Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Will I Ever Learn?

     Probably not.  I knew walking out to the hives I should grab my headgear.  All I'm going to do, I thought, was pull out the frames the bees have cleaned off that I put in the empty super on top of the hives and put a little tray of honey in on top of the inner cover.  It won't take long, and with the temps hovering around 50 the bees won't even bother to come out.  I was fine with the first hive, #2, and even pulled out the entrance reducer and turned it to the smallest opening.  Just fine.  Then in the other hive, I was fine with pulling empty frames and putting in the honey.  I put the cover back on top, and went to rotate the entrance reducer.  That set them off.  Immediately, one flew inside the hood of my sweatshirt and nailed me right behind my right ear.  Others were coming after me, so I took off as quickly as my gimpy knee would allow, using my cap to swat away the most aggressive ones.  I got on the other side of our prairie and finally lost them.  I took off my jacket and removed the bee who had stung me, still crawling around in the hood.  It smarted a bit, but not bad actually.  I didn't even flick the stinger off until I was up by the house.  It really didn't swell too much.
     I knew from the past two autumns that they get pretty testy around this time.  Last year I was lucky and had gloves on and only had to remove 3 stingers from the glove.  I told myself then that I would always wear protection this time of year, even if I don't bother with smoke.  I guess my deafness applies to hearing myself as well.  Next year, I'll always be sure to wear headgear. I promise.
     We just got back from visiting Jessica, Matt and Zinabu in upstate NY.  While there, Jess took us out to some of the fields that Cornell U. owns.  Jess is doing research on pumpkin pollination from various pollinators.  Part of the research involved pollination with honey bees and some with bumble bees, as well as pollination by native bees and hand pollination.  She has been busy the past week removing the bumble bee hives from the fields, some of which you see stacked above.  We did see one solitary bumble bee, looking a bit stunned though it was a warm day, crawling on the boxes, but she said most were pretty empty by this time.  The queens apparently have left the hives to mate and will overwinter in the ground, while the workers will die off. Their life cycle is certainly different from the honey bee, which is extraordinary in its social structure and development.  Though the bumble bees are great pollinators, it's hard to beat the honey bee for interest.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

There's Always More to Learn

     This is a follow-up to my last post.  Thanks to Barbara Beekeeper, whose blog I follow, I've now learned that the bad odor we experienced each of the past two autumns is not caused by the coincidental appearance of the wax worms but by one of the most abundant fall bloomers--goldenrod.  When the goldenrod honey is curing in the hive, it gives off odors that can be quite strong and seemingly have a different effect on different people.  After reading Barbara's account, I did a bit more research and found that a number of people mistake the odor for American Foul Brood, and tear their hives apart fearing to find the evidence that would indicate they needed to destroy their hives.  Others liken the smell to smelly, wet socks (or feet), while others note the odor but don't find it unpleasant. In our experience, the odor is a sickly, sweet but sour smell, quite strong.  Apparently, there are a number of varieties of goldenrod which could account for variance in the way people experience the odor.  One thing most agree on, however, is the great taste of the honey once it has sufficiently cured and has been capped.  Some actively seek out goldenrod honey and will pay up to $6 a pound for it.  One other negative is that it has a tendency to crystallize rather quickly.
Not as stinky as I thought

     So, this lead me to re-think what is going on in our hives.  Not only are the wax worms not to blame for the odor, I think all that debris we're finding on the pull-out tray is coming from the bees chewing up the strips of Hopguard.
       Again, the bees continue to amaze and instruct.