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Swarm!

Spring is swarm season. The queen bee has been busy laying eggs for the past couple months now, and in many hives, it’s beginning to get really crowded.  When the bees sense that they are running out of room, they create three or four queen cells and once they see that the new queen larvae are doing well, the old queen and half the hive simply leave and look for a new home. After they leave the hive they will find a spot to hang out until the scouts have found a suitable cavity  to build a new hive in.  And that is a swarm. Swarm
Yesterday a friend of mine who will was doing some work in a public garden looked over and saw this swarm of bees.  She called me up and asked if I could capture the swarm…. “Oh yes… I’ll be right over”.    OK…. I must admit. I had never done this before, but I had read all about it…. Now I was going to do it.  Lucky for me the swarm was in a honeysuckle bush and easy to get to.  I put a large box underneath the swarm and then gave branch a good shake.
Box under swarm

The entire ball of bees just dropped into the box. .  I collected more bees off the branch by brushing them off into a bucket, then shaking them into the box. I lightly closed the flaps of the box and waited. I saw that the bees were flying to the box and crawling under the flaps into the box!  That’s when I knew that the queen was in the box as well.

Bees in boxI taped up the box, drove home and gently shook them into my empty hive. I added two bars of empty honeycomb that I had saved from last year, and a bag of sugar water to give them some food to eat. Then I closed up the hive.  I was just amazed at how calm and non-aggressive they were throughout the whole ordeal. The next morning, I checked on them and they were just fine. It was if they had always been there.  I will check on them in three or four days to see how the queen is doing….. she should be laying eggs and starting up a brand new hive!

Hive

Honey without pollen

Honey without pollen

Did you know?

Natural unprocessed honey contains pollen. Lot’s of pollen.  And pollen can indicate where the honey was produced.  Food Safety News writes…”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.”  Why is this important?  The U.S. has strict requirements on the quality of honey imported into the country. It must be free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals.  By removing the pollen through ultrafiltration, a country can hide the origin of the honey and thus export honey that normally would not meet the strict standards. Look at the label of your honey container…..  Know where your honey comes from. Bottom line: buy local if possible. To read the entire article click here.

Spring Awakening

We have been having unusually mild weather lately with temperatures in the 50’s. That means the bees are out, but Spring is  still a long way away, and there’s really not much out there to eat.   I noticed that my bees were all over the chicken feeder… I had never seen this before.

Bee's 'n chickens

Bee’s ‘n chickens

Tuns out they’re just getting a little mid-winter protein snack from the fine particles in the chicken feed! I figured it was time to go into the hive and check on the bees.  Much to my relief, the colony made it though the coldest part of winter and the queen is alive and laying brood. I noticed that she’s looking a bit raggedy, and at age 3 probably past her prime.  I could replace her with another queen but I’d really like to see what will happen naturally.  The workers will notice that she is not as strong and will replace her.  This is called “supersedure”.  They do so by putting an egg into a special queen cell and feeding it royal jelly.

Queen Cell

Queen Cell

Since only one queen can occupy the hive, the workers will kill the old queen by “balling” or clustering tightly around her and stinging her.  But I have another plan…… I’ll check the hive often now, and if I see that they have built a queen cell and capped it ( meaning the larva is pupating) I will remove the comb contain the queen cell and put it and a large number of bees from the original hive into a second hive.  They will sense the developing queen and will stay with her until she hatches out. The new queen will fly out, mate with local drones and return to the hive.  Now I will have two colonies . The rest of the bees will stay with the old queen until she dies or they again try to replace her .        Well…. that’s my plan.    Stay tuned!

Longer Days

Have you noticed that the days are getting longer?  No?  Well, the queen bee has.  As the amount of daylight increases, the queen bee senses this change and slowly begins laying eggs.  Not a lot, mind you, as it is still winter and its cold. Nevertheless, the workers keep the queen warm and fed.  Once she starts laying eggs, they will raise the temperature inside the hive to 90° so that the eggs will hatch and begin developing. The pollen and honey that the bees collected last summer will be used to feed the larvae.  The workers won’t leave the hive until the outside temperature gets above 50° and I’m afraid that will be quite a while yet!

Beekeepers in Winter

I’ve written earlier how honeybees survive the winter. But what about the beekeepers?  What do they do? Winter is a good time to clean up the bee yard, rebuild old hives, and build new ones.  If one is lucky enough to have a good supply of wax, many beekeepers make candles and sell them during the holiday season.  I had only a small supply of wax, as I harvested just a few combs this year.  My garden is also sleeping so I have plenty of time to pursue some of my other hobbies.  I have started making native bee houses and selling them here at the Farmers Market. They have been very popular and folks like the idea of having something in their yard that supports the native bees. They are technically “bee nurseries” as the bees use the tunnels in the wood to lay their eggs.  You can read more about my bee houses on this page.  Here are some of my latest creations:

Bee House #1

Bee House #1

Bee House #2

Bee House #2

Bee House #3

Bee House #3

I will make them to order, so if you are interested in one, just reply to me via this blog.  I also have started working in glass, making coasters and small plates and have listed them on Etsy , and my shop is named “SantaFeCraft”.

Bee coaster

Bee coaster

I have the kiln in the garage so I call it my “studiage”.  Keeps me busy and out of trouble.  Hahaha! Come Spring and I will again be busy with my bees, chickens and my garden.  Best wishes to all for the New Year.  May 2015 bring peace, contentment and good health to all of us. And let us not forget all our pollinator friends as well!

Biologist Laurence Packer writes that “humans will be better off if we rely less on honeybees in managed hives for pollination and more on some of the 20,000 species of wild bees.”  in his book, “Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them” Laurence Packer

 

He was interviewed recently on NPR’s  ” Fresh Air”

Listen to his interview here

Native Bee House

Native bee

Native bee

Did you know that honeybees are not the only bees in town?  While a lot of attention has been given to the plight of the honeybee,  “colony collapse disorder”, and it’s impact on  our vegetable, nut and fruit crops, there are many, many native bees that are busy doing the job.  The honeybee ( Apis mellifera ) is not a native bee…. in fact it was brought over by European settlers to provide honey and pollinate crops.  Native bees have evolved with our native plants and are much better pollinators than the honeybee.  Blueberries for example, are almost exclusively pollinated by native bees, and the colorful sweat bees are major pollinators of commercial sunflower, alfalfa and watermelon crops.

Green sweat bee on echinacea

Green sweat bee on echinacea

There are more than 4000 species of native bees in north America.  Most native bees are solitary, which means that they live and raise their brood alone, not in large colonies as does the honeybee.  Most are small, inconspicuous ,  overlooked and mistaken for flies.  The exception to this is the bumble bee and carpenter bee which are giants of the native bees!  About 70% of native bees live in the ground, while the rest live in rotting wood or tunnels in trees and branches.  One of the most beneficial of all native bee groups are the mason bees, so called because they seal up their young with a dab of mud to protect it as it develops.

Blue Orchard mason bee

Blue Orchard mason bee

The Blue Orchard Bee is a more efficient pollinator of fruit trees than the honeybee.  Native bees do not produce honey and will not normally sting, as they do not have a large cache of brood or honey to protect.  The female will lay her eggs in the tubes,  feed the larvae  and then seal it off once it reaches  the pupa stage.   In winter, the adults die, but the pupae remain in the tube, and then hatch out the following spring.  For the most part, native bees usually just produce one set of young a year.

Ranch style Native Bee HouseHaving a native bee house in your yard will not only provide habitat for  native bees but will be a visible reminder to provide a “bee friendly” yard and garden for all pollinators.  It is easy to make, and there are many sites online to show you how it’s done.  Here are a few of the ones I have made.  Place the house so that it faces east to get the early morning sun and then don’t disturb it.  By autumn you should see many of the tubes have been filled up with a mud seal.  Next spring they will emerge and start the cycle all over again.

To learn more about native bees, check out the following sites:

Xerces Society

Pollinator Partnership

Bee Basics: An introduction to our Native Bees

 

 

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