Feb 16 2011

Some Youtube treasures

 
It’s my intention to do a lot more video in the future, because more can be shown than is possible in still photos. Video is very difficult, espectially of fast-moving and spooky insects in the act of pollinating flowers.

Meanwhile, from time to time, I discover some very well done videos online. One needs to be careful of online resouces. Some are quite amateurish or worse, give innacurate information. Here are some that I find are good enough to recommend to this blog’s readers:

1.  Bee Pollinators of Southwest Virginia Crops:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_etyEdu9fQ
There is sheer beauty in this video of honeybees, bumblebee queens & workers, bumblebee and halictid bee buzz pollination, orchard mason bees, digger bees, mining bees, longhorned bees, small and large carpenter bees, and squash bees mating.

There’s even a bumblebee “giving the tarsi” (the possible insect equivalent of “giving the finger”). One can watch this several times, and see new things in each viewing. This is also an excellent way to begin learning to identify common groups of bees. 
By Virginia Tech Entomology Department

2. Pollination Methods: Cucurbits:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5a-coN2Xgg&NR=1
This video starts off somewhat slow, but don’t get bored by the lengthy description of the various cucurbit species. It morphs into a good illustration of one means of hand pollination – a technique that may be quite valuable for gardeners who lack bees. Then it shows how hybrids are created, and shows the modern technology of “seedless” triploid hybrids.  Finally it ends with a clip on how to save cucumber seeds.
By the University of Wisconsin, Madison

 3. Honeybee collecting pollen:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD1u86rWx38&NR=1  Few people realize that honeybees make an active choice when visiting flowers. This may be based on the resources of the flowers, or, more likely, on the needs of the hives.

To collect nectar, or to collect pollen is the choice. Worker bees that are collecting nectar take longer in each flower, probing the flower’s nectiaries with their tongues for sweet droplets which they carry in their crops back to the hives. Bee that are gathering nectar will accomplish some pollination by accident. 

But other bees make the choice to deliberately gather pollen, likely because there is quite a bit of open brood in the hive that requires the pollen for protein for its development. This is the subject of this shore clip.

These bees do not probe with their tongues; rather they “doggy paddle” through the stamens to get as much pollen as possible to adhere to their fuzzy bodies. Then they comb this polle into their pollen baskets and carry it home.
Bees that are deliberately gathering pollen are as much as ten times more efficient pollinators than those who are gathering nectar.

Beekeeper who provide pollination service try to manage the hives so that they maximize open brood at the time of the crop’s bloom. This provides incentive for the worker bees to gather pollen, and makes them more efficient for the farmers’ needs.

I am always looking for more good videos, so if you have an especially good site to recommend, please do!


Feb 6 2011

Gardening for the bees in the Southeast: Part II

With no effort on our part, we are already blessed with some feed for the bees, especially in the spring, either on our property or nearby.  To these we have also been adding plants as we could.  We want to help fill in the major gap that occurs during hot weather.

Here are some of the plants that help take care of our bees, along with our thoughts on their value:

Winter

Dandelion, henbit and charlock in nearby fields will bloom throughout winter except in the coldest spells. In the dead of winter, I usually see only honeybees working these, but toward spring, other species join them. (No we do not herbicide our lawn “weeds,” as these are important forage plants – and we don’t want to contaminate our ground water. Plus their blossoms are pretty in their own right!)  All three of these plants are introductions, but so far as we know, there are no native plants that fulfil the same function

Spring

Red maple trees bloom nearby in February, and willow trees soon after. Both provide forage (food) for honeybees. Tupelo adds a major nectar source in April. There are a few flowering quinces in the neighborhood; bees love these. Crocus and daffidils also get bee attention.

Redbud trees also bloom early, usually by the end of March. Carpenter bees and honeybees tackle redbuds furiously. Chickasaw plum and some domestic plums in the neighborhood are the first of the fruit blossoms that supply lots of nectar. Dogwood is NOT a significant bee plant; bees rarely visit their blossoms.

Oaks, pecans, hickories and pines shed a lot of pollen, which bees sometimes gather, but it is of low nutritional value. An occasional black locust is highly favored by the bees, as is Carolina cherry.

Dewberry is a major pollen source in March and early April, followed closely by blackberry which gives both pollen and nectar. Apples, crabapples, and pears usually feed the first queen bumblebees, though I have occasionally seen queens on plums earlier. Apples are very important for orchard mason bees, carpenter bees and honeybees. We have planted low-chill apple varieties which are suited to the South.

Wisteria and azaleas explode with blooms in April and are important feed for bumblebees. The first tiny Lasioglossom bees are often found on the stamens of azalea blossoms.

Carolina jessamine yields toxic nectar that kills honeybee brood. Photina (red tip) is a good feeder, if it is not trimmed for hedges.

Dahoon holly and boxwood are practically attacked by a variety of bee species. A few years ago, bradford pears were likewise covered with thousands of andrena bees when they bloomed. Today these bees are very scarce; you’d be lucky to see a half dozen on a tree, along with a couple honeybees and a bumblebee or two.

By the end of April, spiderwort is worked by a variety of bee species, especially Lasioglossum. Plantain also begins to feed Lasioglossum bees. A variety of blueberry and huckleberry species bloom from early April to early June, giving the blueberry bees good forage. Carpenter bees love these as well, but do not pollinate them, as they cut slits at the base of the petals to steal the nectar. Carpenter bees will also do this for honeysuckle, buckeye, and other flowers with a deep corolla.

Megachilid bee on privit

Privit is regarded as invasive, but this megachilid bee doesn't care. Privits that are kept trimmed for hedges do not bloom, but when they go wild, become small trees which provide excellent bee forage.

By late spring we have more garden flowers, including vegetables like squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, butter beans, and okra. Marigolds do feed a few bees, but do not seem to be of major interest. Likewise zinnia seems to be of some small use. Cosmos has been a major hit with the bees. Bee balm is significant, but only blooms for a short time. Its wild relative, horsemint is much better for bees. Cultivated morning glories are a big bust, as bees show little interest, though their wild (and highly invasive) relatives are much more attended, by bumblebees and megachilids.

Passion flowers are very good, and clematis attracts a few bumblebees. Lantana and butterfly bush seem to only be important to butterflies. Lasioglossum seems to love parsley blooms.

Sunflowers are a major hit with melissodes bees and honeybees. We plan to plant more of these – our only complaint being the relatively short bloom period for each planting.

A halictid bee on sunflower blossom

A halictid bee loads up on sunflower pollen.

Summer

When the hot weather of summer comes, there is a dearth of flowers. A few trumpet vines help feed bumblebees. An invasive plant, Brazillian vervain, supplies nectar through the hottest periods. Bitterweed begins to bloom in the heat, and is heavily worked by megachilid bees. Butterfly weed is present in sparse amounts; we aim to increase the supply of this. There are also occasional pine hibiscuses, which bees seem to love.

Sumac is also present around in spotty amounts – the southern variety blooming in midsummer, unlike in the north, where it is a spring flower. Sometimes sumac will be literally covered with bees. too bad it’s not a common plant.

Caryopteris – a plant we brought from Tennessee – gets wild applause from the bumblebees.

Another hot weather plant is crape myrtle, which does get a steady, though small amount of attention from bees.  Once cotton begins to bloom, honeybees and bumblebees will concentrate there, and of course, they frequently get poisoned.

Fall

By late August, we begin to see more fall flowers which bloom in a progression through the end of November. Joe Pye weed is wonderful for the bees, as are any of the various goldenrod species. Many asters, such as mistflower, also bloom through the fall, with frostweed continuing after frost many years.

Rudbeckia and Bidens are extremely important wildflowers, through the fall, feeding a variety of bee species.

We’ve listed quite a number of forage plants on or near our home. We could list a lot more, within driving distance.  But many of them, though important, are quite sparse in occurance. Roadside mowing and herbicide use, hedgerow removal, pine plantations and the chemlawn mentality have removed many of the wild bee forage plants.

Flower gardens can help, but many of the showiest flowers are overbred and of little value to bees. We tore out our roses, when we found that the bees had no interest in them and they were prone to fungus diseases and needed lots of spraying to keep them pretty.

In another post, we’ll be talking about native vs alien plants, and some of our use of each. Your thoughts (on the topic) are always appreciated.


Feb 5 2011

Gardening for bees in the Southeast: Part I

Not only are we sorting seeds and making plans for our veggie garden, but we are planning for the bees as well. It’s kind of a rule of thumb around here that we don’t plant anything unless it feeds us, or feeds the bees, or feeds wildlife.

In planning for the bees, we want to have a continuous supply of nectar and pollen sources throughout the growing season, which extends from mid-March to about December 1 here in coastal South Carolina.

We have a huge flush of spring blossoms here, so we don’t need to focus on this too much. Then follows a hot, sometimes dry, summer season, which is quite barren for the bees. Autumn brings back more flowers again, expecially if we have good late summer rains. But fall is not usually as good as spring for the bees.

Megachilid bee on butterfly weed

Megachilid bee on butterfly weed: Note the "scopa" - the pollen collecting hairs on her belly, which enable her to be an excellent pollinator, as well as save some pollen to feed her babies.

 

(Note that we are not speaking just of honeybees for this garden project, though they will benefit. There are several hundred species of bees in the Southeast, ranging from the large carpenter bee, and some of the larger species of bumblebees, down to tiny Lasioglossum and Ceratina bees that are sometimes hardly bigger than gnats. Favorites of mine include the “Jelly Belly” bees – megachilids that carry bright colored pollen on their abdomens and my “Little Green Bees from Mars” the gorgeous in-your-face green colored halictid bees.)

Besides plantings, we provide a number of other services to help the bees. We have dripping water for drinks and mud for the ones who use this. We have patches of bare ground, both sandy and clay for the bees that prefer ground nesting. We also have reeds and bored wood blocks for nesting sites.

And we are extremely careful with pesticides – never using them in any way that would contaminate nectar and pollen. We can’t control what our neighbors do, but we’ve done our best to educate them that you can’t lay Sevin dust all over your blooming squash and cukes…or you’ll bite the hand that feeds you!

In other posts, I’ll talk about some individual flowers that are of special interest, and we’ll discuss what we already have in trees, fruits, and wild and domestic flowers that feed bees. But right now I want to list the wildflower seeds that I have already purchased or plan to very soon. These are ones that seem to be of special value to a variety of bee species.

After careful consideration, this is the core list of native plant choices to add to our collection this year:

1. Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa (great for Monarch butterflies as well)

2. Anise Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum

3. Rice Button Aster, Aster dumosus

4. White Swan Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea

5. New York Ironweed, Vernonia noveboracensis and Purple Ironweed, Vernonia fasciculata

5. Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium dubius or E. fistulis

6. Hairy Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum pilosum

In another post we’ll also review some non-native possibilities that I may also plant.

This is a regional list, of course. But most of the lists I’ve seen are for the North or for the West. These are ones that I’m certain will do exceptionally well in the Southeast.

Note that I’m focusing on perennials. This is partly because I’m a cheapskate who doesn’t want to keep on buying the same seeds each year – and partly because we are looking at the long term.

People often talk about “attracting bees” to get their garden veggies pollinated. This is a crock! It’s very shortsighted thinking. If we just plant attractive flowers, the few bees around will simply bypass our garden veggies. We want to plan and plant for the long term – to build bee populations back up to the way they used to be. Then there will be enough competition that even less attractive garden veggies will get bee visits.

Lasioglossum on spiderwort

Little Lasioglossum bees love to collect pollen from the spiderwort wildflowers that are already established at our little wildlife refuge.

Most of these will be started early to be transplanted after frost danger is past. I hope to able to sell some plants to recoup my costs. And what I can’t sell or use, I’ll probably plant out in some wild spots and hope for the best.

I would love to hear from others, particularly if you can add some very good species to the list, but all comments are welcome.


Dec 5 2010

Wild bee house update and a mystery

Overall, our wild bee house was a bit of a disappointment, as only a small number of the canes were used. We did have at least one carpenter bee nest in the framework of the bee house, and we had some Anthophora bees that we brought in in clay lumps emerge and renest.

The greatest success was with the blackberry canes. Every one was drilled out and plugged with mud. This was early in the season, and we never saw the creature that did this, but we are assuming it was a tiny Ceratina bee. We have captured live adult ones in the area.

Blackberry canes were all inhabited

Blackberry canes were all inhabited

 

This certainly would encourage us to put out more of the blackberry canes next year.

With the river canes, only an occasional one was used. Early in the season we have about a half dozen that were plugged with leaves, possibly with the orchard mason bees that visited our apple trees. We did not seen any further adult activity after spring, and the nests plugs were removed not too long after they were placed. It’s possible that a new generation emerged, but we think it more likely that fire ants found the nests and had the tenants for a meal. I have tried to maintain fire ant control, but new nests start frequently and often are unnoticed at first.

Some others had mud plugs. Early in the season, we saw the two wasp species shown in earlier posts, making these nests. But the early ones were also opened, just like the leafcutter ones, and this also may have been fire ant depredations. I think the effect of fire ants on wild bees (and thereby on pollination) should be investigated more extensively.

More canes were filled later in the season. As often as we checked, we never saw these built, and do not know exactly what insects built these.

Only a few of the other canes were plugged

Only a few of the other canes were plugged

 

Only a few of the other canes were plugged

Only a few of the other canes were plugged

 

Only a few of the other canes were plugged

Only a few of the other canes were plugged

 

A mysterious visitor apparently nested in two of these tubes and started a third, but did not seal it.

Beehouse mystery inhabitant

Beehouse mystery inhabitant

The nesting material appears to be pine straw.  Does anyone know what could be in these?

My original plan was to open some of the canes for photos and further study, but there are so few occupied that I think I will let them “bee” until spring, and try to watch carefully to see if we can spot them emerging.

A couple construction details:  I had originally intended to use plastic pipe for the outer containers for the river canes and blackberry canes, but I dropped that idea when some free large bamboo was donated to me. Since four-inch plastic pipe is no longer cheap, I went with the idea, but I don’t think I will again. Almost all the bamboo split on one side, thus reducing the weather protection it afforded.

The drilled wood had very few inhabitants, and I think I’ll remove the large stumps from next spring’s bee house. I think to replace them with smaller drilled blocks with paper tubes inside each of them, so I can better check for parasites and live occupancy.

I welcome suggestions for modifications for next year’s wild bee house. A number of folks have made suggestions for this year’s and these were incorporated.

 As always, we are continuing to add forage plants that we find are bee-attractive, so we hope to continue to build up populations.

One thing about the bee house is that it has made us keener observers of bee activity. When I see some motion along the surface of the ground, I always look to see if it is a bee nesting or looking for a nest site. In this way, I’ve found sites, and learned the type of habitat that they prefer.

All in all, though nesting was not extensive in the wild bee house, it was quite a learning experience and I am looking forward to next year.


Dec 4 2010

Best paper yet on Colony Collapse Disorder

Without any additions, clarifications, or critiques, I can freely endorse the linked article as the most balanced and comprehensive article I’ve seen on the subject of CCD:

Bees in Crisis: A comprehensive situation report: 

http://www.lab-times.org/editorial/e_173.html 

While this article specifically concerns honeybees, it is of great interest to those concerned about wild bee species as well. Honeybees have more research and more protectors, and may well serve as indicators as to what is happening with wild bees.