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
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
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:
Bee Basics: An introduction to our Native Bees
Posted in beehives, general, Native bees | Tagged Native bee houses, native bees, Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society | 1 Comment »
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!
Posted in Bee supplies, beehives, general, Honeybee diseases | Tagged honeybee diseases, honeybee dysentery, Nosema apis, Nozevit | 4 Comments »
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!
Posted in beehives, general, Harvesting honey | 1 Comment »
Relocated bee hives
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!
Posted in beehives, general | Tagged bears, combining hives, feeding bees | 3 Comments »
Broken combs from the bear attack
Last Thursday I woke up to find that one of the bee hives was upended and the honey comb scattered on the ground. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The other two hives were untouched. What could have done that? Then I saw a big pile of scat ( poop ) on the ground in front of the mess. There was no doubt…. a bear had come into the yard, found the hive, tore it open and ate about 1/3 of the honey. I quickly set the hive back up and surveyed the damage. About 5 combs had fallen out and landed as a unit on the ground and were undamaged. I quickly fired up my smoker, put on my veil and carefully put the combs back in the hive. It was so cold ( about 32 degrees out) that the bees were practically motionless on the combs. I sealed up the hive as best I could, and put the top on it. I have no idea if the queen survived. I collected the broken combs and took them inside to harvest the honey out of them. I asked around and fellow beekeepers told me that I must relocate the hives right away because once the bear knows there is food in an area, it will come back each night until all is eaten. I borrowed my neighbors truck and my friend Jannine came over to help me move all three hives to her yard, about 6 miles away. We had to wait until dark when all the bees had returned to their hives… so there we were… struggling to carry these heavy hives to their new location in the dark of night. ( the full moon was a big help ! ) Sure enough, the bear(s) returned again that night, and for the next two nights looking for more food. I noticed that the bird feeders had been pulled down from the tree branches as well. It’s autumn…bears are hungry and looking for food to fatten themselves up for their long winter hibernation. Can’t really blame them. Just have to deal with them. I’ll keep the hives at their new location and probably bring one back to the yard in the Spring. I doubt if the colony survived the attack. I’ll check on it later this week to see if there is any activity. If there is no sign of the queen, then the colony is doomed… the remaining workers will just die off. I’ll put the combs into the two good hives , clean out the old hive and get new bees next spring. That’s nature for you!
Bear scat on the path
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged bears | 5 Comments »
Geoffrey with two full combs
Geoffrey breaking up the comb
Straining the honey
A couple weeks ago my friend Geoffrey came over to help me collect honey from the three topbar hives in my yard. The rule of thumb is to leave about 12-13 bars of comb in the hive to give the bees enough food to last through the winter. Two of my hives had just 13 full combs ( brood and honey) so I left them alone. (The hive can hold 30 bars.) I’d rather leave more honey in the hive than risk them starving. The third hive had 19 combs,, but many of the end bars were only partially built and filled, so we just took out two nice full combs. We took them inside where I cut the comb into squares and put them into special plastic containers. I put the rest of the comb into a colander, gently broke it up and let the honey drain into the below. I ended up with 6 containers of comb honey and 6 jars of honey. Not bad for a year that started off so poorly…. a late frost that wiped out all the spring fruit blossoms followed by a severe drought that lasted through June. Next year, I expect to harvest a lot more, but one never knows what might happen. It’s a challenging environment for raising bees here in Northern New Mexico.
Comb and jar honey
Posted in beehives, general, Harvesting honey | Tagged comb honey, harvest honey | 4 Comments »
It’s been unusually hot and very dry here this year. We’ve had virtually no rain and temperatures have been in the high 90’s for over a week now. This puts a strain on the bee colony. Bees fan the hive to keep it cool, like air conditioning. But when they are unable to keep the hive cool, they will “move outdoors onto the front porch” and that cools them off, not unlike us in the summertime. This is called “bearding” and it usually happens in the afternoon as temperatures rise. The bees move back inside as it cools off in the evening. Check the hive to see that they are not overcrowded….if so, you will need to make a split. If they have plenty of room, then don’t worry, it’s just their way of chillin’ during a hot summer day.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged bearding, hot hive | 1 Comment »