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READ: Bees prefer the buzz of a town

Bees prefer the buzz of a town: Urban sites found to have more species than rural areas

By Fiona Macrae via

  • Agriculture and mass crops blamed for decline of bee numbers 
  • Towns and cities have wider variety of plants and flowers in autumn
  • Pesticides, climate change and disease causing bee numbers to fall 

We think of them as thriving in wildflower meadows and rolling fields. But new research suggests Britain’s bees are happier near towns and cities.

A study of wildlife sites across four English counties has found that most are home to fewer species of bee today than they were in the past.

It found that the expansion of farmland has actually been more damaging to Britain’s bee population than the concreting over of the countryside for housing.

Reading University researcher Deepa Senapathi believes intensive agriculture is to blame.

While the gardens, parks and churchyards of towns and cities provide bees with a variety of plants to forage on and an extended flowering season, popular crops such as oilseed rape only bloom for a few weeks.

She said: ‘While concreting over the countryside may appear to be bad news for nature, we’ve found that progressive urbanisation may be much less damaging than intensive agriculture.

‘Urban areas may benefit bees more than farmland by providing a wide variety of flowering plants, providing a cosmopolitan menu for insects from spring through to autumn.

‘Over the past century rural landscapes in Britain have become increasingly dominated by large expanses of monoculture – the growing of a single type of plant, which has helped boost crop production.

‘But without a mixture of habitat and food sources, rural areas can sometimes be little better than green deserts for biodiversity.

Scientists around the country are trying to work out why populations of bees and other insects are plummeting.

Pesticides, climate change and disease may, like intensive farming, be playing a role.

[view full article here:]

Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

LISTEN: Natural Beekeeper Kirk Anderson via @rootsimple

Root Simple’s interview with Kirk Anderson, a natural, no-treatment beekeeper and mentor. Kirk tells funny stories and shares his wisdom on how to keep bees in a big city. During the podcast they discuss:

[click here to view podcast on Root Simple]

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Interviews

READ: Organic Beekeeping Conference in Oracle Arizona


By HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki

One of the most delightful and informative ways beeks can advance their understanding of bees and beekeeping is by attending conferences. The American Beekeeping Federation conference was held in Anaheim this year in January and I went to several presentations. This was a completely academic conference, combined with a large trade show—no live bees to work with. This group also reflects a strong conventional management and commercial pollinator representation. There are always things to be learned though, and I found the time well spent.

However, a number of smaller and more appropriate conferences for us treatment free folk also occur every year. The 8th Annual Organic Beekeeping conference at Oracle AZ, put on by Dee Lusby allows participants to visit the 9 bee yards kept by Dee in the remote Sonora desert near the Mexican border. These bees are never moved (no migratory pollination) are at least 4 deeps tall, are not re-queened or supported with any feeds, and are visited (on average) just 5 times a year. Dee’s honey is very dry and dark, reflecting the dry climate and mixed desert flora the bees have for forage. These flowers include many desert shrubs, cactus, wildflowers, and introduced weed species too numerous to mention. The Spring rains this year have been abundant and well spaced, so we saw lots of wildflower and cactus blooms. The desert smelled wonderful—fresh, sage-y scented with alternating bright blue skies and looming smokey thunderclouds.


Rob McFarland (Co-Founder of HoneyLove) and I drove to Oracle, which is in a very remote area. The conference is sited at the YMCA, with cabins and bunk beds for sleeping and 3 full cafeteria meals a day. Some of the best time is spent at meals in talking with other bee keepers from all over the US and even other parts of the world.

The conference lasts 3 days, with speakers on a range of subjects—apitherapy (using bee stings for health reasons), introduction of a new national on-line register for swarm calls to beekeepers, the beekeeping management calendar year from a extreme climate perspective, and new information on genetics and breeding of queens. Michael Bush and Sam Comfort, our great friends in treatment free beekeeping not only spoke individually, but on the last night gave us a melodious, heartfelt performance for almost a hour. Michael plays guitar and sings, Sam plays ukelele and banjo and a MEAN harmonica!! It was stupendous and had people’s roaring approval.

Our final day was devoted to driving on dirt roads to Dee’s remote beeyards—she has 700 hives. The day was a bit windy and cold, with threatening rain, but we went anyway, and the desert was glorious with color. The desert bees were very ferocious in defending their colonies, reflecting the weather and forage conditions they must deal with. We were fully suited and gloved to help restore some hives that were tipping wildly from the undermining of the bottom board by tunneling rodents. The hives had to be totally unstacked, the bottom board leveled and supported by fresh soil and the hives re-stacked—each at least 4 deeps.

I urge all that wish to really know beekeeping and infuse the relationship with new knowledge to attend these bee conferences.

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Workshops, Yay Bees

READ: Planting Herbs that Attract Honey Bees

By Ann Barczewski via

When the bees start flying I can’t wait to get out there and dig in the hives and the dirt. There’s a huge variety of herbs that are not just great for cooking and medicinal purposes, they’re great for the bees. Planting herbs that attract honey bees is something that anyone can do.

You may not have a large plot of land for an herb garden but most people can tuck a few herbs in somewhere, even if they only have a postage stamp yard, balcony, hanging basket or doorstep. Container gardening can be just as rewarding and help your local bees.

If you are purchasing already grown herb plants instead of starting them from seed, please remember to purchase from an organic supplier. We get ours from our local CSA which is good for the bees and our local economy. Many big box stores sell plants that have been cultivated with the use of insecticides which are toxic for bees. So while you are trying to do something nice for the bees you may actually be doing harm.

Here is a short list of herbs which the bees love and so will you!

Borage – This powerhouse herb produces a lot of nectar, it’s easy to plant from seed, blooms well into the fall, will self-seed once you get it going and it’s readily available. Historically, it’s been planted to increase honey production. It’s great as a companion plant alongside tomatoes and cabbages because it helps to ward away harmful insects and worms. It’s also believed to improve the health of the plants that grow around it. The flowers and leaves are not only beautiful but they’re a welcome addition to any salad.

Chives – These wonderful plants flower early in almost all regions, conditions and climates so when the weather is warm enough for your bees to fly, the chives are already producing nectar for them. They are also perennials so they will produce for many years to come. If you haven’t had chive infused butter, you have been missing out!

Comfrey – an amazing herb which will enrich your soil from deep below the surface. It leaches high levels of potassium and nitrogen into your soil. Both of these elements are key nutrients and will ensure you have a healthy garden. Its leaves are high in allantoin, a substance that causes cells to multiply, making it a great addition to your herbal medicine cabinet to treat burns, wounds, bug bites and even bee stings! It’s great topically (like our St. John’s Wort & Hemp Salve) but is toxic to humans when consumed so don’t eat it! But best of all, the bees LOVE it!

Lemon Balm (Melissa) – Lemon Balm is known by many names, Melissa, the genus name means “honeybee” and it is definitely a favorite of the bees. It’s also a wonderful herb to have on hand. The leaves are antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, sedative and aromatic. It’s used to treat many conditions. Internally it’s good for insomnia, migraine, hyperactivity, Flu, and anxiety. When used topically (like our RESCUE Salve) it can help with cold sores and shingles. In short, it’s pretty much good for all that ails you and it tastes beautiful!

Rosemary – a perennial which likes sun and well-drained soil, this plant will be a wonderful addition to every garden. It also lends itself to being grown in a pot as a bonsai (and how cute is that?) It’s a culinary herb which attracts bees from far and wide. You can also use rosemary infused in apple cider vinegar as a rinse for your hair to help with dandruff and itchy scalp. For herbal recipes you can check out our blog on Ann Bee’s Naturals, The Natural Buzz.

Dandelions — And of course, don’t forget to let your dandelions, plantain, and clover grow, they are some of the first sources of nectar for the bees. While you’re at it, remember that many plants which are considered weeds are beneficial to honeybees. So let the multiflora rose, wild asters and goldenrod bloom before you hack them down. The bees will thank you.

Read full story · Posted in Yay Bees

READ: Commercial bees, the unsung heroes of the nut business

[HoneyLover] Bill Lewis is waiting for the sun to set, the time of day when his bees crawl back inside the short white boxes that house their colonies. As the sky turns pink behind the San Gabriel mountains, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Lewis climbs into the seat of a forklift and starts moving the hives onto the back of a flatbed truck. These bees are on the move. “As soon as you get on the freeway and there’s air flowing past the entrances, all the bees run back inside,” says Lewis, of any stragglers. Lewis, who runs Bill’s Bees, is taking about 700 of his hives on a road trip to the California’s Central Valley, where he’ll unload them across acres of almond orchards, working until 1 or 2 a.m. under the light of full moon. All across the country, more than a million-and-a-half colonies are making a similar journey – traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to pollinate California’s almonds. Farmers rent hives for few weeks because in order for almond trees to produce nuts, bees need to move pollen from one tree to another. No bees, no almonds. “This pollination season there will be [some] 800,000 acres of almonds that need to be pollinated,” says Eric Mussen, a honey bee specialist at the University of California Davis. He says more than 100 different kinds of crops need these rent-a-bees, but almonds are significant for the number of acres that require pollination all at the same time. About 85 percent of the commercial bees in United States – which Mussen calls “bees on wheels” – travel to California for almonds. The state supplies roughly 80 percent of the world’s almonds, worth $6.4 billion during the 2013-2014 season, according to the Almond Board of California. “It’s a matter of numbers,” he says. “You’re trying to provide enough bees to be moving the pollen around between the varieties and whatnot. It’s just a huge, huge number of bees. The only way we can get a huge number of bees in one place at one time is to bring them in on trucks.” In fact, bees are such an important part of the almond business that Paramount Farms, one of the biggest almond growers in the world, has decided they need to be in the bee business, too. The company just bought one of the largest beekeepers in the United States, based in Florida. “Bees are so essential for the process of growing almonds,” says Joe Joe MacIlvane, Paramount’s president. “If we don’t have a reliable supply of good strong colonies, we simply won’t be a viable almond grower, so that’s our primary motivation for getting into the business.” Renting bees is about 10 to 15 percent of Paramount’s production costs, but the motivation to keep their own bees isn’t simply economic. “Many bee keepers are individual or family business and many people are getting on in years and we don’t see a lot of young people coming into the business,” says MacIlvane. Additionally, bee populations are struggling. A significant number having been dying each year for the past decade or so, thanks to a mix of factors, from pesticides to lost habitat for feeding. Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly what’s killing them. “We had a large problem last year with bees dying in the orchard because of something that was going on during bloom,” says Bill Lewis. He thinks a pesticide or fungicide may have been to blame. This year, Lewis and his bee broker are being pickier about the farms they’re working with, vetting them more carefully because those lost bees had big economic consequences – about $300,000 in lost income for Lewis.
Read full story · Posted in News

Bee Informed Partnership Hive Scale Project

Susan BIP Scale
via HoneyLover Susan RudnickiHave you ever wondered how our local, LA Urban beekeeping differ from other areas of the country? I just read the other day that beekeepers in Wales expect about 25 pounds of honey per year on their hives—33 pounds is a bumper crop!   This does not seem like much. Our bees are active year ’round, making brood, honey and drones. This growth is very different from temperate climate bees and, as well, we are using Africanized hybrid ferals—a relatively rare population to survey. We now have a opportunity to participate in amassing data on our specific niche by the generosity of HoneyLove who purchased the SolutionBee Hive scale for me to monitor a hive in my backyard garden.

The project is managed by BIP (the Bee Informed Partnership)  and the hive data is automatically sent to their website as well as the SolutionBee team, the manufacturers of the hive scale (purchased from Brushy Mountain). The colony I selected came from a large swarm hived on April 27, 2014 which has proven to be super productive and nicely behaved. They now occupy 3 deep boxes and 2 mediums after seven months and have produced 60 pounds of honey.  I have also raided their brood nest for frames of brood for weak nuc hives. They are VERY strong bees and a pleasure to work.

The goal of the project is summarized below, as taken from the initial offering to participate sent out by BIP. I am having great fun with this, watching my bee’s growth graph going ever upward in weight gain. For the first time I am also having to learn how to use a cell phone—my son’s iphone—as the data recording and uploading device. Arghh!  —this is not my strong suit.

The Bee Informed Partnership is dedicated to helping beekeepers make informed data-based management decisions. Monitoring weight changes in colonies has huge potential to help us understand disease and parasite population growth, as well as the timing of management practices. We are seeking some innovative beekeepers who are willing to help us develop and beta test the hive scale tools’ ability to develop a system that will provide the best regionally specific management practices based on real time data. We are collaborating with NASA’s Honeybee Net, under the direction of Wayne Esaias, to test this exciting effort.

Why hive scales?

Hive scales weigh individual colonies at regular intervals, keeping track of strong nectar flows, swarming, and other conditions that affect management decisions.  Beekeepers may respond to rises in weight by putting supers on, inspecting colonies for swarm cells, and extracting full honey supers. Conversely, weight loss may indicate a need to feed colonies, robbing or indicate the colony has swarmed and is at increased risk of becoming queenless.

With new digital hive scales, beekeepers can track the weight of colonies without having to do a hive inspection. The scale we are using for our beta testing will utilizing Bluetooth with an Android device (e.g., Android phone or tablet), and a visit to the apiary is required to read the data. The data can be viewed on the device or be uploaded via cellular or WIFI communication. However, in the future these same scales when used with a data collector will allow for data to be automatically uploaded via cell phones or cell phone service data plans that allow for remote monitoring.

Armed with data from hive scales and other disease monitoring efforts, the Bee Informed Partnership hopes to make predictive models of honey flows and disease population growth. These models will help us develop an “alert system” that will make management recommendations based on real-time and regionally specific data.

As to my particular case,  I don’t expect the disease/pest monitoring aspect will be so relevant to my bee population. The varroa mite has not been a great destroyer of my bees in the past and they seem to manage the pest well on their own. When Spring comes, it will be interesting to observe the growth of the brood nest and respond with management techniques to overcome swarming tendencies.   One thing is sure—that time will be sooner than any other part of the country.

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove HQ, Newsletter Articles

Honeybee Anatomy Lesson: Pollen-collecting

Pollen is the honeybee’s main source of protein, critical to brood production and development. Honeybees’ fuzzy, hairy bodies help foragers collect pollen. Some bees collect only nectar while other collect both nectar and pollen on the same trip.

Bees have several anatomical features that are uniquely devoted to efficient pollen-collecting.

Pollen combs are hairy parts on the inside of a bee’s hind legs that are used to remove pollen stuck on the body.

The bees then rub their rear legs together and rake the pollen into the pollen press on the opposite leg.

The pollen press is a joint that compresses pollen particles into a dense clump for more efficient storage while flying.

Pollen clumps are moved from the rake to the pollen baskets on the outside of a honeybee worker’s hind leg.

Pollen collected in the field is stored in the pollen basket until it is removed upon return to the hive. With all these body parts devoted to pollen, it must be pretty important stuff.

Read full story · Posted in Yay Bees

The Flowers of Winter

by HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki

Flower-nectar and pollen are the life’s blood of our bees and—even though we are in the month of November—much is in bloom in the city. Many plants from the Southern Hemisphere bloom in Winter and irrigation of city gardens blurs the droughty conditions naturally seen in the wild lands of California.

I’m often surprised by the relatively sparse knowledge beekeepers have about the plant resources that are so fundamental to bees’ health and prosperity. We must try to hone our observational skills on the plant life around us and what those blossoms are offering our bees. When we pay attention, we can easily conjecture what bees will be storing in their combs and how colonies may be growing. A LOT of beekeeping is taking a long view of a process and not so much a set of strict rules of what to expect.

Here are a few things in bloom I’m seeing now:

  • Melaleuca quinquenervia (Paperbark tree)—white, bottlebrush flowers and thick, squishy, peeling white bark.  There are several types of melaleucas.
  • Eucalyptus of various kinds—E. ficifolia (now called Corymbia ficifolia)—Huge trusses of flowers in shades of red, pink or orange. E. camaldulensis (Red River Gum)—white or pale yellow flowers. And E. globulus (Blue Gum)—white flowers.
  • Schinus terebinthifolius (Brazilian Pepper Tree)—Tiny but profuse white flowers.
  • Callistemon rigidus (Bottlebrush tree)—red, bottlebrush flowers.
  • Rosemary, Lavender and Basil—all have the small flowers bees seem to be most attracted to.
  • Citrus trees—lemon, orange, lime.

Take a look around and notice something new. What plants are attracting the bees’ attention in your neighborhood?

Read full story · Posted in Newsletter Articles

NEW! HoneyLove inspired Christian Science Monitor article

Chelsea and Rob McFarland lure people into a sweet science: urban beekeeping

Honeybee populations are under attack but the founders of nonprofit HoneyLove believe bees’ best future is in cities.

By Daniel B. Wood, Staff Writer

Butterflies and hummingbirds flit in the shafts of light behind Chelsea McFarland as she tells a group of about 20 interested volunteers – residents ages 6 to 66 from around this West Los Angeles suburb – what they can do to combat the dramatic worldwide depletion of the honeybee.

“Instead of one guy with 60,000 hives, our hope is that we can inspire 30,000 people to have two each,” she says to the volunteers who sit on folding chairs inside an auxiliary greenhouse on the grounds of Venice High School Learning Garden.

Between 1947 and 2005, the number of bee colonies in the United States declined by more than 50 percent, from 5.9 million to 2.4 million, she tells them. Researchers are now saying the once-mysterious disappearance is likely due to a combination of viruses, pesticides, and contaminated water, which makes bees more susceptible to everything from stress to parasitic mites. The bees pick up insecticides through dust and residue on nectar and pollen.

The recent Saturday gathering aims to reverse the trend. Ms. McFarland’s hope is that the information will ignite a passion within the listeners to (1) spread the word and (2) adopt a whole slew of ideas that can dramatically boost the bee population.

Those actions could range from becoming a full-time urban beekeeper – building and sustaining hives of bees and harvesting the honey – to planting a bee-friendly organic garden with bee-friendly plants, such as lavender, glory bushes, jasmine, rosemary, coreopsis, violets, thyme, wisteria, bluebells, trumpet vine, sunflowers, cosmos, and coneflowers.

Taking action also could be as simple as building a clean, outdoor, nonstagnant water source on one’s property.

“The best science tells us that the future of the honeybee is within the urban environment,” McFarland says. “Cities actually provide safer habitat than the farms and rural areas traditionally associated with beekeeping.”

That’s because urban areas offer more diversity of plants, and they are available year-round – not just in a single season, like most of the 100 crops that bees pollinate which make up about a third of the average person’s diet.

Bee pollination is worth $15 billion a year to the US farming industry, McFarland says. Bee depletion is also predicted to affect the beef and dairy industries by reducing the pollination of clover and other hay and forage crops.

The Committee on the Status of Pollinators in North America told Congress in March 2007 that if the disappearances – known as colony collapse disorder – continued unabated, managed honeybees would disappear by 2035.

That would also result in higher prices for nuts, fruits, and vegetables, and possibly increased imports of cheaper fruits and vegetables from overseas countries where CCD is less prevalent…

[continue reading on]

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Interviews, News

RECIPE: Lavender and Honey Marshmallows

Lavender and Honey Marshmallows via

1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup corn starch
1 cup water
1 teaspoon lavender buds
3 packets of gelatin (each packet contains 1/4 ounce)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt


First steep the lavender buds in 1 cup hot water for 3-5 minutes. Taste and see if the lavender flavor is strong enough for you, if not steep for longer. Strain with a fine mesh strainer. In the bowl of a mixer (with the whisk attachment on) combine the 1/2 cup of the lavender water with the gelatin packets. Allow this to set for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, in a pot combine the sugar, corn syrup, honey, salt and the remaining 1/2 cup lavender water. Cook over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Heat until the mixture reaches 240°F (you will need a candy thermometer). Turn your mixer (with the gelatin in it) on low and CAREFULLY pour the hot sugar mixture into the mixer as it runs. I always use my splash guard during this step, you don’t want to get hot sugar on you! Once you’ve added all the sugar mixture turn your mixer on high and beat until white and fluffy (7-10 minutes).

While that runs whisk together the powdered sugar and corn starch. Spray a baking pan (rectangular or square depending on how fluffy you want your finished marshmallows to be) with non stick cooking spray. Sprinkle on the 3/4 of the powdered sugar mixture. Once the marshmallow batter is ready pour into the prepared pan and dust the surface with the remaining 1/4 of the powder sugar mixture. Allow to set overnight.

The next day simply remove your marshmallows from the pan and use a pizza cutter (or cookie cutters if you want to do shapes) to cut up your marshmallows. Serve in hot chocolate or try making fancy s’mores.

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Read full story · Posted in Recipes