Thursday, November 17, 2011

Busy Bar Scene at The Oak Tree Saloon

Do Not Disturb! Honeybees at work extracting honey. 

Yesterday, a tropical-esque day for mid-November, I brought outside a frame of mostly capped honey and placed it on the ground under an oak tree.  The honey was still liquid for the most part even after more than a year in the freezer - I checked this in the process of scratching the cappings, the wax coating with which bees seal the honey-filled cells, so the bees could access their favorite food.  The frame had actually been in a very warm place for about a  month and just by gently running a comb-like pronged kitchen implement over the surface started some sweet drippings!

Why, oh why did I think that this was a good idea?  Sometimes I don't know what comes over me when I get into the bee mood.  It has been way too warm for too long this fall.  Almost counterintuitively, the warm temperatures spur the bees to eat more than if it is colder, hence they are working down their winter stores.  My idea was to feed them back some food and give them something to do on this pretty day.  Hardly anything is still blooming, although there were some foragers on the Nicotiana.  With three hives and eeny meeny miney not an option, the only way to do this was to put the frame outside and let scouts from all three hives find it and spread the news.

It didn't take long.  In five minutes one scout had landed on the back side of the frame and I watched as she gave it the first taste test with her tongue.  Must have passed the test. More bees collected in very short order.  Even as the weather deteriorated during the day, the bees were at work, slurping - if they slurp  - up the honey.  Lots and lots of bees.  On both sides of the frame which was leaning against the trunk of an oak tree about 75 feet from the hive.  At about 4pm, under ever grayer and darker skies, they were still at it.  At 415pm, I started to wonder if they would go home or camp out on the frame, especially on the sheltered side facing the tree trunk. This I would not let happen, I decided, and just in case, I pulled out of the garage and had ready a hive body box, makeshift top and cardboard bottom, and a stone to weigh the top down against inquisitive skunks.  I checked them again at 430 and not discerning if they were starting to commute back to the hives but having the plan ready to implement, went back to my whatevers.

At 630pm, with a flashlight, I went outside to check.  It was raining.   The bar was closed.  All the good little bees had gone home.  What a dummy I was to doubt their instinct!  In their place there were a number of moths feeding on the honey.  They kind of had that guilty look of being caught in a dishonest act. Well, not really, but they did appear to be crouching.

Today, not quite as warm but otherwise a copy of yesterday's weather, I replaced the frame.  But I was only doing what they were telling me to do because even at 730am, bees were flying around the area under the oak tree, looking.  Where is the honey?  So I brought out the frame again which still had a couple of pounds of honey in the cells.  This afternoon at 4pm, their day was done, and most all the honey had been extracted.  Here is closer photo of the action on the frame....

Busy bees at the honey bar
I love how their wings, folded back along their abdomens, are shiny and shimmery in the light.  I wonder if they work tightly packed together like this as a heat-saving technique.  Standing room only....The cells on the inside of the L-shape of the cluster are empty.  The ones to the left were not scratched as well and some in this photo are still full.  When I picked up the frame this afternoon, this section had been cleaned out too, all but the ones near the top of the frame.  Maybe tomorrow.... weather permitting....Or maybe this was their snack at season's end, or rather, their Thanksgiving feast.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Morning Buzz

Two honeybees graze on a poppy in a warmer season

As I continue to marvel at the slow decent into colder temperatures which has me still gardening in practically summertime garb - as still is the case on this cloudy day - today I noticed a very dramatic change in the overall look to the landscape.  Suddenly, overnight, it looks more like the November it truly is.  The golden light in the woods has morphed to brown.  Beech leaves have given up on their bright color; their moment on the stage of fall over. The driveway is covered with oak leaves that fell overnight.  On a walk today, the leaves drifted down to the roadways, landing with a soft tap without much air movement to encourage them.  It is time.

Yesterday, which now seems like another season,  a little moment in the early morning inspired a few thoughts.  I let our very old, mostly blind dog out the back door, his second outing of the day, but I did not totally "suit up" for going outside.   I stood on the pathway from our back door in my "indoor" shoes, monitoring his meanderings, noticing once again that the English holly shrubs continue to show tiny flowers as well as bright red berries and yet-unripe green ones.  Yet another sign of the long fall that seems in no hurry to be off.  Also I was contemplating a comment said the day before that made me very sad - but one that bolstered my resolve at the same time.  The suggestion was that gardening - non-specific but since the meeting was mostly about flower gardening, that is how I interpreted it - is on the decline in the same way that cooking as an endeavor was several years ago.  In my mind I was revisiting my hope - and a motivating force - that gardening for pollinators will be the next big thing when I became aware of a noise that sounded like a bee's buzzing.  As a beekeeper, that noise is an attention-getter.  Next thought - oh, only traffic on Route 1, less than a mile away.  But then I saw a honeybee eyeing my tea mug, held at waist height.  What?  Traditional lore says that honeybees don't fly at less than 50 degrees, and usually wait until later on in the morning to make an appearance.  It was 7:30 AM and about 48 out.  Not to mention November 9.

The bee hovered and gave the mug a good inspection before landing on the edge and walking down the inside.  I saw her extend her tiny tongue and work over the surface getting ever closer to the liquid. This was going to be interesting, I thought.  Hardly had the thought formed when her close approach to the tea evidently warned her about the temperature. Up and out she flew.  What mission was she on?  Why so early?  What energy source was warming her flight?  How and why was she attracted to my mug of tea?  MY mug?  The mysteries of beekeeping....

If truth be known, I did glance at our three hives and did notice more than a random few bees flying from one of the hives that was more in the sun even at this early hour.  As a beekeeper, you learn that extended periods of warm temperatures are actually bad for bees in the fall.  It keeps them more active than they would be normally,  and eating up their stores that need to last all winter.  There are no more sources of nectar to refill the larder.  But, given to pondering the season, the gardening question, and with a tendency to go a bit beyond the face value of this little morning moment, I couldn't help but think that this honeybee had a message.  

She is unique in our biome, an insect that overwinters with thousands of her kind, cloistered in a box, eating honey that she and her sisters, mostly now deceased, made from hundreds of thousands of foraging forays during the preceding weeks and months.  Most native bees exist now in forms that will emerge only next spring.   So now the honeybee is the only available flighted messenger.  She was reminding me again of the importance of her existence and by transitivity that of all pollinators.  Yes, that is the right idea, she seemed to be reminding me. Garden for us, the pollinators!

That was what the buzzing was about so early in the morning.

Honeybee forages on a bachelor's button flower

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tattered and Torn, Weary and Worn, But Still Tasty (or Maybe the Only Item on the Menu)

Today I had my lunchtime lounging next to the sprawly collection of corn marigold, Chrysanthemum segetum or more properly Glebionis segetum,  plants in the vegetable garden.  The sun was warm and added to the golden glow of the flowers which, despite several fairly hard frosts, were not flattened like the nasturtiums have been.  Certainly many individual flowers were not in great shape - petals all a-fray or missing; the pollen patch spent on many.  But foragers were out!  My seat was front row for noting the flying visitors, whom I watched and photographed for a good enough time to be almost confident I had recorded them all.  Quite a crew it was!  The small slender bees (first photo) were the most numerous but there were a remarkable number of bee and fly species on this one type of flower!  Yes, I know  - not much choice, left or right.

Here are the bees, including a honeybee who seems to be looking at me.

Here are the flies, a couple of syrphid or flower flies and others more like house flies. What is the brownish one with the folded-back wings?

Meanwhile, on the next plant over, at least two bumblebee individuals were using their long tongues to get to the last drops of nectar. Their heads were nuzzling way into the flowers.   Here they are:

After my long settee, to stretch a bit, I walked to the end of one of the long raised beds where another yellow flower had managed not to succumb to the freezing temperatures.  What a difference - nobody was visiting the lonely pot marigold, Calendula.