The New Woody

In honor of the World Bee Day 2022 I thought I’d post about our most recent addition of honeybees: meet “new” Woody!

Last summer our honeybee colony, Woody, weakened (for unknown reasons) and was invaded by wax moths, which you can read about here. Since it was late in the season and too late to hive a new colony, we dismantled the physical hive and were left with only one hive, Bo-Peep. Over the course of winter, Bee Daddy cleaned and refurbished damaged hive parts and built some necessary new ones in preparation for a new colony of honeybees which arrived in late April.

Here’s our newest honeybee colony, packaged up, strapped in the car, and ready for the trip to their new home.

In this scary-to-most-people package are 10,000 worker bees and a mated, clipped-winged queen. Actually, the crew of honeybees aren’t frightening at all and are quite gentle. Even if a bee escapes the package, it hangs around its sisters and queen.

Pheromones are powerful things.

Since we began beekeeping, we name our hives after Disney/Pixar characters and the last couple of hives were Woody and Buzz and following those, Woody and Bo-Peep. If you know the Toy Story movies, you understand that Bo-Peep and Woody belong together. Am I right??

Here’s the new hive for Woody: a brood box ready with sugar water for feeding bees and building comb. The bees will forage for nectar and pollen immediately, but the sugar water helps the colony get a strong start. We’ll feed them for a couple of months, maybe longer, depending upon weather conditions.

The round metal circle at the top of the package is a can with sugar water; there are holes in the bottom to feed the bees while they await their new hive. About 2/3 of the sugar water was gone by the time we hived Woody. The queen is in a “queen cage’, in the package, but separated from the workers. She is constantly spewing out her pheromone vibes, assuring the colony’s devotion to her and to one another. The cage has two holes on either end of the little box, both of which are plugged with small corks. In this photo, the hole on the bottom is also covered by a strip of yellow tape, which I removed. I then removed the cork, revealing a plug of candy, which the workers and queen will eat through, physically releasing the queen within a few days into the hive to begin her life’s work.

We stapled the queen cage to a frame fitted with commercial wax, called foundation; this is where the bees will build their comb.

Bees don’t need foundation to build comb; they build comb because they’re driven to build comb. But giving them a base onto which they comb makes it easier for bees and the tidy frames allow for efficient checks of the hives. Extracting honey is also simplified with well-combed frames.

The gals are checking out the queen cage.

The photo isn’t clear, but if you look closely, you can see the elongated abdomen of the queen in the cage; she’s about 1/3 longer than the worker bees.

To hive a colony, we placed four brood frames with foundation in the brood box. The queen cage is attached to the center-most frame and the package of workers is placed in the open area of the box. That’s it, the colony is hived and we close it up!

We checked Woody about five days later and the queen was out of the cage and in the larger population of bees and they had already combed some of the frames and there was honey in some of the comb cells. When we checked, we removed the package and added more frames. Honeybees are in the hive doing all the things required to build their colony: caring for the queen, cleaning the hive, removing sick/dead bees, caring for eggs and larvae when they appear, foraging for nectar and pollen. As of a check earlier this week, half of the frames were combed, with plenty of capped and uncapped brood in that gorgeous new comb.

While beekeeping is complicated, it’s hard for me to imagine having a garden without honeybees, and for that matter, plenty of native bees, who are more than worthy of their own special day. Pollinators of all sorts are vital to the beauty and value of a garden and of the wider ecosystem.

Go bees!

Part of the Story

A plant near the pond, this Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, opens its lavender petals for welcomed business.

Then a pollinator lands. Busy and beautiful, this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, sips nectar from the blooms before moving on to other plants also offering sustenance.

One event in the longer story of a garden.

What’s your garden’s story? Linking today with Flutter and Hum and its Wednesday Vignette. Happy gardening!

The Owls are Out

The parent Eastern Screech Owls have competed the first part of their chick rearing in the last few days. Four fuzzy fledglings left the nest box, three one night, the fourth during the following night.

This cutey was the first to enter the big, wide world of backyard hunting and birdbath splashing.

I had trouble getting good photos during this once-a-year event, partly due to conditions and partly due to my own incompetence. It’s been quite windy this spring and the last few days continued that trend. In addition after last year’s devastating freeze, my Red Oak tree now leafs out in a dense, bushy manner, rather than the more open, airy form that was normal before the freeze. The denser foliage is great for the owls and other birds, not-so-great for those who like to watch them. Still, I captured a few moments of the family’s turning point.

Mom and Dad were the tree, keeping an eye on the owlets as they fledged.

Mama’s not thrilled with my oohs and aahs

The parents supervised the owlets’ hapless hops and awkward wing flaps along the branches. It takes a few days before the owlets are anything near being competent flyers, which means that these newby owls are vulnerable to predators. I recall reading that 75% of Eastern Screech owlets don’t survive their first year. It’s a tough world out there.

With an event as momentous as Eastern Screech owlets leaving their nest box, I hope to chronicle with photos. The owlets peek out of the nest box for a day (maybe) before they fledge and once they’re out, they leave the immediate area within a few days. I try to get at least one photo of each owlet, downloading the photos to my computer soon after. I did that, but somehow managed to permanently delete the first set of photos that I got. Ugh–bonehead move! Between the wind, foliage, and my mistake, I have only a couple of decent photos to mark this backyard birding event.

I think this is one of the three who fledged on the second night. Isn’t it a cute predator?

Once I noticed the first owlet at the nest box hole I called my SIL over so she could get photos. She got some great shots and knows better than to delete! The next two shots are courtesy of Sharon and her camera. I’m not sure if this is mom or dad, but it’s a concerned parent.

I believe this little owl is the first one to fledge and in this photo, it’s no longer in my tree, but had migrated to my SIL’s Arizona ash tree.

That’s always been the pattern with the Screech Owls in my garden: the owlets fledge, perch in my tree for one, maybe two days, then move southward to the ash tree. After that, if I’m lucky and am out at the right time, I might seen the owl family at sundown. The owlets make a scratchy call to alert their parents of their hunger and the parents oblige, but always with the goal of teaching their young ones to hunt. Within about 5 days, the owlets are moderately good flyers, but will be fed by the parents through mid-summer. As their flying skills improve, the owlets will hunt insects (they can have all the cockroaches they want!), then will graduate to hunting lizards, snakes, rodents, and smaller birds.

I wish them well. It’s always a privilege to watch the adults come together and raise their family. Our camera stopped working last year and our various owls have had a run of bad luck in the previous years. I’m hoping this successful segment of chick rearing is repeated next year and we plan to be ready with a camera installed in the nest box.