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The Flowers of Winter

by HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki
Corymbia_ficifolia_1

Flower-nectar and pollen are the life’s blood of our bees and—even though we are in the month of November—much is in bloom in the city. Many plants from the Southern Hemisphere bloom in Winter and irrigation of city gardens blurs the droughty conditions naturally seen in the wild lands of California.

I’m often surprised by the relatively sparse knowledge beekeepers have about the plant resources that are so fundamental to bees’ health and prosperity. We must try to hone our observational skills on the plant life around us and what those blossoms are offering our bees. When we pay attention, we can easily conjecture what bees will be storing in their combs and how colonies may be growing. A LOT of beekeeping is taking a long view of a process and not so much a set of strict rules of what to expect.

Here are a few things in bloom I’m seeing now:

  • Melaleuca quinquenervia (Paperbark tree)—white, bottlebrush flowers and thick, squishy, peeling white bark.  There are several types of melaleucas.
  • Eucalyptus of various kinds—E. ficifolia (now called Corymbia ficifolia)—Huge trusses of flowers in shades of red, pink or orange. E. camaldulensis (Red River Gum)—white or pale yellow flowers. And E. globulus (Blue Gum)—white flowers.
  • Schinus terebinthifolius (Brazilian Pepper Tree)—Tiny but profuse white flowers.
  • Callistemon rigidus (Bottlebrush tree)—red, bottlebrush flowers.
  • Rosemary, Lavender and Basil—all have the small flowers bees seem to be most attracted to.
  • Citrus trees—lemon, orange, lime.

Take a look around and notice something new. What plants are attracting the bees’ attention in your neighborhood?

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Swarms

SwarmRescue

by HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki

When I began beekeeping and reading about it, I was informed that the primary swarm emerging from a hive has the old queen with it. Afterswarms— the secondary or even tertiary smaller swarms that may leave later—are smaller and contain a virgin queen; or as it turns out, MORE THAN ONE VIRGIN! I was rescuing a swarm this summer that was on the tire of a car and it was was in two obvious lobes. Crawling in and out of the two parts were at least three queens. Surprise!

Josip Benko says these swarms with virgins are often a response to stress in the available food supply and occur in the Fall. One wonders how the bees manage this apparent lack of fealty to a particular queen, but Josip says they form something like “political parties,” guarding and surrounding the virgin they have attached themselves to. When the swarm takes flight, all leave together but travel with a factional group and when they come to rest, the factions stay somewhat apart. Regarding the swarm on the tire, by the time I actually came back in the evening to take the swarm, it had coalesced into one group and two dead virgins were lying on the ground. They must have taken to fighting for supremacy.

Another thing I am seeing and being called to rescue (and other beeks are reporting) is the arrival of VERY small swarms, often no bigger than an orange or a lemon. These little groups have such a bad chance of making it unless they can get hived with capped brood and capped honey in a container no larger than a 3 frame nuc. Again, these tiny swarms are a sign of colony stress and I have seen more than one clinging to a dead queen in a pathetic little bunch having lost the race. Our urban bees have a pretty rich source of nectar and pollen all year, but this time of year is still lean and so we beekeepers say it is a “dearth.”

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California Dearth Conditions

via HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki

Beeks—As you are probably reading everywhere, California is in the middle of a extended drought and this significantly affects the available food—pollen and nectar—for our bees. People can get a false sense of security about this problem since all around are extensive irrigated landscapes— golf courses, industrial parks, shopping malls with fountains and lush landscaping, apartment and condo blocks, and private homes.

However, all this is carried out by the importation of precious water from underground aquifers and water resources channeled from the middle and northern part of the state. Irrigation with re-claimed sewer water—-designated by the required violet colored pipes and valve box covers—is still a anomaly, unfortunately. Our streets are still running with rivers of wasted water, too.

For a simple tabulation of the history of the rainfall pattern, go here: http://www.laalmanac.com/weather/we13.htm

You will see, since 2000, we have been much under normal 8 years and only in excess 5 years—and not that much in excess, when the average for 135 years is only 15 inches. The population of California is projected to be 60 million by 2050, from the 34 million counted in 2007. The water is not going to be there to sustain this many people in the lifestyle currently practiced.

Many beeks are noticing their bees have small stores of honey, or sometimes, nothing. I am seeing cutouts with lots of brood, but almost NO honey/nectar stores. As beekeepers, this is important for us to monitor when doing inspections of our hives and when trying to support small nucs and cutouts after the trauma of the operations when we move them. We may need to feed our bees to help them manage the loss of available food supply—called a “dearth” –if we wish for them to be around for us come Spring. The best food for bees is their natural food—honey. This can be provided by frames of honey taken from strong hives. “junk comb” from cutouts, and honey purchased for the specific feeding purpose. A bee has a natural acidic pH in her gut that is supported by many strains of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes adapted to that pH environment. When we feed sugar or high fructose corn syrup, the more alkaline nature of these sugars alters the gut pH. Some scientists believe this is not beneficial to the gut microbes that serve the bee’s immune system. However, if the situation is one of the choice between starvation or feeding sugar, we may need to feed the sugar syrup to get by until there is a natural nectar flow.


Big thank you to Susan for contributing to our blog as well as moderating the HoneyLove Forum!

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