Saturday, January 30, 2010
Ice Storms Affect Nectar Flows
While major ice storms, which break limbs and topple entire trees, bring much attention for electrical power losses and safety hazards, they also affect the honey bees later in the year. Ice storms often damage the flower buds or the branches that produce flowers foraged by the bees. Last year’s severe ice storms in the Mid-South virtually eliminated the nectar from black locust and tuliptree that many beekeepers rely upon for honey production. While the failure of certain sources of nectar and pollen may disrupt the regular flow of bee foods, the scout bees can usually find alternative sources. This change in nectars leads to differences in the color and flavor of honeys from the same bee yard from year to year. I observed a thin coating of ice on dogwoods, willows, plums, maples and redbuds that the honey bees will be visiting in the coming months. The ice damage was slight.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 8:23 PM No comments:
Labels: bee plants, honey bee
Friday, January 29, 2010
Community Leaders Gather
I spoke to a group of community leaders at a civic club luncheon. They were interested in the fact that the honey bee is the only insect in the temperate zone that remains alive and active throughout the year. I explained to them that with the weather quite cold now, the bees are huddled together in a cluster, using their own bodies to generate and hold heat. They accomplish this by eating the honey that they produced throughout the previous year. The high-energy food allows them to survive the lengthy period until flowering plants once again come into bloom. The honey that they produce is a unique item, the only food that can last virtually forever without refrigeration or treatment. We talked about the decline in honey bee and native pollinator populations that have occurred in recent years. I explained that the audience could help restore bees by creating a pollinator garden in their own home yards. I suggested that they could help by limiting the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides used on the lawn, golf courses, and farms. I asked them to use their influence to ask that their golf courses adopt turf maintenance practices that don’t harm the pollinators. Golf courses typically employ 14 times the amount of chemicals as agricultural crop fields. Today’s picture shows two Peace Bee Farm hives set-up for the winter with the hives tilted forward and top feeders in place.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 1:09 PM 3 comments:
Labels: Honey, honey bee, Native Pollinators
Monday, January 25, 2010
The First Pollen Arrives
The health and life expectancy of the young bees developing early in the year is largely dependent upon the quality of the pollen that they bring into the hive at this time. Pollen quality also affects worker bee gland development and helps determine the ability of the young workers to produce food for the next generation of bees. The bees do not have a mechanism for determining the pollen quality, and they often gather substitutes before flowers bloom in abundance. We can help our bees by feeding protein supplements in the form of pollen substitutes. We can also help ensure good bee health by encouraging weedy growth to provide a diversity of pollen sources. Most of today’s bees were returning to the hive with light gray colored pollen; others carried yellow pollen.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 8:08 PM No comments:
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Mother and Daughter Queens
While I was taking a picture of the queen in one hive, a queen bee that I raised last year and marked with green paint, I noticed a second queen on the same frame. Normally honey bee queens do not allow another queen to share the hive; but in the early part of the year, a mother and her daughter queen may coexist in the hive. Click on the photo to see the two queens. Last year’s queen is marked in green. Her unmarked, darker colored daughter queen is next to her. While queen bees are often shy and run when exposed to the sunlight, both queens were quite docile and allowed me to observe them for a while. The two queens each appeared to be depositing eggs. Showing no aggression toward each other, the queens moved about the frame in close proximity; a number of times they touched.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 9:00 PM No comments:
Labels: honey bee, Queen Bees
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Bees in the Chicken Yard
Honey bee colonies may begin producing brood anytime after the winter solstice, December 21. Brood production requires a considerable amount of protein to feed the larvae. While honey bees derive their protein from pollen, very little is available early in the year. The bees often mistakenly gather dust from various sources while searching for pollen. The bees do not have the ability to tell the quality of the protein they collect. They may be collecting an incomplete protein from a flower or a completely different substance, like the chicken feed dust. It is common for people to find honey bees in bird feeders in the winter and early spring. These bees are collecting dust from the millet seeds. In response to the bees’ desire for pollen, I gave a supplemental feeding of pollen substitute, a fermented protein food based on soy flour and brewer’s yeast, to my bee yard which will be producing this year’s queens.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 9:40 PM 3 comments:
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Each measure of the colony is actually an after-the-fact evaluation of how the colony responds to a number of situations. Over-winter survival is determined in part on the genetic traits of the colony. Was the colony healthy the previous fall? Did the queen produce brood into the fall? Was the colony prone to tracheal mites? Does the colony exhibit hygienic behavior? Over-winter survival is also determined by at least as many factors that are the result of the beekeeper’s efforts. Did the beekeeper help control Varroa mites? Did he provide ventilation of the hive? Did he leave adequate stores of honey? Was the stored honey in the proper location within the hive? Did the beekeeper take steps to control Nosema disease? Did the beekeeper provide emergency feeding if necessary? Today’s picture shows Big Dan Newton’s bees breaking from their winter cluster to feed on dry sugar, used as an emergency feeding.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 7:56 AM 2 comments:
Labels: honey bee, Winter Survival
Monday, January 18, 2010
Near one of my bee yards adjacent to a lake, I rescued a large water snake from the still-frozen surface. The warm temperatures brought the non-venomous snake from its winter home near the water. When the snake ventured onto the frozen lake, it chilled and quit moving. After a while in the sun, the snake was moving again. Come spring, it will be ready to resume its job of holding down the rodent population along the lake bank. At Peace Bee Farm we work with nature. Black rat snakes and speckled king snakes help protect the hives.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 9:43 AM 2 comments:
Labels: honey bee, Water Snake
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Honey Bees Regulate the Hive
The honey bee is unique, however. It is the only insect that has a mechanism for regulating its body temperature as well as the temperature of the entire colony. The honey bee is also the only insect in the temperate region that remains alive and active during cold weather. The bees survive by huddling together in a cluster of bees. Eating its high-energy food of honey, the honey bee is able to generate heat of about 104 degrees in its flight muscles. A number of honey bees in the less tightly packed center of the winter cluster generate heat by vibrating their flight muscles. A tightly packed crust of bees holds the heat inside the winter cluster. When the bees in the crust chill to the point that they cannot move, they are allowed to enter the warm cluster. Bees from the center move to the outside. Our flocks of domestic waterfowl and wild birds that have taken our farm as home developed their own strategy for winter survival. With the lakes covered in ice, the birds took turns keeping a small area of water open while the other birds fed. Here some mallards, a Canada goose, and an American Buff goose keep moving to prevent their open water from freezing over.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 2:16 PM No comments:
Labels: honey bee
Saturday, January 16, 2010
The January Thaw
Many of the hives appeared as the one in the photo. I found a large number of bees in the upper box of the hive. Here the cluster is seen spread across a large number of frames. The cluster expands with warm temperatures, like today, and contracts with cold temperatures. The cluster of bees had moved upward through the hive as the winter progressed, eating its way through the honey stored in the comb. With the cluster at the top of the hive, the bees are vulnerable to starvation. They have eaten all of the honey surrounding the cluster, and there are not any available flowering plants in bloom. When the temperatures fall, the bees will retract their cluster into a tight ball. With the cluster in this constricted configuration, the bees often starve even while there may be honey stored only inches away. It will be necessary to feed the bees to sustain them through the months of February and March.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 11:36 AM 4 comments:
Labels: honey bee
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Art and Science of Beekeeping
On December 26, 2009, I showed a simple method of storing brood comb using PDB (paradichlorobenzene) moth crystals to protect the frames from wax moth damage. I stated that the frames need to be exposed to the air for several days before using these frames in bee hives to allow any remaining moth treatment to evaporate. Chris, a beekeeper from North Carolina, posed a pertinent question. He asked if the untreated frames would be vulnerable to attack by wax moths during this period. This is really not a problem. Wax moths prefer to lay their eggs in dark, enclosed spaces. We can make the frames unattractive to the moths while airing the equipment by stacking the frames upright as shown with the boxes exposed to light and air circulation.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 9:10 PM 1 comment:
Sunday, January 10, 2010
The First Flower
The dandelion is a member of the important bee plant family, the composites. The composite or sunflower family is one of the largest families of flowering plants. Comprising about 10 percent of all flowering plants, many of the composites are abundant producers of nectar and pollen. The dandelion is one of the most dependable food sources for honey bees. Hearty and abundant, it blooms at times when nothing else does. We can almost count on the honey bees being able to find some dandelion nectar and pollen on the first day that temperatures climb enough for the bees to fly. In the early months of the year, honey bees often forage for dandelion pollen. As this protein source is brought into the hive, the queen bee is stimulated to begin brood production. On the bee farm and many areas of the world, the dandelion is appreciated as a colorful wildflower, welcomed in lawns and open spaces.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 9:27 PM No comments:
Labels: bee plants, Dandelion, honey bee
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Two groups actively fighting to protect honey bees and pollinators, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Xerces Society, have been successful in having a pesticide potentially dangerous to honey bees removed from store shelves. The product carrying the trade names Movento and Ultor had been approved for use by the EPA without considering the consequences of its use on bees. The NRDC can be followed at http://www.beesafe.org/. The Xerces Society can be followed at http://www.xerces.org/.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 10:11 PM No comments:
Friday, January 8, 2010
Cold Weather Bee Hive Move
For today’s cold-weather move we began the task by blocking the entrance of each hive with foam rubber. As each hive was equipped with screened bottom boards, providing ventilation was not a problem; there was plenty of air circulation. Next, we tightly secured all of the hive bodies, bottom boards, and covers of each hive with cargo straps. This allowed us to lift each hive as a unit. When lifting a hive, it is mighty helpful to have machinist and blacksmith Big Dan Newton with you. Lifting the hives, they seemed rather light. We decided some emergency feeding might help the bees through the winter. Frozen ground helped us move one hive across a plowed field. For emergency feeding, we placed granulated sugar atop the inner covers of the hives for the bees to access through the center hole. After the move, Dan was pleased to see live bees come to the surface of each hive.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 9:58 PM No comments:
Labels: honey bee, Moving Bee Hives
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
An Old Time Favorite
Honey in the jar with the comb is usually called chunk honey. It is produced in specially prepared frames using thin surplus foundation of pure beeswax. During a strong nectar flow, the bees will draw out the cells from the foundation and fill them with honey. The beekeeper needs to watch the progress of the bees’ work and remove the frames as soon as they are completely filled with honey and capped with beeswax. The comb is cut from the frame with a sharp knife and placed in a wide-mouth honey jar. A light colored extracted honey is poured over the comb to fill the jar. Chunk honey like that in the photo is a most popular item at market.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 9:05 PM 1 comment:
Labels: Comb Honey
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Honey Bee Nutrition
To address the nutrition needs of honey bees, some beekeepers are adopting more frequent supplemental feeding. Traditional patterns of feeding bees involved fall feeding of a heavy sugar syrup to build up winter stores and spring feeding of a thinner sugar syrup to stimulate nectar gathering. To meet nutritional requirements, some beekeepers are adding feedings of pollen substitutes and sugar syrup at various times of the year. Feeding during periods of dearth is sometimes required to keep queen bees of certain stocks from stopping brood production. This occurs with Russian bees and some of the other stocks of eastern European origin. Stopping brood production evolved as a reproductive strategy for survival in harsh climates. Today’s picture shows honey bees chewing pollen substitute.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 7:20 PM 2 comments:
Labels: Colony Collapse Disorder, honey bee, Nutrition
Monday, January 4, 2010
A New Nosema
Researchers studying honey bee health found that Nosema apis has been largely replaced by a more virulent strain of the disease, Nosema ceranae. This replacement of diseases is itself an unusual occurrence. Nosema ceranae is a disease of the Asian honey bee, a different species from our European honey bee. While the original Nosema was known as a rarely deadly, winter-time condition, the new strain is an around-the-year disease that is suspected as being associated with Colony Collapse Disorder. Fortunately, for the beekeeper there is good news; Nosema can be controlled by feeding sugar water treated with Fumagillin in either the fall or early spring. Placing bee hives facing the south where the sun warms the hive entrance encourages flying. Considerable advantage in fighting Nosema disease can be gained by regularly changing out old honeycomb, thus removing the disease-causing spores. Today’s photo shows hive-top feeders in use.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 4:33 PM 4 comments:
Labels: Colony Collapse Disorder, honey bee, Nosema
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Varroa Vector Viruses
While parasitic mites present a true health problem for the beekeeper, choosing a method of treating the mites is quite challenging. In less than two decades of aggressive treatment with “harsh” chemical miticides, the Varroa became largely resistant to the chemicals. Left untreated, honey bee colonies often weaken and die in a year or two. Breeding in genetically-passed behaviors is proving successful. Honey bees that can detect Varroa reproducing and growing inside capped brood cells remove the bee pupae along with the mites. Using a series of integrated pest management practices may reduce the number of Varroa in the colony. The use of “softer” mite treatments is proving promising. Viruses remain a strong suspect in the deadly mix of factors leading to Colony Collapse Disorder. Beekeepers need to periodically check colonies and measure Varroa levels.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 7:42 PM No comments:
Saturday, January 2, 2010
Chemicals in the Environment
There is considerable dependence today upon chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides for producing crops, growing lawns, and controlling termites. Genetically modified crops use herbicides to control weed growth, resulting in high-yield crop production at lower cost from reduced soil tillage. Concerned beekeepers, like us at Peace Bee Farm, are moving toward reduced chemical usage, avoiding “harsh” miticides in favor of “softer” agents, like those based on essential oils. In today’s photo, an agricultural applicator passes low over one of my bee yards then negotiates power lines and a passing chemical tanker to spray an adjacent field.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 6:12 PM 2 comments:
Labels: Coumaphos, Fluvalinate, honey bee, Imidacloprid
Friday, January 1, 2010
Healthy Honey Bees in 2010
While the results of the studies have not been published, the main factors that seem to be combining to form a lethal mix are being identified. First, there are numerous chemicals in the beeswax comb of the hive. The principal miticides used to control parasitic mites are highly soluble in beeswax, and they remain for a long period of time. There are also other insecticides and chemicals used in abundance in agriculture, lawn care, and beekeeping being found in the honey bee’s nest. Second, it is known that Varroa mites vector numerous viral diseases of honey bees; and some new viruses have been identified. Third, a new strain of the fungal disease, Nosema, seems to have replaced the previous, seldom deadly strain. It appears that when these three factors, certain chemicals, viruses, and Nosema are combined, they overtake the highly vulnerable immune system of the bees. A background item in the die-offs seems to be nutrition issues. Beekeepers in 2010 will need to address each of these factors to maintain healthy bees. There’s a healthy bee on granddaughter, Erin Underhill’s, cheek.
Posted by Richard Underhill at 2:08 PM 1 comment:
Labels: Colony Collapse Disorder, honey bee
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