Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Live From The Honey House!


Deep boxes and frames ready for creating new hives


Well, okay, the honey house is in our dreams, but one day...!

It’s been a busy week with the bees. On Saturday, we had to prepare the hives for re-queening. This year, we are trying to requeen with queen cells, rather than using proven queens. It just stretches our ability a bit further, and since we have a wonderful source for queen cells right now, we will use it.

Unloading full honey supers from the second bee yard.

Preparation meant cleaning out the queen castles that we had prepared in the spring, moving those hives to the large deep boxes so they can have a regular hive, and getting some new frames from some of the other hives, including the Hawaiians, to use as a foundation for the queen castles again. Doing this will add to the number of hives we have once more – essentially creating splits. When we clean out the queen castles, we open one nuc at a time. These nucs consist of three frames each. We check them to see that there is new brood on the frames; this means there is an active queen in that nuc. We check the pattern she is using for laying her eggs – we want to see almost every cell filled with larvae, with the odd open spot. Too many open spots or random clumps means that she is not as strong as she should be.

One-way screens allow the bees to get out of the honey super,
but not back in.

We take those three frames and move them into a separate deep box, add some more empty frames (preferably ones that have already got some built up comb on them, though) and those hives are ready to go. The three-frame area is just not big enough, so now they will have room to grow.


With the queen castles empty, we then went to the other hives that were already established. They need to be checked regularly anyway, so now was the time (despite the bees being especially peeved at us, and letting us know! It was a 9-sting week!). Hives that were especially strong donated one or two frames to restock the queen castles. We added queen cells to those queen castle nucs the next day and will check them in about a week. Hives that were not as strong donated more frames to the castles and were marked to get a new queen as well. We had three of those, and the queen cells were put in on Sunday.

Hot days and crowded hives lead to
a lot of bearding on the outside.


While we were out there getting stung anyway, we decided to put in the one-way screens between the honey supers and the hives. This would allow the bees in the super to get out, but no more would be able to go back in, leaving them empty (or almost empty) for us to extract the honey. We pulled the supers and set them in the shop to warm up, making extraction easier. We also pulled and extracted the Ross Rounds; our bees did a beautiful job of these, and we are very excited to have more next year.

Extraction was earlier this year than last, (mostly because we ran out of honey supers so had to empty what we could so they can go back on the hives) and the end product is incredible. The honey has a wonderful dark color and a rich taste with locust and floral undertones. It runs nicely, and is nowhere near as thick as last year – thankfully – because of the less arid conditions this year. The bees and Mother Nature were smiling on us in 2016.

We will have one more extraction to do later in the year, hopefully, so our honey buckets are full again! Woo hoo! 

Here comes the honey. The white flecks are wax from the comb
totally harmless (actually, very healthy) so we filter it out. 

I don't always put honey in my tea, but when
I do, it is fresh from the hive! 

Full Ross Round frames!!

This is the honey in the comb, a delicious delicacy. (Ross Rounds)

This is a very full frame of honey, the first of many!



Sunday, July 17, 2016

Waxing Poetic

It’s been a busy summer so far, with very weird weather, but we finally found a few minutes to do a bee update!
Removing the partition from a Queen Castle to turn it into
one standard hive.
We have some results on our queen castles – the hives where we put three small nucs into one box. Two weeks ago we cracked them open to see how everyone was doing. On three of the castles, only one nuc per hive survived. On one of these nucs, we could see the queen had not hatched. On others, there were bees working but no queen laying eggs. Fortunately though, one nuc in each hive was thriving, so we just removed the partitions and turned them into regular hives with 10 frames each. This weekend, we checked those hives again and all but one are doing marvelously. We have even added a honey super to a one of them! Another of the castles, when we opened it, had all three nucs thriving. The bees are laying brood and bringing in honey, so next week we will be splitting them up into their own boxes.

Examining the brood pattern from one of our Kona Queen
Hives. Lots of bees and lots of capped brood!
We also have been seeing amazing results from our Kona Queens from Hawaii. The hives are bursting with bees, and are they producing honey! The three hives have produced more already this year than we had from all our hives the first year with the apiary. All of the ones in our yard now have 3 honey supers on them! For one of them, we have added a special honey super. Instead of giving them frames to store the honey, this one has round openings, about the size of hockey pucks, for them to fill with wax and honey. When we harvest, we simply pop the pucks out and put them in containers, selling the honey in the wax. It’s even healthier that way and a popular treat for many people. We’re excited to see them doing such a good job filling in the ‘Ross Rounds’ and will be looking at doing much more of this next year.

Building lots of burr comb on the lid of their hive.
Although it’s late in the year, with all the rainy and cool weather it seems the bees have gotten a bit discombobulated. We received a call this weekend about a swarm in someone’s yard. This is our fourth swarm to pick up this year – this one was big and about 20 feet up a pine tree. We managed to gather them though, and two days later these bees are doing orientation flights at the door of their hive already. The bees in this colony are very distinctive – they are much more yellow than ours, and have a lot more attitude.

Two of the other swarm hives are doing well, and in fact one of them now also has a super on them for honey. The last one unfortunately didn’t work out. We’re still very happy with the three new hives; they were a welcome bonus addition.

Inside the Flow Hives. Social media loves this hive.
Sadly, our bees don't. :(
The Flow Hive. *sigh* For some reason, our bees do not like the Flow Hive. We had it on a strong hive for over a month and that hive swarmed twice rather than go up into the Flow Hive. We moved it to another strong hive that had some partially full honey supers on it, but the bees would rather fill anything else, and are avoiding it completely. Next week, we will put it onto one of the hives with the Hawaiian queens, removing the full honey supers and giving them just this and a partially full super, and hopefully they will start to put something into it. It was easier getting them to do the work in the empty Ross Rounds with no frames at all than it is to go into the Flow Hive.

Checking a frame of brood. The bees were very active
this day, but the sun was shining so everyone was happy.
Our inspections have been rather spotty over the last month, because the weather has not been cooperating. They do not like to be opened when it’s cloudy – most of the bees are in there instead of out gathering pollen, so it’s full and they get a bit crabby. We cannot inspect hives when it’s windy or, obviously, when it’s raining, so it has limited us quite a bit on when we can see what they’re up to. The hives in the second yard are definitely in need of some TLC. That will happen next week. Also next week, 12 hives will be re-queened with new, local queen cells. Hopefully we will have nice weather, because they clearly did not like being checked today.

Messy, messy, messy! This is what happens when we forget
to give them something to build on!

We also pulled a frame from one of the hives two weeks ago. It was a mess! We had miscounted the frames when we closed it up, giving them 9 instead of 10. The result was that the bees decided to be creative, filling in the extra space themselves. One of the Queen Castles, as well, was missing a frame. They built their own, attaching it to the roof of the hive and filling it with honey and brood. I suppose, in the bee world, it’s a work of art, but I would rather see them putting that sort of energy into filling more Ross Rounds.


Another example of the bees taking initiative! They didn't have
a frame so they just created the frame themselves, building
it out of wax and filling it with honey.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

There’s Another and Another and Another...

Our 'Swarmy' Hive.. doing very well, thank you!

When we talk bees, we tend to talk in big numbers. There can be anywhere from 10,000 to 60,000 bees in a hive (they typically start at 10,000 when you purchase a ‘package’ of bees). We can go through 100 pounds of sugar in no time, and we get several hundred pounds of honey... and that’s just with a few hives. Hives, however? Now that is something we can count, and our numbers are growing.


A queen castle with three separate nuc chambers.


After the excitement of the swarm earlier this week (yes, all our bees are back home, in a new hive box, and doing swimmingly!) we decided we needed to be a bit more proactive in what we are doing. As we said last time, we ended up with the swarmed hive back as a new hive, we used some of the other swarm cells in that same Mellow Yellow hive to create two new nucs, and we had already split one hive because it was getting too full and we had a spare queen. That put us four ahead.


A Queen cell without the protector.


Today, we added 10 new queen cells, to create 10 more new hives! That would mean we went from 7 to 21 in two months (if they all work). We definitely can’t complain about that! We had hoped to be able to just add some new queens, but there is a shortage of queens. They are definitely a hot ticket item (and one that we will have to research more so we can start to create our own queen cells). The advantage of adding a queen, as opposed to a queen cell, is that when you purchase a queen, she is ‘proven’, meaning she has taken her maiden flight, and has already started to produce eggs. We could also purchase ‘virgin’ queens, which have been hatched and are alive, but still have
The Queen cell with the protective cover in place.
to leave the hive to do a maiden flight, so could fall prey to a bird or other hazard. When you get a cell, although much less expensive, there is no guarantee of what will come out of there when she finally emerges. The supplier for our queen cells, however, is local, and has a very good success rate with his queens, so we are fairly comfortable trying this route.

While some beekeepers are comfortable just dropping a queen cell into an established hive, we didn’t want to do that, especially since we have just added some new queens to the hives. Instead, we went a different route, taking some capped brood from some hives, some honey from others, and, of course, a smattering of bees to attend the queen, the honey supply and the eggs. They are the elongated cells just like you would see on the frames of brood, but they are alone. We put them into little cages that allow the queen to emerge, but that will prevent anyone else from hurting her, should a queen somehow have slipped past us.

Putting the Queen cell into the Queen Castle nuc.
For practicality purposes, we do not want to use one of the big hive boxes (’10 frame deeps’) for this, because it would give them way too much room to be rattling around in. That much space is hard to keep warm if the temperatures drop, and has too much space inside to cool if the temperatures outside spike. Temperature is very important in the production of bee cells, but fortunately the bees know what to do to maintain it where it should be – we just want to make it as easy as possible for them so they are able to do other things, like make honey and tend to brood. For this reason, we need to start with smaller hives and/or smaller frames. Our compromise to that is to use the same sized frames, but to use only three of them per nuc and to separate the box into three equal pieces (called ‘queen castles’). This means we can put three frames into each nuc. One frame will have food on it – syrup, pollen, honey. This is important because we have to lock all the bees in for five days, ensuring that the foraging bees will not just return to their old hive. One frame will have some capped brood, so that the new brood will hatch and strengthen the hive. We will also include all the bees that were on the frame of brood. This will give them plenty of time and potential to establish a strong hive. 

Closing the lid on one of the three Queen Castle chambers.
Once we open the doors again, the foragers will re-orient to their new hive, returning to it with their provisions. The queen should have hatched by then, and will go on her maiden flight, and within two weeks from today, we should have hives that are abuzz with activity and life. That’s the plan, anyway.

We’ll know in two weeks if it worked. An 80% success rate (meaning hopefully for us 8 new hives) would be a huge win. 




Always have the smoker handy! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Bee-pocalypse


 
Our FlowHive, ready to go. 
This blog was going to be about setting up our hives in our second bee yard, or about the new boxes we created that will house three nucs in one, or we were going to talk about setting up, yes, the new Flow Hive that comes complete with honey tap on it... but apparently our bees had different plans for us.

There are a LOT of bees and honey in that hive!




First, we should say that all the hives are doing well. The new queens we added seem to be very happy and very busy. We are watching new orientation flights happening outside the hives daily. The bees are producing honey, and our raspberry patch is absolutely abuzz as they work there, drawing pollen. They were doing so well, producing so much honey and so many news bees that...

Queen cells. 


Yes, today the Mellow Yellows were feeling less mellow, and decided that, after three days of rain, they would take advantage of the sunshine – they swarmed. For those of you not familiar with bees, in the spring, when the hive gets busy and strong, healthy queens start to produce a maximum output to keep up with the demands of the honey production, the hive will get too crowded. When that happens, those pesky nurse bees will pick out some of the best newly laid larvae and will start to pack those cells with lots of royal jelly, making the baby bee grow into a potential queen. These are relatively easy to spot on the frames because they are very long cells.
video

Mellow Yellow hive... very very full!
The idea they have is that if they make enough of these cells, the one that is the strongest will hatch first, kill the other wanna-be queens while they are still in their cells, then go on the hunt for the reigning queen. No hive wants two queens, but it is thought that the reigning queen knows what is happening, is aware of the new queens being produced, and starts to work gathering her loyal workers so that they will leave together to start a new colony. In this way, she leaves a legacy – another hive. She has opportunity to kill the forming queen cells, but she won’t. Isn’t nature amazing?  

The swarm starts! All those little yellow dots? Bees!
When we looked out the window late this morning, and saw a cloud of bees hovering over the bee yard, we knew exactly what was happening! It was exciting to see how they started and what they did (after reading about swarms and having a swarm land here several years ago), but it was infuriating and a bit disheartening to know that all those bees, and the value therein, were leaving. Fortunately we were able to watch where they went, and once they started to gather and beard around the queen, we were able to shake the tree branch they were on, and get the bees into a bucket then into a new hive. It took several trips, but we ended up with most of them tucked away. We’re not sure we’re out of the woods on this one yet, but tonight the hive was active, so we slipped in a frame of larvae for the bees to tend to. It will help to keep the bees in there, because they will not abandon uncapped larva, but is also a bit of insurance in the event the queen was injured, stressed or killed in the move (damn, those birds and their appetites), because the hive can now use those larvae to create more queen cells.

The swarm rises higher and starts to move. 


On examination of our other hives, we found more ‘swarm cells’ – new queens in the making – in the Mellow Yellow hive. The new queen hadn’t yet gotten around to killing them, so we pulled those frames, added some other frames (with honey and pollen) from other hives, and set them up as nucs. In a week or so, we will know if this worked as well.




The swarm gathers on a branch about 14' in the air.
So, to recap, we will write about the other bee yard and the Flow Hive later (we promise) but today we got to see a swarm actually happen, got to capture (recapture?) a swarm, and may have come out three hives ahead. It was, all in all, a memorable day in our beekeeping world.  


The new hive. The bees are flapping their wings, signalling to
other hivemates, letting them know where their new home is.
(at least, we hope they are right about this!)


video

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Splitting and Shaking

Queens in cages, with attendants.
It's spring, and in a beekeeper's world, that means time to do some hive splitting, before they do it themselves. That's what has happened when you see swarms of bees on car fenders, or fences or wherever -- the hive is too full, the queen in the hive is getting old, so the bees hatch out a new queen and the majority of the hive's population breaks away to start a new one, once they find a place to live. It was a swarm that started us in this journey, and we get a bit excited when we hear about swarms, as long as they are not from our hives. Losing that many bees is never a good thing. That said we would never say no to someone who calls to tell us they have a swarm on their property and want us to gather it up!

The first thing we need to do making these splits, at least at this time of year, is make sure we have some new queens. Our queens this year are from Hawaii. Each one is in its own queen cage, along with a few assistants to take care of it. At one end of the cage is 'candy' for them to eat on the way, and we give them water by putting a few drops directly on the cage. They don't need a lot, but they still do need some. When we put them into the hives, we will take the plug out of the cage to allow the bees in the hive to eat their way in, while the attendants eat from the inside, trying to get the queen free. This teamwork and time allows the bees in the hive to acknowledge that they have a queen, and she becomes their main focus. They smell her pheromones and make a connection with her. If we just turned her loose in there, the other bees might not accept her, swarming her and killing as they believe she could be an intruder.

Dropping the Queen cage into the hive.
Before we add any queens, though, we have to prepare the hives, and split them. Each hive will already have a queen in it, and since we can't have two queens in a hive, we need to know where she is. To do this, we remove all the bees from the top box, brushing or shaking them off the frames, into the bottom box. If the queen is among them, she will also then be removed into the bottom box. Ideally we do this in the heat of the day, while the foraging bees are out working. Once the bees are all in the bottom box, we take some frames with brood out and move them into the top box. This will make the nurse bees want to be up there with them. We put in a 'queen excluder' -- a screen that allows the bees to go through but not the larger queen -- so that when we go to take that box off in 24 hours, there is a group of nurse bees, larva and eggs, all up there. That will be the basis of the new hive. We remove that box, set it up as the base unit on a new hive, drop in the queen, and we have our split complete.

The queen excluder.
Sounds easy, right? It probably would be, but then again, you have to remember we are dealing with some -- okay, millions of -- very protective, very determined little ladies here. We also have to check the hives before we do anything. We need to make sure they haven't started creating queen cells on their own -- a sign that they were getting ready to swarm. If they have, we may be able to use one of their own queens to start yet another hive. We don't want to add a queen to any new queen cells that are about to open. We also want to make sure the hive is healthy; there is no point dropping a new queen into a hive that is not going to survive. These are queens from Hawaii. They don't come cheap.

'Shaking' the frames. You can see the honey spraying off it.
When the splits are complete, we need to provide for the bees in the new hives for a few days. If we didn't, without foraging bees (because they would fly back to their original hive), the nurse bees would have nothing to live on, so syrup is a requirement at this point. When we did the splits, we also gave them some capped honey and pollen on the frames from the old hives, so they will be fine for a couple days while they all adjust and new bees hatch. Those new bees will soon be able to forage and the hive will thrive. We then will load up those new hives and take them to a new location; we will do this because these new hives will be a bit weaker and if conditions change, they could be overpowered by stronger bees from the original hives coming in and stealing from them. Our hives will be heading north about half an hour, where they will be able to help pollinate some fruit trees. Moving them also should mean that if something happens to harm the hives here again this year, as happened last year, we still have some bees to build from.

The queen excluder in place. The top box will sit on top it.
The bees that stay here will be unaffected by the change. They currently have plums, peaches, crabapples, pears, nectarines and apples all in bloom. The dandelions are out in abundance. The flowers are breaking through in the garden, and the holly trees are, apparently, abuzz with bees as they start to bloom. We have lots of drone cells in our hives, and they are all in good shape. The bee year is well underway. Hopefully these are the first of many splits over the next few months, and we will see lots of honey in the fall.
Bees don't like being shaken and split, so more smoke to calm them. 

Really full hives, and lots of drone cells! 

More indicators that the hives are doing well, and are very full! 

'Bearding' on the front. They are agitated and overcrowded in the bottom box. 

Yes, they even beard on us as we work. For this job, we want to wear full whites. 






Monday, March 28, 2016

Springing Forward

The swarm that started it all!
With the hope of ending 2016 a bit stronger than this last year (hopefully by tripling our hive count), this is the time of year when we have to do some planning. Of course, we plan the best way to split hives – there are a couple ways to do that. We plan the best strategy for watching out for and dealing with swarm cells, when the hives get too big and decide they want to make a new queen that will then take most of the young, strong bees to a new hive. Swarms are also a means for us to grow our yard, though, because when a swarm, either feral or from another bee yard does a surprise landing in some stranger’s back yard, we can go out and gather it up. It was a stray swarm landing in our yard four years ago that made us start this journey in the first place. We will be trying some ‘split hives’ where we put a divider right into the hive, like a bee condominium, with queens in each side. This allows them to keep the hive warm yet, and gives them a chance to get established without having to start completely from scratch. We will do a blog on this as we get into actually doing it.

Early hive activity 2016.
We have to plan on what purpose our bees will fulfill. They could strictly produce honey for us and this usually involves putting them into orchards and crops for the purpose of pollinating those crops. This is a very important part of having honey bees, and some would even argue that it is the only reason for having them. We could put pollen traps on the hives and gather the pollen for sale, because of the medicinal values. We could do likewise for propolis, which can be used in natural therapies. Some people raise bees simply in order to create more bees, breaking up the hives frequently and allowing those fragments to grow into full hives for sale, or for their own use. Queen rearing is a big business, and takes a special skill, because the queen cells are grafted into several dedicated frames, and are then caged and sold. There are even some apiasts who gather bee venom. Just about everything about bees can be used, so the options are many. Thankfully we don’t have to commit to just one thing, and can try our hand at several of them.

Another issue to make decisions on is where to put the primary bee yard. Right now, we have a small yard near the house, but if we are going to grow the number of hives, we also have to grow the area, then make sure it will be safe from any rather unwelcome guests, including (but not limited to) skunks, racoons, and bears. Since we have been spending the last few days refencing the property, we have been able to give this problem a bit more consideration, and believe we finally have a spot picked out for it. The next step will be to get it fenced and set up for moving the bees. Of course, not all of them will go to one spot in our yard. Hopefully we can find several other locations to set them out, allowing them to access more sources of pollen, and also to ensure that if something happens to one yard, we still have some bees to carry on with.

While it might be right that these plants are
protected from unwanted pests, they fail to
mention how deadly they are to pollinators.
Being avid gardeners at heart, we also need to consider what plants we want, and where we want them, to offer the best advantage to both the gardens and the bees. Some plants are just not what the bees want, while others can attract bees from miles away. Finding out which is which is a much more challenging undertaking than we thought it would be, because opinions differ greatly for many plants. Ideally we will avoid double-flowering plants – the ones that originally had just one layer of petals but now have been hybrid to the point of having two or even three layers of petals, making the flowers much fuller. By making them fluffier, it also makes them harder for the bees to find the pollen. We also must avoid any plants containing neonicotinoids. ‘Neonics’ are absolutely NOT bee friendly.


We also need to consider the flavors our plants will add to the honey. Some plants, like sunflowers, add no noticeable change to flavor but are an excellent source of pollen for bees (and the birds love the seeds all through the fall and winter). Others, like the blooms on the locust trees, add a wonderful flavor to the honey that is easily detected, and in some areas will add value to the finished product. We have a lot of locust trees on our property, and will soon have more, but we are also leaning toward planting more lavender. Alyssum, cosmos, and of course, dandelions are all plants that bees love, and that are vital to them. Planting some of these near the vegetable garden will ensure that all our plants are well pollinated and produce as much as possible – well, not the dandelions; the wind will take care of planting them all over the yard. It already looks like we are in for a bumper crop this year.


One of our bees on an apple blossom. 
The final consideration in choosing plants is blooming season. We want our bees to eat for as long as possible, but sometimes there are dry spells in a season where not much is happening, at least as far as flowers are concerned. Living in a rural community, we can count on the alfalfa and clover to provide for them throughout the summer and fall. We know that corn crops will do nothing, but berry crops will be wonderful in the spring. Of course, the orchards need bees, and our bees need fruit trees, so we have that one covered, at least for this year. We need to find plants, like primula, that will bloom early in the year, and some, like goldenrod, that bloom late. The value of the plants to the bees also will vary because of geographic location and anomalies, so it’s all a learning curve, but we’re more than happy to experiment to see what we like, and what our bees like.

It goes without saying that there are many more things to think about and plan for, like keeping the bees healthy, and the need for water, but at this time of year, these are the priorities in our bee yard.
BooBoo Bear was just a little guy last year, but even when little
these guys can do a lot of damage to a hive. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Pollen, Pollen Everywhere

  
Almond orchards in California
We are learning that pollen is often available, even when one wouldn't expect it to be about. That's what makes this an interesting time of year for bees. We receive a lot of questions regarding what happens with bees when they want to get out of the hive, but they have no place to get pollen. In large part, the answer to that depends on the local climate in general, and the day-to-day conditions. In some areas of North America, primarily California where almost 7 million tons of almonds are grown annually, the bees have been working for weeks already, pollinating almond trees, a substantial task, and a bit of a juggling act for beekeepers in the US. The need for the bees is massive, requiring bees to be shipped from one coast to the other in order to provide enough bees to do the job. The problem becomes ‘what do they do with them when almonds are done but nothing else is ready for pollination’. For bees from naturally colder climates, this is not a small problem.




Bee on pussy willow
However, we are blessed, especially this year, with our moderate winter and early spring. The bees, at least ours, are never totally locked away. They always have access to get outside the hive. On warmer days, they will go out to do their business – it can be a long time for them to keep their little bee legs crossed. Sometimes they take flight and realize too late that they underestimated the temperature, and we see a number of dead bees on the snow around the hives. They got too chilled to make it back. Some days, we see the results of their cleaning around their hives, where they have already started to remove those who didn’t make it through the winter.



When the bees start winter, they form a mass in the center of the bottom of the hive. They use their wings to keep the temperature constant and to create heat – hard work in very cold weather. Their only purpose is to keep the queen protected and alive, and they will keep their wings moving 24 hours a day to that end. They do not hibernate. As the winter progresses, the mass will move up the hive, dictated by the food they have stored away. They need to have enough depth of hive and enough food stores to last them through the entire winter. Once they get to the top, you know they have run out of food, and it becomes time to feed them, which we do every spring.

Female bloom on hazelnut tree.
So it’s early March in the Okanagan. This year, our snow is gone. The temperatures are above normal. The bees are out and about... and to our great surprise and greater joy, they are already bringing in pollen... a LOT of pollen. There are no flowers, no grasses, no crops. There are no leaves on any of the trees yet, although the leaf buds are definitely swelling. So, where are they finding pollen?

Believe me, it’s there, but the flowers are so small, you really have to look for them. The first source for them is the wonderful, woolly pussy willows. Remember how, as kids, we would cut them and bring them in, the first true confirmation that winter has passed, spring was coming as promised, and life was going on? It’s understandable, but please remember, these little fluff balls are critical to bees early in the season, so leave some for them. This is the source of the deep yellow pollen they are packing into our hives right now.

Female hazelnut flower with male catkin in background

The second source would be hazelnut trees. Most people never notice the blooms on them... they are early in the year, when people aren’t looking for blooms on anything, but they are there. The hazelnut tree has both male and female flowers, the female being a very small star-like purple flower on the end of the bud. Hanging around these little ladies are long, thick catkin, about 8 inches long. In reality, the tree is NOT pollinated by bees at all. The plant is designed so that the wind does all the work, but there is so much pollen on the male catkins, that it is a true feast for the bees. The bees have absolutely nothing to do with the small, delicate female flowers. The catkins would be the source for the paler yellow pollen being stored away in our hives.


Hazelnut tree with catkins evident. 
Our search isn’t done. Today we saw they are bringing in bright red pollen. The search is on to find the source of that! The top of our suspect list is the weeping willow.