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Archive for the ‘Bees’ Category

Saturday: The bees are coming today! To get ready for their arrival, I’m preparing their sugar syrup and making a homemade version of Honey B Healthy, a nourishing supplement that is added to the syrup.

I’ll be teaching my co-workers how to be beekeepers and they’ll be installing the bees on Sunday with my guidance. Ray built us some beautiful Top Bar Hives (Thanks, Ray!) which will be their new home. We are very excited!

We have, over the last couple of weeks in our (very little) spare time, been creating a bee and butterfly sanctuary. It’s in its beginning stages and will soon be filled with plants that all the local pollinators will want to come and visit. We are also adding a labyrinth that will be planted with medicinal herbs and a vegetable garden filled with heirloom vegetables. The hives will be nestled in this wonderful little spot we’ve created located in the Animas River Valley.  It’s coming together beautifully and I’ll be posting pictures of the hives and gardens soon.

Happy Spring everybody!

Recipe found on the Beekeepers of the Ozarks:

Honey B Healthy (generic)

  • 5 cups of water
  • 2 1/2 lbs of sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon lecithin granules (used as an emulsifier)
  • 15 drops spearmint oil
  • 15 drops lemongrass oil.
  • 6 drops of thyme oil (optional)

Dissolve lecithin in 1/4 cup of water. This may take several hours. Bring water to a boil, remove from heat and stir in sugar until dissolved. Stir in lecithin until dissolved. Stir in essential oils until everything is evenly distributed. Cool before using.

I use 1 tablespoon per quart but I don’t use thyme in my mixture. One to two tablespoons per gallon works if using thyme oil.

Makes about 2 quarts.

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Or we might have titled this post “Why Bees Are So Important.”

In January the press reported that scientists had noticed a significant decline in bumblebee populations in the U.S. — first it was the honeybees that were disappearing and now it’s bumblebees too. Scientists are not sure why just yet, but one thing they can agree on is that this is not good news because bumblebees pollinate about 15% of all crops in the field — blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, squash and watermelon; and in the hothouse — tomatoes, strawberries and peppers.

And it’s not just the many different variety of bees (honeybees, bumbles, carpenter bees, mason bees, metallic sweat bees, leaf-cutter bees, ground-nesting bees, and various localized native bees) that pollinate flowers. There are many other creatures that do this work like ants, beetles, moths, flies, birds, butterflies, wasps, bats, and even a few mammals that transport pollen as they make their rounds.

Which is kind of the long way round to the question of problems with fruit set in squash, melons and cucumbers. Several people have asked why the flowers on squash and cucumber plants have been falling off. There are several reasons.

The first thing you should know is you might not have a problem. Squash, melons and cucumbers belong to the cucurbit family and they all have a unique flowering habit. Each plant bears male and female blossoms. The female blossom has a miniature fruit (ovary) at the base of the flower. Male blossoms don’t have this swelling. The male flower’s only job is to provide pollen to fertilize the ovary in the female flower and they depend on bees to do this. If the pollen isn’t transported from male to female flower fruit set will never happen.

Early flowers tend to be mostly male and these will fall off with no sign of fruit set. Not to worry, this is normal. On certain hybrid varieties of summer squash the early flowers are mostly females that don’t get fertilized and they will drop as well.

When the plants start producing both male and female flowers at the same time things should start clicking — unless there are no bees around. Cucurbits have sticky pollen and need bees to transport it from male to female flower. If your garden doesn’t have enough bees to pollinate the female flowers you will not get fruit.

In the absence of bees the only option is to hand pollinate. Get a small artist brush and pick up the yellow pollen that you will find inside the male flowers. Take the pollen-coated brush and paint it onto the stigma in the female flower. It is important to do this to only flowers that have just opened as they are only receptive for a single day.

It would be so much easier to have bees do the work! Without them crops will fail, plants won’t thrive, and we will be hard pressed to find solutions to this growing problem.

How can you help? Rule number one is to NEVER use pesticides in your garden. No matter how careful you are you will almost always kill at least a few bees. Rule number two is to create a garden that will sustain bees and all the creatures that help us grow food and the other plants we love. You can find tips on creating bee-friendly gardens in this post and by clicking some of the links on our resources page.

One last note, though we always recommend lots of mulch for your garden beds be sure to leave a few small areas bare for ground-nesting bees. Mulching is thought to be one of main reasons that this type of bee population is diminishing.

Save the bees!

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We’ve written a lot about Colony Collapse Disorder and the nearly overwhelming problems that affect honey bees, but things are at least as dire for our native bees, most notably the lovely bumble bee.

Bumbles are the stuff of our childhood memories. Who, when remembering walks through wildflower fields, doesn’t see in their mind’s eye fuzzy, funny bumble bees drifting from flower to flower? These pollinators were plentiful years ago, but now, like many plants and animals, bumbles are suffering from loss of habitat, pesticide poisoning, changing climates, and diseases that were introduced along with non-native bees.

There are almost 50 bumble bee species native to North America and many of them are threatened not with just a serious decline in numbers, but with extinction. In a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a study done over the last three years shows a widespread pattern of decline in bumble bee populations. The western bumble bee, the rusty-patched bumble bee and yellow-banded bumble bee used to be very common, but their numbers have decreased by 96 percent and their range shrunk by as much as 87 percent. (This is video Native Bumblebees features an interview with Scott Black of the Xerces Society who’s been tracking the disappearance of the western bumble bees in Oregon.) Franklin’s bumble bee, found in a relatively small area covering southern Oregon and northern California, is now thought to be extinct.

Many other bumble bee species have also experienced serious declines in their numbers and ranges which is a big problem because bumbles are an important pollinator for high-value crops such as cranberries, blueberries and clover. They are also important elements in many ecosystems, pollinating wildflowers and plants that produce seeds and fruits that feed everything from songbirds to bears.

Bumble bees are unique in that they are able to fly in colder weather than other bee species and this makes them key pollinators for native plants in the tundra, prairie and  higher elevation climates. In fact bumble bees are the most effective pollinators for certain plants and seem to have evolved along with particular species of plants — the length of their tongues is exactly what is required to pollinate them. So if that particular pollinator is in decline you can reasonably expect that the plant that depends on it will decline as well. And that’s exactly what appears to have happened in parts of Britain and the Netherlands where native insect-pollinated plants have declined along with bee populations.

There are many ways you can help bumbles survive and perhaps thrive. The most important is DON’T USE PESTICIDES in your gardens. The stuff on the shelf at your local big box stores and nurseries is dangerous to man and beast. Really, this stuff will poison you, your kids, the dog, the cat, the chickens, and any other creatures that happen to be in the vicinity. Make a resolution to forego poisons in your garden this year. (We’ll write a post or two about organic alternatives and how to safely use them in your garden soon.)

Other ways to help the bumble bees:

  • Plant natives in your garden and plan for a succession of pollen and nectar-bearing blooms throughout the season.
  • Bumbles like asters, bee balm, blueberries, borage, clovers, lupines, mints, and rhododendrons to name a few.
  • Bumbles will nest lots of different places like logs, trees, old mouse burrows and grass tussocks. Leave a bit of your land wild if you can.
  • Bumbles are very gentle and won’t act in a threatening manner. If you find a nest move away slowly and walk softly and they’ll leave you alone.
  • Learn to identify the different types of bumble bees. Free I.D. guides can be downloaded here.
  • You can participate in studies that are tracking bumble bees. Athena Anderson at the University of Georgia has developed a nest site survey to learn more about nest site and habitat features for bumble bees throughout North America and make this information available to anyone at no cost. If you find a bumble bee nest, please click on this link to fill out the survey and increase our knowledge of the range of native bumble bees: Bumble Bee Nest Survey
  • The Xerces Society has asked that folks send them photos of yellow-banded and rusty-patched bumble bees and the locations where they were spotted. Email to bumblebees@xerces.org

May the bumbles be with you! Mary Beth and Barbara

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Mary Beth: I’ve been dreaming about planting a meadow in my yard for a long time and the new gas line we had installed a couple of months ago provided me with the last push I needed to get this project underway. After searching for the right mixture for my zone (intermountain climate, Sunset Zone 2B), I purchased my seeds from Durango Nursery and Supply Co. and Western Native Seed.


Envisioning a mixture of grasses with attractive seed heads that would catch the light and serve as a soft back drop for the wildflowers, I decided on a one-pound bulk bag of Mountain Meadow from Southwest Seed Inc. To that I added a two-pound mix of Western Native Seed’s Montane Grass Mix and Montane Wildflowers and one packet of Ratibida columnifera because I love those little Mexican hat flowers. And finally, I bought a packet of Solidago Canadensis for the bees. I was also lucky enough to have a neighbor give us a gift of wildflower seeds from Clear Water Farm which had a wonderful mix of wildflowers. Might be overkill, but that’s me!

The meadow will be behind the split rail fence and down the hill.

I was so excited that I wanted to plant the seeds right away, but the instructions suggested waiting until after the first frost to plant the native grasses and delaying the wildflower seeding until the spring. On the other hand, it said that if you have a mix of both to plant them all in the fall. Sound confusing? A little! And one bag of seeds was a mixture of wildflowers and native grass seeds which really didn’t help. Finally, after going back and forth on how to approach it, I decided I would mix all the seeds I had and plant now.

I was really careful when I mixed them because some of the very tiny flower seeds tended to sift down to the bottom of the bucket.  Next I had to deal with our weather which is very unpredictable. While I was waiting for a first frost, we got a first freeze which made some of my other garden chores a bit more urgent, especially since I hadn’t yet dug up my dahlia tubers. Luckily they were unscathed from that first freezing night and after I put them in their winter resting place, I was able to start on the meadow.

Because I had to wait for the sun to warm the soil so I could prep it, I didn’t get going until late afternoon. Fortunately my job was a little easier as the ground was already loose from the excavation work for the gas line and most of the prep of raking the soil and removing rocks had been done back when I planted 300 daffodil bulbs five weeks ago. All I had to do was rake up the pine needles and rough up the soil a bit so the seed would have good contact.

I spread the seed by hand and went back over the area with the rake scratching the seed into the soil. For good measure I lightly spread some Gro-Power fertilizer on top. In the book The American Meadow Garden, John Greenlee suggests covering the seeds with a 2 inch layer of mulch. Since I have an unending supply of pine needles (also called “pine straw”), I spread a very light layer on top of the seeded area.

As an experiment a while ago I had spread a little bit of the wildflower seeds down where I planted the daffodils. I was pleased to see that those seeds had taken and were doing very well. I saw lupine and California poppies sprouting, yea! For a little insurance I saved about a quarter of the seeds which I will put down in the spring.

So now I’m hoping for the ground to get covered next month with a blanket of snow which will keep the seeds protected until the spring when it melts away and the meadow starts to come alive.

Here’s the area I’ve been working on. It starts through the trees up to an area where there are no pine trees and on up to the north side of the house. It will take 2-3 years to see the meadow fully mature. Even so I should see a few flowers blooming and some of the grasses will start to grow. I’m hoping more butterflies and dragonflies will be visiting next year and I know the bees will be happy!

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Colorado


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Got behind on my dates. National Honey Bee Awareness Day was yesterday , but just because I missed that boat it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be celebrating our honey bees every other day of the year. So let’s start today by being grateful for all that these  insects do for us — pollinating more than one-third of the food we eat and providing us with sweet, sweet honey.

Here are some fantastic pictures that Mary Beth took yesterday. Enjoy your Sunday!

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Mary Beth and I have been trying to push ourselves to blog more often so in the past few months we’ve created several regular features. One is Sunday Zen, a photographic time-out where we go into the garden, usually ours, but sometimes other public and private gardens, and take photographs that reflect our mood. Tuesday’s Tips is where we share what we’ve learned to help make gardening and beekeeping easier and more productive. Another is Wordless Wednesday which honestly isn’t much different from our Sunday post, but we take part in this blogger tradition because we just love posting our photos.

Which brings us to the Garden Journal, which should become a more or less regular post on Thursdays. MB and I noticed that our recent postings have been short on the kinds of stories that we love to read on other bloggers’ sites — stories about the great stuff that happens in gardens. So we decided to get back to doing more of that. But, being kind of scattered, we need to actually put it on the list and have it tied to a specific day to get it done. Kind of pathetic we know, but whatever it takes, right?

Here is our first Garden Journal.

Mary Beth: I’m visiting family back East (on Block Island) and could not have timed it better — it’s been the hottest period on record. (Why can’t my luck be this good with the lottery?) Despite the crushing heat I have been enjoying myself and this morning the weather has cooled down a bit, thankfully.

If you’ll remember, before I left for Colorado I decided to put a “second story” on the TBH to make sure my bees didn’t get honeybound. I was so happy when I checked on my “girls” and saw that they’re doing so well. They’ve filled out all of the bars for except the last two of the TBH, but they seem to be having a problem going up into the second story.

I decided to help them out a bit and put one of the bars that’s full of honey up in the super. That bar of honeycomb was deeper than the super, so I let it extend down into the TBH by removing the bar below it thinking that it might even help to get them up there. They seemed to be ok with that and hopefully they’ll get the idea soon. It looks to me like they have about 50-60 lbs of honey already and the hive’s full of brood too. I only saw one bee with a mite, but other than that they’re looking healthy.

I so wanted to take a bar of honey for myself but was afraid of the dry weather the East has been having — if the nectar flow slows down they’ll need all they have collected.

I apologize for not taking many photos, and the ones I did take are not that great, but I was so hot in my bee suit. I kept thinking I should have told someone I was working on the bees just in case I went down! When I finally peeled that sucker off I was soaking wet and feeling more than a little woozy. It was a good excuse to go to the beach with my sister Pam and swim in the ocean.  The water was so beautiful and we bobbed around laughing like kids.

So happy to report the bees are doing great! They were so gentle and it was pleasure to work with them. I’ll check on them before I leave and see how they are responding to the small change I made in the hive.

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