August 14, 2013

moment of truth for the bees

bee metropolis
Today, Wednesday, August 14, 2013 is the moment of truth for our colony. That is six weeks after we installed the colony. Honeybee workers live an average of six weeks during the busy summer, so all the worker bees in the colony will have been born and raised in our backyard hive.

The population has dropped to about half of what it was when first installed. This made me very nervous as I inspected the combs the other day, since I had only seen a few tiny eggs during the last inspection. I was relieved to see a spattering of curled up white larvae and capped brood cells:
2013.08_bees brood
Not as much brood as I'd like to see, but still reassuring. However, it looks like much of the brood is has domed caps, indicating that it is drone brood. Hopefully there is at least some worker brood, or else we might have an unmated queen, who can only produce unfertilized eggs that become drones. While drones propagate the genes of the colony, they do not "work" and don't contribute to the immediate survival of the hive. In fact, they consume hive resources. Naturally, they are kicked out of the hive in the autumn.

I was reassured to learn that worker bees live 4–9 months through the winter season, and that a colony's population fluctuates: from 60,000–80,000 in the summer to 20,000–30,000 in the winter.

The weeds that make up the majority of our backyard right now are waist high. I had worried that they had gone to seed before we could cut them back. But the other day I was amazed to see a veritable metropolis of bees, like an army of window washers, furiously scanning up and down the stalks of tiny flowers so small I didn't know they were flowers until I saw the bees' interest in them. They were really loving the one weed that dominates the backyard that I haven't been able to identify (see top photo). It made me really glad that we hadn't cut it all back yet. It seems like it would be difficult to time the cutting to be after flowering and before seeds are mature. We may do the cutting in stages, so that we don't destroy all of the potential nectar sources/habitats at once.

The bees are also loving the buckwheat that I dispersion seeded in an area loosely mulched with wood chips:
2013.08.06_bee on buckwheat

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