A Bracket of Beehives

A few years back, I visited the Oregon State University (OSU) Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture which is a 6.5 acres space dedicated to research involving sustainable agricultural practices.  OSU is well-know for its horticultural programs.

On a partly cloudy, cool and breezy autumn day, I wandered the fields of experimental and heirloom vegetables, lined with perennial gardens abloom with pollinator plants.  During the walk, I happened upon a charming apiary hosting an array of beehives.  Tucked in a shady grove, the apiary was adjacent to a lab located in an older home renovated appropriately for the work of horticulturists and entomologists.  The delightful OSU apiary showcases different types of bee homes and augments research about and demonstrations of commercial and home horticulture.

At the time, I wasn’t yet a backyard Bee Mama, but was definitely interested and learning about the buzzy beauties.  I took photos of the apiary, dutifully downloading them to my computer upon my return to Texas, fully intending a post about the apiary.  I focused on writing about other gardening subjects near and dear to me, though I certainly recall the apiary adventure and planned a post about the apiary.  Recently, with year-end/beginning-of-year photo file tidying, I was reminded that the ‘OSU apiary’ folder was awaiting its turn for a blog post with a round of accompanying photos.

On that lovely afternoon in Corvallis I meandered along a mulched pathway and viewed a variety of beehives which sat, perky and productive, in service to honeybees buzzing in and out and all around,  going about their important business.

 

The classic Langstroth hive is a staple of any honeybee hive demonstration.  These two hives are each stacked with three brood boxes, or deeps.  This is where the queen hangs out, laying eggs and being taken care of by the worker bees and where the workers tend to the other tasks for hive integrity–making comb and honey and cleaning the hive.

At the bottom of these hives, the entire length of the box is open about a half-inch tall for the bees’ entrances and exits.  This is called the bottom board.

I typically reduce the bottom board opening to my hives so that my bees don’t have to defend a large area;  I leave about 2-3 inches for their comings and goings, but I think the standard practice is demonstrated above–leaving the entire width open.

 

I like this hive!  Just in case you’ve just landed from outer space and you have no idea what these stacked boxes are for, there’s a  bee door ‘knocker’ of sorts which may give you a clue!  I’ve often seen honeybee hives painted white, but I prefer boxes of natural wood, or boxes painted in brighter colors, as well as bee boxes with painted decorations or decals.

You’ll notice that each of these boxes differ slightly in height.  The taller box is the brood box which houses the queen, larvae, workers, and lots of honeycomb.  The shorter boxes are called supers and contain honeycomb (and worker bees of course!), but no larvae.  Once a hive is robust, a beekeeper may place a super at the top of the hive so that the honey is more easily extracted without damaging the queen and larvae. For those supers where the keeper only wants honey for extraction, the queen is prevented from crawling into the shorter boxes by a mesh called a queen excluder.  The mesh is too small for the big-thoraxed queen to squeeze through, but worker bees are svelte enough to easily manuever as they go about their daily routines.  In the white Langstroth above, the strip of unpainted wood between the top and second-to-top box is probably the queen excluder. In some hive management techniques, beekeepers will rotate boxes, placing a super at the bottom of the hive; you can see that demonstrated in the above photo.

This hive is a Kenyan top bar hive.  It has only one chamber and no frames. Bees build the honeycomb downward from bars, top bars, which hang horizontally across the width of the box.  The bees enter and exit through holes drilled in the box,

..like so.

 

With honeybee hive displays, it’s always fun to see the innards of a hive. This one demonstrates the workings of a top bar hive.

 

I liked this one!  It was a replica of an ancient Greek hive, discovered in an archeological dig.  This pot was thrown by a local Corvallis potter; she threw the pot, carving an opening at the bottom for the bees. I think this would make a very hot hive in the Texas summer, but perhaps Oregon is cool enough for a ceramic hive to function.

 

Have an old commercial plant pot sitting around and don’t know what to do with it?  As I recall, this makeshift hive was just such a pot.  The beekeeper drilled holes for the bees and placed cut wood atop the pot.

It’s a bit slap-dash for my taste, but there were bees living in it, so I guess it works just fine for a hive.

The apiary wasn’t just about honeybee hives, but also hosted examples of native bee/insect hotels.

Bee Daddy constructed our honeybee hives first, but we’ve since added Bee Daddy built bee/insect hotels for our native bees, which you can read about here.  If you want bees, but don’t have the time or interest in honeybee hives, check out the many designs for native insect hotels on the internet.  They’re easy to make, and it’s fascinating to observe and learn about native bees.  Native bees are even more threatened–and arguably more important for our ecosystems–than honeybees.  Leaving bare ground somewhere on your property, placing bee/insect hotels and cut limbs in the garden, refraining from pesticide use, and planting native and pollinating plants will help both the wild/native bees and the honeybees.

For an informative story about native/wild bees and their importance, check out this story from National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Saturday: Honeybees Help Farmers, But They Don’t Help The Environment

I’ve been to Corvallis several times since the apiary visit, including for the complete solar eclipse in August 2016.  Unfortunately, I haven’t returned to the OSU apiary, but I imagine that it’s still there, housing happy honey and native bees, and serving as a fun and interesting educational exhibition for people.

Blue Bees!

Last year at about this time, I noticed some stunning metallic blue bees buzzing around my newly installed native bee houses. They worked quickly to fill some of the holes and bamboo pieces in the homes, then they disappeared from my sight and garden.  Many different native bee species–big, small, shiny, fuzzy–followed those early blue gals during the growing season.  But that startling blue pollinator was a nice introduction to a long period of native bee activity.

These early spring blue beauties are Blue Orchard Mason beesOsmia lignaria and they’re making their appearance again.

RICOH IMAGING

RICOH IMAGING

Earlier this week,  I spotted one working at a small cluster of a salmon colored Autumn sage, Salvia greggii and thought that perhaps I should  pay closer attention to what’s going on with the native bee houses as spring is in its infancy.  Sure enough, some of the mud nests have been breached and there they are: blue bee adults emerged, mating, (I assume. I don’t watch.) and are in the process of busily preparing for the next generation of Blue Orchard bees.

RICOH IMAGING

 

You can clearly see holes that have been opened in the packed mud and that’s where the adults emerged from.

RICOH IMAGING

Interestingly, according the the information from the US Department of Agriculture that I linked to above, the eggs or “brood cells” that are laid first are female and placed at the back of the nesting hole and the last eggs laid at the front of each hole, are male.  The female bee packs the hole with pollen and mud for security, tucking in the brood safely for the year.  In case of predation, the male brood are the first in line to get eaten, thus assuring more protection for the females.  Poor guys, but the females are more important in survival of the species.

I observed two adults flying around the bee house, entering various holes and most likely laying eggs There are more than two holes opened in the packed mud nests, indicating that more than just these two adults have emerged.

RICOH IMAGING

Blue Orchard bees have a short life, but are vital for pollinating the early spring blooms, including those of fruit trees.

Not only did the Blue Orchard bees find a nice nursery and baby-bee day care in the bee houses, but other bee species laid eggs in neighboring holes last year.  Those will emerge in their due time–whenever that is.

I know that a different species of carpenter bee, a Horsefly-like Carpenter beeXylocopa tabaniformis. drilled and packed nests in a few spots of the mortar between limestone rock of my home to protect their progeny.   It looks like an adult has emerged,

RICOH IMAGING

…though I haven’t seen one yet.   I look forward to watching these charming, blue-eyed carpenter bees sporting their cool racing stripes as they zing from flower to flower.  This species is active for most of the year.imgp6840-new

Isn’t she a cutey?

The Good Pollinators: Wildlife Wednesday, December 2016

I suppose there aren’t many bad pollinators, but I’ve certainly relished the good work of pollinators in my garden this autumn and, in fact, for the whole of this past growing season.  Today is the first Wednesday of the month and time to appreciate those who require and benefit from our efforts as gardeners.

Gardeners garden.  It’s what we do.  Neophyte gardeners are first attracted to the multitudes of choices with blooms-n-foliage, as well as the endless arrangements therein as we delve into the joys of augmenting personal outdoor space.  But sooner or later, we notice those who “visit” our gardens:  pollinators, birds, mammals, reptiles. With greater observation and understanding, the notion of garden beauty morphs into more than an emphasis on the human-focused composition of plants to a recognition of the purpose of those plants, as well as the gardener’s role in promoting a healthy, diverse environment. For many gardeners, the drive to attract wildlife to our particular slice of the Earth spurs deeper learning about plants and the processes of wildlife gardening.

When I was traveling in October, a neighbor sent me a Facebook message with a photo attached, wondering what “this” butterfly was.  I didn’t have time during my travels to research, but did take a look at on-line butterfly sources once I returned home.   In my own garden, I observed this Tailed OrangePyrisitia proterpia, working blooms one afternoon.

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I sent my Tailed Orange link to the neighbor and she delightedly affirmed that “my” Tailed Orange was “her” butterfly, too.  Score!  While probably not the same individual butterfly, clearly this was a species hanging around the neighborhood.

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Tailed Orange butterflies are fast flyers, the adults nectaring on many flowers as they move rapidly from one to another. Tailed Orange butterflies prefer plants in the pea (Fabaceae) family as their hosts.

Another cheery autumn yellow butterfly common in Texas  most years is the Cloudless SulphurPhoebis sennae. 

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Also utilizing host plants in the Fabaceae family, this butterfly graces my garden annually from the end of summer, well into early winter.  I grow the native Lindheimer’s senna, Senna lindheimeriana,

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which is a likely plant (check out the species name of the insect!)  in which these butterflies lay their eggs.  In the future, I’ll need to keep a keener eye out for the larvae on the leaves and snatch a photo of the juveniles of this insect.

QueensDanaus gilippus, which are year-round residents here,

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The two black dots on the hind wings indicate that this butterfly is a male.

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…and a few straggler migrating MonarchsDanaus plexippus,

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The lack of black dots on the hind wings indicates that this Monarch is a female.

continued their regular visits, though I haven’t seen a Monarch since mid-November.

This little cutey, a Spotted Beet Webworm Moth, Hymenia perspectalis, rested on a Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea,

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while this Clouded SkipperLerema accius, contemplated a shuttered Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala bloom.

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Another skipper, a Tropical Checkered SkipperPyrgus oileus, was loathed to pose for a photograph in the bright Texas sun, but eventually, relented.

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It enjoyed the bounty of a Rock rose flower, which is a member of the family (Malvaceae) that this butterfly requires as its host.    The checkerboard pattern on the upper wings,

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…and its “hairy” body were the keys for identifying this butterfly.

I often see Grey Hairstreaks in the garden but this past month I enjoyed a Mallow Scrub HairstreakStrymon istapa, as it visited several flowers in the aster or Asteraceae family.

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Hairstreaks are such pretty butterflies, with subtle coloring and unique markings.

 

Variegated FritillaryEuptoieta claudia,

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…a Gulf Fritillary,  Agraulis vanillae,

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…an American Painted LadyVanessa virginiensis,

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…and a Southern DogfaceZerene cesonia, 

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…all are typical butterflies which contributed to the mass of butterfly/moth activity gracing my November garden.

It wasn’t just about butterflies and moths this month, though. There were beetles–lots of beetles–in the garden this past month.

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They employ some sipping of the nectar, but also cause a little damage leaves and petals during their feedings.  Does that make them bad pollinators?  Nah, I never met a pollinator that I didn’t love. Or, at least tolerate.

Additionally, native bees were out in force in the last weeks of full-bloom garden action.   Throughout summer, I’d catch a glimpse of a stunning metallic green bee, but I was never fast or organized enough to document its activity–until this month!

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Bee and beetle, working side-by-side.

I’m fairly sure that this gorgeous bee is a Green metallic bee, Agapostemon texanus.

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Though rare, this species of wild bee are seen in this part of Texas.  I was pleased to watch her work the flowers of a Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata.

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Also enjoying fall-blooming Goldeneye, were two kinds of Sweat bees:

Lasioglossum spp.

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This sweat bee shares flower space with the Mallow Shrub Hairstreak.

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…and Halictus tripartitus.

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A Small carpenter bee, Ceratina sp., nectared and gathered pollen from a Rock rose.

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Identifying native bees is tricky because there’s just not that much research on these important pollinators.  To help me figure out what I’m seeing in my garden, I use a site hosted by an entomologist at The University of Texas, Professor Shalene Jha, who studies Texas native bees.  The site focuses on native ecosystems and native bee sightings in wildlife preserves. The information on the native bees is local and relevant to Texas, the photos of these bees, remarkable.

Not a pollinator, but a regular contributor to Wildlife Wednesdays, this juvenile Anole lizard is most likely making his/her last appearance for a while.

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I might spot one from time-to-time over the course of the next few months, but they’ll be nicely tucked in for our (usually) mild winter.

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for December Wildlife Wednesday. Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.