Thursday, October 25, 2012

Starfish Flowers

The flowering season for most Stapelia species is summer and early autumn, and the plants are by this time entering a period of winter torpor. Back when the weather was warmer, though, I had some nice blooms from these African desert relatives of the roadside wildflower milkweed. 

Stapelia grandiflora
 Stapelia grandiflora has impressive flowers, the size of teacups, that are both colored and scented to attract pollinators such as carrion flies. In the greenhouse, I usually realize that the flowers have opened by the smell alone, and only after checking under the benches and not finding any actual dead squirrels. 

Stapelia flavopurpurea
 Stapelia flavopurpurea, on the other hand, has small but very cheerful-looking flowers for a stapeliad. The flower colors of different individuals of S. flavopurpurea are remarkably diverse and can include various combinations of violet, red, white, orange and chartreuse. It must be pollinated by something other than the usual carrion insects, because its fragrance is pleasant and sweet.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Autumn Sugar Maple

The fall colors are probably about as good as they're going to get this weekend, in northeastern Connecticut. As usually seems to happen, we've had a stretch of grey, stormy weather as the leaves have been changing, which dulls the colors and knocks the leaves down early, but there have been some nice displays and occasional dry afternoons on which to enjoy them. This is a fantastic open-grown sugar maple at the top of the hill in Storrs Cemetery, which is looking like it would be very productive to tap in the spring. Sugaring season is only four months away!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Bee Season Wrap-up

 Honeybee in the field gathering autumn pollen and nectar from goldenrod. 

The bees are in the middle of their final burst of autumn activity, frantically storing the honey that they'll eat to keep warm all winter. In recent weeks, if the weather has been halfway decent, they've been out in the local fields, swamps and roadside clearings working various asters and goldenrods. I've also been feeding them sugar syrup, just to be certain they have enough stores to get through the cold weather. They're not going to have enough honey surplus for me to swipe any for my own use this year, but that's not unexpected, as they were starting their colonies from scratch, without any wax combs or food. According to the local beekeepers, it was a fairly mediocre year for bees in any event.

 Inspection time in the apiary.

Nevertheless, the girls seem to have done pretty well in their first summer. By June, the three packages I started out with had built up to healthy colonies, and two were building queen cells, making new queens probably in preparation for swarming, where the old queen leaves to found a new colony. I was able to forestall swarming by splitting off some frames of brood with queen cells to start two new colonies. 

Queen bee (at center) laying eggs. 

Above is the new queen raised by one of the splits from June, after she had flown out to mate and returned to start raising more bees. This particular queen seemed to do OK at first, but then produced a fairly spotty brood pattern (missing a lot of cells when laying eggs on a comb), and I suspect that after a couple of weeks the bees gacked her and raised a replacement in a process called supersedure. One of the original colonies also seems to have undertaken a supersedure midsummer, so there was a fair amount of bee drama. They seem to have sorted everything out now, though. 

Northern-raised queen from Anarchy Apiaries.

The apiary, now with five colonies, is in good shape to make it over the winter. All of the hives have quite a few heavy frames of honey. Three of them are from hardy northern stock from an apiarist in upstate New York who breeds for productive, disease and mite-resistant bees. The other two colonies were from generic southern-raised Italian bees, but they both raised new queens over the summer and the mixed colors and patterns of their offspring indicate that they probably bred with some of the northern drones. I'm feeling pretty confident going into the cold season, and am excited to see what has survived come skunk cabbage season (the earliest pollen source) during thaws in late February.

Some of the dark northern bees coming and going from the hive.