Sharing 'The Secret Life of Bees'

Bug Squad By Kathy Keatley Garvey

"Where can kids learn beekeeping for free?" someone asked us last week.

One of the ways is through the 4-H Youth Development Program. Who can join 4-H, which stands for head, heart, health and hands and which follows the motto, "making the best better?" It's open to all youths ages 5 to 19.  In age-appropriate projects, they learn skills through hands-on learning in projects ranging from arts and crafts, computers and leadership to dog care, poultry, rabbits and woodworking, according to Valerie Williams, Solano County 4-H representative. They develop leadership skills, engage in public speaking, and share what they've learned with other through presentations.

At the recent Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, held at Sierra K-8 School, Vacaville, 4-H'ers presented demonstrations, educational displays, illustrated talks, an improv,  and an interpretative reading.

The interpretative reading was about bees.

Kailey Mauldin, 15, a sixth-year 4-H'er and member of the Elmira 4-H Club, Vacaville, delivered an award-winning presentation on Sue Monk Kidd's New York Times'bestseller, The Secret Life of Bees. Kailey read and interpreted passages, and answered questions from evaluators JoAnn Brown, April George and Kelli Mummert.

Kailey related that the story is set in a fictitious rural town in South Carolina in 1964 during the civil rights era. Fourteen-year-old Lily Owens "has just run away from her abusive father named T-Ray," Kailey recounted. "Her mother passed away at an early age." In going though her mother's belongings, Lilly finds an address that leads her to a farm where she meets three sisters, May, June and August, strong African-American women who run a beekeeping business.

Kailey read several passages about Lily's first experience with bees. The book is in Lily's voice.

August, opening a hive, tells Lily: “Egg laying is the main thing, Lily. She's the mother of every bee in the hive, and they all depend on her to keep it going. I don't care what their job is—they know the queen is their mother. She's the mother of thousands.”

The way the bees poured out, rushing up all of a sudden in spirals of chaos and noise caused me to jump.

“Don't move an inch,” said August. “Remember what I told you. Don't be scared.”

A bee flew straight at my forehead, collided with the net, and bumped against my skin.

“She's giving you a little warning,” August said. “When they bump your forehead, they're saying I've got my eye on you, so you be careful. Send them love and everything will be fine."

I love you, I love you, I said in my head. I LOVE YOU. I tried to say it 32 different ways...

Eventually, Lily experiences "a frenzy of love" as the bees seem to say: "Look who's here, it's Lily. She is so weary and lost. Come on, bee sisters."

Interpreting the passages she'd just read, Kailey said: "I learned all bees have mothers and that love isn't who or what, it is now...The way they took her (Lily) in, that was love. Love is everywhere."

Kailey isn't enrolled in a 4-H beekeeping project--yet.

(Editor's Note: Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño offers beekeeping classes at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. See website.)

Honey bees at work. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Honey bees at work. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Elmira 4-H member Kailey Mauldin gets ready to present an interpretive reading on ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Elmira 4-H member Kailey Mauldin gets ready to present an interpretive reading on ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Bee-Friendly Gardening Seminar by Merrill Kruger of Design By Nature Studio

“On Monday, August 1st, Merrill Kruger offered the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association a ‘Bee Friendly Gardening’ seminar where Ms. Kruger illustrated a variety of natural bee habitat options. The slide show included a myriad of styles of water destinations as well as planning for continuous nectar sources throughout the year by using a combination of edibles, ornamentals, and natives. Bee-loved plants were highlighted along with their maintenance considerations. Drought issues were addressed with sustainable gardening techniques including pruning to increase flower yields, cultivating healthy soils, weed and disease prevention, passive water harvesting, and water conservation. Charts and graphs explaining the added nutritional value of organic produce and illustrated the correlation between pesticide use, human health, and hive decline; making a strong case for the inherent risks associated with purchasing chemical pesticides and foods that were produced using chemical pesticides. A myriad of methods for managing pests and weeds in mechanical, and otherwise non-toxic, ways were mentioned as well.

To continue the effort of growing more bee friendly gardens in Southern California, there is a plan in the works for Ms. Kruger to curate two plant sales / workshops, hosted by The Valley Hive, during the 2016-2017 planting season; the first for ‘Native Plants + Care’ in the Winter, and the second for ‘Edible Plants + Care’ in the early Spring. If you’re interested, please sing out to let The Valley Hive or Design By Nature know that you’d enjoy either, or both, of these special events. You can visit, LIKE Design By Nature on Facebook as ‘Design By Nature Landscape Studio’ and/or follow Ms. Kruger on Instagram as @merrill_mel to stay in touch.” 

(NOTE: The members of the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association would like to thank Ms. Kruger for her informative and inspiring presentation on Bee-Friendly Gardening.)

5 Tried and Tested Bug Repellents

Serena Flowers/PollenNation

No garden is completely free from pests and disease – fungal infections, caterpillars and beetles are just part and parcel of having a garden.

Fortunately for us green fingered gardeners, we can fight back against these predators without risking our own health (or that of our family and plants). We also don’t need to spend a fortune on nasty chemical insect repellents either.

Simply changing the way we take care of our garden can do the trick. Let’s find out how with theses five tried and tested ways to banish those bugs!

1. Know your plants

Believe it or not, there are certain plants that actually deter insects and pests from the rest of your garden and one of these are marigolds.

Simply plant a row of these beautiful blooms and be sure that your garden of flowers and/or vegetables will be perfectly safe. With their bright and cheery petals, you won’t even mind have them out and about in your garden either.

2. Give them a wash

Soapy water isn’t just great for washing your hands, you can also use it if you’re having an aphid outbreak. All you need to do is cut off infected leaves on your plants and spray the remaining leaves with soapy water – this won’t hurt the plant but it will get rid of any insects you have infesting your blooms.

If snails are your main bugbear then did you know you can use beer to stop them in their slimy tracks? Your other half might not be so happy at sacrificing a few drops of his favourite tipple but leave a few saucers of beer out at night and you’ll find snails head there instead of munching your plants.

Make sure you clear up the saucers during the day though and don’t let kids or pets outside when they might be able to get hold of the alcohol.

3. Use other pests

Lots of nurseries around the UK sell huge packs of ladybugs that you can release into your much loved garden. These little beauties eat the offending insects and pests to ensure your garden stays looking wonderful – giving you a very natural way to tackle those meddlesome bugs.

4. Try copper tape

Get yourself some self-adhesive copper tape and apply it around your pots and containers. This will give slugs and snails a small electric shock to keep them away from your green leaves and bright buds but also adds a touch of “class” and sophistication to your pot. Talk about dual-use decoration!

5. Create barriers

As well as the great bug repellents mentioned above, you should also create barriers in your garden to protect your plants and flowers. The five main types of barrier you can try include:

  • Fences: if you have dogs or rabbits living nearby and they have a tendency of escaping and playing in your beloved patch of plants then why not install a small fence? This will deter them from entering into your garden of loveliness 
  • Row covers: these are lightweight sheets of fabric used to cover plants without smothering them. They allow enough light to pass through to nourish the flowers and while they are most commonly used in commercial nurseries, they can also be used in gardens and are ideal for protecting against cold frosts and pests 
  • Cloches: you may find that you only need to protect one specific plant (or row of plants) from particular pests or bugs in your garden. If this is the case then cloches are the perfect solution. These glass or plastic coverings protect your plants from the cold to help maintain your garden for longer 
  • Cutworm collars: cutworms are night crawling pests that have a tendency to chew through your plants stems at ground level and are particularly fond of broccoli and cauliflower. Simply slip a collar around each plant and push it about an inch into the soil to get the best protection 
  • Chemical barriers: some gardeners prefer to use chemical barriers to protect their plants but that doesn’t always have to been manufactured products. Animal scent products like dried blood or fox urine can deter small animals from ruining your plant display and are a little kinder on the environment and your family

Extra tips for protecting your garden

While the above tips are guaranteed to protect your plants from those pesky bugs and insects, there are a few other little things you can do to keep your garden looking like paradise.

Always remove any visible pests you spot on your plants and make sure you cut away or remove infected or dead areas of the plant too.

Nontoxic sprays and traps can also come in handy if you find you just can’t get rid of a few stubborn pests so why not give them a go once you’ve tried the above?

Why Pollination is Critical to Wildlife's Winter Food Supply Habitat Tip

Nebraska's Pheasants Forever   By Pete Berthelsen   August 17, 2014

This weeks ‘Video Monday Habitat Tip’ brings a different perspective on why pollinators are so important and a part of PF’s Strategic Plan. I think we all now understand that great pheasant and quail habitat equals great pollinator habitat, but have you stopped to think about how important pollinators are in ‘stocking the shelves’ for wildlife food resources in late fall and winter? Watch this habitat tip to find out why! For more tips like this on a weekly basis, like and follow Nebraska Pheasants Forever, both on Facebook and YouTube!

State Turning Highway Median Into Bee Paradise

The Columbia Dispatch     By Kathleen Martini    August 10, 2014

The state is turning a Ross County highway median into a honeybee paradise.

The Ohio Department of Transportation planted wildflower seeds in two, 1-acre lots along Rt. 207 in June to start a three-year process to create habitats for bees and other pollinators, said ODOT District 9 spokeswoman Kathleen Fuller.

“The seeds, which are beginning to germinate, are a mix of native Ohio wildflowers, and they were planted as a combined mix so that they will grow successively,” she said.

That means flowers will bloom from spring through fall, beautifying the roadside and providing much-needed food for Ohio honeybees.

The sites will take about three years to mature, said ODOT engineer Dianne Kahal-Berman.

The flowers will be kept below 6 inches in the first year and below 1 foot in the second. After that, they’ll be allowed to grow to full height.

“They’ll be stronger at that point. They’ll have a strong root system,” Kahal-Berman said.

Bee populations have been dropping in recent years, as trends in agriculture affect their food supply, said Reed Johnson, an entomology professor at Ohio State University. “There’s been a shift in agriculture toward corn, and corn doesn’t really do anything for pollinators.”

Honeybees also have faced increasing numbers of diseases and pests in recent years that have thinned colonies and threatened the agriculture industry. Between 50 and 80 percent of bees kept by registered Ohio beekeepers died over the past winter.

Last year, Ohio had 4,390 registered beekeepers who tended an estimated 37,000 colonies at 7,199 apiaries. Since 2008, the number of beekeepers has increased by 27 percent.

Ohio farmers rely on bees to pollinate more than 70 crops, including apples, strawberries and pumpkins. Nationwide, honeybees pollinate more than $14 billion in crops each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Declining bee populations are a problem not just for Ohio. States across the country are experiencing the problem, and some have started developing pollinator habitats along roadsides and in other places to boost bee numbers.

Pollinator habitats such as those in Ross County can help boost bee population and honey harvests, which also have seen decreases, Johnson said. “Bees depend on flowers. They only eat nectar and pollen, and the only place to get nectar and pollen is from flowers.”

More than 70 percent of fruits and vegetables are pollinated and would be unable to grow without pollinators, Kahal-Berman said. “We’re losing them (the pollinators), and they’re extremely important to our welfare as human beings.”

Other areas of the state are taking note of the project. District 6, which includes Columbus and Franklin County, and District 8, which includes Cincinnati and Hamilton County, both are choosing planting sites, Fuller said.

“People are excited about doing this,” Kahal-Berman said. “They want to be a part of it.”

A similar program was started in Darke County about four years ago. The transportation department worked with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the conservation group Pheasants Forever to create habitats for monarch butterflies, pheasants and other wildlife in a prairie area along Rt. 36.

“There are different mixes being planted,” said John Kaiser, a wildlife management supervisor with Natural Resources. “What they do have in common is that both projects are to benefit wildlife habitat and benefit wildlife.”

The plantings also can help reduce roadside maintenance costs, such as mowing, Kaiser said.

Kahal-Berman said she’s confident the idea will grow.

“We’re learning to do it the right way, and we’re sharing that information with the other districts,” she said. “I know this is going to catch on.”

Ohio's Wildflower Recipe:

Here’s the butterfly/pollinators/songbird mix the Ohio Department of Transportation is planting along a highway median in Ross County:

• Little bluestem 25%

• Nodding wild rye 25%

• Indian grass 12.5%

• Purple coneflower 4.69%

• White wild indigo 4.69%

• Yellow coneflower 4.69%

• Lanceleaf coreopsis 3.13%

• Butterfly weed 2.81%

• Dense blazing star 2.81%

• Round-headed bush clover 2.5%

• New England aster 1.56%

• Tall coreopsis 1.56%

• Showy black-eyed Susan 1.56%

• Prairie dock 1.56%

• Stiff goldenrod 1.56%

• Wild bergamot 1.56%

• Smooth aster 1.56%

• Black-eyed Susan 1.25%

Source: Ohio Department of Transportation

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Pesticide Free Forage - In Your Front Yard!

Pollinator Stewardship Council  By Michele Colopy  August 8, 2014

As beekeepers we need to set an example, and start planting forage for our bees. Whether you live on a city lot, have an acre in the suburbs, or a small farm in the country, you too can provide, should provide, pesticide free forage for your honey bees and native pollinators.

After clarifying city regulations it was determined lawn grass could not exceed eight inches in height in my city, but flowers had no height restriction. So, I could provide pesticide free forage for pollinators in the city. To kill the grass in the front yard it was covered with clear plastic to solarize the lawn.  The lawn was solarized over eight weeks, killing the grass. After eight weeks the plastic was removed, the dead grass mowed and raked off the lawn. No herbicides were used, nor was the soil tilled. A path across the yard was made for the postal carrier so they would not trample any flowers. Seeds were mixed, per the directions, with sand, and spread across the “yard.” A pollinator mix, and a butterfly and hummingbird seed mix were combined. Within 10 days the seeds had sprouted. Within a month the yard was filling in with a variety of flowers. By the end of July you can see a floral variety has blossomed. All of the pollinators are enjoying the flowers. A bumble bee nest has developed at the side of the house so they can easily access pollen and nectar. The front yard is visited by large and small native bees, my Italian honey bees, butterflies, sulfurs, and more.

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Bees Able to Spot Which Flowers Offer Best Rewards Before Landing

University of Exeter   July 30, 2014

Bumblebees are able to connect differences in pollen quality with floral features, like petal colour, and so land only on the flowers that offer the best rewards, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Exeter.

Unlike nectar, bees do not ingest pollen whilst foraging on flowers, and so until now it has been unclear whether they are able to form associative relationships between what a flower looks like and the quality of its pollen.

The study used bumblebee foragers housed under controlled conditions to test whether they do learn about flowers during pollen collection.

Their results show that bumblebees can individually assess pollen samples and discriminate between them during collection, quickly forming preferences for a particular type of pollen.

The findings, published today in the Journal of Experimental Biology, indicate that pollen foraging behaviour involves learning and individual decision-making, which may allow bees to quickly learn which flowers provide the most nutritious pollen rewards for rearing their young.

Dr Natalie Hempel de Ibarra, Senior Lecturer in Neuroethology at the University of Exeter, said: “There is still very little known about how bees decide which flowers to visit for pollen collection. Easily learning floral features based on pollen rewards, without needing any nectar rewards, is a fast and effective way to recognise those flower species which bees have previously experienced to be the best ones.”

Dr Elizabeth Nicholls, a former PhD student at The University of Exeter and now a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Sussex, said: “Bees need to be able to select flowers providing the most nutritious food for rearing their young. Since bumblebees don’t eat pollen when foraging, it was unclear if or how they might be able to assess differences in quality. Here we’ve shown that they are able to detect differences in pollen, even before landing, which means they may be able to tell, just from the colour of the petals, which flowers are worth visiting.   

“We already know a lot about how and what bees learn when collecting nectar from flowers, but since bees don’t eat pollen when foraging, we were interested to see whether they could still learn which flowers to visit when collecting this resource.”

The experiments involved manipulating the quality of pollen offered to the bees by diluting the samples. The researchers examined what they preferred to collect, if they could differentiate quality before landing by only letting the bees smell and see the pollen rather than probing it; and presenting the bees with four different coloured discs containing stronger and less diluted pollen to record preferences and change of preferences over time.

Dr Hempel de Ibarra is a member of the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour (CRAB) within Psychology, where her BBSRC-funded work investigates how colour patterns are seen and learnt by bees.

Bees and Drought

The Bee Gardener    By Christine Casey  July 28, 2014

How is the California drought affecting bees?  Many Haven visitors have asked that question. Drought affects bees in several ways; the good news is that we can provide some relief in our bee gardens. Some considerations:

Honey bees need water to cool the hive and to dilute the honey they feed to developing bees.  This is why it's essential to include a water source in your bee garden. See this previous Bee Gardener post for more information.

The honey bee-parasitic varroa mite, Varroa destructor, has had a devastating effect on honey bee health.  The good news is that multi-year droughts can reduce the mite's reproductive rate (Environ. Entomol. (2003) 32(6): 1305-1312).

Floral resources
Drought-stressed plants produce fewer, shorter-lasting flowers. Lack of adequate, high-quality forage has been identified in a USDA study as a major factor in bee health decline.

Less obvious than the absence of flowers is the quality of the food they provide.  In a study of squash plants subjected to simulated drought, it was determined that the daily pattern of nectar secretion was unaffected by drought.  The volume and concentration of nectar declined with the length of the simulated drought, however, indicating a negative effect of drought on the floral resource that bees depend on (Apidologie (2012) 43:1–16).

Many of our native bees are feeding specialists that will only use one species or genus of plant.  What happens if that plant suffers during drought? Many animals native to areas with regular dry periods have evolved diapause as a survival mechanism. A study of in bees in the southwestern US desert found that they were able to reliably use environmental cues to enter diapause when their plant resources were affected by drought (Proc. R. Soc. B (2013) 280: 20122703).

Effective use of limited water in the bee garden
Many communities are under mandatory water restrictions, and groundwater levels are at record lows throughout California. How do we balance this with the needs of these vital insect pollinators?

Chaparral currant losing its leaves

    Save the rest of this year's water for the plants that have yet to bloom.  Fall and winter are critical times for honey bee foraging to ensure ample honey stores for the winter.  In the Haven we are reducing irrigation to the plants that are finished blooming for the year so we can focus water use on the sunflowers, asters, sedums, and other plants that will bloom until frost.

  • Bee watering container made from a soaker hose
    Bee watering container made from a soaker hose
  • Provide an efficient water source.  The Haven's self-watering container made from a soaker hose runs on a timer.  This provides water for our bees while re-using the water for irrigating the plant in the container.

    Plant drought-tolerant bee plants for next year.  We have suggestions on the garden'sweb site.

 CA bumble bee on Cleveland sage

Honey Bee Toolkit

Pesticide Action Network

Create a Bee Haven!  Talk to Neighbors!  Spread the Word!

While policymakers remain resolutely stuck — and have yet to take swift action to address theknown causes of bee die-offs — home gardeners, backyard beekeepers and concerned individuals across the country have been stepping up to protect our favorite pollinators.

This groundswell of support for bees is inspiring and important, but we need to keep building momentum — and we need to press for policy change.

Download the toolkit for simple tips and actions to help protect bees from harmful pesticides and keep the pressure on policymakers.

Whether you create a safe haven in your yard, write a letter to the editor, or chat with your neighbors about the importance of protecting pollinators, your actions will make a difference.

Every little bit counts!

Pesticide Action Network
Honey Bee Toolkit
Download the Toolkit

Buckwheats, June Bee Plant of the Month


THE BEE GARDENER    By Christine Casey   June 2, 2014
Bee gardening news and education from the UC Davis Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven

Some of the best all-around plants for bees and beneficial insects in the California garden are the buckwheats, 
Eriogonum spp. Native to California, a selection of just a few species will provide bloom for most of the spring and summer in even the hottest and driest of gardens. These durable plants grow in full sun to part shade and require well-drained soils; plant them on berms to achieve better drainage in heavy soils.


Learn About Native Bees and the Flowers They Visit

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey

It's just in time for National Pollinator Week, June 16-22. 

Native bee enthusiast Celeste Ets-Hokin of the Bay Area is on a three-fold mission: She wants to protect North America's premier pollinators; she wants to inspire an appreciation for the importance and diversity of our native bees; and she wants people to create a habitat for native bees in their own gardens.

So, as an educational tool meant for all ages, Ets-Hokin originated the idea of a Wild Bee Gardens app to "show the dazzling diversity of North America's native bees." The app links native bees to many of the flowers they frequent.

The app is a comprehensive introduction to what the UC Berkeley zoology graduate calls "the essential world of native bees." It's comprised of some 300 photographs of native bees and their floral resources (primarily by entomologist/insect photographer Rollin Coville of the Bay Area) plus 100 pages "of extensive background and educational material in the form of guides."

Topics covered in the guides include:

  1. The role of native bees in our natural ecosystems
  2. The ecology and life cycles of native bees
  3. How to create a successful bee garden
  4. How to identify the native bee visitors that will appear in these gardens

Ets-Hokin wrote the text, seeking scientific consultation from native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis (co-author of the newly published Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide) and UC Berkeley faculty member Gordon Frankie. She also praised the "amazing job" of the design and development team, Arlo and Rebecca Armstrong. 

Where to get Wild Bee Gardens? The I-Pad version  is now available on the Apple App Store for the introductory price of $3.99. Those purchasing the app will receive the upcoming, expanded iPhone version at no additional cost, said Ets-Hokin, adding that they also will receive free downloads of all future enhancements.

Ets-Hokin devotes her time to the public awareness and conservation of native bees. This includes establishing a native bee demonstration garden with the Alameda County Master Gardeners at Lake Merritt, Oakland; and coordinating the publication of native bee calendars



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Bees Really Connect with Safflowers!

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey    June 5, 2014

Honey bees love safflowers, says Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. 

That they do. Safflower fields literally buzz with bees foraging on the blossoms. Sometimes the pollen load is so heavy it's a wonder they can fly back to their colonies.

Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) is grown for the vegetable oil extracted from its seeds. The plant looks somewhat like a thistle. The heads of the safflower, however, are commonly yellow--not purple--but can be orange or red.

We know safflower as an ancient crop. Safflower-dyed textiles dating back to the 12th Dynasty were found in the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun, according to Wikipedia.

Here in California, the name of world-renowned UC Davis scientist Paulden F. Knowles (1919-1960) is synonymous with safflower. The Canadian-born scientist, former chair of the UC Davis Department of Agronomy and Range Science, played a major role in the establishment of safflower as a California crop. Considered the "father of the safflower," Knowles gathered most of the germplasm of wild and cultivated species now in the USDA world collection.  

"It is a minor crop today, with about 600,000 tons being produced commercially in more than sixty countries worldwide," Wikipedia points out. "India, United States, and Mexico are the leading producers, with Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, China, the Arab World, Argentina and Australia accounting for most of the remainder."

That's something to think about when you see honey bees touch down on the blossoms.  Or when you open that bottle of safflower oil in your kitchen...

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Got Milk (Weed) for the Bees?

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey    May 29, 2014

Folks are planting milkweed for the monarchs.

The milkweed (genus Asclepias) is the host plant (larval food) for the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). No wonder the monarch is sometimes called "the milkweed butterfly."

The perennial plant is so named for its milky juice, consisting of a latex containing alkaloids and other complex compounds. Carl Linnaeus named the genus for the Greek god of healing, Asciepius.



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Spaced Out

By Christine Casey   May 19, 2014

“How many plants do I need?” “How should I space my plants?” are two of the common questions we hear at the Honey Bee Haven when visitors ask about designing their bee gardens. Among the factors ecologists use to evaluate how bees use a floral resource are patch size, floral diversity, and floral density.

Patch size is the area covered by the desired resource (flowering plants) in a habitat that is fragmented. Floral diversity is the number of different species of flowering plants in an area, while floral density is the number of flowering plants in an area.

For honey bees, patch size is key. The scout bees return to the hive and direct their sisters to a good resource. Honey bees are efficient foragers that will visit many flowers on one plant until they have a full load of pollen or nectar. By grouping all plants of a species into a singe patch rather than spreading them around the garden you help honey bees maximize the value of each trip to and from the hive. There is no hard and fast rule for a minimum patch size, although three feet square is an area often recommended by bee biologists.

Bumble bees, on the other hand, tend to move quickly from plant to plant. So large patches of one plant species are less important than dense patches with a diversity of flowering plants.

At the Haven we have examples of both planting styles.



Getting back to the questions posed at the beginning of the post: rather than worrying that you might not have a large enough garden or be able to provide the right mix of plants, just do it! Choose plants that will provide flowers for as much of the year as possible, with as much of the garden as you can planted with flowers. In the Davis area, bees are active year round so the Haven always has something in bloom.   If the garden does include turf areas, which don't provide bee forage or habitat, try to plant your flowers so that they are in a continuous patch.

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15 Plants to Attract Bees     By Lynn Hasselberger, The Green Divas    April 23, 2014 

From apples to almonds, to the pumpkin in our pumpkin pies, we have honeybees to thank for nearly everything we eat. Now, however, they are dying worldwide thanks to a condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder, and consequently, the world’s food supply is also at risk.

In the U.S. alone, more than 25 percent of the managed honeybee population has disappeared since 1990. Bees are one of myriad animals, including birds, bats, beetles and butterflies, called pollinators. Pollinators transfer pollen and seeds from one flower to another, fertilizing plants so they can grow and produce food. Cross-pollination helps at least 30 percent of the world’s crops and 90 percent of our wild plants thrive. Without bees to spread seeds, many plants — including food crops — would die off, according to NRDC Bee Facts.  

Moreover, in the last half decade, 30 percent of the U.S.’s national bee population has disappeared, meaning nearly a third of all bee colonies in the U.S. have perished. According to an article in Newsweek, a study published last year found 35 pesticides and fungicides, some at lethal doses, in pollen collected from bees that were used to pollinate food crops in five U.S. states. Bees that ate pollen contaminated with fungicides were found to be three times as likely to be infected by a parasite linked to colony collapse.

Of course, the major causes of CCD – including pesticide use and industrial beekeeping practices – might seem impossible for a single individual to fight. But there are small steps everyone can take to reverse the disastrous decline of our most important pollinator. And one of those steps is to increase the number of bees and other pollinators in your area by growing plants that provide essential habitats for these species.

To help you get your ‘Beedom Garden’ off on the right foot, then, here’s a list of 15 plants to consider growing if you’d like to help save the bees*:

  1. Lavandula spp. (Lavender)
  2. Rosemarinus officinalis (Rosemary)
  3. Salvia spp. (Sage)
  4. Echinacea spp. (Coneflower)
  5. Helianthus spp. (Sunflower)
  6. Cercis spp. (Redbud)
  7. Nepeta spp. (Catnip)
  8. Penstemon spp. (Penstemon)
  9.  Stachys spp. (Lamb’s ears)
  10. Verbena spp. (Verbena)
  11. Phacelia spp. (Bells or Phacelia)
  12. Aster spp. (Aster)
  13. Rudbeckia spp. (Black-eyed Susan)
  14. Origanum spp. (Oregano)
  15. Achilliea millefolium (Yarrow) 

*Note: It’s best to grow native plants exclusively. Find a native-plant nursery in your area and download the BeeSmart app, which will guide you in selecting plants for pollinators specific to your area. Also, always be sure to purchase only plants and seeds that haven’t been pretreated with pesticides; such pretreatments are called, “systemic pesticides,” and have been shown to kill bees. Finally, be sure to avoid using pesticides completely while growing your ‘Beedom Garden,’ as many topical pesticides, as well as fungicides, insecticides and herbicides, are toxic to bees and humans alike.

15 plants that will attract bees

Do you know where your bees are?

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey   May 2, 2014 

Do you now where the bees are? 

On Thursday, May 8 let's all step outside for three minutes and count the honey bees and other pollinators.

It's all part of the "Day of Science and Service" sponsored by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).

If you're lucky, you'll find multiple pollinators sharing a single flower. Maybe the foragers will all be honey bees, our prime pollinators! 

We took this photo of four honey bees vying for the same spot on a pomegranate blossom. A hot spot. 

It reminded us of humans fighting for a single parking space during the holiday season and then racing into a store and battling over a special gift (that will likely wind up at a garage sale in several months). 

In this case, the reward was nectar. Sweet nectar.

Visit the Kathy Keatley Garvey Bug Squad blog at:

Eastern Skunk Cabbage, a Peculiar Plant that Provides Bees with Ample Pollen in Early Spring

Michigan State University    By Dr. Zachary Huang      April 23, 2014

What is 20 degrees C (36 F) warmer than the air temperature, can push through ice in later winter and early spring?

What plant behaves like an endothermic animal: it has to burn a lot of energy to regulate that higher temperature?

What has a nice shelter that it does not matter if it rains “outside”, it can provide protection for insects?

What is so strongly smelly yet provides so much pollen so honey bees will forage on it?

What plant has enough calcium oxalate that might give you a kidney stone if you eat one serving of its leaves?

It is the Eastern skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus. 

For many years I go to visit the 2-3 skunk cabbages at the MSU Beal Botanic Garden and could not find bees.  So, this year...

Read more & view photos at Dr. Huang's BeetheBest Blog,

In Celebration of Bees   By Mary Zakrasek      April 23, 2014

It’s spring and with flowers blooming and birds singing, it’s a perfect time to celebrate the little insects that makes the biggest impact on our world…Bees!

Honeybees are often the first bees we think about but have you ever noticed how different flowering plants attract different bees?

I first became much more aware of this when a wisteria vine in our yard bloomed and suddenly, we had bumblebees. They found a plum tree to hang out in and when they got hungry, they’d make a “beeline” down the path to the hanging blossoms.

But it was a documentary hosted by Peter Fonda called “Pollinators in Peril” where I first learned that there are over 20,000 species of bees and found out just how much we rely on bees. The film also introduced a gentle bee, the Blue Orchard Mason Bee which is indigenous to North America that pollinates, but doesn’t produce honey, and can easily be introduced into home gardens.

What Bees do for Us

Simply and amazingly, the world’s food supply depends on them. Bees not only help produce one-third of the all fruits and vegetables but many of those plants are then used to feed animals. Without their pollination, many plants would not bear any fruit. For example, almond trees, blueberries and avocados rely exclusively on bees.

Because tomato plants have tight flowers, they depend on bumble bees to know just how to shake, or buzz pollinate them to release the pollen. Honey bees don’t have the ability to vibrate like bumble bees. The flight muscles of bumble bees doing this have been found to match the musical note, middle-C, which may open a new area of pollination research called sonication!

Many plants also need multiple visits from bees. For example, it takes about 21 visits to strawberry plants or the fruit will end up being small and lopsided. (Hmmm…now I know what happened to the strawberries I was raising)!

Honeymoons and Healing

Ever wonder where the word “Honeymoon” originated?

There’s a little known piece of folklore about a honey wine called mead that has aphrodisiac properties. In cultures that base their calendar on the lunar cycle, newlyweds would drink mead during their first month of married life for good luck.

Besides being used in food products, personal care, beauty products, supplements and beverages, honey is used to cure some health problems. The ancient healing art called Apitherapy thrives in Bucharest where there is an Apitherapy Medical Center. Doctors there believe the hive is the oldest and healthiest natural pharmacy, and use bee venom to combat multiple sclerosis, pollen for indigestion and honey to heal wounds.

Beekeeping Traditions

Bee hives in honey making museum in Stripeikiai, Lithuania. Photo Wojsyl/Lithuania Wikipedia Commons

Beekeeping traditions are deep and rich around the world, as it has been an intrinsic part of life for thousands of years. Rock paintings with graphic depictions of beekeeping date from 15,000 years ago!

To harvest honey in the Himalayas, tribal leaders climb steep cliffs and jab at the hives to knock the honeycomb from Apis laboriosa, the largest bee in the world, into a basket, the method they have used since 11,000 B.C. Then it is lowered to the waiting tribe below. Risking their lives to gather the honey creates a deep appreciation for the tradition and the honey it provides.

Slovenia is renowned for its apiculture. Here, beekeeping is called the “Poetry of Agriculture”. You can even go on ApiRoute excursions where you may meet beekeepers as you explore the natural countryside or discover bee homes painted in the Slovenian tradition of painting their hives and some believe it even helps bees remember which hive to come back to.

In Lithuania, The Museum of Ancient Beekeeping not only has displays about the history of beekeeping but also unusual carved wooden sculptures that contain beehives. These pay homage to Egyptian, Native American and Lithuanian mythology and folklore.

Urban Beekeeping

Rooftop garden at the Intercontinental Hotel, Melbourne. Photo Doug Beckers/Flickr

There’s an exciting development in urban beekeeping as bee lovers lobby to legalize beekeeping in cities where it is banned. Now, beekeeping is flourishing in Paris, Berlin, London, Tokyo, Melbourne, New York, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. And the list of buzzing cities continues to grow.

In Paris, bee hives are everywhere…on the rooftops of the Paris Opera, the Grand Palais and in the Luxembourg Gardens which also has an apiary school.


In New York, the Waldorf Astoria’s rooftop is home to bees whose honey harvest of 300 pounds a year makes it into the hotel’s kitchen in delicious sounding sauces likeHabanero and Honey Scallop Sauce. Because bees raised in urban areas have access to such a wide variety of flowers, the honey has many flavors coming through, inspiring honey-tasting events and even contests between hotels.

Bring Bees into Your Life

Heart shaped mason bee house Photo Dennis Bratland/Flickr

What if you could easily keep bees and increase your own garden yield and flower power?

The sleek, black Blue Orchard Mason Bees, the bees introduced in “Pollinators in Peril” are super pollinators, but they don’t produce honey.

For instance, it takes only 250 orchard mason bees to pollinate one acre of commercial apple orchards, whereas it would take 25,000 honeybees to accomplish the same task. Orchard Mason bees are indigenous to North America and come by their name because they pack mud into their nests like brick masons.

To encourage these bees to settle in your garden, all you really need is a wooden box that has the perfect size holes and flowers or fruit trees for them to pollinate. You can make the box yourself, or order it online. And, what’s really fun is that you can order bees that will arrive in your mailbox!

Other ways to get involved are the Adopt a Beehive in the UK and the Open Source Beehive Project where you can make your own smart beehive that will track where your bees go and the health of your hive.

Everyone can celebrate and support bees by planting flowering plants in your yard and in your community. You’ll enjoy the beauty they bring and at the same time contribute to keeping bees healthy and prolific!

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