Everyone Should Have Honeybees

Notice the title does not say, “Everyone Should KEEP Honeybees” BeeKEEPing isn’t for everyone, but anyone can have bees. Bee-having is a hands off approach that let’s bees do their own thing.  It’s simply providing a home for a colony of bees with little or no interference from us. 

There are a few simple steps to have bees:  

First, purchase a beehive box from any beekeeping supplier (look online). I suggest getting the standard deep box, and 10 standard deep frames to go inside the box. You will also need a migratory cover and a bottom board. Using standard equipment is important but not necessary since it’s easier to sell standard equipment if you change your mind.

Second. Buy some frames of fully drawn honeycomb from a local beekeeper. It would be good to have at least 3, but 10 would be better. Place those 3 (or more) frames of drawn comb in the middle of the box, with the rest of the space being filled in with the new frames.

A frame of drawn comb.

Third. In early spring, place the box in your backyard in a location where you’ll be able to leave them long term.

That’s it, three easy steps. Once that’s done, wait for the bees to move in. Bees swarm in the spring, which is their way of reproducing. They split off of the original colony and go looking for a new home, which you are providing for them! 

At this point you can just let them be. It might be a good idea to become friends with a small local beekeeper in case you want help extracting a little bit of honey down the road, or if they become a problem, you can sell the hive of bees to them.

Warning: Beekeepers might think you’re crazy. Just remind them that if the box had not been there, the bees would have moved into a neighbor’s wall or chimney. Bees are much better off in the box! Also, having  bees might lead you into keeping bees.


Why We Should Eat More Crystallized Honey

honey crystallized

Crystallized Honey is the natural state of honey as we move into winter.  It occurs naturally as the weather gets cooler. We are so used to our honey bears and other squeeze jars, that when we see crystallized honey, we think there is something is wrong with it.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Here’s why we should eat more of it:

It has an amazing texture and flavor.  I enjoy it with a cup of unsweetened tea.  take a small spoonful and put it in your mouth, then take a sip of tea.  You can feel the  honey crystals slowly dissolving, releasing bursts of natural sweetness while mixing with the slight bitterness of the tea.  Yum.  If you want to sweeten your tea the regular way, go ahead because the crystals dissolve easily.

It is the way it was traditionally eaten.  In fact, probably most of the world eats it this way.  In Russia you’re more likely to see it in a solid block rather than a squeeze jar.

It tends to be the more natural honey.  Most of the processing of conventional honey is done for the purpose of keeping it liquid.  Either is it ultra filtered to suppress the crystallization process, or it need to be kept in a warmer until its ready to be sold.  Raw, unfiltered honey crystallizes faster than cooked, filtered honey.

Its easy to serve with a spoon.  You don’t need a plastic squeeze jar to avoid the drip.  Just grab a spoon and dig out a dollop of the glorious sweet stuff.  Depending on the consistency, crystallized honey may or may not be easier to spread on soft bread.  It can be warmed slightly to make it more spreadable.  At least it won’t drip through the holes or over the sides!

Glass jars are better…especially if the honey is crystallized.  If you’re going to eat crystallized honey, it may as well be in a glass jar.  Crystallized honey and squeeze jars don’t really go together. Glass jars cost about the same as plastic, but they are much easier to reuse or recycle.

Nowadays, we come to expect hot coffee in the winter and iced coffee in the summer.  Lets make crystallized honey the new normal for fall and winter.

What’s so special about beeswax candles?


Last year somebody asked me what the difference is between beeswax candles and regular candles.  At the time I really didn’t know, but now I do. The biggest difference is what they are made of.

Most candles (the cheap ones for sure) are made of paraffin.  According to Wikipedia, Paraffin wax is a white or colorless soft solid derivable from petroleum, coal, or oil shale.  It is a byproduct of refining lubricating oil. It is heated, mixed with one or more solvents, then cooled.  It may then be further processed to remove colors and odors.

If that sounds crazy, wait till you hear about beeswax.  When a worker bee has no place to put nectar, her body starts to automatically convert the unripened honey into beeswax.  She takes tiny flakes of this fresh beeswax, chews it till soft, then uses it for construction material to form honeycomb cells that store honey.  When the honey is filled to the top, more beeswax is applied to seal it off for long term storage.  In honey harvesting, excess beeswax can be melted, poured through a coffee filter and used to make candles.


The downside of paraffin candles is that they give off toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene.  Beeswax and soy candles do not.

So get out there and support your local beekeeper and soybean grower!  Light a candle.

How to Kill Honey Bees (sarcasm warning)


Have you ever tried to kill ants?  When I was a kid I would stomp on them..but they kept coming.  You can spray ants and they’ll keep coming.  Finally I learned that you need to kill the nest, you need them to take the poison back to their nest, and that poison needs to be sub-lethal to the individual ant, or else they’ll never make it.

Bees are very similar. You can stomp on them all day (I don’t recommend it with bare feet as any 1st grader can tell you) but if you poison a bee’s nest, they’re done.

Pesticides have come a long way baby.  Thankfully the highly toxic chemicals of the past have been drastically reduced.  Now we have pesticides containing synthetic nicotine.   In a way its a really great product since the neo-nicotine is contained in the plant tissue and therefore is detrimental to any would-be plant eating bug.


Watch out for the word, “systemic”

For years the chemical companies have been telling us that neo-nicotine is not bad for bees.  “It’s bad for insects, but not for bees”.  A honey bee can gather neo-nicotine laced nectar or pollen and get it back to the nest with no apparent ill-effects.  Just one problem: bees use pollen and nectar to make royal jelly (baby formula for cute little baby bees).  What second hand smoke is to human babies, nicotine-laced-royal-jelly-baby-formula is to baby bees.

Admittedly, bees face several other problems besides neo-nicotine, so its easy for chemical companies to point the finger elsewhere.  The difference is that this is a problem that we can do something about.

By the way, neo-nicotine is addictive to bees.  Who Knew?!

Wanted: One Million Beekeepers

But not just any beekeepers.

We ask a lot of our bees.  They fill a crucial role in our agricultural food system and we couldn’t do without them, nor can we do without the commercial beekeepers that ensure that the bees are ready for pollinating a third of what we eat.  Probably every beekeeper would admit that bees are pushed really hard in order to do this.

Being trucked back and forth across the country, eating substitute feed since natural forage is not available, being coaxed to maintain an unnaturally large population in the middle of winter, enduring pesticide in the very crops that the bees are fertilizing.  All this while battling the dreaded varroa mite.

Honey bees have been trying to adapt and overcome this varroa mite for decades.  What should have taken a handful of years is taking decades.

And thus the need for One million beekeepers.  Not one million beekeepers operating like commercial guys, but with very small apiaries that don’t require shortcuts.  Small beekeepers have the luxury of removing a lot of the stressors that commercial bees face.  They also are not dependent on the income so they can afford to take things slow.  This must be done without mite treatments and artificial food. This releases the bees to adapt as they were designed to do.

Why one million? the number of managed hives in America has dropped from 5.7 million in the 1940’s to 2.7 million today.  In that time, the number of beekeepers has declined sharply, and the number of hives each beekeeper keeps has risen.  One million beekeepers with 2-4 hives would turn the tide.

If you have ever been curious about bees or thought about keeping them… just do it.  Feel free to contact me for the best resources on treatment-free beekeeping.

If your really don’t want to keep bees, that’s ok, you can be one of the two million people that we need to plant more food for bees and avoid using pesticides.

Your choice…either one is fine!

How Can You Determine if Honey is Fake?

Espi asks:  “I buy 5 lbs tin honey from the supermarket for US$15.00 called mountain honey raw. Lately I am not convinced it is real honey as I am thinking  how can it be so cheap.  So I read lot about honey and want to get some genuine advise from you how to say if the honey if real or fake. I will appreciate if you will give me some guidance how to buy good honey”.

Great question.  I’ll start with the best way to get real honey,  Contact a real beekeeper and get some directly from them.  Visit a farmers market, or call them on the phone. Ask them where it comes from, or ask if you can visit their bee yard sometime.  Then give the beekeeper feedback on how much you enjoyed the honey!

The more steps you are away from buying directly from the beekeeper, the less confident you will be that it is real, raw honey.  The second best way is to by from a locally owned market that has a relationship with a beekeeper.

If honey is in a supermarket and labeled as “raw” it will very likely be crystallized, which is a good sign that it hasn’t been processed too much.  Raw honey purchased from a beekeeper might be liquid or solid, since he/she can use honey warmers to keep the liquid state.

If you buy standard honey from the supermarket, there is a good chance that it has been ultra- filtered and therefore there is no way of telling if it is real or not or where it came from.  Even a scientist wouldn’t be able to tell if its been adulterated or smuggled from China.

If you don’t want to keep your own bees, at least have a beekeeper.  The more we can get food directly from the source, the more confidence we can have in the quality of our food.

Legalize Weeds for Bees Sake (that’s weeds, not weed)

Whether you are driving through the suburbs among manicured lawns and tidy flowerbeds, or through the well kept peach orchards or vineyards of Central California, there is one thing you don’t see much of these days.  Weeds.

Weeds are one of nature’s attempts to bring back a semblance of balance back into our open space.  Try as we might to bring the tidiness of our homes out to the outdoors, the weeds don’t seem to cooperate, until we make a trip down to home depot and use Round-Up to beat them into submission.

What does this have to do with honeybees and other pollinators?  After all, weed killer is an herbicide and bees are insects.  When bees see an orchard with a clean, weed-free floor, from their point of view, it may as well be a Sahara sand dune.  But when they buzz past a vineyard or backyard with wild undergrowth, they see a smorgasbord, a buffet, a salad bar.

One of the biggest problems that bees face, one of the main reasons for their decline is lack of clean forage.  Bees get protein, vitamins and minerals from plant pollen.  They get carbohydrates from the sweet plant nectar that they use to make honey.  What happens if you don’t eat a balanced diet of clean, chemical-free food?  You get sick.  Bees are no different.

I’m not saying that we should let everything go and revert to wildness.  We can be strategic about this.  By purposely planting bee friendly ground cover, such as clover, hairy vetch or thyme we can suppress the ugly weeds while adding a carpet that is pleasing to the eye and even the nose.

Go ahead, you have a beekeepers permission to ease up a little on the weeds.