Need support ? 818.280.6500
Order Vilitra

The Valley Hive

Skip to Main Content »

 

You have no items in your shopping cart.

You're currently on:

Urban Beekeeping

  • 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/

  • 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.

  • Beekeeping Basics

    your first backyard hive

    BEEKEEPING BASICS

    Interested in bees and starting a backyard hive, but you don't know where to begin? Then Join us on Saturday, January 28th and you will find out everything you need to know to set up your first hive! Snacks and FREE admission. Everyone is welcome!

    Check out our Facebook Page for more information!

     

3 Item(s)

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

 

 
 
 
Web Analytics