Beekeeping : Native Bees

(Reprinted from ETBA Newsletter)

Native Bees

by Peter Cole

(Advanced Master Beekeeper & Master Gardener)

While most months I focus on our beloved honey bee, this month I am going to focus several equally important native bees. There might be a variety of reasons why we cannot keep bees in a specific location, however understanding these native bees gives us another option as beekeepers to invite these pollinators into a space.  Bumble Bees, Carpenter bees, and Mason bees are all important to our native habitats.  

bumble bee
Bumble  Bee

Bumble bees are a large, hairy and social bee and while only nine live in Texas there are over a hundred found all over the U.S. They nest under ground in already empty cavities. 

 

Another native bee is the carpenter bee. This bee is similar to the Bumble bee, except the abdomen does not have any hair on it, it is shiny and yellow. Bumble bees are probably the most like honey bees of all the native bees. They have a hive, with the same castes as honey bees-Queen, Worker, and Drone. While they collect pollen and nectar, and will make and store honey for a dearth. 

 

Carpenter bee
Carpenter Bee

Large Carpenter bees are very similar to bumble bees however, Bumble bees are hairy all over, while carpenter bees have a shiny black abdomen. Then the similarities stop. Carpenter bees are not ground nesting, or social. Instead Carpenter bees burrow into wood, and lay eggs.  Since they burrow into wood they could be considered nuisance bees, however they are just as important as all of the other native bees found in Texas. 

mason bee
Mason Bees

Mason bees are the third and last of the native bees I am going to talk about. Mason bees are solitary, and nest in already existing cavities in wood, trees, or hollow hollow stems. Mason bees are excellent pollinators of fruit trees, collecting pollen and nectar to store for their brood. While they are solitary and won’t nest together, they often congregate meaning they build their nests close. 

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Mason Bee Hive

 

In conclusion, our native bees are important, and many times they get overlooked. There are many things that you can do to help native bees…

 

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It’s BEE time

Holy cow, we might just be swimming in bees! 🙂

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We have ratcheted things up a bit around here….

My boys went and worked with a friend to split his 800+ beehives.  In payment we brought home 50+ hives!  Wow!!

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Well more bees means more boxes and hopefully more honey!!

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So I have had some fun painting a few boxes!

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The Lapoynor FCA painted some boxes for us too – and they are adorable!!

But be warned!  If you come over and stand in our bee yard you might get stung!  I did – on the lip!!  That mean little lady came in with her stinger headed toward my lip, no buzz by warning!  Nothing!!  Just a fat lip for now the third day!  Ugh!!

Well, Happy Beekeeping!!

Beekeeping Classes

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As summer is winding down, it is time to start thinking about taking Beekeeping classes starting January and adding bees too your own place!!

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We have thoroughly enjoyed teaching beekeeping classes at our place the past two years!  It is a family affair as our oldest 2 boys Jacob and Peter help teach.

IMG_2497Jacob is an Advanced Master Beekeeper and Peter is an Apprentice Master Beekeeper, while my husband is also an Advanced Master Beekeeper.

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Both boys are East Texas Beekeeper Association Ambassadors as well – they speak all over East Texas about the Honey Bee, so they have a little experience under their belts!

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I try to help out as well, and Jacob, Peter and I are all Master Gardeners in Henderson County.  So somehow all that makes us a little qualified to share about bees and plants that help the bees out!

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We start classes in the classroom with the anatomy of the bee and finish up in the classroom extracting honey in June.

IMG_3100In between we spend a number of classes in the bee yard going into hives, identifying queens and pests.

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Our classes go into a lot of detail about how to manage your own bees, what to look for and how to help keep your hives as strong as possible!

Through our class you can order everything from suit & gloves, to boxes and bees!

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If you have any questions about taking classes with us, please feel free to email us at milkandhoneymeadows303@yahoo.com.

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Beekeeping Wednesday : Swarming

by Jacob Cole

If you didn’t know, spring is one of the honey bee’s busiest times of the year. Speaking of spring, many of you know that it is time for the bees to start swarming. Swarming is a natural function of the honey bee, and is the subject of my article today.  Swarming has many benefits for the bees, but also can benefit the beekeeper, and I will cover that in my article. Bees swarm for a couple of reasons and I hope to inform you as to why.

Honey bees swarm mainly for reproductive reasons. In case you didn’t know honey bees are classified as a super-organism, which Google defines  “the term superorganism is used most often to describe a social unit of eusocial animals, where division of labour is highly specialized and where individuals are not able to survive by themselves for extended periods..”  Ants and termites are another example of super organisms. Similar to a cell, super organisms reproduce by splitting in two. In a beehive, this looks like the old queen leaving with half of the workers, looking for another cavity to nest in. Some bees have a strong split nature making them more likely to swarm in spring.  This year, my family put an empty hive body in our apiary, just in case a swarm might nest there.  This is a good way to catch your own swarm or another one in the area.

There are a few signs that can indicate that your hives might be preparing to swarm. One of the easiest ways to prevent swarming is to make sure that the hive has plenty of room for the queen to lay eggs and raise brood. Generally bees will swarm when they run out of room in their home. This is especially important right now in the honey flow; when the bees can fill up their supers almost as fast as we put them on. One early sign of swarming can be queen cells. The hive will split just before the young queens’ hatch, with many of the workers following the old queen to a new home.  Some things you can do to keep the bees there, is to put a queen excluder underneath all of your boxes. This will keep your queen in your hive. You could also just kill the queen cell.  Another method would be to split your hives, especially if there are queen cells on the frames.  You should talk to an experienced beekeeper before you split, if you have never done it.

Swarms can be great for a beekeeper, especially if they are from someone else’s hives. One of my favorite things to do as a beekeeper is to catch swarms and hives with my dad. We have removed hives in roofs, wall, trees, and water meter boxes and we have also grabbed swarms from fences, tree branches, and bushes. Swarms are very easy to handle, but an established hive can be a little trickier. I have learned a ton from catching bees, and one of these lessons is that it is better to supplement your hives with swarms that were free as opposed to buying hives.

I would also like to point out that bees are most docile when they are swarming. My father has caught a swarm, our first year of beekeeping, with a broom and a box, so it is very easy. Also there is nothing bad about buying bees, but anything free is great. I hope that you are able to glean a little information from this article. Just remember that queen cells, can indicate that your hive is preparing to swarm, and it would be best to split them yourself.

African Blue Basil

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If I had to pick one plant that is my favorite this year it would be this one.  The picture above is after I cut about 1/3 of it off (it was covering nearby plants).  This plant is amazing!!

African blue basil is one of a few types of basil that are perennial. It is a sterile hybrid of two breeds of basil, unable to produce seeds of its own, and is propagated by cuttings.

Scientific name: Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum ‘Dark Opal’

Rank: Hybrid

The bees love it.  And not just honey bees.  There are so many bees (bumble bees, honey bees, carpenter bees, etc) that I cannot even count them when I walk by.  This plant is just gorgeous, huge and even smells good.

This basil will not come back from seed, so I plan to clip several pieces before winter and root it inside for my spring garden next year.  This plant roots like crazy!!  It takes abut 5 days in a cup of water and it will throw some serious roots out!!

IMG_4202In fact, there are so many bees on this plant it buzzes.  This particular section is right by my herb garden which is on the way into my house.  I walk by it every day, sometimes several times a day and it always makes me smile!!

No matter what this small bushy herb is always in bloom with tons of flowers, so once the bees start coming they will be back every day to get pollen and nectar from the new blooms of the day!

I guarantee that this plant will always have a place in my yard, in fact, next year I will have some in my herb garden but even more in the butterfly garden in the front – because I know it is so loved by the pollinators as well as me!!  Hope you find some to add to your garden, or if you are near me come by & snip a piece to root for yourself!!