Posts

JUNE HAPPENINGS IN THE HONEYBEE HIVE

By Engrid Winslow

Honeybee on white rose.

This is the time of year when sources of honey and pollen are abundant and you can see the bees busily working in your flowerbeds.

It’s fun just to stand to the side and watch a beehive at this time of year as the bees fly in with full pollen bags and others leave to forage. The bees are not very defensive at this time of year but after the solstice, they start being more protective of honey stores. It’s an easy time for the colony and the beekeeper to enjoy the break from worrying about the colony having enough to eat. Inspections still must continue, however, to be sure that everything is going well with the colony.

The first thing the beekeeper checks for when opening to the colony is the presence of eggs, larvae, newly born bees (these are called nurse bees and their first task is to foster newly hatching bees), stores of pollen and honey and room for the Queen to lay more eggs. If there is no room there are several options, including splitting the hive and leaving the Queen in one hive while allowing the new colony to raise another queen or installing a new queen. Another option is to shift frames around a bit so that there are some empty frames closer to the brood nest. The beekeeper also checks the “pattern”, or density of the capped brood. A good queen will lay in a dense pattern with very few empty cells. “Spotty brood” could indicate a problem varying from a young queen trying to get the hang of brood laying to an older queen in decline.

A photo of a beekeeper examining the hive.Another important task is to try and locate the queen. This can be tricky in large colonies of two deep boxes because the queen likes to run away and hide from the light into a deeper part of the colony. She can also be difficult to locate on a frame filled with hundreds of worker bees and drones. Here is a photoPhoto of a finger pointing at the queenbee among all the other bees.

 

Honey Source Wildflower Mix

 

HONEY DO’S AND DONT’S

By Engrid WinslowHoney Source Wildflower Mix

In order to produce 1 pound of honey, bees will visit approximately 2 million flowers. An average hive of bees must fly 55,000 miles to produce a pound of honey. One bee colony can produce 40 to 100 pounds of honey per year. The average foraging bee makes about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. When you consider these facts, it is truly a miracle that honey is so well-known and widely used. The very first origins of keeping bees and honey is not known but there are drawings from early Egypt depicting the practice. Honey was called “The Tears of Re” (Re, also referred to as Ra, was the Egyptian Sun God).

Honey bee colonies tended by a beekeeper often produce more honey than they need to survive during the cold winter months when there are no blooms. A responsible beekeeper harvests only the extra which is produced in a “honey super”. These are smaller boxes on top of the two brood boxes separated from the hive by a “Queen Excluder”. No brood is raised there and the bees fill it up with excess honey.

Buyer beware if you purchase large jugs of honey at a steeply discounted price. Imported honey is often only a small percentage of honey and a large portion of it is actually sugar syrup. Buy from a local beekeeper, if at all possible. If you don’t know one, check out Farmer’s Markets, fruit stands, small locally owned grocery stores or cheese shops. You can also look for a local beekeepers association and contact them.

Always purchase unrefined honey which has not been heated over 100 degrees and is filtered through a fine mesh strainer. All honey will crystallize over time, some much sooner than others. How you treat the crystalized honey is up to you, but to retain the beneficial properties, warming the container in hot water is the best way to go. Creamed honey is honey that has been pre-crystalized using a starter with controlled, very-fine crystals. Most beekeepers who produce honey to sell are familiar with how to produce creamed honey.

Honey has been used for centuries as a throat-soother for coughs and colds and to treat topical injuries, particularly burns and scrapes. It has also been used to treat animals suffering from “road rash” and in patients with foot problems caused by diabetes or those who suffer from ulcers. There is also strong evidence that honey taken at bedtime regulates blood sugar and causes more restful sleep. Many believe (yours truly included), although there is no medical evidence, that a spoonful of unrefined honey daily will cure, or at least minimize seasonal allergy symptoms. The more local the honey is, the better because the honey contains small amounts of pollen from your particular area. Honey from Boston may not be as beneficial for someone who lives in Los Angeles.

Bees generally forage in a 2-mile radius but may go up to 5 miles to reach pollen and nectar sources. You can help your local honeybee population by not using pesticides and by planting flowers for pollinators such as our Honey Source or Bee Rescue mixes.

Most honey produced by a local beekeeper will be wildflower honey, meaning a mixture of whatever is in bloom.  Varietal honeys such as orange blossom or lavender require that many acres of those crops must be grown near the beehives and the honey supers pulled off the hives when the bloom season is over. It is a lot of fun to try these varietal honeys and notice their smells and flavors. The honey from my hives tastes different every year but is always delicious. Last year I noticed an apple flavor in it which makes sense because I live in an area with many apple and crabapples nearby.

If you want to know more about honey, check out these past blog posts: www.bbbseed.com/april-happenings-in-the-honeybee-hive/, www.bbbseed.com/whats-happening-in-the-honeybee-hive-as-winter-starts-to-close-in, www.bbbseed.com/20532-2/, and www.bbbseed.com/product/honey-source-mix/

 

 

 

April Happenings in the Honeybee Hive

By Engrid Winslow

Image of a queen bee in a hive.

Image by Matthew Greger from Pixabay

 

Beginning in March, as the days lengthen and temperatures begin to warm (at least some of the time!) the bees are starting to raise brood again. April means the delivery of packages and nucs and towards the end of the month established overwintered hives begin to think of swarming. This is a very busy time for beekeepers and bees. With the vagaries of winter, some early pollen sources may not materialize and all good stewards of the bees will put sugar water and pollen patties in their hives. Pollen is critical in raising healthy brood and March is the time when the colonies are running out of the nectar and pollen they stored in the fall for surviving all winter. Losing a hive in the early spring can be caused by starvation although all factors such as mite loads, insecticidal poisoning and other issues should also be considered and evaluated.

As spring creeps ever closer, the most abundant sources of pollen and nectar are available during this time. Brood rearing continues in earnest and beekeepers must watch carefully for signs of swarming. Many beekeepers are eager to add to their hives by capturing swarms and add their names to lists with local and state beekeepers associations. (The swarm hotline number in Colorado if you spot a swarm is 1-844-spy- bees, 1-844-779-2337). Classic signs of swarming include large numbers of bees “bearding” or gathering on the outside of the hive. It’s getting crowded in the hive.

A cell holding the larva of a queen bee.

Image by Franz Schmid from Pixabay

Inside a hive that is beginning to swarm a new Queen is being raised. Queen larvae form in a peanut-shaped cell that is much larger than the cell used to raise worker bees and drones.  They are usually on the bottom or sticking off the side of a frame. Once the Queen cells form, the bees are already committed to swarming and half of the colony (mostly newly hatched workers who can help the most with producing wax for the honeycomb at the new location) will leave with the older Queen. The new queen is left behind but must leave the hive to fly into the “drone zone” for mating, return to the hive and begin laying eggs. Beekeepers can prevent swarming by “splitting” their hives. This involves removing a few frames with capped brood and plenty of “nurse bees” to take care of the newly hatched brood into a new hive body. Some of the honey stores and pollen should also be placed in the new hive. Some beekeepers move a capped queen cell with a larva inside to the new hive and others purchase a mated queen from a beekeeper in the queen-rearing business.

For more information about swarming check out these past blogs: www.bbbseed.com/honey-bee-swarms/ and www.bbbseed.com/19613-2/.

 

The Secret Life of a Queen Bee

by Engrid Winslow

Photo of a queen bee on honeycomb.

photo courtesy of pixabay – maggydurch

 

A Queen Bee begins her life in a vaguely peanut-shaped cell that is larger than the one a worker bee or drone comes to life in. It takes three days for the egg to hatch and no matter what type of bee is being raised, it will be fed royal jelly for the first three days. If the larvae is intended to become a queen, the royal jelly feedings will continue for three more days when the cell is capped and the larvae pupates. The entire cycle lasts for 16 days. Once the queen emerges she needs another week to continue to develop before she leaves the hive on her nuptial flight. Drone bees hang out in an area above tree line where she will mate with about 10 to 20 different drones. She returns to her hive and begins her mission in life – laying up to 20,000 eggs per day. She will never leave the hive (unless it swarms) and will spend her life in the dark being fed and tended to by her daughters. There can be no colony without her.

The beekeeper can recognize the queen because her body is longer, reaching past the length of her wings and legs, and she has a pointed abdomen. Since she is built for egg laying, she has no pollen sacs on her legs and her tongue is short. She also has no glands to produce wax and takes no part in building combs. The color of the Queen can vary from deep gold, to reddish brown and even a brown so deep it looks black. Color has no bearing on whether the Queen is a good one.

A good queen is one that lays a lot of eggs in a very tight pattern referred to as “the brood pattern”. The queen works her way in a circular pattern around the comb in ever wider circles. When checking on the hive the pattern should be densely covered with eggs, larvae and capped brood. This is repeated thorough out the hive and it is up to the beekeeper to make sure that there is always plenty of room for the queen to continuously lay eggs. Lake of space for her to continue her mission is one of the chief reasons for swarming.

You can read more about swarming here: https://www.bbbseed.com/19613-2/ and here: https://www.bbbseed.com/honey-bee-swarms/

 

Bee Boulder Family Festival!

Photo of a bee on a pink petaled flower.

photo courtesy of Pexels – Phillip Mullen

September is Pollinator Appreciation Month here in Boulder, Colorado.  Boulder is home to more than 550 species of native bees and the city has made a pledge to help recognize, protect and celebrate this diverse pollinator population.  All month long there have been activities for both kids and adults including; pollinator story times, a student poster contest, a native bee lecture, and a hive tour to name a few.

This Saturday we wrap up Pollinator Appreciation Month for 2018 with the Fourth Annual Boulder Bee Festival.  Come to help us celebrate our pollinators at Central Park in Boulder from 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM. It will be tons of fun with educational activities, live music, face painting and prizes.  Come by the BBB Seed tent to chat pollinators, flowers or whatever you like. We will have crafts for the kids, stickers, seeds and much more.  Hope to see you there!

Photo of a bee keeper holding up a frame of a bee laden honeycomb

photo courtesy of Pexels – Timothy Paule II

 

HIVE HAPPENINGS IN SEPTEMBER

Two beekeepers in bee suits inspecting a hive.

photo courtesy of pixabay – topp-digital-foto

By Engrid Winslow

Have you ever wondered what beekeepers actually do? Did you think that they just put hives in fields and then visit to collect honey every once in a while? Well, we are going to take you inside the duties of a beekeeper in the first of a series of articles explaining what the bees are up to and how a beekeeper helps them to survive and thrive.

Two jars of golden honey with a honey dipper.

photo courtesy of pixabay – fancycrave1

Honeybees are the only bees that overwinter as a colony and cold weather can be stressful enough that many colonies will not survive without some help from a beekeeper. Even with that help, a hive that is weak or doesn’t have enough food stored or suffers from a mite infestation will not make it through.  Each colony has worked very hard all spring and summer collecting honey and pollen to feed the new brood that the queen spends all day (and night!) laying. They are also storing extra honey and pollen to make it through the winter when there is very little forage (in most parts of the country).  Every colony needs 60-90 pounds of honey to survive the cold season. A responsible beekeeper only harvests whatever extra honey has been stored by the hive. Beekeepers watch their hives grow during the season and add “honey supers” on top of a two-deep hive colony with a “queen excluder” between the hive and the supers. Some hives will produce many of these supers that hold the excess honey – it varies by the colony and by the amount of forage available during the season. The excluder ensures that no brood is laid in the supers. In the early fall, beekeepers check to make sure that the honey stores are capped with wax and proceed to harvest the honey in a variety of ways ranging from using a “capping scratcher” with the frames set over a bucket to using electric or manual extracting machines.

Honey is a marvelous thing to have for personal use, to sell or to give to friends and family as gifts. The National Honey Board website has numerous recipes for all types of dishes using honey as an ingredient.  Check them out at National Honey Board.

There are many other duties for the beekeeper to take care of as the weather cools and, concurrently, the hive is also preparing itself for winter. The queen slows down her egg laying, drones are evicted from the hive and the colony shrinks to a size that can huddle together when it’s cold outside. I’ll share more of this information in my next blog about honeybees.

 

Herbs for the Bees

by Sam Doll

Bees are responsible for at least one-third of our diet! Since these busy little creatures are so important to the food we eat, we thought it would be nice to spice up their diet (as well as ours) with some ideas to make a bee-friendly pollinator garden!

Here are a few herbs that you and the bees will love to eat this summer

Sage: Great for giving that classic flavor to meats and, if you are daring, can be a great addition to some classic adult beverages (check out this Sage Bee’s Knees Cocktail). Sage is a hardy perennial that loves well-drained soil and lots of sunshine, which means it does great in a container. This herb also preserves its flavor past flowering, which means it can feed you and the bees at the same time!

Lemon Balm: A perennial herb native to the Mediterranean, with a wonderfully gentle lemon scent in the mint family.  The fragrant, inconspicuous but nectar-rich white flowers will attract honey bees.  Leave the blooms for the bees for a couple of days, then trim them off to prevent self-sowing.  Lemon Balm is often used as a flavoring in ice cream and lemon balm pesto and in herbal teas.  Use the fresh leaves in chicken or fish dishes as well as with fruit and fruit juices.  The same goes for any member of the mint family (peppermint, spearmint, and catnip included). Basil: Sweet, Thai, cinnamon, lemon, lime, purple, and Christmas are just a few of the basil varieties available to you. Basil is a versatile and easy to grow herb that originated in tropical Asia and has been cultivated for thousands of years.  This warm-weather annual has a refreshing, aromatic flavor that makes it a classic ingredient of many Italian and Southeast Asian dishes. Try using it in a classic Thai basil Soup. Make sure to trim the flowers before they go to seed to prevent the flavor from changing.Green leaves of basil growing in a small pot.

Thyme: An easy-to-grow, drought-tolerant herb used to flavor food, as an antiseptic, and in essential oils.  The leaves of this warm, pungent spice that can be used fresh or dried in many dishes, marinades, and sauces. For an easy dish, try this oven-roasted potatoes and carrots with thyme recipe. Thyme will attract both bees and butterflies!

Chives: The surprisingly beautiful chive blooms are as tasty to the bees as they are to us! The blossoms are oniony and spicy. They are often used to make chive blossom vinegar, which is often used in salad dressing, or just can be chopped up and added to any savory dish for some flavor and color!

Purple blooms of the herb, chives.

Lavender: The most timeless and versatile garden flower around, lavender flowers and leaves can be used in everything from homemade cosmetics to confections. It is especially nice to use in a simple, homemade sugar scrub. The blooms are perfect for attracting all the neighborhood honeybees.Purple lavender blooms with honey bees.

Other great pollinator-friendly herbs are bee balm, chicory, dill, fennel, hyssop, and rosemary.

If you want to get your herb garden jump-started, check out our Essential Herb Garden Collection

 

Honey Bees vs Native Bees

by Becky Hansen

Bees are one of our agricultural industry’s most important resources and indeed one of our planet’s most important resources and the survival of the human race is in the hands of the pollinators The pollinator issue is a hot topic these days, but, there is more to pollinating a crop than meets the eye.  There is great complexity in the relationship between the bees and the plants in an agricultural setting.  The needs of the plant species and the pollinators must match up pretty closely.  When it is all working together everybody benefits!  The farmer has successful crop yields and the bees are happy, healthy and well fed.  The flower structures, pollination method, pollen size and shape, nectar content are just some of the plant qualifications that a bee species looks for when ‘shopping’ for food and nectar.

Some bees such as the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) are polylectic which means that they will be able to find good food sources from many different plant species.  That is why a wildflower mix of several species is really great for the Honey Bee, as the time when nectar and pollen sources are available is lengthened.  Other bees are oligolectic, like the Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee (Megachile rotundata), that is very picky about the plant species that it chooses for its nourishment.  In fact, these bees primarily like alfalfa.  The Honey Bee has specialized pockets on its hind legs where it stores the pollen which it then takes back to the nest for food storage.  The Leafcutter Bee has special hairs on its front where it collects the pollen that is used and stored in the nest where the eggs are laid.  The honey bee is a social bee in that it lives in colonies with males and females with differentiated duties.  This allows for the nests to be collected and moved to various crop locations.  The leafcutter bee is a solitary bee in that, after mating, all females, individually, collect pollen and nectar and build their own nest for eggs and protection. But because they prefer to build their nests in close proximity to other leafcutter bees, they can be lured to man-made nests and can also be transported to other crop locations.

Both of these bee species are so different from each other but both are commercially used to pollinate different crops for just that reason.  They don’t compete with each other for the resources available. Take a bit of time to learn more about the pollinators in your pollinator gardens and look at the flowers that they most frequently go to for food.  Find out their ‘favorites’ so you can plant more of those.  All l those hardworking critters are “‘busy as bees” helping to ‘save the human race’ by making food and agriculture products for you and me.

Watch a movie on setting up a new Honey Beehive: http://youtu.be/tqjP3-6prwM Great learning video about the lifecycle of bees: http://youtu.be/sSk_ev1eZec Watch a Leafcutter Bee making a brood cell: http://youtu.be/EjsZ419lmMY

Making a Leafcutting bee house: http://youtu.be/chCu-pQxpB0

leafcutter bee photo: http://www.ars.usda.gov/images/docs/14415_14609/ALCB1.gif

 

Squash Bees

by Sandy Swegel

My friend and local pollinator expert Niki fretted greatly this Spring because there weren’t any bees in her yard.  She grows her native plants and large vegetable gardens in her yard that is surrounded by typical perfect looking suburban lawns. Despite her pleas with neighbors, they maintain suburban perfection by pouring pesticides and synthetic fertilizers on their lawns, and over time, the bee count in her yard has dropped precipitously.

But there was no fretting during a recent tour of her garden.  There were still very few honeybees but the garden was abuzz with many native bees and native fly pollinators.

Niki eagerly led us over to her huge squash patch.  She did the usual humble gardener thing of apologizing for her garden and how poorly the plants were doing.  Naturally, her plants were double the size of anything in our yards. We walked right into the squash bed as she gently lifted a giant leaf so we could see…a “Squash Bee.”  With great animation, she described how one bee comes early in the morning and throws itself completely over the pollen…and then proceeds to eat all day long.  This bee seems oblivious to us and looked like it was lounging in its own little opium den, covered in pollen and eating as much as it could. Niki lowered her voice and said, “Sometimes there are two bees.”  The male comes first and then is joined by a female…and the two of them spend the day in a frenzy of mating and eating, mating and eating (she watched). Once they finish one blossom, they moved to the next one.

There are two genera of native squash bees, Peponapis and Xenoglossa, and they are specialist bees. Cucurbits are all they pollinate.  And they are very resourceful and start pollinating earlier in the morning before the honey bees are even awake.  So take a look under your leaves one morning and peer deep into squash blossoms.  In areas with healthy squash bee populations, there can be as many as one bee per every five blossoms.  Another marvel of the natural world….hidden in plain view before us.

Of course, while you are peeking under giant squash leaves, don’t forget to look for that pest of the squash kingdom…the squash bug…and pick it off and throw it away.

The International squash bee survey: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Research/docs.htm?docid=16595