Hello, Summer!

While June’s arrival signals the start of summer and all the delightful offerings we dream of in cold, dreary February, it also signals the dreaded end of the nectar flow here in Maryland. It’s been an interesting flow, one with heavy, prolonged rains, but also one with nectar stores now needing to be cured. Our bees will become more protective of their treasures, knowing before we that the primary nectar sources have been exhausted.

 

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My girls stashing away nectar and pollen during the flow.

 

 

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All those plant visits add up to a lot of nectar, now being cured into honey.  Particularly impressive when you consider how little nectar they extract from each flower, the individual work of each forager coming together to benefit many.

 

 

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Sampling their own goods- separating hive bodies this time of year can lead to sweet surprises when unexpected comb filled with honey rips open, stopping the girls in their tracks. 

 

 

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Supers with designated honey frames being built out and filled up- such a delight to see when I check in on their progress.

 

 

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And the first of the capped frames for 2018!  I still marvel over the process and the outcome.

 

Fortunately, the myriad of planting we do with our honey bees in mind can offer food options this time of year. In truth, I enjoy this time of the beekeeping year because I can watch my girls up close as they visit my plant offerings. When they foraged black locust and tulip poplars, they were out of sight but for the thrilling frenzy upon their return to the hives with their rich, nectar booty.

 

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These industrious girls are making use of an Imrie shim entrance into their supers, foragers passing off nectar to awaiting house bees to stash into awaiting honey comb, bypassing the congestion of the brood chamber.

 

For the upcoming summer months, I’ll highlight a few summer favorites of my honey bees. Maybe you have these in your landscapes and enjoy watching the business they drum up too. If not, perhaps they’re worth some consideration.

June Spotlight: holly bushes, also known as Ilex, of which there are hundreds of species

I grow lots of holly bushes of differing varieties which leads to staggering bloom times. My favorite by far is the winterberry (Ilex verticillata) that are just now pushing out buds, whereas my American holly bushes (Ilex opaca) have already bloomed and set berries.

 

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Winterberry just beginning to show signs of promising blooms.

 

Winterberry bushes provide abundant nectar and pollen in the summer months per the fact sheet USDA Native Plants for Summer and Fall Honey Bee Forage.  I know it to be the case because my girls frequent these bushes along with other pollinators in June when the primary flow has left them searching for other food sources.

 

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Honey bee working a tiny winterberry bloom (picture credit Janet Davis).

 

Winterberry blooms are small and not particularly noteworthy until you get close, pause and watch. It’s then that you can marvel at the various pollinators eating from the little, green and white blossoms and recognize the worth of this plant in its wildlife nutritional value.

 

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These little winterberry blooms may not appear that remarkable, but when you consider the abundance of food offering they make to wildlife, they become something altogether more impressive.

 

While my American holly bushes put out lots of berries, it’s the winterberry bushes that the birds strip first, their big, bright red berries a beautiful sight in the dreary winter months. They do require male plants to produce berries. I grow ‘Winter Red’ winterberry bushes with an aptly named male, the ‘Southern Gentleman’, to allow for berries. The leaves are a lovely, bright green and not as sharp or stiff as the American holly leaves. Since they are deciduous, winterberry leaves turn to a dark red/ purple before falling in autumn, not before leaving behind their signature large, red berries that linger into the winter months, hence their name.

 

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My American holly bushes produce berries too but you can see how different this plant looks from the winterberry bushes.

 

 

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Smoother, lighter deciduous leaves and fat berries of my winterberry.

 

Inkberry bushes (Ilex glabra) are also in the Ilex family and listed as a good summer nectar source for honey bees in our area. These bushes are also easy to grow and produce black berries for wildlife in the winter. Inkberry doesn’t grow quite as tall as winterberry and has the added bonus of retaining leaves over the winter. Honey bees are known to flock to inkberry so this makes for another good perennial addition to your landscape with blooms outside of the primary nectar flow.

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Inkberry
 

Once established, hollies require little work other than trimming when they need some shape if that’s your preference. The joys of growing hollies extend beyond watching our honey bees feast from their food offerings to recognizing native bees, some so small you almost overlook them, to catching glimpses of hungry birds eating their nutritious red berries in winter when other food sources become scarce, to simply admiring their beauty in our landscapes.

 

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I found this winter visitor exploring the winterberry bushes behind me in late fall of last year.  As she gingerly crawled along my hand, I carried her back to the hives, marveling over the fact that her kin transformed little blooms into an altogether different food source for other wildlife, nature at its finest.

 

 

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You can see why I like these winterberry bushes so much.  In addition to the pollinator nutrition they provide, the bright red berries, plump with tasty goodness, not only look beautiful in the snow but offer food to the many birds that don’t wait long to strip the bushes of their bounty.

 

Stay tuned for the July spotlight on milkweed

Because life is fueled by the energy captured from the sun by plants, it will be the plants that we use in our gardens that determine what nature will be like 10, 20, and 50 years from now.

 – Doug Tallamy

 

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Feeding pollinators and wildlife with native plants- here, wild germanium has an early native bee visitor.  Cover image at the top shows this bloom in its full glory. 

 

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