Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bee tree brands

Bees in the wild often nest in trees, and many cultures would make like Winnie the Pooh (but more successfully than the bear of little brain) and raid these hives to get the honey. So if you knew about a good nest, you were likely to want to either keep its location secret, or claim it for yourself. Individual marks on trees, like rancher’s brands, often resulted. These come from the Ukraine and were recorded in 1964. This image, and information, was cribbed from Eva Crane’s encyclopedic World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting. Crane, who died in 2007 in her mid-90s, was a world-renown authority on the history of beekeeping. After getting her PhD in nuclear physics in 1941 (!), she became interested in bees after receiving a hive as wedding gift, sugar being rationed in Britain during WWII. She directed the International Bee Research Association for many years. This endlessly fascinating book was given to me by a very sweet co-worker who I only know through the magic of the innernets. So here’s honey to you, R.R.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Bees in culture

In Lucas Cranach the Elder’s c.1525 "Cupid Complaining to Venus," the little trouble-maker has stolen some honeycomb and is being stung for his efforts. With all that nudity, you bet there’s a moral: “life’s pleasure is mixed with pain.” The bees bear a heavy burden of metaphor. See here and here, just for starters.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The basics: location, location, location

This wedge of slumbering green is where we are going to locate our hive.

O, I’m sorry, did I forget to mention that bee-keeping is not currently legal in the confines of NYC? It is in Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco, to name just a few places where it isn’t only legal but encouraged, but not here. Bees and wasps are classified as venomous insects, and along with tigers, elephants, weasels, pythons, and other sundry critters are banned by the city’s health code. Never mind that there are over 50 species of bees found in the city; I guess they are all outlaws.

I suspect the silly bee ban has something to do with Rudy Giuliani, an unpleasant man who used to be Mayor. Evidently he was once bitten by a ferret, in between being beaten up by Mets fans, as a child, and ever since -- the little fascisms of the playground last forever -- has had an animus against all god’s creatures, great and small. But that bad memory of the past is over and done, and efforts are afoot to change the health code. Additionally, David Yassky and four co-sponsors have introduced a bill in City Council, to legalize beekeeping by licensing beekeepers. The bill is awaiting a hearing in the Health Committee. If passed it would overrule the health code. Updates and calls to action will be posted here as warranted. Right now you can sign a petition in support of urban bees over at Just Food.

All this to say that the location of the hive will not be located with any great specificity at this time. I can say we are located somewhat to the east of the Mississippi….

The basics: hive tool

A hive tool is essential for working with Langstroth hives. They are used to crack apart frames and pry them up. They are also for scraping excess propolis, pounding/pulling nails, warding off muggers, etc. etc. They are usually made of forged steel, are sometimes chrome-plated, and, if you look hard enough, you can even find ones still made in the U.S. This is the classic hive tool. They usually run from 7-10" long and cost, depending on the vender and quality, from $4-$7. I inspected my first hive with one of these, but I don't have any sentimental attachment to it. In fact, I don't like it. It's said to be good for scraping the bottom board, but I can't speak to that yet. My problem with this type is that it doesn't provide the necessary leverage to pop up frames, so what I would end up doing is crushing the wood of the next frame over.

This one is also called a frame lifter/scraper. And it's well named. It's my favorite so far, for I find it makes the hive inspection much smoother. This type usually costs around $12, but I've seen them from $7-18. Generally about 10.5" long.

This is an Italian hive tool, and like many an Italian thing it does look beautiful. It's 12" long and runs about $13. But I note that it doesn't have that little leverage ledge at the hook end. Not having used it, I can only say it would make a nice gift for a beekeeper who already has a couple of hive tools on hand.

In the beginning...

Worker honey bee, Apis millefera, with fully laden pollen baskets, in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, summer 2008.