B r e a k f a s t W i t h T h e B e e s

A sharing on the Birth, and Life

of a Honey Bee Colony at Grass Lake Sanctuary, grasslakesanctuary.org

Manchester, Michigan

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October 17th: Warm Wishes for a Cozy Winter!

It looks like most of the bees are in for the winter,  although some may still come out for brief moments from time to time.  I'll miss them and watching all of their fun activities, but will look forward to their re-emergence in the spring.   They are tucked in with straw bales and some northwesterly fencing for extra wind protection.   When you pass by, if you happen to be at the sanctuary, or if you're good at communicating through the ethers... please say hello, and send them warm wishes for a cozy and comfortable winter!

Visitors in the Attic

 Someone's been sleeping in our attic...

Honoring the Life of the Honey bee

At the end of this video I was taking a moment to share about the lives of the individual honey bees, but the camera card became full and stopped a bit short.  I don't remember  what I was saying in the moment, but the general feeling was of an immense life in a short time.  From the moment they are born it seems they use their energy, or life force to its fullest potential - serving the greater whole of their colony, leaving behind happy flowers, bountiful gardens, and presenting gifts of sweet enjoyment for so many others on earth!

Bless you honey bees for all that you give here.

October 6, Warm Spell

 These two videos pretty much speak for themselves...

Delighted with all the warm activity...

Friday, October 14, 2011

September 29th: Signals, Jobs, and Purpose

Here is a video of one bee - just inside the hive entrance clearly sending out a signal - she seemed upset? The energy of her signal felt intense - it was leaving me feeling a bit anxious.   This behavior seemed very purposeful, like many, if not all of their jobs, yet looked and sounded unlike any behavior  I had seen before.  Maybe she was just calling everyone in for dinner?  Or giving direction to the best nectar source?  But I decided to give them back their privacy, close up the observation window, and leave for the day.
 In the freeze frame of the video clip below - her's is the shiny rear end facing out of the hive - just above the play arrow:

September 29th: Girls, And Boys !

Since the arrival of the swarm I have never really been too sure about drones.   I never saw much of a difference among the bees in the colony except ever-so-slight color variations, and maybe slight size differences between the newly hatched smaller workers in the hive and the older foraging workers coming and going from the entrance.   Not really feeling the presence of the boys I thus kept referring to the group as "girls".  In the back of my head I wondered if I was being sexist (?) because surely a colony is made up of drones and workers, boys and girls?   I tried addressing them as "girls and boys" a few times, but something didn't resonate, and so I stuck with "girls".
The first notion of the drone presence however was after my phone calls to the two professionals regarding my concern of a brood disease - when I spotted bees dragging out unborn baby bees.  See post from September 8th, titled "Concern".  The explanation that the workers were disposing of drone larvae in response to the cold weather made sense - even though I had not seen, or hadn't thought I had seen any adult drones prior to that time.

It wasn't until this week that I started noticing really big bees leaving the hive.  The first one I saw I thought was perhaps a bee from another clan because of such a noticeable size difference - almost the size of a bumble bee - but not as plump.   It wasn't until repeated spottings that I realized these must be the drones!  I dont know why I hadn't seen them all summer, but here they are - quite a few at the end of the season.

more drones...
their job is to mate with Queen bees - could be from their own colony or another colony.  The mating takes place high up in the air.   The queen takes her "maiden flight" just once in a lifetime.  She mates with as many drones as possible during that brief flight.    This determines how fertile she will be for the rest of her life - which could be 4-6 years.  It is a noble job the drones have - and a true sacrifice of life, as after the mating they apparently die.   During their time in the hive they are fed and cared for by the workers.   It feels to me that aside from mating with Queens that they have another job and purpose that we might be overlooking?  I am not sure, but will stay open to signals as to what this might be!

In the freeze frame of the video below, you can see a drone in the very lower left hand corner:

September 22nd: Intentional Gifts

Could be my imagination, but I think these girls "show" or give me things intentionally?
Earlier this season, sitting with the bees I was thinking out loud "boy Id like to taste some propolis."  I had it once before when visiting a professional beekeeper .  It was a wonderful experience -- like an all day candy!
Propolis is sticky - kind of taffy-like, but a little gooier when warm - and a very small speck of it placed behind my front tooth lasted for hours... kind of astringent tasting, but also flavorful and only slightly sweet. It is said to have healing properties of all sorts.  With each passing sweep along my taste buds, I imagined any and all ails being miraculously cured!

Anyway I didn't want to take any from the hive as they were using it purposefully to seal cracks and crannies etc... it didn't feel right to just take it.  But upon my next visit there was a whole drop of propolis left on the outside of the hive - seemingly with no purpose whatsoever - except that it was left there for me! ?
I asked - and it sure seemed clear that "Yes", this was left there for me - a gift from the girls : ) mmmm yummy.  thank you!

This video is of a baby bee beginning to hatch from a cell in plane view through the observation window.  It seemed odd that it was placed out there - at the edge of comb, all by itself - and not nestled in the center with other brood cells?  Maybe a mistake? A random outlier?
Or, intentionally placed for our viewing?
After all  we are not doing the "standard" comb inspections where we might see some of these things, which is a process that would require pulling each comb out individually from the hive thus disturbing days of work in propolis sealing.
It is possible that there exists a "professional" answer to the outlier  - for example maybe it was initially designated as a queen cell but the hive changed its mind and it hatched as a worker?
But I like to remain open to the possibility that perhaps the bees once again wanted to share something with us,  and that there Is purpose behind it that we may never "know",
but somehow will help guide the intuitive flow of our relationship.

September 22nd; What Clan Are You From?

I notice much more now  - honey bees on flowers - whether at the sanctuary, around my home, or along a city sidewalk.
I like to greet them:  "Hello"
and ask them:  "What clan are you from"? 
I like to imagine their home, where it is, and how far away?
Sometimes  I can imagine or feel a slightly different tone or "language" coming from them compared to the sanctuary colony that I am familiar with.

These bees, filmed along Oasis Pond at the sanctuary, feel like "our girls" although I really don't know - but its fun to play ...


September 18th: Breakfast with the Bees

September 15th: What do they do in the winter?

What do they do in the winter?
I dont know exactly....
but I look forward to our winter visits and conversations with the bees at that time!
In the mean time, this is what Ive read:
The bees are alive all winter.  Interestingly, the worker bees, who typically live 3-6 weeks in the summer, have increased life spans of 3-4 months through the winter.  They huddle together in a ball around the center combs and around the Queen to keep her warm.   They take turns rotating to the outside of the huddle where it is colder.  They feed on all the honey and pollen that they collected from the summer.  This is why it may be best to only harvest honey from the bees in the spring - when there is a surplus.  Receiving honey from bees in the spring ensures the bees a full season to replenish their stores for winter.
With the colder weather apparently the drones (boy bees) leave the hive.  Many texts say the worker bees kick them out because they are no longer needed and take too much care and resources to be able to over-winter them.  (The drones apparently do no foraging or cleaning, or caring.  Their sole purpose is to mate with Queen bees).   I noted in a previous post how the workers were dragging out unborn baby's (drone larvae ?) - a possible response to a cold snap - a trigger to "get rid of the drones".   I like to think however, that with the collective hive intelligence, the adult drones leave on their own - without having to be kicked out.   Being part of the collective organism I would imagine, or like to think, that they have the hive's best interest in mind?  In certain situations I've read that some drones may be able stay through the winter - perhaps when there are plenty of food stores.
I'm not sure if these girls have enough stores for winter, even without taking any honey from them. This is because of the small swarm size, and fairly late foraging start (after June 15th).   It leaves me a bit concerned (as a worried mother) but I will monitor them throughout the winter and trust I'll know if and when I need to feed them.  I will likely follow similar feeding practices which Ive read about through Gunther Hawk's biodynamic bee sanctuary in Virginia - Spikenard Farms.  The food will  basically  be a local honey dilution, maybe mixed with some supporting herbal infusions.
Here are some videos from around the week of September 15th

 Bee activity at 57 degrees!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

September 11, 2011: All Is well

Hi Everyone,

Well, the bees seem fine, no more dragging out of unborn larvae - just lots of harvesting!
There is so much I don't know, as well as some conventional practices I learn about that just dont feel right for me to do, so it is a day to day exploration.  The big thing now is learning different approaches to winterizing the hives and see which combinations might feel right for this group of bees.

It continues to be endlessly fascinating to me - which I continue to feel incredibly grateful for  - this gift
I could watch and take video all day long - I fill up my camera card every time!
here are 4 video clips from today, I hope you enjoy them : )

I realized that I could narrate with the video so you get a little bit of that too.

The wood around the observation window shrunk and warped the Plexiglas leaving a gap into the hive.
I was hoping the bees would seal it up - and stay on the inside so I could put the door back on, but they haven't.  It has been a bit of an exploration as to how to manage it?  Ive tried several approaches the latest being a hinged overhang door that doesn't squish them upon closing but also leaves too much outside exposure come winter time.  I trust they'll help guide me and let me know their preferences in time...
May I be available to their needs..

I saw a bumble bee go in with sacs of pollen on her legs?  Ive read that they usually dont allow visitors of others species? 
It was fun to imagine Aunt Bessie coming in to to visit - with her bags full, telling stories from a far to all the youngsters gathered on the floor of the hive : )

and more home videos : )

lost in the hum of the bees .....

September 9, 2011: Learning from the Bees

Hello Everyone,

Oh Boy...
these bees are really something
I am moved to tears at the beauty of what they share.

two beekeeper consults leave me feeling at ease with what is likely happening at the hive.
What I saw - bees dragging unborn larvae (baby bees) out of the hive and dumping them outside, could be a normal process - yes, spurred on by the 50 degree nights.  There are a few more things I need to check in the hive in the next day or so when it is sunny enough to open, but this scenario is feeling right.

When I was there yesterday all worried about them I kept hearing their collective voice over the airwaves that they were okay.  But the worry just wouldn't let go.  Then I got home and started reading which put me at ease that it wasn't the worst situation ever, but still confirming "worry" - I worried that I had done something wrong - didn't take care of them properly in some way - made the wrong choices in how to handle the construction problems etc.   I was hesitant to even post this for fear of exposing my ineptitude around caring for them - (good grief !! Yes, I put this pressure on myself - I am sorry).

Part of me has had a hard time accepting some of the things I read about our "little darlings" - like a newly hatched Queen killing the unborn Queens (a way to ensure the hive remains strong) and now possibly the worker bees dragging the unborn Drones out because they don't need them anymore (!) and instead need to make room for more honey stores for winter...

I started to feel the bees like cells in our bodies... working round the clock, doing a specific job, and with a certain life span.

A few weeks ago I noticed dead bees in the empty room next door (on the other side of the fowler board - false back board).  I wasn't sure if they crawled through the hole in the board and couldn't find their way back?  But that just doesn't make sense if they can find their way back to their own hive entrance from miles away...
It seems they might go next door when they are perhaps ready to die so not to contaminate the hive?
I like checking this space, picking up the dead bee bodies - reminding me of cells from my own body  - thanking them for their work, then blowing them out of my hand with a loving breath into the nearby brush to be recycled into the earth.

The other week when I moved the fowler board again one bee got stuck in the propolis seal. I noticed this and tried to ease her out.  I thought the other bees might be able to help her by cleaning the propolis off and unsticking her antennae from her head.  At first it looked like they tried this.  Then realizing she was dying the energy of the helper bees clearly changed  - to moving her out.  The bees are fastidious in keeping a clean house - no dead or dying energy.   A huge well of emotion came forth in me at the time - crying for something? the loss of life I imagined at the moment... but really now I feel it was more the amazing beauty of life that these bees are teaching me.

Today I am cleaning dead energy pockets from my home.

Warm Blessing and much Love to you Honey bees,

September 8 2011: Concern

Hello Everyone,

Up until now the bees have been doing really well - filling up their home with honey comb and pollen, and making babies!
Sitting outside the hive every once in awhile there is the most incredible scent of deep rich earthly honey drifting from within.

Today I am writing however to ask for prayers of warm dry and healing energy to be sent their way.
Their house has had some construction issues - and with the recent weather has led to a bit of excess moisture in the hive.
This may have caused what I saw today which appears to be a brood disease of some sort - Im hoping only "chalk brood disease" because from what I understand it is the least destructive to a colony and can clear up without chemicals, with dry weather and increased ventilation.  I have calls out to local beekeepers and will continue to follow up with them for additional care that could help.

Love to the honey bees,
may they receive from the sanctuary and their caretakers what they need to be strong and healthy

Thank you all for any healing energy you can send to them,

July 30, 2011: A "Normal" Relationship

6 weeks after moving in -
You'll see where I moved the center board (Fowler board) back further in their home to give them room to expand.
I was a little unsure how they'd be - me going in there and unfastening that board, now that they have babies, pollen and honey stores to protect.
Yet - one step at a time, working the board free which was well secured with their own tree-resin product called propolis, revealed no troubles at all - seemingly little disturbance to them -
in fact Id say they felt inviting!  I had my head practically inside the hive trying to see and be sure not to pinch any feet when placing the top bars back, and trying to get photos - they didn't seem bothered at all.
I never did buy a bee suit - planned to - just never got around to it for some reason...
Reflecting back on this experience with them I felt how "suiting up" to approach these bees would be like suiting up to approach my cats. 
That it actually would take a lot to provoke them,
but when in "normal" relationship - they feel to be so far in complete relationship back.
This is my experience.
I remain touched once again by these bees.
They have changed my life.

July 25, 2011 Amazing Progress:

The bees now have 8 combs started, and have had babies!
I’m exploring how to work with the camera to best share this experience on video – sorry about the reflection in the plexiglass – although may provide another perspective in itself?
If you can play the video in slow motion (?) you can more easily see some coming in with sacks of yellow and white pollen on their hind legs - like grocery bags full of produce!   Watch ‘til the end and you’ll see a rare cameo appearance by Phoenix, the dog!

July 2, 2011: What Are They Doing in There?

Each day I checked on the bees I kept expecting to see them start building comb – I watched carefully for any signs along the first top bar near the entrance.  And although I saw activity of foraging going on – bees coming and going from the hive – I saw no signs of any building going on - The only thing I saw through the observation window was them huddled in a ball up in one of the corners.  I kept saying to them things like:
“What are you doing in there?”   
“The season is moving on – shouldn’t you be building comb or something?” 
"Queeny needs a place to start laying eggs – and you’ll need a place to store your honey.”  
I wondered if maybe they didn’t have a queen after all – no one to direct them?  Maybe that wasn’t the queen we saw the first day?

I trusted however that I would be guided as to what to do, how to help them, and the only signals I got for now was to wait.

Then, one day I looked in and was most surprised!  Beautiful white comb was sticking out from under the huddle!  Ha Ha – they were building all along! This was so fun to see.  I apologized to them for my prodding questions and for doubting their movement.

The strips you see hanging down are some of the wax foundation strips that came loose from the groove made in the top bars that is supposed to help guide them to build comb along the length of each top bar.
I discovered later on that they followed the groove anyway without needing the foundation strip.  Although the foundation strip is used to save them time of having to fill in the groove with wax, I found out that the pre-fab wax that the strips were cut from is from mass meltdowns of wax from many hives – commercially – so you don’t know what’s in the wax.  It is supposed to be safe perhaps due to the melting procedures, however could contain very tiny amounts of pesticide residues, or even diseases>  I decided Id pull out what was falling down, and let them build with the groove as their guide.  For any future hives Id like to use the inverted triangle top bar design – which provides a ridge (the apex of the inverted triangle) for the bees to build their comb along.

Day three: A Dream Come True

Hello Sanctuary Friends,
I wanted to share this - it is a most beautiful site to me.  For the past several weeks since the hive was in place, Id drive by and just imagine bees coming and going from the entrance and how lovely that would be, and how lovely it would be to just watch them...
and here they are : )
a short video:

I had some nervousness about the bees liking their new home - as there are stories about new swarms taking off, called “absconding”  for unknown reasons...
I was so happy to see them yesterday, and again today.
Today especially they looked at home - very busy with their foraging affairs, well into the evening....
Welcome bees.

Evening of June 14th: Build It and They Will Come – A Miracle Indeed!

Well, Tuesday - just after I sent the email to Roger and Richard, we had a wonderful surprise event occur at Grass Lake Sanctuary!

It was a volunteer work evening in preparation for a wedding occurring there the following weekend.  I was no sooner engaged in my task of flower plantings, when a fellow pulled up in his car along the lane and told me there was a swarm spotted along a path by one of the volunteers.  (I had put out the word a few weeks ago to keep an eye out for swarms and to notify me ASAP if anyone should see one – the chances of this happening – I did not know, but followed the impulse just the same). Upon receiving this message I called the fellow, Tom, who was still standing with the swarm, and asked him some questions.  I was wondering if it might be a false alarm.  Yet what he described sure sounded like the real thing!

I tried to contain my excitement as I got in my car and drove over to where Tom was - which, interestingly, was maybe 100 yards from where I had placed the new hive nestled in the tree line described in my earlier post.

The whole thing couldn't have been easier.
The swarm was in a small Autumn Olive sapling just 2-3 feet above ground.  We were able to carry the top bar hive over and place it under the swarm.  I slowed down, tried to communicate with the bees - regarding our intention, and they seemed to be on board with the plan.  I was able to clip away a few of the branches leaving one remaining branch to cut which held the swarm. 

I Paused again - they seemed ready - perhaps more so than I was, and "snip"!  There I was holding the swarm on the small branch!  It was beautiful!
It took some time again to feel comfortable with the "tap" procedure vs wondering if I should just place the whole branch in the hive?  The bees reassured me all was a go for them and they dint want the branch to go with them !  ……  "Tap" - they all went in beautifully, and went right to the sides of the hive.  We saw the queen, at least I thought she was the queen? She was beautiful, walking about her workers...seemingly already on mission and setting out in purposeful direction, knowing this was home.

We watched for awhile and then I started placing the top bars back in place.  The bees were fun to work with - very gentle, even when scooting them out of the way so they didn't get pinched.  We let the hive sit for maybe another hour – allowing any scout bees to find their way back to the swarm – now settling in to their new home.  It was already evening. Once all bees seemed to be inside we carried the hive back to its foundation.

Thanks to Tom Mansell, and Tamara Wendt, who were there with their cell phone camera’s and helping to hold a steady and peaceful space- we have photos and a lovely video of the event.  Both Tom and Tamara happen to be the video tech wizards for the sanctuary and were able to edit and upload the video below - what a miracle in itself – that we were able to capture this event for a visual sharing of the birth in process!  

Miracles are normal!

Here's the Video:

Afternoon of June 14th: Swarm Request

Here is a copy of an email I sent to two local Michigan beekeepers - in search of a swarm for our new honey bee home:

Hello Roger and Richard !

Thank you both for your honey bee consultations, past, present and future!

I wanted to put out an "official" request for anyone who might be able to donate a honeybee swarm to Grass Lake Sanctuary.  Please visit our website http://grasslakesanctuary.org/ for information regarding our community programs, mission etc.

We have our top-bar hive in place and we'd love to have some occupants!!
Our intention is to have several hives on the property for observation and learning, and to support the honey bee through educational programs etc.

If you are able, please pass this request around!

Thank you!

May 29, 2011: Spead the Word! Looking for a Swarm

Hello Sanctuary Friends,
We now have a honey bee home set up and available for occupancy at GLS : )

It feels very exciting to be learning about bees and to have a home for them at the land where we can observe and support them. 
It feels they have so much to share - it would be a lovely relationship.
I look forward to just sitting with them.

From now until around June 15 is "swarm season".
It is a time when some honey bees may be out searching for a new home if their's has become too crowded.
There is a small chance that a scout bee would find the home at GLS and send the message to her group.
Yet a greater possibility is for us to find a swarm when it lands and "show it" or relocate it to the new home.
A swarm is a cluster of bees, maybe the size of a lady's hat (coming in various shapes and sizes) or they can be seen in flight - as a "cloud of bees'.  A swarm cluster often settles and can be seen on a low hanging branch - but may also congregate anywhere along building, or high up in a tree.

IMPORTANT... if you should see a swarm - anywhere - at your own home, at a gas station, along a path, but especially at the land ,call me ASAP.   They generally don't stay long - from 20 minutes to a few hours, perhaps a day.  

FYI: our other option was to purchase "packaged bees" from Georgia, which is a popular option for many beekeepers, but the Georgia and Florida packaged bees are not used to Michigan winters, and they come with a separate queen unfamiliar to them and so you never know how thats going to go...
so waiting for a swarm felt best to try - as they would perhaps be from bees that overwintered here at least once.