Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Boys are Back

In a northern location like Seattle I find that the long summer days sneak up pretty quickly.  Sometime in June I'll be working in the yard and get caught off guard that it's already 10PM, and it's still light out!  Beekeeping has a similar parallel for me as I check on them throughout winter to make sure the cluster has food hoping they will survive, and then in a blink they are making plans to swarm.

During my last inspection over the weekend I saw drones in my strong hives.  Drones are a sign that the hive is on a stable buildup cycle and can invest extra resources beyond just making workers.  However with the waves of sun/rain we've been getting, the hives can't take advantage of the nectar sources available and brood combs are currently looking light.  I consider a comb light when I don't see a 2-3" band of honey/nectar and another 1" band of pollen along the top.

I do hear about March swarms every year and yes that could happen this year if the sun were to come out for a few days.  A few hives get lured into early swarming by the surge in blooms and lack of early spring management to open up the broodnest.  Based on what I've been seeing I have started doing swarm management inspections every 7-10 days to stay ahead of them.  As long as the weather keeps up this pattern I'm not too worried, but if we get more than 3 days of sunshine in a row everything can change.

The plums were in bloom a couple weeks ago, and are mostly done now.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).  This is one of my favorite bee friendly herbs with flower colors varying from white, blue, pink and purple.  Around here they usually have a robust bloom coming out of winter lasting into spring, but they also tend to bloom whenever they want any month of the year.  On a spring day in the sunshine these bushes will be covered in bees working them for pollen.  I've observed the flowers leaving a white/pale pollen mark along the thorax of workers which isn't quickly cleaned off and can be found during inspections. These evergreens are usually hardy enough to survive our winters, but can be damaged by deep freezes or extended winter storms over time.  Plant in a well drained sunny spot and they will thrive.  They also respond well to hedging and can be easily propagated from cuttings.

Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is in bloom and tends to be more popular with bumble bees than honey bees.

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) is one of those wonderful blue pollen plants that will have you wanting to plant fields of them after you see the bees with blue pollen baskets.

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) is an early nectar source.

Red Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum) is actually more pink and is very appealing to humming birds.

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) is in bloom and a nectar source.

Quince is in bloom and a good pollen source.

Nice patch of brood in Rosemary hive.

Look at all the young fuzzy bees and drones in the Rosemary hive!

Pollen and nectar coming into the hive.

A drone warming up in the sun.  Some of them are mature enough to fly.

This is the Dyno hive queen.  They are still pretty small.

Emerging brood in Quickdraw.

Another patch of brood in Quickdraw.  It's hard to tell why it's spotty, but I suspect it's normal early spring buildup and will correct itself.

They were carrying a few dead bees out like this.  I couldn't tell when/why they died, but suspect they might have got left behind when the cluster condensed last fall.

The Quickdraw queen.  This hive has a lot of diversity in bees and it's nice to see that they like their queen.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hello Maples

Beekeepers tend to get really excited for the maple bloom every year, but usually it turns out to be a flop.  That's not because the maples aren't blooming, but because here in the Northwest we typically have periodic rain showers throughout the day during Spring (yes the whole season).  Sometimes if the Blackberry bloom is early that nectar flow can get dimmed as well.  However everyone still hopes for a 3-4 day period of sunshine during the peak maple bloom.  Just the other day I found myself thinking I needed sunglasses and an umbrella because I had the sun in my eyes and somehow was also getting rained on.

Seattle is a bit earlier than other parts of the Puget Sound, but I snapped the below photo today of a tree across the street from a few of my hives in Queen Anne.  Not all the trees are out yet, but they aren't far behind this one.  The maple flow is not exclusive to the native Big Leaf Maple and I've also seen other varieties of maples coming into bloom as well.  

Sadly I don't see any days without rain in the forecast for the foreseeable future, however if it does happen I would also expect to start hearing about swarms.

Big Leaf Maple bloom.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Spring Is Early

Officially spring is still a couple weeks away, but things don't appear to care what the calendar tells us.  It's been warm the last few weeks with daily temps getting above 50F+ and also very wet!  There is a ton of stuff blooming, but getting out there between rainstorms is making it hard to get good photos.  Plums came into full bloom this week which is the first big tree and the bees are definitely noticing. 

I was lucky enough to get a few hours of sunshine this morning and was able to check all the hives.  Some are weak and have tiny patches of brood, but two stand out in particular and will be my breeder queens this year.  Unlike previous years I plan to replace all the queens of week hives this year rather than try and keep them going and waiting to see how long they will last before mother nature kills them.  Often these weak hives will build up and look great by the blackberry flow and it's easy to forget they almost didn't survive winter.  Last year I picked one of these queens to be a breeder queen because I got distracted by their great buildup and as a result I lost all the daughters over winter.

One of the hives I want to breed from this year is the Rosemary hive. I like this hive because they stored a good amount of honey and have kept the hive bottom board spotless all season.  The hive was split early spring last year and didn't have any other brood breaks.  My main concern is that the daughters from winter 2014 both died leaving queenless hives.  Other concerns are that they build crazy comb, and don't ignore you during inspections.  Sometimes that can turn into aggression with daughter hives.

The other hive I want to breed from is Quickdraw.  They already have capped drone brood and are building up very quickly and I'll be needing to do swarm management before the end of the month.  These bees are a little different from the other hives in that they stored a LOT of pollen mid summer and then had a big buildup during the dearth and then somehow replaced all the pollen with honey going into fall.  They build straight comb and ignore you during inspections.  However they didn't dry all the nectar and some of it fermented leaving the hive bottom board a bit "wet".  I also found a fair number of dead bees in the back of the hive on the bottom board.  Perhaps the dead bees were from trying to remove the fermented nectar. 

Sadly my camera battery died and I didn't get any hive photos today.  

Crocus are a great pollen source.

Calendula tends to start booming a little before the dandelions.

Lawn Daisy is already out in bloom.

Winter Daphne (Daphne odora) is a delicate shrub starts budding during the peak of our winter and is in full bloom by early spring.  These evergreens have thick waxy looking leaves with varieties ranging from either solid dark green, or yellow variegated.  The long lasting pink/white flowers are sweetly scented and tough enough to hold up in our late winter storms.  Plant in well-drained soil that can fully dry out between watering as they will quickly die in soggy or deeply watered locations which is why they have a reputation for being short lived plants.  A key to getting great blooms is to plant them in a location that gets morning sunlight and afternoon shade.  Pruning should be minimal and focused on removing diseased or dead branches keeping in mind that this is an open branched bush that needs airflow.  They can be easily started from cuttings, but will not transplant.

Most varieties of the Which hazel are just finishing up their bloom.

Dandelions are in bloom and are great pollen and nectar source.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff