Absconded

Honeybees.  They’re good at delivering lessons to those who are arrogant enough to think that we “keep” them.  Each of the five years (happy honeybee anniversary this month!) that we’ve been beekeeping, the insects have taught us something new, forced us to ask questions about their complex biology and our competency, and humbled us with their honeybee prowess.

So what’s on tap for 2020?  For the first time, we’ve experienced the absconding of a hive.  What does that mean? Absconding is when the bees leave the hive–all of the bees, all at once, and with the queen. Why does this happen?  There are many reasons, including lack of food sources, overcrowding, heavy mite, beetle, wax moth load or ant invasion, but it’s mostly unclear why honeybees bolt.  What happened to our hive?  We haven’t a clue. 

Three weeks ago, our honeybee hive, Buzz, swarmed.  A fascinating event to behold, swarming is a normal and healthy event for a honeybee hive.  Swarming is honeybee procreation and usually occurs in spring and early summer. Swarming means is that the hive is ready to make another hive, a new hive.  The established queen sends out her let’s get out of here and find new digs pheromones, and she leaves with a fair number of worker bees to set up a new colony somewhere else, leaving the new queen with the remaining the original worker bees in the old hive.  Basically, there’s one hive, then there’re two hives, and this equals procreation.

As an aside, and since it is spring, you might hear about or see swarms, and you should understand that swarms are not dangerous.   In fact, honeybees are at their most docile during a swarm:  they’ve engorged on honey before they leave the hive (happy, contented bees), they’re hanging out (literally) with their queen, and they have no honey stores or larvae to protect.  Swarming bees are laid-back bees, more so than at any other time of their life cycle.  A swarm might look scary and has the undeserved reputation of being scary, but it’s not scary.  Photos of honeybee fans with bee “beards” are taken when the bees are swarming and not protective of anything; that’s when it’s okay to scoop up a bunch and plop onto your head.  I’ve never placed a swarm on my head or face-nor am likely to do so–but I have picked up a clump of bees in swarming mode and moved them from one place to another.  I’ve also stood amidst a swarm of our own bees.  It’s an unsettling, but incredible experience.  Remaining calm is a must and not because of any issues with the bees, per se, but because humans have an innate fear of bees (those stingers!) and that fear must be controlled if you’re going to hang out with a swarm of bees.  It’s just best not to freak out.

So, Buzz swarmed; she went into my SIL’s tree for an hour or so, then back to our oak tree.

By late afternoon, she was gone from our property.  I have no idea where the bees went, but wish them well in their new home.  Since the swarm, Buzz’s bees looked normal; there were foragers, to and fro, and by all appearances, things looked good.  We should have check the hives a week after the swarm, but rain, then cold, prevented a regular hive check until late last week.  By then, Buzz was quiet.  There were a few bees around, but not many.  Once we opened her up, there wasn’t much to see except a lot of empty comb in both brood boxes and the honey boxes.  While there were some honeycomb cells with pollen stores,

…there was no honey, no capped or uncapped larvae, and a few bees around.  I didn’t see any indication of wax moths, though there were some hive beetles.  Hive beetles are bad news, but every honeybee hive has some beetles; hive beetles (and varroa mites and wax moths) are an unfortunate part of modern beekeeping.  

Could there have been a heavy varroa mite load in Buzz?  That’s certainly possible;  we haven’t consistently checked for varroa mites since last spring; our bees are varroa resistant and the reason we’ve become lazy about checking for mites is that we never saw any.   We lost  a hive several years ago, which you can read about here, to a presumed varroa mite infestation, but it was in late autumn, which is the more typical time for a mite infestation to kill a hive.  Also, Buzz wasn’t “killed” by anything.  There were no dead bees around the hive.  There were simply no bees.

So what happened?  I’ve wondered if perhaps there were actually two swarms, the one we witnessed and another, either before, or after that one.  Other than that, all we know is that Buzz is empty, bees absconded. 

We’re not beekeeping for honey production.  Yes, taking honey is part of this weirdness, but not the reason we started beekeeping, nor why we continue;  honey is a sweet reward, not the ultimate goal.  Therefore, we don’t ignore our hives–never checking them, never heading off problems–but we’ve also learned that too much fussing, too much checking the honeybees is not necessarily best for the honeybees.  What we’ve come to understand is that these critters know what they’re doing and it’s best for them if we encourage an environment that allows their lives to be as easy and productive as possible by providing organic nectar sources, water, and the space to be bees.   We check our hives once every 2-3 weeks throughout our growing season. 

That said, they love messing with our beekeepers’ heads and have tossed a honeybee curve ball to us each and every year.  There’s always something new to learn with honeybees.

Buzz’s brood and honey boxes, abandoned and bee-less, are stacked together in the room where we store the honey extractor. 

Bee Daddy will engage in woodworking magic to repair some minor damage to the frames and the bee hive parts will likely remain sequestered in the house for a year, maybe longer.  Currently, I’m not inclined to purchase a package of bees because a new hive would require feeding with sugar water (to help them get established) which is the ONLY nectar replacement source that should be fed to bees.   With white, refined sugar in shorter-than-normal supply, I don’t want that commitment or responsibility.  If a swarm appeared nearby and was easy to capture, we’d snatch it up, but I’m not going to search far and wide for that scenario. 

We have two, apparently healthy, hives. The Langstroth hive, Woody,

…and the Warre hive, Scar.

If it was my decision, I would have chosen Scar to be emptied.  Scar is much more difficult to manage and when we take honey (which is delicious), it’s a complicated and messy process compared to any similar management of the Langstroth hives.  But that wasn’t our choice; it was Buzz the Langstroth that absconded, deciding that its hive wasn’t safe, or comfortable, or…something.  Whatever was going on with Buzz’s bees, they felt the need to vamoose–and they did. 

Honeybees.  When honeybees are a part of the garden, there’s always a new event to respond to or a different situation to make allowances for.  Learning their ways is rewarding and flummoxing and we’ll continue our education.

Honeybee nectaring on a dewberry flower.

Splayed and Twisted

Splayed and twisted describes so much of life at the moment, but in the garden, splayed and twisted are often normal happenings.

The scarlet and gold fluted flowers of Coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, span outwards and downwards, trumpeting their beauty and wildlife value.  Each await visits from their pollinator partners.

Some of the cheekier visitors steal nectar, rather than fulfilling pollinator expectations.  

Nevertheless, I’m certain that eventually native bees, butterflies, moths, or birds will happen by to sip the good stuff from the tubular openings and carry pollen grains to parts unknown.

 

I grow several Red yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora, plants and all are pushing up their bloom stalks, daily and at a rapid pace, for this season’s bloom show.  This one is reaching for the clouds, but hampered by its twisted ways.  

Just beginning its push skyward,  the curvy anomaly, known as fasciation, has kicked in. It’s unknown why stems occasionally go wavy-gravy or flowers turn into two-headed floral freaks, but it happens.  It’s not a big deal in the plant world, because fasciation isn’t generally indicative of a spreading disease event or a genetically inferior plant.  When the weird wonder occurs in the garden on a stem or flower head, it’s easily remedied by pruning out the botanical boo-boo.  Or the gardener may leave it, as an acknowledgement of life’s vicissitudes. 

I don’t plan to prune this stalk because even if it doesn’t grow-up straight or arched like its sibling stalks, pollinators (with the possible exception of hummingbirds) will find the flowers.  Aside from Red yucca’s beauty to my eyes, the attraction to pollinators is the reason these perennials have a place in my garden. 

The curvy one’s neighbor, an offshoot of the same mother plant, has grown about 4 feet tall.  Single blooms, arrayed along the stalk, will soon open.

 

In a different part of the garden, another of the same species is bursting at its petals with salmon-hued goodness, ready for the winged-things to feed from.

The garden provides surprises, mostly good, always fascinating.  

I’m  joining in with Anna for Wednesday Vignette, check out her lovely Flutter and Hum for garden stories–the funny, the weird, the wonderful.  Also, it’s April Bloom Day!  So Carol’s gorgeous May Dreams Garden celebrates blooms –pop over to enjoy  blooms from many places.

Worms to Wings

In past months, I’ve reported about the Gulf FritillaryAgraulis vanillae, butterflies and their procreation through the fall/winter months.  Recently they’ve intensified production of their population.  Many caterpillars, like this one, are currently feeding on my Common Passion flower vine, Passiflora caerulea.

Feeding voraciously means that caterpillars grow. And grow.  Eventually, they’re so big that they must find a place to be, to attach, to sequester themselves in place to prepare for their adult life of winging among the flowers. 

I wonder how a caterpillar decides where to stop, spin its anchor, and begin its process?  

Near to the caterpillar-munched vine, hang individuals–former caterpillars, future butterflies–in varying stages of metamorphosis.  

In the above shot, the two at far left are empty, having disgorged their winged adults,  who are now presumably out-and-about, nectaring and finding mates–and not necessarily in that order.  The blurred ones in the distance hang solemnly while important chemical work happens within their protective walls. The one in the center is probably a newby chrysalis;  some of the spiny qualities of the former caterpillar are still attached, not yet sloughed off. The caterpillar leftovers on that chrysalis reminds me of one of those intricate, odd hats donned for horse races and other such fancy events that I’m unlikely to ever attend.

Bat-like visages, butterfly chrysalises are often hard to spot and that’s best for the survival of the insects during the vulnerable morphing stage.  In the case of this little colony, there were quite a few attached to the underside of relatively flat ceramic bird bath, which sits atop a trellis post (hosting the passion vine) and at my eye-level.  It’s an obvious choice for a morphing spot, safe from prying eyes, except for the gardener’s, who doesn’t view them as a meal.

 

In these past days, I’ve been extra careful as I deadhead this spring’s magnificent crop of Spiderwort, which are wrapping up their flowering and ramping up their seed production.  I’ve got plenty of Spiderwort, thank-you very much, and they must be pruned so that there aren’t scads more next spring.  I look twice before I snip, so that the evolving critters attached may continue their journey.

There’s always the comedian in the crowd, too.  What was this one thinking?  Maybe it was attempting prove that she/he could hold it for the duration of its transformation.   

Just beyond that perpendicular, yoga-like position, one hangs from a different human construction, its neighbor connected to a stem.  Both content, hopefully safe. 

 

 

I don’t know which I prefer:  to observe (usually over the course of a few days) as a caterpillar morphs to a chrysalis, 

…or to bear witness when the new form emerges, or has just emerged.

Both are awesome.

 

If I were a butterfly, this is where I would choose my rebirth,

…if for no other reason than to add beauty to the garden. 

 

This chrysalis, nearby to both butterflies and empty, was probably the temporary home for one of the butterflies as it transformed from worm to wings. 

Chrysalises, still and quiet as we see them, but churning with change and alive with possibilities, are remarkable salutes to the continuation of life and acceptance of situation.