Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Bees Slurp Algae and Forsythia

bees like green waterThis has been the Spring of Urban Beekeeping Promotion, and it seems to me that this photo might be the single most helpful thing I could show or tell to city beekeepers. Bees need to bring water back to their hives, especially during warm weather, and bees who wander into neighbors' yards to do so can inadvertently become the authors of their own demise. In Howard County, not far from here, a major zoning smack down started because a permanently (unsway-ably! steadfastly!) terrified man noticed bees were grabbing water from the air conditioner offtake in his back yard. No stinging required, just a few thirsty bees.

This picture shows you the dirty truth about bees: they like their water green and murky, and that dribbly air conditioner vent probably looked like heaven to them. This is a photo from a little water fall I built into a tiny fish pond in my front yard. It holds about 50 gallons and 4 fish: this would be the same size you would get with half a whiskey barrel, or any one of a number of pre-made plastic forms. The theory is that bees get trace nutrients with the algae and muck, and I can believe that, but I also think the biologically processed water may have less of the junk that we like to put in it. Urban beekeepers, do this: before your bees ever arrive, set up a bird bath, or a pot with a bit of water and some rocks in it, and let green things happen. Moving water is better for avoiding mosquitoes, but one little permanently moist and mushy place does not create a human health hazard, and if it is there before your bees are, just about everyone will thank you.

bees on wilty forsythiaOn other fronts, I would like to say that I still look after 9 survivor hives, but I don't call this season a success until April 1, when just about any decent laying queen and a few thousand workers can make it around here. The bees are flying from all the hives, some seem to be prioritizing nectar, and some are all about pollen. This, of course, worries me, since worrying is what I can do between the limited feedings some of them seem to need.

These bees are going to forsythia, which we are taught is NOT a bee forage plant, because the long fluted neck of the blooms is too long for honeybee tongues. Today, however, as the first round of flowers is getting loose and floppy, I saw bees digging in from around the sides. Some were still learning that going into the front did not work.

bee on wilty forsythiaAt first, I thought they might be foraging propolis from the buds, or that they might just be desperately trying to find any food at all, but on close inspection, I can see those little red tongues finding nectar after all.

The bees are definitely on the now-open maples, though it seems that many buds were damaged by the difficult winter. I am still looking forward to dandelion, and the full-on nectar flow they predict around here.

Two seasons are closing for me, and you could say two new ones are opening. I've spent the past month talking-talking-talking to classes and clubs and just about anyone, building the ranks of beekeepers and their supporters, trying to create a public that does not fear harmless honeybees who simply need a drink. But I would very much like to be a solo beekeeper, back to me and the bees and the wandering thoughts. The season ahead has fewer talks but lots more mentoring, and yet another round of splits and sharing and swarm control. While I have worked hard for a harvest of new beekeepers, I am pining most for those quiet days with the bees that may finally be at hand.


Joan said...

Isn't that funny how icky they like their water?? I fixed a leaky birdbath that had grown moss in the crack. My bees loved that watery moss but I needed the bowl to hold water so I scraped out the moss and inserted silicone...now the bees go elsewhere. I have 2 little fountains they seem to like sometimes but often they are on top of the mucky upturned buckets. I like your idea of letting something go slimy for them. Gotta work on that. Glad to see you're blogging again.

Dee Carlson said...

Hope you enjoy your solo beekeeping! There is nothing like you, the bees and a nice warm, sunny spring day to enjoy them!

LaurenGrrrr said...

Hi, do you have information about whom I can contact to volunteer at DC's new hives around the city? I live in C Heights and tried to get into the beekeeping workshop, but it was already full. I would love to get involved! I've never worked with a hive, but I've read everything I could get my hands on. Thanks!

spatwei said...

Hello. I'm doing a story for the American Observer about bee hives and community gardens in the District. Would you be available for an interview and possibly a photo at Lederer? If so, my contact information is on my Blogger profile. Thank you.

Julie said...

I keep water out for my bees too. I have small water ponds and baths all over our place. Even during the winter I will see them drinking.
They are such wonderful girls :o)

Steven C. said...

Funny you should mention air conditioner water - I had my bees take up with my (bee-allergic) neighbor's window AC unit when I had perfectly good water nearer to the hive!

Here's what happened, and what I did to fix it:

-- Steven

Bee Magic Chronicles for Kids said...

I always enjoy your blog. I'm glad to hear your hives survived the winter and I do recall hearing about all your winter storms on the news - meanwhile in southern Ontario we had a mild winter. It was weird.

Frederick Nunley said...

I am leaving the green algae in my birdbaths now since I read your April post about the bees liking that green algae water best. I live near the Monastery in Brookland but I haven't seen honey bees drinking my algae water although the wasps and hornets love it. I am wondering if the bees on the Monastery hill are ok? I have plenty of organic garden flowers for them to visit and even white clover in the lawn a honey bee favorite.
Meanwhile I am wondering how you are and wanted you to know I miss your blog posts.

Sweetie Queen Elbi said...

Your website is one of the best I've seen on bees. It's cutting edge and informative!! I hope you post something again soon!!

Cindy said...

I just found you via Joan!

great article! We are about to get ourselves one simple "bee box" for our slope and I have wondered about bees needing water and our nieghbors with pools. WE DO have a fountain that always has floaty funk in it...I hope that does the trick or else I can certainly put a bird bath near them!

Thanks for the insight! I can't wait to get started!

Phang said...

Hey Cindy --

"all beekeeping is local" is one of those things that gets drummed into our heads over and over, and in this case you could think about it two ways:

The first is, how much water do bees need where I live? This can very with the time of the year. Around here, we really do recommend that beekeepers keep at least a full birdbath around. Your fountain sounds perfect. We have a little fish pool in our garden, and have noticed in our current drought that the two full and two mini hives on the roof are taking as much as 6 gallons a week out of it!

The second is all about that pool next door. Bees do not prefer pool water, but they will fix on something once they start going there. Especially at the beginning, try to make sure that the water you give is easier to get to (and more glurpily appealling) than anything on a neighbor's property. The biggest threat to suburban beekeeping seems to be honeybees seeking water in places like the drips from a neighbor's air conditioning unit or hose or something. Try to keep an eye out, and get in front of it if that starts!



Unknown said...

That plant pictured isn't actually forsythia. It's Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). It blooms much earlier than forsythia. It's one of the first plants to bloom in spring.