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Plants to feed the Bees

The inspiration for this post came from a co-worker who stopped me the other day asking if I had any suggestions on what to plant in their yard to feed the bees. I rambled on a bit as naming plants is not something I am very good at. Usually I leave that up to Mrs. Sweet Gum. But after doing some additional research maybe I didn’t do too badly.

My suggestions to the person were:

  • Plant native species
  • Stay away from hybrids
  • Go with perennials if possible
  • Go with older varieties or single flower tops
  • Consider leaving plants people consider to be weeds. Two great examples are dandelions and henbit.  
  • Choose multiple varieties so you have something in bloom as much of the year as possible

Additional suggestions are:

  • If you don’t mind not having a traditional lawn, plant low-growing clovers instead of grass.
  • Avoid using herbicides or pesticides. Use natural controls such as ladybugs, praying mantises and others for pests, and a cardboard underlayment with mulch on top to suppress weeds or manual removal.
  • Create a bee waterer. This is a shallow container of water with pebbles or twigs for the bees to land on so they do not drown.

A few good websites to use as resources are:

A word of caution: a lot of websites have lists of supposedly good plants for bees. While some of them may in fact provide a lot of nectar you would want to avoid them for other reasons. One site I came across while doing research for this had privet on it list of plants for bees. While bees do get nectar from privet, it is a highly invasive non-native plant that you want to stay away from. So take all the lists of plants with a big grain of salt and research the plants that end up on your list to plant to make sure they are not invasive and are really something that you want. Happy Planting!

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Fast Dancing in the Spring

Spring is a busy time for bees and beekeepers.  The bees want to swarm and prepare to make honey, and the beekeeper tries to keep up with the bees.  Last year was a difficult year for our and most people’s bees with the crazy weather and the drought so I’m thrilled that ours are doing so well right now.  How well are they doing?  We went into winter with 15 hives, emerged from winter with 15 hives, and as of last week our 2 bee yards looked like this:  

There are so many hives now that the pictures had to be taken from a distance to get all the hives in each apiary in the picture.  To put it simply, the bees are wanting to swarm and we are doing a frenetic hive-building dance to try to keep up with them and encourage them to stay.  A hive can range from one box to however many we can stack based on the colony size, and each box holds 10 frames so that is 10 frames that have to be put together and given foundation before being put out for use by the bees; in short, a good amount of time goes into putting together each box before it goes into the bee yard.  What you see in the pictures is the culmination of some serious fast dancing in recent weeks; winter is a season of slow dancing for the bees, whereas spring is a season of fast dancing for the bees and beekeepers alike. This spring our bees are setting a very rapid pace and we are doing our best to keep up with the beat they are setting.  We hope that this will translate into good honey harvests this year.

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What Does a Capped Queen Cell Look Like?

A common pair of questions we hear is, “What does a queen cell look like?  How do you know it’s a queen instead of a worker?”  Here is a photo showing both a queen cell and worker cells.  Please ignore the glove edge that is also in the pic; I was working in bright sunlight and couldn’t see the screen to check what was in the shot.  

Look at the center of the photo.  Now look a little bit to the right of that.  See the long, peanut-looking thing?  That is a capped queen cell.  The cell is capped at around 9 days of age (meaning 9 days after the egg was laid) and the queen bee will emerge around 16 days of age, which makes this cell in the picture between 9 days and 16 days of age.

The flat, tan-colored (capped) cells to the right of the queen cell? Those are regular worker bee capped cells. Worker larva is also capped at about 9 days of age, just like queen cells are.  Unlike the queen cell, however, worker bees don’t hatch until around day 21.  They get approximately 5 more days to develop before they hatch than the queen does, despite their smaller size.  Most of the worker brood on this frame has already hatched out, accounting for the empty, dark cells.

This kind of information–information about brood– is one of the many things we look for when we are inspecting the hives.  This frame made for an easier photo to share because it had so many empty cells that it would help make it easier to see the queen cell.  Imagine this entire frame covered in bees, a moving mass of bees walking on its surface, bees on top of bees.  Frequently that is what we see when we first remove a frame from the hive so we have to watch the frame for a bit to try to see what is underneath all the bees moving on the surface of the frame.

While one might think that, because of the size of the capped queen cell in the photo, it is easy to spot them immediately, that is not always the case.  Remember, there are usually many, many bees on a frame when we take it out of the hive, making it challenging to see what is underneath them.  Before this picture was taken, the frame had already been handled quite a bit, causing many agitated bees to take flight, and then set aside to let the remaining bees settle down for this photo opportunity.  Even with the bit of leather glove showing, I still wanted to share what a queen cell looks like. This one is a great example.

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1st Swarm trap

While I was at work the other day  Mrs. Sweet Gum messaged me from the bee yard saying she saw a swarm in a tree but it wasn’t very big. Well I get home and go about my chores, which on this evening included feeding the new hives Mrs. Sweet Gum had created that day by splitting some of our existing hives. So I am out in the bee yard so I decide to look up in the tree where the swarm was spotted earlier in the day–and what do you know? The swarm was still there, and it was a good size. So I finished feeding the new hives and rushed back to the shop to rig up a 5 frame nucleus box to make into a swarm trap. Then I rushed back to the tree with the extension ladder to place the swam box as high as I could into the tree. The swarm is still there so maybe we might be able to catch this swarm.

Updated:  The swarm had other ideas and didn’t want to move into the offered nuc. The box is still in the tree maybe we can catch the next one.

 

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It’s been a big week for Sweet Gum Farm. We…

It’s been a big week for Sweet Gum Farm. We got a call from one of the state apiary inspectors asking to inspect our hives. We’d heard this inspector give a presentation before so we were excited to have this opportunity as well as a little nervous to hear what someone with over 30 years of bee experience would think about our hives. We’re happy to share that he didn’t find any problems and he said our girls are doing great this early in the year. We thought they looked good but we may be a little biased so it was validating to hear his experienced opinion. Go, girls, go!!