Organic Beekeeping

The natural way to raise bees.

Archive for the category “gardening”

Pollinator Friendly Practices

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!

Additional Resources:

The Xerces Society

Pollinator Partnership – http://www.pollinator. org

Celebrating Wildflowers





When bees really want that nectar…

Posted with permission from author Linda Beutler


Earlier in the year I posted about some strange behavior seen by European honeybees on one particularly fecund seedling in the FRCC test plot. They seemed to be trying to pry sepals apart to get to the nectary chamber, formerly only accessed by hummingbirds.They succeeded!

After working and working, tag-teams of the bees managed to separate the sepals at the broadest diameter of the flowers, as shown in the first picture, and get at the nectar. The opening shows the visible bruising consistent with the forcing apart of the sepals. Keep in mind that bees exploiting the blossoms this way are not pollinating the flower, because they have no contact with the anthers. Free-loaders!

Clematis 'BeeHappy'

No native bees have been seen engaging in this activity, and the hummingbirds (both Anna’s and Rufous hummingbirds) continue to pollinate the flowers until the bees have cracked the sepals apart on a given flower. The hummingbirds move on to newly opened flowers, and cease pollinating the flowers disfigured by the bees. And unfortunately, once the bees mastered the skill of opening this shape of clematis blossom, they applied their lessons to ‘Fudo’ and other Viornae group hybrids. Yes, they’re quick learners, I’ll give ‘em that!

Clematis 'BeeHappy'

This “tutorial” seedling, which showed great vigor and stamina, has been named ‘Bee Happy’. We will be propagating it for sale. The flowers, in the typical “bonnet” shape, are rosy-mauve in color, with the exterior fading to silver as the flowers age. We assume it to be a pitcheri x crispa cross, and it is lightly fragrant, but shows no crispate edges. We’ll be sending more details to Clematis on the Web, and will be registering the name with the RHS clematis registrar.

The bees seem to know there is nectar in these blossoms, but there isn’t room for them to crawl up into the flower—the bees are too big, and the stamens too tightly packed. Undaunted, the bees attempted to separate the seams between the sepals, using forelegs and mouth parts to try to pry an opening to access the nectar. I watched their efforts for about 10 minutes before realizing I should be taking pictures! During the time I observed the honeybees, I didn’t see any of them succeed in opening the sepal edges, and was surprised that the bees would expend so much energy trying. A couple of rows away, native bumblebees were feasting on a Clematis macropetala seedling’s flowers (the same plant that Killdeer’s nested under a year ago), an open bell much easier to navigate in, and a flower not exploited by the hummingbirds.

Why would so many non-native bees be trying so hard to crack these clematis blooms? I did detect a slight fragrance, but there are many easier plants to drink from nearby. If these bees are ever successful at opening clematis in this nontraditional way, I’ll let you know.

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