Monthly Archives: May 2014

Fit for a queen

Honey bee hives will naturally produce their own queen, but it’s an imperfect system: sometimes the queen cell doesn’t take, or the queen dies (or is killed by bees who are still loyal to another queen’s pheromones), or the hive is not strong enough to wait a few weeks until its new queen emerges, mates, and begins to lay eggs. That’s why beekeepers often take matters into their own hands by breeding their own queens.

Carson taught himself this tricky and delicate process last year, with mixed success – some of his queens made it, but most didn’t. When you consider the precision involved, including exact temperature and timing requirements at all stages of the process, it’s a miracle this ever works out! With last year’s experience under his belt, Carson is at it again.  Here is is creating twenty queen cells. Fingers crossed that about half of them hatch… and that Carson’s timing is perfect so he can separate them before the first queen to emerge kills the rest!

queen grafting 1

queen grafting 2

To find out more about the laborious and varied processes of breeding queens, you can read this detailed explanation.

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How to plant a bee-friendly garden

On this gorgeous mother’s day, we here at Carson & Bees are moved by the flowers in bloom. With spring in full force there’s no time like the present to think about what bees and other pollinators eat, and that it’s all of our jobs to feed them.

There’s a wonderful blog called Honey Bee Suite. Blogmaster/beekeeper Rusty frequently posts about attracting pollinators to your yard, and I’m reposting one of those here. She disseminates her impressive knowledge in easy-to-digest and often humorous posts, so if you enjoy reading about bees I highly recommend you mosey on over to her side of the web.

determined sunflower
This little sunflower is determined to feed some bees.

Fifteen Ways to Attract Pollinators to Your Yard from Honey Bee Suite

Here are fifteen easy ways to assure you will have a plentiful supply of pollinators all season long.

  • Plant clover in your lawn. White Dutch clover planted in your lawn will attract dozens of pollinators. In addition, it fixes atmospheric nitrogen into a form the grass can use, resulting in a beautiful green lawn without the use of chemical fertilizers.
  • Plant at least some native species. Native plants attract native pollinators. Check with your local extension office if you are unsure of what is native.
  • Plant herbs. Herbs, especially those in the mint family, are very attractive to pollinators. This family includes thyme, oregano, sage, basil, peppermint, lavender, catnip and rosemary. As an added bonus, you get to use the herbs yourself.
  • Select plants with a wide range of bloom times. Native bees need food from spring until fall so plan to have something in bloom all season long.
  • Plant larval host plants. Some plants are not considered especially attractive in the garden but are necessary to certain species of pollinators. Milkweed, for instance, is vital to the larval stages of Monarch butterflies. Plant them in an inconspicuous place if you prefer, but have them available for the pollinators.
  • Avoid hybrid varieties. Many flowers that have been bread for beauty have lost the nectar or pollen that made them valuable to pollinators. Plants with double or triple rings of petals, or plants with unusual colors or variegated patterns are probably over-hybridized.
  • Leave open patches of mud. Many ground-nesting bees need open patches of mud for their homes or for building materials.
  • Provide a water source. It doesn’t need to be large or fancy. Just a wet spot under the end of a hose can help the insects.
  • Avoid excessive mulch. Too much mulch blocks entry to the ground. Ground-burrowing insects often cannot penetrate a heavy layer of mulch.
  • Add sea salt or wood ash to a bare patch of earth. Pollinators are often seen collecting minerals from salty or ashy areas. Your patch needn’t be large and it shouldn’t be overworked. If the insects need it, they will find it.
  • Provide nesting sites. Collections of reeds or holes drilled in blocks of wood provide great nesting sites. Tubes or blocks should be replaced periodically to limit disease build-up.
  • Leave dead trees and reeds standing. If a dead tree can safely be allowed to stand, it should be left as habit for bees, birds, and small rodents. Dead and standing reeds are a favorite of wild bees.
  • Leave an unmowed patch of grass and weeds in a protected spot. Tall grass provides protection, shade, and hunting grounds for many species of pollinators. Some pollinators—such as hover flies—feed on insects as well as nectar, so they do best in a place that provides an alternate food source.
  • Put a flower pot on every porch . . . and encourage your friends to do the same. The more plants that are available, the healthier our pollinators will be.
  • Use no pesticides. Until we reduce dependence on pesticides, items 1-14 are all for naught.

The art of shaking bees

It’s spring, and that means bees are available for sale to beekeepers who lost hives over the winter and want to rebuild, or new beekeepers who want to get started. (Note: we have a few packages for sale if you’re interested; call 489-1587 by May 5 to reserve yours!)

Bees typically come in three-pound packages with a new, mated queen. (Did you know that queens have just one 10-day window to mate, and if they aren’t successful, they can only lay unfertilized drone brood?)

bee packages
Carson hoists five bee packages on their way to be shaken into their new homes.

Installing packaged bees in their new home isn’t as simple as cracking it open and placing them on top of or next to an empty hive. You have to literally shake the little buggers out. Watch as Carson first removes the queen’s little box and places it in the hive, then cracks a can of sugary water for them to feed, and finally shakes the bees out (all without gloves). Be sure to turn your sound up!

Carson swears that it doesn’t hurt the bees to be shaken and even pounded out, though one can imagine they aren’t thrilled about it based on how many times he gets stung.