Half Pond Bees
Observing Honey Bees and Musing

Jun
10

Queen Honey Bee:  Intelligently Designed? We decided to begin keeping bees this summer and let me just say, it hasn’t been as hazard free as we were given to expect.    So, why have we spent the summer risking life and limb wrangling with a colony of armed and dangerous bugs? It’s hard to know for sure. But everyone agrees that bees are very compelling creatures.  What they have stored in their teeny brains is fascinating, and frankly, a little frightening.  Most bees live just short liv … Read More

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Oct
24

Dr. Ostrom will be visiting Maine this month, and lecturing at the University of Maine in Orono.

Lobsters, Bees and the Nobel Prize Not only am I not an economist, I have neither taken an economics course, nor read an economics textbook.  Nevertheless, I am fascinated by how we decide, collectively, to divide resources. Elinor Ostrom, one of two winners of this year's Nobel Prize for Economics, studies how 'common resource pools' are divided.   We're talking about thin … Read More

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May
31

From Proverbs 16:18:

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Nevertheless, the Halfpond Bees are occupying upscale digs this season.

We are proud of the snazzy hive that the Halfpond Bees will enjoy this summer.  This  is not pretension; the bees work harder than we do, and we believe they should have a homestead that does them proud.  Or, a homestead that is comfortable, and does us proud.

Does destruction, necessarily, await?

Mar
14

Recently, I gave in to a lunatic impulse.  I was driving home from the supermarket, when I heard the voice in my head saying, “Bees, if you will just survive this winter, I promise I will not raid any of your honey next year.”

Am I nuts?

Likely so.  But please don’t be offended by my suggesting that, in all probability, you are, too.

This irrational urge to bargain our way out of an experience we would prefer to avoid is pretty common.  You will remember that Elizabeth Kubler Ross, the architect of the so-called stages of grief, included bargaining as part of the process.

Anyway, it didn’t work.  The Half Pond Bees failed to survive the winter.

It is hard to shake the sense that we failed them somehow.

We disassembled the hive boxes yesterday–a gruesome task.  The bees seemed to have died in the middle of their chores.  Some had their little heads poked into cells, cleaning, fussing, always working.  It was as if someone had, at a particular point in time, flipped the switch to the “off” position and that was that.

Bee keepers develop a high tolerance for death.  Bees die all the time.  During the summer, most workers and drones live a measly six weeks or so.  But the death of the colony is a different matter altogether.  It is as if their collective heart simply gave out.

Obviously, I need to make a better offer next time I enter into settlement negotiations with the grim reaper.  Any suggestions?

RIP Half Pond Bees

Feb
07

Today I girded up my loins and did something I’ve been avoiding for a couple of weeks:  checked the hive to see if the bees are still alive.  Late winter is a perilous time for honey bees.  Months of cold, windy weather take its toll; honey stocks, the bees’ energy source, are depleted.

Today, I took a stethoscope to the hive to listen for signs of life.  Silence.

Despite this, I am clinging faintly to a thread of hope.  I tried this same stethoscope on myself some time ago and heard the same thing: silence.  That spooked me.  But after making sure my sweat pants had not morphed into red pajamas and seeing no pitchfork nearby, I concluded that the stethoscope was a cheezy and unreliable instrument, and I was, indeed, still among the living.

In the hope that the bees are still alive–despite evidence to the contrary–I took the advice of an experienced bee keeper, and removed the outer cover of the hive.  I put sugar around the hole in the inner cover.  In a few days, I’ll go back to see if any of the sugar has been eaten, in which case I will rejoice and continue to feed the bees until there is pollen for them to gather.

Stay tuned.

Jan
25

Bee keeping is a fast growing hobby all over the place.  A friend who lives in the Virgin Islands has recently taken, like I did, a bee keeping course.  Unlike our Half Pond Bees, who are huddled together fighting off frigid weather, the VI bees are living the good life in the temperate climes of the Caribbean.

Bee school here in the north is interesting, and a great way to break up the monotony of late winter.  Our Bee School took place in an ordinary classroom, with chalk boards and a power point projector.  The instructors were knowledgeable and enthusiastic.  We didn’t take any field trips, for obvious reasons.

On St. John, however, Bee School is a little different.  For one thing, aspiring VI bee keepers apparently have to have a robust sense of adventure.

St. John's Youngest Bee Keeper

In the middle and northern regions of the continental U.S., most honey bees are of European origin.  However, in the Virgin Islands, according to my friend, most–perhaps all–of the honey bees are “Africanized”.  Africanized bees tend to swarm–divide into two colonies–more frequently than European honey bees.  And, unlike European honey bees, they are not at all fussy about where they choose to take up residence.  So, they are often found in walls or other vacant spaces.  This is probably why the VI Bee School supply list looks like this:

  1. Pencils
  2. Eraser
  3. Notebook
  4. Chain Saw

Exposing Bee Colony in Tree

At our Bee School, we took quizzes and our home work assignments involved things like reading chapters in the Bee Book.  We are sissies.

Here’s the VI Bee Keeping students on a field trip:

Bee Group Sizing Up Ceiling

Battered and Honeyed

Intrepid Bee Student in Ceiling

If you search the web for information on Africanized honey bees, you will find a lot of photographs of strikingly patterned honey comb.  Here’s what the VI Bee Keepers found in the ceiling:

And here’s another colony removal adventure–this time from the exterior wall of a house.

Several sources claim that Island honey is particularly delicious, because it is made from hundreds of varieties of flowering plants from which the bees forage (as opposed to honey from hives plunked in the middle of an alfalfa field, say).  Moreover, there are those that claim that Island honey has superior medicinal virtues as well.

Charles Leonard, a bee keeper from St. Thomas, explains that, “Most beekeepers in the States keep their hives in an orchard of a particular crop, whereas the bees here have free run of an extremely varied ecosystem. Thus, the bee pollen collected here contains the benefits and antihistamines from a greater spectrum of plants.”  (St. Johns Sun Times, Oct. 9, 2008.)

It will be a great sacrifice, but I think the best way to test the veracity of this theory is a trip to the Virgin Islands to sample some of this honey.

Honey Shower

Jan
18

A friend of mine recently sent me these images from the Virgin Islands where her sister has been tending some bee hives.

This image of a swarm is striking.  The bees appear, shall we say, robust.  Our bees appear.   .   . well, scrawny in comparison.  Maybe the Half Pond Bees are really the Half Pint Bees.  .  . ?

Are these Africanized Bees?  We will appreciate input from any and all experts.

Jan
18

Recently, I was given this primitive box as a gift.  I didn’t know what it was, but was told it had something to do with bees.  I emailed photos to a Master Bee Keeper, who instantly identified it as a Bee Lining box.

Bee Lining, Bee Hunting, or, Bee Coursing, is an innovative way to trace wild or feral bees to their hives–typically in the hollow of a tree limb or trunk.   Traditionally, this was the primary way to gather honey.

One puts a bit of honey or sugar in the chamber and puts the box near a foraging bee.  She is attracted by the honey, enters the chamber, and is trapped inside. Once several bees are in the chamber, the hunter releases them, and–you guessed it–they make a bee line for home.   If all goes well, the bees will return to box with sisters.  The bee hunter times the outgoing and incoming flights, and presumably, can make a rough calculation about the distance to the hive.

Bee Hunting has apparently been around for a long, long time, and for some (before the advent of Sunday afternoon football)  was high sport.  Unfortunately, in days gone by, bee hunters plundered wild hives for honey with no apparent understanding or regard for the bees’ survival.

There is a wonderful NY Times article in the November 6, 1897 edition about Sherman A. Case.  “What Sherman A. Case of [Waterbury, Connecticut] does not know about the habits of the wild honey bee is hardly worth knowing.”  Mr. Case was a master Bee Liner.  The article explains briefly how bee boxes or bee traps are used, and an intrepid journalist  follows a “hunting trip” through swamps and over hills to find a feral bee colony.

The last trip of the season was made a few days ago.  The party assembled at 4:30 of a drizzling October afternoon.  After the horses were hitched, pails, axes, saw, and other paraphernalia were distributed among the rubber-booted party, and the march to the top of a neighboring hill was begun in single file, a lantern carried by the first man and another by a rear guard.  Mr. Chase in command, and joviality at his beck and call.  A four-mile tramp through the woods over a cart path, and a slight descent from the brow of the hill, dropped the merry dozen into a swamp, where the water was always ankle deep and frequently boggy to the knees.

This crew eventually found their tree.

Sulphur tapers and punk smoke, injected with a bellows, were applied to an opening made in the tree trunk.  .  .  There was a supply [of honey] which Mr. Case said the bees had been fully three years in the gathering.  Although the bees were dazed and stunned by the anaesthetics judiciously applied by Mr. Bagg, they were still able to do business.

The full article is available at the NY Times archive site, and it is worth a read.  The bees lose their honey stores to Mr. Case and his crew–pretty much a collective death sentence in October–but at least they go down fighting.

Nowadays, bee lining is still used to find feral bee colonies.  And, if you want to give bee lining a whirl yourself, first, bone up on “elementary trigonometry” (good luck with that), then check out this site:

http://www.savethehives.com/fbp/

My bee box is old, and so well constructed, that–who knows?– it may have belonged to Mr. Case himself.  If spring ever comes, I’m going to see if it works.   Where did I leave my trigonometry book. . . .

Jan
05

I know.  We talk about honey bees on this site.  But my head is about to explode from thinking about health care reimbursement reform.  Besides, the bees are catching some R and R during the winter.  What more can be said about them?  Lend me some slack . . .

It so happens that I get paid to push paper.  A lot of the paper I push around on any given day has to do with complying with various health care reimbursement regulations.

In order to become a more proficient paper pusher, sometimes I go to school.  Not long ago, for example, I went to a two day seminar designed specifically to cram new information about health care reimbursement regulations into my brain.

One of the presenters, speaking to a group of several hundred lawyers about health care reform, offered that it was unclear what the final bill would contain, but that our group should be hearing, “Ka-Ching, Ka-Ching” whenever we heard the words “Health Care Reform Bill.”    She went on to say that an alternative title for the bill might be, “Full Employment Act for Lawyers”.

My School Book From Two Day Seminar on Health Care Compliance

Keep in mind that the seminar was not about medicine or medical malpractice.  It had only to do with the business of heath care.

My school book was too heavy for me to carry home on the plane.  I had to mail it to myself for $35.00 (luckily, UPS set up a booth right there in the hotel–pretty enterprising.)

If you are an ordinary citizen, it may have eluded you that a big fat chunk of your doctor bill, your hospital bill, and your health insurance premium already goes to ensuring “compliance” and to supporting the paperwork associated with filing reimbursement claims.  If you have heard your doctor complain about the amount of work associated with billing health insurance companies or the government, you should take pity on her or him.   She or he has a valid reason to kvetch.  Every hospital, and every medical practice of any size, has a billing department and a “compliance” department.  So every time someone gets a physical or has an appendix removed, a portion of his or her bill goes toward covering the cost of “compliance”.

Topical Tabs From My Health Care Compliance School Book

This should crank you up a bit.  You paid the $35.00 to get my book from school back to my office.  It is built into your health care bills.  I don’t even dare tell you how much the tuition cost.   But that was on your tab, too.  And trust me, I’m a modestly paid small fry.  Many of my colleagues are big fry, and they are quite handsomely paid.

My recent seminar covered some of the bazillion regulations already in place.  The health insurance reform bill that was recently passed by the U. S. Senate contains more than 2000 pages of new stuff.  Next time I go to school, I’ll probably get a hernia carrying my book to the UPS booth.

It doesn’t take 2,000 pages to tell health insurance companies that they can’t deny you coverage due to a pre-existing condition or that they can’t kick you off the policy once you get really sick.  So, what’s in the bill?  Who knows?   But I plan to ask my Congresswoman a couple questions, and you should do the same.

Like, what does it mean that an insurance company can charge higher premiums based on age, gender, or family composition?

Is the tax on the so-called ‘Cadillac plans’ (those that cost about $8,000 for an individual or $23,000 for a family) indexed, or will I be paying a tax on my crappy plan in a few years because its cost rises about 15% each year?

How come carpenters with 5 employees will be compelled to buy insurance for employees, but a company making widgets and employing 49 people, will be excluded from the obligation to buy insurance?

Honestly, I would rather spend my days watching bees than wrangling about policies over which I have little or no impact.   Spring will be more than welcome.

Dec
28

One of the hardest lessons in life is mastering the art of discerning when to act and when to sit tight.  Most of us err on the side of too much blather, too much fixing, too much interference,  and too much fretting–the most useless of all activities.

Alan Watts wrote a great little book (published after his early death at 58) called Tao: The Watercourse Way. It is a good primer on Taoist philosophy for the lay person.   At its heart, it teaches that we need to learn that there are times it is best to  take a chill pill.   As Watts says, one cannot calm disturbed water with one’s hand.    Sometimes, action does more harm than good.  Sometimes, action is not possible at all.   It is at these times that a person in harmony with the Tao will  not waste energy with angst, fretting, or the physical companion to both: hand wringing.   

Alan Watts is a creative thinker and fun writer.  But harmony with the Tao?  An elusive state of mind.  Especially for the novice bee keeper.

I have been all atwitter for some time now, wringing my hands, over the health of the Half Pond Bees.  Besides the fact that I am virtually certain that most of them will freeze before spring, I have noticed a lot of dead bees on the snow around the hive. 

I have researched this phenomenon and have uncovered conflicting views.  Some say, this is a sign of health.  When the bees come out for a “cleansing flight” (polite bee talk for ‘going to the bathroom’) they drag out a corpse.  Meaning, I guess, that they are keeping their hive clean.  Also, some suggest that the sight is jarring only because during the summer,  the dead bees fall to their eternal rest in the grass, so they are largely invisible.  In the winter snow, they are oh so apparent.  But not to worry.

Conversely, others suggest that it is not natural for the bees to exit the hive during the cold, and if they  are doing so, it is likely a sign of trouble.  Perhaps nosema, one of the symptoms of which is dysentery, requiring cleansing flights in response to that irrepressible urge.

In any event, given the time of year, I do not believe that any action I can take will help.  I am trying to be in harmony with the Tao.

However, if any experienced bee keepers among you think otherwise, I will appreciate your advice.   Until then, please excuse me;  I can’t type anymore just now.  It takes two hands to wring.

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