(photos of Monique & honeybees by Bob Boisvert (c) 2011;
photo of a wild bee collecting blue pollen by Louise Ingram (c) 2011)
March: almost the end of winter and almost the beginning of spring.
For beekeepers this is the time when we find out who survived the winter. Our visit to the three Carp Ridge hives saddened us. Just a few bees buzzing about — the outside of the hives gave us signs that things were not great inside, maybe disease, maybe dysentery, maybe nosema (a bee bug).
We put our ears to a hive, no buzzing except from our imagination.
We then visited the city hive. There were no signs of disease, bees were buzzing about, and yes, this time it wasn’t our imagination, bees were alive inside!
One of four hives survived. We celebrated the living hive and made decisions about our losses. We would focus on the city bees this year.
Imagine our surprise when a few weeks later, Bob returns to the dead hives to dismantle the electric fence (that keeps out bears) to give to a new beekeeper.
He opens one of the hives and. . . Geronimo! Hundreds of bees emerge!
He was not wearing a protective veil, thinking he wouldn’t need it. But now the temptation was too great. He opens all three hives — all of them had bees!
The things we do not see. . . .
I returned the following week to boost the bees with a sugar syrup. This simulates a nectar flow and entices the queen bee to lay more eggs. More bees in the spring means a stronger hive and an early start on the new flowers. Spring buds, here come the bees!
Our little bees were bringing in yellow pollen in droves. These would be new spring bees as the ones who overwintered with the queen would probably have collapsed from exhaustion by now. I read that in the fall, worker bees that emerge have a thicker skin that is more resistant to cold. The spring bees are lighter and built for flight and collecting nectar. Amazing little machines!
Now we are back to four working hives: three country hives and one city hive.
My last visit to the city hive was particularly exciting. I noticed the bees were bringing in blue pollen on their legs, big blobs of blue! I have seen yellow, orange, red and some green pollen but never blue.
When touching the pollen, it melted between my fingers. Ever so delicate that it wasn’t so much my fingers feeling this as my eyes. I wanted to know where these flowers were as I could not see them. I saw some blue bells but their pollen was yellow as was the pollen from the snow drops. Of course I could have gone to the internet but I didn’t want to, I wanted to find these blue pollen flowers!
This is when I started thinking about the things we do not see. When spring allergies erupt, the beekeeper rejoices, quietly. This means pollen for bees! It is the protein in their diet, the most important thing at this time when flowers are not yet abundant.
I found the blue flowers: siberian squill. I have no idea if this blue food tastes any different to the bees than the yellow or orange pollen and maybe they don’t even see it as blue! I have still so much to learn.
Now the temptation to visit the web and find out more was too strong. Here is a sympathetic little video worth watching for the last 10 seconds where the bee is on a siberian squill flower with legs so full of blue pollen she looks like a Polichinel comedia del’arte character!
There is so much we do not see in this world, yet we reap the benefits of its presence.
Come see us in the Carp Ridge beeyard this summer.
(Editor’s note: Polichinel is often known as Punch or Punchinello in English)