Two Logs, Two Colonies, 8 Bee Loving People

August 24th began as any other day would. I woke up, got me kids ready for school (which is a day in and of itself), and checked my email and all social media outlets.  Upon opening my Facebook page, there was the message that gave my heart a little jolt of “I must do this!”

It was a message from a tree company working in Denver on South Grant street. They had begun cutting a tree down, and discovered two different honeybee colonies in two completely different locations of the tree.  So, as you can imagine, this tree was HUGE!  I called Kevin, the tree guy in charge of this project, and asked if anyone had contacted him about moving these honeybee hives (at this point I had NO idea how BIG these logs were), and no one had.  I told him to please give me time to assemble a team of people to help move these logs.

Now, in most instances, I leave it to the experts, as long as they are available when we need them.  I called Bees and Trees of Longmont, because I know Liana from being on the board of Bee Safe Boulder, and I knew her business did this kind of thing all the time.  The trouble was, she was out of town and her husband was slammed with a number of other jobs up north.  I quickly realized that this would be one of those moments that I would just have to dive in and hope for the best.

I called my good swarm collecting buddy, BrandyJo Fontenot LeBlanc Miller, and asked if she knew anyone with a trailer and maybe even a piece of equipment we could use to lift these logs onto the trailer.  She began reaching out to her “people”, and I made my way down to South Grant street to see these logs for myself.  This is what I found…

log-pic-3-grantlog-pic-grant-2

log-at-grant-1This is one, and the other extends past the edge of the photo by about 3 feet! When Kevin said logs, he meant trees!

I took a huge breath and contacted Brandy, expressing my concerns about the sizes of these logs.  This wasn’t going to be easy without a lot of people involved, and maybe we should push for more time to allow for Bees and Trees to make it down to help us.  It is important to leave the log intact for the best chances of survival for the winter. If this had happened in the spring, it would be better to try and transfer both hives to managed systems (Langstroth, Top Bar, or Warre).

Thursday morning rolled around; I called Kevin and told him we were concerned about the size of these logs, and we would like to reach out to Bees and Trees to see how soon they could make it down to complete the task. He agreed, and I must say right here, tree companies are not obligated to rescue bee hives, so I thanked Kevin repeatedly for sharing our concern for these very important insects.

Brandy, Billy, Roman, and myself all traveled down to the logs to secure the openings and direct the “bee-lines” in safe directions so people could co-exist with them without fear of getting stung.  We diverted the traffic away from the sidewalk using a tarp, and away from the resident’s front door using another tarp.  It is very important for honeybees to get in and out of their hive to forage and to go to the bathroom. They don’t pee or poop inside the hive; that’s dirty! If they are trapped inside the hive, things can go sour very quickly!

secured-log-2secured-logs

Looks pretty secure to me.

I had the chance to briefly talk to one of the residents at the South Grant Street location about the bees.  I told him they are not aggressive unless you are reaching into their hive posing a threat.  And they truly were very peaceful, as we had all been out working on the entrances for a few hours, some of us with zero protective gear (myself included), and none of us were stung or threatened by the bees.  The resident seemed somewhat agreeable, but threw this comment out as he headed inside, “we just want them gone.” At the time I thought nothing of it, and chalked it up to one more person who doesn’t understand that bees are not out to get us.

At the end of the day on Thursday, all seemed well in the kingdom of South Grant Street.  We were all on board to wait until the following week to help transfer those logs to a safe place alongside Bees and Trees of Longmont. I was feeling great about the plan, and I rested very well that night, but something evil was brewing on South Grant Street.

Early Friday morning I received a voice message that made my heart sink, and my stomach sick. It was Kevin, the tree guy, saying the landlord of that property was threatening to exterminate the two honeybee hives, if we didn’t get them out of there that day!  WHAT?!?!?  As you can imagine (even more so if you know me), I was very upset, I was furious.  I wasn’t furious with Kevin, the middle man, tree guy, but at the resident who seemed, at least to my face, to understand that the logs would soon be gone, and they were secured at the time, thus posing zero threat to their surroundings.  His comment, “we just want the bees gone,” was his way of saying he wasn’t interested in saving these bees and would stop at nothing to do away with them.

It was back to “the mattresses”! I began calling and messaging everyone once more, to hopefully get everyone back on board to make this happen that very night!  I wasn’t sure we could pull it together with such short notice.  However, I was pleasantly blown away by everyone’s response!  Who am I kidding, we are after all bee lovers…I think we really are bee heroes ready to throw on our capes when duty calls, and so was the case Friday night!

Roman, Billy, John, Brandy, and myself jumped to the task! I am so grateful for this team of amazing, selfless people!  We made no gains from this effort, other than the joy of knowing we saved two doomed hives.

Five of us showed up to South Grant street at 5:30 pm on Friday night.  We suited up in our bee suits and began securing all the entrances of the logs, then we all began a cross fit workout of rolling and pushing the logs onto the trailer that John and Brandy brought to the scene.  All of us were dripping sweat, all bundled in our sting-protective gear.  Once the logs were loaded, we drove them over to Billy’s auto repair shop for the next phase.

log-on-trailer

One log loaded, one more to go!

We had debated extensively about what to do with the larger of the two logs, as it had a very large, and vulnerable opening on the bottom.  We decided to try transferring these bees to a top bar hive, as we figured they would have a better shot at survival this way.   Well, this became a sticky mess faster than you can spell HONEY!

I began by pouring piles of bees into the top bar hive, in hopes of capturing the queen in one of those piles. Next we began carefully slicing pieces of comb and tying them to top bar racks. The bees would need all the resources they can get from the original hive.  This whole process was only a good idea on paper, as honey got all over everything!  We discovered a pool of honey at the bottom of the log, which may have developed during the loading and transport over from South Grant Street (vibrating maybe disrupted the comb a bit), and wasn’t helped by our cutting of the comb.  Many bees were caught and drowned in the honey (we believe this is when we lost the queen to this colony).  We then thought it wise to discontinue, as nightfall had come, and we were only making matters worse.  So, we covered the logs, and agreed to return in the morning to see how things were.

Upon arrival Saturday morning, bees were flying everywhere. It looked like Bee-magedon! Bees were fighting each other, and there were many on the ground dead from the battle.  It was gut wrenching, as we really couldn’t move the logs until nightfall (to ensure most bees were nestled in the logs for the night).  I felt sick at the sight, but I was quickly reminded by my husband and kids that these bees would’ve been sprayed and killed if we hadn’t jumped in to save them, even if the rescue mission was chaos at that moment, it wasn’t in vain.

My youngest daughter had her birthday party that day, and I had to be a good host, ignoring the bee mission until 7:30pm.   The only problem with that idea was that the bees wouldn’t be ignored, and I ended up juggling all of it all at once, and yes I did sign up for this, but man alive was that a challenge!

Billy messaged me with a great idea to try getting a queen for the larger log, as it seemed that they had lost their queen by the way they were flying around without purpose, and very agitated.  So, I picked up a lovely queen and her attendants (attendants are bees there to feed the queen from inside her small cage) at To Bee or Not to Bee in Littleton, on the way to the birthday party.  The queen rested inside a plastic Solo cup with foil on top, inside my purse for the duration of the birthday party…no one ever knew.  Is there a concealed bees law?

7:30 rolled around, and it was time for all of us to reconvene and get these logs to safety.  Where was safety?  Well, I have two very good bee loving friends in Sedalia, CO, who had some land on which they were willing to place the logs!  Zach and Meghan Watts were the adoptive parents, ready for us to arrive at 9pm to get the logs to safety, but we had some organizing to do before we left the auto repair shop parking lot.

We checked inside the top bar hive and the bees we had transferred the night before were fewer, but there were lots of bees inside the log.  We thought it would be good to vacuum them up (with a bee vac) for safe transport, but the suction on that vacuum was minimal, thus making it impossible to efficiently contain the bees.

vacuuming-log-sat-eve

Here I am vacuuming bees, and yes, this is the outfit I wore driving up to Sedalia.

Given the circumstances, we stopped vacuuming, and began stapling screen all around the openings of both logs, this way the bees wouldn’t get lost during the travel to Sedalia.

I secured all the holes I could see on the top bar hive, and placed it in my Prius. I figured it would be best to stay suited up for the drive to Sedalia, and I figured right, because every time we pulled up to a stop light I could see bees flying in the headlights behind me…inside my car! Yikes!  It was a sight to be seen. I was all geared up with my full body bee suit, head gear and all, driving my Prius filled with flying bees!  Pretty funny actually.

We made it to Sedalia, and Zach had his tractor fitted with a forklift, and boy did that make a WORLD of difference in transferring the logs!!  I don’t think we could’ve used it on South Grant Street because the yard was raised on a brick wall; we probably would’ve damaged that wall with a tractor involved, plus we would have missed our cross fit workout (or should I say bee fit workout).  It was pitch black up there by this time, so all of us were carrying flashlights…it reminded us of ET, you know the suited scientists?

The relocation ended at midnight Saturday night, and I traveled back to Highlands Ranch with a few bees flying in my Prius…this took my reputation as the “Bee Lady” to a whole new level…in fact we were finding more bees in the Prius all the way until Sunday evening!

The log we left intact is doing great in Sedalia.  The bees are doing what they do, foraging all day,tending to the queen, building comb and raising more bees.  Here’s a video of this log on the Monday after the rescue.

img_4701img_4700img_4696img_4702img_4703All above images are of the fully intact log. They are happy, and pretty, little bees.

The log we cut into to attempt a transfer to the top bar hive was introduced to the new queen.  A small group of bees began feeding her on Monday, and a few days later (Thursday after the rescue), the colony took flight with her.  We did not witness this, but have deduced this, because there are very few bees left  (robber bees, taking from the log’s supplies), and the queen had been released from her cage.  Queen bee decided the existing palace wasn’t good enough for her new colony, and instructed her new scouts to find a new home.

It is my hope that they didn’t venture too far from their log filled with resources, and that they will live on, happily ever after in Sedalia.  Here’s a video of large log on Monday after the rescue.  Take note of the crazy flight patterns of this log versus the other.

img_4714These two bees were of the log that took flight with their new queen. They were feeding each other just before this picture was taken on the Monday after the rescue.  It was refreshing to see such care and concern amidst the trauma.

This adventure was filled with all sorts of challenges, but I can say I am happy with the outcome.  Two colonies were spared because 8 people cared enough to rally and get the job done!

me-and-log-1-last-checkThe fully intact log hive, happily living out it’s existence in Sedalia!  Look Mom! No stings!!

Thank you Kevin, Meghan, Zach, Brandy, Billy, Roman, and John!  You all rock for bees!

Cheers to joining the movement to save our bees, all of our bees, honey and native.

 

Bees of Summer

Spring and summer bee populations overlap in some regards, but there are newcomers once the month of June arrives.  This is not a complete list of bees for the summer months, but I think it gives you an idea of how many different varieties you can find while enjoying the outdoors!  This list only includes bees, but there are a wide variety of moths, butterflies, flies, and even wasps out and about doing their job for the circle of life.

IMG_3997

Peponapis, or squash bees, begin flying as soon as there are squash blooms, as they are specialists, and rely solely on squash resources.  You’ll find them nestled inside squash flowers early in the morning, so don’t forget to take a peek on your way to work or school!

IMG_4374

Bumble bees persist throughout the summer, and you will recognize them by their loud buzz as they fly by, as well as their very furry coat.  There are 40 species of bumble bees, with all sorts of banding patterns on the backs of their abdomens.

IMG_4390

Anthidium, or wool carder, bees are also present throughout the summer.  You will identify them by their hover-like flying technique around mint plants as well as Lamb’s ear. The males are very territorial, and will chase even bumblebees off the plant they are guarding!

IMG_4023

Honey bees are among the summer flyers as well! They are the most recognizable of all bees, because we know them best.

IMG_3718

Ceratina is a petite black bee who joins the forces in the summer months. If you are not paying close attention, you will miss this tiny flying insect.

IMG_3762

Here is a leafcutter bee. They join the pollinating forces in May, but persist all summer.  They have a very furry abdomen, which is where they carry pollen, so it is often dusted with orange or yellow powder.

IMG_3367

Osmia, or mason bee, made her appearance in March, but will carry on until late May, and sometimes may even have a second generation of bees mid-summer!  They are very dark and easily mistaken for a fly, but when you look closely, you can see they are black bees with a hue of blue in the sunlight.  They also carry pollen on their abdomen, so may even see a yellow dusting underneath.

IMG_3223

Andrena, or mining bee, is another spring riser, but will be around all summer too.  There are many colors and sizes of mining bees, but here’s one brown example, and this one is rather small too.

IMG_1596

This large black flyer is likely a carpenter bee who will begin flying in the summer months.

IMG_1515

This is a halictus bee who flies during the summer months as well.  They can be petite bees, but larger than Ceratina, with baskets on their legs, and usually a grayish color.

IMG_0734

Here are some more Carpenter bees emerging early June.  Look at all that sawdust!

IMG_0531

This is a metallic green sweat bee, who is highly active in the summer months as well!  Females are all green while males have the combo of stripes and green.

Cheers to observing and joining the movement!

Jessica

The Bees of Spring

I have spent many hours observing bees, and it occurred to me that it would be really fun to post a series on the bees of spring, summer, and fall.  This series will build on itself, and at the end you will see a large variety of bee species flying in the warm months of the year!

Bees don’t all emerge at the same time, nor do they depart from this world at the same time.  Groups of bees enter at differing times from spring to fall, and all of them are important to the pollination of the flowers blooming at the time of their existence, especially specialist bees!

I will begin with a collage of the early risers of bee species; those of spring.  I have chosen to stick with a pictorial tour because I happen to have pictures of all of these bees. This collage is NOT all inclusive, nor were all pictures take in the spring months, but it will give you an idea of the bees to expect to see in the spring, and the bees included in the tour are all generalists, meaning they visit any available blooms.

Spring is the quiet entrance of hope after the long months of cold.  Buds begin to develop into edible provisions for the buzzing insects we call bees, among other pollinators! 

Increasingly, the quiet calm of snowy earth begins to awaken into a vivacious show of diverse life, interdependent on each other.

Early bloomers need early risers, and early risers are eager to eat, the two benefit each other in a sort of web of life.  This is where the tour begins, enjoy!

IMG_0472

Honey bees really never go away, but do come out in temperatures as low as 55 degrees Fahrenheit!  We all know and love them for the sweet treat they make, and we sometimes take, honey! 

IMG_4563IMG_4565

Halictus bees begin in early spring too! They can be rather small, thus difficult to spy, but if you look closely, you will find them!

IMG_4374

Bumble bees are early risers, and this furry coats assists in their ability to stay warm and transport pollen from bloom to bloom in cooler temperatures (some fly at 37 degrees Fahrenheit)!

IMG_4390

Anthidium, also known as the wool carder bee, rises in the spring months, and is often seen buzzing around lamb’s ear, because the ladies of this bunch use the wooly hairs from this plant to line their nests.

IMG_3224

Andrena, also known as a mining bee, emerges in temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and uses the sun to warm up and take flight!

IMG_9948

Osmia: Also known as the mason bee, rises as early as March! Maybe the dark color serves as a sort of thermal wear for her.  Fruit trees are a favorite for these bees, and you know fruit trees are some of the earliest to bloom!

‘Tis A Season of Rescues

IMG_2425

Above is me with the swarm I helped rescue from a tree.  It was the size of a soccer ball! They are now two brood boxes deep, and I’ll be looking to add a super soon.

I have had a fun season of bee rescues this year! It all began with a swarm of honeybees early June.  These ladies are enjoying their new home, and I am enjoying watching them make “bee lines” to and from the hive.  

IMG_4060

Above is the first bumblebee colony I rescued.  There are currently six young sisters in this colony.  It was a very small colony to begin with (2-3″ in diameter).

July brought two bumblebee colony rescues. One colony thought it appropriate to set up shop inside a chicken coop, and the queen paid the price for that choice, but the small colony is happily residing in a small breadbox in my backyard!

IMG_4065IMG_4068

Above is the second bumblebee colony I rescued; a much larger colony than the first (14″ long x 6″ wide).  The box is the new luxury apartment we built for them the night we rescued them. 

The second bumblebee rescue was from the crawlspace of a townhouse! It was dark, and riddled with spiders, some of which had bumblebees entangled in their webs! This colony was often lost trying to find their way to the outdoors to forage, and would end up inside the townhouse, destined to starve to death, very sad.  It easily has 100 bumblebees!  This colony is now in a luxury apartment in my backyard, surrounded by lots of different types of flowers. They seem quite happy, and I am happy to have them in a safer place! I know I will have tomatoes this year thanks to these buzz pollinating geniuses!  Here’s a link to the video of the latest bumblebee colony I rescued.

Thank you for joining the movement to learn more about bees!

 

 

 

Honeybee Swarms: Cause for Concern?

IMG_2294Swarming is a large cluster of honeybees (tens of thousands!) hanging in a ball from a surface, and it begins in the spring.  It is reproduction of honeybee colonies. How, you ask?

The hive is considered a super organism, which means all parts are uniquely necessary to the survival of the colony as a whole. Not a single honeybee can survive without the hive. The colony grows and eventually needs to split to reproduce more super organisms at additional nesting sites. This is where swarming comes in.

The “old queen” is programmed in her second year of ruling the hive, to prepare for swarming. This means she will leave, along with tens of thousands of her worker bees, including foragers and house bees alike. Some of the colony will be left behind with a virgin queen bee. The queen is very heavy whilst living in the hive fulfilling her egg-laying duties, and is unable to fly. Thus, she must go on a diet when she knows it is time to swarm. The house bees cease to feed her and she stops laying eggs. Once she is slim and trim enough to take flight, all the bees gorge themselves on honey for the exhausting task ahead.

HowCute Little Bee copy does the hive decide to swarm?

Pheromones, otherwise known as chemical messages. Bees use many pheromones to communicate different messages throughout the colony. The queen releases pheromones from mandibular glands (adjacent to the jaw line), which are passed to her worker bees through feeding. Her pheromone “cocktails” can instruct worker bees to collect food, create swarming cohesion, and prevent the maturation of eggs in other female worker bees. This form of communication unifies the colonies survival tactics. One mode of survival is reproducing the hive, and this happens when the colony has become so large that some of the worker bees are not feeding the queen and thus not receiving her pheromones. Such a population believes there is no queen, and begins raising a queen of their own. The existing queen must leave before the virgin queen emerges from her cup.

Meanwhile, the “old queen” is trimming down and sending out scouts to find a location to cluster. A cluster is a ball of bees hanging in strange places.  It could happen on a stroller, car, tree, house, pretty much any surface!  The cluster location isn’t far from the hive, and the swarm will only cluster as long as it takes to find a new nest, which is very brief. So, if you happen upon one, you are one lucky individual to be witnessing such an important part of a hive’s life cycle. Enjoy the view!

During the cluster some of the best foraging bees are sent out as scouts to find the next nesting site. Upon returning to the cluster, the scouts will do a waggle dance. The degree of enthusiasm the bee is waggling will encourage other scouts to verify the nesting site is indeed a good one. Finally, the entire swarm will leave together to begin building their new home.

What should you do if you see a swarm?Cute Little Bee copy

Please do not be afraid, but do show respect. Bees are not in the mood to attack at this very vulnerable moment in their life cycle. Stand back, give them space, and watch and listen (the hum of a buzzing colony is music!).  If you are concerned, contact your local beekeeping association for a list of bee rescue contacts.  Do not spray or exterminate honeybees, or any bees for that matter, they are critical to our survival!  1 in 3 bites of the food we eat comes from bee pollination!

I hope you enjoyed learning something new today!   Thank you for joining the movement to save our bees!
Jessica

 

 

 

Forage Rhymes with Porridge

Forage is to bees what porridge is to us, food.  

IMG_1515

Forage is the technical term for flowers. Flowers contain a complete meal to whomever will dine at their beautiful tables of color.  Pollen provides a complete protein enriched bite, while nectar provides a rush of carbohydrates ready for immediate energy.

Flowers add such beauty to any landscape, and it’s time we plant more in our own yards.  They not only add beauty, but they sustain the extremely important lives of pollinators.  

This truly is the simplest, most “hands-off” way to help the plight of pollinators.  In doing so you may become a native beekeeper by default, because native bees nest close to their food sources, and how lucky would you be to benefit from the pollination bounty as a result!

Native bees have taken the back seat to the honeybees, but they are extremely important and are just as in danger as honeybees.  They don’t make honey, so we haven’t taken to “keeping” them, because “what’s in it for us?”

Well, I will tell you this, our livelihood is what’s in it for us, and it’s the easiest “beekeeping” you’ll ever experience!!

Native bees will roam between 200 ft – 15o0 ft, with exception to bumblebees who roam one mile and beyond, to find flowers to feed on.  This means that if you see some of these native bees foraging in your yard, they are likely nesting there too, and guess what? All you needed to do was plant flowers!

The distance a bee travels is largely based on its size. The smallest bee family, Perdita measures from under 0.1-0.5 inches long!!  Perdita will travel no further than 200 ft to forage.  200 ft doesn’t seem far to us, but to these little bees, it’s an amazing feat and they do it many times each day to collect enough pollen and nectar for their eggs!

The larger native bees, with exception to the bumblebees, measure between 0.5-1 inch in length, and travel between 600-1500 ft.  1500 ft is like flying over four football fields one way, just to get food.  Now imagine being only 1 inch long and flying your little wings that distance to get groceries, and not just once each day, but multiple times! Are you impressed? I am! I think one trip to the grocery store in my car one time each week is plenty, and that takes minimal energy stores from me.  I cannot imagine what these bees must burn in calories each day!

Bumblebees measure between 0.5-1 inch in length, and can travel 1 mile and more when forced to do so.  They are much bigger so they are better at covering greater distances.  However, they would likely prefer a food source in close proximity to their nest.

The primary goal of all native bees is to raise as many young as possible from spring to fall.  So, as you can imagine, the greater the distance a bee must travel to get pollen and nectar, the more time is spent flying to and from the source, and less time is spent laying more eggs and forming bigger nests.  This correlates the number of bees raised in a season with the number of flowers visited each day, by each bee, in that season.  Ideally, native bees are able to find good nesting sites next to excellent food sources, thus increasing the number of bees raised in a season.

This is where we come in!

 

The most important step to take is to plant more flowers, and native flowers are ideal as they take less effort from you and the environment to sustain their lives.  Native bees are also more familiar with native flowering plants.  Be absolutely certain the flowering plants you plant are organic and raised without any harsh chemicals.  We don’t want to provide poisonous food sources to bees (and any other pollinators who will frequent your flower-ful yard).

Bees will not come unless you build a healthy food source first!  So, get your pen and paper out and begin plotting where you will add flowers to your yard this spring!

Next week I will talk about creating a good variety of nesting sites for all the 4000 species of native bees in North America!

Thank you for joining this very important movement to save our bees!

Jess

A complete habitat for bees

Habitats must have three main elements to be complete: food, shelter, and water. Yes, all living things need water! Let’s take each one in the order they are listed above.

Food for bees includes nectar and pollen from organic and pesticide-free flowers. The perfect flowers are the ones native to your region. These flowers will take little care from you, and will thrive for your native bees, as well as other pollinators. I like to include a wide range of blooming times, so my pollinating guests are fed from Spring to Fall. This is absolutely possible, and a great resource for this information for all regions is Plant Select.  This can include flowering trees, and if you go for fruit trees, you get the benefit of getting food by feeding bees in the Spring! Vegetable gardens provide a similar mutual benefit during the Summer. And in the fall there are many beautiful blooms that can sustain bees until the frost comes and many of them die off.
image IMG_0472 IMG_0531 IMG_7947

Shelter comes in many forms for the many species of bees. Some prefer bare soil under things. Others prefer vacated holes left behind by other species of bees. Some like open wood to carve into! Shelters can also be provided in the form of a bee house with trays providing different sized holes for different species.

IMG_0676

IMG_0065

Water can be in the form of little watering holes placed in different places throughout your garden. Follow the pictures below to make your own to place in your garden! Be sure to refresh the watering hole daily to ensure there is always water for pollinators to drink.

Creating a complete habitat for bees is easy and extremely necessary in this time of struggle for these insects who are absolutely crucial for our survival as a human race!

Thank you for joining the movement!

Jess