Happy New Year

In Anticipation Of A Better Year

Happy New Year 2017

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.

Zephirine Drouhin is never a disappointment. It blooms heavily at first then continues to bloom here and there until autumn.
Zephirine Drouhin is never a disappointment. It blooms heavily at first then continues to bloom here and there until autumn.

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 the most delightful things about gardening is the anticipation it provides.”  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:

We anticipate that more Monarch butterflies will be back next year as we have plenty of Milkweed and late summer flowers for them to feed on before they travel back south for their winter hibernation. We hope that children will get to see them in real life, not just on screen, for many more years to come.
We anticipate that more Monarch butterflies will be back next year as we have plenty of Milkweed and late summer flowers for them to feed on before they travel back south for their winter hibernation. We hope that children will get to see them in real life, not just on screen, for many more years to come.
We anticipate the next generation of this Honeybee on Goldenrod will be stronger and more resilient so they can help us humans survive.
We anticipate the next generation of this Honeybee on Goldenrod will be stronger and more resilient so they can help us humans survive.
We anticipate that this summer resident- Baltimore Oriole will bring his children, that were born here, back for a red carpet treatment of fresh oranges and organic jelly.
We anticipate that this summer resident- Baltimore Oriole will bring his children, that were born here, back for a red carpet treatment of fresh oranges and organic jelly.
We anticipate that the Eastern Bluebird which has stayed put with us in the last couple of winters, will bring up more kids, enjoy their communal bath and help rid us of pests. We hope they will continue being our state bird for eons to come since their population has increased in recent years.
We anticipate that the Eastern Bluebird which has stayed put with us in the last couple of winters, will bring up more kids, enjoy their communal bath and help rid us of pests. We hope they will continue being our state bird for eons to come since their population has increased in recent years.

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.  

 

 

 

Winter Pollen

Bringing Christmas Gifts For The Hive

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:

Bees bringing pollen into the first hive
Bees bringing pollen into the first hive
The second hive were busy as well
The second hive were busy as well
More pollen.
More pollen.
One lone bee in front of the third hive
One lone bee in front of the third hive

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.

 

Very Warm Autumn

Feeding Honey Bees In Mid-December

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.

Insulated with 2 inches of foam board and tape all around
Insulated with 2 inches of foam board and tape all around
The smallest hive even sealed off the top entrance with propolis and left only a little, round hole just big enough for one bee to go in and out at a time
The smallest hive even sealed off the top entrance with propolis and left only a little, round hole just big enough for one bee to go in and out at a time
This girl was trying to make a perfectly round hole and I didn't want her work even harder by opening the top
This girl was trying to make a perfectly round hole and I didn’t want her work even harder by opening the top

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.

Bombarding a sugar syrup tray
Bombarding a sugar syrup tray
Some line up neatly along the side
Some line up neatly along the side

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.

A clean bee takes sugar syrup from a bee with legs and wings smeared with syrup
A clean bee takes sugar syrup from a bee with legs and wings smeared with syrup
Another pair doing the same routine, then the clean bee flies off leaving the other bee to clean herself
Another pair doing the same routine, then the clean bee flies off leaving the other bee to clean herself

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.

Honeybee drinking water perched on a stone in a birdbath. I leave a stone in each bird bath to serve as a landing
Honeybee drinking water perched on a stone in a birdbath. I leave a stone in each bird bath to serve as a landing

Thus ends my record breaking mid-December day chores.  After all, the bees are my family and family always looks after one another.

Last Resource

Ode to a Honeybee In Late Autumn

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.

Alyssum, despite being tiny and low to the ground, they weather a light frost quite well. They smell like honey too.
Alyssum, despite being tiny and low to the ground, they weather a light frost quite well. They smell like honey too.
I let some broccoli raab flower and it turned out to be a good thing.
I let some broccoli raab flower and it turned out to be a good thing.
Honeybee collecting pollen from saffron flower
Honeybee collecting pollen from saffron flower

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.

This girl didn't even wait for the Chinese broccoli to open fully
This girl didn’t even wait for the Chinese broccoli to open fully
They also go for the water at the heated birdbath
They also go for the water at the heated birdbath

New Bees

Installing Them In New Hives

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.

Two packages of bees.  This is how they were shipped.
Two packages of bees. This is how they were shipped.

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.

Honey Bee In Winter

Never Been So Happy To See Dead Bees

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.

Each hive is wrapped up with insulation and industrial grade black plastic on the outside for heat absorbtion
Each hive is wrapped up with insulation and industrial grade black plastic on the outside for heat absorbtion
With snow piled up on top and on the ground.  The black spots on the snow in front of the hive are dead bees
With snow piled up on top and on the ground. The black spots on the snow in front of the hive are dead bees
Frozen bee
Frozen bee

Spring Is Around The Corner

Taking A Clue From Birds

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.

Our walkway
Our walkway
A pretty good looking dead bee  on top of snow
A pretty good looking dead bee on top of snow

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 (Turdus migratorius) 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.

Slightly disheveled looking Robin in a tree top
Slightly disheveled looking Robin in a tree top

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.

A male Cardinal staying close to the female
A male Cardinal staying close to the female
A flock of Eastern Bluebirds at one of the feeders
A flock of Eastern Bluebirds at one of the feeders

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.

American Goldfinch starting to show a bright yellow color
American Goldfinch starting to show a bright yellow color
A Pileated Woodpecker also joined the garden party today
A Pileated Woodpecker also joined the garden party today

With a lineage that stretches all the way back to the dinosaurs, I figure the birds know better than I.

Honey Bees in Early Winter

A Warm Day For Stretching And Cleaning

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.

Beehives in snow
Beehives in snow

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.

Bees at the second hive either stay on the landing board cleaning themselves or fly in and out.
Bees at the second hive either stay on the landing board cleaning themselves or fly in and out.
Traffic congestion at the entrance of the first hive
Traffic congestion at the entrance of the first hive

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.

Carrying out the dead
Carrying out the dead

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.

Taking a rest among dead comrades
Taking a rest among dead comrades

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.

Getting Ready For Winter

What I’ve learned From Bees

The weather is getting cooler now and the leaves have started to turn beautiful colors and drop.  There are not many flowers left blooming either.  This is the time that birds get to enjoy fruits and seed heads.  Bees, on the other hand, are busy gathering the last pollen and nectar as fast as they can find it.  The food they are storing now will have to last through winter.  In the last couple of weeks the temperature didn’t climb above 50°F until afternoon.  That’s half a day of food gathering gone for bees.  The weather hasn’t been on their side this year.

This is the time honey bees make the necessary preparations for winter to ensure the survival of their hive.   Aside from packing pollen and nectar in, they also kick out the drones – the male bees.   I’d never kept my eyes on this activity until I read Fate of a drone by Emily Heath which showed a drone chased out of the hive.  I found it interesting that a queen lays less eggs in fall to keep the hive population down over winter and they kick out the remaining drones as well.

I don’t blame them at all since the sole reason for the drone’s existence is to mate with the queen, if he gets the chance.  That is a big ‘if’ as well since a queen mates only once in her life time, albeit with many drones.  Drones don’t forage, don’t clean the cells, don’t defend their hive.  They pretty much just hang out, being fed while waiting to mate.  The worker bees which are all female, do all the work.  However, once the food starts getting scarce, the worker bees will stop feeding the drones and eventually kick them out.  It’s fewer mouths to feed and fewer dead bodies they have to drag out.  The drone may live a fabulous, pampered life when everything is well but when push come to shove, they get shoved out.

Though it is not a choice of a drone to live as it does, its life reminds me of what my mother told me many times growing up; “Don’t borrow other people’s noses to breath.”  The bees just reinforced her maxim.

Busy taking pollen in
Busy taking pollen in
One worker bee helped by blocking his way while the other one was dragging him back out.
One worker bee helped by blocking his way while the other one was dragging him back out.
Though he was bigger, in the end she successfully kick him out.
Though he was bigger, in the end she successfully kick him out.
This drone gave up and was left just hanging out on the side
This drone gave up and was left just hanging out on the side
This one was dumped on the ground in front of the hive
This one was dumped on the ground in front of the hive

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