March 8

Need Local Honey?

Just received a shipment of good, local honey because of the many requests I have had.  This honey is produced by Tommy Helms and is all local honey.  He will be providing honey at our Farmer’s market beginning the second week May…but you do not have to wait.  I will be selling this for Mr. Helms with no mark up in price at my home.

February 26

2020 Beekeeping Has Begun In Earnest

February 26 – Catching Up!

It has been way to0 long since I have been in here with you.  My apologies and I have no real excuse beyond not making this a priority.  That being said, I have shifted my priorities and hope to be back here weekly as we add to our knowledge and share our love for our bees.

This past Sunday I checked all 8 of my hives and found that thus far I had only lost one hive at my Alexis Apirary.  I have another hive at my home that appears to be queenless and has greatly reduced in number.  I plan to combine them with another hive.  This give me 6 strong hives going into this new year of beekeeping.  I also worked the hives of several of my students including Erin and the Blacks.  Erin has lost one hive while all three of the Black’s hive have survived the winter.  Additionally Leigh has a very strong hive at her residence.

This past December I made the effort to place enriched fondant on all of my hives and I believe this increased my survivability.  I added fondant again to all the hives I checked Sunday and as I expected, winter stores of honey were really down in most of these hives.  Feeding our hives during the winter appears to be an essential ingredient to success.  Last year I lost all but one hive.  My problem proved not to be mites or other pests (treated for this) rather they had starved to death even though stores of honey were in the super above them.  They had eaten the honey around them in the lower box, but failed to make the move up to their ample stores above them.  Lesson learned, so this year enriched fondant was placed right above my bees in every box.

During my inspection yesterday I found all our bees were very busy laying eggs and creating new bees, including drones, for the coming year.  A good bit of pollen was also being carried into the hives.  I left all of our hives buttoned up as cold weather is approaching again over the next week.  My fear is they will cover their brood and not protect  themselves.  I just hope it does not get too cold.  I also cleaned out a good bit of burr cone and rotated my boxes.

I sold the remainder of my honey at Catawba Coffee during the last two weeks.  I was amazed at how fast it was gobbled up!

Bottom line folks, if you have not checked your bees yet, you are way overdue.  This is the period of time where our bees can starve from lack of food that is easily assessable.  CHECK YOUR HIVES. Don’t forget that in addition to reading this blog you can respond with comments and questions.

My Best!


August 13

Store Bought Honey – The Rest of the Story…

More than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn’t exactly what the bees produce, according to testing done exclusively for Food Safety News.

The results show that the pollen frequently has been filtered out of products labeled “honey.”

The removal of these microscopic particles from deep within a flower would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world’s food safety agencies.

The food safety divisions of the  World Health Organization, the European Commission and dozens of others also have ruled that without pollen there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources.

honey-without-pollen-food-safety-news1.jpgIn the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. However, the FDA isn’t checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.

Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey – some containing illegal antibiotics – on the U.S. market for years.

Food Safety News decided to test honey sold in various outlets after its earlier investigation found U.S. groceries flooded with Indian honey banned in Europe as unsafe because of contamination with antibiotics, heavy metal and a total lack of pollen which prevented tracking its origin.

Food Safety News purchased more than 60 jars, jugs and plastic bears of honey in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

The contents were analyzed for pollen by Vaughn Bryant, a professor at Texas A&M University and one of the nation’s premier melissopalynologists, or investigators of pollen in honey.

Bryant, who is director of the Palynology Research Laboratory, found that among the containers of honey provided by Food Safety News:

•76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed, These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.

•100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.

•77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.

•100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s and KFC had the pollen removed.

•Bryant found that every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like PCC and Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen.

And if you have to buy at major grocery chains, the analysis found that your odds are somewhat better of getting honey that wasn’t ultra-filtered if you buy brands labeled as organic. Out of seven samples tested, five (71 percent) were heavy with pollen. All of the organic honey was produced in Brazil, according to the labels.

The National Honey Board, a federal research and promotion organization under USDA oversight, says the bulk of foreign honey (at least 60 percent or more) is sold to the food industry for use in baked goods, beverages, sauces and processed foods.  Food Safety News did not examine these products for this story.

Some U.S. honey packers didn’t want to talk about how they process their merchandise.

One who did was Bob Olney, of Honey Tree Inc., in Michigan, who sells its Winnie the Pooh honey in Walmart stores.  Bryant’s analysis of the contents of the container made in Winnie’s image found that the pollen had been removed.

Olney says that his honey came from suppliers in Montana, North Dakota and Alberta. “It was filtered in processing because North American shoppers want their honey crystal clear,” he said.

The packers of Silverbow Honey added: “The grocery stores want processed honey as it lasts longer on the shelves.”

However, most beekeepers say traditional filtering used by most will catch bee parts, wax, debris from the hives and other visible contaminants but will leave the pollen in place.

Ernie Groeb, the president and CEO of Groeb Farms Inc., which calls itself “the world’s largest packer of honey,” says he makes no specific requirement to the pollen content of the 85 million pounds of honey his company buys.

Groeb sells retail under the Miller’s brand and says he buys 100 percent pure honey, but does not “specify nor do we require that the pollen be left in or be removed.”

He says that there are many different filtering methods used by beekeepers and honey packers.

“We buy basically what’s considered raw honey. We trust good suppliers. That’s what we rely on,” said Groeb, whose headquarters is in Onsted, Mich.

Why Remove the Pollen?

Removal of all pollen from honey “makes no sense” and is completely contrary to marketing the highest quality product possible, Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, told Food Safety News.

food-safety-news-good-honey-sample.jpg“I don’t know of any U.S. producer that would want to do that. Elimination of all pollen can only be achieved by ultra-filtering and this filtration process does nothing but cost money and diminish the quality of the honey,” Jensen said.

“In my judgment, it is pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it’s even safer to assume that it entered the country uninspected and in violation of federal law,” he added.

Richard Adee, whose 80,000 hives in multiple states produce 7 million pounds of honey each year, told Food Safety News that “honey has been valued by millions for centuries for its flavor and nutritional value and that is precisely what is completely removed by the ultra-filtration process.”

“There is only one reason to ultra-filter honey and there’s nothing good about it,” he says.

“It’s no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China,” Adee added.

The Sioux Honey Association, who says it’s America’s largest supplier, declined repeated requests for comments on ultra-filtration, what Sue Bee does with its foreign honey and whether it’s u
ltra-filtered when they buy it. The co-op markets retail under Sue Bee, Clover Maid, Aunt Sue, Natural Pure and many store brands.

Eric Wenger, director of quality services for Golden Heritage Foods, the nation’s third largest packer, said his company takes every precaution not to buy laundered Chinese honey.

“We are well aware of the tricks being used by some brokers to sell honey that originated in China and laundering it in a second country by filtering out the pollen and other adulterants,” said Wenger, whose firm markets 55 million pounds of honey annually under its Busy Bee brand, store brands, club stores and food service.

“The brokers know that if there’s an absence of all pollen in the raw honey we won’t buy it, we won’t touch it, because without pollen we have no way to verify its origin.”

He said his company uses “extreme care” including pollen analysis when purchasing foreign honey, especially from countries like India, Vietnam and others that have or have had “business arrangements” with Chinese honey producers.

Golden Heritage, Wenger said, then carefully removes all pollen from the raw honey when it’s processed to extend shelf life, but says, “as we see it, that is not ultra-filtration.

“There is a significant difference between filtration, which is a standard industry practice intended to create a shelf-stable honey, and ultra-filtration, which is a deceptive, illegal, unethical practice.”

Some of the foreign and state standards that are being instituted can be read to mean different things, Wenger said “but the confusion can be eliminated and we can all be held to the same appropriate standards for quality if FDA finally establishes the standards we’ve all wanted for so long.”

Groeb says he has urged FDA to take action as he also “totally supports a standard of Identity for honey. It will help everyone have common ground as to what pure honey truly is!”

What’s Wrong With Chinese Honey?

Chinese honey has long had a poor reputation in the U.S., where – in 2001 – the Federal Trade Commission imposed stiff import tariffs or taxes to stop the Chinese from flooding the marketplace with dirt-cheap, heavily subsidized honey, which was forcing American beekeepers out of business.

To avoid the dumping tariffs, the Chinese quickly began transshipping honey to several other countries, then laundering it by switching the color of the shipping drums, the documents and labels to indicate a bogus but tariff-free country of origin for the honey.

Most U.S. honey buyers knew about the Chinese actions because of the sudden availability of lower cost honey, and little was said.

The FDA — either because of lack of interest or resources — devoted little effort to inspecting imported honey. Nevertheless, the agency had occasionally either been told of, or had stumbled upon, Chinese honey contaminated with chloramphenicol and other illegal animal antibiotics which are dangerous, even fatal, to a very small percentage of the population.

Mostly, the adulteration went undetected. Sometimes FDA caught it.

In one instance 10 years ago, contaminated Chinese honey was shipped to Canada and then on to a warehouse in Houston where it was sold to jelly maker J.M. Smuckers and the national baker Sara Lee.

By the time the FDA said it realized the Chinese honey was tainted, Smuckers had sold 12,040 cases of individually packed honey to Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Sara Lee said it may have been used in a half-million loaves of bread that were on store shelves.

Eventually, some honey packers became worried about what they were pumping into the plastic bears and jars they were selling. They began using in-house or private labs to test for honey diluted with inexpensive high fructose corn syrup or 13 other illegal sweeteners or for the presence of illegal antibiotics. But even the most sophisticated of these tests would not pinpoint the geographic source of the honey.

food-safety-news-Vaughn-Bryant-honey-tester.jpgFood scientists and honey specialists say pollen is the only foolproof fingerprint to a honey’s source.

Federal investigators working on criminal indictments and a very few conscientious packers were willing to pay stiff fees to have the pollen in their honey analyzed for country of origin. That complex, multi-step analysis is done by fewer than five commercial laboratories in the world.

But, Customs and Justice Department investigators told Food Safety News that whenever U.S. food safety or criminal experts verify a method to identify potentially illegal honey – such as analyzing the pollen – the laundering operators find a way to thwart it, such as ultra-filtration.

The U.S. imported 208 million pounds of honey over the past 18 months. Almost 60 percent came from Asian countries – traditional laundering points for Chinese honey. This included 45 million pounds from India alone.

And websites still openly offer brokers who will illegally transship honey and scores of other tariff-protected goods from China to the U.S.

FDA’s Lack of Action

The Food and Drug Administration weighed into the filtration issue years ago.

“The FDA has sent a letter to industry stating that the FDA does not consider ‘ultra-filtered’ honey to be honey,” agency press officer Tamara Ward told Food Safety News.

She went on to explain: “We have not halted any importation of honey because we have yet to detect ‘ultra-filtered’ honey. If we do detect ‘ultra-filtered’ honey we will refuse entry.”

Many in the honey industry and some in FDA’s import office say they doubt that FDA checks more than 5 percent of all foreign honey shipments.

For three months, the FDA promised Food Safety News to make its “honey expert” available to explain what that statement meant.  It never happened. Further, the federal food safety authorities refused offers to examine Bryant’s analysis and explain what it plans to do about the selling of honey it says is adulterated because of the removal of pollen, a key ingredient.

Major food safety standard-setting organizations such as the United Nations’ Codex Alimentarius, the European Union and the European Food Safety Authority say the intentional removal of pollen is dangerous because it eliminates the ability of consumers and law enforcement to determine the actual origin of the honey.

“The removal of pollen will make the determination of botanical and geographic origin of honey impossible and circumvents the ability to trace and identify the actual source of the honey,” says the European Union Directive on Honey.

The Codex commission’s Standard for Honey, which sets principles for the international trade in food, has ruled that “No pollen or constituent particular to honey may be removed except where this is unavoidable in the removal of foreign matter. . .”  It even suggested what size mesh to use (not smaller than 0.2mm or 200 micron) to filter out unwanted debris — bits of wax and wood from the frames, and parts of bees — but retain 95 percent of all the pollen.

Food Safety News asked Bryant to analyze foreign honey packaged in Italy, Hungary, Greece, Tasmania and New Zealand to try to get a feeling for whether the Codex standards for pollen were being heeded overseas. The samples from every country but Greece were loaded with various types and amounts of pollen. Honey from Greece had none.

You’ll Never Know

In many cases, consumers would have an easier time deciphering state secrets than pinning down where the honey they’re buying in groceries actually came from.

The majority of the honey that Bryant’s analysis found to have no pollen was packaged as store brands by outside companies but carried a label unique to the food chain. For example, Giant Eagle has a ValuTime label on some of its honey. In Target it’s called Market Pantry, Naturally Preferred  and others. Walmart uses Great Value and Safeway just says Safeway. Wegmans also uses its own name.

Who actually bottled these store brands is often a mystery.

A noteworthy exception is Golden Heritage of Hillsboro, Kan. The company either puts its name or decipherable initials on the back of store brands it fills.

“We’re never bashful about discussing the products we put out” said Wenger, the company’s quality director. “We want people to know who to contact if they have questions.”

The big grocery chains were no help in identifying the sources of the honey they package in their store brands.

For example, when Food Safety News was hunting the source of nine samples that came back as ultra-filtered from QFC, Fred Myer and King Sooper, the various customer service numbers all led to representatives of Kroger, which owns them all. The replies were identical: “We can’t release that information. It is proprietary.”

food-safety-news-Sue-Bee-honey-ad.jpgOne of the customer service representatives said the contact address on two of the honeys being questioned was in Sioux City, Iowa, which is where Sioux Bee’s corporate office is located.

Jessica Carlson, a public relations person for Target, waved the proprietary banner and also refused to say whether it was Target management or the honey suppliers that wanted the source of the honey kept from the public.

Similar non-answers came from representatives of Safeway, Walmart and Giant Eagle.

The drugstores weren’t any more open with the sources of their house brands of honey. A Rite Aid representative said “if it’s not marked made in China, than it’s made in the United States.” She didn’t know who made it but said “I’ll ask someone.”

Rite Aid, Walgreen and CVS have yet to supply the information.

Only two smaller Pacific Northwest grocery chains – Haggen and Metropolitan Market – both selling honey without pollen, weren’t bashful about the source of their honey. Haggen said right off that its brand comes from Golden Heritage. Metropolitan Market said its honey – Western Family – is packed by Bee Maid Honey, a co-op of beekeepers from the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

Pollen? Who Cares?

Why should consumers care if their honey has had its pollen removed?

“Raw honey is thought to have many medicinal properties,” says Kathy Egan, dietitian at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.  “Stomach ailments, anemia and allergies are just a few of the conditions that may be improved by consumption of unprocessed honey.”

But beyond pollen’s reported enzymes, antioxidants and well documented anti-allergenic benefits, a growing population of natural food advocates just don’t want their honey messed with.

There is enormous variety among honeys. They range in color from glass-clear to a dark mahogany and in consistency from watery to chunky to a crystallized solid. It’s the plants and flowers where the bees forage for nectar that will determine the significant difference in the taste, aroma and color of what the bees produce. It is the processing that controls the texture.

Food historians say that in the 1950s the typical grocery might have offered three or four different brands of honey.  Today, a fair-sized store will offer 40 to 50 different types, flavors and sources of honey out of the estimated 300 different honeys made in the U.S.. And with the attractiveness of natural food and the locavore movement, honey’s popularity is burgeoning. Unfortunately, with it comes the potential for fraud.

Concocting a sweet-tasting syrup out of cane, corn or beet sugar, rice syrup or any of more than a dozen sweetening agents is a great deal easier, quicker and far less expensive than dealing with the natural brew of bees.

However, even the most dedicated beekeeper can unknowingly put incorrect information on a honey jar’s label.

Bryant has examined nearly 2,000 samples of honey sent in by beekeepers, honey importers, and ag officials checking commercial brands off store shelves. Types include premium honey such as “buckwheat, tupelo, sage, orange blossom, and sourwood” produced in Florida, North Carolina, California, New York and Virginia and “fireweed” from Alaska.

“Almost all were incorrectly labeled based on their pollen and nectar contents,” he said.

Out of the 60 plus samples that Bryant tested for Food Safety News, the absolute most flavorful said “blackberry” on the label. When Bryant concluded his examination of the pollen in this sample he found clover and wildflowers clearly outnumbering a smattering of grains of blackberry pollen.

For the most part we are not talking about intentional fraud here. Contrary to their most fervent wishes, beekeepers can’t control where their bees actually forage any more than they can keep the tides from changing. They offer their best guess on the predominant foliage within flying distance of the hives.

“I think we need a truth in labeling law in the U.S. as they have in other countries,” Bryant added.

FDA Ignores Pleas

No one can say for sure why the FDA has ignored repeated pleas from Congress, beekeepers and the honey industry to develop a U.S. standard for identification for honey.

Nancy Gentry owns the small Cross Creek Honey Company in Interlachen, Fla., and she isn’t worried about the quality of the honey she sells.

“I harvest my own honey. We put the frames in an extractor, spin it out, strain it, and it goes into a jar. It’s honey the way bees intended,” Gentry said.

But the negative stories on the discovery of tainted and bogus honey raised her fears for the public’s perception of honey.

food-safety-news-honey-samples-tested.jpgShe spent months of studying what the rest of the world was doing to protect consumers from tainted honey and questioning beekeepers and industry on what was needed here. Gentry became the leading force in crafting language for Florida to develop the nation’s first standard for identification for honey.

In July 2009, Florida adopted the standard and placed its Division of Food Safety in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in charge of enforcing it.  It’s since been followed by California, Wisconsin and North Carolina and is somewhere in the state legislative or regulatory maze in Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, New York, Texas, Kansas, Oregon, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia and others.

John Ambrose’s battle for a national definition goes back 36 years. He said the issue is of great importance to North Carolina because it has more beekeepers than any other state in the country.

He and others tried to convince FDA that a single national standard for honey to help prevent adulterated honey from being sold was needed. The agency promised him it would be on the books within two years.

“But that never happened,” said Ambrose, a professor and entomologist at North Carolina State University and apiculturist, or bee expert. North Carolina followed Florida’s lead and passed its own identification standards last year.

Ambrose, who was co-chair of the team that drafted the state beekeeper association’s honey standards says the language is very simple, “Our standard says that nothing can be added or removed from the honey. So in other words, if somebody removes the pollen, or adds moisture or corn syrup or table sugar, that’s adulteration,” Ambrose told Food Safety News.

But still, he says he’s asked all the time how to ensure that you’re buying quality honey.  “The fact is, unless you’re buying from a beekeeper, you’re at risk,” was his uncomfortably blunt reply.

Eric Silva, counsel for the American Honey Producers Association said the standard is a simple but essential tool in ensuring the quality and safety of honey consumed by millions of Americans each year.

“Without it, the FDA and their trade enforcement counterparts are severely limited in their ability to combat the flow of illicit and potentially dangerous honey into this country,” Silva told Food Safety News.

It’s not just beekeepers, consumers and the industry that FDA officials either ignore or slough off with comments that they’re too busy.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer is one of more than 20 U.S. senators and members of Congress of both parties who have asked the FDA repeatedly to create a federal “pure honey” standard, similar to what the rest of the world has established.

They get the same answer that Ambrose got in 1975:  “Any day now.”


See “Top Pollen Detective Finds Honey a Sticky Business” on Food Safety News.

August 12

Natural Way to Control Varroa Mites

I am a big subscriber and believer in the Fat Bee Man.  I am now adding mineral oil to my oxalic acid vapor treatment which causes the treatment to stick to the bee and become more effective.  However, it appears just using pure mineral oil can work effectively making this the most natural treatment I have found for these pests.  Watch and learn.  Would appreciate your comments and ideas as well!

August 12

Bees Swarm Berlin, Where Beekeeping Is Booming!

Where the rest of Germany and much of the western world is worried about bees dying off, Berlin and other big German cities have the opposite problem — too many hives.
Where the rest of Germany and much of the western world is worried about bees dying off, Berlin and other big German cities have the opposite problem — too many hives.CreditSean Gallup/Getty Images

BERLIN — They go to the rescue when others would flee. They are the Schwarmfänger, Berlin’s 30 or so swarm-catchers, on call to collect honeybees by the thousands when they gather where people do not want them.

This year, the Schwarmfänger have been very busy.

While much of the Western world is worried about bees dying off, Berlin and other big German cities have the opposite problem — there are too many hives, because of the rising popularity of urban beekeeping. Shoppers at Berlin’s finer organic stores and public markets are increasingly seeing locally grown honey for sale.

“It’s quite hip at the moment, people put up a hive on their balcony somewhere and think they are doing something for nature,” said Alfred Krajewski, 59, one of the volunteer swarm-catchers.

Many newcomers to beekeeping mistakenly see it as a fairly easy hobby, when in reality they have neither the knowledge nor the time for it. Like anyone who gets fed up with a lousy landlord, the bees leave, turning up in seething clumps under eaves, on lampposts or in backyards — and a call goes out to someone like Mr. Krajewski.

August 8

Our “One Day” Honey Stand…So Why Keep Bees?

This is our third year of setting up our honey stand and selling our fresh, local honey from our bees.  This year we sold 100 bottles of honey in 4 hours.  Jax and Harper always look forward to this day and wish we were open more days, but thanks to support of so many friends and family…we cannot make it past one day.  Of course the other reason is because we have such a limited supply of honey.  We only had two hives make it through the winter this year, but we have 12 strong hives right now…so the work begins now on getting our bees ready for the winter.

We were able to pull five frames of honey this year and gathered about 16 gallons of honey from these 5 frames.  We bottle our honey in one pound containers os that we have more to go around.

Our customers seem to like this dripless squeeze bottle which allows them to capture even the last drop of honey.  This year I had about 200 bees in the honey house join me as I spun out the honey.  It appears my front doors will need to be replaced as they have rotted out and the bees can get in. The good news is they pretty much left me alone and focused on enjoying exposed honey.  I knew I had to continue and decided to leave them alone and hoped they would provide me the same courtesy…and they did.

Let me just say that there is a great deal of manuel labor, care, and expense that goes into keeping bees.  While I did recover some of my expenses this year, I am a long way from being called a profitable business.  I remind myself that my main reason for getting into bee keeping was to teach my grandkids a skill and provide them with a hobby which would be beneficial to our good earth.  From this prospective my beekeeping continues to be a grand success.  They love the bees, love taking care of them, love eating their honey, and of course love marketing and selling their honey.  These lessons are priceless and inspire me to forge ahead as a beekeeper and a teacher of beekeeping as well.  There are other reasons I keep bees too and why we need more beekeepers.  I found this article below from a website I often visit called Bee Built.  For those interested you can set up a hive at our bee Apiary and learn the art of beekeeping “hands on” with me.  The price is right…all lessons are free…you just have to invest in your equipment and book.


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May 30


swarm flyingEvery spring bee swarms land in my yard. In fact, this week not one, but three swarms descended upon me within a period of just 5 days! You may be feeling somewhat jealous of my good luck at this point…So, why am I so popular and what are the best ways to lure a swarm to your yard?

As with everything in beekeeping, it’s best to try to understand things from the bees’ perspective. So, allow me to go into some detail about what is actually happening when bees decide they want to swarm and how they go about choosing their nesting site before I get into details about the best ways to attract them.

Timing is Everything

Depending on your location, swarming can happen spring through fall. However, bees don’t consult a calendar when they are deciding whether or not to swarm, they judge the proper timing by certain conditions that are traditionally found in the spring and summer. They tend to swarm when particularly fine weather coincides with a nectar flow happening. We are in perfect summer-like weather and are simultaneously experiencing a significant nectar flow from the recent rains we received. This combination is creating a strong swarming urge in almost all of my colonies. When you start to see swarm cups in your hives, you know it’s time to put your bait hives and swarm traps out!

adv-lecture-1024x1024Scout Bees

Before a swarm actually departs, it will put a lot of energy into finding the perfect new home. Cue the scout bees! These foragers turned house hunters will seek out ideal nesting locations often spending 30 minutes or more thoroughly evaluating the site. This process can take days and the more attractive a site is to the swarm, the more scouts will appear. Having witnessed this behavior many times in my own front yard, it often starts with one to two bees hovering around their potential home. I can always tell when this is happening because the bees seem to be scanning the surface and entrances very carefully. On one occasion, I even witnessed several scout bees who stayed overnight! If the scouts approve of the site, they will shortly be joined by many more scouts who will all perform the same thorough examination. As the swarm gets closer to “moving day” the number of scouts will surge. I often see as many as a hundred scouts investigating a nesting site the day before the swarm arrives! During this site evaluation period, it is important not to disturb anything or you might dissuade the bees from settling there. Scouts from a single swarm will scout as many as 10 different nesting sites, often narrowing the choices down to two or three by the end.

2015-05-05 14.08.25-1The Trap 

Much ado has been made about what kind of cavity a beekeeper hoping to lure a swarm should construct. In my experience doing live bee removals, I see swarms move into all kinds of cavities, but they do seem to have favorites. I often joke that swarm catching hopefuls should simply start composting or set up an owl box! There is some research to suggest that bees prefer cavities of a certain volume and lean towards homes with small entrances. Thomas Seely in his must-read book, Honeybee Democracy went to great lengths to test and study swarm behavior and came up with some figures on a swarm’s preferred dimensions. He found that swarms like nesting cavities of that are approximately 40 liters with entrances that are approximately 2 inches. Seely also found that height plays a role in the attractiveness of a nesting site (bees like to nest an average of 21 feet from the ground), but I have caught and lured most of my swarms close to the ground and height makes things more complicated for the beekeeper. So, I am going to advise that you save yourself the extra trouble and set your traps within 10ft of the ground. This brings us to what one should use as their cavity. You can buy light weight swarm traps and mount them high in the trees or even on the side of your house if you want to forgo my advice about height. The light weight quality of these traps is probably their one real advantage. I used one last year and caught two swarms in it. One mounted 20 ft high in a tree, the other mounted to the front of a client’s house, about 15ft up. Some people prefer to build their own traps to precise dimensions, but I have never understood this. The simplest swarm trap is whatever hive you intend to keep your bees in. If you are using a Langstroth hive, a single deep is conveniently close to 40 liters. If you are using a Top Bar Hive, it might be advisable to create a smaller cavity within it using your follower boards. Luring a swarm to their permanent home will save you the trouble of having to transfer them and the bees are less likely to abscond in this scenario since they get to stay in their chosen home.

2015-05-27 13.32.00The Bait 

Baiting your hives is critical for luring a swarm and I have heard of everything from lemon scented Pine Sol to melted slum-gum. I say, go ahead and try them all! Just don’t overdo it. I once had a student who coated the entire inside of her hive box with lemon grass mixed with beeswax. It was a goopy mess with a scent so strong, it overwhelmed my nose! You only need a small amount of bait to attract your bees. If you use too much, it can have the opposite effect. When using the trap I mentioned before we utilized a pheromone lure in a small vial, but I catch most swarms just by leaving out empty equipment with old brood comb in it. Bees love living in locations where other bees have lived before and if theres already comb inside, it’s like finding a furnished apartment! Don’t worry about how perfect the combs are. I’ve even witnessed swarms who bring in a clean up crew before they move in. Scouts drag out debris and I’ve even seen them chewing away at moldy combs in the days prior to moving day. Keep in mind scout bees must find your trap before they can decide to move in. Bait helps this along, but if you aren’t seeing any bee activity, you might want to consider putting a sugar water feeding station nearby. Seely discovered in his research that most scout bees start out as foragers so, if you can attract foragers to your location, there is a chance some of them may scout your swarm trap!


If you successfully lure a swarm, be careful not to disturb them for the first week. When the bees arrive they will immediately start building comb and the queen will start to lay eggs, but new comb and eggs aren’t a big enough investment to hold the bees to their location. A disturbance could cause them to abandon the nesting site in favor of another. If you wait a week, the eggs will have hatched into larvae by then and this will compel the bees to stay even in the face of a hive inspection. After a week I do recommend you look in on your new bees. Not all swarms are created equal. Some are queenless or come with a virgin queen. Therefore, it’s important that you inspect them and search for eggs to verify that your colony is queenright and the queen is laying! Please remember also that bee swarms are always docile at first, but once they get established their temperament can change dramatically (be especially aware of this if you live in an Africanized zone).

April 16

Six Myths About Mason Bees

Six myths about mason bees

(Article from the Honeybee Suite)

Wherever you find beekeepers you are likely to discover plenty of misinformation, fodder for the old joke about ten beekeepers having a dozen answers. It doesn’t even matter what kind of bees they keep, which means mason bees are no exception.

Don’t get me wrong—I adore mason bees and I have kept them for ten years, problem free. They are fun to watch, easy to raise, and they are excellent spring pollinators. Nevertheless, they alone cannot save the world, in spite of what anyone tells you.

Which bees are masons?

Before I get to the myths, let’s clarify what bees we’re talking about. In its broadest sense, the phrase “mason bee” can refer to any bee that collects materials from the environment and uses those materials to build a nest for rearing its young. However, when melittologists (the people who study bees) use the term mason bee, they are usually referring to several genera in the family Megachilidae.

The Megachilidae family is a large group that includes leafcutting bees, resin bees, woolcarder bees, and of course mason bees. The family includes bees that collect all kinds of stuff, such as leaves, petals, pebbles, mud, fibers, plant resin, or sometimes things like builders’ caulk. Depending on the species, they can be pretty open to new ideas. These bees often have large jaws that they use to collect their treasures. In fact, Megachilidae means large jaw or large lip.

Myth one: all mason bees are native

When bee scientists refer to mason bees they are usually referring to bees in the genus Osmia, which in North American includes about 130 different species. When non-scientists talk about mason bees they are usually referring to Osmia lignaria, the blue orchard bee. But on the east coast, folks may be referring to Osmia taurus or Osmis cornifrons, both introduced species.

So there’s your first myth. Not all mason bees in North America are “native.” Osmia lignaria is native, and so are many others, but those other two popular species (also known as the taurus mason bee and the hornfaced bee) are most definitely not. Like the European honey bee, they were brought here for a specific purpose and have since spread across the landscape.

Myth two: mason bees don’t sting

The second myth has to do with stings. I hear it all the time, “Mason bees don’t sting.” That’s an interesting theory, probably started by someone who never got nailed by one. Mark my words, mason bee females have stingers and they know how to use them.

On the other hand, each time I’ve been stung by a mason bee it was my own fault. The first time it happened, one walked up my arm and got under my watch band. I didn’t know it, of course, and when I moved my arm, the band tightened and she let me know. The sensation was so light I wasn’t sure if it was a sting or not. I wasn’t sure until the spot raised up and turned red like a mosquito bite. It lasted about 15 minutes and then disappeared.

My other mason bee stings were similar and barely detectable, but I think it’s important to understand that they do sting. People who choose to get mason bees because they are allergic to honey bee stings should be wary. Would they react in the same way? I have no idea, but I would not assume mason bees are safe for a highly allergic person. Check with your doctor first.

Myth three: masons can replace honey bees

No chance. While mason bees are highly effective pollinators, the ones we normally raise are short-lived spring bees. They work great in orchards, but they disappear for the year before most crops begin to bloom. Although they make an excellent addition to honey bees, they will never be able to replace them.

The same problem applies to most bee species. Because honey bees live in a colony where the workers are constantly replaced, the colony stays active all year long. This means honey bees can pollinate whenever they have flowers and weather warm enough to fly. On the other hand, most native species are active only six to eight weeks per year, so flowers are dependent on many different bee species to do the work.

Myth four: you need to buy mason bees

If you are not a commercial operator, you do not need to buy mason bees. In fact, last year in a bumble bee identification class, a member of the Xerces Society was asked, “Where is the best place to buy mason bees?” The speaker was adamant and forceful in his reply, “Do not buy bees!”

The audience member persisted and asked more specifically, “What if I buy them from — (she mentioned a well-known supplier)?” His answer: “Do not buy bees!”

Then she asked about leafcutters, and he replied, “Do not buy bees!”

Why? Because most native bees live their lives in a very small area, one they are adapted to. Once you begin shipping them around, you also ship whatever diseases and parasites they might have. In addition, you are putting them into an environment they are not accustomed to and they may die.

When you look at honey bees and bumble bees, you can see the damage done by shipping. We have assured that honey bees all over the continent have shared their diseases and parasites. We have shipped infected bumbles bee around to the point where an entire group of species is in rapid decline and faces possible extinction.

Why do we want to repeat this folly with mason bees? Why can’t we learn from our mistakes? I have to side with the Xerces Society on this one. Distribution of native bees should be strongly discouraged along with sell-back programs. If they are not native to your own backyard, they are not really native.

If you want to raise mason bees, put up mason bee housing and be patient. You will get a few the first year, more the second year, and after a while you will have many. They will be locally adapted, strong, and free from imported ailments.

Myth five: you must clean and bleach cocoons

Cleaning and bleaching of mason bee cocoons is not something that happens in nature. It becomes necessary when you have large single-species populations living in close quarters. Many of the common diseases and parasites have always been there at background levels, but their numbers become amplified when the host population becomes congested. If you have thousands of mason bees, you must control diseases and parasites.

Several years ago, I wrote to native bee specialists at UC Davis and the American Museum of Natural History asking about cleaning and bleaching. Their answers were the same: if you are not running a big operation, cleaning and bleaching is not necessary. For the backyard mason bee keeper with a garden and a couple of pollinator condos, no interference is necessary. If you are not running a factory farm, levels of pollen mites and parasitic wasps normally will not exceed background levels.

Myth six: masons will save the planet

No one bee species will save the planet. Not masons, leafcutters, nor honey bees. Saving the planet is up to us, not the bees. The standard advice holds true for all species of bees: reduce the use of pesticides, plant a wide variety of flowers and flowering trees, leave undisturbed patches of ground for soil-nesting bees, and provide habitat strips and water. To those I will add another: leave the bees where they are. Let them come to you. We can’t buy and sell nature because buying, selling, and redistributing is not natural at all.

Honey Bee Suite

April 16

The Pesticides in Our Own Backyards

The Pesticide in Our Own Backyards

(Article from Honeybee Suite)

Silence is a powerful thing. I was on my way to the compost bin when I noticed an enormous mound of dead bees in front of my strongest hive. No buzz issued from the landing board. No industrious thrum from above. The absence of sound shattered the morning.

I was dumbstruck. When I opened that hive on the previous day, bees boiled from the top. Beneath them, rows of glistening cells demanded a second honey super. The colony had overwintered without a hitch and was looking like a winner. But that was yesterday.

This article first appeared in American Bee Journal, Volume 159 No 1, January 2019, pp. 77-79.

Today the colony was dead. Except for multiple frames of brood, some of it emerging as I watched, virtually no bees were left. Although most were on the ground with tongues extended, many had fallen between the frames, their lifeless bodies blocking the entrance.

I didn’t need to look further because I had witnessed this haunting scene before. Here today, gone tomorrow. Like the 50,000 bumble bees in an Oregon parking lot, my bees were destroyed by the careless application of pesticide.

The bees in the adjacent hive hadn’t a care in the world, or so it seemed. They came and went, darting into the sky and disappearing from view. Others jammed the entrance, heavy with pollen and purpose. Little did I know they were next.

Assigning Blame

When people complain about “the pesticide problem,” they often point to Big Ag. It’s easy to fault large corporate farms because they are, well, large and corporate. And because they are in a nebulous “other place,” it’s easy and comfortable to assign blame. While it’s true that many modern farms use an enormous amount of pesticide—probably way too much—they don’t have a corner on pesticide use. Not by a long shot. In fact, if pesticides were kept on the farm, my bees wouldn’t be dead.

I live in a rural area dominated by forest. Here, enormous trees like Douglas fir, western red cedar, and big-leaf maple grow like weeds. No farms dot the landscape. No animals graze in planted fields. Instead, most land that isn’t in trees is zoned rural residential.

The person who wiped out my bees was not a farmer but most likely a homeowner, someone who noticed bugs—maybe even bees—on a flowering tree or shrub and decided to “take care” of them. Most people have no idea that a plant in flower shouldn’t be sprayed, or why. Most have no idea that harm may come from their actions.

Home Pesticide Use

Not much has changed in the last thirty years. Way back in 1989 I wrote an editorial about home pesticide use for the newspaper where I worked. At the time, much controversy surrounded government spraying for the Mexican fruit fly in southern California. Although the city gave plenty of advance notice and did all their spraying at night, people were worried. While I understood their concern, I felt that the pesticide abuse I saw all around me was a bigger problem.

Not a week earlier I had watched a women at the newspaper office empty an entire can of flying insect killer on a hapless spider. The rest of us were left to breathe the fumes and clean the greasy spot from the baseboard. Meanwhile, not being an insect nor capable of flight, the spider sidled off, damp and annoyed.

To me, the women’s actions represented the difference between knowledgeable agricultural use of pesticides and emotional, irrational use of pesticides by people who don’t understand their power. The woman injected all those chemicals into our environment, not caring what else might be injured. She didn’t bother to see if it was the right formula for the job, nor did she consider collateral damage to her officemates. She didn’t measure the amount, and she didn’t figure her costs—a few dollars to inconvenience one spider is ludicrous.

And please don’t think I’m picking on women. I’ve watched my neighbor carelessly spray his fence line while his two preschool children played beside him, breathing the fog. The girl ate a candy bar while the boy shot a plastic dart into the pesticide-soaked grass, retrieving it again and again. The dad probably thought the stuff was harmless, and maybe it was. But do you really want to test that theory on your kids?

Pesticides are Expensive

Conversely, growers who use pesticide have a completely different mindset. If they don’t consider their costs, they won’t be able to stay in business. Not only are pesticides expensive to buy, but so is the equipment used to spray them, and the help hired to apply them.

Because the expense is great, growers are careful to identify what they are trying to kill. In an effort to control costs, they use the recommended rate of application, the optimum timing, and the proper method of distribution. It is easy to forget that farmers have a tremendous financial incentive to use as much as necessary, but as little as possible. They don’t think like our spider lady, who operates under the theory that if some is good, more is better.

We Are the Enemy

While it’s true that some tracts of agricultural land are doused in chemicals, people like us—homeowners, building supervisors, and land managers—are making the pesticide problem worse than it needs to be.  It seems we have a cavalier attitude about our own pesticide use while we view the modern farm as an evil dispensary of poison.

Instead of squashing a bug or pulling a weed, we prefer to spray the interlopers with something we can’t see. Something that just “disappears” after we use it. Except it doesn’t.

If you want some insight into how much pesticide goes into homes and gardens, just take a folding lawn chair into your local home-improvement store and have a seat in the pesticide aisle. For a truly spectacular display, choose the first warm day of spring. The bags, bottles, and boxes fly off the shelves faster than the employees can stock them. Thousands of pounds go out the door, yet most of the labels will never be read and most of the precautions will never be heeded.

Bugs are Bad

No, Big Ag did not kill my bees. Most likely it was a person who sprayed a tree in flower. Many people spray when they see any type of insect, even if they don’t recognize it. Others spray to avoid getting stung or bitten. In the meantime, a foraging honey bee returned to her hive and reported a rich cache of nectar. Following her instruction, her nest mates gathered at the site and, by the end of the day, all were dead.

Although a few people want to kill anything that moves, I believe that most simply don’t understand the consequences of spraying. Even when the label says, “Must not be used when plants are in flower,” many don’t understand why that is important. One woman told me she heard that pesticides can make the flowers wilt, but she tried it and her flowers are fine. An older man told me the warnings meant the chemicals would mask the flowers’ fragrance, but since he couldn’t smell, it didn’t matter to him.

I don’t know when we became so careless about pesticides. Most of us don’t remember when school children were dusted with DDT and read Dr. Seuss cartoons featuring Flit bug killer.1 Nevertheless, I’ve always thought that selling pesticides in the grocery store is a bad idea. It makes them feel safe. After all, we are generally not fearful of things sold alongside our food. When we toss a can of insecticide into the cart along with potatoes, baby food, and pork chops, it seems harmless. They wouldn’t sell it in a food store if it were dangerous, right?

The Largest Irrigated Crop

In terms of acreage, the largest irrigated crop in America is lawn. People use weed killers, insect killers, slug killers, mole killers, fungus killers, and moss killers to keep it green and flat. Every season seems to require a different chemical which someone is happy to provide. Then we water the lawn with our ever-diminishing water supply, and let it run off into our increasingly polluted streams, rivers, and lakes. Then we mow it—powered by fossil fuels that send carbon dioxide into the over-loaded atmosphere. What a system.

The history of lawns is a fascinating study of social pressure. Apparently, lawns developed as a status symbol in England back when only royalty could afford such a luxury. Everyone else needed every square foot to grow food and graze animals. Because grass lawns required resources instead of providing them, they became a demonstration of excess and wealth.

Soon, people all over the world tried to prove their worth by planting lawns. Grass lawns cropped up everywhere and now cover 40 million acres of the lower 48 states. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, US lawns require 3 trillion gallons of water, 200 million gallons of gas, and 70 million pounds of pesticide annually.2

But the table has turned and we’ve become slaves not to the king, but to our lawns. We grow lawns to impress our neighbors—or so I’ve been told—but when is the last time you were impressed by someone’s grass? How often do you say, “Mr. X must be really important and successful, because look at his lawn!”?

Worse, legions of homeowner associations and local governments mandate that you maintain a lawn that suitably represents the community. People get fined or cited for not following the protocol, yet we are damaging our environment in service of something that has little value. How will we ever turn the tide on pesticide use if perfect lawns are required by law?

A Problem of Excess

Let’s think about one of those homeowners for a moment. He is a law-abiding citizen who just sprayed his lawn to avoid the wrath of the lawn police. Now that he’s done, what should he do with the pint that’s left in the bottom of the sprayer? He thinks for a moment, then decides to apply the rest. It doesn’t really matter that he’s already spread the maximum recommended dose because, seriously, what else would he do with it?

If you add together all the extra pints that are applied because the homeowner or property manager doesn’t know what to do with it, that alone would probably make a tidy profit for the manufacturers. It’s like ketchup. The profit in ketchup is stuck to the insides of the bottle. Even if it’s only five percent, if millions of people use only 95 percent of each bottle, the manufacturer can sell a heck of a lot more ketchup.

Luckily, more ketchup isn’t hurting anyone unless you consider all the extra plastic bottles that end up in the ocean. But the extra pesticide is probably hurting something—perhaps your honey bees. Or maybe it destroys some beneficial insects, like those that eat the dead things that would otherwise pile to the sky. Or cute things like lightening bugs that once charmed generations of children.

We Can’t Have It Both Ways

Yes, silence is a powerful thing. In retrospect, I was lucky because I lost only two colonies of honey bees. The others, further away, found different places to forage and were spared. For that, I am grateful.

But the colony deaths reminded me of the larger problem. We cannot expect commercial growers to operate without these powerful products as long as we demand them for our own use. We cannot expect changes in policy as long as we are unwilling to step on a spider or pull a dandelion.

No, Big Ag did not kill my bees. They were executed by someone not too different from you and me. They were doomed by a person doing what he thought was right, using a product with a label too confusing to decipher. I honestly don’t blame the individual. Instead I blame a society that encourages short-sighted thinking and devalues the natural world.

If we stopped spraying the things we grow at home, if we stopped planting lawns or at least decreased their size, imagine the opportunity for pollinators, beneficial insects, and the magical creatures of our childhoods. We simply must remember that the best place to begin fixing the pesticide problem in right in our own backyards.

Honey Bee Suite


  1. Allen W. 2008. The War on Bugs. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing.
  2. Talbot M. (2016. September 30). More Sustainable (and Beautiful) Alternatives to a Grass Lawn. Retrieved from
April 16

How Honeybees Get Their Jobs

How Honeybees Get Their Jobs

(Click link above to watch video and see article published by National Geographic.  Very interesting!

With brains the size of sesame seeds, honeybees have to work together in different capacities to maintain a healthy nest.

Every honeybee has a job to do. Some are nurses who take care of the brood; some are janitors who clean the hive; others are foragers who gather nectar to make honey. Collectively, honeybees are able to achieve an incredible level of sophistication, especially considering their brains are only the size of sesame seeds. But how are these jobs divvied up, and where do bees learn the skills to execute them?

Unlike in Jerry Seinfeld’s “Bee Movie,” real honeybees don’t go to college and get a job assignment from an aptitude officer upon graduation. Instead, they rely on a mixture of genetics, hormones, and situational necessity to direct them. Honeybees are born into an occupation, and then their duties continually shift in response to changing conditions in the hive.

“The jargon we use is that it’s ‘decentralized.’ There’s no bee in the center organizing this,” says Thomas Seeley, author of the book Honeybee Democracy. “Each bee has its own little set of rules, and the labor is sorted out by the bees following their rules.”

Watch World’s largest bee, once presumed extinct, filmed alive in the wild

Born this way

A bee’s job is determined by its sex. Male bees, or drones, don’t do any work. They make up roughly ten percent of the colony’s population, and they spend their whole lives eating honey and waiting for the opportunity to mate. When the time comes for the queen to make her nuptial flight, all the drones in other colonies will compete for the honor of insemination. They fly after the queen and attempt to mate with her in mid-air. If they mate successfully, they fall to the ground in a victorious death. The queen will mate with up to twenty drones and will store their spermatozoa in her spermatheca organ for the rest of her life. That’s where male duties end.

Female bees, known as worker bees, make up the vast majority of a hive’s population, and they do all the work to keep it functioning. Females are responsible for the construction, maintenance, and proliferation of the nest and the colony that calls it home.

A bee’s sex is determined by the queen, who lays eggs at a rate of 1,500 per day for two to five years. She has the unique ability to designate which eggs will develop into female workers and which will become male drones.

Watch Amazing Time-Lapse: Bees Hatch Before Your Eyes

If the queen approaches a smaller worker bee cell to lay a female egg, she will fertilize the egg on its way out by releasing spermatozoa from her nuptial flight. She has enough spermatozoa stored in her abdomen to last the duration of her life.

If the queen approaches a larger drone cell to lay a male egg, on the other hand, she will not release any spermatozoa as the egg leaves her ovaries. This unfertilized egg will develop into a drone.

Domestic duties

It takes 21 days for the worker bee to grow out of her larval state and leave the cell. When she emerges on day 21 as an adult bee, she will immediately start cleaning the cell from which she hatched. Her first three days will be spent cleaning cells to prepare them for the queen’s next round of eggs.

After three days, her hormones kick in to initiate the next phase of work: nursing the young. Seeley explains that hormones are released to activate different parts of the bee’s genes assigned to different tasks. “It’s similar to when humans get sick,” he says. “Sick genes that are involved in inflammation and fever get turned on. Likewise with bees and their jobs.”

A worker bee will spend about a week nursing the brood, feeding larvae with royal jelly, a nutritious secretion that contains proteins, sugars, fats, and vitamins. The exact number of days she spends on this task depends on where the hive needs the most attention. Bees are very sensitive organisms whose hormones are closely tied in with the colony’s needs. “A colony of honeybees is, then, far more than an aggregation of individuals,” writes Seeley in Honeybee Democracy. “It is a composite being that functions as an integrated whole.” The colony is a well-oiled superorganism, similar to ant and termite colonies.

The most dangerous job

When the bee is finished nursing, she will enter the third phase, as a sort of utility worker, moving farther away from the nest’s center. Here she will build cells and store food in the edge of the nest for about a week.

A bee’s hormones will shift into the final phase of work at around her 41st day: foraging. This work is the most dangerous and arguably the most important. It’s only done by older bees who are closer to death. As Steve Heydon, an entomologist at the University of California, Davis, puts it, “You wouldn’t want the youngest bees doing the most dangerous job.” If too many young bees die, then the hive wouldn’t be able to sustain itself.

As the worker bee approaches her fourth week of nonstop work, she will sense her end of days and remove herself from the hive, so as not to become a burden. If she dies in the hive, her fellow bees would have to remove her corpse.

Thus is the life of a female bee during the active seasons of spring and summer, compulsively working from the day she’s born until the day she dies. It’s a thankless life of nonstop work, but honeybees, as a result, are some of the most successful collaborators we’ve found in nature.