Less Noise, More Green: Putting the bees to bed, honey tasting and feeling grateful I'm not a drone

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Putting the bees to bed, honey tasting and feeling grateful I'm not a drone

Honey from Edible Forest Garden, RII haven't been able to help out with the URI Master Gardener Edible Forest Garden bee hive as much as I would have liked over the last couple of months but I was able to be there as the bees received their winter food and were tucked in against the upcoming cold.

Honey Bees, Edible Forest Garden, RI
Even though it is November, there was still a little activity at the hive with bees arriving sporting full pollen sacks. It is clear that the hive is preparing for the winter, though. One of the other gardeners was telling me he saw the worker bees lined up at the hive entrance blocking the drones from entering. The drones have outlived their usefulness. The little gigolos have mated with the queen, which is their only purpose, and as winter approaches and the food gets scarce, the hive closes ranks and literally leaves the drones out in the cold to die. The workers also drag any remaining drones in the hive to the door and throw them out without a work reference which, if you've watched Downton Abbey, you know always ends badly.

Adding sugar as a winter food supplement, Edible Forest Garden, RI
To help the bees survive the winter months, beekeepers place extra food in their hives to supplement their honey reserves. Bees cannot turn liquid sugar water (the spring and summer food supplement) into honey when the temperatures fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Our solution was to add 2-3 pounds of granulated sugar to the top section of the hive. By placing a layer of newspaper over the frames, the sugar stays in one place. The bees chew their way through the paper to reach the food. We'll check on the bees periodically over the winter but the hope is the sugar will last until next March.

Adding sugar as a winter food supplement, Edible Forest Garden, RI
The hive has done well, especially because it is a new hive. We started off with a Nuc of a few hundred bees in April and ended up with three supers full of bees, brood and honey. We had a period of aggressive behavior that we addressed by adding the third super to give the bees more space and the hive calmed down. The hive was so well established, we felt confident enough to take some honey, which is not always recommended with first year hives.

Here is the result. The honey on the right is from the Master Gardener hive while the honey on the left is from the hive of my fellow Master Gardener and beekeeper, Jim Holt. Jim has been a great mentor for us at the project. I decided to do a test to see if differences could be detected between the two honeys. Jim's honey tasted much sweeter than the Edible Forest Garden honey, was thinner and a lighter amber color. Both honeys were delicious.

Honey Bee on cornflower
This cornflower is in my garden.

Honey's taste and color depends on the sources of nectar collected by the bees. Jim doesn't live that far from the Edible Forest hive but the variations between his honey and the project's shows that just a few miles distance is enough to produce different foraging environments for bees. Interestingly, once spread on buttered bread it was much harder to taste the difference between the two.

Bees in super, Edible Forest Garden, RI
This is the top super, with two more beneath. All three are fully drawn out and being used.
Now comes the big test for the bees. Will the hive survive the winter? The bees are going into the cold weather as a strong hive with plenty of honey and food. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against them. We'll find out in a few months.


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