bees, take 3

On Thursday, I went to check on my bees and was a little alarmed to see that they had taken up almost ALL of the available space in the hive.  Saturday morning, I let the dog out and noticed a dark blot in the very top of my fig tree.  About 20 feet up.  I got out the binoculars (closer at hand than my glasses) and gasped to see this:

This swarm was about three times the size of the swarm I'd captured  in March.  I guessed that they'd come from my over-full hive, and a quick check through the window showed that it was still quite full, but not so full of bees that I couldn't see the comb.  I sent my bee mentor an email, and within an hour, Richard was over with his swarm capturing equipment.  We got the bees, but it took almost 2 hours.

After we knew we'd gotten the queen, we checked on my hive.  Richard explained that the old queen leaves the hive with 60% of the worker bees when they swarm.  Typically, they do this after they've capped several new queen cells, which you see here:

That peanut-shaped bump is a queen cell, filled with royal jelly and bee larvae.  To the right, you see some raised bumps, which are drone brood, and the flat capped cells are worker brood.  We found five capped queen cells, plus several other empty queen cups.  Because Richard raises queens, I had him take three of the five capped queen cells back to his apiary.  In another few days, the new queens will emerge, determine which queen will be queen (it's a death-fight), then take her mating flight.  After that flight, she'll spend the rest of her life inside the hive, laying eggs.  Unless, of course, the colony outgrows its space and they swarm, in which case she will leave with 60% of her colony and begin again.

Because my intention with beekeeping is increasing bee health and the bee population, I'm happy to see my colony grow and divide like this.  If I were keeping bees for honey, swarming would mean less honey for me to harvest, but that's secondary.

Interestingly, late Saturday afternoon I got an email from Rebecca detailing her family's swarm adventure.  Seems to be the season!

Later this week: more pitchers and maybe some mishima.

Have a lovely week!


This past week I spent more time worrying about my bees than doing anything else.  The city mosquito truck came by and I noticed some bees on their backs, little legs flailing, inside the hive.  I called Vector Control and had my house taken off the spray route, and plan to cover the hive the next time they come spraying.  We already knew that the spray was bad for bumble bees and butterflies, and the supervisor I spoke with was very responsive and concerned about my hive, which I appreciated.  Then, later that day, when I went into the hive to really do a full check (something I do every couple of weeks, and I'd noticed some problems I needed to take care of), I let one of the frames of honey, quite large and weighing almost 10 lbs, get too warm and it collapsed/fell into the hive.  What a mess.  I salvaged about a quart, cleaned up as best I could, and let the bees clean up the rest.   It wrecked my day.  But, I learned what NOT to do next time I go in, and I learned how to manually extract honey and render wax with a top bar hive.  Not the best day I'd ever had, but the results, well, they were sweet.  And my bee mentor came over the next day and helped me do a frame-by-frame inspection to check for mosquito-spray damage and melissa-inflicted damage.  Not much of either.

I also spent a lot of time grinding down my kiln shelves and had to stop before I was ready because an hour + of using the grinder aggravated my tendinitis. Gary ground more for me, but I've realized that I will need to finish the rest in stages, mix the kiln wash and grind/coat several shelves in each firing I do for the rest of the summer.  I hope that new thicker kiln wash will save some of the porcelain-sticking issues I'd been having this spring.

This week will be a busy one.  Two friends are in from out of town, I'm ready to work again, and I've been bit with the purging/reorganizing bug.  Tennis camp (this week and next week) begins in the morning, and I'm ready to get rolling.

Hope yours is a good one.  Night, friends.

bee on wild grape

wild grape
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
I took this photo this morning. I saw movement in the wild grape vine growing on my back fence from my kitchen window and ran out with the camera. This big bumble (or carpenter, 'cause his abdomen is shiny rather than fuzzy) bee was not happy with me. He buzzed me until I backed away, but he was so intent on getting to these luscious flowers that he forgot about me and I snuck in to get this shot. I love it, it just says summer to me. So I'm sharing it with you.

This is the first year I've noticed this vine, but there's been so much activity around it that I'm hopeful that we may have some wild grapes this fall. Regardless of its production, it is pretty right now, and it makes the bees happy, which makes me happy.

bee teapot

bee teapot
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
First, hello! to everyone who is popping over from little elephants, and thanks, Veronique!

Yesterday was my college roommate's birthday. I made this teapot for her as a housewarming gift (for the house she and her husband bought a year and a half ago- I'm a little slow), but sent it for her birthday. She'd requested a bee teapot on one of her visits to Memphis several years ago when I first began making teapots.

I think I made this in November, but the glazing never was right, then my kiln decided to take a 4-month break. Kiln is now working properly again, and a fixative added to my glaze solved most of the streaking/ too thin spots that I had issues with, so after I fired it for the third time last weekend, I loved it up for a little bit then packed it up to send to Hester on Monday. I love the bees peeking through the glaze, I love how the handle fits right above the spout. Sometimes I have problems with handle placement, but this guy may be my archetypal teapot. Even the lid fits perfectly.

I made four honeypots that were fired in this load, but two of the lids broke (I dropped them on concrete) after firing. I hope I'll be able to make new ones, but the rate of shrinkage and the fact that I didn't note the dimensions of the wet pieces mean that making replacements might be difficult. I learn more about what I should be doing with my pottery every day, mostly through my mistakes.

Oh, and here's another fun tidbit. The "not picardie" tumbler may be a gift to the universe. Yesterday I was at a birthday party at the playground at my son's school. The tumbler was in my car, so I used it for water instead of using a disposable cup. Four year-old parties always seem to end in meltdown, so the tumbler was left on the playground. Gary dear went to see if it was still there on his way home. It was not. One of the teachers rescued it, took it home, and said that she'd bring it to school tomorrow. If she doesn't, that's okay. I'm releasing it. Sortof like the cake plates, warped during their glaze firing, that we left on a bridge over a creek in our neighborhood. I was distraught about their Dali-like forms, so Gary decided to gift them to anyone who wanted them. They were in the creek the next morning. I wonder how long it will take for them to be worn down into pebbles. . . .

bee logo

Last week I was at the post office shiping an etsy package. The clerk was unusually chatty and asked me about the bee on my business card (I'd gotten lazy and used it as my return address), if it was a bee simply because my last name begins with a "B." I answered that indeed, that was one reason, but also because Melissa, in Greek, means "honeybee."

I think in my last post about bees I mentioned that the shape of classic bee skeps is an inspiration to me, but the bees themselves are on each piece that I make. This image, and the image on the post, is one that I drew freehand. For the clay stamp, I traced the drawing on tracing paper then laid it over a thin slab of clay and pressed it to transfer the image to the clay. After the clay was leather hard, I took my lino-cut tools and carved out the image, leaving only the areas darkened by pencil marks. After I bisqued it, I used this little stamp instead of signing my pieces. The bee became my signature, as seen here on the base of this teacup. Occasionally, I also use this stamp as an all-over decoration, but I find that unless I go back to stamp the pottery at just the right moment, the piece warps and I have a hard time getting it back into its proper shape. These bee-strewn pieces show up from time to time -there are a few in the production line now- but not often.


You may already know that this little image of a bee finds its way into all of my pottery. It is either stamped into the wet or leather hard clay, or I stamp it on the bottom of each piece with underglaze. And then there are the bee-skep* inspired pieces, the honey pots and butter dishes I've already shown you. I've always loved bees- I've even been known to find bees, drunk on necter, buried up to their hind ends in flowers and very carefully stroke their velvety bodies (please don't try this with honeybees. You'll get stung. It really only works with bumblebees).
Yesterday I met with some "colleagues" (can you call us colleagues when we're vendors at the same market?) from the Memphis Farmer's Market, Richard and Rita Underhill of Peace Bee Farm. My family uses a LOT of honey- we've gone through 4 lbs since November, so I called the Underhills to see if they sold in Memphis during the winter. They happened to be coming into town from Proctor, AR, so they met me at the museum and brought me another 4lb of honey. I enjoyed visiting with them-they are truly the nicest people, have the most lovely honey, and also have wonderful handmade beeswax candles. They said that they would be at the Memphis Farmers Market beginning in April, and assuming that the Memphis Botanic Gardens opens their Wednesday Farmers Market again, I'd expect to see them there, too. Richard and Rita were featured this past October on our local PBS affiliate's "Southern Routes" program, both because of last summer's scary bee die-off, and because they are so knowledgeable and approachable.

I have an essay about bees, my love for them, and their important role in our ecosystem and our food production, but for now, suffice it to say that I love them, and what we love shows up in our lives over and over and over again. More thoughts on bees to come.

* a bee skep is a domed, straw structure that were used to house bees in gardens in England and Europe, particularly Northern Europe. They are no longer used for attracting bees (illegal for housing them, in fact), but are decorative only, because of two things. 1) no way to protect against predators/mites. 2) to harvest the honey, the entire hive had to be destroyed. Sometimes if you see a picture of a bee hive, you're really looking at the skep. The hive is what the bees made themselves inside the skep, hollow tree, or modern wooden bee boxes.