Happy National Honey Month

Imagine my delight to learn that September is National Honey Month! 

Honeycomb

You know we’re very fond of the golden elixir around our house, and we’re so proud that our honeybees have been happy and healthy enough to produce lots of it.

Honey and beeswax candle

Here are some honey highlights. First, worker bees (all female) visit flowers and plants to gather nectar.

Honeybee on flowerThey bring the nectar back to the beehive, transform it into honey, and pack it into the wax honeycomb that they built.

Honeycomb with bees

We leave most of the honey for the bees’ own use, but in good years there’s extra, and we take a bit. Recently we got a hand-crank extractor, which makes getting the honey out of the comb much easier than our old “crush” method.

Extracting honey

It also leaves the honeycomb intact, so we put it back into the hives for the bees to use again. In the photo George and our friend Joan are “scoring” the capped honey so it will spin out of the comb easily when we put it into the extractor.

Did you know that many people eat local honey to control allergies? The theory is that trace amounts of pollen from local plants to which people are allergic remain in the honey, and that eating it year-round can help the body cope with the allergens. Sweet medicine, for sure!

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National Honeybee Day, 8/17/13

In honor of National Honeybee Day, here are a few of my favorite photos of our bees!

Honeybee on a passionflower.

Honeybee on passionflower

Honeybee on a lavender flower.

Honeybee on lavender

Honeybee on flower.

Honeybee on flower

Honeybee on poppy flower.

Honeybee on poppy flower

Queen honeybee and worker bees in the hive.

Queen bee

Swarm of honeybees in a tree.

Honeybee swarm

Even if you’re not able to have a hive, you can help out by planting flowers, trees, and bushes that provide nectar for bees and other pollinators. Click here to see a good wiki article on Northern American sources for honeybee nectar.

Joan’s New Bees

I’ve told you about our friend Joan’s bees. In this post from March, I wrote about an epic swarm that split off from her beehive. Well, sadly, the bees continued to produce more swarms, and finally the hive was so weakened that it failed.

George and Joan were debating what to do when things fell into place last week. George’s query to his beekeeper group netted an amazingly generous offer from Bob Ballard to deliver one of his hives to Joan’s house.

Beehive

Bob loaded the bees into his truck in Hayward; they arrived in Richmond without mishap.

Beehive

Bob, George and Joan moved the hive into place.

Beehive

Finally it was time to let the bees out!

Beehive

Some ventured about, exploring their new home. Joan’s garden is a paradise of flowers, bushes and trees – like the flowers in the foreground of this photo.

Beehive

I was amazed to see a bee crawl into this beautiful dangling flower.

Bee in flower

And of course they loved the Salvia.

Bee on Salvia

There are techniques you can use to try to minimize swarming, but it seems that the strain of bees we originally gave Joan tend to swarm more than normal. Now that she has a new hive, I think they’ll be happy in her garden for a long long time.

Brian’s Bees

Is there anything more special than friends who share a passionate interest? George’s friend Brian is a twofer – they first met and bonded over their common love of orchids, spiced with a shared cynical smart sense of humor. More lately, Brian discovered that he wanted to keep bees. He had a beautiful hive all ready and waiting for some honeybees to move in, so when George and our friend Alan rescued a swarm, there was no question that they were meant to be Brian’s bees. The swarm settled on a tree limb just above a garden shed.

Honeybee swarm in a tree

George and Alan clambered onto the shed. I held the ladder and worried that they’d fall through the roof (they didn’t). When bees are swarming they’re very calm, so George easily brushed most of them into a box. The critical thing is to try to get the queen. If you do, the rest will follow her, because their main imperative is to protect her.

Catching the swarm

As you’d expect from an orchid and nature lover, Brian has an amazing garden. Here’s George delivering the bees to their new home.

Bee hive

The bees quickly realized they had arrived at nectar heaven. The workers happily began to forage, build comb and make honey, and the queen zealously performed her queenly duties and began laying brood. We went back to do a hive inspection, and this is what we found:

Worker and queen honeybees

That’s her majesty, surrounded and protected by workers. She’s much larger than the other bees, and is a gorgeous deep golden color. Here’s more of a closeup photograph.

Queen bee

Much of the white you can see filling the comb is larvae or brood. As George finished the inspection, I walked around the garden to see what the workers were up to. They favored a magnificent Spanish Lavender plant.

Honeybee on Spanish Lavender

The intoxicatingly fragrant orange tree was another favorite.

Honeybee on orange flower

We even got a bit of honey from some extra comb the bees had built on the lid of the hive, so Brian could taste his bees’ honey. Your own bees’ honey is always the sweetest. And here’s to honey and friendship, ever sweetly intertwined.

The Great Bee Count of 2011

Honeybee on lavender flower

Honeybee on lavender flower

The day has arrived – so go out to your yards and gardens and begin …. counting bees!  The Great Sunflower Project  was launched in 2008 to get information about urban, suburban and rural bee populations.  The Project also wanted to educate people about what was happening with the bees in their back yards, and to remind us of how important bees are — their motto is: “Bees: Responsible for Every Third Bite of Food.”   So they got people all over the world to observe their bees on Lemon Queen sunflowers, because sunflowers are relatively easy to grow and a great resource for bees. They expanded the list of plants, including bee balm, cosmos, rosemary, tickseed, goldenrod and purple coneflower.  But even if you don’t have any of those plants in your garden (yet — lots of time to prepare for next year!) you can still count.  The bees that come to our garden love the lavender, and I had a blast earlier this week taking photos of them.

Bumble bee on soap plant flower

Bumble bee on soap plant flower

The bumble bees also love the soap plant flowers (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), tiny, spiky flowers that bloom only in the evening. The flowers are only about an inch around, so watching the relatively large bumble bees (compared to honeybees) grab onto the delicate flowers, making them bounce and wave, is very entertaining.


The steps to participate in the Project are listed on their site, with links.  All you have to do:  sign up and plant your sunflower (or other plant); describe your garden; watch the plant for 15 minutes and enter the data online. With colony collapse disorder, pesticides, and other threats to the hardest-working pollinators, every little bit helps —

Even if you don’t have any of the listed plants yet, why not go outside and do the count anyway? It would be a good baseline to compare with the number you get next year, when you’ve filled your garden with plants to help the bees.  And let me know what you find!

Blooms and bees

My husband and I have a running joke – when the weather’s bad, we’ll look at each other and say plaintively: “When will it be April?”  Well, guess what George – we survived the rain, hail and cold … it’s April!  And here are some of the treats that April has brought…

Wisteria flowers blooming

Wisteria flowers blooming

Ahhhh … the wisteria tree is blooming in the back garden … one of my all-time favorite flowers.  Too bad you can’t smell it – it has a delicious light scent to go along with that incredible color.

Pterostylis orchid

Pterostylis orchid

You know George is an orchid wizard.  This is one of many orchids he has blooming right now, a Pterostylis.  The flower is small, a bit more than a half inch.

Laelia anceps orchid

Laelia anceps orchid

Another orchid — this one’s a Laelia Anceps, much larger than the Pterostylis, it has multiple flowers on long stalks.

Honeybee

Honeybee

April is good to the hardworking pollinators.   They’re usually so busy flying around that it’s hard to get a good closeup photograph of them, but I managed to get one shot of her when she landed for a moment on my leg.

Honeybee with pollen

Honeybee with pollen

Here’s one laden with pollen!  Got to get out to the garden now to see what else is blooming.  What’s happening in your garden? Let us know in the comments!

Today’s Best Award on Zazzle – my honeybee design necktie!

Whee-ha! I’ve posted before about zazzle, but it has been quite awhile since I wrote about it.  I put things up there once in awhile, when I have a new design I usually add a few things on zazzle — a card or print,

Zazzle orchid print

Zazzle orchid print

some funky sneakers, a bumper sticker with some hard-hitting message:

Zazzle bumper sticker

Zazzle bumper sticker

Back in 2008, shortly after I started posting my work on zazzle, I won a “Today’s Best Award” (TBA in zazzle lingo) for sneakers that I designed using my photo of a zebra’s stripes:

Zazzle zebra sneakers

Zazzle zebra sneakers

Now, zazzle doesn’t tell you when you get a TBA, you have to either check the TBA list every day (which I stopped doing long ago), or you may find out if some kind soul leaves you a “Congratulations for your TBA!” message.  Well, guess what? I got one of those today (thanks again JuJuGarden)!

So, first the story behind the piece that won. This is the photograph I started out with: I shot it  through the window of a top bar beehive, of some busy honey bees working hard:

Honey bees in hive

Honey bees in hive

I took an element of this photograph, and started making different kaleidoscopic designs using my favorite software program, Kaleider (I’ve written posts about Kaleider, just click on the tag at the right for Kaleider to bring them up, and you can check out the software at this link).  I made several designs that I really liked, and this was one of the ones I loved most:

Honeybee kaleidoscope

Honeybee kaleidoscope

Next, I did a repetition technique (I’m going to be teaching this on CraftEdu, so email me if you’re interested in that class).  I took the repetition design and uploaded it to zazzle.  The only thing I’ve had time to make so far from it was a necktie, and that won a TBA award!!

Zazzle TBA, honeybee design necktie

Zazzle TBA, honeybee design necktie

I’m donating 10% of everything sold on my zazzle shop through the end of July to the fund to help rebuild the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society after their fire, so if you’re thinking of buying anything — now’s the time!