Tag Archives: beekeeping

Moving Day For Bees

March 2, 2014

Last weekend, my son Ross and his friend Jonathon helped me move the bees from Lena, MS, to Pelahatchie, MS, where I now reside.

It was quite an experience, for sure! And, yes, I did get stung. The bees — naturally enough — preferred not to be disturbed.

Regular readers of my blogs and newsletter know that I’ve just moved to Pelahatchie, a little town (pop. 1400) about 30 miles from Lena (pop. 181), where I’ve resided for the past 15 years. It’s really “the big city” for me! There’s a grocery store only one block from my house; my health care provider, Linda, a nurse practitioner, is only two blocks away; and I’m only 30 minutes from my new job in Jackson. It used to take me about an hour and 15 minutes to get to work, each way! So, it’s a lot handier.

Of course, this move also spells the demise of ShooFly Farm. Annette and I operated it at Lena for 7 years. But she has now moved to North Carolina, and I’m not up to farming alone.

Also, my job is quite exciting — advising and consulting on sustainable, natural and organic farming with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (see: ncat,org). I’m also on the road a lot throughout the Gulf States region (MS, LA, AL, GA, FL), giving workshops and seminars, and speaking to farm groups and universities.

It’s quite kind of my new landlady to allow me to keep my bees and put in a garden, and I’m most grateful. The last thing I moved was the bees, last weekend. Here’s a photo essay:

My son Ross and his friend Jonathon prepare to move my bees. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

My son Ross and his friend Jonathon prepare to move my bees. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

First, we all suited up and made our plans. You will notice that I’ve put nets on the hives. Large, commercial beekeepers just pick them up and toss them on the back of a truck, and if they lose a few hundred bees in transit, so be it.

But I’m not a large commercial beekeeper. I practice natural beekeeping, and I love my bees. I try to be as gentle as I can with them and minimize mortality. It’s stressful enough moving them, and something I wouldn’t do if I had a choice.

Each hive is placed on a wagon and gently moved to the waiting truck. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Each hive is placed on a wagon and gently moved to the waiting truck. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

I had tried to move the bees by myself the weekend before, but first, I got my truck stuck, since it had been raining so much, and then, I found that I could not lift the hives. Each weighed about 100 ponds or so. I had thought that since the hives were down to their lowest numbers, it being deep winter, and their honey would just about have been used up, that the weight would be less. I was wrong. It’s possible that they’ve been obtaining more honey from wildflowers or hen bit,  a ground cover which is popping up. I’ll know more in a week or so when I start feeding them.

Ross and Jonathon move the bees about 100 yards to where my truck is parked. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Ross and Jonathon move the bees about 100 yards to where my truck is parked. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

I’m glad I had the young men to help me. I couldn’t have moved the hives by myself — especially lifting the hives to put them on the cart, then on the truck, then from the truck to the cart, then to their new home.

The bees are transported to their new home. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The bees are transported to their new home. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Up until we actually moved them on the truck to their new home, the bees had pretty much stayed in their hives. The temperature was the upper 30s. Generally, bees stay in their hives when the temperature is 48 or below; they stay in the hive and “unhook” their wings, so that they are shoulder to shoulder and “shiver”   — as if they were flying — to generate heat to keep the queen and hive warm. This is how they survive even the harshest winters. Since it was cold when we started, they didn’t much venture out; except for a few scouts to see what in the heck was going on, and they were held close to the hive by the nets.

Bees seem happy in their new home. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Bees seem happy in their new home. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

However, by the time we got the hives to Pelahatchie, the sun had warmed the hives and it was in the 50s. The bees were agitated by the 45 minute drive and upset about being moved. After we placed the hives on concrete blocks at their new home in Pelahatchie, I told Ross and Jonathon to go inside the house. Then, I removed the nets.  Those bees and hundreds more of angry bees came out of both hives at that point. I walked away in a calm deliberate manner, which is normally the best way to not getting stung. Even so, I did get stung. One bee got under my veil (bee in my bonnet! 🙂 and stung me on the neck.

I always tell people who are thinking about keeping bees and are worried about it: If you are going to mess with bees, you will get stung! There’s no getting around that fact. But it’s also beneficial to one’s health to get stung every once in a while, in my opinion; it’s said that beekeepers have a much lower rate of arthritis than the general population; and “bee therapy” or intentionally getting stung has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks. So, while it did sting, it didn’t bother me that much.

Since I was stung on the neck, however, to be safe, I did go inside and take an antihistamine  to prevent swelling (bee venom is a histamine). My neck itched for a couple of days, but that was about it.

I’ve checked on my bees every day since the move (without cracking open the hives; since that could compromise their internal atmosphere) and they seem to be adjusting nicely.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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Keeping Urban Bees

Keeping Bees

May 30, 2012

Here’s a term that has gained popularity in the past couple of years: urban homesteading. It means making your property, or “homestead,” as self-sufficient as possible, regarding food and supplies, while living in an urban setting.

You could also just call it sustainable living.

Either way, I’ll write on this topic from time to time. Our first stop: keeping bees.

Bees require specialized equipment and are impossible to corral. You’ve heard of trying to herd cats? Bees are worse. They range a mile in every direction and get into anything that promises the sweetness of flower nectar — including, in one instance, invading a Brooklyn, N.Y., maraschino cherry factory and producing metallic-tasting red honey (!), The New York Times reports.

Because bees go so far afield, if a jar of honey is labeled “organic,” be wary. Unless the bees are out in the middle of nowhere, it’s impossible to certify their food sources.

On the other hand, if you keep a hive, you can take care of your end to ensure you are not adding artificial chemicals. Believe it or not, most commercial beekeepers use chemicals to control pests. They also pasteurize their honey—through either heat or irradiation, killing many of its natural nutrients—and even add thinners and artificial color. If you truly want to buy natural honey, look for products marked “raw.”

If you have an acre of land or less in an urban setting, I don’t advise trying to keep standard-frame hives. Neighbors might complain—and rightly so—about 200,000 or so honeybees living next door. To get around this, a number of urban beekeepers have joined together to provide rooftop hives. “Secret” rooftop-hive locations include The Whitney Museum in New York City, the Lloyd’s Building in London and the Opera Garnier in Paris, The New York Times reports.

For city dwellers, particularly those living in apartments, rooftop hives may be worth looking into, but for most urban homesteaders interested in keeping bees, a few enterprising folk are making alternatives to standard, commercial hives.

One option is called an English Garden Hive, which is lightweight in comparison to standard frame hives and decorative. Some call this “the hive of the future” for backyard gardeners. Another choice is called the Kenyan, or top-bar hive, which is so adaptable that you can use boxes, 55-gallon drums, old crates or even a cast-off refrigerator for your hive. Either way, the idea is to harvest just enough honey for your own use, and let the bees keep the rest.

Most beekeepers keep stacked hives, adding hive boxes to the top, called “supers,” for the bees to produce surplus honey for commercial purposes. But garden hives are small to begin with and usually don’t have a number of supers. They’re meant to house bees to pollinate your crops, thus improving produce yields, while also supplying a small amount of honey for personal use.

Urban beekeepers should also buy a bee variety that usually maintains a small population, is gentle to work with, and doesn’t swarm a lot, such as Italian bees.

Urban Beekeeper Resources
• English Garden Hive and other essential beekeeping information and tools: brushymountainbeefarm.com
• Kenyan Top-Bar Hive—See videos at bees-on-the-net.com. This site also has a ton of other information and links about bees and beekeeping.
• It’s getting a little late in the year for buying bees, but Keith Dale of Wee Three Bees Apiary in Hattiesburg, who keeps natural Italian bees, says he plans to have some bees on hand for sale into June. Visit his website, beelicioushoney.com, or call 601-447-6994.
• “Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture” by Ross Conrad (Chelsea Green, 2007, $36) is a good book on chemical-free beekeeping.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Getting started growing organic food easy as 1-2-3

March 2, 2012
Getting started with growing organic food easy as 1-2-3

Think growing organic food is difficult? If you have a wheelbarrow, garage and driveway, it’s as easy as 1-2-3.

1) Presumably, your garage doesn’t get below 32 degrees. If so, go to the garden store and buy a couple of bags of organic potting soil (Miracle-Gro makes OMRI-approved Organic Choice for certified organic gardening; it’s usually available at Walmart);

2) Put your bags of potting soil in your wheelbarrow; plant your organic or heirloom seeds by punching them through the plastic bag into the contained soil and lightly water (don’t overwater, or make soggy);

3) During the day, if temps are warm, lightly water or mist the soil and wheel the wheelbarrow to a sunny spot in the driveway; at night, wheel it back into the garage.

Within days, you will have plants sprouting, and in about 4-5 weeks, they will be ready to put into your 4-foot-by-8-foot organic “Jim’s plot.” Or, if you keep them pruned, they can produce right there in the wheelbarrow!

See, one, two, three. Who says organic gardening is hard to do?

Reader response on feeding bees: A woman called to question last week’s item about beekeepers needing to feed the bees. While not a “beek,” she wanted to know if she could help, too, adding that she had found where some bees had drowned in a container while apparently looking for water on her patio. Some observations:

First, bees require lots of water and if they don’t have a place to land (such as a leaf) in a pond or other water source, many can drown trying to obtain it. During drought, it’s a good idea to offer bees a water source, and it can be done by putting gravel in a baking pan (in shade) and filling it with water so that the bees can stand on the rocks and sip.

Similarly, one can pour a mixture of organic sugar and water in the pan to feed bees (mix sugar into warm, not hot, water until it won’t absorb any more to make the syrup). Beekeepers have specially designed feeders for their hives that release sugar water, as needed, by the bees. It’s important to keep the sugar water fresh, so it doesn’t spoil, just as you would do with hummingbird feeders.

Note: Do NOT give bees honey. While honey is safe for humans, each bee colony has its own viral load of diseases specific to that hive; bees, for example, in natural (or organic) hives without antibiotic treatments by the beekeeper could be killed off by being fed honey from treated bees. Even “raw” or organic honey can transmit diseases that the bees may not have.

Just give them sugar water.

Need bees? Smart beekeepers order their bees in November for spring delivery. There are still a few beekeepers with bees to sell; one “natural” beekeeper (without chemicals) is Beelicious Honey in Hattiesburg. I saw the owners recently and they have a few orders left. For details, visit http://www.beelicioushoney.com or write info@beelicioushoney.com or call (601) 447-4658. You will have to pick up the bees in person.

Aldo Leopold showing at Millsaps: On Tuesday, Millsaps is showing Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time, the first full-length, high-definition documentary film made about the legendary conservationist.

Although probably best known as the author of the conservation classic A Sand County Almanac, Leopold is also renowned for his work as an educator, philosopher, forester, ecologist and wilderness advocate.

For tickets, call (601) 974-1130. Tickets are also available at the door. Admission is $10. For additional information, visit http://www.aldoleopold. org/greenfire.

Ag Day: National “Ag Day” will be observed Thursday at the Mississippi Farmers Market on High Street in Jackson, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Speeches and fresh, locally produced food will be the highlights.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Why store-bought tomatoes taste like cardboard

April 1, 2011

Store-bought tomatoes taste like cardboard? Here’s why

People who buy fresh local organic produce are often astounded at the rich, succulent flavors that seem to explode in the mouth.

There are a variety of reasons for this, some of them quite technical, not only involving the fertility and trace elements in soil, but also the chemicals plants use to defend themselves when left alone (rather than grown in industrial farming monocultures with poisonous pesticides, herbicides, etc.).

It’s often most pronounced when tomato season arrives and people ask, why do grocery tomatoes taste like cardboard?

That also is for a variety of reasons, including the above and also the fact that most commercial tomatoes are hybrids grown with a preference to be a certain size, weight and shape so that they can be shipped in uniform boxes and also so they will all ripen at the same time (determinate) and have a long shelf life, rather than taste. Add to this the timing of picking.

For tomatoes to be shipped, they are picked at what’s called the “breaker” or “mature green” stage, which is not mature at all.

It’s when the tomato is showing the first hint of blush on the skin. Only 5 percent of the potential flavor of the tomato is in the fruit!

Yet, this is the stage from which the tomato you buy in the grocery is picked, so that it can be trucked across country, or countries, held in warehouses, distributed to stores sites, displayed on shelves and, ultimately, bought by a consumer.

So, what do we want in a tomato?

Here in Mississippi, in addition to flavor, we want the plant to survive the hot, humid weather.

Most of our tomato problems are because it’s too moist, and you get all kinds of rots and blights, or because it’s too hot (more than 100 degrees) and the fruits won’t “set.”

Here are a couple of varieties to consider (though by all means, if you are successful with what you are growing, stick with it!):

•Homestead24 (certified organic; for hot, humid weather, from Florida);

•Neptune (certified organic, hot, humid, from Florida);

•Cherokee Purple (heirloom from Tennessee; hot weather tolerant);

•Arkansas Traveler (heirloom, hot, humid).

If not available at a seed store, near you try: TomatoFest (http:// store.tomatofest.com/); Box 628; Little River CA 95456.

Faith, mustard seeds and jets. During U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ recent visit to Mississippi, he mentioned that the Navy is venturing into biofuels to end reliance on fossil fuels.

I asked him if it was corn-based (ethanol hikes food costs and is nonsustainable, using more energy to produce than it produces) and he said, no, it was a type of mustard seed. I thought maybe he had gotten his facts confused with a biblical verse.

But, intrigued, I inquired further, and his office reported it’s specifically Camelina sativa, and sent the following facts:

•Camelina is a genus in a flowering plant family related to the mustard plant, and its seeds can be refined into a biofuel.

•It can be used as a rotation crop or on fallow land.

•It is naturally occurring in all 50 states except Hawaii.

•It’s currently cultivated in Florida: 7,000 acres.

•On Earth Day last year, the Navy flew an F/A-18 Hornet – named the “Green Hornet” – 1.2 times the speed of sound on a 50-50 blend of camelina and JP-5, and is testing and certifying all its aircraft on the same blends.

This might be a cash crop for Mississippi farmers.

It’s certainly worth exploring.

News for Beeks: Those interested in beekeeping should check out their local Mississippi clubs. They love newcomers! See:

•Central Mississippi Beekeepers Association, for beekeepers in the Jackson, Clinton, Ridgeland, Raymond, Madison, Pearl, Florence and Brandon area. Meetings are the third Tuesday night of each month in Clinton. For details, contact Stan or Cheryl Yeagley at (601) 924-2582, email candsyeagley@ netzero.net

•Marion County Beekeepers Association meets monthly for beekeepers in the Columbia, Foxworth, Sumrall area. For details, contact D. L. Wesley at (601) 736-3272, email dwesley39483@msn.com.

•Southeast Mississippi Beekeepers Association meets monthly for beekeepers in the Laurel, Ellisville area. For details, Contact John Tullos, (601) 782-9234, email jtullos@bellsouth.net or Hubert Tubbs, (601) 382-2607 or email Karen_tubbs @bellsouth.net

•Gulf Coast Beekeepers Association meets monthly for beekeepers along the Gulf Coast. For details, contact Doug Lowery, (228) 826-2234.

•N.E. Mississippi Beekeepers Assocation meets quarterly in Fulton. For details, contact Romona Edge, (662) 862-3201, email romonam@ext.msstate.edu.

•Delta Area Beekeepers Associaton meets as scheduled. For details, contact Stanley Holland, (662) 745-0529, email holland_stanley@bellsouth.net.

•Lafayette County Beekeepers Assocation meets as scheduled. For details, contact the local county extension office or Harold Brummett, 25 CR 4009, Oxford MS 39655.

Bee Workshops: The April 7 Jackson beekeeping short course by the Mississippi Beekeepers Association is filled to overflowing; but there are upcoming ones, May 13-14 in Jackson (hosted by Central Miss. Beekeepers Assn.) and in Verona June 3-4 and in Columbia June 15-17. For details, contact: Harry Fulton, Box 5207, MS State MS 39762; email: Harry@mdac.state.ms.us.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.