Bee Garden Project: an experiment

Besides the "shade meadow" I seeded another meadow strip at Petersen Farm last fall that contained only native, drought-tolerant flowers and grasses.  All the flowers are known to be "bee-favorites" so I am hoping to get some serious bee forage established.

Unfortunately natives grow quite slowly and many can be difficult to establish from seed, even if properly cold stratified with a fall seeding. Watching these native species emerge has been many tiny, harrowing journeys, and most have not made it for whatever reason... I still hope to get a few plants to survive this year.

A few of the current survivors (as of yesterday):

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Wish us luck!

Bee Garden Project: shade meadow

One part of my bee garden project at Petersen Farm.

I seeded two flowering meadow 'strips' that can be replicated on awkward/unusable pieces of farmland. Below is one of the strips, seeded in November 2017 with a combination of cheap seed mixes from High Country Gardens (CO) and Pineview Horticultural (ID), both sold as "shade-tolerant" for this spot in between two greenhouses.

Every farm has a few shady spots that are unsuitable for crops. And a surprising number of flowers will grow and bloom in the shade.

The downside of these pre-fab mixes is that most species are non-native. However, they still provide food for bees, plus plenty of beauty and interest. A sampling of what has emerged so far:

Signs of Life

I have been busy with farm habitat projects this year. I hope to use this space for updates. I am excited to share what I'm learning and I sometimes need a break from all that learning as well.... Enjoy and feel free to comment!

The first flower that emerged this spring as a result of my "efforts": Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii).    

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Cactus pollen freaks

Many Diadasia bees are pollen specialists. Meaning, these species will only collect pollen from certain plants to feed their offspring. No one really knows why, although scientists love to speculate. Let's just enjoy these cactus pollen freaks getting completely covered...

What a beautiful patch this was!

Mason bee high rise

These tiny mason bees make nests inside wood cavities dug out by beetles. I stumbled upon this veritable high rise complex of tiny mason bees, nesting inside timber posts on an outdoor enclosure at Tracy Aviary.

These bees are solitary, so each female makes her own nest. The wood posts contain hundreds of these solitary bee nests. The bees are so small that the owls inside the enclosure as well as Aviary visitors are unaware that they exist! Not me though... ;)

Common sweat bees

 A follow-up to my previous post, on nests of the common sweat bee, Halictus.

Here are some pretty photos of common sweat bees foraging, on citrus flowers in Salt Lake City.

Common sweat bees are great bees to look for right now.. they are a little smaller and skinnier than a honeybee, with trim hair bands at the base of each abdominal section.

Thanks to Amy Sibul for the photos!

My backyard bees

Having "bees in your backyard" is how stewardship begins. To support bees, you may have plants bees visit, or your neighbors do. You may be lucky enough to have ground-nesting bees on your property.

This year I have ground-nesting bees in my own backyard for the first time! The common sweat bees, Halictus. They are easy to see - almost as big as a honey bee and they usually cluster their nests in the same area.

Sweat bees are some of the first bees to appear in spring - the first females emerge, mate, and excavate nests. These ground nests will soon become populated with small groups of related females, as newly hatched bees stick around. As a result of the generation overlap, these nests usually persist for much of the growing season.  What a treat to watch it unfold!

For ground-nesting bees, sunny, relatively bare, and relatively hard-packed soil is apparently preferred. This site has a rocky surface. Rocks are fine as long as the bees can access the soil. It is VERY hard to predict where bees will nest. They just show up.

The nests of solitary bees are quite "ephemeral," as they come and go quickly. The life span of an adult bee is only a few weeks, so when a solitary female bee excavates and provisions her nest alone, it is over when she dies. The nest is usually sealed or covered quickly when provisioning is done, or when the solitary females dies. Social and semi-social bees (like sweat bees), by contrast, have nests that last several months due to the generation overlap.

Flashes of blue

Blue mason bees (Osmia) are among the first bees of spring. Relatively large (honeybee-size), relatively slow, and BLUE METALLIC (most). Many look dark until they catch the light.

They are attracted to bee boxes with reeds, paper straws, or drilled holes for building their nests. The main purpose of a bee box is to see them in action (in my opinion). We're not really saving the bees with these things, but we sure can get to know them.

If you an amateur bee photographer, Osmia are simply "flashes of blue."

Last pic = Kathlyn Collins

A monitoring effort

Red Butte Garden has been kind enough to let me monitor mason bees (cavity-dwelling solitary bees) on their property for the last several years. I have seven monitoring locations in the Garden and Natural Area.

I use these wooden "houses" stuffed with Phragmites reeds to attract the bees. Bees in Utah apparently like the reed clusters haphazardly charred with a torch.... so I oblige.

Here are a few of the more photogenic placements. Just out last week.

This year reeds were harder to get due to the flooding. LOTS of water/precip this year!

Winter hibernation

All bees "hibernate" in the winter. Most bees hibernate as a larva or pupa, before they actually emerge as flying adult bees in the spring or summer.

Mason bees are solitary, and females will make their nests inside many different types of cavities, like those pictured below. The nest plugs (green, reddish, or leaf cutouts) were made by the female solitary bee to seal the nest. Inside, the bees sleep, and wait...

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Sunflower fields

Small version of an *actual* sunflower farm/field but the effect is the same.... happy happy sunshine and BEES galore!!!

This 'field' was in an unexpected place - just a large suburban commercial corner lot - a massive wildflower meadow spans both sides. Quite an impressive display.

Green sweat bee nest

Agapostemon (green sweat bees) nest in the ground. They live in small social groups. 

Ground nests often have several entrance holes; each must be guarded. This is a "job" for certain bees. Check out the two guard bees standing sentry. I consider myself very lucky they tolerated my presence here. Enjoy!

Aren't they beautiful?

This particular nest has two main entrances, pictured above. There is also a back door:

Thanks to the horticulture team at Red Butte Garden for this wonderful discovery!

 

A backyard for bees

Do you know a "BEE BACKYARD" when you see it?

If not, here's one.

Note all the bare patches of dirt: bee nesting habitat, of course.

And there are plenty of ground-nesting bees here.

They are my good friends at this point.... I come to this yard frequently to survey for bees.

(Last year I caught 34 species here!!)

Meadow habitat

I have a few things to say about meadows.

First, bees and meadows are inseparable.

LOTS of bee species evolved and proliferated in some kind of meadow habitat - grassland, prairie, savannah... all sunny places with flowers. = Good for bees. Besides the desert, wildflower meadows are the best places to see bees. Unfortunately there aren't many natural meadows to see. 

So... make one!?

If you want a low maintenance, ecologically beneficial landscape, meadows are for you. Creating a meadow is not for the faint of heart, though.  This low-maintenance landscape actually requires a boatload of work up front, to eradicate weeds and get the desirable species established. Years of work, in fact. But hey.

This only makes residential and "restored" meadows all the more exciting to see.

Red Butte Garden has undertaken a meadow restoration project along Red Butte Creek. Now on its seventh year:

Hundreds of volunteer hours have gone into this meadow's establishment. The meadow is now dominated by native grasses and wildflowers and provides habitat for wildlife, INCLUDING BEES!

Bee nests can now be seen within the meadow and in the dirt paths surrounding it: 

If you plant it THEY WILL COME.  You can count on it.

Utah Bee Guide

First accomplishment of the year - a local bee guide!

Developed with funds from Slow Food Utah!

This is 12-page pamphlet that fits in your pocket. It covers 15 types of bees most common in northern Utah backyards.

Bees take some time to figure out. May as well get started!

THIS GUIDE IS FREE.

I will be distributing the printed pamphlets where and when I can.

My first "stop" will at the Honeybee Festival hosted by Slow Food Utah, JUNE 4TH, at the Sorenson Utility Center, 1383 South 900 West.  

Stop by for a free local bee guide!!

 

 

Odd behavior

Carpenter bees being weird.

I had carpenter bees overwinter in in my garage. (Inside an empty bee condo - the same one carpenter bees seemed to use for squatting in (?) last June..) This is normal behavior because females for the next generation are laid late in the year and they have to overwinter as adults. Kind of like bears hibernating. Most bees "overwinter" as larvae/pupae and aren't actually aware of the process. 

This spring, when I brought their hiding place outside, I expected them to fly away. But they didn't... they stayed burrowed inside empty sticks, even after it turned warm. In a few weeks a male joined them - he hung around much longer than would be expected for a 'quick' visit.

The male is still there. And at least one female makes trips during the day - coming back and forth to the same stick, but without pollen..... I don't get it.

Carpenter bees (these are Xylocopa tabaniformis) drill fresh holes in wood for their nests. They aren't known to live in hollow sticks or cavities, but whatever.. bees have confused me before.

Males and females of X. tabaniformis look different. Females are 100% black, shiny metallic. The males, as pictured below, have blue/grey eyes and a furry thorax. They make great pets.

Cavity nesters

I'm just noticing... mason and leafcutter bee nests inside crevices all over my exterior brick wall.

The first nest plug pictured is the one that caught my eye... it must be from this year since it is so green.  

I noticed the rest after I started looking. 

These are definitely safe from the big bad wolf. Very secure!