Bees in the Rain — Don’t Mess

I always knew bees were rather persnickity in the rain, but I just got some firsthand proof. My mild-mannered Italians really did not appreciate me opening their hive about half an hour after today’s showers let up. Perhaps the air was still pretty moist.

My hive is nestled next to my deck in small nook. All I was going to do was feed the bees some sugar water to prep them for winter. I didn’t bother with my smoker because the last time I fed them there was no need — big mistake. I got as far as removing the inner cover, then the bees let me have it.

Winter Cluster

You’ve probably noticed a rather sluggish hive lately, especially in the mornings. With recent nights dipping into the 40s and most days barely reaching 65 degrees, honey bees will be venturing out to forage less and less.

Honey bees will stop flying at about 50 degrees, and will instead cluster inside the hive. The size of the cluster will again depend on the temperature. As is gets colder, the cluster will tighten to maintain the center around 90-94 degrees. Check out this infrared photo of a beehive during the winter where the clusters are clearly visible.

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Vanishing of the Bees

I recently watched Vanishing of the Bees, which follows several beekeepers whose commercial pollinating businesses were affected by Colony Collapse Disorder. The filmmakers investigate potential causes of the phenomenon, eventually settling on the use of systemic pesticides, which aren’t spread over the tops of plants, but are absorbed by the plant when applied to the seeds, soil or leaves.

While I don’t think it’s possible to blame the cause of CCD on any one thing, the documentary makes a compelling argument to target these types of pesticides. More likely, I think the cause of CCD is a great combination of factors, including monoculture, trucking bees across country to different nectar flows, and a combination of different diseases and mites.

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Fall Flowers

As most of the hives DC Honeybees has set up are less than a year old, it’s recommended that those bees are fed sugar syrup around this time of the year to prepare them for winter. In addition to that, I wanted to supplement the sugar syrup with some late-flowing plants.

Luckily, DC has a relatively decent growing season — it’s in zone 7 — and there are still some flowering plants out there that honey bees enjoy. Plus, DC has an average first frost date of Oct. 30, and it’s been fairly warm lately. So, this weekend I was able to plant some Star Asters and Butterfly Bush, both of which provide nectar for bees and continue to flower into the fall. They’re both perennials, so they’ll come back next year as well.

Urban Beekeepers

It seems bees are moving to the city — and not just DC.

According to a recent Grist article, this fall marked the first year hobbyist beekeeping was considered legal in New York City.

“In March of last year, the New York City Board of Health and Mental Hygiene took Apis mellifera, the common honeybee, off [its] list of insects and animals considered too dangerous for city life,” the article reads. “As a result, beekeepers registered a record number of hives with the board in 2011.”

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Funny Honey

Need another reason to eat (or harvest your own) local honey?

Andrew Schneider’s recent exposé about the Asian honey market will give you at least one.

His article, featured in Food Safety News, shines light on several issues that contribute to “funny honey.” According to Schneider, honey imported to the US from China can hardly even be called honey. At this point honey from China can contain a wide array of additives such as cor syrup, sugar water and malt sweeteners. “In recent years, many shippers have eliminated the honey completely and just use thickened, colored, natural or chemical sweeteners labeled as honey,” Schneider writes. Not only that, but other contaminates like heavy metals and antibiotics have been found in Chinese honey.

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