Mason bee “menage a trois”

Caught in the act! This mason bee threesome was photographed by UK beekeeper Philippa Burgess. She got the shot a couple of years ago as the little tower of bees perched in her back garden for thirty minutes or more.

Although we don’t have this species in the states, these bees appear to be Osmia rufa, also known as the red mason bee, a very common in species in Europe. The female is both larger and hairier than the males; the males are more slender with unmistakably white faces.

As with other bees in the family Megachilidae, the male red mason emerges first and hangs around the nest area waiting for females to emerge. Males compete for females and may mate many times during their short lives.

As soon as the female mates, she begins to search for suitable nest locations, such as abandoned insect holes, cracks in wood, or hollow reeds. Once she chooses a home, she begins the process of collecting provisions—both nectar and pollen—and laying eggs. The female red mason uses mud to build partitions between the egg chambers and to seal the entrance to her nest.

These bees are active six to eight weeks in late spring. Once the eggs are laid, it takes about 15 weeks for the baby bee to become an adult. This adult bee, still in a cocoon, spends the remainder of the winter in a resting stage, and will not emerge until the following spring.

In this unusual photo, it appears that both males found the female at the same time. Soon, the males will move on looking for other mates, and the female will begin her life’s work.

Great catch, Philippa. Thanks so much for sharing!

Osmia rufu mating threesome
A mating threesome, Osmia rufa. © Philippa Burgess.


Observation hive for sale

SOLD! But be sure to check out Greg’s site. Thanks.

This is just a quick note to let you know that my friend Greg Long, a beekeeper and awesome woodworker in Oregon, has an Ulster style observation hive for sale. This creation is part beehive, part furniture, and part art. I guarantee you will fall in love with it when you see it.

I’m sure it will be snapped up quickly, but while you are on his site, be sure to check out his other items. I can tell you from experience that his woodworking is second to none.

Patent for Flow-style beehive: 1940

Oh so fascinating! Someone just sent me a link to a patent granted by the U.S. Patent Office for a beehive that is eerily similar to the Flow hive but is made of metal. The inventor, Juan Garriga, lived in Spain and submitted the patent on August 8, 1939. The patent was approved on December 3, 1940.

The second and third paragraphs read as follows:

By use of the beehive cells according to my invention all the operations of extracting honey from the hive are greatly simplified by dispensing with manipulations in the interior of the hives with the result that the work of collecting the honey, which is long, fatiguing, and even dangerous, is converted into a short and easy operation, which can be performed by any person.

On the other hand the bees are not annoyed by the operations which have to be carried out in order to gather and store the honey, thus avoiding diminution in the amount of honey produced, all of which is to the benefit of the bee-keeper.

The hive works basically the same way as the Flow, by displacing the cells along the central plane of the comb and allowing the honey to drain out from both sides. When drained, the comb can be moved back into position. The diagrams even show tubes running from the hive into a container.

You may find this interesting; I certainly did. United States Patent US2223561


Movie review | Burt’s Buzz

We all know Burt Shavitz as the iconic face of Burt’s Bees, the large, Clorox-owned company that sells personal care products in tiny, expensive containers. I knew Burt’s life was riddled with conflict, but I hadn’t realized how sad it was until I watched the amateur documentary, Burt’s Buzz.

If you don’t know the story of Burt, he began his career as a photographer for Time and Life magazines on the streets of Manhattan. One day, longing to be outdoors and closer to nature, he packed up and left for the Maine woods. He did odd jobs and eventually, more or less by accident, became a beekeeper, selling honey by the side of the road.

One day he met Roxanne Quimby, a displaced mother of twins who was living in a tent. He befriended her and told her she could have his beeswax and make candles for some extra income. Quimby was ambitious, and soon turned the roadside pickup into a multimillion dollar enterprise.

Burt didn’t want to be a businessman and tensions between them grew. Eventually, in 1999, Quimby more-or-less forced Burt to sell his share of the business to her for $130 thousand.

Five years later, in 2004, AEA Investors purchased 80% of the company for $173 million and Quimby retained the remaining 20%. Three years later, the Clorox Corporation paid $925 million for the entire company and turned it into a behemoth.

According to Quimby, she later gave Burt an extra $4 million, but it’s not entirely clear if she did or not. In any case, it’s not a pretty story.

The documentary has mixed reviews. Some people like it, some find it boring and slow. As a beekeeper, I found it fascinating in a sort of sad and melancholy way. I could also identify with Burt on some level, the way he loves the land, the bees, and his alone time.

Not an action-packed thriller by any means, the film is by turns heart warming and heart wrenching. Although the film glosses over the beekeeping aspect of Burt’s life, I think most bee lovers would find the film compelling, or at least interesting. I recommend it for one of those low-key, pensive evenings.

The film is available on Amazon in a variety of formats: Burt’s Buzz


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What the heck is vegan honey?

Honey is excluded from the vegan diet by definition. Both the definition and the term “vegan” are credited to Donald Watson, who promoted the idea back in 1944. A few months later, the Vegan Society of England adopted Watson’s model. He wrote:

Veganism is a way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom, and includes a reverence for life. It applies to the practice of living on the products of the plant kingdom to the exclusion of flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, animal milk and its derivatives, and encourages the use of alternatives for all commodities derived wholly or in part from animals.

So if honey is included in the official definition, there is no doubt that honey is off limits to vegans. I am frequently asked why honey is vegan, and knowing this will make it easier to answer.

But here is my question: Recently my daughter—who is vegetarian but not vegan—found a recipe that calls for “3 tablespoons of vegan honey.” She asked me, “What the heck is vegan honey?” Good question. As she points out, the phrase is confusing. Like fat-free half-and-half, it defies all manner of logic.

So I did an internet search. Lo and behold, you can buy something called “Bee Free Honee” that is made from concentrated apples, beet sugar, and lemon juice. At least one reviewer says it’s “even better than the real thing.”

Personally, I doubt it’s better than the real thing, especially since it comes in four flavors that don’t particularly remind me of honey: original, mint, chocolate, and ancho chili. Whatever.

But the thing that irritates me most? The label. It reads “All Natural • Plant Based.” While that is no doubt a true statement, I’d like to know what about honey is not all natural or plant based. Honey is made from nectar, and nectar comes from plants. Okay, maybe a bit of bee spit too, but the last time I saw apples being pressed, all kinds of bugs and caterpillars, wormy things and slugs, got squeezed along with the fruit.

Some lifeforms are hard to avoid. According to the FDA Defect Levels Handbook, apple butter (which is also a form of concentrated apples) is not flagged until the 100-gram samples contain an average of four or more rodent hairs and 5 or more whole or equivalent insects (not including mites, aphids, thrips, or scale insects). These levels are set for aesthetic reasons only, and it sounds like the mites, aphids, thrips, and scale insects are so small that they are not even counted. So much for vegan.

And speaking of animal exploitation, I wonder who pollinated all those apple trees? And the lemons? Is it possible that bees were stacked on a flatbed and trucked across the country, servants to the ag industry? Is it possible that apples and lemons are “commodities derived wholly or in part from animals” or their labor? One reviewer wrote, “No bees die in the production of no-bee honey.” I wonder how sure she is about that.

I certainly have nothing against veganism: people should be free to eat what they want. But I find it odd that people take labels at face value without evaluating the subtleties—the details about where food comes from and how it’s processed.

At any rate, consider this a public service announcement for beekeepers: now you know where to send your vegan friends who can’t eat honey. But don’t forget to ask them about creepy crawly juice and insect servitude. I’d love to understand.


Note: For your friends who don’t wish to eat honey, this product is actually highly rated by users. To the company’s credit, they use organic apples, non-GMO cane sugar, and the label doesn’t actually say “vegan.” Honee 100% All-Natural Bee-Free

Bee on apple blossom.
Bee on apple blossom. Pixabay public domain photo.

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