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Posts Tagged ‘Bee Habitat’

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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This week marks the fourth annual National Pollinator Week. Bees are probably the first thing that come to mind when we think about pollinators, but there are many others that deserve our gratitude and care — hummingbirds, bats, butterflies, and beetles to name a few. I love honeybees best so that’s what I’m going to focus on for today’s tips.

Tip #1 — Bees Need Water

Water is essential for a honeybee colony and if there is no natural source nearby then you should supply it. Bees use water evaporation to cool the hive and for diluting honey to feed to their larvae. A hive can use over a quart of water a day. Think about that — think about how tiny bees are. Now that’s a lot of water hauling!

Supplying your bees with water also keeps them from being a nuisance to your neighbors. In the absence of water you supply, they will use your neighbor’s swimming pools, dog water bowls, leaky water spigots, etc. So give them a water source of their own to keep them happy and healthy.

Make sure the water source is clean, has good footing and provide something they can climb on if they fall in. A bit of straw, small sticks floating on the surface or rocks placed in the water will work.

If you get really ambitious you can make a small pond, a water fountain in a container, or a water garden in a whiskey barrel with a few water plants for the bees to land on to take a drink. I started on my own pond a few weeks ago and will be posting on it soon. I’ve been fascinated with the many kinds of bees and insect drinking from dawn to dusk in the shallows where the water splashes on the rocks. Honeybees will come to the same spot every day to drink, so once you start don’t let the water supply run out.

Tip #2 — Extracting Honey

  • Don’t take uncapped honey. Most of the frame, 7/8, should be capped before you harvest any honey. Unripe honey (uncapped honey) will spoil because of the high water content.
  • Harvest your honey when it’s warm. Honey flows best at 80 degrees.
  • After extracting the honey let it settle a few days to get air bubbles out.
  • Honey is acidic so use stainless steel or glass to store your honey.
  • Save your wax cappings. Drain them of honey and melt them down into a block. Beeswax can be used for making lip balm, polishing furniture, candles, and more. An old sewers trick is to draw thread through a block of beeswax. It makes pulling thread through thick materials so much easier.

Remember, a honeybee colony needs 60 to 90 pounds of honey to survive the winter. If you feel your bees have a surplus then take a frame or two of honey. A medium super will contain 35 to 40 pounds of honey, or 3 – 4 gallons and that should be plenty for you and to share with friends and family.

Tip #3 — Learn Something New

Listen to Organically Managed Beekeeping Methods podcasts. The podcasts are very interesting with great guests speaking about how they manage their own hives and deal with the sometimes complex issues of beekeeping.

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A reader asked us if we knew how to deal with some pesky ground-nesting bees that have made their home in potted plants in her nursery. She’s concerned that they might bother her customers, so we did some research and found out lots of interesting things.

Ground-nesting bees are part of a large group of natives called solitary bees who are not usually aggressive and rarely sting. They live and reproduce in tunnels that they dig into the ground (or in potted plants). They seem to like to nest near each other and their spring nesting activities, which last four to six weeks, may make them more noticeable.

We humans seemed to have found a way to make life difficult for our native bees, especially in urban settings (by definition this is anything that isn’t rural). In California between 60 – 70% of native bees live in underground tunnels (Urban Bee Gardens) and they need access to bare soil in order to build their nests. But we gardeners love to mulch and when we do we’re covering large areas of potential nesting sites.

If you do need to do something about ground-nesting bees in your yard, the University of Michigan Integrated Pest Management site says it’s best to deal with the bees by using cultural controls. Ground-nesting bees prefer well-drained soil containing little organic matter. Covering the affected area with mulch or ground cover and watering it regularly will discourage them.

Keep in mind though that these native bees have a very important role in pollination. Their place in the ecological system is especially vital because they are not subject to the human-caused health problems that plague honeybees and if honeybee populations continue to decline, solitary bees will become ever more important in pollinating wild plants, crops, and landscape plants. So discourage them where you must, but consider dedicating an out of the way area of your garden to the bees by keeping it dry and free of mulch, especially in urban areas where they need all the help they can get.

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Mary Beth: Winter is coming, I think, and even though the weather continues to be unusually warm for this time of year, I’ve been getting the bees ready.

So, what about the bees? Every time I tell someone that Ray and I are moving back to Colorado (Ch, Ch, Changes), I hear this question. I’ll say, “We’re leaving.” and then, wait for it, wait for it…a look of dismay and “What about the bees?!” Of course it’s logical, but I’ve been a little surprised and amused that the fate of my bees worries them. On the other hand it’s nice that my friends and readers have become so engrossed in this story that one of their first thoughts is for the bees.

So here is the answer.

Out of the three hives that I ended up with after the swarm season, the Top Bar Hive is the only one that survived.

The Hippie Shack

For some reason the other two lost their queens after they swarmed (read about it here and here) and I ended up shaking out the remaining bees in front of the TBH in hopes that they would be accepted into the hive. Losing the Blue and Green hives made me very sad — I was surprised by how much I’ve come to love my bees.

As for the Hippie Shack (named in honor of the laid-back nature of these bees), I checked it recently and it didn’t have as much honey as I thought it should. I think the hive was being robbed. I put an entrance reducer in to make the the hole smaller to give the guard bees less area to defend. Now, even with the warm weather prolonging the season, I’m worried that they won’t have time to store enough food to make it through the winter.

Since Ray and I decided to leave after the holidays, I’ve been trying to figure out how to leave the bees with enough food. I researched fondant ‘bee candy’ and it seemed like a good solution, so I made a frame to hold it and placed that in the hive.

This small frame holds 5 pounds of sugar fondant!

Another good thing about the bee candy is it won’t cause the moisture problems inside the hive that the sugar syrup did in the early spring. I placed the fondant between the false back and the last comb hoping it wouldn’t attract any more robber bees.

I hope the warm weather will last long enough to let them build up their supplies. Every day they’ve been coming in with a lot of pollen, which is a very good thing.

I think she's posing!

Dandelions and the last of the aster are blooming, so I think this is where they are getting the bright orange pollen.

Another sign that the bees are preparing for winter is each day a few more drones have been getting kicked out of the hive. I watched this play out one day — those girls are ruthless!

Poor drone!

One poor male was pulled by his leg and tossed out like yesterday’s paper. It’s a cruel, cruel world my friends, but there is not enough to go around in winter for lazy freeloaders.

I moved the hive from it’s original spot so it will get maximum sun exposure all winter. This should allow the bees to break cluster on sunny winter days.

I also wrapped the hive to give it a little more insulation and to keep the wind out. Now it’s up to the bees. Other than a few more feedings before we leave for Colorado, my girls are on their own until March.

You may wonder why I haven’t given the hive away. I did consider moving the hive to my friend’s property, but I was afraid if I moved it up the steep, bumpy road to my friend’s house, a comb or two might break off ruining any chance of the bees’ survival. So I decided to leave them where they are on my family’s property. I’ll fly back east in the spring for a visit and check on the bees and I’ve arranged for my beekeeper friends to check on them now and then. Fortunately the TBH needs little maintenance and the bees will take care of themselves.

Becoming a beekeeper has been a wonderful journey. Learning about honeybees opened up new worlds for me, not just the world of honeybees in my garden, but the important roles of all pollinators and how critical every last one of them is. It’s led me to examine the negative impact we’ve all had on our environment. I’ve been reading about the decline of the honeybee from Colony Collapse Disorder — just one of many examples of our carelessness towards our environment. But the good thing is it’s made me more aware of what I’ve been doing.

So, with that new-found awareness, I try to do my part to help by adding native plants to the existing flower gardens. And I’ve decided that I will delay mowing the outer fields until after the first frost to allow time for the last of the butterflies to emerge from their cocoons and to let the wildflowers reseed themselves for next year.

Of course, at the center of it all is the honeybee, the incredible little powerhouse.  If you have not yet read any books on honeybees, you should. Some of the things you learn will astound you.

It’s been a great year even with the loss of two hives and no honey to harvest. And next spring I will have a hive in Colorado with even more challenges — bears, skunks and who knows what else, but I have a plan!

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Barbara: I got a call this morning from Mary Beth directing me to Garden Rant blog. Today’s guest rant, “Who cares about honeybees, anyway?” by Xris, the Flatbush Gardener had gotten her all worked up, and rightly so. As I read it, I could feel my blood pressure rising. This rant, by someone who is mostly on the right side of issues we care about, had such a flip, dismissive attitude towards honeybees and CCD that we could barely contain ourselves.

So what’s a blogger to do when she’s spittin’ mad? Well, blog, of course. So here’s our rant — minus the typos in our original comment on the GR site — about today’s Garden Rant rant. (That’s a lotta rantin’!)

“While we agree with the idea of supporting native pollinators, we strongly disagree with Xris’ shortsighted dismissal of the importance of the honeybee which seems to be based on the notion that it is not part of the ecosystem and therefore expendable. Really?! Though not a native species, honeybees have been a part of the ecosystem (which is the relationship of living organisms and the environment), like it or not, since the colonists arrived.

CCD is important not only because it’s killing an irreplaceable agricultural asset, but because it’s a symptom of a greater problem. Honeybees are essentially the “canary in the coal mine”. They are in trouble because they are treated and managed as livestock — fed cheap, non-nutritious HFCs, trucked across the country, worked under extremely stressful conditions, and then dosed with chemical cocktails to eliminate parasites that have taken advantage of their weakened state. This mentality has gotten us into serious trouble with more than honeybees, as a tour of any feedlot will show.

Because of the CCD “alarmists”, scientists have discovered that our unsustainable practices, such as chemical pesticide usage and mono-cropping, have led to the die-off of native species as well — a fact that might have gone unnoticed until it was too late as it did in an area of China that was so overdosed with pesticides that the local population must HAND POLLINATE crops or starve.

Our use of honeybees as pollinators is not the problem. The problem is how we treat them and the rest of the ecosystem as if it were there only for our benefit. Until we realize that we are a small part of the bigger picture and treat the earth and all its creatures as if they matter and with respect for their needs, we are in danger of killing the very things that keep us alive.”

At this point, having gotten it off our chests, we might feel better, except that we don’t. It all matters, every last little bit and time is running short, people. Every one of us needs to give a crap and DO SOMETHING! So, yes, create hedgerows and other habitats for pollinators, keep some hives, plant native species and use organics for pest control. But, please don’t downplay the issue of honeybee disapperance and Colony Collapse Disorder as old news or as not important. The stakes are too high.

Mary Beth and Barbara

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Mary Beth & Barbara: Here’s another post where we’re going to let the pictures tell the story. All we really want to say is that the rewards for not using chemical pesticides are many. Some are obvious, like just knowing that you’re not adding to the chemical load in the environment. Others are more subtle and you’ll have to slow down and pay attention to recognize them. (That’s a good thing all by itself.)

Since becoming organic gardeners, we have noticed a marked increase of wildlife in our gardens, mostly for the better. Sure you might get a few more pesky bugs, but for the most part you’ll be getting a lot more of the good guys who will help you keep those pests under control. We’ve seen lizards and insect-eating birds in Barbara’s garden and  frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, and all kinds of bees in Mary Beth’s garden.

If you take a seat in your garden and stay still for a while, you’ll begin to notice a world of activity and see some of the benefits of organic gardening for yourself.

This honeybee looks like she's high on pollen — definitely not PG!

This honeybee looks like she's high on pollen. Do we need to give this an R rating?

Hold on little peeper!

Hang on little peeper!

Now you're ok.

Now you're ok.

Bumble bee butt! Makes me laugh every time I look at it.

Bumble bee butt! Makes me laugh every time I look at it.

What a beautiful shot! This little crab spider found the perfect setting to show off her chartreuse self.

This little crab spider found the perfect setting to show off her beautiful chartreuse hue.

Be sure and check back early next week when we’ll have more photos of our garden creatures to share with you.

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B: My plants are finally in the ground. It seemed like such a long process. And the truth is it kind of was. Per my usual habit, I had to research EVERYTHING; partly because I just need to know and partly because I HATE making mistakes. And that’s ridiculous, of course. I mean really, what’s the worst that can happen? A plant will fail to thrive or die? Frustrating and sad, but not a tragedy.

I did a crazy amount of cross referencing among California native, drought-tolerant, pollinator-friendly plant lists (with special attention to honeybees) to see what would thrive in a difficult, part-shade location that’s under a canopy of eucalyptus trees, in heavy clay soil, and in a bed that tends to be dry in the back and wet in the front. “List mania” took a lot of time, but I learned a lot about backyard restoration, native plants, my micro-climate and my soil. In a way all of these limitations made the final selections easier because I ended up with a list of only 25 plants, mostly natives, which might work. I hope. I hope. I hope!

Tree of Life Nursery

Tree of Life Nursery

My list was shortened a little more by what was available at the Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano. TOL grows California native plants and they have many mature specimens on the property that helped me visualize what my plants would look like a few years down the road.

Salvia greggii Autumn Sage

Salvia greggii Autumn Sage

The bonus is that this place is a true oasis. When I feel like I need to get away from it all, I’m always tempted to call and ask if they’d let me move into the office. I go there just to soak up its wild beauty. Which ends up being a dangerous thing to do with all those beautiful plants begging to be taken home.

Can I live here? Please?

Can I live here? Please?

After much poking around and many questions answered by the knowledgeable staff, I came home with 14 little beauties. And little they are, too. These natives are a bit fragile in that they have brittle roots and so it’s much better to start out with 1-gallon sized plants, rather than the larger 5-gallon size. I’m told they’ll survive transplanting much better at the smaller size.

Selecting my plants.

Selecting my plants.

Here’s the list of my babies:
These are the plants that will get pretty big. Most of them will grow to be from 6 to 10 feet tall.

I’m in love with the Arctostaphylos bakeri/Manzanita ‘Howard McMinn’. With some careful pruning this shrub will mature into a beautiful “tree” with twisting branches covered in mahogany-colored bark. It will provide nectar for hummingbirds and bumblebees in the spring.

Carpenteria californica/Bush Anemone — A big shrub with large, fragrant white flowers with bright yellow stamens and ivory and tan peeling bark. I think it will look lovely against the brick wall. Provides spring and summer pollen for bees.
Ceanothus/Wild Lilac ‘Sierra Blue’ — A pretty blue-flowered shrub that grows to 10 feet. It likes dry, poor soil. (No problem there.) Pollen and nectar in spring for butterflies, honeybees and bumblebees.
Philadelphus lewisii/Western Mock Orange — It has white, highly fragrant blossoms on arching branches. Supposed to be easy to grow. This wasn’t on the pollinator list; for the life of me I can’t remember what possessed me to buy this. Oops!
Rhamnus californica/Coffeeberry ‘Eve Case’ — At TOL this shrub was literally covered with all kinds of bees and other insects gathering pollen and nectar from tiny lime-green flowers. The berries color up through the spring and summer going from lime-green to rose to red and then to burgundy-black in the fall at which point they become food for the birds. Butterflies like it too. The nurserywoman said, “I can’t say enough good things about this plant.” Sold!
Ribes malvaceum/Chaparral Currant ‘Dancing Tassels’ — This one worries me a little. In the spring it has beautiful light-green leaves and dancing light-pink flower tassels, but it’s deciduous. Will I be happy with it when it drops its leaves in the summer? Not on the bee-friendly list, but hummingbirds love it’s nectar and birds like the berries. Those lovely dancing tassels seduced me.

On the smaller side:
Ribes viburnifolium/Evergreen Currant ‘Catalina Perfume’ — A fragrant groundcover. Supposed to eventually do well under mature trees. Note eventually — we’ll see. Not on the pollinator’s list. Why did I get this? Can’t remember.
Salvia greggii/Autumn Sage ‘Annie’ — A delicious orangey-pink. Not a California native, but it is drought tolerant and my options were limited. Besides the specimen at TOL was gorgeous and I couldn’t resist. Butterflies, hummingbirds and honeybees love the nectar. My Anna’s Hummingbird came to visit everyday as I was planting. Soon he’ll be sipping nectar.
Salvia greggii/Autumn Sage ‘Lavender Rose’ — Another one for the hummingbirds, etc. in a lovely lavender-tinged pink.

Heuchera Coral Bells "Canyon Chimes"

Heuchera Coral Bells "Canyon Chimes"

Heuchera/Coral Bells ‘Canyon Chimes’ — I can’t overstate how excited I was to discover that this plant was a California native. A favorite of mine from my East Coast gardening days, this was a gift, something familiar. A favorite of hummingbirds.

Mimulus aurantiacus Monkeyflower

Mimulus aurantiacus Monkeyflower

Mimulus aurantiacus/Bush Monkeyflower — With a sweet apricot-colored flower, this was the first CA native that I was able to recognize in the wild. Provides spring pollen and nectar for bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.
Monardella villosa/Coyote Mint — Love the name, it sounds so outlaw. The fragrance of the leaves is delightful – mint with an edgy twist. Soon bees, butterflies and hummingbirds will be sipping nectar and gathering pollen from its purple blossoms.
Iris douglasiana/California Iris — another familiar plant! I love this old-fashioned beauty. This one has a lovely pale-blue flower that really pops in the shade. Not on the pollinator list, but too pretty to pass up.
At TOL I spotted a gorgeous dark-blue variety under a massive 200 year-old sycamore. When I asked where I could find a pot of it, they told me that this plant just appeared and they are waiting for it to get big enough so they can propagate it. Put me on the list. This is a spectacular flower.

Sisyrinchium bellum Blue-eyed Grass. This poor blossom is a little beat up, but you get the idea.

Sisyrinchium bellum Blue-eyed Grass. This poor blossom is a little beat up, but you get the idea.

Sisyrinchium bellum/Blue-eyed Grass — What can I say? Another plant that stole my heart. It has the most delicate little blue flowers with bright yellow centers. This dainty plant sways in the slightest breeze.

Once I got my babies in the ground, I spent the next two days checking them every hour or so to see how they were doing. When my husband started worrying about my mental state, I limited myself to checking every few hours. I’m happy to report that they have responded to my constant attention and, except for the sulking Chaparral Currant, all have new growth.

I tried as much as possible to get plants that would provide food for insects and birds. Those that don’t will provide cover and nesting places. Soon I’ll need to fill in with some that bloom later in the season. And I have lots of containers that I want to convert to what Mary Beth calls “bee pots” — container plants for bees. These might be CA natives, but I also want to plant bee favorites like rosemary and borage.

Now that this first bed is enlarged and planted, I love taking my morning tea out to the garden to admire my handiwork. Soon I’ll be making my plan for replacing the rest of the lawn with pathways and new beds. I can hardly wait to see the transformation of a wasteful lawn-covered space into a wildlife habitat. This really is turning out to be quite the adventure.

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