Saturday, December 3, 2011

urban bee corridors

i’m super stoked on bees.
recently  i went to a workshop called “how to grow a pollinator garden” put on by master beekeeper jennifer bach. i learned all kinds of fascinating things about bees. there are 20-50 thousand bees in a hive, almost all of them female (3-10% are male "drones"). did you know that the male bees are born from unfertilized eggs? does that seem possible? they are literally genetic clones of the queen. they hang out in “drone congregations” high up in the atmosphere.  when a queen is ready to mate (only once in her life) she flies way up there and zooms past the drones, and whomever’s fast enough to catch up with her she mates with (12-30 of them) and then she keeps the sperm in her body for the rest of her life, using it as needed to fertilize eggs for the next 5 years. she only mates with drones from other colonies, so essentially it’s the genetic coupling of two different queens’ dna that produces the next generation. fascinating.
i also learned that bees in urban areas can often be healthier than bees in agricultural areas because they aren’t as likely to be exposed to pesticides and vast areas of monoculture crops – which are bad for their health. that’s pretty sad, but it renewed my sense of the importance of growing backyard and patio gardens, to provide a sort of urban bee corridor.
they recommended letting 10% of your plants like basil and lettuce go to seed so the bees can enjoy it too, plus then you can collect seeds for replanting. another good tip was to try to plant a diversity of flowering plants that bloom at different times, so the bees have a consistent source of nectar throughout the year. they also appreciate having a source of water nearby when they are feeding, so if you set up a water dish or feature try putting small stones in it so the bees can access the water without getting wet. i’m definitely inspired to plant more flowering things and hope to lend a hand to our pollinator friends.
i also learned that bees leave pheromones on a flower when they sucked out the nectar, and those pheromones evaporate at the same rate that the plant takes to replenish the nectar - so it's a kind of marking signal that says to other bees "don't bother with this one." awesome.
one more interesting tidbit- when the queen hatches a new queen, the old queen takes half the hive and leaves the house to her new protege - this is when hives "swarm" - the hive lands somewhere, usually a tree - and waits while the scouts go out and find possible new hive locations. when the scouts come back to the hive they report what they've each found, and each bee in the hive communicates with the bees immediately around her, and they come to agreement about which is the best new location by essentially "voting." i'd like to learn more about this process. some people are referring to bee hives as a "super organism" - meaning the hive has an intelligence and ability that is beyond the sum of its parts.
at the workshop they had honey tastings provided by local beekeepers - and the jars were labeled by which month/season they were harvested - i was amazed at how completely different honey from spring, summer, fall, and winter seasons taste - even here in hawaii where seasonal changes are relatively subtle.
i was catching up on overdue presents and other personal projects that had been on hold for the past month while i focused on our eat local campaign. The bees inspired me, and i went home buzzing with enthusiasm that came out in the form of these potholders for my friend -and fellow birthday buddy - cathy.
it’s been a while since i’ve done paper piecing – since the dragonfly quilt- but it came back to me and gave me an excuse to dig into my box of scrap fabrics, which was one of the few things i shipped from oakland to hawai'i when i moved. i whipped these out late one night and am quite pleased with how they turned out. cathy’s an amazing cook (among many other things), and i hope these bees will bring her inspiration as well.