Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer Solstice Nectar

To a non-beekeeper talking about the nectar flow sounds a bit magical, like a reference to the Force in Star Wars.  Nectar is something plants make to attract pollinators to their flowers which results in the transfer of pollen from one plant to another.  Bees drink the nectar into a honey stomach up to their body weight to take back to the hive.  Bees also collect pollen in addition to nectar and on any given trip from the hive they will only collect one or the other.  Some plants produce more pollen and others more nectar.  Nectar is mostly carbohydrates and minerals and is used for energy, and pollen for protein which is used to raise brood. There are many plants that don't rely on pollinators to transfer pollen but rather the wind.  Those plants tend to have pollen that has lower protein value and do not make nectar as a result of not needing to attract pollinators. 

Collecting black pollen from poppies.

So with all this work to find food and bring it home you have to wonder how they even manage to survive with each flower only offering a tiny amount of pollen/nectar.  One advantage honey bees have over other pollinators is their ability to communicate to the other bees where a good source of food is.  This allows the scout bees to recruit work forces from the hive to focusing their efforts on the best locations for pollen or nectar even at the cost of traveling great distances.  Other pollinators do not have this advantage and will work everything they can find close to home not knowing that a better location might exist down the street.  It is not unusual for honey bees to travel several miles to find a good food source if none exist close to home.

Thus the nectar flow is a time when something is blooming in excess to the point that the bees are able to collect more than the hive immediately needs and can store a surplus.  This surplus nectar will be dried and saved for dearths and winter.  Once enough water has been dried out of the nectar the bees will cap the dried nectar in cells with wax which would now be called honey.  Hives that are unable to store enough food before fall will ultimately starve, so each hive will store as much food as possible during the summer up to the capacity of the hive.  Typically hives are able to store more than they will need for winter and this surplus is what beekeepers harvest.

This girl is collecting light brown pollen from blackberries flowers.

The locust trees are in full bloom now and you can hear the girls buzzing.

Results of the the girls pollination efforts.

Hive checks (6/17/2012)

Did a quick check to make sure the comb was straight and to check if the queen had started laying.  The brood from the Geek donated comb had emerged and the queen was laying eggs to back-fill the cells already.  This is another plus for a swarm to have some drawn comb ready so the queen can get a head start on laying.  So far everything looks good and these girls seem really mellow.   Part of that I'm sure is due to their smaller swarm size and we will have to wait and see how they act as they build up.  Got my first good look at the queen and she has dark Carniolan colors.

Healthy looking all black queen.

Also took a comb measurement to get a better idea of the type of hive they came from and found the measurement to be 5.19mm.  This would indicate to me that they came from a managed hive on standard foundation, and are not from a feral source or someones natural hive.  

Comb measurement is smaller than standard foundation but not natural cell size.

Nuc 2
Saw the queen.  There "might" be a few random eggs, but otherwise I don't think she has started laying yet.

Nuc 3
Skipped this week.  New queens should be mating.

Nuc 5
Didn't see the queen.  No signs of eggs.

Saw the queen.  Lots of brood on they way, and they seemed light on surplus nectar.  They have stopped building comb so I gave them syrup.  They were a little runny this week.

Missed the queen, but saw lots of brood and eggs.  They have decent stores left from the maples.  These girls are hoarders.  They were pretty calm this week compared to last week.

Skipped this week.

Did a partial inspection and saw multiple emergency queen cells started on the frame of eggs they got last week.  This is not unexpected, but still unfortunate that the new queen is failing.  Two were capped and three were about to be capped.  I will likely harvest 1 or 2 cells and make up a nuc to increase mating success odds.  If I had a mated queen that was laying I would introduce her, but atlas our rainy weather is not proving too kind to queen mating so far this year.

Skipped this week.  They are building comb and taking syrup.  Gave them more syrup to keep them going.  I will need to take more frames for Surf to keep that population up in coming weeks.  Found some small black beetles in the back of the hive and disposed of them.  If they are there again next week I will collect samples and identify them. 

Well the rainy weather pattern is continuing this week and it is not good for the blackberry nectar flow.  So far it is looking like we might have a repeat of last years bad flow.  I've heard that blackberry blooms need three nice days in a row to make good nectar.  I don't know how accurate that statistic is but so far we have had one nice day this entire month which isn't promising.

 - Jeff

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