Holly Blooms

We are still in the thick of our nectar season. This week we’ve had holly blooming. Holly is a great pollinator plant, with small white flowers that are very attractive to all kinds of bees. There are varieties that bloom in early spring and late summer, so they provide a long season of nectar. In the winter, the pollinated flowers become berries that birds and other animals enjoy.

Some varieties have a male and female version. Both produce flowers, but the male plants produce pollen and relies on pollinators (like bees!) to pollinate the female flowers. We have a bit of both kinds on our property.

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The ground under your hives

Do you need wood chips? I have some extra…. There is a service getchipdrop.com that provides free wood chips to home owners. Local arborists drop their fresh wood chips off at no charge, which is often quicker and cheaper than taking them to a dump or other location. So it is good for home owners, good for the arborist company, and good for the environment. One challenge, of course, is that you never know exactly how much you will get. Let’s just say I have more than I was hoping for.

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Good Nuc, Bad Nuc

Beekeepers (or least, this beekeeper) think grand thoughts towards the end of winter. Spring is coming and we think about the wonderful things we will finally do this year. As for myself, I am thinking about raising nucs, producing honey, beekeeping on more of a schedule, and catching swarms. Of course, most of this depends on actually having some bees.

So I was a little concerned on a warm day last week when one of my hives was fairly quiet. The other hives were flying all over the place, but this one only had a bee or two active in the front. I’ve been tricked in the past by an apparently quiet hive doing just fine over the winter, so I wanted to check the hive and see how it was doing.

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Back to the Future of Varroa

This week was January 19, 2023, the day Marty McFly arrived in the movie Back to the Future. The movie was released in 1985, and did so well that it became a trilogy that included trips to the future and the past. In Marty’s 2023 they had real hover boards and self-fitting clothes and other things that seemed futuristic back in the 1980’s.

It occurred to me that that’s about when the varroa mite invaded the United States as well, long before I took up beekeeping. The mite first appeared in Florida and then quickly spread to the rest of the country. With a scientific name of Varroa destructor, Varroa is an ectoparasitic mite that lives and feeds on the adult and pupal stages of honey bees. They have proven surprising resilient and very adaptive to the various treatment methods tried over the years.

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Growing-Degree Days – Spring is Coming

We are starting to see early signs of flowers in Virginia. It has been abnormally warm this year, and the bulbs are starting to peek up from the soil. There a science called phenology that is the study of periodic cycles in biology. One concept that has come from this field of study is growing degree days, or GDD. The idea is that plants and insects require a certain level of warmth before they sprout and bloom, or emerge in the case of insects. You can calculate the GDD for your area as an estimate of when different plants might bloom for spring flowers or agricultural management

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Day 8: Queen larva capping

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 8. A honey bee queen larva is capped around day 8 of her lifecycle.

We leave the world of bee anatomy to talk about the lifecycle of a honey bee. A queen lays an egg in a honeycomb cell, which hatches around day 3 or 4. The rest of the lifecycle depends on the type of bee. A growing queen larva is typically capped on day 8, while workers and drones are capped on day 9 and 10, respectively. There is some variation, of course.

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Day 7: Spiracles

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 7. A honey bee has seven pairs of spiracles on their abdomen.

Matching up these daily numbers is starting to get interesting. A spiracle is an opening in an insect or spider that enables the exchange of oxygen with the body. Honey bees have ten pairs of such openings: three on the thorax and seven on the abdomen. Yay for seven! The spiracles form part of the respiratory system in honey bees, as discussed in this post Do bees have lungs?

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Day 4: Wings

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 4. A honey bee has four wings.

While we often think that flying animals have a pair of wings, as in birds, most insects have four wings that work together during flight. Bees, in particular, have a forewing and a hind wing that fold up separately against their body while at rest. During flight, a row of hamulus, or small hooks, link the two wings together so they operate in concert.

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Day 1: Stinger

Welcome to Day 1 of the Twelve Days of Honey Bees, conveniently aligned with the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Honey bees, at least if they are female, have one stinger. The stinger in Hymenoptera insects, including bees, is a modification of the ovipositor gland, and as such only appears in females. Drones, or males, have hairy butts in place of a stinger. and you can distinguish a drone from a worker by looking at their rears. It’s not a common approach, since there are other more obvious differences, but next time you look at a drone’s butt you can think of me.

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Book: Swarm Essentials

Winter is the time for reading in beekeeping. The colonies are clustered in their hive,s and we have time to think about and plan for the coming year. I recently finished the book Swarm Essentials by Stephen J. Repasky. I picked it up at the Virginia Beekeepers Fall meeting in November. I always struggle to prevent swarms, so this seems like a good book for me.

Repasky is a long-term member of the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS) and was Director of the EAS Master Beekeeper Program for many years. So even though this was published in 2013 I was interested to see what the Repasky had to say.

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