We Need All the Bees We Can Get

| November 22, 2014 | 6 Replies

“We need all the bees we can get,” a commercial beekeeper told me at the California State Beekeepers Association annual convention this week in Valencia, California. I had been invited by CSBA Ladies Auxiliary president Melinda Nelson, a beekeeper I’d met when I spoke at the Orange County Organic Gardening Club in May, to be the guest speaker at the auxiliary luncheon. My charge was to inspire attendees on organic food gardening, which goes hand-in-hand with beekeeping. Since I arrived the night before, I had a chance to learn a lot more about bees.

We need all the bees we can get - CSBA poster

CSBA 2014 Convention Poster

The convention welcomes commercial beekeepers with thousands of hives, to the hobbyist beekeeper with only a handful. I asked a beekeeper in passing if the hobbyist beekeepers were treated equally, and that’s when he said, “Yes, we need all the bees we can get.” I heard that more than once! Bees are imperiled and though beekeepers are a very friendly bunch, there was an air of concern about what the future holds, for the almond and fruit growers who depend upon bees, to the beekeepers and their ladies.

We need all the bees we can get - borage & bee

Worker bee flying to Borage bloom

Did you know that worker bees, which forage for pollen and nectar as well as take care of the queen, are all female? I learned that last year at the bee exhibit at the L.A. County Fair, where I filmed an episode of “Late Bloomer.” The two beekeepers I filmed at the fair were at the convention, and the luncheon!

Doing It on the Fly

I didn’t know anything about the queen bee and her mating habits. They “do it” on the fly. Queen bees leave the hive to mate with 10-15 drones (male honeybees, whose only purpose is to mate with a queen) and they mate on the fly, mid-air. After consummation, the drone falls to the ground and dies. Having left his sexual organ and part of his abdomen in the queen, the worker bees can tell she has mated when she returns to the hive. From then on, she will lay thousands of eggs. And how they turn the nectar into honey is remarkable!

From neonicotinoid systemic insecticides, to fungicides to mites, there is an assault on honeybees from all fronts, and it remains to be seen whether industrial agriculture can reduce the toxicity dosed on plants sufficiently in time for bees to recover populations. In the meantime, we need all the bees we can get. So gardeners, plant bee-loving plants in your gardens.

We need all the bees we can get - bee on sunflower

Bee with hind legs packed with pollen foraging on Giant Russian sunflower

In the Late Bloomer garden, sunflowers, borage, milkweed (which I grow for Monarch butterflies), and wild arugula, broccoli and cabbage gone to flower attract the most interest from pollen-gathering honeybees. Since I have been gardening, with bees flying all around me, I haven’t been stung. One beekeeper said they are not aggressive when they are foraging.

We need all the bees we can get - bee on milkweed

Bee foraging on Asclepias fasicularis, California native milkweed

I’ve never been afraid. I’ve always felt like they are doing their job and I’m doing my job, and I feel like they sense that I am providing flowers for them. Even shooting close-up photos, when I am three inches away, they go about their near frantic quest to load up on nectar and pollen. I was focusing on this rare pink bloom, on an otherwise blue-bloomed borage plant, and a bee came up to forage with me holding it.

We need all the bees we can get - bee on pink borage bloom

Bee foraging on pink borage bloom that I was holding

The Hyatt Regency Valencia provided an elegant and delicious luncheon and Sandy, Ila and Amanda worked tirelessly to make sure everything was perfect.

We need all the bees we can get - luncheon

Sandy and two attendees before the luncheon, Kaye projected on the screen

That didn’t stop me from rolling out a cart of seed starting mix and everyone getting their hands dirty planting seeds in the newspaper seed pots we’d just made. I’d brought some borage in a vase in case the luncheon was held outside.

We need all the bees we can get - Ila, Sandy, Kaye & Amanda

Ila, Sandy, Kaye & new president Amanda after the luncheon

I wanted to see if bees would show up for the borage, but the weather was chilly and the luncheon was moved inside, which was great because I got to show a few “Late Bloomer” episodes including Arts & Ag Part 1, with Betty the 85 year-old beekeeper. They really enjoyed that one! (Click photo to watch.)

We need all the bees we can get - Betty the beekeeper

Encouraged by her daughters, Betty started beekeeping at 82

Becoming a late bloomer urban food gardener in 2012 has opened up a whole world to me I never would have imagined. I have gone from zero to 60 in my knowledge, in fact, it’s been the greatest education of my life, and I hope I can continue to share my passion and enthusiasm with more people like the California State Beekeepers. Christine said she wished I was her neighbor!

We need all the bees we can get - Christine, Sandy & Kaye

Christine, Sandy & Kaye

Are you planting bee-loving plants in your garden? What flowers do bees especially love? Please inform yourself about the plight of the honeybee and ask before you buy nursery plants if they’ve been treated with neonicotinoids. Thanks for reading! – Kaye

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Bees, Community, Late Bloomer News

Comments (6)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Sandy says:

    Kaye, this is a fantastic summary of your brief time with us at the convention! It also teaches your readers a little bit about the problems facing bees and beekeepers, and suggests simple and effective ways in which they can help. The information about how foraging bees are so gentle and focused is right on! That’s when I get my closest pics, too. Also enjoyed reading about the mating ritual, which I have actually gotten to witness first hand with one of my new queens!! Fascinating!!

    We absolutely loved meeting you and having you share with us at our luncheon – – it was definitely one of the highlights of the convention for me! Many ladies were commenting on how ‘real and down-to-earth’ (no pun intended, really!) you were. Everyone appreciated seeing you ‘in action’ as we enjoyed watching some episodes of Late Bloomer. We could all relate to you with your kindness and love of nature, with your sense of humor and honesty, and for your concern about how we can all do simple things to help make this world a better place for all. We really need to stay in touch with that sense of wonder that helps us stay sensitive, watchful, and constantly amazed!

    One of the best parts is that I feel like I’ve made a wonderful new friend!! It was a pleasure working with you, Kaye, and I’m sure our paths will cross again. Thank you so very much!

    • You are so very welcome, Sandy! I am humbled by your beautiful words. My goal is to inspire, to whomever will listen, but the Ladies Auxiliary of the State Beekeepers Association is like preaching to the choir. You already know bees are our canary in the coal mine, and we better listen. If only one person from the luncheon starts an organic food garden, it will make a ripple of positive effect. Thanks for having me! – Kaye

  2. Ila says:

    I was very pleasantly surprised with your presentation. I knew it was to be about gardening, but not sure what your focus would be. You made me want to head home and plant some things. The organized teacher in me will make a map of this garden…which will be a redo of the garden we presently have. Thanks for your insights and information!
    Following the luncheon a bunch of ladies commented on how helpful your presentation was! Thank you for coming and presenting to the Ladies’ Auxiliary!

  3. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Hi Kaye, It’s been a long time, but why am I not surprised about what you’re up to these days? ; )
    Good for you for getting the word out about Neonictinoid Insecticides and their effect on ALL pollinators. Particularly the fact that they’re being employed by Nurseries and Plant Suppliers, NOT just farmers. Everyone needs to be vigilant and voice their discomfort about the use of these Systemic (means they grow INSIDE all parts of the plant) Neuro-Toxins and start to ask questions of the producers and those who feel the need to use them. NeoNics are accumulative and do not stop at the species to which they are originally applied; but migrate into the ground, water and other plants they come into contact with. They are supposedly biodegradable when exposed to sunlight, but were tested in climates that experience little to no winter weather conditions… And there is no chance of degradation in the darkness of a bee hive.
    Isn’t it a good thing that honey bees are a managed species and their numbers are so closely monitored, otherwise who would have raised the alarm about what’s been going on over the last few years?
    The Government of Ontario has finally started meeting with the OBA (Ontario Beekeeper’s Association) this year and there seems to be some positive motion on this massive threat to insect life. I only hope that enough will be accomplished before the damage is irreversible. The Annual Point Pelee Monarch Butterfly Count was cancelled due to lack of insects in the fall of 2013, and I saw only 5 Monarchs this summer. To make matters worse, they arrived later than normal, due to the excessively long winter and cold spring…
    For more on this story, I’ve included a CBC News link below.
    Keep up the great work! Take care, Deb

Leave a Reply