Monday, July 25, 2005

Bees at Midsummer

crape myrtle Looking down from my roof on the north side, this is what you see: the top of a crape myrtle in full glorious bloom. Whether or not the bees like it, too, has been the subject of some obsession.

The answer, my friends, is yes! This evening, while sitting in my hammock, watching the field bees come in, I discovered that this was the middle of a bee freeway straight from that tree to the hives. There had been evidence of honeybees (and other bees) in there from time to time, and the pollen packs I had been seeing on the legs of bees at the hive entrances seemed to be of the same over-the-top yellow as the center of those blooms. Bees do not like people to hang out in the flight path, however, and the level of activity in that tree was brought home to me by the degree of displeasure at my presence. No stings, just a lot of that emphatic "What the heck are YOU doing here!" insistent buzzing around my head. I have dark hair, and that is a trigger to bees that hollers "potential predator!" Therefore, guard bees spend a lot of time around my face and head, and I generally cede the field.

Not that this makes me avoid field bees, or anything. When walking around, I tend to poke my head into everything blooming to see if any pollinators are in there. Interestingly, there is hardly ANYONE in white crape myrtles, but the pink ones have a following. And readers, if you want to do the bees a favor, please include coneflowers in your gardening plans. Begonias and impatiens do not seem to cut it. All this flower watching has given me a completely new (but related) blog idea: a daily chronicle, with pictures, of what the bees are eating around here.

But now for business: a catch up for those of you who would like more data on how the colonies are doing.

The short version is that Twain continues strong, but increasingly cranky, and Wilde is showing progress, but the seasonal signals are working against them I think.

Twain "donated" the two frames of honey that got extracted a week ago, and therefore the cursory check I wanted to make revolved around honey stores and whether or not a mistake had been made. The colony was busy capping the full deep that was just nectar last week, so I think they are going to be fine. A book I read said that every frame of a deep is 7 pounds of honey, so that means there is 70 pounds in that box alone. They will need to consume some to get through August, but they probably have over 100 lbs. again. (MaryEllen straightened me out on honey measurements: a pint of honey is way more than a pound, so I was worried for no reason). Today, I noticed something that has probably been true for a while, accounting for some creative comb building in Twain: one of the rear corners of the hive is tilted off the hive stand. I need to fix that, maybe this Tuesday before leaving for vacation, but this is no minor errand. Did I mention three boxes with more than 100 lbs of honey, with three more boxes home to 60,000 bees? *Sigh*

In another book, from MAAREC I think, I read that a colony needs a minimum of 14 deep frames covered with bees to survive the winter. As of Thursday (July 21), Wilde had 14 medium frames, and had eaten up all it's sugar water again. The queen is filling every cell she can get, and she really seemed to like those frames from the capped brood that got transfered over a few weeks ago. Her own kids are not building comb in any regular manner, but I think that is because of the seasonal signals they are receiving. Comb is built during the Spring, with cooler temps and a rampant nectar flow. These girls are getting a bunch of pseudo nectar, but these may be the highest temperatures of the year. The crape myrtle is ready pollen for brood rearing, but I actually ordered some more pollen patties to put on when those flowers are gone. I am hoping to get the population up during that lovely interlude in September. I may move just a bit more brood from Twain, too. I gave the girls in Wilde the last of my empty hive bodies, a deep, because in the top medium box (of three that they had) the workers were storing honey, something that environmental signals are probably screaming for them to do. Imagine all their senses telling them, "Midsummer! Fall's around the corner! Winter after that! What's in the pantry?"

Finally, we are going to be travelling, starting on Tuesday, and I am hoping that the shipment of pollen patties, along with a few more medium boxes and frames, gets here before we leave. It would be more comfortable if Twain had just a bit more elbow room, and if I could feed them just one more time. When we get back, I need to think about testing for varroa and administering menthol for tracheal mites.

If you have any swat with the powers that bee, please ask them for a good Goldenrod flow this year, and right after the crape myrtles, if possible. I want the girls to be busy while I'm gone.

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