Low Fertility

Seems that bees are in trouble on more than one front. If mites don’t get them, infertility will.

This past year I’ve had an alarmingly low rate of healthy mated queens. I’ve made some mis-steps and a few decisions to split a hive a bit prematurely, but either way, the virgin queens I put into the hives came back with poor to no ability to lay eggs after mating (or not) with drones. They looked perfectly beautiful and healthy. But they were laying nothing at all or only drones. A hive will quickly die without it’s worker girl bee force.


Low fertility in the human world is not so different from other species. I’ve read that when the survival of species are threatened, certain evolutionary mechanisms will kick in to effectively curtail reproduction. God knows, humans and all creatures are faced with dire threats to life these days—generations to come are facing massive problems which would cause fertility problems in any being. External factors that influence internal include habitat that is compromised by threats of increasing climate unpredictability, stress, polluted environments leading to poor health, immune problems, genetic defects and inability to create a healthy fetus.

Bees will die due to “a thousand small cuts”— coined by Mark Winston, in Bee Time, Rather than one pinpointed catastrophe, it’s the multiple and cascading issues which are dooming bees to extinction. The domino effect. Could it be happening with humans also?

I began to research what other beekeepers are saying about sperm counts and mated queens and fertility in the bee world. What do the old codgers say? What do the veteran beekeepers know? This blog post— from Roger Patterson, who keeps bees in the UK— hit home:

I started keeping bees in 1963 and at one time had 130 colonies, and have always raised my own queens on a regular basis. For a number of reasons I had a spell where I had no bees myself for about 15 years until restarting in 2002, but retained interest in my local Association, and continued to attend meetings. At one stage I could expect a success rate of getting queens mated from a sealed cell well in excess of 90%, but since returning to active beekeeping that success rate has dropped alarmingly, in my own experience to 50% or less.

When restarting I obtained 5 colonies from various sources and rigorously culled the poorer queens. In doing this I realised there was a problem in achieving the level of successful matings I had previously enjoyed.

In the Dec 2004 issue of BBKA News I wrote an article on my experiences, and asked if the problems were related to varroa[mite]. I received several replies and these fell largely into two groups, those who had kept bees for around 15 years or more, and agreed with me that there was a problem, and those with less experience who indicated that my experiences were “normal”, which is understandable if that is all they had known. One person who regularly raised a large number of queens appeared to have a success rate as low as 15%.

I received references to research work that had been done abroad, and there were indications from what I considered to be reliable sources that varroa and it’s treatment may be a contributory factor, and in a variety of ways.

Drones that were parasitised by varroa as larvae may have reduced sperm and lower viability if, indeed, they managed to survive to sexual maturity, and it appears that some treatments may accumulate in beeswax, and possibly cause the following problems:-

  • Reduced sperm count in drones.
  • Reduced queen mating success.
  • Reduced queen weight.
  • High queen mortality.
  • Physical abnormalities in queens.

So, varroa mites. The culprit in almost every aspect of collapsing colonies these days. These creepy, draconian specks of a beast are destroying bees. And we as beekeepers stand by almost helpless, watching the demise of our bee colonies.


I will be treating my bees this year. Sometimes it seems the treatment is more deadly than the disease, kind of like chemo for cancer.

But it must be done.

God save the queen.

God save us all.


Dancing Moon Woman


The sun went all shadowy today.

For at least 3 minutes

the flames of

Too much bright

Too much heat

Too much “big man” war energy

and posturing


By the lunar face

of the feminine moon

and her traverse across the sun.

Sun was eclipsed for a moment

Missing in action.


Healing dark

Secret womb energy

Fierce bone circle

A messenger from the night

Grabbing our attention

In the middle of our day’s

Freight trains of busyness.


Maybe she is birthing

Something new

Exposing our shadow side

Covering the frenetic

Flames of a culture

Burning down

From its hubris

Of earth rape





All the “isms”


Emptied out

for a moment by

Dancing moon woman’s



Gravitational force.

Usually only waxing

And waning

In cycles

During our dream time.


But here she was

moving across the sun’s field

A marriage of light and darkness

In full view

Maybe a shift took place this day

From a human epoch

Bankrupt in its excess

and imbalances.


Maybe a new consciousness

Took root

For an age of authenticity

No more illusions.


I sat on a hill in Northern New Mexico

among the sage bushes

and Fall flowers


a stunning display

of Autumn’s glory

At least 15 varieties


Around my feet.

I felt the the moon


Her eclipse



Into the fiber

of my being.


Her moon dance


Not so different

From the bee dance

Honey Bee in Flight
That vibration of happiness.

Bumblers and Other Fancy Bees


Native Bees number over 4000 in the U.S. alone. Six of the major families of natives live in New Mexico—including bumblebees, bombus terrestris. These native bees, from a few millimeters long to the stout bumblers, are sadly overlooked. They aren’t viewed as the food economy’s workhorses. Instead, honeybees have become the new movie stars, hailed everywhere they go. Honeybees have been good poster children—signifying everything that’s gone wrong with our industrial food system and chemically burdened planet.


But native bees….these little pollinator dynamos are worth learning about and attracting to your garden. Now that honeybees are collapsing, these self sufficient, independent native bees have caught the attention of  the commercial food industry agriculture, especially almond growers, alarmed by the disappearing honeybee.

I get my share of worried homeowners wondering if I can come over and pick up their bumblebee hive. I would if I could. But beekeepers are specialists in apis mellifera (well, we think we are), not bumblers. I can pick up a honeybee swarm since i know their docile nature when they swarm. But bumblebees, or so I’ve heard from first hand encounters by beekeepers, are a different beast all together. They do have a colony, usually found in an underground burrow. If they are too close to human activity or animals they may become aggressive and protective. But usually, if far enough away from the action, they will just mind their own business.


But I would never ever in my right mind try to remove one. They do sting if aggravated, and the sorry bloke who tries to dig them out will not fare very well at all. The good news is that the colony completely dies back each season. The queen will lay her next years brood of queen eggs to replace herself. But the rest of the workers are toast. If you really don’t want them to set up residence in your backyard, I usually counsel covering up the hole, after it gets cold and goes dormant, and putting a cover, rock, boards, etc. over it. Any emerging queens in the Spring will likely find another home for their brood.
But don’t take my word for it. Call your local Cooperative Extension service. Here in New Mexico, check out the New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Ask their specialist about native bumble bee behavior. With all native bees in decline, killing them has become a non-negotiable. Don’t do it.



Metallic Green Bee (Augochloropsis metallica) by Clay Bolt

Most native bees are solitary creatures. There are the yellow faced bees, squash bees, digger bees, long-horned bees, mallow bees, cuckoo bees, carpenter bees, plasterer bees—all with special and unique abilities. See my June 2016 blog post on all the amazing varieties of native bees, of which over 1,000 of them live in New Mexico alone. The first remarkable thing about native bees is that they live in the dirt, in excavating tunnels that can reach a foot or more beneath the soil, in dead wood or hollow plant stems, plugging the entrance with mud or other chewed plant material after laying their eggs in unexpected places that humans don’t expect to find bees. So leaving undisturbed areas in your lawn, or buying a native pollinator house (google it) will ensure that their progeny continues. The biggest threat to native bees is the use of chemicals and insecticides on dirt and on your plants, and loss of habitat. These lovely little natives have co-evolved with plants for millions of years and have a special relationship with certain plant species that are being wiped out as “weeds” or paved over by housing developments. For instance, native digger bees have a long tongue to extract nectar from certain native New Mexican Penstemon species. Honeybees, imported from Europe, just don’t have the anatomy to get into certain flowers. Bumblebees are great for pollinating tomatoes.

Here is a sweet little trio of native long-horned male bees over-nighting in my sunflowers. They literally just drop where they stop. Like Jesus, they have no place to lay their heads, so they rest in the faces of flowers—the sweetness of nectar and the softness of the pollen line their beds.


So next time you go to purchase plants, make sure you add in native pollinator plants and leave some space fallow in your yard for these lovelies.

Blackberries in August


The blackberries at Cornelio Candelaria Organico, where I’ve spent the lion’s share of my summer with young farm interns, are succulent and delicious. There are at least 10 somewhat straight rows packed with brambly, curly branches dripping, literally, with midnight sweetness. Of course, I never forget that all this is a provision made possible by not only the farmer’s hands, but a collusion between our darling bee friends, the soil, sun and water.

I remember picking blackberries on sultry summer days in Ohio. We would set off with Grandma Amstutz and her assorted and asundry buckets and pails. Following the defunct railroad ties along the back forty of our farm, we would be swaddled in our long sleeves, pants and tennis shoes to ward off the pricks and stinging bugs. Those blackberries were always bitter, their survival DNA allowing them to eke out an existence…just barely.

Not these. They are a plenitude of extravagance. An ode to late summer abundance.

As a celebration of August, my birth month—late summer being my most favorite season of the year— here is a poem by Mary Oliver.


When the blackberries hang

swollen in the woods, in the brambles

nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high

branches, reaching

my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming

the black honey of summer

into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what is. In the dark creeks that run by there

is this thick paw of my life

darting among

the black bells, the leaves;

there is this happy tongue.




The only reason I have so much honey this year is because I did my bees a dis-service.

They were a mean hive. I admit, I wanted to break them. I was thinking like a human, not a bee. So I took their queen away and made them start from scratch, right at the moment of the honey flow. It knocked them back alright….but only the baby brood, which disappeared altogether.

The queen that replaced the one I stole away was either infertile or poorly mated. When I checked on her progress, all I found was wall to wall honey and a few drone eggs. The imposter queen was merrily pretending she was royalty—but sorely lacking. The girls were still mean. They seemed happy to tolerate a “less than” queen rather than have no queen at all. Desperate to survive, but a little misguided in their efforts, they had put away enough honey to feed the entire ‘hood.  Ferociously they guarded their massive storehouses. Sadly there was no future generation on the horizon. They were doomed.

So, I took out the lackluster queen and gave them a freshly mated, mite resistant, weather resilient queen— recently emigrated from Canada. I have yet to see if she “took”. Meanwhile the girls have been busy gathering nectar and pollen beyond belief.

This year will go down in history (or her-story, as the case may be) as the biggest honey flow in my short 8 year beekeeping career. I’ve always heard that it’s possible, but it never happened to me.

And processing honey is hard work. Terribly hard work.

First one must wrest the comb away from the girls who stick to the comb like….well…honey. Then, when one shoos enough of them away in order to whisk the dead weight of elixir to the car, there will still be stragglers buzzing around. They are insistently waiting for even a glimpse of skin so they can take revenge for this honey heist.

At home, the honey must be crushed by hand through a large stainless steel colander into a bucket.


Meanwhile, if not completely sealed, ants and bees will swarm into the bucket causing drowning by honey. Not a bad way to die.

This potion will sit in the sun for days while the solar wax and honey separator does its good work.

Finally, the thick, viscuous honey will be strained at least twice through cheesecloth into jars. A messy proposition. The kitchen becomes a magnet for every insect known to humankind if not cleaned immediately and properly.

This year I am left with about 2 gallons of honey.  I am amazed. Lest we take this for granted, remember that honeybees make only about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in their short 45 day lifespan. Two gallons is a breathtaking amount of bees.

I will be looking for venues to sell my sweet, organic elixir. $10 a pint.

Honey anyone?!


Inextricably Bound—Bees and Humans


In the interconnected web that we all are a part of, it is impossible to discount the mystery of honeybee and human relationship throughout the centuries. We have been inextricably bound to a common fate, dependent upon the honeybee’s free pollination services. Our whole food system relies on this gift.


And then there are our human stories, religious ritual and myths intertwined with the lowly honeybee.


A honey stained vessel was found buried in a tomb over 5, 500 years ago in the Caucasus of Russia—some 2,000 years older than the honey found in King Tut’s tomb in Eygpt.  Packed for the afterlife, honey represented the bee as a symbol of resurrection. Christianity adopted this ancient symbol and even today, at Easter tide, the honey bee is celebrated in the Great Vigil, on the eve of Easter, calling forth the risen Christ by the lighting of the candle made of beeswax.

But nothing could be more telling of the relationship between bee and human, co-evolved over centuries, than the following story, recounted in Best Friends Magazine January/February 2008, from an article by R.B. Ogden in the March 2007 issue of Bee Culture—about a beekeeper in the UK:


On October 19, 1996, a quiet, dedicated and much loved beekeeper passed away in the seclusion of his East Devon home. Each day, for the three days prior to his passing, a lone bee flew quietly around the room, leaving the room and returning to the hive as daylight faded, only to return at first light the following day.

The beekeeper, William Mawson, Bill to all who knew and loved him, died peacefully during the evening. Early the next morning, Bill’s grieving widow, Annette, walked slowly and thoughtfully to the nearby apiary to tell the bees of his passing, thus keeping faith with the ancient tradition. She spoke softly and slowly as she said, “Poor master has passed away, but he is still with us in spirit”.

Four days later, in the tranquility of the old Offwell Parish Church, his widow and family were joined by close friends and beekeepers to celebrate Bill’s life, give thanks for his friendship, kindness and achievements, and pay their last respects to a gentle man.

As the funeral cortege entered the nave of the church, it was followed silently and almost unnoticed by a host of bees, which settled quietly toward the rear of the building in the south side.

As the rector began his eulogy, the congregation became aware of the sound of bees on the wing. The rector stopped speaking as the bees hovered above the gathering. And then, as spontaneously as it had arisen, the sound of flying bees declined before dying away into the distance.


Did the bees come to say a final farewell to their faithful departed friend, Bill? We can only ponder the mystery of the story.

There is still so much I do not know about my bee friends. But I do know one thing.

Bees and humans. We are kin.

Some Days are like that….

Some days are like that…messy, anxiety producing and hard. In the bee and human world alike. On those days I don’t wonder what bees think, I wonder what I was thinking when I took up this little hobby in a moment of passion.

My spiritual teacher calls bees my muse, a source of artistic expression. I would agree with that. Even if my bees never make me any honey money, they have truly inspired me in so many ways.


Muses of any kind are the substance of our spiritual journey on this planet. I see this life as a sort of spiritual boot camp. We are spiritual beings equipped with amazing bodies, trying to find our way through it all—often a wilderness of choices, tribulations, grief, joy and uncertainty. Bees have been amazing little sherpas in regard to my life the past 7 years.

In April when my bees were busting out. I needed to divide two of them. Pronto. Or they would elude me by swarming off into the wild blue yonder of our neighborhood— potentially causing mischief by setting up housekeeping in someone’s attic or rafter or canale.

All was set. I had alerted a few friends who wanted some new bees. After hours of combing through my seven hives (way too many in one yard, I know), I separated out two bee travel containers filled with bees and swarm cells. I awaited my husband to come and chauffeur me down to the valley where a new home awaited them.

Irritated that his promised grocery store run for lunch took more like 30 minutes, I groused about my bees, worried that they would overheat as I waited on him—packed into cases with one little hole, taped down so none would escape. I myself was overheating in my bee suit.

Finally my husband showed up, apologetic. He had a good reason, but my mood only deteriorated from there. His timing was good as gold, but I was beginning to melt down around the edges with the thought of transporting livestock in the heat. As my father, who once transported pigs to sale told me upon hearing my story, “Now you know what a farmer feels like”.

Once in the car, we headed towards the interstate. Bees began to leak out around the invisible cracks I had failed to see or seal. As we came to the Right Lane entrance for I-25, suddenly the car stopped. It didn’t even shudder. We were stranded in traffic with two boxes of bees, the sun beating down on the car whose electric function had totally been derailed. So, I climbed out in my bee suit, flinging the doors and hatchback open. Bees flew everywhere. I was sweating profusely.


Fortunately, my cell phone was not dead. My husband passed the AAA New Mexico card to me and I called the tow truck. Next I called Stephen, my friend whose precious cargo we carried. Within ten minutes that good man was at our car door, loading up boxes of bees in his mercifully air conditioned Prius.

Thanks to friends who sometimes pose as angels, the no good, very bad, terrible bee day became better. That day my bees taught me gratitude. Patience. Kindness showed up.

Some days are like that.

What is your passion? How do you define your life by your muse? Or not? What is your muse teaching you today?


Are we lost?

…So begins a chapter in Margaret Wheatley’s new book called “So Far from Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World”(San Francisco, CA: Berret -Koehler Publishers, Inc, 2012). As someone who’s studied complex systems, quantum science and organizational change, she admits in this book that all that hopey changey stuff and our hard work for a world of compassion, community and ecological care seems to be losing ground in a  world seemingly hell bent on global greed, consumerism, individualism, domination and nihilism. After 40 years of teaching transformative dynamics, she confesses losing her cheerful optimism somewhere along the way. With it has come a sort of dark night of the soul.

Looking around, she sees that she is not alone. Many are suffering this fearful disorientation and dislocation collectively in our culture. Some more violently than others.

The good news is that scientific chaos theory and even the spiritually classic “dark night of the soul” see this uncomfortable time as a fertile period before reemergence. All biological systems based on myriads of interconnected, entangled relationships (of which humans are a part of) are inherently complex. In order to re orient and adapt to new and unforeseen challenges, sometimes a complete breakdown must happen in order to reset things. Only then can something new be birthed, ready to create a brave new world. Sometimes unbeknownst to us, what we are working toward as a culture reaches a critical mass, and suddenly shift happens. She writes:

We need to feel despair that we cannot change the world. It is appropriate and essential that we do so. And we need to enter into the darkness, because it is the entry point for transformation. From my own experience with dark nights, I know that energy, strength and confidence become available the other side of despair. Having personally made this journey many times, abandoning my savior tendencies…can we have faith that capacity, strength and delight are available to us the other side of darkness? (35)

Recently I had an interesting experience when I went to check my feisty bee hives in the south valley. My plan was to quickly water them and race home, as we were leaving the next day for a trip to Canada. Well, sometimes things fall apart. And of course it’s usually happens exactly when you don’t have time for it.

Fiddling with the lock to the gate of the alfalfa field, I remember distinctly stuffing my car key in my pocket. Now if you know my beekeeping pants they are as full of holes as Swiss cheese. Of course they slipped out as I strode across the fragrant field.

Back at my car I hit the panic button. Not only was my husband out of town for the day, our house sitter was coming to meet me at home in half an hour. I felt suddenly lost and out of control on a day that I had had perfectly in hand and well organized up to that moment.

Like a petulant child I wanted to stamp my feet and say, “No this cannot happen to me now. Fix this.” I’m not sure whom I was addressing. I began to call friends to come and pick me up. In the end, it was the anonymous cat sitter, whom I had never met, who offered to come down and pick me up.

It didn’t take long for the farm manager, Gene to notice my plight—since I was walking around in mysterious circles on his cow field . Immediately he sent Alonso, one of the young men with a big smile and friendly heart,  to take his three wheeler over to find farmer Jim and return with his metal  detector. I had little faith that I would find my key in these acres of endless green.  I walked slowly, swinging the detector in a wide arc in front of me. I felt that edge of despair. Why bother?

It was no small miracle that even as the metal detector’s indicator was skyrocketing over the dirt “here”, I looked over “there” and saw my keys a step away, primly sitting on top of an alfalfa plant. They hadn’t even fallen into the dirt below.

Later, reflecting on this experience and outcome, trying to assign meaning as I often like to do, I realized that for a moment in time I was being shown that when things go badly and my go tos are not available, kindness can be found with complete strangers. That miracles can happen. And we can summon our interconnectedness and all the things we need in a moment if we slow down, breathe and keep our hearts and eyes clear and open.

Bees and all non human beings are a part of this interrelatedness—trees and squirrels and flowers, plants, soil, water. All of us together, working in sync, is the only way through these dark times. There is wisdom coming at us from all sides. In this case unexpectedly, the beehives were not prominent, but the players in my life associated with my work with bees provided the backdrop for an aha moment.

We are all a part of the earth hive and we are not lost.

Only reorienting.

June is Pollinator month! Bee part of our annual Think Like A Bee swarmfunding campaign. In honor of all good food and the pollinators that make it possible, help fund our ongoing bee advocacy and education work this coming year. Go to this page and click on the DONATE button. You may also send any tax deductible donations made out to PES (our fiscal sponsor) c/o Think Like A Bee, 410 Morningside Dr. SE, Albuquerque, NM 87108.

Sweetening the Pot

In 2011, Lockwood Restaurant on Monroe Street in Chicago set up their own apiary on the rooftop garden.  It has created a buzz amongst culinary tasters and food cuisine writers.
Blending home-grown flavor and garden fresh produce, they are becoming part of a new trend of chefs who are looking to grow their own food. It offers a unique dining opportunity, allowing the diner to connect with the local food shed.

Chef Carrie Eagle, Albuquerque


Albuquerque has our very own locally owned Farm to Table restaurant, with Chef Carrie outstanding in her field.
Recently, on the Food Network’s “Chopped” show—Chef Carrie won $10,000 for her trouble to create the best appetizer, entree and dessert.

Years ago, when I first started keeping bees, I woke up to how critically important it is for organic farmers to cut out the middle man. Without the ability to directly market their food at local farmers markets, stores, CSA (community supported agriculture) food boxes and restaurants, they take a huge hit financially.

Farmers are never paid what they are worth. It’s a 6am -10pm kind of seven day work week job— with few benefits and lots of hidden calamities. Weather, pests, seed costs, soil amendments, animal husbandry failures are always waiting to happen. Here in the Southwest, lack of rain and water woes top the list. But organic farmers are as fierce as they come—most of the ones I know are in love with the land, the animals and the schedule that allows them to be their own boss. Kind of why I love beekeeping…

Farm and Table restaurant has created a direct line from the field to the kitchen. Literally, I have sat on their patio overlooking Farmer Ric Murphy’s Sol Harvest fields full of delicious fresh produce. After brunch, we browsed amongst the nice neat rows, admiring his handiwork and collaboration with Mother Nature. The vegetable dishes were exquisite.  A nice recent addition are the cows…


Owner Cheri Montoya, took her father’s farm land in the North Valley of Albuquerque, and created a vision to support local farmers on her land—never mind that she was also creating a first class restaurant. On her website, she quotes Aldo Leopold:

We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.

In the Southwestern high desert, usually known for being a food desert, Cheri has had spectacular success with her model. Instead of shipping all that food in from CA, she has remained stalwart. These days, you need a reservation.

Her collaboration is built upon the following values:

Local Food. We conscientiously design our seasonal menu around locally-sourced ingredients.


Roasted Beet and Arugula salad with pears, Old Windmill goat cheese and red chile-candied pecans, drizzled with raspberry apple cider vinaigrette.

Respect. We honor the many individuals that make our experience possible – from the hard-working folks who pick our produce in the field to the person who serves each plate.


hoop house at Sol Harvest, next door to the restaurant

Hospitality. We value each and every guest who walks through our door and strive to offer a great experience for all: fresh delicious food, beautiful setting, and great service.


Community. We celebrate our community! Chefs, farmers, artists, musicians, scholars, families, organizations, worthy causes, and lots of creative individuals will come together here at Farm & Table to build a vibrant community hub.




Of course you all probably have your favorite version of Farm to Table restauranteurs in your neck of the woods. Send me a name and what you love about your best locavore foodie place! I want to hear all about it, so on my next cross country tour, I can sample your goodies too.

June is Pollinator month! Bee part of our annual Think Like A Bee swarmfunding campaign. In honor of all good food and the pollinators that make it possible, help  fund our ongoing bee advocacy and education work this coming year. Go to this page and click on the DONATE button.   You may also send any tax deductible donations made out to PES (our fiscal sponsor) c/o Think Like A Bee, 410 Morningside Dr. SE, Albuquerque, NM 87108. Thank you!