Blog posts categorized as: Backyard Bees

Mason Bees are Powerful Pollinators

Mar 6, 2017

If you grow vegetables, berry bushes or fruit trees (or all of the above) then you already understand the importance of successful pollination. Flowers need to be pollinated in order to successfully produce a fruit. Even if you don’t grow your own produce in your backyard, your trips to the grocery store would be pretty bleak without pollinators. While there are many pollinators in the insect world, honey bees have traditionally been the workhorse pollinators of agricultural crops. But it’s not just our food crops that need pollinators.  According to published research, cross-pollination by bees supports at least 30% of the world’s food crops and 90% of wild plants. Bottom line: We need bees.


A baby blue orchard bee emerges from its cocoon in my garden. Hello!

You probably know that urbanites have taken to beekeeping with more interest in the last few years. I personally keep several honey bee hives myself. While we need more beekeepers, the reality is that beekeeping is not for everyone. It’s costly, requires hands-on education and a serious commitment to tend your hives and continue learning. If you have small children that regularly use your yard, then you may not be able to accommodate beehives on a small urban property. Here in the city, you also have to take more precautions to safely keep bees, being that we all have neighbors close by. So then what do you do if you want to increase your home garden yields and help the overall bee population, but you’re not prepared to become a beekeeper? Mason bees are the answer.

Did you know? There are thousands of bee species in North America other than the European honey bee. If you’ve ever spent time watching the blooming plants in your garden, you’ve probably seen many different types. If we can boost all of their populations, our food supply will be in much better shape. In fact, by boosting populations of other species, we can help mitigate some of the pressures on honey bees. Mason bees are a group of what I call “gentle super pollinators”. They don’t produce honey, but they don’t sting or require hive maintenance. While the females do have a stinger, they rarely if ever use it. The Blue Orchard Bee, which occurs naturally in our area, is one such mason bee.

Now is the time that baby mason bees will begin hatching out of their winter cocoons. You can pick up dormant cocoons of blue orchard bees and nesting materials right now at local garden centers (call ahead to check availability or have them order for you). Mason bees, unlike honey bees, don’t build honey comb in a hive. They simply nest in narrow holes or tubes they find in wood and hollow twigs. I’ve even seen them nesting in holes in my home’s exterior brick. You can purchase mason bee houses, which you fill with paper or reed tubes. It can take several seasons for your own little mason bee population to build up and that hinges on you providing nesting material. Other than the nesting material, all you have to do is sit back and let these powerful pollinators do their thing!

Mason Bees are Powerful Pollinators

Mar 12, 2016

If you grow vegetables, berry bushes or fruit trees (or all of the above) then you already understand the importance of successful pollination. Flowers need to be pollinated in order to successfully produce a fruit. Even if you don’t grow your own produce in your backyard, your trips to the grocery store would be pretty bleak without pollinators. While there are many pollinators in the insect world, honey bees have traditionally been the workhorse pollinators of agricultural crops. But it’s not just our food crops that need pollinators.  According to published research, cross-pollination by bees supports at least 30% of the world’s food crops and 90% of wild plants. Bottom line: We need bees.

You probably know that urbanites have taken to beekeeping with more interest in the last few years. I personally keep several honey bee hives myself. While we need more beekeepers, the reality is that beekeeping is not for everyone. It’s costly, requires hands-on education and a serious commitment to tend your hives and continue learning. If you have small children that regularly use your yard, then you may not be able to accommodate beehives on a small urban property. Here in the city, you also have to take more precautions to safely keep bees, being that we all have neighbors close by. So then what do you do if you want to increase your home garden yields and help the overall bee population, but you’re not prepared to become a beekeeper? Mason bees are the answer.


A baby blue orchard bee emerges from its cocoon in my garden. Hello!
Mason bees are gentle. This just-hatched blue orchard bee takes its first bath on my hand.
 

Did you know? There are thousands of bee species in North America other than the European honey bee. If you’ve ever spent time watching the blooming plants in your garden, you’ve probably seen many different types. If we can boost all of their populations, our food supply will be in much better shape. In fact, by boosting populations of other species, we can help mitigate some of the pressures on honey bees. Mason bees are a group of what I call “gentle super pollinators”. They don’t produce honey, but they don’t sting or require hive maintenance. While the females do have a stinger, they rarely if ever use it. The Blue Orchard Bee, which occurs naturally in our area, is one such mason bee.

Now is the time that baby mason bees will begin hatching out of their winter cocoons. You can pick up dormant cocoons of blue orchard bees and nesting materials right now at local garden centers (call ahead to check availability or have them order for you). Mason bees, unlike honey bees, don’t build honey comb in a hive. They simply nest in narrow holes or tubes they find in wood and hollow twigs. I’ve even seen them nesting in holes in my home’s exterior brick. You can purchase mason bee houses, which you fill with paper or reed tubes. It can take several seasons for your own little mason bee population to build up and that hinges on you providing nesting material. Other than the nesting material, all you have to do is sit back and let these powerful pollinators do their thing!

Pollination Powerhouses

Oct 28, 2015

Full article published in October 2015 Produce Grower Magazine.

Whether you’re looking to save on labor, improve pollination rates or shift production to more sustainable practices, nature is here to help. Bumblebees are a powerhouse of pollination and could be just the solution you need to improve production rates on your edible greenhouse crops.


freeimages.com
 

Fruits of your labor

As more produce production moves indoors to be grown hydroponically, the job of pollination becomes much more labor intensive. Once you move fruiting crops into the greenhouse, man must take the place of wind and pollinators to get the job done.

On crops such as tomatoes, growers typically use manual pollination or mechanical vibrating shakers to move the pollen around properly. Tomatoes are normally wind-pollinated outdoors, but the effect is difficult to replicate inside a greenhouse with limited air flow. The shaking has to be performed about every two days when temperatures and humidity are just right. To make things more labor intensive, shaking the whole plant with mechanical stimulation isn’t as effective as shaking or vibrating each truss individually. That takes a lot more time and effort. A truss is a cluster of smaller stems where the flowers and fruit develop.

Rising labor challenges and costs are causing some growers to turn back to nature to lower costs and improve yields.

Read the entire article HERE.

Texas Sage: Who wore it best?

Aug 31, 2015

If there is one landscaping practice I simply won't succumb to it's formal boxed (and boring) foundation shrubs. I prefer to pick plants that will grow to the size I want them, where I want them, and then let them do their thing. Of course a little tip pruning is required for any foundation shrubs now and then, but overall I like my foundation beds much more natural.  In order to bring foliage and bloom interest (and bee food) into my #frontscape I've incorpoated a number of Texas sage plants.

Some sort of wet stuff came down from the sky in Dallas the other day. After an intensly hot and dry summer, a bump in humidity and a bit of rainfall has sent my Texas sage shrubs into a blooming frenzy. Ok, some of them. Not every Texas sage performs the same; there are several species and a number of cultivars available. So, which one do you think is wearing it best right now?

You'll see Texas sage 'Silverado' on the left...and Texas sage 'Rio Bravo' on the right. It's an easy choice, no? The 'Rio Bravo' is so heavily loaded with blooms that some of the branches are bending under the weight. It's a glorious sight to behold and the entire shrub is vibrating with overjoyed honeybees. It looks like this every time it blooms.

While there are some blooms on the 'Silverado', it never blooms as intensely as my 'Rio Bravo'. Now to be fair, the 'Silverado' gets a tad more cast shade from the house. My other 'Silverado' on the opposite side of the house do get a bit more direct sun and thus will bloom a bit heavier. But even they can't match the profusion of blooms on the 'Rio Bravo'.

You'll notice that the foliage on the 'Rio Bravo' is more green than silver, so even though the 'Silverado' doesn't bloom as heavily, it does provide me with the intense silver foliage I want in the bed. So either way, it's a win/win.

Anyhoo, couldn't resist showing you a "who wore it best" from the garden.

Honey Bee Swarm

Mar 29, 2014

Just found a beautiful honey bee swarm in my front garden (on my poor frozen rosemary).

Bee swarm halleck

Don't panic if you find a swarm in your yard - just leave it alone. They'll move on and are not aggressive.

Unfortunately, I do believe this is one of my hives that has decided to swarm. Swarming has become quite a challenge for beekeepers these days. Environmental pressures cause hives to swarm much more frequently. I've re-captured swarms of mine before, but generally, they just swarm again. It's very difficult these days to get a swarm to stay put once the queen has decided to leave.

If it's the hive I think it is, I was going to have to re-queen it anyway...I just wish she wasn't taking half the hive with her! A beautiful bummer.

 

Lavender that thrives in North Texas

Jun 20, 2013

Lavender plants like dry hot conditions...so it may seem like a no-brainer that Lavender should perform very well in Texas, right? Well, not so...Here in North Texas, we have particularly heavy clay soil that doesn't drain well when wet. This is the kiss of death for most lavender plants. Many Lavender plants don't even make it through their first year planted before they succumb to exces moisture.

Lavender goodwin creek

There are some varieties that perform better than others. I've had particularly good luck with  this 'Goodwin Creek'. Of course, you should alway plant your Lavender "high and dry" meaning plant it in a higher spot in the garden, so it receives better drainage, and don't plant it where it will receive excess irrigation. Plants need to dry between waterings. You can topdress your plants with expanded shale to keep moisture away from the crown of the plant. Always plant in full sun. If you've struggled with growing Lavender in the garden, give it a try in containers.

Lavender is also a favorite of the bees...bonus!

Arugula in Bloom

Mar 7, 2013

It's been a bolting frenzy around my garden lately! I always leave some of my fall planted crops of salad greens and broccoli to go to flower come February. Because I keep beehives, I always want to make sure there is a food source around for my girls even during cold months.

Arugula bloom

This is a shot of Arugula in bloom in my front-yard garden. Because I allow some of it to go to flower each late-winter/early-spring, this stand simply naturally re-seeds itself and I rarely have to plant any new Arugula. Plus the bees love it! Remember, you can collect seed from open-pollinated and heirloom varieties of veggies. Arugula is quite prolific and pretty!

Urban Backyard Beekeeping

May 24, 2012

Here's the story on NBC5, with Omar Villafranca, on urban backyard beekeeping! Enjoy.

View more videos at: http://nbcdfw.com.

One quick note - the frame they do a close up on and say it's capped honey, is actually brood (bee larvae), not capped honey. Just a clarification!


Back to top

Tips in your inbox

E-Newsletter

Sign up for the E-Newsletter for industry info, gardening trends & tips.