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The Cincinnati Zoo “Pollinator Garden Challenge”

Friends, I’ve just been outside planning a spot for another apiary, and THE WEATHER IS DOWNRIGHT SPRINGLIKE OUT THERE! Packaged bees arrive in Cincinnati on Easter Sunday morning, April 21, 2019….if you need a package, contact me.

But planning the site and ordering the packaged bees are only the first steps…once the bees arrive, they have to eat. And build honeycomb. And raise brood. And that takes nectar. Which comes from blooming plants. And that’s where the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens comes into play right now.

The CZBG has begun a Pollinator Garden Challenge, and I implore you to register your garden on their website. I registered mine a few weeks ago, and then I received their very nice little garden sign in the mail. The sign indicates to my neighbors, any visitors to my yard, or all the Sunday-afternoon drive takers who cruise down my street that the glorious flowers they’re seeing are recognized by the Zoo as a pollinator garden.

If you don’t already have pollinator-supporting flowers or bushes or trees planted in your yard, you can start right now, right here.  Then register your garden and let the Zoo know you’ve become a part of Cincinnati’s garden solution.

 

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Out of work women

Of Course They’re Pissy

Out of work women

And who wouldn’t be pissy, friends?

Several of my fellow beekeepers have recently complained that their otherwise sweet-tempered honeybees have become “aggressive” this past week or so.

At the end of June, most of Ohio’s yards and fields and farms enter a period of dearth when it comes to nectar flow. From March to late June, even our turf-dense suburban yards are alive with blooms in trees and bushes and little flowering things. But eventually these blossoms disappear to make way for leaves, and once that transformation occurs, because we’ve not made room in our lives for wildflowers, pollinators suddenly face a lack of food.

I mean, this is a ridiculous burden to place on any species…they have bounty for only three months, and suddenly NOTHING. NOTHING FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE YEAR.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking—you’re thinking that you have all those nice knock-out roses and those daylilies and those hostas in your flower beds, right? You think that you’ve purchased those pretty impatiens and petunias and planted them in your window boxes and that that should help the bees. But it doesn’t.

Bees need wildflowers, my friends. But I’ll save this issue for another post.

I’ve come to think that nectar is to bees as money is to humans. Worker bees head off every day to earn their pay. They feed their colony what they collect. Furthermore, when the nectar flow is on (when flowers are blooming), bees convert that nectar to wax and build their infrastructure comb with it, and they then store any surplus for use in the winter.

But when the nectar flow ends and bees enter a long period of dearth, there’s nothing to show for their foraging work. They head off to work but they can find none. They can no longer convert nectar to wax because there’s no nectar. They can no longer store their surplus…instead, they’re forced to eat into their savings which then risks their winter survival.

Wouldn’t you be cranky?!

You know, the more I think about it, the more I understand why so many humans are currently angry and violent and aggressive and short tempered, too. Many people are living in their own kind of dearth…a dearth in which there’s not enough work, which means there’s not enough money, which means there’s not enough food, and certainly, then, not enough (if any) savings.  We all need work to do, and that work should be enough to provide our families with food and housing without risking our futures.

If we all planted more wildflowers, the bees would not enter such an early dearth and could provide better for themselves. And we can do better by our fellow humans, too. We can do this, friends. We can do this.

Wildflowers and a wild fence

I was delighted when my friends at Ohio Prairie Nursery invited me to write a brief blog post for them. They published “The Year of Plenty” last week, and now you can click on over there to read it. :)

And if you want your own wildflowers, I highly recommend buying them through OPN.

Be wilder, friends. Plant flowers. Be a hippie.

 

Wildflowers and a wild fence

The Beauty of Pollination

If You Plant It and It Blooms, They Will Come

My Aunt Chris sent this video my way. She has one of the liveliest backyards ever…full of blooms and wonder. I’ve always loved thinking of her out puttering in her greenhouse and her gardens. It’s a trait shared by my mother, her sister—a trait inherited directly from their father. And although I consider myself late to the party, I can say that this dormant green-thumb obsession has now blossomed in me, too.

In the video, please note that the common denominator in all this wonder is flowers. If you plant it and it blooms, they will come.

Straw bale garden

Straw Bale Gardens: An invitation to do it differently

As you know, Reader, bees need flowers. They need flowers because they need both nectar and pollen which are found only in flowers. I could go on and on about why they need nectar and why they need pollen, but I’ll save that for another post.

I’m often asked what people can do for the bees and other pollinators, and this is my answer: Plant wildflowers. Please, friends, allow wildness. That’s the answer. Let’s not try to control every inch of our lives. Let’s not mow every dandelion and violet and clover. I am forever encouraging my friends to allow a part of their yards and their lives to go freaking ape crazy extravagantly loose. (I wanted to throw in some curse words there, but I resisted. So far.)

But it’s not easy to change, is it? It’s not easy to dig up some part of our yards and introduce wild things. Which is why I love this idea of Straw Bale Gardening (SBG). This SBG approach doesn’t require a complete overhaul of our yards. It’s not permanent. We can sneak these bales into odd little areas of our yards or on our properties and fill them with things that are not only good for pollinators but that are also good for us. (By the way, if something is good for pollinators, Reader, it’s also good for us. That’s a good thing to keep in mind.)

We can produce vegetables and flowers in places we’d never before considered viable. Which will give us good things to look at and good things to eat. It will also bring the wild things. Which will make us happier.

I’ll be hauling some bales into my yard soon. Then I’m gonna plant vegetables and flowers in it.

Before I leave you, here’s the book I’m using to guide me:

Bees Are Bumping against the Screens

Last night I whipped up today’s sugar water for the bees. It’s sort of a messy process.

I mix a 3:5 water-to-sugar ratio. In other words, I heat 3 cups of water and add 5 cups of granulated sugar to it…actually, I quadruple this recipe. If I had a good place to store the stuff, I’d multiply it even further. We’re going through a hell of a lot of sugar…and, let me tell you, sugar gets everywhere. And then sugar water gets everywhere. And then Deb goes a little nutty with cleaning it all up. I try to clean it, and I think I do a pretty good job of it, but inevitably some sugar finds its way under the coffee maker or in some corner, and we can’t have that. You should see Deb with a sink full of soapy water and a rag. It’s a sight.

What amazes me, though, is that when I mix this stuff during the day with the windows open, bees immediately begin bumping against the screens. And they’re incredibly insistent. After I add the sugar to the water, they will bump against the screen alllll daaaaay looong. Until dark. We can’t even eat on the deck because of them. It’s sort of inspiring…they don’t appear angry, they simply appear determined. I should learn from them.

So now I mix the stuff at night. Then I put about 12-15 bottles of sugar water in big 5 gallon buckets with lids and move it all down to the basement where I store it overnight…trying to fake the bees out.

P.S. My neighbor said my bees were really going for his hummingbird feeders. I’ll bet they are! But I’ll bet the yellow jackets and the bumblebees and the hornets are going for it too these days…we’ve not had any rain, so all the flowers and nectar are dried up. I’ve never seen it so dry.

Extra medium-depth supers to use around the baggies filled with syrup.

Feed the Bees

I began feeding the bees yesterday.

After months of worrying about it, I decided to post my concerns on beemaster.com and run it by the nice treatment-free beekeepers there. To a person, they responded that if the bees haven’t built up ample stores for winter, then I should feed.

Of course, there’s also an understanding that I won’t harvest honey from the bees only to turn around and feed them. I need to leave enough honey in the hive to allow their winter survival—which requires about 60 pounds of honey per hive.

And, you know, when you come right down to it, there isn’t really anything “natural” about keeping bees. So, if I’m gonna do all this beekeeping stuff like manipulating frames, making splits, harvesting honey, etc., then I have to come to terms with the responsibilities I accept as a result. If I were to keep livestock, I’d have to feed livestock. That’s all there is to it. When new bees arrive at my house in something as unnatural as screened packages, I have to feed them until they get on their feet.

Interestingly, when there’s a nectar flow (in spring and fall) and nectar is available to them, the bees won’t touch the sugar or sugar syrup. But when there’s a dearth, as there is here now, they suck it up like crazy.

I mixed 3 parts water to 5 parts sugar to make a syrup. I boiled the water, let it cool just a little bit, added sugar, stirred, let it cool.

I poured the syrup into Ziplock bags and zipped them up. Then I placed the baggies on top of the frames inside the hives…one baggie per hive…and, with a very sharp knife, I cut an X in the baggie. Amazingly, the syrup doesn’t completely run out.

I had to add an empty medium super to make room on top of each hive for the fattened baggie…but now I’ve got room to feed while keeping the hive closed to bees from neighboring colonies who may want to rob the syrup.

I’ll check today to see how much they eat. I can see already that I’m gonna have to run to Sam’s for huge bags of sugar…this may be another compromise…for years, I’ve sort of boycotted Sam’s and Walmart. And now I’m gonna have to boycott Target for their idiotic decision to back anti-immigration legislation in Arizona. But this has nothing to do with bees, so I’ll save it for another blog.

Here are pictures from the first feeding:

Extra medium-depth supers to use around the baggies filled with syrup.
Extra medium-depth supers to use around the baggies filled with syrup.
A bowl full of syrup-filled Ziplock baggies
A bowl full of syrup-filled Ziplock baggies
Bees feeding from the slit in the Ziplock bag
Bees feeding from the slit in the Ziplock bag
Gallon-sized Ziplock baggie of syrup atop frames
Gallon-sized Ziplock baggie of syrup atop frames

Don't Want No Stinkin' Sugar Water

The past two days have been….drumroll….SPECTACULAR! High 70s and nooooo clouds. And the bees are flying like nobody’s business. They come back to the hive heavy with pollen. They’re not touching the sugar water. No.

Pine cones on the bee hive, and candy at the door

Bees Are Everywhere in the Yellow

The bees are feasting…absolutely feasting out there, and I’m sooooo happy about it.

Today is cloudless, and the temperatures are hovering right at 50 degrees. So, I made my first batch of bee candy and delivered it to the hive. When I got there, those girls were already kicking ass. I mean, they were hauling dead bees out of the hive, and they were flying in and out and getting down to business. I was thrilled to see them so alive. They were noisy. I was elated.

I took my smoker with me in case they were a little pissy and rambunctious after being so cooped up, and I smoked the entrance just to calm them down a bit…and the moment that smoke hit the entrance to the hive, a fat mouse scampered out. Ooooh. That made me mad. I should have put an entrance reducer or a mouse guard in place because those little rascals can create havoc in a hive.

Anyway, I removed the protective, black cardboard box for the season, and I plugged up those little air holes with pine cones so the cold air that’s coming later doesn’t make thing any harder on them than need be. I placed a layer of bee candy inside the top lid of the hive, so they can eat it when the weather gets bad again. But I also decided to simply leave a pan full of the stuff at their front door so they could come outside and have a little sugar party.

But then I realized that they were already having a party…a yellow-flower, first-bloom-of-the-season party. We’ve got these tiny yellow flowers that bloom mid-March on our hill, and I realized that the bees were going deliriously crazy in the flowers. I stood out there with them, and I could literally hear the buzzing. And once my eyes relaxed, I saw bees everywhere in the yellow. I am so so so so happy.

Pine cones on the bee hive, and candy at the door
Pine cones on the bee hive, and candy at the door