Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Canarina Flowers and Fruits

Canarina canariensis fruit in April.
At this point in spring, the Canarina canariensis plants have folded up shop for the season; all of their stems and leaves have withered away and all that is left is the root tubers that will rest underground until September or so. I did get some fruits by pollinating the flowers. These are reported to be edible, so I tried them out when they ripened in early spring. The fruits aren't especially tasty: bland and mealy, with a flavor a little bit like figs.

Canarina flower in its female phase.
The Canary Bellflower seems to be self-incompatible, i.e., it needs to be cross pollinated by something that transfers pollen between two separate plants. The flowers are also strongly protandrous, meaning that they shed pollen right after opening, but the female parts only mature later. In order to get fruits and seeds in the greenhouse, I moved pollen from young flowers onto older flowers, where the stigma had opened up into a pale star-shaped structure and become receptive.

I saved some seeds from this year's Canarina fruits and may start some more in the autumn. In any event, the several pots of mature tubers that I have in the greenhouse should become active when the nights get cool and the days short, and provide another round of gaudy blooms during the depths of winter 2013-2014.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Springtime for the Bees

Hives #1-4 after the February 9 blizzard.
It was a harsh winter here in Connecticut, but I had 100% survival on my five beehives from last year, thanks in large part probably due to generous feeding of the colonies last fall. The bees received protein supplements, and were left with whatever honey they had stored over the summer in addition to enough sugar syrup to get the combs good and full of stores.

Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus.

In late February and early March, the Skunk Cabbage provided the first source of natural pollen for the bees. Skunk Cabbage inflorescences heat themselves up by oxidizing stored carbohydrates, possibly to keep pollinators active on chilly days as well as to melt away snow and ice. On sunny days when temperatures were well above freezing, the bees would be out patrolling the local swamps and streamsides, and coming back absolutely covered with pale yellow pollen.

Worker bee covered with skunk cabbage pollen. The blackish growth on the bark is a leafy liverwort common in New England, Frullania eboracensis.
Hive entrance in early May. Note the drones (male bees) peeking out at left.
 A little bit later the Red Maples bloomed, then Sugar and Norway Maples, providing more pollen and some nectar. Right now a lot of excellent nectar plants are flowering. Apple trees, other fruit trees and dandelions are past their peak but still pretty abundant, and Autumn Olive is just starting. The weather has been a little bit cool and cloudy lately, but my strongest hive had already just about filled one medium "super" (upper box for storing honey) with maple and apple nectar, and later this week the weather and flower conditions should be excellent for all the hives to bring in many more pounds of honey.

Nice frame of worker brood from hive #1.

The bee populations are in good shape, with the queens producing reasonably solid patterns of new brood in all of the hives. There hasn't been any loss of bees to swarming yet, although I did wind up making make two splits from hives that were starting to make new queens, probably in preparation for casting a swarm. I hear that there have been a few swarms from other hives in the area. Varroa mites are the great plague of the modern beekeeper, and while mites are definitely present in all of the hives, mite levels haven't reached the stage where harsh treatments are called for.