Sunday, September 22, 2013

First Day of Fall and Winter Cover Crops

As a cue from mother nature, a windy & wet storm has arrived to kick off the first day of fall.  We have had several rainy days over the last two weeks which has revived the summer flowers and kicked off the start of fall flowers thus ending the late summer dearth we've been in.  In addition to all the asters I am seeing dandelions coming back into bloom and ivy has started to bloom which will provide the girls pollen and nectar though October to back-fill and stock the hives for winter.

Collecting nectar from Borage.

In mid August I made my winter preparations by condensing the brood nests to worker comb only and moving old or partial combs to the backs of the hive.  As a result I haven't needed to peak in on them much for September and for the most part don't need to look at most hives again until next spring.  However I like to know what's going on so will likely take a peak here and there, especially to keep tabs on the hives that are showing signs of DWV.  As far as feeding which I haven't done much of this year there are a few hives I will add some dry sugar to that haven't stored an ideal amount of honey yet for their colony size but otherwise I haven't been feeding since mid August.

Sunflowers are made up of hundreds of tiny flowers that provide pollen and nectar.

I took this one earlier in the month of a girl collecting nectar from Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus).  You can see a full berry on this bloom as well. Snowberries have a long bloom period from mid to late summer depending on how much sun/water their location gets.

The ground-cover Leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) brings brilliant blues to late summer gardens and is an attractive nectar source for bees.

Activity at the water sources I provide has switched from the warmer site in full sun that they have loved all year to one closer to the hives that is more shaded.  Not sure what was driving the change, but just goes to show that having multiple water sources available is important in keeping their interest.

Planting A Winter Cover Crop That Doubles As Bee Forage

Cover crops are a great way to protect and enrich your garden soil and can also provide early spring foraging options for the bees.  The main reasons gardeners plant cover crops is to replenish nutrients, keep the soil from compacting, stop erosion, and add organic material.  A cover crop isn't exclusive to winter and can be planted any time you want to give the soil a chance to rest and renew.

Any patches of bare garden soil will benefit from a cover crop going into winter and they are not limited to just vegetable garden plots and would even work for pots and planters that aren't in use.  Cover crops need very little care and are also great for helping keep winter and early spring weeds at bay.  Typically they only need to be watered for the first few weeks to get the seeds started or if there is a long stretch without any rain.

In the northwest with our mild winters there are many plants to pick from that make good cover crops however not all cover crops produce flowers that can also benefit the bees.  A few of the cover crops that produce flowers appealing to bees in early spring that I like are: Mustard, Winter peas, Crimson or White Clover and Fava Bean.  You don't need to plant just one type of crop either and a mix of plants can add variety and benefit the soil.

Cover crops usually start flowering a few weeks before you will want to till them into the ground to prep your spring gardens, but those February and early March flowers will be especially appealing for the bees when not much else is blooming.  Once the crop has flowered and you are ready to plant your garden in spring you can just cut down and till the plants right into the soil.  Planting a cover crop is relatively simple to do and come spring your bees will also be happy for the variety.

Asters provide nectar and pollen.

Asters are an autumn favorite for the bees with many native and hybrid options available to choose from.  When picking a variety remember that the bees prefer flowers with easy to access pollen.  Look for flowers with visible pollen at the center rather than a flower that is simply a mass of petals.  Some varieties grow in bushy clumps of various heights and others can grow a single long stem with multiple branches that may need to be staked up if not trimmed mid summer.  Asters range in colors from the shades of blue, pink and purple to even yellows so you have lots of different options for your fall garden.  While they can be grown from seed they also spread by root rhizomes in the ground and in just a few years a single plant will turn into a larger bee attracting clump.

Crape Myrtle has started to bloom.

This girl is collecting pollen from Liriope muscari another popular ground-cover in bloom.

Hive checks (9/2/2013)
Rosemary Swarm
These girls are being difficult and they built a little more crossed comb.  I was only planning to take a quick peak so I didn't do much to correct the issue.  I did move a comb of honey back out of the brood nest but otherwise didn't make any comb changes.  Besides the crazy comb issue they looked good.

Icon Granddaughter
The hive looked good and not much has changed since last inspection.  I suspect all the hives are just idling right now with how dry the summer has been.

Hive checks (9/8/2013)
They seem to be hanging on despite what I was seeing during the last inspection.  There is still a lot of DWV present in the hive but perhaps they could still turn around.

Unlike the Surf hive this hive is improving and the DWV is clearing up.  The brood laying pattern was looking good as well.

Hive checks (9/21/2013)
Geek Daughter
They have enough honey for winter in the hive and most of it is still uncapped.  I'm not sure why they haven't capped it and suspect they wont based on what I've seen from her mother.  No signs of disease and they look to be in good shape for the winter.  They have already reduced the cluster size down and are running lean typical of Carniolan bees.

I like this shot because it you can see the layers of propolis stand out on the edges of the cells against the cleaner white wax on the bottoms and walls.

Lots of uncapped honey in this hive.  You can see some wet and dry capped cells as well.

The brood nest is shrinking but she still has a solid pattern.

She has darkened a bit as she has matured over the last few months.

I'm also noticing lots of "bugs" hiding around the hives in protected areas.  The spiders are huge and are welcome as long as they are keeping yellow jackets out.  I wonder if they could possibly offer any side benefit in keeping robbing from starting by capturing snooping bees looking for unguarded access points since they seem to hid in all the cracks the hive doesn't use for access.  I've seen yellow jackets around and seen some dead outside the entrances so they are lurking but the hives are keeping them out.

Saw signs of DWV and varroa in the hive but not to the extent that I'm overly worried.  I shouldn't be surprised it's cropped up in this hive based on what I've seen with other queens from this genetic line.  They have good stores for winter and I pulled a capped frame out to extract.

The queen was running around in this hive and not giving her nurse bees a chance to catch up.

This was a shot of the brood pattern near the edge of the brood nest.  The other frames were fuller.

Icon Granddaughter
Good brood pattern and I'm only seeing a touch of DWV which is typically present in this hive.  The hive size has been pretty static since the supersedure in mid summer.  They only have a few frames of honey but with their conservative size I suspect with a little extra dry sugar they should be able to make it through the winter.

She's looking for a clean cell and it's hard to image how she squeezes into them to lay an egg.

Rosemary Swarm
These girls were a little lively today but otherwise not overly aggressive.  They have good stores and I left the one crazy comb alone and will fix it in spring.  They should be good shape for winter once they backfill a little more.

Nice brood pattern in this hive as well.

Here is another shot of larvae that are just starting to get capped.

Ballard Swarm
Besides being a more populated hive than the Rosemary swarm there were a lot of similarities between the two as far as their winter prep.  Unlike the other hives they still had a small patch of capped drones cells on the way.  I like to see hives take a few drones into winter so there are mature drones around for those early swarms in April.  I split two different lines at the end of April this year and those queens took a long time to get going which I think was partly due to poor drone coverage.

I also saw something unusual when I came across the queen in this hive in that she was laying an egg while walking over the comb.  Perhaps I startled her when she was going to lay in a cell but it was a first for me to see the queen laying an egg while walking around.

Notice she is still laying right to the edges of the frames.

You can tell the patch of brood in the lower part of the picture is older than the rest because it's darker.  She also seems to particular about only laying in the smallest worker cells and ignoring cells that are just a tad larger.  I am seeing this pickiness in most hives right now.

This was the only hive I didn't see the queen in, but saw signs of her so I'm not worried.  Like her daughter the hive numbers have dropped down and they have good stores built up for winter.

This hive is probably one of the most populated hives right now next to the Ballard Swarm.  The queen is still laying a lot of brood and the girls are pissy as usual.  Actually they were a bit more than pissy today trying to sting through my suit.  I rarely break out the smoke and didn't need smoke for any of the other hives today but I did for this one to keep them from going into attack mode.  They were reactive to the sugar spray as well as smoke going directly into their hive but smoking my hands between comb inspections seemed to be the right balance of smoke to keep them "calm".  I'm really curious to see how this hive does this winter since last winter almost killed them and I have done next to nothing to help them this year (maybe that's why they don't like me).

I usually like to see lots of colors in pollen stores, but this collection of orange pollen they are bringing in is really pretty.  Pollen is usually the trigger for this hive to build up so I'm curious if they will store this or start laying up a storm.

Nice solid brood pattern.

There are a few patches of Knotweed around but at least in my area it's not enough to create any kind of flow for the girls.  

Back to the bees,

- Jeff