Hygienic Cell Plunger Initial Test Results – By Ernie Daley

The Comox Valley Bee Club’s first Hygienic Cell Plunger has just passed it’s first field trial.  Pin orientation was accurate, penetration adequate (I had plastic foundation so if yours is wax, a more carful Pin pressure on the plunge would be suggested).  

Selected Frame     

Lining up the pins

 Actual Cell Puncture

The punctured 189 cells minus 6 heater cells (i.e. open) see left pic below = 183 pin killed March 30th at 1:27 p.m.

Checked on April 1 at 1:27 p.m. (48 hours later), pic above right. Noted 27 cells untouched (I counted the ones underway as cleaned out), resulted in 156 cleaned out of a possible 183 for a Hygienic score of 85%.  Given the activity and progress on the remaining ones as well as possible pin misses if any, I will definitely rate this one hive as a good candidate for splitting.  With a 2017 Superseded Queen, Winter survival and Spring build up have been good, mood is pleasing and first year’s honey production was also good. Being Hygienic is a huge bonus, even though they did not reach the 90-95%, with a score of 85% I like this stock.

This has been very satisfying, now that we have a working tool proven in the field, you too can test your stock at your convenience.  The (189 Cell) Hygienic Cell Plunger is available from  Peter Smith – Contact via countrydogs [at] outlook [dot] com to arrange a time. or call 250-941-7792    Location: 2319 Waveland Rd, Courtenay

Note: it is recommended that hives be re-tested a second time for confirmation of Hygienic Behaviour.  Also, full disclosure, I did not check to see if the brood was in the Pink Eye stage or otherwise. This detail was only recently learned from Dr. Leonard Fosters talk in Parksville.  I am unclear of the implications as it relates to the test. But expect to be enlightened by someone more so than I. For now, I’m pretty happy with the results. Happy Hygienic Beekeeping!


DIY, Hygienic Testing Plunger 2.0 – By Ernie Daley

A couple of other attempts failed spectacularly, but the mistakes made along the way got me to this simple and straightforward version.  We can add it to the Bee Club Equipment and anyone can check it out and use it, or for the handy in the crowd, you could make your own. Either way Hygienic Testing is coming soon to an apiary near you !

Here is the updated Cell Plunger, “The 189”.  Now available for Beta testing if anyone is interested.  Easy to line up and easy to use, we hope.

Hygienic Testing 101 –

  1. Count the open cells (if any) in the area of the brood frame you have selected for testing. Ideally, there should be no more than 10-12 empty cells.  Make a note of the number and subtract it from 189.  This will be your starting number.
  2. Line up and center the horizontal rows of pins over the cells in the selected area, plunge to puncture the cells and kill pupae. Check cells in the selected area and puncture any missed individually if necessary.
  3. The killed brood section frame is then placed in the center of the brood nest. Two days (48 hours) later the frame is removed and the number of sealed cells remaining is recorded. A hygienic colony will have uncapped and removed over 90-95% of the pin killed brood within 48 hours. A non-hygienic colony will take over six days to completely remove the dead brood. The speed with which a colony removed dead brood is correlated with its ability to remove diseased and parasitized brood.
  4. It is very important that colonies be considered hygienic only if they remove >95% of the brood on two consecutive tests.
  5. The test is also helpful in making a choice between two colonies for splits i.e. selecting for the higher percentage

(whatever it turns out to be) and continue on with that one to see if you can achieve an overall apiary improvement over time.  Always selecting for the more hygienic ones to make increases. Modest and incremental steps individual beekeepers can make along the way.

Note: The Pins should be dipped in Isopropyl alcohol and air spun dried between hives.

This work in progress continues and any new insights, feedback and observations are welcome.  

Please share your testing results with the Club and subsequent Apiary improvement.  Remember to keep accurate records of testing dates and cell numbers per hive as well as overall Apiary Numbers. Better Bees are on the way !

DIY – Hygienic Behavior Testing with “The Plunger” – By Ernie Daley

Recently I had the good fortune of attending the Bee Masters course in Vancouver with some of our Club Members.  We learned a great deal as you can imagine but one of the things which stuck out for me was the topic of selection of queens by breeders for Hygienic traits.  This subject seemed to be at the heart of most issues affecting bee health and vigor. There are many levels of testing for selection including identifying specific genes, using liquid nitrogen to freeze a specific area of brood just to name a couple.  I won’t go over that section of the course here, but the take away for me was that if we can select for and improve the overall level of Hygienic behavior in our own apiaries the spill over and long-term effects will be significant. Having looked at the testing involved I thought I would have to wait and see, hoping they would be successful and we would eventually have better bees available for restocking.  But at a recent club event over the weekend, I was speaking with another small-scale beekeeper like myself (with about 5 hives) who was going to undertake such a selection. In our conversation it became clear that we could play a role and participate in the process. Ultimately benefiting by ending up with better bees ourselves and by flooding Drone Congregation Areas with those same desirable traits. Initially I thought it did not apply to the very small-scale beekeepers as we did not have ready access to the tools, nitrogen etc.  But it turns out there is a no-tech way for us to get involved. Before I get into that though it would be helpful to have a good understanding of the Hygienic Behavior Test itself involving the liquid nitrogen. Take a look at this PDF and you will get a pretty good handle on how it is done and what to look for.



Instead of liquid nitrogen, a no-tech work around would be to take a push pin and puncture all the capped brood cells in a 3” circle on one brood frame per hive.  This would involve getting a marker to define the 3” circle and then individually puncture each cell within it, killing the pupae. Replace the frame in the hive and check it 24 hours later to see how much of the 3” circle had been cleaned out.  Pretty simple really. Even if you only have two hives it would be worth doing because if you are going to make a split with one, you would be further ahead to split the most Hygienic one. It turns out there are well over 150 cells in a 3” circle and that means a lot of pin pricks per frame.  In an effort to make it a quicker process and knowing that if we can make it easier we are likely to get more participation, I embarked on making a plunger that could puncture all the cells at one go. You can see my efforts in the pics attached, I started with a 2” circle first to test the concept.   It is still a work in progress but I hope to have a working prototype by the time we get to open our hives with frames full of brood. I know we have some great minds and inventors in the club so if anyone else has some innovations, comments or ideas it would be terrific to see if we can’t get a workable method which makes hygienic testing simple and accessible for all small-scale beekeepers.


Tis the swarming season, Snelgrove and more… – By Ernie Daley

Originally Posted on May 1st, 2017

Beekeepers fortunate enough that their hives, having survived the winter, now are on high alert looking out for Swarms and how to prevent them.  There was some good discussion on this at our most recent meeting and I wanted to share my experience with one of them. The Snelgrove swarm board method which I implemented last year and have already started this year.   Many people, myself included when first introduced to this method find it complicated but actually it is very simple once you understand the concept, and it works !

The Snelgrove method was first described by Leonard E Snelgrove in his 1934 book, “Swarming – It’s Control and Prevention”. https://www.amazon.ca/Swarming-Its-Control-Prevention-Snelgrove/dp/0905652398  It is a fascinating little book and if you can get one I urge you to add it to your library.  He describes and discusses many swarm control methods in addition to his own. I built a variation of his double screened swarm board and put it into service.  I modified the orientation of the boxes to suit my needs as described below. The principle is to separate the flying bees with the queen from the rest of the hive creating the impression that they have already swarmed and can start rebuilding.  The beauty of it is that once the board is in place you can alternate the access to the separated hive boxes maintaining the colony strength, in fact enhancing it and maybe ending up with a double queen hive (very likely if you get one in place early enough).  The idea is simple really; you separate the boxes of your hive into two categories. In one box you have the queen, frames of brood, stores and frames of drawn comb (we’ll call this A). In the second category you have all the frames with eggs, uncapped and capped brood and bees (we’ll call this B).  You now put the hive back together with “B” on the bottom board and a super above. Now the Snelgrove board goes on and on top of that “A” or the box with all the frames of brood, bees and the queen.

First step is to open door #1, all the flying bees that are in that upper box will exit and return to the bottom where they and all the other flying bees return to.  Any newly hatched bees in the upper box will now use that entrance to come and go after their orientation flights.

One week later close door #1 and open door #2 and open door #3 on the opposite side.  The bees from the upper box that were using #1 will now return to the bottom via #2 ending up in the bottom box and new bees will begin to use #3 to come and go because this is where they will orient to now.


Wait another week and open door #4 and #5 (at the back) and close #3.  Once again the bees that had been using #3 from the upper box will now return to the lower box via door #4 and new bees will begin to use #5 from the upper box.   Continue on with this rotation, while checking for space in each hive and add boxes as needed.

Sounds complicated but actually very simple and easy to understand once you get the idea of what is going on.  The bottom box is continually being reinforced with flying bees, the queen has lots of room to lay, there is little brood to feed in the bottom box so nectar coming in is stored freely.   So no downsides really, hive forager strength is maintained and enhanced through the flow, swarms are not likely as they are in an artificial swarm state. There is a possibility/likelihood that the bees in the lower box “B” may make a queen and she starts laying too, further increasing the flying bees bringing in stores.  But hey now we have a double queen hive, quality problem! This is in fact what happened for me in 2016. You can choose to recombine at the end of the flow, keeping the younger or better queen, make another hive or sell it. Either way, you have proactively intervened in the swarm impulse and improved your odds of a honey crop.

As with anything in Beekeeping there are more questions than answers…. what if there are already queen cells before you start?, what is the timing of the entrance rotations?, what if the virgin queen from comes back from her mating flight and goes in the wrong entrance?….. Well too much to cover here, you gotta get the book if you want all the answers, but it is fun trying out these different methods for sure.  Also you can make your own decisions based on what you observe and what your goals are.

I also use this method to make use of Dinks (queenright colonies which just don’t seem to build up or thrive on their own), thereby making use of her flying bees to add to the foragers of a strong colony below.

Ok, So….. if you’re not having fun with your bees, you’re not beekeeping right!  

Happy Nectar Flow all


Swarm Season by Ernie Daley

Swarm season, but they never read the book ! (originally posted June 10th, 2015)

With swarm season upon us many club members have experienced losses while some have been fortunate to capture a swarm of unknown origin.  Suzanne Page has an excellent video demonstrating the benefits of being ready with all the equipment needed to be successful should you be fortunate to get a swarm catching call, worth a look.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-qhZ1KPPYQ

I have been reading Honey Bee Democracy and am fascinated by the complex, sophisticated yet sensible and simple way that the scout bees and ultimately the swarm decides where to set up shop.  I have set up a couple “bait hives” in what appear to be ideal locations, in addition I have built a “swarm box” of exacting proportions and mounted it at the recommended height and orientation.  Since then I have observed scout bees checking out the swarm box, but no one moved in.  After setting everything up for the apiary there are always a few extra boxes and things which are not needed, these I store behind the wood pile against a shed on the ground.  Not too long ago we noticed a few scout bees checking it out, I did not think much about it because I have seen it before.   The next time I looked there were more scout bees (as in the book, these ones made the most convincing case for their choice to the other bees).  Then a day later the box is full of bees !   So these girls did not read the book, so often we are bamboozled by the bees, doing all the research, getting everything just so and the bees have different ideas.

The location they chose?  An abandoned (no drawn comb, only never used plastic foundation) pile of boxes on the ground in the shade of the wood pile and shed.

So happy to have hived a swarm without even trying !  One thing as always, the learning goes on.  Looking at their chosen location made it clear that they need that late afternoon shade, and looking at my other hives in the apiary I realised that the shade could be better so now my next project is to get them a bit of screening shade built before the long hot summer that is upon us.

So if you have not yet read the book Honey Bee Democracy, I highly recommend it.  And when you finish it you can lend it to the bees because apparently they have not read it yet !

Happy swarm catching

Ernie D

My Year in Bees 2013 – by Ernie Daley

Our Year in Bees on Denman – the highs and lows of 2013 (originally posted November 16, 2013)

I love the spring, with all the promise it brings.  This will be our fourth year keeping bees and we continue to learn as if it were our first.  So on a sunny day in late March upon checking our 2 hives we started last year from a nuc and a package, I was thrilled to see the boxes overflowing with bees, jam packed!  A great relief as we had lost our last two hives the previous winter, likely to moisture in the hive.  I ordered a couple of queens in anticipation of splitting the 2 healthy hives into 4, and for good measure I ordered another package. I had Big plans.

So the splits were made on April 28th, and the package installed.  Now we had to see if the queens would be accepted, the optimism was running high.  Everything was going according to plan.  The apiary was looking good, I had fed pollen patties (which they devoured) and they had good honey stores that we had salvaged and saved from the last seasons failed colonies.  Everything was going according to plan.

Swarm season!  But what luck, I am finding them, not losing them.  First one on the left,  May 11,  I hive in a dadent, and a few days later on the 13, I find another swarm on side of hive, this one I shake loose into a new deep and place alongside other hives.

Now I feel like a real beekeeper, two original hives expanding, two splits, two swarms and a new package, and it is only the middle of May!

But things were not what they appeared, the splits had rejected their queens, or so I thought.  I decide against introducing new queens and instead, give both hives frames of capped and uncapped brood from the original hives (they were bursting and could easily spare them) and let them make their own queens.

May 27 inspection, more bad news, the little swarm has laying workers, so I decide to shake off the house bees away from the apiary and let the flying bees return to a queen-right hive next door, much to my surprise this actually worked.  The other  larger swarm has vacated the deep they were in and so I am back down to the splits and the package.  Humbling experience, and upon further research I have learned more about catching swarms, (I should have read this first).


June 16 inspection, populations all look good, I find 2 queens in one of the original hives!  A little black one following/chasing a big gold one.  I leave them to sort it out.  One of the splits has uncapped brood and eggs, the other one still no eggs.

June 30th inspection, all hives look good except the last split, still no eggs so they were not able to make a queen.  I give them some frames of capped and uncapped brood from this year’s package, which had plenty to spare and they were the gentlest of the apiary.  This would be their last chance as far as I could see given the time of year.  Also set up wasp traps, you can see the yellow bags hanging.


I was away July and Aug and Tammy looked after the inspections, and took off a couple of honey boxes during the summer, things were looking good !

I return in Sept. and when we go over to inspect the hives we got the shock of the season….

Sept 7, all hives under attack from wasps.

Entrance reducers not keeping them out.  3 Hives full of wasps, no bees, no brood no honey.  Removed.

Wasp traps filling daily, impossible to control.

They fed as greedily on their own dead (see  below) as they did on bees and larvae.

We took the last two surviving hives home to Comox to see if we could save them (fewer wasps here) and upon inspection, each remaining hive is queen-right but contains very few bees as shown on left.  The boxes are shallows and light, but luckily the deeps below have lots of stores so I put the deeps with honey on top and the bees will go up and spend the winter there

So a year in beekeeping comes to a close, optimistic start, re-queening success and failures, swarm catching success and failures, feeding and wasp trapping and in the end I am left with less than I started with.  A couple extremely small hives which are now in a dry safe place.  With the addition of new and improved insulated top covers and moisture wicking egg cartons, new ventilation holes and I will also cover the hives to keep driving rain off, I must remain content that I have done all I can for the girls, hope for the best in the spring when we will start all over….

Wasp Update:

Now, after having talked to many other beekeepers it seems that catastrophic losses to wasps were experienced by many and we were lucky to loose only 3 out of 5.  And reports from non-beekeepers also confirmed a bad year for wasps all along the coast and in the world.  If  you read this article from the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/04/killer-hornets-chinese-city-living-in-fear it will make our problems seem like child’s play compared to what this community in China is experiencing.   The sting of the highly venomous giant Asian hornet (vespa mandarinia), which measures about the size of a human thumb, can dissolve human tissue and cause kidney failure, (many people have died from numerous stings).  An Asian hornet below, devouring a honey bee.

The Bee Whisperer

Originally posted by unknown on September 22, 2013

Ever since I read A Recipe for Bees and The Secret Lives of Bees  I’ve been captivated by beekeeping.  I’ve longed to get my own hives, bottle my own honey, dance in the bee yard covered in my lovely, gentle bees. I imagined that I would totally be in touch with the inner workings of my bees, I’d anticipate their needs, and I’d communicate with them on a celestial level.  They’d know what I was thinking and I would know what they were thinking.  It would magical and people would think I was cool.

It appears that I don’t know jack squat about bees and they seem to care less about what’s going on with me.  Seriously.  I got my first 2 hives in May as nucs.  And my crash course bee school began:

“What do you mean I have to feed them?  They’re BEES!  They feed themselves, don’t they?”
“Oh, I can build and paint all these hive bodies and wire and embed all 60 frames in one weekend, no problem, says the internet.  I beg to differ.  How does one embed wax on a frame without electrocuting oneself or catching things on fire?”
“What do you mean the hive box has to be square?  Can’t I just eyeball it?”
“Swarms?  What the hell?  I just got these bees and they swarmed 3 times before July.  I read that new colonies don’t swarm in their first year!”
“How much equipment DO I need?  I thought they’d live in one hive forever and ever. “
“What the heck is a split?”
“Robbing? What’s that?”
“Where is my honey? “

Fortunately, despite my best efforts, my bees are very healthy and happy and I have learned a boat load.  The three swarms were hard to take but the remaining bees rallied.   My girls are quite friendly and I’ve only had one sting…and I’m not entirely sure it was a honeybee that stung me.  I can often tend to them without smoke or sugar syrup.  I’ve been reading and watching YouTube videos about bees non-stop since February, trying to cram all the bee knowledge into my head, only to have it explode at every bee club meeting where each bee keeper has the exact opposite advice as the next.

I love observing the bees in the morning, cereal bowl in hand, watching them trundle into the hive with pollen packs bulging, doing their bee thing. I really love my bees, those mysterious creatures are ever fascinating.

I have no idea what they are thinking, but they seem to be okay.
And so am I, even though I’m not the bee whisperer I imagined.


Vespas ~ by Jen Zacher

originally posted on August 25, 2013

I’ve always loved Vespas…until this month.  A Vespa is a classy Italian scooter that was popular in Europe in the 1960s.  It was cleverly named after the yellow- and black-striped stinging insect because both are known for their distinctive buzzing sound.  “Vespa” is the Italian word for “wasp”.

But this August, anything remotely conjuring up the image of a wasp irritates me.  I’ve been keeping bees since May and once August hit, I haven’t been able to keep the wasps out of my two beehives.

I first saw the wasps’ nest in the greenhouse rafters in mid-June.  At that time, there seemed to be only five or six.  They crawled slowly across their convex paper comb and seemed harmless enough.  I knew I should probably get rid of them before they became a nuisance to either people or our puppy, but I hadn’t really thought about them being a threat to bees.

After a bit of research, it turns out that wasps invade hives to steal honey and brood (baby bees).  They are parasitic and may paralyze other insects to feed as food to their own larvae.  Some people may find the wasp’s role of reducing the number of insects in one’s yard a blessing, but as a beekeeper, this wasp behaviour is a nuisance.  (I’m trying to be impartial because I feel such angst about wasps.  In reality, lots of people have been complaining about wasps being annoying this time of year.)

Instinctively, my initial thought when I saw the nest was to knock it down or spray it.  I’ve never been stung by a bee or a wasp (which is beekeeper blog topic for another occasion), so I didn’t want my first sting to be from several angry wasps who had a right to be aggressive.  As an environmentalist who is all-too-aware of the dangers of manufactured chemical pesticides, I was surprised that the idea to spray had even crossed my mind.  Why would I spray a pesticide inside the greenhouse with my food when I’m so opposed to agri-business doing the same?  What effects would it have on my Tumbler Toms and Thai peppers?  What was the cost benefit of doing so?  So, I did nothing.

Then at the bee meeting, a nifty robber’s entrance was presented and explained.  It was ingenious.  It allows a beekeeper to close up the hive to stop wasps (and other robbing bees) while allowing airflow through mesh on the front of the hive.  There’s a secret entrance for the resident bees to come and go freely while fooling the robbers.  The entrance is near a metal cover that hides the bee pheromones, so robbers get distracted and fly toward the mesh (where they can smell the pheromones) but can’t find the true entrance.  As an aside, one of my favourite parts of beekeeping (and Comox Valley Beekeeper Association meetings) is discovering clever contraptions people have developed to solve problems.

I admired this simple fix to the robber problem, but I didn’t buy the specialty hive entrance because I didn’t have a problem at the time nor the extra cash to warrant being proactive about the warnings that robbers would be coming.

Sure enough, within days of the bee meeting, I noticed that the wasps’ nest in the greenhouse had quadrupled in size.  I could hear them humming when I entered.  I went to the beehives and saw them frantically buzzing there too.  I fed the hives using my usual homemade feeders (upside down glass jars with holes in the top and a 2:1 sugar syrup inside), and my heart sank when I saw the sons-a-bitches inside the hive.

The wasps had gone too far, though, the day I saw a blatant attack on one my bees, in which the wasp grabbed her and flew her down to the ground.  I was videotaping and couldn’t tell what the outcome had been, but needless to say, I was pissed.

I left the feeders, knowing the wasps would probably be robbing it all day while I was at work, but I rationalized that it was better that they fed on the syrup rather than the actual honey the bees had already processed and stored for the winter.

I had already pulled out the bottom board to let the bees cool off in the summer heat (via the screened bottom), but I decided to close up the hive up top as well.  I pulled out the push pins that usually keep the outer lid propped up, and I let it close completely (as designed).  I quickly ran in the house and returned with the entrance reducers that allow one bee in and one bee out at a time.  I slid it into place, hoping it would give the girls a fighting chance.

That evening, I set up my second line of defense – the homemade two-liter bottle wasp trap.  I cut off the top third and flipped it over to insert it in the remaining two-thirds of the bottle.

In true north Vancouver Island fashion, I popped open a Lucky.  I poured it into the trap and dripped a couple of drops of dish soap in as well, to break the surface tension so the little buggers would more easily drown (it sounds cruel writing it now).  I had found complex recipes that called for jam, but this is not meant to be a complex or expensive hobby, so I just used Lucky.

It turns out, wasps love Lucky.  I caught at least 10 wasps (and probably more) within the first 24 hours.  One bee keeper told me to leave the dead wasps in the trap as it will attract more (which appears to be true).  I also read a few online beekeeper reviews saying folks found this simple homemade trap to be more effective than purchased traps, which is great because now that I’ve kept the wasps out of the beehives, I am back to pinching pennies for a Vespa…scooter.

p.s.  This evening, I Googled whether fig trees are pollinated by bees because we have one dripping with heavy, purple fruits.  I was looking forward to giving the girls credit for such a prolific tree, but then I found out fig trees are pollinated by wasps!?!??!

Fig wasps are a different species of wasp than the ones I’ve been battling, of course, but it illustrates that life’s ironic.  It’s also interesting that we appreciate some insects a lot (honeybees) but want to kill others (wasps).  It was also a nice reminder that if I’d had sprayed for insect with chemicals that I may have inadvertently killed the others I wanted around too.

p.p.s.  Bees and wasps construct similar looking comb, but bees have wax glands that produce the wax that is formed into comb.  I learned that wasps instead mix their saliva with materials (such as paper pulp or mud) to build comb.  When I was really upset with the wasps, I found this fact comforting – that the bees had such a dignified ability to produce a raw material rather than spit to make it.  :)

Creating sanctuary for bees

Written By Nao Sims at Honey Grove Farm, member of The Comox Valley Beeclub

originally posted July 11, 2013

There is nothing I like better than high-summer in the bee-yard. The hum of the hive on a sunny day is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.

The smell of warm wax and honey that rises up off the hives and permeates the lower field where they sit, is utterly transporting.

Yes, at long last the sun has come out on the Pacific West Coast of Canada, and our second nectar flow has finally begun.

The bees are busy from dawn to dusk and the whir around the bee-yard brings a deep down contentment to my whole being.

Here on Honey Grove Farm, located in rural Comox Valley BC, on Vancouver Island, we had a great deal of rain during the months of May and June. The rain combined with a dearth toward the end of May could have brought a number our hives to starvation, had we not intervened and fed them sugar syrup. Despite the abundant honey stores that the bees came through winter with, they still did not have enough. Although we are dedicated to planting more bee-food here on our property, we have not yet managed to have enough flowering at the time when our bees seem to need it most.

And so, our dedication to create a sanctuary for honeybees continues, as we endeavor to plant more flowers and trees to support our bees. It is common knowledge that a great number of beekeepers will move their bees to the nectar-flow, as opposed to bringing the nectar-flow to their bees. Here on Honey Grove, however, we are interested in the latter (that is bringing flowers to bees, as opposed to bees to flowers). The below image is of a bee on phacilia, a flower which bees love that is rich in nectar as well as pollen, and that we have planted in abundance on our farm.

In our culture, in these modern times, beekeepers move their bees for pollination reasons as well as honey production. In fact, up until the early part of the 20th century, it was believed that this is a fairly recent practice (recent being over the last two to three hundred years) however, in 1914, at an archeological dig in Egypt, a number of papyri were uncovered which once belonged to Zenon, a Greek official who lived at Philadelphia in the Fayum, about the middle of the third century before Christ.

From the information recorded on these papyrus it would seem that ancient Egyptians also practiced what the Germans call Wanderdienenzucht, that is, moving beehives to different districts in order to take advantage of the earlier and later flowering plants. One of these documents reads:

“To Zenon greeting from the Beekeepers of Arsinoite nome. But it is now 18 days that the hives have been kept in the fields, and it is time to bring them home and we have no donkeys to carry them back. Unless donkeys are sent at once, the result will be that the hives will be ruined and the impost lost. (C.C. Edgar, “Selected Papyri from the Arrchives of enon,” No.106, p.41, in Annales du Service des Antiquities de l’Egpte, vol xxiv.)

I must admit that the first time I read this, I was in some disbelief, for I was always under the impression that moving hives was a more modern beekeeping practice, and yet the above quote suggests that beekeepers have been moving their hives for thousands of years, imagine. However, I think it is important to note that moving hives on carts pulled by donkeys, a few miles from one field to another, is a very different thing than moving hives on 18 wheeler trucks, thousands of miles, back and forth across America to pollinate mono-crops of almonds and blueberries.

All of this leads me to appreciate that being a beekeeper in these modern times is a very different practice than it once was. Here on Honey Grove, we are not fans of moving our bees great distances to pollinate mono-crops or for honey production. Sometimes we will take our bees on a 20 minute journey up the mountain into the alpine, to collect the clean unpolluted nectar of fire-weed that grows there, but that is all.

It is now recognized by scientists the world over, that moving bees to pollinate mono-crops is not the best thing for our beloved bees. Bees need a variety of nutrients to be fully nourished, healthy and thriving, and this means taking the nectar and pollen from a variety of flowering plants. Undernourished or malnourished bees appear to be more susceptible to pathogens, parasites and other stressors. Beyond this, a great majority of farmers are still using chemicals on their crops, and bees pollinating those crops are exposed to a plethora of toxins, some of which have the potential to not only weaken the bees, but to kill them outright. It has also been shown that leaving bees inside a hive with blocked entrances for 8 -24 hours during transport, is very stressful for bees, as they cannot leave to defecate and there is often not enough ventilation.

All of this considered, I have decided not to move my bees anywhere, and instead, to bring the flowers to my bees. It is my belief that bees have served humanity for far too long now. It is now time for us to be of service to our bees, in whatever ways we can. This does not mean we need to keep bees ourselves even. You do not need to be a beekeeper to plant flowers that support bees, or to buy honey from your local organic beekeeper, supporting practices that benefit bees.

For me, as a beekeeper, keeping bees means serving bees, it means creating an environment that fully supports my bees throughout the year. It means practicing organic methods of beekeeping in whatever ways I can, and not treating my bees with antibiotics for disease prevention. It means remaining dedicated to holistic methods of hive management which includes Integrated Pest Management ( doing a number of non-invasive practices throughout the beekeeping year to reduce the stress levels in the hive and to keep mite counts down). At this time in history, we can no longer ask what the bees can do for us, but rather, we must ask ourselves, what we can do for them.

Flowers we can all plant for bees
March/ April
Crab apple
Malus sylvestris
Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Cytisus scoparius
Prunus avium
Ajuga reptans
Erica spp.
Flowering currant
Ribes sanguineum
Pulmonaria officinalis
Pyrus communis
Goat willow
Salix caprea
Red dead nettle
Lamium purpureum
Rosmarinus officinalis
White dead nettle
Lamium album

Bird’s-foot trefoil / Paul
Birds foot trefoil
Lotus corniculatus
Allium schoenoprasum
Symphytum officinalis
Digitalis purpurea
Lonicera periclymenum
Kidney vetch
Anthyllis vulneraria
Lupinus spp.
White clover
Trifolium repens
Papaver spp.

Rubus idaeus
Red campion
Silene dioica
Salvia officinalis
Thymus praecox
Tufted vetch
Vicia cracca
Meadow cranesbill
Geranium pratense
Wisteria sinensis

July/ August
Borago officinalis
Rubus fruticosus agg.
Buddleia davidii
Centaurea cyanus
Alcea rosea
Common knapweed
Centaurea nigra
Lavandula spp.
Lesser burdock
Arctium minus
Wild marjoram
Origanum vulgare
Mentha spp.
Purple loosestrife
Lythrum salicaria
Red clover
Trifolium pratense
Scabiosa columbaria
Sea holly
Eryngium maritimum
Snap dragons
Antirrhinum majus
Helianthus spp.
Dipsacus pilosus
Cirsium dissectum
Vipers bugloss
Echium vulgare