Category Archives: What’s blooming

Dust off your pollen-baskets…

…because spring is definitely here!

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Witch Hazel

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First we had Witch Hazel. I have never seen honeybees forage on it personally; here, it blooms in January, so maybe they are on it, but I am cozy inside during the greatly reduced foraging hours of winter. Is it a bee plant in our region? Not sure. The second pic is of a redder flowering sort that is less commonly planted.

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Then the hazelnut trees bloomed! As I write, they are just finishing up.  As a wind-pollinated plant, hazelnut does not rely on pollinators, but bees surely benefit from this great source of early season pollen.   When the hazelnut trees bloom, that is when I know it’s time to start finding all the bee stuff again.  The wintertime bee reading goes away, and I start rummaging around for the random sacks of pollen patties kicking around in the freezer.  Actually, this picture is reminding me of the several glorious days we had in February.  The sun will come out again, Vancouver! It will happen.  (I just checked my weather app, hoping for a clear spot to do some hive checks.  Perfect forecast, if your bees like to wear rubber boots! That would be so many rubber boots.)

Last week, we were able to get out to our bee yard in Surrey, and do some solid hive assessment.  In an effort to be more systematic about how I select my breeding stock, I tried out a system where I assigned every frame a score of 20, so that each side is worth 10. Then, as I was going through the hive and cleaning up the frames and the bottom board, I kept two running totals in my head, one for brood, one for honey.  So, if a frame was full of honey on one side, I counted 10 honey. And, if a frame had patch of brood filling about half the side, I counted 5 honey. And so on, keeping a running total through all 8 frames.  Eventually, I’d end up with a score like, 22 brood, 45 honey.  I did this with all my potential breeders, and it was interesting to see how the numbers told a story that I could never capture by saying Hive 7a has “good” brood.  For example, if a hive had a higher brood score than honey, that indicated a hive that would go hungry very quickly if unable to forage (for example, if your long range forecast includes rain for every single day).  And there were hives that had maybe the same honey score, but a much smaller brood area to support.

I also gave each a rating for gentleness, pollen stores (are they storing it in a nice ring around the brood), and estimated the number of frames of bees.

It’s not a perfect system, mainly because of operator error — it’s kinda tricky for me to keep two running totals going simultaneously in my brain, especially when decimal points are involved! And, I have to tell you, the last few hives, when I was most tired, went the slowest, just because I lost count a couple times.  And, anytime someone asks me a question while I am counting?  GAME OVER! But, I think even if not perfectly accurate, I hope it will give me a pretty good picture of what my bees have done, and what the baseline was that they started with.

I plan to do this same level of assessment in 1 month, just before the beginning of April, and compare; I’m hoping this method will make it so that I can see how individual hives have built their populations, and how each has used their stored resources. Have they grown slowly but kept honey in the bank? Or have they turned all resources available into more bees? Then I can select my breeders based on that information, in combination with results from our hygienic behavior tests.

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Late-Summer Update


So, between May (our last post) and now, basically all the beekeeping happened. Undocumented, of course! That’s not to say that I didn’t take pictures; lots and lots of bee pics were taken, with lofty intentions for pithy posts.

There was the time we took our dear friend with us on a hot July day of backyard hive checks: Don’t worry: only 1 sting, and it was a bee that got squished against a calf!

There was all the zillions of enraptured photos I took of bees on other peoples artichoke plants. Did you know that the flower is what happens after the part we eat goes to seed?

   It’s hard to see here, but I counted 11 bees on one flower! One day I will succeed in growing a plant, seed to flower (you have to start the seeds in February in order to get flowers that year. I’ve grown a plant, but too late in the year, and then we move, during which the plant died. Which was a major bummer cuz I don’t even like eating artichokes. I just wanted the flowers).

There was that time during the recent, severe nectar dearth (due to drought in our region), that we had that crazy incident with robbing bees and our sticky truck. I won’t get into the details, but it involved our truck being in the vicinity of hundreds of marshalled hives (not ours, ready for moving), and our truck collecting so many bees that passersby were visibly dismayed.

Robbing bees= bees are really great at finding honey, especially when all the nectar has dried up.  They are also fantastic at communicating. So a foraging bee finds this amazing, truck shaped nectar source, goes back to the hive, and recruits, like, 100 other bees to go collect it before it’s gone! Multiply this by as many hives are in the area, and you get robbing. Bees can get pretty crazy when there is no nectar flow, and will completely raid whatever is in that spot they communicated about until it is gone, even other beehives.

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But that incident aside, this summer has been a good one for our bees.  Lots of great mating weather for our queens has made it a laid-back year for queen-rearing. Also, it’s exciting to be able to transport our bees using a truck rather than a hatchback, where you have the fun and enjoyment of all the bees inside the cabin with you! Yes, while our hatchback was a loyal steed, I definitely don’t miss that aspect of it!

So, I’ll sign off with one of my favorite bee plants, one that is still blooming right now: Phacelia. I love how it kind of looks like a sea creature, with curls and tendrils. It’s incredibly easy to grow, and bees love it!

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How to Sneak up on Bees

During the winter (beekeeper’s vacation time: I think if you keep bees long enough, you are forced into enjoying winter sports), I was reading Bees: Their Vision, Chemical Senses and Language by Karl Von Frisch.  Von Frisch was the scientist who discovered how bees communicate through dancing. He also did work with bees and color, and contributed to what is known about what colours bees can perceive.  It’s interesting to think about what colours bees can see, and how that relates to their favorite flowers; Von Frisch says that bees can see yellow, blue-green, blue, and ultraviolet.  But, there are many great nectar sources that have white flowers (blackberry, horse chesnut, apple etc.).  Previously (until five minutes ago, when I cracked the book again), I thought this meant that bees can see white excellently, too. But actually, as Von Frisch points out, “white” coloured light contains all the colours in the spectrum visible to us, because you can split it through a prism into ROY G. BIV.  For bees, “white”, then, would be composed of all the colours they can see,  (YGBU!).  If one component, ultraviolet (which humans cannot see) is taken away, what is leftover would no longer appear white to a bee,  and would be a complementary colour to ultraviolet, maybe blue-green, Von Frisch suggest.  And it turns out, most white flowers in fact absorb ultraviolet light.

So! All along, I’ve been painting some of my bee boxes white because I think they will be able to see it well, and it turns out that maybe yes, that particular white paint may absorb ultraviolet rays, leaving behind the complementary colour to ultraviolet, which bees can see great.  But also, maybe the white paint I select may instead reflect ultraviolet, making it a true “white” to the bee, and therefore uninteresting and not memorable (as discovered by Dr. Mathilde Hertz).

Unfortunately, I can’t see ultraviolet, so there is sadly no way for me to tell the difference when I’m buying my paint from the hardware store!

All this is to say, before I got sidetracked, is that bees cannot see red.  They only perceive it as black.  So today, when I wanted to open my queen box to check on the queens, and I knew there would be stray loose bees inside, I took it into the bathroom, turned off the lights, and used Liam’s headlamp on the red-light setting (because it is frowned on in our household to release bees inside. It is also apparently not done to set down nucs right next to the front door, no matter how short a time one plans to leave there).

  
So cool! Bees don’t fly if it’s dark, and it’s the neatest thing to be looking at bees in the red light, and them not being able to see, so they don’t fly up at you.

Here’s a pic of horse chestnut, a fantastic bee tree:

   
 

It produces spiky balls for kids to throw at each other, and has an amazing scarlet coloured pollen.  Some varieties have pinkish red flowers, but most trees have these massive cones of white flowers:

  

Hawthorne: New Friend

I took a mushroom course once, and the instructor told us that he likes to think of mushrooms as friends: Every year you acquire a few more, and you always recognize your old friends. You don’t have to know every mushroom to safely eat them, but you can always add new friends.  

I think of plants like that, too. Here’s my new friend, the Hawthorne tree:

  
The blossoms really look like apple blossoms, but the leaves were different. This tree is at the Copley Community Orchard (shameless plug: you should join! They need new members. And it’s an awesome way to get out and be active in your community if you live in East Van. I’m not a member, because bees rule my life, but Liam is, and he loves it. And you get fruit. It’s great. Plug complete.)

 

Very beautiful, and loaded with blossoms. My (or someone else’s ) bees were foraging on it , but I couldn’t get a close enough look to see if they were getting pollen or nectar specifically.

Also, here’s an old friend, Maple blossoms: 

 
 

Many people are surprised to hear that Maple is a major nectar source, because the flowers are kind of pale green so they aren’t that noticeable, but maple trees get huge, and have tons of blossoms per tree.

  

Dandelions and Maple Blossoms

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Here in Metro Vancouver, the early warmth has meant an early bee season; by all accounts, blooms are around 3 weeks ahead of schedule.  The first swarms are taking flight, as bee populations suddenly start to expand! Our bees are collecting nectar from the major dandelion and maple nectar flows happening now, along with other floral sources like apple, blueberry, and cherry.  Soon, trees like horse chestnut and black locust will be in full flower–great bee trees! Gardens in the city are blooming, and our bees are loving it!