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.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Balsam bees

I think the bees from three of my hives have suddenly discovered Himalayan balsam somewhere nearby.  I have seen the occasional bee with a white back in recent weeks but in the past couple of days there have been hundreds of them.  Today dozens were flying in every minute.



Interestingly they seem also to be collecting white pollen in their pollen baskets, something I haven't noticed before.  I had assumed they didn't like the white pollen but there is a lot being brought in at present.




I don't know where the balsam is but the bees have obviously found it within flying distance. The other two hives either haven't found it or are busy with other flowers somewhere else.