Out My Window, Now

An optical phenomenon called iridescence due, according to the National Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American Weather, "to light being diffracted by water droplets of a fairly uniform size in altostratus and altocumulus clouds, and occasionally in cirrocumulus clouds and pileus clouds atop cumulonimbus."Of course, by the time I finished typing all this, it was gone. (Current conditions: mixed skies with cirrocumulus undulatus.)


Swarm Season '08: Code Black-&-Yellow in NYC

New York City's "thriving illegal bee scene"! The "underground honeybee world"! Read all about it!

It's all so illicit and city-health-code violation-y! YUM!

Legalities aside, there is a significant urban beekeeping scene in NYC as this latest swarm season reminds us. And once again I say, it's a good and healthy thing for urban denizens to be reminded of our place in the order of things—and the fact that, urban, rural, or whatever (by which I guess I mean suburban) this world is to be shared.

One wonders why the city doesn't just change this stupid law (it would be a very green initiative, Mayor Bloomberg).

Many other cities actively encourage beekeeping. Take Paris for example. See also: Paris is Buzzing. Meet a San Francisco Beek. Or pay a visit to the fine individuals at the Chicago Honey Co-op. And know that all this is just the tip of the urban-beek iceberg.


Bronx Bees—A Little More

Sweet piece in the New York Times on the beekeeper-cop who caught the swarm in the Bronx the other day. The readers' comments are pretty interesting, too.

Bronx Bees

SwarmCatcher Karen brought to our attention this New York Post item about a recent swarm in the Bronx: BRONX BEESTS.

It's good to know honeybees are thriving in NYC—along with the Post's punstering prowess.


The Queen of Serious Moonlight (& Other Delights)

We had a fun, sunny, and productive holiday weekend—nice change after a week of cold and rain.

Got a quick peek into the two new hives, Moss Garden and Serious Moonlight. Both hives are building comb nicely. Here you see the bees getting started on building comb on a new top bar.
During our "hive dives," we got a glimpse of the queen of Serious Moonlight. She's the big bee marked with the blue dot at center, left. (Click the photo below to enlarge it so you can see her.)
Found this beautiful striped spider on top of one of the hives.
Had to evict a wasp who was beginning to build a nest underneath the hive lid. Beehives seem to attract quite a little ecosystem; it's always interesting to see what turns up on and around the hives.

We had our first official guest of the season this weekend (Swarmcatcher Karen) and she, Wren, and I disbursed some free wildflower seeds kindly provided by Haagen Dazs as part of its Help the Honeybee campaign. More on that adventure—including (possibly) a little movie—soon.


My Birds


Bobolinks everywhere—especially in the apple trees—chortling their drunken song.

Brown thrashers collecting nesting material by blueberry bushes.

Oriole chasing crow from oak tree.

Indigo bunting perched on dead plum tree, excruciatingly blue.

Chestnut-sided warbler following me down the road.

Shy male wood ducks at Big Pond—no matter how quietly I approach, they fly.

Flicker calling from—blending in with—gray snag in pond.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker right outside the window!

Cute-faced peewee at margin of field and wood.

Song sparrows hidden in shadow of hay bale.

Blue jay perched forlornly on spiky plum branch.

Yellow warbler with saffron-colored necklace—reminds me of Nepalese markets’ piles of yellow and red curries.

Purple and house finches back in town, paired, and mating in the linden.

Wren family taking up the birdhouse in the bee yard.

Hummingbird back on its favorite perches: aged birch and dead ash by outhouse.

Robins nesting in tall white pine.

White-crowned sparrows in raspberry brambles.

White-throated sparrows rustling behind the shed.

Yellowthroat, high in the black locust, chest lit by morning’s brief sunlight—announcing himself proudly.

Redstart singing by Kroger’s Pond.

Great blue heron in slow-mo flight, carrying huge sticks toward nest site on northern ridge.

Catbirds flirting in the lilac bush.

Red-tailed hawk hovering over dandelion-covered field.

Canada geese calling beyond the tree-line.

Ovenbird heard, never seen.

Thrush crying its sad song at dusk.

Phoebes perched on the lawn chair, hunting by the barbed wire fence.

Mourning doves paired on telephone wire.

Mr. Bluebird waiting on a branch above the beehive.

Nighthawks calling, high in sky, as evening grows warmer.

Screech owl—I think—whimpering in the pine grove as Holsteins pass below.

Turkeys rushing away up the road ahead.

Swallows everywhere, testing their prowess along the surface of the pond.

Goldfinches chasing each other through tightly woven firs.

Rose-breasted grosbeak reminding me to put up the feeder.

Tufted titmouse waiting impatiently for his turn at the suet.

Chickadees playing chaperone as I get slightly lost in the forest.

Warblers and sparrows I can never find in the book.

These are the birds I belong to.


Checking on (and Naming) the New Hives

On Saturday, Wren and I took a quick look inside the two new hives to make sure the queens had been released from their cages and that all was well in bee-ville.
In both cases, the queen had been released. Above, you see the cages with a couple of dead attendant bees.

Both colonies had built an impressive amount of comb in the week since we'd hived the packages. Interestingly, the bees in both hives were building along just one side of each of the top bars, rather than across the whole top bar.They seem to be using the vertical guide (intended to reinforce the combs so they don't break) as a brace for the comb. I hope that as time goes on, they'll start working the other sides too. But who knows with bees? In any case, they're just getting started—all will bee revealed in time.
By the way, thanks to all who suggested names for the two colonies in keeping with the David Bowie theme. Wren has decided to name the colony she hived last weekend SERIOUS MOONLIGHT, a phrase from the David Bowie song, Let's Dance. I've been debating about SUFRAGETTE CITY, but have decided on MOSS GARDEN—a favorite of mine from "Heroes". I like the calming influence of the phrase Moss Garden, and I hope the bees will too.

We need to get into Hive Orange (our surviving hive from last year), but the weather has been uncooperative. With luck, we'll get a look next week.


Recent Things

The weather hasn't been great for bees—pretty cold and gray. But they get out when they can, and yesterday what remained of the apple blossoms (following days of heavy wind and rain) was in receipt of considerable attention by bumblebee and honeybee alike.
The road strewn with fallen blossoms.
The joyous surprise of finding columbine at the edge of a neighbor's woods.
A dog who doesn't let the weather report ruin his fun.
A cool ornament at our favorite farm stand on Route 28, near Phoenicia. (Truly the robins are everywhere.)


A fox

Today I got my first real look at a fox. I spied this good-looking individual jauntily perambulating the field a little after noon, just as the first flurries of a brief May snow began to fall. I got to watch it for a half hour or so, as it pounced for prey in the grass. After disappearing in a thicket for a few minutes, s/he emerged with something furry the size of a baseball in her/his mouth. Carried it back up the field, presumably to feed pups. Very exciting!

Bees and Air Pollution—Again

Last week I wrote about an important report from University of Virginia linking air pollution with difficulties among pollinators—including honeybees—in locating the fragrances and chemical signals flowers use to attract pollinators. This is important news, and we're not hearing nearly enough about it in the mainstream media.

Thank goodness for WNYC and other un-bought media outlets with brains in tact. Leonard Lopate interviews the researcher, Professor Jose D. Fuentes, who provides in-depth information on his research and its quite major implications (including its possible correlation with the dreaded CCD). The conversation is fascinating and well worth a listen.


Beek-Speak: An Interview with Gheorge Tamas

Welcome to the first installment of our new interview series, "Beek-Speak," featuring discussions with beekeepers from around the world.

I am delighted to inaugurate the series by having you meet Gheorghe Tamas (pictured above—and below).Gheorghe is a beekeeper and blogger from Arad, Romania. He and I have been corresponding for a couple of months now. In that time, we've had some interesting discussions about beekeeping and Gheorghe has sent some great pictures like the one below.
* * *

Gheorghe and his bees on his balcony. Gheorghe collected this colony from a neighbor's chimney, where they were discovered during a renovation.

* * *
Gerry Gomez Pearlberg: What is your favorite thing about keeping bees?

Gheorghe Tamas: Honey. This is why I start keeping bees. I love honey. After keeping them for few years I start to understand them and as George Imirie said I stop thinking anthropomorphic. This happened in 1997. I start reading a lot. I gave up going with the bloom and tried to use the old Latin saying: Non multa sed multum. For sure a beekeeper who pays a little attention to his bees when he opens his hive will feel some special tell to him by his bees. There are a lot to say and it's a mystery. When you fill this mystery you start to understand the bees and it's easy to work them.

Gerry Gomez Pearlberg: Do you think the taste of honey has changed for you now that you know bees so well and know how hard they work to make honey?

Gheorghe Tamas: The taste of my honey changed for me for about 4 years when I stopped using chemicals in my hives. I know that my bees are working hard for me but I try to understand them. As soon as I try to get rid of chemicals in my hives really my honey tastes different. It is difficult not to use chemicals because the honey production drops and I think that commercial beekeepers have problems but I think that more problems we have to face the CCD, Nosemoza and so on.Gerry Gomez Pearlberg: Would you describe your local environment/habitat for us? Is it mainly farmland?

Gheorghe Tamas: The area where I keep my bees is a hilly area, so not many farms. It's a typical Romanian village with the church in the middle.I want to mention one thing: till now I can say that it's an ecological area. I can say that for the moment, Romania is ecological country. This is my opinion.Gerry Gomez Pearlberg: In some of the e-mails you’ve sent me, you’ve mentioned global warming as something you are noticing in your beekeeping experience. What are you personal observations of these changes?

Gheorghe Tamas: [The] first climate changes I [noticed were] around 1995,1996. During that period I did realize myself that something happened and this bloody world take a wrong direction. They keep telling us the weather is periodically changing and a lot of nonsense. I'm a little man among the others who can understand that the weather is changing. Example: My hometown is near the river Mures, which has not frozen for about 20 years.

My opinion: we take the wrong way. I still hope it's not forever.

Gerry Gomez Pearlberg: I hope it's not forever, too, Gheorghe. Tell us a little bit about what kinds of plants your bees make honey from or forage on each year.

Gheorghe Tamas: Well, to tell you my opinion about plants for bees: the best plants for bees are weeds. They are always there and give to the bees the nectar to make honey for us. I'm sorry for them they kill them with herbicides.

Here in my area, the big nectar or honey flow I get from Acacia and from lime trees. Acacia honey flow is around 15 of May and lime honey flow is around a month later. On the hill around my apiary there is a lot of grassland from where the bees gather the very good honey named poliflore honey. It's a delicacy. As cultivated honey sources there are: sunflower, rape, etc.
Gerry Gomez Pearlberg: How did you get interested in organic beekeeping?

Gheorghe Tamas: When I read for the first time Charles Simons Charles (RIP) "Principles of Beekeeping Backwards." I wrote to him and he kindly explain to me a lot of things like "foundationless frame," "bottomless beekeeping," and so on. He explained to me a lot interesting things about the way he kept the bees and I start thinking all the way around.After using the computer in about 2002-2003, I did start being interested in organic beekeeping. Now I think that organic or to bee correct biological way of keeping bees is the only way according with Nature and with Bees. Using the way of Rudolf Steiner, I think, is the best way to keep bees.

Gerry Gomez Pearlberg: Is the Varroa mite a big problem there? What kinds of treatments do you use to handle Varroa and other pests of the hive?

Gheorghe Tamas: Varroa it's a problem here like in other places the man kept bees. As treatment we use Varachet. As soon as Romania became an UE member and could travel freely in all of Europe, the beekeepers started using all the drugs from Europe. I think a lot of them are not approved by Romanian authorities, who had big discussions with the beekeepers. I know because the use, for example, of Klartan (Mavrik) which is an herbicide as far as I know. They use this only because is cheaper. A lot of beekeepers have problem with Nosemoza , but till now I did not find out is it's nosemoza Apis or Ceranae.

Gerry Gomez Pearlberg: What is your favorite beekeeping story or adventure?

Gheorghe Tamas: In 1994 I was the first time going with the bloom. We were (about 6 beekeepers) with bee-wagons (see photo below) we brought to to an acacia forest 100 km far from Arad (my hometown).Being a apprentice, they put me on the bad place I was thinking. An old beekeeper (his name was Kovacs—I think he was the best beekeeper in Arad area) told me, “Do not worry, you'll get a lot of honey. Just put something white on your bee wagon.” OK, I did put something white and waited. After 2 days by 4 o'clock a spring rain started for 45 minutes. All the bees returning from foraging stop to my bee-wagon with the precious loud. Oh, my God, what a harvest I had. Oh my God, what a time and I was young!

Gerry Gomez Pearlberg: What advice would you give to someone who is just beginning to keep bees?

Gheorghe Tamas: My friend—love the bee, and try to understand its life. The bees will tell you how to solve management problems and help you, for sure. TRY TO UNDERSTAND THE BEE AND THE NATURE! (No, I'm not stupid—I know that science has its place in this world, but if we pass over the border it's possible to have problems. Don't you think?)

Gerry Gomez Pearlberg: Do you earn your living as a beekeeper?

Gheorghe Tamas: You can live from beekeeping, but for the moment there are not many commercial beekeepers here. From the moment we joined the EU a lot of things are changed and we have to made changes on the way, but for sure we'll do it. At the beginning I wanted to become commercial, but seeing the changes I said I have to wait. I have my job as foreman for turbines and compressors and now I work in heating system. I have kept bees from 1989 and I'm one of the thousands of Romanian beekeepers.
Gerry Gomez Pearlberg: Is there anything else you’d like to say, Gheorghe?

Gheorghe Tamas: I want to say “Thank you” to a lot of American beekeepers who kindly help me and I want to mention Michael Bush, Dee Lusby, Toni and her blog City Bees, and Gerry and her blog Global Swarming Honeybees.

I'm one among a lot of beekeepers in Romania and what I say represents only my own opinions. But please do believe me that if you do visit Romania, don't forget: THERE ARE BEEKEEPERS HERE! You'll find here nice people knowing poems about Eminescu, our national poet but also knowing about Walt Whitman’s poems. Be sure Dracula don't try to harm you—I think he will be pleased to have you here.

Gheorghe has asked me to be sure to emphasize that he does not speak for all Romanian beekeepers and, as he puts it, he is "a normal beekeeper like a zillion others here in Romania." He adds: "I'm lucky I know a little bit of English so I can read the information from American beekeeping [resources] and from other countries. Because of my temperament, I like to know more and more. That's all."
Gheorghe's photo of an apple tree in blossom.



Global Swarming Honeybees turns 1 year old today. Thanks much for your visits, your comments, your support. Feel free to share article ideas, requests, resources, and desires for year 2.

In the meantime, let us meditate HARD upon the following—as if, like the Buddhists say, our heads were on fire:

"When you're walking down the street and see a little flower popping up through a crack in the sidewalk—are you going to root for the flower or the pavement?"

eco-hero Mark Massara


"If you don't know how to fix it, stop breaking it!"

Eco-wisdom from the mouths of babes—Severn Suzuki speaks truth to power at the 1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development.

Thanks to Eva for bringing this gem to my attention. Read more about Severn and her Skyfish Project.


"Installing" Our Packages of Bees

"Installing" is the term commonly used to describe the process of transferring a package of bees (normally a 3-pound box of about 10,000 bees, plus a queen in a separate container) into the hive body in which the colony will live out its life—whether that structure is a top bar hive (shown below) or a Langstroth hive.But "installing" seems like the wrong word—it's so machine-age, so icy. In reality, the process is thrilling, exhilarating, scary, amazing, and humbling, at least for this still-new-to-it-all beekeeper with only two hives to fill and all the time in the world to experience the sense of wonder and awe that proximity to honeybees accords. So let's go with the less automaton-like verb, "hiving"—it's more precise, anyway.

Happy differences between hiving our bees in this, Year 2, as compared to last year:

  • My entire body wasn't trembling with fear;
  • I managed not to drown a million bees in the process of getting them into the hive; and
  • the weather cooperated (last year, a serious nor'easter approached as we raced to get the bees in, fed, and settled).
The other big difference this year was that Wren hived her first package. She did great—very cool and collected, and got most of the bees into the hive very well. Did a better job of it than I did: far more bees in and got them in calmer. (Something about hiving bees scrambles my mental circuitry. That's me below, doing the Etch-a-Sketch Rag—a not-recommended way of getting bees out of the box and into the hive body. I definitely need to work on my technique!)

Still, the bees made it in relatively unharmed, if somewhat "shaken up"....
Earlier that day, we'd left Brooklyn to pick up our two packages of bees from our new friend Andrew, purveyor of Andrew's Local Honey from Silvermine Apiary in Connecticut.A man of many talents and seemingly inexhaustible energy, Andrew's also started a cool new organization called Bees Without Borders, whose mission is to provide beekeeping skills that can help alleviate poverty throughout the world. Check it out and consider making a donation to help this worthwhile effort get off the ground. (Read the Village Voice article about Andrew here.)
Andrew provided all the bee-buyers (most of them totally new to beekeeping) with a great demonstration on hiving a package.
He showed us how to carefully remove the queen cage from the package.He showed us the queen cage, where the queen (the reproductive key to the colony's survival) is cared for by a few workers until the colony accepts her "queen substance" and releases her by chewing through the tiny candy plug that keeps her safely ensconced for a few days.
He showed us how to gently spray sugar syrup to keep the bees calm and a bit distracted prior to the hiving process. ("A pint to a pound the whole world 'round" refers to the syrup recipe beekeepers use: 1 pint water to 1 pound of granulated sugar.)
He demonstrated how to carefully remove the can of syrup that the bees travel with, which leaves a baseball-sized hole through which the bees are then shaken into the hive.

He showed us how to get the bees in.
Lots of bees in the air, lots of excited giggles and nervous questions and awe-stricken expressions and worries about getting stung (which didn't happen). It was great to see so many people taking an interest in bees and taking the plunge into the world of beekeeping—an addictive pastime if ever there was one.

Everyone was blown away by how the bees, once they sense the queen's presence inside the hive—and once some of the bees begin signaling "this is home!" using pheromonic communication, begin to march in the front entrance en masse, as shown here.

During Andrew's demonstration, Wren rescued a honeybee that was having difficulty extricating herself from a little puddle on top of one of the hives.

Inside the house, we got a look at Andrew's impressive honey collection, with samples from around the world.
After he finished educating all us newbees, Andrew was going to hive these packages for his family's apiary. I think he planned to hive about 100 packages after we left. Like I said: a lot of energy in that guy! Thanks, Andrew! May your bees—and all bees—live long and prosper.