Bugs, Blooms and Vittles, What the bees are up to

Bugs, Blooms and Vittles
By Chandra Mattingly

After a week of rain, we had some sunshine Sunday, July 7, and I was able to check my beehives for the first time since taking honey off June 21. I was glad I did so: while the three hives I checked closely had honey stores, two of the remaining three were extremely lightweight. I'd run out of time for getting into the hives, but when gently rocked, it was obvious they were pretty much out of stores.
Both of these are strong hives, as is the third unworked hive which felt plenty heavy when rocked. Hopefully, I can inspect all three more closely this weekend.

In the meantime, each hive received a glass baking dish full of wax and honey from cappings over its inner cover, my preferred feeding method. The wax keeps the bees from drowning as they go after the honey, and a stick under the casserole dish raises it enough to let the bees up into the empty super I put around it, with the hive cover on top.

I'm surmising the rain interrupted nectar collection in a major way and the two hives used up their stores feeding their large amounts of brood. Both these hives were spring divisions and have young queens. One hive yielded two mediums (Illinois supers) of honey this spring, but was left with a medium full of uncapped honey which it apparently has used up. The other hive received all the brood and honey of a strong hive April 30, when the queen and workers were shifted to a deep of foundation. This division yielded one medium of honey to extract about a month after I gave its third deep of brood and honey to another hive. The two remaining deeps had honey, pollen and brood the week I took honey off. But both of these light hives also had mediums of foundation. Drawing foundation into comb uses a lot of honey, too, though I won't know how much if any of that foundation has been drawn until I get into the hives this weekend. Meanwhile, I will renew their cappings and hope they're finding nectar sources.

Blooming now

Here in Rising Sun, the honeybees are working catnip flowers intensely, as well as my butterfly weed blooms, the mimosa tree flowers, and garden vegetables. Catnip is a great nectar source for midsummer, and will re-bloom if cut back. White clover is still blooming, but I see only a few honeybees visiting the flowers. Of course, being in town, there are a variety of cultivated flowers and vegetables as well, and a lot of dandelions are blooming due to the rain we've had, though again, I've not seen honeybees on the flowers much.

Beekeeper Kevin Fancher has a hillside of butterfly weed and some white sweet clover swarming with bees, although the butterfly weed is about done blooming now. The buckwheat he planted a few weeks ago should be blooming soon, however.

The patch of yellow sweet clover I planted last year is bloomed out, but the honeybees are collecting pollen from the sunflowers at both ends of the garden. If you plant sunflowers, by the way, don't get the pollen-less kind if you want them to feed honeybees and the wild pollinators. Some of last year's buckwheat reseeded itself and is blooming in otherwise unplanted parts of the vegetable garden. Once I get the last planting of corn and beans in this week, any remaining ground will be planted with buckwheat.

But in terms of nectar collecting by the honeybees, buckwheat seems to be hit or miss. A late fall crop two years ago bloomed before frost but was untouched by honeybees. Last summer, the bees worked the buckwheat blooms some of the time, usually in the mornings. Their coverage was nothing like in the yellow and white sweet clover, which literally buzzes with bees when blooming.

The nice thing about buckwheat, however, is how quickly it blooms: you're looking at six to seven weeks from planting to flowers.

Outside of town, other milkweeds (of which butterfly weed is one) are blooming, as are bull thistles and teasel. The flowers of both are dearly loved by honeybees. If you've never collected (while wearing gloves, of course!) a few of the big purple thistle flowers for a vase, you'll be amazed at their sweet scent if you do so. The bees also are working tame and wild bee balm, a member of the mint family and another good nectar source.

My uncle, the late Eddie Probst, who started me in bees back in the 1970s, had his farm overrun with bull thistles for a few years around the time Ind. 350 was rebuilt going up the hill west of Aurora. I remember helping with honey extraction – a family affair with his kids and grandkids participating – and the lovely flavor of that thistle honey!

Chandra Mattingly not only keeps bees but also offers perennials and herbs for sale at her home, 109 N. High St., Rising Sun.

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