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It’s not just honey bees

March 19, 2010

Honeybees are getting quite a bit of attention lately.  But, they are rapidly becoming the Cornish X of the pollinating world.  Here’s an article from a commercial beekeepers standpoint about how maybe we need to re-think just about everything when it comes to our food supply.  I have given up on keeping bees due to bears, and barter for honey and wax.  But as you go about your “spring cleaning” outside think of all the silent, unnoticed pollinators that don’t get a lot of press.  Leave plants to go to seed to feed the insects and birds that do so much, and neglect maintain some wild areas for cover for these important fellows.  Learn who is helpful and harmful, and if harmful is the answer, find out just how harmful they are.  I am still sickened from viewing pictures on a blog where the writer was having her children kill slugs near her house.  They weren’t the slugs eating her garden either, they were detritivores and actually helpful part of the ecosystem, but her children aren’t learning to stop, look and listen, they are learning kill first, ask later – maybe…  Oh yeah, did I mention it was a vegetarian blog that teaches kindness to animals by not killing them and eating them?  End of rant.

It is still freezing here at night, but getting a little warmer during the day.  Not much is blooming yet, maybe about 3 daffodils and a quince and my daughter and her camera found a prune wilding that was getting lots of attention yesterday.  Here is what she saw.

Insecticides and herbicides are very non-discriminatory, I am sure if most people thought about it, they would never  like to think that by killing mosquitoes and gnats they are taking away a food source from the much-loved hummingbird.  Attracting the beneficials is a good thing, but we need to be careful that we provide more than watered down sugar for them to eat.  A good read on the subject is The Forgotten Pollinators. Happy Spring!

37 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2010 7:55 am

    the first tree to bloom here is a wild plum across the road. it gets all the love until the cherries and clovers bloom! the flowers of the wild plum smell like welches grape soda.

    • March 19, 2010 10:42 am

      Tabitha, this plum smells good too, I can see why it is such a high traffic area. Other buds are swelling, so hopefully enough food for all soon.

  2. March 19, 2010 7:56 am

    Thanks for the pretty pics! I haven’t seen any honeybees yet this year just wasps. But I am getting my own bees on about one month! First time. It goes without saying (well it would if you’ve ever seen my yard) that I don’t spray anything.

    • March 19, 2010 10:43 am

      Aimee, you’re welcome, it was interesting to see how many different insects were on that small tree. Good luck with your hives!

  3. March 19, 2010 8:13 am

    Great post and oh so true! If the critters are outside, I leave them be………if they come in, then all bets are off, but if they are outside, that’s their domain and I let them have it!

    That’s a veg-head for ya…………..LOL! I always want to ask them how they know a carrot doesn’t scream when you pull it out of the ground??

    Have a nice weekend!

    • March 19, 2010 10:46 am

      Sarah, snakes are my nemesis, bugs don’t bother me. I just try to calmly walk the other way when I get startled by a snake. Sometimes it works…

      I know what you mean, growing vegetables and grains isn’t being light on the earth by any stretch of the imagination, no matter what the propaganda says.

  4. March 19, 2010 8:21 am

    Awesome pictures, Daughter!

    As far as slugs go, if I run across them in the garden, I toss them to the compost area, however, they come in my house and you can only step on so many slugs in a dark room in your bare feet without wishing them harm. I’ve given it some thought, but wrapping the slab in copper is probably out of the question and I have no viable solution yet. Any suggestions from anyone are welcome.

    • March 19, 2010 10:50 am

      Shannon, I pass on the photo compliment – I never know what I’ll see on the file for the days photos – always a pleasant surprise!

      Our native wood slugs sometimes called banana slugs do not eat garden plants, but often get blamed. The voracious garden eaters are not natives and come in on nursery plants and potting soil. Sometimes eggs and sometimes just hitchhikers. I do declare war on those, but my garden becomes the un-crossable Sahara desert by about July 5th, so slugs aren’t really a problem after that.

  5. March 19, 2010 8:24 am

    Love the pictures! Bees are amazing.

    That’s sad about the slugs. In general my stance is bugs live outside, so we leave them alone unless they’re posing a threat to us.

    It’s amazing and fascinating how interconnected everything is.

    • March 19, 2010 10:53 am

      Katie, Thanks they are beautiful and entertaining to watch.

      As for the slugs I guess if they are on the plant actually eating it, then it’s time to go buster, but if they are near and just passing through, they get a free pass or a little help.

      We’ve become to specialized and simplistic in modern days, every bug is a pest, and every bird is after our food, and the list goes on… . So much to explore and learn about in our daily world, who wants to go to the moon?

  6. March 19, 2010 8:37 am

    My hubby is fascinated with the honey bee and has decides to do it. We have our boxes and the bees arrive in May. He has been reading for over a year. We don’t think we have bears but who knows if they smell honey they may be there and we didn’t know it! Great Post by the way!

  7. Marcia in WY permalink
    March 19, 2010 10:06 am

    Very interesting article about beekeeping. Unfortunately, our local beekeeper is one of the ones who truck their bees to the California almond orchards every winter. It really never did make sense to me – WY to CA is a long ways – when they bring them back in the spring they have to plan their travel so they are going through Death Valley at night when it’s cooler. They are a fourth or fifth generation beekeeping family owned business and I’m sure times are tough. We let them keep hives in our hay fields during the summer in exchange for 75 lbs of honey and wax…good deal for both of us…I just wish they could figure out a way to give the bees the winter off. Beautiful pictures – Ruthless is a very accomplished photographer…she could start a business!

    • March 19, 2010 10:57 am

      Marcia, it is a fascinating business for sure. I can see both sides of it but it is no wonder bees aren’t thriving, they are being worked in horrible conditions. It would be hard to know where to start…

      Oh I loved these pictures, and I didn’t see them until last night. She will be pleased the comments – Thank you.

  8. March 19, 2010 10:27 am

    All I know is that I saw a lot more bumblebees last summer in my garden than honeybees. In fact, if it weren’t for those bumblebees, I wouldn’t have gotten twelves pounds of tomatillos off only two plants last year (I am now up to my neck in salsa verde).

    For slugs, I believe in copper barriers. They work best for me. Slugs can eat what they want except my vegetable plants, which are off limits. I really want to keep bees, but since I just planted all my bare root stuff, I don’t really have a lot of bee fodder in the back yard yet, so I’ll plant melissa and borage and lavender and all that bee fodder stuff this summer, and then next spring I’ll get bees.

    What I can’t seem to keep down are the spiders- I found more dead honeybees in the spider webs in the garden than anything else. I left the webs up figuring that they (the spiders) were doing their jobs, but it pained me every time I found a dead honeybee. But, I guess that’s all part of it. Spider webs are why honeybee queens lay so many brood.

    Interfering certainly isn’t the answer.

    • March 19, 2010 11:01 am

      Paula, the bumble bees do a fair share of pollinating here too, they fly at a lower temperature, and in between rain storms. I don’t think I have every seen any honeybees ever pollinating our blueberries – just the bumblies 🙂

      That’s odd about the spider webs, I have never seen a bee in one, but there aren’t too many honeybees around here. I agree with the interfering, it seems so simple but can sure cause a chain reaction with unintended consequences.

  9. Mickey permalink
    March 19, 2010 10:47 am

    My what nice pectures of the bee activity. Much too cold yet for bees here in Missouri but always have lots of both bees and hummers! I have lots of columbine that my hummingbirds absolutely love and apple, crabapple, blackberry, peach and mulberry trees for the bees.

  10. March 19, 2010 10:48 am

    In the last few years you get paid $200 per hive for the 2-month almond season in california. For a lot of beekeepers that’s the biggest chunk of their income. imported honey, from china primarily, keeps the price of honey low — so much so that most of the money made anymore from beekeeping isn’t the honey or wax, it’s the hive rentals, and you have to be migratory to follow the crops.

    I keep my own hives for pollinating my own crops and don’t migrate them.

  11. March 19, 2010 10:50 am

    Our two hives are in the backyard so I can easily feed them all winter.Typically I leave them on the prairie but swarms of grasshoppers came through last summer eating everything in site, leaving nothing for them. Without enough blossoms to make honey they would have starved so I’ve fed them all winter hoping for a better summer this year. As soon as it turns green and the first blossoms start I’ll have to move them to the countryside away from town. It’s a shame and many have asked we why I don’t just keep them here. We’ve tried several times having one hive close by and they slowly died off. No not the disappearing bee problem. It’s all the spraying and chemicals people use on their yards. Many of my friends comment how few bees they have in their yards and ask me if I have the same problem. Nope, my yard is full of all kinds even without a hive in the back. Why, I don’t spray and somehow they know the area is a safe haven. How far from we gone until unconsciously we are destroying it.

  12. March 19, 2010 12:24 pm

    Oh, the joy of a fruit tree in bloom! I was raised on a huge fruit orchard, full of cherries, plums, prunes, pears, apples, and peaches.

    I loved looking out my bedroom window (as a child) and seeing the trees in full bloom.


  13. March 19, 2010 1:50 pm

    Absolutely beautiful pictures! We get lots of big fuzzy yellow bumble bees here, not many honeybees, although I saw one yesterday.

  14. Doris permalink
    March 19, 2010 2:40 pm

    Wow, so interesting! Thought slugs were slugs, now I’ll have to educate myself, lol. =) My place was crawling with spiders until we got chickens, thinned em out for sure. When the chickens went away, spiders came back, so I need chickens to thin the spider population.
    It’s so sad, when I was a child, butterflies were everywhere, now I’m lucky to see one butterfly all summer. My children will never have the memories I have of chasing myriads of them and finding cocoons and watching the struggle as the butterfly emerges.
    And bees, I love them, I have memories of them landing on my nose and walking all over my face. I just stayed calm and it was all good. I love the smell of the honey and my sister and I used the wax for chewing gum when we were kids. So many memories. My dad had made an extractor out of a 50 gallon barrel. But I certainly would not feed them white sugar. At least use C&H brown sugar that has not been chemically treated and stripped of all the minerals. Some one told me that it is mites that have been decimating the honeybee colonies. I know sulfur will do-in mites and lice, but dunno if it is too hard on the honeybees or not yet. I grow comfrey and there are a plethora of critters that come to pollinate the flowers, some I have never seen before. And then I remember the stinging nettles that volunteered out by my front sidewalk, I left it there to add variety to the mix and then the high school kids come walking by touching the various plants. I’m pretty sure I’m evil as I cannot contain my laughter as he walks away exclaiming about the pain he was experiencing. I learned about stinging nettle before I hit kindergarten, it seems so cruel, but I can’t stop laughing. See what happens when one takes a trip down memory lane?
    Bless you!!

  15. March 19, 2010 2:56 pm

    I’d love to have bees, too, but I’m not up to fighting bears right now either! I’ve noticed I have lots of native bees so I’ve started sowing lots of flowers both in the field and around the edges to keep them nearby. I’m no beekeeper, but I figure native bees are just as good as ones bought commercially.

  16. March 19, 2010 4:39 pm

    I was just noticing some small, wild bees visiting the chickweed today! Although I also have to admit that I was feeding some slugs to the chickens today too. (Granted, I feed everything that moves to the chickens, but I was assuming I was doing a good thing.) Do you have any book/website I can read to learn more about different kinds of slugs?

    • March 20, 2010 6:04 am

      Anna, we only saw one honeybee, but most wild bees and flies that were working over that little plum tree.

      I kill slugs too, but just the ones that are really garden pests. Some get a pass.
      Here’s a site for slug ID that I use but it is pretty specific for our area:

      We used to sell mesclun greens and trust me we quickly learned what was eating our product and what wasn’t 🙂

  17. March 19, 2010 6:29 pm

    I sure wish I could see blossoms and bees outside my window instead of snow. The pictures are a lovely substitute for now, but I do look forward to the summer when we have bees and bugs and slugs all out and about. By the way, as a veg-head, ignorance doesn’t come from diet but lack of education.

    • March 20, 2010 6:09 am

      Teresa, hopefully spring is coming to your area soon. It’s starting to get a little noisier here now, but not all the spring birds are here yet. We have two male hummingbirds so far, but that is all we have seen of migratory birds.

      I agree with you about education, we could all use a lot more too, no matter what we choose for a diet. I am in a position that most people envy – I have always been able to raise what I eat. Luckily some of my family chose not to leave the land for the city life. Once the link in that chain is broke it is hard to go back.

  18. March 20, 2010 10:18 am

    The “No way to treat a bee” story mentioned planting things to nourish bees – but didn’t make any suggestions or recommendation on what.

    Comments here included fruit trees – Plum, cherry, apple, crabapple, peach, blackberry and mulberry. Also melissa, borage, lavender, and chickweed, clover and alfalfa. Is there anything else that should be prominent on my list? I am planning a vegetable garden this year, and the only flowers I had contemplated were some Sweet William, holly hocks, and maybe Marigolds.


    • April 7, 2010 5:28 pm

      Brad, planting some self sowing annuals and biennials in a permanent place helps too – things like calendula, dill, cilantro, fennel, mints and plants of that type that bloom early and late. During the summer there are many things that bloom it’s the off times of blooming that really help the pollinators. Also not being in such a hurry to “clean” up the garden area helps too – bolted salad greens and brassicas provide a huge amount of feed for bees and other beneficials too.

  19. March 20, 2010 10:21 am

    Wonderful photographs of the plum blossoms and bees!

  20. March 20, 2010 11:19 am

    Ruthless is a great photographer. I loved all the shots she took. One thing, what sort of humming bird is that? Or is it even a humming bird? I have seen two bumble bees and a lot of red wasps making their nest.

  21. March 20, 2010 5:38 pm

    Did you hear about the folks who thought that sugar water was unhealthy for hummingbirds? So they made Splenda water — also known as NO CALORIES. The poor things were feeling full and really not eating. :-\ People just don’t think!

    Great pics though.

  22. March 21, 2010 8:28 am

    Those pictures are amazing. I wish I had half her skill.

    One of the best things about our flower garden last year was the amazing amount of insects that we saw. I agree with the previous poster who mentioned that there just aren’t as many butterflies as there used to be. I think that if we paid more attention to the not-so-pretty bugs, we’d notice there are a lot less of those as well.

    We saw a lot of bees around our flowers last year – especially the sunflowers. On one of my huge sunflowers, I saw a bee that was easily 1 1/2 inches long. Very cool.

  23. Ashlyn permalink
    April 7, 2010 1:05 pm

    We have honey bees all over our yard and I don’t even have many flowers. They seem to like the rocks in my dogs kennel. I’ve heard that they may like dogs urine. I’ve watered the rocks down plus, we’ve had tons of rain and they won’t go away. I don’t want them bothering my dogs and I wish there was a safe way to make them move along. I took my dogs to a near by field today and realized the whole field was swarming with bees so i walked them down by the river in our neighborhood nature park and they were thick down there too. They look like honey bees, I thought they were dying off? I’m glad they are still alive, but I’m wondering why there are so many. I don’t ever remember seeing so many bees here before. I’m in the Willamette Valley in the Pacific NorthWest.

    If anyone knows why there are so many or how to safely get them to leave my yard please post a reply. My dogs would REALLY appreciate it. They huddle in their dog house to stay away from them. I invited them into the house earlier today and they wanted out. It was too hot in here for them. 😦 I can’t win!

    • April 7, 2010 3:55 pm

      Ashlyn, Brad is right call a beekeeper if nothing else to identify what you think are honey bees. It’s been so cold I have a hard time believing what you’re seeing is really honey bees. I live near the Willamette Valley too and honeybees don’t fly until the temp reaches about 55F to 57F. It may be some other type of insect – honey bees don’t normally sting anyway it may be some type of hornet or … But I could be wrong – just because I am not seeing any bees doesn’t mean you’re not.

  24. April 7, 2010 3:00 pm


    The word you are looking for, I think, is “beekeeper”. Check the yellow pages, or call an exterminator and ask about beekeepers – heck, google “beekeeper” and your town.

    In Colorado I was surprised to find it is illegal to kill a honey be – you are required to get a beekeeper to gather them up – they are endangered in many areas. A beekeeper can gather the whole swarm, and likely put them to good use, maintaining local food supplies and creating honey.

    If the swarm had been Africanized, I imagine they would already have been attacking. If they are, though, a beekeeper can handle that part, too.

    Ask about fees – sometimes the bees are scarce, and there is a reward for reporting a swarm. Other times there is bill for the beekeeper’s time and efforts.

    You could contact anyone local keeping bees – perhaps selling honey at the farmers market or flea market, or health food store. You might put out a hive and entice the bees to move in – but that would be getting into beekeeping backwards, with the bees on hand before you get the paraphernalia to handle the bees, the honey, the feeding, etc.

    What is a nuisance to you could be a treasure to someone else. Please do a bit of checking before writing the swarm off.

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