Monday, October 27, 2014


No, I didn't misspell that, or come up with some clever portmanteau on my own.  Some one else did that.  Wherever the word came from, in our kitchen, we Garden residents are undoubtedly under a zombee attack and have been since late last summer!

I've been meaning to write about this for a long time, but like much of this blog it takes me a long time to get to it.  Tonight I hope to watch the latest episode of one my favorite TV shows, The Walking Dead. I'm using my excitement of the show to inspire me to finally put some words down on the screen.

Night of the Flying Dead!

So last summer, every night one or more bees would somehow end up in our kitchen, buzz around aimlessly for a bit until they collapsed on some surface, or we managed to get them back outside.  After awhile, we realized if we left our kitchen light on and were patient, the wayward bees would eventually find their way to the light bowl where they would die within minutes. I had heard or read something about this so I bagged one of the bees and sure enough, a few days later the dead bee was not alone in the sealed Ziplock bag.  There were 6 or 7 tiny pupae in the bag with it.  My bees were turning into zombees!
A year's worth of zombees

The Culprit? Apocephalus borealis
While bees are out foraging, they are sometimes preyed upon by the phorid fly, Apocephalus borealis.  This fly doesn't eat the bees, rather the female lands on the abdomen of the bee, inserts her ovipositor (that's her egg laying appendage) into the bee and lays several eggs inside the bee (anyone thinking Alien?) When the eggs hatch and begin eating the helpless bee from the inside, she is compelled to leave the hive at night.  Disoriented she flies around apparently aimlessly other than being attracted to light. You can see how this odd behavior led someone to coin the term, zombee.  Without the warmth of the hive and suffering from the  parasites growing inside her, she is truly a member of the walking, or flying dead, if you will. The phorid maggots continue their meal of bee innards until they crawl out of the carcass and pupate.  A few weeks later they emerge as adults, mate, and then the females seek out their next victim. The cycle continues!

The bees fly around like zombies, but they don't actually seek out the flesh of their fellow bees.  Rather, the bees are the raw flesh for the zombie fly. In fact, leaving their hive rather than an act of aggression, could be a form of self sacrifice - leaving the hive when they recognize they are sick in order to not infect the rest of the hive.  Scientists, including John Hafernik who was the chair of the SFSU Biology department while I was a student there, are working on answering questions like these about Apocephalus borealis and the honey bee.

once I poured them out onto the plate all the pupae become visible
up close - doesn't look much different than a butterfly chrysalis - but what emerges is anything but beautiful! At least not if your a bee!

ZomBee Watch
Also for about a year I've been meaning to sign up and participate in this citizen science project, ZomBee Watch.  ZomBee watch relies on regular folk like you and me, to record and report on what is happening with the bees in their neighborhood, whether they are infected by Apocephalus borealis, or not.  Have you noticed bees at night in your neighborhood?  You can help, too.  Start by going to and see if its something you're interested in. Here's a pretty cool video about Dr. Hafernick and his work with Apocephalus borealis:

Here's a funny story about John Hafernik:  Back when I was getting my MA in biology I had a party for the biology department.  When Dr. Hafernik arrived, he realized he had been to our house before - for a party in the 70's! He was friends of my parents friends. I was afraid to ask for details.  I'll let what went on at the party remain a mystery.

Is this why bees are disappearing around the world?!
When I first realized my bees were infected with Apocephalus borealis I was worried for the health of my hives.  It was around that time that the Easter Hive (that was my second swarm I captured) perished.  I wondered if this was a major factor in colony collapse disorder.  I soon learned, however, that Apocephalus borealis is not a serious threat to a hive.  The bees that are infected are the foraging bees who have already lived much of their life anyway.  But when you add it to the long list that honey bees have to deal with: verora mites, chalk brood, foul brood, drought, mono crops, pesticides, herbicides (neonictinoids being the worst - check this website for common garden products to avoid:, predators - the list goes on! Add Apocephalus borealis to this list and it just may be too much for some hives.  Scientists are coming to the understanding that there is no single culprit for CCD and thus no silver bullet to prevent it.  But it also means there are lots of little things we can do to help our bee friends: plant pollinator friendly plants, don't use insecticides, if you live in an area of dry summers keep a bowl of water and marbles out near your flowers, and become a citizen scientist to help further our understanding of Apocephalus borealis.  
You can also support your local beekeeper! Your local beekeeper is working hard to take good care of their bees and their bees are taking care of you.  And speaking of your local beekeeper, I'm still selling honey every Wednesday between 4:30 and 6:00.  But probably for only another few weeks, as I'll be running out of honey for the year soon.  I hope I see you here soon!

Stay Sweet!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Honey Fundraising

Want some local honey?

I'm here, in my garden with the gate open, every Wednesday from 4:30 to 6:00 selling honey and more!  My daughter, Lena, and I have made candles, lotion and lip-balm from the beeswax I've collected.  I'll be here each Wednesday as long as I have honey to sell.  Currently I have about 30 lbs and about 60 lbs waiting to be harvested in my two hives.  You don't need to buy any honey, just come by to check out the hives!  If Wednesday afternoon is not a good time for you, I'm sure we can find a time that works for both of us.  

I've decided to do three fundraisers as part of my honey selling. On these fundraising days all sales will be donated to three different organizations that mean a lot to me and my family.

James Denman PTSA, August 20 - This is Lena's middle school and where many of the kids in the neighborhood will attend middle school as well.  Sunnyside and Miraloma are feeder schools of Denman.  More and more graduates of those schools are enrolling at Denman every year.  It's a great school with a warm and caring staff and community.  The PTSA is growing fast and works hard to support the school.

National MS Society - Waves to Wine ride, September 3 - For the first time our whole family will participate in this two day, 90 mile ride to raise money for the National MS Society as part of the team, people in purple. My mother struggled with multiple sclerosis for many years.  When she passed, we formed our team in honor of her, the lady in purple, from the play for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf which she produced, directed and starred in when she was forced to retire because of MS.

Or Shalom Jewish Community, September 17 - Just in time for Rosh Hashana.  

I'm right next to the Sunnyside Conservatory on Monterey Blvd.  Bring a jar for $1 off your honey.  I ship, too!  $15 gets you 11.25 ounces in one of those cute honey bear containers.  Hope to see you some day soon.  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

New Pages

I've added a new gadget, you can see it to the right along with the beer I'm brewing, the honey I'm selling and how many times I've been stung (10 so far, ouch!).

I decided to expand the blog.  Hopefully the pages to the right will give you something to read when the time between posts grows long.

Without further ado... Introducing "Honey Jar"!

Friday, July 11, 2014

More Honey!

Frames formerly full of 25 lbs of honey.  After extracting,
I leave them in front of the hive for the bees to get back a little of what I've stollen from them.
Plus the sticky mess is all gone!

I've now harvested and extracted honey three times.  And I'm planning on harvesting more in about a week when the kids return from Costa Rica.  I didn't expect to be getting this much honey out of my two hives.  So far its been about 30 lbs the first extraction, 40 the second, and 25 the third.  That's a total of almost 100 lbs of honey!

In order to make that much honey, my bees

visited about two hundred million flowers!

and flew a collective 5 million miles!

Unfortunately, the honey frames attract wasps as well.
I'm constantly having to shoo them away when I'm pouring honey outside.
Once, one drowned itself by falling into the jar.  One less wasp to worry about.

After all the giving away and selling I still about 22lbs left (see the upper right of the blog for how much honey I currently have).  Let me know if you want any.

I've thoroughly enjoyed giving away and selling the honey I've harvested.  It's allowed me to share one of the things I'm really enjoying doing in The Garden. In a way, I've made The Garden my classroom, and all my visitors are my students.  It reminds me that I enjoy teaching, especially when there is no expectations or students to worry about after I've gone to bed!  

And I've seen old friends whom I hadn't seen for years, I've met many wonderful neighbors, some of whom I've arranged trades for their own craft hobby. I've already gotten a bottle of mead and some jam from Curt (thank you) and will hopefully get some bacon from Eric and Lopa in exchange for their next order of honey.  Home smoked bacon, can't wait!  I've gotten lemons from three different neighbors that we used to make honey lemonade for Lena's bat mitzvah party.  Delicious, I was told.  Bummer for me, it was all gone by the time I was ready to try any.  Plus, I've been able to recoup some of the costs of this very expensive hobby.

If you ever want honey, or just want to stop by to check out the hives, please, do let me know!

Stay Sweet!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Brew bees and bread

When I brew beer I'm usually left with a big pot of wet crushed barley.  4 - 5 lbs dry - probably twice that weight wet.  It's a lot to just throw away.  Thankfully, in San Francisco, I can dump it in the compost bin where it gets trucked off somewhere and mixed with all of our cities, chicken bones, moldy left-overs and yard clippings and turned into rich soil.  But better than that, I can feed it to our chickens!  It's not the best food for chickens so I give them just a handful each day for a few days.  Unfortunately, the spent grain starts to go bad after a couple of weeks in the fridge in which time I've gone through less than half of it.  

That's what I was doing for the first few months of brewing until I discovered spent grain bread!

It uses only a cup and a half of spent grain so most of the grain is still ending up as compost, but it feels so environmentally friendly to be eating something, even if just a small amount, that would otherwise end up in the garbage.  And it tastes great! The kids enjoy helping me make it and we all love fresh baked bread.  Who doesn't?  

This is a modification of a recipe I got from the Michigan Beer Blog (

First you make a sponge. That's like a yeast starter similar to what you do for a sour dough, but this you don't let sour.  Mine looks like this when it's done:

1/2 tsp active dry yeast
¾ cup warm water 
3/4 cup spent grain
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

After you've mixed it and let it rest overnight mix it with the rest of the ingredients (salt only for the last three minutes of kneading or mixer - don't ask me why)

2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat bread flour
1 cup warm water 
2 tbsp honey (mine, of course!)
1 tbsp of orange juice
2 tsp salt

1. Knead it or use your mixer for 12 minutes - then add the salt and knead for another 3 minutes.

2. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, and cover. Let it rise about two to four hours, until it has roughly tripled in size.

3. Grease three 9 x 5 inch loaf pans. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface. Press or roll it into a rectangle, and divide it into three equally sized pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a tight 9-inch cylinder and pinch the ends closed. Place the loaves, seam side down, in the loaf pans. Cover loosely with a cloth or greased piece of aluminum foil, and let the dough rise until it almost doubles in size, about 1 hour.

4. Put a metal pan or cast-iron skillet on the lowest shelf of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Heat two cups of water. This is for creating steam in the oven.

5. Cut two slashes on the top of each loaf using a sharp serrated knife.  Put the loaves in the oven. This is the fun part: Pour two cups of hot water into your pre-heated pan or skillet, to create steam. A lot of steam! and it's hot so watch out!

6. Bake for 15 minutes, then, rotate each loaf 180 degrees. Bake for another 5-10 minutes (or until tops of loaves turn dark brown).

Remove the loaves from the oven and let cool for a few minutes in the pan.  Then let cool for another 10 minutes or more on a cooling rack. Tastes great toasted with butter or with a little of my honey!

Isn't she beautiful?!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


In January, I became impatient waiting for an extraction day at the San Francisco Beekeepers Association I belong to.  The club holds 5 extraction days a year when members can bring their frames full of honey, put them in an extractor and using the power of centrifugal force, spin out all the honey kept within the perfect hexagonal cells.  The first extraction day this year is June 22.  In January, I decided I couldn't wait any longer so I removed two frames full of honey and used the sit and drain method of removing the honey from the cells.  It was messy, took days, damaged the wax cells, and, in the end, much of the honey stubbornly clung to the frames.  I decided I wouldn't ever get honey from bees that way again! But I did manage to get over a pound of honey, more than enough to share with everyone here in The Garden!

Well, a couple of weeks ago I grew impatient again; June 22, though just about a month away, still was too long of a wait.  So I ordered my very own extractor! The extractor, in a great big box, came in just a few days. I put 9 frames of honey, 3 by 3, in the extractor, and Lena and I spun out over 26 lbs of honey! Check out the video of Lena and I at work with our bee friendly shirts on.

What do you do with 26 lbs of honey? 
We filled our beautiful little wax honey pot that Sara and Ryan gave us with about 6 oz.  Of course we gave some more honey to our Garden family, they've been great tolerating, enjoying even, the bees.  That was about a pound total. We gave our neighbor, Dave, a half-pound jar of honey.  The bees came from his garbage can, if you remember. We've bottled up 15 lbs in 96 little jars to give away at a later date.  Some of the honey, only about a quarter pound, will go into my next batch of beer (an easy drinking summer blonde ale). Soon I will attempt my first batch of mead with about 3 lbs of honey. That leaves me with a bucket of about 8 lbs of honey. That's still a lot of honey!  So I was thinking I'd give away 3 oz, or so, to anyone who comes by with a small jar this Thursday afternoon or Saturday morning!

This Thursday (June 5th) from 4:30 to 6:00 and Saturday from 10:00 to 11:30 I'll be doing some gardening.  The gate will be open.  Come by with your jar, maybe have a little beer, check out the bee hives, and leave with a little honey. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Spring has sprung, and is almost gone!

I'm Back!

It's been a long time since I've posted anything to the blog.  Once school got into full swing it became harder and harder to find the time to post anything.  As many of you know, once you get out of a routine, it's very hard to get back into it, but I'm going to try!  I may not have been spending time posting, but I'm still brewing beer and still keeping an eye on my bees.  Yes, indeed, the bees and I have been quite busy.

Since my last post in November I've:

 brewed 5 batches (25 gallons!) of beer, 

baked several loaves of spent grain bread,

tended the hive many times, 

made some lip balm and hand lotion out of wax from my hive,

got a new package of bees (a queen and 10,000 bees) to replace the hive I lost last fall,

and harvested over 25 pounds of honey!

I want to tell you about each of these, and more, in greater detail.  I'm not sure I'll be able to catch up on all the stories I have to tell because every week something else with the bees or a batch of brew is interesting enough to talk about. But that's good, right?  Never a dull moment in The Garden.  I'll try to keep the posts coming and to keep it interesting enough that you come back for more!

Of all these things, I'm going to start with the newest: harvesting 25 pounds of honey just a couple of days ago.  But not in this post, the next one, in just a couple of days.  I promise.  Until then, be friendly!