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:

Cupid the Honey Thief

There Is No Sweetness Without Pain: Happy Valentine’s Day

Albrect Durer's 1514 "Cupid the Honey Thief:" Pen, ink, and watercolor on paper

I love that, no matter what, Cupid WILL NOT let go of the honey here. :) And that’s Cupid’s unflappable mother, Venus, with him. As you can see, the calmer the person, the calmer the bees. It’s a good reminder not to run flailing around when things get tense in the bee yard. Be like Venus, friends. Though I have to say that I can certainly relate to Cupid. Something similar once happened to me. Years ago, I failed to use my smoker when I opened a hive…I thought I could quickly slip in there without notice. And in the midst of some angry bees on my unveiled face, I swatted my eyeglasses into the bushes near the beehives. I still haven’t found them.

I’ll also admit that after I slung my glasses into the woods, I ripped off my shirt and swatted it wildly around my head as I attempted to outrun the bees. It was an ugly event.

I do, however, love the reminder that if bees didn’t sting, it would be like keeping a box full of flies…and what on earth fun is that?!

Dear Reader, no doubt you know by now—now that you are where you are in your life—that there is no sweetness without pain. Happy Valentine’s Day.

bees on honeycomb

Take it Down a Notch

Okay, friends. I’m just gonna post this little WKRC video about the bees at the zoo farm right here. But I cringe when I see it. Because I must have been hyped up on adrenaline when the news people came around. I hate to think I really talk this fast and that I sometimes sound so know-it-ally. I don’t know what it is about the presence of a video camera that makes us act differently. And I don’t know what it is that makes me feel as if I need to have all the right answers when journalists ask their wonderful questions. I prefer humility. I don’t mind self confidence, but I dislike sounding as if I am certain of every single thing.

I’ve decided to speak more slowly. And to take that extra moment to think before I speak. And to smile as I think. All of which should make me a more pleasant person to hang with, don’t you think? Sometimes I miss that slight drawl in the conversations of my native Texans. Because there’s a certain casualness to it. A drawl makes you feel as if not everything is an emergency. And it’s usually drawled out with a slight smile as if to say, everything will be all right.

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You Can’t Squeeze Blood from a Turnip

 

Reader, I cannot tell you how often people want to know how many pounds of honey they’ll get from their hive.

Some folks seem to believe that the sheer fact that there are bees means there will be honey. And lots of it. Which is true only so long as there are flowers.

It’s unfair to expect bees to deliver honey for us if we insist on keeping our dull and boring yards weed free and closely mown. Let it go a little bit. Let our lives rewild.

Here’s the bottom line, my dear Reader: Bees can make honey only only only only if bees have access to flowers. The End. The more flowers, the more honey. And I’m talking about wild, native flowers. NOT KNOCKOUT ROSES. NOT DAYLILIES. Not those fancy flowers you pick up at the garden center. Bees need bonafide native wildflowers. And herbs. And vegetable gardens.

Bees need those wonderfully wild things that grow naturally in fence rows and in acres of fallow fields. And if you don’t have a fence row or a fallow field, then perhaps you can create a little pocket of crazy wildflowers wherever you are. See, bees need A LOT of flowers, and if we all plant a little, that equals A LOT. This is true of everything. Which is completely cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Fisher at the Zoo farm

A Beekeeper, a Farmer, and a Man with Big Ideas Walk into a Farm. . .

List some of your favorite things. Go ahead. Here are mine:

  1. Honeybees
  2. Prairie flowers and prairie grasses
  3. Organic vegetable gardens
  4. Farming
  5. Tractors
  6. People who have grand ideas
  7. People who are not fearful of those grand ideas
  8. People who make things happen because they say “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
  9. The Cincinnati Zoo
  10. Grassroots movements
  11. Green Bean Delivery
  12. Etc.

There might possibly be a movement afoot, Reader. There might possibly be an exciting, easy partnership developing. Among people who are the kind of people who simply get along and trust one another and want to work together. For a greater good than if we worked alone.

This movement of like-minded and why-not-us people reminds me of what’s happening in the once-neglected space behind Eli’s BBQ. We’re all sort of squatting together in an urban lot…the gardener, the orchardist, and the beekeeper. And it’s so awesome we can hardly stand it.

This new movement will be organized yet flexible. We’ll think about it. But we’re moving forward as we think. And we’re not squatting. We belong here. It’s all arranged.

Mark Fisher at the Zoo farm

 

Ben, Casey, and Kevin of Green Bean Delivery

 

Bees with pollen at their hive entrance

Scenes from a Bee Removal

It was a beautiful day for a bee removal, Reader. And because it’s been an long and vicious winter since our last one, I thought it might perk you up to see our happy team at work together on a roof.

Two years ago, the homeowners who hired us watched as a swarm of honeybees moved into their roof through this gap. But because the hive is on the second floor, the bees weren’t a problem until the homeowners built a two-tiered deck. Now the family wants to utilize their second-story deck, and the bees make it difficult for them to relax there.

Bees enter their hive beneath the roof

Terry Evans—who works for Jerry Hof, our brilliant contractor—removed the shingles, the siding, and the chipboard in order to access the hive. Terry worked methodically and thoughtfully to expose the hive without destroying the existing structure. His careful work paid off once the bees were gone and it was time to replace all the parts…the reconstruction took much less time than the deconstruction, and now the space looks as if neither we nor the bees were ever there.

Good teamwork makes the day bright

We flipped the chipboard with much of the empty comb still attached. The comb heavy with honey and brood and bees, however, collapsed into the soft insulation.

You know, Reader, I have to tell you how much I love working with Nicola Mason. She will scamper onto a roof or shinny up the scaffolding. She will dig her arms deep into dark and mysterious bee- and honey-filled cavities. And she does it with such glee and energy that she fills me with glee and energy, too. She is a giver of enthusiasm.

Nicola Mason reveals the hive

Once we’ve exposed the hive and accessed the comb and bees, we begin removing one comb at a time. We determine where each comb should go in its new hive…and we also always always keep a sharp eye out for the queen.

Liz Tilton assess each comb to determine its place in the new hive box

It’s not easy to spot the queen in the chaos of a bee removal, Reader, but we’ve become rather adept at it. On this job, Nicola took responsibility for cutting and removing the bee-laden comb from its original location. After a while, she quietly and matter-of-factly said simply, “I see her.” Then she calmly removed her queen clip from the pocket of her shirt and collected the queen in it.

Capturing the queen guarantees the removal’s success because all the other bees will follow the queen’s pheromones…there is no more chaos or indecision. Wherever she goes, they go.

Shouts of joy were heard throughout the neighborhood

We catch the queen in this clip (which keeps her from flying away) and then attache the clip to a bar with rubber bands. This way, the worker bees will go into the hive where we place the queen.

The queen clip keeps the queen from flying away

You know, sometimes you simply have to stop and look around and wonder how you got to be so lucky—lucky to be high up on scaffolding on a beautiful day with nice people and a hive of honeybees. Especially after you’ve got the queen, and all is well.

Stopping to enjoy the moment

Some bees are reluctant to go into the box…once the queen’s in there, they’ll eventually find their way to her, but we can’t always just sit around and wait for that to happen. Which is why it’s good to have a bee vac on hand. We vacuumed the reluctant bees and reunited them with their sisters when they reached their permanent home.

We vacuumed the last of the bees

Once we vacuumed the stragglers and sprayed the area with bee repellant, we closed the hive and lowered it to the ground for transport to its permanent home.

Steady, boys. Steady.

And after a nice drive in the bed of a gorgeous pickup truck, the Alexandria hive reached her permanent home. The bees are now busy exploring their new neighborhood.

Bees happy at home

 

 

 

 

Plant these for the bees. :)

Reader, even though it snowed like crazy last night, it’s not too early to think of bees happily flying in the sun and foraging on beautiful flowers. So, in the spirit of the spring that will surely cometh, please enjoy this poster. And use it to plant something in your yard that the bees will love.

(And if you’d like to own this Hannah-Rosengren-designed poster yourself, go here. I ordered two, and they arrived within only a day or two.)

 

Hannah Rosengren poster