Monday, May 31, 2010

The Calm Beekeeper's Swarm

It's a muggy, heady day. There are all sorts of sweet blossoms out there. I cut some phacelia from the city hall school garden and put in a vase on our dinner table. I hadn't realized it was so fragrant. The roses are starting to bloom, the mock orange with its intense jasmine perfume and the sweet purple rocket. I gave our small hive a peek just to see if they were getting crowded, but they still have room. Our neighbor's hive decided they needed a more spacious condo. When I returned her phone call she sounded incredibly calm and had the situation under control. When I arrive to take a look she offers me a cup of tea. The bees had swarmed right in front of her (funny how they do that) and landed in a cedar tree in the neighbor's yard to the south, 30 feet in the air. So now what do you do? You phone Cal, the swarm man, get an extra hive box, fill it with a few frames sprinkled with sugar water and put it on the roof of a shed directly under the cedar tree and you wait.

This is a huge swarm. It looks like a warm knitted sweater hanging from the tree. The calm beekeeper went to tell the neighbor he had a swarm in his yard and when I heard laughter I knew everything was going to be okay. C came back smiling holding a nice looking raspberry bush he'd given her. Another neighbor came over to take a look and offered to help as he has had experience with bees in South Africa. J came bearing a gift of sugar water and C sprinkled it on the outside of the hive and closed up the box about 3/4 of the way because in our experience the bees prefer a dark space to move into.

It was a strange day for a swarm being very wet and cool this morning, but the bees saw a window of opportunity and they were right. It's been a dry, sunny evening, even though at one point we did hear a rumble of thunder. C thinks she will leave the box there over night and collect it in the morning. Now that I see from the photos it's a dadant I hope it's big enough for all those bees.

On the way home I see bumble bees scrummaging like mad over the California lilac. I've got to get some of that in my back yard. It must be one of the best bumble bee plants that grows in Vancouver.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Honey Tasting

Yesterday, in honor of the International Day of the Honey Bee, J and I hosted a honey tasting, including some comb from our two block diet hive. J and her daughter made some cute bee balloons to lead the neighbors to the event, which was graciously sponsored by a small grant from the Little Mountain Neighborhood House Small Neighborhood Grants program.

J has an awesome bee garden. This is a variety of monarda, aka bee balm. J has a monarda with red blossoms which the bumble bees like and I have a wild variety in my garden with mauve blossoms.

These are the nectars which will inevitably form the floral bouquet which will find its way into our honey. The bees have obviously done a great job pollinating this cherry tree. The raccoons will be happy!

Clover honey is one of the most common of the monofloral honeys in Canada.

Jerusalem artichokes are a great fall food source for bees, but be advised that they can be a very invasive plant.

Lavenders are excellent bee plants and you can really taste the floral oils in the honey made by lavender fields.

In fact all the plants in the mint family are wonderful for bees.

We laid the honeys out from left to right, with the lighter honeys first, just like you would in a wine tasting. I put out some sheets where people could write their tasting notes, with guides such as: viscosity, mouthfeel, aroma, color, and taste.

This linden honey was a favorite of a few people, including me. One person said it tasted like Indian sweets and rose water. I thought it had a bit of lemon peel in the finish.

These are the darker honeys, with buckwheat near the end and finally a honey with propolis which has a funky piney medicinal taste people either love or hate. Buckwheat honey has an earthy, rich molasses, malty flavor. When I was at UBC farm this week someone had brought a tea cake made with whiskey, coffee, and buckwheat honey that was absolutely gorgeous. I've got to get that recipe!

I also gave away some of my friend L's great handmade paper embedded with seeds. She describes this guerilla gardening project on her website.

It was a drizzly day, so unfortunately we couldn't open up the hive, but I showed a few local beekeepers what our set-up looked like. There were a few bees huddling inside the entrance peeling out at the rain, and a few brave foragers who were making foraging trips. One of the boys who came by was writing a paper for school on colony collapse disorder, so he was very keen to take photos the next time we do a hive check.

Some people really preferred the lighter honeys such as the fireweed and acacia. In doing research for the tasting I read that there are over 3000 monofloral honeys in the world, with 300 in North America. Once again I was inspired by the mystery and magic of honey. Our honey was a big favorite, with its fresh, complex floral bouquet of white blossoms.

J looked lovely in her leopard spot boots! Thanks to every one who came out to have a taste. Hopefully next year the sun will shine.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bombus Queens in Azaleas

The azaleas in our neighborhood are blooming in bright lipstick colors and today I saw two giant bumble bee queens in our fuschia azalea bush. The weather is windy and unsettled with constant temperature fluctuations. I have a few volunteer sunflowers growing in my vegetable garden and one of them is already about six inches tall. The mason bees are sunning themselves and pollinating our strawberry blossoms.

Currently we are trying to settled our honey bees down because they have been trying to swarm. (Long story.) The trick is to monitor their health without spooking them again. This week we need to give our original hive a good checking over to see if we still have a queen and to give them a dusting of icing sugar for mite control.

I am very excited that we are having a meeting of beekeepers in the neighborhood very soon. It will be great to share stories. If you are an aspiring beekeeper under the age of thirty, check out the Environmental Youth Alliance's urban apiculture program.