Monday, March 19, 2012

On Bees

Aha! Here is what I should have been doing today: writing the follow up post to my last blog entry. I thought that maybe I should have been doing something, just couldn't remember what it was. A senior moment, for a not-so-senior person. Scary.

Leatherwood blooms

 So, for those of you who don't know, Tasmania is pretty famous for it's Leatherwood honey. It's apparently quite common for local beekeepers to be up in the wee hours loading up hives to take advantage of the opportunity to collect that rich, floral smelling treat. Eucryphia Lucida, otherwise known as the leatherwood tree, grows in the the temperate rainforests on the west side of the state, and flowers December to January. Beekeepers have said to have hives stacked nine boxes high in this season. Ironically, the local market for this famous honey is pretty weak; beekeepers would have to export it to make any real cash.

Capeweed is a notorious plant pest
 So, from there, I shall segue into pollen, an important source of proteins for the bees. Interestingly, the pollen from the leatherwood tree has only a moderate ranking when it comes to general "goodness" for the bees. Brassica pollens apparently offer a whole lot more in protein, so if you are thinking of raising bees, perhaps you might think of custom seed mixes to sow in fields (if you've got them of course. Fields, that is.) Strangely enough, capeweed, an almost impossible to eradicate weed pest in this state, is the Rolls Royce of all pollens.

Now, pollen isn't the only thing bees collect. Field bees (the bees that leave the hive to go foraging) will collect four things: nectar, pollen, water, and propolis (plant resins). Pollen and nectar are used to feed the bees, and propolis is used to sticky up any cracks or crevices that the bees don't want in their hive (and boy, can they gum things up). Water is stored in cells and is used to keep the hive cool in the summer time. Seeing as the average hive temperature is about 37 degrees Celsius, on a hot summers day they can go through 4 liters of water to keep everything cool.

These bees are fanning at the entrance of the hive; air circulation is key to keeping the hive at the optimum temperature
Another interesting bee fact that I didn't know till a few weeks ago is that bees have five eyes. Count em, five! Two large compound eyes, and three small simple eyes, called ocelli, which are used for the poor light conditions within the hive. Bees are also unable to see the color red- no old fashioned roses for them, I guess. The three castes of bees can also be identified by their eyes. The drones (male bees) have enormous wrap around compound eyes. The workers (infertile female bees) have smaller eyes on the sides of their heads, and the queen, well, she's a little near sighted I guess; her eyes are slightly smaller than those of the workers.

I'll wrap this up for this evening, as it's time I started our supper. But I'll be back later in the week to share more brilliance on bees.


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