Wednesday, December 22, 2010


We don't need no stinkin' maraschinos.

Well, maybe you do, especially if you are a fan of Rob Roys, Manhattans, Shirley Temples, ice cream sundaes, root beer floats, fruitcakes, or patriotism. America. Fuck yeah.

So you and I, we need maraschino cherries. What we don't need is a factory to make them for us, not when we can make a better product at home, free of artificial food dyes, high fructose corn syrup, red bees, or communism.

There are a lot of recipes for homemade maraschino cherries on the internet, and I've wanted to try them for a while. Our bee's run-in with the local maraschino factory gave me the push to get off my butt and do it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Mystery of the Red Honey, Part 3

So into the mail the samples went, off to a state food lab by way of Paul Cappy, the state apiculturalist. Paul has been extremely helpful in figuring out our problems and always managed to find the silver lining. The first time I mentioned the possibility that the source of the contamination was the maraschino cherry factory, he immediately suggested that we mix the stuff into our Manhattans. He may have overestimated how many Manhattans I can consume safely, but at a time when everyone involved was tired and worried about the health of our bees, his unwavering view of the upside cheered us up. He also shared many stories about other beekeepers who had experienced similar problems—I had heard some of them before, but had always taken them to be the stuff of legends.

I guess I know better now.

In order of distance from the factory.  Samples taken from hives closest to the factory on the left.
Image Copyright, 2010

Eventually, the results came back. Positive for red #40, the food-safe dye (FD&C Red 40) used to colour cherries at the factory. The proverbial last nail in the coffin, but as I've mentioned, we were already pretty positive that the factory was the source. With that last scrap of evidence in hand, we drafted a letter and made moves to contact Mr. Mondella, the owner of the factory. Things got complicated before we could deliver it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010


I misplaced the USB stick that has the articles I was working on (Wintering pt.2, Red Honey pt.3) and I am cranky about it because now I have to rewrite everything. Whoops.

If it makes y'all feel any better, here is a picture of me with a sting in my arm:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Queen of the Sun

Queen of The Sun Teaser Clip from Taggart Siegel on Vimeo.

Yvon Achard, Bee Historian, show us the age-old relationship between man and bees.

I want to be this man.

Mainly I want to be able to grow a mustache, but I also covet the kind of close relationship and quiet interaction he has with his bees.

This documentary looks amazing. If any of you have access to a copy of the full version, I would LOVE to see it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Mystery of the Red Honey, Part Two

So . . .

Ethylene glycol. Nasty stuff. The kind of stuff you don't want in your honey, let alone your hives. Obviously, this suggestion caused a bit of consternation and I quickly got in touch with Cerise Mayo and Gita N., both of whom maintain hives at the Added Value Red Hook farm, as well as Ian Marvy, the director of Added Value. We started a huge e-mail chain of ideas, theories and suggestions, but eventually decided that the best and only course of action was to meet in person to take a look at the affected hives and take samples to send to the state food lab. We met on Labor Day.

I arrived at the farm prepared for the worst. I had already seen the pictures of the red "honey" on Facebook, but they didn't do it justice. Bright red, practically fluorescent bees flying into the hive, completely unaware of the alarm they were inciting just doing their thing. I should probably clarify that the bees themselves weren't (and still aren't) red. The dye is no more incorporated into their bodies than the red food dye we eat in so many foods is integrated into ours. It's just along for the ride. When a bee finds a source of food, it will fill itself to bursting. Its crop, or honey stomach, distends drastically until it takes up almost half of its abdomen, and since its exoskeleton is partially translucent, you can see whatever it’s carrying. In this case, the bees had found something bright red, and there was a lot of it. Hundreds, thousands of bees were coming in heavy, packed tight with neon goop. Like David mentioned in the New York Times article, it was pretty beautiful.

After we made our introductions and got over watching the bees, we set to work. Once the smoker was lit, we surrounded the strongest hive and cracked it open. We could immediately see that something was not quite right.

Take a closer look.
Image Copyright, 2010

Tiny Little Pies

To keep y'all entertained while I finish editing the second part of the Red "Honey" story, here is a video of wasps and other insects being hit in the face with tiny little pies, launched from a tiny little catapult.

Don't worry. Wasps are dicks.

They deserved it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Mystery of the Red Honey

Bloody Bees....
Image Copyright 2010,

I've gotten a few e-mails from friends and readers forwarding the recent article in the New York Times covering the outbreak of red “honey” in Red Hook, so firstly, THANK YOU to everyone who sent it to me. It's a very well-written article and it delves into the pressing issues of gentrification and the social friction it creates.

Cerise Mayo expected better of her bees. She had raised them right, given them all the best opportunities—acres of urban farmland strewn with fruits and vegetables, a bounty of natural nectar and pollen . . .

And then this. Her bees, the ones she had been raising in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and on Governors Island since May, started coming home to their hives looking suspicious. . . . Where there should have been a touch of gentle amber showing through the membrane of their honey stomachs was instead a garish bright red. The honeycombs, too, were an alarming shade of Robitussin.
Follow the link to the full NYT Article:

While gentrification and the clashes between local businesses, old residents, and newcomers to neighborhoods are fascinating, as a beekeeper, I've been much more curious about the beekeeping aspects of this story since it first came to my attention several months ago.

A lot of people have a very pastoral view of bees: flying from flower to flower slowly, sedately, looking for food, dancing their way toward a hive full of honey happily donated to our kitchens and tables. The reality is frantic, a constant struggle for survival against a legion of enemies. Honeybees are desperately productive, and the old saying “busy as a bee” takes on new meaning when you consider that most bees die in the field, full of food and nectar, expending the last of their energy on One. Last. Load.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks for Bees

It's amazing how central bees are to our lifestyles and how few of us realize it.

It's always nice to hear from people who do.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Thanksgiving = Prezzies?

Thank you for placing an order with Walter T. Kelley Bee Co..

Order Details

Code Product Description Quantity
18RA Deep Hive Body 10 Frame 1-4 Cypress 10 Frame 4
38RA Medium Depth (Illinois) Cypress 10 Frame Medium Supers 4
57-RA Cypress Screen Bottom Board 2
49-RA Cypress Wood and Metal Cover 2
12-MCA Mountain Camp rim for 10 frame hive. 2
113 Frame Holder 1
55-N Entrance Reducer 2

Any guesses as to what I'm doing next year?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wintering 101 Part One: It’s a-Comin’.

There is probably no subject in beekeeping that sparks so many debates (and arguments) as preparing hives for winter. There are an infinite number of methods, practices, tricks and superstitions, and every beekeeper has his or her own beekeepers brew for overwintering. Regardless of what anyone will tell you, there is no RIGHT way to overwinter your bees. There is no universal method that works the best for everybody everywhere and leaves everyone happy because all of their bees survived the winter and everyone is happy, hooray.

Beehive in Winter

There is, however, a right way for you.

You'll have to find it out for yourself, building it up from the dizzying array of methods and strategies. You'll make mistakes along the way (I did) but eventually you will arrive at a method that is right for you. I'll try to help by explaining some of your options and the rationales behind them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


If you're signed up for the New York City Beekeeping Meetup Group (NYCBMG) free beekeeping class, it's TONIGHT!

Come say hi to me if you'll be there. I'll have a rust and grey colored scarf on and will likely tower over the crowd. Should be easy to spot me!

As always, remember to check the Calendar for upcoming NYC Beekeeping events! I do my best to keep it updated, even when I'm otherwise swarmed!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


My student Lana won this hook-end hive tool (authentic Maxant!) at JEOPARBEE last night.  She then proceeded to give it to me.  She is now my favourite.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Subject: blog

From: "Bob"
To: "Tim"
Sent: Fri, Oct 29, 2010 10:38 am

Subject: blog

Hey, no pictures of your helper!

From: "Tim"
To: "Bob"
Sent: Fri, Oct 29, 2010 10:40 am

Subject: Re: blog

I didn't have any that you weren't a blur in!

From: "Bob"
To: "Tim"
Sent: Fri, Oct 29, 2010 11:04 am

Subject: re: Re: blog

Your old man, the blur.

My old man, the (least) blur(ry picture I could find.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ohio Harvest

As I mentioned earlier (and didn't follow up on (like I promised I would (sorry))), I had a busy birthday weekend in late September, extracting, filtering, bottling (and eating) all the honey contained in these supers:

Full of tasties.

It was a bit of a light year. Three of the hives in Ohio are new after some harsh winter losses, so most of the harvest was from the oldest hive, which runs Minnesota Hygienic stock. Under the best of circumstances, each one of those medium supers can hold about 35 pounds, or 3-4 gallons of honey. This year, with most of the hives concentrating on building up enough stores for winter, the supers went on late and were only half filled by the time they were pulled off. It's important to remember that the bees NEED honey to survive the winter. They don't go to the trouble of making it just so that we can take it; each hive needs up to 80 pounds of honey to make it through the winter. Even with that, a strong hive might need supplemental feeding in the spring before the first nectar flow to jump start its brood-rearing.

Prior to my arrival, my dad had cleared the honey supers of bees and brought them to our house. As you can see, they were sealed up with an outer cover and several pots of geraniums, which served to keep curious bees from getting in and starting a feeding frenzy. They'd like nothing more than to take that honey back, so you have to be very careful and minimize the amount of time the frames of honey are out in the open. I missed a dime sized amount that dripped out of the first super as I was carrying it inside. Ten minutes later, this:

This probably warrants a women/fashion section joke (amirite?), but I'm not up to the task at the moment.

Braving the cloud of hungry bees, we slowly got through all the supers and sealed them back up. We like to recycle the comb, so they went back to the bees to clean out for a day and then into cold storage.  I'll be covering extraction methods (and storage) in their own articles, so for now, I'll leave you with some pictures from the harvest.

Super #1 and our Italian (shockingly, it didn't break down) tangential extractor.

Lookit dat honeeeeeey.  Awwww yeah!

Think Beiber can uncap honey like a pro?  I doubt it.

You spin me right round baby right round like an extractor baby right round round round.
You spin me right round baby right round spinning honey out of cells baby right round.

"Down the hole and through the filter to the bottling spigot we go," never made it as a nursery rhyme, but is germane to the subject at hand.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sweet Anticipation

Original illustration by E.H. Shepard

So they began going there, and after they had walked a little way Christopher Robin said:

"What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?"

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best?" and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.

Excerpt from "The House at Pooh Corner" by A.A. Milne, 1928

Monday, October 18, 2010


I make a point of saying that a veil is the single most important piece of beekeeping equipment and that every beekeeper, regardless of experience, should use a veil every single time they inspect your bees. Getting stung on the face is an unpleasant experience for pretty much everyone. When it comes to safety, don't take shortcuts.

It's also important that you remember to secure your veil properly. If you forget to tie it down snugly or zip it fully, this is what may happen:


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Got any plans for Saturday?

If not, there is a whole bunch of cool beekeeping and urban ag stuff going on!

First, the 5th annual Red Hook Farm Harvest Festival is this Saturday from 10AM to 5PM. Featuring such activities as pumpkin carving and stuffing your face with food from The Good Fork, iCi, Rice, Kevin's and the Lobster Pound, there will also be live music performed by Bomba Yo!, Professor Louis, The Broken Arrowz, Rebel Diaz and more. On top of that, add a bunch of kid friendly activities (not the kid at heart kind), a locally sourced farmers market and seasonal food cooking demonstrations, and you've got a full (and fun) day.

Plus, you know, I'll be there. With bees. *toot, toot*

Sunday, October 10, 2010

In the News: CCD Research

Quite a number of you have sent me the recent New York Times article on the discovery of the cause of colony collapse disorder or CCD. Firstly, thanks to everyone who thought to send it in; I try to keep up on the news, but there is quite a bit of it. By sharing any beekeeping related tidbits you run across you not only help me keep up, but let me know what kind of things you are interested in.

I like that. I’d also like to share my interpretation of the paper and the reaction that followed.

So, as seems to be the norm in the news, the story has come across a little differently than it was originally intended. The title of the NYT article says it all: Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery. While I understand their enthusiasm, the actual research article on PLoS ONE makes no such claim. Rather, their research points to the combination of Nosema ceranae and an Invertebrate Iridescent Virus (IIV) as the proverbial straw that broke the camels back, NOT the exclusive causative agent of CCD.

In their relative small scale study (41 colonies) they found a statistically significant correlation between colonies suffering from CCD and a co-infection by nosema ceranae and IIV. The combination of both N. ceranae and IIV type 6 was detected in 100% of the collapsed or failing colonies in a small scale study done in 2006. Similarly, follow up studies on an observation hive undergoing collapse in 2007 and 9 colonies in Florida in 2008 showed that the combination was present in all colonies that collapsed.

Even with such a small sample size, such a strong connection is hard to ignore, but there is a fly (bee?) in the ointment for anyone who would like to believe that they found the one true cause of CCD.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Festival Pics

Cherise Fong stopped by my table and was kind enough to send in a few pictures that she took to share with anyone who couldn't make it.  Thanks!

If anyone else has pictures of my table, please send them in!  I didn't get a chance to step away and would love to see them and hear your impressions! table at the New New York Street Festival
Picture (c) Cherise Fong 2010, used with permission

Even Beekeepers eat.  In this case, a wild arugula salad with poached eggs, anchovies and homemade Caesar dressing.  I coddled the hell out of those dressing eggs.
Picture (c) Cherise Fong 2010, used with permission

Monday, October 4, 2010

Genius Beekeepers and Weekend Recap

First and foremost, I'd like to thank everyone who came out to the New New York Green Street Festival and stopped by my table, especially those people from my Beekeeping 101 class! A few of you actually had time to stay and help field questions for a while; I was both impressed with (and proud of) how many questions you were able to answer (and so well!) after a single class. Hopefully that means I'm doing something right!

It was a busy day and the traffic was constant (as were the questions), so if I missed yours, email me! I'll try to get back to you as soon as possible (and maybe share the answer with everyone else.) In fact, I was so busy answering bee questions that I didn't get a single picture of the observation hive or my table! If you took any, would you please share them with me? I'd love to put them up here on my blog for everyone to see!

On another note, it is a widely accepted fact that beekeepers are above average in both intelligence and looks. The MacArthur Foundation recently confirmed at least the former by awarding Marla Spivak a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, commonly known as the 'genius' grant for her work developing the 'Minnesota Hygienic' Italian Hybrid bee.

Read more about it here and be sure to watch the video: Marla Spivak @ The MacArthur Foundation

Thursday, September 30, 2010

This Weekend: Exciting Things

It was a long weekend, but I got a LOT done, all of which I'll be talking about here over the next couple of days (promise.) Last week, I gave you a picture preview of at least one of the things accomplished this weekend- all of the honey in those supers has been extracted, bottled, and stored (and eaten).

Today, however, I am preparing for the NEW New York, a DIY-themed green block party that is being held on Saturday October 2nd at 3rd street between Hoyt and Bond in Gowanus. I was kindly asked to host a beekeeping table, so I will be there armed with beekeeping equipment, flyers, and yes... BEES!


Here's the official blurb:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hive Tools: 101

Take a minute to consider the lowly hive tool. They are rarely discussed, yet they are one of the few basic tools (along with a veil and a smoker) that every single beekeeper requires regardless of comfort level or experience. It is more or less impossible to do any manipulation of your hives without one. Bees are remarkably good at gluing EVERYTHING together. In the week or two between inspections, your bees will seal every single crack with propolis. Inner and outer covers? Superglued. Hive bodies? Unified in stickiness. Frames? I've seen all ten frames hoisted out as a single unit. (Don't do this.) Without your trusty hive tool, you might get as far as seeing the bees fly in and out of the hive (which, for the record, is pretty enjoyable), but you won't get much further.

In the showcase: A variety of of hive tools!  Show us around the fabulous prizes, Becky!
Image from

Hive tools are used for the following basic beekeeping tasks:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Beekeeping 101

As some as you may know, I'll be teaching an Introduction to Beekeeping course later this month at Brooklyn Brainery. One of the reasons I started this blog was to share basic beekeeping information with anyone with the curiosity or desire to read it, especially those individuals looking to try beekeeping on their own. Ideally, I want to build this blog into a resource covering beekeeping as a whole in an understandable and approachable manner. I hope.

So... be (I bet you were expecting a 'bee' pun there) on the lookout for articles with the 101 tag. In 101's, I'll try to focus on clear, concise, and balanced explanations of basic techniques, equipment, and more! When there are multiple schools of thought or courses of action, I'll cover all of the ones I know about, let you know which ones I've tried, and which ones I prefer, to help you sort through the dizzying array of beekeeping methods that threaten to overwhelm many new beekeepers.

As always, feel free to email me with questions or to suggest topics that you would like to see covered.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Against Idleness And Mischief

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skilfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

-Isaac Watts, 1866

Monday, September 13, 2010

Say Hello to My Little Friends

It is a little known fact that Tony Montana was an avid beekeeper.
Scarface and Tony Montana (c) Universal Pictures.

Obviously, I like bees. I don’t know if you’ve figured that out yet, but it’s true. I like the bees themselves, the honey they produce, the comb they build, the amazing and complex society they maintain- every aspect of this hobby is satisfying in its own unique way.

I anthropomorphize bees fairly often. Bees to a beekeeper are like pets; what cats and dogs are to most people. Talking about them, I might mention that they were in a mood (good or bad), or that they just wanted to be left alone for a while. There’s a good reason for this. Every hive I've worked with has had a different personality. An individual bee is just a bee, but a hive has a unique personality or character that is the product of a huge number of variables. Genetics, weather, food supply, and more all play a part in determining a hives personality. We’ll talk about all of those things later.

For now, I want to introduce you to some of my little friends.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ow... Part 2

So… you just got stung.

And it hurts. It’s important to remember that it’s SUPPOSED to hurt and not freak out. In part one, I talked a little bit about how stings come with the territory and how, eventually, you’ll come to accept it and lose your fear. Today, I’m going to tell you a bit about what may happen to you when you are stung- what falls in the wide range of normal reactions, and what doesn’t.

A common first reaction.  You won't be this person for long.
Illustration by ???

The vast majority of people will feel the sting first as a needle of pain at the sting site. Personally, I compare it to a hard pinch, and I think that the actual pain lasts about as long.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Interview with FarmTina

I was recently interviewed on a local (Brooklyn) based urban agriculture blog, FarmTina. I had a lot of fun answering her questions, and the experience encouraged me to start this blog. Read the interview, and when you're done, check out her site- it's really fun, and very informative.

FarmTina: The first question I think everyone wants to know... WHY?! Why beekeeping? And why do it in a place like Brooklyn?

Tim: I grew up in the country with parents who were very interested in growing and purchasing local, organic, and sustainable food. Going to get honey was my favourite trip, and every time we visited that beekeeper, I would pester him with questions- how do they make honey, how do they fly, does it hurt when they sting you, do you have names for them all, etc, etc, etc. By the time I was in Middle School, I knew that I wanted to do it for myself, so I did. With my dad's help, I purchased the gear, ordered some bees through the mail (which is a story in and of itself), and got to work.

Read more at!


It happens. Every beekeeper gets stung at some point, no matter how careful they are.

It comes with the territory.

The more you get stung, the closer you get to overcoming your ingrained childhood fear of bees, or anything that looks like them, and that's a good thing. It's important to remember that every sting is a sacrifice for the colony; another worker that won't be coming home and has to be replaced.

Bees are not out to get you.

Monday, September 6, 2010

First Bees

Bees can be shipped to you in the mail, which is both clever (or at least thought to be a decade ago) and a little bit scary for everyone involved. At a commercial queen raising company in Georgia or one of the other southern states, a newly mated queen is put into a wooden-framed, mesh-sided box with a feeding can and 3 pounds of her nearest and dearest. All in all, it amounts to 10,000 possibly cranky bees in a flimsy looking, open air crate, appearing ready to burst out in an angry swarm at the slightest provocation (or so it may seem to the average postal worker.) Unless you have a local beekeeper willing to sell you a 'nuc' (a 5 frame starter hive) or a local bee supplier who stocks package bees and isn't too terribly far away, ordering bees through the mail is a good (and sometimes lone) option. It's fast, easy, and barring any disasters, convenient, although it is now generally considered to be stressful for the bees.

Bees came into my life via a 4 A.M. call from the local post office on a school night.

"Mr. ONeal?"

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Bees?  In my neighborhood?

It's more likely than you think.

In this modern age of globalization and raspberries in January (I love raspberries in January), there is a growing trend towards locally grown and sourced foods.  CSA's, community gardens, and backyard farms are booming, and they all rely on the pollinating talents of the honey bee (Apis mellifera, for the technical.)

Smoking, legally.
More and more urban dwellers are exploring beekeeping as a satisfying, safe, and altruistic hobby and it's a trend that I hope continues unabated.

In many communities, beekeepers face an uphill battle.  People tend to fear bees (partially encouraged by sensationalist media reports of Africanized Honey Bees) and the first question they often ask is, "Isn't it DANGEROUS?"  Many of their concerns are unfounded, but there are years of prejudice and an instinctual fear of anything that stings to overcome.  Many beekeepers, urban ones in particular, keep their hives hidden for fear of being labeled a neighborhood nuisance, or worse, a menace.

I hope to use this blog to dispel some of those fears and teach people a bit about the science and art of beekeeping.  With a little bit of luck and help from my readers, beekeeper and non-beekeeper alike, I want to do my part to dispel the myths surrounding honeybees, educate, and maybe even inspire some to pick up a smoker.