Thoughts for the New Year

I've just started E.O. Wilson's new book, The Creation, an urgent plea from a Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist to protect biodiversity by finding common ground between the "science community" and the "religious community" in order to halt the biological holocaust before it is too late. It's now or never, folks, and Wilson makes the case in potent terms.

The book is written in the form of a letter to a pastor, illuminating the intertwingular zone where spiritual belief, respect for the natural world, and science connect. Some passages of interest from the first few pages:

"According to archaeological evidence, we strayed from Nature with the beginning of civilization roughly ten thousand years ago. That quantum leap beguiled us with an illusion of freedom from the world that has given us birth. It nourished the belief that the human spirit can be molded into something new to fit changes in the environment and culture, and as a result the timetables of history desynchronized. A wiser intelligence might now truthfully say of us at this point: here is a chimera, a new and very odd species come shambling into our universe, a mix of Stone Age emotion, medieval self-image, and godlike technology. The combination makes the species unresponsive to the forces that count most for its own long-term survival."


"Even if the rest of life is counted of no value beyond the satisfaction of human bodily needs, the obliteration of Nature is a dangerous strategy. For one thing, we have become a species specialized to eat the seeds of four kinds of grass—wheat, rice, corn, and millet. If these fail, from disease or climate change, we too shall fail. Some fifty thousand wild plant species (many of which face extinction) offer alternative food sources. If one insists on being thoroughly practical about the matter, allowing these and rest of the wild species to exist should be considered part of a portfolio of long-term investment. Even the most recalcitrant people must come to view conservation as simple prudence in the management of Earth's natural economy. Yet few have begun to think that way at all."


"Granted, many people seem content to live entirely within the synthetic ecosystems. But so are domestic animals content, even in the grotesquely abnormal habitats in which we rear them. This in my mind is a perversion. It is not the nature of human beings to be cattle in glorified feedlots. Every person deserves the option to travel easily in and out of the complex and primal world that gave us birth. We need freedom to roam across land owned by no one but protected by all, whose unchanging horizon is the same that bounded the world of our millennial ancestors. Only in what remains of Eden, teeming with life forms independent of us, is it possible to experience the kind of wonder that shaped the human psyche at its birth."

—E.O. Wilson, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth

Listen to an interview with Wilson on NPR or check out this televised interview on PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.


Bee Movie, 1951

What could be more fun than taking in an old movie the day after Christmas? Found out about this gem on the Historical Honeybee Articles and Archive listserve. If you have trouble viewing through the embedded video below, you can watch it here.


Give the Gift of Bees

Want to go a little less materialistic in your holiday giving this year? Consider a donation to Heifer International.

This holiday season, through Heifer International, Wren and I are giving the gift of honeybees—which can provide food, a source of income, and of course, great ecological benefits to communities struggling with poverty and hunger. We'll be making several such donations in the names of various friends.
Here's more from the Heifer International website:

Honoring a friend or family member with honeybees is a gift that shows you cherish both people and the environment. The way bees work together is a lesson for us all. They produce food, care for the young, recycle waste and create an effective, efficient community. They pollinate fruits, flowers and vegetables in the process -a benefit for us. A package of Heifer International bees and a hive gives families better crops, candle wax, pollen for medicine and honey to eat and sell.
If honeybees aren't your thing, consider a gift of llamas, goats, chickens or even a water buffalo—Heifer International's gift registry provides a list of all the ways you can do some good this holiday season.


The Vanishing of the Bees

This is a trailer for an upcoming documentary feature film called The Vanishing of the Bees.



Not sure if it's a bee, but it's cool. Unfortunately, the blog on which I found it seems to have disappeared!!



A charming hippo named Jessica.


Warhol on Leaving Well Enough Alone

"I think that having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own."

—Andy Warhol


City Bee

Lovely surprise to come upon this pretty girl while passing Union Square Park last Thursday.


Song of the Queen Bee by E.B. White

Song of the Queen Bee

by E.B White

New Yorker Magazine 1945
“The breeding of the bee," says a United States Department of Agriculture bulletin on artificial insemination, has always been handicapped by the fact that the queen mates in the air with whatever drone she encounters.”

When the air is wine and the wind is free
and the morning sits on the lovely lea
and sunlight ripples on every tree
Then love-in-air is the thing for me
I’m a bee,
I’m a ravishing, rollicking, young queen bee,
That's me.
I wish to state that I think it’s great,
Oh, it’s simply rare in the upper air,
It’s the place to pair
With a bee.

Let old geneticists plot and plan,
They’re stuffy people, to a man;
Let gossips whisper behind their fan.
(Oh, she does?
Buzz, buzz, buzz!)
My nuptial flight is sheer delight;
I’m a giddy girl who likes to swirl,
To fly and soar
And fly some more,
I’m a bee.
And I wish to state that I’ll always mate
With whatever drone I encounter.

There’s a kind of a wild and glad elation
In the natural way of insemination;
Who thinks that love is a handicap
Is a fuddydud and a common sap,
For I am a queen and I am a bee,
I’m devil-may-care and I’m fancy-free,
The test tube doesn't appeal to me,
Not me,
I’m a bee.
And I’m here to state that I’ll always mate
With whatever drone I encounter.

Mares and cows, by calculating,
Improve themselves with loveless mating,
Let groundlings breed in the modern fashion,
I’ll stick to the air and the grand old passion;
I may be small and I’m just a bee
But I won’t have science improving me,
Not me,
I’m a bee.
On a day that’s fair with a wind that’s free,
Any old drone is a lad for me.

I’ve no flair for love moderne,
It’s far too studied, far too stern,
I’m just a bee—I’m wild, I’m free,
That’s me.
I can’t afford to be too choosy;
In every queen there’s a touch of floozy,
And it’s simply rare
In the upper air
And I wish to state
That I’ll always mate
With whatever drone I encounter.

Man is a fool for the latest movement,
He broods and broods on race improvement;
What boots it to improve a bee
If it means the end of ecstasy?
(He ought to be there
On a day that’s fair,
Oh, it’s simply rare.
For a bee.)

Man’s so wise he is growing foolish,
Some of his schemes are downright ghoulish;
He owns a bomb that’ll end creation
And he wants to change the sex relation,
He thinks that love is a handicap,
He’s a fuddydud, he’s a simple sap;
Man is a meddler, man’s a boob,
He looks for love in the depths of a tube,
His restless mind is forever ranging,
He thinks he’s advancing as long as he’s changing,
He cracks the atom, he racks his skull,
Man is meddlesome, man is dull,
Man is busy instead of idle,
Man is alarmingly suicidal,
Me, I am a bee.

I am a bee and I simply love it,
I am a bee and I’m darn glad of it,
I am a bee, I know about love:
You go upstairs, you go above,
You do not pause to dine or sup,
The sky won’t wait—it’s a long trip up;
You rise, you soar, you take the blue,
It’s you and me, kid, me and you,
It’s everything, it’s the nearest drone,
It’s never a thing that you find alone.
I’m a bee,
I’m free.

If any old farmer can keep and hive me,
Then any old drone may catch and wife me;
I’m sorry for creatures who cannot pair
On a gorgeous day in the upper air,
I’m sorry for cows that have to boast
Of affairs they’ve had by parcel post,
I’m sorry for a man with his plots and guile,
His test-tube manner, his test-tube smile;
I’ll multiply and I’ll increase
As I always have—by mere caprice;
For I am a queen and I am a bee,
I’m devil-may-care and I’m fancy-free,
Love-in-air is the thing for me,
Oh, it’s simply rare
In the beautiful air,
And I wish to state
That I’ll always mate
With whatever drone I encounter.

Japanese Hornets vs. Honeybees—The Movie


Bee Movie, Sexism of

Angier weighs in...


Honeybees Removing Varroa Mites Through Grooming

In this amazing video, you'll witness what is known in beekeeper parlance as "hygienic behavior"—honeybees grooming themselves in an effort to remove the dreaded varroa mites from their bodies.


Bee Movie

I'm glad someone—a beekeeper, no less—has raised questions about the inverted premise of Bee Movie: that it's the males in the colony who do all the work, defend the hive, and polllinate the pretty flowers. Countless schoolchildren will now be hopelessly ill-informed about the fascinating, matriarchal realities of honeybee culture—a concept too radical for Hollywood humans to wrap their brains around.

However, as the generous author of this New York Times Op-Ed piece observes, if the movie helps people recognize the importance of honeybees and other pollinators, it might serve the good purpose of encouraging a more respectful relationship with our excruciatingly beleaguered natural world. Let's hope, silly sexism aside, something good can come from Bee Movie.



No bees today, just bats—and seahorses, and other truly fabulous creatures—from that velvet-minded genius, Jean Painleve.


Found Poem

I'm reading Don Quixote—
“In the fissures of rocks
and the hollows of trees
diligent and clever bees
established their colonies,
freely offering to any hand
the fertile harvest of their sweet labor.”
I wonder if they freely offered.


Bulbs, Bees, and Muddy Acts of Faith

The weather is finally turning cold (or cold-ish) and hard frost has come, weeks past its due date, zapping the remaining color from the fields. Pink milkweed blossoms are just a memory now, blown to the wind on silken white horsetails that spring from cracked brown pods. Incandescent goldenrod blossoms have gone to cloud-like seed. Jewelweed, burdock, and all the other flowers the bees worked so diligently all summer have died back or become, truly, ghosts of their former selves.

Thankfully, the borage in the herb bed continues to provide a bit of sustenance, and with daytime temperatures continuing to provide days warm enough for the honeybees to venture out, the borage blossoms are where it’s at, bee-wise. What a gift to see and hear the honeybees work in these last days of October. What a strange and haunting gift.

This weekend, our answer to the sadness of autumn was to plant spring bulbs. Wren and I got 100 Siberian squill bulbs and 200 crocus bulbs in the ground after hours of digging around in the cold mud. Both bloom in early spring, and should provide a welcomed pollen source for the bees once the weather is warm enough for them to start flying and before an abundance of other pollen sources have become available.

I remember the indescribable thrill, last spring, of watching our newly hived honeybees feverishly working the measly bed of ten or twelve crocuses in front of the house. I am hopeful that at least one or two of our three colonies will survive the winter, if winter ever comes. And I’m eager to visit with the bees next spring and see them making use of the squill and other gifts of garden and field.

Planting these bulbs, for me, is a leap of faith: that spring will come again, that our bees will live to see it, and that we’ll have the time and presence of mind to immerse ourselves fully in the mesmerizing wonder of it all.


Do you bee-lieve?

Honeybee Reconnaissance

The bees never miss a trick. You put something out on the hood of the car or carry a tool up to the field or lay a sweater on the lawn, and they're on it. Perpetual reconnaissance. This one's surveying the beekeeping equipment, to make sure everything's in order.



I first came to love jewelweed as a kid at camp. Also known as "touch-me-not," the pods of this lovely, commonplace plant "explode" when touched, posing an irresistible temptation to break the vivid commandment engendered in the plant's name.
Here's a seed and the spring-like mechanism that sends the seeds catapulting far and wide—a most ingenious and dramatic mechanism of seed dispersal.Even now—many years removed from being a kid at camp—I revel in the child-like pleasure of prodding fat jewelweed pods to make them burst.

The honeybees (and bumblebees, and hummingbirds) revel in the jewelweed, too, energetically working its blossoms from July through the end of August. This summer, their labors brought a bumper crop of popping pods disbursing the seeds far and wide.
The bee has to go pretty deep inside the fluted flower to reach the nectar spur.
When it does so, it rubs against the the cluster of stamens with white anthers that you can see here. This transfers pollen onto the bee's head and back. Ingeniously, the ovary is located just above the anthers, so as the bee moves from flower to flower to gather nectar, it transfers the pollen from one flower to the ovaries of another.Here's what the bee looks like when it's working the jewelweed. It took me a few weeks to figure this out. At the hives, I'd see bees coming in with these white stripes on their backs. I didn't realize it was pollen—I figured my queen had mated with some odd-looking drones.
Here are some shots of the bees combing the pollen off their heads and backs, and transferring it to their pollen baskets. Note the wonderful variations in the blossoms' color and patterns.
Jewelweed is, by the way, a native plant, possessing some pretty interesting properties, including great-tasting seeds.


Blog Action Day/Thought of the Day

“What we refer to as nature or the ‘environment’ or the wild world is our endangered habitat and home, and we are its problem species. Living in it well with each other and with all the other beings is our ancient challenge. In this time of New World Disorder, we need to find the trick of weaving civilized culture and wild nature into the fabric of the future. This will be both art and science. We can take heart, however, from the fact that the actual physical world sets conditions that are some of the strongest guards against ignorant extremism and fanaticism. ‘Get real! Get a life!’ is the daily message of Mother Nature.

Stay the course, my friends.”
—Gary Snyder, “Ecology, Literature, and the New World Disorder”


Bird Brains

Some pretty cool crows.



Consumer-Product Diversity Now Exceeds Biodiversity

The Onion

Consumer-Product Diversity Now Exceeds Biodiversity

WASHINGTON, DC-According to an EPA study conducted in conjunction with the U.N. Task Force On Global Developmental Impact, consumer-product diversity now exceeds biodiversity.


A morsel of honeycomb...

Sencha LOVES honeycomb!


Portulaca Honeybee

Autumn has been gentle so far, with no hard frost as of yet and none predicted for the upcoming week. Though there's been significant die-back of the bees' forage plants, there are still a few decent stands of goldenrod and a great deal of aster to continue provisioning the bees for winter. The weather has been balmy and the bees have been foraging intensively in their continuing effort to pack away as much nectar and pollen for winter as they can. (My beekeeper mentors tellme a colony needs at least 60 pounds of honey to survive the winter; an inconceivable amount of work when you consider the size of a honeybee. Happily, all three of my hives appear to have attained the necessary stores.)

This weekend, I observed the bees foraging on borage, sunflower, black knapweed, ornamental (late-blooming) milkweed, zinnia, squash blossoms, and salvia, along with aster and goldenrod.

I was particularly intrigued to see a bee working the portulacas I planted early this summer near the front of the house. Though I have seen bees scope out these flowers throughout the summer (and occasionally collect dew drops from the petals), I've never seen a bee gather nectar or pollen from these plants—probably because better options abounded. But with the forage menu diminishing daily, this busy bee put aside any scruples she may have had about delving into the portulaca and literally immersed herself in the task, till she was dusted from head to tail with pollen.


Echoes of Colony Collapse Disorder

Interesting in light of our current concerns about Colony Collapse Disorder to happen on this description of "spring dwindling" in A Thousand Answers to Beekeeping Questions by Dr. C.C. Miller, published 1931:

Dwindling.—Q. (a) Why do some colonies (having plenty of stores and a fairly good number of bees) start brood-rearing in the latter part of winter and get a good deal of capped brood and brood in all stages, and when cold weather comes they whole outfit dies? This is happening with me two seasons. (b) How can I avoid this thing?

A. (a) This seems to be a case of what is called spring dwindling. The cause is somewhat in doubt. It looks a little as if the bees were old, had more brood started than they could take care of, then died off with the strain of trying to provide digested food for the brood, sometimes swarming out with plenty of food in the hive. (b) I don’t know, unless it be to have colonies strong with bees not too old the preceding fall.


Backyard Beekeeping

Nice article in today's New York Times about beekeeping, and the importance of breeding for genetic diversity instead of relying on chemical-doused hives to prop up weak bees. Seems like, ever so slowly, the idea of more organic, natural beekeeping based on an understanding of genetics and local adaptation is being resurrected in various quarters.

Although the beekeeping magazines are still stuffed to the gills with ads for medications, artificial feed, and other bizarre products to foist upon the bees, the voices for sustainable, low-impact beekeeping seem to be growing louder and more numerous, even in traditional venues and publications. That's good news—hope it keeps up!



We, and the bees,
are lucky. Autumn
is being generous to us.


Bees, Livelihood From

From A Thousand Answers to Beekeeping Questions by Dr. C.C. Miller, published 1931:

Bees, Livelihood from.—I have been trying to decide on a move for several years; that is, in the keeping of bees. I had a slight experience of two years with bees, but just became greatly interested in them when I left the country to accept a position in the Postal Department in New York City. I still hold such a position, but my desire and love for bees have increased so much that I am contemplating a change to the country. My hesitation comes from the doubt whether I could make a good living from them alone should I devote my entire time to them. What is your opinion? Would it be wise and profitable to give up my position of $100 a month to lurch into beekeeping? I would not go in extensively at the start, but try and feel my way as I advance. Will you kindly give me advice I seek as to whether there is a profitable field in the keeping of bees as a business proposition?

A. Your question is one that is exceedingly difficult to answer. If it be a mere matter of dollars and cents, I should say that beekeeping is a good business to let alone, for the same amount of brains and energy that will make you a living at beekeeping will make more than a living at almost any other business. But if you have the great love for beekeeping that some men have, then it may be the part of wisdom for you to choose beekeeping in preference to any other business that would net you ten times as much money. For your true beekeeper doesn’t have to wait until he has made his pile before he begins to enjoy life, but every day is a vacation day, and a day of enjoyment.

But you must make a living. Can you make a living at beekeeping? I don’t know. There are a few who make a living at beekeeping alone. There are probably a few more of them who can. You may be one of them, and you may not.

It would not be advisable for you to cut loose from everything else and start in at beekeeping with the idea of making a living at it from the very start. If you have enough ahead so that you can afford to do nothing for a year or two, with a fair assurance that you could take up your old line of work at the end of the year or two, if you should so elect, then all right. For you must count it among the possibilities that the next two years may be years of failure in the honey harvest.

If you can take such a risk, perhaps you can grow into quite a business with bees, while still continuing at your present business. Indeed, that might be the best way. In a suburban home you could probably care for 25 or 50 colonies mornings and evenings. Or, you might have a roof apiary in the city. The profit from them would be all the while bringing you nearer the point when you could cut loose from everything else. After a year or two you could judge better than anyone else whether it would be feasible and advisable to try beekeeping alone.


Honeybees Luv Dogspit

I'm gathering photographic evidence of a natural phenomenon never before described in the scientific literature: honeybees gathering dog saliva for purposes as yet unknown.

For about an hour in late July, I observed this honeybee return over and over to gather dog saliva from the gnawed end of this, my dog's favorite stick. Once the honeybee became obsessed with the stick, I had to bribe the dog with another toy, so he wouldn't wind up competing with the bee. The dog, needless to say, was not amused.
Here's a shot from September—the dog's favorite Frisbee, with honeybee on board.
Again, I observed the bee gathering saliva from the toy for more than an hour after the dog had finished playing with it. She returned the next day to do the same thing. I mention the timing of these two observations because, given the short lifespan of a honeybee, I doubt this was the same honeybee as the one on the stick.
Off she goes, carrying her treasure back to the hive. My theory is the bee is going for the salts in my dog's saliva. I hope, over time, to gather more portraits of honeybees on dog toys.


Wind Power

Give this one a chance...it will all make sense in the end.

A Swarm's Whereabouts

Orange Hive swarmed, for the second time, on Labor Day weekend. In the morning, we saw the swarm high up in a tree near the hive, and by late afternoon it was gone to parts unknown.

Last weekend, Wren and I were taking a walk down the road and lo and behold, there were the bees in a hollow tree. Interestingly, the entrance was an eye level, which kind of surprised me. I would have expected them to choose a more elevated location, but what do I know?I'm not sure why so many of the bees were clustered outside the entrance, but there they were. The entrance hole is the little dark spot in the midst of the bees. Foragers could be seen going in carrying pollen, so I guess at least some comb has already been built.Unfortunately, this late-swarming group has a thin chance of surviving the winter—just not enough time to build enough comb, store enough food, and do the reproductive work needed to ensure a large enough cluster of bees to keep the tribe warm during the long, cold winter. On the other hand, the autumn weather has been kind thus far, with warm days continuing and no hard frost due for at least another week.

I've learned a lot this summer about being sure to have enough volume in the hive to accommodate the rather astonishing population of bees that can build up in a healthy colony in a relatively short time. Three swarms and a hell of a lot of bearding bees have taught me the hard way. I really like the design of the top bar hives I have been using, but suspect lack of space may have been a problem for me and the bees. A friend is building me even bigger top bar hives for use next spring and I am hopeful that this will alter some of the crowding dynamics I witnessed this year. Only time will tell.

For now, I hope you'll join me in wishing the best to the bees who set up housekeeping in the hollow tree down the road. I'll provide updates if and when there's something new to report.