California Beekeepers, Farmers Prepare For Pollination

As beekeepers prepare for the almond pollination season to begin, multiple issues face them along the way.  Hive thefts, diseases and pesticide use concerns loom over their heads along with the rainy weather.

Much of Northern California has experienced above-average precipitation this winter, but by the time bloom begins in mid-February, almond growers hope the sun will shine long enough to allow bees to fly and do the job of pollination. Almond bloom usually begins in mid-February and continues until mid-March.

Major Research Development to Help Honey Bees

As the pest, disease and pesticide issues facing bees continues to frustrate beekeepers across the country, more projects are coming together to try to help make some positive headway in keeping honey bees healthy and alive.

A new honey bee testing service announced this week will allow beekeepers to more effectively identify and address diseases plaguing bee colonies, according to the National Agricultural Genotyping Center (NAGC). NAGC conducted the research and developed the testing panel with the support of the National Corn Growers Association and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture. […]

Source: Major Research Development to Help Honey Bees

That Time Schawee Caught Three Queens in ONE Swarm

Beekeepers say that swarm captures are almost always great fun and a terrific way to build your apiary.  “Everyone” knows that a swarm only leaves with one queen right?  Well, apparently, no one bothered to tell that to THIS swarm.

What are bees doing? Making Honey

Honey, the golden flow.  The nectar of the Gods (or is that Mead?)  For us bees, it is the stuff of life.  Whatever you might think of honey, it’s not nearly as what it is to honey bees.

First of all, what is honey?  Honey is nectar, a sugary sap-like substance produced by flowers that is mostly water with varying amounts of sugars in it.  Actually honey is nectar that has been changed and dehydrated by the mixing of special enzymes found in every worker bees “Crop” also known as the honey gut.  We’ll gut more into that later.

First of all, flowers aren’t as nice as you think they are.  Oh sure, they want you look at them and say how pretty they are and how great they smell.  You don’t understand though, it’s all a plot.  Plants are conniving things that are manipulating us bees into helping them to multiply and take over the world.

It’s true.  See, for millions of years now, plants have been adding this addictive and tasty substance you call nectar to trick honey bees and some other insects into pollinating them and help them to reproduce, multiply and spread out.  With bee pollination, some flowering plants can take over entire landscapes and no-one bats an eye except to look at the pretty sight.

Puh-leeze.

They lure us in with this tantalizing nectar.  We brush past all the pollen, covering ourselves in it, drink up the nectar and store it to take home and share with the colony.  On the way, bees stop at other, similar flowers and as we go in for the nectar again, the pollen we picked up from the previous schemer is brushed off onto the next one helping it to reproduce more efficiently.

Meanwhile, we take the nectar home, mix in a variety of enzymes from our Crop and as we pass it to the next bee or into a stores cell, we mix even more of the “special enzyme mixture” into the nectar which, among other things, converts the sugars and helps to dehydrate the nectar until it’s only about 18% water.  When you consider that nectar starts out as maybe 80% water or more, that’s one heck of a transformation we put it through.

So it get’s converted, dehydrated, stored and then we save it and make more.  It gets eaten, eventually.  depending on the time of year or the season.  This is the primary food of all adult bees.  We do collect some of the pollen also to feed the brood but for adult bees, we get the good stuff.

However, we have to live with the knowledge that we are willing accomplices to plants’ diabolical plot to take over the world.  Really, when it all comes down to it, we don’t mind.  The plants and bees were here long before you people and we’ll pretty much bee here long after you are gone.  Not that I’m wishing anything bad on anyone, just, well, you know, that whole “Survival of the Fittest” thing.

A single honey bee colony in a beekeeper’s hive is capable of relatively easily producing anywhere from 50 to 300 pounds of honey depending on the resources, environment and weather.  Of course, it also depends on the bees.  I have got some cousins that, well, let’s just say if they don’t get motivated, they will be “Naturally Selected” before you can say “Honey”.

I have sisters who will spend their whole lives as a forager collecting about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey.  Don’t worry too much about it though, I have more sisters than most cities have people.  This is what they are made for.  True story.

My Momma, the Queen bee, she told me once, “Bubba Bee, when you’re sisters give you food, you’d better eat all they give you beecause that stuff took a whole lotta effort to make and we’re all counting on you to go make some future Queen bee mighty successful at laying eggs.  So you eat that honey and become healthy and strong.”

Truth bee told, my Momma didn’t call me “Bubba”.  She just said, “Boy”  beecause when she’s laying that many eggs to beecome drones, it’s hard to come up with that many different names.  One of my sisters did tell me once that one colony in a hive can fly a total (combining all the flights of all the foragers) of about 55,000 miles, getting nectar from approximately 2 million flowers just to make one pound of honey.

Did you realize that honey bees are considered to be the only insect that make food edible by humans?

You’re welcome.

What Are Beekeepers Doing? Using A Smoker

Perhaps one of the most commonly associated pieces of beekeeping equipment used is the Smoker.  It is also one of the most misunderstood pieces of equipment that beekeepers use that non-beekeepers have questions about.

Beekeeping smoker

Most people want to know why is it that beekeepers blow smoke into bee hives on on bees.  Short answer; Beekeepers don’t want to get stung.

The long answer takes multiple things into consideration:

  • Smoke “hides” a pheromone that serves as a combines warning system and “Call in the reserves!” alarm.  Fewer bees to fend off.
  • Smoke is thought to turn bees into “preppers” who stop everything and go gorge on honey in case there’s a forest fire or something.
  • Smoke can be used to “herd” bees into directions away from the direction the smoke is blown at them.  Useful to clear spaces of lots of bodies so as to inspect.

Beekeepers don’t particularly want to stress the bees out.  TO reduce stress, beekeepers usually use things that produce a “cool” smoke that isn’t so hot as to harm the hive or bees.

Nixon lights a smoker.jpg
By StubbsguyOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Beekeepers also usually prefer to use natural things to burn so as not to send poisonous fume into the hives.  Pine needles are a major favorite among beekeepers as it is non-toxic and tends to keep the smoke cool and “thick”.  Thick because then “less is more”.

When using beekeeping smokers properly, beekeepers are better able to inspect hives to keep them free of diseases and pests.  At the same time, the beekeeper is also keeping themselves and others in the surrounding area safe by not agitating bees.  Lastly, By properly using a smoker, beekeepers are keeping bee colonies less stressed and keep aggressiveness down.  Bees that get fired up to defend aggressively can experience high death rates due to many bees going out to defend and sting.  Beekeepers don’t want that.

File:Imkerarbeit.jpg
Working bees low stress. Avenarius at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

There are some other ways to work with bee hives that don’t involve a smoker, but it is tried and true, relatively easy for beginners to use and bee successful and serves as a constant reminder to the beekeeper that going into a hive is not something to do just for fun.  It’s a serious tool meant for doing serious deeds, like keeping bees healthy and alive.

There’s A New Sheriff Around Here

Congratulations are in order.  Big Bear got the great idea to hire an Editor-In-Chief to handle the Bee Smart website.  So beecause I proved myself so handy at beeing a, well let’s face it, I was a mascot, I have been given a shot at running the whole show here.

Life as a drone isn’t all that it’s cracked up to bee.  Yes, I know I’m small for a drone and yes, he makes me wear that prosthetic stinger.   Still , it’s significantly better than life in the hives.  Sure, there’s all the hang time with the fellas and you get to hang out in pretty much any hive you want.  It’s kind of like what you call living like a rock star.  All the girls giving you attention, free food whenever you want, crash anyplace, chasing all the best bee girls, every one of them is like a queen.

Oh sure, we die when we finally manage to catch up and spend some quality time with one of those queens.  But hey, what a way to go, am I right?

But then, oh they don’t tell you about this when you crawl out of the cell day one.  Oh no, when the weather goes cold, it’s like zombee apocalypse time for drones in the hive.  It’s like every single worker is out to kill you.  IT’S CRAZY I SAY!!!

So, thanks, but no thanks.  I found my way out of that craziness and landed a sweet job working for Big Bear here at Bee Smart as the “Public Relations Representative”.  Yeah, I was a mascot.  That’s alright though.  I’ve been reading and watching all kinds of fascinating documentaries on people.  This YouTube thing is wild.  You humans are a trip.

So here I am, the new Editor-in-Chief of Bee Smart beekeeping project.  On the surface, my main job is to keep everyone informed and entertained.  “Keep the content flowing like honey.” is what the Bear told me.

Beehind the scenes though, really, have you ever tried to keep a bunch of A Type personality beekeepers like the bunch we have here on task?  It’s like herding Aphids.  No cooperation at all, I’m here ta tell ya.

I think you’ll like what we have planned in the upcoming days, weeks and months ahead.  Lot’s of news captured from the web, curated and posted here for you.  Original articles on anything and everything to do with bees, beekeepers and beekeeping and anything else like honey, beeswax, woodworking, gardening for bees…  You get what I mean.

Of course we can’t forget the podcasts.  Or the videos.  Let’s not forget the monthly newsletter for Patrons too.  Whew.  I just started this job and I’m already tired just thinking about it.  I don’t know now if it was a promotion or punishment.

 

What Are Bees Doing? Winter Warming

The honey bee colony forms a cluster or “ball” of bees crowding in together once temperatures get to about 59° F or lower.  The warmer it is, the bees hang out in a looser, less tightly crowded condition.  The colder it gets however, the more tightly they pack in next to each other.

Each bee is a walking thermometer and there are “outer bees” in the cluster and there are “inner bees” in the cluster.  The bees take turns being inner and outer bees over time.  All of the bees in the cluster generate heat by using “micro-vibration” in the thorax of the flight muscles.  To watch them, you can’t even tell that they are making any movements of that sort.

“Inner” bees are packed together less tightly than bees on the outside of the cluster.  That’s beecause their jobs, even while clustered, generate heat as well as care for the queen and any brood depending on the time of year.  When there is brood to care for honey bee clusters can and will maintain temperatures of up to 95° F and maintain it as long as there is enough food to keep burning the energy.

winter cluster “zones”

“Outer bees”, those that make up the variably one to thee inches of the cluster “shell” as it were, cluster much more tightly together in order to “insulate” the inside of the cluster through increasing bee density and minimizing the amount of surface area that gets cold.  When there is no brood to care for, bee clusters will “chill out” just a bit working enough to hold temps at about 55-ish ° F.  Enough to keep bees alive and able to move their muscles.

Bees typically “hold it” and wait to empty the waste in their bodies for times when the weather allows them to fly out and away from the hive to do so.  Unless they are ill or otherwise affected, bees won’t make a mess inside the hive.  At least, that kind of mess.

When the temperatures are warmer, the cluster loosens up and sometimes breaks into smaller clusters allowing bees to travel across the combs and even to move the whole cluster ball upwards towards the area where honey or food is still stored.  As the temperatures drop, the cluster re-forms and tightens up again.  Those bees that don’t make it back to the cluster often die.  Clusters that break up into smaller clusters spread apart in the hive that get caught unable to reform the larger cluster are also at risk of killing off the whole colony because there just aren’t enough bodies to keep each “mini-cluster” warm enough.

Bees that get too cold experience something called “torpor” which leads to dead bees.  It’s not the typical behavior of bees to put themselves in such a situation to experience torpor, but it can and does happen far more than any beekeeper would like to see.  Otherwise, honey bees cluster up and stay active and awake inside the hive all Winter long.

And that is what they are doing in there.

Lost colonies: How bee rustling works

Hive stealing has been around for a very long time.  While this article discusses pretty well how “bee rustling” is impacted by almond season, it doesn’t go quite into the history of the malpractice.

Also, I’d like to add that the estimable gentleman from Bee Culture magazine that was quoted in this article is Kim Flottum (NOT Flossum).  As always, excellent input Kim.

When $90,000 worth of bee colonies were stolen recently in Manvel, it raised one question among those outside the industry: Why? Why steal bees?

Source: Lost colonies: How bee rustling works