Pollen is flooding in! Yesterday was in the low '70s and was very blustery, but that didn't stop the pollen celebration my bees were having. I quickly discovered that on the 4 of 5 hives where I didn't use shims my bees couldn't get to the pollen patties I gave them. The new recipe I tried (a soy flour, apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, lemongrass oil combo) still made for moist patties a week later! So I added shims to the 4 colonies that needed it, including this double-nuc, and in so doing I took away what had obviously become a second entrance for them, the large gaps at the top. So the bees loaded with mostly bright yellow, a vivid green and a few dark orange pollen deliveries were a bit confused. I hope they found the true, proper entrance down below. Here you can see them buzzing in, looking for a place to land and off-load.
Our Oregon Grape Holly was first to bloom, with its bright green berry balls that open into little horns of flowers. Our bees LOVE the Oregon Grape Holly. I know what it is thanks to a gardener extraordinaire in our local bee club. She tells me its an invasive species here, but the bees LOOOVE this plant. They were buzzing around the buds before they bloomed a couple of weeks when it was warm enough. And you can't kill this thing. Yvonne cut this thing back to hardly anything a few years back and it's hung in there. Awfully pokey and hurts like the Dickens, that's for sure, but I'll keep it around for my bees. It's always the first thing to bloom in late winter and a sure sign spring is right around the corner. This was shot a week ago.
Dandelion and Dead Nettle are now blooming, more signs of spring. I found this bunch in our mint patch. It's wonderful to see new life exploding. The red maples are threatening to open any day now but the one in my front yard hasn't just yet. Henbit also is exploding. I should know, as I tend to keep a lot of those "weeds" in my berry patch (and all over).
Yellow bells are showing off their blooms in full force. I love these plants. They seem to bloom flowers first, and then leaves. This is from my neighbor's house just down the street, and he tells me this is the CUT-BACK version of this bush. He seemed quite willing to let me take as much of it as I want. Apparently, yellow bells will have their way with your yard.
Another sign of spring, mentees coming over to another open bee yard. This past week we had a smoker contest between Mary Jo and son Chris. They initiated their smoker and got aquainted with lighting it, keeping it lit, learning how easy it is to use up fuel, how to pack it, and few other smoker tips their mentor showed them. I gave Chris a jakey old smoker I had, which he improved upon with a piece of tape. It took longer to start and is a smaller variety than their honking big new one, but as it turns out Chris's stayed lit the longest. MJ's was the first to go out (well, it would've had her mentor not intervened with some gum balls and cedar shavings), so Chris won the bragging rights this week.
Here MJ gets some hands-on learning, discovering differences between workers and a drone. We saw a few of the male bees, another sign of spring. We also saw a glorious amber queen, in hive 2015 Q-D. She was the last of the queens to be mated last fall, and outlasted two black Carniolan queens I mistakenly put in her colony while she was being raised and mated. That hive is now BOOMING, as the early jumpstart with 1:1 sugar syrup and pollen patties a few weeks ago is paying off. So we made our first artificial swarm of the season as well, moving her and a few frames of bees to an empty chamber on a double-nuc set-up. We gave her a honey frame, a pollen frame which I think contained eggs, another frame with food and room to lay, and a half-drawn deep frame of worker comb that broke on me in storage over winter due to inept handling. So I rubber-banded and jute-strung that comb back into position so she could start laying in there right away while the workers repair and keep drawing it out. When we go back next week to the colony from which she came I hope to find many queen cells to make up several new queens with. Fingers crossed. Another sign of spring, drones beginning to fly, drone brood starting to be laid in all the hives, and a hive strong enough to make an artificial swarm with.
I switched my record-keeping this year to Hive Tracks, an online inspection/notes/inventory system. I definitely love it. So I had to name my hives to match up to their records. My system uses year first, then the queens and their color if they have it (so 2014WDQ is the 2014 White Dot Queen), followed by a letter. I labeled some correx and keep this underneath the brick on each hive, instead of affixing a mark to any particular box. I tend to change boxes and hive configurations and locations throughout the season so this seemed most adaptable. So here's an overhead shot of the growing apiary. I removed the 2015 Q-D queen from what has now become the 2016 Q-A colony. I won't have to worry about 2016 Q-A swarming out on me, as they are now put in an emergency queen-rearing operation. I also took this overhead view so I can refer back to it later and not get mixed up on which colony is where.
And here is my humble apiary, real-life view, with the new 2016 Q-A group at far right. An artificial swarm, new queen cells, pollen flooding in and plants beginning to bloom are signs of spring that make me smile and wonder.
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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