Monarch Butterfly Migration

Graphic stating, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Monarch Migration."

Butterfly Migration

by BBB Seed

Each fall, about this time in October, millions of Monarch butterflies begin the journey to their overwintering sites in Mexico and California. In the spring, the Monarch butterflies will then return to their breeding areas across America and as far as Eastern Canada. Four generations of monarch butterflies will be born and die by the time this journey is complete.

In February and March, the butterflies come out of hibernation and begin looking for a mate. These butterflies will then begin to migrate north and east looking for a place to lay their eggs. This begins the first generation. Eggs are laid on milkweed plants in March and April. These eggs will hatch into baby caterpillars that will then feed for about two weeks before beginning metamorphosis. After completing metamorphosis the monarch butterfly emerges and enjoys its short lifespan of about two to six weeks. Before dying the butterfly lays eggs for the second generation. This second generation is born in May and June and the third in July and August. Both of these generations will go through the same life cycle as the first generation. The fourth generation of Monarch butterflies is born in September and October and will go through the same process as the first three generations except for this generation of butterflies will live 6-8 months making the migration journey to the warmer climates of Mexico or California.

A mass of Monarch Butterflies.

photo courtesy of pixabya – skeeze

Monarch butterflies living east of the Rocky Mountains will overwinter in Mexico in oyamel fir trees. The Monarchs living west of the Rockies will overwinter in eucalyptus trees in and around Pacific Grove, California. It wasn’t until 1975 that we discovered these overwintering sites. The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is a World Heritage Site that contains most of the overwintering sites for the eastern Monarch population.

Monarch butterflies migrate for two reasons. The first is because the butterflies can’t withstand the freezing temperatures in the northern and central continental climates during winter. Secondly, their larval food source (milkweed) does not grow in their overwintering sites.

In recent years researchers have found the Monarch population numbers to be declining. Some reasons may include the loss of milkweed species needed for larval development, unintended effects of pesticide use and the loss of habitat in overwintering sites in both Mexico and California. Creating more Monarch habitat could help the declining populations. Planting milkweed species and other nectar-producing plants is a great place to start.  Start by planting our Monarch Rescue Mix!

Photo of Monarch Butterflies on orange milkweed blossom.

photo courtesy of pixabay – balloonimals

Sources: https://www.monarch-butterfly.com/monarch-migration.html,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarch_Butterfly_Biosphere_Reservehttp://pollinator.org/

What’s Happening in the Honeybee Hive as Winter Starts to Close In

Photo of an open shed on a foggy heath housing several honeybee hives.

Honeybees in Winter

by Engrid Winslow

This part 2 of a series on what happens in the honeybee hive in winter, what beekeepers do to manage their beehives and how you can also help to sustain honeybees and other pollinators.

Winter in a hive of honey bees is tough. Honey bees are the only bees who overwinter as a colony (more about the lifecycle of bumblebees and native bees will follow in later articles) which makes them much more vulnerable to the vagaries of winter weather. Here’s what is happening in the hive as fall changes into early winter.

Honey bees are amazingly resourceful at helping to winter-proofing their hives. They use a special substance called propyls to seal up all the cracks and crannies that could let in wind and moisture during the cold rainy months. Whenever the beekeeper checks on the hives (temperatures must be above 50 degrees and sunny) the bees do an admirable job of sealing everything back up again.

Honeybees are not warm-blooded and depend on clustering in order to combat the winter temperatures. The worker bees who are left in the honeybee hive in winter after the drones (male bees) have been evicted are all daughters of the Queen Bee and are devoted to protecting her and whatever small amounts of brood remain in the hive. As winter settles in, days darken and temperatures really drop, the Queen lays fewer and fewer eggs until stopping completely. The remaining cluster of bees is made of those who hatched late in the fall and these few daughters center around the Queen. They rotate from the center, where the Queen is protected from the elements to the outside of the bee cluster.  They create warmth in the cluster by unhinging their wings at the shoulder muscle and vibrating them (also referred to as “shivering”). No foraging takes place (well, after all, what flowers are blooming in the winter anyway?) and the hive is dependent on the stores of honey and pollen that has been stored from the summer. The bees on the outside of the cluster are usually able to feed off the pollen and honey which is stored on the outside of the frame around the brood. When temperatures are warm enough the bees will venture out for “cleansing flights” – yes, that’s a delicate name for what they need to do! But otherwise, they are “socked in” for the winter months.

Beekeepers will continue to supplement food for their hives, depending on temperatures, as they hope and pray the bees will survive to expand their colonies next spring and summer.  Check out this youtube video to hear the amazing sound created by the bees in this winter hive.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yqr40loMhJw

 

 

Mexican Sunflower, Pollinator Magnet!

Wildflower Seeds

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

All About Honeybees

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.

Fall Blooming Plants for Pollinators

Fall Blooming Plants for Pollinators

Photo of a honey bee on a purple aster bloom.

photo courtesy of pixabay – 1735564

Wildflower Seeds

by Heather Stone

As the days become shorter and the nights cooler and the season shifts from summer to fall many of us can find our gardens to be a little lackluster. Not much is blooming after the abundance of color throughout the spring and summer.

This is where fall blooming plants come in. There are many native and non-native plants that bloom in late summer and fall that can keep your garden filled with color.

But, autumn-blooming plants don’t just benefit the gardener. As the bountiful blossoms of spring and summer decrease, it is important to provide pollinators with plenty of food sources as they begin to prepare for winter. Hummingbirds and butterflies will need plenty to eat before heading south and the honeybees and native bees need to gather as much pollen and nectar as possible to create winter food stores.

Here is a list of fall blooming plants that make great additions to the garden.

Fall Blooming Perennials:

  1. Asters-there are various species of asters native to different parts of North America. Most plants have flowers in shades of white, blue, purple and pink. They are drought tolerant, grow to around 2-3’ and do best in full sun to part shade. Attractive to various species of bees, including bumblebees and leafcutter bees. Some species help fuel monarch butterfly migration.Photo of purple aster blooms.
  2. Black-Eyed Susan-the brilliant yellow flowers of Black-eyed Susan are long blooming and loved by both bees and birds.
  3. Blanket Flower– this tough plant needs little water, blooms a long time and it’s orange, red and yellow flowers are beautiful. Of course, the pollinators love it too!

Want to know more about the pollinators that visit blanket flower? Check out this link: https://bit.ly/2BvEmj4

  1. Liatris-the tall pinkish-purple flower spikes bloom late summer and attract a plethora of bees and butterflies.
  2. Goldenrod– when the goldenrod starts to bloom I know fall is just around the corner. There are a variety of native goldenrods all being easy to grow, drought tolerant and excellent bee plants.
  3. Purple Coneflower– this long-lived perennial comes to life in late summer with a striking display of large purple flowers and attracts a variety of bees and butterflies.Photo of honey bee on purple coneflower bloom.
  4. Garlic Chives- when the white star-shaped flowers of garlic chives start to bloom they are abuzz with so many bees you won’t believe your eyes. They are a late season nectar source for butterflies too.

Photo of the white blooms of garlic chive.

Fall Blooming Annuals:

These flowers have been working hard in the garden all summer and will continue to bloom until the first frost strikes.

  1. Cosmos– these drought-tolerant flowers come in shades of pink, white and red and will begin to bloom in late summer and last well into fall.
  2. Cleome-with ample nectar stores, the pink to lavender flowers of this western native are loved by bees and butterflies.
  3. Calendula-this long-time garden favorite loves the cooler weather of fall and its flowers of yellow, orange and gold add a great splash of color to the garden.
  4. Borage– the long-blooming, blue, star-shaped flowers are adored by the bees.

    Single blue Borage bloom.

    Photo courtesy of Pixabay virginie-I

Check out this blog post about borage- https://bit.ly/2MtXMKv

  1. Mexican Sunflower– loved by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds the vibrant orange blooms will last until frost.
  2. Marigolds– this garden staple will add a blast of color to your border and looks great in pots.
  3. Sunflowers-nothing is more cheerful than a sunflower and the bees, butterflies and birds adore them.
  4. Zinnias– with blooms in every color of the rainbow these long-lasting flowers are a great addition to the garden and the bees love them.
  5. Pincushion Flower– both the perennial and annual varieties of the pincushion flower produce a sweet fragrance that attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Regular deadheading of the spent blossoms will keep these beauties blooming all season long.

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

Creating a Native Bee Paradise

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

Save the Bees

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!
  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

Pollinator Awareness

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

Oh, Sunflowers!

More About Sunflowers

By Engrid Winslow

Sunflower photo courtesy of Christy Short.

Gorgeous Sunflower Photo Courtesy of Christy Short

Sunflowers (Helianthus sp.) are such a great annual for so many reasons. First of all, they are so darn cheerful with their big, bright blooms during the hottest part of the summer.  They are also easy to grow.  Just poke them into the ground and keep them well-watered until they germinate and then stand back because they thrive in rich soil and heat.  The pollen is loved by bees and the seeds are attractive to birds.  Sunflowers come in so many varieties with sizes ranging from 12” to 15‘ tall and the colors vary from pale lemon yellow to bright yellow, orange, red and bronze.  The petals can be single, double or in fluffy multiple layers (check out Teddy Bear Sunflower).

Tag for Teddy Bear Sunflower packet with bushy foliage has multiple 3 - 6" golden-yellow, double blooms

It can be fun to watch the birds eat the seeds or you can make a fun project out of roasting them. To do this: soak the seeds in salted water for 24 hours, then roast in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper at 350 for 35 minutes, stirring frequently. Let them cool and store in an airtight container. If you want to serve them warm after roasting toss them with a bit of melted butter for a delicious treat. Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin C, E and are high in fiber which supports digestion, they also contain antioxidants, magnesium (for bone health) and can help lower cholesterol.

The roots of sunflowers have an allopathic quality which inhibits the ability of other plants nearby to grow properly. This makes them a great choice for weed suppression but keep them away from other flowers that you love.

Half awake sunflower photo courtesy of Christy Short.

Half Awake Sunflower (Photo Courtesy of Christy Short)