Podcast

Bee Tales

Triangle Gardener podcast logoPollinators are responsible for sustaining plant, animal, and human life and yet their work goes mostly unnoticed. Here are three stories about pollinators and how they touch our lives.  First, the role bees played in one family’s life, next a passion for native pollinators, and finally introduce you to some people who are working hard to expand habitat and forage for pollinators.

 

 

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Story 1 – A Century of Bees

JENKINS

Its been a couple of generations since my family farmed but our stories  –they go back to the land. My grandfather was born just before the turn of the last century.  He began keeping bees when he was a young boy.  My dad, now in his 80s, told me about some of his early memories of my grandfather and his bees.

WEAVERS

As a kid I can remember, going back to honey, being a commodity that you could raise and sell.   Where the sold they honey to was JC Prangies, which was a large store that sold everything —clothing, hardware, everything.  They bought merchandizing products from the farmers and one of them was honey. I can remember we as a family would go, my brother, sister and I and my dad would get this money for the honey and that money would be used to buy our new clothes for the year. And I can remember one time I got a new jacket and I thought that was the nuts.

JENKINS

My dad’s talking about the late 1930s — during the Great Depression when money was tight.  Honey still puts cash in beekeepers pockets.  Its estimated that in this country there are over 125,000 beekeepers who have five or more bee hives.  In 2013, those beekeepers produced nearly 150 million pounds of honey and that had a value of a little over  $317 million dollars.   In addition to producing honey and beeswax, honey bees are responsible for pollinating a number of the crops we eat.  And the value of those crops reach well into the billions. Since 2006, we’ve been hearing about Colony Collapse Disorder —a syndrome were 30-60% of a hive dies.  The exact cause is not know, but scientists speculate that pathogens, parasites, management and environmental stressors may play a role.   Recently, our Master Gardener group took a field trip to a place where they are trying to better understand and protect honeybees.

MYERS

We are at the North American Bayer Bee Care Center where we are focusing on research to help honeybees thrive.  We’re also looking at how honeybees relate to agricultural practices as well as homeowner practices. My name is Sarah Myers and at the facility here I am the event manager for the program doing a lot of education and outreach at the facility.  I’m also a staff bee keeper and being that I’m a bee keeper I have 20 hives locally with my family and I’m also the president of the Wake County Beekeepers Association.

JENKINS

Bayer’s Bee Care Center is a unique facility and its available to the public.

MYERS

We opened on April 15 of 2014.  It’s about 6000 sq feet, offers a meeting room area where we can bring in bee keepers or farmers to have conferences. We have a full research lab, a honey extraction facility, and a workshop where we can actually build our hive equipment. We have a main lobby area with lots of educational displays, and sort of a highlight would be our outside observational hive.  Where the visitors can stand on the inside of the screen and myself or another beekeeper, dressed in a bee suit, opening the hive, with thousands of bees flying all around us.

JENKINS

Sarah and her collegaues are very careful about visitor safety.  I know bees make a lot of people nervous. But not my grandfather.

WEAVERS

The bees knew my dad. I guess its by smell. My dad would not wear all of the protective clothing to prevent being stung.  Because rarely did he get stung from the bees.  If for some reason the bees were upset or something he might put on the hat or the gloves.  But often times he would work amongst the bees and we would just kind of go through the hive …

JENKINS

I live in a very suburban area, so I was surprised to learn from Sarah that I’m surrounded by beekeepers.

MYERS

Beekeeping has really taken off, which is fantastic because we actually need beekeepers managing honeybees.  They can not really survive in the wild for long term due to the viruses and parasites which are affecting honeybees.  So we have to have good managers out there keeping up our bee population.  In NC we have one of the largest states with beekeepers in it.  Mainly hobbyists, so it could be a backyard beekeepers with one or two hives.  But there are several people with several hundred hives.  So it varies.  In NC we have over 3500.  In Wake county we have over 200, Durham county is also a very strong club, and Orange county.  Lots of surrounding associations and each of these has monthly meetings, they have speaking engagements where you bring in different topics of interest to beekeepers such as pest control, or creating a pollinator garden. There’s also a beginning beekeeping class, that every association offers in the spring.  So if anyone is interested in keeping a beehive that’s a great resource for getting started.

JENKINS

I confessed to Sarah that, despite my family background,  I have a tiny yard and I can’t keep bees.  And I worry that I can’t really do anything to help them.

MYERS

Certainly.  So not everyone has to be a beekeeper.  You could really do your part by creating the habitat for them.  Not just planting things that look attractive or bloom a long time, but planting the correct flowers that produce enough pollen and nectar output during various times of the year.  Giving bees lots of diversity.  Just like we need to eat a balanced diet, so do bees and other pollinators.  There’s lots of online resources for guides on how to create these environments.  Pollinator Partnership is non-profit that we collaborate with.  They actually have a free app called BeeSmart. You put in your zip code and it quickly populates all the native plants that you have in your area, drought resistant, and it makes it easy for a novice like myself who may not know a lot about plants but how do you pick the right plants.

JENKINS

While I might not follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and keep bees, I can take steps to make my garden more attractive to them.  I’m going to try to have things blooming throughout the year and make sure the water in my garden is accessible to the birds and the bees.    I’m Lise Jenkins and this is the Triangle Gardener magazine show.  We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. You can now find us on iTunes.  If you like what we’re doing give us a review.  Thanks for listening


Story 2 – National Pollinator Week

JENKINS

The upcoming National Pollinator week draws attention to work that pollinating animals and insects do that keeps us all alive.

HAMRICK

Plant material come from some sort of pollination. Some plants are wind pollinated, like pecans.  Corn is wind pollinated. Many plants are pollinated by an insect. So when we look at the security of the world and our food supply for humans, the food supply for wildlife and the perpetuation of plant material we need pollinators.  Pollinators are invaluable in that whole process.

HAMRICK

My name is Debbie Hamrick.  I’m the Director of Specialty Crops for the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation.

JENKINS

While honeybees might get a lot of attention, Debbie is pretty enthusiastic about another bee.

HAMRICK

Watching bumblebees is my favorite all-time pastime. They’re the most meticulous, organized animal that I’ve ever had the opportunity to spend time with. So if you watch a honeybee, honeybees will fly from this flower to that flower, from this petal to that petal, they’re just sort of ADD.  When you see a bumblebee, they will work sequentially around a flower.  Like bee balm, it’s a very good plant for pollinators.  It will work each floret systematically, all the way around the flower.  Until it has visited every single floret. Its pretty doggone cool.  The honeybee on the other hand, like I said, its on this flower, its on that flower.  It’s just all over the place. The bumblebee is there they’re working sequentially.  They’re out working before the honeybees are in the morning, at first light.  And they’re out until its very dark at night.  Honeybees will not fly when its misty. You’ll see bumblebees out when its misty. You’ll see bumblebees out when its 60 degrees.  You’ll never see honeybees out in less than 72.  It’s got to be perfect conditions.  I’m exaggerating here, I’m sure a bee keeper would argue with me.  But bumble bees and native bees work a much wider range of conditions than honeybees do.  I don’t have anything against honeybees.  I love honeybees and I love honey.  But I’m really all about, in my garden, I really like my native pollinators.

JENKINS

After talking to Debbie I went home and paid more attention to the bumblebees in my garden and discovered she’s right.  They are pretty determined to visit every bloom in my garden.  Debbie explained an added benefit she discovered when she started gardening for pollinators.

HAMRICK

If you can garden for bees and butterflies than you’re also going to have a lot of other pollinators that show up.  Not only that but you’ll get birds too.  That was the thing that sort of surprised me.  Once I started gardening for my bumblebees and had success with it, I had a large number of species showing up in the garden now and coming back year to year.  I have this really big selection of birds that live in the garden too. So that’s pretty fun.

JENKINS

Lots of places in our state have fun events planned for pollinator week.

HAMRICK

We look around the state of NC and I think of Asheville.  Wonderful woman there named Beverly Stiles has Bee City USA in Asheville.  I just got their email and they have a whole list of activities that are planned in Asheville around pollinator week.

JENKINS

On our website, trianglegardener.com, you’ll find links to the Bee City USA program and other events and resources.  I’m Lise Jenkins and this is the Triangle Gardener magazine show.  We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina.


Story 3 – People Helping Pollinators 

JENKINS

National Pollinator Awareness week shines a light on the important role pollinators play to our food security and our survival.  Honeybees have received a lot of media coverage as many people believe they are disappearing. But some research shows their populations are actually increasing globally and in the US.

It’s a complex story with pollinator populations impacted by several factors —land use, population shifts, cultivation practices, economics, and our culture.  Some people point at the use of agricultural chemicals and there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding neonicotinoid-based products.

I live a few miles away from one of the Bayer corporation’s research sites.  I was able to visit with some of their scientists who are tackling the issue head on. There they have bee care research facility and 2-acre  pollinator garden that is open to the public.

DARNELL

I’m Stephanie Darnell, and I’m a scientist here at Bayer Crop Science within the Pollinator Safety group.

JENKINS

Where are we?

DARNELL

We are actually standing in our two acre pollinator garden here at the Bayer Bee Care Center.

JENKINS

What do you grow here?

DARNELL

So we grow a variety of landscape plants, whether it be perennials or shrubs and trees, that can provide some type of pollinator benefit to our pollinators that come visit our garden. Whether it be honeybees, bumble bees, solitary bees, and hummingbirds.

JENKINS

Tell me about the pollinators that come here.

DARNELL

Yes, our bee expert Kim Huntsinger, she has been doing assessments for the last year.  We are in our second season of this garden.  Its one of those things that when you build it they will come.  She has documented over 35 species of bees that have come to our gardens in the last year.

JENKINS

How did you decide what plants to put out here?

DARNELL

What we were looking for was definitely what would provide beneficial value to pollinators.  And we want to make sure we are providing seasonality for our flowers too.  We want something that’s going to bloom maybe consistently through the season, or at different times during the season.  So you have a bloom that’s in the spring, summer, and fall.  And the summer time is really crucial because that is probably the most important time of the year to have a food source for honeybees.  Because often you’ll see the numbers drop in the summer based on starvation.  They can’t find enough diversity food to forage on.

JENKINS

How is this landscape different from a typical neighborhood?

DARNELL

Well I think sometimes with our new neighborhoods we tend to be monoclutured.  So there’s less diversification in our landscape.  Plants are being chosen to be put into new neighborhoods.  Homeowners can make a difference by diversifying their plant selections.  So make sure you are planting a perennial that provides some type of pollinator value.  Whether it blooms in the spring, summer or fall is very important.  So diversifying with perennials but also your shrubs and trees can provide that value too.

JENKINS

Bayer has created a program called Feed A Bee to help provide more diverse forage for pollinators.  Becky Langer, the project manager for the North American bee care program explained.

LANGER

Feed a Bee is a campaign of the Bayer Bee Care program. It’s really focused on re-establishing forage and habitat for those bees. We’re losing that habitat whether it be through urbanization —a lot of introduction of concrete, be it new subdivisions or coffee shops or hotels.

JENKINS

Well that hit home.  I live in a fast-growing area, it’s all houses, hotels, and shopping areas and I feel like I’m more part of the problem than the solution. I was surprised at the diverse number of partners Bayer is working with to create habitat and forage for pollinators

LANGER

As far as the partners we’re working with that too has been a fun aspect to see all of the different stakeholders interested.  We have TrueGreens send out packets during National Pollinator week to customers.  We’ve worked with the NC Department of Transportation to plant sunflowers across 65 acres of the roadways in NC.  We have a dairy farm that provides milk to Danon yogurt who is providing pollinator habitat.  And then IBM Partners is a unique, novel group who educate utility companies to change the practice of routinely mowing the rights of ways and the use of selective herbicides to allow some of the critical plants like Milkweed, to come back in and create habitat on those rights of ways and using the land smarter.

JENKINS

At my house we have just a tiny little yard.  As I homeowner, I can’t really do anything to help, right?

LANGER

Everyone can help and that’s the beauty of the Feed a Bee program.  The bees are not discriminatory on their forage and habitat.  So if you’re planting a small pot of flowers on a balcony or a patio, or you’re a grower who can dedicate acres it’s all important.   Us as humans, if we drank Mountain Dew and eat Twinkies every day of the week we would not be healthy, and we would have a lot of health challenges. Bees are the same way, they need a variety of, they need different amounts different times of the year, so every little plot of wildflowers or pollinating food helps those bees.  So big to small it all works.

JENKINS

I was intrigued when Becky mentioned the Department of Transportation.  Many of the highways in North Carolina are flanked by beautiful flowers.  So I jumped at the chance to meet with some of the folks who make that happen.

LEE

I’m Don Lee, State Roadside Environmental Engineer with the NC Department of Transportation.  On the highway we’re left with very poor soils.  When they’re building the highways we’re left with subsoils exposed, low fertility, chunks of concrete and asphalt.  Its really a difficult effort to get it started and to get what you would traditionally think of as nice garden soil.  We do not have it on the highways.  We have marginal soils.  Low fertility.  So we’re always looking for compost, natural compost sources to build up the soil.  So it takes some effort to farm on the highways.

JENKINS

I’m looking at tough plants in these beds.

LEE

Extremely hot, dry, windy conditions.  So we certainly have to look at plants that will survive. But also have the visual impact.  That has been a challenge over the years.  But my hat’s off to our staff that, the roadside environmental unit, and other experts who help us to accomplish that. Well growing up in Eastern NC, my family are farmers.  We understand the benefit of pollinators.  Our agriculture industry, is the #1 industry, is a high value to NC’s economy.  So it really makes sense.  Why not use public lands to help our #1 industry in NC?

JENKINS

On our website, trianglegardener.com you’ll find links to information about the DOT wildflower program, Pollinator Awareness week, and tips for attracting pollinators to your garden. I’m Lise Jenkins and this is the Triangle Gardener magazine show.  We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. You can now find us on iTunes.  If you like what we’re doing give us a review.  Thanks for listening.