Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Foraging is Hard Work

As a social insect, the honey bee shares work tasks with other bees in its colony. Each bee performs a series of work tasks according to its age. The young bees clean the hive and feed the developing bees, the brood. As the bees age, they take on different roles including cooling the hive, curing honey, removing dead bees, and guarding the hive entrance. Usually the last job that honey bees take on is that of foraging. The foragers collect four items and bring them back to the hive. These are nectar, pollen, water, and propolys. Propolys is “bee glue” made from the saps and gums of trees. It has antifungal and antibacterial properties, and the bees use it to varnish and seal their hive.

Through most of the year, the worker bees have a life expectancy of about six weeks. They become foragers in the last ten to fifteen days of their life. Foraging is the most dangerous task that bees undertake. There are many hazards awaiting the bees as they fly miles away from the hive. These include birds, cars and trucks, rain storms, and chemical sprays. Just flying for miles and miles every day takes its toll on the foraging honey bees. They can be identified by the loss of some of the hairy covering of their body. Sometimes their wings appear tattered and torn. That is the case with this honey bee foraging on the flowers of collards. She has lost some of the hairs on her body, and her wings are visibly frayed. Foragers usually work until they damage a wing so that they cannot make the return flight to the hive. They unselfishly work to support the colony as long as their wings last.

Robber Bees

Honey bees gather nectar secreted from flowers to make honey. The nectar is a liquid composed of sugars and water. Scout bees are constantly searching for new sources of nectar. They report back to the colony on the quality and quantity of their findings. If they find a large source of a high-quality, sugar-rich nectar, they will recruit a large number of foraging worker bees to gather this nectar. They recruit the foragers by doing a dance in the hive, giving the direction and distance from the hive to the nectar. While most of the nectar brought into the hive comes from flowers, the bees will take advantage of any other source of available sugar. They will rob the unguarded stores of honey from a weak colony or gather from any unprotected source of sugar. This is called robbing behavior.

In the photo you can see the results of my leaving boxes of honey unprotected for just a few minutes. I unknowingly induced robbing behavior in one of my bee yards. Scout bees found the frames of honey that I was using to feed bees in small hives used for queen breeding. They entered the boxes of honey in my truck and carried away a considerable amount of the honey. The honey bee can rapidly call up great numbers of foragers to take advantage of a good source of sugar.

Hometown Crawfordsville

Crawfordsville, Arkansas, population 606, is starting a farmers market. Farmers markets are being created in great numbers across the country. The renewed interest in these markets is fueled by a number of factors. For many there is a new awareness in the origin and safety of our food. Many want to try to find foods that are produced locally. They feel like they can find locally grown food that is fresher and more flavorful. Food safety is a concern for others. Many like to follow the Forresters’ Whitton Farms motto, “If you know your farmer, you know your food.” The farmers markets are providing an outlet for local farmers to sell their product. This helps the farmers as well as the local area’s economy. Perhaps the thing that most attracts folks to farmers markets is the social atmosphere that they provide. For many, a visit to the local farmers market is an opportunity to visit with friends on a regular basis.

This farmers market is being organized by a group called Hometown Crawfordsville. They are devoted to bringing about economic revitalization to their town. Crawfordsville, like so many agriculturally-based communities in the Arkansas delta, has slowly declined over recent years. Peace Bee Farm sells much of its honey and bee hive products at farmers markets. Here, Rita and Tod Underhill survey the site of the Hometown Crawfordsville farmers market on Main Street.

Bees Produce a New Queen

Honey bees are social insects. Each honey bee colony has a single queen bee. She is of utmost importance to the colony, as she lays all of the colony’s eggs. The loss of the queen can lead to the loss of the entire colony. To be prepared to replace her if necessary, the colony regularly produces new queens. If the new queens are not needed, the colony kills them. In the photo we can see two queen cells that the colony has produced. They are the elongated structures on the left side of the picture. Queen cells hang down vertically from the combs, while worker and drone cells are aligned horizontally. The photo actually shows all three types of cells. There is a drone cell, shaped like a bullet, on the edge of the lower queen cell. The remaining capped cells all contain developing worker bees.

In the photo we can also see workers with their heads in empty cells in the brood pattern. These bees are cleaning out the cells which were opened to remove bees developing with parasitic mites. Removing the mites in this manner is a genetic trait, called hygienic behavior, which beekeepers try to pass along to other colonies. They do this by grafting larvae from this colony’s queen or moving one of these queen cells to another hive. This is a healthy colony of honey bees.

Tuliptree in Bloom

The tuliptree, also known as tulip poplar or yellow poplar, is in bloom. Tuliptree has a straight trunk and distinctive leaves with four points that resemble the shape of a crown. This large and beautiful tree is a heavy producer of nectar from which honey bees produce a dark colored, robust flavored honey. While not many tuliptrees can be found in the Arkansas delta, a number of them exist on the other side of the Mississippi River. Tuliptrees can be found in the woods and in older neighborhoods like this tree from one of Memphis’ hundred-year-old neighborhoods.

As well as producing nectar for honey bees, tuliptrees are known for producing considerable amounts of honeydew at times. If you click on the photo, you can see that the upper side of some of the leaves appears wet and sticky. This is honeydew, a sugary secretion from chewing insects, like aphids. Honeydew is a sticky substance that is often found covering the surface of cars parked near trees. Honey bees will bring honeydew into the hive and convert it to honey.

The Mustards are in Bloom

Throughout the delta yellow patches of knee-high, yellow flowers define the cool-season kitchen garden that is being left to go to seed. The yellow flowers are the next stage of the salad greens eaten from fall through spring. The greens are members of the important bee plant family, the mustards. These plants provide nectar and pollen for the bees. As well as the greens, the mustard family includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, mustard, and radish. Rape is another mustard, which is often known by its other name, canola.

Click on the photo and you can see that the honey bee is collecting pollen from the flowers of collards. She has the pollen packed onto her pollen baskets on her hind legs. The pollen provides proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals for the bees to use to feed their developing brood. When pollen is mixed with honey, which is carbohydrate, the honey bees have a complete diet. Collard greens are often cooked with turnip, mustard, and kale greens to make an enjoyable dish.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bee Hive Inspection

A springtime inspection of the bee hives reveals strong colonies with bees boiling over the top bars of the frames. While the late winter inspections found only a few frames covered with bees, now most hives have bees covering every frame. This is just what the beekeeper wants to see. Whether the hive is being managed for pollination service or honey production, a large population of bees is needed at this time of the year. It is actually quite a balancing act for the beekeeper to encourage the build-up of the bee population to great strength without causing overcrowding leading to swarming. Once the colony swarms, there is little chance of producing enough bees for commercial pollination purposes or for producing a surplus of honey that may be harvested.

In the picture we see the queen bee marked by red paint on her thorax. The paint helps the beekeeper identify the queen. I mark all of my queens and keep records on each ones performance. Click on the photo and you can see each stage of honey bee development. Above the queen there are eggs. To her right are c-shaped larvae in various stages of development. To the right of the larvae are the capped cells of the pupae, and further to the right are the empty cells where the adult bees have just emerged. Most of the bees in the picture are workers; the large bee to the right of the queen is a drone. This inspection revealed a most favorable bee hive.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Empress Tree in Bloom

The empress tree is a large, spreading tree with large leaves. The tree is in bloom now with three-inch long, pink, trumpet-shaped flowers. Empress tree was imported to the United States from China. It was planted in homesites in the Mid-South and escaped to sometimes be found in clusters of trees. Empress tree is the only woody member of one of the important families of bee plants, the figworts or snapdragons, to be found in the Arkansas delta. Most of the snapdragons are wildflowers. Mullein is a snapdragon, as is the obedient plant.

If you click on the photo, you can see the egg case of the praying mantis, a beneficial insect. The egg case is the brown object with fine lines located on the plant’s stem below the closest flower. These egg cases are a welcomed find in our gardens. On this day the empress tree was visited by solitary bees, carpenter bees, and honey bees.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Brussels Sprouts in Bloom

The Brussels sprouts are members of the important bee plant family of mustards. This family is made up of various greens, cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower. We are familiar with the Brussels sprouts; the buds that we eat look like small cabbages. Here, we see the plant flowering. The mustards, when left undisturbed, bloom in the spring and attract honey bees with a reward of pollen and nectar. The honey bee pollinates the plant, and seed is produced.

I took this photo at Whitton Flowers and Produce, in Whitton, Arkansas, where we have one of our bee yards. Keith and Jill Forrester grow flowers and produce at their Arkansas delta farm. Be sure to visit their web site at They recognize the importance of protecting the soil’s tilth and nutrients as well as the air, water, plants, earthworms, and pollinators. The Forresters work mighty hard at Whitton producing beautiful flowers and delicious fruits and vegetables. The honey bees provide pollination for the flowering plants. From the flowers on their farm and surrounding delta fields, our bees produce a mild tasting and fragrant light amber honey.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Black Locust in Bloom

The black locust bloom is one of the milestones in the beekeeping year, because in some years the black locust produces a considerable amount of honey. The black locust often makes thickets which stand out from the background along the margin of woods by their bright white blossoms. A thicket of black locust in full bloom, located near the Mississippi River, that I watched this week for three days, found very few honey bee visitors. Honey bees respond to nectar sources according to the amount of nectar available and the concentration of sugars in the nectar. The bees are evidently finding other flowering plants more attractive at this time.

The black locust is a member of the important family of bee plants, the legumes. The legumes, or pea family, include several trees, the mimosa, redbud, Kentucky coffeetree, and the honey locust. The honey locust is the tree of similar appearance, but with eight-inch thorns on the trunk. The honey locust produces flowers that smell like honey, but the tree usually doesn’t produce enough nectar to make a surplus of honey for the beekeeper. Some of the other legumes are clover, soybeans, and peanuts. The black locust is truly a beautiful and useful tree.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Francis Moore: A Beekeeping Legacy

Beekeeping is both a science and an art. We may learn the science of beekeeping by attending schools and seminars, reading the books and journals, and staying tuned into the latest scientific research. The art of beekeeping is often passed along by those who have tended bees in the past. These individuals often based their knowledge of beekeeping upon trial and error and years of careful observation of the bees. Today’s beekeepers have been given much by these generous beekeepers who shared the bees’ secrets that they gleaned over many seasons. One of those beekeepers is Francis Moore of Anderson County, Tennessee. Francis relates keeping bees from the 1920s and 1930s at

Today’s photo is kale, in the mustard family. Kale, cooked as a green and flavored with a piece of pork fat, is a delicacy and a staple in the Delta. Pollinated by honeybees, it is producing seed for next year’s crop.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Splitting Bee Hives

Just as the honey bees divide their colonies in the process of swarming, beekeepers often divide their colonies by splitting the hives. Splitting is done to increase the number of hives the beekeeper is managing. It is also done as a measure to help prevent the bees from swarming. Actually, the technique is a form of artificial swarming. To split the colony, the beekeeper physically moves part of the hive—bees and frames of comb—to another hive in a different location. A new queen is added to form the second colony in the new location. This is very similar to what occurs in nature; two smaller colonies are formed, each with its own queen.

Click on the picture and you can see a hive split being made. I have inserted a new queen cell in the portion of the hive that has been moved. The queen cell is located in the orange-colored plastic protector. The protector is designed to help prevent bees from killing the queen before it emerges from her cell. The comb is covered with mostly young nurse bees that will feed and tend to the queen when she emerges from her cell in the protector. The larger bee to the right of the protector is a drone. Splitting hives helps control swarming in managed hives by giving the bees the appearance that their colony has already swarmed.

Monday, April 20, 2009

This is Swarm Season

Swarming is the honey bee's method of propagating its colonies. The queen lays eggs to rapidly expand the population of the colony in the spring of the year. This often leads to crowding in the brood area of the bee hive. Nectar from spring flowers is often stored in the brood area, also adding to a reduction in the number of cells available for the queen to use to lay eggs. The crowding and reduction in the capacity for the queen to lay eggs start the bees to making preparations for swarming. The actual swarming event often occurs after the bees have been confined in the hive for several days due to rainy weather. Once the sun breaks out, the bees are ready to break out as well. They fly out in a large, circling swarm; then they usually converge on a nearby tree or structure. Following three days of rain this week, I received calls about several swarms in trees and shrubs and on house porch columns and bird baths. This swarm was located high above the ground in a red cedar tree. The swarm had flown from its home in a cavity in a large, nearby oak tree. I was able to cause the bees to fall into a waiting cardboard box by giving the branch that they were holding onto a quick shake with a long pole. This swarm will become the start of a new colony in one of our bee yards.

For the beekeeper with managed hives, swarm season is a challenge. Hives must be encouraged to build up large populations in order to make a surplus of honey to be harvested and to efficiently pollinate crops. Too much encouragement often results in swarming and no honey to harvest for the year’s efforts.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Farmers Markets Open

In communities all across the country farmers markets are opening to enthusiastic crowds. There is a renewed interest in locally produced foods. Many people want to know the source of the food on their table. They are drawn to their local farmers markets by the desire to get fresh, nutritious foods grown by those who respect the environment and use fertilizers and chemicals prudently. For many, the trip to the local farmers market is a social event. For others the market evokes a sense of nostalgia. Handmade jams, jellies, baked goods, cut flowers, and artisan craft items are sought out. Freshly picked fruit and vegetables have a taste and texture that can’t be found in most grocery store produce departments. The area restaurant chefs shop early in day for the freshest foods and for items not readily found. The early season markets bring cool weather produce crops, but many in the crowd want summer vegetables on day one. The farmers markets thus become learning events for many, as they learn the seasonal nature of our food supply.

Peace Bee Farm sells much of its honey and products produced from beeswax at farmers markets. Here, Cissy, a long-time friend of Rita’s and mine, greets folks at the market.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Groundsel in Bloom

The largest family of the flowering plants is the composite, or sunflower, family. The composites are among those families of flowering plants considered important for the bees, as they produce large quantities of nectar and pollen. From the nectar, bees get carbohydrates; from the pollen they get proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. When the bees mix the nectar and pollen, they have a complete diet. A diversity of wildflowers makes for good nutrition for the honey bee and other pollinators. The diversity also adds to the differences in flavors of honey from one area to another. Honey harvested from the same area will change from year to year as different flowers bloom in response to changing weather conditions.

One of the common composites is groundsel, also known as butterweed. Groundsel is fairly common in the alluvial soil of the delta. This wildflower, which grows to about three feet in height, can be found in the woods and fields. On this sunny spring day the groundsel attracted numerous honey bees. Orange colored pollen can be seen on the pollen baskets on the bees' hind legs.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Meanwhile, Back at the Farm

It’s spring, and nature replenishes itself. We try to help any way we can. Mostly, we try to provide the plants and animals with their appropriate habitat. In the bee yard new queen bees are emerging from their cells in the mating nucleus hives. Elsewhere, signs of wildlife and domestic creatures can be seen all about the farm. Wild Canada geese guard their hidden nests. Wary wood ducks enter their nesting boxes then are rarely seen. Screech owls occupy other wood duck boxes and raise their young in them. Great Blue Herons can be seen any day. The Ross’s goose seems to have enjoyed her winter’s stay and decided to skip the flight to the arctic. The American coot is getting comfortable on the lake bank by the queen bee mating yard. Guinea fowl regularly check out the queen bee evaluation yard. The Cooper’s hawk will fly under a parked truck to ambush a sparrow.

Rita holds an hours-old domestic goose, the first to hatch this season. The predators seemed to have taken an exceptional toll this past winter. It’s time for replenishment.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Blackberry in Bloom

The blackberry is in bloom. All along the margins of woodlots and field borders the white blossoms of the thorny canes of blackberries can be seen. Often there are enough blackberries present in areas not under agricultural use to make for a significant nectar source for the honey bee. This makes the blackberry bloom a notable milestone in the beekeeping year. A warm and sunny day will find many honey bees gathering pollen and nectar from blackberries.

The blackberry plant is a member of one of the families of bee plants that provide a significant amount of forage for honey bees, the roses. Other members of this important family of bee plants include the spring flowering trees: the almond, plum, pear, apple, and crabapple. The hawthorns are roses as well as the other brambles, like raspberries. The blackberry attracts the honey bee with its nectar. The honey bee unknowingly pollinates the blackberry as it collects pollen or nectar. Only with this pollination does the blackberry produce fruit. The blackberry fruit and seeds provide food for birds and wildlife. Thank you, honey bees, because the blackberry makes one of our best cobblers. Pollination by bees accounts for one third of our human diet, and it seems like that is the tastiest one third.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Honey Bees Can Dance

Honey bees have an elaborate system of communication. Since they live in a permanent nest and fly out to find and gather food, water, and necessary hive materials from miles around, they must be able to determine directions and share the information with other bees in their colony. For example, once a scout bee has located a source of nectar, she must be able to tell other bees in her hive the direction and distance to the flowers producing the nectar. She does this by doing a waggle dance on the surface of the honey comb in the hive. She performs a dance in which she waggles her body rapidly while moving in a circular pattern interrupted by a straight line down the center of the circle. The angle of this straight line compared to vertical in the hive is equivalent to the direction toward the flower in relation to the angle of the sun as the bee flies out the front door. The time interval between straight-line passes in the dance conveys to the other bees the distance to the flower. Wow, what a concept for insects!

While the scout bee is performing her waggle dance, she stops periodically and shares some of the nectar that she gathered with the bees observing her dance. By sharing the nectar, she lets these bees know the scent of the flowers that they will be looking for. Click on the picture to enlarge it. You can see the scout bee in the center waggling rapidly as she makes the vertical straight-line pass of her dance indicating that the nectar source is in the direction of straight out the front door of the hive toward the sun. I am amazed at what the bees do. It is quite a sight to see in the bee hive.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Buttercups Cover the Ground

Buttercups are in bloom, and it is easy to recognize them. They blanket many agricultural fields in bright yellow blossoms. In the delta, buttercups are the first yellow wildflowers of the spring. The petals of the buttercups are so brightly colored and waxy that the flowers look wet even when they are dry. These bright flowers attract quite a few honey bees seeking pollen and nectar. Their very numbers make the buttercups useful to the honey bees as they build their population in the spring. Following the buttercups there will be yellow-colored wildflowers in bloom continuously till the end of fall, but none will match the brilliance of the buttercup.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hiving a Swarm of Bees

Swarming is the honey bee’s method of reproducing on a colony-wide basis. In the spring of the year, honey bee swarms are fairly numerous. In areas where Africanized Honey Bees are not present, capturing these swarms is a way for beekeepers to replace colonies lost to winter die-offs or to expand their operations. There are numerous ways to hive bees from captured swarms. The bees can be captured in a cardboard box and then transferred into a prepared hive. In this case, I was able to hold a hive into position below a swarm of bees clustered on the side of a large tree and brush the bees gently into the hive. The hive was held closed for the trip to the bee yard by duct tape. The swarm should organize itself as a colony in the new home in the bee hive. Worker bees will begin drawing out honey comb and the queen will lay eggs in the cells. After I have this hive set up, I will feed the bees sugar syrup and then leave them alone for a week. The swarm is being held in a single hive box. As the colony increases in population, more boxes will be added to the hive. A swarm of bees captured in the early spring can possibly grow to the size necessary to produce some surplus honey for the beekeeper by late summer. Honey bees are wild creatures, and a swarm is a gift from nature.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Black Cherry Attracts Bees

Yesterday I went to the bee yard of noted potter Agnes Stark to help her install some packages of honey bees. While visiting her beautiful property, I was struck by how gently she shares her activity with nature. I arrived a few minutes early, so I waited at the gate in the shade of a black cherry tree in full bloom. A sign proclaimed, “No Mow. No Spray.” The black cherry’s clusters of tiny flowers attracted honey bees as well as numerous solitary bees and one large carpenter bee that dropped in for pollen and a photo opportunity. Leaving the margins of one’s property not mowed and not sprayed with chemicals provides habitat for the native pollinators. Oh, by the way, the carpenter bee posing in the picture is the bee that bores holes in the wood of decks, porches, and roof eaves. The black cherry is a member of the important bee plant family, the roses.

The presence of wildlife is a good indicator of the health of our environment. During my brief visit to Agnes’ bee yard, I saw the diverse display of honey bees and native bee species at the black cherry. I also observed two geese, five deer, and a skink. The skink is the lizard with the bright blue tail. I find deer fairly often in bee yards. Beekeepers regularly plant clover in any vacant plots; honey bees pollinate the clover, making seed; deer browse the clover tops. I feel like the bees, their keepers, the clover, and the deer share a beneficial relationship. We are so interrelated in the environment.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Installing Packaged Bees

The spring of the year is the time when honey bees expand their colonies and branch out to new territory. Since beekeepers have to follow the life patterns of the bees, it is also the time that we expand our colonies. Today I helped beekeeper and renowned potter, Agnes Stark, set up two hives using packaged honey bees. Using packaged bees is one of the several methods in which beekeepers establish new colonies. A package of bees is made up by a bee breeder by physically shaking the bees from the frames of established hives into a wooden box with screened walls. The box is about the size and shape of a shoe box. A typical package of bees will contain three pounds of bees, about 12000 bees. The package will also contain one queen bee, confined in a cage. To keep the bees fed and hydrated during their trip from the bee breeder to the beekeeper, there is a can of syrup with tiny drip holes inside the box.

Here, you can see Agnes pouring the bees from the package into the hive that she prepared for them. She placed the queen cage inside the hive, exposing a candy plug to the bees. It will take the bees a day or more to eat through the candy and release the queen. This candy plug acts as a delaying feature for the release of the queen, allowing the bees to get accustomed to her pheromones. Once the queen is released from her cage, she will begin laying eggs; and the packaged bees will function as a colony. These bees were fortunate to have landed in the bee yard of Agnes Stark. Be sure to visit the artist’s web site:

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Home School at the Bees' Home

A group of home school students and their parents and leaders visited the bee farm today. They came out equipped with digital cameras and inquisitive minds. The group is posed in our queen evaluation yard. I explained to these students that whenever I go into this bee yard, I carry a clip board and each colony receives a “report card.” Bad behavior gets bees “expelled.” From the colonies that score the highest on traits involving bee behavior, health, and honey production, we will raise new queens. The children had many questions about how the queen bee produces the eggs to propagate the entire colony. From their home school science studies the group came in with a good background on the nature of insects, the role of pollinators, and the relationship between humans, the flowering plants, the pollinating insects, and the environment. The group also visited the honey house and the queen mating yard. It is almost impossible to fill up a digital camera or an inquisitive mind.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Bee Tree

Memphis is a unique city. Flying over the city, we get the impression that we are over a park instead of a typical large city. The majority of the city is covered with massive oak trees. This week I got a call about a swarm of bees in a shrub in the lawn of one of the city’s one-hundred-year-old neighborhoods. The homeowner explained that this was actually the second swarm to appear in the shrub in the same week. When I arrived at her home a short time later, these bees, like the earlier swarm, had already flown away. This is the typical pattern of swarming honey bees to light on a shrub or structure close to their old cavity home. After a short period of time they move on to a permanent home in another cavity.

In Memphis, the bees have no problem finding a suitable cavity for a new home. Many of the large oak trees have cavities resulting from lightning strikes or storm damage over the years. I found just such a tree nearby. About thirty feet above, bees could be seen entering and leaving the huge oak tree through a hole in the trunk. Often we have colonies of honey bees in our own yard, sometimes for years, without our even knowing it. We share a rich natural environment with people, trees, flowers, and bees. It’s a good thing to have cities that look like parks.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Apples in Bloom

Apples are in bloom in the Mid-South. In order for the trees to produce fruit, they must be visited by insect pollinators. These may either be native insects or honey bees. The honey bee is the principal commercial pollinator of apples. This is due to the nature of the honey bee. They live in large colonies that can be transported to the orchard by truck in their wooden hives. Large numbers of bees are needed to pollinate large commercial plantings of apples. Also, honey bees exhibit flower constancy; that is, they continue to forage on the same type of plant as long as it is blooming. Flower constancy makes the honey bee an efficient pollinator of apples. By the honey bee staying in the apple trees collecting nectar or pollen, they transfer pollen from one flower to another. This transfer of pollen is a necessary step in the production of the fruit.

The apple is a member of the important family of bee plants, the roses. Other members of the rose family include the plum, pear, cherry, almond, blackberry, and the hawthorns. In the picture we can clearly see the resemblance of the apple flower to a rose. An apple tree covered with flowers and honey bees is a beautiful early spring sight.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Willow in Bloom

In the early spring we see a series of colorful flowering trees. We also see some flowering shrubs and flowers on the ground. For the honey bee, much of its early spring food is out of our easy view. At this time of the year a large portion of the honey bees’ forage comes from trees along the banks of streams and rivers. Much of this area is so remote that it can only be visited in flight, as the bees do. I visited a nearby river and located an elevated road passing through a swamp. Here, I found quite a few honey bees foraging for pollen and nectar high in the tops of willow trees. As we observe the willows in bloom, we see that the honey bees continue to forage from a single type of flowering plant as long as it is in bloom. When its blooming period is over, the bees seek out the next plant to come into bloom. Since most of the plants and trees come into bloom at different times of the year, they share the honey bees’ pollinating service in a type of time-share arrangement. The early spring often finds the honey bees in the river bottoms.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Jesters, Remarkable Beekeepers

I ran into Kevin and Pratima Jester of Jester Bee Company this morning. They had just unloaded four hundred nucleus colonies of honey bees at their headquarters in West Ridge, Arkansas. They drove non-stop through the night from their Florida operation where they had raised these bees. The nucleus colonies will be used by beekeepers in the Mid-South, Mid-West, and New England to establish bee hives. The Jesters raise the bees in the Deep South to get the populations of bees established earlier than is possible in cooler areas.

The Jesters are remarkably imaginative and industrious beekeepers. Like many beekeepers, they lost a large portion of their bees in 2007 to the condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder. While the cause of this condition is not yet known, the Jesters have been working to keep healthy bees and to regrow their business. They have developed some products to help beekeepers meet the honey bees’ nutritional needs. The Jesters are like a number of beekeepers who are experimenting with methods to keep the honey bees healthy. Beekeepers will want to save the address:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Queen Bee is Busy

Each honey bee colony has a single queen bee producing all of the offspring of the hive. Here, we see the queen surrounded by her retinue of attendant bees as she prepares to deposit an egg in a cell. The queen is surrounded at all times by a group of attendants who feed and groom her. These bees also regularly stroke the surface of the queen to obtain pheromones to pass throughout the colony. These pheromones, which are odors that the bees can recognize, let the entire colony know that their queen is present. This is the substance that holds the colony together in an organized social group.

Photographer and beekeeper Brandon Dill and I watched this queen fill in the pattern of available cells in the brood nest. She measured each available cell with her front legs then deposited an egg by lowering her abdomen into the cell. A productive queen bee will lay over 1500 eggs each day. This queen is marked by red paint on her thorax, the second segment of a bee’s body. We mark our queens to identify them and know their age. You may see Brandon’s remarkable photographic work at For the majority of his work, Brandon does not have to contend with guard bees trying to take control of the camera.