The United Nation has designated May 20 as World Bee Day and this year is the first observance of this day. I’m so happy that the importance of these little pollinators is finally and officially recognized globally. Hopefully it will bring a change in the rules and regulations to help make the environment safer for them, protecting them. You can read more about World Bee Day here.
We keep a couple of honeybee hives in our garden but we don’t just put up hives for our honeybees. We also put some structures up for native bees as well. There is a good variety of native bees in our garden and they are avid pollinators, especially Bumblebees. Some are an annoyance like Carpenter bees which love to drill holes in our patio beams to put their larvae in.
In honor of the World Bee Day, here are some of the little, hardworking friends in our garden.
More information about bees:
Bees in your backyard: A guide to North America’s Bees by Joseph S. Wilson & Olivia Messinger Carril, ISBN 978-0691-160771
Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich, ISBN 978-0691-161358
Bumblebees: Behaviour, ecology, and conservation by Dave Goulson, ISBN 978-0199-553075
Bumble bees of North America by Paul Williams, Robbin Thorp, Leif Richardson & Sheila Colla, ISBN 978-0691-152226
Mason Bee Revolution: How the hardest working bee can save the world one backyard at atime by Dave Hunter & Jill Lightner, ISBN 978-1594-859632
Our Native Bees: North America’s endangered pollinators and the fight to save them by Paige Embry, ISBN 978-1604-697698
Bees of the world by Charles D. Michener, ISBN 978-0801-885730. This is more like a text book.
I see the spring light at the end of the tunnel, a little dim but still a cheerful light of hope. Snow still covers the majority of the garden but in the bare specks there are colors. Crocuses in the front yard bloomed nicely this year. Last year they became deer food. At least deer left the bulbs alone so they came up with a variety of colors. We planted a lot of crocuses in the previous two autumns to provide early spring food for our honeybees. Many of them became food for squirrels, chipmunks, deer and rabbits but the survivors continue to come up in spring before disappearing underground again.
Our back yard is still covered with snow but it’s melting fast with high daytime temperatures. Some tulips and daffodils braved the cold pushing themselves up above it.
And, look at the busy girls. Yes, we call them girls because the worker bees are all female and they’re like our children. The weather is warm enough for them to go out foraging and most of them came back with baskets full of pollen. They’ve also taken in water from the birdbaths.
Spring is here after all. Thank you Mother Nature for giving us a break from the Nor’easter in the last few weeks.
I would like to present you with the image of a warmer day in our garden, the Zephirine Drouhin rose. A climbing fragrant rose that blooms continuously throughout the season. One of many things I anticipate again in June.
About this ‘anticipation’, I got the idea from a free bookmark I received from the American Horticultural Society of which I am a member. There is a quote from W.E Johns on the back “One of themost delightful things about gardening is the anticipation itprovides.” It couldn’t be more true for me.
We all hope for better. We hope our garden will fare better than last year, our beehives thrive, our little friends who stay put survive the winter and our migrating friends come back to visit. We anticipate for better so we won’t lose hope.
Here are some of the anticipated events:
These are just a few of our anticipations for this year. We have been doing our best to give back to nature since she gives us so much joy. It’s our sanctuary amidst this divided world.
As for the world outside our garden, we hope that there are solutions for all conflicts so we stop being so divided and ruining ourselves in the process. We dream of a magic pill that will wipe out hate, bigotry, and selfishness from so many people’s brains, that the world can be a better place to live and a wonderful place to pass on to the next generation. Let’s hope that some of these dreams will come true this year. We cannot lose hope, it’s the only thing that keeps us going. Even if that hope is just a dim light at the end of the tunnel.
Whatever your anticipations and dreams are, we wish they came true for you.
It’s Christmas day but the weather feels more like mid-spring. The temperature has been hovering around 60° F and the bees have been busy feeding on sugar syrup. Some bees prefer fresh Chinese broccoli flowers which are the only flowers left in the garden.
I looked at all the hives and to my surprise they were taking in pollen as well. Not just one or two bees but many of them bringing pollen back to their hives. I have no idea where they are getting pollen from but it’s noticeably two different colors. I hope they are just bringing it back for storage and not for rearing a new brood. It’s the beginning of winter and next week the temperature is expected to drop down between 20-30° F and snow is predicted. We still have two or three more months to go before anything starts to bloom again.
Here are the busy girls taking in Nature’s Christmas gift:
Though the third hive is the smallest, they were busy as well. They widened the hole at the top entrance a little bit. I think it might be too hot for them in there so they needed more air circulation. Two days ago it was almost completely closed and it was a little too wet out side from heavy rain. I’m glad they are still active, since they appeared to build up the hive very slowly. If the winter continues to be mild like this I think they will pull through.
Sunday was a record breaker for high temperatures in New York. With 67º F in Central Park, it breaks a high temperature record set back in 1923. Where we live the temperature was only slightly over 60º F and it was warm enough for the honeybees to come out of their hives, cleaning themselves and looking for food. Daytime temperatures will stay above 50º F for the next couple of days and they will come to forage though there are hardly any flowers left for them this late in the season.
We have insulated all hives for the winter so opening the top to feed them is not an option. We would have to remove the tape, foam, and inner insulation in order to put the feeder in. A front feeder is not an option either because we would have to crack open the entrance to slide it in. Anything we open forces the bees to spend more energy in sealing them again with propolis. So I put the feeder out in the open and let them take whatever they can back to their hives.
The advantage of feeding them this way, aside from not having to open the hives, is that they tend to clean themselves carefully afterward. The surface they are walking on is coated with sugar syrup and dry sugar particles that stick to their legs, body and wings. After taking some sugar syrup, they will land on any dry surface near by, myself included, and clean themselves before flying off to their hives. It’s not only to get sugar off their body, also get mites, if any, off themselves as well.
The disadvantage of this ‘communal’ feeding is that if there is a disease around it would easily spread from hive to hive. As far as I know, there is no one keeping bees within a few miles but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
I took the opportunity to do a mite count. There were hardly any mites on the corrugated sheet with printed grid that I inserted under the screen bottom board. I keep the sheet on from late autumn to spring, not just for mite counting, but to keep other insects from getting in under the hive and to help keep warm air in. I think they can use all the help they can get to keep them going through the deep freeze of winter.
Finished checking for mites, cleaned the corrugated sheet and smeared olive oil on it before inserting it back under each hive. Cleaned birdbaths, added clean water, not just for the birds but the bees drink it too especially when the syrup turns to tiny sugar particles.
Thus ends my record breaking mid-December day chores. After all, the bees are my family and family always looks after one another.
We are having a warm autumn this year. The daytime temperature is still hovering above 50° F on most days but drops back to slightly above 30° F at night. We had frost for a couple of days early on in the season which killed off most of the garden. So there is not much left for the bees.
Honeybees being honeybees, they still come out looking for food when the temperature is above 50° F and to relieve themselves as well. We had fed them in mid-October but now we still worry that their food storage may not be enough for a winter that has not yet come. Since they spend more energy flying around instead of semi-hybernating in the hive during this time of year, they probably have gone through more of their storage than usual. So we are putting sugar syrup out on warm days. They know exactly where the feeder is and zoom right to it. They still go for any flowers they find blooming at this time of year: Alyssum, Chinese broccoli, Broccoli raab and…Saffron.
I should have grown more saffron but I always start small with any newbies. If it fails I haven’t wasted much. My fellow blogger suggested that I may be able to leave them outside since they are hardy to zone 6. I will leave one pot out as an experiment. If they are like other crocuses that bloom in spring (which I grow in the ground) they should be fine. Then I can have plenty of saffron for tea and cooking, and plenty of food for honeybees in late autumn.
I couldn’t believe it has been almost a month since my last post. Not that there wasn’t anything to write about but life has been so hectic. Back to normal again at last and with good news as well.
Four of the hives didn’t make it through winter and the one that showed signs of life we weren’t sure of. So, I placed an order for two new packages bees early on. I wasn’t going to wait since the supplier either runs out or they ship too late in the season for the hive to get established properly before winter.
The post office called today letting me know that I have to pick up the bees. The Post Office will not deliver live animals to an individual home, period. The weather was also on my side: sunny with a thunder storm in the afternoon. So I picked them up and installed them in their new homes.
A few things I do during the installation may be a little bit unorthodox like removing the cork from the opposite end from the fondant. But I figured that the queen had been with the bees for at least three days; it was not like I was introducing a new queen to the hive. Also, with a storm coming, she won’t leave. The installation process had gone well except for the Scotch tape that wouldn’t stick to the frame. That caused an awkward maneuver on my part.
We are very happy to welcome around 20,000 children to the family. And, adding to this, the surviving hive is very healthy and now threatens to swarm.
Here is the hives installation video. Many awkward moments but happy all around at the end.
We have over a foot of snow on the ground and it is threatening to drop another 8 to 10 inches this weekend. The snow itself is not bad for the honey bees but the frigid cold that follows may wipe out our hives. We have seen a few days and nights of single digit temperatures this winter and today is barely above ten degrees fahrenheit.
As tightly as I have wrapped all hives with insulation, this winter is unusually colder than normal so I am keeping my fingers crossed. It was a little bit warmer two days ago, above 30ºF, and not windy. Yesterday I decided to wade through snow up to my knees to check on the hives. I know that if it’s warm enough outside, no matter how high the snow gets, the bees will come out. So I was looking for that sign of death outside the hive that would indicate life inside the hive.
Two out of five hives had some dead bees on the snow in front of the hives. The other three had no sign of activity. I’m so glad to see these dead bees on the snow. It’s an indication that the hive is alive. There have to be a live bees in the hive to carry the dead bees out. But I haven’t give up on the other three hives yet. They may be trying to conserve energy, staying tightly together to pull through the winter. I won’t know until the end of March or mid-April or when it is warm enough to open the hives for inspection and feeding. At this point they are necessarily on their own.
There has been one snow storm after another and the official spring date is still more than a month away. Our garden is covered a foot deep in snow crusted with ice. The cold frame we put up last fall has become an igloo at this point. I have no idea what has happened in there since I can’t have access without digging my way in through snow. I’ve left the honey bees alone. The only sign that there are live bees in the hives is the fresh dead bees I found on top of the snow around the garden.
It was very sunny and no wind today so I braved a low 30º F, in my knee-high boots, to stomp around inspecting the garden. As much snow as there is on the ground, there are many signs that spring is not too far away. I always see the arrival of American Robins (Turdusmigratorius) as an indication that spring will be here soon enough. Today was the second time I’ve seen a large flock of Robins come around.
Aside from Robins, the male Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) no longer keep to their truce. They seem to keep close to their female companions now and chase other full grown males around the yard. The Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) are also looking for nesting spots now and no longer just coming to the garden for food.
The American Goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) are starting to shed their winter coats. There are little bits of yellow tipped grey down here and there on the snow, and the birds are beginning to show spring colors in bright yellow blotches.
With a lineage that stretches all the way back to the dinosaurs, I figure the birds know better than I.
I didn’t expect to see our honey bees until sometime in March when the temperature is a little warmer. But to my surprise, the temperature yesterday shot up to almost 70º F. It doesn’t matter whether there is snow on the ground or not if the temperature is above 50º F the honey bees will come out to clean themselves. They were out in droves yesterday despite it being a cloudy day. It was a relief to me to see the bees from all three hives come out for a warmth break. I wasn’t sure about their condition when the temperature dropped to single digits a couple of weeks ago. Even though we put thick insulation around them, I really don’t know how much cold they can bear.
I have different concerns for each hive since I insulated them for winter: the first one seemed to have more dead bees in front of the hive than the other two, the second one didn’t seem to have much activity, and the third, the smallest hive, may not have enough bees to survive the winter.
Yesterday brought me some relief though. The first hive, despite a lot of dead bees in front of the hive, had even more bees being dragged out. We reasoned that the hive was over-populated to begin with therefore more of them will die out. There have to be a lot of healthy live bees to do the undertaker jobs and yesterday a lot of them did just that…dragging and flying more of the dead out.
The second hive with a lesser population had a busy day as well. There were a few dead bees in front of the hive but there were many bees doing cleaning flights and gathering on the landing board. This is the hive that had been robbed left and right in autumn but it looks like they are managing to hang on.
The third one is the smallest hive and the latest to come to our garden. I did my best to feed them but I wasn’t sure it was enough. During my last inspection before winterizing them, I didn’t see much honey storage or bee population compared to the first two hives. But in the warmth they were busy as well. I’m very happy to see them flying in and out and hope that they will manage until spring. This third hive is the fiercest in defending their home so their toughness may see them through to spring.
The first two hives are fenced in since we have both raccoon and skunk in the area. We didn’t have time to fence the third one so it’s almost an experiment to see if it’s raided by the raccoons or skunks. If not, I would prefer to remove the fence from the first two as well.
Instead of using a mouse guard, I reduced the entrance to only one inch wide. I think it’s harder for mice to get in since the hive is over a foot above ground as well as the small entrance. A smaller entrance in winter also keeps the hive warmer but it causes congestion when the bees want to rush in and out en-masse during their cleaning flights.
I noted that the bees first took out their dead, then started their cleaning flights. Maybe their priority was to clear a path inside the hive first for a better traffic flow.
There were many dead bees in front of the first hive but there were many more flying in and out yesterday. I won’t know until next spring whether the hive has survived or not. I hope this is due to over-population as I counted very few mites last fall or yesterday either and this is the hive that stored the most honey when I last inspected them.
Note: A little good news about honeybees, at least in Europe, in the New York Times on Wednesday 12/18. The article “European Agency Warns of Risk to Human in Pesticides Ties to Bee Deaths” reported that the European food regulators recommended the European Commission to further restrict the use of pesticide neonicotinoids. Hopefully, we can grow food without harming everything in the process… including ourselves.