Part of the fascination of managing honey bees is that one becomes more aware of, more observant of, the natural world, its rhythms and flows, it’s strengths and weaknesses.
For example, in the last week of
March the first dandelions of spring became evident. Different cultures know dandelion by different names : Pee in the Bed, Lions Teeth, Fairy Clock, Clocks and Watches, Farmers Clocks, Wetweed, Blowball, Cankerwort, Priests Crown,
Puffball, Swinesnout, White Endive, Wild Endive and Pissa-a-beds.
The name we know it by comes from Dents Lioness, medieval Latin, or Dent de Lion, French, both meaning ‘tooth of the lion.’
A close look at a leaf explains why.
The dandelion’s use as a medicinal herb was recorded by ancient Chinese and later by Arabs who in turn taught Europeans about its benefits, a bi-product of the Crusades. Modern scientific
analysis reveals that dandelions are a good source of calcium, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. The calcium content alone is impressive. A serving of dandelion greens has as much calcium as half a cup of milk. It is suggested that the rich mineral and
vitamin content of dandelions is because their long taproot reaches down to the rich subsoil which other plants can’t reach.
Indeed the term ‘Pee in the bed” is a direct translation of the French pissant en lit
in that the high calcium content activates one’s kidneys, and if one is a deep sleeper …!
When the Mayflower arrived in 1620, there were no dandelions in North America. Fifty years later they were everywhere, having been introduced
by European immigrants whose cultures used dandelions as part of their regular diet and who wanted a reliable source of greens early in the spring.
In return the Algonquian Indians sent the British a bag of crab grass (just kidding!)
Many plants are specialists, attracting specific insects, but the dandelion, like Burger King, is a generalist – open to everyone,
affordable to all with no long lines, and although it might not be the most exciting food, almost everyone likes it. Thus dandelions open at 9 in the morning and close in the evening; they close up shop on rainy days because of a shortage of customers
and the nectar and pollen could get diluted; the yellow flower is right in the middle of the color spectrum and the short tubular flowers ensure that nectar is available to all visitors. But there isn’t much of it, so those who can
get something better probably will.
So, what does this have to do with honey bees? At the State meeting last November Warren Miller observed that an examination of one’s hives at the time of the first dandelion flower
will give a good indication of the strength of those hives.
Why? Dandelions bloom from 4 – 6 weeks before the nectar flow. So the brood that you see in your hives today will be the foragers during the nectar flow. Consider
that worker bees spend 12 days as capped brood, and about four weeks as house bees before they leave the hive as foragers. This means that
(a) a worker who emerges from her cell in the last week of March will start foraging
in the last week of April; and
(b) a worker who was capped in her cell at the same time will start foraging in the second week of May.
If frames of capped brood represent the initial foraging force of the
hive, then obviously the more the brood the stronger the hive and the stronger the queen.