I’ve long heard that sedum plants attract honey bees and other pollinators in a big way, so when I noticed an Autumn Joy sedum, a variant of Hylotelephium telephium, growing beside my new house, I thought I’d witness something great and wonderful. But so far it’s been underwhelming. Bumblebees seem to love it, butterflies, wasps, but not many honey bees.
Honey bee on Autumn Joy in Flatrock, NL (Sept. 20, 2015.)
I’d classify Autumn Joy as a late-season nectar source for honey bees in my area, coming to bloom even later than Japanese Knotweed, which is possibly the very last source of nectar and pollen before the onslaught of winter.
Cell phone photo of Autumn Joy in Flatrock, Newfoundland (Sept. 20, 2015.)
Queenless for 18 days. See the bee bringing in pollen? Maybe they have a queen now. (August 5, 2015.)
It’s been 18 days since I found the dead mated in her queen cage in one of my hives, where I also found capped supersedure cells (see A Requeening Gone Bad). I haven’t touched the hive since. Today I noticed some honey bees bringing in pollen. If you look closely, you can even see it in this cellphone snapshot.
I’ve been told by many beekeepers that foragers don’t bring in pollen unless they have a viable queen. Does that mean this colony has a queen? A capped supersedure cell from 18 days ago would have produced a queen by now and, who knows, maybe she even mated successfully.
This is Part 2 of some hive inspections I did yesterday. It’s a 3-minute video that, among a few other things, shows what frames of pollen and nectar look like. Again, this may not seem like the most scintillating thing on the planet, but new beekeepers will want to know what this stuff looks like. By the end of your first summer, you’ll want to know the difference between frames of pollen, nectar, honey, worker brood and drone brood. And if you’re in Newfoundland, most likely you’re flying blind and you’re on your own. So if you have 3 minutes to spare, you might want to take a look.
In my continuing efforts to document flowers in and around St. John’s that seem to attract honey bees, allow me to introduce a viney plant we call Morning Glory that blooms around this time of the year. Here’s a photo from September 5th, 2011, proof that honey bees go for it:
I first recognized Morning Glory as a pollen and nectar source for the bees after saw what I thought were Mutant Bees. Here’s another shot of Morning Glory from September 18th, 2013:
Although it’s an invasive plant, Japanese Knotweed — Fallopia japonica — provides a hit of pollen and nectar for the honey bees well into the fall season.
Plants like Japanese Knotweed help delay the nectar dearth that would occur this time of the year as many of the native plants die off.
Japanese Knotweed isn’t difficult to spot. The plants grow well over 6 feet (about two metres) and the stock of the plant is hollow and looks like bamboo (the stocks are full of water). It only takes one plant to take root in some broken soil and it quickly takes over and is nearly impossible eradicate.
Goldrenrod is exceptionally fragrant on sunny days like today.
Honey bee on Goldenrod in St. John’s, Newfoundland. (Sept. 03, 2015.)
Much of the late season honey is derived from goldenrod and it’s easy to tell because the smell of the goldenrod in the air has a similar pungency as the honey we harvest in the fall.
Goldenrod honey crystallizes quickly due to its high glucose content and can take on such a strong earthen odour as to be unpleasant to more sensitive taste buds. I’m not in love with it. I can see how it’s an acquired taste. Most of our fall honey comes from a variety of nectar sources, so it’s not too pungent.
JULY 30, 2015: I noticed the flowers of the dogberry tree is similar to False Spiraea, but on closer examination of the leaves in the photos, it’s clear they’re not the same. At least I don’t think so.
One of my honey bee colonies died over the winter. (See A Winter Die-Off, A Winter Die-Off Post Portem: The Photos and Why My Honey Bees Died for more details.) It starved to death because: (1) I thought it had enough honey of its own and didn’t need to be fed extra honey or sugar syrup in the fall. I was wrong. I’ll feed my colonies in the fall for now if I have any doubts about their honey stores. (2) I wrapped all my hives for winter on December 1st and didn’t check on them for two months, not until February 3rd. I waited too long. I should have checked on them first thing in the new year and given any starving colonies some sugar.
Dead cluster on a frame near the brood nest. (March 10, 2013.)
But now I know and I’m not discouraged by it. I had to lose a colony sooner or later. I went into the 2011 winter with two colonies, 2012 with four and 2013 with seven. So now I have six instead of seven. That’s not a catastrophic loss and it’s a pretty good survival rate for three winters of beekeeping. I also now have an extra twenty frames of drawn comb to work with this year. That’s a luxury I’ve never had. Continue reading →
One of my honey bee colonies starved to death over the winter and I suspect about half of the six colonies still alive are living entirely off the raw sugar I’ve been feeding them since February. There are many reason for this. I gave the colonies some of their own honey but didn’t top them up with sugar syrup in the fall. Some of the colonies were weakened last spring because they swarmed. One colony had a failing queen for most of the year. Another colony was a caught swarm with a virgin queen that didn’t begin laying well until mid-July. Another two colonies were started up from splits (not much different then starting from mid-season nucs). All of the above can significantly reduce a colony’s ability to produce honey, especially considering the short summers in Newfoundland. New policy: Don’t harvest honey from any colony that’s been potentially weakened (from swarming, splitting, etc.). The bees need all the honey they can get. New sub-policy: I’d rather not feed the bees sugar if I can help it, but for now on if I have any doubts, I’ll top them up with sugar syrup in the fall. It’s better than dealing with dead or starving bees in the middle of the winter. Here’s a photo of some bees today that have eaten through most of the sugar I gave them since February:
You can see I added two pollen patties but the sugar is dangerously low. I dumped in more sugar over the pollen patties a few minutes after I took the photo. I’ll have to keep a close eye on all the colonies now, at least until the May dandelions bloom and they can start bringing in nectar and pollen on their own. Continue reading →