I've said it before, but it bears repeating.....
The smell of leafcutter bee cocoons is just so nice. Throughout the day when we're extracting, someone will duck to the basement and ensure that the big wooden bin isn't getting too full. As I peeked over the edge this morning I was reminded again of just how pleasant the aroma of the cocoons is.
It takes you back to summertime, the smell of hay being cut and freshly cut grass. Trust me, it is delightful.
Even when a person steps into our warehouse, the smell of the bees is there. As a leafcutter bee producer, I might be biased. On the other hand, having grown up on a cattle farm I'm well aware of what other animal herds smell like and I know which one I'd rather take a whiff of!
Watch as a fountain of bee cocoons pours off the conveyor into the storage bag. Millions of larvae have been extracted from our nesting blocks over the past few weeks. They are measured into bags and kept for the remainder of the winter in a dormant state (between 5 & 15C) in our warehouse. In late April / early May we will measure these cocoons into trays for hatching.
PS. Emma & I are not quite as skilled with video making as Mark Higgins. Please excuse the "strobe" light effect!
In the spring we will hang 12 doubled-up nesting block units inside each blue bee hut. When the alfalfa fields have full blossom we bring trays of hatched leafcutter bees to the field and put 3-4 trays into each hut. The bees immediately begin flying, pollinating, making cocoons and putting their babies into the nesting tunnels.
Did you know?? Our bees fill the nesting block tunnels from the top down. As we process the blocks in the winter it is interesting to see how the tunnels in the blocks have been filled. Quite often they are heavier at one end and that would have been at the top of the hut.
Some of the blocks that we bring in from the field are partly filled, some are barely filled and hopefully we have quite a few full blocks so that we have enough reproduction of bees for the next season's fields.
As of today we're about 2/3 through the extraction of our 9,000 blocks, so we're getting there......
Leafcutter bees use a wide variety of leaf material to cut and then fashion into cocoons. You may have seen us comment on the grey colored cocoons that we find as we process the nesting blocks. We nickname these cocoons "silver bullets", partly because of the color and also because of the shape.
Jed surmises that the bees may be using wolf willow leaves to make these silvery colored cocoons. This type of bush is common in the Kenaston, SK area where we produce most of our alfalfa seed / leafcutter bees. The bees prefer soft, smooth leaves when they are cutting their circular shapes for cocoon building.
Here's some information I found on the web about wolf willows:
"Wolf Willow or Silver Berry is a bush that grows 30 cm to 6 m high in the wet areas of the plains and at the edges of coulees. It shimmers silver in the sun and moonlight, with the flowers, berries and leaves all being a shade of silver. The flowers are silver yellow and grow to be about 3 mm across. The flowers grow together in groups of 3 or 4 in June. They are very fragrant and often you can smell a Wolf Willow before you see it. When the berries come in late July and August, they are a silvery green colour about 6 mm in diameter. They are tough skinned and contain a large, stony seed."
What Jed has noticed this winter as we extract the cocoons from the nesting blocks and measure them into bags for storage, is that the "silver bullets" are always nicely formed and don't ever have any mold on them. They are sturdy cocoons which don't get damaged by the extraction machines.
Some years we have more silver cocoons than others, depending on which fields of alfalfa the bees reside in. Do you have any other ideas for what silver-leafed bushes our bees might be using for their cocoons? We're open to suggestions!
The long, dark days of November & December are done and January thusfar has been quite mild here in Saskatchewan.
My Aussie husband looked out the window this morning and said "I'd rather have beautiful hoarfrost than +40C (back in Oz)" and I'll agree with that statement.
Have a great week-end folks, I hope it's pretty where you are too!
Just in case you thought it was only work that happens in our Bee Building.......sometimes it's nice to take a ping pong break!
This building is our former Town Hall and back in the 70's and 80's the seniors used the basement area for their social gatherings. There would have been pool tables, shuffleboard and perhaps ping pong. So we're just taking the space back to its roots.
Have a wonderful day folks!
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