radicle beets

Winged Resilience: Wheelbarrow Funerals and Long-lived Queens by radiclebeets
May 21, 2013, 5:29 pm
Filed under: Beekeeping

This year, we’ve been hearing more and more about the crisis of honeybees in many parts of the world.  California’s almond trees now require a massive human-coordinated migration of honeybees each year for pollination, and human workers undergo the massive task of hand-pollinating fruit tree blossoms in Sichuan, China, where pesticides and over-harvesting of honey have led to the loss of pollinators.  In the US, honeybee genetic diversity is decreasing significantly—there has been a 30% loss in alleles between 1996 and 2006 among the 300 queen mothers that provided the breeding for approximately 2.4 million hives in the country at that time.  On the bright side, activist beekeepers in Germany recently built massive public demand that contributed to bee-toxic pesticides being banned in Europe.

All of this makes our little apiary at the Purple Thistle food forest all the more important.  Contributing to the survival of these wonderful and fierce little creatures is constantly awe-inspiring and eye-opening, and I am continually grateful for the privilege of being one of their caretakers.


Our season started out with sadness amidst a small speck of hope—two of our three hives had died, with one making it through the winter.  Bringing the dead hives’ frames, wrapped in opaque white landscaping fabric, back to the Thistle in a wheelbarrow was a strange kind of funeral and really brought home the importance of building the knowledge we would need to sustain our hives.  Needing to take precautions against the spread of potential disease, we began the long work of hand processing the honey, pollen and wax, and learning how to use a blowtorch to sterilize the wood by superheating the potentially diseased wax.

Recognizing the crisis happening everywhere and connecting more than ever to the notion that we can’t always just rely on outside sources to rescue our bees, we decided to gain skills in raising our own queen bee.  During month of May, Brian Campbell, master beekeeper and the teacher for several of us former beekeeping apprentices from the Thistle, has been mentoring us in the fragile and time-sensitive process of queen-rearing.

Raising your own queen has several benefits—she will be better adapted to the local environment, less likely to pass on disease (as long as your own queen is healthy), and the process reduces the need to rely on outside commercial sources that themselves are never really stable.

The first day, we inserted a small cassette with the queen cell-like bases into the hive, for the bees to coat with their own wax.  Four days later, we returned, located the queen and put her into the cassette, and created a queenless nuc (small version of a hive) from our hive.  Four days after that, we returned, released the queen from the cassette, where she had laid many eggs, and chose five eggs to insert facing downward on a frame into the queenless hive, which had been three days without a queen.  Two days from now, we will return to remove any wax formations (as Brian says, the bees like to read architecture magazines on their spare time) and see whether the eggs have hatched into larvae, and will hope that they raise these larvae into queens.  The process will continue until early June, when we will hopefully have new queens ready to begin their mating flights.

There is, it seems, an endless amount of things to learn about bees and even then, they may bring unexpected surprises.  Brian would say that they don’t always read the beekeeper’s manual—I would hope at least that they don’t read the world news and lose heart over the fate of their fellow comrades in other parts of the world.  In any case, it seems as though for every difficult thing that we learn, there are many more inspiring lessons to take from the practice of beekeeping.

Last week, we looked into our now thriving hive and found, for the first time this year, our queen, who is looking healthy and well.  Long live the queen bee!  There is something so utterly amazing about witnessing this small creature who is the pivotal focus for a colony of 20,000-40,000 creatures working in an incredible coordinated dance for their entire lives.  Seeing her there amidst all the other buzzing creatures who make up this dance is an inspiration, at the very least, for all of us who work to make the world a better place yet sometime feel a little… small.  I hope we can all look to our buzzing, vibrant community, and take strength to keep at it–with a little dancing in between, of course!





So Much Dirt! Season Update by radiclebeets


Holy muck, so much to learn! The Guerrilla Gardeners are in our 5th season of gardening, and we’re growing! This year we wanted to focus more on education and finding mentors, so we’ve had folks come in and facilitate workshops, we’ve sent folks out to learn about mushrooms and tree pruning, and along the way we ran into a few life jams! So far, this year’s jam themes seem to be how to better interact with our funny industrial community. We’ve come across challenge after challenge with folks vandalizing our gardens, whether it be bored folks breaking things, broke folks stealing trees, big business folk tearing down living walls, squatters idling by to power their hockey games, or urbanized humans dumping in our wetlands. Hit after hit, we recognize our battle to reclaim and regenerate life in an industrial wasteland is massive and long-term. Each blow hits us deep in our spirits, but we recognize each new situation is a symptom of a system that is founded on alienation and dislocation that is free-market capitalism. If we want to change that system, we have to get to the root of it. Take a machete to the Himalayan Blackberry, and it will grow back fast with aggression. We gotta dig down to the root and pull it out before we can plant something new. There is no better place, no more of an obviously painful place than where we and our gardens are. If we can grow good food here, if we can heal land here, if we can restore ecosystems and life here, where all there seems to be is dead cement, if we can heal ourselves HERE, we are soaring.

unicorniaUnicornia: Permaculture Design in case of Zombie Apocalypse. Natural border of defense? Blackberry bushes.

Past Workshops/Classes: 
Intro to Bioremediation:
Leila Darwish came from Victoria to facilitate a 2-day seminar on grassroots bioremediation. Fun, and intensely soul-squeezing, we came to realize how important it is to take care of the land we live on, as the land is our home, food, and medicine. We recognize how civilized humans got real good at making toxic soup out of it all, so some of the folks who attended the workshop felt inspired to put our new knowledge to use. The witches of east van teamed up with us, and with Leila’s help, we concocted some awesome compost tea to spray around Strathcona for their annual May Day fertility march.

Mushroom Food Forest Workshop


Our collective decided it would be a good idea to send a few folks to Portland, Oregon to boost our mushroom knowledge.  Ja Schindler and Maria Farinacci of Fungi for the People did an amazing job teaching us hands-on a few different ways to grow a few different mushrooms. Four of us drove an old VW hippy van (where subsequently we also learned a bit about engine maintenance) across the border where we inoculated logs with Turkey Tail, Chicken of the Woods, Reishi, and Lion’s Mane. We made stacks, poles, buried logs, drilled, and prepared for a time where we may not have electricity by hand-sawing wedges out of logs and stuffing them with spawn. Ja and Maria were amazing, and even taught us a bit about mushroom identification. One of the things that stuck out most was Ja’s idea that we should learn to describe the smells of different mushroom species without using the word “mushroom”. Try it! It ain’t easy!


Radical Mycology 101:


Radical Mycology co-founder Peter McCoy came to visit us from Olympia, WA to share some of his knowledge. We learned the basics of fungi life including their ever-expanding gender spectrum, different ways of cultivation, how we can use them as allies to remediate toxic land, and also how we can learn from them to form stronger communities with each other. More about Radical Mycology: radicalmycology.wordpress.com/ Thanks Peter for helping us inoculate coffee grounds with Oyster Mushroom spawn! You are right, mushrooms are sexy!radicalmycosmiles

Garden Camp:


From April to mid-May, we invited youth between 8-12 to come hang out with us in our gardens. Here we guerrilla planted Sunflowers, dug up Dandelion Root for tea, picked Stinging Nettle with our bare hands, played with red wriggling worms, brewed compost tea to help heal the land, hung out with the honey bees, designed a permaculture home base in case of a zombie apocalypse, transplanted squash, pulled out horsetail, harvested a giant conk mushroom, painted signs so folks will stop stealing our trees; we ate together, sang together, danced together, and had a huge blast!! We are so grateful for the opportunity to hang out with such rad kids.


Workshops coming up!

gardencampbees Honeybee Series with Brian Campbell:

 Saturday May 11, 2pm: Queen-rearing basics

 Sunday May 12, 10am: Starting work in hives—stimulating queen cell production

 Thursday May 16, afternoon: Removing started queen cells

 Sunday May 26, morning: Introducing queen cells into mating nucs

Since these are hands-on workshops and we don’t want to out stress the bees, there is limited space available. Please email Hannah for more info: hmjcarpendale@hotmail.com

Projects on the Go!
Natural Building with Cob – email Jenni to be part of the design team! Actual building of the cob shed will be taking place in July. jentigchelaar@yahoo.ca
Mushroom Enhanced Greenhouse – We just scavenged about 50 windows to use for our greenhouse. We’ll be using mushrooms to boost plant growth as the shrooms release heat and CO2. Help us design and build it for August! Email Phanh at abcwhatever@yahoo.ca or Kelsey ki2freedom@gmail.com

Look out for upcoming events and workshops that include Quinoa Sprouting, Food Forest Mushroom Cultivation, Herbal Medicine Making, and Permaculture 101. If you want to come help out, our garden parties are Sundays 11am-4pm, and Thursdays from 2-5pm. Also feel free to come eat with us at our Monthly Potluck Meetings every first Tuesday of the month. Invite your friends!

Mush Love and Peas!!

We like to move it! by radiclebeets
July 11, 2012, 10:24 pm
Filed under: Beekeeping | Tags: , , , , , ,

There has been a little shifting around lately with our three beehives.  What’s the big deal?  Moving, splitting, and recombining hives can be a lot more complicated than it might seem.  Bees have photographic memory–they know their place well, and when their hive moves and they don’t readjust their 2-mile radius image of the world, they can get… well, kind of confused.  Bees also know who is and who isn’t from their hive, so simply combining two hive boxes together can create a veritable war inside the hive!  Not to mention disturbing the natural balance of brood and honey.  Through many shifts in the past few weeks, we have learned a lot about how bees function and negotiate the nectar-ful world around them.  Here are some details on the moves that we have made, and an update on how the hives are doing after all that!


The Great Move

Earlier in the year, after deciding that the rooftop of the Mergatroid building was too wind-exposed for our bees to safely overwinter, not to mention a bit of a liability when bringing a group of people up to watch, we moved our hives the controversial distance of more than 2 metres and less than 2 miles.  Why is this so full of controversy?  Honeybees are understood to have a general flight radius 2 miles.  Their photographic memory covers this area.  When they are moved less than 2 metres, they should be able to easily spot their hive upon returning for a flight, and readjust.  When the distance is over 2 miles, the bees will completely reorient as they leave the hive, since they will not recognise anything of their surroundings.  However, moving hives distances in between 2 metres and 2 miles runs the risk of bees leaving their hive and returning to their old location.  It is, by many beekeepers, not reccommended if it can be avoided.  Since our food forest site was only 2 blocks away, we decided to try it.  Since the move also involved getting the hives off a roof, we had to do some research and planning.  A week before, we put a movable landmark in front of their hive (in our case, taping a cross of sticks) to cause the bees to start to pay more attention to their hive’s appearance and their surroundings.  Three days before, we confined them (this needs to be done at night when all the bees are in the hive) with wire mesh tacked across the opening.  Confinement for 72 hours causes maximum reorientation in the bees to their ‘mental map.’  On the big day, we strapped the hives up and had some help from a local forklift driver to move them down from the roof and in Matt’s truck to the new site, where we could release them.  The danger with this kind of move is that they might go back to their old hive site, and we really had no idea what to expect from our first attempt at this complicated procedure, but it seems to have worked!  The bees are now happily at their new site near the food forest!  Since then, we have moved the other hive (which we had thought was on the verge of death but made a miraculous recovery!) to the new site as well, where they are both now sitting peacefully amid the grass and pesky brambles!


Hive Splitting and Recombining

Two weeks ago, we had a great orchestration of shuffling around of our hives.  Hive splitting and recombining is a way of equalizing the strength of the hives, using a strong hive to help a weaker one, and preventing the naturally occurring (yet devastating to honey-gathering) phenomena of swarming.  Our oldest hive, Missbeehaven, was full to the brim and preparing to swarm–we could tell this by the multitude of swarm cells (larger cells where they would lay a replacement queen before leaving with half of the hive for greener pastures).  Our other hive, Maybee, which had made a miraculous recovery since being near death over the winter, was still quite weak.  With some advice from bee mentor Brian, we decided to split Missbehaven (taking one of the two hive boxes away and replacing it with an empty hive box) and add one of the full hive boxes to the single hive box of the weak hive, Maybee.  We also decided to add a new queen to Maybee, as we hadn’t seen her and a lack of queen, or simply a weak queen, seemed to be a likely cause of their slow growth.  We had also just recently installed a new nuc, Newbee, and needed to add a honey super (and extra hive box) onto it to accommodate its quick growth.  So, one day, with many skillful new beekeepers in the orchestration, we found the queen in Missbeehaven, took the other queenless hive box off, put a new empty one in its place, installed a new queen that Phanh had picked up that morning into the bottom hive box of Maybee, and added Missbeehaven’s removed box onto the single brood box of Maybee (with two sheets of newspaper in between, cut through in a few places to allow them to slowly get to know one another as they gradually chewed through the paper).  We then added a honey super onto the nuc (newly installed hive), Newbee.  Luckily, there were many helping hands, and the shuffling seems to have gone down well!

Updates and Queen Rearing

Queen bee in a cage, before she is introduced to the hive!

Our hives seem healthy and happy for the mostpart.  Missbeehaven is a little more quiet than usual, and we are guessing her queen may be older or dead (we didn’t see her the last time we inspected the hive).  This hive is laying a new queen and we’ve decided to let it grow rather than introducing a new mated queen.  Hopefully this will go well and Missbeehaven will soon be thriving again too!

Our new exploration is into rearing queens within our own hives.  By reducing our dependence on outside sources to buy reared queens, we can become more self-reliant and move towards a respectful and sustainable beekeeping practice.

All hail the queen! by radiclebeets
May 27, 2012, 4:25 pm
Filed under: Beekeeping | Tags: , ,

When looking into a beehive and seeing the important work being done–gathering and preparing food, raising young, teaching about the wide, 2-mile-radius world outside, and of course dancing!–it feels like this is a monarchy that could work… or is it a monarchy?  Anarchism?  Pheromone-communicated after-the-fact decision-making based on a collective view of what is really important?  Hmmm…. it’s a bit hard to translate what goes on in there to our society, but there’s definitely something compelling about it.

Most people we talk to about beekeeping (whether on the bus, at a family dinner, or even while balancing precariously on the Thistle table, taking down our hive equipment and proudly offering some of the bees’ own hard-earned honey) have a story to tell, or some fascination about bees that just needs an outlet!  And hopefully that outlet is provided in the Thistle beekeeping group, with weekly opportunities to geek out on bee knowledge, expand our own experience and teach others.  The reward of learning something in theory (such as how to catch a swarm, or the controversy-laden issue of how to move a hive between 2 metres and 2 miles, and off a roof!), and to immediately be able to put that into practice, is a deeply satisfying one.

So, what is up with the Thistle honeybees now?  This past week we welcomed in (with an appropriate buzzing flurry) the last of this season’s bees, and the hard-working ladies are all settled in at our new food forest site.  Last Sunday, we moved the last remaining hive from the roof of the Mergatroid building, and on Wednesday we picked up a nuc (short for nucleus, a condensed hive of bees that quickly expands, if all goes well!) and installed it at the food forest site.  The beekeeping group (all of us!) is learning a lot during our weekly hive inspections, and more are taking the EYA apprenticeship this season!  As well as weekly inspections, we are hoping to run a few more workshops this season, to talk about important beekeeping topics such as the routine hive inspection, beekeeping year (what to be on the lookout for throughout the year), disease and pests, honey harvesting, and overwintering.  We’re also going to be planning out what we’d like for our bees in their new site—wind shelter, a nice flowering barrier from people walking through the site, a platform for the hive boxes, a shed to store equipment out there, and… what else?

Okay, off to walk (or fly?) the talk… hive inspections today!  Let’s hope the weather holds up!

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