The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

August 18, 2011

Bee Balm

Filed under: Bees,Flowers — bob @ 12:44 pm

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.

About half the blooms are left on this stand of Monarda and there are still plenty of bees visiting it.

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.

January 4, 2011

Warm New Year's Eve Welcomed By the Bees

Filed under: Bees — bob @ 9:47 am

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.

After the bees returned from their cleansing flight, they took advantage of the mild temperatures to do some housekeeping.

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.


October 5, 2010

Bees in the Trees

Filed under: Bees — bob @ 3:29 pm

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.

These bees were not visible until the leaves started to fall last week.

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 honeybee is collecting nectar and pollen. Note the pollen she is carrying on her legs.

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.

I have more photos of the colony and moving the bees posted on line at my other site.


September 22, 2010

Less Than Ideal Summer for Honeybees

Filed under: Bees — bob @ 10:07 am

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.

July 22, 2010

Wax Worms

Filed under: Bees — bob @ 4:24 pm

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.

An infestation of Wax Worms indicates a weaken beehive.

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.


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