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Posts Tagged ‘Flyable Days’

The Good:

Having missed my chance to open Michael and Kelle’s hives in Maple Leaf, as well as Matt and Monica’s hives in the Central District, back in February when we had several amazingly flyable days, I waited for the weather to turn and was well rewarded.  Last Monday was incredible with temperatures over the 60 degree mark and the sun out in full force.

Big Leaf Maples are a major, April nectar flow in the Pacific Northwest

Three of the four colonies survived the winter in Seattle, two Italians and one Carniolan.  The Carniolans had consumed just about all of the honey they earned for the winter, and the nest was up into the top of the second box and about the size of a large football.  This was a really great opportunity to see just how much honey a colony needs to survive an average winter with several cold snaps, as well as the opportunity to learn what to expect in terms of colony size in mid-March from the Carniolan race.  They winter in a smaller cluster than the Italians, and although kinda small, the colony showed promise of being up and running at full steam by mid to late April.

The Bad:

Oddly, the strongest hive last year, the Italians at Matt and Monica’s house, perished.  There were a lot of dead bees beneath the hive and a lot of honey was left–at least 70 pounds.  They were also looking vibrant and mildly ornery when we lifted them up to put a new hive stand beneath them in late January.  This colony was huge in the fall… from their beginning as a small package in April they developed into two boxes full of bees and brood and almost two boxes of honey in September.  This was the only colony that offered up any honey to harvest–a beautiful 20 lbs worth in July.  There were some honey placement issues that could have been better on my part in the fall, but there was no sizable cluster of dead bees, there was no queen to be found, and some of the bees showed signs of Dwarfism, which I have learned means they were malnourished in their larval stage.  At some point this colony either became too weak to feed the young larvae or they became too hungry having clustered away from the honey.  Although I may have made some mistakes wintering this colony, this was a surprising loss and may be a result of Colony Collapse Disorder.

With reports arriving on the status of honeybees in the U.S. and the effects of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) this year, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the loss and our ignorance.  Almond pollinators in California are reporting up to 50% losses, and nationwide predictions are that this year could be worse than the 32%, 36%, and 29% losses of the previous three years.  And no one seems to understand the problem yet either.  One recent study from August 2009 found unusually high levels of ribosomal RNA strands in the bees’ stomachs, indicating  “that honey bees in colonies diagnosed with CCD had reduced ability to synthesize new proteins.”  Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, fungus, mites, viruses, pesticides and stress are still suspects, though as contributing to a cocktail of conditions resulting in collapse.

Updates on CCD:  Washington Post, Miami Herald, Capital Press, Discovery News, Mother Nature Network, The Why Files, and Desdemona Despair.  You can also read my Book Review for A World Without Bees and check out their website.

Recent report and study on pesticides in Honeybee hives as a contributing factor: Plos One (peer reviewed science), The Barefoot Beekeeper

Where government funding for CCD research is going: The Daily Green

RNA study: USDA and recent blogs on CCD by experts in the NY Times: NY Times

and The Beautiful:

Seattle bees busy in mid-March

Opening three hives in mid-March on a beautiful day is definitely a gift.  The Italians at Michael and Kelle’s house had enough bees to fill nearly two boxes, and the brood nest was approaching the box-and-a-half size.  There was so much brood!  Some of the brood was going to emerge soon, there were frames of newly laid eggs, and everything just looked like spring!  All over the city the flowers are blooming and I’m certain there is enough nectar and pollen available that these colonies just might grow quickly enough to make some Maple honey this April.

In all of the hives I lowered the brood boxes to the bottom levels, gave them a little extra honey from the colonies that had perished, and put honey supers on all of them except the Italians that swarmed last year.  I felt they needed a week more to develop before giving them some extra storage space.  In hindsight, I thought it might be a little too early to manipulate the frames with our evenings still getting cold, but it’s a lesson I’ll definitely learn based on observations in the coming weeks.  I feel like there is so much I don’t know about tending bees… I haven’t had the opportunity in the past to experience bustling hives so early in the year… but observing and interacting with all of this sweet life, the lingering scent of honey, wax, and propolis on my hands, the promise of a population explosion to go out and pollinate the world–it’s the ultimate cure for colony loss.

PS I posted a video from Michael and Kelle’s hives’ perspective on the Audio/Visual page.

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Flyable Days Ahead! Thursday, Sunny. Highs in the mid 50s. Northeast wind 10 to 15 mph.

Let me introduce you to one of my favorite phrases of the beekeeping craft: ‘flyable days’.  About that time in late winter when the sun pops out and the temperature warms up a little, inspiring you and me to maybe work around the yard or go for a walk in the park, on those days the bees also emerge.  Sometimes it’s just warm enough to make a quick evacuation of their bowels, but sometimes a few daring foragers are going to go abroad to see what’s available.  These days are so exciting to me.  It means spring is coming and I”ll have the opportunity to ‘crack’ open a hive soon.

The Carniolan

Here in the Northwest, the maple buds are just beginning to turn red, a few cherry trees have bloomed, and I spotted some catkins on a birch tree this weekend, all very good signs for the bees and ourselves.  At Matt and Monica’s house in the Central District, the Carniolans were out collecting pollen from somewhere, dull white balls pressed into their pollen baskets.  That observation speaks volumes right there: the queen is laying eggs and the workers are retrieving pollen to feed the larvae.  My bee-sense is telling me they are happy, and barring an unusually cold and wet pre-spring, they’ll get off to a good start this year.  But the Italians were quiet.

"Glowing" Italian

The Italians are beautiful bees, quite golden in color, and I swear they seem to glow with the sun coming through them.  They are famous for being gentle and developing huge populations that produce copious quantities of honey.  However, from what I have read, heard, and observed, the Italians prefer 55 degree temperatures before they venture out into the day.  They also maintain a large-ish population through the winter, which means they require larger stores of honey to survive. The Carniolans, on the other hand, are purported to fly at around 50 degrees, and the queen will let the populations shrink through the fall and into the winter, ensuring less mouths to feed during the darker dearth.  It must have been just right for the Carniolans, and not quite right enough for the Italians.

Today was not quite a flyable day, but we had a long, suspended flyable moment, with the sun beaming for a while and then a cold front moving in.  On my porch late this morning, I spied a honeybee in the crocuses, filling her pollen basket with bright orange pollen.  Per my ritual, tomorrow morning I’ll be checking the Weather Underground for fairly accurate predictions of the day’s weather.  Here’s wishing you many flyable moments tomorrow until we reach flyable days.

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