Summer Bumbles and Bees

July 8th, 2008

The month of July in Missouri is a lot of things.  Good things like tomatoes, barbeques, cooler mornings and maybe a few rainstorms if we’re lucky.  And then there’s the other things… the heat and humidity, weeds and trimming, and tons of insect critters that find their way into everything, usually leaving us itchy reminders to deal with.

I guess the bees fit that insect category, but they’re pretty neat to have around.   Unlike a few other critters such as ticks and chiggers.  Now I’m sure the peskier bugs serve some functional purpose for the web of life in our evironment.  But there’s times I wish they would serve that purpose somewhere else!  If you’re going to live in the country however, you have to take the good with the bad, and I’m learning that the good far outweighs the bad over the course of time.  

It’s not hard to appreciate our pollinators though.  Those amazing bees that go buzzing around and help us grow our fruits and vegetables.   Isn’t this a cool looking bumblebee?  This one is working a lavender plant, darting from flower to flower. 

Bumblebee and lavender © Fox Haven Media

And did you know that bumblebees are the primary pollinators of our tomato plants?  I’ve seen them all over our tomatoes, but I didn’t realize until recently that the way bumblebees pollinate tomato plants is through sonification.  The bumblebee pulls the tomato flower down to a vertical position, and vibrates their wing muscles at a certain frequency after which the tomato flower pollen falls out of pores in the anthers.  When the pollen falls down, it sticks to the bumblebees fuzzy body and, oh by the way, the bumble just happens to be rubbing that same fuzzy pollinated body against the tomato flower stigma, and because of his fuzzy little travels, voila! pollination from one flower to another occurs.   I think of bumblebees with appreciation every time I eat a tomato!

Here’s another important pollinator below, but it’s not a bumblebee.  Instead this is a Carpenter bee about to dive headfirst into a hydrangea flower head.  Carpenter bees are not thought of very highly because of the tunneling damage they can do to wooden beams, decking and the wood in houses and barns.  Yes, they actually bore holes and tunnels in wood!  We see them around here, but I’m not sure where they are nesting. Sometimes you see the male buzzing up and down in a certain area, seemingly harassing you if you try to walk by.  That’s just his way of protecting his territory or a nest nearby, but he’s actually harmless and can’t sting.  Not very fun to have a big buzzing critter zoom at you however.

Carpenter bee and hydrangea flower © Fox Haven Media

But our other favorite pollinators are the honeybees of course.  Our two hives appear to be doing just fine, although one is a lot stronger than the other in terms of the number of bees around the hive.   And yesterday there were hundreds of bees clustered outside the hive.  Are they getting ready to swarm?  Fanning to cool the hive?  Just new bees getting outside for some fresh air!?  I don’t really know, but with lots of space in two relatively new hive body supers, I think they’re just staying cool.  They have quite a bit of shade under some oak trees, but it has been very hot and humid lately.

Honeybees clustered outside the hive on a hot day

The other hive which is weaker didn’t have many bees hanging around outside however.  In both hives, the bees were coming and going just the same, and working flowers around the property.  It’s interesting to see the differences though, and I’ll be opening the hives up sometime the next week to see what else I can find out.

5 Responses to “Summer Bumbles and Bees”

  1. Lots of bees hanging on the outside is sometimes a sign that they are preparing to swarm. I’ve seen them swarm with lots of room in the supers but with their brood frames full. I would check the brood frames and make sure they aren’t full or there aren’t a lot of swarm cells. Look for swarm cells on the bottoms of the frames. If there are swarm cells and they are preparing the swarm, there isn’t a lot you can do but control where they swarm. Set up a new hive and put the old queen in it. The old hive will raise a new queen. If there aren’t many swarm cells but the brood chamber is full, you can add another brood chamber or move some of the brood up into the super and replace with new empty frames. Keeping room to add new brood or more honey keeps the bees happy and prevents them from swarming most of the time. You still lose them anyway for no apparent reason.

  2. Good points, thanks Ed. I appreciate your thoughts! As of about two weeks ago, all was fine with 3-4 frames empty. But they’ve been very active of late with a good honeyflow, so who knows? I like the idea of switching some bottom brood to the upper super. I may add a honey super on tomorrow to see how they do. They’ve been busy little guys for just a couple of months!

  3. The next time I think about it I need to ask my parents what percentage of hives (they had 150 or so at their peak) they lost due to swarming every year. I think you would be surprised at the number. Without almost constant care, it will happen. They always made the loss back by splitting strong hives up so that they could maintain a constant number. But that is little consulation when the loss of a hive to swarming could mean your bee operation is cut in half!

    After my parents got out of the bee business, they kept two hives as a hobby. They lasted a couple years before they both swarmed and now they have none.

  4. Well not to worry (yet)! The hives looked great today, although the strong hive had a lot more bees on the frames. There were a few empty frames still but they were drawing foundation on them. Put shallow honey supers on as well for them too. And the gathering out front involves quite a bit of fanning and also some washboarding by about half the bees. Tons of honey on a some of the frames :)

  5. Help the honeybees! Prevent the loss of the world food supply.
    Learn how you can help cure Colony Collapse Disorder.
    Visit thebeetree(dot)org.

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