Bee Friendly Gardens

Conserve, Save, Grow, Earn

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Keeping the Bees Buzzing

Bald cypress forests of southern Florida are home for many solitary and bumble bees.

Bald cypress forests of southern Florida are home for many solitary and bumble bees.


Are you aware that honeybees in America generate in excess of $44B in commerce, annually?  I’ve been intrigued with bees all my life. They continue to show my colleagues important new information. Bees are most certainly modern-day canaries in coalmines, worldwide.

Recently, Italian researchers from the University of Trento found that just like humans shake with their right hands, honeybees also greet each other by predominantly using their right antennas. Apparently, the right antenna picks up on certain ‘social cues’ including recognition of their hive mates.

Bee brains might be small but they are packed with about 960,000 functional neurons (compared to 86 billion for humans). Bee neurons enable them to clearly recognize a human face as well as exactly communicate by dancing where food (nectar and pollen), water and tree resin (used along with bee enzymes for making potent anti-microbial propolis or glue) are located as far as 8 miles away.

A team of scientists lead by Cardiff University has just revealed some fascinating secrets of bees’ honeycomb.

Honeycomb is a precise hexagon, six-sided wafer-thin wax that honeybees make from their abdomen, which provides phenomenal strength for storage of honey. Two pounds of beeswax supports 48 pounds of honey! By the way, over a half a century ago the aeronautics industry recognized the strength of honeycomb and adapted nature’s design to enhance the bending and stiffness of aircraft wings, as the wings must support loads of fuel in the aircraft.

It turns out that honeycomb starts out as a circle and gradually forms into a hexagon. The subtle flow of wax is turned semi-molten by the heat of 113 degrees from a special class of worker bees. The wax becomes elastic, stretching like toffee forming a tiny point that becomes a perfect angle within the hexagon. Some incredible physics and math occur in order to form honeycomb.

Frighteningly, something is going very wrong around the globe in our environment: 20,000 species of bees are showing scientists they are in trouble. Just 20 years ago across America each of our 2.4 million commercial beehives produced about 100 pounds of honey. Today they each produce almost half that amount. In part, their natural diverse forage has been drastically reduced or more likely destroyed altogether. Bees, like to dine, not dissimilarly to people, at smorgasbords. Monoculture food crops cannot supply bees with enough nutrition.

This much we do know. Over the past 110 million years, plants and bees have co-evolved; they depend on one another, when bees die en masse and rapidly all-hell-breaks-loose: Global food security is jeopardized. Researchers affiliated with the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory at Crested Butte, Colorado recently discovered by removing just one species of bumblebee that one third fewer seeds were produced in Rocky Mountain subalpine wildflowers.

There’s one class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids with about 1,000 kinds available, globally. When honeybees are exposed to as little as four billionths of a gram of neonicotinoid’s they suffer irreparable poisoning.

Last week the European Health & Safety Authority banned a fourth neonicotinoid (Fipronil). This week, 36,000 solitary bees were found dead in all 12 nesting boxes on a farm in Niestetal, Germany; poisoned pollen has been implicated. A couple weeks ago, 37 million honeybees died in 600 hives on an organic honey farm in Elmwood, Canada just after corn seed coated in neonicotinoids was planted. A few weeks before that, 55 American linden or ‘bee trees’ were sprayed with a neonicotinoid (Safari) and 50,000 bumblebees perished in Wilsonville, Oregon.

In order to keep the bees buzzing it is clearly time to stop pesticides that are known to kill them. If the bees die, we die. We need The Save America’s Pollinator Act of 2013. We signed the petition and encourage you, to do so.




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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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Making Honeycomb

Honeybees working on the comb

It takes 66,000 bee-hours of activity to produce the 77,000 splendid hexagonal cells that form the comb of the hive. Almost 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of honey are required for a young worker bee to produce  2.2 pounds (one kilogram) of beeswax. Bees eat the honey and trigger a gland in their abdomen to secrete wax. The bees then chew the wax flakes to soften them. One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of this hearty wax can support 48 pounds (22 kilograms) of honey, or more than 20 times its own weight. Many decades ago, the aeronautics industry recognized the strength of honeycomb and adapted nature’s design to enhance the bending and stiffness of aircraft wings, as the wings must support heavy loads of fuel in the aircraft.

To construct the honeycomb, hair plates at the base of a bee’s neck act as a plumb bob to determine the changing orientation to gravity. When a worker bee turns relative to the Earth’s gravitational field, the pressure of the hair plates on its legs tells the bee which way is up. Without these hair plates, workers could not build honeycomb. When honeybees were transported into outer space on the 1984 Challenger shuttle flight, they were unable to construct honeycomb, due to the lack of gravitational force.

Workers use the tips of their antennae to assess the thickness and smoothness of comb cells, but the exactness of the cell diameters and their orientation is still not explained. Bees construct honeycomb horizontally. Amazingly, chambers are back to back at exactly a 13-degree angle to prevent honey from dripping out.

Interested in more information about honeycomb?

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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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Bees Drawn to Tupelo Trees

Tupelo flowers

Tupelo trees are an important mid-slope and valley bottom forest species in the eastern North American forests. Sometimes called black gum these handsome trees range from southwestern Maine and New York as far north as Ontario into central Michigan and Illinois, south all the way to Florida and across to eastern Texas and eastern Oklahoma. These trees even boldly venture into central and southern Mexico.

This stately tree can easily reach a height of 120 feet with light reddish brown bark that furrows with age. This species is very long lived easily lasting six centuries

Its flowers are small and greenish white, requiring bees to cross-pollinate them. In turn the bees use the nectar to make a divine tasting honey. The bees also depend upon Tupelo pollen, high in protein helping to grow their young.

Blue-black clusters of sour fruit begin ripening in September and October. The fruit is a crucial source of food for American robins, Swainson’s and grey-cheeked thrush, northern cardinals, blue jays, a variety of woodpeckers, yellow bellied sapsuckers, northern flickers and we’ve even seen crows eating the fall berries.

Hollow trunks from old broken-off branches  provide excellent nesting cavities  for both honeybees and mammals like squirrels, racoons and opossums.

These are truly great trees, often planted for their tremendous ornamental appearance and to attract honeybees. They display magnificent red leaves in the autumn.

Our favorite honey – and the title of a melodious 1971 song by Van Morrison – is tupelo honey. Its heavenly burnt-sugar tang is scrumptious and very healthy.

Tupelo trees a are a splendid example of an important ‘bee tree’  which we strongly recommend to promote a bee friendly garden.

Interested in knowing more about how to create your own 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

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