Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pollinator Particulars # 3

Bumblebees forage on everything from raspberries......
To roses!

How many flowers must bees visit and collect nectar from to make a pound of honey?   

      It is estimated that it takes the nectar from about 2 million flowers! 

So, what is the good of planting flowers for the bees when they you can’t possibly plant enough for them on your property?  And anyway, bees from hives on-site typically forage last, it seems, on their home turf.  Here are a few cheerer-uppers when you see the bees taking off, up over the trees and into the unknown:

1.      You probably have other bees – native bees - that don’t make honey the way honeybees do and they need nectar and pollen - don’t forget pollen! – as well.  So many native bees being busy this time of year.  I think bumblebees are the most adventuresome eaters of all. (see photos.) However I haven’t seen any pollinators on the ladies’ mantles that are now covered with their chartreuse frothy sprays of blooms.  Something must pollinate them since they seed themselves around in huge numbers.  I am making a note to get rid of some after they bloom since, quite frankly, they aren’t earning all the upkeep. 
2.      Honeybees prefer to collect from one source at a time.  They are “flower-faithful.”  This is why flowering trees with lots of flowers are especially excellent for honeybees.  Black locusts, linden and basswood trees are sources of nectar in this area flowering around this time of year.  I am going to look for all sorts of pollinators on these trees.  There is a linden tree at the local post office.  Some time observing at the tree will be a  better reason for a stop there than to collect the junk mail. 
3.      Some flowers that look like only one blossom are actually many flowers bundled into one.  The Compositae family (it’s in the name!)  includes species such as purple coneflower,  an  example of a good foraging plant for bees.  So is goldenrod, and yes, I have been known to transplant goldenrod instead of composting it,  (composting being the opposite of compositing!)
4.      Watch bees on the flowers in your yard to see what they like, including the weeds and wildflowers too.  Native species of plants attract many more kinds of bees and other pollinators than non-native ornamentals.  Plant more of these and let some weeds grow in an area of your yard to encourage the native bees to stay around and make a home in your yard.  Note for the bee-wary - most native bees except for bumblebees are not able to sting a human. Wasps, often mistaken for bees, are predators and even though they do sip nectar, they mostly hunt other insects and are beneficial to the ecosystem even though they do sting to protect their home from intrusion. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Where are they?

A garden patrol today presents a mystery - where are all the honeybee workers foraging?

They aren't on this lupine....

Or this one....

They aren't on the purple vetch....

Or the purple tansy....(see the purple pollen?)

They aren't on the cinquefoil....

Or the anthemis....

They aren't on the sweet alyssum....

They aren't even on the clover.

Aha!  Here is one, at least - on the raspberries!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pollinator Week June 20-26

It’s National - and State of Maine – Pollinator Week. I do hope there are plenty of people doing things to thank and help all our hard-working (although they would just call it foraging) pollinators of which most are bees.  I am not saying that because they are my favorite, but of course they are.  And not just honeybees.  I am a fan of all bees and Maine has a good selection of native ones that I am trying to learn about and follow about with my camera. 

There was an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal today entitled “Blessed are the Beekeepers.” ( I am not patting myself on the back when I say an “Amen” to that. The column highlighted honeybees for the necessity of crop pollination and referenced the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder that has plagued beekeepers from around the world for about 5 years.  The authors, who are agricultural economists, point out that overall there has been no decrease in the amount of pollination and that the price for pollinating services charged by professional beekeepers has not increased due to CCD. 

I got the feeling from reading the article that the authors feel everything is pretty much all right since beekeepers are just ramping up production of bees and queens all the while trying to treat for the diseases and mites and, oh, yes, selecting for the strongest bees.  Situation under control.  Not to worry.  Plenty of bees, now and into the future. 

I am wondering how many beekeepers were interviewed for this article.  Even though I am no professional, I can tell you that keeping bees is not easy.  It is costly to maintain hives and even to “make more bees” because more boxes, frames, comb are needed.  In cold weather, we need to feed them sugar – that adds up when you are buying 10  -20 pounds every few weeks.  Not to mention the stress of worrying about them and whether you are doing the right things for them.  I did have the opportunity to speak with a long-time professional beekeeper in Maine not too long ago.  I think he would say that losing several thousand dollars this past year due to bees dying would definitely be something to worry about.  He lost about one third of his hives, already a financial loss, but then started feeding his surviving hives pollen patties that he had to purchase to build them up.  And then, if hives are lost while they are on a pollinating job, he is not compensated for their loss, which doesn’t seem right at all. 

Another thought – yes – buzzed through my mind after reading the article.  There was no mention of native bees.  Native bees are not only big players, er, workers in crop pollination – and in certain crop fields now growers are trying to encourage the native bees which in some cases are much more efficient than honeybees at the pollen transfer between blossoms – but they also are a key organism in ecosystems.  If it wasn’t for their food-seeking and finding in fields, meadows, along streams, at forest edges, in short anywhere where there are plants growing, the wildlife systems would collapse.  Some flowers have evolved with particular pollinators to such a degree that if that species of bee or wasp or fly or bat – pollinators one and all – were to go extinct, so would that flowering plant.  Honeybee’s tongues are not as long as those of other bees, such as bumblebees for example, and they are unable to reach the pollen so they can’t accomplish pollination for all plants.  Also, honeybees are not native to this country so they are not the prime pollinators of our native plants that are so much more critical to wildlife and that attract and sustain the native bees.  We know comparatively little about the native gals and guys that are solitary nesters, laying eggs in burrows in the ground or in hollow stems of plants.  Personally I think to give the impression that all is doable just with honeybees and not to mention the necessary input of the native bees gives the wrong impression, is not the whole story, and is just a wee bit too anthropocentric. 

National Pollinator Week is the time to thank all pollinators, not just one species that happens to have a huge economic impact.  Sometimes the money part just shouldn’t be the biggest part of the equation.  

Native bumblebee from Pacific Northwest photographed at University of Washington Arboretum

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Soon Playing in New York City!

Leaving tomorrow for my daughter's graduation from U. Wash. in Seattle, I have a day in New York and I know where I am going!  Thanks to this blog, I am taking my photo gear to see what pollinators I can find in the Conservatory Garden in Central Park.  There are even more species that I can see from this other blog, whose writer frequently features photos by  Murray Head of blog #1.

I can't be rude here so here is more info on the blogs.  I have followed Marie Winn's blog for years.  She is the author of the book, Red-Tails in Love, the story of Pale Male, famed red-tailed hawk of Fifth Ave.  Her blog is devoted to natural history of all kinds in Central Park and I check for updates daily. From her postings of Murray Head's photos, which are wonderful and sometimes tell a little story in their sequence, I was intrigued to see if he had any more of his recent foray to the amazing garden at 103rd St. and Fifth Ave. And so, I just found his blog today!  If you click on the links, you will see why I am so excited!

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Here are two photos of flying insects.  One is a bee, one is a wannabee.  

Well, not really but, trust me, some people would call it a bee.  It is some kind of fly, but look how similar its coloration is to that of the bee!  And the furriness!  The knobby little antennae, big eyes and wing position are typical fly attributes. Along with several other species of flies, especially flower or hover flies, it was feeding on the Sargent crabapple tree in our yard.  And, I should say, honeybees were actively collecting pollen as were a number of native bees, some very small and bronze, very metallic-looking.  I will post photos of as many as I can at a later date. 

PS.  If you identified the first insect as the bee you get an A!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

How To Sip Nectar From A Camassia Flower by A. H. Bee

Land carefully on slippery bend-y petal

Squeeze between those petals

Find nectar near that green thing in the center.  There is a puddle on each side.

More sipping.  That stamen is in the way of my shoulder. 

Now I am cleaning my tongue.

More anther interference when I want to leave.  It's like climbing over a fence.

Ahh!  Perfect position for sipping!