When we got to Moorpark for the HoneyLove Sanctuary Mentoring Session with Kirkobeeo, my husband Mads and I were given bee suits to put on (thanks to Ceebs!). I was pre-prepared, wearing long sleeves, long pants, socks, and a hat so that the net would stick out from my face. We got our ankles duct taped, gloves put on up to our elbows, and marched up the hill to where the bee sanctuary was. [Useful Tip: sweat falls down, bees crawl up – in case you’re ever wondering which one it is under your suit on a hot day]. As you can see below, this is heavy duty stuff.
When we got to the top of the hill we saw several communities of supers. A ‘super’ (Langstroth hive) is a stacked box that holds frames for honey production by the bees (see below). They’re painted in pretty hues of blues, violets, whites, usually lighter colors that bees can see.
Fun Fact: Bees can’t see much on the red end of the spectrum, so they’re not as attracted to flowers that color, save a few species of poppies that reflect ultraviolet rays, which bees CAN see in the spectrum. They tend to go for flowers in those lighter colors, which leads me to:
#7.) Know which flowers afford the best food for bees, and how honey varies in color and flavor according to the flowers.
Herbs honeybees love (mentioned by Gardens Ablaze) are basil, catnip, dill, cornflower, echinacea, fennel, evening primrose, goldenrod, hyssop, lavender, poppy, parsley, thyme and sage.
Ornamental flowers favored by bees include bachelor’s button, butterfly bush, foxglove, dame’s rocket, goldenrod, hydrangea, heliotrope, lantana, Mexican hat, larkspur and zinnia. If you have a garden and want to be bee-friendly, here’s a great list of what to plant from TheDailyGreen.
Before checking on the hives, Kirkobeeo used a smoker on the entrance to the hive and elsewhere to calm the bees down (below). This is an essential piece of equipment that every beekeeper needs. The smoker can contain anything from leaves, grasses, woodchips, pine needles, mesquite, cow dung, whatever’s around, and the bellows pump and move the smoke from the fire chamber up through the top of it. Always have it lit, and smoke your hands and body, and whatever else before you decide to go into a hive. Why?
Smoke affects bees in two major ways:
1. It makes the bees think there’s a fire, which means they need to evacuate their homes asap. They start gorging on honey, and we all know what happens when we eat too much food at once too quickly. Naptime. Or in their case, slowing down just enough to not be bothered with pesky humans coming into their homes to check on them.
2. More importantly, the smoke masks the ‘alarm pheromone’ bees give off to each other when they’re in danger. The entire hive is a well-oiled machine that communicates by pheromones, among other signals, but that’s a big one. They say if you get stung, you should change or not wear the same clothes/gloves in the area it happened, just in case there are still pheromone traces on there. Or alternately you could ‘smoke yourself.’
There was one bee doing a funny butt dance (a much slower version of a waggle dance – also how bees communicate) after the top two covers of the super were removed with a hive tool (red, shown above), which was a warning to the other bees of danger. If the other bees caught on and started doing the same thing, it would not be good to be near the hive. Kirkobeeo used the smoker once more on her though and she calmed her bee butt down.
#14.) Recap – Know what gear is necessary in beekeeping: Bee suit, Veil, Smoker, Hive Tool, and Gloves.
Kirkobeeo then took out one of the first frames to take a look at (below). Supers can contain anywhere from 5, 8, or 10 frames. They’re spaced so the bees don’t attach the frames to the body of the hive (because if there is any sort of space to be filled with comb, cells, wax, honey, they will fill it and you won’t be able to get them of there). The site BeverlyBees shows a full diagram of what goes where in the hive and why, should you be curious.
Kirkobeeo showed us this particular frame because all the bees were crawling over each other on the bottom of this comb, and if you tilt it to one side they all tilted with it, in synch and holding on for dear life. He puts popsicle sticks on edges of the frames to help get the bees started on making comb.
Frames can be wood or plastic, and there’s much debate between beekeepers on which is better for your hives. You can buy plastic comb pre-built called Honey Super Cell or Permacomb, and an argument FOR plastic cells is that wax moths, mites and mice, among other bee enemies, can’t destroy them. See below for a hive taken over by wax moths.
An argument AGAINST using plastic frames could be an argument for anything relating to plastic: chemicals, BPA, toxins, not natural, why expose bees and therefore their honey to it? I suppose I wouldn’t be able to say either way until I’m in the thick of a hive myself.
#15.) Know the diseases of bees and some of the things that destroy colonies of bees.
Speaking of things that can affect bees, well, there’s a laundry list. As incredible as these creatures are, they get the short end of the stick in a lot of ways. Mice, skunks, ants, bears, humans, the list goes on…and right at the top of it? Varroa mites. Sigh. These jerks are one of the major reasons bees are disappearing. Some say it’s pesticides, some say it’s these mites, some still aren’t sure. A few types of bees are more resistant to mites than others (Africanized bees, for example), and scientists are still trying to find a cross-breed of bee that could resist these mites completely. I was talking to a member of the Los Angeles County Beekeepers about this at the LA County Fair [#17.) Visit and, if possible, take part in your state or county fair.]
VARROA DESTRUCTOR, which I think of as GOZER THE DESTRUCTOR (since both were introduced to the US in the mid-80s), look like tiny reddish brown pin heads and are found on larvae and adult bees. The female mite enters the brood cell just before it’s capped. She then lays her eggs in the cell and after the bee emerges, so do the adult female mites, looking for a new cell. Mites are carried from one hive to another by hitching a ride on the bees. They feed on the bees themselves, and the wounds they make provide access to other parasites and diseases. Some ways to try and prevent this is by using screen bottom boards on your super that the mites fall through and can’t get back in, or a small cell foundation, which causes the bees to cap their cells a day sooner, throwing off the mite cycle, but this is very difficult to use and there are debates about this actually being effective.
One of the other main diseases for bees is American foulbrood (AFB), caused by a spore forming bacterium called Paenibacillus larvae. Infection begins when food contaminated with spores are fed to larvae by the nurse bees. Once in the gut of the larva the spores germinate and bacteria multiplies enormously. Infected larvae normally die after the cell is sealed and millions of infective spores form in their remains. Spores are very resistant to extremes of heat and cold and can last for years. If you find it in your hive, many states in the US require the bees be destroyed and the hive burned. Yeesh.
8. Know how to keep from being stung by a bee and what to do for a bee sting.
This is a touchy subject. Thanks to My Girl, and our own personal interactions with bees over the years, the only time most people think about them is if they’re stung, or if they’re worried about allergies. I admit before I knew about this world of bees, that was one of the first things I thought of. I didn’t realize I was lumping them in with yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, and other similar-looking insects that are carnivores and sting and bite because they feel like it. You can’t REALLY tell in the below image, but yellow jackets and wasps have much brighter, almost plastic looking yellow shells, where honeybees are fuzzier and their stripes are more muted. Once you know to look for this difference, it’s easy to spot. They also make their nests in the ground, so if you see what looks like a bee flying into a hole in the ground, it’s usually not a bee.
Unlike those other insects, honeybees die when they sting. They’re not likely to want to do this, unless they’re defending their hive, (which holds their offspring, food stores, resources, and their entire lives basically). If you do happen to get stung, the bee will usually leave its stinger behind in your skin. You should remove it as soon as possible, using a credit card, your fingertips, anything to get it out. For the sting there are several ‘home remedies,’ ranging from ice, toothpaste, baking soda and water, and more. The camp nurse once gave me an onion to put on a sting once when a bumblebee got my toe, but I can’t remember if it worked or not. I do remember eating the onion afterwards though, because I was a gross kid.
So I’ve saved the best for last. The fun part. Active, healthy, chemical-free working hives that produce honey as bees have done for thousands and thousands of years, like these guys below! Despite all of these aforementioned hurdles, if we can help the bees continue to do their thing, the world will be a better place for it. This whole Scout project has changed my life for the better, and I have been so profoundly affected by what started as choosing this Beekeeping badge on a lark. It’s hard to imagine what my life was like before this newfound knowledge.
Some of you have asked, but if you’re interested in helping support the bees, I’d really love it if you took a minute to sign this petition to Legalize Urban Beekeeping in Los Angeles County. Right now if bees are found on your property, you’re required by law to exterminate them! They’re trying to put a clause in that allows single families/homes to keep bees, as well as one that will allow bees to be rescued.
I have fulfilled my requirements for this badge, but since I have no plans to stop my beequest any time soon, I will continue to report back with more weird and fascinating bee discoveries. There’s far too many to include in one post, but I’ll ‘bee’ back! Thanks for reading.