The Secret Life of a Queen Bee

by Engrid Winslow

Photo of a queen bee on honeycomb.

photo courtesy of pixabay – maggydurch

 

A Queen Bee begins her life in a vaguely peanut-shaped cell that is larger than the one a worker bee or drone comes to life in. It takes three days for the egg to hatch and no matter what type of bee is being raised, it will be fed royal jelly for the first three days. If the larvae is intended to become a queen, the royal jelly feedings will continue for three more days when the cell is capped and the larvae pupates. The entire cycle lasts for 16 days. Once the queen emerges she needs another week to continue to develop before she leaves the hive on her nuptial flight. Drone bees hang out in an area above tree line where she will mate with about 10 to 20 different drones. She returns to her hive and begins her mission in life – laying up to 20,000 eggs per day. She will never leave the hive (unless it swarms) and will spend her life in the dark being fed and tended to by her daughters. There can be no colony without her.

The beekeeper can recognize the queen because her body is longer, reaching past the length of her wings and legs, and she has a pointed abdomen. Since she is built for egg laying, she has no pollen sacs on her legs and her tongue is short. She also has no glands to produce wax and takes no part in building combs. The color of the Queen can vary from deep gold, to reddish brown and even a brown so deep it looks black. Color has no bearing on whether the Queen is a good one.

A good queen is one that lays a lot of eggs in a very tight pattern referred to as “the brood pattern”. The queen works her way in a circular pattern around the comb in ever wider circles. When checking on the hive the pattern should be densely covered with eggs, larvae and capped brood. This is repeated thorough out the hive and it is up to the beekeeper to make sure that there is always plenty of room for the queen to continuously lay eggs. Lake of space for her to continue her mission is one of the chief reasons for swarming.

You can read more about swarming here: https://www.bbbseed.com/19613-2/ and here: https://www.bbbseed.com/honey-bee-swarms/

 

Monarch Butterfly Migration

Graphic stating, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Monarch Migration."

 

by BBB Seed

Each fall, about this time in October, millions of Monarch butterflies begin the journey to their overwintering sites in Mexico and California. In the spring, the Monarch butterflies will then return to their breeding areas across America and as far as Eastern Canada. Four generations of monarch butterflies will be born and die by the time this journey is complete.

In February and March, the butterflies come out of hibernation and begin looking for a mate. These butterflies will then begin to migrate north and east looking for a place to lay their eggs. This begins the first generation. Eggs are laid on milkweed plants in March and April. These eggs will hatch into baby caterpillars that will then feed for about two weeks before beginning metamorphosis. After completing metamorphosis the monarch butterfly emerges and enjoys its short lifespan of about two to six weeks. Before dying the butterfly lays eggs for the second generation. This second generation is born in May and June and the third in July and August. Both of these generations will go through the same life cycle as the first generation. The fourth generation of Monarch butterflies is born in September and October and will go through the same process as the first three generations except for this generation of butterflies will live 6-8 months making the migration journey to the warmer climates of Mexico or California.

A mass of Monarch Butterflies.

photo courtesy of pixabya – skeeze

Monarch butterflies living east of the Rocky Mountains will overwinter in Mexico in oyamel fir trees. The Monarchs living west of the Rockies will overwinter in eucalyptus trees in and around Pacific Grove, California. It wasn’t until 1975 that we discovered these overwintering sites. The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is a World Heritage Site that contains most of the overwintering sites for the eastern Monarch population.

Monarch butterflies migrate for two reasons. The first is because the butterflies can’t withstand the freezing temperatures in the northern and central continental climates during winter. Second being their larval food source (milkweed) does not grow in their overwintering sites.

In recent years researchers have found the Monarch population numbers to be declining. Some reasons may include the loss of milkweed species needed for larval development, unintended effects of pesticide use and the loss of habitat in overwintering sites in both Mexico and California. Creating more Monarch habitat could help the declining populations. Planting milkweed species and other nectar-producing plants is a great place to start.  Start by planting our Monarch Rescue Mix!

Photo of a Monarch Butterfly on orange milkweed blossom.

photo courtesy of pixabay – balloonimals

Sources: https://www.monarch-butterfly.com/monarch-migration.html,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarch_Butterfly_Biosphere_Reservehttp://pollinator.org/

 

What’s Happening in the Honeybee Hive as Winter Starts to Close In

Photo of an open shed on a foggy heath housing several honeybee hives.

by Engrid Winslow

This part 2 of a series on what happens in beehives, what beekeepers do to manage their beehives and how you can also help to sustain honeybees and other pollinators.

Winter in a hive of honey bees is tough. Honey bees are the only bees who overwinter as a colony (more about the lifecycle of bumblebees and native bees will follow in later articles) which makes them much more vulnerable to the vagaries of winter weather. Here’s what is happening in the hive as fall changes into early winter.

Honey bees are amazingly resourceful at helping to winter-proofing their hives. They use a special substance called propyls to seal up all the cracks and crannies that could let in wind and moisture during the cold rainy months. Whenever the beekeeper checks on the hives (temperatures must be above 50 degrees and sunny) the bees do an admirable job of sealing everything back up again.

Honeybees are not warm-blooded and depend on clustering in order to combat the winter temperatures. The worker bees who are left in the colony after the drones (male bees) have been evicted are all daughters of the Queen Bee and are devoted to protecting her and whatever small amounts of brood remain in the hive. As winter settles in, days darken and temperatures really drop, the Queen lays fewer and fewer eggs until stopping completely. The remaining cluster of bees is made of those who hatched late in the fall and these few daughters center around the Queen. They rotate from the center, where the Queen is protected from the elements to the outside of the bee cluster.  They create warmth in the cluster by unhinging their wings at the shoulder muscle and vibrating them (also referred to as “shivering”). No foraging takes place (well, after all, what flowers are blooming in the winter anyway?) and the hive is dependent on the stores of honey and pollen that has been stored from the summer. The bees on the outside of the cluster are usually able to feed off the pollen and honey which is stored on the outside of the frame around the brood. When temperatures are warm enough the bees will venture out for “cleansing flights” – yes, that’s a delicate name for what they need to do! But otherwise, they are “socked in” for the winter months.

Beekeepers will continue to supplement food for their hives, depending on temperatures, as they hope and pray the bees will survive to expand their colonies next spring and summer.  Check out this youtube video to hear the amazing sound created by the bees in this winter hive.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yqr40loMhJw

 

 

 

Bee Boulder Family Festival!

Photo of a bee on a pink petaled flower.

photo courtesy of Pexels – Phillip Mullen

September is Pollinator Appreciation Month here in Boulder, Colorado.  Boulder is home to more than 550 species of native bees and the city has made a pledge to help recognize, protect and celebrate this diverse pollinator population.  All month long there have been activities for both kids and adults including; pollinator story times, a student poster contest, a native bee lecture, and a hive tour to name a few.

This Saturday we wrap up Pollinator Appreciation Month for 2018 with the Fourth Annual Boulder Bee Festival.  Come to help us celebrate our pollinators at Central Park in Boulder from 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM. It will be tons of fun with educational activities, live music, face painting and prizes.  Come by the BBB Seed tent to chat pollinators, flowers or whatever you like. We will have crafts for the kids, stickers, seeds and much more.  Hope to see you there!

Photo of a bee keeper holding up a frame of a bee laden honeycomb

photo courtesy of Pexels – Timothy Paule II

 

Mexican Sunflower, Pollinator Magnet!

by Heather Stone

Close up photo of an orange Mexican Sunflower blossom.

photo courtesy of pixabay – impradip

Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia rotundafolia is a must for the butterfly garden and is a favorite of our beloved monarch butterfly. This 4-6’ tall annual (perennial in USDA zones10-11) is covered in vibrant orange flowers the monarchs can’t resist. But it’s not only a favorite of monarch butterflies. Mexican Sunflower is also equally adored by many other butterfly species including painted ladies, fritillaries, eastern tiger swallowtails, giant swallowtails and more. Honeybees, bumblebees and hummingbirds flock to these nectar-rich flowers as well.

Mexican Sunflowers are easy to grow. Plant seeds indoors 1-2 months before your average last frost date or directly in the garden in late spring when the soil has warmed. Once germinated, these plants take off reaching heights of 4-6’ by 3-4’ wide so place them in the back of the border. Staking these tall plants helps to avoid any toppling over. The vibrant orange blooms appear mid-summer and last until the first frost. Deadheading every 2-3 days ensures continual bloom, equaling more visitors. Mexican sunflowers make great cut flowers too and are easy to grow in containers. Don’t leave this beauty out of your pollinator garden.

Mexican Sunflower blossom against blue sky.

photo courtesy of pixabay-4924546

 

 

 

 

Check out this cool video of Monarch butterflies enjoying the blossoms of Mexican Sunflower.

https://www.facebook.com/MonarchButterflyGarden/videos/895905987113736/

 

 

 

HIVE HAPPENINGS IN SEPTEMBER

Two beekeepers in bee suits inspecting a hive.

photo courtesy of pixabay – topp-digital-foto

By Engrid Winslow

Have you ever wondered what beekeepers actually do? Did you think that they just put hives in fields and then visit to collect honey every once in a while? Well, we are going to take you inside the duties of a beekeeper in the first of a series of articles explaining what the bees are up to and how a beekeeper helps them to survive and thrive.

Two jars of golden honey with a honey dipper.

photo courtesy of pixabay – fancycrave1

Honeybees are the only bees that overwinter as a colony and cold weather can be stressful enough that many colonies will not survive without some help from a beekeeper. Even with that help, a hive that is weak or doesn’t have enough food stored or suffers from a mite infestation will not make it through.  Each colony has worked very hard all spring and summer collecting honey and pollen to feed the new brood that the queen spends all day (and night!) laying. They are also storing extra honey and pollen to make it through the winter when there is very little forage (in most parts of the country).  Every colony needs 60-90 pounds of honey to survive the cold season. A responsible beekeeper only harvests whatever extra honey has been stored by the hive. Beekeepers watch their hives grow during the season and add “honey supers” on top of a two-deep hive colony with a “queen excluder” between the hive and the supers. Some hives will produce many of these supers that hold the excess honey – it varies by the colony and by the amount of forage available during the season. The excluder ensures that no brood is laid in the supers. In the early fall, beekeepers check to make sure that the honey stores are capped with wax and proceed to harvest the honey in a variety of ways ranging from using a “capping scratcher” with the frames set over a bucket to using electric or manual extracting machines.

Honey is a marvelous thing to have for personal use, to sell or to give to friends and family as gifts. The National Honey Board website has numerous recipes for all types of dishes using honey as an ingredient.  Check them out at National Honey Board.

There are many other duties for the beekeeper to take care of as the weather cools and, concurrently, the hive is also preparing itself for winter. The queen slows down her egg laying, drones are evicted from the hive and the colony shrinks to a size that can huddle together when it’s cold outside. I’ll share more of this information in my next blog about honeybees.

 

Fall Blooming Plants for Pollinators

Photo of a honey bee on a purple aster bloom.

photo courtesy of pixabay – 1735564

by Heather Stone

As the days become shorter and the nights cooler and the season shifts from summer to fall many of us can find our gardens to be a little lackluster. Not much is blooming after the abundance of color throughout the spring and summer.

 

This is where fall blooming plants come in. There are many native and non-native plants that bloom in late summer and fall that can keep your garden filled with color.

 

But, autumn-blooming plants don’t just benefit the gardener. As the bountiful blossoms of spring and summer decrease, it is important to provide pollinators with plenty of food sources as they begin to prepare for winter. Hummingbirds and butterflies will need plenty to eat before heading south and the honeybees and native bees need to gather as much pollen and nectar as possible to create winter food stores.

 

Here is a list of fall blooming plants that make great additions to the garden.

 

Perennials:

  1. Asters-there are various species of asters native to different parts of North America. Most plants have flowers in shades of white, blue, purple and pink. They are drought tolerant, grow to around 2-3’ and do best in full sun to part shade. Attractive to various species of bees, including bumblebees and leafcutter bees. Some species help fuel monarch butterfly migration.Photo of purple aster blooms.
  2. Black-Eyed Susan-the brilliant yellow flowers of Black-eyed Susan are long blooming and loved by both bees and birds.
  3. Blanket Flower– this tough plant needs little water, blooms a long time and it’s orange, red and yellow flowers are beautiful. Of course, the pollinators love it too!

Want to know more about the pollinators that visit blanket flower? Check out this link: https://bit.ly/2BvEmj4

  1. Liatris-the tall pinkish-purple flower spikes bloom late summer and attract a plethora of bees and butterflies.
  2. Goldenrod– when the goldenrod starts to bloom I know fall is just around the corner. There are a variety of native goldenrods all being easy to grow, drought tolerant and excellent bee plants.
  3. Purple Coneflower– this long-lived perennial comes to life in late summer with a striking display of large purple flowers and attracts a variety of bees and butterflies.Photo of honey bee on purple coneflower bloom.
  4. Garlic Chives- when the white star-shaped flowers of garlic chives start to bloom they are abuzz with so many bees you won’t believe your eyes. They are a late season nectar source for butterflies too.

Photo of the white blooms of garlic chive.

Annuals:

These flowers have been working hard in the garden all summer and will continue to bloom until the first frost strikes.

  1. Cosmos– these drought-tolerant flowers come in shades of pink, white and red and will begin to bloom in late summer and last well into fall.
  2. Cleome-with ample nectar stores, the pink to lavender flowers of this western native are loved by bees and butterflies.
  3. Calendula-this long-time garden favorite loves the cooler weather of fall and its flowers of yellow, orange and gold add a great splash of color to the garden.
  4. Borage– the long-blooming, blue, star-shaped flowers are adored by the bees.

    Single blue Borage bloom.

    Photo courtesy of Pixabay virginie-I

Check out this blog post about borage- https://bit.ly/2MtXMKv

  1. Mexican Sunflower– loved by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds the vibrant orange blooms will last until frost.
  2. Marigolds– this garden staple will add a blast of color to your border and looks great in pots.
  3. Sunflowers-nothing is more cheerful than a sunflower and the bees, butterflies and birds adore them.
  4. Zinnias– with blooms in every color of the rainbow these long-lasting flowers are a great addition to the garden and the bees love them.
  5. Pincushion Flower– both the perennial and annual varieties of the pincushion flower produce a sweet fragrance that attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Regular deadheading of the spent blossoms will keep these beauties blooming all season long.
 

Gardening for the Native Bees: 4 Easy Tips For Making Your Garden Solitary Bee Friendly

by Sam DollA cavity-nesting native bee.

There are nearly 4,000 species of native bees in the United States alone! With the exception of bumblebees, nearly every native bee species in North America are solitary. They come in a variety of shapes in sizes, from enormous carpenter bees to the tiny Perdita genus.

If you want to learn more about bumblebees, check out our blog about how you can make your garden bumblebee friendly!

Unlike European honeybees or bumblebees, solitary bees are stingless, do not have a queen, live in a colony, or make honey and wax. Instead, female solitary bees build tunnels to use as nests, where they lay their eggs in a series of chambers packed with a pollen and nectar “paste” for their young to munch on when they hatch. Since males will hatch and emerge from the nest first, the mamma bee will lay the females in the deepest portion of the nest and males in the front.

Around 70% of solitary bees are known as “mining bees” because they tunnel underground to build their nests. The other 30% of bees are cavity-nesting bees and will nest in anything from hollow or pithy stems to dead wood, or even abandoned snail shells!

Native bees are incredibly important pollinators. Unlike honeybees, which carry pollen in a “pollen pouch” on their legs, native bees are a bit less tidy, covering their whole bodies in pollen to carry it home. This messiness means they lose much more pollen as they go flower to flower and it actually makes them much more efficient pollinators. Some plants actually need native bees to be pollinated at all! Squash and gourds and any other members of the Cucurbita genus all rely on very specialized Squash Bees!

For more on the Squash Bees, check out our Blog on the topic!

These bees are pretty neat! Here are some tips for Making your garden a native bee paradise!

1.    Preserve and manage nesting sites

One of the most important things you can do to help protect your local native bees is to make sure that your yard is full of potential nesting sites. For mining bees, leave sunny patches of bare earth for nest sites and try to avoid laying down anything that could be a barrier (like landscaping cloth, gravel, or mulch) for bees accessing or emerging from potential existing nest sites. Also, leave unused areas of your garden with old wood, stones, or branches undisturbed as a cavity-nesting bee haven.

You can also install a bee hotel in your yard. Often made from wood or bamboo, these hotels are great for cavity-nesting bees like the Blue Orchard Mason Bee or Leafcutter Bee! You can build one yourself or buy them from reputable suppliers like our friends at The Bees Waggle.

2.    Make your garden a bee buffet

To ensure that your garden is a Mecca for bees of all shapes and sizes, you need to make sure that there is a diversity of forage as well. Plant a mix of perennials and annuals so that you will have a mix of different blooms at the same time throughout the entire growing season. Also, try to have blocks of color in your garden so bees can easily find their way to the flowers they like over and over again, without having to hunt all around for them. Of course, native bees like native plants, so make sure to dedicate a portion (or all) of your garden to wildflowers. The Xerces Society has a variety of region-specific plant guides for pollinators that can get you started toward planting for native bees.

We did the hard work for you and made our Bee Rescue Wildflower Mix that will provide great season-long forage for both native and honeybees!

3.    Lay off the pesticides

Pesticides can’t discriminate between the bad and good bugs. These insecticides pose a particular danger to mining bees since they are often applied to bare ground areas around structures that are ideal nesting sites for these bees. These insecticides also pose the risk of washing into other areas of the garden and contaminating nest sites.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are systematic pesticides that live inside the plants that they are trying to protect. These have been particularly harmful to our various pollinator species because they work their way up through the plant into the nectar and pollen that various pollinators are attracted to. Flowers with neonics applied are actually luring bees and other insect pollinators to their deaths!

For tips on how to protect your garden and the bees in it, check out our eBook on Organic Pest Control!

4.    Take a closer look

One of the most important things your can do to protect native bees is to learn! Take some time to watch all the bees that visit and live in your garden. Visit the Xerces Society website and use their identification guides to try to figure out which bees you are seeing. Most importantly, SPREAD THE WORD! Educate your friends and family about all the bees that don’t make the nightly news and how vital they are to our future!

Other Resources

Check out these resources for more about pollinators and how you can help them

 

Hooray for Hummingbirds!

by Cheryl Soldati Clark

Hummingbirds may be cute little-winged creatures, but really they are tough as nails! These extremely important pollinators have the highest metabolic rate of any other animal on earth. They also have a high breathing rate, high heart rate and high body temperature. Their wings flap up to 90 times per second and their heart rate exceeds 1,200 beats per minute. In order to maintain their extremely high metabolism, hummingbirds have to eat up to 10-14 times their body weight in food every day for fuel. In preparation for migration, they have to eat twice this amount in order to fly thousands of miles.
A huge portion of a hummingbird’s diet consists of sugar that they acquire from flower nectar, tree sap and hummingbird feeders. They also have to eat plenty of insects and pollen for protein to build muscle. Hummingbirds cross-pollinate flowers while they are feeding on nectar because their heads become covered with pollen and they carry the pollen to the next bloom as they continue to feed. Several native plants rely on hummingbirds for pollination and would not be here today if it wasn’t for these efficient pollinators.
Hummingbirds are found in several different habitats, including wooded and forested areas, grasslands and desert environments. They also occur at altitudes ranging up to 14,000 feet in the South American Andes Mountains.
The male hummingbirds are usually brightly colored while the females are dull colored in order to camouflage them while nesting. Female hummingbirds rely on males for mating only and after that, they build the nest and raise their young as single parents. They have been known to fearlessly protect their young against large birds of prey, such as hawks and have even attacked humans that get too close to their nests. They usually lay up to two eggs which hatch within a few weeks. Hummingbirds can live 3-5 years in the wild, which varies by species, but making it through their first year of life is a challenge. Fledglings are particularly vulnerable between the time that they hatch and the time that they leave the nest. Larger species may live up to a decade.
In order to conserve energy at night, because they lack downy feathers to hold in body heat, hummingbirds enter a state of semi-hibernation called “torpor”. This allows them to lower their metabolic rate by almost 95% and also lower their body temperature to an almost hypothermic rate. During this time, hummingbirds perch on a branch and appear to be asleep. When the sun comes up and starts to warm the earth, it takes about 20 minutes, but the tiny birds will awake from their torpor state and start their feeding rituals.
Planting a lot of reds and purples in your garden and hanging hummingbird feeders around your yard will attract and help feed these little pollinator friends. In fact, BBB Seed has a Hummingbird Wildflower Mix specifically designed with these little guys in mind.  Please help to support these amazing creatures in your own backyard!  Pollinator Week is a reminder to support pollinators all year long!

Hummingbird Favorites:
• Penstemon• Columbine • Delphinium • Autumn Sage • Four O’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) • Scarlet Monkeyflower (Mimulus spp.) • Texas Sage (Salvia coccinea) • Chuparosa • Ocotillo • Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) • Baja Fairy (Calliandra californica) • Bottlebrush • Desert Willow • Indian paintbrush (Castilleja spp.) • Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) • Lantana • Agave • Lily of the Nile

FUN LINKS:

How to make a Hummingbird Feeder with your Kids!

Video on Hummingbird Tongues

Hummingbird Coloring Pages for Children

Baby Hummingbirds

 

Pollination Syndrome

by Heather Stone

Did you know that different kinds of pollinators like certain kinds of flowers and are more likely to visit those flowers? Why is this? As both plants and pollinators have evolved over time certain characteristics or traits have developed to help these plants and pollinators interact more successfully. For plants, this means that pollen collected will be carried to another flower of the same kind and successful reproduction occurs. For pollinators, this means the ability to find and access necessary nectar and pollen resources. Pollination syndrome is defined as suites of flower traits that have evolved in response to natural selection imposed by different pollen vectors, which can be abiotic (wind and water) or biotic, such as animals, birds, bees, flies, moths, beetles and butterflies. There is a collection of characteristics that flowers have evolved to better ensure pollination. These include flower shape, color, odor, nectar, pollen, and the presence or absence of nectar guides.

 

What kind of flowers do some of our favorite pollinators prefer? 

 

Bees

Bee-pollinated flowers tend to have a lobe that acts as a landing pad for the bee. The flowers reproductive parts are often located at the top of tubular petals, dusting the back of the bee as it enters. Bumblebees have longer tongues than honeybees and are often drawn to deep, tubular flowers. Bees like brightly colored flowers, especially blues and yellows with a light, fresh scent. Bees can not see the color red so will not visit those flowers. Nectar and pollen need to be abundant and nectar guides are present.Orange Rudbeckia flower.

Cluster of Caltapa flowers hanging from tree branch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds can hover while drinking nectar so require no landing pad. These flowers are usually large and funnel-shaped. The flowers anthers dust the top of the hummingbird as it drinks. Red is the preferred color, but they are also attracted to pink and orange colored flowers as well. These flowers usually have little to no scent. Ample nectar supply is important.

Beetles

Beetles prefer a large bowl-shaped flower such as a magnolia. They simply crawl around the flower looking for nectar and in turn, are dusted by pollen. The flower colors are usually white or green and can range in scent from none to overly fruity. Some beetles are also very attracted to flowers with a strong putrid or rotting flesh smell.  

Single, white Magnolia blossom.

 

Butterflies

Butterflies prefer narrow, tubular flowers with a wide landing pad. They are attracted to brightly colored flowers especially shades of pink, blue, yellow, red and purple with a pleasant floral scent. Ample nectar supply is important and nectar guides are present on these flowers.

Moths

Moths prefer regular or tubular shaped flowers without a lip. These flowers are usually white or dull shades of red, purple or pink. The flowers have a strong scent allowing the moths to locate them at night when they are most active.

A stalk of Yucca blossoms.

 

 

 

Bats

Bats prefer flowers that are regular and bowl-shaped and only open at night when they are feeding. They are usually white, green or purple. These flowers must have an abundant supply of both nectar and pollen.Tall flower stalk of an Agave agains blue sky.

 

 

Flies

What kinds of flowers are flies attracted to? Flies are attracted to those plants with a strong putrid odor resembling the smell of rotten flesh. The flowers are often a purplish color meant to look like the flesh of a rotting animal. They can be shallow and funnel-like or complex and trap-like in shape.