Bee Friendly Gardens

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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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Bee Friendly Gardens: Making a Bee Bath

Bee Bath

As temperatures begin to warm our friends the bees are awakening after their winter rest.

Did you know that pollinators are responsible for cross-pollinating in excess of 336,000 plants or about 87% of all flowering plants (almost 400,000 known species).

Bees including honey-, stingless-,  bumble-, and solitary- conduct the lion’s share of that crucial task: Pollinating.

Just like humans and all other life forms bees require water. When you select your wide array of native plants that flower throughout the spring, summer and fall as a safe food source of nectar and pollen (insecticide-, herbicide-, fungicide- and miticide-free). You also need to build a bee bath so all the different kinds of bees can drink fresh water in between pollinating.

Bees cannot land in a convention bird bath because there’s nothing (usually) for them to safely perch upon.

Create islands in the bee bath for them to safely touch down and drink from.

We suggest that you line a bowl with stones.

Add water but allow the rock islands to remain dry,  providing a safe-zone for bees to land and drink.

Place the bath at ground level in your garden and move it around, carefully.

Replenish the bowl daily (making sure to always leave exposed rock islands).

If you have any plants attacked by leaf-sucking insects i.e. aphids, place the bee bath next to those infested plants, watch how Nature’s beneficial insects correct insect infestations post haste.

Interested to learn more about creating your own water-smart, bee-friendly garden?

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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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Seven Kind Acts to Help the Bees

Bees need water, here’s a splendid home-made solution

There are so many things that each of us can do to help our planet and make a difference. Imagine that if each of us did two things differently and asked two friends to also follow our footsteps — what an enormous difference we would all make.

It all starts with good intentions and then just a couple good acts. Lending a helping hand has never been easier.

Here’s seven suggestions for helping our wonderful friends – the bees:

1. Grow or buy organic foods

2. Buy organic cotton

3. Support your local beekeepers by purchasing their honey, wax and propolis

4. Do not use herbicides, insecticides, miticides or fungicides in your yard

5. Plant a wide variety of native flowers especially yellow and blues in solid blocks preferably 3 X 3 feet so the bees can see them

6. Bees need water, too, so place a bowl with water in your yard and replenish it daily.

7. Consider becoming a citizen scientist and helping the National Phenology Network

For more information on bee friendly gardens and wildflowers contact us:

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Being Water-Smart Makes Sense

Water is the most precious natural resource, and in a warming world — fresh water is King. Less than 1% of all the water on Earth can be used by people. The remaining 99% of water is either salty or locked in ice-caps.

By 2023 the population on Earth will exceed 8 billion which means more people will be using a limited resource. It is crucial that we use our fresh water wisely. There’s no room whatsoever for wasting it.

A typical North American household uses about 150,000 gallons a year.

Low flow plumping fixtures can save at least 30% of indoor water use.

Outdoor water use accounts for about 60% of most home’s water consumption AND most of that goes to watering lawns. Many residents use over 200 gallons a day just watering their grass.

At Halter Brothers Bee Friendly Gardens we will show you how to significantly reduce your outdoor water footprint while at the same time enjoying a lush, bee friendly garden where you can escape the stress of the day-to-day grind and putter sublimely for hours.

Our Bee Friendly Gardens will make you smile.

Contact the Halter Brothers so we can show you how to turn your lawn into a water-wise, bee friendly garden :