B is for Bees

Can you spot the queen?

Can you spot the queen?

I am a bee keeper. How can I harness what I know about bees in the garden and convey it to keep on point? My goal here has been to keep a written archive on our day-to-day life that centers around our kitchen table and garden. This is my child’s whole world, universe, right now. When a grown up, and maybe even a parent, too, she can look back and see what her parents thought was important. She can know that we did what we could to save the honey bees. We shared our harvests and knowledge, and tried to devote a part of our lives to enriching people’s lives around us. The message I want to send is this: Nobody can do it all. We can’t save the whole world. What we can do is find a cause, maybe even more than one, and give freely our time to that. We didn’t sit down and think, “Hmm, what can I do to save the world today?” But we did see the opportunity to incorporate our love of bees and gardens and nature to improve the lives of the people around us. We’ve been able to provide honey to a sick boy whose doctor recommends he eat local honey everyday. We’ve been able to donate money we raise from selling honey to a friend who was in a life-changing accident. We do our best, yet face a big learning curve coupled with infuriating American cultural practices. Enough with the poison, people!

The latest bee disaster.

The latest bee disaster.

Bee keeping is a process that you learn by doing. We will make mistakes, and we will never know exactly what goes wrong when we lose a hive. The latest loss we had was just this week–which is rare in late July with a healthy, productive hive. I can tell when the bees are acting strangely. When they’ve encountered a pesticide, they will be disoriented and walk in circles until they eventually die. I will never know where they came in contact with poison, however.

Some hives are stronger than others; some succumb to mites or hive robbers. We believe in a Darwinian approach. If the hive needs human intervention, then it probably wouldn’t make it in the wild. No point in nursing weak hives; we want sturdy bees to continue to breed.

Several schools of thought and bee-keeping philosophies exist, but you settle in to what feels right to you and your bees. Trial and error is the best teacher. We’re still on a learning curve, and will likely always be. As with gardening, a wide margin of error exists. But nothing feels worse than acting as the stewards of a species when something goes wrong as it did this week. I like to keep count of the numbers of swarms we’ve saved which more than balance out our losses. Whether you want to keep bees yourself, or if you want a friendly yard for the bees, read on.

The single most important action you can take today is to eliminate the use of pesticides personally and completely forever. If you want to learn more, the following are just a few movements to support: (I hope to keep adding links. Please add ones that I haven’t listed.)






Boy, won’t this be an interesting read in twenty years! I hope my kid has fun reading about the fight we’re fighting in this country to eat real food and minimize poisons. I sure hope they’re blown away by the way things used to be!

Things you can do to encourage honey bees: Plant flowering species that honey bees need year-round, keeping winter-blooming plants the priority. Here’s our short list: rosemary, oregano, thyme, lavender, verbena, sage, borage, mint, sunflowers, alliums, basil, tomatillos, artichokes, cosmos, zinnia, salvias, lamb’s ear, alyssum, and honey suckle for a start.

Why should you buy local honey? This is the most shocking honey story I’ve ever read: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/#.UfQUrJgUPwE

Here are just a few of the swarms we’ve caught. Truly fascinating.

Swarm under our patio umbrella.

Swarm under our patio umbrella.

A swarm on bender board!

A swarm on bender board!

An easy-to-catch swarm, finally!

An easy-to-catch swarm, finally!

One of the largest swarms we've caught.

One of the largest swarms we’ve caught.

The best way to eliminate any “need” for a pesticide is to have a well-balanced ecosystem as a yard. Avoid monocultures. Think “American Big Business Farming,” and do the opposite. Growing one crop only (such as grass or corn) encourages pests and disease. Try using natural products for disease control such as boric acid for ants or hot pepper wax for soft-bodied insects.

One last comment: If you see a neighbor’s house getting tented, go to a hotel. Take it seriously. Our friend rented a U-Haul and emptied her house when the condo complex she lived in got tented. It seems like an overreaction. It seems that way until you see just how many bees die after a house close by gets tented.

Verroa mite on honey bee. Consequence of insecticide overuse.

Verroa mite on honey bee. Consequence of insecticide overuse.

About master kindergardener

Santa Clara County Master Gardener since 2007, Mom since 2009, Gardener since birth.
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One Response to B is for Bees

  1. Carissa Hobbs says:

    Love the honey bees…and their honey 🙂 Thanks to you, there are three more honey bee advocates in the world.

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