pastries, and stalked other people's beehives.  Perfect, right? 

Our day started at the Spring Garden Festival, a plant sale we look forward to the entire year.  We don't mess around. We get there early with no children, no phones, and no distractions and do what we do for plants. 

I brought home an obscene amount of plants.  $2 columbine? $1.50 native Dicentra?  Really, what's a girl to do? 

Ohhhhh, the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture.  Loved, loved, loved this place.  I pass it at least three times a week and have never stopped.  Silly girl - it's less than 10 minutes from my house!  Now I keep making excuses to go back.  Lots of lush plants, beehives, and rustic Thai-style sculptures (my favorite!). A perfect place for a perfect day.

Lucky for us, Michael Burgett - Emeritus Professor of Entomology and a really funny guy - was mowing the grass and eagerly took a break to give us a personal tour of the garden and all the hives.  I asked him to pick his favorite and it is this, a hive with 6-frame boxes and a vigorous colony of once-feral bees.  The photo does not do this scene justice.  These bees were going crazy.  All of his hives are made from juniper wood stained a luscious, rich brown. 

We were told these are Russian-style hives.  The boxes on the left have 12-frame hive boxes, and the one on the right is a gigantic 20-frame box.  Good luck lifting these guys.

The highlight of the day, for sure - an actual skep with an active colony!  I've never seen one before.  Skeps are the ultimate in secrecy.  They are fully the domain of the bees.  Lacking moveable frames, the only way to harvest honey is to destroy the hive.  Or you just let them be, living their life of mystery away from prying eyes.  Fantastic!  I will go back to the garden just to see this hive. 

Another skep (left), this one currently unoccupied.  On the right is a funky little Warre hive with observation windows.  This hive uses all foundationless frames, and the combs inside are incredibly organic and beautiful.  This bee garden blew me away.  I'm already planning a return trip. 

We ended our day at the Thyme Garden for even more plant shopping and beehive stalking.  This property is my idea of heaven.  I could live here happily for the rest of my life.  As a consolation, I took some more plants home with me.  When I returned from our trip, I put on my suit and got into my own hives.  A "perfect day" for sure.  Thanks Melanie!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The First Generation

Hive Inspection 05 May 2012:

I am still amazed that I was able to capture this moment.  In the photo above there are four bees in various stages of emergence.  The furry bee in the center is almost completely free of its cell while the others are still chewing through their wax cappings.  I love the raw, ragged edges of the newly empty cells.  It's so incredible to watch the transformation of a plain sheet of beeswax foundation into a wonderland of hatching bees - in just three weeks!  All it takes is energy, dedication, and a large dose of magic. 

The first hive I opened is thriving.  The first generation of daughters has almost fully emerged, and the population is noticeably larger.  They have begun to draw comb in the upper hive body, and there are lots of new eggs and various stages of brood.  The foundationless frames are indistinguishable from the standard frames. 

The second hive is doing well, but as you can see in the photo their population is not as numerous as the other hive.  I believe this is because they had some setbacks in their initial attempts to draw comb.  They seem to be about a week and a half behind, and when I get in here again next week I expect to see a larger swell of bees.  Found the queen, and am still slightly doubting her Italian heritage.  She just looks so drastically different than the other queen. 

Sometimes bees will draw an excessive amount of drone cells on foundationless frames, and my bees are no exception.  Even though it is undesirable, this frame is absolutely fantastic to me.  Look at that texture!  It is a work of art.  And lucky for me, I get to save it.  Instead of using chemicals to control mites in your hive you can remove a frame of drone cells, freeze it to kill all of the larvae and mites, and replace it in your hive for the bees to clean and use again.  Once a drone cell, always a drone cell, so this frame should serve as a pest control aid for a long time.  Luck was not with me, and the queen was on this frame when I went to remove it, and she's a runner.  I chased her down with the brush and knocked her into the hive, unleashing the fury of hell referred to in my previous post. A novice move?  Probably.  But I was on my own that day.

Please, pause and take another look at this.  Such a beauty.

I can't fail to mention the real stars of the show these days - the field bees.  These girls are working overtime right now.  The weather is warmer, babies are emerging, and the population is really beginning to increase.  Bees are coming into the hive absolutely loaded with pollen to feed all of those hungry mouths. 

Allow me a brief divergence - my native shooting star bulbs are blooming for the first time and I am so excited I can't stand it.  This is my favorite northwest wildflower and it now lives in my garden.  Botanical bliss!  What's new in your garden today?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Today I unleashed the fury of hell in one of my hives by messing with the queen and received a sweet little sting on the palm of my hand.  Until the barb is removed, the venom keeps pumping and the hot pain increases.  So naturally I left it in to get a good picture. 

My fear of being stung on the hand and dropping a frame is diminishing because I am learning to interpret the language of a bee about to sting.  Her buzzing rises to a higher pitch…her body vibrates with more intensity…she crouches down slightly…and there it is. 

Punish me, little bees.  I deserve it. 

If the sun is shining just right, and the smell of the hive is just right, and my level of naughtiness is just right, my hive tool will scrape wax off the frame a bit lower than it should.  Cells are opened and warm honey runs swiftly down my tool and my fingers (if I’m lucky).  The cruel irony is that my veil prevents me from tasting it as it runs to the ground.  I am left to move about my work completely unsatisfied. 

Poor girls, you worked so hard to cure and safely store this treasure to feed your colony, only to have it ripped open and gazed upon by a human with lusty eyes. 

Tease me, little bees.  I deserve it.

(This one is for you, John L.  Thanks for the encouragement!)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

An Unexpected Encounter

Tonight I had an unexpected encounter with really good honey, and tasted it in a way that was completely new to me.  Melanie and I meet at the same place every week for “book club”, an indulgence that consists of the two of us, a few drinks, and no conversation about books.  Caring for young children full time is a weighty responsibility.  Work hard, play hard. 

One of the benefits of this regularity is getting to know the bartender.  Tonight MFH discovered my obsession with honey and made me a special drink.  He crafted it with care and precision, smelling and tasting until it was just right.  And it was right.  A subtly sweet aroma similar to what you experience when a hive is cracked open, with an aftertaste of honey that lingers in your mouth like it does off the spoon. 

When I pressed him about specifics, he said “honey is honey, right?” and I felt the knife twist in my chest.  How could someone who so artfully created this masterpiece be so dismissive about the magic ingredient?   I insisted those flavors did not belong to mere supermarket honey, and begged him to search in back for the jar.  Thank you, sir, but I was right.  It was Ethan’s honey.  I knew it was special.  MFH, you created a drink that makes me weak in the knees, but you have a lot to learn about really good honey. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The OSU Honey Bee Lab

Karessa and I pretending to be honeybee pathologists
The final classroom session for our apprentice program was held at the Oregon State Honeybee Lab on campus.  Lots of cool research, lots of fascinating things to examine under microscopes, and lots of gruesome little oddities. 

Sample bees from Karessa's hive

Students in the class brought samples from their own hives to test for tracheal mites and nosema, a virus similar to dysentery that attacks a bee's digestive system, making it hard for them to consume honey and build up their population. 

Bee abdomens
To test for the presence of nosema spores, bee abdomens were separated from the bodies and collected in a dish.  This isn't the gross part.  Wait for it...

Grinding bee abdomens for testing
...okay, here it is.  The abdomens were mashed and diluted with water to make a solution that could be viewed under a microscope.  Yep, these bees had nosema spores. 

We were able to use lab equipment and microscopes to dissect bees and examine their anatomy.  Here is a bee with an extended proboscis and an extracted stomach and stinger.  It was amazing to see honeybee eyes, hair, and wings under magnification. 

Yellowjacket queen
And one of the little oddities.  Yellowjackets, especially queens, have few friends among beekeepers.  Thanks to the Honeybee Lab for an awesome evening - we learned a lot and had fun doing it!