Plant it Forward

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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.

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Image borrowed from: pollinator.ca

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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?!

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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.

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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.

 

Bee-Blitz

If you haven’t heard of a bio-blitz, you won’t understand the title of this post.  A bio-blitz is a recording of all living species (biodiversity) in an area over the course of 24 hours.  I did not perform my bee-blitz over 24 hours straight, but I did record what I witnessed at three time points over the course of 24 hours.  My focus was on the front yard, and on bees.  This is nowhere near the scale of an actual bio-blitz, but the results are worth sharing nevertheless.

I recently completed my goal of replacing my front lawn with useful vegetation.  Last year I replaces 1/2 the lawn with native flowering plants, and this year I did the other 1/2.  I used Resource Central’s Gardens in a Box to do so, as they are complete with a plant by number map.  I thought it would be interesting to see how many species of bees are appreciating this change, as the flowers are plentiful.

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I had this bee in my bonnet beginning on August 23rd, and began counting from 7-7:45pm.  

It had been a sunny and hot day, and the evening was buzzing with activity in my front yard.  I was curious who was responsible for all the buzzing, and began taking note of the bees bouncing from flower to flower.  I cannot claim with confidence that I was able to spot every possible bee in my yard at that time, I am only one person, but I am proud to say I found 8 species I could identify.  This number seemed low to me, but let’s acknowledge the time was evening, and many bees are home nestled in for the night.  I decided to repeat this the next day, but at different time points.  I thought I would see a lot more diversity during the day.

August 24th

9:45-10:15am

It was another sunny day, and was much busier than the previous evening, as I had predicted.  At this time I identified 15 different species of bees in my front yard; that’s nearly double the evening activity!

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I thought I would look again later in the day, when things really heat up to see if visitors would increase or decrease in diversity.  I found 16 species this time, not significant from the morning count, but still significant from the previous evening.

You are probably wondering who I saw, so here’s a photographical collage of my buzzing guests over the 24 hours I recorded…well, only three time points during those 24 hours. The photos below were taken on different days, but the visitors remain the same.  A few of the bees I spotted were not familiar to me, so I didn’t put a name to the face, yet, but I did count them.  Some species that were found at all three time points are: bumble bees (more than one species), digger bees, honey bees, sweat bees, and wool carder bees.  The diversity was astounding, and so exciting, as this is my goal, to provide a bee haven.

So, where do I go from here? Next year is another opportunity to record visitors in a more thorough manner, beginning in March.  It is my intention to take 24 hours out of each month of the buzzing seasons, and see who I am supporting.  I’d love to find their nests too, as this has been an ongoing mystery, but not one I’ve spent much time with.

Do you know who’s buzzing in your yard? I’d love to hear what you’ve seen in your yard, and see photos too!  It’s never too late to create a buzz and move that grass over for useful landscapes.  This action supports birds and small mammals too.

Share this post to spread the word.

Thank you for joining the movement!

Jessica

#thebeeswaggle #lawntoflowers #feedbees #nativebees #solitarybees #bees

Growing Dye

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We decorate ourselves daily with a rainbow of colors in our clothing choices, and yet, many of us do this without knowing exactly how this color comes to be.  Much of it is synthetically made now, however, there was a time (prior to 1856) when fabric was dyed with plants.  Why am I writing about this?  Well, many of the dyeing plants are also flowering plants that bees buzz for.  This year I am taking the fall months to learn new skills, one of which is dyeing using plants.  Denver Botanic Gardens is offering a wonderful array of skill building classes I will easily use in my business operations this fall. So, I’m diving in to feed my insatiable appetitie for knowledge, and in doing so, benefit you as well by writing about it.

mMcIwB35Sj6nwZ+vv6YNQwJanice Ford Memorial Dye Garden

Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield is one of my favorite places to go to photograph wildlife, mostly bees, but there are many other opportune moments when I cross paths with other wild residents while visiting.  DBG Chatfield has many themed gardens, one of which is the dye garden entitled: “Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden”.  The purpose of this garden is to grow natural dye, and as you can see, it’s a bountiful buffet of pollen and nectar provisions to our beloved bees.  You may recognize some of the plants growing in this garden.  Yarrow, Sunflowers, Cosmos, Hollyhocks, Indigo, Dyers Coreopsis, Marigold, Weld, Madder, and more grow happily in this compact, yet sizable plot proving food to pollinators and dye to the dedicated gardeners of this plot.

Most of the plants in the garden provide dye through the blooms on the plant, which made me feel a little guilty at first.  As I was plucking blooms for the project bees were everywhere feasting on the large supply of blooms.  One bumblebee insisted the blooms should be cleaned out before we took them out of the garden.  I cannot blame her as I would also be offended if someone was removing a perfectly good zucchini from my garden just to make stamp art with it.  I’d rather eat it!

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The bees had plenty of blooms in the dye garden, as well as on the surrounding acres, despite the work of our harvesting hands.

The process of dyeing using plants is quite simple.  This fact has inspired me to create using plant dye, as many of the flowers we used already grow in my garden; how fortuitous! Below, I am providing a simplified flow of steps for this process. If you are interested in doing this yourself, I suggest getting at least one of the dye books listed below.

The first step  to using natural dye is harvesting plants, as well as preparing the items you plan to dye.

Preparation differs for different material, so I recommend you get an instructional guide to assist.  Some books that came highly recommended were: “A Dyer’s Garden” by Rita Buchanan; “Wild Color” by Jenny Dean; “ECO Colour” by India Flint; and “Natural Dyes” by Linda Rudkin.

Second step is steeping the plant material in mesh at a low temperature of 160 degrees until you see a fair amount of color in the hot liquid.  It is important not to boil, as this will brown the color to mud color.

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The third step is to soak the pieces of fabric, clothing, yarn in the dye ‘tea’ for as long as it takes to obtain the color your desire.  It smells so good!

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The final step is to wash the dyed items in soapy water and hang them to dry.  We used silk scarves, which dried very quickly.

Natural dyes can turn out just as vibrant and beautiful as any.  Look at the rainbow of colors from plants below; spectacular!

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The workshop sent me home with some beautiful scarves.  I don’t know what I will do with these scarves yet, but I do know what I will do with the knowledge I now have, use it!  I am excited to add some dye plants to my yard and use them next year.  If you have room in your yard, I highly recommend making a space for this functional, and natural relationship.  You can even use these dyes for watercolor paintings, all my artist followers.

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Who knew flowers had so many fantastic applications?  Feeding bees, feeding us, beautiful bouquets, precursor to fruit, feeding birds, providing dye, and the list goes on. If you decide to do this yourself, please take only what you need, leaving some for our buzzing friends to feed.  Poetic!

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Thank you for joining the movement and continuing to buzz for bees! Please share this post with everyone you know:)

 

 

Caught in the Rain

We had a long anticipated rain yesterday, and many of our buzzing friends got caught in the storm before they could get home to take proper cover.  So, what do bees do in this case?

Bees seek refuge inside a flower and nestle in tight, riding the storm out with cold rain drops splashing all over them for as long as it takes for the storm to clear. Bees cannot fly with wet wings, and they cannot operate at low temperatures either.  With cold water hitting their bodies, they slow down, and must take cover for safety, lest being washed away by the cold rain waters rushing below them.

I was lucky to find five different species taking cover in the flowers of my front yard.  I wouldn’t have found them had I not gone out to look for them.  It’s amazing what you see when you are looking!  Check out the slide show below.  Look for the water droplets on the bees.

 

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Digging Into Nature

I was hiking with my daughters, and noticed perfectly drilled holes in the trail itself.  At first I thought it might be due to the poles so many hikers use for stability as they climb, but as I looked closer I realized these were tunnels.  And upon the entrance of some of these tunnels were traces of pollen!  This, of course, made me pause and wait for a few minutes, in hopes of crossing paths with my favorite pollinators, native bees.

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The three of us patiently waited, and before long in came a bee, a very fast bee who dove into the tunnel bearing loads of pollen all over her legs.  I was ecstatic, and began clicking away with my camera.  The unfortunate part was I was without my trusty macro lens, which would’ve been so much better at capturing the tiniest of details.  This just means I need to go back soon!

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These two bees were fighting over the tunnel.  Maybe they were confused about whose tunnel was whose?  The one on the top was finally shoved off by the one in the tunnel; bee battle at its best.  You can see the leg warmer hairs on her legs in the photo below.  These hairs are called scopa, which are thick hairs that curve back toward the surface from which they grow. This works well for carrying pollen without having to mix it with nectar and pack it in as honeybees do.

IMG_9157I suspect these bees are of the Diadasia genus, as many of the tunnels we saw had walls around the entrance of the nesting tunnels.  Additionally, they were nesting in the compact soil of the trail itself, which is also characteristic of Diadasia bees.  Finally, they had thick hairs on their hind legs.  Diadasia love cactus and mallow blooms, making them key players in the reproduction of these plants.

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As we were observing this area, we came across two more species of bees.  One was nesting in the side of a hill, and she had a much different appearance from the bees nesting on the trail.  She lacked the thick scopa on her hind legs, which makes me think she had a belly full of scopa, but she was too quick for me to get a closer look. She also had really pretty green compound eyes, whereas the others had black compound eyes.  This bee looks to be Anthidium, a wool carder bee, who uses the hairs of plants to line their nests, and to partition between developing bees.  She is known for taking over abandoned tunnels, or sometimes even digging her own, but this is the exception to the rule.

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As if these two discoveries weren’t enough, we found one more buzzy bee nesting in a tunnel on the trail. Her coloring was much different from the other two with black and yellow stripes and black eyes.   She appeared to be playing Peek-A-Boo with us as she peered out and dropped back into her tunnel upon seeing our persistent presence. This is a bee I was very excited to see, as I suspected it might be Paranthidium, and upon a closer look, I can confidently say it was!

Paranthidium typically uses vacated nesting tunnels and partitions between rooms of developing bees using two plant resin walls with pebbles in between.  However, I have a hard time believing she did none of this excavating, as the pile of soil around the opening appears to be fresh.  Paranthidium bees like sunflower family plants, which is where all the resin comes from, and there were many in bloom where we went hiking.

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What a fantastic day this was!  I had a big smile on my face, as my girls jumped with delight at all the activity in one small area.  All of these sightings because we took a few minutes to wait and watch the ground beneath us.

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The next time you see perfectly drilled holes, take pause and see who resides there, chances are it’s a bee of sorts! Now waggle with us, and share this story with your friends!