On a typical winter morning upon rising we walk to the window, clicking the electric kettle on the way, and, raising the blinds, gaze out into the eastern distance over the snow. As the kettle boils we bring our gaze nearer the house and note the new tracks made in the night by the wildlife. Then as the kettle chimes we make our first cups and return to bed for bit longer. Idyllic, and, yes, we are quite fortunate.
Yesterday, upon rising we walked to the window, clicked the electric kettle on the way, and, raising the blinds, gazed out into the eastern distance over the snow. As the kettle boiled we did not need to bring our gaze nearer the house before we noticed what seemed a wide swath in the snow. Following it in closer the snow suddenly was spotted and then blotched with red. With bits of fur scattered. Not so idyllic. A closer examination later suggested that some canid, probably coyote, had caught and dined upon a squirrel.
Today, upon rising we walked to the window, clicked the electric kettle on the way, and, raising the blinds, gazed out into the eastern distance over the snow and saw an unfamiliar hummock near some stalks poking up through the white. Through binoculars we saw that it was a deer. With no gore apparent, it seemed to have simply lain down and frozen. We intended to go out for a closer investigation after breakfast, but before we could do so we saw a coyote still having breakfast on the deer. We tried for some photographs but shooting into glare at a distance through glass windows without a tripod does not produce the best results. Then it walked off a bit to lie down and digest before returning to the carcass for seconds. It ran off when someone came to the house but returned for lunch when we sat down to ours. Supper might be interesting.
Tomorrow, upon rising we shall walk to the window, click the electric kettle on the way, and patiently await its boiling without looking out the window!
For the first time in a long time the temperature hit the Fahrenheit forties this sunny day and we snow-shoed through two feet of white to Annabelle to look for signs of life. To be cruelly brief, there were none.
While a detailed post-mortem will occur another time, there simply did not seem to be many bees at all in cluster, even fewer than when Beatrix died. There may have been more dead on the floor but in the glare of the sun it was hard to tell. There was some honey remaining although not a lot and perhaps inaccessible in the brutal cold we have long endured. The sugar we had left seems untouched but had done its job of absorbing moisture. For now we simply returned with a chunk of comb to ponder.
Naturally we would like to determine what we should have done to have Annabelle survive. But there may have been nought. Even experienced beekeepers hereabouts have winters when they lose a score or so of their colonies, which may be all they had. We did manage to keep her through one winter if not a second one, exceptional in the magnitude and duration of its cold.
If we insist upon a silver lining, the hive has been in need of some repair of both woodware and comb. This will let us provide it without upsetting tenants. And three nucs should be arriving late spring. It will be a long, silent wait.
One of our pleasures during the bee-less season is watching birds at our feeders. A favorite is the one shown at left, which we have attached by its suction cups to a bedroom window. It is basically a sheet of hard, clear plastic with a few bends to form a protective roof and a floor with two squarish holes, in each of which sits the shallowly protruding bottom of a small seed cup, secure against being pushed off yet easily removable for refilling.
Although sized for small birds such as finches and sparrows, it attracts larger ones as well. A cardinal is perhaps the largest that will comfortably fit under the roof. A blue jay can fit uncomfortably or dangle from a cup’s front edge and feed by poking its head under the roof. Birds as large as a red-bellied woodpecker have used that latter method. And therein lies a design flaw.
When the cup is sufficiently empty, the weight of the dangling bird will tip it out of the feeder to drop to the ground below. For us, there are several inconveniences to retrieving the cup: leaving a cozy bed, descending the stairs to the main floor, exiting the house, and walking along to where the cup fell. At its worst this involves a pajama-clad trek through deep snow or in hard rain.
Our solution was to glue a plastic tab to the rear of the protruding bottom of each cup. Should a bird be in danger of tipping the cup out, the tab will press against the underside of the feeder’s floor and prevent it. As a consequence the cup can no longer be dropped directly into the hole in the feeder, but must be tipped slightly so the tab goes underneath, and slid along until it drops and seats itself. Not an inconvenience since that is how we were installing the cups anyway.
While casting about for some scrap plastic to cut to size, we discovered some unused drawer dividers for a small parts organizer. We were fortunate that these dividers had perfect dimensions or near enough to require no cutting. Almost as wide as the protruding bottom, when placed a little short of the drainage holes, the tab extended as far as the edge of the cup itself.
The glue was, of course, a cyanoacrylate. We used a version that comes in a bottle with a brush built into its cap. Whether it stays reusable as is claimed we shall see but it was certainly our least messy ever application of such a glue. No inadvertant gluing of fingers. In addition the glue has a very pale purple tint when applied and then hardens clear. It is not “easy to see” as the advertising claims (not to our old eyes anyway) but is a visible improvement over the usual lack of any color at all.
At this writing, our modified cups have been in place for nearly a month and we have several times seen a tab rescue a tipping cup from falling. Not once since our bodging have we had to retrieve one. We are pleased with ourselves.
Thanks to a meandering northern polar vortex we have had a few days of atypically brutal winter cold. January highs in the twenties Fahrenheit are not that unusual here in Southeast Michigan but lows below zero are remarkable, especially double-digits below zero. Even in February, normally our harshest month, we do not expect such cold. And then there was the wind chill. And the relentless snowfall that would accumulate to over a foot in depth and drifting deeper.
It was excellent weather for huddling indoors but rather than face the full depth of the snow once it stopped we were out plowing and shoveling like Sisyphus trying to keep the driveway and walks around the house clear of the constantly falling snow. Starting again as soon as we finished, we made at least three passes over everything before losing Sunday’s daylight. We then spent most of Monday clearing the night’s deposits.
But enough about us. How fares Annabelle? We do not know but fret. The picture shows a crown of snow atop Annabelle peering over the similarly snow-capped wall of straw bales. The bees are, of course, not out in this weather and it is far too cold for us to crack open the hive to look. We have heard of beekeepers pouring warm syrup over a cluster but fear we would do more harm than good attempting such heroic measures.
We last troubled them on a warm day in December when we we hoped to see them engaging in cleansing flights. No such joy. Nor were there any mustard stains evident in the snow. A sharp rap on the hive brought no one to investigate. We were considering whether to crack open the hive for a quick look when we noticed that the top bars were decidedly warmer to the touch in one area, where we expected the cluster to be. Taking what hope from that we could, we left them to their own devices as we do now.
This was such fun last January that once again we examine the search terms that led readers to our blog in the previous year and present the more unusual or, at least, the ones about which we can crack wise. But first the general observations.
Disappointingly once again the most frequent searches at 18% are about Boardman feeders and our post discussing them remains our most popular one.
The second most frequent searches this year at 7% (again less than half that of Boardman feeder searches!) are queries about honey extraction. Naturally enough we saw no such queries in 2012 since we had not yet extracted any honey about which to blog.
Bumped to third place, about 3% of the searches are queries for Tanzanian top-bar hives. Last year they made up 8% of the searches. This decline is surely due to the greater number of people interested in honey extraction (and the now available post) than in building Tanzanian hives. Nevertheless it reminds us that we still have not written any posts on their construction.
Different from last year, text searches were performed about three times as often as image searches.
Our querents continue to be unusually diligent, paging through search engine results to touch our blog.
And now the search terms. Where possible we have included a thumbnail of one of the results returned by image search of our blog.
should the gabled roof on my top bar beehive fit – 5 views
At first this sounds rather akin to “should my trousers fit?” Yes and why would one think not?
Possibly the querent was concerned about the snugness of the fit? In that case, a tight fit is not required and a loose fit would have better ventilation.
is it from bees or is it from a factory – 1 view
Our First Jar of Honey, 4 oz.
Are we talking about honey? Bees. Definitely bees.
what do we need in the honey factory – 2 views
Coordination of Nectar Gathering and Receiving
Perhaps the intention was to find the requirements for a honey house where extraction takes place?
spring crocus painting – 2 views
Is crocus painting like lily gilding? We prefer to enjoy the natural color of the crocus.
bees poop honey – 1 views
Bee poop on a warm winter day
No, they do not. In some sense they may be said to puke honey. At least they regurgitate the gathered nectar plus enzymes into cells where it will become honey.
Nothing that unusual about these terms but it gives us an excuse to include a rather nice picture of a honeybee in dogsbane. The dogsbane is ours but not the bee since we took this picture years before trying to keep any bees of our own.
rubbing alcohol and carpenter bees – 1 view
It will never be our favorite cocktail.
We used rubbing alcohol to flush a carpenter bee that had taken up residence in the walls of Beatrix. We wanted something that would be discouraging if not deadly to it but which would not diffuse toxins through the wood into the hive where the good bees dwelt. It worked. The angry carpenter bee came out and was crushed while the honeybees were not at all fussed.
a girl has evenly spaced holes in legs what procedure – 1 view
A confused maneuver by the carpenter bee precision drill team?
Did the querent see a stranger with such peforations? Actual holes or scars remaining from a series of punctures? We tried searching for this answer ourselves but turned up nothing. A guess would be that the limb had to be lengthened?
warble dado blade – 1 view
For the power tool version of a musical saw?
Undoubtedly the querent misheard "warble" for "wobble". A wobble dado blade is a blade that can be adjusted to be at an angle other than perpendicular to the shaft which drives it. Rather than simply slicing through the wood it carves out a wide, round-bottomed, and not very neat groove. A suitable stack of perpendicular blades is superior but more expensive.
diy deer – 1 view
Never thought of making our own deer. We have just relied on the ones that wander through the yard to make more for us.
We were surprised to find that we have not posted anything since late September but there has been little novel or noteworthy. As in the previous year Annabelle evicted her drones, stockpiled goldenrod nectar, and repulsed yellowjackets while we removed her empty bars, snugged up the follower board, covered her roof with black plastic, reduced the number of entrances, and built another fortress of straw bales since our young hedge is yet inadequate as a windbreak.
One difference from last year is that we did not make any fondant to be a supplementary food source. Instead we placed a tray with a few pounds of dry sugar in the empty chamber of the hive. In Langstroth hives dry sugar placed on the inner cover or in a special eke will not just provide a food source but absorb moisture, the dripping danger of winter. We shall see if it can do the same off to the side without the same air circulation as in a vertical hive.
Last Wednesday was sufficiently warm for us to push the roof and our eke aside enough to quickly look in the chamber and see if they had made any progress on the sugar tray. If they had it would have been a worrying sign of early starvation but happily the pile looked only a little investigated but not raided.
Before replacing the roof, more from habit than expectation, we turned it to check for wasp nests. To our startlement a mouse was sitting on one of the crossbars. He sprang off into the wool batting and then, after a quick glance at us, onto the ground and away. The batting was undisturbed so it had not had time to settle in and certainly had not entered the hive body. Our confidence in the impregnability of the colony larder made us overlook the appeal of soft warm wool batting. We shall have to keep a closer eye and affix some screen to the underside of the roof.
Also known as bee balm, we had hoped when planting it that the monarda would feed our honey bees. Instead our little plot of it seems covered exclusively by bumble bees.
Ah, well. While the honey bee is inarguably the glamorous poster child for pollinators, chiefly because of her making a honey surplus which we can steal, the bumble is a worthy pollinator in its own right and even better suited for greenhouses, where a honey bee might fecklessly beat against the glass trying to return to the hive. Furthermore some flowers only reluctantly if at all yield their pollen to the gentle visitations of the honeybee, responding much more to the bumble’s vigorous buzz pollination, wherein the bee uses her flight muscles to vibrate loose the pollen. Honeybees seem capable of this activity but apparently do not much use it.
To return to our bee balm, its flower heads are actually composed of a great many individual tubular flowers, which we have learned are much too long for honey bee tongues to reach the nectar at bottom. Perhaps this lack of honey bee competition is why we saw not just the occasional bumble as on our other flowers but a crowd eagerly working the entire patch.
While we have not observed the behavior, some wasps will bypass the tubular obstacle and bite a hole at the base of a flower to reach the nectar. Afterwards honey bees may avail themselves of this breach.
As the series of sorry-not-very-good pictures at left shows (as usual, click to see a larger version), after the flower head forms, the first individual flowers begin to develop at the center, arcing outwards. As they bloom and are spent, the adjacent flowers develop forming a ring. The process repeats with a ring of blooms increasing in radius until the flower head has been traversed, the final tonsure drops off, and an entirely bald pate remains.
As a surprising variation on this typical development, on two of our score or so of plants it seemed as if a tubular flower had gone on to become a secondary flower head and sprout its own tubular flowers. Quite naturally, we thereupon imagined one of those sprouting a tertiary head, one of whose flowers would sprout a quaternary head, and so on but this did not occur. The process stopped at two heads. Nor did the secondary heads achieve the size of the primaries. We have neither heard nor read anything about such possibilities but perhaps there is a clue in that same flower bed.
Monarda is actually the name for a large family of flowers. Our bee balm is more specifically monarda fistulosa. Behind our patch of these tall plants is a group of shorter horsemint, which we learn is also a monarda, specifically monarda punctata. Horsemint, as the picture shows, is noted for having stacked tiers of blooms. The tiers can be quite close to each other, concealing their connecting stems and making for a very complex and dense flowering mass. Not so ours, which clearly show the sort of development we fancifully entertained for our bee balm oddities.
What then caused those oddities? Did some sort of monardic hybridization take place? Or is this capability in the bee balm genes but usually suppressed? Does either bee balm or horse mint or other monarda sprout two heads at the same tier? We do not know and look forward to enlightenment from gardeners wise in the ways of monarda.
Updated 2013-Oct-08 Greg Vaclavek of Ann Arbor’s Native Plant Nursery LLC reports having seen bee balm develop this way but not very often.