03.06.16 Invisible Cities Apiary website opens
10:02 AM Welcome to our new website! I hope you enjoy visiting and find the information you were looking for. I'll be periodically adding components throughout, so visit again... meander.
12:30 PM By sheer good fortune, our website launch coincides with the first day of spring--at least by our honeybees' reckoning. The mild winter and lack of snowfall have caused the swamp behind our home to thaw earlier than usual, and with daytime temperatures in the 40s, the skunk cabbage blooms have emerged en force. Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) does not yield any nectar, but it offers the first pollen grains of the season. The thick spathe around the inflorescence creates a room of sorts where honeybees and flies are sheltered from the wind. In fact, the plant is among a class of species capable of raising its own temperature above ambient levels through mitochondrial thermogenesis. The air within the spathe can be several degrees Fahrenheit above its exterior surroundings.
05.21.16 Blooms & swarms
8:07 PM Though dandelions get the lion's share of credit for being the first substantial blossom that honeybees draw nectar and pollen from in the spring, I am of the mind that autumn olive tends to be the major honey and nectar source during the month of May in western Massachusetts. As long as the temperatures are over 75 Fahrenheit and there is sufficient rainfall, these shrubs produce nectar prolifically and both honeybees and bumblebees favor them over virtually every other blooming plant. Also at peak bloom right now: lilacs, horse chestnut, honeysuckle, dogwoods, chives, wisteria, cushion spurge, white mustard and black cherry.
8:41 PM With warmer temperatures, as well as nectar and pollen flowing steadily into the hives, comes swarm season. I found several of my hives on the verge of swarming and many with several ripe queen cells this past week. I cut these cells with my hive tool and make splits, usually 8-frames strong. I will check back on them in two-to-three weeks' time to verify if the virgin queens have mated and starting laying. Barring long stretches of inclement weather, mating success rate in my yards typically ranges around 75%. Below, photographs of a small swarm I was alerted to and successfully hived yesterday.
05.29.16 More blooms & swarms
12:46 PM With temperatures reaching 95 degrees Fahrenheit this week and the moisture in its upper range, any hive that was on the proverbial fence about swarming delved decidedly into reproductive mode. Good neighbors alerted me to a couple of swarms around my yards; below are some photographs of the process of hiving one of them. Can you spot mom on the last picture, entering her new home?
New blossoms frequented by the honeybees this week are: blackberries, black locust, and the first Dutch white clover.
06.06.16 Crickets, fireflies, and final stage of spring blooms
6:50 AM The crickets have been chirping for weeks now. Much as their music soothes my ears, I don't feel like I have ever noticed them being active this early in the season before and it worries me a measure. Usually I don't start hearing and seeing them until much later on in the dog-days of summer. What does this have to say about our present weather patterns and where humans are steering the global climate? On the more regular side of the schedule, the annual firefly revel is ramping up in the back yard. My scientifically unsubstantiated theory is that their activity ramps up to the Vernal Solstice on June 21st, after which their activity gradually declines and ceases altogether towards late July.
New on the blooming front are: ragged robin, red clover, birdsfoot trefoil, multiflora rose and soon to come the little-leaf linden.
06.25.16 A week with master beekeeper Kirk Webster
12:46 PM Last week I had the long-awaited opportunity to spend seven days working alongside Kirk Webster in Addison County, Vermont. For the second year now, Kirk opened his apiary's doors to a small group of beekeepers interested in better understanding his systems for queen rearing, nucleus colony formation, and production management without chemicals or pesticides. Kirk has written in great deal about these methods, but the chance to observe him working with hives on their home yards, to understand his geographic territory, and to ask questions as the work progresses, has no substitute.
06.30.16 Moderate drought
7:05 PM Since I left for Webster's workshop on June 12, we have had no significant rainfall in the Pioneer Valley. The grass in the pastures and yards has virtually stopped growing. The little-leaf lindens are in full bloom on the town streets but are oddly bereft of encircling honeybees due to the lack of ground moisture. Without the ground moisture flowers do not excrete much nectar. Therefore: so far, not much of a honey crop.
10.31.16 Honey harvested & bottled
9:25 PM The process of harvesting the honey is layered. First I identify the hives with sufficient honey stores and mark those (usually around mid-September). Then I return to those hives and honey yards to install triangle escape boards: mechanical devices that allow the foraging bees to move from the honey supers down to the hive's brood chambers, but prevent them from being able to enter the honey stores. A few days later, I gather those full or mostly-full boxes of honey, now mostly devoid of worker bees. They get stored onto my trailer and make their way to home base, where they will await uncapping and extracting. Once extracted, the honey is poured into a 40 gallon stainless steel tank, where any impurities naturally move toward and collect on the upper levels of the vessel. From there, it's a race against the autumn clock to bottle all the honey into 1 lb jars before it begins to thicken with the colder temperatures and becomes too dense to pour.