Beeing an Atheist

Yesterday afternoon, it was my privilege to teach a class about bees to a group of young after-school students at the Eagle Heights community center on the UW-Madison campus. Ariela and I taught the same class last year, and although she was not able to make it this time, it was just as fun as ever.

First, the kids sat down (give or take) for a half hour discussion about bees, as I showed them pictures of bees doing various things with a PowerPoint presentation. I taught them how to tell a bee from a wasp, I showed the three different bee castes and what they do, and talked about how important bees are and how they make honey. It was not only a visual presentation but also tactile and olfactory experience. When it came to talking about beeswax comb, I passed around a large piece of natural comb I pulled out of one of our hives. The kids got to smell some beeswax candles, and I showed them the tools we use out in the apiary and all about the frames that make up a hive.

When we were done with questions, we adjourned to the community center’s stainless steel (yes I am jealous) kitchen where my pressure-cooker-turned-steam-generator had already been warming up. The steam powers an uncapping knife to slice open the combs and release the honey. As the layer of wax cappings dripped off, the glowing, golden cells of sweetness awed the group – who lined up to take a turn at spinning the frames in the centrifuge. After showing the gathering pool of honey in the centrifuge, I lifted it up onto the counter to let the honey flow out through the filters and into the waiting bucket.

I kept some honey from the last harvest in the bucket, so it had already settled and lost its bubbles. And one by one the kids filled their little 1/2 cup jelly jars from the spigot, excited to have a treat to take home.

Many of the kids wanted to see the bees themselves, which wouldn’t have been possible this time around, but next year, we might be able to arrange that. Ariela and I look forward to doing more classes about bees for kids – it’s great to see and hear their excitement about something that we as beekeepers are perennially privileged to experience, and I always delight in sharing a little knowledge. We were almost going to have a second bee class this year. Almost. Which is what this post is about. Continue reading Beeing an Atheist

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Wisconsin Citizens for Science meets today

A day long waited for – Wisconsin Citizens for Science is having its kickoff meeting today at 2 pm at the Monona Library. From the site:

That’s right folks, our first meeting has been scheduled for Saturday, April 18th at 2PM. Andrew Petto, WCfS interim president, will be speaking on the state of science education in Wisconsin, and there’ll be cookies and stuff. Scientifically speaking, “Yum, yum!” The meeting is at…

Monona Public Library
1000 Nichols Rd
Monona, WI 53716

I’ll be there to learn about the current state of science education in this state – and to eat cookies. That is, after a long, hard day selling beeswax candles and stuff at the Farmer’s Market. You could make a trip into town at noon to go to the first market of the season, (pick up a fabulous candle…) and then get involved in strengthening science education!

Gonna check on our girls

Here in Madison we’re enjoying a spat of warm weather – it’s 55 degrees outside! This is going to continue through at least tomorrow, so in the early evening my Queen and I will be taking a look at how our bees fared over the harsh Madison winter. Last year, we lost a small late-season swarm colony over the winter, but each of these hives were strong with 2 or 3 brood boxes full of healthy-looking bees. The only thing that worries me is whether or not they have enough sugar for the winter. Here’s to hoping!

And here’s an interesting article, hat tip to Luigi at ABDW: The American Bee Glut. I will be feeding our bees some pollen substitute patties to get them going with a strong start, maybe that will help ward off the dreaded CCD too?

Update (evening): Looks like I didn’t get quite enough sugar syrup to all the hives last fall, I lost two out of the five. But the three remaining hives look strong, and ready for a fresh, sweet surprise this weekend! After a split and a few swarms we should have more bees than we had last year! This isn’t too bad for our first Wisconsin overwintering of serious colonies. The swarm we had the year before was only two frames in a single box – it didn’t have much of a chance.

What’s in your Honey Jar?

I don’t know about you, but the stuff in my honey jar is a mixture of fructose, glucose, and sucrose with a scant bit of protein, some minerals, pollen grains, and oh yeah, volatile compounds from plants that give it its unique flavor.

So I just came across this article in the Seattle P.I. called Don’t let claims on honey labels dupe you. It’s good, and it points out how some of the things that are on honey labels do not correspond with any sort of significant difference from label-less honey. They mention “Grade A”, Country Of Origin Labels, and Organic.

Now Grade A, according to The Hive and the Honey Bee, refers to honey that is clear of any debris, crystals, etc, so if you filter it well enough you’re good. I think of it as somewhat meaningless, not a big deal one way or another. (Grade A vs Grade B for Maple Syrup, however – there’s a difference. Grade B is thicker and yummier!) But there is a defined standard.

Country of Origin Labels (COOL) are a good idea. I would like to know that my food is coming from somewhere nearby, in general, rather than far away. But something that the COOL labeling folks need to realize, before it loses its value, is that you have to have some way to determine where it actually came from. In the case of honey, your guess is as good as mine, and few labs in the world can even take a stab at tracing the source of a sample of liquid gold.

Finally, there’s Organic honey. Let me clear my throat for a second, because this is important. Continue reading What’s in your Honey Jar?

Honey in the Olympics?

(Hat tip to my Lady-Love)

Apparently, Honey has found its place in Olympic gymnastics, but not as some sort of sugar energy-booster as you might think from all the honey-based candy energy bars you find in sport shops. Nope, Honey is being prized for its stickiness – Olympiads are using it to keep their hands stuck to their swing bars. Have a read.

Class on the basics of bees in Madison

On Monday, the 11th of August, I will be teaching a class on bees and beekeeping at the community center where I live on the UW-Madison campus. If anyone in Madison is reading, stop on by and learn about bees!

Class blurb:

Catch the Buzz About Honeybees!

Find out all you ever wanted to know about those busy little insects that pollinate our crops and turn nectar into Honey. Hobby Beekeeper and science enthusiast Karl J. Mogel will be teaching a class on all the fascinating little things we know about bees: Queens and workers, the “Bee Dance”, swarms, stingers, and the fun and challenges of beekeeping. And of course the best part, come spin some honey yourself and take it home in a jar!

This class is free and open to the public. It runs from 7-8 pm at the Eagle Heights Community Center on the UW-Madison campus. For information on how to get there, visit this map link.

Ariela and I just pulled a whole medium-depth honey super and four full-depth frames out of our hives today… time to wipe down the centrifuge – it’s honey extracting time!

Back in Madison

Wow, what a week. After finishing a sequencing plate at work on Tuesday, Ariela and I were off to California to finish planning for an incredible party on Saturday. I must have had too much fun or too much to drink, because I think some scientist nabbed me and affixed a tracking device to my left hand. Ariela got one exactly like it too. Maybe we’re part of some sociologists’s study of pair bonded humans. Anybody ever seen anything like this shiny metal band before? Continue reading Back in Madison