Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW

Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW
Click on this photo for a video of "Evening in Honor of the Sacred Honey Bee". Photo by Daniel Bahmani

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

60 bees and a queen

An Italian Piazza: The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence

A Prosperous City

In the early XVth century Florence was one of the most prosperous cities of Europe. Its economy was based on a strong textile industry and on an effective banking system supported by a reliable gold currency (florin).
Merchants and artisans were grouped in powerful guilds: in 1421 Arte della Seta, the Silk Guild, decided to contribute to the well-being of the Republic by founding Spedale degli Innocenti probably the first foundling hospital.

A Modern Institution

The institution flourished through the centuries and when the Silk Guild was no longer able to financially support it, the City of Florence took responsibility for it. The children residing in Spedale degli Innocenti were not only orphans and foundlings, but also children of families in temporary difficult conditions. The building maintained its original use until the end of the XIXth century, when, in consideration of its historical and artistic value, it was felt more appropriate to use it as a museum. It still hosts two small kindergartens.

The Piazza

Antonio da Sangallo turned the square named after the church into one of the finest examples of Italian piazza by building for a monastery a portico identical to that designed by Brunelleschi a century earlier.

It was a reverse influence that led to the erection of a bronze monument at the centre of this piazza: in Rome Michelangelo relocated in 1538 the monument to Marcus Aurelius to the centre of Piazza del Campidoglio. In 1608 Giambologna assisted by Pietro Tacca thought to do something similar in Florence. He erected a bronze monument to Grand Duke Ferdinand I at the centre of Piazza SS. Annunziata.

The monument was cast with the bronze taken from the cannons captured during an expedition to the ports of today's Tunisia and Algeria, from which Ottoman corsairs launched their raids on the Italian coasts.
This explains the inscription on the horse's girth: De' metalli rapiti al fero Trace - from the metals taken from the savage Thracian (a traditional enemy of the Ancient Romans).

In 1640 the rear side of the pedestal was decorated with a bronze relief showing 60 bees swarming around their queen: it was meant to symbolize Ferdinand's motto Maiestate Tantum (Great Majesty), but maybe the idea came from the bees of Pope Urbanus VIII, who was the ruling pope at that time.

thanks to Cassandra Sciortino for informing me about this beautiful image. (via Facebook!)

Plans for new meadery generate buzz in Point Reyes

Posted: 12/29/2009 04:22:35 PM PST
Rob Rogers

Gordon Hull wants you to know that the honey wine he plans to make in West Marin is not your great, great, great grandfather's mead.

"When I began making mead 12 years ago, nobody knew a thing about mead - or if they did, they were thinking about Chaucer, Shakespeare or people drinking out of medieval flagons," said Hull, who received Marin County approval last week to open his Heidrun Meadery on a former dairy farm just north of Point Reyes Station.

He expects to move operations there from Arcata in the next few months, establishing the first large-scale meadery in the county.

"A lot of the people who make mead today adhere to some of the more ancient recipes," Hull said. "And for people who have had some experience tasting meads, it hasn't always been a good experience."

Mia McNeil-Draper puts it less delicately.

"People associate mead with a syrupy-sweet concoction that is justifiably universally hated," said McNeil-Draper, a San Anselmo resident whose work with Marin County Beekeepers has given her the opportunity to sample a better class of the world's oldest fermented beverage.

"In fact, mead can be anything," McNeil-Draper said, adding that Beowulf Mead owner "Joshua Archer has been working with the beekeepers for two years, and the mead he has helped us make has been a treat for all of us."

Hull hopes people will feel the same way about his mead, a carefully crafted concoction the former brewer says is closer to sparkling wine than the beverage

served at a Renaissance faire.

"My idea was to appeal to a more sophisticated palate," Hull said. "I had to experiment for two years to develop a satisfactory product, focusing on making something dry and well-balanced."

Hull has spent the past 12 years making, perfecting and selling his mead from an Arcata facility he describes as "a light industrial warehouse." By moving to a 16-acre farm in West Marin - part of the former Giacomini Dairy - Hull hopes to expand his operation, producing much of the honey he'll use in his mead.

"We've been purchasing honey from other artisan beekeepers; the idea now is to use our own honey to produce our own mead," Hull said. "We'll also be cultivating nectar-producing crops, from fruit trees to cover crops, to feed our bees."

Hull said his six new beehives - which he hopes to expand to 12 by the spring - may travel throughout West Marin, helping other farmers pollinate their crops. That's one of the reasons the county Community Development Agency recommended the meadery for a permit. And it's good news for the bees, said McNeil-Draper, who hopes the meadery will help draw attention to an insect that's suffered tremendous losses in the past two years.

"There's been a great deal of publicity about the decline of bees, and that has made people much more aware of the products of the hive," McNeil-Draper said. "So I can see why people would begin to explore and understand mead a little more as a drink that's something different from what they might have had in the past."

In addition to the meadery, Hull has also obtained permits to raise horses, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, rabbits and chickens on the property, where he lives. His permit would allow him to produce up to 20,000 cases of mead each year - a goal that would require up to 36 hives and 11,000 gallons of honey - though Hull says that's a far cry from the 800 cases he sold this year.

"We're hoping to produce 2,000 cases in our first 12 months, and try to reach 20,000 cases in 10 years," Hull said.

Although most of his sales are to restaurants and retailers, Hull plans to open an on-site tasting and sales room on the Point Reyes property, with parking for up to 15 vehicles. He expects to begin work on the project as soon as he receives a building permit from the county.

Meadmaker Archer, who distributes his Beowulf Mead through Ross Valley Winery in San Anselmo, said he's looking forward to having a high-quality competitor in the county.

"I'm really excited he's coming. In fact, I envision possibilities for more meaderies taking residence in West Marin, creating a mini-Napa," Archer said. "I think West Marin is a place a lot of people like to go to refresh themselves, and it will be nice to have something new and interesting for them to do while they're out there."

Big Win for Bees: Judge Pulls Pesticide

Bee toxic Movento pulled from market for proper evaluation

NEW YORK (December 29, 2009) – A pesticide that could be dangerously toxic to America’s honey bees must be pulled from store shelves as a result of a suit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Xerces Society. In an order issued last week, a federal court in New York invalidated EPA’s approval of the pesticide spirotetramat (manufactured by Bayer CropScience under the trade names Movento and Ultor) and ordered the agency to reevaluate the chemical in compliance with the law. The court’s order goes into effect on January 15, 2010, and makes future sales of Movento illegal in the United States.

“This sends EPA and Bayer back to the drawing board to reconsider the potential harm to bees caused by this new pesticide,” said NRDC Senior Attorney Aaron Colangelo. “EPA admitted to approving the pesticide illegally, but argued that its violations of the law should have no consequences. The Court disagreed and ordered the pesticide to be taken off the market until it has been properly evaluated. Bayer should not be permitted to run what amounts to an uncontrolled experiment on bees across the country without full consideration of the consequences.”

In June 2008, EPA approved Movento for nationwide use on hundreds of different crops, including apples, pears, peaches, oranges, tomatoes, grapes, strawberries, almonds, and spinach. The approval process went forward without the advance notice and opportunity for public comment that is required by federal law and EPA’s own regulations. In addition, EPA failed to evaluate fully the potential damage to the nation’s already beleaguered bee populations or conduct the required analysis of the pesticide’s economic, environmental, and social costs.

Beekeepers and scientists have expressed concern over Movento’s potential impact on beneficial insects such as honey bees. The pesticide impairs the insect’s ability to reproduce.. EPA’s review of Bayer’s scientific studies found that trace residues of Movento brought back to the hive by adult bees could cause “significant mortality” and “massive perturbation” to young honeybees (larvae).

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), bees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops grown in America. USDA also claims that one out of every three mouthfuls of food in the typical American diet has a connection to bee pollination. Yet bee colonies in the United States have seen significant declines in recent years due to a combination of stressors, almost certainly including insecticide exposure.

“This case underscores the need for us to re-examine how we evaluate the impact of pesticides and other chemicals in the environment,” said Colangelo. “In approving Movento, EPA identified but ignored potentially serious harms to bees and other pollinators. We are in the midst of a pollinator crisis, with more than a third of our colonies disappearing in recent years. Given how important these creatures are to our food supply, we simply cannot look past these sorts of problems.”

The court decision is available here.

More information on threats to honey bees at

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.3 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.

Related NRDC Webpages:
NRDC: Vanishing Bees

Thursday, December 10, 2009

In Appalachia, a Researcher Makes Honey From Coal

Eastern Kentucky U.'s Tammy Horn explains the behavior of bees, which she hopes could transform Appalachia.

By Karin Fischer

Hazard, Ky.

The library at the Lotts Creek Community School is buzzing with excitement as a half-dozen grade schoolers struggle into full-body protective "wee bee" suits. As they labor with zippers and wrestle with veils, a visitor lowers herself into a pint-size chair in their midst.

"My name is Tammy Horn," she says, "but you can just call me the Bee Lady."

For the next hour and a half, Ms. Horn, an English professor turned apiarist, fields a rat-a-tat-tat of questions: "Are there really killer bees?" ("They're African honeybees, and they're more aggressive because they have lots of natural predators.") "Where are the bees in your hive?" ("You can't bring bees to school.") "What happens if a bee gets in my suit?" ("Kill it before it stings you!")

One of the most voluble questioners is Latiefa, a slender fifth grader who sheds her bee suit to reveal an oversize T-shirt with the slogan, "Coal mining for our future. We support Kentucky coal."

But Ms. Horn, a native of the state who returned after earning a doctorate from the University of Alabama, has a bolder and more complex vision for the region's future, one in which mining, long the economic mainstay in this impoverished area, plays a crucial supporting role.

Her vision is to create nothing less than an Appalachian "honey corridor" in eastern Kentucky and neighboring West Virginia, starting with more than 33,000 surface-mined acres, which could be reforested in a way that sets up a bee industry. She envisions training hundreds of local residents in beekeeping, a once-common avocation for their parents and grandparents. In addition to jarring honey and producing beeswax for cosmetics and other uses, beekeepers could offer queen-rearing and pollination services, she says, breeding an Appalachian strain of honeybee resistant to disorders that threaten to wipe out the insect's population.

Nearby colleges, like Eastern Kentucky University, where Ms. Horn is a senior researcher, could provide assistance and conduct critical scientific research. By drawing on a pursuit once elemental to their heritage, she says, Appalachian residents could reshape their land and their economy.

"It's not just someone sitting on the side of the road selling honey out of Mason jars," she says.

One day, Ms. Horn hopes some 25,000 hives could be supported on former strip mines. Under federal law, such lands must be returned to their prior condition or reclaimed for "better and higher uses." In its initial phase, her project, Coal Country Beeworks, has 53 hives on five sites.
Hives on the slopes

On an early-autumn morning, Ms. Horn sets out to visit one of the bee yards—rendered as "bayards" in her unhurried cadence—on a section of a mine operated by International Coal Group, a 30-minute ride from Hazard. As she drives out of the hollow, clumps of fog wreathe the ridgeline, and the mountainsides are washed in muted greens and grays.

The mine site lies up a narrow, switchbacking road shared by coal-laden trucks, which seem to loom around each bend. Ms. Horn points out an older surface-mining site along the roadside; a portion of the mountain has been blasted away and laid bare for commercial reuse that never materialized.

By contrast, the reclaimed International Coal Group site appears more natural, its slopes treed with high-value hardwoods. The mining giant was one of the first companies Ms. Horn approached two years ago with her pitch: Alter your planting mix to include trees, shrubs, and flowers that pollinators prefer.

The signature tree for Appalachian beekeepers is the sourwood, a low-canopy native that blossoms late, putting out white, bell-shaped flowers near the Fourth of July, tiding bees over from spring to fall flowers. Purists value sourwood honey for its distinctive flavor, floral with a deep, almost burnt-butter aftertaste.

While sourwood's pollen is manna to bees, it is considered a trash tree by the timber industry. Because reclamation work has largely focused on planting commercial forests, sourwoods have rarely been seeded.

Still, Don Gibson, International Coal Group's director of permitting and regulatory affairs, says Ms. Horn's proposal was never a tough sell, even when she told him she belonged to a statewide environmental group that has been a biting critic of the mining industry. It costs little to plant bee-friendly trees and wildflowers, he says, and the benefits are outsized.

"People wouldn't drive five miles to see a reclaimed surface-mine site, but they'll come 1,000 miles to see a bee yard," he says. Over the last two years, more than 250 people have toured the three International Coal sites that house the bee project, giving the company the opportunity to talk to visitors about modern-day mining and reclamation methods. "If the region can see the economic promise going forward," Mr. Gibson says, "it will be a win for everyone involved."

For her part, Ms. Horn says she tries to keep the focus off politics and on the bees. Driving up the gravel path she has dubbed Bee Boulevard, she unlocks the gate to the small fenced-in bee yard and its cluster of nine squat hives, which resemble chests of drawers.

She busies herself lighting wood chips in a handheld smoker, pumping the bellows to swathe her body in fumes that cancel out the aromas of shampoo and detergent, which could alert the bees to her presence. Then she puffs ribbons of smoke along the bottoms of the hives, which prompts the bees to eat more honey and, hopefully, become more docile. She learned the technique from a South African apiarist, one of the subjects of her next book, a global history of women and beekeeping. (Her first book, Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation, was published in 2005 by the University Press of Kentucky, and she is already planning a third volume, a study of bees and the trees they pollinate.)

Ms. Horn's first beekeeping mentor was her late grandfather, Ted Hacker. She was 29 and a newly minted Ph.D. when she was passed over for a tenure-track teaching position. Wounded, she retreated to her grandparents' farm in eastern Kentucky. The progress of Parkinson's disease meant that her grandfather was no longer able to negotiate beekeeping's careful rituals, and he turned to Ms. Horn for assistance, although she admits she "didn't know a honeybee from a yellow jacket."

Opening a hive for the first time was an epiphany. Instead of a rush of honeybees, she recalls, two or three bees floated up out of the hive and landed on her veil. "They were as curious about me as I was about them," she says, almost dreamily.

Back at the mine site, Ms. Horn expertly pries off the top of the first of the hives. She painstakingly works apart the frames, sticky with honey and resin, and lifts one up. The bullet-shaped drones dully buzz about as Ms. Horn examines the honeycombed frame, nearly solid with eggs, a new brood. In the distance, a blast at the still-active mine site sounds like a muffled thunderclap.

Quickly, she slides a small square of cardboard, treated with sharply scented thyme oil, between the frames. The essential oil accelerates the bees' instinctive grooming, getting rid of potentially deadly Varroa mites in preparation for the winter ahead.

As soon as she started helping her grandfather with bees, Ms. Horn wanted to abandon academics for an apiarist's life. "By then I had enough of academe to wonder if I was cut out for it," she says. "There are always going to be people wanting to teach Shakespeare. There are not always going to be people who want to do this work."

But her grandfather persuaded her to stick with her scholarly career, even if it meant eking out annual teaching contracts, until she could formulate a solid plan. It took a decade, during which Ms. Horn taught English literature and general-education courses at Eastern Kentucky and the University of West Alabama and was the National Endowment for the Humanities Chair in Appalachian Studies at Berea College. In her off hours, she delved into the history of beekeeping and explored how reclamation law in the United States and elsewhere could be used to sustain a more diverse agricultural landscape. When a retiring beekeeper offered her $36,000 in financing, she was ready to start Coal Country Beeworks.

It has been a scramble. Her position at Eastern Kentucky's Environmental Research Institute is primarily supported by grants. Her "frantic" proposal writing has yielded some success, such as a project with NASA to measure whether global temperature changes are affecting the blooming cycles of regional foliage. Economic officials in neighboring West Virginia have shown interest in starting beekeeping on mine sites as a development effort in that state, and Ms. Horn has been in talks with a local biosciences company about pollination research.

Still, the bee project largely remains a one-woman show. Ms. Horn's SUV is chockablock with bee suits, extra hive frames, and the occasional fast-food coffee cup, and she spends several days a week traveling the state to meet with business leaders, talk to community and school groups, and care for the hives. "Once the temperature drops below 55 degrees" and the bees winter over, she says, "I get a social life again."

In fact, the honeybees have been a boon to Ms. Horn's romantic life—after a front-page article on her work appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader, her high-school sweetheart looked her up. The two are now dating.

An opportunity to give a beekeeper's suit to a woman to a woman in Kosovo

From Women for Women International

You’re in luck – there are still a few days left to give your loved ones Gifts That Give Back.

Browse our selection of meaningful, one-of-a-kind holiday gifts. Hurry, the deadline is December 16th!

For women survivors of war, these gifts represent simple but important ways to become self-sufficient and gain control of their lives. For your loved ones, they make unexpected, meaningful gifts.

Like okra seeds ($15)!
These seeds of hope help ensure thatwomen farmers in Rwanda, Sudan and Afghanistan have the necessary supplies to feed their families or sell their crops in the marketplace.

Just days left to give the Gifts That Give Back:

Gifts like teaching a woman to read ($50!)

Education can open doors for women across the world. Give the gift of literacy this holiday season.

go to this website of Women for Women International for more information:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rev. LL Langstroth’s 200th Birthday Celebration

Rev. LL Langstroth’s 200th Birthday Celebration

Two hundred years after his birth in 1810, Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, known as the “Father of American Beekeeping,” will be honored. Langstroth’s discovery of “bee space” and his invention of the movable-frame beehive will be celebrated with a national network of exhibits, workshops and seminars and, with your help, perhaps a commemorative U.S. postage stamp as well.

Langstroth started with “two stocks of bees in common box hives” while serving as a minister in Andover, Mass. in the 1830s. Before long he was studying beekeeping in depth. He observed his bees and sought to understand their ways in order to build hive boxes which would allow him to better combat the destructive wax moths and collect surplus honey without harming the bees or damaging their wonderful honey comb.

This is the essence of the scientific method. Those who might think that Langstroth was an unlikely scientist would be misunderstanding the role of science in our lives. The scientific method involves experiencing the world in which we live, responding to the curiosity that naturally resides inside us, devising a method of observing and recording, testing and confirming our expectations, and evaluating the results we achieve. It is available and important to each and every one of us, just as it was to Langstroth.

Langstroth’s efforts gave us a way to raise large quantities of bees, keep them healthy and collect their honey in a truly sustainable way, without destroying their home. We all owe him thanks and, the year 2010, his 200th birthday year is a great time for people across the country to celebrate him in ways that benefit us all.

Our effort to honor Langstroth will include the study and appreciation of his efforts and what they have yielded. Throughout the year 2010, the Down to Earth Program, which I direct for the non-profit Science Friday Initiative (SFI), will be developing and coordinating a national network of workshops, exhibits and gatherings to teach and learn about the considerable science connected with the honey bee.

But there’s something we need to do right NOW. We must convince the U.S. Postal Service that America deserves a commemorative postage stamp created in honor of this outstanding under-appreciated American. It is my hope that the beekeeping community, anyone who enjoys honey, and everyone who appreciates the foods we eat which depend on the honey bee, will write a letter encouraging the U.S. Postal Service to honor Langstroth in this way at this special time.

I believe that a flood of letters will help to convince the Postal Service how important Langstroth is to all of us. The U.S. Postal Service Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee will be considering a Langstroth stamp at their January 2010 meeting, so please send them a letter, today. Get everyone you know on board the postage stamp campaign, and have them enlist their friends.
We will also be preparing a mass petition. Please visit the Postage-Due page to see how you can join our campaign, and let us know about any celebrations in your community.

Postage stamp in honor of LLLangstroth....needs your vote! Please read on.....

From The Great Sunflower Project:

Dear All:

I received a request from Carl Flatow of Science Friday (He’s Ira’s brother) to spread the word that they are soliciting signatures to get the Post office to do a stamp of L.L. Langstroth next year. Who is L.L. Langstroth, you ask? I vaguely knew that my honeybee hive had something to do with Langstroth so, I looked him up. Langstroth is considered the father of modern bee keeping. He actually invented the hives that we use today where there is a box that is filled with hanging frames. His important discovery was what he called “bee space”. This is a distance of 3/8-¼ inch or less that bees use as a passageway. If the space is less than that width, bees fill it with sticky bee sealant called propolis. If the space is larger than that width, they will fill it with honeycomb. Langstroth designed a hive where all the spaces were ¼ of an inch. He was a Congregationalist minister and took up beekeeping to keep his depression at bay. Next year will be his 200th birthday and Science Friday is celebrating it by developing a curriculum for schools to learn about bees and working to convince the Postal Service that L. L. Langstroth is worthy of a stamp. You can find out more at : There is some time sensitivity to this as letters need to be into the post office before the end of the year.

Bee Well!

The Queen Bee