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Notice Board . . .

For those of you interested in the Valhalla long hive, you can contact "The Hive Man" (aka Richard Nichols) by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 541-447-7907. It sounds like a set of plans is in the works as well as complete hives.

Plant a flower, answer a survey

Researchers studying the decline of bee species in the Netherlands have discovered that bees disappear along with their native forage.

The research, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was based on pollen samples taken from bees in museum collections. Trace samples of pollen stuck to long-dead bees were analyzed to determine which plants produced them. The information was compared to historical land-use records and bee population studies.

Sure enough, as land was converted to farming, industry, and housing, certain plants became scarce. As those plants disappeared, so did their pollinators. In the Netherlands, a highly developed country, nearly half of all native bee species are now endangered.

This study follows several other recent papers that suggest bee health is strongly influenced by the quality and diversity of dietary pollen, especially in the larval stages. Bees raised on inferior diets are less able to contend with disease and environmental stress. None of this should be a surprise: we know our own health and the health of our livestock and pets is directly related to proper nutrition, so why should bees be any different?

I was reading the Netherlands report when, by coincidence, the following comment from Donna in Kansas appeared in my in-box:

In the 50s, in north central Kansas, we had large colonies of what we called “ground bees.” On our farm, they dug their holes in the chicken yard which was right next to 120 acres of upland alfalfa. When wheat replaced alfalfa, the bees left.

Donna’s statement sums up in concrete terms what the studies tell us in the abstract: bees can’t make it without the right types of flowers.

Alfalfa provides pollen for a large diversity of bees. In fact, the last time I was at the Prosser experiment station, a graduate student at WSU was completing an inventory of the bee species found in the alfalfa seed fields of Touchet, WA. I got just a brief glimpse of her specimens, but dozens and dozens of species were represented.

Wheat on the other hand, provides nothing for bees. Donna’s bees were forced to leave when the alfalfa flowers disappeared, just as the many species of Dutch bees disappeared as their food supplies disappeared and the land was “improved.”

Many people believe that insecticides are the largest threat to bees. As significant as they are, I’m beginning to believe that loss of a proper diet is an even bigger threat. Without the building blocks for a vigorous immune system, all the other dangers in the environment—including the pesticides—become ever more perilous.

There is only so much any of us can do to fight pesticide abuse, but every single one of us can plant flowers. If we provide nourishing sustenance for the bees, we have taken the first step on a journey of recovery. We all live in different situations with different means, but whether we can plant a field or only a pot, we must do it. We must do it for them and for ourselves.

We’ve all seen certain flowers that were loaded with bees. Take a minute to answer the survey and let us know what flowers attract bees in your area. It doesn’t have to be a native species as long as bees—any bees—love it. When I get enough answers, I will post them here so other people know what to buy for their bees. Thank you for answering. Some bee, somewhere, will owe you!


Wrapping a feral colony for winter

This past spring, in a remote little outpost in the high desert of Oregon, a feral swarm of honey bees decided to nest. They chose a massive cottonwood adjacent to a popular campground and hung their combs from its aging limbs. With no protection other than a nearby garage and a canopy of leaves, the bees spent the summer raising brood, expanding their nest, and ignoring the flux of campers playing on the Deschutes River.

But as fall approached, the property owner began to wonder about the coming winter. Would the colony be able to survive a central Oregon winter with no protection from the elements? It didn’t seem likely.

In mid-September, the homeowner asked his friends, Rob Deez and Alicia Taylor of Smudgie Goose Farm, to look at the colony. Can it survive? Enthralled by its beauty but unable to say, they in turn contacted beekeepers Larry and Naomi Price and asked them to have a look.

A few days later, Naomi and Larry arrived at the scene with a truckload of tools ready to remove the bees. But after one glance at the fully-exposed colony, they scrapped their initial plan and several alternatives as well. In the end, they covered the colony with a tarp to protect it from the expected rain.

Back home, Naomi contacted Dewey Caron (author of the popular textbook Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping) and asked for advice. Dr. Caron came up with several suggestions:

  • Cut the combs from the tree and tie them into frames
  • Cut out the piece of tree they are clinging to and put the whole thing in a box
  • Leave them alone, but improve their chances by providing some rain and wind protection

After hours of discussion during the next three days, the four of them—Alicia, Rob, Larry, and Naomi—came up with an ingenious plan. They agreed it was too late in the year to cut the combs and expect the bees to patch things together. So instead, they elected to provide a temporarily shelter to help the colony survive the winter.

Using electric-fence wire, they planned to construct a framework that would support a multilayered canopy of canvas, insulation, and waterproofing. Once the colony was covered, it would be on its own till spring.

The plan proceeded without a hitch, and the Maupin, Oregon colony is now tucked in for winter. In the following series of photographs, taken by Naomi Price and Shannon Taylor, you can see the story unfold. If the colony survives the winter, it will be removed to Smudgie Goose Farm in Prineville to be used as an educational tool. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the bees.


Click on any photo for slides and captions.

Things we forget to remember

Thanksgiving Day in the United States is traditionally celebrated with an over-sized meal based on a stuffed turkey. Since the turkey always takes center stage, many refer to it as “turkey day.” However, to be fair, we should call it “bee day.”

Think about bees as you eat broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, squash, turnips, avocados, eggplant, or leeks. Does your stuffing contain sunflower seeds, onion, or parsley? Will you be having cranberry sauce or blueberry muffins? Or how about pickles?—cucumbers, dill, and mustard seed are all pollinated by bees.

Do you see any carrots or celery? The seeds needed to plant these crops required pollination by bees as well. And the tomatoes were helped along by bumble bees.

Do you have a fruit bowl on the table? Does it have oranges, tangerines, plums, or persimmons? And what about those mixed nuts, including almonds, cashews, and macadamias? Do you have a cheese plate that includes a wedge of honey and crackers with caraway seeds?

And if your pumpkin pie contains pumpkin, allspice, nutmeg, vanilla, or cinnamon, you can thank bees for every one of them. And besides apples, your apple pie may contain all those goodies as well as currants and a piece of cheddar cheese on the side.

That’s right. You can’t forget the dairy stock that ate clover and alfalfa, the seeds of which were produced by bees—not just honey bees, but leafcutters, alkali bees, bumbles, and mining bees. The milk from those animals provided the butter, sour cream, yogurt, whipping cream, half and half, and all the cheeses that went with the rest of the meal. And don’t forget the coffee, some of which is bee-pollinated as well.

The table itself may be covered with a cotton tablecloth, courtesy of the bees, and topped with beeswax candles.

Unfortunately, both cotton textiles and beeswax have been largely replaced with man-made materials coaxed from oil . . . which got me to thinking. It seems that some oil is really old—made from ancient sea life that drifted to the ocean floors—but there are more recent deposits that came from the Jurassic period (180-140 million years ago) and the Cretaceous period (140-65 million years ago). Oil from these periods can be age-dated using the presence of a certain chemical that comes from angiosperms (flowering plants).

Since bees evolved along with flowering plants starting about 100-120 million years ago, it is very possible that bees are at least partially responsible for pollinating the plants which formed the more recent oil deposits, particularly those that accumulated during or after the Cretaceous period. As time progressed, more and more angiosperms became dependent on bee pollinators, which in turn allowed them to become more and more prolific, which in turn made more and more oil. And when the bees’ lives were over, their little bodies added to the deposits as well.

So if you’re driving to grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving—or only to your local restaurant—just think: bees may be responsible for pushing your car along the road . . . which was also made from oil. You gotta love ‘em.


Fine Dining

Beef Wellington: a dish of beef, typically coated in pâté de foie gras, wrapped in puff pastry, and baked.

Bee Fwellington: a dish of raw bee, typically coated in pollen, wrapped in legs, and warmed in the sun.

“Crab spider” is a general term for many types of spiders that look and move like crabs, and many of them will eat bees. They don’t target bees specifically but will consume any type of invertebrate they can wrap their legs around.

I’m not a fan of spiders because they have too many legs. More importantly, when a creature’s eyes are arranged in rows, it creeps me out. But crab spiders attract my attention because I’ve watched them pluck foraging bees right out of the air and eat them, head first, with no social grace whatsoever.

The crab spiders don’t spin webs, but ambush invertebrates when they visit a flower. They paralyze their prey with a venomous bite between the head and thorax, which allows them to consume the meal at their leisure. The eight small eyes allow it to detect the slightest movement. True to their name, they can move crablike forward, sideways, and backwards. When prey comes close, their forelegs rise up to strike in crab fashion.

Many of the crab spiders, especially in the genus Misumena in the family Thomisidae, are able to change color to match the flower where they sit. The great camouflage allows them to easily snare a meal. When the spiders remain white while sitting on a flower of a different color, their coloring is thought to mimic bird droppings and, as such, they appear to be harmless.

Click on any photo to view slides.