Yesterday I went to the Federation of Middlesex Beekeepers’ Associations annual ‘Bee Keepers’ Day‘. Each year the Middlesex associations (Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, North London, Pinner & Ruislip) take it in turn to host a day of beekeeping talks; this year the day was held in Muswell Hill, North London. Below are my notes from the first speaker.
Graham Royle, beekeeper from Cheshire. ‘Apis through the looking glass’ – a look at what we really see in the beehive.
Graham has been beekeeping since 1988 and started to study for the BBKA examinations in 1995 when he decided he wanted to know more about the bees he was keeping. His studies resulted in achieving the BBKA Master Beekeeper certificate in 2002 and the National Diploma in Beekeeping in 2004 (the highest beekeeping qualification recognised in the UK). He was also awarded the Wax Chandler’s prize in 2002. Not bad, huh?
This year will be my second year as a beekeeper and hopefully I will do a better job than my freshman year. At this moment I just hope the bees survive this roller coaster winter. I know there are still some bees in the hive since I’ve seen dead bees on fresh snow all the time. I would consider it a small but vital victory if I have a new generation of bees born into and multiplying in our garden, as short as life is for them.
Well, since I can’t do much of anything outside or help the bees in any way I’ll just search through a pile of catalogs for plants that are good for bees that I can add to the garden. It just dawned on me that there are many other ways to provide pollen and nectar for bees than just growing plants I find in catalogs. While cataloging photographs I’ve been taken either in our garden or while on vacation, I’ve found some simple facts that I’ve overlooked regarding plants for bees.
There are water plants that bees love, like Waterlilies (Nymphaea) and Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera).
Letting some weeds flower. Bees forage on weeds such as Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), White Clover (Trifolium repens), Goldenrod (Salidago canadensis) and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). Weeds to us but food to them.
Let leafy vegetables flower. Vegetables that we seldom allow to flower because we eat their leaves, like Arugula (Eruca sativa), Broccoli Raab (Brassica rapa), Bok choi (Brassica rapa) and Mizuna (or Japanese greens). Last season I couldn’t pick them fast enough so they flowered and the bees were all over them.
I’ve been letting Goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace grow for many years because I like their flowers. I think I’ll have to make friends with the Dandelions. Then add more of a Sedum I just found in a catalog (so far) for fall foraging.
Here are little happy bees on some plants mentioned above; the 1st three are from vacation on the other side of the planet:
Our bees relocated from Georgia last Wednesday and wasted no time in mapping and foraging about the neighborhood. I guess when you have a short life span you don’t have time to waste. I still feed them with sugar water one or two times a day. On a sunny day they seem to take less from the feeder, but if it rains I have to fill the feeder twice.
I checked on them about 7:40 yesterday morning and found that some of them had already returned from pollen patrol. I hadn’t even finished my first coffee and they’ve already finished making one of their rounds. That put me to shame. But seeing them out and about in the neighborhood makes me happy since that translates into a higher chance of overall survival for them. The problem I have is the difficulty in prying myself away from just watching the comings and goings around the hive. Bee watching is very addictive.
Later in the afternoon, I checked on them again. A lot of them were gathered outside the hive entrance; two different sizes of bees. I briefly panicked thinking my bees were being robbed. Mugged by the locals, so to speak. I promptly narrowed the entrance to a gap so small that only the workers could get through, unknowingly trapping the drones, stuck on either side. I rushed to the beekeeping books and looked up “robbing”. Not finding much information regarding “bee hive robbing”, I turned to an online search. An indication of robbery is bees fighting, not just head to head communicating, maybe 4 against 1 in a fight and a more aggressive attitude.
I rushed back and opened the entrance wider only to find that I had created chaos for them. The larger bees, the drones I had mistaken for interlopers, couldn’t get back in and the ones inside couldn’t get out. I caused a stampede, pretty much. Ten minutes after widening the entrance, everything returned to normal.
Lesson learned? The crowd makes their orientation flights on sunny afternoons. Eureka!