Back on the (bee) horse

Just put in my order for two packages of Italian bees, due in April 16th . Prices are up, $104 + tax each for four pounders, marked queens.

On advice from comments, I did some poking for Russian bees, which are said to be more resistant to mites than the Italians, but opted against because of mixed reports on their propensity to sting. Wikipedia says they are not prone to sting, but Jim at Beez Neez say they are more likely than the Italians to do so. Granted, he may have an interest in steering me towards the Italians (which he stocks) than towards the Russians (which he does not), but I try to live my life trusting people the way I hope they trust me. I’d rather be tricked than suspicious (this does not apply to deposed bureaucrats from Nigeria who need help moving their money abroad).

In other news, I’ll be giving a short talk on beekeeping at a product launch event for Jackson Fish Market, the curiously named software design shop founded by the Cooperman-Smith-Lam power-trio. The timing is interesting, as it’s right around when the new packages should arrive, so there’s a chance I can bring some live bees in for show-and-tell. Barring that, I’ll bring some of the various honeys I collected while traveling Europe for tasting.

Stop by if you’re in the ‘hood, April 22nd.

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Haagen Bee

Ed, a reader, sent me an interesting link to an NPR story about a donation by Haagen Daz (the ice cream maker) towards bee research. They say it’s motivated by the fact that 40% of their ingredients depend on honey bees. I imagine it’s also motivated by the desire for NPR to write a story about Haagen Daaz, but perhaps I’m just being cynical.

Haagen Daz has a whole web site,, explaining what they’re up to. It’s mostly content-free PR pap (“Haagen Daz ice cream uses over one million pounds of almonds every year”), but they do have just the cutest little bee generator you’ve ever seen. Here’s my creation. Don’t you just wanna pinch its little cheeks?

PS The comment consensus is that the bees are attracted to coal because it’s a warm spot to hang out and drink water from. In the dry summer months (yes, we get those in Seattle), I put out a bowl of water with rocks in it for a similar reason. Bees can’t make water landings, so they need a solid spot place to land when they want a drink

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Mighty Mite

In my last post, I wrote that I was planning to measure the mite level in my remaining surviving hive and would report back the results.

The result is that there is no surviving hive. No, I didn’t kill them in the process of testing them, they were dead when I got there, likely of the same cause that we think killed the first hive, mites. Alyssa just dropped me an e-mail and said her hives didn’t make it either. We are both sad.

But what do you do? Back on the horse.

The good thing to come out of this is that I got lots of good info on how to handle mites from readers of this blog. Out pointed me towards Randy Oliver’s Scientific Beekeeping site, which does a great job of boiling down all the latest thinking on beekeeping, pulling from journal articles, over the fence chatter and everywhere in between. There’s a nice graph in his article on Varroa management strategy, for example, that illustrates why my healthy hives were such perfect targets for mites. With the mite population curve mirroring the bee’s, just a few months behind, you can see how the bee’s natural thinning at the end of summer fatally coincides with the peak of the mite population. Ouch.

So what’s to be done? I think we’re all agreed that chemical solutions, even if they weren’t anathema to to the small farm, organic ethic that so many of us hold dear, just isn’t effective in the long-term. Just as bacteria is becoming immune to the antibiotics we’ve been using for years, so the mites are becoming immune to chemicals we’ve using on them.

Scientific Beekeeping has a lot of good advice. It sounds like a combo of strategies is needed, but a key one is drone removal. Mites live in cells with larva of the bees and apparently, they’re much more productive in drones cells than in worker cells, by a factor of 10 to 1! So, if you eliminate or reduce drone brood during the critical period for mites, you can reduce your mite count immensely. It’s definitely going to be more effort-intensive than my beekeeping efforts have been thus far, but I’m kinda getting tired of this whole dying off thing. I’m over it. Ready to move on to living through the winter.

For now, though, I’ll just clean up the equipment and put in my order for another two colonies for April.

Here’s a puzzler in the meantime. A reader e-mailed me this question:

We have a birdbath in the backyard with one large piece of coal in it to keep it from blowing away. The bees are attracted to it like it is something special… There are always several (like 50 or so) hanging on to the coal.

I’ve never heard of bees being attracted to coal. Any ideas why?