A Swarm in June…

So the saying goes:

A swarm in May, a bale of hay, a swarm in June, a silver spoon, a swarm in July, not worth a fly.

In other words, if you want to capture a bee swarm, let it be June, with several months of nectar and pollen remaining before the freeze.  Then they have time to get themselves established and food stored for the long winter ahead.  At least that applies to those of us in Northern climes.

With all this in mind, and inspired by Bello Uccello’s Klaus and Shirley, there is now a swarm trap installed in one of my cherry trees.

Swarm Trap in the Cherry Tree

There are not a lot of bee hives in my direct area; however, one neighbour had three hives, and all three apparently fled the coop in November.  Which is very odd.  He believes they didn’t like the site of the hive (too damp).  They didn’t die; he saw them many times returning this Spring to take their stored honey out of the hive and carry it off to their wild lair.  They must be hardy and healthy bees, they made it through one of the toughest winters I’ve ever seen, with snow five feet deep.  Perhaps in a hollow tree somewhere in the forest.

So the swarm trap is waiting.

I saw the honeybees in early Spring when they came in droves to the blossoms of the sugar maples all around my house.  They also returned during the apple blossom season.  This year is a strange year.  Everything is late.  Many days are cold, as much as 10*C below the norms.  So I would say the bees have been challenged this Spring.

Now the comfrey is blooming.  For the past week I’ve been watching for the honeybees. But only bumblebees and other wild cousins visiting the pink blooms. Today I spotted the first scout on the comfrey.  About an acre of comfrey in bloom, I’d say that qualifies as mother lode in bee language.  As I write this the scout is probably back at the hive already, doing the bee dance, giving directions.  “Fly this far then turn right, then over the hill, and then straight up the rise.”

Comfrey Blossoms

The Wonders of Comfrey!


Comfrey in its Glory!

Comfrey in its Glory!

When I first arrived here, I saw several tall, lush plants with rather inconspicuous flowers.  I decided I didn’t want them to stay where they were, so I tried digging them up and moving them.  That seemed to work, until a little later when I noticed numerous other small ones sprouted up everywhere.  I tried digging those out, and the same thing happened.  Yes, it was the war of the comfrey.  For years I tried to root them out, in vain.  At last, I surrendered.  Then I noticed a few interesting things about this amazing plant.

First of all, it is a darling of hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and several other flying things, including the hummingbird moth.

Hummingbird Moth 1 copy

This was my first glimpse of this moth, and I was wishing for a better camera than my ancient point-and-shoot!

Honey Bee Working the Comfrey

Honey Bee Working the Comfrey

Since the apple blossoms dropped a couple of week ago, I have not seen many honey bees.  I don’t have my own hives, and these may well be a colony of honey bees gone feral, as there are no bee keepers in my vicinity, to my knowledge.  The bumblebees have been working the comfrey since they started to bloom in the past week.  Finally the honey bees showed up!  First one or two, then a few dozen at a time were spotted just yesterday.  This is how they work:  the scout bees find a “flow”–which could be a blossoming tree, or a comfrey patch–then they go back and communicate to the hive.  The vigour of the dance communicates the magnitude of the nectar flow.  I expect my comfrey patch has now started to generate some attention in that particular hive!  I’ll keep you posted.

In my next posts I would also like to share other positive attributes of this plant I thought was a pest, and also, the other beneficial plants of the garden which are helpful to the bees in particular.