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  • Happy Halloween!

    Beeware!

    During the month of October our staff has been getting into the Halloween spirit by putting together some spooky bee related stories for our social media pages. We've done our research and found some interesting and perhaps even a few disturbing customs and practices that were scary enough to share here.

    bees pollinating pumpkins

    Pumpkins at Topanga Nursery

    Did you know that pumpkins are pollinated by bees? Proof is in the above picture. When we ventured to Ventura to hand pick local pumpkins for our first ever pumpkin patch, we were pleasantly surprised to see the bees were there too. There's still time to pick up your pumpkin before Halloween. Spend $40 at Topanga Nursery or The Valley Hive and get a FREE small pumpkin of your choosing.

    (Turnip photo c/o Wikipedia, the actual lamp can be found at the Museum of Country Life in County Mayo, Ireland)

    Oh My Gourd

    If you've ever been curious about the history of pumpkin carving, you may be interested to learn how this modern day custom evolved over the centuries. Gourds, in fact, are one of the earliest plant species farmed by humans. Carving them is a tradition that can be traced back hundreds of years all over the world. For example, the Māori, (Indigenous peoples of New Zealand) have been carving lanterns out of gourds for at least 700 years!

     

    Pumpkin Folklore

    The custom of carving jack-o-lanterns, as we know them at Halloween, began in Ireland in the 19th century. These lanterns, carved out of turnips or potatoes, were created with grotesque faces to represent spirits or supernatural beings. Sometimes meant to scare people, but also they were used as a means to ward off evil spirits. Folklore around "Stingy Jack" whose bargain with Satan left him doomed to roam the earth after death with only a hollowed turnip (pictured here) to light his way is thought to be a namesake of this Halloween custom. Once this tradition was brought to North America the carvings were done with pumpkins, a gourd native to the continent.

    A female parasitic Apocephalus borealis fly about to infect a honey bee with its eggs. Photo credit: Christopher Quock
    Fly maggots bursting from a parasitized honey bee. Photo Credit: John Hafernik

    The Dreaded Zombie Bee

    "They're coming to get you Barbara."  Although the human zombies of horror lore from movies like Night of The Living Dead do not exist, we do have to watch out for zombie bees!  John Hafernik, a biologist at San Francisco State University, noticed honeybees exhibiting some abnormal behavior. These honeybees were flying from their hives at night in chilly weather to circle artificial light. After this strange occurrence the bees would fall to the ground and stagger around.

    A Parasitic Fly...Oh My!

    After placing these honeybees in a vial, Hafernik discovered the culprit, a parasitic fly called Apocephalus borealis. The female fly will inject her eggs into a crack in the honeybee's abdomen, and after about a week the larvae travel into the bee's thorax to liquefy and consume the wing muscles. Finally, the maggot bursts through the bee in the space between its head and shoulders. Hafernik recorded 24 maggots exiting a single bee! Researchers have yet to determine why the bees leave the hive at night to seek artificial light, Hafernik theorizes that the parasite manipulates the bees to move to a better spot to complete its life cycle or it could be a form of altruistic suicide. Volunteers have reported these zombees in California, Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Pennsylvania and New York. So on Halloween, remember that even though our brains are safe our bees may not be!

    In Case of Death...Tell the Bees

    In medieval Europe, bees were important family members who were kept apprised of all the happenings in the household.  It was once customary for beekeepers to “tell” their bees about important events like marriages, births, deaths and travels. In case of death, the typical way to tell the bees was for the head of the household, or “goodwife of the house” to go out to the hives and knock gently to get the attention of the bees, and then in a sorrowful tune share the solemn news. Oftentimes, the news of the event was delivered in little rhymes.  It was considered bad luck if the bees were not told these things. Neglecting to do so could cause a hive to collapse or have a poor honey harvest. In the Victorian era, it became particularly important to tell the bees about deaths, and some families would even put the hives into mourning, covering them in black shrouds for a period of time.

    Bees As Sacred Messengers

    This superstitious practice was rooted in Ancient Greek and Mesopotamian cultures, where honeybees were considered sacred messengers between the natural world and the underworld. It was believed that the bees could transmit messages between people and their beloved dead. As Halloween approaches and the veil thins, pay attention to the honeybees. They might have messages for you!

    Photo Credit: Blake Little

    The Mellified Man

    The legendary mellified man, a strange but real medical confection from 16th century China, was made by mummifying human bodies in honey (the photo above is not of a mellified man but from an art exhibition by Blake Little, where subjects were drenched in honey for a photo shoot).

    Corpse Medicine

    That’s right—you read that correctly! It might sound ridiculous now, but prior to the 17th century AD, various forms of “corpse medicines” were consumed by people all over the world to treat everything from epilepsy to broken bones. Many cultures believed that the life force energy from a dead body could heal the wounds of a live one, and this led to the creation of all sorts of powders, tinctures and elixirs made from human bodies. The mellified man was one such medicine, and the process of making it was truly bizarre.

    A Body of Honey

    Elderly holy men would volunteer their bodies for this process, which began while the donors were still alive. First, the men would bathe in honey daily and eat nothing but honey for weeks, until their bodily fluids turned to honey and they inevitably died. After death, their bodies would be placed in stone vats filled with honey, where they’d be left to steep for decades. After a century or so, the resulting human honey confection would be sold at street markets as a treatment for broken limbs and other conditions.

    Honey As A Cure

    While eating mummy-infused honey might sound horrifying, the ancient progenitors of this ghastly confection were right about one thing—honey, on its own, is a powerful medicine! In addition to being a sweet treat, honey makes an excellent topical medicine for wounds and burns, and it’s natural antibacterial properties make it a great food to eat when you’re sick.

    Corpse Flower at Topanga Nursery

    The Corpse Flower

    Carrion Plant (Stapelia gigantea), also recognized as the "corpse flower" gets its nickname from the characteristically stinky odor it emits. This bloom's stench, reminiscent of rotting flesh, attracts pollinators far and wide—especially flies! These large succulents also thermal regulate, further dispersing their nauseating scent. Pee-yew! With only a short bloom during the fall, it's impressive to look at...but not so pleasant to the nose! If the description of this smelly plant has your curiousity perked, come see if for yourself at the Topanga Nursery.

    Bee Informed

    Want to see our weekly posts about bees, honey, plants and more? Stay up to date with happenings at the hive by following us on social media. Just click on the links below.

    https://www.facebook.com/thevalleyhive

    https://www.instagram.com/thevalleyhive/

  • Bloom Into Spring Event - Sunday, May 6th at The Valley Hive

    Join us on Sunday, May 6th for fun, food, and activities. Bring mom and receive a special gift!

     

     

     

     

     

     Bloom Into Spring

    Honeybees collect pollen and nectar from flowers. Flowers rely on bees for pollination. Beekeepers are an intricate part of this equation, as many agricultural crops are dependent on bees for fruit and vegetable production. Join us on Sunday, May 6th as we celebrate this connection and season of growth and rebirth!

    Bees

    Did you know that bees need to visit 2 million flowers in order to make 1 pound of honey? Check out our Observation Hive - a fully functional hive encased in glass - and watch as bees come and go and communicate with the other bees inside of the hive. Sample raw, local honey and learn how bees create different flavors simply by the way they collect nectar from the plants.

    Flowers

    Get ready for Spring...make a flower pot for mom for Mothers Day! Plant some seeds and watch them grow! Learn what you can do in your garden to beautify any outdoor living space.

    Bloom LA

    The Valley Hive and Topanga Nursery are excited to announce our partnership with Bloom! BLOOM is an interactive, pop-up art show with nearly a dozen large-scale installation art pieces, spread out over 100,000 square feet of lush grass in Griffith Park on June 22, 23 & 24. Our friends from Bloom LA will be on hand to share information about their upcoming event and have planned a special interactive activity just for us featuring....flowers!!

    Celebrate The Queen Bee

    Bring your mom to the event and she will receive a special gift from us. Take advantage of special Mother's Day savings throughout the store and in the nursery on Sunday, May 6th ONLY!

    Fun - Food - Activities

    Bloom Into Spring with us in bee-u-ti-ful historical Chatsworth.  Sip lemonade in the garden as you commune with nature. Enjoy learning more about the craft of beekeeping and participate in other Spring-like activities.

    Shop and Save

    No matter what time of year, saving money is always in season! Shop with us on Sunday, May 6th and save on specially selected items throughout our gift store and in the nursery.

    Happy Anniversary to Us

    We have now been at our new location in Chatsworth - at the corner of Topanga and Chatsworth- for an entire year. If you haven't stopped by in awhile, now is the perfect time to visit! Our gift shop is overflowing with honey, lotions and balms, and other bee-related and local gifts. Browse through the Topanga Nursery and be amazed at the recent transformation. Plants of every shape, size, and variety and bursts of color abound throughout the luscious garden. Stop by and see for yourself. You will bee amazed at what we have done with the place!

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Hive Loss is a Part of Life for Beekeepers

    Written by Keith Roberts/Head Beekeeper at The Valley Hive

    checking hives in the bee yard checking hives in the bee yard

    My First Hive Loss

    I vividly remember the first colony I lost.  It was the spring of 2008 on a cool day in April that I came across a hive that was originally from a colony I removed from a stucco wall of a home in Woodland Hills.  The colony had all the fundamentals;  good laying pattern from the queen, plenty of food stores, an attentive beekeeper who fed them every week with fresh syrup and pollen patties, and there was a low mite count.  I was diligent, yet when I cracked open the cover the only thing that greeted me was silence.

    It was the first time I experienced the sharp absence of life inside of a hive; capped brood abandoned and a few newborns frozen in a permanent begging pose with their long proboscis sticking out pleading for food from sisters that weren’t there. I felt that knife in my throat; that same cut that felt agonizingly familiar to that first breakup, the rejection from the first job I applied for, the brutal ending of a long friendship.

    What Happened To My Bees?

    My heart was broken.  Here I was, in my late twenties, fighting back tears as I loaded the lonely hive box onto the back of my pickup truck. I sped to my intrepid mentor’s house to discover what had killed the precious bees.

    As I drove and, admittedly, sped, across the 118 freeway, I tried to imagine the ways I must have screwed up.  A disease I missed; something obvious that I should have seen.  By the time I arrived at Walt’s house in North Hills, I felt like a 10 year old boy with his dead dog in his lap.

    Walt was pruning the tree in his front yard and he walked toward my truck as I parked along the curb. I felt ridiculous, ashamed, a failure.

    “My bees died, Walt,” I said, attempting to keep my voice even. “Can you tell me why?”

    “Let’s take a look,” he said in that matter of fact tone that was his trademark.

    Analyzing the Dead Hive

    He took out each frame and scrutinized the comb.  He held the comb against the sun, he brought it close to his nose and inhaled deeply, pausing to process the scent.  He flipped the frame and looked closely at the underside of the cells.  He took a small twig off the ground and did a field test in one of the capped brood cells, swirling it around and slowly extracting it as he searched for the tells of foulbrood.

    Let me be clear about something: Walt did not shy away from confrontation, especially when it involved incompetence from another party.  Since that “party” usually consisted of yours truly, I was used to the sudden beratement that sometimes came when I committed an error in some way.  I was anticipating the verbal assault, i.e. lesson, as I stood there on his front lawn.  It was my fault; somehow, some way.  I screwed up and killed an innocent colony of bees.

    He put the last frame down inside the hive box, looked at me, and simply said, “It looks like this colony died.  Keith, that’s all I can tell you.”

    It's Not Always Your Fault

    My sadness exploded into a strange anger. “40 years of experience and that’s all you can tell me? Really?” I shot back. Here I was expecting to be torn down and it was me that was suddenly terribly out of line. The irony was not lost on me. “Come on, you know I messed something up.”

    Walt drew a deep breath, looked down at the ground and then straight in my eyes.

    “Losing bees is part of being a beekeeper.  You cannot explain every loss. You just can’t.  You can do everything right and the bees can still pass away.  This is your first death of a colony.  I promise you; it will not be your last.  Not even if you are the best beekeeper on this planet.”

    “I feel horrible,” I said.

    He put a calloused hand on my shoulder. “Finally,” he said. “You’re a real beekeeper. Now come inside and have a beer.”

    I went inside his home and he handed me a Pabst Blue Ribbon.  After a couple hours of conversation revolving bees, the repairs that never ended on his house, and life in general, I thanked him and bid him goodnight.

    Why Bees Die

    Since then, I have lost, literally, hundreds of colonies.  Most have been from pesticide.  Some from Varroa Mites that got away from me, others from marauding ants, and some I have no idea.  I have also been handed hundreds of hives from hundreds of beekeepers, men and women, some with brave faces with that same wetness in their eyes that others may have missed but I sure caught.  It takes one to know one, after all.

    You can see the Varroa Mite defecation on the underside of the cell. Others, you recognize a starved hive from the bottoms of the bees sticking out from the comb, frozen in a desperate search for food.  I have yet (KNOCK ON WOOD) to smell the telltale stench from foulbrood from an urban beekeeper’s hive, but a very high percentage of dead outs I am asked to analyze make me remember that day when I watched Walt check out my frames.  Sometimes, the comb reads like novels.  Sometimes, they are blank pages.

    And I have to give that same lecture, sometimes to a devastatingly broken heart.  When professionals across this country who have forgotten more about beekeeping than I will ever know lose 40% of their hives as of 2016, there is no denying that what Walt told me that day was the truth.

    Losing A Hive is Part of Beekeeping

    Losing hives is a part of beekeeping.  Period.  Listen to the beekeepers around you, read all you can, inspect often, treat when necessary, and watch, watch, watch.

    But losses are a part of beekeeping.  Recognize when it is your fault and use it as a motivator to adopt better techniques. But also learn to accept that sometimes, despite your best intentions and actions, losses still happen.

    Feel that sharp pang of frustration with this?  Congratulations.  You’re now a real beekeeper.

    Hive Loss is part of Beekeeping. Hive Loss is part of Beekeeping.

    Editor's Note: Keith Roberts is co-owner of The Valley Hive a beekeeping supply company located in Chatsworth, CA. The Valley Hive sells Beekeeping Supplies and offers Beekeeping Services including House Calls to Backyard Beekeepers looking to start a backyard hive.  Interested in becoming a beekeeper? Check out The Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association for more information.

  • Almond Pollination -- A Day in the Life of a Beekeeper

    A Beekeepers' Christmas A Beekeepers' Christmas

    written by Keith Roberts, Head Beekeeper at The Valley Hive

    ALMOND SEASON

    February is the Super Bowl for U.S beekeepers, and California is the perpetual stadium.  More bees are in this state at the moment than anywhere else on the planet.  The almonds provide a very nutritious pollen and they expand in population rather rapidly as they kick their queen into high gear, and it is not unusual for them to run out of space in their two box format.  Today’s mission is to ensure that doesn’t happen, so the truck is piled high with empty boxes just in case.

    STARTING OUT

    I wake at 4:29 a.m., one minute before my alarm.  I turn it off before it has a chance to pierce the silence and I check the weather in Hanford, my destination today.  As I hear the rain plinking outside my bedroom window in Canoga Park, I force myself to believe the weather prophets’ forecast for clear and sunny skies today in the almond orchards. For most people, the weather influences attire.  With the uncharacteristically wet weather of late, being a beekeeper in the almonds can be tricky. Getting stuck in the mud, among stinging insects without cell service is definitely a concern.

    Coffee and lunchbox in hand, I head to The Valley Hive in Chatsworth to pick up the bee truck, affectionately nicknamed “Chelsea”.

    It is still early: 5:15.  My joints creak, and I am reminded that, although in my thirties, I do not feel like a young man anymore. My previous career of delivering packages has added a bit more mileage on the odometer than normal. As the tendinitis in my right hand hisses its presence, I wonder if I will even make it to the average age of the commercial beekeeper.  Sixty years old seems a lifetime away.  As I cinch the loads tight, cold rain permeates the green straps, steel ratchets, and my sore knuckles, and I can’t help but think that all of my experience at this young age is a good thing.

    The GMC 6500 Flatbed has two stacks of 80 medium boxes.  As I step out of my pickup in the rain, I look at the tall stacks and anticipate the jarring terrain and potholes of the 5 freeway before the grapevine. I am no longer content with the load. I loosen the straps, climb onto the truck, and restack the boxes into three rows instead of two to lessen the chance of losing a box on the Grapevine.

    I realize I forgot a lid for one of the boxes, and go to climb off the truck by way of the ball hitch, which provides a convenient step off the back of the trailer.  As I go to brace myself on the hitch, I find nothing but an empty space.  It is gone.  I flash back to leaving the truck at a shop the other night due to the water pump succumbing on Friday on the way out to do what I am doing now, and I conclude immediately that it must have been stolen.

    My anger rises, and I let it pass.  Today is for the bees.  The hitch will be a problem to solve tomorrow.

    I climb into the cabin, turn the key, and the 454 engine roars to life, seemingly eager to battle the distance, road, and elements.

    Snow on The Grapevine Snow on The Grapevine

    ON THE ROAD

    The rain pounds the truck as the grapevine provides snow and beautiful scenery.  I stop to take a quick bathroom break in the wet and cold at a rest stop and check the load.  Everything is holding tight, and I start the truck and head back on the road, thinking about the work ahead.

    The 5 Freeway splits into the 99, and I make the move.  I am in farm country now, and the almond orchards I pass appear to be in full bloom.

    As I take a sip of the black coffee, still scalding, I nearly burn my hand.  The excitement and apprehension of the day take turns rolling over in my gut like an apple coated in barbed wire.  My mind is on thoughts of the bees. They should be healthy; or they might be poisoned by pesticide; perhaps stolen. Colony thefts have skyrocketed in recent years.

    20170226_110212

    ARRIVAL IN THE ALMONDS

    Three hours of driving finds me in Hanford.  The first drop of 20 hives is healthy. Begrudgingly, I take some ridiculous selfies, as requested for our social media accounts.  I place supers on the booming hives and let myself take in the beautiful white and gold blossoms on trees that were the definition of barren a mere week and change ago.

    Dead Bees in the Almonds Dead Bees in the Almonds

    Further along, I discover colonies with a few hundred dead bees on the ground in front of the landing board.  My heart aches at the sight.  My frustration simmers as the smoker churns on top of a cover.  The hive next to the compromised one shows no sign at all of being exposed to the same toxin, and I wonder what was sprayed.  Year after year, beekeepers are forced to witness their hives being poisoned by the very same folks who demand these six legged pollinators.  Is this ever going to end?

    Happy Bees Happy Bees

    Unaware of the fatalities, the bees seem to be in a fantastic mood.  I wear only a veil -- no gloves or suit today.  They seem almost happy to see me, and I as I carefully place a medium box with 10 frames above their existing box, I imagine they appreciate the expansion of the Langstroth mansions.

    I am alone, so perhaps I am even more attentive to the placement of the tires of my bee truck.  “Stay on the crown, Roberts,” I say to myself, referring to the top most part of the dirt road that tapers off along the sides that would spell a muddy ruin to an otherwise perfect day.  There is not a rain cloud in sight, and the sky is a deep blue; the weather people got it right today.

    Selfie Selfie

    I work the bees, I snap some photos (coerced, mind you), and I take in the beauty.  It is almost uncomfortable to take it in all alone, and I am not sure if my color-blind eyes can adequately comprehend the magnificence of the blooms. The bees provide amazing company, and I do not mind being by myself, typically. But these blossoms are a once in a year event, and perhaps my Super Bowl metaphor isn’t appropriate.  This is Christmas.  Yes.  This is the beekeeper Christmas.  The gift of the almonds that heralds the spring. I understand why the Japanese so appreciate the blooming of the cherry blossoms,

    It really is beautiful.

    The last box is placed on a hive, and I secure a handful of lids and head back on the road.  I have a quarter tank of gas left in the truck and I have a choice; 25 minutes out of the way to the east, or go back the way I came, a straight shot, with fuel 30 minutes in the distance.

    I choose the latter and cruise down the 43.

    UH-OH

    Chelsea The Bee Truck Chelsea The Bee Truck

    I make a left on Pond Road, on my way to the 99.  The fuel gauge still shows a click above empty, and I am 4 minutes away from fuel.

    Suddenly the engine dies, and I use the momentum to safely get myself parked on the shoulder of the road.  I am out of gas.

    “This is all on you, Roberts,” I mutter.  “Real good. Seriously.”

    I call AAA and tell them of my idiocy. I am told someone will be out in about 45 minutes with fuel. As I end the call,  I notice a dozen bees or so resting on the windshield.  The truck had stopped at another almond orchard in full bloom with bee hives next to the road.

    Out of concern for the AAA driver coming to my rescue, I get out of my truck and walk near the hives to assess their temperament.  They ignore me, and I am satisfied that the driver will not be rewarded with bee stings for helping me.

    In 30 minutes a technician is filling my tank with five gallons of dino-juice.  As the fuel is heard raining inside the empty steel tank, the broad shouldered tech looks at me with a bit of concern.

    “So, um, these bees, they aren’t going to sting me right?” He asked.

    “Not unless I want them to,” I chuckle.

    He did not find me funny.

    “I’m allergic,” he asserted.

    “They won’t sting you.  They are nice bees.  I checked.”

    “Thanks.”

    After a handshake and a turn of the key, I was on the road again.  I made it to the Chevron station, filled up the tank to the brim, and headed back home.

    As the sun moves to the west, I focus on navigating through the chaos of the Los Angeles freeway traffic and find some satisfaction in knowing that I am one of thousands of beekeepers travelling to and from the almonds today to work their bees.

    I was wrong earlier.  I wasn’t alone.

    I had company all along.

     

     

     

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New COVID hours:
Closed Wednesday. Open Thursday - Tuesday 8:30 to 5pm
Our address is 10538 Topanga Cyn Blvd. Chatsworth, CA 91311
(818) 280-6500

 

 
 
 
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