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Today is the third annual “Real” Food Symposium, held this year at the Sheraton in Pasadena, California. The host is Elaina Luther of Culture Club 101, a tireless advocate of—and educator about—the Real Food Movement.

This is part six of the ongoing blogging today at this event. We just had a break with a snack of cookies and raw milk from Organic Pastures Dairy, and it’s time for the last round of seminars.

Janet Andrews and Kelly Yrarrazaval are co-founders of Backyard Bees, Inc., and they are certainly well-versed in all things bee-related. They have been intimately involved with bees and hives on a professional level since 2007, and one of the co-founders spoke this afternoon about the hierarchy of the hives. She described the three-year life of a queen bee, who begins life in a larger “queen cell” and is fed only royal jelly all her life. Once her smell begins to diminish (roughly three years), another egg is selected and a new queen is incubated.

Worker bees live only about three weeks in spring and summer. Their first job is to act as nurse bees, and as the name implies, they feed the young. Later they clean up the hive and with their wings and the use of water, keep it at a constant temperature, heat it up if there’s a bacteria that needs to be killed, and cool it down when it get too hot. Eventually each becomes an entrance guard, and later he begins a new stage as a forager or collector bee. They literally wear their wings out flying back and forth. Drones do nothing but mate with the queen.

Swarming is normal in the spring, when they are looking for a home. The bees gather around the queen to protect her while the forager bees go looking for a new location.

When the foragers return, they dance to describe their selected spot. If another forager is also dancing, one bee will bump the other with its head. She said that bees will bump a human as well to ask the person to move. They usually do not see a human as an enemy unless the human tries to swat at the bee. Unfortunately, most human-bee interactions I have personally witnessed involve much aggressive gesticulation on the part of the human, resulting in similar countermoves on the part of the bee. Bees only sting as a last resort, as it means death for them.

People can even harvest honey without getting stung if they are gentle with the process.

As the name suggests, Backyard Bees, Inc. rescues and relocates honeybee colonies. They keep bees in other people’s yards, and give a percentage of the excess honey to the property owner. There are hives on the roofs of buildings in the area as well! One warning, however—when you have local hives, there will be thousands of bees walking around on the yard and little kids could step on them and get stung.

She discussed the health of bees—particularly mites—and said she hasn’t ever had to worry about them. She feels the problems take care of themselves when the conditions are right. The difference in the lives and health of bees transported across country from farm to farm, fed HFCS and sent to forage in huge monoculture farms sprayed with pesticides vs. backyard bees who have access to a variety of flowers is readily discernable. When you think about that process, well, it’s no wonder we have a problem with entire colonies disappearing overnight.

So she makes a good case for keeping bees local—very local. A backyard of at least an acre can support two hives. I am tempted, as we certainly have the flowering plants and trees to support a couple of hives, but the constant parade of assorted animals and kids in our backyard give me pause for concern.

One bee makes about a twelfth of a teaspoon in its lifetime, so a large hive is needed for enough excess to share. Although they do make extra, it’s important to leave enough for the bees. (This, I would think, should be self-evident, but perhaps some don’t think about that aspect.)

They like boxes of a certain size (about 16” by 20”) as they need homes and area for combs. Backyards of an acre or so are ideal, and she described the process of moving the bees to a new home. Basically, once the queen is captured, the rest will follow. But they need to be transported at least three miles from their current location or they will just return.

The crowd was full of questions about everything from how a bee’s wings wear out, where they go when they die, and how different types of honey vary. Recommended books? One is Natural Beekeeping by Ross Conrad, and others are found on their Web site.

In the meantime, Dan is finishing up part three of his brewing workshop. I plan to do a separate blog post on that process soon, so for now I’ll just post a picture of Dan’s delicious concoction as a little amuse-bouche for a future post.

And now my husband is getting a chair massage from two ladies who mean serious business. They’ve been giving chair massages all afternoon to conference guests. He’s been standing all day holding a heavy camera, and he’s really been looking forward to this!

The day has been full of so much information—really far too much for posting here.

And if you want to know more, DVDs will be available in a few weeks.

Until next time~