Honey Bee Swarms

HONEYBEE SWARMS: CAUSE FOR CONCERN?

Swarm of Honeybees on tree branch. Honeybee Swarms

Swarming is a large cluster of honeybees (tens of thousands!) hanging in a ball from a surface, and it begins in the spring.  It is the reproduction of honeybee colonies. “How,”  you ask?

The hive is considered a superorganism, which means all parts are uniquely necessary to the survival of the colony as a whole. Not a single honeybee can survive without the hive. The colony grows and eventually needs to split to reproduce more super organisms at additional nesting sites. This is where swarming comes in.

The “old queen” is programmed in her second year of ruling the hive, to prepare for swarming. This means she will leave, along with tens of thousands of her worker bees, including foragers and house bees alike. Some of the colony will be left behind with a virgin queen bee. The queen is very heavy whilst living in the hive fulfilling her egg-laying duties and is unable to fly. Thus, she must go on a diet when she knows it is time to swarm. The house bees cease to feed her and she stops laying eggs. Once she is slim and trim enough to take flight, all the bees gorge themselves on honey for the exhausting task ahead.

How does the hive decide to swarm?

Pheromones, otherwise known as chemical messages. Bees use many pheromones to communicate different messages throughout the colony. The queen releases pheromones from mandibular glands (adjacent to the jawline), which are passed to her worker bees through feeding. Her pheromone “cocktails” can instruct worker bees to collect food, create swarming cohesion, and prevent the maturation of eggs in other female worker bees. This form of communication unifies the colony’s survival tactics. One mode of survival is reproducing the hive, and this happens when the colony has become so large that some of the worker bees are not feeding the queen and thus not receiving her pheromones. Such a population believes there is no queen and begins raising a queen of their own. The existing queen must leave before the virgin queen emerges from her cup.

Meanwhile, the “old queen” is trimming down and sending out scouts to find a location to cluster. A cluster is a ball of bees hanging in strange places.  It could happen on a stroller, car, tree, house, pretty much any surface!  The cluster location isn’t far from the hive, and the swarm will only cluster as long as it takes to find a new nest, which is very brief. So, if you happen upon one, you are one lucky individual to be witnessing such an important part of a hive’s life cycle. Enjoy the view!

During the honeybee swarms cluster, some of the best foraging bees are sent out as scouts to find the next nesting site. Upon returning to the cluster, the scouts will do a waggle dance. The degree of enthusiasm the bee is waggling will encourage other scouts to verify the nesting site is indeed a good one. Finally, the entire swarm will leave together to begin building their new home.

What should you do if you see a swarm?

Please do not be afraid, but do show respect. Bees are not in the mood to attack at this very vulnerable moment in their life cycle. Stand back, give the honeybee swarms space, and watch and listen (the hum of a buzzing colony is music!).  If you are concerned, contact your local beekeeping association for a list of bee rescue contacts.  Do not spray or exterminate honeybees, or any bees for that matter, they are critical to our survival!  1 in 3 bites of the food we eat comes from bee pollination!

I hope you enjoyed learning something new today!   Thank you for joining the movement to save our bees!
Jessica

 

 

Mexican Sunflower, Pollinator Magnet!

by Heather Stone

Close up photo of an orange Mexican Sunflower blossom.

photo courtesy of pixabay – impradip

Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia rotundafolia is a must for the butterfly garden and is a favorite of our beloved monarch butterfly. This 4-6’ tall annual (perennial in USDA zones10-11) is covered in vibrant orange flowers the monarchs can’t resist. But it’s not only a favorite of monarch butterflies. Mexican Sunflower is also equally adored by many other butterfly species including painted ladies, fritillaries, eastern tiger swallowtails, giant swallowtails and more. Honeybees, bumblebees and hummingbirds flock to these nectar-rich flowers as well.

Mexican Sunflowers are easy to grow. Plant seeds indoors 1-2 months before your average last frost date or directly in the garden in late spring when the soil has warmed. Once germinated, these plants take off reaching heights of 4-6’ by 3-4’ wide so place them in the back of the border. Staking these tall plants helps to avoid any toppling over. The vibrant orange blooms appear mid-summer and last until the first frost. Deadheading every 2-3 days ensures continual bloom, equaling more visitors. Mexican sunflowers make great cut flowers too and are easy to grow in containers. Don’t leave this beauty out of your pollinator garden.

Mexican Sunflower blossom against blue sky.

photo courtesy of pixabay-4924546

 

 

 

 

Check out this cool video of Monarch butterflies enjoying the blossoms of Mexican Sunflower.

https://www.facebook.com/MonarchButterflyGarden/videos/895905987113736/

 

 

HIVE HAPPENINGS IN SEPTEMBER

Two beekeepers in bee suits inspecting a hive.

photo courtesy of pixabay – topp-digital-foto

By Engrid Winslow

Have you ever wondered what beekeepers actually do? Did you think that they just put hives in fields and then visit to collect honey every once in a while? Well in Hive Happenings, we are going to take you inside the duties of a beekeeper in the first of a series of articles explaining what the bees are up to and how a beekeeper helps them to survive and thrive.

Two jars of golden honey with a honey dipper.

photo courtesy of pixabay – fancycrave1

Honeybees are the only bees that overwinter as a colony and cold weather can be stressful enough that many colonies will not survive without some help from a beekeeper. Even with that help, a hive that is weak or doesn’t have enough food stored or suffers from a mite infestation will not make it through.  Each colony has worked very hard all spring and summer collecting honey and pollen to feed the new brood that the queen spends all day (and night!) laying. They are also storing extra honey and pollen to make it through the winter when there is very little forage (in most parts of the country).  Every colony needs 60-90 pounds of honey to survive the cold season. A responsible beekeeper only harvests whatever extra honey has been stored by the hive. Beekeepers watch their hives grow during the season and add “honey supers” on top of a two-deep hive colony with a “queen excluder” between the hive and the supers. Some hives will produce many of these supers that hold the excess honey – it varies by the colony and by the amount of forage available during the season. The excluder ensures that no brood is laid in the supers. In the early fall, beekeepers check to make sure that the honey stores are capped with wax and proceed to harvest the honey in a variety of ways ranging from using a “capping scratcher” with the frames set over a bucket to using electric or manual extracting machines.

Honey is a marvelous thing to have for personal use, to sell or to give to friends and family as gifts. The National Honey Board website has numerous recipes for all types of dishes using honey as an ingredient.  Check them out at National Honey Board.

There are many other duties for the beekeeper to take care of as the weather cools and, concurrently, the hive is also preparing itself for winter. The queen slows down her egg laying, drones are evicted from the hive and the colony shrinks to a size that can huddle together when it’s cold outside. I’ll share more of this information in my next blog about honeybees.

Gardening for the Native Bees: 4 Easy Tips For Making Your Garden Solitary Bee Friendly

by Sam DollA cavity-nesting native bee.

There are nearly 4,000 species of native bees in the United States alone! With the exception of bumblebees, nearly every native bee species in North America are solitary. They come in a variety of shapes in sizes, from enormous carpenter bees to the tiny Perdita genus.

If you want to learn more about bumblebees, check out our blog about how you can make your garden bumblebee friendly!

Unlike European honeybees or bumblebees, solitary bees are stingless, do not have a queen, live in a colony, or make honey and wax. Instead, female solitary bees build tunnels to use as nests, where they lay their eggs in a series of chambers packed with a pollen and nectar “paste” for their young to munch on when they hatch. Since males will hatch and emerge from the nest first, the mamma bee will lay the females in the deepest portion of the nest and males in the front.

Around 70% of solitary bees are known as “mining bees” because they tunnel underground to build their nests. The other 30% of bees are cavity-nesting bees and will nest in anything from hollow or pithy stems to dead wood, or even abandoned snail shells!

Native bees are incredibly important pollinators. Unlike honeybees, which carry pollen in a “pollen pouch” on their legs, native bees are a bit less tidy, covering their whole bodies in pollen to carry it home. This messiness means they lose much more pollen as they go flower to flower and it actually makes them much more efficient pollinators. Some plants actually need native bees to be pollinated at all! Squash and gourds and any other members of the Cucurbita genus all rely on very specialized Squash Bees!

For more on the Squash Bees, check out our Blog on the topic!

These bees are pretty neat! Here are some tips for Making your garden a native bee paradise!

1.    Preserve and manage nesting sites

One of the most important things you can do to help protect your local native bees is to make sure that your yard is full of potential nesting sites. For mining bees, leave sunny patches of bare earth for nest sites and try to avoid laying down anything that could be a barrier (like landscaping cloth, gravel, or mulch) for bees accessing or emerging from potential existing nest sites. Also, leave unused areas of your garden with old wood, stones, or branches undisturbed as a cavity-nesting bee haven.

You can also install a bee hotel in your yard. Often made from wood or bamboo, these hotels are great for cavity-nesting bees like the Blue Orchard Mason Bee or Leafcutter Bee! You can build one yourself or buy them from reputable suppliers like our friends at The Bees Waggle.

2.    Make your garden a bee buffet

To ensure that your garden is a Mecca for bees of all shapes and sizes, you need to make sure that there is a diversity of forage as well. Plant a mix of perennials and annuals so that you will have a mix of different blooms at the same time throughout the entire growing season. Also, try to have blocks of color in your garden so bees can easily find their way to the flowers they like over and over again, without having to hunt all around for them. Of course, native bees like native plants, so make sure to dedicate a portion (or all) of your garden to wildflowers. The Xerces Society has a variety of region-specific plant guides for pollinators that can get you started toward planting for native bees.

We did the hard work for you and made our Bee Rescue Wildflower Mix that will provide great season-long forage for both native and honeybees!

3.    Lay off the pesticides

Pesticides can’t discriminate between the bad and good bugs. These insecticides pose a particular danger to mining bees since they are often applied to bare ground areas around structures that are ideal nesting sites for these bees. These insecticides also pose the risk of washing into other areas of the garden and contaminating nest sites.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are systematic pesticides that live inside the plants that they are trying to protect. These have been particularly harmful to our various pollinator species because they work their way up through the plant into the nectar and pollen that various pollinators are attracted to. Flowers with neonics applied are actually luring bees and other insect pollinators to their deaths!

For tips on how to protect your garden and the bees in it, check out our eBook on Organic Pest Control!

4.    Take a closer look

One of the most important things your can do to protect native bees is to learn! Take some time to watch all the bees that visit and live in your garden. Visit the Xerces Society website and use their identification guides to try to figure out which bees you are seeing. Most importantly, SPREAD THE WORD! Educate your friends and family about all the bees that don’t make the nightly news and how vital they are to our future!

Other Resources

Check out these resources for more about pollinators and how you can help them

Pollination Syndrome

by Heather Stone

Did you know that different kinds of pollinators like certain kinds of flowers and are more likely to visit those flowers? Why is this? As both plants and pollinators have evolved over time certain characteristics or traits have developed to help these plants and pollinators interact more successfully. For plants, this means that pollen collected will be carried to another flower of the same kind and successful reproduction occurs. For pollinators, this means the ability to find and access necessary nectar and pollen resources. Pollination syndrome is defined as suites of flower traits that have evolved in response to natural selection imposed by different pollen vectors, which can be abiotic (wind and water) or biotic, such as animals, birds, bees, flies, moths, beetles and butterflies. There is a collection of characteristics that flowers have evolved to better ensure pollination. These include flower shape, color, odor, nectar, pollen, and the presence or absence of nectar guides.

 

What kind of flowers do some of our favorite pollinators prefer? 

 

Bees

Bee-pollinated flowers tend to have a lobe that acts as a landing pad for the bee. The flowers reproductive parts are often located at the top of tubular petals, dusting the back of the bee as it enters. Bumblebees have longer tongues than honeybees and are often drawn to deep, tubular flowers. Bees like brightly colored flowers, especially blues and yellows with a light, fresh scent. Bees can not see the color red so will not visit those flowers. Nectar and pollen need to be abundant and nectar guides are present.Orange Rudbeckia flower.

Cluster of Caltapa flowers hanging from tree branch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds can hover while drinking nectar so require no landing pad. These flowers are usually large and funnel-shaped. The flowers anthers dust the top of the hummingbird as it drinks. Red is the preferred color, but they are also attracted to pink and orange colored flowers as well. These flowers usually have little to no scent. Ample nectar supply is important.

Beetles

Beetles prefer a large bowl-shaped flower such as a magnolia. They simply crawl around the flower looking for nectar and in turn, are dusted by pollen. The flower colors are usually white or green and can range in scent from none to overly fruity. Some beetles are also very attracted to flowers with a strong putrid or rotting flesh smell.  

Single, white Magnolia blossom.

 

Butterflies

Butterflies prefer narrow, tubular flowers with a wide landing pad. They are attracted to brightly colored flowers especially shades of pink, blue, yellow, red and purple with a pleasant floral scent. Ample nectar supply is important and nectar guides are present on these flowers.

Moths

Moths prefer regular or tubular shaped flowers without a lip. These flowers are usually white or dull shades of red, purple or pink. The flowers have a strong scent allowing the moths to locate them at night when they are most active.

A stalk of Yucca blossoms.

 

 

 

Bats

Bats prefer flowers that are regular and bowl-shaped and only open at night when they are feeding. They are usually white, green or purple. These flowers must have an abundant supply of both nectar and pollen.Tall flower stalk of an Agave agains blue sky.

 

 

Flies

What kinds of flowers are flies attracted to? Flies are attracted to those plants with a strong putrid odor resembling the smell of rotten flesh. The flowers are often a purplish color meant to look like the flesh of a rotting animal. They can be shallow and funnel-like or complex and trap-like in shape.

 

 

Five Ways You Can Help Bumblebees

by Sam Doll

When you hear “Save the Bees!” what is the first thing you think of? For most people, the first image that comes to mind are large colonies of hard-working honeybees buzzing to and fro in service of their queen. This fantasy might even include a beekeeper lovingly tending to their many hives. While the honeybee is a vital part of our food system, pollinating many of our crops and providing us with beeswax and honey, they are not the only bee we need to be worried about!

There are nearly 4,000 species of native bees in the United States alone! Native bees Honeybees were brought to North America by European settlers and are not actually endemic to the US. These native bees come in an astonishing variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. In this blog, we will talk about one group of native bee and what you can do to help them: the bumblebee!

Bumble bee on purple flower.

Bumblebees are one of the most recognizable types of bees, right behind the honeybee, notable due to their large, fuzzy appearance. There are 46 species of bumblebee in North America. Bumblebees are also unique for being some of the only social native bees, forming small underground colonies with a queen and worker system. However, unlike honeybees, the colony does not overwinter but creates new “queens” that will emerge and create their own colonies the next spring.

Bumblebees are especially important because they can perform buzz pollination. Some plants’ pollen is more firmly attached to their anthers and needs a little help being shaken loose. The bumblebee, along with a few other native bees, can “buzz” by dethatching their wings from their flying muscles and vibrating. This releases the sticky pollen and gives the bee and the flower what it needs! Tomatoes, eggplant, and blueberries are all buzz pollinated species!

Tips for protecting Bumblebees

  1. Plant native flowers and bumblebee friendly vegetables. We recommend our Bee Rescue Wildflower Mix or any of our heirloom tomatoes in the veggie section of our store!
  2. Leave the more unused parts of your land unused. Bumblebees nest in old animal burrows and new queens will overwinter in tiny holes in the ground.
  3. Avoid raking, tilling or mowing your yard until April or May to protect overwintering bees
  4. Eliminate pesticide use in your yard. Try more natural pest management techniques. Check out our blog about natural weed and pest control.
  5. Report the bees you see to Bumble Bee Watch, a new citizen-science project sponsored by the Xerces Society and five North American partners.

 

For more garden tips, pollinator facts, and great deals, make sure to follow our newsletter!

It’s National Pollinator Week

by Heather StoneLogo for pollinator week from pollinator.org.

Eleven years ago the U.S. Senate approved the designation of one week in June as National Pollinator Week to bring attention to the urgent problem of our declining pollinator populations. This year June 18-24th 2018 is National Pollinator Week. There will be many activities to celebrate across the nation and the globe.

 

Want to find a way to get involved? Check out the listing of activities by state at http://pollinator.org/pollinator-week.

 

Here is a sampling of what is happening here in our home state of Colorado.

 

Garfield County is hosting its first annual Pollinator Palooza! There will Pollinator Gardening for Junior Master Gardeners on June 19th. On June 22nd there will be Building Mason Bee Houses for Pollinators.

For more information check out their website. http://garfield.extension.colostate.edu/programs/gardening-horticulture/

 

In Salida, CO, Blessed are the Pollinators Project is working on a collaborative art project involving the making and hanging of 1000 prayer flags for pollinators. Check out their website to see how to get involved. https://www.blessedarethepollinators.com

 

The Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, CO will be celebrating all week long with guided garden tours, arts and games, beeswax candle making, milkweed seed giveaways and more. For the 21 and over crowd there will be a sommelier-led honey tasting & food pairing on the evening of Saturday, June 23rd. Find out at the details on their website at https://www.butterflies.org.  Check out this interview with Butterfly Pavilion’s head beekeeper Mario Padilla at https://cbsloc.al/2K65c16 

 

On June 20th at 6:30 pm the City of Greeley as part of their Landscape Lecture series will be hosting The Native Plants: Bees Butterflies & Beauty class. Discover ways to create beautiful gardens while providing good habitat for bees, butterflies and other wildlife. For more information and to register for the class go to http://greeleygov.com/services/ws/conservation/about/#event|native-plants|14147

Herbs for the Bees

by Sam Doll

Bees are responsible for at least one-third of our diet! Since these busy little creatures are so important to the food we eat, we thought it would be nice to spice up their diet (as well as ours) with some ideas to make a bee-friendly pollinator garden!

Here are a few herbs that you and the bees will love to eat this summer

Sage: Great for giving that classic flavor to meats and, if you are daring, can be a great addition to some classic adult beverages (check out this Sage Bee’s Knees Cocktail). Sage is a hardy perennial that loves well-drained soil and lots of sunshine, which means it does great in a container. This herb also preserves its flavor past flowering, which means it can feed you and the bees at the same time!

Lemon Balm: A perennial herb native to the Mediterranean, with a wonderfully gentle lemon scent in the mint family.  The fragrant, inconspicuous but nectar-rich white flowers will attract honey bees.  Leave the blooms for the bees for a couple of days, then trim them off to prevent self-sowing.  Lemon Balm is often used as a flavoring in ice cream and lemon balm pesto and in herbal teas.  Use the fresh leaves in chicken or fish dishes as well as with fruit and fruit juices.  The same goes for any member of the mint family (peppermint, spearmint, and catnip included). Basil: Sweet, Thai, cinnamon, lemon, lime, purple, and Christmas are just a few of the basil varieties available to you. Basil is a versatile and easy to grow herb that originated in tropical Asia and has been cultivated for thousands of years.  This warm-weather annual has a refreshing, aromatic flavor that makes it a classic ingredient of many Italian and Southeast Asian dishes. Try using it in a classic Thai basil Soup. Make sure to trim the flowers before they go to seed to prevent the flavor from changing.Green leaves of basil growing in a small pot.

Thyme: An easy-to-grow, drought-tolerant herb used to flavor food, as an antiseptic, and in essential oils.  The leaves of this warm, pungent spice that can be used fresh or dried in many dishes, marinades, and sauces. For an easy dish, try this oven-roasted potatoes and carrots with thyme recipe. Thyme will attract both bees and butterflies!

Chives: The surprisingly beautiful chive blooms are as tasty to the bees as they are to us! The blossoms are oniony and spicy. They are often used to make chive blossom vinegar, which is often used in salad dressing, or just can be chopped up and added to any savory dish for some flavor and color!

Purple blooms of the herb, chives.

Lavender: The most timeless and versatile garden flower around, lavender flowers and leaves can be used in everything from homemade cosmetics to confections. It is especially nice to use in a simple, homemade sugar scrub. The blooms are perfect for attracting all the neighborhood honeybees.Purple lavender blooms with honey bees.

Other great pollinator-friendly herbs are bee balm, chicory, dill, fennel, hyssop, and rosemary.

If you want to get your herb garden jump-started, check out our Essential Herb Garden Collection

Swarm Season

A swarm of honey bees on the bottom of a rope swing.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

by Engrid Winslow

Have you ever spotted a honey bee swarm on the eaves of your house, a fence post or in a tree? They have even been spotted on parked bicycles! Swarming is the natural result of a hive that has made it through the winter and ramps up for spring when pollen is available and nectar flows begin. The hive gets crowded and the bees raise a second queen and the older queen leaves the hive with about half of the hive population to find a new place to nest.

You SHOULD NOT do any of the following things:
1. Please don’t spray them with water or insecticides. We need to protect these pollinators, not harm them.
2. No need to worry about them attacking you. These bees are very docile and are just hanging out while scout members of the new colony are looking for a place to call home.
3. Don’t try to capture them unless you are an experienced beekeeper as you could harm the bees or lose the queen in the process.

Here’s what you CAN (and should) do:
1. Let someone know the location of the swarm. If your neighbor is a beekeeper it might even be their hive that swarmed.
2. Contact local beekeeper’s associations in your area. Many already have a swarm hotline up and running at this time of year.
3. If you can’t find a beekeeper, then call your local county extension agent.
4. Take photos! A bee swarm is an interesting phenomenon and you might not see one again for a long time.

Take a Listening Walk

By: Sandy Swegel

The skies were gray this morning.  The landscape was brown and dead.  I kept looking for Spring but at best there were just the green tips of bulbs appearing among dead leaves. Maybe the buds were swelling on trees.  It was cold, but it still felt like Spring.  How could that be?

The loud demanding chirping of some birds interrupted my thoughts and I realized I could HEAR Spring. So I took a listening walk to a nearby pond and while I couldn’t really see Spring…the pond scenery was just as brown as my yard was…but now I knew…nature is waking up.

I could hear the male birds in rapt mating calls…doing their best to make some new baby birds.  Lots of mating and birthing going on in Spring.  I could hear some tiny chirps that I think were baby sparrows or finches.  There was rustling in the winter leaf debris.  I couldn’t see anything but I could guess there were baby caterpillars and insects under there that the birds were scratching to find.  I suspect there were little mice in there too.  Which meant that snakes were waking up and slithering in the grasses.

There wasn’t much to see, but I could hear nature erupting in new life. Spring is noisy.   A nature walk in January is pretty quiet except for some chickadees and perhaps large animals running off, startled by a human invading their wild territory.  But Spring makes an absolute racket.  Even the water is noisy.  A week of warm weather had melted ice and brooks were babbling again.

Very early Spring is subtle.  I know from the sounds that new life is starting.  But it’s a slow lazy waking up.  Snow is coming later in the week and I’m reminded of the adage that March is the snowiest month.

The avid gardener has just a few tasks in early Spring.  One is to enjoy nature without having to work to weed or control it.  Another is to do some pruning while the trees and shrubs are still dormant.  But after a cold morning walk, the best thing this gardener can do is go inside and start some more seeds under the lights.  Outside, Mother Nature can call the shots.  Inside, I’m getting a head start on all those seeds that I want to grow now!

Photo credits:

cuddlesandmuddles.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/world-book-day-activities-taking-a-listening-walk/

www.twrcwildlifecenter.org/volunteer/baby-bird-program/