Backyard and Backwards Beekeeping

I did a natural beekeeping Zoom talk for the Pasadena Public Library last month and they’ve posted it in the YouTubes for all to see. Fun fact: if you watch until the Q&A you’ll notice that my desktop computer is installed in our closet thus making my Zoom background a pile of folded sheets.

In the talk I give a brief intro to bee biology and then go over the way I keep bees here as taught to me by “backwards” beekeeping guru Kirk Anderson.

Beekeeping resources I mention during the talk:

Organizations/Websites
HoneyLove.org: local non-profit that provides hands-on education and resources for backyard beekeepers.

Principles of Beekeeping Backwards, a manifesto by Charles Martin Simon: https://www.beesource.com/threads/principles-of-beekeeping-backwards.365763/

Xerces society: for information on native bees and how to provide habitat. https://www.xerces.org/

YouTube
Backwards Beekeepers how-to videos on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL23D3FtWNSvrs1NDKjpDWolmVfDgcJTKX

Books
Save the Bees with Natural Backyard Hives: The Easy and Treatment-Free Way to Attract and Keep Healthy Bees by Rob and Chelsea McFarland

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping by Dean Stiglitz and Laurie Herboldsheimer (believe it or not a good intro to natural beekeeping practices). Not to be confused with the Dummies Guide to Beekeeping.

Attracting Native Pollinators: The Xerces Society Guide, Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies by The Xerces Society (Author), Dr. Marla Spivak (Foreword).

Help I’ve got bees in my wall!
Henry Balding Balding’s Bees (213) 422-8444

Online Beekeeping Talk for Pasadena Grows

Hey all I’m doing an Zoom talk on beekeeping this Saturday March 6th at 10:30 AM PST. It’s freeeeeeeeeee and you can sign up here. I’m going to review basic honey bee biology and then get into the techniques of “Backwards” a.k.a. “natural,” a.k.a. “no-treatment” beekeeping, a.k.a. “bee-having” as the trolls call it. Hope to see some of you this Saturday!

Whale of a Meme

Responding to my post on finding a mysterious plaster footprint cast in our garden, Root Simple reader Peter sent a hilarious link to what I’ve since learned is an early viral internet meme, the so-called “Smithsonian Barbie” letter.

Paleoanthropology Division
Smithsonian Institute
207 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20078

Dear Sir:

Thank you for your latest submission to the Institute, labeled “211-D, layer seven, next to the clothesline post. Hominid skull.” We have given this specimen a careful and detailed examination, and regret to inform you that we disagree with your theory that it represents “conclusive proof of the presence of Early Man in Charleston County two million years ago.” Rather, it appears that what you have found is the head of a Barbie doll, of the variety one of our staff, who has small children, believes to be the “Malibu Barbie”. It is evident that you have given a great deal of thought to the analysis of this specimen, and you may be quite certain that those of us who are familiar with your prior work in the field were loathe to come to contradiction with your findings. However, we do feel that there are a number of physical attributes of the specimen which might have tipped you off to it’s modern origin:

  • 1. The material is molded plastic. Ancient hominid remains are typically fossilized bone.
  • 2. The cranial capacity of the specimen is approximately 9 cubic centimeters, well below the threshold of even the earliest identified proto-hominids.
  • 3. The dentition pattern evident on the “skull” is more consistent with the common domesticated dog than it is with the “ravenous man-eating Pliocene clams” you speculate roamed the wetlands during that time. This latter finding is certainly one of the most intriguing hypotheses you have submitted in your history with this institution, but the evidence seems to weigh rather heavily against it. Without going into too much detail, let us say that:
      • A. The specimen looks like the head of a Barbie doll that a dog has chewed on.
      • B. Clams don’t have teeth.

    It is with feelings tinged with melancholy that we must deny your request to have the specimen carbon dated. This is partially due to the heavy load our lab must bear in it’s normal operation, and partly due to carbon dating’s notorious inaccuracy in fossils of recent geologic record. To the best of our knowledge, no Barbie dolls were produced prior to 1956 AD, and carbon dating is likely to produce wildly inaccurate results. Sadly, we must also deny your request that we approach the National Science Foundation’s Phylogeny Department with the concept of assigning your specimen the scientific name “Australopithecus spiff-arino.” Speaking personally, I, for one, fought tenaciously for the acceptance of your proposed taxonomy, but was ultimately voted down because the species name you selected was hyphenated, and didn’t really sound like it might be Latin.

    However, we gladly accept your generous donation of this fascinating specimen to the museum. While it is undoubtedly not a hominid fossil, it is, nonetheless, yet another riveting example of the great body of work you seem to accumulate here so effortlessly. You should know that our Director has reserved a special shelf in his own office for the display of the specimens you have previously submitted to the Institution, and the entire staff speculates daily on what you will happen upon next in your digs at the site you have discovered in your back yard. We eagerly anticipate your trip to our nation’s capital that you proposed in your last letter, and several of us are pressing the Director to pay for it. We are particularly interested in hearing you expand on your theories surrounding the “trans-positating fillifitation of ferrous ions in a structural matrix” that makes the excellent juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex femur you recently discovered take on the deceptive appearance of a rusty 9-mm Sears Craftsman automotive crescent wrench.

    Yours in Science,

    Harvey Rowe
    Curator, Antiquities

I did a little Googling and kept finding this letter on old web 1.0 pages only to discover via the always party pooping Snopes that this bit of genius is a creative writing effort from 1994. The real Harvey Rowe does not work for the Smithsonian but was, in fact, a bored medical student at the Medical University of South Carolina. Rowe was interviewed in 1998 about how his fake letter went viral. He described himself in that interview as a, “42 year old Emergency Room physician turned computer nerd. I’m widowed with two boys, aged 8 and 10. I apparently have the power to cloud minds.”

As the old saying goes, “if it be not true at least it is well invented.” If there’s one thing I despise it’s debunker/skeptic types who run around ruining a perfectly good story. If anything we need a few more good tall tales to counter the bad ones.

There’s a story about Mark Twain showing up at a news event and being disappointing to find other journalists since that meant he couldn’t make up a more interesting story. I obviously missed an opportunity in my plaster foot post to be the next Harvey Rowe. At least you can review my new non-profit on Yelp.

Speaking of old internet memes it’s the 50th anniversary of the exploding whale video which the folks at KATU have thoughtfully remastered for us, though I’m a bit nostalgic for the original glitched VHS original. One Jungian synchronicity uncovered by researchers at the Center for Land Use Interpretation is that the car destroyed by falling whale blubber had been purchased that very day at a car dealership that advertised a, “whale of a deal.”

I’ll leave you all with a Twitter post from today that deserves to go viral:

The Obligate Resprouter

Image: Angeles Crest Creamery

It’s been a tough year for friend of the blog Gloria Putnam who runs the Angeles Crest Creamery goat ranch in the San Gabriel Mountains. Back in September the Bobcat Fire swept though her ranch. Thankfully firefighters were able to save her home and barn but goat’s forage is gone.

Image: Angeles Crest Creamery

Gloria is one of the most resilient people that I know. In response to this challenge she’s started an effort to restore what was lost and is chronicling those efforts in a newsletter, The Obligate Resprouter. As she says in the newsletter,

The real work of learning from the fire is just beginning. Angeles Crest Creamery was started to demonstrate that food could be produced in the arid Southern California mountains without importing water, by using human’s most time tested methods for managing land in partnership with ruminants. To reintroduce to the San Gabriel Mountains an agriculture that doesn’t put pressure on the very resources that climate change makes scarce—water and top soil. Now, at least temporarily, we find ourselves having to feed the goats hay grown by pumping water in the nearby desert, the very thing we have tried to avoid. Developing a new understanding of this agriculture’s relationship to climate change, drought and wildfire is necessarily the new project, and we are pleased to have you along for the exploration.

You can subscribe to The Obligate Resprouter via a link at the bottom of her website.

Gloria has also set up a hay fund to keep her goats fed.

How to Deal With the Dreaded Pantry Moth

Pantry moths must be loving 2020, especially the early days of the pandemic, when panicked hoards (ourselves included) ran to Costco to stockpile toilet paper, flour and Tostitos.

While I’ve probably blogged about pantry moths more times than just about anything else, we just had another outbreak and I thought I’d use this post writing exercise as an excuse to re-read UC Davis’ Integrated Pest Management pantry moths fact sheet.

According to geniuses at UC Davis, management is simple and pesticide-free. All your food needs to go into jars with tight fitting lids. No shoving rubber-banded packages of couscous in the back of the shelf. If you have space in your freezer you can put dry goods in there and kill any larvae. Avoid adding new food to old food, if possible.

If you’ve got an outbreak UC Davis suggests pulling everything out and inspecting what you’ve got for the telltale signs of infestation: larvae or webbing. Get our you vacuum and suck out the larvae that hide in cracks in your cabinets. These bugs can survive for months without food. Wash cabinets with soap and water. Freeze stuff you’re in doubt about. To repeat, put everything, including pet food, in jars with tight fitting lids.

Pheromone traps can help spot an infestation as well as reduce the population, but they are not a substitute for cleaning and putting things in jars.

Incidentally, what we call “pantry moths” encompass a variety of different insects with colorful names such as the Drugstore Beetle, and the Confused Flour Beetle. All these bug-a-boos just love post-agricultural human habits of storin’ up food. Like cats, roaches and mice they’re with us until we devolve away from our agricultural ways, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” I’ll add, of course, that even if we find a way to keep eating and stop sweating I’d like to keep the cats around.