Reinventing Native Bee Species

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Scientists in the U.S. are studying how native bees and honeybees interact, as well as the condition of native, wild bee populations. It is estimated that there were once as many as 1,600 native bee species in California alone; it is not known how many still exist. In 120 years, Illinois lost half of its wild bee species because of fewer wild flowering plants due to increased agriculture.
Hedgerows planted along farm fields may lure native bees back to these areas because there is more food for them more consistently not just when monocrops are in bloom. according to an article in Scientific American by Hilary Rosner.

Red House Honey's asparagus garden

Red House Honey’s asparagus garden


Scientists hope that the hedgerows in a test area in California will also increase numbers and diversity of bees — not just suck them from elsewhere.
So far their studies show that honeybees become more effective pollinators of almond trees when various native bee species as well as blue orchard bees, another managed species, are present. (Perhaps having other bees around increases their competitive instincts!)

It is clear that monocropping and pollination of them with only honey bees is a doomed exercise. Monocrops need to have hedgerow breaks at regular intervals to attract other pollinating insects, as well as wildlife in order to be healthy. Having our industries dependent on trucked-in honey bees scarcely makes sense either.
For more information on this topic please see Hilary Rosner’s great article in Scientific American.com, September 2013, pp. 70-75.

Red House Honey at Prescott Farmers' Market

Red House Honey at Prescott Farmers’ Market

Bye-bye-bee Bedtime

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Cozy Bees: Red House Honey's new winter "bee barn"

Cozy Bees: Red House Honey’s new winter “bee barn”

The bees have gone to bed for the winter. A new “bee barn” has been constructed, with help from our diligent son, Kyle, who designed and did most of the execution.
The new bee house completely covers the hive, with room for one more inside.
The new hive is beside the vegetable garden, sheltered from the fiercely unforgiving winter winds that roll off the St. Lawrence River. We hope the bees will be cozy.
Moving them from their former location at the edge of the buckwheat field was no easy task. They were loathe to leave their kingdom for another, but with a little persuasion, they acquiesced.
First, we put on the Quebec bee escape over our last honey super, which allows bees to leave the super, but, by means of an intricate maze, not to come back in. Then we harvested this honey, about half a gallon of amber goodness. Alas, the buckwheat crop largely failed and we did not get the buckwheat honey we so prized and hoped for.
Next we waited for late afternoon, then nailed down the entrance with a block of wood, preventing any more bees from escaping. A few puzzled foragers returned to find the door locked, and buzzed helplessly around, fighting off wasps.
We then put two moving straps under the front and back of the hive and strapped it down securely.
Kyle and I then lifted the buzzing, strangely warm double brood chamber into the back of the dog cart (we thought it prudent not to hitch the dogs up to drag it back, in case we had a terrible accident and the cart and hive tipped over). We dragged the cart and its unruly contents to the new location, then lifted the whole thing (about 50 pounds of bees and hive) into the new dark green “bee barn”. Settled into their new home, the bees buzzed somewhat angrily but the question they seemed to be asking was, “what is going on?”
Kyle bravely unscrewed the block of wood from the entrance and the bees were free! Because it was now dark, they largely stayed put. The front door top the bee barn was laid gently across the entrance, to allow the bees to re-orient themselves to their new home. (When exiting the hive, bees remember whether they turned left, right, or went up or down, and this is how they re-orient themselves when returning to the hive; otherwise, they might return to the old location). Just in case, we put another honey box at the old location, to catch any straggling, confused bees which might go back to their old home.
We will check on the bees later this week to see how they are making out in their “winter” home.

How Do Bees Do It?

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Just how do bees do it–pollinate, that is?
 

Peony in bloom

Peony in bloom

Without the bees to pollinate our crops, many of them would not proliferate at all, or yield a much lower amount of produce each fall.
Bees–specifically the honey bee — are covered in branched, dense hairs. When bees plunge into a flower in search of nectar and pollen, pollen grains from the anthers of flowers become attached to their hairy little bodies.

When they are completely covered with pollen, bees comb the pollen into little nuggets, which they then deposit into the cute little pollen baskets on its back lets.

Bees do a groovy dance upon returning to the hive to tell everyone back home where the juicy nectar and pollen is. They can accurately tell direction, distance and the size of the stash by this dance. Often the coded sequence will contain information such as “go to all the big yellow flowers 300 metres away”.

Bees will then pollinate — and cross-pollinate (meaning they visit different types of flowers, mingling the pollen from each type) — all the yellow flowers in the immediate vicinity.

Sunrise on the River

Sunrise on the River

Related Images:

Stung!

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Taking Off the Outer Cover

Taking Off the Outer Cover


It was a dumb idea, I admit it. I knew the bees were agitated. All the signs were there. It was a cloudy, windy, blustery kind of day. The kind where you feel like staying inside. The kind of day that you don’t want to answer the door or talk to anyone. Yet there I was, blundering around the outside of the hive, without my smoker, hat or veil. I weed-wacked the grass down around the hives, noticing the inordinate number of very pesky hornets trying to breach the outer defenses of the hives, with varying degrees of success.
The bees on guard at the entrance were double-teaming the hornets, two of the quickly shooing off every hornet. But the hornets just kept coming, and the guard bees kept pushing them away, to allow the pollen-collecting workers to land and dispose of their heavy loads.
I peeked in the top of the hive to see if any bees were using the new feeder I had just put on, out of concern that the cold, blustery weather was affecting their ability to leave the hive, gather pollen, and finish off the last honey super of the season.
There were not many bees in the feeder, so I peeked down another level, into the small super. Suddenly, my normally mild-mannered bees began boiling out of the top of the super, intent on destruction of the enemy.
I quickly closed the top, hornets and bees buzzing about me. It had been a bad decision. I headed across the laneway and the field for home.
But wait. What is that buzzing noise? There is something caught in my hair — bee or hornet — buzzing frantically, angrily trying to free itself. It buzzes louder and louder. I begin to run for the door, trying to shoo the thing off my hair. Then all goes quiet. I must have succeeded.
But no, just as I reach the door, the buzzing reaches a new, frantic pitch and then a searing, burning pain engulfs the back of my head. I have been stung.
The pain is not like a knife jabbing into me so much as a feeling of exquisite burning all across the back of my head, in a patch about the size of the palm of my hand. I run screaming inside, fall to the floor as my puzzled husband runs toward me. I scream out that I am being stung and he carefully picks the black and yellow insect from my head and kills it. I scrape away at the back of my head to release the stinger and life my burning head.
The pain decreases after a few hours, but the spot on my head remains tender for several days. The tendons on the right side of my neck are also very sore for several days.
Eventually, the pain goes away.
But now, I approach my hive with respect, especially on those days when I know they don’t really want to answer the door.

Honey Harvest

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Bees eyes

Bees’ eyes.

Red House Honey’s gorgeous golden fall honey has been harvested and is awaiting bottling. Most of this harvest has been purchased in advance but a few jars remain for our devoted customers, so call or write us quickly if you would like some.
This year we produced about 12 gallons of honey, which is remarkable really. Wasps have plagued us these past few months, trying to invade the hive and steal our bees’ honey. Fortunately, our hive is strong and our bees are vigilant. They have been able to drive off the invaders and continue to prosper.
The fall honey is darker and more robust than the summer’s delicate wildflower honey. Goldenrod, asters, squash and some buckwheat flavour this tasting with a deeper, huskier aroma. The colour is that of an Oktoberfest ale, with all the goodness of summer and fall packed in.
Trying some is like tasting all the memories of sunshine again.