Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Swarming Honey Bees: What a Sight!

Not all bees are honey bees. Honey bees are primarily distinguished by the production and storage of honey and the construction of perennial, colonial nests out of wax. These are the kind of bees that Charlotte keeps on the Prairie Winds Nature Farm.

Swarming bees are undoubtedly one of nature’s carefully orchestrated marvels: a cloud of bees on a mission to find a new address for the purpose of naturally reproducing a new colony.

I was busy, or so I imagined myself in a feverish campaign of weeding and mulching some newly germinated turnip seedlings in the white picket-fence garden. It was hot enough already and I was thinking happy thoughts of getting myself one of those oriental-like hats that adorn the Vietnamese women in the rice fields of the East.

On this day that I wore my hot-pink t-shirt, as fate would have it, Charlotte’s bees decided to re-locate. Apparently, as Charlotte explained, whenever there happens to be two queen bees in the same colony, one queen has to go. This behavior happens among the social honey bees like the common domesticated European honey bee.

The queen bee gathers something like an army of protective worker bees that surround her to the tune of a couple hundred or couple thousand. These move just a few feet away to set up temporary residence in a nearby tree or shrub. They will usually stay there for four to five hours and then move to a more permanent location—unless…..the beekeeper decides to capture them somehow into a box so as to keep them from leaving the farm.

I was made to understand that Charlotte was going to give them a couple of minutes to settle onto the apple tree above which they were buzzing and circling intensely. If all went well, they would settle into a cluster of bees a couple of inches deep and then Charlotte would put on her bee suit and coax them into a box to keep them from leaving her farm.

Should the bee keeper miss this migration or not notice when it happens, he or she will have less bees left, and less bees means less honey.

All this was such wonderful news to me, except that not only did I not have a bee suit right around now, but I had on a hot-pink t-shirt.

As a kid my dysfunctional relationship with bees was formed during my holiday visits to my grandmother who kept a bee-hive in the chimney. A couple of stings later, we were expected to wear dark or dull colored clothes so as not to excite the bees that would surely mistake us for colorful flowers. Truth or fiction, I know not; but I know that to this day, whenever I see a bee, I scan the color of my clothes to decide whether to walk away or stay.

Should you witness this swarming phenomenon, feel free to observe from a safe distance. The bees, having no hive to protect are less likely to be aggressive. They are also said to be full of honey anyway and are preoccupied with house hunting rather than stinging.

Unless the bees are a nuisance or a health hazard, ignore them as they will usually move on within hours. You may call a local bee keeper to help with gathering and relocation of the bees if absolutely necessary: If not, don’t harm the bees and don’t spray or kill them. This is a natural cycle so grab the binoculars and watch!

When the bees were buzzing right above one of the apple trees, it was an amazing and slightly unnerving sight for me. I had a feeling that my hot-pink t-shirt must have made me stick out like a huge pink flower among all things green to the bees. I desperately hoped they did not notice me and found myself tensing my muscles in a vain attempt to appear as still as a museum wax figure. I let out a great sigh of relief when Charlotte assured me that I was safe.

Fortunately for the bees and perhaps unfortunately for Charlotte, the scout bees must have found a new hive location quickly enough as the cluster of bees quietly slipped away. Usually, lingering on longer without a hive exposes the bees to dangers like humans who may view them as nothing but a threat to be terminated.

Bees play an important role in pollinating flowering plants, and are the dominant type of pollinator in ecosystems that contain flowering plants. Bees either focus on gathering nectar or on gathering pollen depending on demand, especially in social species. Bees gathering nectar may accomplish pollination, but bees that are deliberately gathering pollen are more efficient pollinators.

It is estimated that one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, most of which is accomplished by bees, especially the domesticated European honey bee.

Contract pollination has overtaken the role of honey production for beekeepers in many countries. Monoculture and the massive decline of many bee species (both wild and domesticated) have increasingly caused honey bee keepers to become migratory so that bees can be concentrated in seasonally-varying high-demand areas of pollination.

Modern hives also enable beekeepers to transport bees, moving from field to field as the crop needs pollinating. This allows the beekeeper to charge for the pollination services they provide, revising the historical role of the self-employed beekeeper, and favoring large-scale commercial operations.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Spring Bowl



Bok choy

Lettuce, spinach & radishes

Onions & last year's potatoes

Behold, our very own first fruits!. Our gardens are looking green and scrumptious. Salad greens, herbs, onions, bok choy, dill, oregano and chives so far.... all ready to eat!