Wanna Keep Honeybees?

I have compiled a short list of things you will need to get started.  I will warn you that this is a big undertaking, as you will be responsible for up to 50,000 lives inside a little wooden box!  I hope this proves useful to you, and I do wish you the best of luck.  One more thing I should mention, please plant more flowers before you add more bees.  You have native bees living in your yard who will be forced to share the nectar resources with thousands more bees when you add a honeybee hive.  Don’t forget about our native bee superheroes!

As always, I thank you for joining the movement to save our bees!

Jessica

Download the PDF HERE

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Sunflowers: Good for Bees and Birds

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Photo taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

Sunflowers are an icon of summer, and sometimes a beautiful centerpiece in a fall bouquet.  Our eyes are captivated by their varieties and astonishing heights they can reach in a growing season. We enjoy their seeds at baseball games, and their oil in salad dressing, but there is more to the story of the sunflower that includes the lives of bees, and birds.

The sunflower blooms do not appear until the middle of summer, and will continue to bloom into the fall months.  Each flower is host to as many as 2000 individual flowers called florets.  Sunflowers are adorned with copious amounts of pollen, and deep within each floret is a tasty drink of nectar for any interested visitors.  If you look closely at the photo above, you will see yellow dust all over the bottom petals!

Pollen is half of the reproductive equation in flowers, and is produced on the male part of the flower, the anthers.  The other half is the egg, which lies deep within the female part of the flower, the ovary at the base of the stigma.  Interestingly, the sunflower has evolved to display anthers with pollen on them first, sans the stigma of the flower.  Oh, and let’s not forget that this “one” sunflower contains up to 2000 individual flowers, each containing both male and female parts.  So, each floret stands the chance of becoming an individual seed capable of growing into another sunflower with 2000 more florets!  This is a seed producing machine!

Who is responsible for transferring the pollen to the right place at the right time? Bees!

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Photos taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

Bees are after a vegan meal consisting of nectar, first and foremost, and then pollen.  As they traverse across the sunflower bees transfer pollen from florets with pollen baring anthers to florets baring open stigmatic structures ready to pick up pollen.  If you look closely at the top photo of the sunflower with a pollen-caked bumblebee snacking the nectar in each floret, you can easily recognize that the bee is very effective at picking up pollen and transferring it to just the right spot.  The bees do not know that their visits to flowers results in the plant’s replication; they are really only there to feed.  The middle photo shows a green sweat bee feeding on the florets of the sunflower, and you can really see where the anthers (yellow dots) are, and where the stigmatic structures are (on the periphery of the yellow dots).  The anthers are the first to appear in this process, while the stigmatic structures show up after, and this order of events prevents self-pollination of the plant, which results in fewer seeds and oil of lesser quality.

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Photo taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

So, the bees spend their time traversing and reveling in the nectar provisions of the sunflower from mid-summer into the fall, and then something remarkable happens.  The flower goes from this beautiful, bright bloom like the one above, to this…

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And what was once covered in pollen and filled with nectar becomes a seed-filled delight for birds! Each seed is full of protein and fat for birds, and other interested visitors.

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All photos taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

What started out as a wonderful provision for bees became a delicious meal for birds, because each piece fed the other. The flower fed the bees, the bees transformed the flowers into seeds, and the birds enjoyed their feeds!  What a lesson of interconnectedness this is.

Sunflowers are native to North America and grow well everywhere! Consider adding them to your yard next spring so you can feed both bees and birds, and maybe you’d like a taste of the sunflower seeds too!

Here are some wonderful resources on all things Sunflower:

History of the Sunflower

Following the SUN

Plant Them

Sunflowers

Thank you for joining the movement to save our bees!  What’s good for the bees is also good for the birds!

 

 

 

Two Logs, Two Colonies, 8 Bee Loving People

August 24th began as any other day would. I woke up, got me kids ready for school (which is a day in and of itself), and checked my email and all social media outlets.  Upon opening my Facebook page, there was the message that gave my heart a little jolt of “I must do this!”

It was a message from a tree company working in Denver on South Grant street. They had begun cutting a tree down, and discovered two different honeybee colonies in two completely different locations of the tree.  So, as you can imagine, this tree was HUGE!  I called Kevin, the tree guy in charge of this project, and asked if anyone had contacted him about moving these honeybee hives (at this point I had NO idea how BIG these logs were), and no one had.  I told him to please give me time to assemble a team of people to help move these logs.

Now, in most instances, I leave it to the experts, as long as they are available when we need them.  I called Bees and Trees of Longmont, because I know Liana from being on the board of Bee Safe Boulder, and I knew her business did this kind of thing all the time.  The trouble was, she was out of town and her husband was slammed with a number of other jobs up north.  I quickly realized that this would be one of those moments that I would just have to dive in and hope for the best.

I called my good swarm collecting buddy, BrandyJo Fontenot LeBlanc Miller, and asked if she knew anyone with a trailer and maybe even a piece of equipment we could use to lift these logs onto the trailer.  She began reaching out to her “people”, and I made my way down to South Grant street to see these logs for myself.  This is what I found…

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log-at-grant-1This is one, and the other extends past the edge of the photo by about 3 feet! When Kevin said logs, he meant trees!

I took a huge breath and contacted Brandy, expressing my concerns about the sizes of these logs.  This wasn’t going to be easy without a lot of people involved, and maybe we should push for more time to allow for Bees and Trees to make it down to help us.  It is important to leave the log intact for the best chances of survival for the winter. If this had happened in the spring, it would be better to try and transfer both hives to managed systems (Langstroth, Top Bar, or Warre).

Thursday morning rolled around; I called Kevin and told him we were concerned about the size of these logs, and we would like to reach out to Bees and Trees to see how soon they could make it down to complete the task. He agreed, and I must say right here, tree companies are not obligated to rescue bee hives, so I thanked Kevin repeatedly for sharing our concern for these very important insects.

Brandy, Billy, Roman, and myself all traveled down to the logs to secure the openings and direct the “bee-lines” in safe directions so people could co-exist with them without fear of getting stung.  We diverted the traffic away from the sidewalk using a tarp, and away from the resident’s front door using another tarp.  It is very important for honeybees to get in and out of their hive to forage and to go to the bathroom. They don’t pee or poop inside the hive; that’s dirty! If they are trapped inside the hive, things can go sour very quickly!

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Looks pretty secure to me.

I had the chance to briefly talk to one of the residents at the South Grant Street location about the bees.  I told him they are not aggressive unless you are reaching into their hive posing a threat.  And they truly were very peaceful, as we had all been out working on the entrances for a few hours, some of us with zero protective gear (myself included), and none of us were stung or threatened by the bees.  The resident seemed somewhat agreeable, but threw this comment out as he headed inside, “we just want them gone.” At the time I thought nothing of it, and chalked it up to one more person who doesn’t understand that bees are not out to get us.

At the end of the day on Thursday, all seemed well in the kingdom of South Grant Street.  We were all on board to wait until the following week to help transfer those logs to a safe place alongside Bees and Trees of Longmont. I was feeling great about the plan, and I rested very well that night, but something evil was brewing on South Grant Street.

Early Friday morning I received a voice message that made my heart sink, and my stomach sick. It was Kevin, the tree guy, saying the landlord of that property was threatening to exterminate the two honeybee hives, if we didn’t get them out of there that day!  WHAT?!?!?  As you can imagine (even more so if you know me), I was very upset, I was furious.  I wasn’t furious with Kevin, the middle man, tree guy, but at the resident who seemed, at least to my face, to understand that the logs would soon be gone, and they were secured at the time, thus posing zero threat to their surroundings.  His comment, “we just want the bees gone,” was his way of saying he wasn’t interested in saving these bees and would stop at nothing to do away with them.

It was back to “the mattresses”! I began calling and messaging everyone once more, to hopefully get everyone back on board to make this happen that very night!  I wasn’t sure we could pull it together with such short notice.  However, I was pleasantly blown away by everyone’s response!  Who am I kidding, we are after all bee lovers…I think we really are bee heroes ready to throw on our capes when duty calls, and so was the case Friday night!

Roman, Billy, John, Brandy, and myself jumped to the task! I am so grateful for this team of amazing, selfless people!  We made no gains from this effort, other than the joy of knowing we saved two doomed hives.

Five of us showed up to South Grant street at 5:30 pm on Friday night.  We suited up in our bee suits and began securing all the entrances of the logs, then we all began a cross fit workout of rolling and pushing the logs onto the trailer that John and Brandy brought to the scene.  All of us were dripping sweat, all bundled in our sting-protective gear.  Once the logs were loaded, we drove them over to Billy’s auto repair shop for the next phase.

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One log loaded, one more to go!

We had debated extensively about what to do with the larger of the two logs, as it had a very large, and vulnerable opening on the bottom.  We decided to try transferring these bees to a top bar hive, as we figured they would have a better shot at survival this way.   Well, this became a sticky mess faster than you can spell HONEY!

I began by pouring piles of bees into the top bar hive, in hopes of capturing the queen in one of those piles. Next we began carefully slicing pieces of comb and tying them to top bar racks. The bees would need all the resources they can get from the original hive.  This whole process was only a good idea on paper, as honey got all over everything!  We discovered a pool of honey at the bottom of the log, which may have developed during the loading and transport over from South Grant Street (vibrating maybe disrupted the comb a bit), and wasn’t helped by our cutting of the comb.  Many bees were caught and drowned in the honey (we believe this is when we lost the queen to this colony).  We then thought it wise to discontinue, as nightfall had come, and we were only making matters worse.  So, we covered the logs, and agreed to return in the morning to see how things were.

Upon arrival Saturday morning, bees were flying everywhere. It looked like Bee-magedon! Bees were fighting each other, and there were many on the ground dead from the battle.  It was gut wrenching, as we really couldn’t move the logs until nightfall (to ensure most bees were nestled in the logs for the night).  I felt sick at the sight, but I was quickly reminded by my husband and kids that these bees would’ve been sprayed and killed if we hadn’t jumped in to save them, even if the rescue mission was chaos at that moment, it wasn’t in vain.

My youngest daughter had her birthday party that day, and I had to be a good host, ignoring the bee mission until 7:30pm.   The only problem with that idea was that the bees wouldn’t be ignored, and I ended up juggling all of it all at once, and yes I did sign up for this, but man alive was that a challenge!

Billy messaged me with a great idea to try getting a queen for the larger log, as it seemed that they had lost their queen by the way they were flying around without purpose, and very agitated.  So, I picked up a lovely queen and her attendants (attendants are bees there to feed the queen from inside her small cage) at To Bee or Not to Bee in Littleton, on the way to the birthday party.  The queen rested inside a plastic Solo cup with foil on top, inside my purse for the duration of the birthday party…no one ever knew.  Is there a concealed bees law?

7:30 rolled around, and it was time for all of us to reconvene and get these logs to safety.  Where was safety?  Well, I have two very good bee loving friends in Sedalia, CO, who had some land on which they were willing to place the logs!  Zach and Meghan Watts were the adoptive parents, ready for us to arrive at 9pm to get the logs to safety, but we had some organizing to do before we left the auto repair shop parking lot.

We checked inside the top bar hive and the bees we had transferred the night before were fewer, but there were lots of bees inside the log.  We thought it would be good to vacuum them up (with a bee vac) for safe transport, but the suction on that vacuum was minimal, thus making it impossible to efficiently contain the bees.

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Here I am vacuuming bees, and yes, this is the outfit I wore driving up to Sedalia.

Given the circumstances, we stopped vacuuming, and began stapling screen all around the openings of both logs, this way the bees wouldn’t get lost during the travel to Sedalia.

I secured all the holes I could see on the top bar hive, and placed it in my Prius. I figured it would be best to stay suited up for the drive to Sedalia, and I figured right, because every time we pulled up to a stop light I could see bees flying in the headlights behind me…inside my car! Yikes!  It was a sight to be seen. I was all geared up with my full body bee suit, head gear and all, driving my Prius filled with flying bees!  Pretty funny actually.

We made it to Sedalia, and Zach had his tractor fitted with a forklift, and boy did that make a WORLD of difference in transferring the logs!!  I don’t think we could’ve used it on South Grant Street because the yard was raised on a brick wall; we probably would’ve damaged that wall with a tractor involved, plus we would have missed our cross fit workout (or should I say bee fit workout).  It was pitch black up there by this time, so all of us were carrying flashlights…it reminded us of ET, you know the suited scientists?

The relocation ended at midnight Saturday night, and I traveled back to Highlands Ranch with a few bees flying in my Prius…this took my reputation as the “Bee Lady” to a whole new level…in fact we were finding more bees in the Prius all the way until Sunday evening!

The log we left intact is doing great in Sedalia.  The bees are doing what they do, foraging all day,tending to the queen, building comb and raising more bees.  Here’s a video of this log on the Monday after the rescue.

img_4701img_4700img_4696img_4702img_4703All above images are of the fully intact log. They are happy, and pretty, little bees.

The log we cut into to attempt a transfer to the top bar hive was introduced to the new queen.  A small group of bees began feeding her on Monday, and a few days later (Thursday after the rescue), the colony took flight with her.  We did not witness this, but have deduced this, because there are very few bees left  (robber bees, taking from the log’s supplies), and the queen had been released from her cage.  Queen bee decided the existing palace wasn’t good enough for her new colony, and instructed her new scouts to find a new home.

It is my hope that they didn’t venture too far from their log filled with resources, and that they will live on, happily ever after in Sedalia.  Here’s a video of large log on Monday after the rescue.  Take note of the crazy flight patterns of this log versus the other.

img_4714These two bees were of the log that took flight with their new queen. They were feeding each other just before this picture was taken on the Monday after the rescue.  It was refreshing to see such care and concern amidst the trauma.

This adventure was filled with all sorts of challenges, but I can say I am happy with the outcome.  Two colonies were spared because 8 people cared enough to rally and get the job done!

me-and-log-1-last-checkThe fully intact log hive, happily living out it’s existence in Sedalia!  Look Mom! No stings!!

Thank you Kevin, Meghan, Zach, Brandy, Billy, Roman, and John!  You all rock for bees!

Cheers to joining the movement to save our bees, all of our bees, honey and native.

 

Bees of Summer

Spring and summer bee populations overlap in some regards, but there are newcomers once the month of June arrives.  This is not a complete list of bees for the summer months, but I think it gives you an idea of how many different varieties you can find while enjoying the outdoors!  This list only includes bees, but there are a wide variety of moths, butterflies, flies, and even wasps out and about doing their job for the circle of life.

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Peponapis, or squash bees, begin flying as soon as there are squash blooms, as they are specialists, and rely solely on squash resources.  You’ll find them nestled inside squash flowers early in the morning, so don’t forget to take a peek on your way to work or school!

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Bumble bees persist throughout the summer, and you will recognize them by their loud buzz as they fly by, as well as their very furry coat.  There are 40 species of bumble bees, with all sorts of banding patterns on the backs of their abdomens.

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Anthidium, or wool carder, bees are also present throughout the summer.  You will identify them by their hover-like flying technique around mint plants as well as Lamb’s ear. The males are very territorial, and will chase even bumblebees off the plant they are guarding!

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Honey bees are among the summer flyers as well! They are the most recognizable of all bees, because we know them best.

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Ceratina is a petite black bee who joins the forces in the summer months. If you are not paying close attention, you will miss this tiny flying insect.

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Here is a leafcutter bee. They join the pollinating forces in May, but persist all summer.  They have a very furry abdomen, which is where they carry pollen, so it is often dusted with orange or yellow powder.

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Osmia, or mason bee, made her appearance in March, but will carry on until late May, and sometimes may even have a second generation of bees mid-summer!  They are very dark and easily mistaken for a fly, but when you look closely, you can see they are black bees with a hue of blue in the sunlight.  They also carry pollen on their abdomen, so may even see a yellow dusting underneath.

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Andrena, or mining bee, is another spring riser, but will be around all summer too.  There are many colors and sizes of mining bees, but here’s one brown example, and this one is rather small too.

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This large black flyer is likely a carpenter bee who will begin flying in the summer months.

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This is a halictus bee who flies during the summer months as well.  They can be petite bees, but larger than Ceratina, with baskets on their legs, and usually a grayish color.

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Here are some more Carpenter bees emerging early June.  Look at all that sawdust!

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This is a metallic green sweat bee, who is highly active in the summer months as well!  Females are all green while males have the combo of stripes and green.

Cheers to observing and joining the movement!

Jessica

The Bees of Spring

I have spent many hours observing bees, and it occurred to me that it would be really fun to post a series on the bees of spring, summer, and fall.  This series will build on itself, and at the end you will see a large variety of bee species flying in the warm months of the year!

Bees don’t all emerge at the same time, nor do they depart from this world at the same time.  Groups of bees enter at differing times from spring to fall, and all of them are important to the pollination of the flowers blooming at the time of their existence, especially specialist bees!

I will begin with a collage of the early risers of bee species; those of spring.  I have chosen to stick with a pictorial tour because I happen to have pictures of all of these bees. This collage is NOT all inclusive, nor were all pictures take in the spring months, but it will give you an idea of the bees to expect to see in the spring, and the bees included in the tour are all generalists, meaning they visit any available blooms.

Spring is the quiet entrance of hope after the long months of cold.  Buds begin to develop into edible provisions for the buzzing insects we call bees, among other pollinators! 

Increasingly, the quiet calm of snowy earth begins to awaken into a vivacious show of diverse life, interdependent on each other.

Early bloomers need early risers, and early risers are eager to eat, the two benefit each other in a sort of web of life.  This is where the tour begins, enjoy!

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Honey bees really never go away, but do come out in temperatures as low as 55 degrees Fahrenheit!  We all know and love them for the sweet treat they make, and we sometimes take, honey! 

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Halictus bees begin in early spring too! They can be rather small, thus difficult to spy, but if you look closely, you will find them!

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Bumble bees are early risers, and this furry coats assists in their ability to stay warm and transport pollen from bloom to bloom in cooler temperatures (some fly at 37 degrees Fahrenheit)!

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Anthidium, also known as the wool carder bee, rises in the spring months, and is often seen buzzing around lamb’s ear, because the ladies of this bunch use the wooly hairs from this plant to line their nests.

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Andrena, also known as a mining bee, emerges in temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and uses the sun to warm up and take flight!

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Osmia: Also known as the mason bee, rises as early as March! Maybe the dark color serves as a sort of thermal wear for her.  Fruit trees are a favorite for these bees, and you know fruit trees are some of the earliest to bloom!