Six Great Gifts for Beekeepers and Bug-Lovers

It's that time again—so, adding to the holiday roundup of gifts for beekeepers and insect enthusiasts from last year and the year before, here's this year's list. I know, it's a little late in coming, but that's just the kind of year it's been....

Happy holidays to all, whatever you celebrate (and there is ALWAYS something to celebrate)!

Great Gift #1. Handkerchiefs with a silk-screened bee motif:
I pretty much started boycotting tissues once it sunk in how wasteful and destructive they are (although things on the Kleenex front improved in August of this year thanks in good measure to a five-year-long Greenpeace campaign). These days, I use low-cost cotton hankies, which are soft, reusable, and way greener and cheaper than tissues.

That's why these cool bee hankies rank #1 on this year's gift list—they're practical, reusable gifts for the ecologically and aesthetically minded beekeeper.

Great Gift #2. Vinyl Wall Graphics for Bug Freaks:

If these images grab you, check out the entire WilsonGraphics collection of customizable vinyl decals and wall graphics, featuring butterflies, moths, beetles, and tons of other cool stuff, including: the lovely retro "Kindness to Animals" silhouette-style motif shown above, "Creepy Crawly Tarantula Spiders," and "5 Mushroom Decals."

Great Gift #3. Power Bee T:This is one hunky bee, and I love the assertive simplicity of this design. Cafe Press has zillions of other fun bee-themed thingamajigs, including mugs, aprons, bumper-stickers, clocks, and caps.

Great Gift #4. For the formal beek:
How about a silk-screened necktie?
Great Gift #5...For the Eco-Beek Who Neither Needs Nor Wants More Stuff:
By supporting a healthy environment, we're giving a gift to our beekeeper friends, our bees, and ourselves.

One way to do this is to donate to the environmental group of your choice in honor of your beekeeper friends. Some of my favorite groups are: Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Friends of the Earth, Environmental Advocates of New York, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and Just Food (which is working hard to help get beekeeping legalized in NYC).

Great Gift #6. For the Timely Beek....
Beekeeping is all about knowing the seasons and working within the realities of time. For that, a great calendar is called for. In that department, I recommend the work of Nikki McClure. While not bee-specific, her woodcuts are earthy, inspiring, and smart. Check out McClure's 2010 calendar here.

And on that forward-thinking note, I wish you, your bees, and all residents of earth a happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year!


Thought for the Day


On Frogs and Leaf Litter

This neat item on frogs' affinity for fallen leaves and the tasty morsels that reside therein just came across the transom, and I thought I'd share.

As it happens, I spent awhile raking on Saturday afternoon (with the aim of adding grist to the compost pile mill). Whilst doing so, I noticed loads of critters in the leaf litter and decided to stop raking and just leave things bee, as it were. So this item is timely, and may inspire others to skip the leaf-raking altogether next time!

Check it out and meditate on the beneficial implications of the proverbial messy yard.


Help the Honeybees Go Postal

This just in from our comrades over at "Down to Earth":

December 25, 2010 is the 200th birthday of L.L. Langstroth, the "Father of American Beekeeping." The US Postal Service Stamp Advisory Committee will be considering a Langstroth commemorative stamp at its January meeting.
Find out what you can do to help the honeybees (and Mr. Langstroth) go postal.


White House Bees

The New York Times has recently posted an entertaining confection on the "First Bees."


Grand Central Honeybear

A great plate seen in one of the shops in Grand Central Station.


Did You Thank a Honeybee for Your Great Pumpkin?

Hats off to our honeybees for this year's hefty haul of pumpkins.


A Poem Is Like A Social Wasp


A vespid alights
on the latex-white puddle
of melted vanilla—
desperate for October’s stolen flower.

—Gerry Gomez Pearlberg


Artist of the Day

Been looking at a fair amount of art lately, and was especially thrilled last week by the plum blossoms, willows, and critter-renderings of 18th c. Chinese artist Luo Ping at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you're in NYC, check it out, and while you're there do not miss the amazing Astor Court—a hidden treasure nestled deep in the quiet recesses of the museum's Asian galleries.

Meanwhile, a bit closer to home—on the desktop, in fact—I've been enjoying the paintings and drawings of Zane York, a Brooklyn-based artist whose wide-ranging interests include bugs, birds, and critters of the mammalian persuasion.

What I like about this work is its meticulous accuracy and intelligence, through which, in subtle ways, a sense of appreciation and fondness for the subject matter percolates through.

Some of my favorites are:

A dragonfly.

A squirrel.

A hapless bug stalked by two cats.

An oil painting of a dead blue jay that evokes a 19th century specimen study, but with heart.

A horned beetle rendered in all its talismanic glory.

An in-your-face blowfish.


NRDC Member Alert!

Are you a member of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)?

If you're a beekeeper AND an NRDC member, NRDC is looking for your help in gathering information on pesticide use and its effects on bees.

NRDC members who keep bees and would like to assist this great organization in going to bat for bees are encouraged to contact Levi Jones at ljones (at) nrdc (dot) org.


Bee Photography Tips

A friend was kind enough to send this impressionistic shot of a bee in flight over a sea of pink flowers.

The photographer, Ronan Palliser , provides a detailed explanation of the techniques used to take the photo and his musings about the challenges inherent in photographing bees and butterflies. It's a nice little conversation starter.

I've actually been pleasantly surprised at little camera-power I've needed to get some pretty cool shots of my honeybees and the local population of bumblebees and other flying insects. I certainly don't aspire to greatness on this front, but my little Canon Elph has come through well much of the time.

Patience is, perhaps, the most important ingredient for successfully photographing the fast-moving insects. A macro lens, even a basic macro setting option, helps too. Learning through time and observation how different insects move about is useful as well. In any event, it's fun to go outside, find some bees working the flowers, and snap a few photos in the least intrusive way possible.


Shakespearean Bee

Signage from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.


Honeycomb on the Go

Whilst walking, minding my own beeswax, I happened upon these.


Kid Bees in NYC

My bro sent me this picture, taken over the weekend at some sort of eco-event at Madison Sq. Park in Manhattan.


Bookish Bees


Noble Skep

From the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where I was born and raised. Doorway of a bank, symbolizing hard work and thrift. Alas, the bank is now a Gap. So it goes.


Thrift Shop Bee Patch

Found in Bklyn, of course. So cool.


Apes. Tools. Honey-Getting.

Forest-dwelling chimps use tools to gather honey.


"No Rest for the Wicked"

Errant bee menaces winged poppy-hopper. The artist is Wm. Barribal. The year is 1935.

Looks like Barribal also did birds.


Fun With Bugs!

Sweet friends imported this bee from Baltimore. It now resides in Brooklyn.


Cricket Crawl!

On September 11, bug-minded folks throughout the NYC metropolitan area will be participating in the first ever Cricket Crawl—"An aural expedition and a celebration of life in the leafy jungles of urban and suburban NYC." (Rain date = Sept. 12.)

Learn more about this cool event on the Cricket Crawl website, where you'll find instructions for participating, links to great websites where you can learn more about the sounds and appearance of various singing insects, and info on the interesting line-up of collaborating organizations, including the American Museum of Natural History, the NY Entomological Society, Discover Life, the Appalachian Mountain Club of NY/NJ, and our own local and exceedingly fabulous Proteus Gowanus.

I'm helping to run the Cricket Crawl's Facebook page. Why not join up and get your cricket on? You don't have to live in the NYC area to get in on the fun.


Beekeeping Cartoon in The New Yorker

To see the toon in question, simply turn to page 70 of the August 3, 2009 issue or go here.


"Bees and busy people."

Been reading the great & strange Philip Whalen lately, & encountered this gem on nature's simultaneities, which can best be enjoyed for its crackling sound effects & pools of meaning by reading aloud:


Fireweed now—
Burnt mountain day
Sunny crackle silence bracken
Huckleberry silver logs bears
Bees and busy people.

Rainy mountain years
Trees again—
Green gloom fern here
Moss duff sorrel
Deer sleep.

Tree fire people weed:
Bright and dark this mountain ground.

by Philip Whalen
(Zen poet &—can you tell?—college roommate of Gary Snyder)

Bonus Track: Whalen (center) with friends Ginsberg & Burroughs, way back when.


Shutterbug Salutes High Line

New York City's latest bee-friendly spot gets the royal treatment from New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham.

Cunningham's focus is people, not bugs, but if you visit the High Line on a sunny summery day, you'll see plenty of happy pollinators doing their thing.

Cunningham's unbridled enthusiasm reflects the true wonder of this thrilling addition to the city's psyche.
Photo: Jesse Chehak (See more pictures of the High Line.)


NYC Wildlife: Woodcut Prints by Lisa Studier

A friend has been making these delightful woodcut prints of wildlife found in New York City: bats, birds, butterflies, turtles, and others. Here's hoping she decides to try her hand at our urbane honeybees.


All Bees, All the Time

Been meaning for awhile to make sure ya'll know about a wide-ranging informational "news digest" called APIS-Apicultural Information and Issues.

Posted monthly, APIS provides a wealth of information on CCD, bee health, and other info of interest to beekeepers and bee-lovers.


Honey Press

If you keep bees using a top bar hive like I do, you wind up with plenty of beautiful honey comb. I've come to greatly appreciate the pleasures of eating honey in the comb, but sometimes I also want to extract the honey from the comb and I continue to experiment with different low-tech methods for doing so.

The funky little Sesame Street segment I posted recently showed a nice honey press, but I haven't found anything similar in my web searches for "honey press." However, I did find this page by beekeeper James Satterfield on Making and Using a Honey Press. I think I might try something similar. I wish his photos were a bit larger, but I think you can get the gist from his web page and take it from there.

Let me know if you have other low-tech, low-cost ideas for pressing honey from the comb, or if you have leads about where to find a honey press like the one in the Sesame Street video.


Old Timey Sesame Street Beekeeping Spot


NYC Abuzz With Pollinator Week Activities

Pollinator Week 2009 is almost upon us, and this year for the first time New York City will have an abundance of events and activities to mark this nationwide celebration of the vital role pollinators play in our lives. (The official dates are June 22-28, but around here, pollinator week is every week—or bust.)

A wonderful, energetic organization called Just Food is sponsoring myriad events for Pollinator Week, including "New York Nectar"(signature dishes and drinks featuring local honey at NYC’s favorite bars & restaurants), a "hidden hive" tour, a honey festival at the Union Square Greenmarket, a rally in support of legalizing beekeeping in NYC, and a Beekeepers Ball. Read all about these Pollinator Week events here.

Learn about Pollinator Week events throughout the United States here.


Ant Rant

I've said before that my fascination with bees has opened the door to many new interests, including botany—a topic that once elicited in me an inescapable sensation of drowsiness.

Beekeeping has also rekindled childhood obsessions that, with the passage of time and the ravages of adulthood, were relegated to the sidelines.

Last summer, I wrote about how how beekeeping had "recharged" my interest in ants, those smart, social, industrious insects that mirror the lifestyle of honeybees in so many ways. Just the other day, I enjoyed a lovely meditation on a hillside meadow that included serious communion with some big black ants and their magnificent anthill. I had ants in my pants and I was happy.

Ants never seem to get the respect they deserve. They're just too small and fast and ubiquitous, and they don't make honey, or buzz around our flowers, or earn us money by their labor. But they are fascinating and important creatures without whose presence the world would be a very different, and much messier, place. Ants play a vital role in soil health and functioning, have important symbiotic relationships with many plants, and are considered "ecosystem engineers."

Bert Hölldobler, who has studied and drawn ants throughout his scientific career, was interviewed in the New York Times this week. In the interview, he talks about his longstanding collaboration with E.O. Wilson, the art of collaboration, the role ants play in our world, and what to do if ants invade your kitchen.

Read the interview with Bert Hölldobler here.


Beekeeping in Honduras

Going through the mile-high stack of papers and magazines in my office today, I happened upon this item about beekeeping in Honduras. It's from WorldArk, the publication of Heifer International, one of my favorite nonprofits.


The Body of Bumblebee Knowledge

For the past couple of years, I've had a little wooden birdhouse hanging from a sumac branch at the edge of our bee yard. Wrens selected it for their residence in both years, and made a cheerful presence in the yard with their ceaseless chatter (such tiny birds; such assertive personalities!).

Back in April, I noticed that the birdhouse had been knocked to the ground, presumably by the wind. When I picked it up, I saw that the mice had been at it, stuffing the birdhouse with milkweed silk and other soft nesting material for a cozy winter and/or breeding retreat.

As I began to gently pry the stuffing out with a stick to ready it for the next generation of wrens, I heard a distinctive buzz resonating from deep within—clear warning—and realized that a bumblebee had taken up residence in the box. I put the birdhouse back on the ground and left nature to take its course (and the wrens to find another nesting spot). But it made me think about the fascinating reproductive life of bumblebees, with their honey pots and underground palaces. It also made me think about all the trouble native bumblebees, like so many of our winged, finned, furred, and photosynthetic brethren, are in.

So I was excited to learn about a new Bumblebee Nest Survey aimed at gathering information on the nesting habits and conservation needs of these wonderful and varied creatures.
According to the survey description:

A bumble bee nest might be located anywhere- one of the reasons for this survey is to find out where they like to nest! It could be under a log, in the ground, in a tree, in the side of a building, or in an old mouse burrow. You'll know you've found a nest if you see bumble bees flying into and out of the same hole repeatedly and if you hear a humming sound near the hole. Bumble bees are gentle and ignore people unless grabbed or their nest threatened, so you're not likely to get stung unless you block the entrance or if you disturb the nest itself.
The instructions for making observations are as follows:
When you're near the nest, move slowly and walk softly so you don't alarm [the bees] and you're very unlikely to be stung. You will likely not be able to see the nest, as it will probably be concealed by something like leaves or grass. Don't try to uncover the nest if you can't see it. You don't need to see the nest itself to contribute invaluable information for this research- just be as descriptive of the location as possible.
If, in your travels or birdhouse-cleaning efforts, you come upon a bumblebee nest, why not add to the body of bumblebee knowledge by participating in the Bumblebee Nest Survey?


Clowdey Days

I prefer the archaic spelling of "cloud," don't you? It's so much...clowdier.

And with so many "clowdey" days of late, it seems a good time to share this interesting item on a dramatic and yet-to-be-classified cloud structure.


More Lovely Bee Photos

Take a stroll over to The Kittalog blog and meet a beautiful black-and-white bee and a humble bumble bee.

Learn more about black-and-white bees here.

Learn a thing or two about bumble bees here.

View an impressive array of bees here.


Best Bee Photos Ever

You are now in for a tremendous treat. My friend Andrew recently hooked me up with the website of the extraordinary photographer Eric Tourneret—a.k.a. The Bee Photographer. (Thank you a thousand times, Andrew!)

The site can be enjoyed in several different ways. You can browse these wonderful honeybee photos by topic, selecting from swarming, apiculture, pollination, honey, bees in history, and city bees.

Or you can visit the bees by country, viewing striking photos of bees and beekeeping in Nepal, Argentina, Cameroon, Mexico, Romania and Russia. Sample, for instance, this incandescent series of beekeeping-related images from France: the poppies! the sunflowers! the mountains! the hive-carrying donkeys! the drones!

And then there's Cameroon, where ancient honey-gatheing methods still prevail in the Adamwa forest or the death-defying cliff-climbing of the Nepali "tiger-men" who gather honeycomb from the world's largest bee.


Counting Bees in NYC

If you live in NYC and can count, you may wish to help out with a citizen science project to count bees in the five boroughs.

The Times did a nice article about this project today.

Full details on the NYC bee-counting project can be found on the Bee Watchers page of the Great Pollinator Project.


The First Annual Beekeepers Ball

Those of you in and around Gotham City will want to make reservations now for the upcoming fantabulous First Annual Beekeepers Ball to benefit Just Food, which is leading the charge to make beekeeping legal in New York City.

The ball—to take place
Monday, June 22 on the shore of the beautiful, new South Street Seaport Water Taxi Beach—promises to be full of "sweetness and buzz." Waggle-dance the night away, enjoy the nectar of honey-infused cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, come dressed as a Beekeeper (all in white) or as your favorite bee (Queen, Worker, Drone) to compete for best-costume awards, and bring along your favorite local honey to share with your fellow pollinator-lovin' peeps.

The Beekeepers Ball is being planned in conjunction with a series of activities to mark Pollinator Week (June 22-28) and raise awareness about the vital role pollinating insects and other critters play in our urban ecosystem and food systems. Buy your tickets now and support a fabulously worthwhile cause.

See the whole lineup of Pollinator Week activities being planned by the folks at Just Food and the Pollinator Week Planning Committee.

Learn more about the Pollinator Partnership's efforts to promote Pollinator Week 2009 nationwide.


NYC Totally Overreacts to Some Honeybees

Check this out.

To Life!


Happy (Bee-lated) Birthday

This blog turned 2 on May 15th. I'd like to thank each and every one of you who read, visit, comment on, and/or support this joyous undertaking. May the Force be with you, and with the bees.


Coolest Photos Ever From the American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History has posted an amazing—and I mean AMAZING!—collection of photos documenting the history of the museum, its famous dioramas, and its educational activities over the years. I encourage you to grab the beverage of your choice and hurry over there for a truly delightful time. I have an abundance of fond memories of spending time in this museum as a child, and rediscovered that sense of wonder and excitement as I perused these fabulous old images.

This is just the tip of the iceberg—check out the whole collection now.