The month of May has been cool and wet. The Black Locust has been blooming on the north shore but the weather has been too cold and wet to allow the bees to get out and gather the nectar. The cool weather has kept the swarming reduced but be prepared as soon as a nice day comes to see the strong hives prepared to produce swarms. Make sure that all of your hives have plenty of room.
Our last club meeting was at South Shore Nature Center. It was a cool day so we weren't able to get into the bees. One of the members commented that my bees must be very strong or I was an optimist. I had at least four supers on each double hive body colony. This makes a stack about five feet high. I am optimistic but providing plenty of space early reduces the potential for a swarm and a swarmed colony seldom produces excess honey.
Some flowers don't open in cool rainy weather. That means that when this cool, wet period ends, there will be a lot of flower buds ready to open. Be prepared!
With the spring, we also get reports of other species of bees becoming active and becoming a nuisance. Unfortunately, the general public cannot identify different species of bees, or even separate them from the hornets and wasps, so honeybees get blamed. Try to be familiar with the other buzzing insects and help people identify and properly deal with them. The common ones are easily identified to their family.
The Bumblebees are generally described as big, hairy, black and yellow bees that nest in the ground. They are generally not a problem unless you disturb their nest. Fertilized queens winter over in a mouse hole or under a piece of bark and then search out a nesting site in the spring. They generally start with an abandoned mouse hole or a void in compost, brush, or leaf piles.
The Carpenter bees are sometimes mistaken for Bumblebees because of their size and their dark black color but they nest in wood like trim boards on our houses or decks by boring almost-perfect three-eighths inch holes from underneath. These bees have an attitude! They hover like humming birds and will fly right up to your face and stare you down or Buzz you by fast fly-bys. Both male and females emerge in spring from the over-wintered pupae in the bored tubes. They can do a fair amount of damage to a board but the real damage is done when woodpeckers discover the nests and open them up in winter to feed on the pupae. They will thoroughly riddle the board.
There are several species of ground nesting bees. Some of them winter over as fertilized queens and others have both males and females emerge from the nesting sites in the spring. They like loose sandy soil without thick grass. They are often found in flowerbeds next to our houses or on playgrounds where the grass is thin. They are generally not aggressive. Each female has her own tunnel for laying eggs and provisioning the larva.
There are also several species of orchard or tube-nesting bees. These bees nest in tubes like the hollow stems of reeds, grasses, shrubs and bamboo. Commercial homes are made by drilling holes in wooden blocks. These bees are generally good early fruit pollinators and are generally not aggressive.
Bumblebees and Carpenter bees are Buzz-pollinators and are very good pollinators for blueberries, kiwi, and tomatoes. The ground nesting and tube nesting bees are generally good, early pollinators for fruit trees.
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