Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Beehive

There are two pubs near me called the Beehive.  This is the Beehive Hotel in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne.  You can see that the pub sign shows a bumblebee.  I decided against calling in the tell the landlord that bumblebees don't live in hives.

This one is The Beehive, between Hartley and Earsdon.  I had noticed that the sign shows a skep but it was only when I stopped to take a photo that I realised it also shows bumblebees and not honey bees.  Again I didn't call in to point out the error.

My impression is that most people - obviously including pub landlords and pub sign artists - have no idea what a honey bee looks like.  I kept track of calls I have had about "swarms" this year, my second year on the BBKA swarm collector list.  In all 12 of 14 calls I took were about bumblebees, presumably mostly tree bumblebees (Bombus hypnorum).  I don't always carry the phone so I have missed some calls as well but only two calls were about real swarms - I had more from my own hives.

I read that there are 67 pubs in the UK called The Beehive, making it the 70th most popular pub name (just ahead of Robin Hood).  It would be interesting to know how many of them accurately portray honey bees rather than bumblebees on their signs.  If I am still standing after I have checked them all I'll let you know.  (In case you are wondering, the three most popular pub names are The Red Lion, The Crown, and The Royal Oak.)

Friday, 27 October 2017

Still busy

It was a lovely sunny afternoon and pretty warm for the time of year so it was a good excuse to go and watch the bees.  They were making the most of it, perhaps having heard the forecast of the weather turning cold from tomorrow.  There was a lot of pollen coming in, all in the cream / yellow / orange spectrum, some of it in quite large loads.

I have had the hive entrances reduced for some time now and it looks quite congested in the photos but the bees have no difficulty getting in and out efficiently.

The next few days will be much colder so that might be their last busy day for some time.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Friday, 13 October 2017

Kniphofia caulescens

This imposing and unusual plant is Kniphofia caulescens, a very late-flowering red hot poker.

It flowers in October and I have noticed this week that it is very popular with the bees.  At first there were only one or two on the seven flower heads but word spread and the numbers have increased to a couple of dozen at a time.

The bees climb through a forest of stamens to get right inside the flowers and spend up to a minute in each flower, suggesting there is a lot of nectar to be had.  They also visit only a few flowers before returning to base.

This photo shows a bee with a drop of what I assume is nectar.

This is a bee's eye view of the flowers and appears to show large drops of nectar in several of the flowers.

Some of the bees also collect pollen.

Even those not collecting pollen spend a lot of time grooming, suggesting they are getting covered in pollen and/or nectar as they get right inside the flowers.

At this time of year there are fewer flowers for the bees to visit so I expect they welcome the appearance of this exotic South African plant.  I read that in its home country it is mainly pollinated by birds (Drakensberg siskins, yellow canaries and malachite sunbirds) and produces very large amounts of dilute hexose-rich nectar which the birds prefer.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Autumn propolis collectors

Several of my hives have very "sticky" bees, that is they collect and use a lot of propolis.  I imagine that propolis is both easier and more difficult for the bees to deal with in warm weather - easier because it is softer and more pliable but more difficult because it sticks to everything.  The opposite would be true as the weather gets colder. When I was watching the balsam bees the other day I saw several bees bringing in fresh supplies of propolis. Unlike in the summer, when each bee had a single large blob of soft propolis in her pollen baskets, these had several smaller propolis balls stuck together.

Sometimes the load was unwieldy and in danger of falling off.

The next day was very warm and sunny and the propolis looked softer.  Most bees were carrying their loads in a single drop.

I still haven't seen a convincing explanation of exactly how the bees collect propolis without getting plastered in it.  If it is in the same way that they collect pollen you'd think it would be stuck all over their hairs.  Many of the propolis carriers spend some time on the outside of the hive before going in.  This one shows she has propolis all over the pollen brushes on the insides of her basitarsi.  That makes me wonder if the bees scrape the propolis directly onto their back legs before squeezing it into the pollen baskets.

These two spent time grooming themselves before going in and yet they have no signs of propolis on their other legs or elsewhere.

This one shows well how the propolis is contained within the pollen basket and also shows propolis all over the pollen brush.

Most of the propolis coming in was deep red as in the photos above.  A few bees were carrying paler orange propolis, presumably from a different source.

Here are the two colours together.

Propolis carriers seem to be very aware of each other and often stand side by side or greet each other outside the hive.

I have never seen so many bees with propolis as I have this week.  I expect they are intent on draught-proofing the hives before the winter.  I wish I knew where they are getting it from.  One day I'll find a bee collecting propolis and take some photos of the process in action.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

United we stand

In the past week I have managed to reduce from seven hives to four by doing three unitings.  Like most beekeepers I use the newspaper technique and unlike my experience in the summer, all seems to have gone according to plan.  I use the Daily Torygraph, mainly because it is a broadsheet so it covers the hive with one sheet but also because it is free in Waitrose.  I don't think it matters which paper is used but Rusty says the bees get upset if they get to the end of the column to find it says "continued on page 6" when they haven't got page 6. I usually find a page with a picture of Donald Trump and let them chew through that.

I don't put any holes in the paper but the bees usually get through it within 24 hours.  You can tell they are through when bits of paper appear in front of the hive but it is also great fun to listen outside the hive and hear hundreds of pairs of mandibles chewing the paper.  This is how it looks inside but the bees will usually remove every last piece of newspaper.

I also enjoyed watching bees emerging from the hive with a piece of paper larger than a postage stamp and carrying it right over the house.  I'm not sure why they don't just dump it outside with the rest - maybe they don't like Donald Trump.  Here are a few bees struggling with a bit of paper which has got stuck on a blob of propolis.

And here is one very tidy bee determined to get rid of this piece.