Thursday, October 4, 2012

Borage a Forgotten Herb?

Borage is one of those plants every beekeeper should be familiar with.  It is a great producer of nectar and pollen and ranks pretty high on the list of favorite plants for honey bees.  Oh and don't forget that it is also their favorite color.  Borage is a self seeding annual and if you stagger the seeds you can produce crops in spring and fall at times when the bees are in need of good nectar and pollen sources.

Borage has star shaped flowers that typically hang downwards.

Speaking of fall crops, now is the time to start prepping your gardens for winter cover crops.  Cover crops are good for holding nutrients in the soil and depending on what you plant might even enrich the soil.  Kale and Collards will mature and bloom early spring and the flowers are very attractive to bees.  Other good choices are Crimson Clover and Winter Peas.

I've been asked a few times why I've been feeding syrup.  In some areas there are good patches of Knotweed to provide winter feed, but I just don't see those patches here in Queen Anne and I don't see the girls bringing in much surplus nectar.  Feeding works well in August and September when the nights are still warm, but come October the bees can have trouble drying it in time for winter and it can ferment.  The colder October nights also means that the syrup doesn't have much time to warm up during the day and the girls don't like cold syrup any more than Seattleites like cold coffee in the morning.

In top bars you will run into problems if they go into winter without enough honey saved.  In Langstroth hives you can always use the mountain camp method (dry sugar above the top frames) for a light hive.  I did try putting dry sugar in empty combs last year that helped to some extent but isn't really comparable to mountain camp.  You can also get them to take syrup longer in cooler weather if you have syrup directly above a warm brood nest in a Langstroth hive instead of the back of a top bar hive.

There are still a few flowers out there blooming to keep the foragers busy.  In addition to what I've discussed in previous posts here are some new ones I found this week.  None of them were in abundance and will likely only provide enough to keep the foragers going.

Fall blooming crocus.

Dahlia blooms.

Nasturtium flowers.

Mallow flowers (same family of plants used to make traditional marshmallows).

Wild Geraniums.

Another late season flower that people often forget about is ivy.  Yeah it stinks a little and the honey crystallizes quickly but if it has been a tough year it can offer the bees a little late season boost.  Pollen has a limited "shelf life" and having a few late season pollen sources like ivy can help them build up a reserve for the early spring bees.  There are other winter pollen sources but you never know with the weather around here if they will be able to get to them.  Ivy also seems to attract a lot of other flying bugs and I often see a lot of hover flies and wasps after the nectar.

English Ivy provides fall pollen and nectar.

In addition to seeing the syrup intake slowing down the hive actively has also been winding down for winter.  The girls seem to be a bit more cautious in their foraging and staying closer to home.  For the most part winter prep is done and the hives aren't trying to build up but rather to simply maintain themselves and conserve resources.  Inspections are little more than checking syrup and looking at brood on the weak hives.  There is still time to combine hives, but otherwise manipulations are pretty much done until March.

Hive Check (9/29/2012)

There is a small patch of larvae, but not as much as I would have hoped for.  They are taking feed.

Nuc 2
Taking a little feed.

They are taking feed.

Librarian Daughter Nuc
There was a queen cell, and a small patch of worker larvae on the way.  I removed the queen cell.  They aren't taking much feed.

Icon Daughter Nuc
Small patch of brood, lots of bees.  They were making queen cells in here as well that I removed.  I'm guessing that the foragers don't think she's a very strong queen.  I removed the queen cells on both hives because there is no time for them to be successful.  If the queens aren't working out then a combine is the only salvage option left.

You can see the white pupa and all the white royal jelly at the bottom of this opened queen cell.

Nuc 3
They are taking feed.

Engineer Hive
Not much brood.  They are taking feed.

Northgate Swarm
They have a lot of brood and they are light on pollen.  They are not taking much feed.  Gave them a frame of bee bread from the nuc they were in.

Queen Castle 1 - Slot 3
Moved into a new Nuc (Plum Creek) and added feed.  They have built up well. Decent amount of brood on the way.

The Plum Creek Nuc has a wood stamp on the lumber from Plum Creek showing right on the front of the hive and the name stuck. I'm been debating the naming of queens vs hive boxes and am thinking about a new system to track everything next year.

Hive Check (9/30/2012)

Gave them more syrup.  They took a half gallon this week.

Gave them more syrup.  They took a half gallon this week as well.  I was a little surprised to see these girls building new comb with a whole frame of solid eggs and several frames of brood coming.  Maybe they didn't get the memo that fall is coming.  This hive gets a lot of sun and I'm sure that is helping to extend the season just a bit beyond the other hives.

Observation in the below picture.  This comb is upside down so the honey arch is at the bottom of the pic.  It's a little hard to see unless you enlarge the pic but the capped honey cells are elongated more than the brood cells and you can see the cliff between the two cell heights where it transitions to brood comb (with eggs you can't see).  When you have natural cell you can also get shallower cells in addition to smaller width cells for brood.  Typically you only hear discussions about cell width being in the 4.9 -5.4 mm range.

Cell size differences.

Back to the bees.

- Jeff

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