Pink spirea

Pink spirea (Spirea japonica). We’ve had a bush in a partial shade location for years. It stays compact. An innocuous little bush i walk by everyday on the way to the barn. Yesterday Sandra noted that it was alive with many, many bees of different types. I tried a “shot-in-the-dark” ID of the Megachilidae. Our bee book says there are 18 genera and 600 species of Megachilidae in the US and Canada (daunting terms and daunting numbers), so maybe a viewer can be more specific … or correct my error … it would be nice to get a handle on the names and back stories of some of these creatures instead of lumping them all together as “native bees”.

Japanese tree lilac

Japanese tree lilac. I think that is the new urban planting on McLure’s Mills Road …leading to the hospital and the RECC. My sample is from Lower Truro, adjacent to where I keep bees, and the honeybees are feasting on it … along with many native bees. I think blossoms fall when a flower is pollinated. This morning while i was beekeeping there was no wind, but near the lilac tree the air was full of confetti. The Japanese tree lilac “Ivory Silk” is hardy to zone 3, smells nice, grows to 30 feet, resists pests, and attracts pollinators. What’s not to like? I want to get one.

Clammy locust

Clammy (a.k.a. Gooey or Sticky) locust has been in bloom for about a week in our yard. It is a small rough-barked tree and gets it’s name from the sticky twigs. It is a native North American tree that was introduced into Europe around 1600. It likes a sunny edge. Wikipedia says the flowers are used as tea and to make pancakes in many parts of Europe. All other parts of the tree are toxic. Locusts are related to peas. Our trees have their best blossoms ever this year (reaction to stressful years past ???) Like all trees and shrubs they stand out when they are in bloom and I’ve noticed quite a few along the Glooscap Trail, particularly between Carr’s Brook Hill and the foot of Economy Mountain. The bees are loving them.

Amur cork tree

Amur cork tree is proving very attractive to bees right now (early July). We grew our specimen from seed we collected in Montreal years ago. Since that time I’ve noticed a specimen at the NSAC (oops, Dal-Agriculture). I just learned that it is considered an invasive species and banned in some of the United States. i also learned it figures big in Chinese medicine and products from it are reputed to have many health benefits. The tree is native to Manchuria, Korean, Northern China and Japan and because of its hardiness is sometimes used as an urban planting in North America.

Bee-friendly plants series: Aster

Asters, the blue ones, are about the last flower to bloom, before falls shades off into winter. The honeybees are packing away the pollen from these flowers, maybe nectar, too, but pollen is the key thing for them. They will want to start raising young next February before there is any pollen available to them, so they need to have a stockpile going in to winter so they can get started on raising their replacements in late winter. Pollen is the protein; honey is the carbs: both are needed to raise larvae into replacement bees for the long-lived winter bees that “hold the fort” from now until April/May. My mother used to call these asters Michaelmas daisies (pronounced “mikkelmus”). September 29 is St. Michael’s day and it was also her birthday. She was not Catholic … I think she was a practicing atheist …but the day and the flowers were special to her. I just learned a rhyme from Wikipedia: “The Michaelmas daisies, among dead weeds, Bloom for St Michael’s valorous deeds …” and the rhyme confirms the observation that these flowers are amongst the last of the season. For blueberries and honey check out

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Bee-friendly plants series: Borage

I took these two photos yesterday, Sept. 23.
These are borage flowers, volunteers at the edge of our vegetable garden. One picture has a bumblebee, the other a honeybee. It was late afternoon and the sun went behind a maple while I was there. As soon as the garden was in shadow, the temperature dropped and the honeybees abandoned the borage … now below their operating temperature, but the bumblebee in its fur coat kept on gathering. What I found pretty amazing was that the borage, which started blooming in July, was still going in late September. It is a terrific honey plant, with very sweet nectar. It is an annual. Sometimes it volunteers, sometimes it doesn’t. It flowers and produces seed all season, so there is not, to my knowledge, any simple way of collecting seed. Seed is expensive. Check the catalogue prices. Scary. If anyone knows any good ways to collect seed, and one would need quite a bit to do the bees any good, please share your ideas and methods.

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Bee-friendly plants series: Aster

Asters are in bloom now, and will persist into the fall. They are the last pollen and nectar feast for bees and butterflies and their seeds will become food for birds. The name aster comes from the latin “astra” meaning star and the flowers are star shaped. Reference sites list dozens and dozens of varieties of aster adapted to different growing conditions: roadsides, swamps, woodland shade, fields. They all look pretty much the same to me and I think they are all bee-friendly. I took these pictures half a mile from where my hives are located, and every clump had one or more bees. Bees use their dance language to communicate direction and strength of pollen and nectar sources so fellow workers can efficiently collect without having to go on random, undirected collecting trips. Timely woodsy factoid: According to the authors of Up North Again, Ojibway hunters camouflaged their scent by smoking aster rootlets to simulate the scent given off by deer. Maybe there’s another cottage industry to rival wacky tabacky? Blueberries available from now on frozen in 5 pound boxes: $15.00 each, three boxes for $40.00 Eleven litre ice cream tubs of juice or wine berries for $10.00. Less than 5k from the Masstown market. Follow the signs.

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Bee-friendly plant series: Goldenrod

Apparently there are over 100 species of goldenrod. It is part of the aster family. Late bloomers all. Beekeepers notice that goldenrod appears first, often in early August, endures on into September, and the honey season for us finishes with white and then blue asters that sometimes bloom into October. Godlenrod is popular with bees in general, but honeybees seem fussy and prefer certain types. They seem to favour the type with the droopy fronds. Sometimes goldenrod is the make it or break it honey crop and bees can fill supers with it. But better that the beekeeper take the goldenrod honey and replace it with sugar syrup. Why? Goldenrod and aster honey granulates readily and it contains solids (ash) which are not digestible for bees. If bees are confined in their hives in a cold January/February with a larder full of goldenrod honey they can starve or get sick. They need water to access granulated honey (ice and snow won’t do) and they need to have cleansing flights (read: poop) to eliminate the solids in the goldenrod honey. If, because of the cold, they can’t get out for a cleansing flight, they can get dyssentry and die. In a cold winter I’ve occasionally seen strong hives, dead with surplus granulated honey that they could not use. Many new Maritime beekeepers want to leave honey for the bees …that’s what bees eat, right? But it’s good to remember that there would be no honeybees in Atlantic Canada if not for beekeepers.. Honeybees here are above their northern range and honeybees are not even native to North America …they are an introduced species. So it may seem weird to take goldenrod honey away from the bees and give them sugar syrup to winter on, but that is one way to have live honeybees in the spring and not face that most discouraging March discovery …a dead out. (Historical factoid: before and during times of wartime shortage, processes were developed to extract latex from goldenrod foliage to make rubber to keep the war effort rolling. I think similar efforts were made with the latex from dandelion stems.) U-pick closed for the year. Our blueberry season is over, but our freezer room is full if you’d like to buy berries. 5 pounds for $15.00, 3 boxes for $40.00. Buy nine before we run out and the tenth box is free.

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Bee-friendly plants series: Elderberry

Elderberry comes in two distinct types: black elder, sambucus canadensis (sambuca in the health food store cleanses) and red elder or stinking elder. They bloom and ripen at different times. The stinking elder is a pesky weed-of-the-woods that pops up unwanted when you’re trying to clear land. Its crushed leaves and cut stems give off a rank smell, hence its name. It blooms in April and May and fruits with red berries in June and July. It is food for native bees and wildlife. Black elder blooms in July after most native bushes have flowered. The white flat flower heads, up to ten inches in diameter, contain hundreds of tiny flowers. These flower heads show up against the prevailing green of summer foliage as you are driving by. We used to note the bush locations in our wine making days so we could find them again in September when the fruit was ripe. The black elder has its brief flamboyance and then the flowers drop and it fades into the woodsy wallpaper and if you don’t note where it is you’ll never find it again to pick the fruit, which is great for wine and and apple-elderberry pie. My wife tells me that elder flower cordial made from the fragrant blossoms is now popular because it figured into Megan Markel’s wedding. Get picking …though I’m afraid the bloom may be down by the time this post appears. Honeybees like black elder for the pollen. Around here it is a minor honey plant but a good people plant. Miscellaneous factoids: (1) the hollow stems of both species are good for whistles and pea shooters, (2) pick the clusters of berries and freeze them in a plastic bag. Once they are frozen you can bash them around to detach the berries from the stems for food use.

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Bee-friendly plants series: Birdsfoot trefoil

Birdsfoot trefoil is a member of the pea family. Its bright, cheerful, yellow flowers brighten the edge of many roads…I wonder if the DOT plants it? If so, good on them. A folk name for it is bacon and eggs. It is a perennial and is sometimes used for forage, but I’m guessing it would be more use as a forage before it flowers. Bees love it. It is generous with both nectar and pollen. It has figured as a component in pollination seed mixes I have bought. With its long blooming period …May to September… it is very bee friendly. Seed companies recommend care in preparing a seed bed should you choose to grow birdsfoot trefoil for the bees. The bed should be smooth before broadcasting and rolled after because the seed germinates poorly if it is deeper than 1/4 inch. The good news is that it will thrive in poor soils. This seems like a good plant for honeybees, and with the long bloom period it will help bumblebees complete their life cycle. Identification factoids: the “birdsfoot” comes from the pattern of the seed pods which become apparent after blooming(see picture); the “trefoil” comes from the three leaves (see picture); one identifier is from the fall, the other from the growing season.

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