I was so impressed with this article I wanted to share part of it with you.
Printed in The Bee Line (newsletter of the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association)
By Sam(antha) Burns, UME Master Gardener, Somerset Beekeepers President
While not every homeowner is interested keeping bees, it is possible to provide the ideal conditions to encourage populations of pollinating insects and animals in our yards and gardens.
Eliminate the use of pesticides whenever possible. Insecticides kill insect pollinators directly, while herbicides reduce food and habitat diversity. If you must use a pesticide, use the least toxic product available. Read the labels carefully – many pesticides are dangerous to bees. Use the chemical as directed, and spray at night when bees and a lot of other pollinators are not active. (There are, however, moths and bats who are nocturnal pollinators.)
My note: Please try not to use ANY pesticides or herbicides!
Use native plants. These plants have adapted to your local climate and soil conditions, and the pollinators that propagate them have evolved a symbiotic relationship with them over millions of years. Native plants provide nectar, pollen and nesting habitat for the native butterflies, insects and birds that inhabit your local area. They are also advantageous to the gardener because native plants do not require fertilizers, need less water, and help prevent erosion with their deep root systems.
Avoid hybrids and “doubled” flowers. While these showy blossoms might be attractive to the human eye, modern hybrids are typically less fragrant, and offer little pollen and nectar for pollinators.
Provide a variety of plants that bloom from early spring through late fall. By hosting a continuous bloom, you will feed the pollinators who visit your yard throughout the growing season. Offer a diversity of flower colors, shapes, and sizes, to accommodate the varying lengths of pollinator’s tongues, including night-blooming plants for nocturnal pollinators. Planting in clumps helps pollinators find (concentrated) foods and nesting sources.
My note: Bees don’t migrate during the cold months, so they need food sources through late fall.
Include plants for caterpillars. If you want colorful butterflies in and around your yard and gardens, be sure to include larval host plants for their offspring. Place them where unsightly leaf damage can be tolerated, since the caterpillars will eat them. Accept host plants that are less than ornamental, possibly even outright weeds. Invest in a butterfly guide, and plant a butterfly garden.
Build nesting habitats and offer a water source. By placing dead trees and the occasional dead limb (so long as it is not a safety hazard), you will provide essential nesting sites for native bees and other pollinators. You can aid native bees by drilling holes of varying sizes and lengths into dead trees and stumps, or by building a bee condo. Also, creating a water source for butterflies and bees is helpful. Use a shallow saucer with some sand and pebbles so the tiny insects won’t drown; mix a small bit of sea salt into the mud, as this helps attract the pollinators to the water source and provides them with valuable minerals.
Reduce lawn size and mow pollinater-consciously. Lawns are a veritable barren wasteland for pollinators in search of food and nesting habitat, but by decreasing the portion of our yards that we mow we can leave more habitat for wildlife. When you do mow, do so with pollinators in mind. In the spring, wait to mow until after the dandelion bloom, as this is the first major nectar flow for native bees and other pollinators. Also, mow late in the evening when the most pollinators are inactive.
My Note: Clover makes a GREAT lawn and provides plenty of food for pollinators.
Practice a peaceful coexistence. Get a guidebook and learn to recognize pollinators and other beneficial insects in your neighborhood. Take time to watch these creatures at work, and appreciate their beauty. Allow bees to nest innocuously in your yard and about your home; generally they will go about their lives without ever bothering you or your family, and the occasional sting is a small price to pay for the services these creatures provide.
My note: Include your whole family in the planting project. Have the kids research and pick several plants they can grow and take care of. They’ll be proud and excited to see pollinators on their flowers!
The Xerces Society – http://www.xerces.org
Pollinator Partnership – http://www.pollinator. org
Celebrating Wildflowers – http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers
How did you get into beekeeping?
Funny story, actually. Our youngest daughter, Kimberly, would come to our house to hang out and have dinner with us at least once a week. I noticed she spent a lot of time just sitting and watching the honeybees that foraged in our front yard. My wife has converted what was once a postage-stamp sized “lawn” (mostly crawl grass and non-flowering weeds) into a herb/vegetable garden. Everything in our garden is either for use by us (medicinal or edible) or by pollinators. Since the conversion, we have seen lots of native bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and birds. Anyway, I got interested in watching the bees as well. As I became more fascinated with what these beautiful critters were doing, I started reading more and more about beekeeping and the possibility of keeping a hive or two in our front yard. I started attending meetings of the Sonoma County Beekeepers’ Association a full year before I decided to buy equipment. I also took Randy Sue’s class in beginning beekeeping and bought her dvd Organic Beekeeping 101. Her ideas were very much in line with the way I wanted to house my bees. So, this past Spring I brought two nucs to a local beekeeper and purchased 2 colonies. I also caught my first swarm in May! I currently have two top bar hives and one Langstroth hive.
Why top bars?
One of the books I read while doing research was Phil Chandler’s “Barefoot Beekeeper,” and it just resonated with me. I wanted to “keep” bees in a way that was more “natural” and “sustainable” than what I saw from commercial beekeeping. I have since dropped the term “beekeeper” and call myself a “bee steward.” I also love the term “bee guardian” that was first coined by the Backyard Hive website, www.backyardhive.com. I believe top bar hives are a better way to give the bees a home without meddling in the way they want to be. The bees build their own natural comb, the way THEY want to, not the way we WANT them to. My top bar hives all have observation windows, so you can check on them without disturbing their comings and goings. It’s better for the bees that having to open a Langstroth-style hive, as every time you open the hive, you set the bees back at least two weeks! Because the bars on a top bar hive don’t have space between them, the hive stays at a more constant temperature when you open the hive. And because you only have to remove one bar at a time (when you want to do some hand-on work) the inside temerature doesn’t fluctuate as much. It’s been such a wonderful experience and from it I’ve started my own company, Heritage Beehives, building my own version of a top bar hive, as well as other woodenware for keeping top bar hives. (www.heritagebeehives.com)
What is your favorite beekeeping tip?
Don’t be a “worry-wart” when it comes to beekeeping. What I mean is, let bees do what they do best. Just give them a home and enjoy the benefits! And don’t get into beekeeping just to take and sell honey. Respect these beautiful creatures for what they have done for the past tens of millions of years, and marvel at how they do it!
I was recently asked to explain the similarities and differences of my patented Hex Hive® and Fragile Planets’ Octagonal Hive in the UK and thought I’d share them with you too.
Both are round environments. Both have peaked roofs. Both have stacking supers. Both use foundationless frames or starter strips so the bees can always build their own comb.
The differences are:
The Hex Hive® duplicates the exact shape of the cells in the comb that the bees create – a hexagon.
Every super has it’s own entrance and attached entrance reducer. Separate entrances prevent the bees from being overworked by having to climb super after super to get to the various combs in the hive. And attached entrance reducers mean you never lose them.
The Hex Hive® supers stack on top of each other and can be managed by one beekeeper. Rather than “supering,” or adding empty boxes to the top of the hive, Octagon hives are “nadired,” meaning that empty boxes are added to the bottom. Once a few supers get filled out that hive will get heavy, requiring the help of more than one beekeeper to lift it in order to add a bottom super.
While I understand and agree this is how bees build comb in the wild, it is not practical for the beekeeper to have to lift the whole hive to add a super below. I imagine the moving of the whole hive could also disturb and damage some of the comb.
The Hex Hive® peaked roof also has an attached, ventilated inner cover and a screened bottom box for better ventilation throughout the year.
You can find The Hex Hive® at ThankNature.com