Tag Archives: bees

The Bee Army and My Goats

There must be several wild bee trees out in the woods because there are lots of honeybees around. Lately the bee army is humming up a storm.

Long ago there were two commercial bee hives here. The beekeeper died and the new one wasn’t interested in two hives. When the varola mites moved in, the bees moved out into the woods.

All summer my goats have been reluctant to go out because of horseflies. Having been bitten before I can’t blame them for wanting to avoid these pests.

goat herd at the gate

The gate is open. The pasture beckons. The goat herd stands under the hackberry tree waiting for the horseflies to attack.

I open the pasture gate and drive the herd out. they stand around outside the gate until the horseflies move in. Then they run out to pasture preferably in deep shade to discourage the flies.

A signature of the horseflies is their loud humming buzz as they zero in. It is a signal to the goats to crowd up trying to make sure the neighbor is the victim.

Now that buzz is everywhere.

In the milk room the bald-faced hornets are busy catching flies. Their buzz is very similar so the goats are jumpy making kung fu milking imperative.

Outside the bee army is humming over the giant ragweed. This is a wind pollinated plant with no nectar. Why are the bees moving in?

Adult bees and hornets drink nectar for food. This diet supplies lots of sugary energy but little protein. Their young require protein.

The bald-faced hornets solve this by catching flies to feed their young. Bees use pollen. Giant ragweed produces lots of pollen.

The goats ate the giant ragweed in their barn lot but, being a persistent weed, it regrouped and sent up new branches. Every new branch is tipped with tall towers lined with pollen pockets.

Walking through the ragweed patch leaves long yellow streaks on the jeans. Breathing deeply activates the hay fever.

bee army member on ragweed

Pollen sacs bulging a member of the bee army works her way up a giant ragweed tower stuffing more pollen in.

Every member of the bee army has bulging pollen baskets on their back legs. They land near the base of a tower and crawl upward stuffing more in until the basket is close to bursting.

The basket is unloaded at the hive. The bee returns with empty baskets to fill. The bees are welcome to all the pollen they can gather plus some.

Unfortunately for the goats the path out of the barn lot goes through the giant ragweed humming with bees. They think it is a horsefly army and refuse to go past.

Eventually hunger wins out. The goats go out.

Clover

Beekeepers in my part of the Ozarks have reason to rejoice. Once the temperatures get back into the seventies, this is a clover spring. Clover loves it cool and moist.

My pasture has a lot of orchard grass and clover in it. These are not native but have moved in determined to make themselves at home. Much of the clover is white clover.

white clover flower

White or ladino clover is blooming in my Ozark pastures. Warmer days finds bees busy visiting each ball of flowers gathering nectar.

In the pasture white clover is a great plant. It puts down a deep taproot. It spreads by runners. It has root nodules containing nitrogen fixing bacteria. The drawback is when cows or horses graze on dewy white clover and bloat. Goats don’t seem to care.

Wanting clover but wanting to avoid the bloat problem, red clover was brought in. The problem with red clover is temperature. It prefers it warm like in central Arkansas where it used to paint the county roadsides deep red.

crimson clover

A cross between red and white clovers, crimson clover is a large clumping plant with short runners.

So a cross between red and white produced crimson, a pink clover that grows in my pastures. This is a big plant with small runners. It has the nitrogen fixing bacteria like all clovers do. It doesn’t cause bloat and likes it cool.

black medick flower

Black medick is a miniature clover spreading among the pasture grasses and relished by the goats.

Black medick is a small clover immigrant. It has small leaves in the usual clover sets of three. It has a clover flower head in miniature in brilliant yellow. This is a popular goat snack.

white sweet clover

White sweet clover is a tall leggy plant usually growing on the roadsides.

White and yellow sweet clovers are blooming along the roads. These look like the same plant in two colors but are listed separately in the wildflower books. These are tall leggy plants with long towers of flowers on the tips of the numerous branches. They are both immigrants and considered pests by all but the insects.

yellow sweet clover

Tall and leggy yellow sweet clover looks similar to its white cousin but the flowers are arranged differently.

Many other clovers have yet to bloom. Some are even native to the Ozarks. They too love this cool moist spring now supposed to be early summer. After all, the fireflies are lighting up the evenings when the night temperatures are in the sixties.

Clover honey is highly prized. With the carpets of clover blossoms the bees have plenty of nectar. Many new beekeepers are getting started in my county. This is the year to get their hives off to a strong start.

July Ozark Hills

Goldfinches

July 30, 2013

The mowers haven’t come down the road yet. The roadsides are filled with flowers of many colors. Blue is popular in front of the house.

Early in the spring the chicory rosette of leaves makes a tasty addition to potherbs or salads. In summer four foot high stalks lined with powder blue daisies wave in the breezes.

OZH 7 5 1The flowers open when the sun hits the buds. Native bees stuff their pollen sacs full and fill up on nectar. By noon the flowers look like limp pink rags hanging on the stems.

Later the seeds are hidden under these pink rags.

Goldfinches love chicory seeds.

Over the winter goldfinches don’t attract much notice. They are drab in yellow green feathers. Only the black wings with white bars on them identify these birds. Part of the winter the finches leave.

When the finches return, they are still in their drab colors. About April goldfinch males dress up in their brilliant yellow feathers.

Goldfinches love sunflower seeds. They visit the bird feeder several times a day so it’s easy to watch them.

Sometime in June few finches show up at the feeder. They are hidden away on nests. They are eating grass seed instead of sunflower seeds.

The grass seed is mostly gone by late June. Sunflower seeds  and the bird feeder regain their popularity.

Then the chicory seeds mature.

Early in the morning as I head for the barn to feed the chickens and let them out, I scatter the goldfinches. They line the fences reaching over to dine on chicory seeds. Some acrobats hang on the chicory stems eating.

If I stop in the road and watch, the finches put on a little show. They flutter and jockey for the best spots. They show off their gymnastic skills bouncing on waving stems. They stretch out almost to tipping off their perches reaching for that last seed.

Unless the mowers arrive before fall, the show will continue until frost as the chicory will bloom until then.

Gray Hair Streaks

July 23, 2013

Butterflies seem to be everywhere during the summer. Gray Hairstreaks are one of the smaller but still pretty ones.

OZH 7 4 2The first time I saw one, it had its wings spread open exposing a brilliant metallic blue. I had never seen a blue butterfly before. It wasn’t long before I noticed flocks of these around.

Manure piles are a popular hangout. Butterflies eat mostly nectar. Nectar has plenty of energy rich sugars in it but is short on all other needed nutrients.

Minerals are some of those needed nutrients. These are found in manure. Butterflies slurp them up from wet manure.

Various swallowtails come by individually. Sulfurs too come by alone. Not hairstreaks. They love company. A group of twenty or thirty is not uncommon.

I’ve read prey creatures find safety in numbers. As a group gets larger, each individual’s chance of becoming dinner goes down.

I’ve noticed that herd animals seem to think whatever someone else is eating is better than what they have. Chickens are a good example.OZH 7 4 1

Japanese beetles are out. They devour the wild grape vine on my garden fence. I knock them into a bucket with water in the bottom. The beetles are poured into a pan in the chicken yard.

A single chicken may be in the yard. I dump in the beetles. The one starts eating as fast as she can. She better as the entire flock is running over to see what this hen has found.

Then the males may be hanging out with the girls. And the girls are hanging out with the boys.

Whatever the reason, gray hairstreaks flock together. This isn’t only on manure. Flocks flutter around water sources. Flocks descend on flowers.

I stopped to check on some butterfly weed in different places. Small flocks of gray hairstreaks were busy drinking nectar on the umbels.

Taking pictures of these little butterflies let me see why they are called gray hairstreaks. Only the males are that brilliant blue. Even they are a silvery gray on the outside of their wings. Tiny spots accent the gray. At the tip of he bottom wing are slender threads sticking out, the hairstreak.

Watching a flock of these lovely butterflies is a welcome excuse for a few minutes rest between loads of manure. I’m glad they appreciate the growing pile coming out of the goat barn.

Bald-Faced Hornets

July 16, 2013

When spring finally arrived, bald-faced hornets crawled out from under fallen logs and other places where they had spent the winter. Each of these was a queen ready to start a colony.

A queen must find a good location to start a nest. Protection from rain, sun and predators is high on the list. Availability of wood pulp and food are there too.

Bald-faced hornets build paper nests. Paper is made from tiny bits of wood glued together with their saliva.

OZH 7 3 1One of the first places I see these hornets in the spring is on my clothesline poles. Paper wasps are there too diligently scraping off bits of wood to form little balls then flying off to add paper to their nests.

A bald-faced hornet queen builds a small comb similar to that of a paper wasp or a bee and lays eggs. She builds a tiny nest over this comb.

 

All this work requires energy. Energy comes from food.

The queen lives primarily on nectar. Nectar is pure carbohydrate.OZH 7 3 3

Hornet larvae need protein. The queen goes hunting insects.

By summer time a bald-faced hornet nest is a big, busy place. Hundreds of hornets buzz in and out. Some build a bigger nest over the old one. Some deconstruct the old nests. Some tend the queen. Some go hunting.

A favorite prey for bald-faced hornets is the housefly. Fly filled barns are popular hunting grounds.

Flies tend to move in groups. Individuals move from group to group but the groups gang up on food items and places to lay eggs.

Hornets zip through an area checking for fly groups. Unfortunately hornets are much bigger and noisier than flies. Fly groups scatter when the buzz of a hornet gets close.

It becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse. Flies gang up on a good spot. Hornets buzz over. Flies scatter.

OZH 7 3 2A fly too engrossed with eating or too slow to maneuver out of the group is doomed.

The hornet drops down on the fly, whips her stinger around and flies off with her prize.

In-between hunts the hornet drops by a few flowers for some food. Daisy fleabane is popular. Even hummingbird feeders will do.

By the end of summer the hornets will finish their task. New queens will hatch and mate. These will seek out places to survive the winter.

The rest of the nest is as doomed as the flies the hornets hunted over the summer to raise their new queens. Frost will kill the hornets. Weather or people will remove the nest.

Next spring the bald-faced hornet queens will emerge to begin their nests.

Butterfly Weed

July 9, 2013

Butterfly weed is blooming all along the roads and on hills, in pastures, any place it can. It is unmistakable with its orange flowers.

OZH 7 2 1Butterfly weed is a kind of milkweed. A closer look at its flowers confirms this. It has the backswept petals, the erect corolla divided into five circular nectar wells, the five horns each pointing into a well and the central disc.

Milkweed plants can be only inches tall or eight feet tall. They can have large ruffle-edged leaves, tiny lance leaves or no leaves at all. Butterfly weed is in the middle. Most plants are one to two feet tall with branches. The leaves are paired, three to four inches long and an inch or so wide.

Some milkweed plants have single flowers but most have umbels. A flower umbel is like a bouquet adorning the plant. Some have only one umbel at the top. Others have many hanging off their stems. Butterfly weed has many umbels pointing up along its many branches.

The most noticeable thing about butterfly weed is its bright orange color. Except not all butterfly weed is orange. I’ve been finding a variety of shades from lemon yellow  through orange to deep red. Loveliest all is a bicolor with backswept yellow petals and deep orange corollas.OZH 7 2 3

Unfortunately the road department is zealously mowing the roadsides. If asked, the men love flowers. They love monarch butterflies. Yet they mow down these beautiful plants.

For those unaware, Monarchs migrate down to central Mexico for the winter. Storms have decimated the wintering butterflies, possibly killing three quarters of them. The Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweeds. The same milkweeds growing lushly in roadside ditches and on roadsides are key to restoring Monarch butterfly populations.

OZH 7 2 2This year I will visit the road department and ask them to spare some of the milkweeds. It is important to mow the edges of the roads. But, perhaps, only the first couple of feet need mowing. This would leave most of the milkweeds for both us and the Monarchs to enjoy.

 

Bees

July 2, 2013

The newspaper had an interesting article about hive decline in bees. A lot of people go into panic mode whenever a bee flies by. Some have good reason due to allergy but most do not. Many people probably don’t think bees matter to them.

Let’s take a trip to the grocery store sans bees. The produce aisle? No fruit. No tomatoes or cucumbers. These are all fruits pollinated by bees. But lettuce, broccoli, vegetables in general would also be absent as they come from seeds from flowers pollinated by bees. The produce aisle would be reduced to potatoes, corn and garlic.OZH 7 1 1

Grains are grasses mostly pollinated by the wind. That saves the cereal and bread aisles.

The canned food aisle would be mostly vacant. Vegetables and fruits are pollinated by bees.

Without bees our diets would be pretty boring and not very balanced for good health.

The chicory is in bloom along the road here. Bees flock to it. There are lots of kinds of bees and they come in lots of colors and sizes.

Regular honeybees are from Italy. There is a wild hive in the area so these visit.

Metallic green bees are small, less than half an inch long. They love chicory. Later they become nuisances as sweat bees.

OZH 7 1 2Even smaller black bees scramble to collect pollen and nectar. This year I’ve noticed a black and white striped bee.

Smaller bumblebees buzz ponderously around the blooms. They prefer other flowers such as common boneset and white snakeroot with sturdier flowers and stems. Larger bumblebees ignore the chicory altogether.

Beekeepers and scientists have long held that one of the reasons for hive decline is the use of pesticides. Pesticides kill indiscriminately. Bees collect the poison and take it back to their hives so the entire colony is hurt.

Farmers insist they need pesticides. Since their fields are too big to police for when and where a problem arises, pesticides are put on a schedule and applied needed or not. After all, those buying their crops insist on perfection. No blemishes, insect bites or other evidence of insect damage is tolerated by those who only see food in a grocery store.OZH 7 1 3

We rarely use pesticides. No one else in our valley gardens so no pesticides are used in the valley. Perhaps this is why so many kinds of bees thrive here. My produce is rarely perfect. Blemishes and insect damage are pared away. Chickens think they get a treat when these bits show up in their yard.

Honey is big business. Honeybees are a big business. Semi trucks loaded with hives are trucked from place to place wherever a farmer wants bees for pollinating a crop.

OZH 7 1 4Another article I read some time ago said there is a new practice among big commercial beekeepers. Old time beekeepers like Ed McDonald in our area leave combs of honey on their hives for the bees to eat over the winter when they can not forage. Commercial beekeepers want all the honey and leave their bees corn syrup to eat.

The debate over causes for hive decline will continue. At bottom are two problems. One is the desperate need for money. The other is our disconnection with the natural world. Too often people forget plants and animals are alive with needs of their own that have nothing to do with what we want or the making of money. Unfortunately, when the natural world suffers, we ultimately pay the price.