Note all the little pin feathers on this goldfinch's head--it's going full force for the breeding plumage--sign of spring.
Holy Mackerel! When I came home from beekeeping class followed by a Hera concert (loves me some Icelandic folk music) I found tons of messages on the Minnesota bird listserv on signs of spring--especially early migrants. People are seeing meadowlarks, killdeer, bluebirds and...brace yourself...grackles! Yo, if you are not keen on grackles and you want to try and avoid them, now is a good time to start switching one of your feeders to all safflower to give the other birds a chance to acclimate to it.
Today we learned about honey and wax extraction in beekeeping class. Yum. I also learned that among the beekeeping community "raw" is a four letter word when used in advertised honey. I have mentioned before that I am a fan of Really Raw Honey. Many in the bee keeping world aren't too pleased with honey being called advertised as raw, because all honey is raw. Also, there is some resentment that honey with visible wax, propolis, bee parts, etc. being advertised as raw and charged a premium is selling poorly filtered honey at an outrageous price. I don't care about the "raw" issue, I just really like the way Really Raw Honey tastes--it doesn't have that weird after taste that you find with liquid honey. I also really like the thick, creamy consistency of Really Raw Honey and wanted to know how to encourage my bees to create a thick honey. Apparently, it has to do more with the types of flowers than any kind of processing. One of the instructors told me that the bottom line is that the honey that comes from my own hives will taste better than any other honey I ever purchase because I helped create it. Makes sense.
This whole bee thing is fascinating. They are not native to North America, they were introduced. They evolved for pollinating Europe and Africa. We have hummingbirds in North and South America for our pollinating which they don't have in Europe in Africa. Honey bees really like to pollinate exotic plants (plants geared and evolved for attracting insect pollinators like bees) and that can be a problem. I actually found places on the Internet advertising Loosestrife Honey. If you don't know the woes of Purple Loosestrife, read about it here. We go to great lengths to cultivate the non native honey bee because it is an important part of our economy--it is illegal to set up a hive without arranging the frames in just the right way in order to prevent the spread of diseases. Coming from a birding background where non natives tend to be bad news, this whole bee attitude kind of throws me for a small loop. Imagine of house sparrows and starlings produced some kind of sweet edible liquid...
At any rate, I have my certificate and feel ready for the challenge of beekeeping this spring and summer. If you are remotely interested in beekeeping, I highly recommend the University of Minnesota's short course on beekeeping. The class had about 100 people and they were from as far as Vermont to take part. They do a good job of walking you through your first year and give you some great literature to get you started. I can't wait until the end of April when we get our two packages of bees!