Friends, thank you for your care of our pollinators, workhorses of the food system we enjoy.
Join the Hive Mind on Nov. 29 to give to Think Like a Bee and our upcoming projects for 2023. This past year we have been working closely with the City of Albuquerque to secure grants and fund a BEE New Mexico pollinator corridor project!
Fall 2022 saw three neighborhoods hosting pollinator plant giveaways, working collaboratively with the Santa Ana Pueblo to provide FREE plants for people to put into the ground in their neighborhoods. Along with the amazing work of the Clean Cities initiative and Parks and Recreation, we continue to fund and expand gardens in our highways, byways, median strips, parks and neighborhoods to provide much needed safe habitat for pollinators.
Go Here to find our #GivingTuesday fundraiser which will be matched.
Pesticide is an overarching term meaning a compound which kills fungus, bacteria, insects, or weeds. Insecticides target insects while herbicides target weeds. In this article, we address two pesticides, glyphosate and neonicotinoids, that have widespread deleterious effects on humans and ecosystems. Manufacturing of these pesticides continues unabated, with profits soaring while plant, animal, and insect life are plummeting. At the end of this article, you’ll find recipes for natural pesticides you can make yourself.
Monsanto brought the herbicide glyphosate (found in Round Up and 750 other products) to market in 1974. In 2015, the World Health Organization commissioned a study of glyphosate. Scientists from eleven countries reviewed a growing body of literature and came to the conclusion that the herbicide was a probable carcinogen with a strong link to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. They also found evidence that it causes DNA and chromosome damage in humans. Now many countries in Europe have banned glyphosate use.
Glyphosate also may be implicated in the global drop in bee populations. Ninety percent of our food crops are pollinated by bees. Bee numbers have decreased in the U.S. by 60% and in Europe by 30%. One of the suspected causes is that glyphosate is toxic to enzymes found in the stomachs of bees. When the microbiome of the bee’s stomach is weakened, the bee becomes more susceptible to disease and premature death.
Pesticides with neonicotinoids were first marketed by Bayer in the 1990s; today, neonicotinoids are the most widely used class of insecticides world-wide. They are also having a devastating effect on bees and other beneficial insects. When sprayed on plants, neonicotinoids are absorbed by the plant and then contaminate the pollen and nectar. Harmful levels can remain in the environment for months. Neonicotinoids cause queen bees to be infertile and also causes difficulties in flight and brain function. The European Union banned the use of three neonicotinoids and are monitoring beehive numbers and health. In the U.S., Fish and Wildlife banned their use in Wildlife Refuges, but this ban was rolled back by the previous administration. During the 2021 New Mexico legislative session, Senator Mimi Stewart introduced a bill which would have provided some protections from exposure to neonicotinoids, but the bill did not pass.
Most insects have a beneficial role in nature, especially pollination, and most plants are beautiful or edible. We want both insects and plants; their survivals are intertwined with our needs. An example of the insect/plant relationship in our watershed is the tomato worm, the hawk moth, and the Sacred Datura plant. In one night, the big, green, juicy caterpillar can denude four or five branches of a tomato plant. This larvae stage metamorphosizes into pupae and then the hawk moth. With a nearly four-inch wingspan, this giant moth is the only pollinator for the Sacred Datura, also called Jimson or Loco Weed. The latter is used globally for medicines and purposefully cultivated in Germany, France, and parts of South America to treat various illnesses such as asthma, hallucinations, toothaches, and even dandruff. If you discover a tomato worm and there are white spikes coming out of its body, a parasitic wasp will have already laid its eggs, and soon the worm will be eaten by the wasp larvae. No need to do anything! In fact, the soon-to-hatch wasps will clear out the rest of your tomato worms. However, if the tomato worm doesn’t have white spikes, you might want to kill the caterpillar; after it finishes your tomatoes, it will move on to your eggplants and peppers.
After you have identified which insect is causing a problem in your garden, you may try some of these treatments: (T. = Tablespoon, t. = teaspoon, oz. =ounce, qt. = quart)
* Oil Spray – 1 cup vegetable oil, 1 T. liquid soap . Shake well. Add 2 t. to 1 qt. water
Use on aphids, mites, thrips (sucking insects)
* Soap Spray – 1 ½ t. liquid soap, 1 qt. water. Use as spray only in cool part of day.
Good for aphids, mites, white flies, beetles, scale insects.
* Neem Oil (from seeds of the Neem tree) – 2 t. Neem Oil, 1 t. liquid soap, 1 qt. water.
Works for eggs, larvae, adult insects, and powdery mildew. Spray onto leaves.
* Vinegar – mix 1:1 with water. Wipe down counters and other kitchen surfaces
Good for sugar ants.
* Diatomaceous Earth (fossilized algae) – Sprinkle on foliage or ground. Re-do after rain.
Controls for ants, slugs, snails, and other crawling insects by drying them out.
* Garlic Spray (repellent) – Puree 2 bulbs garlic with 1 qt. water. Let stand overnight. Strain
Add ½ c. vegetable oil and 1 t. liquid soap.
Deters grasshoppers and Japanese beetles.
* Chile Pepper Spray (repellent) – 1 T. chili powder, 1 qt. water, 3 drops liquid soap
Use full strength on leaves.
* Shredded tobacco leaves. Has been found to be useful around the trunks or plum,
peach, cherry trees to deter pit bores
* Boiling water – good for sidewalk cracks but must be repeated multiple times.
* Heat – flame equipment is good for sidewalk cracks.
* Salt water – 1 part salt to 8 parts water, 1 t. liquid detergent. Spray onto leaves so will
not soak into soil. Repeat as needed over summer.
* Vinegar – 1 c. with 1 t. liquid soap. Spray onto leaves. Repeat as needed over summer.
* Barrier covering – good for controlling grasses. Layers of newspaper or cardboard can be placed and then covered with mulch for several growing seasons. The paper/cardboard will ultimately deteriorate. Black plastic is often used, but because no moisture can penetrate this will also kill beneficial soil fungus and bacteria. A weed barrier may be used, but for water to get through, it must be heavily moistened. Since trees have a root area even spreading beyond their drip line, poorly placed landscape fabric can cut off the small tree root ends’ ability to absorb water. Treehugger.com has more good information.
Other tips: Don’t plant all the same kind of plants in the same area. If a predatory insect comes to attack your plant, there won’t be others nearby to attack.
Plants such as chrysanthemums, mint, and marigolds can be planted near vegetables to deter certain insects.
You may keep pesticides from being sprayed by the city on your property/curb by calling 311 and asking to be connected to the “No Spray List”
Dispose of hazardous pesticides by going to Household Hazardous Waste (ACT) at 6137 Edith NW M-W-F 8:30 – 4:30 Sat. 8 – 3
Recently I returned from a 40 year alumni reunion for the Junior College I attended in Kansas.
As always happens, the bee tenders eventually find each other. Bee stories fly through the air as varroa mite grievances and swapping of best practices ensues.
My college mate Ken, has been keeping bees for many years, despite a go ‘round with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He has come to understand that exposing bees to continuous rounds of chemicals will in the end be highly detrimental. Toxic. He knows from first hand experience in his own body and multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
Of course we know honeybees have a very short lifespan, 30-45 days, which often allows us to blithely impose such harm and insult upon our hives. We say, “it’s only for a short time and the greater good of the whole hive.” But is it?
Chemicals can persist in the wax and eventually weaken a colony, not to speak of what happens to a queen bee who is exposed endlessly over time because she never leaves the hive. Research shows Infertility. Shortened life span. Death.
I have resorted to Formic Acid this Fall, due to some of my woefully neglectful practices of my hives this summer and the need to get a leg up on the mites before winter. I know it’s considered “natural”. But at the concentration of formic in the strips, I wonder.
One thing I have come to know over the increasingly hot summers of sustained temps over 100 degrees and the aridity of a drought ridden landscape due to climate change— is that my top bar hives are becoming horribly inadequate. The bees do their usual magic of building their own combs, with beautiful curves and graceful arcs that extend from the top bar to the floor of the hive. Then they stash them with honey. Bulging “cheeks” and finished honeycombs with the sweet nectar burden the brilliance of their architecture beyond capacity. The infernal heat, coupled with lack of proper ventilation in a top bar and the way top bars often have “cleats” glued into the bar rather than carved out of the wood bar, has created disaster after disaster. In my last blog I reported on the top bar “cleats” being pulled out of the top bar and combs collapsing in the hive as I harvest the honey. Or else, the luminescent white virgin fresh comb that the girls build merely melts off the bar like butter as the temperatures rise in the hive.
What I do know is that this is not sustainable—despite my best attempts to put them under trees, provide shade structures around the hives, and ventilate with propped lids.
I wonder if our equipment (or specifically mine)—whether topbar or Langstroth—is too archaic and faulty for the climate challenges that lie before us in the high desert?
I feel deeply aggrieved that I would visit any old, faulty and poorly built hives or equipment upon my girls. We humans like to live in homes with temperature controlled climates and weatherization. It gives us the ability to feel comfortable and prosper. Why would we ask anything less of our honeybee hives, if we care about their health?
You can see why I am becoming more enamored by native bees by the day. They are self sufficient and hopefully, adaptable and evolving to meet the needs of their changing habitat. I wonder if the honeybee industry and hives will adapt fast enough for climate change?
I have often thought that my generation will be the “hinge” of the Great Turning. It was coined by one of my teachers in eco-literacy, Joanna Macy. She speaks of humans waking up to what is needed for an earth affirming and life sustaining way of life and the shift or “turn” to an ecological age rather than an Anthropocene age—where we understand that we live in a WEB of life, not just a human centric planet. I have heard the gloomy doomsday prophecies and uncomfortable warnings that our species, along with millions of others, will become extinct and no longer inhabit planet earth if we don’t change our minds and our fossil fuel guzzling lifestyles. I have bought into the idea that yes, suffering will be a necessary consequence. We already see increased suffering with hurricanes, famines, and natural disasters on steroids. The human population explodes, and along with it, our consumption and devastation of the planet. Meanwhile, the planet seeks to mitigate our human impositions.
But my brief conversation with Ken, his eyes alight with wisdom and enthusiasm, have changed my mind. One thing that stays with me is Ken’s dedication to new and non-invasive methods for his girls. In the short 15-30 minutes we spoke, he told me how he is ventilating his hives, how he is monitoring the state of the hive for diseases, queen death and other stress with a small gadget called Api Vox Auditors, and how he is only using essential oils—a very specific formula and application for each season. He was trained by an old beekeeper. He is religious about sticking to what he learned.
Not surprisingly, Ken has not been losing his bees to mites or other diseases. No disposable or fast food Mc-bees —buying new honeybee packages every year. He has built a healthy and resilient genetic stock of his own.
Suffering is not foreordained, I have come to conclude. For those who are awake and able to change their destructive or ignorant path, one can be in tune with the rhythms of nature and even learn something new in the process.
As the bee community, we must add into our best practices, those that mitigate and remediate the suffering of our beehives due to the certainty of climate change. I would also say, we must change our own lifestyles.
In a time of unpredictable weather patterns, increasing aridity and a climate on steroids here in the Southwest, how will we adapt?
It’s been a moment. My apologies, bee readers, for my delinquency in posting even one small note for a whole season! High summer has come and gone, and now we are approaching the Fall Equinox. The only excuse I have for neglecting Think Like a Bee is a summer job which took my attention and time. I barely got around to checking my bees this summer. But the girls did not miss my interference.
In the bee world, summer is the peak of pollination, food gathering and population explosion within the hive. My girls have been working busily to store honey and pollen for the winter. As I visited them this past week, I harvested at least 50-75 pounds of honey. Yep. It was heavy.
So, I set up my honey processing plant in the kitchen and backyard. Not only is honey harvesting, sticky, exhaustingly heavy and messy work, it is also invasive. I could’ve cried as the some of the larger honey combs pulled the inside cleat from the topbar and the whole comb crashed down upon my girls. Substandard equipment. I was sickened as I tried to clean it up, with the girls circling inquiringly around my head. “What are you doing?” “Why are you taking our food and wreaking this destruction?” “What have we done to you?” I felt like I was the aggressor in a war zone, with victims falling all around me from my incursion.
The last hive I checked, slightly Africanized (no, VERY Africanized genetics) were having none of it. They were ready for me. As I opened the hive to pull out their honeycombs, swollen with high summer sweet nectar, they attacked. Clinging to every part of my clothing, the stinging began. I could feel hundreds of tiny pricks through my worn garden gloves.
Now it was my turn to fight back. I had to grudgingly admit my respect and appreciation of these little warrioresses. They were not going to give it up or go gently. I ran, peeling off my gloves in the field and replaced them with my elbow length leather gloves. Full protection. They were not able to pierce my armor, and I closed them up without further offenses.
All this to say, that yes, it is honey time, friends, in spades. Time to get your winter honey for all those teas and warm oatmeal on cold days!
Let me know if you want to reserve your organic, raw, quart or pint(s) of honey! $45/quart (3 lbs) and $22/pint (1.5).
Greetings my bee friends! Spring is fast approaching and with it, the lovely reappearance of the bees, birds, bugs and butterflies—-our trusty pollinator friends!
There is a wonderful seminar coming up for you backyard enthusiasts or wannabees. It is offered by the Xerces Society. Please sign up to learn more about how we can support the precious treasures of our pollinators.
Best Practices for Pollinators 2022 VirtualBest Practices for Pollinators Sixth Annual Summit
Did you know that we have over 1000 wild bees indigenous to the southwest. Most people are not aware that there are multitudes of magical looking ground nesting bees— 3 x as efficient in pollinating as honeybees. They are adapted and co-evolved to the plants of the southwest and often so under the radar that we miss their silent but critical presence around us.
Sadly we disturb and develop the ground that they need to do their nesting. We cover soil with unbreathable weed barrier, dump rocks on it, RoundUp or other pesticides to kill “weeds” or make the mulch so thick, the bees cannot readily build their nests underground and have a simple unencumbered entry. Soil and landscaping that is watered heavily also discourages these little bees.
Here are a few of these little beauties that we want to attract—in order from left to right–osmias, perditas, anthidellums, diadasias, metallic green sweat bees and bumblebees.
I hope you’ll invite the ground nesting native bees by leaving undisturbed habitat in your yards, or by securing a native bee hotel/casita and also attending the aforementioned excellent seminar by the Xerxes society to learn more! Spread the word!
Friends, I have chosen to share in full a wonderful primer for how to support pollinators and all wildlife during the upcoming difficult winter months.
The Farmers Almanac 2021 says we are going to have a very cold Nov/Dec then move into the usual moisture and snowpack (which is becoming more reduced each year) for January and February. Our native bees, all pollinators and wildlife need all the shelter and support we can give to them. They live tenuous lives with a very thin thread connecting them to survival.
Thank you Ani of Valle Del Oro’s Albuquerque Backyard Refuge Program for their wonderful work in the community! They are the newest kid on the block in terms of a Federal wildlife refuge and they are doing marvelous things with schools, neighborhoods and communities, teaching us about how to become as friendly to our wild neighbors as possible.
Fall Gardening Theme: Less is more! by Ani Jamgyal
The over all theme for our fall gardening tips focuses on leaving the wildlife habitat garden wild. It can be tempting to tidy up the garden by cutting down spent flower stalks, raking and disposing of leaves, shearing shrubs into tight geometric shapes and generally buttoning up the garden until spring.
However, this is not the best way to nurture wildlife through their potentially most difficult season. Following are some suggestions for what to do instead, which might also help with winning the neighborhood Halloween contest for best outdoor display and with navigating the additional leisure time that comes with letting the garden grow a little wilder.
Fall blooming flowers and spent flowers spikes provide some of the most beautiful fall landscape scenes. Among the late summer to fall bloomers are sunflowers and amaranth. Penstemons and salvias also produce tall flower stalks in mid- to late summer that, when pollinated, yield seeds for winter fare. Typically, a mix of blooms and dried seed heads are in display along the stalks, feeding pollen and nectar eaters throughout the fall, as well as seed-eaters into winter. The stems also provide food and habitat for small mammals and insects at a time when food is scarce.
An additional benefit to leaving the dried seed heads uncut is that some of the seeds will drop in place and may even germinate in spring, providing the garden with a larger patch of that particular flower species!
A wonderful way to spend the time saved on not pruning your wildlife habitat garden is to walk around the neighborhood looking for flowers still in bloom and setting seed. Take a stroll through the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, paying special attention to tall native bunch grasses such as sacaton and big bluestem, with their regal dried seed heads. Tall dried grasses provide a perfect backdrop for spooky Halloween displays.
Instead of having to buy (likely non-biodegradable) stuff to mimic this effect, let nature create its own striking Halloween display!
Fallen leaves,whenleft on the ground, accomplish a multitude of benefits for wildlife, whereas raking and bagging them (especially in plastic bags) basically does no one any good (including the planet as a whole). Multiple studies have been conducted showing that mulching fallen leaves into the soil feeds the soil critters; feeds the plants growing in the soil; and supports the wildlife dependent on the plants for food and shelter. Leaves can be left where they fall, raked into garden beds or composted in a pile. To speed up their decomposition, put the leaves in a large garbage bin and cut them up with a weed-whip [(1) mulching fall leaves – YouTube ]. Even if you have a patch of lawn, letting the leaves mulch in place helps the lawn ((1) Should you mulch leaves into your lawn or rake them up – YouTube ) and decreases the number of plastic bags that end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch [Great Pacific Garbage Patch | National Geographic Society].
For those fortunate enough to have a cottonwood tree or three, there will be a glorious abundance of leaves on the ground. An excellent fall tradition is to make a pile for the kids to play in or for the dog to enjoy [(1) Stella’s Leaf Pile Classics – YouTube]. The pile can later be used to mulch the nearest garden, protecting the roots from winter temperatures.
Shrubs are better left more or less untended for wildlife to enjoy. In their natural form, they offer more spacious shelter to birds, mammals and lizards scurrying for cover. This also leaves seeds for food on flowering shrubs such as four-wing saltbush and Apache plume. There is some pruning that will need to be done in the winter (stay tuned for the winter newsletter!) but for now, let them be.
Any branches you do need to cut or gather from the ground can be added to a habitat brush pile. Kids love building brush piles. Besides being fun to construct, brush piles harbor insects for food; provide shelter for many small critters; serve as perches for small birds; and are a wonderful structure for vines to cover. Seeds tossed onto the pile stand a very good chance of germinating next spring since a pile offers shelter from the drying sun and wind, as well as from late spring cold snaps.
If you want someone to show up and care about something or someone, ask a nurse. If you want someone who has time and will go the extra mile for a something or someone, ask a retired nurse.
Terry Dettweiler contacted me last year about doing a special project for her University of New Mexico neighborhood to support bees. She noticed that her neighborhood beekeeper no longer brought her the requisite annual jar of honey. When asking the beekeeper about this loss, her friend said she had hung up her beekeeping veil and could no longer keep the beehive alive. She noted a dreary lack of pollinator plants in the neighborhood. Bees need a smorgasbord of habitat all 3 seasons—from March to October. They can fly up to 5 miles to pursue their banquet of nectar and pollen. If it is a food desert, they will not be able to sustain their hives.
Terry, a master gardener, became concerned after this conversation. She loved plants. She loved honey. And so, it made sense that she loved bees!
Soon Terry and her daughter, Eva, embarked on a COVID year project to raise the money from the city and her local neighbors, as “seed money” for her pollinator plant corridors. Terry’s goal was to inspire neighbors with free plants to create oases of pollinator habitat and begin to learn about bees and native plants of the high desert southwest. Eva, who works for the Quivira Coalition, wrote a bang up grant that we pitched to city leaders for funding.
I was stirred to excitement as I remembered our Burque Bee City resolution that we passed in 2016 through the city council. Unanimously, I might add.
One of the defining goals is:
Whereas communities have the opportunity to support bees and other pollinators on both public and private land through reduced and pesticide free zones: working in collaboration with city officials to manage and increase healthy habitat for pollinators—including but not limited to roadsides, medians, open spaces and parks. (CITY OF ALBUQUERQUE, 22nd city council, Burque Bee City Resolution)
The good news is that Terry raised so much money from neighborhood, her City Councilors, Ike Benton and Pat Davis, and Commissioner Adrian Barboa, that she has money leftover for another project in 2022! She was able to work with the Santa Ana Pueblo nursery to purchase plants at wholesale prices!
And so we commenced with the pollinator plant giveaway on September 25 and 26, 2021, shortly after Fall Equinox. Enthusiasm abounded amongst the neighbors. They worked hard as an association to organize, set up and show up the days of the giveaway. Both days dawned with the usual blue skies and Autumnal sunshine bathing the city. People showed up with dogs, partners, families and children, armed with wagons, bags and buckets. They hauled away armloads and boxes of coral penstemon, sages, grasses, chocolate flowers, echinacea, gaillardia, flowering bushes and more… Teachers came eager to bring plants back for their schools and students. 500-700 plants went out the door each day.
The buzz was out! Terry had tables laden with materials for how to water your plants and nurture them til it is well rooted. There were loads of resources for native plants, xeric landscapes, and backyard wildlife refuges. Think Like a Bee was there to answer any questions alongside master naturalists and gardeners.
Commissioner Barboa came and joined in the celebratory atmosphere, excited about how this project met so many of her own urban agriculture goals—connecting neighbors, populating our landscape with native plants, feeding bees, connecting Indigenous communities.
You can also have your own neighborhood pollinator plant beautification and habitat project! We can help you do it. Terry now has a template for how it’s done and she’s willing to share.
Neighborhoods, let’s feed the bees in 2022! Remember. People love free stuff.
“Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual”(Beethoven)
The intersectionality of these three practices—bee tending, yoga and music—have kept me for a lifetime. All of them contemplative, bringing me fully in the present when I am engaged in any of these. They are the place where I tend my soul.
Imagine being able to combine all three into one experience! I am deeply grateful to award winning celloist and composer, Keely Mackey, and Marisol Brito, owner of Bhava Yoga in Albuquerque, for the eclipse of these practices in three consecutive Sunday fundraisers for Think Like a Bee. Next ones coming up, August 1, 9:30am and August 8, 9:30 am at Bhava Yoga Studio.
This makes my heart joyful!
Our first one was last weekend. It was a restorative, healing and transcendent experience as Marisol led us in yoga postures and Keely played her cello.
Both Keely and Marisol know how crucial bees are for our food system and planetary health. Keely makes amazing macro photos of bees which startle one into seeing these small invertebrates with new eyes!
I invite you to come down to Bhava Yoga in August for a unique experience of restorative yoga paired with glorious cello music. It is also a wonderful way to support Think Like a Bee through this amazing and generous collaboration! Like the honeybee hive, endlessly generous and always working for the common good—a mighty all-female colony of giftedness.
The entry fee is $20 with the option to donate above and beyond. Register here. Even if you cannot come you can still donate on this page. Bring a friend or two and support the bees while nourishing your body/mind and soul.
Spoiler alert…the highest donor over the three Sundays will receive a free jar of wildflower honey from my girls in the backyard hive.
Oh, and by the way, I have my first summer harvest of delicious alfalfa or wildflower honey available! Message me for pick up at email@example.com or text 505 514 4982. $16/pint and $30/quart.
It’s been a week, bee friends. In the merry month of May, I left for two weeks to visit my parents in Ohio, secretly gloating. I had split two hives before I left and since my splits took the old queen with me, the girls left behind needed to make new queens. One hive made a few modest queen cells. The other gorged their hive with the long peanut looking shapes that housed new virgin queens in the making. I was satisfied that they were well on their way…
I smiled smugly to myself. I would go away and in their secret, mysterious chambers, the worker girls would get their new queens reared. The virgin queen would go off to be mated with the drone congregation—back in a flash to begin her new household chores of laying up to 2,000 eggs a day! I was certain I would find the glorious new royal court in good working order when I returned—laying abundantly for the survival of the hive.
Never. Think. You. Know. More. Than. The Bees.
I came back to hive #1 in my backyard—not only devoid of a queen, but full of the dreaded “Laying workers”. It so. happens that when the vulnerable and venerable little virgin queen(s) goes out on her maiden flight and never returns—be it due to rain, hail, being eaten by a bird or all manner of disasters— the worker girls go into high gear survival mode, begin to mature their own ovaries and lay unfertilized eggs. The hive will die eventually without a fertilized queen. It’s the fertilized diploid eggs that have the worker bees in them.
The honeybee’s evolutionary strategy for survival gives rise to multiple pseudo queens in the absence of a mated queen. Their virgin queen has not returned and they have no fertilized eggs to begin growing a real queen. What would you do? Denial does work well in these cases. The workers ovaries mature, unsuppressed by the queen’s pheromones, causing them to lay their messy unfertilized eggs everywhere. Alas, their abdomens are too short and they can’t “place” the egg in the cell. The scattershot eggs in the cells from laying workers(see photos below) decay and die, like a multi-car pile up on I-40.
The nightmare begins. All the other field worker bees—hey-ho, hey-ho it’s off to work we go— are lulled into believing that someone is keeping house and preparing for the future on the home front. Though life is uneasy and chaotic in the hive without a single queen, the workers “go with it” and bank on this denial. Deposing the multiple laying workers would be one step closer to the very unpleasant reality that they really are queen less and will die. The hive has no other choice. Some unfertilized haploid eggs —otherwise known as drones in the bee world—will make it and the hive will fill up with boys . They are notorious for lazing around the hive, never lifting a wing to help, with their strong suit—their only suitit appears—as mating.
To complicate matters, the laying workers with their developing ovaries exhibit raging PMS. They become territorial wenches. They will kill any well fertilized queen that the beekeeper tries to introduce. The best a beekeeper can hope for, is to introduce open brood from queen-right hives—with a very strong pheromone scent from another queen. The hope is that this will eventually shrivel the laying worker’s cohones. One day, they just go belly up after their life cycle of 30-45 days has ended.
ABOVE: Laying workers scattershot eggs
I was humbled. Even humiliated. How could I have been so complacent? Leaving my hives for two weeks to their own demise? Another year in a beekeepers life. It was going to be a doozy of a long season.
After determining the grim truth of my backyard Hive #1, I went down to check Hives #2 and #3 in the deep south valley. These were not the ones rockin’ out from the blackberry blossoms on Lorenzo’s organic farm. No, these girls live next to a herd of lactating mama cows and their babies. The dust from their hundreds of thunderous hooves coat the hives regularly—scenting the honeycombs a la dairy barn. When I opened up Hive #2, a strong queen right hive, ants exploded from the bars like sewer rats exposed to the light. I was horrified. They had laid mounds of white eggs between the bars. As I began to pull the bars up to see the extent of the insurrection, the eggs and the hapless ants fell through the air and landed on the bottom of the hive. But true to their collaborative nature, as I cleaned up this natural disaster for the bees, I noticed them beginning, bit by bit, to cart away the ant eggs and dispose of them out the front door. It was as though they noticed my effort and decided to participate in my FEMA rescue.
Hive #3 next door was clearly in trouble. They were either queenless with laying workers OR had a very poorly mated queen— which an expert bee friend had alerted me to the possibility. The brood pattern was spotty with pop up brood—sloppy in design, with many unsealed cells. The worker girls were despondent and dwindling. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what was wrong. Were they sick? Parasitic mite disease? Nosema? Did they have laying workers? I toyed with the idea of letting them just die out. I was exhausted from hitting the ground running after my trip. In my stress I was binge eating Swiss cheese and hitting the honeymead— hard. I didn’t need another problem in my life. And this was not going to be a one off.
I won’t bore you with all the gory details, but every beekeeper worth their salt will tell you that re-queening a laying worker hive or even a hive with a poorly mated queen, is not for the faint of heart. It is dicey at best. And I had TWO hives that needed requeening.
Because the worker girls in Hives #1 and #3 were treacherously loyal to their substandard queen or laying workers, I would need to work with their very strong pheromone instincts to beat them at their own game. Introducing a foreign queen from outside the hive would be seen as an intruder, most certainly assassinated upon smell. Unless…I put the new queen into the hives with very strong pheromone scented open brood, robbed from another one of my strong hives.
So I set about my work, saying a blessing and asking the girls to please PLEASE cooperate for a new queen! I didn’t want to “waste” the gift of these fresh eggs from my other hard working girls in the Blackberry beeyard.
In the midst of this high drama, a cheerful smiling woman named Rachel jumped the gate and came to watch me doing my swapping of open comb. Rachel was eager to talk with me as I shook the bees off all the disastrous half baked comb from the wretched Hive #3. Poor timing. I was having a hard time keeping my bee helmet from falling down over my eyes. Sweat poured down inside my bee suit as I shook and pulled comb right and left amidst the smoke and a cloud of angry, bewildered bees. Rachel sweetly said, “I’m so glad to finally meet you, how long have you been the beekeeper? I’ve been hoping to meet you! One of these days I will have a hive in my yard up the street! Call me if you need help. I’d love to learn!”
I tried not to fume and fuss out loud. I could feel my annoyance rise. I yanked my hand back hard and yelped as a well placed sting seared my third finger. I wanted to tell her that these days, beekeeping is no longer a picnic. Could I warn her off while there was still time? Tell her about endless days of 90+ degree temps inside a bee suit sauna, lifting up to 50 lbs of equipment? And what about the honey harvesting disasters? Those hot summer days with the honeycomb as soft as butter, melting off the bars and drowning my precious bees as I desperately try to scoop and winch out the oozing comb. Should I tell her about the hours and hours of crushing and processing honey…the sticky, sweet endless summer days with my sweat and honey co-mingling all over my kitchen counters and floor. Or what about the COVID scourge of the bee world—varroa mite and parasitic mite disease? And then there were all the diseases, and laying workers, unmated queens and africanized workers that assail beekeeping today. Would she like to know about 44-50% losses annually? I felt like Scrooge.
But how could I take away her eager innocence? I remembered falling in love with the bees over a decade ago. How quickly I could forget.
Eventually Rachel left. I was heartened by an odd little event as I was closing up Hive # 3 (photo above). I had packed up my equipment and taken everything to the car. After an hour of ripping out bar after bar of dismal comb and brood and replacing it with beautiful fresh brood from another beeyard, I took one final sit by the door of my girls, enjoying their buzzing and a sense of accomplishment and unity.
I suddenly noticed that, lo and behold, the workers had dragged out a body that had clearly been stung in her abdomen—the guts of the brave bee who did the deed, trailed out behind the deceased. This pseudo queen’s head had been severed. The workers stopped to examine her as they entered and left the hive. My eyes popped open. I had seen this once before. When a hive needs a new queen, they will kill the old one and leave her crushed head at the entrance—her pheromone center severed so all know “the queen is dead”.
The hive had just shown me they were ready to collaborate for their survival.
This worker bee colony had had enough. They had been in bondage to a severely inept queen. Without a new monarch in the oven(so to speak), they could only carry on like good soldiers, doing their myriad daily work detail. By collaborating with them, I had broken the spell. The honeybee democracy had spoken. They were done with the chaotic, distressingly sub-par, destructive lack of order and this incapable queen. With astonishingly swift action, they had swapped out their ailing bee democracy with hope for an orderly, humming queen- right future. In one fell swoop the hive chose to remove her. The fresh brood I had inserted, and subsequently the queen I would install next week, would lead to a future after all.
Somewhere in the back of my mind was a memory of the 2020 election cycle and our own close call in the democracy of this country. Though the girls had draconian ways of replacing their ill equipped queens, which are not recommended for a democracy (!), they had chosen together how to proceed to a sustainable future.
I hoped the girls of my laying worker Hive #1, which I had yet to address, would also finally secede their self destructive behavior and allow me to requeen them for their best interests.
Recently I was hiking up Sandia peak in the snow. I began to notice hundreds of ladybugs crawling across the snow. Most of them frozen or buried as the snow shifted. What on earth? I began to pick them and as they revived from the heat of my hand, they crawled across my hand, traveled up my arm, alighted on my face and eventually flew off.
As I said in a ladybug post last year, Sleeping with Ladybugs, I cannot claim to have much expertise on ladybugs, though I have become fascinated by them. They keep showing up in my life! What do they have to teach me?
The fore mentioned blog I published last year about ladybugs taught me about something called diapause every winter. As the temps drop they become dormant together en masse.
And now, as Spring warming comes early, then drops back to freezing temps, they also come out of diapause together. Many will perish. Some will survive .
We are in a climate crisis and these days the unpredictable weather patterns are even more extreme. What will the creatures do? How many will perish as Mother Nature becomes too mercurial for them to survive the ever tenuous thread that keeps them attached to an increasingly harsh planet?
We are in a time of COVID. We are in a time of global warming. We are in a time of deep racial unrest as injustice is being unveiled. Here in the southwest, we are in a long decades old drought of biblical proportions. As I drove south from Santa Fe, NM yesterday, the land looked pinched and stricken by its lack of water. Great whirlwinds of dust flew as the wind kicked up. The distant cattle slogged along in the grit, stones prying at their feet. Succulent plants a pipe dream of the past. We are fighting to protect our sacred water.
One of our fiercest allies in water protection has died recently from brain cancer. LaDonna Brave Bull Allard of the Lakota tribe at Standing Rock. I met her once, in the Fall of 2016, when I was staying at the camp along the river on her property. They called it Sacred Stone Camp. It overlooked the vast windswept plain where buffalo roamed and the eagle rose on the heat thermals. We could see the larger camp at Standing Rock, across from the hill at Sacred Stone. One day LaDonna came down to visit. She was gracious and warm as she greeted the visitors on her land. Intelligent and powerful were her words.
Watch this interview where she introduces herself and speaks her heart.
Another heart teacher is Joanna Macy. She speaks to these times. She speaks from a Buddhist perspective, but it is no different for any religious tradition— including the teachings of Jesus, which I embrace. She says now COVID is a our teacher. It is bringing us deep pain and suffering as a human species. It is unveiling, revealing what delusions or illusions we have lived under for too long. Our lifestyle is killing us and the planet. It is also calling us to our deepest humanity.
Macy teaches about the web that reconnects even in the wretchedness. She calls us to deepest humanity. How we care for one another. We are all interconnected, earth and humans. Our future fate is woven together.
We have seen a huge influx of women and girls into the public sphere in the past decade, rising up to call the human community to action on behalf of our Mother Earth, which absolutely sustains us in all ways. I’m not surprised. Women are the life bearers on this planet. They have the potential to grow and sustain children in utero and then in community. At our best, the female species understands the need to care for that which gives us life.
Perhaps that is why the bees have called me into their world at this time of my life. Though I have no children and have now passed menopause, the thriving and fertility of this female dominated society of honeybees continues to teach me how to “think like a bee” for all earth’s thriving!
Not unlike the ladybug, the invertebrate world of bees in of myth and culture have been associated with resurrection and metamorphosis.
Many spiritual teachers see this time of disruption, pandemic, and institutional failure as the beginning of a new epoch, an initiation for humanity for what must be birthed. The transformation of the cocoon. Animal Speak reminded me that the symbolic message from this most ancient creature, the beetle, might be my metamorphosis, as well as ours. Here’s the insect wisdom of beetle:
Stick together. Rest when you can. Prepare for change. Remember you are in the midst of a metamorphosis. What do you need to shed in order to welcome the new? Change is inevitable and only becomes more difficult when you resist its natural flow.
TED ANDREWS (ANIMAL SPEAK, LLEWELLYN PUBLICATIONS, ST. PAUL, MN, 1996)