Friday, July 30, 2010

What's blooming locally, and local queens.

I have started to look at the Bloom Board over at the New England Wild Flower Society to get an idea of what's happening out in the world away from the hive. It's turned into a great resource for finding out where our bees are going. It's been dawning on me that my hive management is such a small, small part of what happens to our bees. The rest is what's going on away from the hive, in the natural world.

Here's a list for what's blooming at Garden in the Woods, which is meant to showcase southern New England wildflowers. Since they're only about 60 miles from our apiary, it's also a pretty good bet that this is what's blooming here. So, when I am trying to understand what's available to our bees I start here--it helps me with identifying plants. I've highlighted plants that are at least are decent honey plants.

Of these, the most exciting is goldenrod. Early goldenrod isn't a super plant, but it's the first of the goldenrod that will make the bulk of our honey this year. Tall goldenrod comes later, and when it arrives the real show starts!

Actea pachypoda (white baneberry)

Actea racemosa (black bugbane)

Allium cernuum (nodding onion)

Allium plummerae (Tanner’s canyon onion)

Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed)

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)

Baptisia tinctoria (yellow wild indigo)

Blephilia hirsuta (hairy wood mint)

Callirhoe digitata (winecup)

Callirhoe involucrata (purple poppy mallow)

Cephalanthus occidentalis (common buttonbush)

Clethra alnifolia (coastal sweet pepperbush)

Coreopsis verticillata (threadleaf tickseed)

Diphylleia cymosa (American umbrella leaf berries)

Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower)

Eschscholzia california cv. Aurantiaca orange (California poppy)

Eupatoriadelphus fistulosus (hollow-stemmed Joe-pye weed)

Eupatoriadelphus purpureum (Joe-pye weed)

Euphorbia corollata (flowering spurge)

Euribia divaricata (white wood aster)

Filipendula rubra (queen of the prairie)Heliopsis helianthoides

Gaillardia aristata (common blanket flower)

Helenium autumnale (common sneezeweed)

Helianthus microcephalis (small-headed sunflower)

Helianthus tuberosa (Jerusalem artichoke sunflower)

Heliopsis helianthoides (oxeye daisy)

Heuchera micantha (small-flowered alumroot)

Hydrangea quercifolia (oak-leaved hydrangea)

Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal – fruit)

Hypericum prolificum (shrubby St. John’s-wort)

Impatiens pallida (pale touch-me-not)

Liatris pycnostachya (prairie blazing star)

Lobelia cardinalis (red lobelia)Monarda didyma

Lobelia siphilitica (great blue lobelia)

Lysimachia quadrifolia (whorled yellow loosestrife)

Lysimachia terrestris (swamp yellow loosestrife)

Mimulus moschatus (musky monkey-flower)

Mimulus ringens (Allegheny monkey-flower)

Monarda didyma (scarlet bee balm)

Monarda fistulosa (wild bee balm)

Nymphaea odorata (white water lily)

Petalostemum purpureum (purple prairie clover)

Phlox divaricata cv. alba (white wood phlox)

Phlox paniculata cv. Blue Boy (summer phlox)

Physostegia (obedient plant)

Pontederia cordata (pickerel weed)

Pycnanthemum icanum (hoary mountain mint)

Ratibida pinnata (gray-headed Mexican hat)

Rhododendrom prunifolium (plum-leaf azalea)

Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed coneflower)

Ruellia humilis (wild petunia)Sarracenia purpurea

Sarracenia flava (yellow pitcher plant foliage)

Sarracenia oreophila (mountain pitcher plant foliage)

Sarracenia purpurea (purple pitcher plant)

Saururus cernuus (lizard’s tail)

Silphium perfoliatum (rosinweed or cup plant)

Solidago juncea (early goldenrod)

Spigelia marilandica (Indian pink)

Symphyotrichum linariifolius (stiff aster)

As an aside here, my dad was president of the American Wild Flower thing-or-some-such when I was in my teens. I love my dad a lot, so learning about this now is something that I feel especially good about.

In other news, we're making up some new "nucs" (short for Nucleus Colonies) with special queens. Roger from the Franklin County Bee Keepers has offered us a queenly daughter (princess?) queen that is supposed to be especially resistant to mites. We've also started a couple of queens from Lagrant's. He's a second generation local bee keeper who breeds queens right here in western MA. Most of our queens come from Dan Conlon of Warm Colors Apiary. We like Dan's queens because they come from just up the road from us, about 8 miles from here.

Local means a lot in bee keeping. As an example, bees that hoard honey and respond strongly to changes in day length do better in someplace like New England, since we have long, cold winters compared to someplace like Georgia. We're starting to breed our own queens now, but queens from people like Dan keep local beekeepers like us going.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Through the Eyes of a Servant

In my teens and twenties I played at being a trout fisherman. Spare time took me into the woods to stumble along the banks of streams and narrow rivers. Along the way I began to notice vegetation and soil types, the makeup of the trees and the feel of the ground under foot. I looked at the plunge of water and where light came over hills and into valleys. I learned about nature, but for the purpose of catching fish.

In my twenties and thirties I worked for a farm in Connecticut. I once worked a 106 hour work week and did many 18-hour days. We planted corn, squash and other market garden crops on 1600 acres scattered from south of Hartford to north of Springfield. I learned to identify weeds; I became familiar with sumac. I learned how water flows across and through the soil by watching newly plowed land dry after rains, and much later seeing how crops grew. I learned about nature, but for the purpose of growing crops.

In my thirties I moved to California and took up surfing. I spent hundreds or thousands of hours watching waves break on the shore. I learned about what makes a wave strong, how the land and wind affect its shape. I became familiar with the things that live there, in the dangerous boundary between earth and sea. I learned about nature, but for the purpose of surfing.

This morning I went up to Andy's to see the bees. When I was there I wondered where they were going. I allowed myself the time to wander from the hive to see where the girls were working. I found some on Queen Ann's Lace, early goldenrod and a kind of thistle I later identified as Canada thistle.

In my wanderings this morning I felt again that searching that I have so many times been party to. I tend to learn from and wander through the natural world when I have given myself some sort of mission. It could be fishing, farming or surfing. I rarely go abroad with binoculars or a guide book to observe for the sake of observation. I don't know if this is good or bad, I just know this is how I am.

When, at liberty this morning, I did wander the fields in search of my girls the great panopoly of things that may be observed by me, were observed by me. There, amidst the grass and thistle, I became again a servant of mission. It is a wonder to think of them aloft above the heads of rich and poor alike, alighting on hundreds of thousands or millions of flowers each day, a thousand times too many for me to even imagine, even had I had the whole day and all the tea in China.

It occurred to me then that for the first time, I was not looking for something for myself, I was looking for where my bees were making their fortune, and that all the work done back at the hive merely prepares them for the changes in the land.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer has been going great at the apiary. With one exception, every hive we have is a winner! Al Carle, the state bee inspector came by and said our hives looked exceptional. We'll be taking in honey this year for sure.

It's been a banner year, I think anyhow, with great weather and lots of nectar out there. Priscilla and I have worked hard, but it's nothing compared to our "girls."

Because I was curious, I wanted to know how many bee flights there were, on average per hive, per minute. So, I took a stop watch and counted fifty flights, that took around 15 seconds each time. It was hard to count as fast as I saw bees taking off. So, we have about 200 flights per minute per hive. Also, I did this little experiment early in the morning, hardly peak flying time! So, in reality these numbers are low. Still, they are stunning.

I counted the number of honey bee flights per minute and averaged them to come up with this"

200 Flights per minute per hive
1,200 Flights per hour per hive
14,400 Flight per day per hive
100,800 Flights per week per hive
432,000 Flights per month per hive
2,160,000 Flights per year per hive

The following is the number of flights for all our beehives together. We have 20 hives:

4,000 Minute
24,000 Hour
288,000 Day
2,016,000 Week
8,640,000 Month
43,200,000 Year

So, since a bee visits on average 100 flowers per flight, that means
our bees will visit

400,000 Flowers per minute
2,400,000 Flowers per day
28,800,000 Flowers per week
201,600,000 Flowers per month
864,000,000 Flowers per year.

Flower power indeed. I tried to be conservative with my estimates, so it's possible our bees could visit a billion flowers this year. Out bees visited 400,000 in the time it took you to read this. That's nearly half a million flowers.