Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The birds and the bees the truth be told

We feed the birds sunflowers. In turn the birds plant sunflowers for our bees. So yes the birds and the bees are connected once again. The cycle goes on in many many different scenarios every single day of every season.

Lots of bloggers have been asking about beekeeping. I'll give you the readers disgest version of how it works. First we set up the hive and order bees, this is best done in the fall or early spring. I was on the late side getting my bees and got lucky to find some.

The bee packages are usually 3 pounds of bees of all ages and a mated queen comes with the package. During the winter bee brood production is a trickle, so spring has the ramp up so the package bee people can grow bees to sell. Therefore late spring is when one getting a bee package. The bad news on this is our best pollen source is Tulip Poplar and it was finished before we got our bee package.

Once the bees have been placed in the hive along with the caged queen.  She is protected so the workers can get used to her, otherwise they might kill her. After 3 days she is released. First the worker bees have to draw comb on the new foundation and start collecting pollen and nectar before she starts laying eggs. Depending on how the workers are doing and the weather it could take a week or longer for them to draw out the comb.

In the comb the bees store pollen, nectar, honey and brood. Below is a little information about the bees I borrowed from a beekeeping website.

Queen Bee
There is only one queen per hive. The queen is the only bee with fully developed ovaries. A queen bee can live for 3-5 years. The queen mates only once with several male (drone) bees, and will remain fertile for life. She lays up to 2000 eggs per day. Fertilized eggs become female (worker bees) and unfertilized eggs become male (drone bees). When she dies or becomes unproductive, the other bees will "make" a new queen by selecting a young larva and feeding it a diet of "royal jelly". For queen bees, it takes 16 days from egg to emergence.

Worker Bee
All worker bees are female, but they are not able to reproduce. Worker bees live for 4-9 months during the winter season, but only 6 weeks during the busy summer months (they literally work themselves to death). Nearly all of the bees in a hive are worker bees. A hive consists of 20,000 - 30,000 bees in the winter, and over 60,000 - 80,000 bees in the summer. The worker bees sequentially take on a series of specific chores during their lifetime: housekeeper; nursemaid; construction worker; grocer; undertaker; guard; and finally, after 21 days they become a forager collecting pollen and nectar. For worker bees, it takes 21 days from egg to emergence. The worker bee has a barbed stinger that results in her death following stinging, therefore, she can only sting once.

Drone Bee
These male bees are kept on standby during the summer for mating with a virgin queen. Because the drone has a barbed sex organ, mating is followed by death of the drone. There are only 300-3000 drones in a hive. The drone does not have a stinger. Because they are of no use in the winter, drones are expelled from the hive in the autumn.

So when do we get honey? The new beehive needs to build up strength the first year and needs all the honey they can make to survive the winter. So if the bees do well and over winter we might get to collect some honey this time NEXT YEAR.

Back the the sunflowers. Look at this bee's hind leg see the orange pollen. Pollen is kept in a sac behind the bees rear legs. Notice the yellow pollen on the sunflower, these bees are feasting on it.
The pollen sac is very clear in this in flight photo.
Wading through a small forest of pollen trees. Looks like sunflowers are a great pollen source. These sunflowers are 30 foot from the hive, yet only one bee was see at each flower. As the flower matures more pollen opens up.
Bees must visit up to 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey!
Below the pollen sac is clearly seen, hope this is one of my bees. There are three other hives only 300 yards away from here on a property nearby, not mine. I did not know this when I decided to keep bees.
This photo shows clears how the sunflower dispenses pollen. The pollen starting at the outer edges and works its way towards the center (green) of the flower.


FlowerLady said...

What a wonderfully fascinating post with beautiful photos.


ann said...

Such amazing photos. My dad kept bees when I was a kid. I'd like to have hives here, but right now they seem a bit work intensive as I read your blog and other blogs on bee keeping. I am allergic to bee stings, but have a great deal of respect for bees and those who nurture them. I will do my part by creating a bee friendly garden. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your project.

Karen said...

Wonderful informational post on bees, Randy. I didn't know it took so many flowers to make a pound of honey. It's amazing.

I liked your new rain barrels, too, they will come in very handy for collecting rain water and look much nicer than my silly 50 gallon drums all lined up behind the garage.

Beyond My Garden said...

I feed sunflower seeds too and have a large flower garden. The chipmunks especially help plant. Yesterday I found a chipmunk hole about a hundred feet away from the feeder. Outside the hole was a pile of sunflower seed shells.
I love the brilliant orange of the flowere and bees in your photos

Lona said...

What amazing photographs! Looks like your bees are busy and enjoying those sunflowers. Its sacs are full.

sweetbay said...

Those looks like some happy bees! Beautiful photos too. The best sunflowers we've ever had were volunteers from birdseed.

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

thanks for the Reader's Digest version of beekeeping. Most interesting.
Gorgeous photos of the busy bees collecting pollen.

Cameron said...

Wonderful information and incredible photos!


Town Mouse said...

Its so amazing how everything is connected. Hope there's enough pollen to go around...

zelda said...

Glad the bees are busy and happy! :~)

Kim and Victoria said...

I didn't realize bees were so short lived. Thanks for the post, this explains a lot.

Alison said...

Great photos of bees on the sunflowers, and you wrote an excellent primer on beekeeping. I'm not sure I could do it, so many bees all together in one place would freak me out.