Archive for the 'Insects' Category


I enjoyed studying botany and zoology in school, but never felt attracted to the study of butterflies, bees, beetles, and bugs with any kind of intensity. I regret that. Not only because some of these pollinators are beautiful, but many are also beneficial to gardens and orchards.

 

Between showers and periods of sunlight, this beauty showed up in the bee garden

Between showers and periods of sunlight, this beauty showed up in the bee garden

 

 

As a beekeeper, it’s my job to notice moths, hive beetles, and other flying and crawling insects. Though some are beautiful and beneficial, others can harm my honeybee hives. That’s why when walking around my garden, I pay attention to all sorts of creatures–whether winged or not.

 

 

I do love to see butterflies and Lady Beetles (also known as ladybugs, a beneficial garden insect) amid my flowers, bushes, and trees. Today, I spotted a lovely winged creature with black-and-white patterned wings and a blue body.

 

 

It stood out against the green leaves of plants in my bee garden and waited for me to run inside the house to get my cell phone camera.

 

 

I wonder if anyone can correctly identify this blue-body, black-and-white winged flier for me. Could this be an Arrowhead Blue butterfly? These, I know, are found in Northern California and the Sierras.

 

 

Another pollinator that “posed” for me earlier this year is the longhorn bee. It’s about the size of a bumble bee. Some of these fliers are so lovely, I could see spending hours taking pictures.

 

 

A longhorn bee is twice the size of a honeybee

A longhorn bee is twice the size of a honeybee

 

 

But chores and all the other farmette tasks take priority over photography. Still, I hope the pictures are clear enough for someone to identify the species when I can’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*          *          *

 

NEWLY RELEASED–The Murder of a Queen Bee (Kensington Publishing, NY–Sept. 2016).

 

Discover recipes, farming tips, and sayings as well as sort out a charming whodunnit. Click on the link under the picture.

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

 

This debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run. It’s now available in mass market paperback and other formats.

 

 

 

 

 

read comments ( 0 )

Lemon Oil for Luring Honeybee Swarms

Author: Meera, April 15, 2016

 

Call it my sixth sense at work, but after my bees acted aggressive (which they usually are not) as I cleaned the water fountain, I prepared the swarm catcher and put it in the apricot tree nearest my office window. Mid-morning on Wednesday, I got my first swarm of 2016.

 

 

April 13, 2016 bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette

April 13, 2016 bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette

 

 

Lemon oil is often the ingredient that lures the honeybees to a swarm catcher. I mix the lemon oil mixed with water and spray the swarm catcher with a pump sprayer. It usually works better to capture the bees in the swarm catcher than having them coalesce en masse on an inconvenient limb in a tree, say, fourteen feet up.

 

 

 

You can use lemon oil as a salve or in the oil form–apply the salve onto the swarm catcher around the opening for the bees or use the oil in a small plastic vial that gets inserted into a swarm catcher orifice.

 

 

Bear in mind that not all lemon oils are equal. Some are more “lemony scented” than others. Lemon oil is cold pressed from the peel and contains 3 to 10 percent citral (considered the most powerful of components that contribute to the lemon scent). Lemon myrtle contains 95 percent citral and, if it’s the scent you want, lemon myrtle is superior to all others.

 

 

So, when I realized my bees were swarming, I suited up and prepared a hive box with ten frames, eight with wax from previous honey harvests (where I left the wax intact) and two that I had in the kitchen where I was draining honey from them. It would provide an immediate source of food for the bees in their new home.

 

 

Today, I visited my favorite shop for all things honeybees and stocked up on a couple more hive boxes, just in case of another swarm, although the bees are quiet and non-aggressive again.

 

 

read comments ( 0 )

Swarming Season 2016 Has Started

Author: Meera, March 29, 2016

My beekeeper neighbor was working in his backyard this morning as I typed away on my novel. My office overlooks the garden and the fence between our properties.

 

 

A honeybee alights on a fountain, searching for water

Italian honeybee

 

 

Then . . . I heard the familiar clanging of a spoon against a pan. I leaped from my desk chair and ran to the kitchen. There, I grabbed a pot lid and wooden spoon and joined the banging at the fence between our properties.

 

 

I could see the brown cloud of honeybees in the air swarming near his apricot tree.  We banged away for a while. It’s a bee-disorienting action that compels them to alight in a nearby tree or bush. “Have they landed yet,” I yelled. He replied that they had.

 

 

Thus begins the 2016 swarming season for the environs of the Henny Penny Farmette.

 

 

read comments ( 0 )

The Bees Won’t Wait

Author: Meera, March 1, 2016

With so many flowers in bloom now, it’s time to add supers to the hives.

 

 

Search for the tubular circles and you've found the queen houses

The tubular circles are queen houses; a queen lays the eggs that become bee babies.

 

 

 

I can hear the buzzing from my patio, about twenty to thirty feet from the hives. My bees want to make honey, raise babies, and swarm . . . I know it.

 

My neighbor and I are opening hives tomorrow, but I worked out in the apiary today getting extensions (known as supers) ready. These have shorter frames and the bees use them to build wax cells and store honey.

 

I’ve got two active hives and extras. And I have several supers, complete with the shorter frames ready to go.

 

There are about ten frames I can use in a super that are being housed in the outdoor freezer. It’s where I put frames to kill anything that could live over on them that I don’t want in a hive, like a wax moth. The cold kills.

 

I also cleaned the bee glue off another hive box with larger frames in the event the bees decide to swarm sooner rather than later. The bees won’t wait. They’ll need a new house ready when they swarm or they’ll fly away and find one elsewhere.

 

 

 

read comments ( 0 )

Preparing Honeybee Hives for Spring

Author: Meera, February 18, 2016

Recently, I conducted a mid-winter check of my honeybee hives. With my beekeeper neighbor’s help, we opened my Henny Penny Farmette Hives A and B to search for signs of an increase in the mite population, the presence of other pests, and evidence of mold. Inspecting and treating bees with medicines when necessary are important bee management practices.

 

 

 

A dusting of xyz and medicated strips help keep the bees resilient against the threat of mites and other pests

Miticide strips can effectively control mite populations; organic strips are available

 

 

 

We found one bug that I couldn’t identify but my neighbor explained it lays a narrow worm and must be removed before its numbers increase. This we did. We also found three frames in Hive B that had a few spots of mold. We threw away the frames and replaced them with wax-covered frames in the lower hive box where the queen had already produced lots of bee babies.

 

 

There appeared to be adequate stores of honey, baby bee food, and lots of baby bees. In fact, we removed a few frames of honey from both hives. In their place, we inserted frames that previously had the honey drained off but wax left intact (these I always freeze before putting back into hives since freezing kills mites, larvae, and wax moth), making it easier for the bees to start building comb.

 

 

 

Honey can widely vary in color and taste, depending on the type of pollen the bees have collected

Honey can widely vary in color and taste, depending on the type of pollen the bees have collected

 

 

 

The honey I harvested is dark-colored and earthy tasting, typical of autumn honey when the bees collect pollen from eucalyptus, star thistle, and other sources available in autumn. In contrast, spring honey is light-colored and slightly citrus tasting from pollen gathered from blooming citrus trees and wildflowers.

 

 

 

Medicated strips to help fight mites are hung three or four frames inward from the edge of the hive box

Hang medicated miticide strips between frames inward from the edge of the hive box for mite control.

 

 

 

 

Since we found evidence of mites, we hung miticide strips between frames to combat tracheal and Varroa mites. Also, we sprinkled powdered sugar medicine (Tetra-Bee Mix 2X Medicated) over the frames to control risk of American foulbrood. Treating the hives thus will enable the bees to remain robust. I expect their numbers to swell with warmer weather which, in turn, translates to new swarms in the spring.

 

 

*Apivar is an effective treatment of Varroa mites. One strip per four to five frames works through contact and should be placed in high bee activity areas. Not to be used when honey supers (top hive boxes with frames of honey) are on.

 

*Tetra-Bee Mix 2 X Medicated is recommended for control of American foulbrood caused by paenibacillus larvae and European foulbrood caused by streptococcus pluton susceptible to oxytetracycline in bees when used as directed.

 

My newest mystery will be released September 29 from Kensington Books in New York.

My newest mystery will be released September 29 from Kensington Books in New York.

 

 

For more beekeeping tips, delicious recipes, and a wholesome whodunnit, check out my Henny Penny Farmette cozy mysteries: A BEELINE TO MURDER (paperback release in October 2016), MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE (hardcover October 2016), and HIVE OF HOMICIDES (October 2017). Find them on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and other online and conventional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

Meera Lester's debut novel (release date 9/29/2015)

Meera Lester’s debut novel (release date 9/29/2015)

 

 

read comments ( 0 )

Why Use a Screened Bottom Board in the Hive?

Author: Meera, December 21, 2015

When beekeepers see signs that the population of Varroa destructor mites are increasing in the hive, they will take action to reduce the mite population. One way they can track mite levels is by using a screened bottom board.

 

 

A close monitoring of a screened bottom board can give a beekeeper a good idea of whether or not the mite population is increasing or decreasing in the hive.

 

 

Queen cell that houses the queen who is feed royal jelly until she emerges

The queen bee in a hive  gets a special house that looks like a thimble on its side

 

 

Mites fall through the screen to the ground. A screened bottom board stretches across a platform that the hive box sits on.

 

 

When the mites in a hive fall on solid bottoms in a hive box, they can ride back up into the interior of the hive on other bees. A great article for building your own screened bottom board can be found at http://www.michiganbees.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Screened-Bottom-Board_20110324.pdf

 

 

The use of a screened bottom board prevents bees returning upwards in the hive. One sign of mites at work in a hive are wings missing from newly emerged baby bees. There are other signs as well.

 

For lots of interesting bee “stuff” as well as farming tips and delicious recipes, check out my newest novel, A BEELINE TO MURDER.

 

Now available online and from brick-and-mortar bookstores everywhere. See, http://tinyurl.com/p8d6owd

 

 

 

The book cover for my debut novel, the first in the Henny Penny Farmette mystery series

 

 

 

read comments ( 0 )

Gifts from the Hive

Author: Meera, November 28, 2015

Mention beekeeping, and most folks think right away of the delicious honey that bees make. Of course, farmers and gardeners love bees because the insects pollinate the plants growing in the vicinity of their hives.

 

 

Filling from the bucket spigot goes fast because the honey flows quickly; it's quite heavy

Filling eight-ounce jars with backyard honey

 

 

After collecting pollen, the bees make honey–nature’s sweetener. Honey adds an interesting flavor to savory dishes and is a valued ingredient in desserts. Raw honey also has medicinal value since it has a slightly acidic pH and can cause a complex reaction when used to disinfect scrapes and wounds. But honey has other uses as well.

 

 

Because honey contains lower levels of fructose (unlike refined sugars), it is less inflammatory to the stomach and digestive organs. Today, honey is widely considered a superfood, one to be consumed to maintain good health. Honey is a great ingredient for cough drops and sore throat soothers. Or, drop a spoonful into your favorite tea for a cupful of enjoyment at any time.

 

 

Bits of wax, pollen, and even baby bee food are strained from the honey before it's bottled

Bits of wax, pollen, and even baby bee food are strained from the honey before it’s bottled

 

 

 

Comprised of tiny particles of powdery pollen gathered from flowers, bee pollen is loaded with vitamins and minerals. It also contains amino acids, enzymes, and proteins. It can be eaten in foods or on cereal as well as used as an ingredient in soap.

 

 

Beeswax makes lovely candles and soaps. Honey is often used as a vital ingredient in homemade cosmetics, bath oils, and hand cream. Of course, all these gifts from the hive are as appreciated by those who don’t keep bees as well as those who do. And since the season of gift-giving is upon us, consider buying from local beekeepers their artisanal honey and other products from the hive.

 

 

 

 

read comments ( 0 )

Killer Bees Found for the First Time in the East Bay

Author: Meera, September 29, 2015

Global warming might be responsible for our extreme summer heat and the multi-year drought in the Bay Area. It might also explain the presence of killer bees, too. For the first time, U.C. San Diego scientists tracking the Africanized honeybees have found them here in the East Bay city of Lafayette.

 

 

 

My hubby Carlos ith our Italian bees

My hubby Carlos with a rescued swarm of Italian bees

 

 

The Oakland Tribune suggests the Africanized honeybees are docile unless their hive is threatened. Otherwise, the Africanized or “killer bees” are of similar temperament and have a similar sting as the European honeybees. See, http://www.insidebayarea.com/breaking-news/ci_28892198/killer-bees-detected-lafayette-bay-area-first-time?source=rss

 

 

 

The Africanized bees were bred with European honeybees in Brazil in 1956 to produce a honeybee better suited to Brazil’s climate. The bees escaped their containment, bred with European bees and spread.

 

 

 

The Africanized bees breeding with European honeybees quite possibly means the resulting bees may have a stronger resistance to one of diseases believed responsible for European bee die-offs and colony collapse disorder.

 

 

 

Widely published stories today tell us that the killer bees have been detected in Briones Regional Park in Lafayette, only ten miles from where I keep bees on the Henny Penny Farmette.

 

 

Researchers from U. C. San Diego  have tracked the bees throughout the state. Likely more than one colony has been established here. But whether or not the bees stay remains to be seen. See, http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Killer-bees-found-in-the-Bay-Area-for-the-6535892.php

 

 

 

Bees prefer warmer, drier habitats, so they may not stick around. The strong El Nino forecast for this winter could bring much needed rain to the Bay Area and plunging temperatures to the freezing mark.

 

 

 

Africanized bees swarm relentlessly when they perceive a threat. If you are out walking and notice bees foraging on wildflowers, become vigilant. They may not bother you. But do observed them. Don’t swat at them, it will antagonize the bees.

 

 

 

If they start moving toward you, run to at least 100 yards away. Retreat indoors if possible. Don’t think you can escape by jumping into a lake or pool. Researchers say the killer bees have been known to wait above the water.

 

 

To read an in-depth analysis of the Africanized honeybee, see http://www.library.ca.gov/crb/99/notes/v6n2.pdf.

 

 

To curl up with a cozy mystery that features gentle honeybees, check out my newest novel, A BEELINE TO MURDER: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Meera+Lester&x=0&y=0

 

 

 

read comments ( 0 )

Put Your Eyes and Nose on Your Hives

Author: Meera, September 25, 2015

As a beekeepeer, I sniff my hives as well as visually examine them for signs of hive health. A healthy hive smells pleasant but an unhealthy one can emit a foul odor.

 

 

meera in beekeeper suit lg em

 

 

This time of year, honeybee hives should be checked for populations of mites. Especially destructive is the Varroa destructor mite and the tracheal mite. Mite populations can rapidly increase and decimate a hive.

 

 

The Varroa destructor mites are true “blood suckers” and feed on adult bees (especially drones or males) and baby bee larvae.

 

 

I inspect for deformed bees (like wings missing), red or brown spots on bee larvae, or pinpoint-size mites (looking like ticks) clinging behind a bee’s head or between its abdominal sections.  It’s best to treat immediately when the signs are clear that there’s a problem in the hive. If it smells foul, there could be an infection.

 

 

In fact, beekeepers need to stay vigilant for all kinds of illnesses that can harm their hives: mites, bacterial infections, and/or even predators placing hive’s health at risk.

 

 

The scent of honey and the hum of bees busily working inside the hives can be reassuring to a beekeeper, but doesn’t eliminate the need for regular inspections, especially in autumn. You want your hives to be healthy enough to make it through whatever conditions winter brings.

 

For bee tips, recipes, and a killer cozy mystery, check out my newest offering: A BEELINE TO MURDER. See, http://tinyurl.com/ptegs9g

 

 

 

read comments ( 2 )

To Feed or Not to Feed the Bees?

Author: Meera, September 15, 2015

Mid-September is a time when beekeepers check their hives and consider the prudence of harvesting more honey or leaving it as well as whether or not to feed the bees. Honeybees, like many living creatures on our planet, need food and water to survive.

 

 

A honeybee alights on a fountain, searching for water

A honeybee alights on a fountain, searching for water

 

 

My wise beekeeper neighbor tells me that the hive needs to have sixty pounds of honey to make it through winter. He’s feeding his bees now a mixture of sugar and water.

 

 

 

black plastic feeder unit inserts fit directly into a hive like frames

Division board feeders are black plastic feeder units that fit directly into a hive like frames

 

 

The sugar-water inserts are black plastic holders that get inserted right into the hive in place of a frame. They are rigid enough to hold the sugar-water but pliant enough to swell outward, so conventional wooden frames of honey and wax help them stay in place. The downside is that bees can drown in these feeders. And if the beekeeper lets them go empty, the enterprising bees will just build comb and honey inside them.

 

 

There are several kinds of feeders–all with benefits and also drawbacks. For more information on feeders, see: http://www.honeybeesuite.com/what-type-of-honey-bee-feeder-is-best/

 

 

Closeup of a division board feeder unit

Closeup of a division board feeder unit

 

 

Last year, I didn’t take honey in the fall. I wanted to ensure the bees had what they needed to survive after they’d been through yet another summer of drought. There aren’t a lot of pollen-rich flowers to be found now. However, star-thistle still dots dry hillsides of Contra Costa County (where I live) and particular eucalyptus species that the bees like are blooming now.

 

 

I’m hopeful that this will be the last year of drought for a while. Weather forecasters say we have a strong El Nino that’s formed and will likely bring rain during our rainy season (November through April). That will be good news for the bees and those of us who love to plant flowers in our gardens to attract pollinators. But until the wet stuff starts coming down and new pollen sources are abundant, we beekeepers need to keep a close watch on our industrious little honeybees.

 

 

 

 

 

read comments ( 0 )