Monday, January 19, 2009

Bee Garden thoughts in January

More than a foot of snow fell yesterday and the temps were still well below freezing. The only hint of springs seems to be the garden and seed catalogs in the mailbox, well, and the dwindling wood pile outside.
So, it was odd to think about the bees during the dead of winter, or more accurately, the lack of bees during the summer.
In the past, I have done some work with the northwestern Pennsylvania Beekeepers Association ( want to hear from you Charlie). The bee articles seemed to trip a lot of triggers with people. It was a common comment to hear people mention they just weren't seeing bees like they use to see in flower and vegetable gardens.
There's a mystery illness called CCD, short for Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been fatal for hundred of honeybee hives locally and in the wild. Others have mentioned dwindling numbers of wild bee populations as well.
The bees are important for a lot of reasons particularly for pollinating food crops. Bees mean more productive veggie gardens and less bees means less produce.
But for the hunters and nature watchers, less bees means food shortages for our wildlife. Bees are essential for wildlife food crops such as wild apples and berries.
While there is a lot of ongoing research being done (PennState is one of the leaders)), there is no apparent single answer. Rather the disappearance seems to be a combination of factors; a virus, mites, pesticides, lack of habitat, lack of adequate food supply (nectar and pollen).
A bee garden could be a big help in saving our bees and in helping their populations recover. A bee garden relies on many clumps of our native wild flowers which bloom throughout the season. Avoid mulch or the black plastic ground covers. Many of our native species like to tunnel in bare dirt to build nests and lay eggs. A couple old logs or branches also provides a good habitat for some of the species. I know it can rain a lot but some of the bees need water and mud. So a small water source is a good idea.
Stay away from using pesticides. They kill everything, not just weeds and nasty aphids.
I always plant an herb called borage, also known as the bee plant. I have tons of bees on these plants all summer, particularly honeybees and the big bumblebees. There is no one around here with beehives anymore so I think the honeybees are feral and must live in the woods here on top of the hill.
If anyone wants some more info, I can send it along, just ask. In the meantime, I'll be getting in touch with the beekeepers association and see if we can get some good updates from them. It is a good organization and a good starting point for anyone who wants to get a hive or of my projects someday.And thanks to Charlies Vorisek, of the organization for the picture of the honey bee on a wildflower.
One sad note to pass on. Jeff Peterson, who many of us know, died yesterday. Jeff was 48. He was a good person. I'll miss him.
In the meantime, Go Steelers! Stay warm and have fun in the snow. I just might try to build a snow fort this week.