I decided to check the colony one week after the first Apiguard treatment rather than waiting the full two weeks and discovered that the first patty was nearly finished. I am in a time crunch with rain arriving finally and plants soon to start blooming, so I am attempting the two patty treatment in a constricted timeframe. The colony appears strong despite the alarming number of mites I find on the sticky bottom board when I check it each morning. I’ve estimated 30 – 50 mites per day, with the numbers definitely falling over time; assuming a full hive body holds 20,000 – 30,000 bees that results in a 2 – 3.5% infestation rate, which is getting too high. According to Honey Bee Health a beekeeper should strive to keep the colony infestation below 3%.

My colony has filled all the frames now and there is no room for them to grow. They are apt to swarm if I don’t add more space for them soon. Some of the sites I’ve read recommend adding more space when the colony has filled six to eight frames in a ten frame box. Managed colonies expand by the beekeeper adding additional boxes with frames for the bees to build new comb. There is a balance to maintain because if there is too much empty space during the winter, it’s harder for the bees to maintain and protect their environment and it’s easier for intruders like wax moths or hive beetles to get a foothold into the colony. I am hoping that with the swath of lemonade berry about to bloom behind my property, there will be plenty of honey to keep the bees through next winter as well as a bit for my harvest. That means I need to add a super at a time when I am not also treating for varroa mites since the thymol treatment can lead to funky tasting honey. If it weren’t for my honey greed, I could have added another box at any time and just left whatever was produced for the bees.

Lush chaparral hillside

The timing of my inspection was not ideal as it was still a little too cold and most of the bees were in the hive rather than out foraging. That meant a lot of angry bees when I started peeking in their house! Here are links to the videos on YouTube if you’re interested in watching: inspection and summary. One note if you watch the second video, don’t do as I say and run and hide if bees are chasing you; if you safely can, calmly walk away. I tried to be quick about the inspection due to the weather, but became a bit disturbed when I could not locate the queen.

What I did find was several capped drone cells (I’ve highlighted them in the photo to the right) and one large bee sans blue dot. Last week I had found a couple drones, so I thought I knew how to distinguish them from the queen, but I’m clearly not confident in this.

Though this larger bee lacked the dot, I thought this was a queen due to a more elongated abdomen. It also seemed to have rather large eyes, a drone feature, so I clearly need more practice. Unfortunately, the bees were so upset that Marc, my super-handy husband and chief videographer (pictured to the left; yep, he needs a beesuit), was not able to get in close to get a photo for my later reference so it’s all a bit of a mystery for the moment. I did not find queen cells, neither supersedure, nor swarm cells, so I assume she’s there.

I’m going back in today to pull the second Apiguard treatment and add the honey super. My beekeeper friend is coming to help so we can be certain if the colony is queen-right. Wish us luck! It’s still a little cold.

It’s been a few weeks since I sugared my bees.  After being stung once again while filling their sugar syrup, I’ve been reluctant to open the hive while the weather is still a bit chilly.  I’ve been checking the sticky board regularly and finding a disturbing number of mites on it, so I knew I needed to increase my efforts at mite control.  I spoke with my beekeeper friend about options, and checked out methods local beekeepers have posted online.  I decided on something considered a “soft” chemical treatment called Apiguard that uses thymol, a primary ingredient in thyme oil, as my next-level choice. 

I opened the hive with the intention of placing the Apiguard and a new pollen patty, and discovered bees everywhere: throughout the frames as expected, but also along the sides of the hive body and at the bottom. Even more exciting is that I found a couple drones. These are the only male bees in the colony. I had seen pictures of them, but hadn’t actually seen one so it took me a minute to figure out what I was seeing. At first, I thought my queen had lost her blue mark because the drones are quite a bit larger than the workers. Then I noticed a couple peculiarities: 1) there was more than one of these larger bees and 2) they were unusually chunky looking. Drones! How cool! Unfortunately, Marc was not helping me film this inspection so the video I shot has only a single camera angle and does not have any close-ups of the drones (Inspection 011721). If only Jonah had thumbs, he could help.

Besides these first drones, I also noticed that the frames at the far side of the box that have been empty for months now have beautiful, freshly drawn, creamy white comb in them.  Which means the bees have been busily building again in preparation for spring’s arrival, and now the frames are nearly full with nowhere for them to go.  This would be a wonderful achievement for my mini-swarm-started colony, if I weren’t also finding more mites than I’d like and if we weren’t in a dry, La Nina year. 

Less rain means the blooming season is likely to be shorter, which also means there will be a limited amount of time for honey.  Either I can continue to expand my colony for another year and not worry about honey, or I can put honey supers on early and maybe have a wee harvest this year.  We’ve had one good rain so far this year, with more in the forecast this week.  The lemonadeberry is starting to bloom, and the canyon is full of it so I’m hoping they’ll have a feast in store for them, even if it doesn’t last long.  

The catch with the Apiguard treatment is that I’ve timed this all rather poorly since a full treatment takes three to four weeks and it must occur prior to placing honey supers.  Once complete, the super can be put on right away.  My current plan is to stop feeding the sugar syrup so they’ll eat some of their honey stores instead of the syrup and continue the Apiguard treatment that I started.  I’ll check the hive in two weeks and re-assess.  At that point, I’ll either place the second Apiguard treatment or stop treatment and install the honey super.  It will depend how the space is looking in two weeks.  Hopefully, I have time before they start getting ideas about swarming.  And next year, assuming mites are still an issue requiring treatment, I’ll treat the colony in the fall right after removing the honey supers.  Ah, the joys of learning!

I decided to try a prophylactic mite treatment for my hive after doing the powdered sugar roll a couple weeks ago. You may recall that my test failed due to operator error and it appeared that I did not have any mites. However, among beekeepers in this part of southern California it is known that no mites is highly unlikely, so I was fairly certain that I have mites in my colony; I had simply failed to detect them. I spoke with my beekeeper friend who shared with me some pictures of mites on the bottom boards of her colonies. We even played a little “Where’s Waldo”-esque game of Find the Mite to help me develop a good search image. Equipped with this information, I carefully searched the bottom board a few days later and I found a couple of the little buggers. (Side note: my aging eyes are getting more problematic. I’ve found that even wearing my glasses, the mites are too small for me to be certain of them so now I take a picture of the area where there is something that resembles a mite and then zoom the picture in closer to confirm. Perhaps I’ve found a use after all for Marc’s odd real estate gift magnifying glass he handed me a few weeks ago.)

European honeybees (Apis mellifera) are not co-evolved with the Varroa mite so they have not developed adequate adaptations to this threat, which they have only been dealing with since sometime in the 1960s for the species, and since the 1980s in North America. Varroa mites were originally known in Asia where they parasitize Asian honeybees (Apis cerana), a different, albeit sister, species. I’ve been looking into the array of methods one can use to treat for these mites and the reasons for and against treatment. As a biologist, I tend to agree with some of the treatment-free beekeepers I’ve read. In this philosophy, mite infestations are generally viewed as a genetic issue best handled by re-queening from a treatment-free breeder. A queen bred from stock that has survived without the use of chemical treatments should have genes better adapted to combating and co-existing with the mite. This is why I opted to purchase my queen where I did, since they have queens that have been selected for what is known as VSH, Varroa selective hygiene. Increased mite resistance is also one of the advantages for keeping feral colonies with some Africanized genetics who seem better-adapted to handling Varroa.

A powdered sugar dusting is one non-chemical method that can be used to encourage bees to clean themselves, which results in mite removal (Hive inspection video). This method does nothing for the mites that are busily reproducing in the capped brood cells, so multiple treatments are needed in quick succession to have any hope at reducing mite numbers. On some sites I’ve read that store-bought powdered sugar, which contains corn starch, is hazardous for bees and it’s recommended to make your own by putting granulated sugar into a blender. Other sites have cited research that cornstarch-laced powdered sugar is not harmful to bees, but other anti-caking agents are. I had powdered sugar on hand, so that’s what I used. After checking the bottom board this morning, I counted five mites. I’ll check the board again the next two days so I can get an average daily mite drop, and I’ll sugar them again in a week. Aside from the mites, the colony appears healthy. They are chugging through their sugar syrup and there were plenty of bees, capped brood, and capped honey visible on the few frames I pulled out.

Here I am sugaring the bees

So I’ve mentioned doing a mite check for a while now and finally did my first one over the Thanksgiving weekend. It was an epic fail that might be better described as a series of what not to do. I had read about the method I had selected; I probably should have looked online for a YouTube demonstration of the technique prior to attempting it myself. Perhaps I will remember that the next time I attempt something. Knowing me, I will not.

Varroa destructor, Varroa mite, is a common parasite of the honeybee. I’m not going to post any pictures because I think they’re pretty icky looking. Wikipedia has a good close-up image though, if you’re curious. This particular mite is a vector of multiple viruses that are passed to infested honeybee colonies. Serious infestations can result in death of the colony unless beekeepers step in with a variety of tools to protect their bees. The mite is native to Asia and so European honeybees, the most common honeybee in North America, have not evolved with this parasite and do not have adequate defenses against it. Beekeepers breed queens from selected stock with genetics that are more resistant to the mite, mainly through increased cleaning behaviors that are more likely to remove the mites. Africanized colonies are also thought to be more resistant to this threat. From what I’ve read, the mite is found throughout the United States. There is a citizen science project, Mite-A-Thon, to track mite levels across North America, but it is dependent on voluntary participation so a high reported mite level could mean that mite levels in the area are higher than other areas, but it could also mean that there is a high level of participation in the area.

There are a few methods to determine the mite level in a colony: alcohol wash, sugar roll, and a sticky board. The sticky board is a passive method that requires a layer of some sticky substance on a board placed under the hive. After three days, one looks at the board and counts the number of mites. This is not the most accurate method to use because it depends on the mites falling off or being cleaned off the bees for them to then land on the sticky board to be counted. The other two methods count the mites actually found on the bees. The alcohol wash is likely the most accurate, but it also kills all the bees used in the sample since they are swirled in alcohol to remove the mites, and then the mites are counted in the alcohol. The sugar roll is a similar method where the bees survive since they are only swirled in powdered sugar and can survive this level of abuse. So that was my preferred choice. Both the alcohol and sugar methods require collection of a sample of approximately 300 bees from different frames in the hive. Ideally the sample is composed primarily of nurse bees from the brood combs as these are the youngest bees and most likely to have mites since the mites attach to baby bees in the brood cells and emerge with the newly hatched bees already attached to them. The video is a great demonstration of how not to collect bees.

Besides my troubles with collecting bees, I also missed a key step in the method. After coating them, I was supposed to let the bees sit for a couple minutes to give them time to heat up in response to the sugar, which then causes the mites to release from the bees. You’ll see in the video my other error.

So after all that, the answer is that I still do not know if I have a mite problem or not. It has been so cold lately that I haven’t felt like disturbing them again so I may wait until spring to try again. Plus, I need to find a finer mesh screen to use that keeps the bees safely inside. My hope is that I won’t have a large mite problem yet since the colony was so small to begin with and I started with a queen known to have more hygienic behavior who will pass that on to some of her offspring. This may be wishful thinking.

I’ll leave you with a photo of my favorite assistant doing what he does best: enjoying the sun. I love this guy more than words can ever begin to express. He’s snoozing next to me now as I type this, hogging the entire chaise lounge and leaving only a small section of the sofa for Marc and I to share.

This year was to be the first time one of my brothers would host Thanksgiving at his new home. I was excited for the possibility. When my mum broached the topic in July or August, I was still hopeful that we’d be together as I have missed seeing my family. However, as we got into November and started seeing Covid cases on the rise, we all agreed to forego the gathering this year and I found myself happy to have the extra time digging in the yard. The first phase of plants are nearly all in the ground and there will likely be time to get the last of them planted this weekend. The mallows I planted two weeks ago arrived with a few small buds already on them, which have now opened into pretty pale pink blooms.

Phase two arrives the second week of December, and comprises even more plants, but fewer varieties, than the first. Bees keep investigating me while I’m working in the yard. One landed on my bare arm today and I gave her a lift around the side of the house until she decided she had reached her destination and flew away.

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. It is the perfect holiday in my opinion since it is all about family and food, and it reminds me to be grateful for the myriad blessings in my life. Plus, it’s during a time of year I love with its brisk mornings and warm days. It’s also near my birthday, which is generally my time for taking stock of the past year and envisioning the next.

I am thankful that despite everything that has occurred in this crazy year, my family is safe and healthy. My brothers and I are still working out in the world and not able to isolate completely. Our parents are older and I am thankful they made it easy for us by clearly stating that they did not want any of us to take unnecessary risks by being together for the holiday. I am grateful for a job that I mostly love even though I sometimes have some serious disagreements with the organizational mission and disregard for life. I am grateful to my husband, Marc, for providing this beautiful house to use as a palette in designing a playful, magical space that welcomes and provides habitat for wildlife. I am especially thankful for friendships with MaryScarlett, who encouraged me to start this blog, and with Andrea, who has generously shared her time and knowledge of bees to get me started in this beekeeping adventure. Lastly for this abbreviated list of gratitudes, I am most grateful that for the first time in many years, and quite probably due to the blessings listed above among many others, I am more curious than I am resigned: curious to discover what the future holds, curious to see if humans will critically consider and seek to remedy the deleterious effects we have had on the other species that inhabit this little rock of ours, curious to watch how the plants grow, curious to learn if the bees will thrive, and curious to explore ways to assist them where needed.

And you, what are you thankful for?

The title this week is a bit of a misnomer because, honestly, I am struggling to find topics of interest now that cooler weather has led to less frequent hive inspections. I still want to research mites a bit more before I’m ready to post about the problems they cause. I’ve finally purchased the mesh I need to make my shaker jar to test the mite numbers, though I may have missed the best time to test for this and opening the hive when it is chillier is a tricky business.

The bees maintain the core temperature in the hive around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Opening the hive and exposing it in cold weather means they need to expend a lot of extra energy to heat it again, and they tend to get a little cranky about it. That’s understandable. I’d get grumpy too if someone kept opening my front door to the inclement weather just when I’d gotten it nice and toasty inside. Knowing this, I need to time my activities for warmer days and the warmest hours so as to minimize the chances of being stung or causing unnecessary stress to the bees.

In addition to the chilly weather, I have also found myself wanting to spend time planting our backyard. To save some money, we opted to do most of the planting labor ourselves. Plus, there’s an appealing mix of creativity and reverence in digging the holes, carefully placing the plants, then backfilling and watering them myself. Since I dig the holes and fill each twice with water to check the drainage before placing the plant, I have a good idea of the particularities of the soil in that area later if issues arise.

The soil along this line of manzanitas is more clayey the closer one moves toward the house (foreground). Anything more than a half hour to drain a gallon of water is considered a clay soil. The worst of the holes took more than four hours to drain, although those holes are larger than a gallon. I added a small amount of soil amendment to the holes with particularly poor drainage to lighten the clay a bit, but these plants will also tolerate heavy California clay.

A bunch of plants arrived Thursday and I am like a kid in a candy store excited, oohing and ahhing over each one. They are the fulfillment of a vision that started when we moved here over four years ago, and on which we put the first wheels into motion a little more than a year ago in having a landscaping plan designed by Ecology Artisans. Once Blue Diamond Concrete finished the second phase of hardscape in June, I have been eagerly awaiting autumn, which is the best time to establish new plants since the heat of summer is past and the rain is, hopefully, coming soon.

Many-flower mallows in a rock garden to replace a rotting fence and shore up the slope.

The plants will provide blossoms aplenty for the bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators that stop by our little patch of Earth. I like to think the bees are quite interested in and pleased with the goings on in our yard. I’m completely anthropomorphizing here, and likely not even accurate in my observations, but there were random bees consistently buzzing around me while I planted. The most likely explanation, at least to me, is that they are checking for flowers on the new plants or are disturbed by the vibrations I’m causing as I dig soil from near their hive, but I like the idea of their interest in the process.

The plants selected are native to southern California and the variety of species will provide blooms nearly year-round. There are different varieties of sage, lilac, and manzanita. I tweaked the original plan to add a few flat-topped buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) and I might add some more, since they are a pollinator magnet. They bloom nearly year-round with beautiful puffballs filled with multiple individual blossoms that start out white or pale pink and fade to a chocolate brown. When I’ve seen them in the wild, they are always covered in bees.

Since local species are accustomed to our arid climate, the plants will require, at most, water only once every couple weeks once established. Native plants usually spend the first year establishing a deep root system so it’s important to provide occasional deep waterings to encourage roots going deep into the soil, which is how they later survive with little surface moisture. I’ll water every week or so, and will check the moisture before doing so. More frequent watering results in a shallow root system that won’t survive the dry, hot summer. Since they’re building root systems, it can take some time before above-ground growth is really noticeable. It will take a bit before everything grows in, and I am excited to see how it all turns out.

So that’s what I’ll be up to for the next several weekends. I’ll post about the bees as something occurs or as I have time to research new questions. However, it may be a little quiet as we move into winter. Don’t worry! Spring will be here in no time, and perhaps this year, there will be honey to harvest, honey made from some of the wonderful blossoms in our own yard.

Wow! Time really flies. It’s already been four months since I started this adventure in beekeeping. I am happy to report that Queen Aliénor is safely wandering the combs and, hopefully, depositing eggs. I still can’t see the eggs and instead look for capped and uncapped brood as evidence that she’s been laying recently. She was on the third frame in on the side of the hive that is best protected from the wind.

The queen and a few attendants among some capped honey

There are only two frames with no construction, and multiple frames only partly built, as is the one on which the queen was roaming this morning. Two frames have had the wax coating the foundation stripped on one side and will likely never be built out, and I’ll need to replace those next spring once there is plenty of forage for them. I’ve placed those on the outer edges of the hive since there isn’t much on them on the other side either; they have some honey on them, but they aren’t brood frames that need to stay closer to the center. There is one very heavy frame that is full of uncapped honey, and another frame filled with primarily with capped brood. They had eaten through the pollen patty I gave them nearly three weeks ago, and there was only the tiniest smidgen of it left, so I know I need to add patties at least every 2 – 2 1/2 weeks. I refill the sugar syrup usually weekly, though it’s less invasive to check the status of that since I can do it without opening the entire hive. I wonder if I could put the pollen patty above with the syrup? I’ll have to look into that.

All in all, I’m feeling like I have navigated this fairly well so far. I hope that we make it through the winter without too many hiccups. The weather here has definitely shifted to cooler nights and brisk mornings, but it warms up nicely by mid-morning. With the cooling temperatures, I will likely reduce the frequency with which I conduct a detailed hive inspection. Although I still need to do that mite check!

I still intend to post weekly, and have run through most of what I had in mind, although I still have a couple on my list. So I’m curious…are there any topics about bees or pollinators about which you are interested in reading and learning here? Please share in a comment and I’ll add that to my list. Knowing what you’re interested in gives me ideas too. Thanks for following along!

…Don’t you know that you can count me out!

Destruction, you say? Yes, today’s post is dedicated avoiding the destruction caused from pesticide use. Pesticides are great for control of some species, the problem is that they tend to have deleterious effects on even more than the intended species. Our native bees, honey bees, and many other pollinators are affected by their widespread use. In my yard, my goal is to use them only occasionally and very specifically to treat individual problems, like Argentine ants or an individual plant that has proven difficult to remove. In doing so, the nuisance weeds are mostly under control and I can remove by hand what remains each rainy season. After three years of diligent effort, I’ve done a pretty thorough job of depleting the seed bank and their is much less germination each year. One of the keys is to pull the weed out prior to it flowering and setting seed, creating hundreds more just waiting for a little water.

Systemic herbicides are particularly harmful for pollinators as the poison residues can remain in the plant for months and can even wind up in the nectar and pollen. Try to source plants that are herbicide- and pesticide-free. Talk to your local nurseries and ask questions about how they start their plants.  As more people express interest in organic methods, it may encourage suppliers to change their practices and provide other options.  The same is true for native plant options. If nurseries know that people are interested in these choices, they may begin stocking a wider variety.

Pesticides and herbicides are usually indicative of other problems. Weeds popping up everywhere? Try changing the watering regime, or applying water only where needed to maintain desired plants. Even better, use plants native to the area you live so that you won’t need to apply supplemental water as often. Weeds germinate when there is ample water for them, so cutting off the water helps to cut off the weeds.

Pest infestations may be a symptom of a stressor such as drought, poor air circulation, or poor soil conditions. Remedy the larger problem and the pest will not be able to access the plant. This can be seen on a landscape scale in California where there have been beetle infestations that have severely damaged certain tree species. The issue is largely with the long-running drought, and the drought-stressed tree tissue created openings through which the beetle could enter. The beetle is a symptom of a larger problem with changing precipitation patterns. Killing the beetle simply results in certain individuals withstanding the poison and those creating more beetles that are resistant, requiring more and ever stronger poisons.

In other cases, pesticides are used to cure what is entirely an aesthetic issue. For example an aphid-infested milkweed is not pleasant to the eye, but those aphids, for the most part, will not actually harm the plant and a pesticide treatment is not usually necessary. Reserving pesticide use for cases where the plant may be killed is one way to reduce our use of these poisons.

In a properly functioning ecosystem, everything works in harmony. The small insects feed larger insects that feed lizards, birds, and other critters.

An unlucky bee wound up as this spider’s next meal.

Those fruit flies that swarm in the early spring are eaten by mama hummingbird who needs the extra protein to feed her rapidly growing nestlings. Adult hummingbirds also eat small insects as a small part of their diet. I actually leave fruit peels outside to “grow” more fruit flies for them to enjoy, or at this time of year, some of the guava fall to the ground and hatches new fruit flies. I can never eat all the guava we have, but I make some jam and leave the rest for the birds and coyote who we have observed enjoying them.

The bushtits also make their rounds through the trees, gleaning small aphids and other insects from the leaves. I can usually hear them coming, entire family in tow, with their bell-tinkling sound as they pass from the front of our neighbor’s succulents, ficus, and dwarf pomegranate to our guava, grapefruit, and apple trees.

An adult female bushtit, photo from http://www.birdnote.org

I noticed for the first time this year black phoebe in the backyard. Phoebes are in the flycatcher guild. They eat much more than flies, but they catch flying insects on the wing. I assume they were attracted to the bees and variety of other pollinators that were covering the elderberry and toyon this year. This was the first year that both of those plants flowered wildly, and the insects and birds were thankful for the abundance. I’m always ecstatic to see a new species in the yard, and phoebes are a particular favourite. They have a pretty, simple song and they’re quite handsome decked out in their tuxedos.

A very handsome black phoebe courtesy of http://www.utahbirds.org

You’re an apartment dweller you say and don’t have a yard? Or you already eschew pesticide use? There are other ways for you to help! You can select foods produced with fewer pesticides and in ways that benefit our pollinators.

There is a certification program recently created by the Xerces Society: Bee Better. To be certified, a company pledges to create pollinator habitat and to use less pesticides. So far, Haagen-Dazs is certified for certain almond-containing products, as are a California berry brand (Giant). Look for the logo when you’re selecting your groceries or look online for more information.

Our pollinators need help. According to the Bee Better website, 28% of bumble bee species in North America are declining. Try a few of these ideas and see if you can reduce your use of pesticides and herbicides to help our bees. Let me know how it goes! Whether it’s a success or abject failure, there is much to learn either way.

I decided last Monday was a great day to open the hive and check the progress on the remaining four frames. I had invited a friend and her young son to join me since she had expressed interest. In the process I learned a few things:

  1. I get really excited sharing what I’m learning about beekeeping, especially with youngsters who are so curious about them. This is mostly a good thing, but it does take more time and the hive is open longer, which does not make for happy bees. In the future, I’ll plan a reduced inspection when guests are present to minimize everyone’s stress.
  2. When the buzz volume increases, this is the bees giving a gentle warning to wrap things up quickly. Choose to disregard this warning at your own risk. I did not heed their warning and was stung on the hand.
  3. By Tuesday afternoon the swelling was such that my knuckles were no longer visible and I had to leave work from the discomfort in my hand coupled with a splitting headache. I used two homeopathic remedies (Apis and Ledum) and a bit of honey, but my reactions seem to be getting more severe than the first two times I was stung and something stronger was required. I’ll be keeping Benadryl on-hand going forward. It’s a miracle worker for bringing the reaction under control; the swelling started subsiding within an hour of ingestion. Thank you, Western pharmaceuticals!
  1. My friend, who had been standing about 10 to 15 feet away, was also stung, right at the time when I located the queen. In my concern about my friend, who had a couple bees in her hair when I looked over at her, I put the frame back into the hive rather hastily without paying close attention to the queen’s whereabouts at that moment. Normally, that might not be a big concern, but when I had spotted her she was towards the top heading in the general direction of the outer edge where she was at greater risk when the frame was slid into place. When I later went to find her again to show her to my friend’s son, I couldn’t find her, sending me into a panic that she’d somehow been squished and leading to me rechecking several frames trying to find her. This is what ultimately led to learnings #1 through #3.
  2. No construction had occurred on the four remaining frames, three with foundation and one without, leading me to suspect that the boom and bust construction cycle is predominantly driven by my workforce, or lack thereof, and less by their sentiments towards foundation. They do appear to have more resources as evidenced by multiple frames containing honey, including some nice capped sections that can be seen in the photos below.

At the point I closed the hive back up with a fresh pollen patty, I still did not know if the queen was alive or dead and I now have my own version of Schrödinger’s cat: Prestera’s bee. Curiosity is getting to this cat and I think I am going to check for her tomorrow morning because, if I did harm her, I need to make a plan to re-queen my hive and now is not the easiest season to acquire queens. Wish me luck!

Well, you know

We all want to change the world. 

And where better to start than in our own homes?  Many people are aware of the problems bees are having, primarily caused from habitat loss, extensive pesticide use, and pathogens like mites.  What people may not know is that there are many species of bees and there are simple steps everyone can take to create habitat and support their survival.

The non-native honey bee, brought here from Europe, is the only bee species in North America that nests in large colonies, and there is some concern that they compete with native bees for resources.  Our native bees nest in the ground or plant stems.  They are generally called solitary bees because they don’t live in large colonies like honey bees.  You may even find one over-nighting curled inside a flower.  I’ve found them in my mallows if I’m up early when the blooms are opening.

Bumble in mallow (Photo courtesy of usgs.gov)

Nesting sites can easily be created for these native bees in our yards.  Ground nesting bees need small areas of open, bare soil preferably in direct sunlight.  Avoid using a heavy mulch or weed-fabric, which the bees can’t get through, or if you do use these in most of your yard, leave small openings available for the bees.  Tunnel-nesting bees use pithy-stemmed plants (examples: asters, goldenrod, and elderberry), logs, or brush piles.  Commercially made bee houses can also be purchased or you can look online for ways to make one yourself. 

I had wondered who, if anyone, was using the bee house I had placed on the side of our house a couple years ago. Turns out this mason wasp was.

Bumble bees will use messy, unmown areas particularly in native bunch grasses.  I was happy to learn this information since I’ve included a selection of bunch grasses in our backyard planting plan.

Bumble bee on my lilac hedge last winter.

What all bees need, besides a place to call home, is nectar and pollen.  Bees collect nectar and pollen for their own use and pollination of those plants is a happy by-product of their activities.  Honey bees pollinate a tremendous number of food plants, and some of our native bees are even better pollinators for certain plants.  In fact, some plants, like tomatoes and blueberries, aren’t pollinated by honey bees at all; instead, they require bumble bees or other native bee species for something called buzz pollination, which is a method of pollination that honey bees can’t perform. The bee grabs onto the flower and then moves its flight muscles quickly dislodging the pollen. How cool is that?!

Thousands of flowers are needed to support a single bee.  Use a variety of plants in your garden and strive to have something blooming every season.  Look to your local native plant societies for ideas, including plant lists with a calendar of what blooms when.  California Native Plant Society and Xerces Society provide free resources on their websites, including online trainings and downloadable plant guides.  Native plants support a wider variety of native pollinators, particularly specialist species.  They also tend to require less water, fertilizer, and pesticides, as they are adapted to your area.  One of the local native plant nurseries that I love, Moosa Creek, has an online tool to help you select native plants to replace common non-native ornamentals like lawn, ivy, and privet. 

Even if you don’t have a yard, you can help pollinators.  Some companies have initiated pollinator programs.  One of my moms showed me one the other day through Purina Beyond pet food.  They’ve created Project Blossom and partnered with The Nature Conservancy to contribute towards their efforts to protect and create pollinator habitat.  Purina provides more information and ways to help on their page. 

You can also participate in citizen science projects that help scientist collect data on what species can be found where and when.  One example is called Bumble Bee Watch where you submit pictures of bumble bees to their website.  They’ll help you to ID the bumble bee and an expert will verify the species.  These types of projects allow everyone to participate in data collection and allow scientists to learn more than they can on their own, particularly about rare and hard to find species.  In recent years a number of bumble bee species across the U.S. have been listed or proposed for listing as endangered or threatened.    

There you have it. A few small actions that you can take towards a bee-volution. Stay tuned and I’ll share some other ways to help in the future, mainly through reducing our use of pesticides.

But when you talk about destruction

Don’t you know that you can count me out.

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