Candy-Colored Honey

I ran across this story about bees that started producing blue honey because they were feeding on the candy coating of M&Ms at a nearby factory. Pretty weird.

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Getting Ready for Bees


This is a little late, but here’s Olivia and Pat sterilizing the old frames and supers from Good Food in order to eliminate any pests that might cause problems later.

Until the fall,


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It’s raining at the moment, so I suppose it would be a terrible idea to check on the bees today, given that they’d be staying dry in the hive. Yesterday, though, was sunny. Last afternoon a fellow classmate and I watched the bees launch from the hive and return, laden with pollen. Hopefully, they were full of nectar, too. The next hive opening will happen after most students have left campus, but I imagine/hope that over the summer Swat beekeepers will encounter a honey flow. In the coming school year, beekeeping will be part of the Good Food Project (the student group running a garden). Several years ago, the same student group attempted to raise bees. (We’re using their supers!)


On the same day that we had a mini-honey-mead lesson, I gave a small presentation (link below) on colony collapse disorder. Recently, a study came out connecting neonicotinoids (a type of pesticide) to colony collapse disorder, which falls in line with research connecting pesticide use and colony collapse disorder.



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Industrial Agriculture and the Decline of Honeybees and Wild Pollinators

This blogpost was inspired by this informative lecture given by conservation biologist, Claire Kremen (UC Berkeley). –Erin

Honeybees may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of crop pollination, but the use of honeybees to pollinate crops is actually fairly recent. Humans began keeping bees thousands of years ago for honey and later, for candlewax, but it is only since the 1980s that domestic bees have been used on a large scale for crop pollination.[1] Before this time, most farmers didn’t need to worry about seeking out pollinators, likely because small, diverse farms and variety of protected and managed areas on a regional scale supported habitat for plenty of wild bees.[2] But in the mid-1970s farming changed drastically. Prompted by the “get big or get out” agricultural policy in the U.S., small diverse farms were quickly replaced by large-scale monocultures resulting in a dramatic decrease in both field and landscape-scale diversity.[3] This eliminated much of the habitat needed to support wild pollinators, and created the need for large-scale beekeeping operations which now transport bees across the country to pollinate different crops at various times of year.

[Fun fact: Much as people hate on NJ, the small, often diverse farms in the Garden State often support wild bee populations.[4]]

Ironically, however, the decrease in diversity may also be harming honeybees. Recently beekeepers across the U.S. and Europe have experienced large-scale collapses of hives (with a loss of 34% of U.S. the honeybee population in 2010).[5] The mysterious killer, dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is characterized by worker bees simply disappearing from the hive. The jury is still out on the cause of CCD—it is likely due to a number of factors some of which, including the use of pesticides, may also be linked to industrial agriculture—but a lack of field and landscape-scale diversity may be one of the culprits.[6] This is because vast expanses of annual monocultures create a “feast or famine” situation in which, when the one crop being grown is blooming, there is an abundance of nectar, but in other times, there is nothing but dirt.[7]

Even with plenty of honeybees, a number of recent studies [8],[9] have indicated that wild bees remain significant crop pollinators, and because the cause of, and cure for CCD remains unknown, wild bees are even more important. But remember that wild pollinators are also reliant on field and landscape scale diversity [10],[11]—it is likely this lack of diversity that likely prompted the need for honeybees in the first place. So what can we do?

Field-scale diversity could be enhanced by:

  • Planting hedges and flowers, or even leaving weeds around crop fields
  • Planting flowering cover-crops and allowing them to flower before they’re plowed under
  • Transition from monocultures back to polycultures

Landscape-scale diversity could be enhanced by:

  • Decreasing farm size
  • Restoring natural habitat (e.g. along rivers)
  • Setting aside some less-managed natural areas

Many of these strategies also have secondary benefits: they can reduce reliance on external inputs such as pesticides and even fertilizers (and all the problems associated with them), and can improve environmental services including pest control, soil fertility, nutrient cycling, and water management, not to mention enhancing aesthetic appeal.

Without wild pollinators we would have to pollinate the flowers of most fruits, veggies, and nuts, one-by-one with a paintbrush, and would lose a service of worth $1.6- $40 billion/year in the U.S. alone.[12] For these reasons if nothing else, we owe both native and wild bees all the diversity they need!


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2/5 Class – Possible Site spots and Brainstorming

Back in the third week of the semester, the class was attempting to decide where a new honey bee colony should be placed on campus. Using The Beekeeper’s Handbook as a guide, we discussed which properties of a potential site were most valuable to us. Some key properties were having a higher elevation than the road around it, being near nectar and pollen sources, and being close to fresh water. The class decided that the water source could also just be a plastic or glass container filled with water, which would serve just as well as the Crum Creek.

We brainstormed several possible sites: Next to the Good Food garden, behind the Science Center (near DuPont parking lot), in the Crum woods close to campus, in the Pollinator garden between Martin and Cornell Library. We decided that the preliminary spot will be in the P0llinator garden (this would later change), but we would check with Grounds about where they would be comfortable with us having a bee hive.


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Mead-Making Workshop

Last Friday I led a workshop on making mead for our Friday beekeeping group. Mead-making has a long and rich history, mead widely considered to be one of the first alcoholic beverage that humans made and consumed. It remains a delicious and delightful use of the honey our bees will soon be producing, and one of the easiest fermented foods to make.

I introduced the group to the equipment I tend to use for making mead: glass jars and cut up t shirts for catching yeast, gallon jugs and airlocks for fermenting, clear plastic tubing for siphoning, and used wine bottles for storage and distribution. We peaked through a couple of my favorite mead-related books, The Art of Fermentation by Sandy Katz and The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart. I then explained the basic process by which mead is made:

  1. Yeast is “caught” either by attracting airborne yeast to glucose-rich mixture, pulling yeast from fresh fruit, adding and activating cultivated yeast, or obtaining raw honey with some live yeast in it already.
  2. With honey sufficiently diluted, yeast ferments some of the glucose in the honey, producing ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide.
  3. Alcohol levels in the mead-to-be rise to the point that the conditions are no longer suitable for the yeast to thrive, and fermentation ceases.
  4. Mead is consumed.

Because we had access to some but not much raw honey, we started a small batch of mead by mixing the honey with water and placing it in a used wine bottle. We then put a balloon on top of the wine bottle to keep out unwanted pests and such. It was important not to put on a typical cap, as the pressure produced from the yeast’s releasing of carbon dioxide could cause the bottle to explode. And now, we play the waiting game!

As a treat, here’s my mead-making recipe. I tend to use processed not raw honey because it is much cheaper than raw honey.

  1. Obtain honey and fruit. The best fruit to obtain is wild, as it will have much lovely yeast on and in it, but when that’s not available, I recommend dumpster-diving or sharp-lifting.
  2. Mix the honey with water, creating a mixture of 1 part honey, 4 parts water. Cut up fruit.
  3. Mix honey-water and fruit in wide-mouth jars or some other container where a large surface area of honey-water can be exposed. Cover containers with thin cloth (cut-up old t shirts work spectacularly). These are your mead starts.
  4. Stir your starts a couple of times a day till they become bubbly and fragrant (~ 1 week).
  5. Once start is bubbly and fragrant, pour into container for fermenting. I tend to funnel out the fruit at this point. Make sure to put an airlock or balloon on the fermenting container so that carbon dioxide will be released but no yucky bugs or mold make their way into your mead.
  6. Keep vessel for fermenting in warm area; yeast like heat! Monitor activity some; once  yeast have slowed down and fewer bubbles are forming at the surface of the mixture, start to taste mead.
  7. Consume and/or bottle once to taste!



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Bee Skype with Matt King

For my talk, on April 9, we skyped in Matt King. Matt King is a bee enthusiast and apiarist living in Denver, Colorado. He’s especially concerned with respecting bees and keeping them in low stress environments. Our talk with Matt was very helpful and he recommended a number of good reads to us. Before his talk, I emailed him the following list of questions. His answers are included after the questions:

-Do we need to use an entrance reducer for the beginning? Absolutely use an entrance reducer, entrance reducers are very necessary.

-What illnesses/parasites should we be most concerned with? We should be regularly monitoring for mites and foul brood. Foul brood is a big concern because it can devastate a hive. 

-What other things besides illness should we be concerned with when checking the hive? We need to check that there are enough free frames available because if there aren’t, the bees may swarm and leave. We need to be very careful when removing frames not to roll or injure the queen, because this could be devastating to our hive. To keep from doing this, we should look at where all of the bees are clustered, because they will cluster around the queen, and start by pulling frames from the opposite side of the super. 

-At what point in the life of the hive should we/will we be able to collect honey? Don’t collect honey until the spring. This is very important because it ensures that the bees have enough nutrients to get them through the winter. Also, any excess honey in the spring needs to be removed from the hive. In the wild, mice or other larger creatures will come in and eat the old comb in the old honey. In our less natural hive, we can serve that function. This said, we will likely not collect any honey this first year.

-Is there any concern about the hive getting too hot in the summer? There is concern about this. Apparently, the best place to locate a hive is in the shade of a deciduous tree, because this will provide shade in the summer and direct sunlight in the winter (there is also concern of the hive getting too cold in the winter). If the hives are located somewhere else, you can cover them with an umbrella in the summer.

-Is there anything else you think that we need to know to be effective in fostering a healthy hive?  Matt suggests that we form a personal relationship with the bees because bees can tell whether you really care for them or are just in the bee game for the honey. Matt also suggests checking the hive in a non-obtrusive way by knocking on the side of it and listening for buzzing. If you hear the buzzing, the bees are there. He also thinks that this lets the bees know that you are checking in on them and are concerned with their wellbeing. 

-What is your favorite thing about working with bees? Matt loves bees. He spends hours out in his backyard watching them, eating with them, and hanging out with them.
-How did you get into beekeeping? Growing up, Matt had a family member who was an apiarist. Spending time with this family member, Matt fell in love with the complexity of bees and decided that he would raise them as well.
This links to a short video of Matt rescuing abondon bees in Denver – Bee Rescue
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Happy Bees – Hive check on May 1st!

Today we checked both hives.  They both seem to be doing very well and are producing new brood.  We spotted both queens and everyone was very excited to see our the bees settling in. Here are some photos from the event!  –Vince

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Bees, Technology and other Bee Things

I gave my presentation a while ago and the topic on our rough syllabus was supposed to be “Bee Communication and Society” (for more information see Taylor’s post) but as I read through the topic and chapters I realized the information had already been quite adequately covered the previous week — things like the waggle dance, mating behaviours and pheromones. So instead I ventured to explore other topics of bee literature. (I did provide a quick rehash of bee communication as well as the different types of pheromones. Also I briefly discussed bees and their reaction to color. Bees like purple.)

I found to be interesting a number of technological developments related to the study of bee behaviour and society. The article above with the picture of the robot bee discusses modelling the brain of the honey bee, particularly their vision and smelling faculties, using computers to gain a deeper understanding of animal behaviour.

By isolating and modeling these particular functions, the researchers hope to provide their flying robot with the cognitive power required to perform basic tasks — and without a set of pre-programmed instructions. It is hoped, for example, that the robotic bee will be able to detect particular odors or gasses in the same way that real bee can identify certain flowers.

At Harvard, researchers are developing possible alternatives to bees in the form of mini robot bees. If the bees all collapse then perhaps we could use little robot pollinators in their stead. Think Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but with bees (maybe). At least we’d still have apples.

Technology also exists for bees themselves. Bees in Australia have been equipped with tracking sensors to try and identify where they go during colony collapse disorder.

Bees both as unique organisms and as a collective society provide unique insights to task execution. It is vastly beneficial to continue to study their behaviour, as different technologies that develop could eventually use a greater understanding of bees to support both them and us.


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Blue pollen

I just saw a bee coming back to the hive with blue pollen!

For a minute I was really worried that it was something other than pollen, but apparently a few plants have blue pollen. In this case it’s Scilla, commonly called Siberian squill, a little blue spring bulb.

Here are some pictures:











And here’s a list of common plants and their pollen colors:


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