All About Pollen

  • Tangled up in blue

    I wasn't paying much attention to Pandora last night until I heard that old Bob Dylan tune, "Tangled up in Blue." Oddly, I didn't think of the '70s or the desparately sad lyrics. No, not me . . . I thought about blue pollen. How weird is that? Those who have ...

  • Mischievous proliferous: the scoop on bee poop

    Okay, Mischievous proliferous is not an official name for anything, but it’s the name given to honey bees by my husband. It is loosely translated as “many troublemakers.” The problem he sees with honey bees in not the stinging or the intimidating flybys, but the prolific drops of feces that ...

  • Plant a garden and they will come

    I spent a few days last week visiting my daughter who lives in Issaquah, a bustling suburb of Seattle. Ironically, she was never much of a gardener until she moved into a condo. Now, however, every square inch of her limited outdoor space is filled with vegetables and herbs. And ...

  • In through the back door

    While traipsing through the farmer’s market last weekend, I met a beekeeper with an interesting question. Having heard that honey bees are poor pollinators of alfalfa, she wanted to know where alfalfa honey comes from. How does that work? Honey bees are, indeed, second-rate pollinators when it comes to alfalfa. When ...

  • Pollen: a tough package wrapped in color

    One of the first thing beekeepers notice about pollen is its color. Depending on where you live, pollen loads come in many shades of yellow, white, orange, pink, blue, gray, and purple. And because honey bees visit the same type of flower during any one foraging trip, the pellets on ...

  • Does pink pollen make pink honey?

    No. Honey is made from nectar, not pollen. Furthermore, the color of the pollen and the color of the nectar have nothing to do with each other. For example, blackberry pollen is gray and blackberry honey (made from the concentrated nectar) is medium amber.

  • Do honey bees pollinate wheat?

    No. Grasses are flowering plants that are wind pollinated. Since the grasses do not need to attract animal pollinators, the plants do not expend energy to produce colorful petals, nectars, or attractive odors. However, the grass family feeds a large portion of the human population. According to the Food and Agriculture ...

  • The dandelions of spring

    Dandelions are not perfect bee food, no single species is. Instead, they are very good food. They are early, they are everywhere. They are not particular. They teem with life. As a kid, I hated dandelions. In early spring before they bloomed, the greens—bitter and rank—were served fried in bacon fat ...

  • Monday morning myth: alder pollen is bad for bees

    I don’t know if this rumor is everywhere, but you certainly hear it here in the Pacific Northwest and in southwestern Canada. We have a lot of red alder (Alnus rubra) in this area, so that’s probably how it got started. I was reminded of the rumor when I saw ...

  • Who pollinates the daffodils?

    This question has popped up several times recently, probably because daffodils are in bloom this time of year. Based on the fact that daffodils have large showy flowers, I assume that sometime in the distant past daffodils were pollinated by insects—probably bees. But like most flowers that have been highly manipulated ...

  • Why bees pollinate plants that don’t need it

    Cross pollination—the moving of pollen from the flowers of one plant to the flowers of another—is usually accomplished by wind or animals. There are a few other vectors, including water and gravity, but wind and animals are the main ones. Many animals move pollen—including bats, birds, and butterflies—but bees of ...

  • We must take care of our pollinators

    News reports insistently tell us that bees pollinate one-third of the world’s food supply. But what does that really mean? First of all, that estimate varies with the researcher, but it usually includes all animal-pollinated crops, not just those pollinated by bees. These animal pollinators include many types of insects as ...

  • Honey bees: be good and eat your greens!

    Jeff Harris, a beekeeper in Newfoundland, took this photo of his hive entrance. It's a little hard to see, but several of the bees are bringing in green pollen. I've never seen green pollen down here in Fahrenheitland, so I wanted to share it. Thanks, Jeff, for ...

  • Buttercup bees: they are what they eat

    No, no. I meant they wear what they eat. Imagine going to the store for peanut butter and coming home slathered in the stuff. That's what bees like to do. Pollination is enhanced by the pollen that sticks to the hairs of the bee's body. This pollen adheres easily, and when ...

  • What is incomplete pollination?

    Pregnancy is an all-or-nothing situation; a woman either is or she isn’t. But in plants, the situation is very different. Partial or incomplete fertilization occurs when some of the ovules are pollinated and some are not. Insufficient pollination limits the number of seeds that can be formed, but it can ...

  • Wednesday wordphile: scopa

    While honey bees have pollen baskets (corbiculae) in which to carry pollen back to the hive, many native bees carry pollen on the underside of the abdomen instead. The abdomens of these bees are covered with a thick tuft of elongated hairs called a scopa. Instead of packing the pollen ...

  • What is pollenkitt?

    Pollenkitt is a sticky covering found on the surface of pollen grains. It is also spelled “pollen kit” or “pollenkit” and is sometimes called “pollen coat.” It is found in some plant families more often than others, but it is especially common in plants that are pollinated by insects. Because ...

  • Native bee forage: bird's eyes

    Bird's eyes (Gilia tricolor) is a perfect plant for your pollinator garden, planter box, rockery, or roadside. This annual plant is native to California, but will grow in most areas of the United States and southern Canada. The flowers have lavender and white trumpet-shaped petals that come together in a ...

  • Plant pollination yields seeds, the key to agriculture

    Pollination is necessary for the sexual reproduction of flowering plants. Sexual reproduction provides a means of mixing the genetic material of individuals so that the next generation has variability—or slight variations—in its genetic makeup. These slight differences are what allow living things to adapt to changes in their environment over ...

  • Bee on a corn tassel

    [caption id="attachment_13707" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Bee on a corn tassel. © Lorelei Caracausa.[/caption] I just love the colors in this photo by Lorelei Caracausa. Her husband says Lorelei is interested in beekeeping techniques from the 1800s through the early 1900s, and has much of the equipment to demonstrate early beekeeping at living ...

  • Pollen collecting behavior of honey bees

    The amount of pollen brought back to a hive seems to depend on two things: the presence of brood in the hive and a genetic predisposition to hoard pollen. The relationship between these two phenomena was recently studied by Jennifer Tsuruda and Robert Page, Jr.[1] and reported in the journal ...

  • Managing packages and swarms

    Sometimes little gems of wisdom get hidden within the comments section. In this tip, Jim of Withers Mountain Honey Farm in Flint, Michigan, describes how he bolsters new bee packages with brood from strong hives that might swarm. It is a way to equalize the strength of his hives while ...

  • 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, ...

  • Strung out on pollen

    Now here is something you don't see every day. This amazing photo taken by beekeeper Morris Ostrofsky of southern Oregon shows a honey bee carrying a thread of evening primrose pollen. The genus Oenothera contains about 145 species of flowering plants, many of which have pollen grains that are strung together ...

  • Wednesday wordphile: pollination ecology

    Pollination ecology is the study of the complex relationships between pollinators and the plants they pollinate. Pollination ecologists study the life cycles, distribution, and behaviors of the individuals--both plants and pollinators--as well as the entire ecosystem in which the individuals operate. Pollinators can be animals or they can be physical forces ...

  • Canola pollination

    Beekeeper Kenneth Rhodes sent these pictures of canola pollination that he took about a mile west of Shelley, Idaho. He writes: These hives are owned by the Browning Honey Company, one of the largest honey producers in the United States. This is the outfit that mentored me in beekeeping for the ...

  • Pollen variety and bee health

    Yesterday I wrote that bees need a continuous supply of flowering plants such that something is always in bloom. I also mentioned that different types of bees prefer different types of flowers. What I didn’t discuss was the importance of pollen variety in the bee diet. I think it is easier ...

  • Daffodil seeds are easy to get

    Rusty, Daffodils have lost the need to be pollinated because they are grown from bulbs! The only reason they still have flowers is that the bulbs are selected from those that produce the nicest blooms. Plant breeders keep seed-fertile varieties in order to continue hybridizing. But these don’t make it to ...

  • Bee with bi-pollen disorder?

    After I wrote about floral fidelity and the purity of pollen baskets, I received this awesome photo by Chelsea at thehoneybeat.com. Look carefully and you will see the worker in the center of the photo has pollen baskets of two distinctly different colors. So how did this happen? I've tried to ...

  • Floral fidelity yields pure pollen pellets

    Flower fidelity makes honey bees special. While many pollinators flit from one plant species to another, honey bees doggedly pursue flowers of a certain species. So when the new day dawns, Sue and Marianne, Betsy and Josephine grab their flight plans and wing out the front door. Sue is visiting dandelions, ...

  • Honey bee forage: pussy willow

    A male pussy willow is one of the best trees for the bee yard because it will bloom especially early in the year. Beekeepers often plant them close to the apiary to help the bees through the pollen-scarce months of March and April when little else is in flower. The term ...

  • Bumble bee with mixed pollen

    As beekeepers we are used to seeing pollen pellets of a solid color. This is due to the famous "floral fidelity" of honey bees. It means that on any one foraging trip, a honey bee collects pollen from only one species of plant. Floral fidelity is one of the reasons ...

  • Pollinators and vegetable gardens

    Yesterday a reader asked if having a pollinator garden would help her vegetable garden. The answer to this is somewhat complex, depending on what you are trying to grow. There are general rules and exceptions. If you are growing any kind of cucurbit—including melons, squash, cucumbers, zucchini, and gourds—pollinators are absolutely ...

  • Wednesday word file: pollination saturation

    Pollination saturation is the practice of flooding a crop with an overly-large number of honey bee colonies in order to assure adequate pollination. The practice is used where the crop to be pollinated is either not a honey bee favorite, or when it happens to be in bloom at the same ...

  • Do Brussels sprouts need pollination?

    Some questions surprise me because they reappear so frequently, but what is it with Brussels sprouts? For decades I've heard nothing about Brussels sprouts, but suddenly every third visitor wants to know how to pollinate them. I do not understand. I endure Brussels sprouts mostly because my husband likes them and ...

  • A reader delves into the one-third question

    A while back I wrote Bees pollinate one-third of what? Do we really know? In that post I questioned the frequently repeated statement that "bees pollinate one-third of the human food supply" because I could never discover who calculated this number or how it was calculated. I wanted to know if ...

  • Dazzling dandelion pollen makes a fall comeback

    Fall rain followed by a few sunny days brought out the dandelions here in the Pacific Northwest . . . and the honey bees noticed. Huge pellets—the color of boxed macaroni and cheese—are being carried into the hives, two-by-two. While dandelions do not provide the perfect honey bee food, their ...

  • Pollen traps require constant attention

    A pollen trap is a device that fits over the hive entrance and forces returning foragers to crawl through small openings in order to enter the hive. The openings are so small that some of the pollen pellets are stripped from the bees’ legs and fall into a collection tray. ...