Might Mighty Mite Have Met Its Match?

Research is under way to genetically tweak Varroa mites in such a way as to cause them to "self-destruct."

Much as I'd love to see an end to the serious troubles Varroa destructor brings to honeybees, I'm always leery of this level of human intervention—so rarely do such things go as planned; so often do they bring an avalanche of unanticipated (and unwanted) consequences.

Take a look at this recent news item about the Varroa destructor self-destruction study and let me know what you think.


Holiday Gifts for Beekeepers and Friends of Bees

Continuing our (more or less) annual tradition of scouting out great gifts for beekeepers, we proudly present Global Swarming Honeybees' 2010 holiday gift list for the beeks, bee-lovers, gardeners, and ecosystem appreciators in your life.

1. First things first: Without a healthy planet, there are no healthy bees—or healthy anything. Honor your family members and friends with a donation in their name to an environmental organization. Two of my favorite earth-defenders are the Natural Resources Defense Council (which, among its many activities, has done great work to fight pesticides that harm bees) and The Center for Biological Diversity, which fearlessly fights for "a world where the wild is still alive." Other good groups include Friends of the Earth, The Xerces Society, and The Nature Conservancy.

2. Bookworm Beek Nirvana: Your book-loving beloveds will surely enjoy Honeybee Democracy, Thomas Seeley's book on "hive mind" and Rose-Lynn Fisher's Bee, a truly awesome visual feast of bee anatomy, rendered via scanning electron microscope. For those with an interest in homesteading, Philip Ackerman-Leist's Up Tunket Road looks like a refreshingly thoughtful and candid take on the subject.
3. Greening the Season of Sneezes: Two years ago, I converted from a lifelong Kleenex addict to a cotton handkerchief aficionado. My guilt over trashing a perfectly good tree every time I blow my nose is now a thing of the past, and my delicate schnoz greatly prefers a soft cottony dab when cold season arrives. Fun and beautiful retro hankies can be found in many thrift shops and antique markets—and believe me, once you make the change, you'll never go back. Consider making an eco-friendly stocking stuffing of this fabulous bee-inflected silkscreened handkerchief or of Muji's non-bee-related but profoundly stylish "historic city" handkerchief series featuring the cities of Tokyo, London, Paris, and NYC.4. Go Goth: For the hipster beek in your life, check out this stingingly cool vespid-inspired T-shirt, this scintillating bee girl silhouette magnet, or this alluring Acorn Queen.
5. iBeek Incidentals: Your iPhone-wielding beekeeper might enjoy the Bee Calm and Carry On iPhone Case or this possibly too cute bee-inspired slider case. iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch users will get a kick out of the new game app, "Bee Patrol."
6. Stripey, Warming Fun: This handmade, yellow-and-black "buzzy bee" hat comes sized for children and (thankfully!) adults, so your entire social network can, should they so choose and should you be so generous, float around town with merry antennae aflutter and hive minds in perfect sync. Take the whole festive scene over the top with these Dickensian, bee-inspired fingerless gloves.
7. Pour It On: I'm wild about these fanciful pottery pieces from apualek. From the "Biking Bee in Flowers" bowl and "Biking Bee Chasing Rose" tumbler to the cheery yellow "Kayaking Bee" pitcher shown below, these marvelous pieces of usable art will thrill anyone with a good imagination, an appreciation of the handmade, and a love of pouring liquids in high style.
8. Share the Love: Native bees are in trouble throughout the U.S. and across the planet. Who better than beekeepers and bee allies to lend a helping hand by providing habitat in the form of an attractive bee box nest made of recycled wood for our native populations of leaf-cutter bees and mason bees?
9a. Kitchen-y Bee: I have a thing for tea towels, so it's no surprise I'm taken with this rustic Queen Bee burlap towel...and this retro-style embroidered gem.
I also have a thing for tote bags, especially this honeybear tote from Kenspeckle Press, which provides "19th century solutions to 21st century quandaries." (Don't neglect to ogle the wonderful letterpress honeybear cards while you're ambling around this charming corner of cyberspace.)
10. Wrap It Up: To personalize your gift, try these handsome, vintage-style honeybee tags, these super-sweet, hybridized honeybee/French Bulldog greeting cards, and/or this funky wrapping paper.For additional ideas, check out my holiday gift lists for beekeepers from years gone by. I hope your holidays are sweet and rich in the non-material joys of living.


Song of the Unsung Pollinator

Thanks to Bug Girl's Blog for surfacing this gem!


The Great Pumpkin Bee (Happy Halloween)

A she-bee visits the fruits of her labor...a hefty, bee-pollinated pumpkin. Happy Halloween!



The bees are "winterized"—their entrances reduced, mouse protection added, and sky-blue sheets of Styrofoam insulation placed atop and along the false back of every hive.

Two of three look good to go. The third seems a little quiet, but time will tell. All three hives have been left their honey; I didn't harvest this fall and it will be interesting to see whether, with nothing stolen from them, they make it OK. So much depends upon the weather; the weather, luck, and whatever secret strengths or deficits reside inside those mysterious wooden hives with their brilliant clusters of thrumming beings.

Geese are passing overhead now, not just daily, but hourly. And so begins the countdown to winter which, for me (and for the bees?) is really just a countdown to spring.


Honoring John Lennon's 70th Birthday

Well, you know, John and I share a birthday in common and he's always been real important to me, so I'd like to share this on what would have been his 70th birthday.

Gives bees a chance.


Saluting The Field

We've seen it all before, the changing colors, the falling leaves. And yet, and yet.

I walk around the pond with cat and dog, thinking of James Schuyler's great field poem, "Salute," which ends with the lines: "Past/is past. I salute/that various field."

Which evokes Frank O'Hara's line, "Grace to be born and live as variously as possible." (These words are inscribed on O'Hara's gravestone, which I once had the honor of meeting in person.)

A field does live as variously as possible. Here, its variosity is of aster (several kinds); (red & white) clover; heather-like purple fists that seem to drive the bees wild; a spectrum of goldenrod, and cornflower, black-eyed susans, coreopsis, plus some intense purple flowers I cannot find a name for.

So many plant-inhabitants whose names I'm just learning: tear-thumb and smartweed, a wild mint I just call "mountain mint" for simplicity's sake. So many more names to learn or not. And beyond the names, the important unknown stories of plants and animals.

To this various field is now added a jumbled corridor of fallen leaves—ash and sumac, apple, pear (remnants of old orchard), hawthorne, and no-longer-whispering aspen. Perfectly placed in their disorder, like thoughts overturning their ancestors.The colors have been described a million times before—we know that story all too well. It escorts us to the threshold of cliche and right on through its frosted-glass door. Auburn. Magenta. Burnt umber. But color-words get in the way of it, can't begin to reach the thing itself, which originates way up high in the trees. An arboreal collaboration of sugar, wind, cold, and light. Trees, changing their minds, acknowledging their time.

My fingers are stiff trying to capture it on the page (tear-thumb?). I wish you could see it!


Hay, Handsome!

One of the things I like best about the no-till, no-dig method of "surface gardening"—aside from saving my back—is the pleasure of playing with hay mulch, which is basically old, worn-out hay that, when placed in the vegetable beds between plantings, serves to suppress (some) weeds, maintain soil moisture, and stabilize the soil temperature.

Hay mulch is just the thing if you like to get down and dirty in the garden, communing with earth-bound sprites of all persuasions. It's a primordial ooze of fungal, bacterial, and insect life, squirming with quick-witted centipedes, sparkly worms, fuzzy spiders, glowing larvae, and a metropolis of unidentified whatnots. It's also home to wonderful snakes, salamanders, and rodents. Like the prize in the Crackerjack box, you never know what you'll find.

The other day, a substantial chill in the air signaled the need to get started on "autumn prep" for some of my vegetable beds. I decided to start with my asparagus bed, which has done its duty for the year. I added some compost to fortify this greedily-feeding perennial so as to feed greedily upon it come springtime. After adding the compost, I cut the string on a few square bales of mulch hay delivered earlier this summer (and nearly compost themselves at this point in time) and lay the thin "books" or sheaves of hay in the asparagus bed to inhibit weeds and provide a nice cover for wintertime.

Here are some of the handsome denizens of the hay I encountered during this process.

Speaking of handsome, comely, attractive, and adorable, our new kitten, Magnet, loves the hay as well. She turned up on our doorstep here in the middle of nowhere back in June and is now an esteemed member of the clan.



I definitely fall on the liberal, live-and-let-live side—no surprise there, I reckon.

Still, I'm vexed by the partial takeover of deep-rooted goldenrod in my herb bed, the hijacking of my tender onions by plantain, and the increasing presence of burdock at the edges of our humble lawn. I try to keep up with the lambs quarter, purslane, and other edible weeds by...eating them, but really, how much can one person consume, especially when a thicket of officially sanctioned vegetables seductively beckons?

With fall settling in, the weeds in my vegetable beds tower in valiant certainty of their reproductive success—tough, intractable beings at the height of their power. In their midst, the cuke leaves die back, tomatoes falter, and potato vines shrivel away, reminding me that my influence upon this land is tenuous and short-lived indeed.

In such moments, despite my high-minded attempts at botanical egalitarianism, I feel a bit defeated by the persistence (even dominance) of weeds in beds I worked so hard to clear and maintain earlier in the season.

But then comes Labor Day weekend, and a visit with good and interesting friends. Peter quickly sets to gathering goldenrod flowers, bud by yellow bud, for an herbal infusion in Smirnoff's Vodka. He digs burdock roots for a tasty side dish for Friday's evening meal. He hangs branches, roots, and leaves of various weedy things to dry in the kitchen and speaks of tinctures, remedies, teas. Roni gathers yarrow, goldenrod, and purple aster to create two gorgeous floral arrangements, adding berried fronds of asparagus for an elegant flourish.

To these fresh perspectives must be added the bees' opinion of "weeds"—expressed in a frenzy of joyous attention when burdock sends forth its pale gray pollen, mullein raises its yellow flagpole to salute the season's end, and the autumnal duo of goldenrod and aster provide the last substantial provisions to lay away for the long, cold season ahead.

In short, I've been clearly out-voted in my ambivalence toward weeds—and the landslide nature of the pro-weed election doesn't even begin to take account of the dozens of goldfinches cheerily celebrating the abundant stands of thistle that, try as I might, I'll never get a handle on.


A Taste of Honey

Not so much a taste as a whiff, a submergence, an infusion of honey—in that, when walking anywhere near the hives in these goldenrod days, the aroma of honey hits the body hard, overrunning all thoughts except: the bees are astonishing beings, too lovely, artful, and hard-working to steal their honey today.

Instead, I stand quite still and marvel at their unique creation—the simple honey that mankind, with all its alleged wit and wisdom, cannot produce.

I marvel, too, at how this ethereal scent embellishes the warm air like an additional layer of heat: runny, golden of thought, a fourth wall on summertime—making the summer and all its joys and labors realer, somehow, yet somehow more dreamlike.


Anticeptic vs. Clean

This morning I finally got around to cutting some oregano to hang for drying. With the arrow-wood leaves reddening along the fence rows by the old pasture, it's past time to get ready for the cold months ahead, when fresh herbs will be a pleasant memory buried under a foot of snow.

The oregano grows in a small raised herb bed. It all looked very neat and prim a few short weeks ago, but at this point in the summer, the bed's nearly overrun with borage and dill that self-seeded in past years.

The bees don't bother much with the dill blossoms—that's wasp terrain, too light and feathery to for the "heavy-weight" pollinators. But honeybees and bumblebees adore the borage flowers, tumbling by the score into what's now a wild thicket of prickly leaves and blue star-shaped flowers, cheerful as those a child might draw. I grow borage exclusively for the good mood it puts both me and the bees in—and for its long blooming period, which keeps the bees busy even as the last of the goldenrod jumps ship.

Reaching with care into the chaos of dill umbrals, falling stars and intensely buzzing bees, I carefully cut a couple of dozen long springs of oregano to bind with twine and hang in the dry, warm attic until the leaves are dessicated enough to crumble into jars. It's one of the most pleasant late-summer garden tasks I know—the scent of oregano on my paws, the bee-loud soundtrack, and lustful thoughts of the well-spiced tomato sauces to come.

I lay the sprigs on a white tea towel and inspect them closely to get them as clean as possible. Of course, I find a biologically rich world embedded in those leaves and branches—a world of tiny snails and spiders, remnants of cocoon, miniscule black eggs shiny as caviar, leaves that have mysteriously wilted, leaves that have been not-so-mysteriously gnawed upon, and a myriad of other "imperfections" that tell one hell of a tale—the Lively Garden, a Place of Action.

As best I can, I shake off the major league bugs, then gently brush away the minor league critters. Next, I pluck as many of the blackened leaves as my attention span will allow, till mostly clean, green leaves remain. Even so, I'm left with a smattering of unfashionably discolored leaves and a few ethereal vestiges of insect travel and leisure.

In other words, though the drying process will hide some of the oregano's blemishes and the cooking process erase any conceivable risk that might be had in ingesting a trace of vintage spiderweb, my dried oregano won't be purged of the place from whence it came, like the mass-produced "food products" that get power-washed, anti-bioticized, and irradiated into oblivion before being marketed to our tables.

To me, these earthly, flawed sprigs of herbaceous delight are clean in the fullest, most vibrant sense, reflecting the multifaceted meanings you'll find when you look up "clean" in the dictionary—free from violations, spiritually or ceremonially pure, unencumbered, unadulterated.

I'll take all that over anticeptic any day of the week. And so will my bees.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Through the Summer

Four months have passed since my last post on this blog. What happened was I left the city and went upstate to spend some time among the bees and flowers, fully intending to blog about it all. But what I found (or was reminded of) is that being outside trumped sitting in front of my laptop.

And so have flown the days from spring ephemerals to goldenrod, asparagus to apples, tadpole-squirmy vernal pools to goldfinches aligned expectantly on wires. Now the weather shows signs of wearying, and clouds keep me inside more often—as does the desk-y work that pays the bills and makes possible my extended rural incarnations.

Thanks for your patience during my unexplained silence. Here are some photos from the past few weeks, my summertime offline. (Oh, and the honey bees hereabouts are doing fine! We did have a couple of swarms and managed to catch one, so we're now running three healthy and happy top-bar hives.)

More soon!


Bees Magnolia-fied

These not-so-hot snaps of honeybees gathering pollen are from late March, when the magnolias in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens were in their pinup-girl-prime.Not much left of the magnolias now, except for one lovely late-bloomer in a shady portion of the grove...and my appreciative memories. These images offer little more than a sensory impression of a bee-loud moment of pink, branch, and blue in early spring. I hope you enjoy them.


Practical Pollen

Nice bit in the NY Times this week on the clever nature of pollen.

Carpenter Bees 2.0

Catching decent shots of carpenter bees with an iPhone isn't easy, but on this day at the Children's Garden in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (back in March), the C-bees were abundant and relatively cooperative.


Carpenter Bees Part I

Yesterday was a banner day at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. The lilacs were in their prime, working their mind-altering magic on the dazzled crowd of worshipers. Barely noticed on the ground beneath the showy lilac bushes, a thick carpet of deep-purple grape hyacinths played host to a robust constituency of honeybees.

With the honeybees keeping a low profile, the blatant stars of yesterday's pollinator show were the dozens of carpenter bees doing their thing on the glamorous azaleas near the garden's main entrance. I love the vigor and heft of these fuzzy, burly bees, especially in the context of the showy azaleas.The carpenter bees showed a special fondness for the neon-pink azaleas, and virtually no interest in the purple, red, or white ones. There was plenty of C-bee action on the purple wisteria, though, so I'm guessing the non-pink azaleas were not giving nectar yesterday or were simply offering a less delectable flavor profile. It raises interesting questions about what draws a bee to a particular plant at a particular time. The nuances are endless.
Lucky for me, the C-bees were so enraptured with the azaleas that I was able to get close enough with my iPhone to grab a few shots. There's something terribly 1940s about azaleas, don't you think? And (going out on a springy limb here) something so Orson Welles-like about carpenter bees (think driving force, ambition, unapologetic conspicuousness).

Thus it was that, while reveling in all the bee-on-bud action yesterday, my mind unfurled a full-blown mental mash-up involving a Technicolor version of Sunset Boulevard + Busby Berkeley dance moves + Paul Masson wine ad—all populated solely by hearty, gallivanting C-bees. Beware spring's potent cocktail of hot pink flowers, aromatic lilac, and shimmering pollinator charm.