February on the Farm

Honey bee garden clean up in February.

Honey bee garden clean up in February.

Warm February days bring with them big clean up projects on the farm. These little farm hands have been busy helping prepare the honey bee garden for spring. We've burned, tilled, pulled sunflower stalks, created watering holes for the honey bees, and eagerly watched for signs of life in our honey bee hives. With each passing day, farm life brings a project. 

Eric burning wildflower remnants in the garden.

Eric burning wildflower remnants in the garden.

One of our first projects this year in the bee garden was to remove the plant debris from the garden space. My sweetie hooked up his handy-dandy burning tool and took to the task. The smell of burn piles is prevalent in farm country this time of year. 

My sidekicks helped pull sunflower stalks last weekend as part of the spring cleaning regiment. We left the stalks all winter to help provide homes for native pollinators in the area. Because we know pollinators sometimes nest in these stalks, we were careful not to disturb them too much. These sunflower stalks now reside in a nice pile in the pasture until potential nesting bumblebees have a chance to hatch in warmer weather. We will not burn these stalks until spring hatching has run its cycle.

A honey bee watering hole.

A honey bee watering hole.

Warm days above 55 degrees (roughly) bring honey bee activity. After taking much needed cleansing flights, honey bees set out to find pollen, nectar, and a good water source. If you are a beekeeper, it is IMPERATIVE that you provide your girls with a place to get a drink. if you don't, the neighbor's hot tub or dog water dish will become the go-to place for the bees. This is not ideal! Your neighbor will not be pleased, you will fight a constant battle with the girls determined to bring resources home, and perhaps most tragic, the honey bees will drown in high numbers. 

The watering hole pictured above is a very simple and effective option for your bees. A bird bath is of course a great option for the bees. If you don't want to spend much money, you can put something together like the picture above. This is an inverted metal garbage can top. It is filled with rocks and colorful marbles. The rocks and marbles provide a safe place for the girls to stand without fear of downing. We added blue rocks this year because we know the girls like that color. The water doesn't have to be really clean, but it does need to be a reliable source. I add a drop of lemon grass oil every so often to remind them that it is there. If you don't keep bees, but would like to help them, maybe consider providing them a nice place to stop for a drink. The bees thank you ahead of time. 

Another routine this time of year is to see what is blooming and providing resources for the girls. Here on our farm we have crocus coming up and hellebore. Both plants are early bloomers in Central Oregon. Our girls are also working willow trees this time of year. 

Notice the full pollen baskets on the girl near the bottom of the landing board. Also, look at the color variation of the pollen on the girl higher on the board. Pollen comes in many color shades. Variation in color means there are foraging options for the girls.

Notice the full pollen baskets on the girl near the bottom of the landing board. Also, look at the color variation of the pollen on the girl higher on the board. Pollen comes in many color shades. Variation in color means there are foraging options for the girls.

Watching the girls activity is a treat on so many levels for a beekeeper. Although we are not "out of the woods" yet with the potential loss of a hive, February activity brings hope. Because the girls are bringing in pollen, I can presume they are feeding brood (babies) inside. The weather isn't warm enough to fully inspect the hive and check for active laying by the queen, but I can breathe a cautious sigh of relief that these girls may just have made it through the winter. 

This sweet girl found herself a load. I watched her approach for a landing and then make a break for this resting place before she entered the hive. With sporadic wind changes and fluctuations of sunshine hitting the hive, foraging is tough on these girls. They simply get exhausted trying to provide for the hive against the variation of the elements outside. Eventually she made it inside with her basket of goodies and this beekeeper did a little cheer. Wouldn't it be nice if all of us had the drive and dedication to work tirelessly for the greater good of all?