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What do bees do during the winter?

Spring is nearly here!  Although we just had a pretty good snow storm here in Flagstaff which dropped 16 inches of new powder, the days just afterwards have been nice and sunny.  Already we’ve heard birds starting to be more active and visit our backyard feeders.  Getting really excited for the warm season around here!

After the long sleep of winter it’s great to get out and about and explore the world around.  That’s the same thing our Flagstaff honey bees will be doing soon!  So, what do bees do during the winter? Unlike most of the Arizona honey bees further south that can stay active year-round, ours tend to “hibernate” and hang out in their hive through the cold of winter.  During that time they will continue to stay alive by feeding on their stored honey.

To keep warm they ball together as a group and collectively vibrate their tiny little bee bodies to produce warmth, slowing moving in and out in a spiral-like fashion around the queen to keep her warm.  Penguins often do a similar thing in the Antarctic, rotating in and out of the central warmth.  Pretty clever, eh?

People often ask if our bees do well through the winter.  And the answer is a resounding YES!  As long as beekeepers aren’t selfish by taking all the honey stores, but leave the bees their fair share of honey to live on, they’ll be just fine.  Maybe the colder winter temps up here are what have helped keep much of the Africanized bees from moving in.  We certainly see far fewer than fellow beekeepers do in the south side of the state.  Sounds like a good research project…

Enjoy the warming weather!

dead bees on snow

When dead bees are a welcome sight!

Dead bees a welcome sight?

Yeah, you heard me right.  Now let me explain…

dead bees on frameUsually seeing dead bees is a terrible thing to behold for a beekeeper.  A good deal of sadness whelms up when opening up a box and finding the colony dead or having absconded.  It’s like losing a friend…or 30,000 of them.  But yesterday it brought me a glimmer of hope and resulted in a very positive confirmation. Why in the world would that be?

It’s winter up here in Flagstaff. And that means snow. And more snow. And then it snows again.  Welcome to life in the mountains my friends. This potentially creates a problem for both bees and beekeeper alike.  When winter sets in there’s a very real chance that some hives may not make it through the long cold.  Bees have been given a great deal of intelligence and can often survive in most cold environments for a period of time.  But extreme cold or extreme length of winter can spell doom for our little friends.

Bees do have a coping mechanism however.  Much like antarctic penguins, the bees will ball up in cold times, and will rotate from outside to inside in a slow spiral dance, while vibrating their bodies to produce heat and keep the bee-ball warm.  Of course right in the middle of this dance is the main lady of the royal ball…the queen.  They rotate around her, ensuring she is kept warm, while other bees take turns pulling food stores from the comb to bring back to feed her and other bees.  They can keep this up as long as they have the energy received from food supplies in the hive, or as long as it doesn’t get too cold to keep things warm.  That was my fear recently.

You see, we recently had some VERY cold temperatures.  When I was out in Parks last week I recorded -24F degrees.  That was the coldest I’ve ever seen in my life!  And that is a potential danger for losing a hive.  Even for local native bees here in Flagstaff.  But what a difference a week can make!  Just one week later we went from near record cold to near record high temps for this time of year.  Nearly 60 degrees and sunny yesterday all around the region!

dead bees on snowAfter spending the day at the Grand Canyon I decided to check in on our Parks pollination colony on the way back to see how things were.  Since it was so warm I knew a quick curious peek wouldn’t harm them and chill the hive.  As I tromped through the snow and approached the hive I noticed it…DEAD BEES ON THE SNOW!  Now most would be saddened by this, but I was glad.  Why?  Because dead bees can’t fly themselves out of a hive and onto the ground.  What the dead bees outside the hive meant was that the colony was probably pretty strong and had been “cleaning house”.  Yes, throughout the winter bees will die in the hive, and they will drop to the bottom of the box awaiting the undertaker.  When the weather warms up other worker bees go about cleaning up the place.  They will carry dead bees out of the hive and drop them on the ground.  They will also use the time to fly out of the hive and use the bathroom outside.  They’re pretty clean that way.

As I walked up to the hive I saw a lone bee flying back and forth to the entrance and back out again and I knew there was hope.  So I popped open the top lid, and what did I see?  Bees packing the entire box and all the way up to the top frames of a double deep stack of boxes.  Not a few bees.  Not sick, lethargic bees.  But LOTS of bees, moving all around the frames just how I left them in the Fall!  I must say I was surprised to say the least.  Having not checked in on them since October and having multiple nights of subzero temperatures I was sure they had frozen to death or had eaten all their honey stores in futility while trying to generate heat to stay warm.  But there they were, a golden moving carpet on every frame, as healthy as a bee can be.

Nate setting up the Community Garden hive in Parks

Nate setting up the Community Garden hive in Parks

So, to you who are new beekeepers. Don’t fear should you see a few dead bees outside the hive during winter, especially after the reprieve of a warm sunny day.  Should you see a pile of dead bees rest assured that the undertaker is well at work, the workers peppering the ground have now crossed the river Styx, and your bees are probably alive and buzzing about on the inside just awaiting the new spring blooms and sweet nectar once again!

-Nate

Different honey varieties. What’s behind it?

Different Honey Varieties Flagstaff

9_beesWhy are there different honey varieties?  What determines the taste of a particular honey? While out collecting pollen and nectar from various flowers the worker bee will travel around a 3 mile radius from the hive.  That’s a lot of work!  Each tiny sip comes from whatever plant is flowering at the moment and she decides to land on.  The flowers will change throughout the season, giving subtle variation to color, taste, and even viscosity.

That’s one of the really fun things about our Flagstaff wildflower honey, the different honey varieties and variation in taste is a direct reflection of what’s growing right here in Northern Arizona!  Sometimes honey will even vary from one side of Flagstaff to the other.  For example, we have a hive 20 minutes west of Flagstaff in a little area called Parks.  When we pulled honey from that (very productive) hive this summer the honey was very light in color and in taste.  People told us it was their favorite honey ever!  Even doing a side-by-side taste of other regional honeys from other producers this clearly came out on top.

Flagstaff Arizona Bee Sunflower PollenSo what was the secret?  Nothing we’ve done.  It’s nature, plain and simple.  In that particular area there were huge fields of Prairie Sunflowers growing.  Could that have been the main source of the bee’s nectar they were turning into honey?  Perhaps.  This may have been the dominant nectar source for the Flagstaff wildflower honey that we pulled from this hive.  I suspect it was, because we also collected some extra honey from a bee removal in Bellemont nearby that was surrounded by these flowers and tasted very similar.

When you see different honey varieties there really is a lot to it!  Honey that’s labeled “Clover Honey”, “Orange Honey”, “Buckwheat Honey”, or even “Mesquite Honey” means those are the dominant flowers the bees are foraging on.  Typically hives are placed in orchards or areas where those flowers are in abundance, so those flowers are what is used by the bees to create honey.

Honey made from these various sources each have different tastes, colors, flow, and even sugar content.  Clover honey tends to be somewhat light in color and taste, while some varieties like Buckwheat honey is very dark and thick, with a taste somewhat similar to molasses.  It is considered to be the highest in anti-oxidants and minerals of all honeys produced in the US.  In contrast Catclaw honey is VERY light and sweet and tends to be a favorite of tea drinkers as it sweetens without adding too much honey flavor or bitterness.

Different Honey Varieties

Like different coffee roasts, various honey lovers have their own favorites.  We encourage you to get out there and try it!  Visit your local farmers market where you can often sample various honey from the area and find your favorite!  Whatever you do, don’t buy the cheap grocery store “honey”.  Truth is it’s probably not even real honey and certainly doesn’t taste anywhere near the same!

Flagstaff Honey delivery serviceOur honey is produced right here in the beautiful Northern Arizona mountains of Flagstaff and we think it’s the bee’s knees!  We have easy online ordering and hand-deliver all our honey right to your doorstep. We even have a Hive2Home monthly delivery service to bring you our local raw honey on a regular basis. It’s a popular movement with many people who have tried our honey here in Flagstaff.

Try it.  We guarantee you’ll like it!

 

Flagstaff Arizona Raw organic honey

 

Musical Bees!

Did you know that bees make music?  Perfect pitch, rhythm, and everything.  It’s true, and simply fascinating!

One way they do specifically is called “piping”.  Piping describes a noise made by virgin and mated queen bees during certain times of the virgin queens’ development. Fully developed virgin queens communicate through vibratory signals: “quacking” from virgin queens in their queen cells and “tooting” from queens free in the colony, collectively known as piping. A virgin queen may frequently pipe before she emerges from her cell and for a brief time afterwards. Mated queens may briefly pipe after being released in a hive.

Piping is most common when there is more than one queen in a hive. It is postulated that the piping is a form of battle cry announcing to competing queens and the workers their willingness to fight. It may also be a signal to the worker bees which queen is the most worthwhile to support.

The piping sound is a G (aka A). The adult queen pipes for a two-second pulse followed by a series of quarter-second toots. The queens of Africanized bees produce more vigorous and frequent bouts of piping.  Pretty amazing isn’t it?

In another segment I’ll write about how and why bumblebees often produce a perfect “Middle C” note and what it’s used for.

Click here for a video of what this sounds like when a queen bee is piping!

Bees vs. Wasps – How to tell!

Many people get confused when it comes to the difference between bees and wasps/hornets and how to identify a bee hive or swarm vs. a wasp nest.

Although they may look similar, there are some pretty big differences between the two. Here you can learn about those differences and why here at RKB we love our bees, but not the wasps.

Please use this page to help identify whether you have a bee or wasp problem before requesting us to come out for free bee removal and relocation in the Flagstaff area.

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When it comes to identifying bees vs. wasps there are a few things you should know.

First, what are the physical differences between the two?

 


Hey, nice pollen baskets!

Wasps are typically more streamlined, shiny looking, and have narrower slender legs. Bees on the other-hand have more hairs, a fatter body, and widened legs designed for carrying pollen in their “pollen baskets”.

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You’re looking a little buzzed…

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In flight bees may seem to be more loose in their flying, bobbing up and down and appearing drunk at times. Typically their larger legs will be seen dangling down behind them in flight as they are seen going from flower to flower.

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Only TWO of these are bees!

 


A few facts about bees vs. wasps:

  • Many bees collect and store honey in large amounts, wasps do not.

  • Most bees have a barbed stinger they can only use once and then die as a result. Wasps can sting repeatedly and tend to be more aggressive in doing so.

  • Bees are more of a social insect and typical hives consist of thousands of bees in the colony. Wasp nests are much smaller in number typically.

  • Bees are peace loving vegetarians and live on a diet of nectar and pollen from flowers. Wasps are voracious omnivors and live on a diet of fallen fruit, nectar, and other insects.

  • Bees are our friends and go to heaven when they die. Wasps are evil and do not.

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Hive, swarm, and nest identification

Wasp NestBees and wasps can often be told apart by their hive and nest construction. Most often you will not see a bee hive in the open, as they prefer hollows with small openings that are easily defensible. In rare cases and with certain bee species they may make their hive in the open, often attached to a tree branch.

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414993b70f2bc9ee2551cadbd0346e92Wasps on the other hand tend to make gray-colored papery looking nests that resemble an upside down teardrop or may be open and resembling a flower with lots of cells.

Bees sometimes will be see “swarming”, especially in the spring and early summer. This happens when the hive gets too crowded and they make a new queen. This queen will then take, some, most, or all of the bees in the colony in search of a new home. The entire colony can be seen flying through the air or sometimes clinging to the side of a building, vehicle, or tree branch. When this takes place the queen will be in the middle of the swarm, with the other bees surrounding and taking care of her. Other “scout” bees will then be in search of a new suitable home where they can take up residence.

swarm

Although a colony of bees swarming may look frightening, they are actually much less likely to attack you than at other times. They are simply out looking for a new home, not worried about defending their current hive and honey stores. Don’t believe us? Just watch this video!


The enemy of my friend is my enemy

Bees and wasps/hornets tend to be mortal enemies. Often raiding hornets and wasps can cause huge problems for bees, as seen in this video where 30 giant Asian hornets decimate an entire colony of 30,000 European honey bees:

But bees are not defenseless! Where wasps and hornets may have dumb brute strength, many bees have highly developed and intelligent defenses like you can see here:


Viva la Bees!

Bees are highly useful to life as we know it on this planet. Not only do they provide us with rich and delicious honey, but they are the most abundant and prolific pollinators we know of! They provide us a great service here in America. If we did not have bee pollination, it would cost our country 19 billion dollars annually to hire enough people to hand pollinate our crops, something that bees do for us for free!

Slide1This is part of what drives our passion for removing and relocating bee colonies, rather than simply spraying them or calling an exterminator to kill them all. If you have a bee problem, be sure to contact us today and we’ll come out and remove them for free and provide them with a better location to call home!

FREE Hands-on Educational Lectures and Talks

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We would love to come and share about the beauty of bees and their role they play in our world as amazing pollinators and so much more

Nate Marshall Elementary

Nate sharing with Marshall Elementary school in Flagstaff

Hands-on learning!

Hands-on learning!

Over the years Nate has spoken at numerous schools, colleges, science gatherings, and hobby groups on this and other natural science topics. These talks can be as simple as 30 minute sessions to well over 2 hours of speaking and hands-on learning!

When we come speak we’ll often bring lots of “show and tell” examples people can see, smell, taste, and touch for themselves. (After all, wasn’t show and tell your favorite time in school?)

We want people to know the important contributions of bees and the way they reflect the wisdom of their Creator. No group is too big or too small! Just contact us and let us know how we can help!

Nate speaking in Orange County, CA

Nate speaking in Orange County, CA

Sharing with a group in Los Angeles

Sharing with a group in Los Angeles

We don’t charge a fee for this, only asking that travel expenses outside Flagstaff are covered if possible. We gladly accept tax-deductible donations to our cause or honorariums for the speaker, but neither of these are expected or necessary. And we really mean that!

At Royal Kenyon BeeWorks we have a passion for bees and want to share that with you! You’d be amazed to learn all the complexities of bee life and all the various things they make that we use and depend on daily. Let us come share some of our amazement with you.

Nate Bee Lecture 2

Organic Honey? What’s that all about?

 

So just what is “organic” honey and why does it matter?  Isn’t all honey naturally organic anyways?

The simple answer? No.

The bee keepers, who produce organic honey, make sure it is really organic by following certain standards. The natural habitat and life cycle of the bees are protected. They don’t expose the honey bees to any kind of synthetic chemicals or antibiotics to control diseases. The reason organic honey is excellent for your health is because it’s made without anything artificial that could harm you.

Interestingly enough, several scientific studies have proven beyond all doubt that organic honey is good for you. Honey can for example be used to treat sore throats, common calls, and even bronchial problems. It can also be used to help treat a number of stomach related problems such as ulcers. Furthermore, honey contains certain enzymes which help you to digest food. Lastly but not least, honey can be used to treat wounds in order to speed up the healing process. This is of course because honey is rich in natural antibacterial and antifungal properties, and because of its thick constituency, it also provides a natural barrier to open wounds.

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Because honey has a low PH and high sugar content, it can be used effectively to prevent bacteria from infecting wounds. In fact, honey has an antiseptic action very similar to that of hydrogen peroxide. Honey is also recognized as being an effective remedy for treating burns, because not only does it reduce the pain by keeping the burn moist, but it also seals the burn which helps to prevent further contamination. Another benefit of using honey to treat burns is that the resultant scars tend to be less prominent than they would be if the burn had been treated with a different compound.

Thanks to surveys, it has been found that the vast majority of people prefer the taste of organic honey over other types of honey which contain additives. Organic honey is also known to be extremely gentle on your stomach, and it can very often contain beneficial bacteria which can aid your digestive system. Another noticeable benefit of honey is the energy factor, due to its fructose and glucose content. Essentially, these cause the body to store glycogen in the muscles and in the liver, which in turn means you end up having more energy. For this reason, organic honey is often eaten by athletes before taking part in events. Of course, because of organic honey contains antioxidants, it can also be extremely beneficial for the immune system.

Nowadays more and more people are discovering the convenience of organic honey crystals, in that they are a natural sweetener which has the entire flavor of honey, but without the stickiness. The crystals are made from pure organic honey and pure organic cane juice, meaning that they contain no preservatives, no artificial coloring, and no artificial flavoring. In fact, the crystals are ideal for adding to beverages and food recipes if you want to add the flavor of honey. For example, you can add the crystals to your tea and coffee, to smoothies, and even to things such as salads, breads, puddings, and cereals.

As you can see, there are LOTS of uses for honey, and especially organic honey where the bees are taken care of and the honey you consume is naturally made without the bees ingesting antibiotics, steroids, or artificial pollen and nectar.  So the only lingering question…is “organic” honey the same as “raw” honey? Nope!  But that’s an entirely different post.  Stay tuned!

What is Colony Collapse Disorder?

Imagine suddenly during one winter over 1/3 of the population in the United States was no more. That’s over 100,000,000 people. Not just died, but disappeared. Without definite cause or circumstance. Simply vanished. And the remaining population appeared too weak and disoriented to help rebuild the sudden collapse of the social structure within our country. Imagine that, and you might have an understanding what it’s like to be a bee today.

What is Colony Collapse Disorder?

 Colony Collapse Disorder-Dead_bee_winterThere is an epidemic facing today’s bees. One without a sure cause and without a sure cure. Beekeepers and apiaries have always faced periods of decline. Oftentimes this is attributed to weather related issues, overfarming of bees leading to scarce food supply, parasites, disease, or other related phenomenon. Usually the cause is determined and the bees have always bounced back. But more recently a new a frighting occurrence happened in 2006/2007 alone, with the mysterious loss of around 800,000 bee colonies — accounting for tens of billions of bees. And this sort of loss has continued every year since. This pale horseman of the beepocalypse has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD.

CCD has presented itself in ways unlike other diseases or problems we’ve seen in the past. Instead of simply dying off, the bees completely abandon their colonies and disappear. In collapsed colonies, CCD is suspected when a complete absence of adult bees is found in colonies, with no or little buildup of dead bees in the hive or in front of the hive. A colony which has collapsed from CCD is generally characterized by a number of things occurring simultaneously:

  • Presence of capped brood in abandoned colonies: Bees normally will not abandon a hive and swarm until the baby bees have all hatched.
  • Presence of adequate food stores of both honey and bee pollen still remain in the hive.
  • Presence of the queen bee. If the queen is not present, the hive died because it was queenless, which is not considered CCD.

Sometimes there are signs that may arise before the final colony collapse, including:

  • Insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present
  • Workforce seems to be made up of only young adult bees
  • The colony members are reluctant to consume provided food, even things like sugar syrup and protein supplement.

Colony Collapse Disorder-Abeilles-mortes-dead-beesThis mystery disorder and disappearance is happening on a grand scale unlike anything ever seen before, and is why, around the world, beekeepers, organizations, and entire nations are gathering together to help address and solve this problem.

So what causes Colony Collapse Disorder?

We’ll address this in our next segment on CCD, and why it can be such a mystery to figure out…

 

 Colony Collapse Disorder-Abella037eue

Pollination and Bees

It has often been said that bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. Most crops grown for their fruits (including vegetables such as squash, cucumber, tomato and eggplant), nuts, seeds, fiber (such as cotton), and hay (alfalfa grown to feed livestock), require pollination by insects.
Pollinating insects also play a critical role in maintaining natural plant communities and ensuring production of seeds in most flowering plants. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male parts of a flower to the female parts of a flower of the same species, which results in fertilization of plant ovaries and the production of seeds. The main insect pollinators, by far, are bees, and while European honey bees are the best known and widely managed pollinators, there are also hundreds of other species of bees, mostly solitary ground nesting species, that contribute some level of pollination services to crops and are very important in natural plant communities.

Why are bees good pollinators?

Bees make excellent pollinators because most of their life is spent collecting pollen, a source of protein that they feed to their developing offspring. When a bee lands on a flower, the hairs all over the bees’ body attract pollen grains through electrostatic forces. Stiff hairs on their legs enable them to groom the pollen into specialized brushes or pockets on their legs or body, and then carry it back to their nest. Individual bees tend to focus on one kind of flower at a time, which means it is more likely that pollen from one flower will be transferred to another flower of the same species by a particular bee. Many plants require this kind of pollen distribution, known as cross-pollination, in order to produce viable seeds. The business of collecting pollen requires a lot of energy, and so many flowers attract and also reward bees with nectar, a mixture of water and sugars produced by plants.

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Where and how do bees live?

Most bee species dig nests in soil, while others utilize plants, either by boring holes in pithy plant stems or wood, or by nesting in galleries made by wood-boring beetles in trees or other preexisting cavities. Bumble bees are known to nest in abandoned rodent burrows and feral honey bees are known to nest in tree hollows. Bees use a variety of materials to build their nests. Most bees line their nest cells with a waxy material they produce themselves, but others use pieces of leaves, small pebbles mixed with resin from tree sap, or mud to form the cells in which they lay their egg.

Why do bees need flowers throughout the growing season?

Many bee species are solitary (each female produces offspring in her own nest) with only one generation of bees produced per year. However, other species nest communally (several females share a nest) or have elaborate social structures with division of labor within the colony (usually with a single queen and many workers). These kinds of bees produce multiple generations per year. This means that bees that produce multiple generations each year need food resources (pollen and nectar) across most of the growing season to produce strong colonies. Providing plants in a landscape with overlapping bloom periods will help these bees survive and prosper.

We will be closed December 20th-26th for the holiday season. Merry Christmas! Dismiss