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Honeybees: fuzzy, cute, collect pollen, make honey, rarely sting
Hornets and wasps: assholes with wings
Kim Bock

Humans are not the only ones anxious for spring flowers to bloom. Pollinator insects that have endured winter in man-made hives, cavities in dead trees or even holes in the ground are happily searching out nectar and pollen sources.  

As I write, early fruit blossoms such as apricots and nanking cherries are being visited by all kinds of flying critters. Bumblebees, honeybees, hummingbird moths and cute little hoverflies (my favorite wild pollinator) are busy whenever the sun shines. 

Flowering bulbs like hyacinth, daffodil and crocus are up now and providing food. Dandelions and other “weeds” are important early food sources before gardens and other wild plants are bursting in bloom. Dandelion Day in Carbondale is May 11 this year so come enjoy the spring festivities!

Honeybees are great foragers and the many varieties of honeybees have different characteristics and personalities. Most commercial and hobby beekeepers keep Italian honeybees, Apis mellifera ligustica. They are generally docile, provide good honey output and have a moderately low tendency to swarm. This spring, however, a couple of local beekeeper friends are introducing Russian bees into their bee yards. Russians are promoted to be resistant to certain bee-killing pests. They also produce as much honey as the Italian bees. I’m hopeful their results are positive. I’ll keep you posted in the fall.

Several beekeepers I know lost many hives this winter. Some report abandoned hives full of honey, others report hives full of dead bees and little honey. At our regular beekeepers group (see Roaring Fork Bee Guardians on Facebook), we discussed the lack of consistency with survivorship of the hives. There are bee diseases and parasitic insects to watch out for, so our monthly gatherings are important sharing opportunities. Everyone is welcome, whether you have bees or just enjoy honey and want to learn how that honey gets to your pantry.

Bee hives can contain 50,000-100,000 bees, depending on the time of year and how many boxes the beekeeper puts on top. Most hives contain mostly female bees, and the complete lifespan of a bee is only 45 days! 

From birth they are working, cleaning cells in the honeycomb, then feeding larvae. Around day 12 they are producing wax and building comb. They leave the hive and start foraging at three weeks of age, until they die. Short and sweet, I suppose. They deserve so much love and respect!

Commercial apiarists load thousands of hives onto flatbed trucks and move them around the country to pollinate important crops. In fact, without these traveling hives, California’s almond crop would be so much smaller. So, think of (and give thanks) to those hard-working bee-gals when nibbling on almonds, berries or pretty much any other plant crop.

Spring and early summer is the time when crowded hives split into two groups of bees, each with their own queen. Queens are responsible for egg-laying and keeping the hive populations adequate. When a swarm happens the new queen leaves with several thousand workers and they literally hang out in a dense cluster (typically as large as a basketball) near the original hive. They wait for scout bees to find a suitable home and lead the others and their queen to begin a new life together. If you see a swarm, PLEASE DO NOT TRY TO KILL THEM! 

They will leave their hangout within a few hours or by the next day. Quickly contact a beekeeper via the Facebook group Roaring Fork Bee Guardians to come fetch them. Beekeepers love free bees!  Watching someone catch a swarm is one of the coolest things you’ll ever see.

Now that I’ve extolled just a few of the many virtues of our Apis friends, let’s be aware of those stinging buggers that are also gaining their spring wings – hornets and wasps. My friends’ dog is an avid fly catcher and is much fun to watch. We call regular flies “sky raisins.” The poor dog doesn’t differentiate between flying prey, so sometimes she catches a “jalapeno sky raisin” also known as a wasp. Ouch! Swollen snout and lips do not seem to deter her the next time though. How many of us, or our kids, have been surprised or stung when quaffing a canned beverage in the summer? Be advised, it’s time to tap the can before hoisting to the mouth!

 

Kim Bock is pondering the insects and weeds in her El Jebel garden, in between rain showers and sleet. She can be reached at 

kimbock.treedoc@gmail.com.