Sunday, October 25, 2009

What, exactly, are the bees' knees?


Check out the shadows of this bee's hairy legs and vein-y wings!

This past week, I've been hanging around beekeepers. I needed to know if working with thousands of bees was something I could be comfortable with, or if it would really freak me out. I took my intern out on a field trip to Hayward, where we met up with a member of the Alameda County Beekeepers' Association. He was doing some hive maintenance, for an eighty-something master gardener. As you may imagine, I was in heaven.

You are also invited to imagine how chic (or not) I look in a man's extra-large beekeeper's suit.

Bee eye-lashes!

On Sunday, Robb and I went over to Taylor's house in Alameda, to gawk at her hive. I wanted Robb to experience honey bees' mellow-ness. You can crack open their homes, and re-arrange their walls and furniture and they hardly seem to care.

Robb and I did not wear bee suits or veils, and nobody got stung. Several bees bonked into my hair, and into the sunglasses Robb had pushed back onto the top of his head. (In fact, the glasses had a fair amount of pollen on them when we left Taylor's place.) Of course, Taylor did all the work. We were just hive tourists.

We're reading up on beekeeping, visiting hives, and pondering our options. Maybe we'll have bees next spring!


Anonymous said...

When I lived in Michigan I discovered a local plant called "Lemon Balm". It has a variety of old world names, but I know it by lemon balm. It also grows here in Pennsylvania. I used to dig it out of wild places and planted it in a big spiral pattern in the yard where nothing else would grow. I found vigorous deep green beauty in what everyone else thought was a weed. Natives are NOT weeds!

I discovered that bees LOVED THIS PLANT. Completely. Get yourself some lemon balm and you will be able to keep your bees in your yard, and keep them happy. Plant the plants soon, so that they are grown somewhat when the bees get to your yard.

Also, rubbing lemon balm in the inside of a new hive will help bees to move in and it also calms them down. My own plans for a bee hive involve having this plant immediately under and surrounding the hive. Nothing else (animal or bug-wise wants to have anything to do with this plant at all, so its not like some errant grazing deer that hops into your back yard will knock over the hive to eat the plant.

Lemon balm spreads vigorously, and will take over your yard if not enclosed in some sort of large plastic pot buried in the ground to prevent root spread. I dont know if you can bring this plant into California, given the strict laws about importing plants into your state, but I am willing to bet there is a local equilivant you can use. Even if you don't know where your hive will go, you can always put the plant in the ground and move it around later.

Also, having sunflowers growing in the yard, both yellow and red, brought a HUGE amount of both happy bees and hummingbirds around. In Metro Detroit, that was a real accomplishment. Putting in a garden brought a suprising amount of wildlife into our lives!

Hope you guys are doing well. Hope the bees don't get Swine Flu. The local mothers in my neck of the woods are in a panic about what to do with their kids. I say pen 'em up with the pigs and see how long it takes for them to go feral!


Dbare said...

two words for you.... Organic mead.... think about it.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

We like how you think!

(Do you have any tried and true mead recipes?)

LunaSea said...

For some reason, I had always assumed that the 'bee's knees' were actually the little balls of pollen they collect on their legs. I mean 'bee's knees' is supposed to be something really good.. and the pollen they collect is the good stuff they turn into honey, and the balls usually collect somewhere around where a knee might be, so... I don't know. It followed in my head.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

We like the way SO MANY of you think!

Anonymous said...

Hey are you guys still thinking of a Halloween Dead bread fest? or just too much going on?
I could come as a bee?!
Hope you get some hives going behind the new cottage!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

We realized that we just didn't have the energy to host a Halloween party this year.

Robb was sick for over two weeks, and that really knocked the wind out of our sails.

I promise we'll invite you next year, though.

TaylorM said...

This is to LunaSea - actually, the nectar they collect is what they make into honey, after mixing it with their own juices and curing it so the water content is very low, and sugar content very high - not unlike boiling 50 gallons of Maple sap for a quart of syrup. They also collect pollen, which they pack into cells and use to feed themselves and their brood over the winter. You can also buy bee pollen as a separate product at many health food stores, etc., as a nutritional supplement, but it is not at all like honey. Pollen is powery and gets packed very tightly. It most likely comes in a pill or pellet form. But you are right about the bees collecting pollen on their "knees" - the worker bees (all female) have what are called "pollen baskets" on their rear legs, which they fill with pollen as they go from flower to flower. You can see them quite clearly when they are full, because the bee will have two bright yellow baubles on its back legs. As to where the phrase "bee's knees" comes from, maybe you're right!

p.s. are those my bees?! They look great! :)

Em said...

I'm also hoping to get one or two hives this spring. I have taken a couple of classes locally and have gotten my Certified Beekeepers License! I can't wait for spring!

Allison said...

I'll have to keep an eye on your bee-keeping blog posts - it's become a very vivid fantasy of mine, to leave behind the life of a desk-jockey and trade it in for some hives and honey. Very cool that there are so many resources for this in your area!


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