Getting iron in those hives!

By Chandra Mattingly

This summer may be a better year than most for honeybees and other insect foragers. Not only have we had plenty of rain, but weather forecasters indicate adequate rainfall should continue, along with cooler temperatures. As long as the temperatures don't fall below the 50s, and pop up in the daytime, they shouldn't slow our honeybees down much.

In my last blog entry, I indicated some concern about two of my six hives which felt light when slightly rocked. I was able to work those hives a week later and was pleasantly surprised to find honey stores in both, about a half of a medium (Illinois super) and four deep frames, which also had pollen, in one hive; and two-thirds of a medium and a couple deep frames in the other. Still not a lot, but sufficient. Some of the honey was capped, so predated the week of rain that concerned me; and some appeared to be new stores, possibly nectar gathered in the week after the rains or honey carried down from the cappings I'd fed them.

More recently, I “oiled” my hives: fogged them with mineral oil. I know the Purdue expert says that doesn't work, but I watched bees cleaning themselves afterwards and either this method does minimize the mites by inducing self-cleaning, or my strain of bees are super mite resistant. I've not treated them for mites in any other way and I've had this strain of bees since at least 2001.
I will be adding some small hive beetle traps to the hives this weekend, however, as I spotted them in three of the hives July 28. There seem to be less of them this year; Kevin Fancher said his hives have been mostly beetle-free this summer, but he also is salting the ground around the hives to control the pests.

He still has some butterfly weed blooming, which not only provides nectar but is beautiful to boot! But the best milkweed nectar source is common milkweed, which has pink flowers and, like butterfly weed, is also a host for monarch butterfly caterpillars.

Another pretty weed just starting its bloom now is ironweed. The tall purple pasture weed is a good nectar source for bees and butterflies, and helps bridge the gap to the fall aster and goldenrod cornucopia. Some goldenrod varieties are blooming now, and due to the rain, we still have the smaller white clovers blooming in some yards and pastures.

Teasel and thistles continue to bloom along roadsides and in some fields, although the teasel is nearly done. Wild sunflowers also are blooming, but are not much of a nectar source for bees, though they do provide some pollen.

At home in the herb garden, the honeybees are busy with the flowers of various mints as well as thyme. Though not considered major nectar sources, the mints are some of the plants that help tide the honeybees over in July and August. I've also observed honeybees thick on Autumn Joy Sedum during periods of drought, so that's a plant you might want to include in your flower beds, as is sweet autumn clematis.

This clematis is not the large-flower pink, white or purple clematis of spring blooms, but a relative that gets covered with smaller white flowers in August. My trellis of sweet autumn clematis always is covered with honeybees when it blooms.

There's a fairly inclusive nectar source list on Wikipedia ( although the blooming times given don't quite match our area for some of the species. One thing I found interesting: Viper's Bugloss is listed as a good nectar source. There used to be patches of it along U.S. 50 near Dillsboro in June, but I haven't seen the stickery weed in recent years. The Wikipedia entry says the nectar doesn't wash out of the flowers with rain, or dissipate during hot weather.

Speaking of which, Kevin says his buckwheat mostly is visited by honeybees only in the morning. From noon on, it's bee-free, suggesting the nectar dries up in the afternoon. My buckwheat is up but has a week or two to blooming.

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