We know that planting flowering plants will go a long way to help our local honeybees. They need more than pollen and nectar from flowers however. Providing a source of clean water will help them thrive.
As I was potting up plants the other day, I was reminded how important water is to honeybees. Bees were collecting water from a bucket I have sitting out near the potting bench. I keep this bucket full just so bees have a place nearby to collect water – they’re also fun to watch.
Bees use water during the summer to cool their hives. They spread the collected water around inside the hive. Then bees inside use their wings to fan air over the water causing it to evaporate quickly which cools the hive.
They like to keep the inside of the hive at about 93 degrees F. You can imagine how warm it can get inside of an enclosed beehive exposed to the summer sun. Even during cooler days, the hive temperature can rise due to body heat generated by all of the activity of thousands of bees – sort of like when thousands of sports fans get together inside a basketball arena with no air conditioning.
My bucket is out of the way where no one can bother it. Sometimes the bees are so intent on getting water that they will accidentally bump into people passing by.
I timed individual bees and found out that it takes just about one minute for a bee to land, fill up with water and head back to the hive. On a nice day earlier this week, the bees were drawing down one or two inches of water a day. I know that my bucket is just one source of water for this hive and that they were using much more water than that.
Even though we have moved into late summer, it’s not too late to provide your neighborhood bees with fresh water. Just be sure to change the water often to keep mosquitoes from breeding in it.
While walking past a clump of Monarda the other day, I noticed the plants were humming with insects. Even though the flowers were past peak blooming, all sorts of bees were buzzing around.
I took a minute or so to look at the insects and counted at least a half dozen different species of the bee family. There were honeybees, paper wasps and some kind of bumblebee; those were easy to spot. Looking closer I could see other species of smaller bees that I was not able to identify. It’s no wonder Monarda is called Bee Balm. Butterflies and hummingbirds like Monarda too.
Bee Balm is a native plant that has found a place in the garden. Normally, in the wild, it grows in damp areas. In the garden, it grows fine in a flowerbed; you just need to give it a little extra water during dry spells. If you have a wet area that gives you problems, Monarda is a good solution.
Even though Monarda is a perennial, it is best to wait until spring before dividing and moving a clump to your garden. Fall planted Monarda will often winterkill. I have grown it from seed; it is fairly easy to start and is a cheap way to get a lot of plants.
It grows to a height of three or four feet, has red, pink or purple flowers depending on the variety, and takes care of itself once it is established.
Monarda is also used as an herb. In the herb garden, it is known by its other two names Bergamot and Oswego Tea.
Planting Monarda is an easy way to add color to your garden while helping our local honeybees and other pollinators.
Honeybees and their beekeepers all around our area were delighted by the 50F temperatures during the day on New Year’s Eve.
During the winter honeybees are not dormant, various things happen inside the hive depending on what’s happening with the weather.
Consuming honey is the primary activity of bees this time of the year. The energy they get from their stored food allows them to generate the warmth that is needed to keep them alive through the winter. The heat each individual bee produces is not very much and if left alone by itself, a single bee will die from the cold.
Honeybees are not solitary insects. They cooperate with one another in running the hive, that includes keeping themselves at a temperature warm enough to survive the winter. They manage to do that by bunching together in a spherical cluster. This cluster will be smaller and tighter when the temperatures are cold so that the heat is held in. If temperatures rise, the cluster of bees will expand somewhat. If the temperature rises enough, they will break out of the cluster and begin moving around the hive.
You have to keep in mind that all of the honey that they consume is digested by the bee’s body and waste products are produced.
On New Year’s Eve, the temperature in our area reached 50F. This along with the couple of hours of sunshine motivated the bees to fly from the hive in what is known as a “cleansing flight”.
Honeybees will not defecate in their hive if they can help it. So they hold “it” for as long as they can waiting for a chance to take to the air and relieve themselves outside away from the hive.
The bees I captured this fall were out in large numbers during the day on New Year’s Eve. The air was filled with the sound of flying bees for a couple of hours until the rain moved in and forced them back into the hive.
This break from the winter weather helped them a lot. Hopefully this small colony of bees will make it through the winter and eventually become a productive hive.
The most uncertain period for them still lies ahead.
A few days ago my sister Vickie stopped by to visit and feed the chickens a treat of dry bread. While we were talking she asked me, “why didn’t you tell me you had a bee’s nest near your driveway?” I answered that I didn’t know what she was talking about.
It turned out that earlier in the summer a honeybee swarm had settled into a brushy area near my driveway. Instead of looking for a hollow tree or abandoned shed, they must have felt that they were adequately protected from elements and started to build honey combs right out in the open. I hadn’t seen the hive because the undergrowth was too thick, it wasn’t until the leaves started falling that the bees became visible. Honeybees will do this from time to time.
When bees do this, they use their own bodies as a wall to protect the Queen bee and her brood inside the nest. This means that fewer worker bees are available to forage for nectar and pollen because they are preoccupied with keeping the hive warm and protected. Fewer foragers means less honey and that equals less food available to the hive for use during the winter. In our area, a hive like this would be unable to survive the winter without shelter.
Not wanting to see them die a sure death, I decided to help them endure the upcoming winter by placing them into a beehive body made from a standard size wooden box used to keep bees. I’m feeding them sugar syrup to supplement the Goldenrod and Aster nectar they are collecting.
This was not a very large cluster of bees as far as bee hives go. So they may not survive the winter anyway but at least I gave them a better chance than they would have otherwise.
Feral bees like these play an important part in the world of beekeeping. Since they are survivors they have the potential to carry important genetic traits that may make them resistant to the many diseases and parasites that plague bees.
After checking the honeybees this week, I was dismayed at how little honey they had made for themselves this summer.
Looking at the number of honey combs that were filled, it became evident to me that probably only a third of the hives would yield enough honey for me to safely harvest.
Honeybees collect flower nectar and pollen through the summer and process it into honey which gets stored onto combs so that they have enough to eat during our long, cold winters. Any surplus is then collected by the beekeeper.
I talked with another beekeeper who said he noticed the same thing in his apiary and others were reporting similar findings. He even thought that some of his bees were consuming some of the honey that the bees were supposed to be saving for this winter. We concluded that this summer had less than ideal flower growing and bee foraging conditions.
The season started out promising then some areas were hit by dry weather conditions. When it did rain, the storms were usually widely scattered. The timing of the rains may not have coincided with the flowers’ water needs for optimum nectar production. At times, we had rain when flowers were blooming. Since bees do not fly in the rain, they were unable to get out and collect nectar.
So what do we do? Some beekeepers are feeding sugar syrup to their weakest hives hoping that the bees will store some for winter use. Others have already harvested their honey after deciding which hives were the most productive. The rest are hoping that the bees will be able to collect enough nectar and pollen from the Goldenrods which are in full bloom right now. Of course that all depends upon the weather. We may end up having higher than normal bee losses this winter because of this summer’s weather conditions.
If you keep a colony or two of bees, now would be a good time to check your hives, assess their condition and make a decision on whether or not your bees need some extra help this fall.
Earlier this week I was asked to look over a bee hive that had not been attended to since last fall. For a number a reasons the owner was not able to care for the hive.
Opening it up I found just a few bees and very little honey. There was however a serious infestation of Wax Worms.
Wax Worms are the larval stage of a moth that sneaks into weaken hives to lay its eggs which then hatch into larvae. A strong healthy hive will keep Wax Worm moths from entering a hive.
Something had happened to this previously healthy hive. Upon closer inspection, I was unable to find any bee larvae or eggs indicating that the Queen bee had died. With no Queen around to lay eggs, the remaining bees will simply live out their lives and with no young bees to replace them the hive will eventually be completely empty.
In the natural world, Wax Worms play an important part in the honey bee population. If a wild bee hive succumbs to a disease, the Wax Worms will move in and eat the remaining wax combs and other debris left over from the dead bee colony. This is good because the infected wax is destroyed and will no longer be able to infect other bees that may want to move into that space.
Wax Worms are the only organism that can consume and digest beeswax and thrive on it.
When beekeepers store their extra empty bee hives, they have to be careful to protect them from Wax Worms moths because the worms will destroy those hives too. They not only eat the wax combs but can chew through the wooden parts of a hive as well.
I will probably go back next week and clean up that hive and try to salvage what I can from it.
Last week I received some replacement bees that I ordered back in January. I needed them for the hives that were lost earlier in the year.
You can purchase bees from various bee supply stores. They are not sold by the dozen or by the gross, instead you buy them by the pound, usually in 2 or 3 pound packages. I bought the 3 pound size (about 12,000 bees). It makes sense that the more individual bees you start out with, the quicker you can get your beehive up to optimum working strength for nectar collection and honey making.
The packaged bees are raised and then shipped from Florida. They make it to their new home in Michigan in less than a day by truck.
The shipping container is a wood frame box covered with window screening.
By prying open the top cover you can see that the container includes a can of sugar water for the bees to eat on their journey north.
A small screened cage that houses the honey bee queen is suspended inside the bee package as well. Keeping the queen in her own protective cage keeps her safe during the journey.
I had to take out the sugar water can so that the bees could be released through the opening.
Then the queen cage was removed.
The queen cage was hung between a couple of hive frames. The frames are what holds the honey combs in place inside the hive.
The fun part is when you shake the bees out of the container. I shook a few over the frames.
The rest were poured out near the front entrance of the hive. They started up into the hive right away. The queen bee gives off a special scent that lets all of her worker bees know where she is at all times.
I added some sugar water in a plastic feeder and closed the whole thing up with an empty hive box.
Tomorrow I’ll check the new hives to make sure the queens are still alive . If so, then I’ll be pretty sure that the new hives have gotten off to a good start.
Here we are in late summer, most of the flowers of the season have faded. That means the honey bees have to work harder for their nectar.
I was watering the outdoor potted plants this afternoon and noticed the bees “working” the flowers of our Leonotis (Staircase Plant). Usually I don’t see any bees on this plant but today was different.
The honey bees were seaching for nectar. Some were flying franticaly from flower to flower, while others were spending some time at each blossom.
Looking closer, I noticed that the “frustrated” bees (the ones flying from flower to flower) were trying to get nectar from the tip of the elongated flowers. (Please excuse the out of focus shot, it’s pretty hard to convince a bee to stay still for a picture)
While those working calmly and deliberately were gathering nectar from the base of the flower.
Looking closer at the flower, I discovered that the petals of a Leonotis flower are wrapped in such a way that it forms a funnel shape.
If a honey bee tries to get nectar from the tip, it finds that it can’t reach the base of the flower where the nectar is stored. The flower is too long for the bee to stretch her tongue that far.
A smart bee learns that where the flower petals overlap, a small crack is formed at the seam near the base of the flower. This is where she inserts her tongue and is able to easily gather the nectar.
This was a very intriguing display of honey bee behavior. I could have watched it for hours, but I was running out of time and had much more watering to do.
So, I just continued on with my work and let the bees carry on with theirs.