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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Gardening to Distraction: Hive-bound honeybees

  • You bet I was out in thunderstorms checking my honeybees.
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  • You bet I was out in thunderstorms checking my honeybees.
    When setting up hives, it is suggested they should be slanted to keep water from coming into the entrances but so is my hillside.
    I had visions of the hives slowly making their way downhill on their small wooden pallet skis, the bumpy ride through the viny vegetable patch slowing them down just enough to entangle the pallets before hives flew into the pond.
    I’m quite well-versed dragging plants back up my hill but not wooden boxes full of cranky, wet bees.
    Weather forecasters
    Thanks to my bees, I can usually tell when a rain storm is imminent. Normally bees leave the hive at sunrise to forage for pollen and nectar. If it's going to rain, they tend to hang out at the hive entrance or stay inside.
    One weekend, there was a quick rain shower and I ended up with several handfuls of honeybees waiting out the storm in my garage. They had been drinking sugar water out of a hanging birdbath, where I do feed them once I know nectar sources are getting low.
    As I was heading in, I saw them all wet and huddled on the gravel rocks in the birdbath.
    Honeybee workers are about three-fourths of an inch long and one-fourth inch wide. Although they do have two sets of wings, their wings are gossamer thin and unusable when wet.
    If bees have been collecting nectar, or sugar water, they are also heavier. Although they can fly up to 15 mph, a flight home with a full load is slower and more challenging.
    To a bee, a rain drop is like dropping a cannon ball on someone’s head.
    It didn’t take long for the bees in my garage to dry off and to start foraging. After getting hand-fed, they helped themselves to sugar water container leftovers, then moved on to checking flowering plants I had in pots.
    Nectar mainly water
    Flower nectar is approximately 70 percent water. Once the nectar is carried back to the hive in one of two bee stomachs, enzymes get mixed that change nectar to pre-honey.
    Spread throughout the comb cells, bees then literally move air through the hive with their wings to evaporate it to about 18 percent before capping with wax they produce from glands under their chest.
    Some of my more experienced beekeeping friends say even after bees have stored honey, it’s best to wait for it to dehydrate a little longer, especially if it has been a wet season.
    One of the old beekeeping books I read over winter said not to harvest honey until blackberries are ripe. This year, I am still waiting for my blackberries to turn although most bushes are now full of red fruit — almost a month later than usual.
    Page 2 of 2 - Bees make honey for winter food. Most colonies need about 70 pounds of honey to make it through winter. If a colony is doing well, they will make extra honey, which is what beekeepers harvest.
    If continued rain keeps them hive-bound, bees do get surly. They may even start eating honey earlier than usual because they don’t have any other sources of food.
    Which reminds me, I need to feed my girls this weekend.
    Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate at http://www. gardeningcharlotte.com. Copyright 2013 used with permission by Rolla Daily News - St. James Leader Journal - Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@ gmail.com.
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