Aug 122016
 

bee in the know

After the recent review of The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity byKate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn, I have been paying more attention to the bees around me.  What I came to realize is, well, there is a whole lot more which I do not know and could learn.  This is a start.

Below is a summary compilation of scholarly papers, book reviews, and letters all concerning our neighbors, the bees.  There were so many papers and sources of information which I could share, but I had to cut it off at some point.  I tried to keep the topics somewhat related to help with narrowing down the results. u6k7v3t5

Relocation risky for bumble bee colonies – this letter in reference to a paper on the relocation of bees addresses some of the possible issues with such moves.

USBombus, a database of contemporary survey data for North American Bumble Bees (Hymenoptera, Apidae, Bombus) distributed in the United States – from the abstract of this research paper, “While a wealth of historic data is now available for many of the North American species found to be in decline in online databases, systematic survey data of stable species is still not publically available. The availability of contemporary survey data is critically important for the future monitoring of wild bumble bee population.  Without such data, the ability to ascertain the conservation status of bumble bees in the United States will remain challenging.”  this paper was authored by Koch, J. et al, representing several universities and the USDA.

Review of the book The Bees of the World 2nd ed. American Entomologist (the review begins on page 3) – As the author of this book review states, “That only seven years have passed since the first edition is testament to the vigorous ongoing research on bees.”  This review happens to have been written 7 years ago with even larger amount of study and focus being given to this insect family.  Some of the references to changes in the classifications have potentially resolved themselves, though even those are under constant review as more knowledge comes to light.

At 900+ pages, this book is not one you lightly add to your library, that is, unless you are a librarian at a large library.

Chemical Signals in Bumble Bee Foraging – though this paper is older, it provides a great look into the world of bumble bees and understanding how they reach the flowers in your garden.

Hive-stored pollen of honey bees: many lines of evidence are consistent with pollen preservation, not nutrient conversion – “Our findings have important implications for the improvement of natural food storage, artificial food supplements, and water balance in the hive especially during overwintering.”  As one who likes to store up one season’s harvest for use in the winter, I have appreciated the research done on nutrient levels and safe storing of these foods.  In a similar fashion bees store pollen, though it has not always been known why this is done nor if there was an unknown benefit for them doing so.  Anderson, K. et al take a look close look at this storage of pollen.

 

Nest architecture and species status of the bumble bee Bombus (Mendacibombus) shaposhnikovi (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Bombini) – “Here, we report behavioural observations of the nesting biology of B. shaposhnikovi and provide new evidence for the conspecific status of B. shaposhnikovi and B. handlirschianus in our discovery of a nest containing both colour forms.”

I had never put much thought into the structure of a nest – where food was located compared to living quarters, how many eggs were placed in each cell, etc.  It is amazing what you can observe once you slow down and look at different parts of nature.  The authors also present their doubts about the species of Bombus, differentiated only by color, being actual separate species.

Speaking of nests and the various ways of building them, here is a paper talking about the nest architecture of a tropical bee – Nest Architecture and Foraging Behavior in Bombus pullatus (Hymenoptera: Apidae), with Comparisons to Other Tropical Bumble Bees.

And the Bombus transversalisNest construction and architecture of the Amazonian bumble bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae)

 

Determining the Impacts of Pesticide and Nutrition-Induced Stress on Honey Bee Colony Growth and Survival – while this research project is still underway, I thought it was interesting enough to mention.  When I am  hungry, I know how my performance suffers.  Could it be the same for bees?  Another reason for all of us to take a look at our gardens and make changes, even small ones, to help out our much needed pollinators.

As a part of the above mentioned research project, several papers have already been published looking at various aspects. Here are a few of them:

Honey bee colonies provided with natural forage have lower pathogen loads and higher overwinter survival than those fed protein supplements

Methods for Comparing Nutrients in Beebread Made by Africanized and European Honey Bees and the Effects on Hemolymph Protein Titers

Jul 282016
 

This post contains affiliate links.

what to do when life becomes a bit batty

continued from Part 2

What I found was a tired, motionless bat, laying on the shower floor. I called the kids in to see and talk through the situation.  Never too early to teach them how to handle certain adult responsibilities.  Who knows, they may end up marrying someone who would run away screaming at the sight of a bat, and they will need to know how to handle something like this.

We were not sure if it was still alive or not, which meant we treated it as if it were. FYI: do not pick up a bat with your hands.

A plastic tub was placed over the bat and the piece of cardboard slid underneath.  Yup, still alive.  The clue? When it started fluttering around to get up on the cardboard.

We stopped our morning routine, grabbed a container of sidewalk chalk and headed outside.  The bat, who had been kept covered the whole way out, was laid uncovered, still on the cardboard, near the street while we kept watch from the sidewalk.

Distracted by busy ants working in the grass, we missed the bat flying off.  I believe I saw it head to the neighbor’s house.  Don’t quote me on that though.

I like bats.  They eat mosquitoes.  I want to encourage them to live near us … but not IN our house.

A quick search online resulted in finding an Ento Wood Bat House Kit. Using a gift card from Swagbucks, the bat house was soon on its way  “Perfect.  The kids can help hammer and we can hang it somewhere nearby.”

It arrived about a week later and sat around for a few more weeks.  Finally the day came where we had time to put it together.

Going to the garage we spread out all of the pieces, compared them to the instructions, then began assembling.

bat house opening collage

George got mad at Jack and stomped off early on in the process.  He watched the rest of the time from the garage door.

Jack learned very quickly that placing all the nails into their holes before hammering may have seemed like an efficient idea, but did not work out so well.  When he started to hammer, the nails jumped every which way and fell out. Oops.  This being the garage, and my husband having recently gotten a flat tire while traveling, I was very firm attentive that all the nails be kept in a pile where we could keep track of them.

begin to build bat house collage

Once the pieces were laid out and instructions read, the kids had a hard time being patient with this first step, we started to put the pieces together.  Getting the side pieces lined up and straight was a bit of a challenge as I was trying to get them perfect.  I hammered the first two nails on each side in hopes of making it easier for Jack to finish the remaining nails.

putting together bat house collage

The back actually had two pieces, a top and a bottom.  These were not labeled, so I triple checked the pictures on the instructions before beginning.  I compared the holes in each piece, matching those shown on the photos and what was required in future steps.

After turning the piece over, I realized the side pieces did not quite make it to the top of the mesh.  This meant the ‘roof’ had two issues going: 1. it was below the holes pre-drilled for nailing it to the back, and 2. it was over top of the mesh by just a bit.  It would have been better for the bottom pieces to not be exactly level with the bottom of the box. So much for me trying to be perfect.

issues with putting together bat house collage

A few more issues we ran into were – the side pieces were not exactly straight and a nail went through the side when attaching the back.  The second issue was caused by the first.  Neither was a big deal in the end, but were both frustrations when we were in the midst of putting it together.

issues with bat house collage

The roof misalignment issue was fairly easily solved.  Nails were placed below the pre-drilled holes, in places that lined up with the actual roof piece.  There was a bit of a gap in the end, though very small and nothing noticeable once it was hung.  I also placed it on a side of the tree that is normally protected from the rain and snow.

bat house hanging on tree

When all was said and done, I was pleased with the look of the Ento Wood Bat House Kit.  The kids are excited for their first residents to move in.  More than once I have had to tell them to leave it be – no climbing toys to look inside, no poking a stick into it, etc.  My hope is that this will also solve the bat roommate problems inside our house.

This post contains affiliate links.  I was in no way compensated for this review.

Jul 252016
 

what to do when life becomes a bit batty

continued from Part 1.

Since I had not seen, or heard, the bat on the stairway I headed to the (door-less) attic space that is adjacent to our bedroom.  Moving slowly and ready to duck my head at any moment, I slowly began to look around.  There is space above our ceiling and my literal prayers were that the bat had not flown there.  Thankfully I found it hanging from one of the roof supports right inside the attic door.

Unfortunately I was not able to catch it. Not only did it fly back into my bedroom, it also took to flying up and down the staircases.

When if flew towards George’s room I had a thought, which quickly turned into a hopeful, pleading prayer, one that I thought sounded awfully selfish and highly unlikely, “Lord, please let it fly into the bathroom so I can close the door on it and go back to bed.  I know if probably won’t, but … please.”

Whether it was an instant answer to prayer or sheer coincidence, the bath flew right into the bathroom.  Into a small room with no open window. Yup, the one whose door was in the corner no where near the bat’s flight path. I did not stop to consider the dynamics of flight at that moment.  I jumped into action.

I closed that door and walked away, back to bed, and slept for a few more hours.

In the morning when I inquired of George about his quality of sleep the night before, he said he had not heard anything. I took this to mean the bat did not cause too much trouble knocking over items in the bathroom.

I cautiously peeked into the bathroom around noon, but did not see the bat hanging anywhere.  Not a surprise, as there were lots of dark corners (under the large tub, especially, which has a few trim panels removed currently) where the bat could have hid.

The next day I was curious about the bat and went back in, ready to hide if necessary for battle.  What I found was a tired bat, laying on the shower floor.  We were not sure if it was still alive or not, which meant we treated it as if it were.FYI: do not pick up a bat with your hands.

to be continued ….

Jul 222016
 

This post contains affiliate links. 

what to do when life becomes a bit batty

What should you do when life suddenly becomes a bit batty? Buy a house!

When work on our house began and walls were taken apart, some of the workers mentioned finding a couple bats inside the walls.  It was winter and the walls were filled with old insulation.  My first thought was “hibernation”.  Do bats hibernate?

Fast forward several months.  It was a dark night, I had all the lights off, the kids were asleep, and my husband was gone to class.  Out of the corner of my eye I see something move.  However, when I look nothing was there.  I tried to convince myself I was being paranoid and go back to reading on my Kindle.

Then I see it again. Though I wanted to continue reading my book, I knew the adult thing would be deal with it and not ignore it.

Once the lights the mystery  was quickly solved – a bat was flying around our kitchen/living/dining rooms. {deep breath} I close the bedroom doors and head online to see what to do next.

Within 10 minutes the bad had been put back outside and I went back to reading … with the lights on this time.

The scenario above played out three times over the next few weeks.

Then, no more bats. Maybe we scared them away?  Maybe they found a new place to live?

That was till a month ago.

Very early one morning something woke me up.  At first I was not sure what it was.  The sun was not yet up and no kid was standing right next to me.  Then I heard it, a soft change in the air right above me (I was laying in bed).  sigh We had a bat in our bedroom.

This time I knew what to do and did not overreact or freeze up.  I laid in bed till my eyes adjusted then got up when the bat flew away.  I stood in a corner to see its path, turned off the fans in hopes it would fly higher, and prayed it would not go into the attic or George’s room.  I was not looking to play hide-and-seek with a bat at 3 in the morning.

I left the room to find a box in the basement.  When I came back, the bat was gone. Oh, fun.

to be continued …

 

 

 

Jul 182016
 

Over the course of my gardening life, I have read several different gardening books.  I have learned new methods for forming garden beds, which plants work well together, how to garden in small locations, and other useful tips.  After reading the most recent book, one which I would encourage every gardener to read, I can tell you that I now look at my garden with a new set of eyes.

What do I see?  My garden is a failure.  It is neglecting to attract one of the most important visitors a gardener can ask for, the bee.

When I first opened The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn I was not exactly sure what to expect.  Perhaps a list of plants which bees like to visit in order to make honey? After all, their subtitle is “Design an abundant, flower-filled yard that nurtures bees and supports biodiversity.” Is not the main purpose of bees to make honey? (hint: the answer is NO!)

Looking around my yard I thought I was doing well in the flower department.  In the spring I have tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, lilies, bleeding hearts and other flowers, as well as strawberries and early garden plants.  The maple and hack berry trees in the yard also produce flowers in great abundance. When summer begins to appear the tiger lilies start to make an appearance, hostas and rose bushes bloom, and my garden begins to with fill with tomato and blackberry blossoms.  In the fall, the clematis presents a 6 foot wall of blooms behind the rose bushes.  All of this is in addition to any potted annuals and hanging baskets I am able to add to the garden.

I felt confident I was doing my part to attract bees and other pollinators to the garden.  As I read, I realized there were several obvious aspects I was neglecting to address.  These were actually keeping my garden from attracting the much needed insects. Specifically I did not have enough blooms at one time, nor consistent blooms throughout the year, to make my garden inviting enough for the pollinators I have been wanting to appear.  Thankfully, I found out these issues could be easily addressed.

Before finding out how to address the issues in my own garden, I had to learn more about what it meant to have a garden the various species of bees find attractive and what aspects may hinder their appearances.

Frey and LeBuhn began The Bee-friendly Garden talking about, well, bees.  My knowledge of entomology is pretty basic, though it is broader than the average person.  I know the terms and various genus and families, but am not intimately familiar with the various aspects of each.  Having this knowledge helped understand the beginning chapters, though I still found myself learning new things.  If you had no knowledge to begin with, I believe you could still easily understand this chapter.  They made it clear and simple for almost anyone to use as a foundation for the rest of the book.

The next few chapters talked about various plants which would be good additions to your garden to attract bees.  They covered both edible and non-edible gardens.  I appreciated the authors taking into account visual appeal for humans, as well as attractiveness for the insects.  A plant may hold a great appeal to the insect you want to attract, but if it Is a nuisance or difficult to take care of the gardener is unlikely to actually plant it.

Chapter 5 talks about garden designs. The authors again presented the information with a very practical approach – we do not all have perfect gardens, nor the means to make them so.  What the reader is presented with are ways to work with what they may have, encouragement to think outside the box or to step back and take a new look.

The final chapter is fairly short, encouraging the reader to go beyond their backyards and find ways to encourage bees in their communities.  The authors have provided several resources already organized in working toward this end.  I have participated in a few over the years and found myself encouraged to take part again in the upcoming year.

Following the final chapter is a list of resources and regional plant lists.

I greatly enjoyed The Bee-friendly Garden and think every gardener should take time to look beyond the visual appeal, to humans, their gardens provide.  You may have the best soil and the newest hybrid of your favorite flower, but it will not do really well if you are not also attracting the much needed pollinators.

Aspects of the book I liked:

  • You are not only told how to do something, but also why.
  • Suggestions are given for less than perfect gardens, as well as various gardening styles.
  • Photos of actual yards and gardens, across various climates, are shown and described.

Aspects of the book I did not like:

  • Some repetitive nature.
  • While it may be good for the beginning reader to go over certain aspects, there were things explained that I already knew.

After reading through The Bee-friendly Garden I learned:

  • There are 46 species of bumble bees in North America. Some other families contain hundreds of different species.
  • Honey bees are not the best pollinators.
  • Most bees do not live in large colonies.
  • Many make their homes in the ground, which makes using a weed barrier a determinant.
  • Some plants require the specific resonance of the bee’s vibrations to pollinate.
  • Flowers do not mean only the perennial and annual broad leaf plants, but also grasses and trees.
  • The presence of flowers is not the only factor, you also need volume. (1 flower does not seem very attractive, but 50 does.)
  • Bees tend to visit patch of flowers rather than hop from this flower to that flower.

The last two points were the ones most practical to figuring out how to solve my problem of not enough pollinators.

As I walk out into my garden, I notice the abundance of green and the lack of color signaling pollinators to come to my garden beds.  Like other aspects I have adjusted over the years, I will begin to change this by taking small steps at first, working in one part of the garden and spreading to other areas.  Thanks to The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity I have a great guide to improve my garden and help it thrive.

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  All opinions are honest and my own.

This post contains affiliate links.

Dec 112012
 

When the weather was warmer and impromtu nature lesson took place in my yard.  It involved IPM (intigrated pest management), insect identification, life cycles and eye-hand coordination.  It wasn’t planned out and none of the labels placed on what we were doing.  It just evolved from one step to another.  I disagree with anyone who says nature study is hard or boring.

Let me set the stage for you.

Main players:

Good Guys

Praying Mantis

Daddy Long Legs

Little boy and his water gun

Bad Buys

Bugs

Scene:

South facing side of my house, mainly in one six foot section.  Most of the bad guys are found within the first six feet of the ground, but some go higher as the danger is less higher up.

The praying mantis and daddy long legs opted to take the stealth route. (Did you notice the bug in the mantis’ mouth in the picture above?  They are surprisingly efficient and quick.) The little boy?  Not so much.  His instructions were to, “Point and shoot, knocking off as many bugs as you can.” 

I lost track of how often that gun got refilled.  At the end of the day I almost had to drag him inside.  Boy, oh, boy did I enjoy seeing those little bugs run for cover when the water came near.  Even better when they fell off the side of the house.  I’m not exactly sure what kind of bugs they were; they looked almost like a black and red stink bug but I never caught wind of them.  This was the first year I saw them so I’m not sure if they were.  If I see them again this coming year I will take more time to identify them.

Now who said nature study had to be boring?

 

Mar 292012
 

We were outside today playing, enjoying the sunshine.  There was a lull in the activity, so I took the opportunity to point out that the tree above us was beginning to have leaves.  “Soon, you won’t be able to see the sky through the limbs because there will be so many leaves.”  We talked a bit more about how trees go from having no leaves, to having little ones, then larger leaves.  Then fall comes, the leaves change color and drop.  Not really an in-depth conversation.  Nothing was said about the chemicals released by the tree for such processes to happen, nor about the mechanics of how it works.  Just that it happens.

One of the kids was sitting on a stump.

“Did you know, the stump you are sitting on … (hm, they may not know what ‘stump’ means) well, what you are sitting on is called a stump.  It used to be a tree.”

“Why?”

Of course.  The ever present, “Why?”

“It was leaning towards the house, so we had it taken down when they were removing a few other trees.  Do you want to see another stump?”

And so ensued the lesson on stumps.  The second stump we looked at was much more interesting.  It was from a tree that was dead and didn’t know it.  Yes, that was my official diagnosis.  Very technical wasn’t it.  Anyway, due to the state of the tree before it was removed this stump was much more decomposed than the original stump.  I pointed out how the bark breaks down and makes dirt.  Hands on learning ensued.

“Insects break it down and soon it will be all gone.”  I started to pull up bits of the stump, amazed at how loose and easy they were.  One of the pieces produced a surprise.  A slug.  Now, as a gardener I am not normally happy to see slugs.  However, with boys sitting beside me I was happy to find a slug.

“Can I touch?”

Now, I wish I could say that I was more than eager to engage in hand-on learning immediately in this situation, but I replied without thinking.  “No.”

“Why?”

Hmmm.  I had to stop and think.  Why is it that I said, “no”?  Why couldn’t they touch it?  Was I worried about them hurting the slug?  Was I worried that they would get sick from something on the slug when they then stuck their fingers in their mouths?  Did I just think the thought of touching it myself was icky?

So I amended my reply.  “Yes, you can touch it, but be careful.  The slug is not happy that we disturbed it.”

Now came an interesting realization.  One that I had witnessed before, but in a different situation.  Older Boy didn’t want to touch it, but encouraged Younger Boy to do so.  I think I see which might be the one more likely to have a bug collection.

After showing them that it had no feet, we put it back under the piece of wood that had come from.  Continuing with my curiosity, I pulled up another large chunk and found yet another slug.  It too was shown.  Again, Older Boy wanted nothing to do with touching it, but Younger Boy did.  Now, wait here guys.  I’m the girl.  Isn’t it supposed to be ME that doesn’t want to touch the slimy, squishy slug?  I think we will have to work on this a bit.

They were done with the second stump and were requesting more.  So on to a third.  Now, this was turning into quite the lesson on stumps.  So far the two we have seen have been very different.  #1 was from a healthy maple tree (Acer spp.) and barely broken down.  Some fungus had started to grow on the bark of the stump, but otherwise it was in great shape.  #2 had great soil in the middle of the stump and is deteriorated enough that I could pull it up by hand.

Well, stump #3 was from a buckeye tree (Aesculus glabra).  This stump has been prolific with stump sprouts. I have cut and sprayed to no avail.  That was okay today as it provided a lesson in buds and leaves.  I showed them a bud that had yet to open, one that had opened but the leaves were still curled tight, and other where the leaves had fully unfurled.  Of course, lots of touching and “ooh, aah” went on.  But first, we looked in the middle under dead leaves that had become trapped there.

We found a worm under the leaves, which I picked up on the request of Older Boy, who then would not touch it.  Younger Boy was eager to touch and did so gently. We then looked at the soil under the leaves.  I had intended to show how the leaves were breaking down and so on.  What I realized when I picked up some of the soil was that it was actually mostly worm castings.  This little guy in my hand had been busy breaking down those leaves.  So, we put him back so he could “do his job”.

So three very different stumps and experiences.  Surely they are good with the stumps we have found.  But, oh no.  They want more.  Well, our yard didn’t have any more, but the neighbor’s did.  It is right on the line between our yards, so it wasn’t like we were traipsing through their yard.  Stump #4 was even more different.  It was the oldest of the stumps, though it too was from a buckeye tree.  It was a gnarled outline of where a small tree used to be.  Perhaps about 6 inches in diameter. The center was completely full of dirt, there was no bark to be seen, and it was barely 1/4 of an inch in width around the ‘circle’ that was there.  Yet, there was a bud sprouting out of the base.  That is the only way I knew what kind of tree this had been.  That fact was mentioned, then all interest in this unique stump was gone.  However, I’m glad we took a closer look as I had noticed this stump several times and always wondered a bit about it.  Now at least I know what kind of tree it had been and that it had been a tree.

I was out of stumps to look for in the yard, so “stump” #5 was actually a hole in the ground where a stump used to be.  Not really exciting, but perhaps a good point to show that stumps are not always there.

So ended our study of stumps around our yard.  I now have a new appreciation for stumps.  Honestly, I had never really given them much though or taken a close look at what makes them different or the same.

How about you?  Ever taken a look at a stump?  Do you have a favorite?