Never say “oops.” Rather say, “ah, interesting.” – Author Unknown
Ah, interesting…. Being the lazy beekeeper I can be sometimes, I did not soon enough get out to clean my empty Langstroth hive. I figured however, that some little critter might get in there and nibble some honey but not a full on hostile hive consumption. My empty top bar hives have not had this issue, guess the little vermin cannot shimmy up the legs. Regardless, live, learn and clean it up. My hive bottom, first medium box, all the wood frames and most of the frames in the second box had been chewed up into bedding and snacks by rodents, likely not of unusual size. In addition, they did their dirty business and P.U. did it smell. Considering my options, I donned gloves (probably should have worn a mask) and set about cleaning up the bottom board with a bleach solution, all the while wishing I had a blowtorch to burn off the top layer. However, about half way through, I quit and decided that the stench and likely nasty germs would hanta-virus me (haunt, hee hee) and future honey no matter what. To the garbage they went. I will replace them next year.
Lesson learned – do not dilly dally to clean out empty hives or at least block the entrance real good. Rodents can squeeze through a pretty small opening so either close the empty hive completely with solid side of entrance reducer or place ¼ inch hardware cloth over the opening. Oooorrrrr just clean it up and put away when you know it is empty. The meese might still get in to a hive full of bees, especially during the cold winter months. Part of your winterizing routine can include reducing the entrance and/or installing a screen or hardware close.
The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell – a book review
Probably first and foremost, this isn’t a book about bees. Yet, the topic of the Colony Collapse Disorder does make an appearance early on the book. The unfortunate circumstances of the book are shrouded in some mystery, much like why bees are declining in numbers. However, the more we learn about the bee decline and the more pages you read of this book, you realize that it is all about the toxic environment we live in. It is set in modern Glascow Scotland and has some pretty dark themes with flashes of life that you would hope no one, especially kids, ever had to experience (sex for drugs, molestation, drinking, drugs…). While the main characters, Marnie and Nelly, didn’t create their own toxic environment, they are stuck with the consequences and subsequent decline, despite being just children. The story of them burying their dead parents in the back yard under some lavender bushes will totally captivate your attention, make you wonder if you ever want to live in Scotland and remind you that even seemingly bad apples can know and demonstrate love and kindness. I read this book in one day and only paused to eat lunch – unstoppable! The cover bills it as “witty, funny ….. unsettling” and the pages truly deliver this. Just laugh out loud, even if you feel uncomfortable. The author has second book out now, Closed Doors, which I will indubitably be reading.
This is a review of Diane Ackerman’s non-fiction book based the personal diary of Antonina Żabińska, the Warsaw zookeeper’s wife. Destined to be a movie soon (apparently, someone beat me to this good idea), this book offers a different perspective on Nazi rule and non-Jew life during WWII. I enjoyed this different perspective and departure from the concentration camp viewpoint. The flow of the book is a little off at times as it starts out more novel-ish and then becomes choppy as historical passages are inserted, however, the pure amazement I experienced reading about Antonina and Jan’s, her husband, bravery and perseverance despite the dire risks to her family. I am grateful for the additional facts, necessary to paint the picture, so this criticism hardly matters. It is estimated that more than 300 people, mostly Jews escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto, passed through the Warsaw Zoo in hiding as part of the larger Underground. Antonina obviously possess a great ability to calm and connect with many across all walks of life, four legs, wings, big, nocturnal, exotic, Nazi or otherwise.
A key learning for me was in addition to the fixation on an Aryan race, the Nazi’s were obsessed with animal genomics and genetic breeding experiments to bring back some lost majestic creatures, such as tarpans and aurochs. I felt some internal conflict when reading about the Poland’s Balwieza forest and how some of its natural splendor is due to the Nazi eugenic quest and overall megalomania. Regardless, I have added Bialowieza, a world hertitage site, to my bucket travel list.
As is often my style, an intriguing thought begets another and another and so on we go down a rabbit hole, only to emerge on the other side with some interesting connections. Here we go!
I will say that in the beginning when Antonina is describing all the sounds in the morning, I couldn’t help but hum the “What does the fox say” tune… According to Antonina the foxes yelp and the ant eater says hatchee, hatchee, hatchee (p. 20, 62). There is also a pet (yes, pet) badger in the story, which I would not recommend people try at home, because, well, you know, honey badger don’t give a sh_t, and she is crazy…. Alright, enough pop culture references… for now.
There are even beekeeping references in this book, with some great honey delights, which are now on my list, including:
Krupnik – hot vodka with honey
Piernik – honey spice cake
Pierniczki – honey spice cookies
Does anyone have a family recipe for pierniczki they would like to share?
The Linden tree is also described with great prose as a place of refuge and natural shrine, hence commonly found in church yards and all throughout Slavic countries. I could almost smell it in the pages. Bees are commonly revered as servants of God, due to the fruits of their labor: mead and honey to nourish, wax candles for worship services etc. The connection: bees love linden blossoms, and in this book, Jan kept a few hives at their zoo along the linden border and Antonina reflects on them in her journal. This summer I will go out in search of local linden.
In the Middle Ages, it is reported that the village of Mazowsze put a law on the books condemning hive vandals to death. A first pass, you may think this is all about the honey, but in actuality, the wax was more important, due in large part to the Pope’s demand pure beeswax candles for the Church and in less about honey as a way to sweeten food. Bee-ing the Abbee (J) beekeeper was a highly prestigious job and I would presume this is partly why some many our hive innovations come from monasteries [Brother Adam – WBC Hive and Buckfast bees, Rev. Charles Butler and eponymous hives – Abbe Warre and Reverend L. Langstroth]. There are so many more references to bees in religion, that I will save that waxing and waning for a later date.
Lastly, bringing it all home, I searched the interwebs for “Nazi Beekeepers”, as you never know what will come up. This led me to Vladimir Katriuk, wanted for war crimes but keepin’ bees since 1959 in Canada. From here, I found Karl von Frisch, of waggle dance discovery fame, although not a Nazi, was forced out his prestigious position because he refused to do ideological study on bees for the Nazis. Take a few minutes and read this intriguing interview in The Cabinet by Najafi and Raffles for more on this subject.
While nothing beats the feel and smell of a book in your hands, there are some mobile apps that might have just the information you are looking for. I put together an app collection for managing hives, staying on top of bee news, connecting with others, planning a garden, pass the time or serving as a conversation starter.
Bio Bees: Mobile version of the popular beekeeping site biobees.com. A plethora of information on natural beekeeping, of which I have only scratched the service. Nice collection of podcasts, video posts etc from the always informative Barefoot Beekeeper. I love his top bar beekeeping book as well.
Honeylove.org:Honeylove.org is a non-profit organization promoting urban beekeeping in LA. This app houses video content, including some of the best waggle dancing footage ever, done like only LA would. The org’s website is fantastic and makes me long for something oh soo swanky as a yellow-tie event in Seattle. Their shop is full of great gifts too. It is not all LA, one of the featured videos is from right here in Seattle, The Flight Path Project at the Common Acre. Download the app and enjoy the videos and learn a few things too. NOTE: I WILL be making black and yellow bow tie for the hubs collection.
Beekeeping Forum: A hand held forums for bee keeping, hives, honey, honey products, help, questions and more. Based on the web versions, also includes some article and news etc. Great for perusing, seeing what are the hot questions and repository of information. Topics range from bee medicinal, blueprints, swarms and alternatives bees. Some geographical sorting available. Free and handy!
Honeybee Helpers by Heritage Farms: An interesting app with a quiz, some live video feeds in the hives, state bee facts and a nifty anatomy overview. Good thing it is free as pretty limited in terms of information and I will likely uninstall if I can’t get the hive video feed to work (granted it was night when I was playing around) but the skep image looks great on my phone and I like the anatomy portion. It also links out to Haagen-Dazs (yes the ice cream), a company in clear support of the honeybee.
BeesMe: This free app is pretty simple with logically organized basic beekeeping information. What sets this app apart is its month by month description of what to be doing in the hive. Of note, it is out of the UK, so some of the recommendations may not be applicable to your local. It also has a forum to facilitate interaction with other beeks.
Hive Management Tools
Beekeeper Lite: This free app is designed to help track your hives and inspections/observations. You can add multiple hive locations, add hives, and track details of visits, including pictures etc. I added my three current hives and can see how this could be helpful, however, I can’t figure out how to delete locations or hives and the data does not appear to be backed up anywhere, so you would risk losing seasons worth of data if you deleted app etc. It also doesn’t appear downloadable, so if you are recording observations in pursuit of Journeyman or Master Beekeeper, this might not be the right platform.
There is another similar app, Hive Manager, that is $14.99/year. It looks to be much more detailed in terms of data recorded.
Another online hive management tool with associated app is beetight.com. You can sign up for free and manage up to 6 hives online but not via the app. More hives or want the app? Upgrade to the Pro version, which includes the mobile app and you can add up to a 1000 hives (holy guacamole!), for $15/year. Lots of cues about what to observe, do and record. I am going to use the beetight.com online tool this year [and uninstall the beekeeper lite and beetight.com app] to see how it plays out in the real world. Stay tuned! BBE-tech has also assembled an indepth evaluation of these tools.
BeeCalc: Handy calculators for common beekeeper math. Just plug in your numbers to find out answer like how much honey and wax to expect from a super, how much frame wire you might need based on umber and frame depth and generally useful metric conversions (temperature, distance, weight etc). from the beekeeping.org website.
Beeyond the Hive
BeeSmart: A free app designed to help you plan the best garden and landscaping for your pollinator friends. This app is free and includes geo-location specific plant recommendations: for bees to hummingbirds, bats, beetles and butterflies. Enter your zip code, then choose a target pollinator, color, sun requirement, soil type (e.g. loamy, acidic)and plant type (e.g. annual, tree, vine). From here the app provides you with a list of NATIVE plants for your region that meet your criteria. You can then click on the plan and learn more about it and also add it to your favorites. Definitely useful tool for garden and yard planning. The list will seem shorter since it focuses on native plants (read: I love lavender but it doesn’t come up for my region).
Honey Health: Repository of information about honey applications in health and beauty. I would caution against relying on this app for quality information. I think they are stretching the facts of honey too far. That said, the About Honey portion of the app contains useful information. I do wash my face with honey regularly and use it as an acne spot treatment (thanks to Crunchy Betty) but I won’t be turning over my every ailment to this liquid gold any time soon. There is better research and resources out there for medicinal benefits of honey than this app, in particular the use of honey on bed sores and slow healing wounds and pollen for attenuating seasonal allergies. But, face it, honey tastes delicious, feels good in the mouth and why wouldn’t you find a reason to add it to your daily life.
There are also apps for candle making and other DIY crafts.
Honeybee Mapper: This app from the savethehives.com group supports their efforts to build a national database of hives, designed to further research into Colony Collapse Disorder and other honey bee health issues. The app has an updated roster of podcasts and honeybee research articles, links for schools (ecology, stewardship and behavior topics) and bee photo gallery. This might be a useful tool for local beekeeping groups to utilize – not much in the way of registered hives in my neck of the woods though. The app doesn’t appear to have the information on beelining that is on website, so take a detour and check that out too. I think my main utilization of this app will be for the meta-search results. I have something similar delivered to my email daily but think this on demand version suits me better.
Just for Fun
Cute as Can Bee – Picture Me: This app has nothing to do with keeping bees and everything to do with getting a few laughs and maybe intrigue some people into learning more about bees, or at least you (or completely creep them out). Basically you take a photo of yourself (Selfie!), the free app then makes a story all about you complete with tinkling music and thick plot line (joking). A great way to pass time and you can bet my Mom is going to get a copy of this. Picture me…..
Disco Bees: A game app centered on lining up like objects in a row to clear them (a la Candy Crush, Bejeweled, Chuzzle, Connect 4, Tic-Tac-Toe….). It is a bit trickier on the eyes as the shapes are hexagon honeycombs and while the levels I have played thus far are pretty easy, it is still rewarding to see the bees do the waggle dance in celebration. Mindless, yes, but cute bee graphics, a great way to bring up the waggle dance and maybe built a few new neuronal pathways. Pretty sure adult beekeepers are their target demographic given the flower power hipbee character, Euro 80s Punk bee level and reference to Notorious BIG – “Mo Honey Mo Problems”. Among the cleverly named levels, are two about Zombees on Earth and Mars … how very timely. More info https://www.zombeewatch.org/ It’s free and a way to pass the time waiting at the DMV or for the more active months of beekeeping….
Bee Leader: Another free-bee game, sort of like Angry Birds or Robot Unicorn (missed that one? Too bad.) I found it hard to control (maybe I need to work on my coordination) and grew weary quickly. Cute graphics and quite a few levels though. It does teach about pollination although the bee will chose red flowers at the same frequency of other colors, which we know is not always true.
Honey Boo Boo – just kidding!
So which apps will I bee keeping?
I would love to hear about your beekeeping app and website experiences!