So, here’s the mystery: Why are these bees so interested in the stump from the (long) dead tree The Engineer cut down earlier this week? The girls were also rooting around in the sawdust below the stump.
There are many theories online about bees being attracted by fresh sawdust.
They think it’s pollen. I find it difficult to believe animals that depend on pollen as a primary source of food would confuse the two substances.
They are finding sap/resin to use for propolis. This might be true if the tree hadn’t been dead for so long. But we could literally see daylight through the woodpeckers’ holes.
Still, I really have no idea, so if you have other information on why bees might forage in sawdust, I’d love for you to share in a comment.
In other backyard developments, a raccoon apparently visited our suet feeder last night.
I glanced out of the window this morning as I drank my tea and saw a woodpecker calmly snacking on the suet in the feeder, which had been relocated to the roof. The intrepid nighttime thief hadn’t even knocked off the hook where the feeder normally hangs (yellow arrow).
We also went flying today. Sky was kind of bleah – not great for photos, but It brightened up briefly, and I shot this view of one of the islands.
And that’s all the news from The Byrd and the Bees. (And I use the term “news” in the loosest possible sense.)
There were lots of bees flying today – it was 50-ish and sunny. And it wasn’t just cleansing either; these girls were going places. We didn’t see any pollen(still early for that), but they were definitely flying out somewhere.
This is a good thing because the the hive lid is looking more and more like a very messy ladies’ room.Check out the propolis on the screen.
Then, it was a look under the hood of both hives.
First, it was Buzzers’ Roost.
Followed by FreeBees.
As you can see, neither hive has eaten much of the sugar patties we put in a few weeks ago.
Once the hives were closed again, a few girls consented to some closeups.
According to The Ohio State GDD calendar (https://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/gdd/CalendarView.asp), we have a while yet before the Silver Maples bloom, and the bees can get some pollen. Hive Beetles have been a continual problem this year, especially in FreeBees, so we’re reluctant to put in any pollen patties because the patties seem to really attract them.
Still, we are cautiously hopeful our girls will survive the rest of winter.
The Engineer and I took a road trip to Knoxville a few weeks ago.
Joe Jackson was playing at the beautifully restored Bijou Theatre (see above) — a great excuse to head south. Plus, it was around my birthday, and we got to stop off and see Darling Daughter on the way.
And, by the way, if you’re not familiar with Joe Jackson’s music, you’re missing out. It was a wonderful show — good enough that we plan to see him again soon.
Knoxville was a delight. For once, we managed to go somewhere when they were having good weather — 50s to nearly 70 while we were there — and the city itself was charming.
Small enough to walk just about everywhere we wanted, with free trolleys available for visitors who’d rather ride.
The buildings were lovely too, lots of old brick with beautiful details.
As you can see, I have a thing for brick. There were parks too. And public art strewn about the city.
I was particularly taken with this sculpture.
Knoxville also had a nice little (free) art museum.
I think the best part of the Art Museum was the Thorne Rooms, a series of miniature rooms created by Narcissa Niblack Thorne, exquisitely detailed down to the views out the windows.
While we’re on the subject of free (as in, trolleys and art museums), I must mention the free lunchtime concert held M-S at the Knoxville Visitor Center (with two hours free parking!) The “Blue Plate Special” is supported by several local businesses and features music in a variety of genres.
Of course, exploring a city’s food and drink is an important part of any trip. (Or maybe that’s just us?) Like my blueberry-grapefruit Mimosa from the Tupelo Honey Cafe.
We also ate at Stock and Barrel (where we split a delicious burger), Pete’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant (wonderful breakfast), and Jig and Reel (a Scottish restaurant where I indulged in a Steak and Ale pie, and we were able to buy some packets of Walker’s Crisps!)
I won’t detail the breweries except to say there were enough to keep The Engineer happy, one of which was deemed to have beer worthy enough of filling his growler.
Check out the sidewalk sign at Union Ave Books. Finding an indie bookstore made me as happy as my husband was with the breweries.
On the way home, we stopped at a Liquor Barn. Ohio is funny about alcohol laws, so seeing so much beer, wine, and liquor in one place was dizzying. Thanks to an excellent salesman, we ended up buying several(!) bottles of French wine to prepare our palates for our trip this summer.
If you ever get the chance, vist Knoxville. It’s great for a few days away and would also be a good stopover on a longer trip. The people were nice, the food and drink delicious, and the surroundings pleasant.
You may, or may not, remember that last fall and the one before, we put sugar patties on top of the frames before winterizing the hive(s).
When it warmed up enough last winter and spring, we checked on Buzzers’ Roost (we didn’t yet have FreeBees), to find they hadn’t touched the stuff. When it was finally warm enough for a complete hive check, we discovered they still had honey.
This year, things are different.
Dave checked under the hood a few weeks ago (I had to work on the only warm day available). Here’s what he found.
Buzzers had eaten over 3/4 the sugar, and FreeBees slightly less.
As usual, we’re not sure what this means. Do they have more bees in the hive than last year, and therefore have consumed more honey? Are they less frugal? Did they get stuck near the tops of the hives because the weather changed too fast for them to form a bee ball near the honey?
We’re just glad we provided a safety net of sugar patties.
Both hives have had bees taking cleansing flights whenever it warms up. We’ve seen them out on some surprisingly cold (but sunny) days. And they seem to like being able to, ahem, relieve their bowels under cover as you can see by the state of the hive lids. (La Hacienda de las Apis goes over the hives, and we remove it to feed and look under the lids.)
This past weekend, before we treated them with Oxalic Acid (OA), The Engineer cleaned out the bottoms of both hives.
Lots of dead bees from Buzzers’ Roost.
And even more from FreeBees. There were also many dead beetles in the FreeBees pile, which isn’t good and may have contributed somehow to the bigger death toll.
The good news is: there were no queens wasn’t among the dead.
The next day, we checked under the lids again. Both had eaten about half the sugar, so we filled up again, and gave them some Super DFM Honeybee probiotic to help them recover from the OA treatment.
The FreeBees hive (above) still seems to have more bees than Buzzers’ (below).
We’re feeling cautiously optimistic about them surviving winter, but we won’t know anything more until the pollen starts kicking in. Silver Maples will be out soon, and we’re crossing fingers we can keep them alive until the spring flow.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have one hive (or even two!) healthy enough to benefit from the early flow?
He or she landed on our deck last weekend. No doubt s/he was eyeing the birdfeeder. This may explain the dearth of finches this year. Usually they sit at the feeders and gorge themselves, but we’ve seen very few.
Sorry about the fuzziness of the pictures. I took it with my phone through the window and didn’t want to scare away our hawk.
Initially we thought it was a Sharp-Shinned, but The Engineer did more research and discovered it was actually a Cooper’s Hawk. Turns out it’s mostly about size. Cooper’s Hawks are much bigger. Read more about them at Audubon.org.
The name conjures up a sultry Hollywood star from a time when movie actors and actresses (an acceptable term back then) and their lives seemed as unreal as the films they made.
Few people know Hedy (real name Hedwig Kiesler) was woman who fled nazism and an abusive, powerful, arms-dealing husband to come to America.
That she, along with composer George Antheil, invented a radio guidance system for torpedoes that used frequency-hopping to avoid jamming by enemy powers.
Or that the same technology they developed is an integral part of a device most of us use every day.
I know these things because I was fortunate to receive an ARE (advanced reader’s edition) ofMarie Benedict’s The Only Woman in the Room from Sourcebooks. (And thank you, Sourcebooks, for that!)
You may recognize Benedict as the author of The Other Einstein and Carnegie’s Maid. If you don’t, the titles alone should clue you into the fact that this is an author whose historical fiction hones in on the little-known stories of the past.
Women’s history, to be precise.
I enjoy Benedict’s books because they aren’t doorstop-sized tomes, but enjoyable, quick reads that nonetheless manage to teach me something.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against doorstop-sized tomes, but they are an investment of time and energy, and quite frankly, sometimes I don’t have enough of either.
Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking Benedict’s writing isn’t well-researched because it’s accessible. In fact, it’s the opposite. By coming to know her subjects so well, she makes them easily understood by others.
So, if you’re looking for good historical fiction about the unsung women of history, pick up a one of Marie Benedict’s books.
The Only Woman in the Room is freshly published and should be available at your local library or bookstore.
And now, a brief update on our bees and crazy Ohio weather.
Yes, this is the same backyard and hive that was 50 something Fahrenheit and busy with bees only yesterday. And the “less than one inch” of snow that was predicted has somehow become 3″ on our deck railing.
The bee ball is continually in motion as bees from the cold, outer edges are replaced by bees from the warm center, thus keeping all (or at least most) of the bees warm enough to survive.
However, if a hive is too small, there may not be enough bees to keep the temperature high enough for survival, and the bees will freeze to death.
Starvation is another danger, caused by the bees not producing or storing enough honey for winter, having a greedy beekeeper take too much honey, or because the bee ball is too far from the honey to be able to reach it.
Winter is always worrisome for beekeepers, but for now, both our hives appear alive and well.
Did you notice Buzzers’ Roost bees seem to prefer the top exit, while FreeBees like the bottom? Why? My guess is it reflects where most of the bees are in the hive, which likely means that’s where the bulk of their honey is.
How do they decide where to store their honey? No one knows but the bees, and they aren’t talking. Folk wisdom says bees tend to start lower in the hive and move up, but we all know bees don’t always follow the rules.
After six weeks, two runs of antibiotics (along with two other prescriptions), and innumerable over-the-counter remedies, I finally feel like myself.
My daily chores, including helping Mom, no longer feel like insurmountable tasks.
And despite a somewhat bumpy holiday season, Mom’s also making progress. Not quite her previous independent self, but moving in that direction.
Christmas was low-key and lovely, thanks in part to Darling Daughter being home with her boyfriend (BF), though I must admit a (small) part of the wonderfulness can be attributed to the fact that they willingly(?) took on dish duty.
And everyone (including DD, BF, and The Engineer) was assigned a part of Christmas meals. Mom was not assigned a part, although she gamely offered to help.
The assignments were as follows:
Dutch Babies (not the diaper-wearing kind, see here for a recipe), scrambled eggs and toast, along with fresh blueberries, real maple syrup and butter, and Mimosas [Buck’s Fizz to my anglo-centric readers]): All cooking done by me. All cleanup by DD and BF.
Dinner Turkey, bread sauce, stuffing, Yorkshire Pudding – Me
Brussels sprouts and gravy made from the Bisto his sister sent (because he always says I make it too thick) – The Engineer
Carrots (because DD and BF do not like sprouts) – BF (grown by our CSA and done up deliciously with butter and honey)
Mashed Potatoes – Darling Daughter
All cleanup — DD and BF
Post-celebration snack during traditional family Scrabble game Mixed cheese plate with crackers, honey, and home-made hot pepper jam (delicious, although I may have been the only one eating the jam) — Me
It was great.
Well, I thought it was.
I’m not sure what everyone else thought because by that point, I was falling back into Sinus Infection, stage 2.
I do know how Mom felt about it because at her appointment on the 26th, she basically told her orthopedic surgeon the holiday was “Meh.”
At the time, I nearly jumped out of my chair because I felt like I’d made such an effort, despite still feeling so crappy.
She’d shared a wonderful breakfast, lovely gifts, and a delicious dinner with her family. What more did she want?
When I asked myself that question, the answer came almost immediately. What Mom wants is to not be old, with a broken elbow, depending on everyone else for the smallest task.
Sadly, I can’t make that happen.
What I can do is help her while she needs it, and try to help her become as independent as possible, given her age and physical condition.
So, that’s what I’m doing.
Thankfully (as I said earlier) it no longer feels like an insurmountable task.
I’m failing at the “goodwill to men” part of Christmas.
In fact, I’m failing Christmas full stop, and can’t raise the energy to care.
Usually our cards go out the day after Thanksgiving. This year, I’ve sent exactly two.
Forget decking the halls. The decorations are still packed in their boxes.
The Engineer and I did get them out of the loft, and bought our living tree, temporarily stationed in the garage where it makes me absurdly happy to see it every time I pull in. This is some progress, I suppose.
But, this is the time of year I’m normally busy delivering plates of baked goods, and the oven has been stone-cold all month.
By now, maybe you’re wondering how a Christmas-loving elf becomes a Scrooge, a Grinch, a fill-the-stockings-with-coal holiday drop-out.
Well, my mom fell on November 1. She went out with her cane, rather than her walker, and did a face-plant at the Verizon store. It’s a struggle for me to not to assign blame, so I will only say after she broke her forearm (both bones) in March, I have refused to take her anywhere without her walker.
This is because I noticed her doing what I call a dipsy-doodle — losing her balance briefly and recovering with a little side-step. She’s too heavy for me to pick up if she falls, so when she goes with me, she takes the walker.
She wasn’t with me. Furthermore, she’s an adult, certainly capable of making her own decisions, even if that choice results in a bruised face and broken (the orthopedic surgeon called it “crumbled”) elbow.
Do you know what happens when you are eighty-eight, live alone, with arthritis in your left shoulder and atrial fibrillation, and you break your right elbow (after breaking the same arm seven months earlier)?
They send you home from the emergency room with a note to see the orthopedic surgeon the following week.
Chance would be a fine thing. The earliest appointment available was November 26 — twenty-six days after the fall — although ultimately, she got in earlier due to a cancellation.
The ER report also recommended following up with her GP, but they always say that. As far as I know, no one told my brother the GP was the one who might help us coordinate care for our mother.
Here are some of the things Mom could not do unassisted:
Feed herself anything that required cutting.
Use the bathroom.
Walk, even with a walker (it takes two hands to steer).
Put in her hearing aids.
Clean her false teeth.
Feed her cat.
Clean the cat box.
Sweep the kitchen or bathroom.
Pour a glass of water.
Yet, they sent her home. And for various reasons, after about a week, the bulk of her care ended up falling to me, which meant going over each morning to help her dress and get set up for the day, and going back in the evening to get her to bed.
In between, I was terrified she would fall again, until finally she suggested checking herself into a nursing home for a few weeks until we could sort out some help.
There, at least, they had nurses on duty, aides to help her shower and dress, and a doctor to keep an eye on her progress.
The downside was, she mostly sat in her room. And then she caught a cold, which turned into a respiratory infection.
Still, it gave me time to organize some non-medical help for her. To my surprise, the doctor at the nursing home also wrote orders for a nurse, a physical therapist, and an occupational therapist.
Meanwhile, on the day before I took Mom home (and several days before all the help kicked in), I got the flu, followed by a sinus infection and bronchitis.
The last time I felt that bad, I had pleurisy (which was way more painful, but a lot shorter lived). I could hardly raise the energy to get off the couch, but the thought of Mom sitting there waiting, unfed, unwashed, undressed, forced me to go. Because if I didn’t, I wasn’t sure who would.
I should mention that I have several friends, as well as a cousin, who expressed a willingness to help, but, well, you can’t exactly expect a friend to clean your mother’s false teeth, can you?
To complicate things, I couldn’t bring myself to go to the doctor, even when I knew I needed antibiotics, because the last few times I saw a doctor, I was charged not only for the doctor and prescription, but also a “facility fee.” The Engineer calls this a charge for “the pleasure of walking on their tiles,” and since it was over $200 to essentially pay their electricity bills, I just couldn’t do it. (See my previous blog on the subject.)
Finally, I remembered some drug stores have clinics with nurse-practitioners and/or physician assistants. I went to one of them for a total cost of $109, plus about $5 for the prescription.
I know this post sounds whiny. Be thankful I didn’t have the energy to write it earlier when I was really feeling peevish. (And can I just say here what a brilliant word that is? Peeeee-vish. Somehow it sounds exactly like what it’s saying.)
Things are finally getting better. Mom has a helper three mornings a week, which means I’m only “on duty” for the remaining four, and she can get herself to bed. After she sent the aide home early one day, I’ve also signed off laundry as a task for the aides, instead of dragging it to my house and back.
This has freed me to do things like buy Mom a lift chair and one with arms for her kitchen table (to better enable her to get up on her own), take her to the doctor, buy groceries, and all the rest. Thankfully, I’m feeling well enough now so these no longer seem like insurmountable jobs.
I even got out for a walk today (walking, Yoga, and Pound class having been distant dreams for the last six weeks).
The “walkers” have been trimming the trees of our beautiful park as they do every year. The sight always makes me smile, and I’m sharing these pictures in the hope they’ll do the same for you.
Also, if you feel the need to hear the song that’s been rolling around in my head for the last week and a half, visit here to see a Youtube video of “We Need a Little Christmas” as sung by Johnny Mathis.
Eventually, I expect to feel energetic enough to put up a few decorations, wrap presents, and bake. It may not be Christmas as usual, but it will have to do. As John Lennon supposedly said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” (I just looked it up, and Lennon may not have been the first to say this.)
To sum up the Christmas part of this post, I encourage you to read some of the “Christmas Notes” on my original “Reading, Writing, Ranting, and Raving” blog. Just search “Christmas,” and see what you get. If this is too much work, go here to see the best Christmas carol ever, performed by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. I realize this is only an opinion, but I am a Christmas song aficionado, so feel my thoughts on the subject should bear some weight.
As always, I am grateful for your readership, and I promise not to make a habit of writing posts when I’m feeling cranky.
Wishing you a very merry Christmas.
Bee update: We winterized the hives a few days after Thanksgiving. First we pushed them together as close as we could, fit foam insulation between to keep in the warmth, and wrapped them together. We also put in shims, fit sugar patties in the open space, and put more foam insulation under the outer cover. The Engineer built a little shelter for them, which I’ve mentally dubbed “La Hacienda de la Apis Mellifera,” which if I’m translating correctly means “The House of the Honey Bee.”
On sunny days like today, a few crazy girls come out for little flights, even when it’s only in the thirties. Inevitably, a few end up in the snow. One of the (many) reasons I love my husband is because he always goes out, scoops them up, brings them inside to warm up, and then returns the survivors to the hive.
It’s been over twenty years since my last one, but I’m back to morning feedings. This time, however, the process doesn’t involve getting up at 4 am, and there is no milk involved.
As you may have guessed, this time around I’m feeding bees, and they eat (drink?) sugar water. A 2:1 mixture, if you must know, with some “Honey-B-Healthy” essential oil mixture to pique their appetite.
And you thought essential oils were just for diffusers.
We’re feeding because we’re trying to help the hives store enough honey for winter.
On our last full hive check before things cooled down, we discovered FreeBees had very little to show for all their activity. Despite the abundance of nectar they had previously stored, they didn’t have much honey. Lots of nectar, but not much honey.
Yet, Buzzers’ Roost was getting heavy, as displayed by the picture below.
It was time to remove the honey supers (the medium-sized boxes generally used for honey that’s meant to be harvested). FreeBees’ needed moved because they needed feeding, and Buzzers’ because we were going to take a little honey for ourselves this year.
An argument could have been made to just move the smaller frames of honey down into the big boxes on Buzzers’ hive because we’re not 100% sure even they have enough, but after two years, we decided we were taking some.
Morning 2: Take super and escape board off FreeBees. Put deep hive box on top of inner cover, but below outer cover. Invert jar of syrup over something to provide bee space for bees to get beneath it to eat. Encourage bees remaining in escape board to go back in their hive. Move on to Buzzers’ and repeat steps from morning 1.
Morning 3: Repeat steps from morning 2, but do them on Buzzers’. Extract honey from two frames. Return those frames to bees to clean. (We stuck them in the upper deep boxes because the day after we extracted, the weather changed. It’s been too cold to actually get into the hive.) Also return the two full frames of honey we didn’t extract. Freeze remaining frames. Clean all equipment for next year.
I’m starting to think we should focus on harvesting propolis instead of honey.
Every morning since: Replace jars with ones that haven’t been outside in the cold. Not sure if this is necessary, but someone at a bee club meeting once said bees don’t like cold food. True or not, it’s been a good way to keep track of how much food they’re consuming.
We’ll continue the feeding until they stop taking syrup. Also, we’re hoping for a nice day to have one more look inside the boxes. And we need to treat both hives again before wrapping them for winter around Thanksgiving.
This is probably between four and five pounds of honey. I bought honey in the quart jar, and it was labeled as 2.25 pounds. We aren’t selling any so it doesn’t matter.
As things stand, I don’t think FreeBees will survive the winter unless they somehow manage to make enough honey from these feedings. We had a big goldenrod flow, and they seemed to be gathering as much as Buzzers’ so I’m not sure what went wrong
The two things I do know are I don’t really know anything, and anything could happen.
We can feed them, but in the end, the bees’ survival is up to the bees.
Summer is slowly winding down, and the bees have been making the most of the fine weather. They’ve been in a foraging frenzy, perhaps sensing the forthcoming temperature changes.
It cooled down over the weekend, with rain on and off all day today. Each time the showers stop, the foraging begins again.
And yet, when we checked the hives a week or so ago, Buzzers’ Roost had no honey, and FreeBees had very little. Instead, we saw loads of pollen, lots of nectar, and a surprising amount of capped brood.
Still, with all that nectar, there’s bound to be some honey soon.
Check out the graphs below. Notice any trends?
The first two graphs show the weight of the hive over the last month — finally trending upward. The next two show a week each, and you’ll notice daily ups and downs, probably from when the foragers are out.
So, we’re not too worried about honey levels, at least not yet.
Below is a picture of a frame containing both nectar and pollen. We also found several that were filled solely with nectar or solely with pollen. Theoretically, we should be able to identify the source of the pollen by its color, but unfortunately, I’ve not found an accurate chart online. Here are links to two if you’d like to try: Sheffield Beekeepers’ Association and Metrobeekeepers.net. My guess is mostly goldenrod because the fields are full of it.
While we had the hives open, we did alcohol rolls on both. This is supposed to be a more accurate way to count Varroa.
Our count was a big fat zero on both hives.
Yeah, we must have done it wrong.
Either that or the hive beetles are eating them. Don’t even ask how many of those we found. It was too many to count.
The weird thing is, the bees mostly ignore the beetles. Once in a while, they’ll herd a particularly brazen one into a corner, but then the bees go back to whatever they were doing, and the beetle scuttles away. (Unless we get it first!)
There was propolis everywhere, especially around the beetle traps, which makes me wonder if this is the bees’ response to the pests. There were a few beetle corpses in some of the propolis, so who knows?
Unfortunately, our girls don’t seem to grasp that the traps are there to help them and had propolized the openings where the beetles are meant to enter. At least one trap had every opening completely blocked.
But let’s get back back to the subject of the main hive pest — the dreaded Varroa. For two years, we’ve used drone foundation as part of Varroa control, with very little success.
Last year, the hive used the drone foundation mostly for honey.
This year, both hives have ignored them.
This year, a few short weeks — okay, a few short months — before the workers start kicking out drones (to lower the number of mouths they have to feed in the winter), FreeBees has decided to make drone cells. Half the foundation was full of capped drone brood, and there were more cells on the top of some of the other frames.
Weird. Also unusual in placement. Drone cells are usually at the bottom of hive frames.
Whatever. It’s their hive. They can do what they want.
As we’d been instructed, we removed the drone foundation and opened the cells to check for Varroa, but found none there either.
I can’t believe there are no mites at all, but am willing, even eager, to believe the treatments have been working, and the threshold is safely low.
Just to be sure, we will treat both hives with Oxalic Acid before winter after we take off the supers.
I’m still holding out hope that we might be able to pull at least one frame of honey for ourselves.