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Archive for April, 2008

Foraging sources for honeybees #2

Posted by blueberrytalk on April 23, 2008

We are moving to the end of the foraging season to feature the main plant source for honeybees and bumblebees. Anise hyssop (licorice mint) is a plant that we feel can do the job to satisfy the bees over a long period of time from late July right through the fall.

  Anise Hyssop is useful both in flower and herb gardens. Its aromatic properties were known to the North American Indians, who used the leaves as a cough medicine. It has also been a popular bee plant, yielding a fine, mildly anise-tasting honey. [It is] easily grown and make dense, leafy borders and hedges. The flower spikes can be cut for summer bouquets and dried for winter arrangements. The fresh green leaves are decorative in salads and floating on drinks and summery bowls. I start [hyssop] in the greenhouse in the beginning of May and plant them out a month later. Flowering starts even in unfavorable summers in late July and continues until late autumn. The plants self-seed in the garden and usually overwinter well.  Source:

        click on image to enlarge

 Last year’s anise hyssop shows up in the spring well before the last frost. Seeds scaterred from last year have germinated and are starting to grow around the parent plant (first picture). It’s easy to collect seed and start new plants indoors (second picture). Both of these methods allow for very quick expansion of your anise hyssop patch.


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Posted by blueberrytalk on April 17, 2008

It takes some searching to find Mason bees at work. Honey bees are more numerous and larger so they are easy to see. But you don’t have to look for the Queen bumblebee. She finds you. And then she circles around you with a loud buzzing sound.

There will be no more Mason bees than the number at the beginning of the season. Any increase will show up next year. The honeybee colony can be expected to grow as pollination proceeds so the last berry blossoms will have higher bee intensity. The queen bumblebees that are around when the first blueberry blossums open will soon disappear. In their place will be many more worker bumblebees. These workers are partialy developed females that help the colony develop by supplying food for the larvae. The queen remains in the nest laying eggs and keeping them warm. The workers are smaller than the queen and go about their work without bothering to “buzz” humans. The number of workers approaching the end of the blueberry harvest can be quite amazing. In the field their numbers can rival the number of honeybees. On top of that, bumblebees are the number one pollinator with their ability to deposit many more grains of pollen.

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Foraging sources for honeybees

Posted by blueberrytalk on April 7, 2008

This is a chronological list of the food sources for honeybees. Some occur naturally in the area and some have been added to supplement the bee’s diet. Hazelnut catkins appear in February and sometimes extend into March. Given the combination of a warm day for the bees to fly and ripe pollen on the catkins and the bees can make use of this source. Because of the time of year it is hit and miss but this was a good year for the bees to be all over the hazelnut. It is an abundant source but not of the best quality. Pussy willows can be variable depending on the bush. Some put out their pollen early and some can be up to a month later! We are fortunate to have early and late willows here. Early rhododendrons are favored by the bees but one night of frost can kill the blooms.

Left-Hazelnut catkins  Right-Pussywillow  Below-Rosamundi rhodo



April 11,08. The bees are bringing in lots of pollen. There is a sugar syrup pail in each hive. This stimulus should lead to lots of egg laying in anticipation of the main blueberry pollination which is 3-4 weeks away.

   click on image to enlarge

 As the picture indicates, there is abundant pollen at this time. It’s hard to see the catkins at the top of the birches but the weather channel reports that the pollen count for birch is high so birch is suspect. The bees are all over the Skimmia at the nursery next door and some Dandelion pollen is coming in.

Blueberry growers are always warned that dandelions are competitors for blueberries because bees prefer dandelion. I have found that dandelions peak before and after the main blueberry bloom and then there is another beneficial peak in the fall.

April 16, 2008. Several plum trees are in full bloom and the broad leaf maples have just blossomed so there is lots to keep the bees going until the blueberries are ready. A few early June blueberries have blossoms.

 Foraging sources for honeybee will be continued in a new post.

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Taking care of the bees

Posted by blueberrytalk on April 5, 2008

Pollinating blueberries is the task in mind. But the bees need nectar and pollen when the blueberries aren’t in bloom. The Mason bee ends it’s life cycle in late spring at about the same time as the blueberries have finished their bloom. By that time there is lots of other food sources. When the Mason bee emerges in late March or early April there needs to be something to keep them going till the blueberry blossoms are open.

Here on the farm we are relying on plum trees and rhododendrons to keep the Mason bees going until the blueberries are ready. The opening of the first buds coincides with the emergance of the first Mason bees. Of course the Mason bees can be delayed by keeping them in a cooler location.

        Cherry Plum                             

             Cherry Plum                                       PJM Rhododendron

Plums and rhododendrons will keep the Mason bees going until the target pollination of Bluecrop blueberry is ready. Meanwhile, an early blueberry, June, is “in the pink” but the blossoms are a couple of weeks away.

               June blueberry

                  June blueberry

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Bees that rob flowers

Posted by blueberrytalk on April 4, 2008

When bees cannot reach to the base of a flower to collect nectar with their tongue they will cut through at the base of the flower to “rob” nectar. A bee doing this is not pollinating the flower. Here is a picture of a bumblebee taking nectar from the base of a long tubular flower.  Source:


For a blueberry grower the hardest variety to pollinate is Bluecrop. Bluecrop is not a natural preference for bees and so it takes more hives per acre to achieve the same pollination as other varieties. Also, Bluecrop has a long tubular flower that tempts bees to chew through at the base and “rob” the nectar. Italian bees, popular with beekeepers, have a short tongue and are inclined to chew through at the flower base to reach the nectar. Carniolan bees have a longer tongue so they are not a problem. This is where Mason bees can be a help to get the pollination done.

carniolan-bee.jpg       italian-bee.jpg    

  Carniolan bee            Italian bee           pollinating

Mason bees emerge in the Spring several weeks before the Bluecrop are ready for pollination.  In fact, Mason bees pollinate Bluecrop close to the end of their life cycle. The next post will look at how the Mason bees are kept alive while waiting for the Bluecrop flowers to bloom.

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Mason bee nests

Posted by blueberrytalk on April 1, 2008

 March 31,2008.

Mason bees will be emerging from their cacoons soon. They have spent their time since last spring in a tiny compartment in this bamboo nest. The same mud wall that seperates the compartments forms the entrance to the nest. Looking at the colour of the entrance you can see why they are called “Mason” bees. (click on pictures to enlarge)


The set of bamboo nests above along with others is in a large container with a couple of holes drilled in it. When the bees see the light they escape through the hole but can’t find their way back to their old nest. A new clean nest has been prepared and is placed under the eaves of a building. They like this south facing site a lot. It is well protected from predators.


As you can see from this picture the Masson bee is like a little bristle brush. This makes for good pollination-better than a honey bee but not as good as a bumble bee.

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