Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Musings About A New Beekeeping Season: A Sunday Morning Walk With Scooter.

After a rainy Saturday with the town full of muddy streets, I took advantage of Sunday’s sunshine to go for a walk with Scooter (that’s my dog). We took one of the back roads that heads out of town and eventually up to a little village. Right away all the campanilla became evident—a little purple-pink bell-shaped flower similar to Morning Glories. They always indicate that the dearth has ended in the valley and the time of plenty is returning to the bees.

 Campanilla growing around a fence post.
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This also implies the exodus of hives for the migratory beekeepers in Honduras. If not there already, hives are taken to the southern part of the country where the campanilla is abundant and the weather stays sunny for the bees to work. By Christmas the beekeepers have harvested honey and moved the hives to the coffee farms in the mountains of central Honduras. The blooms are just beginning there.

Although these flowers are very common in the valley where I live, its location further to the north means that there are more rain days and the beginning of the cold fronts affect how much the bees can take advantage of it. Still, it is important for the bees to begin building up their populations again so they can take advantage of the flowers that follow.

 A small pollen-covered stingless bee on a campanilla flower. These flowers grow wherever people don’t cut the weeds, such as empty lots, along the sides of roads and streets, and the edges of the rice fields.

My walk gave me time to reflect a bit on what I want to accomplish this year with my hives. It gave me some time to think about what needs to be done as soon as possible and what can wait a bit. (Scooter was a good listener but really didn’t offer any substantial suggestions).

One goal is to get some colonies of stingless bees, something that I have wanted for many years now. People have offered me on several occasions colonies of Melipona beecheii, the stingless bees kept by the Mayans in tree trunks. The problem was that the price was always steep and I didn’t have the extra cash on hand at those times. To find them in the wild is very difficult.

The more viable option is the tiny stingless bee called jimeritos here in Honduras. These are easier to find in the wild but not always in a place that lets you remove them. Only once did I have a chance to remove one of these colonies. I was able to open up the root area of the tree that had the colony and transferred it into a small box I had made. I left the box by the tree so the bees could regroup themselves into it. When I returned the following day to collect the colony something had entered it during the night and taken off with the nest. It was a neat experience but a wasted effort.

So I started checking the root area of all the big trees I passed during my walk. When the roots fan out they create spaces for these bees to enter and start their colonies. I had no luck. Their entrance tubes are small and not always easy to see. (Maybe I need to train Scooter to sniff them out.)

 Can dogs be trained to sniff out nests of stingless bees or even swarms hanging out in trees? Or more important, can Scooter be trained??? I wonder.

I’ve been reading about stingless bees recently on the internet, however, and came across a website out of Nicaragua that explains how to make simple trap hives using 2½ or 3 liter soda bottles. The short version is that the bottles are baited with propolis, covered with a black plastic bag, tied to a tree and then you wait. I want to try this; put out a bunch of these traps.

This experiment will be for the valley and I still have a couple months until the bees really start to swarm here. The mountains, on the other hand, always seem to have some swarms starting in October. There really aren’t flowers yet so these are probably hives absconding as their provisions dwindle away. The swarms keep on going until the rains start at the end of May, turning into the normal reproductive swarms. Hopefully I can have some trap hives ready to hang in the trees on the coffee farm this next weekend.

We started the apiary up on the coffee farm with swarms, about eight or nine years ago now. About eight or ten of them were caught before Christmas. By May some of them had grown big enough to give us honey—enough to cover our initial inversion to start them. This is the idea for filling in the empty spaces on the hive stands. Splits could be made but nothing is really strong enough this time of the year.

I can put another 10 or 15 hives up in that apiary without over taxing the area. Better sooner than later. The challenge is to get the trap hives ready. Honduras just started a five-day holiday which couldn’t come at a better time. My teaching job otherwise leaves me very little time for my bees.

Here’s hoping for a good honey season!

The following photos are of the countryside during my walk with Scooter.

 The small stream that ran parallel to the road.

  The stone walls that are common along the edges of fields and pastures.

A bean field. The corn is folded over before eventually harvesting it. Farmers then plant beans in the field.

The road Scooter and I took for our walk. The valley floor can be seen through the trees.

I can’t sit on this rock and take a rest!

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