Sunday, March 8, 2015

A "Call to Blooms" by a North Carolina Beekeeper

Beekeeper Lynn Wilson presents honeybee awareness
and ways of "bringing nature home"
at the DCGC 2015 Joint Meeting.
Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of the presentation made by Beekeeper Lynn S. Wilson at the 2015 Joint Meeting of the Durham Council of Garden Clubs. Within her remarks you will find excellent recommendations for plants that attract honeybees, literature on the philosophy of beekeeping, contact persons at the Durham Beekeepers Association and an overall ecological call to bloom and promote bee populations across North Carolina and the US.
Call to Blooms
By Lynn S. Wilson
Journeyman Beekeeper, Secretary for the Person County Beekeepers Association and volunteer interpreter at the NC Zoo Bee Exhibit
Thank you for your concern about bees, and I thank your National Garden Club website for introducing me to Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home. Doug Tallamy has brought me one step closer to going completely wild and natural.  
Now what motivated a retired Records Manager for Durham Public Schools to search for endless adventure in honey bee hives? I like honey and I like garden-fresh food. But there was something else. I wanted to be a better observer of the natural world. There’s nothing like having 50,000 stinging critters in your yard to make you watch where you step ... especially when the dandelions and clover are blooming!
Let me share three visions and a conundrum.  
VISION ONE. NC State Entomologist Dr. John Ambrose died recently but he had already planted his vision: Two honey bee hives in every back yard.  
Okay, Dr. Ambrose, how are we going to keep that many honey bees healthy? Beekeepers are a lot like gardeners and doctors ... we are learning that we need to keep our focus on healthy bodies, healthy bees and healthy plants ... in other words ... preventative medicine instead of pills and pest management. You know that most sick plants are not suffering from insects or disease. Most problems result from things like overwatering or drought or winter damage. When bees are well-fed they can fight off the Varroa mites, the Small Hive Beetles, and the viruses carried by the mites. When bees have a natural diet of pollen and nectar they can even withstand pesticides better. How many blossoms do bees need to get the essential pollen and nectar?  
Flight Path raised over $18K on
to create a honeybee sanctuary at Seattle's Sea-Tac airport.
Flight Path raises healthy local bees on neglected airport land
and presents a year-long art & education exhibit for 34M people.
VISION TWO. The second vision comes from Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota. Dr. Spivak recommends that we plant ONE acre of bee forage for every honey bee colony. Now how many urban window boxes do we need to fill up to provide an acre ? But, wait a minute! What if we can get the RDU Airport, to plant bee forage as Chicago O’Hare, Seattle’s Sea-Tac and Lambert St. Louis have already done. What about all that brown hedge row under powerlines ... couldn’t we plant bee forage there instead of using herbicides? What about all those roadside beautification projects that Garden Clubs and NC DOT sponsor? Are all of those plants good bee forage? Is the American Tobacco Trail lined with bee forage? Are we thinking of our street trees as summer cooling, water storage, carbon offsets AND pollinator forage? And, good news, planting just one deciduous tree with a 30-foot wide canopy offers the equivalent of an acre of forage.
VISION THREE. The third vision is Doug Tallamy’s vision... Bring Nature Home. Tallamy says that humans have taken all but about THREE TO FIVE PERCENT of the wild natural spaces in the Lower 48. We can bring nature back by bringing it to our own backyards. The test is not JUST whether there are birds and bees in your backyard, but can they REPRODUCE there?   
What brings LIFE to a landscape? Tallamy asks. Can we learn to observe what is happening in our own backyards and relate it to the ecological balance that keeps air in our lungs, water in our cups, and food on our plates? Our garden paths need to get us where we’re going AND provoke us to watch more closely, ask more questions, and contemplate the dynamic beauty of interdependence.  
CONUNDRUM. That brings me to my conundrum. Honey bees are NOT native bees. Over 4000 species of indigenous bees pollinated North American plants for millions of years before the arrival of the honey bee 400 years ago. Tallamy says that we need to plant natives that co-evolved with our native bees. So what do we plant to help both? How do the honey bees affect the native bees?   
  • There is some evidence that honey bees cause native bees to forage less efficiently, but no evidence yet that this has reduced native bee populations. 
  • There is some evidence that exotic bees prefer exotic flowers which gives those flowers ... which may be serious weeds... a competitive advantage. 
  • And at least ONE honey bee virus has jumped to native bumble bees. 
  • In Europe there is still a NATIVE honey bee but large scale migratory beekeeping and trading in queen bees has exposed the NATIVE honey bee to inbreeding...leading to the loss of genetic traits shaped by natural selection. The NATIVE honey bees are mating with commercially-managed bees reducing the gene pool. 
VISIT TO THE HIVE. When I start thinking about something this complicated, I start checking the weather. Would this be a good time to inspect the hive?  

NO. The temperature in Hurdle Mills hasn’t been over 45 degrees in about a week. The bees cluster when the temperatures stay that cold. Imagine a 5-7 inch ball of bees. The ones on the inside of the cluster SHIVER to generate heat and then move to the outside to serve as INSULATION. They don’t even take bathroom breaks. We’re talking about some very grumpy bees. More bad news for us is that it’s still cloudy/rainy ... so even if those bees come out briefly for CLEANSING RUNS ... the foragers will still be in the hive. WE would not be welcome.
But let’s walk out into my bee yard. While we’re there, picture your own landscape... and watch your step. Most bee forage is in the trees. Yesterday my bees were in the flowering apricot and the red maples. Then my fruit trees, and the redbuds, hollies, black locust and by mid-April ... tulip poplars, will flower. The tulip poplars are the best nectar source for our Piedmont bees. When the tulip poplars bloom, beekeepers say the honey flow has started. But March is one time of year when bees may also be on the ground. What we’re looking for today are dandelions and red dead nettle.
Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip trees) are the best source
of honeybee nectar in the Piedmont of North Carolina.
But you’ve been thinking about your own landscape. Is there food for bees from March through the first killing frost? If you plant mahonia, or flowering apricot or first-breath-of-spring you’ll give the honey bees some forage on sunny winter days when the temperatures climb above 55 degrees and they break cluster. But, better than those exotics, plant a native red maple to provide some forage as early as February. I’ve still got one Golden Rain Tree because there’s a forage dearth in late summer before the goldenrods and asters bloom ... but I’m digging up those little Golden Rain Tree seedlings right and left. Now what pesticides do you use? What time of day do you apply pesticides ... while bees are out foraging ... or earlier or later?   

Bumble bees and honey bees enjoy the herbs. They like the bee balm, the borage, thyme and the mints, especially mountain mint. And as soon as I dig up the beets and potatoes, I plant cover cops like buckwheat. ALL the bees love it.
I planted sourwoods thinking about sourwood honey but then I found out that the mountain sourwoods produce more and better quality nectar than our Piedmont sourwoods. Gallberry hollies are planted as a windbreak on the northwest side of my hive, but they’re a good forage source, too.
Now, what to plant? Plant natives, plant trees, plant herbs and plant food for yourself. Why do I say, plant food for yourself?  
Research now shows that urban areas may be friendlier places for honey bees than farm country. City folks, it seems, are doing a better job of tolerating a few bugs, realizing that most bugs are beneficial and limiting pesticide use. City folks are planting a wider variety of flowers than the farmers whose huge monocultures give bees something to eat two weeks out of the year ... and then the bees have to be moved quickly before orchards and fields are sprayed. The squash and blueberry bushes that you plant for yourself are likely to provide good forage for native bees and honey bees. And let some of that arugula and mustard flower. The bees willl like that too. Just changing a few habits will contribute to the success of our native bees and our honey bees.
Will the Garden Council be at the table with Durham’s new Food Council? That Council is already imagining front yard gardens throughout the City.
As a beekeeper, my premise is that everything I do for honey bees will also help our native bees, but I’ll try to keep my eyes open to the evidence. How are my honeybees impacting the native bees? I hope you are ready to SHARE your landscape with bees and help bring nature home.

Now let me introduce you to some Durham beekeepers who would like to partner with you... You know the plants and they know the bees. They can partner with you to make Durham an even friendlier place for bees. Maybe you will consider working together to help Durham become Bee City USA.
  • Liz Lindsey is finishing up the last stages of the NC State Beekeepers Association's Master Beekeeper program. She is particularly articulate explaining the various pressures and stresses jeopardizing the honey bees.
  • Donna Devanney is one of the founders of the Durham Beekeeper's Association. She keeps bees at Duke Garden, Duke Farm and West Point at the Eno, so she has experience beekeeping in public spaces. She was also an important participant in the 2009 ordinance change allowing beekeeping in Durham.
  • At the 2014 July meeting of North Carolina State Beekeepers, I heard a senior from NC State, Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, talk about Bull City Bees ... a model for bringing honeybees to urban areas ... and largest observation hive in North Carolina is now located on the American Tobacco Campus in Durham. I encourage you to visit. 
  • And visit the NC Zoo’s Bee Exhibit too. Other members of NC State Beekeepers and I are volunteer exhibit interpreters one day each month. 

Good resources for more of your adventures with honey bees and native pollinators ...
Durham County Beekeepers:
  • Matthew Yearout-President and Beekeeper for American Tobacco Campus bees Matthew Yearout <>
  • Liz Lindsey-is very articulate on the stresses on bees. Liz Lindsey <>
  • Donna Devanney-helped Durham get beekeeping approved by ordinance and keeps bees in public spaces like West Point and Duke Gardens.  Donna Devanney <>

No comments: