The NEW Honey Bee Discovery Center in Orland

Discovery Sign from Side of Building
Discovery Sign from Side of Building

A few weeks ago, I was invited to the Honey Bee Discovery Center Kick-off and Exhibit Preview in Orland, California. This event was followed by the Queen Bee Festival the day after. The Honey Bee Discovery Center is ‘the first interactive exhibit and museum of its kind’. It highlights the history of beekeeping from hobbyists, sideliners and commercial operators’ perspectives, and features the evolution and breakthroughs in equipment, pollination and art inspired by bees.
Inside the center, one can find multiple showcases of vintage bee equipment related to all apicultural activities, complete with an observation hive near the center of the room. All around the new center, visitors can find many bee related pictures and education opportunities.

Front of the Discovery Center
Front of the Discovery Center

Similar to many museums, the Honey Bee Discovery Center will have a permanent collection and special exhibits. The different glass enclosed displays will be changed frequently with different beekeeping related collections, so it is just like an art exhibit, but all about bees! This will make each visit to the discovery center unique as some items on display will be from personal collections and only appear once while other donated items could be displayed several times. The discovery centers collection is quite large.

Overall it was a great experience to see the exhibit first hand and to see the work that went into the preparation of this center. I feel the center will only improve over time as more displays and events occur there, increasing its popularity in the beekeeping community it is closely tied to. I highly encourage a visit to the Honey Bee Discovery Center, there is something for all ages and it is a sight to see!

Discovery Center from the back
Discovery Center from the back

New BIP Team Perspective

Forward: For my first blog post I was asked to write about my perspective of joining BIP as a tech transfer team member.  I have been in the field so much that I am just now getting around to it. I hope this blog accurately captures both the factual and emotional aspects of becoming a BIP tech team member. 

So here it goes…

It’s About The Bees!

Live Bee Tent
Live bee tent demonstration on the first day working for BIP. Not a typical Tech Transfer Team responsibility!

As one of the rookies on the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) tech transfer team, I feel incredibly lucky to have joined BIP at such an interesting time for the organization, and for the beekeeping industry itself.  On the first day of my new job, however, I was a bit worried that maybe I had made a mistake. When I showed up at the E. L. Niño Bee Lab everyone was outside in the UC Davis Bee Haven garden preparing for the outreach event happening that day.  Wanting to make a good impression I volunteered to help out in any way possible.  I was given the job of working the live honey bee tent. I had no idea what that meant.  Turns out the job entailed showing live bees to a swarm of 100 third graders while trapped inside a tent that was baking in full sun.  24 hours earlier I was walking through snow in cool Colorado but now was in sunny California wondering about symptoms of heat stroke. I made it through the day without any permanent health issues and was assured this was not a typical day for BIP Tech Team members.

During the next two months on the job, I gained a great amount of respect and was extremely impressed by the knowledge of the veteran tech team members: Ben Sallmann, Dan Aurell, Dan Wyns and Rob Snyder.  In addition, the entire BIP organization appeared to be blossoming into a finely tuned, well-managed, mature organization. The potential to provide even more value to the industry grows with each piece of scientific data collected. The data BIP collects and analyzes increasingly informs more efficient and effective beekeeping practices, promoting honey bee health while considering the needs of beekeepers.

Colony Inspection
Inspecting colonies in California

I have seen BIP successfully bring together the academic side of honey bee health with the commercial side. Using input from scientists, researchers, statisticians and software developers combined with the “real world” experience from commercial beekeepers, sideliners, growers and applicators, effective best practices are developed and continually refined.  BIP deploys in-the-field tech teams to collect field data and samples often working side by side with commercial beekeepers. Those samples get sent to the BIP lab who analyze them to generate more data. Samples can include live, sick or dead honey bees, brood, wax, pollen, bee 

Bee truck flat
Unexpected bee truck flat tire

bread or syrup and can be analyzed for Varroa mites, Nosema, viruses, foulbrood, pesticides and more.  The BIP scientists and software developers provide reports to evaluate the data and give beekeepers valuable feedback on the health of their colonies. Every step in the process is constantly being refined and improved upon. At BIP inception, tech teams were tracking data with handwritten notes. Today, tech teams are using tablets in the field which synchronize with the cloud in a single click.  Reports can be automatically generated with just one more click. Even these BIP reports are being refined and improved upon on a continuous basis. On an individual level I am taking the best processes learned from my training and other tech team members, then refining them to fit my own style and become more efficient in the field (including becoming more efficient at changing out a flat tire!). Most recently I have seen hazard quotient calculations added to the BIP pesticide report to objectively gauge the risk of each pesticide found in a particular sample. I know of no other organization that provides beekeepers with this breadth of data driven evidence.

I never dreamed that my thirst for knowledge about all things honey bees could ever be satisfied and maybe that is a good thing because it drives my scientific inquiry. Poet Chinonye Chidolue said “The river of knowledge knows no depth.” In the past 2 months, I have just started to learn and am still discovering how to swim in BIP’s river of knowledge. Not only are the teams at BIP incredibly educated but they are a pleasure to work with.  Experiencing the synergy of the intelligent people at BIP working towards common goals has been a great experience. The goals are always built on evidence based practices and are focused on honey bee health and beekeepers.  Often I hear hobby level beekeepers applying a human centric perspective to their beekeeping practices, for example, not wanting to take small bee samples to obtain accurate data on colony health or believing that “natural” beekeeping practices dictate not feeding or treating bees.  Best practices should be based on scientific data. BIP is all about the data which is why BIP is the place for me. It’s not about the human ethos. It’s not about you.  It’s about the bees!

Truck tailgate
A day in the life of a BIP Tech Transfer Team Member

Empty Calories

Foragers gathering fresh sawdust. Photo: Mike Connor

Somewhere early on in a “Beekeeping 101” class you’ll learn that honey bees forage for 4 things: nectar, pollen, propolis, and water. The nectar and pollen become honey and bee bread to provide sustenance. Propolis is used as a structural component and also contributes to colony health through immunological activity. Previous blog posts about propolis here and here provide more information. Water is necessary for a variety of purposes including preparation of brood food and evaporative cooling. So in addition to water, bees need 3 substances produced by plants. But do they collect anything else? Of course they do. If you’ve ever seen open syrup feeding, it’s apparent that the bees will forego the flower visitation part of foraging when a sweet liquid is provided. Bees will also readily gather pollen substitute when bulk fed in powder form. While these nectar and pollen surrogates may not be as attractive or nutritious as the genuine articles they are intended to replicate, they can be important in getting colonies through lean times.

Flowers and their surrogates are what the bees should be getting into, but what are they actually getting into? Some beekeepers have a perception that if bees gather it they must need it, but in my time working in and around bees I’ve seen them get into a lot of different things that probably aren’t great for them. One summer we noticed a propolis traps in a yard were yielding a dark brown, almost black propolis with sharp plastic smell instead of the typical red/orange sweet smelling propolis for the area. When we  sat waiting for the construction worker with the Stop/Go sign to allow us through the roadworks where a new topcoat of asphalt was being applied, we noticed bees collecting road tar to use as propolis. This paper detected petroleum derived molecules that matched the chemistry of local asphalt in propolis from urban colonies, confirming that bees will gather sticky stuff other than plant resins. I’ve also seen bees appearing to collect silicon-based caulking product. I’ve often described the physical role of propolis in the colony as bee-glue or caulking, so seeing one bee resort to gathering our version shouldn’t come as a shock if actual resins aren’t available. Bees gather “real” propolis from a variety of botanical sources depending on geography and climate. Some of the most common propolis sources in temperate climates are members of the genus Populus which includes poplars, aspens, and cottonwoods. For more about the role of propolis in the colony and an overview of botanical sources around the world, check out this article.

It’s not just propolis collection where bees make mistakes, sometimes they get it wrong when seeking pollen too. While building woodware in the shop, I’ve seen bees take a lot of interest in the sawdust from both treated and untreated lumber. I’ve never actually seen a forager pack it onto her corbicula, but beekeepers report bees gathering a variety of powdery materials when pollen is scarce. An early study on pollen foraging noted this tendency,  “During periods of pollen scarcity bees are reported to seek substitutes, such as bran, sawdust, and coal dust, which are of no known value for brood rearing.

Just about any sweet liquid is going to get the attention of honey bees, and I’ve seen them investigate many kinds of sodas and juices. This tendency may be a little unnerving to picnickers, but it isn’t really a problem unless there is a more permanent stationary source of sugary liquid that the bees find. One such case happened when some urban bees in NYC found a bit of runoff syrup from a maraschino cherry factory which was only the beginning of the story.


2019 California Spring Update

Many California beekeepers reported that the start of this year was the worst in 20+ years. Several factors contributed to this year’s issues, starting with the numerous fires last year causing nearly 3 months of smoke in the area.

A beekeepers yard in September showing smoke from fires in Northern California 2018.
Petal Fall in 2019 in almonds after heavy rain.

Once the days got longer, queens started laying but the temperatures dropped again and egg laying stopped once more resulting in smaller colonies after almonds. In fact, most colonies were 2-3 weeks or even a month behind, which delayed the start of queen production. Many producers had to source bulk bees from beekeepers further south to begin starters, builders and nucs.

Italian Queen selected for hygienic testing.
Carniolan Queen selected for hygienic testing in 2019.

Once queen producers started generating nucs, the weather conditions were still challenging enough that the windows of opportunities for queens to mate were narrow at best. However, many queen producers found the first round of catching queens resulted in better than expected mating percentages, allowing them to somewhat catch up on orders and start replacing their own queens. Around this time beekeepers were treating with terramycin to combat European foulbrood (EFB). Some beekeepers believe as I do, that fungicides play a roll in colonies being more susceptible to brood diseases especially EFB. I do think that some of the EFB outbreaks we see are due to the way commercial beekeepers and queen producers manipulate colonies to shake bulk bees.

Early EFB symptoms, orange arrows indicate larvae I would select for testing, red arrows indicate old larvae I would not test


If you are seeing this or lots of Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) it will be really hard to nurse colonies back to health. This is what happens if you neglect to treat or manipulate colonies to impact mite levels. Red arrows point to varroa mite in or on open brood.

Currently queen producers are re-queening and treating their colonies before shipping off to summer honey and pollination locations. The late spring has provided more rain than the past 8 years and many beekeepers say that rain in May increases the star thistle crop. We are hopeful this year will be a great star thistle honey crop, helping to restore lost colonies and recover some of the income lost due to the late start on queen production.


Top Bar Hives

76610_1722603184470_4694879_nIt’s hard to beat a Langstroth hive for its modularity, productivity, and convenience but it can also be interesting to play with bees in a different configuration. I was introduced to bees and learned beekeeping in New Zealand and I’m always looking for opportunities to see bees in new locations and contexts. In reading about beekeeping volunteer opportunities, I came across some different hive designs used around the world where access to materials and budgets are limited and was intrigued by top bar hives (TBH).  The beauty of a top bar hive is in the flexibility of design and low cost possibilities.


Greeks were early users of TBHs in terra cotta pots prior to the invention of fixed frames.

IMG_2819 IMG_2816














More recently, horizontal top bar hives have gained in popularity due to ease of construction, design flexibility, and convenience of inspection and manipulation. Now lateral TBHs exist as both beautiful ornate constructions in suburban backyards and in hollow logs or empty barrels in remote parts of the world.

A cedar top bar hive with incorporated stand, hinged lid, and plexiglas viewing window

The dimensions of a TBH aren’t really that critical, the bees will occupy the space given provided it offers suitable volume for a colony and protection from the elements. I knew I wanted 2 hives, so I could compare and do a bit of manipulation if needed. Since hive dimensions aren’t particularly important and I didn’t want to put a lot of money into the project I based my dimensions on being able build 2 hives from a single 4’x8’ sheet of ply and some offcuts. There’s no shortage of plans available online and you’re only limited by your woodworking skills, imagination, and budget when it comes to adding aesthetic and functional features like screened bottoms, removable trays, viewing windows, hinged lids, peaked roofs and other luxuries.


My goal was just to get some experience with bees in a TBH so I opted to keep it simple and came up with dimensions a bit on the small side so individual frames wouldn’t be too heavy when loaded with honey. I came out with a length of about 42”, a depth of 10” and a width of 16”. I cut the sides at an angle of 30⁰ to discourage the bees from attaching combs to the sides.

Floor, 2 sides, 2 ends of my TBH
A little paint and they’ll be ready for some bees








It is fairly important to get the width of the individual top bars correct to allow for proper bee space without brace comb binding everything together. I went with all 1 ¼” bars but have seen some recommendations to use a mix of 1 ¼” for brood and 1 3/8” bars for honey.  I wanted to give the bees a ‘guide’ to encourage them start drawing comb in the “right” place. I cut a shallow groove lengthwise in the top bars to accommodate a 1/8” fillet of timber (popsicle sticks work too). I used hot wax to glue the fillet into the grooved top bar and then dipped the bottom edge of the fillet in wax to provide a primitive starter strip.

Hot wax serves a good glue to attach guides to top bars.
A coat of wax on the guide serves a starting point for new comb.









An alternative to attaching fixed guides in grooves is to glue a triangular guide or piece of waxed twine to each top bar. I also made a couple trapezoidal follower boards that fit the internal dimension of the hive. A follower board is simply a false back that can be moved to adjust the cavity space when new bars are added.

A movable follower board allows the cavity space to be adjusted to match colony needs.


If only all swarms were this easy to collect.
Easy to “hive” them too.















I grabbed a couple of swarms in bulk bee harvesting bins and left them in the shade until dusk. Once the bees flight had tapered off for the day I tipped the swarms from the bins into the top of the hive with a handful of bars removed and a follower board, confining them to the front 40% of the cavity space.

I gave them a little syrup to encourage them to stay put and build some comb. The next morning, traffic was slow but they seemed to be happy enough in the new space so I left them alone for a week to settle in. After a week I could see good traffic and steady pollen coming in so I figured they were on track. I popped the lid and removed the first empty bar revealing a small piece of clean new comb on the next bar and a slightly bigger comb behind that. A further look showed they had started drawing comb on 6 frames, everything tidy and parallel. After about a month when they had drawn all of the combs and population was growing I added new bars at each end of the brood nest and moved the follower board back to give them more space (think supering laterally instead of vertically).

Early stages of comb building a week after hiving.
A fully drawn frame showing how the comb is build to match the shape of the cavity.









A top bar colony can be inspected and manipulated in a less invasive manner than a Langstroth which requires multiple boxes to be separated to gain access to the broodnest. In a TBH, single frames can be gently removed leaving rest of the colony intact, there’s also no need to wrestle with heavy boxes full of honey. The ability to look into the hives with minimal disturbance keeps the bees nice and calm and easy to play with without suiting up. They were outside my kitchen window so I was frequently poking around to indulge my curiosity but was generally pretty hands off as far managing the TBHs, simply adding bars and moving the follower board as the colony grew into the space.

Examining TBH can often be done with minimal disturbance of the bees.
5 frames removed from the colony showing the uniformity of combs despite being frameless.










I did harvest a few frames of honey but wasn’t looking for production from these colonies so I left most of it for the bees. When harvesting surplus honey from a TBH, full combs are removed and can be packaged as cut comb or crushed and strained.  Because combs aren’t recycled after extraction, honey production for a TBH won’t match fixed frame where honey is extracted with comb remaining intact, but you will gain a nice quantity of quality beeswax. I treated for mites in the autumn with strips (Bayvarol- fluvalinate) tucked between bars. To set them up for winter I shrunk the cavity in accordance with the decreasing population and consolidated the honey at one end of the cavity adjacent to the broodnest instead of leaving honey on either side of brood. This allows the winter cluster to move laterally into the honey space as they consume it instead of moving one way and not being able to break cluster to get honey at the other end of the box. This one direction of movement is similar to how a Langstroth colony will move up into box of winter stores as they consume it. Both colonies came through the winter in good shape, one threw a swarm off and carried on. The second hive didn’t build well in the spring due to an average queen so I pinched the queen and boosted it with a couple frames of brood and eggs. A month later they had a new laying queen and both hives hit the second winter in good shape. I eventually left New Zealand and passed them on to a beekeeping mate but they continue to cruise along with minimal intervention. Overall it was interesting to observe colony dynamics in a different configuration and learn about alternative methods for keeping bees. I hope to use this experience in the future to volunteer with bees in places where budgets and access to materials make top bar hives an attractive option.


Honeydew: A Mixed Blessing

When Americans think of honey, most of us assume it comes from floral sources—basically bees collect flower nectar, add enzymes, and evaporate moisture to produce the finished product. However, I was recently talking to a friend who grew up near the Black Forest in Germany, and he told me as a child that his mother would give him “forest honey,” which was thicker had a much richer taste than anything he had seen in American supermarkets. Also known as honeydew honey, the source is not floral but actually from the waste products of a number of sap-sucking insects including aphids, leafhoppers, and psyllids. Mealy bugs and scale insects are examples of psyllids and are known by gardeners as serious and pesky plant pests.

Although it may be off-putting to think of eating insect excrement, honeydew honey is prized in parts of Europe and New Zealand and often fetches higher prices than floral honey. It is rich in mineral content, amino acids, and may have stronger antibacterial properties. When a psyllid insect or aphid ingests the plants sap, it digests the small amount of protein present and expels the rest of the water, sugars, tannins and other indigestible material as honeydew. If you have ever parked your car under a tree and found it covered in a sticky substance the next morning, chances are the tree is infested with sap-sucking psyllids or aphids. For many other insects including ants, wasps, and bees, this is a valuable food source.

In some locations, honeydew is excreted in such large amounts that a buildup of the dried material can form into cakes under the tree. This is believed to be the same as the “manna from heaven” mentioned in biblical times. Admittedly it is more appetizing to think of it as a gift from above rather than insect excrement. Some psyllids, notably the red gum lerp psyllid, produce a white coating of evaporated honeydew which forms a crystalized shell protecting the insect. Originally from Australia, this type of scale has been attacking eucalyptus trees in California in recent years and it is almost rare to see a eucalyptus without the obvious white bumps on the leaves. I have seen bees show interest in heavily infested eucalyptus, but it’s hard to say if they are able to collect a significant amount of honeydew or are just attracted to the sweet smell.

A eucalyptus with a heavy infestation of red gum lerp psyllid. Honey bees seemed interested in the sugary shell of this insect, and were seen licking leaves in the surrounding area.


Here in Northern California, especially in late summer and fall when floral sources are far and few between, oak dew becomes an important supplement to the diet of honey bees. Oak trees are fed upon by wasp larvae that form galls, and in fall bees can be seen collecting the honeydew being excreted by the gall (Check out this previous blog by Liz Frost about the valley oak for more information:

The only issue is that oak dew is not as digestible by bees as flower nectar because of the high amount of ash, minerals, and possibly the presence of tannins, mold spores, or different proportions of sugar molecules. Some beekeepers believe that oak honey causes dysentery and will remove it and feed sugar syrup instead. Others claim that it causes constipation, the opposite problem, and spray a dilute bleach solution on the bees to “clear them out.”

Sometimes the flow of honeydew is so heavy that the bees plug out the brood boxes, leaving no room for the queen to lay. In this case one strategy is to remove frames of honey and replace with foundation. This causes the colony to consume more honey and draw out the wax, which is helpful all around because the queen is provided with a place to lay and nice clean wax is produced quickly.

Another problem with honeydew is that the bees are not collecting any pollen with it as they do when collecting flower nectar. This can result in a protein deficiency, so feeding supplemental pollen patties is usually recommended when the bees are in a honeydew flow, usually in the fall when there are fewer floral sources and the bees have nothing else to forage on.

I believe a more dangerous issue with honeydew however is the threat of psyllids to farmers, orchardists and municipalities, who see scale insects as enemy number one. Last year we witnessed a large pesticide kill with one of the beekeepers we work with, and the pesticide analysis showed over 200 times the national average of Chloropyrifos, which was being used by a pecan grower in the area to control scale. Although the hives were not directly in the orchard, the bees travelled there for the honeydew and were heavily exposed to the insecticide. With an expanding arsenal of insecticides that contain systemic neonicitinoids, collecting honeydew has become an even more dangerous trap for bees and other insects attracted to it.

The Asian citrus psyllid, which spreads the dreaded Huanglongbing (citrus greening) also attracts bees and is a target of pesticides (See Liana Tiegan’s recent blog on this issue in Florida here:

Overall, honeydew is a benefit to bees and beekeepers, and the drawbacks can be minimized by good beekeeping. The trickier issue is preventing bees from getting caught in the crossfire between honeydew-producing insects and people trying to get rid of them.


Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee (Megachile rotundata)

Megachile rotundata (or the alfalfa leafcutter bee) is a species native to Eurasia that was introduced into the United States after the 1930’s because of a drop in seed production. This bee was brought into the US to increase pollination yields of Alfalfa for seed because honey bees are not the best pollinators of the crop. M. rotundata was also introduced to New Zealand (1971) and Australia (1987) for the same reasons. This solitary species is now widespread across the United States with many feral populations.

M. rotundata nest close up.
M. rotundata nest close up.

Alfalfa has a tripping mechanism that triggers the stamen (pollen reproductive organ) to strike the pollinator enabling pollen transfer to the stigma (where the pollen grain germinates). Honey bees learn to avoid the tripping mechanism and collect nectar without tripping the stamen to strike which decreases the possibility for pollen transfer. M. rotundata; however, is not as adaptable as the honey bee or it is willing to accept more abuse from the flower, taking many hits trying to collect pollen and get a taste of sweet alfalfa nectar to feed and make provisions for its young. Although the bee is preferentially oligolectic (narrow preference for pollen type) behavior, it is polylectic (opportunistic forager) collecting from various plant species if available. For commercial pollination of alfalfa, often both honey bees and M. rotundata are used to increase crop yields. M. rotundata uses its mandibles to cut oblong and circular leaf pieces to create a string of individual cells in which individuals emerge. I drew a sketch of what it would look like inside of the individual cells below as well as an image of what one side of the mandible looks like.

M. rotundata mandible and nesting tube diagram.
M. rotundata mandible and nesting tube diagram.

Normally a solitary bee, this adaptive species can be reared and kept in large next boxes containing hundreds of reproductive females (see images below). In nature this bee makes its nest in soft rotting wood, thick stemmed pithy plants, hollow reeds, radiators and even drinking straws. M. rotundata will nest in anything that is approximate to its body size.

Megachile rotundata female on nest box.
Megachile rotundata female on nest box.

But as you would suspect, putting a large quantity of solitary bees in overcrowded nesting sites opens the doors for opportunistic pests and pathogens. M. rotundata fall victim to three main problems: Chalkbrood, pesticide exposure and a parasitic wasp. Chalkbrood in M. rotundata is similar to that found in honey bees (Ascophera apis) but is actually a different species (A. aggregata). The parasitic wasp Ptesomalus venustus cannot reproduce without M. rotundata. The female waits until the M. rotundata larva spins its cocoon and then stings to paralyze the larva and oviposits onto the surface of the prepupa. Within 48 hours, the wasp larvae emerge and start feeding until the prepupae is almost completely gone, and then pupates itself.

Alfalfa blooming with M. rotundata nest box trailers for pollination.
Alfalfa blooming with M. rotundata nest box trailers for pollination.
Another nest box photo.
Another nest box photo.

M. rotundata is commercially supplied as prepupa and kept at 44-45 degrees Fahrenheit. They are then incubated at 80-81 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 days and placed into the field (pictured below). The emerging male and female bees will soon start mating and reproducing in nearby next boxes (pictured below). I have also added images of a M. apicalis female and M. mendica male so you can differentiate the two sexes. Though they are not the same species, they are similar in size and show similar sexual dimorphism.

 Megachile apicalis female, notice the small white hairlike projections on the abdomen(scopa) for pollen collection and the pointed tip of the abdomen(T7).
Megachile apicalis female, notice the small white hairlike projections on the abdomen(scopa) for pollen collection and the pointed tip of the abdomen(T7).
Megachile mendica male, notice the abdomen tip(T7)  is round with a notch in the center.  Also note the absence of pollen collecting hairs(scopa).
Megachile mendica male, notice the abdomen tip(T7) is round with a notch in the center. Also note the absence of pollen collecting hairs(scopa).
After ~25 days in the incubator these M. rotundata adults are starting to emerge from their individual cells.
After ~25 days in the incubator these M. rotundata adults are starting to emerge from their individual cells.
Nest boxes set up for pollination.
Nest boxes set up for pollination.

Even with all odds stacked against M. rotundata and honey bees, they still get the job done and pollination of the crop occurs. I have heard numbers from 2-6 colonies of honey bees per acre are needed for pollination (3 seems to be the most common). For M. rotundata 1-2 gallons per acre are needed; this depends on the amount of honey bee colonies present in the production field. 1 gallon of M. rotundata holds around 10,000 bees and is sold for approximately 85 to 100 dollars.

Alfalfa feild in bloom 2014.
Alfalfa feild in bloom 2014.
Cotton starting to grow across the road from the Alfalfa.
Cotton starting to grow across the road from the Alfalfa.

Bee Educated! A Semester with Pollinaterps

I’ve been around the research block a few times.  In high school, I was involved in a student lead permafrost research initiative where I got the chance to travel to Churchill, Manitoba and get my hands dirty with my first taste of fieldwork.  I started in on-campus research way back in my very first semester of freshman year, studying vampire bat behavior.  I spent a summer in an entomology lab at the Smithsonian, identifying parasitic wasps, and pan trapping at sites all over Maryland.  And now, as a seasoned sophomore, I got the chance to expand my research horizons to the vanEnglesdorp lab.

I had heard about the “Bee Lab” from a friend and alumna who’d been involved with the Pollinaterps project, and she semi-recruited me to fill her spot.  I’d been looking to get some experience in a more conservation-focused lab than the one I was currently in, and bees seemed like a great place to start.  When I first joined the lab, I didn’t know quite what to expect, but what I got was an enthusiastic and welcoming group of colleagues, weekly meditation in the form of in-lab tasks (hot gluing can be a wonderful stress reliever), exciting and idea-driven group meetings, the opportunity to help further develop the existing Pollinaterps education initiatives, and a totally awesome Maryland Day experience.

See, look how happy I am with my bowl of wildflower seeds!


As a part of the lab, my main project was working with the campus organization Pollinaterps to help plan activities for Maryland Day and beyond.  I coordinated closely with the folks over at the arboretum (Shout-out to Carin Cebuski!), brainstorming ideas for the Pollinaterps booth, new educational activities, and improving on the old!  I came up with a kid-proof seed-bomb (a.k.a. Pollinator Pod) making procedure, worked with Sue Boo and Carin to improve the ever-popular pollinator game and bee costumes (who knew coat hangers and stockings made such great bee wings?), and wrote categories and questions for the native pollinator prize wheel (and learned a whole lot about native bees along the way).  In each of these individual projects, I felt I had room to be creative.  I had a great time coming up with ideas, doing the work to see them through (which was honestly, a lot of arts and crafts), and feeling like I was making some small difference: educating the public about the importance of our native pollinators.

Look at that focus!
Look at that focus!
Yeah the little girl is cute, but I think we can all agree the real star of the show is her wings.)
Yeah the little girl is cute, but I think we can all agree the real star of the show is her wings.

So without further ado, I’m going to share a little bit of what I came up with this semester. Here is how you can make your very own Pollinator Pods!

This is what the finished product looks like, official “Pollinator Pod” certification card not included.
This is what the finished product looks like, official “Pollinator Pod” certification card not included.


If you are making them at home, then go right to the ball-forming step, but if you want to do this activity with a large group on a time crunch, have everyone take home just the dry ingredients, and further instructions on what to do next.  Pro tip: using teaspoon scoops instead of handfuls yields enough dry mix to make about four balls.

The flower seed mix used should be specific to the area in which you plan on planting.  Make sure you are only using species that are native or beneficial to your local environment!  Ideally your flowers would also be ones favored by native bees, as the idea is to provide more suitable habitat for our buzzing buddies.  The flower mixture we used was illustrated on this lovely poster:

Disclaimer: no guarantee that your garden will look as great as the pictures

This is a great mixture of plants for Maryland, but for future years, I’d like to put some research into plants more specific to native pollinators, to make our Pollinator Pods even better!

Once you’ve made your pollinator pods, you can start learning about all the bees you’ll be helping with your new garden.  To get you on the right track, here’s a sampling of questions to test your knowledge about our native bees (answers can be found after the photo below):

1. What is one of a bees most useful building materials? Hint: They use it like glue and you have it too!

2. How far can a bumble bee fly to forage?

3. Where do native miner bees build their nests?

4. Halictidae, often called sweat bees, are some of the most colorful bees in MD, what color are most of them?

5. Name one reason for the decline of our native bee populations.

Pictured: Maryland Day volunteers spreading the knowledge
Pictured: Maryland Day volunteers spreading the knowledge

Native Bee Trivia Answers:
1. Their Saliva 2. Up to 8 miles 3. Underground 4. Metallic green/blue 5. Loss of native plants as food sources, pesticide use, habitat loss, competition from honey bees

All in all it’s been a great semester in the Bee Lab, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.



Bees in the Classroom

Have you ever thought about teaching your kids, grandchildren, a young family friend, or even a class at a local elementary school about honey bees? Well, I have! I love going into elementary classrooms and teaching the youth about honey bees. They are our next generation of bee keepers, farmers, scientists, and researchers so we need to get them excited early.

When I go and talk to a classroom of students I make sure to always bring a few things with me:

  • My bee suit – it gets their attention and gets them involved because they love to put it on.
  • Honey – for them to try.
  • Teaching hive or empty new deep with frames – our department is lucky enough to have a teaching hive, but a new clean box with new frames would be fine too. This way they get to see what the comb and frames.
  • Bee glasses – our lab bought a fun pair of glasses that let you see your surroundings like a honey bee.
  • Honey bees! – I always bring a few honey bees (in alcohol or alive) so they can see the difference in size of the drone, worker, and queen.
Photo from:

Basic topics I go over:

  • Anatomy
  • Hive structure
  • Honey & nectar
  • Pollination

You can also find many free online resources, such as books, coloring pages, information sheets, and stories. My favorite book is The Magic School Bus: Inside a Beehive by Joanna Cole & Bruce Degen.

If you can get a young mind excited about honey bees they may be able to get their siblings, parents, and family excited about saving our honey bees. This month take some time and try to teach a child about honey bees, and post back on my blog what you learned about teaching beekeeping while teaching little ones about honey bees.

Last May I spoke in a first grade class in Millville, NJ and these are the thank you cards they made me.
Last May I spoke to a 1st grade class in Millville, NJ and these are the thank you cards they made me.

Apitherapy: Bee Healthy!

People have long venerated bees for their honey production and crop pollination. Few people know that bees can do more than that. Bee byproducts are now widely used as health supplements, and doing something as simple as eating local honey can give you health benefits. This blog will review a few common bee byproducts and their physiological benefits.


Besides being a delicious sweetener, honey has been proven to be useful in medicine. One of the proven applications is the use of honey as a wound dressing. In this it has been shown to reduce healing times and scarring when used on wounds, even in post-operative wounds. It is also known to have a greater than average amount of certain nutrients such as niacin, however none of these are prevalent in amounts that equal what is considered an average daily dose.
There are also a great deal of speculated uses for honey. One of the most prevalent “home remedies” involving honey is the use of raw honey to treat pollen allergies. Eating 2-3 tablespoons of raw honey daily is recommended for relief of mild to moderate allergy symptoms during the spring and summer months. More possible health problems treated by honey include relief of pharyngitis, constipation, duodenal ulcers, liver disturbances, kidney function disturbances, and fever. Some reports have even claimed improvement in heart problems of convalescents with a honey solution injection.
It is important to note that for each of these uses of honey it is raw, unprocessed, multifloral honey that is being used. Honey in this form conserves many more healthy chemicals including protein, antioxidants, amino acids, and vitamins to name a few.

Bee Pollen Pellets

Most people know that bees collect nectar, but did you know they also collect pollen in a leg structure called “pollen baskets”? This pollen is consumed by bees as a source of protein. Pollen not directly consumed is often stored in a form known as “bee bread,” which is pollen that undergoes a lactic acid fermentation as a means of preserving the pollen.
Bee pollen has been scientifically proven to improve a number of prostate difficulties, even in some cases of prostate cancer. Some other possible benefits of bee pollen ingestion are improvement of allergies, anemia, male sterility, ulcers, high blood pressure, and nervous and endocrine disorders. It has been speculated to improve acne, skin vitality, athletic performance, and even sexual prowess!


Propolis is a mixture that is used as a sealant for small spaces in the hive. It has been shown to have significant antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity. When propolis extract is used in combination with current antibiotics a synergistic effect has been observed. Some have also claimed it can be used in anti-asthmatic mouth sprays, act as an anti-rheumatic, aid in anemia improvement, and aid in tissue regeneration and wound healing.

Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is a substance fed to bee larva and queens. It has proven antibacterial effects when used topically. There could possibly be anti-wrinkle effects and epithelial stimulation and growth effects when applied topically. According to some sources there are also blood pressure normalizing effects, cholesterol level decreasing effects, and improvements in anemia when ingested.

Bee Venom

Most people try to avoid bee stings but there is evidence for a number of medicinal effects of bee venom, especially pure bee venom. Bee venom has been shown to act as an anti-inflammatory. For this reason it was tested as a wound dressing, and it was found that a Hydrogel dressing loaded with 4% bee venom had excellent anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties.
Bee venom is also used in acupuncture-like treatments where a patient is stung purposefully on a regimen to try to elicit effect. These therapies could have positive effects in epileptic patients. Furthermore circumstantial evidence has been collected to suggest bee venom may help with a huge list of other complications like arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, migraines, sinusitis, sore throat, and many more. Oddly enough it has also been investigated as a way to protect against the damaging effects of xrays.

I hope after reading this blog you are more educated on the healing effects of bee byproducts. I highly encourage you to try some of these remedies if you are seeking natural medicine treatments.


“Bee Venom-Loaded Hydrogel Accelerates Wound Healing, Exhibits Anti-Inflammatory Effect.” Apitherapy News. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2013. .

“Honey for Allergies.” Apitherapy Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2013. .

Krell, R. “Value-added products from beekeeping..” Corporate Document Repository . FAO, n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2013. .


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