Buzzing bees visit studio for taste of honey

buzzing bees 1Buzzing bees are one of my favorite sounds in the world.

Last week Joseph and I were driving back to the farm from Portland. A gorgeous day. All I wanted to do when we got home was get out in the garden. But to earn a living, we need to spend at least a little time in the office. Joseph teaches Structural Integration for horses at our farm school and I teach and write about bees and farm life. We don’t have jobs outside of the farm. Our income depends on communicating with the world so people know about our mission. And that requires time in the office.

The conversation was mostly me musing aloud how to convince myself to spend a few hours in the office every summer day, to have the willpower to plunk my butt down in my office chair and get stuff done. Even as I said it, I recognized the conundrum. I need to work, yet I prefer to be outside playing with bees.

Most of the year I truly enjoy writing and speaking about bees and caring for the farm, but when it’s fabulously perfect weather and the sunflowers are covered with bees, it’s difficult to convince myself that sitting in front of this computer is more exciting than watching bees. If you are reading this, I’m sure you know what I mean. Bees are amazing and there’s no place I’d rather be than in their presence.

We pulled into the driveway and as I gathered up our packages, Joseph walked through the garage to the front door. He abruptly came back and said, “There’s something going on with your bees.”

Sure enough, the air around the patio and second story deck were full of bees. Almost like a swarm, but there was no central focus point, just thousands of bees in the air. For the moment I chalked that up to bees doing curious and inexplicable things, as bees are wont to do. I went inside, put my packages on the table, then went upstairs to my office. As I walked down the hallway, I heard the buzzing of bees.


I stepped through the office door into a room filled with 10,000 bees. 10,000 buzzing bees were flying about my office, half in the air, half crawling on windows, walls, the desk. The sound (the sound!) of 10,000 bees humming filled every inch of air.

Still not understanding why they were there, I stood in the middle of the room for a full ten seconds delightedly wondering how? Why? What would make all these bees want to visit me? In my hive?

Curious event #1:  Normally in summer I leave the windows open, but the house was being painted this week, so we’d removed all the screens.

Curious event #2:  Last week I harvested a few honey combs that I’d placed on a table, waiting for me to take photos before I processed them.

Curious event #3:  Explorer bees smelled the honey and flew in through the open windows to scour the comb,

That’s the logical explanation — bees smelled un-guarded honey and came through the window to harvest it. But a truer explanation is this:  I said out loud I needed to find a way that would make me WANT to go into the office and stay there all day. Oh golly, the bees answered that in the best way ever!

I sat at my desk working, enveloped by the song of 10,000 bees. 10,001 of us got a lot done that afternoon.

How the buzzing bees got home

Most of the bees filled their bellies on honey and nectar and flew right back out one of the open windows and door, but I noticed many honey-filled bees crawling up and down the windows, frustrated by the glass. I caught one or two at a time with a cup and a post card and let them out the open door, but with hundreds left on the window, and more joining them every minute, I could see that wasn’t the best system. So I came up with a solution clever enough that I want to share it with you.

In case you don’t know this, bees orient to “home” with a tiny chip of magnetite in their little bodies. A bee flying home in the direction of a window can easily get stuck there. They absolutely KNOW that home is in that direction, so they try to fly through the window again and again. No go.

[From my book, Song of Increase:]

 “Why do they get stuck? Because a honeybee cannot override her sense of direction. To guide her home, each bee has a tiny speck of magnetic oxide nanoparticles concentrated in her antennae and abdomen. When a bee flies up against that west-facing window, she knows absolutely that home is in that direction, if only she could get past the window. She will continue buzzing against the window until she exhausts herself and dies. You would imagine these bees would eventually figure out that they cannot get through the closed window, and then they’d go back out through the open door, but they don’t work that way. Curiously, other bugs nearly always find their way out quickly. Only the honeybees get caught there and die.”

I realized that there are actually two components to a bee getting stuck in a window:  (1) The window is in the direction of the way home, and (2) that the path through the window looks transparent. All I needed to do was alter one of those situations.

buzzing bees 2I had a roll of black paper in the studio, so I laid it across the window and taped it in place. In the time it took me to change the transparent window to opacity, 95% of the bees found their way out the door. If you ever find yourself trying to get a bunch of bees out of a room, block the windows and leave the door open. They’ll find their way.

I took the remaining honey comb and placed that out on the deck. Within ten minutes nearly every bee had re-oriented and found the honey source outside the window. My deck had 9,900 buzzing bees on it while a hundred bees stayed behind to help me finish writing, and then they were on their way, too.

Since then, every day I walk into my office, a bee or two finds her way in. I sit and write while she checks out the area to see if any honey comb remains, or (as I like to think) if I need another moment of inspiration.

Click here to watch the video.

Posted in Bee Swarms, Bee-centered beekeeping, Buzzing bees, Natural Bee Care, Natural Bee Care Book, Natural Beekeeping, Organic Beekeeping, Relocating Bees, Song of Increase, Swarming Bees | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bee-centered beekeeping: When a hive grows slowly

Bee-centered beekeeping 1Bee-centered beekeeping takes a different approach than conventional beekeeping. The aim is to do things the way the bees themselves would do them.

One of my top bar hives was going strong all spring and then a few weeks ago, their population started sliding. I generally don’t open my hives much, preferring to see what’s happening by watching behavior at the entrance and through the observation windows. But after a few weeks of slow decline, I wondered if they’d lost their queen, so today I opened the hive up.

Starting at the back, I slowly went one bar to the next, looking at honey production (moderate but steady), the cleanliness of the hive (one wax moth larvae fell out of a comb joint when I moved it and was immediately pounced upon by a maiden bee), and to see if there was any new activity in the brood chamber.

I rarely go in the brood chamber and when I did today, the maidens clustered over the brood cells to keep the larvae warm. I found plenty of brood of different ages including tiny floating cells with squirmy white larvae, which meant there is a Queen and she is laying.

On the next brood comb I saw the Queen busy laying eggs. She was downy with a fuzzy abdomen which told me she’s a young queen but I didn’t know how young. And then on the next frame I saw a single queen cell built right in the middle of the comb, the cell she was born in! This is a clear sign of the hive’s intelligence, they knew to replace an older weak queen with a strong new queen and they called her into being all on their own, without a human “replacing a queen.” (supercedure) This is bee-centered beekeeping in action!

To show the difference, here is what are commonly called “swarm cells,” a multitude of queen cells usually gathered along the bottom or sides of the combs.

Bee-centered beekeeping 2

Bee-centered beekeeping: Bees create a supercedure cell

The bees created a supercedure cell, not a batch of swarm cells. Supercedure cells are usually singular, often in the center of a comb. The supercedure queen is created to replace a weak queen who is not laying with her same virility. She’s generally at the end of her time and even her royal queen scent — a powerfully important aspect of her presence in the hive — has begun to fade.

Bee-centric beekeeping 3 Supercedure

In swarming, part of the hive would leave with the old queen who is strong and ready to turn this swarm into a new settled colony. The colony in my hive, however, did not swarm; once the new “replacement” queen hatched, the colony stayed together and continued on with their new young queen. Unlike swarming, this situation is barely a blip in their behavior. The daughter-queen steps in as the mother-queen recedes.

In my experience, I have a few times found the old queen in the hive after being replaced, still being loosely cared for, but no longer celebrated as the queen. Supercedures are planned retirements.

Swarm cells are multiple queen eggs, created most often along the bottom and the edges. The two kinds of cells have a different purpose. Swarm cells are a response to the colony’s abundance. Supercedure cells are made to fix a problem, and to do that without drama.

This is why I don’t “buy queens.” A good hive knows when and how to replace a queen when they need to. This queen had hatched, mated, and was now doing her job. The slow-down I saw was the time it took for the new queen to birth, grow into sexual maturity, and take over the mother task. This is bee-centered beekeeping in action. Within the coming week I expect to see a quick upsurge in this hive’s population, and all will be well again.

This hive also had a brood gap which is a great way to get rid of mites. Let’s say the retired queen stopped laying (through death or being gently removed from her duties). There’s a good chance there next came a period of time when the new queen wasn’t prepared to lay yet. If that brood gap lasted a few short weeks until the last of the old queen’s brood hatched, that may have meant any pregnant mites in the colony couldn’t find bee larvae upon which to lay their eggs. This may even be one of the reasons the hive intelligence decided to replace their queen in the first place, as a method of mite reduction.

Had the beekeeper replaced that queen, the whole healing they designed would have been thwarted.

Lesson for Bee-Centered Beekeepers

A failing queen will be replaced by the colony if you let them do their job. When the average beekeeper sees a reduction in activity, the first thought in their head is to “replace the queen,” but replacing a queen means that colony will completely die out once the old queen’s children have died, and with them, all their knowledge of the local area.

Squishing an old queen and replacing her with a new queen should be an extreme rarity (I’ve never done it, nor have many of my learned bee friends). With so many people taking up queen-rearing these days, I suspect many of the times a queen is replaced is because they are so easily available. “I got stung — replace the queen!” “My bees aren’t building up fast enough — replace the queen!” “There’s not enough nectar coming in — replace the queen!” “It’s spring — time to replace the queen!”

I don’t believe this action is well thought out. We need to stop changing queens like we change our clothes. If there’s a slowdown in activity, there’s a good chance it’s perfectly natural and well-timed. This is at the heart of bee-centered beekeeping.

Replacing queens? I don’t follow that path. I prefer to let the bees do this themselves, which they will. To be a true adherent to bee-centric beekeeping, all the beekeeper has to do is wait and let the hive handle it by creating a new queen all on their own. A queen the colony cared for and nurtured and, from the moment she was born, who they love deeply. Long live the Queen!

Posted in Bee Swarms, Natural Bee Care, Natural Beekeeping, Organic Beekeeping, Summer Bee Care, Swarming Bees, Treatment-Free Beekeeping, Why bees swarm | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of Increase Book Update

Where to find The Song of Increase

Song of IncreaseMy new publisher, Sounds True, has done a tremendous job this past year getting my bee book, The Song of Increase, ready for the mass market. Have a look at their site, I’m in really good company.

The new edition will come out at the end of summer, edited and truly better. It’s more well-organized and easier to read and will even cost less The cover is different, classier and with a beautiful gold embossed cover. They took it to the London Book Fair and have already received inquiries about translating it into 11 languages. I would never have had the knowledge about how to do that. It will come out in French first. Bon jour, mon amie! Publishing date is set for September 1, 2016. I’ll keep you posted.

If you can’t wait that long, I have a few copies left of the original version here and I’d like to move them along before the new version comes out. If you’d like a signed copy, email me $16 (I’ll cover postage) and where to mail it and those books will head right out the door.

Posted in Natual Beekeeping, Natural Bee Care, Natural Bee Care Book, Natural Beekeeping, Organic Beekeeping, Song of Increase | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2017 Bee Workshop Focuses On Life of Bees

The Whole and Holy Life of Bees

UPDATE:  Oh, dear. This workshop won’t be held this summer. Hope to do it later in the coming year. I’m leaving the description up so you’ll know what’s coming for 2017.  — Jacqueline


August Bee WorkshopOur two-day Bee Workshop has Jacqueline teaching about communicating and working with bees. This work establishes a fundamental change in our relationship with the bee kingdom and thus all of Nature. This experience of the sacred nature of bees carries us into a holy relationship with Gaia.

Why are we so fascinated with these little beings? For what reason are we called to know them in a deeper way? What secrets do they carry in their daily activities, relations with us and the earth? How do they wrap us into their environment? How does that affect us and our presence in the world? How do they work toward the mutual spiritual evolution of all beings?

Jacqueline shares how she communicates with bees and the way her book, “Song of Increase: Listening to the Wisdom of Honeybees for Kinder Beekeeping and a Better World,” came into being. We’ll work alongside the bees in ways that nurture their presence in the world and kindle goodness within our hearts, helping us understand how to provide them wonderful places in which to live and thrive.

Robin Wise shares her exquisitely gorgeous videos, photos and audios of bee songs that illuminate the beautiful wisdom of the bees. These expressions of insightful bee knowledge carry through the workshop to illuminate our personal experience and help us develop trust and connection that we can carry into our own future.

Our Whole & Holy Bee Workshop is not a “how to keep bees” workshop. Instead we work to understand their nature and work on the relational aspects of keeping bees. This calls our attention to subtleties that stretch us beyond our own boundaries and perceptions and bring joy to our connection with bees. You are invited to join us. Each person will receive a copy of the new revised book, pre-released for this conference. The purpose of the workshop is to interact with your bees (and all bees) from a place of receptivity, goodhearted intention, and informed right action.

Details: The class is two days long and will be held in 2017. For further info, contact <>

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