Tuesday, May 31, 2011

White Double Doubletake

The previous photos of the N. albus were made over the weekend and since then the inner petals have grown bigger and the center more open!  Who would have guessed?  Here is a photo from this morning:

The center still looks a bit off-putting to me, no raised structures which are still semi-obscured by petal tissue so I still am guessing that for pollinators, it's not much of a favorite.  In fact, all the time I was working around them I have never seen any insects take a look.  They are such beauties though so I cut more tonight and now have a nice collection of them in a pitcher!

Speaking of a look - here is someone peaking around the edge of....well, stay tuned for the next post!

Late Daffodil Beauty

Here is one daffodil that I would imagine is not a good one for bees.  It is too prudish.  The petals overfold all the reproductive parts, kind of like there are too many petticoats, making access difficult for pollinators. Despite that, it is a lovely flower  for human eyes.  And also for noses, for it is very fragrant.  Variety is Narcissus albus plenus odoratus and it is not a modern concoction at all, dating from 1861.  

Compare it to this more typical daffodil shape of the beauty Narcissus 'Stainless' that bloomed a few weeks ago with its open-for-business trumpet and prominent anthers:

And here is the the dainty but open flower of Narcissus ‘Sun Disc,’ still a bit fresh-looking, even decorated with a bit of dewy spider webbing: 

 Another very late bloomer, it is also fragrant and much easier to grow than the fussy double which seems to complain if conditions are not perfect by reabsorbing the unopened flower.   This year has been a good year for the albi however, and I cut a bunch after I made the photographs.

 I will indulge in adding another photograph of a semi-open albus plenus for the small bonus of the white crab spider clinging to the edge of a petal! Perhaps it was using the petal as an umbrella from the rain!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pollinator Particulars #2

The Blue Orchard Bee, Part One

250 - 300 female blue orchard bees, Osmia lignaria, can readily pollinate a one-acre apple orchard.

For a back-yard fruit tree plantation, only about 50 of these bees which are native to most of the United States are needed. 

Besides being highly attracted to fruit trees, they are very efficient pollinators! This is because the BOB females collect pollen on the underside of their abdomens. They land right in the center of the flower where the reproductive parts are located so the pollen from previously visited blossoms is easily transferred. 

I am hoping to see and photograph some of these bees as our crabapple trees are just about to come into bloom!  Hopefully the weather will cooperate! And, as apple trees across the state start blooming,  go you BOB females!  

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Little Story on a Drizzly Night

Today scouting a nursery for plants, I was distracted by two hummingbirds trapped inside the greenhouse.  Luckily for them, there were a lot of fuschias, a favorite forage plant of hummingbirds and one was feeding consistently while the other was doing the equivalent of laps up and down the side of the greenhouse in what appeared a frantic effort to find a way out.  The woman at the checkout seemed unconcerned and tried to reassure me that they would find their way out when the door was opened. 

This incident brought to mind a different trap-and-release moment that happened last week.  A friend and I were having coffee one afternoon in a little café downtown, sitting away from the door and the cold air that followed anyone’s entrance.  A man and a woman with a young child were sitting to the right of the door just inside the big ceiling-to-almost-floor window that viewed the sidewalk and Rte. 1 and the park across the street, a sight with a lot of activity at this time of the day.  And there was activity at the window too. A big bumblebee was at work trying to push the window out of its way and not succeeding.  The woman found a cup and used a postcard from a stack on the window ledge to try to capture the bee but, alas, she failed at this gracious endeavor.  I gave her high marks for trying.

Our coffees finished, I decided to take a turn with the bee rescue.  A quick survey of the window did not reveal its whereabouts – it had ceased its buzzing against the window before the family left.  Then I spotted it, perched, wedged really, between the ceiling and a column that seemed attached to the vertical edge of the window.  I don’t like to anthropomorphize but part of me couldn’t help but try to imagine its dealing with its current reality, the glass air that it couldn’t get through, the sights outside, how it came inside in the first place, and now, motionless, head facing inward toward the wall, its other body parts arranged so that the thorax was on top of the column, the big furry abdomen hanging down.  Waiting out its fate?  Merely resting?  No, summoning me!  I climbed on a chair, found I could reach up to the necessary height and using maybe even the same postcard that had been used before urged the bee out of its crevasse and onto the edge of the card.  My friend held it while I climbed off the chair and then, with the postcard and clinging bee, I walked rather speedily out of the café, along the sidewalk past a few storefronts and toward a planting of tulips and daffodils at the entrance to a B and B.  My plan to deposit the bee on one of the daffodils – since I had seen a bumblebee foraging on a daffodil a few days before – did not have to be put into effect.  The bee revved up its wings and buzzed off under its own summoned energy. 

I got more energy from that bee rescue than from the coffee.

Here is a recent photo of a bumblebee on a chokeberry or Aronia blossom: 

                                Bombus ternarius on Aronia

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pollinator Particulars

As trucks carrying beehives from far-away Texas (so I heard today) along with others are rolling into Maine to pollinate the wild blueberry crop, I am starting a miniature education effort at a local nature center.  Every week I hope to place a typed sentence or paragraph describing something about pollinators in the visitor center and I will also post something similar on beesy-me.

This week's Pollinator Particular, as I am calling it, is about pollinating the 60,000 acres of Maine's lowbush blueberry crop.  Last year, according to Maine Beekeeper General Tony Jadczak's report in the Maine Beekeeping newsletter, about 52,000 hives from away joined another 1,600 in-state hives in this big pollination party on the blueberry barrens.  What might be less well-known is that there are more than 40 species of native bees found in blueberry lands and some of them are excellent pollinators of the small clusters of flowers that result in the tasty berries come July.  One is actually called the Maine blueberry bee and it is blue!  Osmia atriventris is the Latin name, a member of the genus of leaf-cutter/mason class of bees,  the megachilids.  (mega = big, chilid = jaws).

One interesting characteristic of this type of bee is that the females carry the pollen under their abdomen instead of on their hind legs.  Ok, one more -  the "big jaw" comes in handy for chewing off pieces of leaves that they use to line the nesting tunnels which they locate in wood or woody parts of vegetation such as raspberry canes.

Stay tuned for more Pollinator Particulars.  The next one will describe in part at least how to increase the numbers of native bees in places like blueberry fields.  I don't have a photo of the Maine blueberry bee but if anyone has one that they would share for this blog please let me know!  Here instead is another native bee, a bumble bee species, at work on some high-bush blueberry flowers that are similar to those of the wild plant. 

Bumble bee, Bombus sp., on high-bush blueberry blossom.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mother's Day Bouquet

Surprise!  Thanks to my one-and-only son, Jamie, for a week there has been a beautiful basket of flowers to admire on a table in a high-traffic area - many trips by there every day!  With blue and yellow as the theme, how could he go wrong?  Blue is my favorite color and probably blue and yellow my favorite color combination! Included are pale yellow carnations, golden Factor daisies, yellow lilies, electric blue delphiniums, purple statice.  It didn't take long to wonder if bees would approve.

Bees do not see colors the way people do.  In fact, they only see four colors - yellow, blue, blue-green and ultraviolet.  Blue-green? ! They cannot detect red, which is no different than black for them.  Green is seen as yellow, and purple as blue.  The bouquet with its fern fronds would probably look mostly yellow to bees, especially now that the lilies are open.   This website has an explanation of some experiments that were used to find out about bees' sense of color - http://www.sewanee.edu/chem/chem&art/Detail_Pages/ColorProjects_2003/Crone/index.htm

Bee's vision differs not only in the perception of color.  Insects have compound eyes that are made up of a myriad of smaller individual eyes called ommatidia. Each contributes something that could be compared to a pixel in a digital photograph to the bee's view of the world rather than each one presenting a tiny but complete image that is repeated hundreds of times.  This website has an interesting way to simulate at least in part how a bee sees -  http://andygiger.com/science/beye/beyehome.html.  

I can only show what the basket of flowers looks through the "eye" or lens of a camera.  You will have to take my word that I do approve and thank Jamie for adding my favorite colors to this past week!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Two Bumblebees

Last week I noticed the first bumblebees of the season out and about and I made some photos.  I think the one with the orange belt is Bombus ternarius, otherwise known as the orange-belted  or the tricolored bumblebee.  The other one's species is eluding me despite an extensive several - hour internet search.  Any help?  

There are about 50 species of bumblebees in North America.  They carry pollen in specialized structures on their hind legs called corbiculae.  Some have very long tongues so they can sip nectar from plants with tubular flowers and are very good pollinators especially of tomatoes, watermelons and blueberries (so says the Xerces Society book, Attracting Native Pollinators, an excellent guide).  Bumblebees also work in colder and wetter weather than honeybees which tend to stay in their hive when conditions aren't great.  However, everything is relative since today, a chilly spring day of only 45 degrees, I did see honeybees flying out of the hive.

I enjoy watching the bees clambering about the daffodil flowers.  The trumpet part is like a one-car garage with the bee heading in and then it has to back out.  It's not a graceful endeavor.  The hooks on their legs come in handy for gripping onto the flower edges and it seems to help the bees crawl deeper into the flowers.  The pale daffodils are very fragrant and I thought that they would be the only ones visited, but I was wrong.  The scent-free yellow ones seem just as delicious.

So, here are the photos:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What they have been up to in April....

Here are some images from the early season in hiveland on the coast of  Maine.....

The following images were made starting in early April.  In the first two,  the hive wrap is still in place as protection against the cold,  but as you can see, the pollen collection has begun! And from several sources as presumed from the differing colors. The first day this year I noticed pollen-laden bees was April 3th.  Skunk cabbage was the only plant I found that was flowering.    Look at the bee in the first photo whose abdomen is totally coated with pollen!

In the following two images, honey bees are sipping the liquid from the cut surface of a yellow birch.  This small tree was cut last fall but the roots were still working.  Birch is another tree from which syrup can be made but it takes a lot of sap to boil down to a good thickness!  The bees were liking this dilute sweet drink better than the fumagillin-laced 1:1 sugar syrup on the hive at this time! (  just in case  this fungicide is added to the syrup for treatment of possible Nosema infection.)  See their tongues extended to the surface of the tree?

And finally, bees are foraging on early flowers of grape hyacinth in the first photo and Cornelian cherry, Cornus mas, in the second.  These two photos were made  just a few days ago.  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Welcome to Beesy-me!

The "beesy" part :  self-explanatory, all things bee!  Honey bee and native bee alike.  Bee gardening.  Bee biology.  Bee photos.  Bee issues.  Bee products.  Pollinators in general.

The "me" part:  The Great State of Maine is where I live.  I intend to concentrate on bees in Maine but will  be including items of bee interest from around the country and even around the world in certain circumstances.

Maybe it is crazy to start a project like this in the busiest time of year.  Gardening is my primary activity.  I am entering my third year as a beekeeper, but it was gardening that led me to the bees.  And now it's the bees and their needs leading me back to gardening and elsewhere!  So, yes, it is also busy me, myself.  I hope I will learn more about bees as I do the blog and I hope any readers will be inspired to learn more about these fascinating creatures whose importance is an ecological, agricultural and economic necessity.

Welcome to Beesy-me!