Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bright Purple Pollen

This morning, a bee zipped into the hive carrying a load of purple -- bright purple, almost fuschia -- pollen. Wow! That's a color I've never seen before!

Dying to solve this mystery, I did some sleuthing. I checked various pollen charts to no avail. Then someone from sent me a link to some really nice pollen charts by Eversweet Apiaries in WV. The closest color is the palm-leaf marshmallow or teasel.

Eversweet Apiaries Fall & Winter chart.
They also have charts for spring and summer.
I first read up on palm-leaf marshmallow. It seems an unlikely candidate given that it's not native to the US, and I find no mention of it listed as an invasive species. It's a rather pretty flower, though, in the Malvacaea family, so it might have been deliberately planted in a garden.

Althaea cannabina (Palm-leaf marshmallow)

Next, I researched teasel. Again, not a native plant. It is indigenous to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. though. Nuts. Lots of interesting stuff, though, about this plant being used to raise the nap on fabric.

It looked like I had struck out again, but then wait! I found a note about this being an invasive species in the U.S.! Could the mystery be solved?

Dipsacus fullonum (Fuller's teasel)

Feeding Persephone

Sorry, no photos. I've been forgetting to take my phone out to the beeyard with me.

I've been watching Persephone closely ever since coming home. I'm worried about her because she just doesn't have the kind of action around the entrance that the other hives do.

The other entrances are buzzing with activity, and just about every bee that enters is loaded with pollen. By contrast, Persephone has had very few bees at the entrance, and very little pollen seems to be coming in.

I know part of the reason for this. I think the wood may have warped, so the divider bar no longer fits snugly. As a result, it's made an opening that some of the bees are using as an entrance. However, there are nowhere near the amount of bees next to this opening that I'd expect.

Persephone is also the last of my queens to emerge (around July 17), but she's not too far behind Austeja (about July 14). She's also in the spot with the least morning sun. Maybe these factors are creating the lack of activity that I see. Could the bees just be lying in bed late? Maybe. The activity does seem to pick up about 2 pm.

In any case, Tuesday morning, I broke down and gave her about a quart of syrup. By afternoon, half the jar was empty. I didn't check Wednesday morning (a miserable case of stomach flu laid me out for the day), but I assume it was gone by then. This morning, I added another quart for my thirsty girls.

Because I'm nosy, I peeked into the back of one of the nucs and noticed that it was getting filled nicely with honey. In fact, I see a lot of pollen coming into the other hives, so I think I'm going to hold off on feeding them even though the colonies are smaller than I'd like.

Hmm... I'm quite pleased actually by the amount of honey I saw in Bubblegum. I might have to do another inspection just to make sure they aren't running out of space.  Oh, the delightful headaches of beekeeping.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Inspection Notes: What to do? What to do?

11 pm., Wednesday evening, we plodded into the house, travel-worn and weary from a 13-hour trip from Athens via Frankfurt. By 3 am, I was wide-awake and dying to see my girls, whom I'd missed for two-weeks while we were away on vacay in Greece.

Of course, it was dark and 50 deg. F outside, so in the best interests of all parties involved, I decided to postpone the inspection until the afternoon. Meanwhile, I did a quick run to the store for some milk and eggs. On the way, I noticed that the goldenrod had begun to bloom while we were out of town. Hooray! The fall flow is starting!

My princess insisted on personally inspecting
"her" princesses, the nucs Princess Peach and
Princess Bubblegum.

Once the temperature warmed up to the 70's, I went out to the beeyard. Bees were coming in with pollen, a good sign for sure. Eagerly I popped open the hives and... WTH?!!?!?! With the exception of Hippolyte, there was no nectar in any of the hives. In fact, the bees looked hungry. Although they all had plenty of nectar and some capped honey before I left, within two weeks, they had eaten it all. In fact, they were also starting to break open the capped honey as well. Bees were digging deep, headfirst in the cells looking for the last drops nectar. Except for Hippolyte, none of the hives had drones either. I assume that the lack of reserves caused the girls to evict them.

See the raggedy caps on the honey? The bees have been opening the cells up.

However, all the hives had capped brood, eggs, and larvae, so that was a good sign. Additionally, I noted a lot of black pollen in Persephone that wasn't there a couple of weeks ago. My guess is that the purple loosestrife has begun blooming, too.

Some nice brood comb

This is probably going to be one of the last inspections before I close up shop for the winter. I'm troubled, though, by their complete lack of reserves and the unseasonably chilly weather we're having right now. What to do??? To feed or not to feed... I'm weighing a number of factors and options.

Black pollen. From purple loosestrife, I think.
Truthfully, I want to get away from feeding except in the most dire circumstances, but can I get away with it? Beeks usually recommend 12-15 combs for my area, but there are people who overwinter 5-frame nucs, so it must be possible to bring a small colony through the winter, right?

Because of all the splitting, my hives are about half the recommended size, about 6-8 combs total right now, 2-3 combs in each hive contain brood. I'm wondering, if they get all the combs filled with honey during this fall flow, will that be enough to sustain them? I've heard of a beek in Sweden who overwinters bees on two-frames. He is able to do this because bees shrink and expand the colony based on available resources. So if I don't feed them, won't they simply keep the colonies on the small side in order to better manage their resources?

Pollen is obviously coming into the hive, so I assume that nectar is, too, even though I'm not seeing it being put away. Of course, the goldenrod wasn't blooming when we left, so the fall flow must have started sometime within the last two weeks. However, it really is chilly, much colder than I'm used to this time of year. This concerns me because I'm worried the fall flow will be a short one.

All 5 colonies appear to have good queens, so I don't want to combine any of them. I'm thinking that I might do some feeding for about a week just to tide them over until the fall flow is in full swing.

What do you think? What would you do?

For the past couple of days, I've been thinking about something that Chris Harp said, "During my first 10 years of beekeeping, I killed 10 different hives, but in 10 different ways." Hmm... I already lost one last year. I'd like not to bring the count up to 6 this year.

Home, Sweet Home

There is a scene in Dances with Wolves in which Kevin Costner's character is being driven west to his new post by a wagoner. Along the way, they come across a broken down wagon and a skeleton. As Costner examines the skeleton, the wagoner approaches and laughs, "Somebody back East is saying, "Now why don't he write?" I have a demented sense of humor, so this is the only scene I remember, but I imagine you've all been thinking similar thoughts about me.

For the record, I am alive and well. Over the the last two weeks, we've been visiting my husband's relatives in Greece, and I've simply lacked an Internet connection. So instead of churning out blog entries, I've been working very hard at other things. I've been forced to hang with friends and family, dance, sing, eat way too much, drink some fantastic ouzo and various types of not-so-fantastic homemade rotgut (though the rotgut gets better with each glass), play tourist, and learn Greek. (Perhaps, "learning Greek" is too optimistic a way of describing my newly acquired communication skills. Mostly, I intertwined a few Greek words with a lot of monkey hand-signals. However, my DH's cousins and I communicated just fine that way.) All in all, it was a tough two weeks, I assure you.

Normally, all the decor is blue/white or teal/white. The splashes of yellow,
red and green in this street really caught my fancy.

Morning view from our rooftop patio in the islands.

Originally, we had planned to be away for three weeks, but some developments back home forced him (and consequently me) to cut our plans (including an excursion to Santorini) short. As much as I was enjoying myself, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to say that I'm not entirely sad about shortening our trip. Greece is a fascinating country, and I was having a lovely time with family. However, if you ever plan a trip there, I highly recommend going earlier in the summer. I've been to Greece twice in August, and this is just not the month for a visit. Even in the islands, it's brutally hot this time of year (which, unfortunately, is the only time during the summer I'm willing to leave my hives). Every day, I'd wake up at 7am to draw our daily water from the village well and steal some alone time on the roof, and it would already be 85 deg. F (that's 29 deg. C for my European friends). Seriously, the nighttime temps were hotter than my daytime highs in New England. Beaches and frozen mojitos were the only things keeping me sane. The day after we left, they got a heat wave (really? what had we been experiencing?), and temperatures soared into the 100's, forcing even the Greeks inside. It seems we got out just in time.

Apollonas, Naxos. The water really is that blue over there.

One thing I regret about coming home early is that I never got to tour a Greek apiary. While we were in the islands, I spied a large apiary and asked our friends, Stavros and Anda, who know everyone and everything about Naxos, about island apiculture. Stavros promised to talk to one of his friends and arrange a visit for me. Alas, we left on short notice, and I missed my opportunity.

Even though one can still see villagers on donkey,
I like how shepherding has been modernized.
Freshwater spring on Mt. Zas. According to myth, Rhea hid baby Zeus in a cave
on this mountain  so that Cronus wouldn't find him. She placed bleating goats
at the entrance to mask her baby's cries, and bees guarded the entrance
from intruders.
Even though I suffered honeybee withdrawal while were were away, I got my fixes here and there by observing other members of the order Hymenoptera.

John's cousin ordered a lot of seafood appetizers one day.
Turns out that's a sure-fire way to attract wasps. Dozens of them swarmed the table.
Half of our time there was spent on Naxos. Naxos is unusual in that it is the only island in the Cyclades with freshwater springs. In fact, it also has a huge freshwater reservoir (which was three-quarters empty when we were there) and supplies other islands with water. Because it has plenty of this precious resource, Naxos is a huge agricultural center. Of course, this description is probably misleading. When I think of farms, I think of the lush green acres here in New England or in the Midwest where I spent so much time as a child. Even on Naxos, the climate is so arid that patches of green fields and heavily-watered soccer fields never failed to surprise and delight me. However, it's quite wonderful how life has a way of bursting through the cracks and hanging on. Here and there, I'd spy a few poppies, wild thyme and oregano, mountain tea, etc. Wherever these hardy plants found a bit of water, they'd bloom, and wasps and bumblebees flocked to them.

My favorites were the huge black bumblebees (like carpenter bees, but bigger) that looked like flying olives. Sadly, I don't know what they are called or their exact species name, and nobody could tell me. They were so pretty, though -- huge and fuzzy with iridescent purplish-bluish wings. I must have taken a jillion photos of them, but I just couldn't get a good one.

Sorry, this was the best I could do.
One of the awesome things about having a hobby is that everyone becomes an enabler. Over the last two years, I've received lots of bee-related presents from people -- bumper stickers, books, mugs, etc. To tell the truth, I love it! It was no different in Greece where my lovely newly-found family (the newly found part is a another story for another day) welcomed me with gifts of thyme honey and sweets like sesame seeds and honey. They also introduced me to an island spirit called rakomelo (stress on the first "o"). Essentially, it is a honey-sweetened raki, a drink made by distilling the skins & seeds that are leftover from pressing grapes for wine. Plain raki has very little flavor, but it's strong enough to wake the dead. Often, though, raki is flavored with something like anise, spices, or honey. These jazzed up rakis go down much more smoothly.

A view of Stavros and Anda's windmill.
Stavros and Anda are the delightful couple who introduced me to rakomelo.
Anyway, in case you were wondering, I haven't perished over the Atlantic somewhere. However, it's 6 am, and I'm so jet-lagged that I can't decide whether to say "Καλημέρα" (Kalimera -- good morning) or "Καληνύχτα" (kalinykhta -- good night). I am home, though, and there will definitely be an inspection report coming soon.

I think Psipsina here has the right idea.