7 Years In a Bee Tree

Bee Tree 1In late November seven years ago, a distant neighbor cut down an alder tree that was hanging over his driveway. Unbeknownst to him, that tree was a bee tree – home to a feral honeybee hive. The top of the tree broke off when the tree hit the ground, leaving an eleven foot section where the colony lived, but their honey stores got smashed apart and all the honey lay on the ground, melting in the rain. The bees were wet, chilled and hungry. November is a bad time for a move.

The tree was so punky I wondered if it might fall apart around them. Once home, Joseph and I chained the one-ton trunk to a concrete post to keep it upright. Joseph made a latched cover so I could open it to put honeycomb inside and keep them fed all winter.

Bee Tree 2Bee Tree Hives Stay Alert

Despite the winter cold, this bee tree hive was always awake and alert when I opened the feeding station. The tree’s four-inch thick walls provided solid insulation and let them keep the interior at 95 degrees, even during deep freezes. The importance of thick walls is worth paying attention to because winter bees don’t need as much energy to keep themselves warm and cozy.

The puny 3/4 inch hive walls on standard bee hives may well be a detriment. The thin walls don’t retain heat, causing the colony to waste precious resources of food and energy trying to stay warm, and may go in and out of torpor (semi-hibernation). Bee scientist Thomas Seeley has demonstrated in studies that bees in thick-walled trees eat three times LESS honey getting through the winter.

Crack in the Bee Tree

In March I noticed the tree was starting to crack more. I removed the feeder and placed a warre box on top. The bees propolized the box and incorporated the new addition onto the aging trunk and filled it with nectar. That told me they were ready for the next step.

Bee Tree 3I made an educated guess to how far down the hive extended. Joseph and our friend Tel braced and cut off the top three feet of the trunk where the bees lived. We moved that section to a raised, covered area fifteen feet away. The move went really well and I soon added another warre box on top. Then I left them on their own, to live as wild tree bees.

I was concerned the cracks in the trunk might break it open, so I put some empty langstroth boxes around the lower section to hold them together. These lang boxes were only an inch larger than the trunk, preventing any sections from tipping over or collapsing. Though this photo looks like a warre hive on top of a few langs, inside the langs is the alder trunk. Joseph securely screwed the warre section onto the trunk and here they are today, seven years later.


Keeping the bee tree dry has prevented further rot, while the DEEP THICKNESS OF THE WALLS has helped them stay warm in winter and cool in summer.

The hollow empty trunk, no longer home to the bees, stayed chained to the post for all these years. I kept the top covered, for no reason really. Every so often I’d take the top off and let friends look inside to see the walls completely sealed with bright red propolis.

Demise of the Bee Tree

A few weeks ago I was in the bee yard, watching another hive in that lovely buzzy meditational reverie I get around bees. Suddenly I heard a loud WHOMP! and the ground shook. Startled, I spun around and saw the punky old empty trunk on the ground. After six years, the bottom finally rotted and the tree fell onto its side. Had I left the bees in that section, they would have lost their hive.

This time of year I don’t spend a lot of time in the garden and bee yard, so it was highly coincidental that I was standing not so many yards away when the empty tree finally fell.

I asked Joseph to cut for me two 3-foot sections of the empty log, still heavily propolized even though no bees have lived there for six years. These will become an educational display to show people how bees live in the wild.

Tree colonies who live in thick-walled hives have an easier time than conventional bees who live in thin wooden boxes! The thick walls are excellent insulation, and also significant is the dense propolis that covers every interior surface.

The interior of the colony’s old home continues to be perfectly preserved just as they left it FOR SIX YEARS without a speck of care.

Lessons from the Bee Tree

What do I understand from this?

  • Thick, well-insulated wooden walls are more desirable than thin walls.
  • When the interior is more constant temperature, bees use less energy to keep it warm or cool.
  • When bees are too cold, they go into torpor. When the interior temperature is more constant, they are less likely to go into torpor.
  • Bees who go in and out of torpor need to boost their energy by eating more honey.
    When they need less energy, they don’t eat as much honey and are less prone to winter or spring starvation.
  • Dr. Seeley also observed that tree bees surrounded by thick trunk insulation stay awake all through winter, and yet they eat THREE TIMES LESS honey than bees in conventional hives.

So what are the bees doing in there if they are awake but have no outside tasks to do? That question reminded me of something the bees shared with me: Winter bees living in a well-regulated situation dream the future year into being. In their words:

“In winter dreamtime, we unite and communicate with the nascent beings who dream the next cycle’s crops into life. Flower spirits are in a torpor of their own in winter, the seeds in a waiting. The hive, however, is alive with the presence of these spirits. Winter dreamtime is a celebration of connection and appreciation, a time of deep spiritual union when we are intensely aware of the flower spirits. The flowers are held in a cupped hand of gratitude as we send our appreciation — enriching and nourishing the flower beings and encouraging a fruitful next season.”

I believe bees have interior tasks that are beyond our perception. The more time I spend with bees, the more I find myself willing to trust that when they appear most quiet to us, the bees may well be in the midst of deep and significant holy work they do for themselves and the world entire.

Posted in Food and water for bees, Food for bees, Helping bees survive winter, Natural Bee Care, Natural Beekeeping, Organic Beekeeping, Relocating Bees, Treatment-Free Beekeeping, Winter Bee Care | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 7 Years In a Bee Tree

Spirit Bee yellow jacket tips to protect your bees

With the arrival of early spring, here are some Spirit Bee yellow jacket tips to protect your bees.

At the end of winter I’m ready for bee season to begin. I’ve got two “do now” tasks: cleaning bait hives and equipment for the spring swarms, and hanging the yellow jacket queen traps

Last fall when the weather got cold, all the yellow jackets died, all but the future queens. They survived by hibernating over the winter. In late winter on warm days, I find fat sleepy yellow jacket queens snugged under a shingle, squeezed behind the shed window, tucked under a wicker chair, or between stacks of old newspapers.

Yellow jackets have a proper job in the world eating dead meat carcasses and I’m glad they do that, but I draw the line when they harm my bees. I’m a big proponent of letting all things live, but a hungry nest of yellow jackets eating my honeybees is not up for negotiation. Nonetheless, each time I find a new queen, I say, “I’ll make a deal with you… I know you have good purpose in the world, but my job is to protect my honeybees. I won’t kill you if you go far from here and leave my honeybees alone.” This may sound crazy, but I’m sincere and that really is what I do.

What were my results? Semi-good. For the number of queens I spoke to, we had less yellow jacket attacks than normal, so maybe it helps. One year in midsummer I discovered two yellow jacket nests right in the garden, not a hundred feet from my hives. Surprisingly, one hive seemed not at all interested in my bees so I left them alone. The other hive was voracious and eventually I put out a homemade yellow jacket trap (I’ll share it in August) and that fairly well handled the problem. I lost a lot of bees to them, but at least I didn’t lose whole hives.

More Spirit Bee yellow jacket tips

Yellow jackets typically feed within a 500 foot radius of their nest, so yellow jackets outside of 500’ are free to go where they will. Inside the line I have different rules. Hungry yellow jackets can massacre an entire honeybee hive in just a few hours. I’ve seen it happen a few times and it’s terrifying. Years ago I decided I don’t want to put my bees through such battles so I’m proactive. I don’t let nests get started.

Spirit Bee yellow jacket tipsAs soon as the weather warms just a few more degrees, the drowsy YELLOW JACKET QUEEN wakes up from her winter snooze and searches for an underground hole where she’ll make a new home and lay a battalion of workers. You’ll recognize the queen, she’s much larger than you’d imagine. Early spring is the exact right time to depose the queens and claim your bee yard as honeybee territory.

This is one of our best Spirit Bee yellow jacket tips: The easiest way I’ve found to catch the queens is with pheromone traps. These contraptions have yellow jacket mating scent inside a one-way-in, no-way-out container. Pick these up at your local hardware or garden store or online. They usually run $10-15 each and the refills are just a few bucks. I put a few out each spring.

Spirit Bee yellow jacket tips 2

Here is a link to the kind I use. I haven’t tried other brands but they probably work as well. Once you buy the traps, you only need to buy the pheromone refills in coming years. Click on the photo at left to order the product on Amazon, or look for it at your local hardware store.

TipUse DISPOSABLE GLOVES when you open the pheromone packet. It’s stinky and pervasive and if you do this with your bare hands, everything you touch will smell like a yellow jacket just handed you her phone number. The airborne scent will waft onto your clothing and hair. Wear an old sweatshirt you can wash on hot in the washing machine when you’re done. The first time I put one of these traps together, I could smell it on my hair and I had to shower. Don’t use your bee gloves! The pheromone is so pervasive that I bait and set out the traps on a day I don’t plan on being around honeybees at all. You do NOT want your honeybees to wonder if you chum around with yellow jackets.

For my ten acres I use four traps, one in each direction of my bee yard. I hang them in trees, on a T-post in the open field, and at the edge of the forest, each about 200-300 feet away from my furthest hives. Then I wait.

Take a walk around and have a look at how the traps are doing each week. Because they smell like stinky yellow jacket juice, they don’t tend to attract much else, though once or twice I found a stray wasp in there. If you get the traps out early enough, you’ll be surprised how many yellow jacket queens you’ll trap. EACH QUEEN YOU TRAP means 5,000 fewer yellow jacket workers will hatch out this summer.

Yellow jackets don’t come to your hives looking for honey — they want bee meat to feed their young with, and once they identify a target colony, they come in hordes. It’s a lot easier to catch a yellow jacket queen before she’s laid her eggs than it is to fight thousands of them off in August.

So that’s your job right now, before the queens wake up. Get yourself a few yellow jacket traps, follow the directions on the package for setup, then get them in your fields and orchards all spring. Since I started doing this I’ve had nearly no yellow jacket activity in late summer. I won’t say they disappeared completely because I do see a few here and there, but not like we used to get.

An important task among Spirit Bee yellow jacket tips: Learn to identify other wasps.

And while I’m on this topic, please learn the difference between yellow jackets and the innocuous and gentle UMBRELLA WASPS who are native pollinators. Leave those guys alone. Umbrella wasps build umbrella-shaped gray paper nests up under your eaves and other places that are fairly open. They live on the surface where you can see them. Yellow jackets nearly always live hidden underground.

If you get close to an umbrella wasp, you’ll notice they are very skinny in the middle while a yellow jacket is thick-waisted. These little native wasps are sweetly dispositioned and they will not bother you as long as you don’t do anything to harm them. I can pick these guys up on my fingers once they get to know me, and that’s because they actually have been shown to have the ability to recognize faces. If you’re nice to them, they remember. If you’re mean, well that’s another story. So be nice!

Workshops and Talks

Spring is swarm time, the time when the hives get ready to celebrate their success at growing their population enough to split themselves into two hives. Want to learn how to (gently) catch swarms in a kind and respectful way?

Upcoming Swarm classes
1. March 5 in southwest Washington, sponsored by the Preservation Beekeeping club.

2. April 29 in Portland, sponsored by the Portland Urban Beekeepers club.
Click here for more detailed info about both of these. The price INCLUDES membership in the sponsoring club for 2017.

3. On  April 3 I’m speaking about swarms in Tacoma at the Pierce County Beekeepers club. More info, call Story at 253-670-3277.

I’m one of the teachers among a stellar group of instructors at a FOURTEEN DAY course in Montana, May 28-June10. This PDC is focused on homesteading skills. Do read the link, the breadth of ground we cover is remarkable — moving earth, understanding nature’s patterns, sourcing energy and fuel, improving soil, building a home with natural materials, even how to make a pond. I’ll be talking about bees, of course, how animals fit into the homesteading environment, and building communities based on kindness and respect. You will be surrounded by like-minded people and together you will learn the framework to survive and THRIVE in a rapidly changing world. Gee-golly-whiz, I can hardly wait. If you attend this class, Joseph and I will bring you with us to a local hot spring one of the evenings.

Have you read SONG OF INCREASE yet?

Thank you, dear readers, especially those who have written lovely words about the experience of reading this book. I thank you, the bees thank you. The book continues to do really well. Amazon, home of five million books, lists this book in 3 categories (entomology, sustainable agriculture, and gaia earth-centered spirituality) and it’s always in the happier side of the top 100 books in those categories, and some days it even pops into the top ten.

Read more reviews of the book.

You can buy it at your local bookstore.
Get the book from Powell’s by clicking on the cover here:

Ask me to sign a book and mail it to you  $21 to paypal for U.S. mail.

Live outside the U.S.?
Amazingly, it’s available!
See bookstore info for Canada, UK, Germany, Spain, Denmark, The Netherlands, Portugal, and all  of Europe. Also Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

The French release is still a few months away. The translator sent me the name and ooh-la-la, it sure sounds fun! Restaurer notre alliance avec les abeilles: Le chant de l’abondance

More Perky Stuff

Robin’s bee recording during the industrious comb-building phase
Put this on when you want to feel inspired to clean your entire house

Robin’s stimulating and soothing Song of Increase MP3 or the CD

Our bee photograph greeting cards
Warmth of the Sun
Honeybee Peace & Joy
Summer Sun

and for free, listen here to the chapter in SONG OF INCREASE Robin and I made about meditating with your hive. Ahh….

Until we meet again, keep buzzing!

Posted in Bee Swarms, Bee Workshop, Bee-centered beekeeping, Natural Bee Care, Natural Bee Care Book, Natural Beekeeping, Organic Beekeeping, Protecting bees from yellow jackets, Song of Increase, Spring Bee Care, Swarming Bees, Treatment-Free Beekeeping, Yellow jacket bee care tips | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Spirit Bee yellow jacket tips to protect your bees

Give a Song of Increase gift for the holidays

Song of Increase gift
If you’ve been wondering what to get your bee-loving friends, how about a Song of Increase gift? Paypal today and I’ll sign it and get it in the mail to you same day.

Tell me who to dedicate it to and I’ll inscribe it to that person. It can even be YOU. I’ll include a colorful bee bookmark of my or Robin’s bees, like this image at the top of the page.

If you’re sending the book as a gift, I will gift wrap it and send it directly to your friend’s home. They’ll open the mailing packet and inside find a wrapped gift with a tag that says it is from you.

lavender$20 includes tax, first class postage, a color-rich bee and flower photo to use as a bookmark. This beautiful book has a luxurious embossed gold cover. If you haven’t seen the book up close, you’re going to be surprised how gorgeous it is. A Song of Increase gift is ah elegant gift for anyone who loves bees!

Watch the video about the book. Yes, please do. Full screen so you can see the little bees up close.

Tell me this:
1. What name shall I inscribe the book to?
2. What’s the mailing address?
3. Is this a gift? Should I gift wrap it? Who should the tag say it’s to and from?
4. Here’s where you go to pay for it:

U.S. orders only. I can sign out-of-country orders but the postage gets steep sometimes, so you may be better ordering through Amazon (free shipping for Prime members) or your local bookstore.

If you don’t need your book signed, just click an image link below to order Song Of Increase directly from a bookstore. I’m so grateful that each of these companies is carrying the bees’ books. And I’m really, really grateful the voice of the bees is being heard and heeded.

Get the AUDIOBOOK on Audible.com

BAM Indie Bound


screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-9-52-42-am screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-9-52-11-am


Posted in Bee-centered beekeeping, Natural Bee Care, Natural Bee Care Book, Natural Beekeeping, Song of Increase, Treatment-Free Beekeeping | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter means making difficult bee decisions

two-beesEach winter is different, but many times winter means making difficult bee decisions. In a normal year the first frost would have laid its silver tips on the fields six weeks ago, but this fall has been wetter and warmer than any other. My bees are awake, drippy wet flowers lounge in the fields, and curtains of drizzle keep the bees on their front porch. Some have ventured out in the brief spots of sunbeams but not all have found their way back. One fat splotch of rain on that little furry body is enough to ground a flying maiden, and if the sun’s warmth doesn’t quickly dry her out, she perishes in the field.

My measuring of honey stores is based on normal fall and winter weather and in late September everyone looked to be in excellent shape. By now frost should have shut down the flowers in the Pacific Northwest, the weather should have gotten colder, and the bees should have been starting to huddle together in cluster for warmth and dreamtime. That would be normal for late November.

But the weather’s wacky. In October the pear tree in the north yard filled a broad branch with delicate white flowers. The yellow peace roses and dandelions are blooming again, and yesterday our chest-high rosemary bushes shot forth hundreds of blue flowers. The nearest tree hive a scant twenty feet away had dozens of bees at the entrance sniffing the waft of rosemary blooms, so near and yet so far. I watched from the kitchen window but didn’t see a single bee visit all drizzly afternoon.

hollow-tree difficult bee decisions

What a conundrum. If it stopped raining, the bees could harvest the still-blooming calendulas, cosmos and borage. Or if frost arrived as scheduled, the cold would have knocked down the flowers and set the hive to sleepiness. But instead they’re wide awake, stuck inside and eating honey that was meant for springtime. Difficult bee decisions, indeed!

This was the year I determined I was no longer going to feed my bees. I provide a farm’s worth of nutritious forage from late winter through mid-fall and as a treatment-free keeper of bees, I’d decided that strong hives shouldn’t need feeding and that I was propping up weaker hives by doing that.

In prior years I’d winter-fed the smaller hives with 50-50 results. Some lived, some died, but at least those who perished didn’t die from lack of food. As years pass, I find my commitment to raising healthy bees puts me in places where ethics and compassion tangle. The long view is that I want to provide the living situation whereby local bees can successfully weed out weakness and grow stronger each year. The short view is that it’s hard to watch a perfectly healthy hive go hungry.

wildflower-field difficult bee decisions

This year — my thirteenth bee year — I came to the realization that humans should not be taking on the tasks of a healthy hive. The difficult bee decisions are not ours to make. Over-management is erroneous human thinking that causes us to believe we understand bees, that we know them so well we can think like a bee. And not just any bee, we act like we are the OverLord bee who knows what’s best for the colony and thus we introduce all kinds of situations that throw perfectly good hives into disarray.

Strong hives, on their own, bring in appropriate amounts of pollen and nectar at the right time for build-up and slow-down. They make and clean the structure; create medicines that maintain health; communicate with a radius of thriving plant and ethereal life; share space with “not-bee” critters who live in the fall-away; and they do it all on their own timing. For those who pay attention, bees also teach deep bee wisdom.

As winter came on, I felt really good about my decision to step back and allow the bees to determine the rules that govern their lives. Absolutely no more fussing on my part. Bees rule. I am not a bee.


And then we had this wonky fall where the bees, of necessity, plunged into their winter honey stores to feed themselves. At the end of November, when I hefted the back of the hive to feel how heavy it was, oh dear me they were mighty light.

Most were fine, but my smallest hive was way light. Which brought me face-to-face with the rule I’d just given myself, don’t interfere. The intent had been to let them sort out the stronger hives from the weak — a good goal and in keeping with my philosophy — but dang, now I have to figure out is this year just a fluke and would it be dumb of me to let a hive die because of weather? Those old difficult bee decisions came back to haunt me.

Isn’t it curious how whenever we finally think we know something, Life plunks us down in a situation that tests our resolve?

It’s the weather, not the bees, I argued with myself. How do I withhold honey that’s sitting in my kitchen, from hungry bees growing through a climate-challenged winter? Or is this the point — that we all have to survive these changes and some will not make it due to circumstances they cannot control. Only bees who put extra aside will make it and those who run a little shy in fall will be drastically lacking in February.

v 1206210_G2N- 1107180I want to have the courage of my convictions, to always know what proper action is, and to boldly step into doing the right thing. I spend countless hours ruminating on right action, yet even with considerable bee communication skills, I don’t always know the perfect answer. Treatment-free beekeeping is hard because all our actions are geared toward providing conditions that support the sustainability of the colonies in their own individual situations. That’s a good definition of compassionate tough love and I’m not always up for the tough part.

I am not pleased to tell you I caved. I removed four empty combs, combs that had been chock full two months ago, and I fed the small hive. I don’t know if they’ll make it or if that was the right thing to do. As I refilled the dish with crumbly wax and honey, my mind was in the uncomfortable human moment where I question everything I do, wishing for divine guidance yet knowing the true test is — win or lose — that I do the best I can.

JQ smiley beesTami Simon, founder and publisher of Sounds True, interviewed Jacqueline on her weekly author podcast. Click the link below to hear the interview:

Jacqueline Freeman speaks about her bee journey  (40 min.)

“Our mission is to find teachers and artists who serve as a gateway to spiritual awakening and to produce, publish, and distribute their work with beauty, intelligence, and integrity. Sounds True authors include Eckhard Tolle, Pema Chodron, Caroline Myss, Seth Godin, and Thich Nhat Hanh.

If you’re looking for holiday gifts that inspire, they’ve got plenty. Jacqueline’s book is on sale for $11.36.

Click here for pre-holiday book sale!

Posted in Bee-centered beekeeping, Buzzing bees, Food for bees, Helping bees survive winter, Natural Bee Care, Natural Bee Care Book, Natural Beekeeping, Organic Beekeeping, Song of Increase, Treatment-Free Beekeeping, Winter Bee Care | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment