Looking for Live Bees

One of HomeSweetBees.com readers contacted me about getting 30-40 bees a week for therapy for a bad back.

Bee Stings For Arthritis

Although it has not been scientifically proven, some people say applying bees to a certain area of the body helps with arthritis and other medical conditions. Most beehives in Missouri are at their lowest numbers through winter. Beekeepers are not going to open a hive, and expose it to moisture and cold weather, to remove just 30-40 bees a week. Bees form a ball in the center of the hive and make it through winter literally shivering themselves warm. Although a worker bee may only live for 4-6 weeks during summer, worker bees over winter may live as long as 6 months to get the colony from one season to the next.

Personal Observation Hive

Experienced beekeepers tell me people who need bee stings for on-going therapy usually set up an "observation hive," or a hive that's inside with a vent access to the outside so beekeepers can more easily get to, and remove, the needed quantity of honeybees.

Sorry, all of my honeybees are adopted!


To the Little Busy Bee

"How doth the little busy bee, improve each shining hour, and gather honey all the day from every opening flower!" — Isaac Watts 1674-1748

Scientists now know various pollinators have a preference for different-colored flowers. Honeybees, for example, are attracted to yellow and blue flowers; hummingbirds and butterflies to pink and purple ones.

Although honeybees have a preference, I have also found honeybees on pink, red, and purple flowers, especially mid-summer when little else was in bloom. Flowers will stop producing pollen when temperatures go above 90°F, leaving honeybees with limited pollen sources to take back to the hive.

Would You Like a Bite?

Thanks to the tons of money being invested in finding out more about the little insect responsible for every third bite of food we eat,  there are now regular scientific discoveries made about honeybees. One recent discovery was news even to many beekeepers, who used to describe this behavior as "grooming."

Honeybees Don't Just Sting
Turns out honeybees aren't being fashionable or fastidious; they not only sting but they can also bite. I wondered what some of my bees were doing earlier this summer when I opened a hive to find them "rolling" a wax moth larvae away from the hive entrance. I had read that healthy hives can protect themselves from these invaders and assumed bees were stinging the larvae. After several bees converged on the wax moth larvae, I noticed none of the bees were dying.
A bee can only sting once, then dies.
Although the bees were still moving, the wax moth larvae had stopped. The bees were then able to roll it off the edge of the hive. Now I know  the bees were biting the wax moth larvae. Researchers have discovered that honeybees use their tiny mandibles to paralyze victims with a snake-like venom. The secretion left by the bite was found to be similar to Lidocaine, the dominant local anesthetic used in humans and other mammals. Like a snake bite, the secretion contains a natural anesthetic that paralyzes the victim for 6-10 minutes so the pest can be dragged out of the hive. The finding could help scientists develop ways to help bees fight off viruses that are affecting the wider bee population.

Bee Anesthetic
Dr Max Watkins, a former researcher at Cardiff University, said the anesthetic may not only help honeybees fend off pests such as wax moths and the parasitic varroa mites, but it also has great potential for human use.

“Firstly, the revelation that honeybees can bite enemies that they cannot sting confounds some existing ideas and adds significantly to our biological knowledge. “Secondly, the discovery of a highly effective natural anesthetic with huge potential will be of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry eager to develop better local anesthetics.”

The natural anesthetic is 2-heptanone, a compound found in many foods.
It is also secreted by certain insects but never before understood to have anesthetic properties. Until recently, research seemed to indicate that 2-heptanone was either a honeybee alarm pheromone that triggers defensive responses, or a chemical marker signaling to other foraging bees that a flower had already been visited.  The compound is found naturally in many foods such as beer and white bread, and is so safe that USDA allows it as a food additive.

That's a bear of a discovery!


Bee Entrance Excluder

Bees keep the hive inside at 90F since they're also managing a nursery.

To help bees keep the hive warm in winter, and to minimize intruders like mice, beekeepers close hive entrances with "entrance excluders." I also pop the excluder on if temperatures get too cold some spring nights.

Once danger of frost is over, the excluders are removed until fall. I also re-attach excluders when we have warnings of major storms and hail damage.

I lost about 1,000 bees the first year I had two hives due to hail hitting the hive entrance at an angle.


Bees Packing Pollen

One of the most wonderful scenes at a bee hive is the arrival of bees "packing pollen."

Bees will fly about 2 miles from the hive to find a pollen source. After getting their leg pouches full of pollen, bees will fly back to the hive and sometimes literally fall into the hive with their heavy baggage. Their pollen-filled legs are obvious as they slide into the hive entrance.

Once they lighten the load, they do a little waggle dance to communicate to other bees where they found pollen.

Pollen is the basic ingredient bees use to make honey.


Bee Hive Clean Up "Crew"

Do you see what I first spotted after taking this picture?

Bottom right, at the front of the hive - a lizard. At first I thought oh no, another predator eating my bees!

After watching it for awhile, the lizard went back to its clean up patrol, eating dead bees along the front porch of the hive.

My bee mentor confirmed later that lizards play an important role around a hive, keeping the area clean.


My, How Big You Are!

One of the larger wild bees in my garden is the carpenter bee. The carpenter bee literally drills holes in wood to lay eggs and raise brood. About as big as a bumble bee with a smooth black back, these large, solitary bees flit from flower to flower with acrobatic grace, moving quickly, and sometimes dizzily, until they find a place to light.

This carpenter bee spies a nice grove of Missouri wildflowers Virginia Cowslip, or Bluebells. I'm guessing these lovely wildflowers would look like giant trees to a carpenter bee...

Do you see carpenter bees in your garden?


Favorite Honeybee Flowers

According to US Department of Agriculture, beekeepers loose about 30 percent of their hives during winter. Although there are a number of theories why honeybees are dying in record numbers - one out of every three fruit or vegetable we eat is courtesy of honeybee pollination - not having enough good pollen sources is sometimes mentioned as one of the factors. After getting my two honeybee hives settled in, I thought I would find a list of favorite honeybee plants and start adding them to my garden. It wasn't that easy.

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Honey Laundering??

My friend Paul in Washington DC has a wacky sense of humor. When he led one of his recent emails with "don't look now but your honey has been laundered," I thought he was sending me a link to some weird news story about a beehive making it through a car wash. The link was to Food Safety New's early November 2011 findings that 3/4rths of imported honey sold in grocery stores doesn't qualify as honey. As I understand the issue, it boils down to having detectable pollen, which means the honey source can be identified. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says any product that's been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn't honey.

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Looking for Queen Bee

My assignment was to find one of my honeybee queens and (sigh) kill her. One of my two honeybee hives had been struggling. The verdict from more experienced beekeepers was that my queen bee - she's the only one in the hive of 40,000 plus honeybees that lays - is not laying her 1,200 eggs or so a day so she needs to be removed. Normally a queen bee will live 4-5 years, as opposed to a worker bee's 6 weeks of life producing 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey.

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Honey Is A Sweet Treat For Skin

In addition to being a great natural sweetener, honey has a multitude of benefits that many people don’t know about.

Manufacturers have used honey in everything from hand lotions and moisturizers to bar soaps and bubble baths. One reason they use honey is for its wholesome, all-natural image; more and more consumers are demanding cosmetics and personal care products made from natural ingredients.

Honey is a humectant, which means it attracts and retains moisture. This makes honey a natural fit in a variety of moisturizing products including cleansers, creams, shampoos and conditioners.

Look for honey in store-bought beauty products or simply add a squeeze of honey to your moisturizer, shampoo or soap at home.  For some extra pampering, try whipping up a simple beauty recipe yourself. I will share some of my personal favorites!


Honey bees

Honey is made by bees in one of the world’s most efficient facilities, the beehive. The 60,000 or so bees in a beehive may collectively travel as much as 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers to gather enough nectar to make just a pound of honey!

The color and flavor of honey differs depending on the bees’ nectar source, the blossoms.  In fact, there are more than 300 unique kinds of honey in the United States, originating from such diverse floral sources as Clover, Eucalyptus and Orange Blossoms. 

In general, lighter colored honeys are mild in flavor, while darker honeys are usually more robust in flavor.