Get out and find some joy!

I have created a little something I’d like to share with all of you during this time of quarantine. I started this project two years ago, and it took the covid shut down to grant me enough space to complete it, finally. This is dedicated to two very special people I knew for a long time, and lost them both to cancer. They made loving impacts all around them, and one impact was on my daughters one day when we went to visit them.

My children were 5 and 7 when they first met Helen and Richard, and that was not ignored, in fact that was the focal point. Everything we did that day fed my girls’ young minds and spirits. They LOVED every minute of it. What struck me as most touching was the hand sketched wildflower scavenger hunt, created especially for them. They have never forgotten that scavenger hunt, and to this day they talk about it with smiles and fond memories. That one visit reached deep into their little souls, because it was full of love and kindness. That is all I remember of Helen and Rich; their kindness and laughter. So, with no further ado, here is a present for all of you, created with love, and inspired by that day and two brilliant people I will always hold close to my heart.

I know not all of you are in Colorado, but you many have some of these varieties where you are, and maybe you’ll one day visit Colorado, and if you do, bring this along! Get outside and get your Vitamin N!


Colorado Wildflower Hunt

Dig in Deeper


I promised I would give you a list of resources to help you become better stewards of soil. So, here it goes!

  1. The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson                                                                          Awesome for the depth of knowledge offered through entertaining story telling. I have this one as a reference in my office, and it will forever be one.
  2. The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson                                                                              Though not totally focused on soil, it offers loads of interesting information about gardens and all the interesting critters that reside in them. This is another book that will forever rest on my reference shelf.
  3. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben                                                             Focused on trees, but trees depend on an underground teeming with life to thrive, and the surprises are endless and mind-blowing in this read. This book is very easy to chew away at each night before bed, as the chapters are just enough to give you education without beating you to death with facts.
  4. Know Soil, Know Life by David L. Lindbo, Deb A. Kozlowski, and Clay Robinson    A simple textbook, and easy to read, but also rich with information to get you started on digging into soil. There are more advanced options, but this is a great start for the layman.
  5. One of my favorite YouTube threads is 59 Degrees Academy. These videos are concise, and interesting for all ages.
  6. The Biggest Little Farm is the best documentary I have ever seen. The story, the cinematography, and power to inspire is absolutely brilliant. I recommend it to everyone I know, whether I know them well, or have just met! I think you’ll understand why I’ve expanded my scope of study when you see this film.

These are just a few resources, and merely the beginning of my soil education library. I hope you’ll pick up or watch at least one of these, and begin digging in with me! I know it may seem a little off topic from bees, but the fact is all things that live on this planet are connected to each other in a complex web of life, offering impacts on the world around them. 70% of bees live and nest underground, and what we do to soil will undoubtedly impact their success. 

Don’t Spoil the Soil

I haven’t written in quite some time, because I’ve been digging into additional topics, soil being one. I have been venturing down a broader path of interest, which still relates back to bees, as healthy soil enhances their resources above ground. Soil is a universe that many of us never contemplate, as it is unseen, beneath our feet, not where our eyes are generally focused. It carries a web of life that, when untouched by our ideas of land management, brilliantly supports the health and longevity of plants that our eyes do connect with, which supports the wildlife we also admire.

IMG_5310Under one step taken in the forest, there is up to 300 miles of fungal strands!

What is soil? Isn’t it synonymous with dirt? Soil is teeming with life! Dirt is dead, and is what results in overgrazing, over farming, over tilling, over spraying with unnecessary chemicals, and does not adequately support any plant life on its own. Dirt requires chemical inputs to support plant life; healthy soil does not.

The soil food web begins with a healthy supply of roots. Plants photosynthesize to build stems, roots, leaves, and blooms. In the process of photosynthesis, sugars and oxygen are produced. Some sugars are released from the roots, as well as delivered to nectaries (sugar water producing organs) of the plant. The sugars released by root systems are called exudates. Exudates are food for many players in the soil food web. We will begin with microbes; the bottom of the food chain. Microbes (bacteria and fungus) feed on the exudates and organic matter from decaying debris. In exchange for the exudates, they unlock inaccessible (Nitrogen and Phosphorus) nutrients for plants to use in building new cells and growing.

IMG_5294In one teaspoon of healthy soil there can be over 1 billion bacteria!

Bacteria form a wall along the outside of roots, awaiting their foods (exudates) like pigs at a feeding trough. This wall serves as a barrier, protecting the roots from threats that could be lurking in the surrounding soil. The diversity of bacteria surrounding root systems is very important, as not all bacterial species are active under the same conditions and soil conditions are very dynamic. Oxygen reliant bacteria, the aerobic variety, need oxygen. They inhale the oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, which means they need a place to do this. Bacteria build small chambers around themselves to capture oxygen, thus aerating the soil, and creating soil structure. This not only creates pockets for oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange, but also places for water to infiltrate, thus increasing water retention around the roots. Another variety of bacteria (nitrogen fixing) will live inside nodules formed along the roots of legumes, fixing nitrogen, which makes it accessible to plants. The world of soil bacteria is large and complex, and my blog post could never do it justice. This is a very simple explanation of the complex partnerships between soil bacteria and plants, but an intriguing start, don’t you agree?

Fungus, of the mycorrhizal variety, stretches across root systems, forming a web of interconnections between plants. This facilitates communication between plants via roots and fungal highways (mycelium) composed of thousands of individual fungal cells called hyphae. This fungal network comes at a price of 1/3 of the plant’s exudates! This is expensive, but worth it. Fungus also plays a significant role in decomposing dead plant and animal debris, thus unlocking nutrients for the plant’s use. Mycelium networks transport messages of distress, nutrients to be shared with other plants, and can offer defense against threats to the plant, including undesirable species of nematodes, by choking them with built in lassos. Not all fungi are in the soil, working in symbiosis with plants. Some work to digest living and dead plant material, if given the right conditions, which is not always beneficial to the plant. This isn’t to say that these fungi should be eliminated, they just serve a different purpose, which is undoubtedly irreplaceable to other pieces in the overall ecosystem web.

IMG_4207Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies (reproductive organ) of fungus.

A food web isn’t complete without predators. Predators, nematodes (unsegmented worms) and protozoa (ciliates, flagellates, amoebas), assist in unlocking nutrients for plants by ingesting microbes (bacteria and fungus).

Look closely and you’ll see protozoa working away at breaking up plant debris, which has loads of microbes clinging to it. When you see movement, those are protozoa. Toward the end, you’ll see a nematode too! This is footage of a sample of the forest floor. Unfortunately, my microscope isn’t powerful enough to see individual fungal strands and bacteria.

The soil food web is a passing of the baton from one food group to the next, unlocking different foods for plants to use through their root systems. Nutrients are found in their waste, and unlocked when they die. As we progress up in the food chain, there are arthropods, otherwise known as shredders, who grind up dead plant debris along the surface of soil; they too may partake in ingesting microbes. Earth worms are another contributor to soil health. They ingest dead plant and animal debris as they tunnel through soil (aerating along the way), pooping their black gold adjacent to root systems (fertilizing), offering a wealth of nutrients for plants. Some worms tunnel vertically, grabbing dead plant debris from the surface and dragging it down, deep into the soil. In a sense they are kneading the soil’s ingredients by turning in fresh foods from up top. Other worms will tunnel horizontally, eating and pooping along the way. Of course, all of these predators have predators, mammals and birds. If the soil food web is teeming with life, mammals and birds will show up for the buffet. Their waste becomes more nutrients for the soil food web, and a spinning wheel of life is in place. It’s a thing of beauty!

IMG_4516Mama wren found some good grub in the yard!

This is a lot of info condensed into a very short summary, but what does it mean to you and your yard? The application of this information is simple; it reduces work from you over time. When all the elements of soil are in place, and working together to pass nutrients back and forth to each other, there is no need for our inputs. No need to spend money on synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, insecticides, or any other manmade fix for acute problems. In fact, using such things can reinforce your dependence on them. Recent studies have demonstrated that addition of nitrogen will impact the diversity and population count of soil bacteria (LINK). If soil bacteria populations decrease in diversity, nutrients those populations provide will need to be added back to the system. If we leave it alone, and allow the natural balance to be restored, our yards will become spinning wheels of life. It will be time to pull out the lawn chair, sit back, relax, and enjoy the bounty of getting out of nature’s way.

Healthy soil consists of billions of important players, and each one is important. The system is astonishing in its’ perfect interconnected balancing act. Is the system absent of all problems? No, but it will be independently functional, and fully capable of maintaining a reasonable level of those imperfections, meaning nothing will overtake the system, and move it out of balance, so long as all pieces are allowed to thrive.

So, how do we foster a healthy soil food web in our own yards? 

  1. Stop using synthetic fertilizers. Consider mixing in cover crops and dynamic accumulators (plants that bring nutrients into the top soil) such as clover, buckwheat, oats, millet, and many others. The resources for choosing which ones to use are readily available when you search the topic. HERE is a wonderful article on the topic of using cover crops to improve soil health. Compost is another way to increase the health of your yard’s soil. You could even add animal waste, which can make people a little squeamish, but chicken poop is some of the best soil feeders!
  2. Refrain from using any pesticides whatsoever. Pesticides include insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc. None of them do any service to our yards and small gardens. In fact, they reduce the amount of garden helpers, the ones that predate on pests, pollinate flowers and food producing plants, and it is terrible for songbirds too. We do not need them! Why waste the money on them? Instead, allow the system to fix the imbalances over time.
  3. Plant with diversity as the top priority in your annual planning, whether you are planting perennials or food crops. When selecting perennials, consider native as the top priority, with plants that are tolerant of your climate second, and never to include exotics to your region. This approach targets native wildlife to your yard, conserves water usage, and fuels the soil more efficiently. With your food crops, rotate what you are growing in each plot to reduce pest load. Diversity in general invites diversity, meaning, diverse plants attracts diverse animals. This leads to a balanced population of predators and pests, and keeps the problems at a minimum over time.
  4. Don’t till the soil in your annual beds, or yard, and never leave ground bare of any roots. Tilling disrupts the soil food web network! If you are done growing food, consider filling that bed with clover (or a mix of cover crops) heading into the winter. When that clover lays down on the soil, it will release nitrogen into that soil, preparing it for the next growing season. The roots of that cover crop will also continue feeding the soil food web, thus maintaining that vibrant plant support for the next growing season.

The more I learn about the world around me, the more I am blown away by how interconnected everything really is. This motivates me to continue learning and sharing the lessons along the way. Bees got me started, and nature continues to inspire me to learn. I am not finished studying my favorite buzzing muses, but expanding my understanding of the greater jigsaw puzzle they toil within. After all, the way we treat the soil beneath our feet must have some amount of impact on the bees who nest and develop there.

IMG_3571Melissodes bimaculatus-digger bee. She’s loaded with white pollen to bring back to her underground nesting tunnel. 

Thank you for joining the movement with me. I will be posting a list of resources for those of you who are reading to dig deeper with me on the topic of soil! Keep your eyes peeled. Until then, get outside and look at what miracles are taking place in your yard. Please LIKE, and SHARE this post, if you found it useful. This expands our reach;)



If you are an aspiring bee enthusiast, and find it very difficult to quickly distinguish between the bee, wasp, or fly, this is the lesson for you!

I’ve often been told it is very hard to tell the difference between these insect groups, and I honestly take it for granted that I can quickly ID them, but I do spend hours observing them. These hours of practice made me pretty fast at identifying the bees flying among us. I call it the BEE-dar. I am THAT person; the one who stops mid-sentence because I just saw a bee “over there”. Maybe it’s not your aspiration to be THAT person, but you’d like to know how the heck people like me see it right away. There are some very important ways to tell right away, and I’ve covered them below.

Visits to flowers: Flies, wasps, and bees visit flowers, but not for the same reason.

I have noticed that most bees are very fast and intentional about flying from one flower to the next, stopping only to frantically collect pollen and/or nectar, in the case of females. Male bees will lounge on a flower for some time, sipping nectar, and waiting for lady bees to show up; some even slumber in the flowers at nightfall (Peponapis-squash bees-males do this). However, bees are not the only insects familiar with the nectar induced energy jolt, and not the only ones visiting flowers, so how do I know which visitor is a bee?

Flies and wasps both visit flowers, but not with an agenda to collect food for their young. They visit to get a sip of nectar, for energy, of course. Wasps are also inclined to also collect plant resin, thus you’ll often find them walking the stems of plants more frequently than sipping nectar. This may also entail hunting for insects along the stem to feed their young.

I’ve also observed flies sipping nectar, and then lounging for a bit, for as long as there is no disturbance. A bee would never lounge around for long; they are always working.

These tips are still not quite enough to effectively distinguish between these insect groups.

Distinguishing Physical Characteristics: 5 key differences are dead giveaways.

  1. Bees are often the hairy ones of the three insects, whereas most flies are not (though there are some hairy species), and wasps appear bald compared to bees. Bees use their hair to collect pollen, thus you’ll often see pollen packed onto some part of the bee’s body (legs or underside of the abdomen).
  2. Bees have long and straight, or straight with an elbow bent downward, whereas flies have short stubby antennae, and wasps have long antennae with curves at the tips.
  3. The eyes are different. Flies have large eyes that take up a large portion of their heads. Bees and wasps both have large compound eyes, but they don’t take up quite as much space on their heads as the eyes of the fly.
  4. Body shape varies. Flies body segments seem to flow into each other, rather than section off as a bee and wasp bodies do, though they are segmented. Wasps have spindly bodies that taper to a very narrow connection between the thorax and abdomen. Wasps also have long, gangly legs. 
  5. Wings are the final physical characteristics worth noting. Wasps and bees both have four wings-two forewings (front) and two hindwings (back). Flies, however, only have two functional wings. 

Now, for the visual studies. See the photographs below, all mine, of course. If I am going to spend hours stalking insects, it might as well amount to beautiful photographs for you to enjoy!

Take a look at the bees below:


Make note of all the hairy bodies, and in some cases, loads of pollen on the bodies.

Take a look at these flies:



Make note of the short antennae; the most important distinguishing characteristic.

Check out this wasp:


Make note of the curly tips of the antennae, and lack of hair on the body. Still quite beautiful in her own right.

This brings us to the end of our lesson. I implore you to practice in your yard, and follow on Instagram, as I will be posting quiz photographs for you to continue studying. I think this will be so much fun! Thank you all for joining the movement!


Plant it Forward


Our yards are a platform for change. Flipping them from grass to native scapes enhances many aspects of life. It helps wildlife live and traverse the landscape that is now inundated with human developments. It provides a space for us to unwind from the constant race we choose to live in on a daily basis. It makes what was once a dull, lifeless canvas, into a vibrant space filled with color and biodiverse activity. It influences others to do the same. This is what we all need, and as landowners, we can flip this landscape on behalf of wildlife as well as ourselves. Even a small plot makes a difference, and has immediate rewards, because wildlife is desperately searching for resources.

If you need help selecting native plants for your area, contact your local native plant societies. I have constructed a page, Native Gardening Tools, on my website that has links to many native plant resources for all 50 states as well.

Let’s get our shovels and start digging in for change! Want a little more? 



MAD BEE SKILLS: Built to Carry Pollen

IMG_9672Bees are the super pollinators, as they have a vested interest in pollen.

Interactions of co-dependence exist everywhere in the natural world, demonstrating that we are all a significant part of the overall life-giving function of Earth.  This year I will take you on a journey through the striking ways that bees are built to perceive and interact with their surroundings, making them essential to plant life, as well as animal life .  From lessons on carrying pollen, to smelling molecules, we will approach 2020 with a new appreciation for these tiny buzzing creatures.  Our first lesson begins with the story of pollen.

img_2688Powder containing hope of a future generation sits waiting for a taxi ride to its desired destination.

Pollen is half of the equation in plant reproduction, and must be transported to its destination by wind, water ,or pollinators. It is the male offerings in plant reproduction, while eggs are the female offerings. Pollen is composed of a hard shell (a wall consisting of an inner and outer shell) that protects its contents from destruction. It consists of proteins and fats. The challenge all pollen is faced with is transport to the eggs of corresponding flowers.

conifer pollen release

Image borrowed from:

Wind has been used by plants since the dawn of botanical life on Earth. Wind transport is very inefficient, as most pollen is blown everywhere but its desired destination.  This form of pollen transportation is very expensive to the plants using it, as these plants must manufacture a lot of pollen to get the job done.

Interestingly, wind transported pollen is smooth and aerodynamic, sometimes even sporting air sacks, designed to catch the wind like a sail. Another well designed partnership in achieving pollen flight! Look at the electron micrographs of wind carried pollen grains in the images below.

Scanning electron micrographs of pollen grains from seven wind-pollinated gymnosperm species. (a) Á (c) Cunninghamia lanceolata , (a) equatorial view exhibiting oblate spheroidal shape due to natural dehydration after pollen dispersal in the air, (b) polar view with a sunken papilla-like protuberance in the middle, (c) exine with orbicules on the sculptured surface; (d) Á (f) Cryptomeria japonica . (d) equatorial view exhibiting ellipsoid shape, (e) polar view with a slightly sunken papilla-like protuberance in the middle, (f) many orbicules on the sculptured surface; (g) Á (i) Metasequoia glyptostroboides , (g) equatorial view exhibiting oblate spheroidal shape, (h) polar view with a slightly sunken papilla-like protuberance in the middle, (i) many orbicules on the sculptured surface; (j) Á (l) Chamaecyparis obtusa , (j) pollen grains with indentation due to natural drying after pollen release in the air, (k) single pollen grain showing oblate spheroidal shape with indentation, (l) many orbicules on the sculptured surface; (m) Á (o) Sabina chinensis , (m) many pollen grains with indentation due to natural drying after dispersal in the air, (n) single pollen grain showing oblate spheroidal shape with indentation, (o) many orbicules on the sculptured surface; (p) Á (r) Podocarpus macrophyllus , (p) equatorial view showing body and two sacci, (q) polar view with two sacci, (r) many small apertures on the surface; (s) Á (u) Cephalotaxus sinensis , (s) many pollen grains with indentation due to natural drying after release in the air, (t) single pollen grain showing oblate spheroidal shape with indentation, (u) many orbicules on the sculptured surface. Scale bars 0 50 m m (j, m, s), 10 m m (a, b, d, e, g, h, k, n, p, q, t), 5 m m (c, f, i, l, o, r, u). 

Image of wind carried pollen grains was borrowed from: “Adaptation of male reproductive structures to wind pollination in gymnosperms: Cones and pollen grains.
Canadian Journal of Plant Science 91(5):897-906 · September 2011 with 1,451 Reads

Pollinator assisted pollination is much more efficient, as the pollen is carried from its origin to its desired destination much more readily, at a higher success rate than wind transport.  Millions of years ago flowers developed, and became advertisements containing a sweet bait, nectar, consisting of sugar-water with vitamins, minerals and amino acids.


Word about this sweet, energy packed food source spread, and a large group of interested seekers developed-pollinators. The number of pollinating species grew to 180,000, 20,000 of which are bees. All pollinators know about and seek nectar, but most know nothing of what they are doing to help plants reproduce, and have special characteristics that make them better helpers in this way.


Many pollinators are hairy, feathery, or have some way of attracting and gripping pollen to their bodies, faces, or legs. Interestingly, pollen carried by pollinators has a Velcro-like surface, or the surface has deep grooves. These physical characteristics of pollen help pollen to get wedged in the hairs or feathers of pollinators. Bees are the focus of this article, and are super pollinators. Look at all that hair!


Why is a bee a super pollinator? What do I mean by super pollinator? Bees are interested in collecting and carrying pollen, because they feed pollen and nectar to their young. They are built to carry their needs. I will get to how they transport nectar in the next article, but let’s get to how they are built and motivated to carry pollen.


Most bees have hairs on their heads, thorax, abdomen, and sometimes legs. This isn’t just for show, the hairs serve two purposes.

The first function is to attract the pollen to the body of the bee.  This is achieved through electrostatic charge; the same trick you used to enjoy with a balloon and your hair. When the bee is in flight, the hairs generate positive charge all over the hairy parts of the bee. Flowers carry an electric field across the surface of the bloom, making pollen negatively charged. Opposites attract, and pollen will leap from the flower to the body of the bee, due to a large difference in charge between the two. An interesting fact here is some hairs on the bee have mechanoreceptors at the base of the shaft. Mechanoreceptors send signals to the brain in response to physical movement.  Mechanoreceptors on a bee are affected by the pull of very negatively charged pollen tugging on the positively charged hairs! Isn’t it cool enough that the hair and pollen carry opposite charges?!


The second function of bee hair is to grip the attracted pollen. It isn’t enough that the pollen and hair are opposite in charge, because the charge on pollen will wear off, so physical characteristics step in to ensure effective transport.  Bee hairs are split and frayed along the shaft.  This characteristic makes it more likely the Velcro-like, or deeply grooved, surface of pollen will get wedged and stuck inside the forest of bee hair. The ways bee secure pollen for the long ride home varies.

pollen grains photo

A scanning electron microscope image of pollen grains from a variety of common plants, both wind and pollinator carried. William Crochot – Source and public domain notice at Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility

Some bees such as honey bees and bumblebees have Corbicula (pollen baskets) on their hind legs. These structures consist of a solid smooth back with stiff rounded hairs the reach out and across the front of the smooth back. The pollen carried in this way is mixed with nectar to a Play Dough like consistency and stuffed into the Corbicula for transport. Not much pollen falls out of these pollen patties.

img_6246Look closely at lady honeybee’s hind leg, and you’ll see the Corbicula packed with a moist  pollen and nectar paste.

IMG_0023That orange ball the lady bumblebee’s hind leg is a mixture of pollen and nectar stuffed into her Corbicula.

Another way bees transport pollen is in thick hairs called Scopa. These hairs could be on the abdomen of bees or on the hind legs. In this mode of transport, pollen is loosely stuffed into the hairs, and readily pass off onto flowers visited by these bees.

IMG_7023This squash bee (Peponapis sp.) has Scopa on her hind legs, and you can see some pollen granules stuck to the hairs here.

img_4447This leaf cutter bee (Megachile sp.) has yellow pollen all over her abdominal Scopa.

The final way some, and very few, bees carry pollen is inside a transport tummy, which we will not go into any depth, as this will be next month’s topic.

IMG_7285This masked bee (Hylaeus sp.) carries pollen in her transport tummy, as she was born practically hairless.

I hope your mind was blown at least once in reading this post, and if so, share your knowledge with friends, family, strangers. Let’s get this movement buzzing louder than ever! Thank you for your continued support, following, and for joining the movement to advocate for native bees, and really all bees!

All photos, unless otherwise noted, belong to Jessica M Goldstrohm, owner of The Bees Waggle.



A Treat Suitable for a Spooky Night!

Buzzworthy Cider Card

We can buzz for bees all year.  With exception to cinnamon, the ingredients in this cider all began as flowers, and had a pollinator visit to make them into resources to us.

I hope you enjoy this spicy treat this holiday season!

Thank you for joining the movement.