Though it’s a sweaty affair, harvesting honey in 100° weather is liquid joy. This morning, I took 2 gallons from my backyard hive and the floral ambrosia flowed fast and light. Divine!
It’s barely spring in Albuquerque, but already my backyard colony is ramping up for the big bloom! It hit 50°F this afternoon and the girls were soaring like tiny eagles.
Which is all to say the queen has increased her egg production and the workers are out looking for food and water. Food? There’s none to be found yet in Albuquerque — not even the elm or sumac are blooming. But water? They’re drinking like champagne on New Year’s Eve.
If you haven’t set out water for your hives yet, consider doing so. Even if it freezes at night, the girls will be out on a warm day looking for a source of hydration to mix with pollen for “bee bread”, so it’s safest to ensure they find yours.
NOTE: I’ve found it takes about a week for my bees to find a new source of water, so yet another reason to start watering earlier than you might think.
This is the book I wish existed when I started beekeeping in 2008. Loaded with photos and step-by-step instructions, it’s one of the few books that will help you survive your first year, especially if you don’t have a mentor.
- Photos, photos, photos! Everything from eggs and larvae to wax festooning to varroa mites to Nasonov fanning gets a gorgeous photo. See examples at the end of this post.
- Step-by-step instructions are included for a variety of beginner tasks like installing a package, lighting a smoker, and conducting your first hive check. Seasoned beekeepers often forget how scary these first steps can be.
- A personal storyline. This book follows the author’s experience keeping backyard bees with her family. The good the bad and the ugly details are all included, making for a very forgiving and human narrative.
- Interviews with local beeks. Backyard beekeepers from San Francisco to Austin to Chicago are highlighted throughout the book. (I’m on page 47. Yay.) The sheer variety of beekeepers presented makes a new beek feel comfortable developing their own unique approach.
- A natural approach. Most books I used in my first year were very chemical-centric and solely devoted to Langstroth hives. This book primarily covers Langstroth hives but also discusses top bar hives and pays more than just lip-service to a chemical-free approach.
If you’re itchy for signs of life over the winter, lord knows you can’t open the hive! But given the right “ear”, you might be able to hear the crunching sounds of life within those four wooden walls.
This week, during Albuquerque’s wicked cold snap, I borrowed a “mechanic’s” stethoscope from a local computer hardware geek and tried to spy on my hive. ZERO. I heard nothing.
Was it the stethoscope? Was it my bees?
Just when I was about to give up hope, the weather broke and Albuquerque warmed up to 50° which means the girls could get busy if indeed they were alive. Sure enough, about 11 a.m. today, I saw a steady stream of honeybees going about their winter business of pooping, cleaning out dead bees, and possibly even looking for signs of early pollen. Ahhh… beekeeper bliss.
Want to Hear Your Hive?
- Try a doctor’s stethoscope which amplifies the sounds of bees inside. A mechanic’s stethoscope just didn’t work for me but fellow beeks testify that a doctor’s version will work.
- Don’t hear anything? Try again at different times in the day. Whatever you do, don’t open the hive until spring!
In a record-breaking winter maneuver, we’ve plunged below zero here in Albuquerque. The ever-present sun masks a cruel truth: It’s wickedly cold outside and most local critters aren’t prepared.
This morning, I knocked on my hive and listened. With an ear to the wood, I thought I might hear the faint crunching of a cluster of bees huddled inside. SILENCE.
And so, I must wait, like a mama eagle teaching her fledgling to fly — I supported you well and this, you must survive on your own.
It’s tough love, to be sure, but if Albuquerque is to support honeybees for the long haul, I believe the species must adapt to local conditions without human intervention.
And so I wait. The first warm day above 50 will bring me news of their survival.
UPDATE 1/18/13: The weather has broken and my girls took to the sky today as only critters with cabin fever will do. They’re alive!
Happy halloween, fellow beeks and mellifera lovers!
May I present my niece, Sasha, Most Royal Queen of the Hive. At least for tonight.
[bee hive hair by Martha Stewart]
Desperation is starting to set in.
After a chilly morning today, the scene at my backyard hive was frenzied. As though all creatures knew that time was running out and that their last meal was rapidly approaching.
In some cases, that meal was a juicy honeybee snatched in mid-air like candy at the Day of the Dead parade. Hay más tiempo que vida.
Amazement is putting it mildly.
“If you put your ear by the vent, you can hear the bees working inside… Right here.”
If the wide-eyes and motionless stares were any indication, honeybees were the hit of the Agricultural segment of the NM State Fair this month. Not that we stood a chance competing with “fried beer on a stick” or a “chile relleno corn dog” but compared to pigs? Bees are amazing.
Thousands of people stopped to visit my girls at the New Mexico State Fair this weekend, thanks to stellar organizing by Jessie Brown who wrangled the schedule of volunteers and procured an observation hive I could fill with two frames of bees. Kids and parents alike were enchanted by the hum of a real hive and the subtle vibrations they could feel with their hands on the glass.
Learn About Observation Hives
Apparently the air force isn’t enough to unload the Pagoda Tree (Sophora japonica) blooming in my backyard. It’s a vigorous, glorious explosion at a time when resources have gone dry in Albuquerque, so the girls have decided to call in the ground troops for timely assistance.
While their airborne sisters rush to extract pollen each morning from the delicate pea-like blooms, a few dozen honeybees scour the ground for fallen blossoms still containing a bit of pollen.
It’s an unusual two-pronged approach. Never before have I seen seen bees gathering pollen from the ground so here’s yet another item on the growing list of the existential pleasures of beekeeping.
Waste no more.
Whether you’re a beekeeper or a bee lover, you can help your neighborhood honeybees AND recycle a few wine corks all in one superhero swoop. Here’s how:
- Take a handful of corks
- Toss ‘em in a bucket or birdbath filled with clean water
- Watch your neighborhood honeybees come drinking
- Keep the water replenished regularly