Last week to submit!

Apis mellifera. Photo by Sam Droege.
Apis mellifera. Photo by Sam Droege.

Good news! There’s still time to submit to Winged: New Writing on Bees. You can be part of a powerful, collective, literary response to pollinator decline by submitting your stories, poems, and essays to this anthology about the human relationship with honey bees. Submissions close next Saturday, March 15th. Send us your best work, and tell others about the project.

If you’ve already submitted, thank you! We’re delighted with the quality and quantity of work we’ve received, and excited to be in touch with each of you later on this spring. In the meantime, take a moment to make this last week count for Winged.

Acts of beauty:

  • Download our flyer to email, mail, or post to your community bulletin board.
  • Write a short post about Winged on your blog.
  • Grab our button.
  • Invite other writers, artists, and activists to follow our project online.
  • Talk about it! Mention the project to one person this week and tell them to check out our website.
Thank you!

From the Beekeeper

An amazing post from treatment-free beekeeper Kat Nesbit of Bliss Honeybees. Written two years ago, this is the story of two intrepid beekeepers called to remove a feral honey bee hive from a public building. It’s an incredible first-hand look at these creatures, and Kat’s creative approach to moving the hive. For more on Kat and Bliss Honeybees, including this year’s Treatment-free Beekeeping conference, please visit her website.

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Beehive Removal from White City, Oregon
By: Kat Nesbit
Originally published on March 5, 2012, at Bliss Honeybees

Yesterday afternoon I went to the Veteran’s Administration complex in White City, Oregon, to remove a hive from a 2nd story roof with my friend John. They didn’t want to tear up the roof, so the plan was to go in from the ceiling of the hall below the hive. When we arrived we found they had quarantined the hall where the bee removal was to take place. It reminded me a little bit of the scene at the end of ET where the feds have come in and put ET in a plastic prison to keep the public “safe”!

They had already cut a hole in the ceiling, from which fluffy clouds of insulation were emerging like really nasty cotton candy. We needed to expand the hole to completely expose the nest, which we did with a reciprocating saw. It’s the first time I’ve been in a beehive since December and I could feel my heart start to beat faster in awe and appreciation of what these amazing little creatures can accomplish.

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Since the VA had access to a lift (like the kind that construction workers or painters use to work at elevated sites), we decided to situate the lift right outside the 2nd story window. I climbed out the window and set up my work station in the narrow cage. John stood on a ladder inside and cut the comb out of the nest, then handed it teaming with bees to me on the lift. I brushed the bees off into the box with a bee brush, cut the comb down to fit the frame with my hive tool, and rubber banded the comb into frames. Over time, the bees will chew through the rubber bands, attach the combs to the frame, and fill out the empty spaces.

The bees standing on the top of the frame in this photo are sending out a “come hither!” scent to the other workers to tell them where to rejoin the colony. To do this, worker bees have a special scent gland called the Nasanov gland on the dorsal side of the abdomen. The opening is located at the base of the last tergite (plate) at the tip of the body. The bees raise their abdomen and tip the very end of to expose the gland, then fan like crazy with their wings to send the pheromone out into the air. Bees have an excellent sense of smell and can follow this scent to find their sisters. This 2nd photo shows the same bees zoomed in.

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This photo shows the outside entrance to the hive, where returning foragers are milling around in confusion as they find their home gone. Once we cut all the combs out, the VA lowered the lift so I could get out. Then we sent the hive back up on the lift and situated it as close as possible to the original entrance so that the bees remaining in the roof and the returning foragers would smell their family and join them in the box. Hopefully this included the queen, as I’m not at all sure that we got her. Neither of us saw her, and the bees that were fanning at first soon stopped, which makes me think the queen wasn’t in the box. John returned after dark once all the foragers had returned to pick up the hive and vacuum up any remaining stragglers in the original nest (they can then be shaken into the box, usually unharmed).

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I want to say a big huge thank you to the VA for calling us instead of spraying Raid into the entrance in a (usually ineffective) attempt to kill the colony.
March 25th, 2012 update: We did get the queen and she is fabulous! We may use her for a breeder. Lots of brood, few mites. Here are the pictures-the one on the right is just a zoomed in version of the one on the left:

 

Winged in this issue of In Good Tilth Magazine

Winter IGTThe winter 2014 issue of Oregon’s In Good Tilth magazine just hit the stands, including a feature article by Winged editor Melissa Reeser Poulin on transitioning to a bee-rich future.

“Bee Plus” owes a debt of gratitude to Xerces Executive Director Scott Hoffman Black, for his informative talk, “Bringing Back the Pollinators,” delivered November 16, 2013 at Garden Fever Nursery in Portland.

Click here for access to Poulin’s article and more great writing on this issue’s theme: Food System Transformation– timely, given the current GMO labeling debate in the U.S.

Photo Source: Oregon Tilth

Three Experts on Bees

We love this recent TED Blog interview with three experts on the relationship between humans and honey bees. The discussion features Marla Spivak, Dennis van Engelsdorp, and Noah Wilson-Rich. We especially like what Dennis had to say about the power of first-hand experience:

 

What does each of you wish the average person understood about bees? 

DV: Everyone owes it to themselves to open a colony of bees once. I think some people will realize they are not beekeepers, but I think that they’ll overcome a lot of fear and they’ll be awed. Other people will fall in love. I don’t know anyone who has opened a colony of bees on a sunny beautiful day, and seen all those worker bees toiling together in harmony, and not been awed. It’s awe-inspiring. The more you do that, the more you’re connected — not only with the bees, but with the environment around you. I wish everyone that experience.

 

For more awe-inspiring education on honey bees, watch the original TED Talk from entomologist and MacArthur Fellow Marla Spivak, whose research on breeding mite-resistant honey bees is especially fascinating.

 

 

Deadline Extended to March 15th

Dear friends,

Winged: New Writing on Bees has been awarded a grant from Oregon’s Regional Arts and Culture Council!

Due to this change, the timeline for Winged has altered. We are giving the project new scope, and extending the submission deadline to March 15th, 2014.

We are thrilled with, and humbled by, the submissions we have received so far. As a reminder, the submission window is currently open for poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and mixed-genre work. We will happily consider both new and previously-published work, as long as the author holds full rights to that work. Profits from book sales will benefit pollinator conservation organizations such as The Xerces Society.

  • Please share information about Winged with friends and colleagues, either through social media, in classes, or by downloading our press release and informational flyer. Spreading the word means so much to us, and so much  for the project.
  • Submit your work! We offer the following considerations to help generate topics or concepts: the honey bee in history, bee symbolism in art, the European honey bee and native pollinators in North America, honey in ancient civilizations, communication via dance, the sounds of and in the hive, personal bee encounters, the bee in sacred literature, humans as pollinators, beekeeping around the world, declining bee populations, the future of beekeeping, a survey of bees in speculative fiction…

Winged is a project with a broader purpose: to create a literary and artistic record of this perilous moment in the relationship between humans and bees. Writers have employed bees and bee imagery for thousands of years, and we are now watching these important muses and symbols ailing, and declining.

No book like Winged currently exists, and much like a colony of bees, we cannot accomplish our goals alone. Whether it is by spreading the word about Winged, attending one of our upcoming events, or submitting your work, we hope you will take this opportunity to help cultivate our growing project, one we believe in, and one we feel is vital for all.

Warmly,

Melissa Reeser Poulin and Jill McKenna Reed
Editors, Winged: New Writing on Bees

First Sting(s): Part Three

By Jill McKenna Reed

It is said by many beekeepers that the bees choose us, we don’t choose them. People long-fascinated by bees generally have some kind of memorable experience which serves as a final motivation to start keeping bees. Personally, I was rather anti-bug as a child and adult, but then, most of my encounters were with mosquitos, house spiders, or later, gigantic silverfish that continued to crawl even after being smashed in half when living in Chicago. Bees are quite different. Bees have moods and cycles that they will make you aware of. While largely indifferent to their keepers, they will happily inform you when you should leave them be, and give you clear signs when something is wrong. Bees in no way need us, but we most definitely need them.

The first time that I’m sure I got stung by an actual honeybee, I was on a swarm call a couple of years ago. Swarms are exciting and generally extremely easy to catch. Bees swarm when the population of a hive grows too large for all of the bees to thrive so the mated queen leaves with about half of the colony to establish a new home. The virgin queen remains behind with the rest of the colony, honey stores, and the brood. She is set up to succeed. Swarming is a natural means of reproduction and propagation. and because the swarmed bees have no brood or honey to protect, they are generally quite docile.

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For this reason, I tend to get risky with the protective gear. As long as my face is covered, I generally feel like I’m good. At some point during the catch I had taken off my gloves while speaking with the homeowner. I was waiting to give another firm shake to the branch where the swarm had collected, in order to drop the bees into the box below. But as I walked up to the swarm to monitor their state, one feisty, flying lady landed on my hand with a single mission: she immediately stung me, and died.

Unlike the ensuing meltdown I no doubt had when stung at six years old, this time I was so fascinated by watching the bee sting my hand – her rear and abdomen ripping off and the stinger remaining behind – that I forgot about the impending rush of pain that would inevitably occur once her venom pumped in. And that pain did occur, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the next two days, and the ceaseless itching that occurred.

I often try to think of what small Jill would think of adult Jill. I think in a lot of ways she would think adult Jill is kind of a badass; I think that young Jill is very proud of adult Jill. Young Jill would be wholly impressed that adult Jill is a writer, and artist, and a gamer (young Jill loved Atari). She would love how much time adult Jill has spent in school. She would probably also think adult  Jill is slightly unhinged… what with the lack of food-related limitations and repulsions, and making a life and living out of bees and beekeeping. And she would think it was weird that the homemade bee costume I wore in grade school panned out to mean something – to be a kind of epic foreshadowing, and that despite the somewhat hermetically-sealed suburban and then urban existence I’ve had, the bees chose me.

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Jill McKenna Reed

Jill McKenna Reed is a poet, writing instructor, and beekeeper in Portland, Oregon. She is co-owner of Bee Thinking, a beekeeping supplier specializing in foundationless hives. When she is not writing or teaching, she can be found catching swarms or helping new beekeepers around the Portland area.  Jill earned her MFA in Creative Writing – Poetry, at Portland State University.

First Sting(s): Part Two

By Jill McKenna Reed

Before I moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2006 the three geographic choices that were before my boyfriend and I were: Portland, New York, and Philadelphia. I advocated for Portland, as I wanted to live somewhere exceptionally beautiful and I was tired of large-metropolitan city life. Chicago had wrung me out. I was depleted, afraid of how hardened I was becoming, and fearful that I couldn’t easily turn off my accent at will.

Upon arriving in Portland, the city was beautiful. I tried to be in love with it or at the very least, meld into it; its newness, fuzzy green firs towering, lush green expanses, welcoming, young population. The relationship I was in quickly fizzled. In one version of the story, the one my friends tell for effect, I dumped him and took his job. The truth is more faceted, but the result was the same.

Spring in Portland is a sublime surreality, holding the violent bloom of the season against the ache of winter breaking, in one unbelievably sustained note. There are entire months of walking on beds of petals while the trees snow timid, earnest fragrances. Fall in Portland is equally protracted; months of walking on one long carpet of wadded orange leaves. Residents rake giant mounds into the streets so cars can’t park.

Bees in our first hive passing nectar. The bee on the right has stung and lost her abdomen. Her last act is passing nectar to her sister.
Bees in our first hive passing nectar. The bee on the right has stung and lost her abdomen. Her last act is passing nectar to her sister.

It was in Portland, one autumn day in 2008, that a bee flew into the apartment that belonged to my new husband and I. We had met at an antiques show the year prior; we had only been married a few months. The bee had flown in through a wonderful old kitchen fan vent and was resting on the counter. My instinct was to find a cup and paper lid to catch and put her outside. But it was a gray and cool day and my husband knew she was exhausted and cold. He had the good mind to heat a plate with warm water from the tap, dry it off, and drop a little honey on it. We put the plate near the bee. She quickly smelled the honey and ran over. As she lapped up the drops, she began flexing her wings and abdomen and warming up. We moved her on the plate to the front doorstep and watched her. She ate some more, cleaned herself, and zipped off into the air, but before she left she very clearly hovered and looked around, orienting herself and noting the location.

The next day when I opened the door to leave for work, about a dozen bees were pelting the screen trying to get inside because that’s where they were told the honey was.

The next week we had our first bee hive.

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 Jill McKenna Reed

Jill McKenna Reed is a poet, writing instructor, and beekeeper in Portland, Oregon. She is co-owner of Bee Thinking, a beekeeping supplier specializing in foundationless hives. When she is not writing or teaching, she can be found catching swarms or helping new beekeepers around the Portland area.  Jill earned her MFA in Creative Writing – Poetry, at Portland State University.

First Sting(s): Part One

By Jill McKenna Reed

The first time I got stung by a bee, I can’t be sure it was a bee. In retrospect it was likely a yellow jacket, but I can’t know. I remember it was a hot, mid-western summer day with insects screaming out their songs: “scKzzzzssT… scKzzzzzssT,” and I was small – probably six or so.

I was standing in our narrow garage which was opened to the driveway. Likely I was deciding which vehicle I was going to take out for a spin: the Big Wheel, the pickle car (don’t ask), or the Green Machine. I was not a bike rider. My siblings’ bikes were always too big for me and I was fearful of the heavy frames and the extreme distance to the ground once seated; I wanted to be able to bail out with a soft tumble if need be, not take the hard fall on the concrete, yielding stinging, scraped legs and arms.

Even at that raw age, friends and siblings had long warned me about the possibility of getting stung by a bee, so I wonder if I didn’t just want to get it over with. I had been promised by my friend across the street that the pain would be like death, that I would probably want to die. So that day when a bee flew into the garage and began inspecting me to see if I could possibly yield nectar or pollen, I panicked. I eschewed the instruction that had been drilled into me by my wise, experienced friends and siblings, being: Don’t move, and it will go away.

Naturally, I moved. A lot. In a remarkable, small-child’s dance motivated by fear of an unknown pain. And I began swatting, a lot. From what I can remember, the bee or wasp stung me on the right arm.

Me, dressed as something scary for Halloween
Me, dressed as something scary for Halloween

Growing up in suburban Chicagoland, there was almost no authentic relationship with nature; everything was abbreviated. The bug-spray truck drove down our street every summer night and we deeply inhaled that spray while trying to fall off to sleep. Our yard was chemically treated so no dandelions ever appeared. The corn fields at the mouth of our subdivision were sold and built up with houses before I was 10.

Despite that, some of my most vivid and important memories are of the few verdurous natural spaces I could find. I was fascinated when we studied milkweed pods in the first grade – the way they broke and gave up white fuzz.  We had to wear rain boots that day which I didn’t have, so the teacher put garbage bags and rubber bands over my shoes and secured them up my legs.

My best friend had a Macintosh apple tree in her yard. I was charmed. That the tree could swell small green fruits into the ripe red ones I plucked off on warm days and immediately begin gobbling– this was thrilling. (The humble Macintosh remains one of my favorite snacking apples for this reason.)

The same friend once insisted I borrow her extra pair of ice skates so we could go skating on a pond near our houses. It was the first time I had ice skated and with the snow coming down, it remains a favorite memory. That solid pond, the snow, layers of clothes, no one else around, the gray sky and the pond ringed with dry straw weeds and tall brown grasses frozen into place.

But by the time I was in high school, nature had become a foreign locale. Social life had long since taken over as the all-consuming, enthralling focus of my life. At one point my group of friends got really into camping and going away for the weekend. On one trip to Devil’s Lake, everyone decided to go hiking which would involve some basic rock climbing. I eagerly set out with them. Looking down at my shoes, my friend Nick asked, “…are you going to wear those?” I shrugged. I had no idea that black and white patent leather wingtips (with leather soles) might not be ideal hiking wear. I somehow managed to hike like a champ with those lovely dress shoes on.

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Jill McKenna Reed

Jill McKenna Reed is a poet, writing instructor, and beekeeper in Portland, Oregon. She is co-owner of Bee Thinking, a beekeeping supplier specializing in foundationless hives. When she is not writing or teaching, she can be found catching swarms or helping new beekeepers around the Portland area.  Jill earned her MFA in Creative Writing – Poetry, at Portland State University.

To spray or not to spray?

By Jessica Gigot

As a young biology intern, I spent a long, hot summer in a Vermont meadow staring at bumblebees.  I caught these unsuspecting bees, put them in glass jars, chilled them to sleep in a cooler, glued numbers on their backs, and watched them roll back and forth like drunken sailors.  As they clumsily awoke, I then recorded their behavior in and around large, orange jewelweed flowers.

We were investigating the “nectar robbers” in this genera of bee (Bombus spp.), the honeybee’s larger and fuzzier relative.  I was on the lookout for the rebels that evaded their evolutionary relationships in pursuit of free sugar.  Instead of entering the flower through the mouth and catching the pollen on their backs to deliver to another flower, the “nectar robbers” would simply crawl around the outside of the flower, nibble on the spur, and drink sweetness to their hearts’ content.  The audacity of these bees!Gigot3

After that summer, I didn’t stay long in the world of bee science.  I wanted to grow my own vegetables, to learn about soil quality and the things that needed to change in our agricultural systems.  These questions brought me to the Skagit Valley in Washington, and the applied agricultural sciences.  Instead of staring at bees, I spent several summers working on a research farm staring at microbes growing in and around potatoes (yes, all potatoes have some fungi on them!) and I began dissecting raspberry roots to look for spores and nematodes wiggling about.

In graduate school, I was partially funded by farmers to investigate these types of creatures because these are the major pest and pathogens that can devastate economically valuable crops.  The most prominent example is Phytophthora infestans, which literally means “plant destroyer.”  This fungal-like organism was the cause of the Irish potato famine and to this day can still melt a potato field in a matter of days.  For this reason, farmers around the world spend an average of 40 billion dollars every year to control pathogens and pests [1]. Some chemical sprays are used to protect the plant from being infected, while others attack the pests themselves.

On a scientific level, the complete cause of the honeybee colony collapse that we are seeing nationally is still a mystery.  However, clues have begun to surface. A recent study has found that low levels of pesticide exposure from crop pollination make honeybees more susceptible to the deadly gut parasite Nosema ceranae. In this study, several classes of pesticides were found to have synergistic effects contributing to the deterioration of honeybee immune systems.  Chorothalonil, a common class of chemicals found in fungicides, was also found toxic to the bees. This product is commonly used on potatoes and apple trees, as well as on residential and golf course lawns.

To spray or not to spray is a hard question that most growers take seriously.  Yes, there are your “nozzle-heads” out there, real chemical cowboys, but most farmers spray out of desperation. It is not an easy choice.  Some crop varieties are less vulnerable to pests, but when resistance is not an option, pest management becomes paramount.  Since starting my own small organic farm, I still hold a lot of respect for the conventional growers I worked with in graduate school and their decision to manage crops chemically.    Gigot2

Our farm operates on such a small scale, comparatively, that we need to grow a diversity of high-value crops to stay profitable.  Through scale and diversity (many of our crops are pollinator-friendly, like sage and chamomile), we manage our pests without chemical options, but it is not easy.  I won’t sugarcoat the reality that this is not always the easiest or most efficient way to grow food.  It takes a lot of labor and a lot of time tilling the soil to get the same plant health and weed management effects as chemical management.

There is an efficiency that comes with using chemicals in farming, and a range of chemical products currently in use today. But not all are created equal. As the honeybees are showing us, there are long-term effects of chronic chemical use that can be potentially devastating to our entire agro-ecological system.  The truth is we just don’t know the whole story.

I have gone back to looking at bees again, this time in the context of our own farm and well-being.  After all of my time studying the bad pests in agriculture, I find it interesting that the beneficial organisms might be the most telling in how the management of our food systems needs to evolve.  I appreciate the efforts that so many people are making to better understand this startling loss of honeybees.  I am inspired by friends that are taking up beekeeping and starting hives in their backyards. Our farms are food producers, but they are also habitat.  How can we marry these two roles in a way that keeps humans and honeybees healthy for years to come?

 

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Jessica Gigot, Ph.D. is an educator, poet, potter, and farmer. She has lived in the Skagit Valley for 10 years and appreciates the diverse agricultural and artistic communities that coexist in this beautiful place. Jessica is part-time science faculty at the Northwest Indian College.

She is also owner/operator of Harmony Fields, which produces herbs, specialty produce, and lamb; and offers workshops focused on creativity and health.  Around town, she plays the guitar in an old-time folk duo called the Dovetails and co-hosts the weekly DIY radio program, Skagit by Hand.