Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A short, easy to understand overview of the flower-pollinator relationship

I just received a notice from Horticulture about a great sale on daylilies. Being bee-focused, I did a quick search on whether daylilies would make good pollen or nectar sources. Right off the bat, I was thinking "no" because the deep trumpet is not an ideal landing pad for a honey bee, but this essay, "Pollination Adaptation" made me think again. I especially appreciated the explanation of the bulls-eye pattern as it appears in ultraviolet light, showing that the honey bee can "see" the flower as a food source even when to our eyes, the flower is colored red which honey bees cannot see.

A scholarly article in the journal PLoS One found carpenter bees to be among the 930 pollinators that visited daylily hybrids during the day; we have native carpenter bees, so it's possible these flowers may provide a food source for honey bees. They most definitely are attractive to Swallowtail Butterflies, which I find just as appealing as a gardener, especially since they are a native pollinator. The daylilies would add summer interest to the blueberry patch, too, along with the gaillardias.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Honey bees on the brain

You know you've got honeycomb occupying neural space when a trip to your local big box garden store (in this case, Lowes) turns into a game of follow-the-honey-bee. While I wasn't there long (just picking up stuff for daughter's latest science project), I couldn't help but notice which plants had bees. I found 1/2 dozen buzzing in a pallet of alstroemerias. The flight pattern was the quick in-and-out (I'm sure there is a technically correct name for it, but I don't know what it is), which if I remember correctly is the pattern that characterizes pollen collection...but no! I am wrong. According to "Bee Behavior During Foraging" the time spent on the flower has a relationship to how much nectar is available. However, foraging bees not only show flower fidelity, but according to what I've been reading (e.g, Thomas Seeley and Jurgen Tautz), foraging bees are also task-specific -- most collect either pollen OR nectar, with few (around 5%) collecting both. So, not sure whether these bees were after nectar or pollen, but according to moraybeedinosaurs, alstroemeria is a good source of both. Since they are also a lovely flower, I see a future for them in my garden with its evolving bee-botany focus. Kim Flottum also  talks about creating bee botany gardens/landscapes in this month's Bee Culture. In the meantime, enjoy the picture, taken with my phone! Can you find the honeybee?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The very nearly finished product

I will eventually write out the whole saga, but for now, the first hive has gone from its unpainted terminator look to the overly-bland pale yellow to the very-nearly-finished state that includes orchid-colored flowers (the Valspar color of the year!). The only step to complete is adding a latch for the observation window.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Hive Tracks Mileage Map!

Haven't even finished building the first hive, but was clued into this cool beekeeping records tool called Hive Tracks. When you enter a hive's location, the maps function generates a map of the area bees might cover in 1, 2, and 3 mile circles. I was stunned! There are 4 or 5 nurseries or garden centers within just the two mile area. That doesn't even include all the private gardens or state parks in the vicinity.

A part of me is all "yay" -- look at all this forage! Another part is "eww" -- look at all those possible pesticides. It's another few weeks before I get my first package and actually have a real, working hive, so I cannot attest to the experience of using Hive Tracks for apiary management (does a backyard beek need a management system?), but signing up was worth it just to see this map! Have you ever mapped your bees forage area?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Welcome to the HoneyDome!

It's Amazon's fault. I would not have thought about beekeeping at all had my Kindle not conveniently recommended "Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper" because Laurie King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice sat glowing on my homescreen. "Accidental --really?" I thought...who accidentally stacks white boxes with stinging insects? It was late, I was out of reading, so downloaded the sample, reasoning that I would at least get an answer in the first chapter. The Fates were not done -- Ms. Marchese herself became interested because she saw the Laurie King book while searching for airplane reading! The sample was lovely  reading, and thus the whole book was bought and started me thinking about keeping bees.

The great thing about the Kindle is you can hide titles. No one knew I was reading about bees (the titles to the right are among those I've read). I moved onto The Backyard Beekeeper (Kim Flottum) about the time my husband brought me a jar of dark honey from a Turkish friend who lives in Germany. The honey tasted like caramel and molasses -- it was delicious, too strong for the kids (yay! all for me!). I spent an hour translating the label, finding that bees actually made honey from aphid secretions, and that's what this honey was made of. Very Cool Stuff.

Around this time I said aloud that I was reading about stacked white boxes of stinging insects, and my mother -- who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer --  stated firmly that she was "deathly" allergic to bees and if I kept hives, she would not visit our house again. I didn't trot out my new knowledge of bees because arguing was pointless, but as it happened, reading was all I would have time to do. I spent much of the next year caring for my mother, planning her funeral, and together with my brother, taking care of all those details left by even the best-planned lives. It's been nearly a year since she passed, and I've now logged nearly two years of reading about beekeeping. I figure it's time I got started.

On the way to this point, I almost gave it all up -- the idea of pesticides was too unappealing. I have a 5 acre home site, love gardening and landscaping, but don't use pesticides or herbicides except to kill fire ants. I couldn't see starting now, and in a last ditch effort one evening, decided I should read at least one book on "organic" or "natural" beekeeping. Oddly enough given the title, the book I chose was "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping". In that book, I found concepts like "small cell size" as an antidote to bee pests and that the beehive as a self-regulating ecosystem could be both respected and managed. The book mentioned foundationless frames and different types of hives. I had no idea up to this point that there were different types of hives! I did a web search for "top bar hives", found Michael Bush's web site, read it several times, bought the book, and found the other TBH practitioners with publications: the Crowders, Christy Hemenway, and Phil Chandler. I've read their books over and over.

So, that is how I got here -- with the wood stacked to make my own TB hives in the garage (using Phil Chandler's plans mostly, with top bar sizes recommended by Michael Bush). My first package of bees (from Bee Weaver Apiary) arrives the first week of April. My husband loves the idea of having bee hives, and I just found out that new neighbors are also starting hives! He is using the Langstroth box and foundation frames, but without pesticides. There are blueberries to plant, native wildflowers and trees to get hold of, and seeds ready to grow pollination-required veggies.

It feels a bit overstated to claim we are now an "apiary". But HoneyDome was too fun to pass up. We live in a dome house, the name rhymes with honeycomb -- see what I mean?