Last month has been a quiet one for me in the apiary. Autumn is around the corner and I have been allowing the bees to take full advantage of the fine weather we have been having since I removed the summer honey, to build up their own stocks of honey for the winter.
I am sure the best way of overwintering the bees is to let them build up stocks of honey themselves rather than having to feed them fondant to provide sufficient food for the cluster until spring next year. The queens will have begun the reduction in egg laying now and numbers of bees will be reducing as they do every winter. As the weather cools they will start to form their cluster around the queen in the centre of the hive hunkering down for the winter.
As regular readers will know I like to take the last summer honey off the hives in early August for several reasons. This year the weather has been so good that on many days since the summer harvest the bees have been very active collecting pollen and nectar from the late summers flowers. The ivy is flowering now and this is one of the last flowering plants of the summer that the bees love to visit. Walking in the countryside this time of year you will notice a very loud buzzing if you pass by flowering ivy.
I have a seat in our garden flanked either site by lavender and verbena and it has been an added pleasure to beekeeping the last few weeks to sit on the seat as the sun goes down with the proverbial glass of wine trying to read a book but finding it difficult to concentrate with the loud buzzing of hundreds of bees collecting nectar.
As I was sitting drinking and trying to read my mind turned to the question of how the bees actually transport the nectar from the plant back to the hive. It must have to be collected inside the bee and then be regurgitated back to store it in the comb. A process that I perhaps didn’t want to think about too closely.
As I sat there I turned the pages in my British Beekeepers Association News and a few pages after the 2B Scientific advertisement, publicising amongst other thing this Blog, there was an article on just how this process is carried out. Its all down to the Proventriculus.
The bees have a valve called the proventriculus that keeps the nectar from entering the digestive area of the gut. This valve is located between the honey stomach, known as the crop, and the digestive area. It acts as a storage organ and is capable of great distension. By this mechanism the nectar is kept separately from the contents of the gut. I needn’t have been concerned, the clever bees have developed an efficient system to prevent cross contamination.
One of the plants the honey bee likes is asparagus. Luckily for my bees I like asparagus as well and we have a bed of asparagus in our garden. We usually harvest the asparagus shoots for about one month each year cutting them as they emerge from the soil. After that we let them grow and they turn into large plants resembling bamboo some 2M in height. When they are fully grown they flower with numerous delicate little flowers that the honey bees love. My photograph this month shows a bee collecting nectar and bright orange pollen from these flowers. Allowing the asparagus to flower hopefully ensuring a good crop for me next year and provides the bees with a popular forage. A win win situation. I think the bees like the asparagus almost as much as I do.