Rob Keller's Napa Valley Bee Company is a sustainable honeybee organization that recognizes the importance of strong genetics in our local indigenous bee. Breeding from survivor stock in our area is a way to solve some of the problems with European Honey Bees.
I know I have been over it a zillion times, but man, do I love the idea of letting my bees build their own comb. We don't have to go into it here, but it's super biodynamic to let the bees create wax and construct their hive. Gunther Hauk talked about it in his book, which I can't find my copy of right now, but you should really spend five and check it out -- it changed the way I'm managing my bees. I guess the main reason I'm embracing it is because fundamentally it's right for the bees. Why use foundation imprinted with a pre-determined cell size -- whether it's plastic or wax. Let the bees decide what cell size they want -- 4.9mm, 5.4mm, or whatever...quit trying to muscle them with your agenda. You know, I really can't stand people telling me what to do, why should I tell my bees what to do? Another reason I'm sold on foundation-less hive management is because if for any reason you need to cut a chunk of comb out of a frame it is like cutting butter. Don't get me wrong, I've heated a knife to red-hot with a torch, it will cauterize straight through plastic foundation, but there are easier ways to get a queen cell off a frame safely.
Last year I was working with my boy Serge on rearing queens using the Hopkins method. Most of mine failed but the one thing that was a major success was how easily I was able to access those day-old eggs by simply and effortlessly cutting only straightup comb, no foundation. Maybe next spring I'll go into it more, but don't trust me -- seems like some of these other guys like Serge, Randy Oliver, or Michael Bush are much better at it.
Here is the biggest reason I choose to let my bees build their own comb:
Yanko Design created this beautiful observation hive but...
They could have really used a balling beekeeper that knows observation hives on this project.
From the outside the hive looks awesome, but the bees would make an absolute mess out of this thing in about a week. During the nectar flow that thing would be a nightmare of burr comb.
Their comb is in the wrong orientation, bees build according to gravity not horizontally.
And what's up with the glass shell "filtering light to let through the orange wavelength which bees use for sight". Not sure I'm buying that... I'd have to look into that one, curious -- it's a question for Eric Mussen.
Smoke can be released into the hive to calm the bees before it is opened, in keeping with established practice. I guess the hive doubles as a vaporizer?.. Epic!
Why is it every time I see bee hives that don't belong to me I'm drawn to them like a moth to a flame? Even if they're not my business, I can't help it. I should be MYOBB - Minding My Own Bee Business.
It's a sickness, I'm all-consumed by wanting to open them up and check out how the bees are doing; well that, and more importantly, how is the beekeeper managing the hive? I'm not talking about pulling a bunch of the frames, checking the brood and all, just a little peek at the top bars to see the size of the cluster. Okay, I lie, it's not past me to pull a frame or two especially if I have a hive tool handy, and in a pinch I've done it with a pocket knife too. It's bad, really bad. Don't hate me, I'm only thinking...why not? We're all in this together, no one should have anything to hide, right? Don't worry, I'll let you know I've been there. And sure, if you want to pop into one of my colonies, I'm all good. Just don't roll my queen. Truthfully I had never dreamt of opening someone else's hive, at least without asking, until that one day I ran into a small group of colonies off the side of the road while I was out riding bikes with the boys. Okay, so I'm the ring leader, but they're all beekeepers too, they know the drill. These particular green hives were pretty ghetto -- no inner covers, the top covers were all but falling apart, and all the boxes were straight up - jacked up - the whole nine-io -- nasty! What kind of beekeeper keeps their bees in those conditions? Why is it against the law to mistreat a dog or cat but a beekeeper can keep bees on old janky diseased gear with no regulations, right..? That's what I'm saying. My boy Jason Beeman said it best, "It's better to be a honeybee hero than a honeybee zero". Whoever owned these hives were plain negligent. That day we didn't open the hives, it was too cold and drizzling so we rode away...but only 'til the next sunny day. Yeah yeah yeah, so you're not down..? Just don't slip up off your bee path. Be a bee keeper not a bee haver. For all the bee ballers out there trying to do the right thing we're already looking at a long uphill battle, we don't need anymore obstacles from the beeks not up on their game.
I am processing more and more of my honey through a little tabletop wine press. It kinda sucks cause, my God, it takes forever and my kitchen is perpetually sticky, but well worth it! I'm over forcing my bees on foundation -- predetermined cell size is counterproductive to what the bees know and want to build themselves. Beeple < bee people > LET YOUR BEES BUILD THEIR OWN WAX for crying out loud.
As for filtering, all I use is a utensil consisting of a wire or plastic mesh held in a frame, used for straining solids from liquids, for separating coarser from finer particles, but not separating pollen from honey. Oh,I guess it is generally referred to as a sieve...!
Check it out, Alice Waters stopped by the Bee Observatory while it was at the Heirloom Expo in September. What an amazing lady, completely down to earth and engaged. While Alice was in the Beemobile I spent time outside chatting with Bob Cannard. You guys know him? If not get on over to Greenstring Farm, actually I have never seen him there but you might have better luck. The guy is the bomb, he's like Wendell Berry but with a hair trigger. After visiting my trailer Alice went in to her lecture and talked about how ag education has come so far, mentioning the trailer, the Montessori school where I teach, and the bees. When the lecture was over we got absolutely slammed with visitors, it was as if Oprah had just recommended my book.
Check out how elegant Alice is...
Check out how elegant Michael is in the background chewing on his lip... Nice!
I know, I know, you're thinking "yeah-yeah-yeah - the busiest guy, right..." but really, the last few weeks and the next few weeks are going to be, and have been, complete bee mayhem. Toutsweet, Chez Panisse, Connolly Ranch, and the Heirloom Expo. I'm not sure if any of you out there attended the Open Restaurant event at BAM last weekend, if not, hurt yourselves 'cause you missed one hella celebration. In conjunction with Chez Panisse's 40th birthday and the unveiling of the Alice Waters portrait headed to the National Portrait Gallery, Open put on an amazing event at Berkeley Art Museum.
That's my bus surrounded by bee schwag.
That's Alice's portrait - gotta love the mulberry.
I feel completely humbled by all of the other vendors that were invited to participate in the celebration.
Everyone there was absolutely tight on what they did and I was utterly fascinated with them all. I didn't even get to every one of them, but the ones I saw blew me away. The Edible Schoolyard peeps were grinding wheat with a bike-powered grinder, Digger Bread was baking loaves of bread in tin cans, and Urban Gardens was pickling it up big time! It was hard for me to stay put pimping bees at our base camp with all the other great stuff going on. Thank goodness Michael, Jim Cummesky, and even Neighbor Dave were there to man the 0-hive.
See how the Schoolyard is....? I have been discussing having the curtains in my new Vanagon made out of all my old jeans. I've heard jeans are the new cords.
We met bread baker Chris who I'm sure we'll hook-up with again someday. The tin can bread loafs they made were incredible, and not just because they used our honey in them! They told me they busted out over 200 loafs.
We were even invited to be in the procession that walked right by Alice after they unveiled her portrait. I was all caught up in the moment and I walked right past, but Michael was on her like veggie velcro.This is an image I made as we went over the walk-way.
Check him out getting his parade on...
We know this guy... Jeff from the old Copia Garden. He's schleping a tree!
She's schleping a bee!
This poor girl was schleping a lamb!
Everybody was schleping something!
I was schleping a fat ol' box of honey on the back of my bike.
Neighbor Dave's truck was schlepping the Splitty.
Michael had to drive 'cause I was too caught up in the mix, it was probably best I rode shotgun.
Michael was all up on my car, literally... He climbed up on the cab to secure the 0-hive with wire attached to eye hooks in the roof, but unfortunately it didn't work...
To have the hive in the back of the truck they would have to travel much further through a tube they were not accustomed to - a few died. Okay a lot more than a few.
When I first saw the dead bees I cried like I had just cut an entire bowl of onions.
I met the cobbler who made these amazing shoes out of pig skin. It had something to do with Werner Herzog living up to his promise that he would eat his shoe if Errol Morris ever completed the film Heavens Gates. I don't know a whole lot about what went down with the bet, but I do know a lot about Bubbling Well, the pet cemetary Morris made the documentary about. Ask me later...
Everyone was using my honey
I think that is Steve Sullivan from Acme Bread mixing our sweet amber love into his bread dough.
Even the elixir place was drizzling the love.
They would take a little sample from each these medical jars with a pipette and mix it.
She'd have you tip your head back, open your mouth, and trust that she had good aim.
They were serving Smith-Madrone too, but you had to pour that into your own mouth.
Awesome Stacey. The bees turned out to be a major ordeal for her, we originally wanted to have the mobile observatory down there, but opted for plan bee using the 0-hive from the trailer with the Splitty as a back drop.
Check out Michael front and center with the IV bag full of Rudy juice. We titrated BD 1:1 sugar water to the bees for food. Sure, it's a bit dramatic, but we aren't known for our subtlety.
Loaded up headed towards Berkeley - Neighbor Dave, Me, and Michael. Love this photo!
This is amazing! Posting as we drive the bee-dub down to Berkeley for the big Chez Panisse 40th Birthday Party at the Berkeley Art Museum. That balling tow van in the picture above has wifi! It is going to be an amazing event, if your available and want to come down and hang with us please do! Actually, I'm begging you, please come tell your bee story. My bee story is getting tired and people want to hear something new.
Just in case here are a couple links to get you there:
The event is from 11a until 5:00 p.m. and will include the unveiling of a portrait of Ms. Waters which is headed for The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The Berkeley Art Museum can be found at 2626 Bancroft Way, between Telegraph and College Avenues (more at http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/visit/directions). Parking info is here: http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/visit/parking.
(For those of you who don't know, I have a 7 year-old son that has always been into bees. I'm pretty sure "bee" was the first word he learned how to say. I have been taking him out to my apiaries since he could barely walk. Now all of a sudden he really wants to help and be more than just the "smoker kid".)
Spent the last few days working bees with Davis, I figure in another decade or so he'll be able to take over this menagerie I'm creating. He has totally stepped it up with the bees. Last week Davis was giving the tours to the guests who came to visit the trailer at the Napa Valley Museum. He told me he wants to teach them everything he knows about bees. I'm blown at how accurate he is. Check him out:
Assessing the bees in the observation hive before his lecture. Will ya' look at that cluster? Massive!
Looking for the queen.
Pulling frames at Hesta Farm.
Looking for day old eggs.
Really focused on finding that queen.
There she is! He was pissed when he saw she was marked, "That's not fair"!
(I'll explain why I'm marking queens later.)
Davis, a frame of bees, and our new bee-dub at Andy Erickson & Annie Favia's place.