This is less a blog, and more a quick post to share an interesting article about the bees that keep a hive warm in winter. As most of the country is in the middle of this long cold-spell, I’m sure that most of us who are beekeepers are concerned about our hives. We placed candy boards on every hive before we returned to the city, and I hope they add a layer of insulation as well as food. Still, I worry….. and we won’t know how well each hive pulled through until it’s warm enough for bees to fly again.
There are some new-to-me facts in this article, such as why it’s not a bad thing when a queen leaves some cells empty when laying eggs. Enjoy!
During a job interview many years ago, I was asked whether I’d rather be an art critic or an artist. I’ve never figured out what that had to do with being a computer programmer, but I do finally know the answer — I want to be an artist — or at least be creative! I only spent 90 minutes grading this morning before the urge to empty the compost pot became the most important thing in my life, and that led to seeing a bee flying, which led to visiting the bee yard, which led to taking pictures, which led me back to the computer and this blog! To grade, one must be a critic, and I find it hard to “criticize” according the criteria on a rubric. Yes, I agree that it’s a fair way to grade, and, yes, students knew what the expectations were for their oral exam, but the happy feelings that blue skies and sunshine evoke makes it hard to give a student a failing grade! Never mind that my dominant learning style is hands-on activity, my second most dominant is visual, and my least dominant is listening — and here I sit with 17.5 hours of oral exams to listen to. I should not have procrastinated, and I probably shouldn’t be blogging, but just like every other year I’ll get through it somehow.
It’s only 48 degrees out this morning, but the bees are foraging and we want them to have as much stored as possible going into the predicted 20 degree nights next week, so it wasn’t just procrastination that led me down to the bee yard. Cold as it is, there were so many bees on the pollen feeder station that I couldn’t get to the trays and had to scatter the pollen-sugar mix where the bees can get to it but the dog can’t. (Maggie climbed a stack of shipping pallets to get to a pollen tray yesterday — you’d think we didn’t feed her sometimes!) I so enjoy standing there listening to the sound of happy bees, especially on a day as beautiful as today. We are just so lucky to have this little piece of heaven to call our own.
What does any of this have to do with a mule? Not much, but our Christmas present to each other this year was a Mighty Mule gate opener. Well, it was hubby’s Christmas to me, and my gift was to graciously concede that it is money well spent! Even on a good day, having to get out of the car and walk across the gravel to unlock the gate becomes tedious. If I’m wearing anything other than my trusty work boots, the likelihood of a twisted ankle increases with the height of the heel. Rain makes the process even less fun. Last week’s thunderstorm actually made it somewhat hilarious. If we do end up moving here before retirement, we need to somehow be able to get out of the gate in all weather still looking presentable enough to show up at work.
It took hubby a while to install the gate opener, partly because of the instructions, partly because of all the adjustments and settings, and partly because the dog and I were hibernating in the camper instead of helping for much of the time. By the end of the day on Christmas Day, he had everything working, but then spent most of the next day trying to get it to work right! The gate opens fine, and even closes after 30 seconds. The problem was that it randomly re-opened. That doesn’t offer much security and is likely to run the battery down. I searched the Internet for answers on our way to the family dinner and found that many people have problems with the wand that detects when a car pulls up to the gate to leave. Hubby spoke with tech support and tried many things, but the final solution was along the lines of Hotel California — guests who have the code can check in any time they like, but they can never leave! The wand is going back for a refund and hubby will research other solutions.
Well, it’s time to listen to at least a couple more exams — 7 down, 30 to go! It makes me want to curl up with the dog and just take a nap.
As I sat here last night knitting and watching a western that is older than I, it was impossible to not think back to doing the same thing throughout my teenage years. True, instead of being dad’s channel-changer, we now have a remote and don’t have to take the two steps to the T.V. We also had 9 channels, instead of the 3 we both grew up with. And we got to choose what we watched — something that rarely happened when grown-ups were home and the one-and-only T.V. was in the living room. Watching a wildlife episode of NOVA afterwards just reinforced the feeling of stepping back in time. It’s a good feeling.
The deja-vu continues this morning as the fog and drizzle feel very English, although the pine trees do not. My cousin and I have been reminiscing about our big family Christmases, and he has promised to send me pictures of my uncle in his apiary. I never knew he kept bees. I remember the mushroom cellar, wood working shop, the kitchen renovation that took years to complete (I think of him every time I look at our abundance of almost-finish projects!), the incredible garden, and the many other ever-changing interests that made him such an amazing person, but I don’t remember bees. It’s nice to feel connected to him in one more way.
Talking of apiaries, our hives are all thriving. I peeked in two of the small hives yesterday and both have a little sugar left on the candy boards. I doubt the bigger hives have any, but we are less worried about their ability to provide for themselves. The forecast is for temperatures in the high 60s until Christmas, so I’m debating putting one feeder bucket out and then refilling candy boards for the hives that have them. I’ll try lifting the hives to assess how much honey they have left, but will only take lids off long enough to swap out candy boards. I’ll also put a trial tray of pollen substitute and powdered sugar out. The bees either flock to it or ignore it, so I’ll just dump one cup onto a tray that is protected from the rain.
Now that the great basement debate is over, we look forward to starting the foundation for our house in 2018. Ideally we’d finish it and start framing, but I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment if we don’t get that far! There are so very many things that impact what we can accomplish here, but we are overall very happy with our progress. We hope to finish burning the wood piles over winter break, doing some tractor work on the deck and starting some raised beds that may or may not become hoop houses. This year’s batch of magnolia seeds are germinating in the greenhouse in the city and I’ll have a new round of lavender, rosemary, and shrub cuttings to plant by spring break. That reminds me — I have a bag of daffodil bulbs from the Tractor Supply clearance shelf to get in the ground, so I should stop blogging and get to work.
It’s only 62 degrees this morning, but bees in the English hive are already out foraging. It’s no wonder that these bees are well set up for the cold weather that is just around the corner; of all our hives, they have the most honey stored. This is our go-to hive for requeening because the colony has always been friendly, the queens have always been great producers, the bees are hygienic, and the bees are the first out the door to forage.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have a hive that has no stored resources despite all the goldenrod that surrounds the apiary. Our records show that they haven’t stored any resources since we brought them back from the sunflower patch — and they had nothing then. If I’d been able to find the queen yesterday, I’d have combined them with another weak but productive hive. Those guys have increased their numbers by a full frame of bees and they have nectar and bee bread stored. I can’t risk combining them without eliminating the lazy-genetics queen, so they have two weeks to pick up their game! We put a candy board on the hive yesterday (and reduced the entrance down to a single bee width), so maybe that will help them. Maybe it will make them more dependent on us.
We’ve also had to do our part in the preparation. Our varroa mite treatments were interrupted by the two hurricanes that passed close by, but we treated the last hives yesterday. We used Api Life VAR for most of the hives simply because it dissipates and doesn’t have to be removed. We used ApiVar for the last two hives simply because we still had some; we will need to remove the strips after 42 days. We’ve had good results with both products in the past and we do try to rotate treatment methods to prevent mite resistance.
A non-chemical way to break the mite cycle occurs when we requeen because the brood cycle is interrupted. Of course, this is not a method we can take at this time of year. Not treating for mites risks loss of the colony, so to us that is simply not an option. Many experts consider varroa mites to be the main factor in winter colony losses.
The other steps we taken to set our bees up for success are reduction the entrance sizes to help each hive better defend against robbing, removal of queen excluders, and removal of superfluous supers and brood boxes. As temperatures drop, we need to minimize the volume that bees need to keep warm. The queen is not going to lay large amounts of eggs at this time of year, so we only need to allow for enough space to store the last resources naturally available out there. Queen excluders need to be removed because the bees may cluster above the excluder, leaving the queen cold and alone and likely to die. While she’s not laying much right now, they’ll need her in spring! As for robbing — it’s not just other bees that rob. We found a yellow jacket inside one hive yesterday and I blogged about the European Hornets that decimated hives a few weeks ago.
The final thing we’re still battling is small hive beetle infestation. Some hives have almost none, while other hives are mind-mindbogglingly full. Naturally, the hives with the most nectar are most attractive to the beetles, so they got extra beetle blasters yesterday. Two of our hives are always the most problematic, so we’ll relocate those hives in spring to see if that makes a difference. Both have been requeened. Both used to be mean and are now calmer. Mean or calm made no difference in beetle numbers, so we suspect it’s location. Still, the other two hives on the stand have minimal beetle populations, so it’s going to be trial and error to figure out what’s going on with them.
Well, I want to get outside and enjoy another couple of hours among the trees before heading back to the city. We’ve finished all the crucial tasks, so now it’s time to just relax and enjoy — and tire the dog out before sticking her in the car for the 5 hour commute!
If you read my blog from two weeks ago, you’ll know that at that time we did not have a single bee anywhere in our yard — not even on a feeder bucket. Well, we left the bucket out and on Thursday we found a handful of bees feasting away. There were a few more yesterday, and even more today. All of the foragers are young bees, which supports our premise that the old field force was killed off. The timing would be about right for nurse bees to have graduated to being foragers.
Another exciting thing about these bees is that there are some black bees mixed in with the regular Italians. Black bees have a reputation of being aggressive, but they are also known to be resistant to varroa mites. We would love to add some of those genetics to our bee colonies. Black bee numbers were decimated in the early 1900s by tracheal mites, and some thought they had been completely wiped out, but researchers have found some in Europe and in the United States. The ones on the bucket are certainly not aggressive as hubby and I have both coaxed some onto our hands to get a closer look. Of course, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be aggressive around their hive. We plan to leave feeders out over winter even though we don’t have any active hives in our yard. If we can support the local bee population, we are still achieving one of our goals. If we attract another swarm — well, that would be icing on the cake!
While I was watching the bees and listening to their happy buzzing, I noticed leaves on the Flame Azalea in our memory garden. This particular azalea was planted in memory of my aunt as its vibrant colors just reminded me of her. The plant is also a native plant, not a modern hybrid, and Aunt Joan was so very English in all the best ways. I’m not saying she was old-fashioned, because she wasn’t. She was an inspiration, multi-talented, and full of life. I know the azalea is just a plant, but I felt a sense of loss when it died. While I still thought about Aunt Joan every time I looked at the bare twigs (I couldn’t bear to dig it up), that didn’t cheer me up much! I am so happy to see new growth and am looking forward to next spring when it bursts into oranges, reds, and yellows again.
Without much hope, I thought that if the azalea could come back, maybe the Japanese Maple would too. Now this tree marks the resting place of our daughter’s cat, so it doesn’t have quite the emotional connection for me that the other plants in the memory garden have, but when it died, I felt like I’d let our daughter down. The last thing she needs to see when she walks over there is a dead twig! Lo and behold — new buds and one new leaf.
The idea of a memory garden started when a co-worker gave me tulip bulbs to plant in memory of my father. Tulips do not typically regenerate in the heat and the sandy soil of central South Carolina, but these tulips have returned every year. I enjoy seeing perennials pop back up every year anyway, but that joy takes on a different facet when it is combined with happy memories of those who were so loved so much.
The memory garden will be hard to leave behind when we finally move to the farm full time, but we are trying to root cuttings from all the shrubs to take with us. If that fails, we’ll buy new shrubs of the same kind to put in the memory garden we have already started down there. That garden already has English blue-bells and daffodils planted in it. It’s going to take some time to convince the summer weeds to stay out of there, but we’ll win that battle! My parents, Aunt Joan, and hubby’s parents all loved gardening. What better way to remember them all than to dig in the soil and create something beautiful?
Last week, I mentioned that our one hive in the city was abandoned right after the eclipse. The bees were a swarm capture, and they were doing really well, so it was a surprise to walk up there one day and find no bees whatsoever. What’s currently more surprising is that there are no bees to be seen at all in our yard.
Over at my husband’s workplace and the stores around there, bees are searching for resources in trashcans, showing that there is a definite nectar (sugar) dearth five miles from here. Our neighbor at the farm is seeing the same thing — bees are going after what is left in soda cans. This is something we haven’t seen before, and we assume it has something to do with the high winds and the torrential rains from Hurricane Irma.
In hopes of attracting some bees to the back yard and maybe capturing a fall swarm, I put out a syrup bucket early yesterday morning. Our thought was that even if we don’t capture a swarm, we are helping local bees survive until the ubiquitous Goldenrod recovers enough to provide them what they need leading into winter. After two days, we don’t have a single bee on the bucket. I sprayed some extra Honey-B-Healthy around the bucket this morning as that is as enticing to a bee as good cheesecake is to me, but still no bees. I just have to wonder whether the media-induced frenzy about mosquitoes has led to the death of all feral hives within 2 miles of our home, especially considering the EPA-confirmed pesticide kill we experienced last year.
Bees routinely fly up to two miles to find resources, and even further if that becomes necessary. Of course, like us, they will “shop” locally if the “stores” offer what they need. Bees five miles from here are dumpster-diving for sugary drinks with lots of added chemicals; it makes no sense that we do not have a single bee on our zinnias, clover, garlic flowers, or syrup. Here’s hoping that changes soon…..
Better news is that we have very little damage at the farm.
Tree in hive components
Tree in bee yard
Our neighbors had already checked for damage right after the storm, but hubby was actually able to go down and check things out for himself this weekend. One pine came down in the bee yard. While it crushed a few empty hive boxes, it missed all of the hives , and all the hives are happily buzzing now that temperatures are back in the 80s.
A huge, rotten pine that was hung up in a tree along the street edge of the property also came down, smashing the H-brace at the creek end of the fence. We have worried about this tree since before we bought the property because there was no good way to bring it down. It was tall enough to hit the power line if it fell badly, and rotten enough to be a real danger to anyone trying to take it down. Luckily it did what hubby always hoped it would do and split in the middle, dropping half the tree to the ground and (unluckily) the rest of the tree onto the fence. We are just happy that it didn’t damage the power line,.
We have a few other, smaller trees down along the fence and two trees along the driveway that need to come down. We’ll tackle them next weekend when we are both down there — it’s going be a two-person job to bring them down safely.
All-in-all we consider ourselves to be very, very lucky to have not sustained more damage than we did. Our RV suffered no damage and the power wasn’t off long enough to let the ice in the freezer melt. (A country tip for checking to see if the power goes off — put a Dixie cup of water in the freezer and place a coin on top of the ice before you leave. If the coin is still on top when you come back, everything is good. If the coin is on the bottom, you probably want to throw away any food that’s in there!)
Now we’re just hoping the systems currently in the Atlantic stay in the Atlantic! Family in Texas is still drying out from Harvey and we’ll be cleaning up from Irma for a while. Florida simply doesn’t need any more wind or rain for a while. Our hearts go out to all of those who have sustained damage to their homes and businesses and our hearts are full of gratitude to all the people who have given so much to help those in need.
With family in Texas still recovering from Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma a threat to family in Georgia and South Carolina, we’re a little anxious over what the next few days will bring, but also counting our blessings as so many others are in far more dangerous situations. We also have even more opportunities to realize how many wonderful people we know, from friends and family who took time to help hubby secure our hives when they certainly had enough of their own property to take care of to the friend who has opened up her pastures to shelter evacuated horses.
Hubby drove down to the farm to secure the hives and hive equipment as much as possible. He, his brother, and a friend pounded pickets into the ground on either side of each hive and strapped each hive down. The bees appear to know what’s coming because no bees were out foraging, even though they love the buckwheat that is right outside their door. They’re all abuzz inside but didn’t even check out what the guys were doing.
Even my Beverly-Hillbillies-reject lawnmower got it’s own ratchet strap. It’s not pretty to start with, but it’s still better than cutting all the grass we’ve been able to get growing with the push mower. Of course, a bigger concern is our RV. It’s also not the prettiest in the world, but we’ve put a lot of work and a lot of love into our home-away-from-home, and we already have so many good memories of our first 18 months with friends and family at our future full-time home. Still, the RV is of secondary concern to the bees, as they are not only our business but also living creatures that are just trying to get ready for winter.
We’ve already lost our city bees. They were crawling all over the outside of the hive in confusion as we headed into the eclipse a couple of weeks ago. Right after the eclipse, they went back inside, but the guard bees were very aggressive. We came back from the farm the following weekend to find the hive abandoned. A yard without bees is so very strange these days — I still walk up to the hive when I get home from work hoping to find new occupants!
Our thoughts go out to everyone who is in the path of the storm. Put safety ahead of material goods and we’ll see you when the skies clear.