Monthly Archives: August 2013

Grumpy Bees and Galactagogues


After reading that one of my favorite beekeeper/bloggers, Rusty at Honey Bee Suite, doesn’t use smoke for her bees, I had gotten into the habit of inspecting my bees without it. The nectar was flowing and the bees were happy, so the difference in their behavior was negligible when I would come poking around. Well, times have changed. It is August and the bees are grumpy! In Oakland’s Mediterranean climate we have not had real rains for months. The landscape is tinder dry and few things are blooming to feed the bees. They get some nectar from irrigated gardens, but we are definitely in a nectar dearth (I feel especially beekeeperly when I use the phrase NECTAR DEARTH!). Apparently bees, like myself and every member of our immediate family, are rather unpleasant to be around if they are hungry.

The first thorough inspection I did after returning from our trip to Idaho in July went sort of how I had feared beekeeping might go before I became a beekeeper. When I pulled apart the frames to inspect a section of comb the noise in the hive would rise and intensify. The sound of thousand of stinging insect growing collectively more angry is something no one wants to hear, and this was new for me. My sweet, docile bees were just not themselves. Heaven forbid I took out a frame out to look more closely- add the visual of hundreds of pissed off bees skittering around. In case I hadn’t already begun sweating, the more aggressive ladies took to the air to dive bomb my face, crashing into my veil with disconcerting frequency. I even got a whiff of the alarm phermone bees give off in order to signal that the hive is under attack and rally more troops to the job of defense. Smells like bananas.

Interestingly enough, I may have made this whole process worse by my recent breastfeeding activities. Enter: the galactagogue! Nope, there is no connection between bees, boobs and space aliens. A galactagogue is something that supports lactation, in this case the herb fenugreek. After the baby finally began sleeping through the night after months of awakening every 1-2 hours, my body had some difficulty catching up with him doing all his nursing during the day. Fenugreek seems to be helpful but it has a fascinating side effect: it makes a person smell like maple syrup. This is in fact how you know you are taking an adequate dose. I find smelling like french toast breakfast to be rather delightful, but I fear it also makes my presence more intrusive to the bees, a species intensely aware of scents.

Needless to say I have come back around to the joy of working with smoked bees. Last inspection I even managed to have enough fuel in the smoker to last the entire time I needed it- miraculous! My girls ignore the giant, syrup scented intruder when they are gorging on honey after being convinced the forest around them is burning to the ground and they will need to fly for their lives at a moment’s notice.

I had to include pictures of this bee because she is one of the few that I have seen that looks like my queens- both are this light, amber-blond color.

I had to include pictures of this bee because she is one of the few that I have seen that looks like my queens- both are this light, amber color. Pretty, eh?