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!
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:
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”.
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”
He was interviewed recently on NPR’s ” Fresh Air”
Listen to his interview here
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.
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.
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.
Having 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:
It was a rough winter, and a very strange spring here in Santa Fe. It all started when a black bear came into the yard last fall, tipped over one of the hives and ate a bunch of honey. The queen was killed in the process. I collected what combs were left, added them to the two remaining hives, and moved them to a friends yard about 10 miles away. The ordeal was too much for one of the two hives and it died out over the winter, leaving me with just one colony. This spring I brought back the hives and kept an eye on the one colony. The entire colony seemed listless; the queen was laying in a very spotty manner, with no drones ( and that indicates a very weak bunch of bees ) I read up on bee diseases and guessed that they might be having some sort of digestive illness, called nosema which causes dysentery. What to do? After reading about all kinds of treatments, I decided to treat them with Nozevit, an all natural plant food supplement that is known for curing digestive ailments in bees. I mixed the Nozevit with with a sugar solution and sprayed each comb of bees . The idea is that as the bees lick the sugar water off their bodies they take in the medicine and it helps restore their digestive functions. I then left them alone for a week. During that time we had some wonderful and welcome rain ( over 2.5 inches in 4 days) You could almost hear the trees and shrubs giving out a big sign of relief! I checked on the colony yesterday, and the colony is buzzing! The queen is laying a lot, and the workers seem much more animated. Was is the rain? Was it the Nozevit? Or did the bees just get off to a late start? I have heard that often times the queen ( especially the dark colored Carniolian queens) sometimes just wait and then kick into high gear in late spring. Whatever it was…. I am relieved. It looks like the bees in this hive are real survivors, indeed!
What a year! Late spring frost killed all fruit tree blossoms….. no nectar or pollen for the bees and no fruit for us. I added one more hive and had to replace a queen in another hive. It was a terribly dry spring with no rain until June….. it really stressed out the bees. Rains came, wildflowers bloomed and the bees began producing as if it were spring. I harvested only about 10 pounds of honey as the hives were still only about ½ full of comb. Then the bear attacked and took out one of the hives, ate half the honey and the queen died from all the commotion. I was able to collect and harvest another 5 pounds of honey from the damaged combs and added the remaining good combs to the other hives. I relocated the hives to a friends yard about 10 miles away, where they are spending the winter. I’ll bring the hives back to my yard in the Spring. So what is there to do? Well…. I packaged up the honey and gave it as Christmas gifts to friends and family. Then I used some of it to make the Zimmerman holiday specialty; German Lebkuchen, using a recipe handed down from my grandmother. It’s basically just honey, flour, eggs cinnamon and citron. So good. And now I am making bee inspired glass tiles with my own kiln. This all keeps me busy as I await the spring. I’ll let you know how the remaining two hives have fared over the winter when it begins to warm up in March. I hope 2014 will be a more successful year for the bees than this past one!
Until then, Happy New Year to all!
Went out to Jannine’s farm yesterday to check on the three hives that I had to quicky move after a bear got into the yard and tore one of them up. As I feared, the queen did not survive the attack, and without her, the colony is doomed. It is too late in the year to find a replacement so I transferred the remaining combs and bees to the two other hives. Bees are very territorial, and vigorously defend their own hive from other bees, so it’s not a good idea to just move bees from one hive to another. To get around this, I placed a sheet of newspaper at the last bar of the strong hive, folding it around the edges to keep the bees to one side. Then I poked a number of holes in the paper so that the bees could pick up the odor of the bees on the other side. Then I took half of the combs from the damaged hive and placed them next to the newspaper. Once the hive is closed up, the original bees on one side…the orphan bees on the other side…they will begin to chew through the newspaper. By the time they open up the holes and pass through, they will have become accustomed to the scent and won’t attack each other. That’s what is supposed to happen. I’ll give them a couple days and then go back to see if they have assimilated or if there is total civil war going on! Before closing up the hive, I placed a baggie of sugar water into the bottom of the hive, picking a number of pinholes into the upper side of the bag. The sugar water will very slowly ooze out as the bees drink it up. This will give them a safe and close supply of sugar.
Meanwhile….. a juvenile black bear was found up a tree just at the end of our block. Could this have been the culprit? Hard to say, as there have been 10 different bears sighted in the city this past couple of weeks. Animal control was called and they were able to tranquilize it and move him back up to the nearby hills. Bears found wandering the city are tagged. There is a “three strike” policy in such cases. After the third capture in the city, the bears are relocated far away in the Jemez mountains to the west of Santa Fe. This was this bear’s first strike…I hope he settles down for a long winters nap soon!