Thursday, April 4, 2019

Making Queen Bees

Every honey bee hive has a queen, and only bees can produce honey bee queens. Queen production peaks in the spring when there are drone bees available to mate with the queens. Timing is critical in queen rearing. I assisted a group of Arkansas beekeepers who performed the steps required to produce a number of queens. Strong and healthy honey bee colonies reproduce on a colony-wide basis by swarming. Swarming is the culmination of a month-long process in which the colony divides and half of the bees fly away to find a new nest. One of the final steps in swarming involves the colony producing one or more queen bees. This natural process of producing queens was replicated by G. M. Doolittle more than one hundred years ago, and the Doolittle Method is used today to produce queens world-wide. This method requires beekeepers to establish a number of different hives for queen production with each hive set-up to accommodate a different step in the queens’ development. Typically, beekeepers establish queen-mother hives, queen-cell-starter hives, queen-cell-finisher hives, and queen-mating-nucleus hives with bees of the appropriate age and necessary food. This hive preparation is often a shared endeavor among cooperating beekeepers. Our early-April queen production effort involved six seasoned beekeepers.

On grafting day, we searched the queen-mother hives for one-day-old larvae to graft into queen cell cups. Worker bees tend to these young larvae and convert them into queen bees. We found that our first queen-mother hive had progressed in its natural manner toward swarming. The queen had stopped laying eggs, and day-old larvae were not available. We found four queen cells produced for swarming, like the one in today’s photo by Desmond Simmons. One queen was actually in the process of emerging as an adult. We used these queen cells to produce four additional colonies. Grafting continued successfully with larvae taken from other hives. At the end of the day we started the development of queens for two hundred new hives.
--Richard

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

An Unexpected Beekeeper

One hundred people quite deliberately headed toward Savannah, Tennessee in spite of extreme rainfall, flooding, and violent weather. They were drawn to the Savannah Area Beekeepers Association’s sixth annual Short Course in Beekeeping. One person, however, a businessman, Paul Durr, braved the weather to attend the meeting by accident. Mr. Durr misread the announcement in the local newspaper. Interested in furthering his business skills, he thought that he would be attending a bookkeeping course—not a beekeeping course. Once he arrived, Mr. Durr decided to stay for the day. He did, after all, have a long-time interest in honey bees, having shared his home with colonies of bees that have lived in the space above his ceiling for 40 years. Mr. Durr sat in on beekeeping sessions throughout the day.

I had the honor of giving the keynote presentation, introducing the new beekeepers to the history of the beekeeping craft by tracing the tradition of beekeeping from its honey-hunting roots with our cave-dwelling ancestors. Training sessions were conducted by invited speakers and talented Savannah beekeepers. Dr. Jeff Harris from Mississippi State University, renowned for identifying honey bees with the Varroa Sensitive Hygiene trait, spoke on developments in breeding parasitic mite tolerant bees. EAS Master Beekeeper Kent Williams described measures for increasing honey production, and Trevor Qualls taught the new beekeepers how to install packages of bees into their hives. Other speakers described the bee hive equipment, methods of feeding bees, catching swarms, and what to expect in the first two years of beekeeping. Conducting a random drawing, “Coach” Lynn Wood, the Tennessee Beekeepers Association’s Regional Vice President, awarded three bee hives to new beekeepers. Mr. Durr was drawn as a hive winner. He was surprised to end his day becoming an unexpected beekeeper. His greater surprise came in learning that “Coach” Wood remembered teaching him years earlier in high school. Today’s photo: TVA releasing two million gallons of Tennessee River floodwater per second at Wilson Dam, Florence, Alabama.
--Richard

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Can Plants Hear Bees?


Whenever I encounter evening primrose plants in bloom, I watch them for a while. These native plants attract a variety of bees and other pollinators. At night, evening primrose is highly attractive to large moths. In the early hours of the morning, fast flying blue orchard bees visit the yellow flowers. Later in the day, butterflies, honey bees, flies, and other insects actively forage evening primrose. In today’s photo a honey bee collects nectar from evening primrose.

Honey bees can detect differences in nectar sugar concentrations of one to three percent, and foraging worker bees seek those nectar sources with the greatest concentrations of sugars. Lilach Hadany, a researcher at Tel Aviv University, questioned whether plants could hear sounds similarly to animals, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/01/flowers-can-hear-bees-and-make-their-nectar-sweeter/. Hadany’s findings reveal that at least one plant, evening primrose, responds to the vibrations of pollinators’ wings. Within minutes of exposure to vibrations in the range of honey bee wing beats (0.2 to 0.5 kilohertz), evening primrose increased the concentration of sugars in its nectar. Hadany’s lab found that within three minutes of exposure to honey bee wing-beat-frequency vibrations the plants increased the nectar sugar concentrations from between 12 and 17 percent to 20 percent. In field observations, her researchers found pollinators around evening primrose plants nine times more frequently after the plants were visited within the past six minutes. The resulting sweeter nectar is naturally more attractive to bees and other pollinators. Since flowering plants, such as evening primrose, depend upon insect pollination for reproduction, any plant that attracts more pollinators has a reproductive advantage. Evening primrose flower petals are shaped like an open bowl. Such shapes concentrate and increase vibrations. The researchers at the Tel Aviv lab found that evening primrose flowers concentrated vibrations of the frequency range of honey bees. The ability of a flowering plant to increase its nectar’s sugar concentration would make it more attractive to pollinators and more likely to be pollinated, the first step in the plant’s reproduction.
--Richard