The BioGeek Memoirs: Bees

The last few days have been warm and sunny, and the perennial shrubs are starting to green up out in the garden. My patch of catmint is already coming back to life and the return of bees to the garden is right around the corner.

Honeybee in my catmint last year.

I just love bees! I used to be afraid of them as a child (I mean, who wouldn’t be? They are kind of scary and they sting!) until I learned the difference between bees and wasps. Now I get a little thrill seeing the bees buzzing around plants in the garden and set boundaries with the paper wasps whenever they build a hive in my yard. (Here’s the boundary… if the wasps leave me alone, they are safe. If I get harassed or stung that nest is history!)

Of course, I am planting things that the bees like in my yard! They just love my sedum and viburnum along with the catmint, but they also spend some time with the dandelions. They absolutely love the neighborhood flowering trees. Just as I have established some boundaries with the wasps in my yard, I have negotiated some boundaries with the (male) neighbors over dandelions. They tend to get a little worked up if I don’t eradicate every single dandelion in the front yard, so I do stay on top of them out front… (sigh)… but in the back I have some carefully maintained dandelion plants that are now the size of romaine lettuces. Bees love dandelions!! Since dandelions bloom really early in the spring they are an important source of pollen for bees so I let them bloom and then cut off the seed globes before the seeds fly. Later in the year the leaves on those dandelion plants are food for my wild bunny. Shhhh… the dandelions are a secret that my favorite neighbor, Alton, doesn’t know about. He mows the front lawn for me every week in the summer, and wonders why I won’t let him do the back yard… ๐Ÿ™‚

Bunnies eat dandelions!

Long ago I had a bumblebee nest in my back yard. These bees (they are kind of fuzzy instead of smooth, are larger than honeybees, and mine had a red band at the top of their abdomen) live in things like woodpiles or holes in the ground. In my yard the bees were living in a hive in the ground, so I built a little shelter over the nest with flagstones. The hive survived year after year, and we came to love these gentle little bees.

Bumblebee at my catmint. See the fuzz?

The bees flew exact flight paths every afternoon coming home with pollen, and if you accidently walked into the flight path, they would bounce off you (repeatedly) and hover in the air waiting for the path to reopen. It was so cute! These bees were so gentle that no one in our family was ever stung except for a cat who took a nap on top of the opening to the hive… sad boy, we found the bee clinging to his belly once we calmed him down.

Morgan: that bee was a nightmare!!!

Every year as a biology teacher my students and I learned about bees as we watched a NOVA program together called Tales from the Hive. The students loved, loved, loved this show. I attended a workshop on bees at the University of Colorado and put my name in to win a beehive for my classroom and sadly lost to another teacher who absolutely, positively did not deserve that hive as much as I did (!!!) but I’m over it now. Sniff. The students and I were all crushed at the news that I had lost…

Why learn about bees? Well, bees are especially important in our ecology as pollinators. Basically, flowers are all about reproduction, and if the pollen on the flower (the male part) isn’t carried to the female part of the flower there won’t be any seeds or baby plants in the future. Plants get pollinated by lots of different means, but many plants rely on bees. The flowers are specifically designed to attract bees, and bees rely on the flowers to survive. We benefit from this relationship between bees and plants as the resulting process produces a lot of our food. Some crops are 90% dependent on bees for reproduction, and altogether about one third of our food is dependent on bees. Believe it or not, as the blooming season moves north up the planet there are mobile beehives that travel north as well, traveling to orchards and fields, bringing the bees as pollinators for those crops. As a teacher I could use bees to teach about ecology, evolution, invertebrates, sociobiology, and bioethics. Bees were really important to me as a teacher!

So, how much do I love bees? Well, I spent a summer reading a whole series of books about bees and blogged about it here. I spent a week one June on horseback in the Colorado wilderness riding a horse named Industrious Bee.

Bee and me. What a great week that was!!

I spent another summer teaching an advanced biology program with the best student teacher ever and learned even more about bees here in Colorado because his mother was a beekeeper. When the program ended in July, I received a little gift package of honey from him. See. If bees are involved, all things are good!

How much do I love bees? Well, I knitted myself my own little bee to keep me company over the winter.

The pattern for this bee is by Claire Garland and is called Bees are Beautiful.

Yes, they are!

Author: Midnight Knitter

I weave, knit and read in Aurora, Colorado where my garden lives. I have 2 sons, a knitting daughter-in-law, a grandson and two exceptionally spoiled kittens. In 2014 I was diagnosed with a serious rare autoimmune disease called systemic sclerosis along with Sjogren's Disease and fibromyalgia.

18 thoughts on “The BioGeek Memoirs: Bees”

    1. I love my little knit bee, too. He was a really fast knit and finished in one evening in front of the tv. I had all the yarns in the stash, too, which is why it is good to have a stash! You only need scraps of each color.

  1. I don’t so much like this post as LOVE it !! Bees are just about my favourite things (but I do have a list), and I become morose and ill-tempered when reading about bee diseases and wildfires.
    I had not realized that all the awful things that have happened to your body have done it .. well, can I say ‘comparatively recently’, Marilyn ? I admit to not having gone back to the early days of your blog: I never do when coming across an interesting blogger, but merely carry on, as it were. So my ignorance is probably appalling.
    But seeing you with your Industrious Bee makes me deeply unhappy for you. Perhaps it shouldn’t, as it means you have wonderful memories ..

    1. I also am concerned about bees and I’m doing what I can with the plantings in my yard. I was literally shocked when I found out how much food is linked to bees.
      You know, I have been diagnosed for 8 years, and it is only the last couple of years that have been really hard as I responded to drugs really well early on. I have always believed that it is important to get out and do things while you can (instead of waiting for retirement, for instance) and that absolutely paid off in my case. I was recently asked about a “bucket list” and I honestly could say that there wasn’t anything that I longed to do that I hadn’t already done. ๐Ÿ™‚ Well, writing a book, maybe, but it is kind of happening now in the blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. OK – you’ve convinced me to leave the flowers on the dandelions until they fade and then chop them off. I’m going to grow more flowers in my garden this year too; instead of veggies. Love your blog!

    1. Thank you so much! It’s hard to know if I’ve captured the right mix of personal joy with my teacher persona in my little posts, and I love getting some feedback.
      The little bee pattern was a fast knit. I’m now looking at more of her designs. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I love bees! I don’t remember being scared of them ever, even when I was young. I know I was stung once, because I accidentally stepped on a bee when I was walking around barefoot. I was young and playing at the pool with my friends… and even at that young age I didn’t blame the bee one bit. I remember being horrified that I had killed the bee.

    1. I remember bees chasing us while we were outside eating popsicles as a kid. Of course, the bees were after the sugar. One day there were bees in my classroom and the kids were both upset and absolutely insistent that they all be caught and released outside because they didn’t want them to be hurt. I never did figure out how they got in, but I had a greenhouse attached to my classroom and I think they came in that way. Bees are so cool!!

      1. and they were high school sophomores!! It was that video that they watched about bees… at one point in the video a mouse gets into the hive, and they were besides themselves until the bees drove it out. Moments like that made me feel good about the future.

  4. I love bees too! We have a couple of solitary bee boxes in the garden and we donโ€™t use weed killer so our lawn, of which there is a lot in the front and a bit around the side and back of the house, is full of daisies, dandelions, clover and some small purple weeds that the bees like. I think it annoys my next door neighbour, she is constantly digging up dandelions from her own lawn in spring and summer, our seeds do tend to blow her way but I donโ€™t care. The lawn is buzzing spring and summer. Our ginormous eucalyptus was always buzzing with honeybees but we had to have it cut down. Itโ€™s regrowing from the stump and I wonโ€™t let it get taller than me now but Iโ€™m glad itโ€™s returned and hope it feeds a few bees. Your knitted bee is lovely.

    1. Your neighbor would love mine… they are like dandelion police, intent on destroying and removing every single dandelion. They also trim their blooming shrubs into perfect shapes before they are done blooming. I carefully spray individual plants in my front yard, but the back is a bee haven!! The sedum draws so many bees in the late summer I plan to put in more this year. I hope your eucalyptus makes it!

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