Check your bees lately?

bee art

I love this image I found. So true-the life of a bee (and a gardener). I always thought of them as pollinators. I never thought of them as gardeners, but they are—they pollinate so many of our food crops. Without them, we would not have 90% of our veggies and fruits.

I have seen our bees flying around on some of the warmer days and was wondering how their honey supply is holding up. I start to get nervous around Feb and definitely in March regarding the bees. Most bees die in the early spring when they run out of their own honey before there are any blossoms to visit. So this past week I took a peek at our bees on a warm 50 degree day to make sure they still have enough honey. I haven’t looked at them since I put them to bed in October and was waiting for a warm, non-windy day to check on them.

I didn’t go through the whole hive as I didn’t want to be in there that long. I  just looked at a few bars to see if they still had enough honey. I was glad to see they still have plenty of honey, but to be sure, I put a jar of creamed honey (so it doesn’t flow out everywhere) for them at the very end of the bars. Late January-early February is a little early to check them but what’s the harm in making sure they have enough honey as long as you only check on a warm day. Now I feel comfortable with this next winter storm coming in tomorrow that I can wait till late February before I check again. Glad the girls are fine!

2015 honey

bees on bar

Bees on a brood bar capping honey

Before I talk about how our bees did this year, here are some mind boggling facts about bees and honey that should make you appreciate them.

—Bees need to visit 2 million flowers and travel about 50,000 miles to make a pound of honey.

—In its lifetime a bee makes about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey so it takes 36 bees to make a tablespoon of honey.

Honey bees make little flakes of wax about the size of a pin head. It takes 500,000 flakes of wax to make one pound of bees wax.

—Bees pollinate about 90% of our food crops.

In a strong hive there are 70,000 – 100,000 bees in a hive in the summer and their numbers go down in the winter.

—Bees do not hibernate.  They stay inside their hives maintaining a temperature of about 95-96-degrees at the middle of their cluster all winter by beating their wings to stay warm.  Bees rotate from the outside of the cluster to the inside as they get cold while the ones on the inside rotate to the outside, all the while keeping the queen warm.

 

honey in jars

Our 2 hives produced over 8 lbs of harvestable honey this year which is wonderful as we haven’t collected honey in two years. We always left them with enough honey to get through winter which sometimes didn’t leave us any. With all the rain and flowers this year, they were super busy making honey and there was plenty for all. We left lots of bars of honey for them for winter. In our land with many droughts, plenty is not a word we use a lot when it comes to honey production. For other areas in the country, this may not seem like a lot, but for us it makes us appreciate our girls more. Oh yea, all the bees that you see outside on the flowers are girls-go girl power!

Based on the info above, our bees visited 16 million flowers to make that 8 lbs! Unbelievable! So next time you spread that tablespoon of honey on your toast, think about all 36 bees it took to make it and appreciate all the bees for their wonderful gift.

honey final_2015

We’ve put them to bed for the winter last month in October. We’ve put a false wall to make their living area smaller so they stay warmer and straw bales around each of their hives to give them extra insulation from the wind and cold. We hope they make it through winter.

Apple blossoms and bees

Yesterday Elodie took some fantastic pictures of both honeybees and native bees visiting the apple trees blossoms. The blossoms are in full bloom now which are gorgeous and smell heavenly but tomorrow night  (Wednesday) and Thursday night is supposed to get in the high 20’s at night which is a real bummer because the cold will probably knock off the blossoms and that will be the end of our apple season again… Meanwhile let’s enjoy these great pictures while we have them.

I call this the drunken bee-drunk on nectar!

I call this the drunken bee-drunk on nectar!

 

bee getting pollen on apple blossom_blog

Here’s a closeup of a bee

 

bee on apple blossom_blog

This honey bee has some pollen on her legs

 

Native bees visit the blossoms too!

Native bees look very different from honey bees

bee on apple blossom5_blog

Honey bee visits an apple blossom

 

 

 

Dorothy is ok!

DOROTHY closeup APRIL 2015

Here is Dorothy in the middle of a comb being attended to by the other bees.

When we had the micro burst of wind happen last week, we found our queen bee, (promptly named Dorothy because her house was turned upside down), outside the hive. I quickly picked her up on a bar that was tossed to the ground and she seemed ok. Queen bees are very delicate and can get easily injured so we worried that she might not be able to lay eggs even though she appeared fine. Yesterday, Elodie and I inspected the hive and she is truly fine.

DOROTHY_ eggs_closeup

Look! We found eggs which means she is not damaged and the other bees will be capping them soon. They are in the comb-notice they look like tiny grains of rice. We are so relieved because a hive without a working queen is a doomed hive and the hive could not survive as the queen keeps the continuum going with the hive. Since the worker bees only live about 6 weeks, it is the queens only job-laying eggs, making brood so more bees can be born to keep the hive going!

Micro-burst wind throws new bees around

new bee

Yesterday I was planting vegetables in the greenhouse, when this huge micro burst of wind came and almost tore the window shutters off of the greenhouse. Afterwards, I inspected the shutters that were slapping so violently to see if the hinges were damaged. Luckily they were ok. Then I decided to check on the new bees we had just put into a hive on Sunday. The hive got turned almost upside down with all the topbars, bees, honey and sugar-water thrown on the ground behind it. I called Elodie and she came and together we put them back in. I tried to quickly put all of them back in because the queen was already out of her cage and I needed to find out if she was dead or alive. The queen was in that pile on the ground and luckily she was surrounded by thousands of other bees and I found her running around on one of the combs we had supplied. How lucky is that?! She looks fine and I hope she is not damaged or she will not lay any eggs. I’ve named her Dorothy after the Wizard of Oz when she and her house got thrown around in a tornado. I will check in a few days to see that she has started laying eggs, otherwise we will have to get another queen. Keep your fingers crossed that Dorothy is ok…

Fall Honey Harvest-2013

2013-part of the fall honey harvest

2013-part of the fall honey harvest

This year I was able to harvest (13) 5 oz jars of honey from my hive. This was from the same hive that went on sharp decline in June when I lost my queen (she disappeared) and I had to re-queen for the hive to survive. I had bought a new queen to try to save the hive and the remaining bees in the hive had her lay an egg in a queen cell they built and then raised their own queen and killed the queen I bought. Oh cruel world! But they knew better, as the queen they raised has been an unbelievable egg layer and brought the hive back from the brink of disaster. (see story here)

Which brings me to my harvest. The hive with her leading, came back from 2 bars with barely any bees on them to 17 bars loaded with brood and honey-and all since June which is phenomenal! The rule for beekeepers is to always leave enough honey for the bees to get through winter and then we harvest the rest. In our cold climate in Santa Fe, my teacher, Les Crowder says we should leave 12 bars of brood and honey for them to get through winter but I left 14 bars this year in case we have a long winter, harvesting 3 bars of honey only. If they don’t use it all, I can take the honey after the flowers come in spring (assuming the flowers do come).

honey 2012

This is last year’s honey in 2012. It was lighter than this year’s honey.

This year’s color was very different from last year. Last year we didn’t get a lot of flowers because of the drought and I had to feed them some sugar-water to the end of August to subsidize them and the honey I harvested was very light in color because we only got mainly chamisa flowers in the fall. This year I fed them a little in spring but stopped once the rains came and we had many different flowers all summer than the previous year which resulted in an amber colored honey with slightly stronger taste than last year on my property.

3 honeys 2013

2013-Here is my honey on the left, Sara’s honey in the middle and Bob’s honey on the right

It’s interesting because my friend Sara had light-colored honey this year while another friend, Bob had darker honey-even darker than mine so where you live, even in Santa Fe, can affect what your honey will be like. We like to trade so we can taste each others honey to see how they differ.