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Notice Board . . .

Instrumental Insemination equipment for sale: Schley Compact Model 2 with pressure grip forceps and Schley syringe.
Please direct serious inquiries to John Clark.

For those of you interested in the Valhalla long hive, you can contact "The Hive Man" (aka Richard Nichols) by e-mail or by phone at 541-447-7907. It sounds like a set of plans is in the works as well as complete hives.

Joe’s mysterious honey

About two weeks ago, Joe Caracausa from east Texas said he harvested some honey with a very strong pine flavor. He wondered if the flavor might be due to the many pine trees in the area of his hives. He reported seeing yellow-green clouds of pollen in early spring, and he wondered if pine pollen could flavor the honey. Joe and his wife weren’t sure they liked the taste of the honey and didn’t know what to do with it. One of Joe’s friends said the honey tasted like a Northwest IPA, very hoppy.

Well, that last comment caught may attention, because there’s nothing I like better than a bitter IPA. Honey that tasted like hops would suit me just fine, so I suggested he could send it my way.

I didn’t think pine pollen would give the honey a pine flavor, but I wondered if it could be honeydew honey collected from pine aphids. I don’t know much about pine-eating aphids, but it seemed to me that pine sap that was eaten by aphids and then collected by honey bees could be the source of the flavor.

If you are not familiar with honeydew honey, it occurs when aphids gorge themselves on sap. They eat so much that the sap leaves their bodies more-or-less in the form it entered. It remains on the tree and then the honey bees come along and collect it. Although it sounds a bit bazaar, honeydew honey is very popular in some places and often commands a high price.

A week later, a sample of the honey showed up in my mailbox. Joe’s honey is a gorgeous amber color, and both my husband and I tucked into the jar as soon as it arrived. We both love it. My husband tastes the hoppiness (which I don’t) but we both detect a bitter aftertaste that is very reminiscent of an IPA. Neither of us tasted a pine flavor, but both Joe and his wife say the piney component has indeed mellowed since they first extracted.

The honey has that ultra-smooth characteristic that is so common in tree honeys that are high in fructose—a velvety, creamy texture that honeys higher in glucose seem to lack. Yes, I may be crazy, but this honey feels like tree honey. I asked Joe what else grows in the area, and he wrote:

There are a lot of woods around, we have substantial amounts of hickory trees, sweet gum, dogwood, many different oaks, willows, locust, bois d’arc, hawthorn, American beauty berry, farkleberry (look it up, it exists), woolly croton, several Narcissi, daffodils. Probably many others. The native pines are long needle varieties, mostly loblolly and slash pine. We also have ‘cedars’, actually juniper trees.

But now the story gets weird. I decided to look at Joe’s honey under the microscope to see how much of that pine pollen actually got into the honey. But what’s going on? I can’t find any pollen. My microscope only goes to 400x but I should see some pollen, even if I can’t see it well. I searched and searched, perplexed.

I wondered if I was doing something wrong. So I got a drop of my own honey from the cupboard, put it on a slide and OMG! Pollen of all shapes and sizes, even at only 40x. I went back to Joe’s honey and tried two more samples. Nothing. Even if pine pollen is really small, I should have seen something in there. Instead, I saw a few pieces of debris and couple of things that, with a good imagination, might have been pollen.

My honey was put through a standard 600-micron honey sieve. Joe sieved his too, and he thinks the sieve was 400 microns, which is smaller but should still let the pollen through. According to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, 600 microns is considered a coarse sieve, 400 microns is medium, and 200 microns and below is fine.  Nearly all pollen is between 6 and 100 microns, so neither a 400- nor 600-micron sieve should remove any pollen.

The lack of pollen made me think that maybe it was honeydew honey after all. Aphids don’t eat pollen, just sap. So if the honey bees collected honeydew from the bark and needles of pine trees instead of visiting flowers, they would not have much contact with pollen.

Joe says he fed no sugar syrup this year and that there is no civilization anywhere near his hives where they could have found syrup. I know this is true because his honey tastes nothing like syrup! Trust me.

Still, I don’t know the answer to the mystery, I’m just asking the questions. What’s going on here? Does anyone have a different theory?


Joe’s honey at 40x. I found a few things that looked like this. © Rusty Burlew.
My honey at 40x. Pollen galore. © Rusty Burlew.
Joe’s honey, a pleasing amber color and a great taste. © Rusty Burlew.

Consider the honeybee bee

I have one more post to write in the pollen series, but I keep getting sidetracked by the photos people send me. Yesterday’s thermal images were awesome, but today’s photo is totally annoying.

The photo below was taken at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum by beekeeper David Caylor. The text is on the wall of the entomology section. Being a regular reader of Honey Bee Suite, David knows how the word “honeybee,” all run together like that, irritates me no end. So he sent this picture to give me heart failure. What? The folks at the Smithsonian can’t spell?

As I told David, maybe the writing is on the wall, so to speak. Maybe the language is changing faster than I can adapt.

But there are very good reasons that most entomologists insist that “honeybee” is wrong, that it should actually be two words. My favorite quote explaining the reason is by Robert D. Snodgrass:

Regardless of dictionaries, we have in entomology a rule for insect common names that can be followed. It says: If the insect is what the name implies, write the two words separately; otherwise run them together. Thus we have such names as house fly, blow fly, and robber fly contrasted with dragonfly, caddicefly, and butterfly, because the latter are not flies, just as an aphislion is not a lion and a silverfish is not a fish. The honey bee is an insect and is preeminently a bee; “honeybee” is equivalent to “Johnsmith.”–From Anatomy of a Honey Bee.

Think about it. The word “bee” is a noun. In English, the adjective that describes the type of bee goes before it, so it becomes honey bee, bumble bee, sweat bee, carpenter bee. When you go to the grocery store (not the grocerystore) you buy yellow beans and green beans, not yellowbeans, greenbeans, or greatnorthernbeans. My spellchecker is freaking.

Yes, languages that make sense put the adjective after the noun not before. But in English, you wait in suspense to find out what is being written about. “It was a big, red, shiny”—wait in suspense right here—“pomegranate!” It could have easily been a car, apple, or welt.

Now, take the word “fly.” If the thing you are referring to is actually a fly, you have the noun “fly” preceded by the type of fly, let’s say hover. So you have “hover fly.” But if the thing is not a fly, you need a whole new noun to identify it.

For example, since a butterfly is not a fly, the word “butter” does not modify the word “fly.” Instead “butterfly” is its own thing, a completely different noun. You can modify that noun with another descriptor, say “blue,” which gives you “blue butterfly.” But you don’t write “bluebutterfly” or “blue butter fly.”

A beewolf is not a wolf (nor a bee) but is something completely different, a wasp. So you can write “beewolf” or “beewolf wasp,” but not “bee wolf” or “beewolfwasp.” Get it?

I happen to have a yellow jacket in my closet. It’s a good jacket, warm with lots of pockets, and I would never consider killing it. The yellow and black wasp that bugs picnickers is a yellowjacket because it is not, in fact, a jacket.

I almost didn’t buy what turned out to be an excellent book, Honeybee Democracy, because of the spelling. Certainly Thomas Seeley knows better. But later I read that his daughters encouraged the spelling because it makes the title rhyme. But wait: Honeybee Democracy rhymes and Honey Bee Democracy doesn’t? I’m lost.

People like Seeley and the folks at the Smithsonian are changing the language, and I think it is sad. With rules of spelling, you can derive meaning. You can look at the word “glowworm” and, knowing nothing else, you realize it is not a worm. You know a hairstreak is not a streak (nor a hair), yet you know a stag beetle really is a beetle. But when spellings become random, you can’t draw conclusions. You become lost in a sea of unrelated words where the simplest terms are confusing. Perhaps we should call it a “honeybee bee.”

Thanks to David for the instructive, if maddening, photo.


Consider the Honeybee. © David Caylor.

Thirty-one gifts for beekeepers

It’s time for my annual list of holiday gifts for beekeepers. They range from very inexpensive stocking-stuffers to more expensive “serious” gifts.

  1. Honey-Maker by Rosanna Mattingly: In my opinion, this is a treasure of a bee book and a perfect gift. You can find it at Bear Grass Press.
  2. Vivaldi board: An inner cover, ventilated cover, and feeder rim all rolled into one. They can be used year round and can easily hold a Swienty feeder. My favorite, made by Greg at GSLongWoodworking in Oregon, has two ventilation ports in the bottom so ventilation can occur even when a feeder is in place. Check out his site for other cool bee stuff too.
  3. Ventilated gabled roof: allows good weather protection and excellent ventilation. My favorite, made by Bill Castro of Bee Friendly Apiary in Maryland, is designed much like the attic space in a house and is beautiful besides.
  4. Bug Baffler: Much lighter and cooler than your average bee suit, the Bug Baffler is made of  fine, durable netting and is reported to be extremely honey bee-resistant, according to Tim at The Backyard Arthropod Project. This one is definitely on my Christmas list.
  5. Hardware cloth: A roll of #8 hardware cloth has endless uses around the apiary. Amazon.com stocks it in a ten-foot roll.
  6. Duct tape: can’t live without it necessity in the apiary. For variety in hive design, you can get tiger stripes and even leopard skin, but it doesn’t deter bears.
  7. Hive tool: these get lost. So if one is good, more is better.
  8. Essential oils, especially spearmint, lemongrass, tea tree, or anise: used for making dietary supplements for bees. My favorite source is 100PureEssentialOils.com.
  9. Paint strainers, one- or five-gallon size depending on the number of hives: these can be used for filtering honey or beeswax (or paint).
  10. Everclear: In the past I listed isopropyl alcohol, but I’ve changed to Everclear because it is non-toxic. You can use it for removing propolis from everything that’s not propolis. You can use it for making swarm lures from dead queens. And if you have some leftover, you can always drink it . . . in moderation, of course. You can find Everclear at your local liquor store in 151 or 190 proof, depending on your state laws.
  11. Sugar, white granulated in 10-, 25-, or 50-pound bag: for making candy boards, syrup, or candy cakes. Also useful for pie.
  12. Seeds, flowers or herbs: provide bee forage—choose flowers that are attractive to bees such as five-spot, bird’s eyes, baby blue eyes, or borage. A good source for heirloom seeds is the Hudson Valley Seed Library.
  13. Tree or shrub: serves the same purpose as above except feeds a crowd. Try cherry laurel, California lilac, or black locust.
  14. Velcro ankle straps: the little darlings really like tender ankles and legs.
  15. Mason bee condo or bumble bee house: once hooked by honey bees, there’s no turning back—all their relations become fascinating as well.
  16. Drill bits, extra long, of various sizes from 1/16-inch to 5/16-inch: allows the beekeeper to make his own bee condos.
  17. Yellowjacket traps: for trapping . . . you guessed it . . . yellowjackets. My favorite brand, Rescue!, contains pheromones that will not attract honey bees.
  18. Florescent green spray paint: for marking drone frames, a useful tip learned from Randy Oliver.
  19. Fishing line, 50# test for wiring frames: it is still springy like wire, but it doesn’t kink or break. Forget melting it into wax, however—it doesn’t conduct electricity.
  20. Ratcheting tie down: for tying hives together, to each other, or to something else; they are good for hurricanes and earthquakes as well.
  21. Wood filler: to replace those chunks missing from your masterpiece.
  22. Butterfly net: a long handle is good for removing bees from inside your skylights or snaring flyaway queens. Also useful for annihilating yellowjackets. A variety of good nets can be found at the Educational Science Online Store.
  23. Double boiler: for melting wax; try to find one at Goodwill because it won’t be good for anything else after the first melt.
  24. Crock pot: an alternative to the double boiler for melting wax and a bit safer. If they already have a crockpot for cooking, don’t worry. The one for melting wax cannot easily be used for anything else.
  25. Uncapping knife: one of those things beekeepers skimp on, but they are really nice to have for extracting honey.
  26. Bee brush: because a paint brush just doesn’t work.
  27. Propane torch: the no-nonsense method of lighting a smoker.
  28. Air compressor: a small, three-gallon, 100 psi air compressor is about $50 and can save hours of time.
  29. Brad gun: although I use screws on my bee boxes, I use brads on the frames. A pneumatic brad gun is about $20.
  30. Air hose: to connect compressor to brad gun, somewhat necessary to make the system work. About $10.
  31. Brads: several sizes, such as one-inch, three-quarters-inch, and half-inch. If you are on a tight budget, just gift the brads. This will force the beekeeper to buy the rest.


Long drill bits in a variety of sizes can be found on Amazon.com.

Fine Dining

Beef Wellington: a dish of beef, typically coated in pâté de foie gras, wrapped in puff pastry, and baked.

Bee Fwellington: a dish of raw bee, typically coated in pollen, wrapped in legs, and warmed in the sun.

“Crab spider” is a general term for many types of spiders that look and move like crabs, and many of them will eat bees. They don’t target bees specifically but will consume any type of invertebrate they can wrap their legs around.

I’m not a fan of spiders because they have too many legs. More importantly, when a creature’s eyes are arranged in rows, it creeps me out. But crab spiders attract my attention because I’ve watched them pluck foraging bees right out of the air and eat them, head first, with no social grace whatsoever.

The crab spiders don’t spin webs, but ambush invertebrates when they visit a flower. They paralyze their prey with a venomous bite between the head and thorax, which allows them to consume the meal at their leisure. The eight small eyes allow it to detect the slightest movement. True to their name, they can move crablike forward, sideways, and backwards. When prey comes close, their forelegs rise up to strike in crab fashion.

Many of the crab spiders, especially in the genus Misumena in the family Thomisidae, are able to change color to match the flower where they sit. The great camouflage allows them to easily snare a meal. When the spiders remain white while sitting on a flower of a different color, their coloring is thought to mimic bird droppings and, as such, they appear to be harmless.

Click on any photo to view slides.