Bee Friendly Gardens

Conserve, Save, Grow, Earn

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Honeybees, Elephants and Humans: Coexisting

Story ran in Huffington Post, Oct. 22, 2016

The only way 7.5 billion procreating humans and the Animal Kingdom can survive in the 21st century is by coexisting.

One excellent example of coexisting comes from a respectful relationship with irascible African honeybees and giant elephants.

Elephants, like so many other creatures, dislike getting stung, especially near their eyes, ears and trunks. Repeated bee stings can kill calves. So elephants avoid confrontations with honeybees.

Elephants communicate with astounding frequencies ranging over 10 octaves. Human speech, on the other hand, only spans two octaves. Elephants use very low frequencies, undetectable to the human ear. Elephants convey important information using infrasonic frequencies, which travel over six miles and are received by vibrational sensors on their feet and trunks.

Honeybees produce low frequency hums, easily discernible by elephants. Since elephants are intelligent, sentient animals they keep away from aggressive African honeybees.

Each year in Kenya prior to coexisting with elephants, farmers retaliated by killing as many as 120 elephants for raiding their crop fields.

In 2002, workers at Save the Elephants noticed that elephants steered clear of their important food source, acacia trees, containing bee colonies.

This observation sparked the curiosity of Oxford University zoologist Lucy King. She conceived the idea of creating a honeybee fence, protecting both elephants and crops within small family plots.

King’s original honeybee fence consisted of log beehives suspended on poles beneath a shade-conferring thatched roof with a wire connected to each hive, spaced every 30 feet or so. Elephants hear the hives and keep away from them. If they attempt to push through the connecting wire, hives swing erratically and angry guard bees attack the elephants. Since elephants are intelligent, they learn quickly from these hostile encounters.

Honeybee fences have reduced invasions on crop fields by over 80 percent, and elephant fatalities by farmers have plummeted.

Family farms using honeybee fences also receive extra revenue from selling honey, which is collected at might when the African bees are more docile. Anecdotally, crop yields are up because not only are the honeybees protecting the fields, but also pollinating them.

The bees and humans need elephants since they create water holes for all life. Elephants also make trails, which act as fire blocks protecting both honeybee hives, homes and villages from destruction.

The illicit multi-billion dollar global ivory trade has annihilated African elephants, once 20 million strong now less than 353,000.

It is long overdue that humans respect nature’s flawless blueprint and work with her to coexist on planet Earth – our only home. That means we all need to take less and give more because globally nature is under siege by the human-driven Sixth Great Extinction. We need nature in order to survive. Nature does not need us.

Earth Doctor Reese Halter’s upcoming book is “Save Nature Now.”


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A Dying Buzz

Honeybee - Dr Reese Halter 18

Story ran in the Organic Gardener October 22, 2014

For the past decade and a half, climate disruption has battered the Australian continent. Bushfires, prolonged regional droughts, extreme heatwaves and epic flooding are occurring more often and eclipsing records more frequently. And for the first time in the history of the nation, climate disruption is killing billions of honeybees and unknown numbers of the 1600 native bee species, threatening Australia’s food security.

Scientists from Flinders University(1), reported that not only are bees essential for food security, they play a leading role as a key indicator of massive climate disruption blanketing Earth. Honeybees in Australia generate about $6 billion per annum, pollinating almost 70 per cent of food crops, including the burgeoning almond industry that produces over $331 million annually. It requires at least 180,000 hives or about 9 billion healthy honeybees and copious amounts of water to reach these figures. Bees also support $150 million in honey sales and potent medicines for pain relief. However, in a warming world, both bees and water are becoming scarcer.

Almost 700 species of Eucalyptus produce fewer flowers (or not at all) during heatwaves. Those eucalypt flowers are vital for the health and wellbeing for all wild Australian bees as well as the domesticated honeybees. In a normal year Eucalyptus is a major nectar contributor toward 30,000 metric tons of honey, or enough to feed 23.4 million Australians annually. Last summer, plants responded to the stifling heatwaves across the Australian continent by substantially lowering nectar production. Bees require nectar – their only food source – to make honey.

Honeybees also had to contend with another crisis this past summer as climate disruption had their colonies operating in an emergency mode. Bees store their honey in honeycomb cells made of beeswax, which melted because daytime temperatures regularly exceeded 35°C. Instead of searching far and wide for flowers to harvest nectar to turn into honey or collect protein-rich pollen to feed their larvae or performing their role as pollinators, the honeybees spent the lion’s share of each day of last summer searching exclusively for fresh water to cool down their hives. Moreover, commercial beekeepers were forced to feed bees corn syrup in an attemp to keep their hives alive. “Feeding bees in the middle of the summer is just about unheard of,” says Ken Gell of the Central Victorian Apiarist Group. The vicious heatwaves last summer not only cost beekeepers millions of dollars in feeding costs, but also 30 per cent of the commercial bees were wiped out. Honey production across the nation was the lowest ever recorded, and consequently none will be exported this year.

But that’s not all that is troubling bees. The burgeoning worldwide use of insecticides – roughly two billion kilograms annually – is now being highlighted as a major contributing factor to their decline. An estimated 500 billion honeybees have been lost worldwide since 2006. One-third of insecticides are neonicotinoids (neonics), a neuro-insecticide fashioned after nicotine, which poison nerves and prevent acetylcholine from enabling neurons to communicate with each other and muscle tissue. They are a systemic insecticide that penetrates the plant.New research(2) from Harvard University and elsewhere shows that, in combination with climate disruption, neonics are causing bees to die faster than ever before.

Dutch toxicologist Dr Henk Tennekes(3) has detailed the deleterious residual knock-on effects of using neonics in Western Europe, including contaminating fresh waterways, killing trillions of soil organisms and rapidly diminishing biodiversity from meadow birds to raptors like goshawks. Manufacturers say the pesticides are not harming bees or other species. BBC News reported Dr Julian Little from Bayer, one of the manufacturers of neonics, saying: “There is very little credible evidence that these things are causing untoward damage because we would have seen them over 20 years of use.” Nevertheless, Europe currently has a two-year moratorium in place preventing the use of neonics on flowering crops.Researchers from the University of Sussex, in the UK,(4) recently concluded that to save bees globally, neonics must be quickly phased out. One immediate alternative to neonics is the Indian neem tree and its potent natural chemical, azadirachtin. Extracts of neem are effective against at least 200 different insect species but are harmless to pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and bats as well as beneficial insects, warm-blooded animals and birds.

In the US, the White House has set up a task force to tackle the massive decline of honeybees. Let’s hope action comes quickly to help save our bees from the dual threats of a warming world and insecticides.

• Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist, educator and author of The Incomparable Honeybee & The Economics of Pollination.



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How to Make a Backyard Compost

Peppers and tomatoes are easy to grown AND they attract bumblebees as their pollinators

Peppers and tomatoes are easy to grown AND they attract bumblebees as their pollinators

The ABCs of Composting

Composting is easy and inexpensive. It turns almost half your trash into plant food, which can feed your trees, shrubs, flowers and your garden (whether it’s in the earth or pots).

Take your vegetable peels, fruits peels, core or pits, coffee grounds, tea leaves and rinsed crushed eggshells, which are all full of nitrogen, and add them to dry leaves,  plant stalks, shredded newsprint or better still shredded brown paper bags and cut up cardboard. We recommend also adding pet hair, it will help repel rodents.


Select a partially shaded spot with good water drainage to place your well-aerated compost bin (which you can either make or purchased from your local gardening store). Be sure to leave at least a foot-and-a half between fences, walls, bushes, doors or windows.

Whenever you add a food layer to the pile  it must be topped-off with equal amounts of shredded newsprint or shredded brown bags, strips of cardboard or we recommend dried leaves (browns).

To encourage oxygen for the beneficial microorganisms leave lots of air space in your bin. We suggest using a pitch fork to mix the contents once every week or two.

Collect dry leaves, storing them in a dry container, so you can add them year-round.

Your compost will be ready within a couple months.

If the pile begins to steam or it stinks — that’s a good sign because the material is decomposing.

Got these problems…

  • Compost is too wet and very smelly? You’ve added to many greens, try adding browns and turning the pile with a pitch fork.
  • Compost is too dry? You’ve added to many brown and not enough water. Try adding fresh kitchen scraps, moisten the pile with water and cover it to reduce evaporation.
  • Compost pile is cold? Try adding some greens.
  • Compost pile is attracting critters like racoons or rodents? Likely you’re adding incorrect material and there’s inadequate cover. Use pest/rodent resistant bins. And do NOT add oils, meats, grease or breads to the pile, ever.
  • Got fruit flies? Likely your food scraps are exposed. Try putting your kitchen scraps in the center of the pile and cover them with browns.

Do NOT add the following food scarps to the compost: Bread, pasta, rice, sauces, dairy products, nuts, fish, meat, oils, fats or bones.

  • Don’t put dog, cat or human feces in the compost.
  • Don’t put kitty litter in the compost.
  • Don’t put garden weeds with mature seeds in or you’ll inadvertently spread then throughout your yard.
  • Don’t put any treated wood products in the pile because they contain harmful chemicals.

Fact: Compost gives your garden far more healthy nutrients than buying a bag of sterilized peat moss.

Did you know? Organic household waste that winds up in landfills decomposes without oxygen and turns into methane — a gas that is at least 70X more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

Want help creating your compost?

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The Bee Tree: American Linden

Honeybees love the American Linden — that’s why Halter Brothers call it ‘The Bee Tree’

Trees are remarkable for many, many reasons. They suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere turning a greenhouse gas into a solid (wood). As a by-product of photosynthesis trees give off oxygen. In fact, for every metric tone of wood created, 1.5 metric tons of CO2 is absorbed and 1 metric ton of oxygen is released. Trees planted near homes, schools and colleges, and hospitals also reduced heating and cooling costs by as much as 40%.

Some trees like American Linden or basswood have exquisite fragrant yellow-white flowers that attract pollinators like bees. They attract so many bees Linden’s are affectionately known as ‘The Bee Tree.’ Bees take the Linden nectar and turn it into honey, which is light in color and full of a floral bouquet.

‘The Bee Tree’ honey is loaded with vitamins and minerals. It contains water-soluble B1, B2, B6, pantothenic and nicotinic acids, vitamin C – as well as high amounts of fat-soluble vitamins E, K and A. Honey also provides us with essential minerals: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, magnesium and sulfur. Some of these minerals in the specific concentrations found in honey mimic the concentration of blood serum. If you suffer from anxiety or insomnia a tablespoon of ‘Bee Tree honey’ just before bedtime will help cure these conditions.

Since honeybee and wild bee populations are crashing around the globe, planting bee-friendly trees is one way each of us can lend a helping hand. Another way to help the bees is by not using insecticides, herbicides, miticides or fungicides in your yard or balcony.  The bees are incredible and they need our help.

Interested in growing a ‘Bee tree’ ?

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Bumblebees: Buzz Pollination

While most bees are proficient pollinators, bumble and some solitary bees perform an even more astounding fertilization feat called buzz pollination, or sonification.

Buzz pollination entails a bee grabbing hold of a flower and curling up her abdomen – the rearward segments of a bee that contain its digestive and reproductive organs – to form a ‘C’ shape. Closing her wings over her thorax, or midsection, the bee shivers her strong flight muscles to create a sonic vibration. This robust vibration shakes the flower and, importantly, the male anthers, where the pollen is stored. A copious amount of pollen dislodges from the anthers and coats the bee by means of  the electrostatic attraction.

The bee then grooms and moves on to continue foraging; invariably, pollen reaches the female stigma of another flower. Pollination accomplished!

These bees’ magnificent sonification technique is responsible for the pollination of – to name only a few – sunflowers, canola, rapeseed, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, lentils, peas, tomatoes, chilies, red clover, alfalfa and all species of potato, worldwide.

With more than 8 percent of  the 235,000 flowering plant species in the world  relying on the unique buzz pollination technique to reproduce, the importance of bumble and solitary bees is clear.

Please do not use insecticides, herbicides, miticides or fungicides in the yard or on your balcony.  Bees are being poisoned  around the globe. If we each lend a helping hand, we can ensure urban bees do not succumb to human-made toxicity.

To discover how you can create your bee friendly garden — contact us:

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The Dance of the Honeybees: Incomparable

The honeybee waggle dance

Nobel laureate Karl von Frisch (1886–1982) dedicated his life to unravelling many of the mysteries of the honeybee. He was the first researcher to decipher the purposeful and endearing dancing of bees. In 1972 he was awarded a Nobel Prize for his excellence.

The waggle dance is one of the most extraordinary forms of communication in the entire animal kingdom.

This dance conveys precise information about the food’s location, including its direction and the distance from the hive – as far as 8 miles. In his research, von Frisch determined that workers assess critical fragments of information from each of the dance’s components, including the duration of waggling and buzzing; the length of the straight run, in comb cell diameters; the number of unit circuits per dance; and the average distance of the dances from the hive entrance.

The waggle dance follows a nearly figure-eight shape, but with a straight (bee)line connecting the two semicircles. The scout runs along a narrow semicircle, making sharp turns, and then beelines straight back to her starting point. She then performs the same moves in the opposite direction. The dance is elaborate, with the bee waggling her abdomen in precise, intricate steps. At each turn she vigorously shakes her body: the side to side waggle occurs about 13 to 15 times a second and gives off a buzzing sound as her muscles and skeleton vibrate.

At the end of a complete dance, the scout will stop and share nectar with other workers, who extend their antennae to smell the dancer. Some new followers even squeak, causing the dancer to stop midstream and feed them a droplet of nectar.

Dance tempo and beeline length indicate distance from the hive to the flowers. That is, followers assess the distance by measuring the number of circuits per 15 seconds and the amount of time spent waggling and buzzing on the straight run. A slow dance tempo and long straight run communicate that the distance is greater. It does not convey exact distance, but informs the other bees of the amount of energy needed to find the new resource. This translates into the amount of honey each forager must eat before leaving the hive. The waggle dance can also inform foragers about new sources of water, tree resin and pollen.

Fascinatingly, the waggle dance – mostly performed in the dark and on the vertical face of the comb – somehow conveys the horizontal direction to the food source.

Interested in knowing more about other honeybee dances or keeping honeybees? Contact  Bee Friendly Gardens:

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The Importance of the Honeybee

We create rich gardens filled with colors, food and tranquility, HalterBrothers Bee Friendly Gardens

There are over 330 million mouths to feed in Canada and The United States alone.

The honeybees are directly responsible for pollinating over $44-billion worth of food and commodities each year in both countries, including apples, almonds, melons, gourds, pears, plums, peaches, kiwis, macadamias, sunflowers, canola, avocados, lettuce, broccoli (to name but a few crops) and cotton.

The beef and dairy industries rely on bees to pollinate the alfalfa and clover fields for feed.

Even corporations such as Starbucks, General Mills – owner of Haagen Dazs, Unilever – owners of Ben & Jerry’s and Clorox – owner of Burt’s Bees – rely on bees to pollinate their coffee, more than half the ingredients of ice cream and earth-friendly personal care products.

Please do not use insecticides, herbicides, miticides or fungicides in your yard or balcony, especially since researchers have shown that neonictinoids are lethal to honey- and bumble-bees.

Google your local beekeepers and support them — by buying their honey.

Honey is a terrific and practical holiday gift !

To learn about creating bee friendly gardens,  attracting bees and growing your own food — contact us: