February 10th, 2014

10 Feb

This is a bee blog, my first one for 2014.  On the bee front there is little to report because of the cold weather.  Honeybees hunker down in their hives clustering and eating honey to stay warm.   On sunny days they can be seen taking cleansing flights.

The start of the beekeeper’s year is approaching, just a week away.  I’ll be taking a tiny peek into the hives next weekend to see which ones survived and which didn’t.  Some I know for sure will be struggling but I think most of my hives have done well.

Why is mid-February the beginning of the beekeeper’s year?  It’s because the queen is beginning laying again in a big way.  She doesn’t ever stop laying eggs, her ability to produce Queen Mandibular Pheromone is linked to her fecundity, but she isn’t able to do much earlier in the year; the middle of February is just about the right time for laying the foundation for a new generation of young bees to get out and forage when dandelions go into bloom.  From egg to adult to forager takes about 42 days, coinciding with dandelion flowering.  Amazing.

For three years now I have seen my first bumblebee queen of the year on No.3 Road in Richmond in front of Yaohan Supermarket  in late January.  Every time I think she must be doomed to die from the cold before getting a chance to establish a colony.  The winter heathers are in bloom, a long large bed of them alongside the road.  I watched her flying for a few minutes.  Clearly she was gathering provisions for her first brood although I couldn’t see where she was flying.  With her legs laden with bright loads of pollen you’d think she’d be easy to follow but bumblebees have stealth and cunning.  No finding her nest!

Nearly sold out of Blue Orchard Mason Bees.  This year I spent an inordinate amount of time weighing and measuring them with the idea that the larger and heavier bees might be the healthiest and most vigorous of the bunch.  This is the first year I’ve done this, bought a scientific set of calipers especially and used the scales at work to weigh them.  Remembered at the last minute to keep some of the extra large and heavy ones for myself to compare in different yards this spring.

I’ve been diligently preparing for the beginning of Bee School.  Rewriting the manual, adding new material, going over my notes to assess what went well last year and what didn’t.  Teaching Bee School is very much a joy that I look forward to every year.  It’s a privilege to share my passion for bees and ecology and a rare opportunity to blab about bees and plants without it seeming out of place.

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