Pretty, Purple… and Perfect for Bees

Hello Bee Friends,

Here is another flower that bees love. I love it too, it’s a very showy and vigorous ground cover. I have three varieties of it, but the purple one has taken over. It’s Lamium, also sometimes called ‘Deadnettle’.

Lamium maculatum – also sometimes called Deadnettles.

According to gardening guides, Lamium likes shade but will tolerate full sun when grown in moist soil. I can tell you, it thrives in my garden with very poor dry soil in the full baking sun, and has spread from one plant that I planted five years ago to almost every area in my yard – front and back. ūüôā

I’ve planted all three varieties but the purple one has grown the best.

  • Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’ – silvery leaves and dense clusters of white flowers.
  • Lamium maculatum ‘Wootton Pink’ – striped variegated leaves and pale pink flowers in late spring to early summer.
  • Lamium maculatum ‘Orchid Frost’ – blue-green foliage and purple blooms April-June (but mine flowers almost until the end of August)

Bee with Lamium Hat

Look how the Lamium fits the head of the bee perfectly! like a hat ūüôā

How is your garden doing? Have you noticed any flowers that are favourites for the bees?

Have a nice week in your garden!

and … Bee Nice to Bees! ūüėÄ

 

 

 

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Climate Change and Bees

Hello Bee Friends,

I am an avid learner. I love to explore new things; it’s one of the reasons why I love to garden, to get out hiking in the mountains, to walk in the woods, and to enjoy the beautiful and showy fragrant flowers. Every day is a new experience, and observation is a great teacher.

I’ve noticed, for instance, how incredibly windy it is here lately. We normally get wind in early spring with calm mornings and evenings. This year especially, the wind begins earlier in the morning, gets wicked gusts by the afternoon, and whips the trees and flowers until late evening. Our normally dry days are even drier. We had an early snow melt and much less rain than usual. A drive out of the city shows fields upon fields of dry brown grasslands.

Is this a result of Climate Change?

I’m taking a course through Coursera called “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4C warmer world must be avoided”. It’s put on by the World Bank. The statistics it presents are both fascinating and discouraging. ¬†Is the world really warming? The Canadian Government did a study on the national average temperatures and precipitation and found that “The national average temperature for the year 2012 was 1.9¬įC above baseline average” [1]. Right now, our Canadian¬†Minister of Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, is in Berlin from May¬†17 to 20, 2015 to attend the informal G7¬†Climate Ministers’ meeting as well as the Petersberg Climate Dialogue. One of the actions¬†Canada plans is to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30¬†percent below 2005¬†levels by¬†2030.

As a backyard gardener, I’m concerned about possible Climate Change because the dry weather is causing havoc with my yard. But….

What does this have to do with Bees, you ask?

A recent study by the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, suggests that a temperature increase of 1 degree C causes the male minor bees to come out of their hives nine days earlier. This is creating a disjoint between when flowers are ready for pollination, and when the pollinators are foraging. Female minor bees emerged fifteen days earlier. Instead of pollinating the orchid flowers, which had evolved to flower simultaneously with the male bees emergence from the hive, the male bees were now focusing on female bees instead. Prof Anthony Davy leading the study states: “we have shown that plants and their pollinators show different responses to climate change, and that warming will widen the timeline between bees and flowers emerging. If replicated in less specific systems, this could have severe implications for crop productivity.”[2]

images

Source: Public Domain

The World Bank’s report states the world is already 0.8 degrees warmer, and that is just a global average. Each country, each region is warming up differently. For example, not only is California suffering from a four year long drought and rationing of water, but its major almond crop also relies heavily on bee pollination. It¬†lost $445 million from 2005 to 2010 due to a loss of bees as a result of¬†Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). As you know, my bee friends, it’s not just almonds; honey bees directly or indirectly pollinate more than $15 billion worth of fruits, nuts and vegetables in the US alone. [3]

Ascosphaera_apis_(Maasen_ex_Claussen)_L.S._Olive_&_Spiltoir_1324048

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ List_of_diseases_of_the_honey_bee

So few feral (wild) bees now exist that farmers “rent” hives from huge commercial outfits that drive¬†the bees on big trucks from crop to crop. For a few weeks in February or March,¬†1.6 million hives [4] – or 33 billion bees [11] – from all over converge on California‚Äôs Central Valley to pollinate these almond trees.

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Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Colony_collapse_disorder#/media/ File:Bee_migration_9045.JPG

This is disruptive for bees. Their normal local variety of nectar is replaced with a monocrop. They are carried long distances away from home. Last month, a semi-truck tipped over and spilled 13.7 million bees all over the highway in Washington state. Not only were the hives destroyed or damaged from the accident, but the bees were further subjected by a layer of foam the firefighters sprayed to “kill the insects for safety”. The damaged hives and dead bees were loaded into a dump truck for removal.¬†[5] In addition, trans-location of bees also increases risk of spreading diseases to other areas and has also been implicated in the spreading of the colony collapse disorder in domesticated hives, as well as in local wild bee populations. [9]

Evolution Mismatches

There are more than 20,000 species of bees and each type evolved to feed on local indigenous plants. We humans have domesticated bees now to perform pollination specifically to feed our ever growing population with fruits, vegetables and nuts. Since the 1930s in the UK alone, 97% of the prime wildflower grasslands that are prime pollinator habitats have been reduced.[6]  Bees who need to forage for food for most the year now find endless fields of monocultures with flowers that only bloom for a few weeks, while weeds which could sustain the bees are killed by herbicides.

Other species, besides bees, are being impacted by Climate Change. Trees, plants, birds, fish, and insects are showing synchronous mismatches due to increased temperatures and changing environments, such as:

  • Oak trees and winter moths, who’s caterpillars feed Great Tit birds.
  • Sea birds such as Puffins and the fish they eat, herrings.
  • Guillemots and Sand eels.
  • Red Admiral butterflies and Stinging Nettle.
  • Ophyrys sphegodes, a type of Orchid, and the solitary miner bee (Andrena nigroaenea). [6]

Bees need honey

According to Wayne Esaias from NASA, who is also a backyard beekeeper¬†[7], there is a reason why bees make honey. It’s not so that humans have sweet things to eat. The bees eat lots of honey so they can tense their muscles and generate heat to keep the queen and her egg larvae at 93 degrees F (about 34 C). This is essential for bee hive reproduction. If the temperature is too high or too low, the larvae will not develop into adult bees in the three weeks it takes them to mature. They will die. If bees are not able to store enough honey over the winter, they will not have the high energy food they need to eat to generate the heat to incubate the eggs, and will not have enough honey to feed the larvae when they hatch. No flowers means no honey for the bees [7]. No honey means no young bees.

Parasites

Increasing temperatures caused by Climate Change also affect the spread of bee viruses. This is the leading theory on Colony Collapse Disorder. Insects that normally would be killed by cold temperatures instead thrive due to the warmer climate. We see this in the widespread effect the Pine Beetles have had with the deforestation of Pine Trees. And we are seeing this now with Bees.

Two types of mites: Verroa Destructor and Nosea Apis/Ceranae thrive in warmer climates, and are thought to cause bee colony collapses. This is supported by a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B [3].

It all seems very discouraging. But many, many industries, organizations and people are working hard at finding some answers.

Industrial Solutions

These are some of the solutions that industry or research have come up with to help solve the loss of bees:

1. Freeze honeycombs.

According to the University of East Anglia, freezing honeycombs can kill off the mite Nosema ceranae. The study doesn’t say what effect this would have on the bees. I’m assuming the bees would freeze too. ūüė¶

2. Create mechanical bees.

Harvard University’s solution is to create “drone” bees;¬†mechanical robot bees that will pollinate the flowers by programming certain colors of flowers into their chips. [12] ¬†This doesn’t seem to help with “real” bee problems though.

3. Create transgenic bees.

Monsanto wants to insert a specific gene using an RNAi (RNA interference) strand directly into the bees genome. [4] The RNAi technology is called¬†Remebee (TM) and although it does no harm to the bee larvae, when consumed by a Varroa mite it sets off a self-destruct DNA trigger. The RNAi technology only works when it is aligned to match the targeted RNA, and since scientists have sequenced the genomes of the honey bee and Varroa mite they have identified exactly where they can apply genetic interference to kill the latter without impacting the former.” [10]. Theoretically, this RNAi strand will become systemic in the bee, and when the mite bites the bee, the RNAi will be sucked up along with the bee’s blood and kill the mite. According to Monsanto’s study, “there is no residual RNAi in bees or honey” (although I’m not sure I entirely believe this). ūüė¶

4. Let nature decide

Some proponents think that evolution will take care of the problem. They assert that bees are naturally adapting creatures, and will eventually develop resistance to withstand adversities such as 1) temperature increases, 2) parasites and viruses, 3) loss of habitat, 4) loss of vital food (over-consumption by humans of honey, bee pollen, and bee wax), and 5) pesticide toxicity.

I’m not so sure any of these solutions will solve the problem for the bees themselves. It may only solve the problem of loss of crops for humans.

It sounds like an insurmountable problem left to big industry. I’m sometimes completely overwhelmed thinking about the effects of global warming. But there are many little things we can all do individually to help.

So… What can all of us little, individual ‘backyard gardeners’ do?

A. We can make a more hospitable place for bees to thrive:

1. Let lawns grow and flower.

  • Plant bulbs like crocuses, bluebells, daffodils and snowdrops
  • Let natural clover flourish in patches
  • Plant low-growing thyme, it stays green all year and has beautiful tiny purple flowers
  • Replace some grass with wildflowers such as:¬†Field Scabious,¬†Teasel,¬†Meadow Cranesbill,¬†Cowslip,¬†Selfheal,¬†Greater & Lesser Knapweed,¬†Red Campion,¬†Betony,¬†Meadow Buttercup,¬†Ox Eye Daisy,¬†Musk Mallow
  • Check out:¬†http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/lawns.html for more suggestions.

2. Plant pollinator-friendly trees

  • Early blooming varieties such as: blueberries, cotoneaster, crabapple, and cranberry, willow and heather are all good for bees

3. Leave piles of logs to create nesting sites

  • these are excellent places for wild bees to nest

4. Eliminate the use of ALL pesticides

5. Eliminate the use of ALL herbicides (unless they are certified as bee-friendly)

B. We can help to reduce the effect of increased temperature due to Climate Change:

6. Reduce carbon emissions (drive less, walk more).

7. Get more informed on what Climate Change is, and how it will affect our Earth and the millions of species that co-habit here with us. Find out what your government is doing. Find out what your local businesses are doing to reduce their carbon footprints. Ask questions.

8. Ask your city mayor how and where you could plant ‘wild’ garden places in little used parks and/or in unused land owned by the City. Every tree planted will not only help the bees but help reduce greenhouse gasses and climate change.

  • “Every wildflower kept alive will help the honey bees survive.” (me)

9. Check out The World Bank’s course “Turn Down the Heat” on Coursera (I highly recommend all courses on Coursera)¬†or check out the information available at¬†http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/climatechange/publication/turn-down-the-heat

10. Learn of other detrimental effects of changing climates and indigenous and alien adaptations in this study [9].

Most importantly – Tell your friends. Tell your family. Especially, tell your Bee Friends.¬†Let’s all try to: Turn Down the Heat, and “Bee The Movement” to change! … and, as always…

Bee Nice to Bees ūüėÄ

References:

[1] https://www.ec.gc.ca/adsc-cmda/default.asp?lang=En&n=77842065-1

[2] https://www.uea.ac.uk/about/media-room/press-release-archive/-/asset_publisher/a2jEGMiFHPhv/content/climate-change-causes-bees-to-fall-out-of-sync-with-flowering-plants

[3] http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/10688/20141126/climate-
change-threatens-bees-even-more-evidence.htm

[4] http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/05/building-bees/mann-text

[5] http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/honeybees-scattered-across-u-s-highway-after-truck-tips-1.3038165

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/06/climate-change-is-disrupting-flower-pollination-research-shows

[7] http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Bees/bees3.php

[8] https://news.vice.com/article/heres-what-climate-change-could-do-to-
honey-bees

[9] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-185X.2010.00125.x/full

[10] http://www.21stcentech.com/agriculture-update-beeologics-save-honey-bees-colony-collapse-disorder/

[11] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/migratory-beekeeping-mind-boggling-math/

[12] http://robobees.seas.harvard.edu/

The Garden Ape-iary

Hello Bee Friends,

It’s the May Long Weekend, Victoria Day, in Canada this coming weekend, and everyone is getting their camping gear ready, or flocking to garden stores. It’s the weekend every Canadian gardener waits for all year!!

In honour of that, here’s a cute video for you. This is what I feel like every time I go outside ūüėÄ

The Garden Ape – from Marc and Emma “Make your garden a wonderfully wild place to be, and maybe the garden ape will come for a visit!”

and maybe the Bees too!! ¬†…. Have a great weekend, and …

Bee Nice to Bees! ūüėÄ

The Undiscovered Virtue

This week my double-flowering plum has just blossomed to a spectacular show of pink. ¬†The daffodils also just opened to a gorgeous yellow. ¬†The May trees are just sprouting tiny leaves, and crab apple trees are on the verge of exploding with blossoms. There are two Robins hopping around my yard, eating old wrinkled sweet Mountain Ash berries and pecking for an occasional bug still hiding under last year’s dry autumn leaves.

I’ve been watching this one huge bee all week floating around my yard. There isn’t much yet blooming for it to gather nectar or pollen. Yet, despite the show of pretty pinks and bright yellows in my yard, Big Bee prefers the tiny purple flowers growing haphazardly among the old leaves from last year.

Here is Big Bee. Look at its beautiful colours!

Big Bee foraging for food

Big Bee foraging for food

 

I find it very amusing that Big Bee prefers the flowers of this plant.

My ‘Plant Guy’ friend who experiments with many different plants gave me these tiny green plants one year as a ground cover after I told him that I couldn’t get anything to grow. He said ‘be careful, it will take over your yard’ expecting me to hesitate at the warning, but I gratefully took it since – at the time – I had nicknamed my yard ‘the incredible shrinking garden’.

It did proliferate, and grew everywhere. It was the first plant to bloom in the Spring, so I let it go .. and grow… wherever it took root.

‘Plant Guy’ didn’t remember what it was called when he gave it to me so for all this time I never knew either. But I was curious. Why did Big Bee prefer it over other bigger showier flowers?

Guess what? It’s a weed.

This yummy bee food, my bee friends, is called ‘Creeping Charlie’ or ‘Ground Ivy’ (Glechoma hederacea).¬†¬†It may also be called ‘Gill-over-the-Ground’ and many other names as this article ¬†by TheKitchn¬†explains.

Big Bee loves Ground Ivy / Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)

Not only is this good food for bees because it’s wild, and uncultivated, and grows naturally without any help from fertilizers (or pesticides!), but it also has been used by humans as food – in teas, soups, salads, and beer. It apparently has a minty smell. I’m going to check….. wait …

… I wouldn’t really call it minty. It does have a nice hint of lemon. Hmm… I think I’m going to have some tea. ūüėÄ

Your task this week, my bee friends, is to try to find some pretty “weeds” that are already growing in your garden. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson says: a weed is¬†“A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”

Have fun in your Garden this week!!

and…as always… Bee Nice to Bees! ūüėÄ

 

 

You Should BEE Dancing, Yeah!

Hello Bee Friends,

Did you ever wonder how bees tell other bees where flowers are? I bet you know that they fly back to their hives and tell the other bees, and you are absolutely right. But how do they communicate this?

Bees dance!! ¬†And they don’t just dance willy-nilly, they dance like a Wu Li Master by incorporating UV light from the sun, gravity, vector calculus (!!) and the sun’s movement in the sky. Pretty wild?

Check this out: ūüôā

Okay, if you want something more scientific, here is an excellent video from Georgia Tech College of Computing called: The Waggle Dance of the Honeybee:

Next time your teenage humans roll their eyes at geography or physics, and whine about why they need to learn it – you can calmly point out that Bees are smart enough to know about these topics ūüėÄ

Your task this week: Pretend you are a bee, pick an object and then tell someone else through ‘bee dance’ where the object is.

and…as always… Bee nice to Bees! ūüėÄ

Neonicotinoids and Other Hard to Pronounce BUZZ Words

Hello Bee Friends,

Yesterday when I was cleaning up the leaves from a small section of my yard (yes, I wasn’t following my own rules for waiting a few more weeks!) I noticed a leaf that seemed like it was moving.¬†When the sun came out from behind a cloud it opened up to this:

Angelwing Butterfly looks so beautiful with wings open

Angelwing Butterfly looks like a leaf with its wings closed

On to less beautiful, but more important things…

So much has been in the news about neonicotinoids, it’s hard to keep up, but … what are they really? And how do I know if I’m contributing to the problem or helping the bees?

What are Neonicotinoids?

Neonicotinoids are agricultural pesticides that are sprayed on fields to rid harmful insects that destroy food crops. ¬†They are also sprayed on seeds. These products are water-based and are absorbed into the system of the plant including the leaves, stems, flowers, nectar and pollen. They act on insects which eat or suck the juices of the plant by affecting the insect’s central nervous system. Neonicotinoids are related to nicotine. After ingesting any part of the plant,¬†Neonicotinoids slowly kill the insect over hours or days. These chemicals were thought to be safer than previous pesticides, but increasingly, studies are showing that even low doses can be detrimental to bee’s foraging behaviors. Some studies like this one have shown that within 20 minutes of exposure, a bee will ‘forget’ where the flowers are, and other bees will have trouble ‘learning’ from other bees where to find the food.

Why are they so horrible?

A few weeks ago, I asked you what plants you were planning to buy to help the bees. Many plants tested at garden shops including Rona, Home Depot, Lowes, and Canadian Tire have been tested and found to contain traces of neonicotinoids in the flowers and pollen of plants. The Council of Canadians reported here and quoted below:

“…when researchers purchased 71 bee-friendly plants (including daisies, lavender, marigolds, asters and primrose) at 18 big box outlets across the United States and Canada, ¬†‚Äúmore than half of the plants, the researchers measured neonicotinoid residues in the flowers at levels between 2 and 748 parts per billion. A dose of 192 parts per billion is enough to kill a honeybee, she says, and dozens of studies have found impairments in bee navigation, memory and foraging ability at between 4 and 30 parts per billion.

“In Canada, the CBC reported that a study found neonics in the flowers and pollen of plants tested from Rona, Canadian Tire and Home Depot in garden centres in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.”

Home Depot ¬†in both US and Canada requires its suppliers (in Canada as of Dec 2014) to label plants exposed to neonicotinoids. Lowes will phase out these by “the spring of 2019”.

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Bee on Marigold – last year’s photo. I never checked with the Garden Shop if it contained any neonicotinoids. I will this year though.

How to help the Bees (and other beneficial insects like butterflies):

Many garden products may have neonicotinoids in them, and it’s often hard to know. ¬†Here is a list of products that contain neonics, and here is another list.

Some of the key ingredients to look for on labels of garden products – and avoid – are these:

  • Imidacloprid,¬†
  • Clothianidin,¬†
  • Acetamiprid,¬†
  • Thiacloprid,¬†
  • Thiamethoxam

But this doesn’t help when seeds or young nursery plants are exposed to these chemicals. ¬†Home Depot should now have these plants labelled, but not all garden shops have implemented this important change. If you have time, this an informative¬†article that explains what effect these chemicals have on bees and other wildlife.

So, my lovely Bee Friends, this week you can do this to help the bees:

When you buy your spring plants this year, check if there is a label on the plant. If there isn’t,¬†ask the garden shop what they are doing to help the bees by keeping the plants neonicotinoid free.

Bee nice to Bees!! ūüėÄ

Exciting Bee News!

Hello Bee Friends,

I’m very excited today! I think I saw a BEE flying around my crab apple tree. ¬†Well… it could have been a wasp, or … maybe a fly, I couldn’t really see what it was … BUT it was a flying creature!! ūüôā ¬†Spring still seems like a tease because there are no flowers yet, but so far this week I’ve seen one other creature – a tiny Jumping Spider.

The other really super exciting news lately is that Portland, Oregon has banned the use of neonicotinoids!

According to many news sources Рthis quote below from (which you can read in full here from Reuters):

“Despite protests from farmers who argued the insecticide was crucial for crop production, the Portland City Commission voted unanimously to immediately suspend use of products that contain neonicotinoids.”

Unanimous!! ¬†That’s so good to hear. ¬†Yay for the Bees!!! ūüėÄ

Bee on Marigold – photo taken last year in the summer.

There are now eight cities in United States that ban these insecticides.

  1. Eugene, Oregon
  2. Spokane, Washington
  3. Seattle, Washington
  4. Shorewood, Minnesota
  5. Skagway, Alaska

Does anyone know the other three?

There is one municipality that bans them in Canada, so far:

  1. Prince Edward county, Ontario

Hamilton, Ontario is thinking about it. Is your city working on banning these insecticides?

Neonicotinoids disrupt the central nervous system of bees (and potentially many other organisms including birds, bats, dogs and humans) and in bees have caused toxicity including tremors, disruption in hive activity, contaminated pollen in hives, susceptibility to viruses, and death.

Your task this week: Find out what your own city is doing to ban neonicotinoids.

and… Bee Nice to Bees! ūüėÄ