By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

May 20 is World Bee Day. Celebrate.  Go buy a jar of honey. Bees pollinate 75% of all the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the U.S. There are 20,000 different species of bees but only eight of them produce honey. This may put you off honey, but the nectar bees gather is vomited up several times then dehydrated to produce the stuff we eat. It’s really good for you too. Raw honey not heated or filtered contains antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins. And minerals.  

During its lifetime, a bee will create only one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey.  The colony must visit about 2 million flowers to produce a pound of honey. And it takes the life’s work of 864 bees to do that. There are about 125,000 beekeepers and counting in the U.S. today.

The queen bee has just one job, to lay eggs, as many as 1,500 a day. She is cared for by worker bees that pre-digest her food and feed her and keep her clean. Without their care she would die. When she gets too old to properly do her job, the worker bees raise a new queen who promptly stings the old lady to death.

Honeybees are relatively heathy. However, in the last few years, the records show two of the highest death rates of bees. In contrast, honeybee colonies are up 80% worldwide. The native bees like bumble bees, carpenter bees and blue orchard bees are at risk of extinction because of overuse of insecticides, pesticides, and climate change. As an aside, some scientist attempted to see how long a bumble bee could live under water. The answer was 10 days. Why would one do this? Bees don’t ordinarily go swimming. 

People can take advantage of a bee’s ability to detect odors in parts per billion. The example is a grain of salt in an Olympic sized swimming pool. Maybe this is where the scientist got his idea of drowning a bee. At any rate, this ability led to researchers training bees to detect landmines. They taught them to associate the scent of explosives with a sugar solution. The bees then cluster over land mines and as they weigh next to nothing, they can’t trigger the mine.

In the spring, bees that have grown too big for their homes go looking for a bigger apartment. The swarms fly about a mile at a time, then stopping to rest. They don’t always pick a proper landing place. Last May, a swarm picked the wing of a Delta airplane for a nap. It delayed the flight for hours.

People aren’t the only mammal that are afraid of bees. Elephants are terrified by them. They won’t go near a tree with a beehive in it. Only about 8% of people are allergic to bee stings. Another 80% go into a panic and start waving their arms around just inviting a sting. Only honeybees die after they sting you. Other bees like bumble bees and carpenter bees can hit you multiple times. About 500 bee species have no stinger. Instead, they bite.

Bees also make beeswax. It is a very useful product. You can find it in cough syrup, food wrappings and of course, candles. Bee glue, propolis, is a sticky mix of beeswax, bee spit and tree sap. It’s antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory. 

Honey is usually not very expensive. However, “fairy or elven” honey extracted from the walls of caves in northeastern Turkey is supposedly rich in minerals and will set you back $150.00 an ounce. That stings.  

Thanks to Stephanie Gray’s article in the Reader’s Digest for some of this info.

Pre-planning the garden

It may be a very dry summer. There are a few tricks gardeners can do to keep their garden flourishing without watering every day.

Start saving liter bottles. Cut out the neck and put it upside down in the bottle. This makes it easier to fill. Poke a few small holes in the bottom and plant the bottle about half- way down next to a plant.  Keep it filled with water and add a bit of liquid fertilizer occasionally. A water filled 5-gallon pail with holes in the bottom will keep 3 tomato or potato plants happy all summer. This works great for watering trees and shrubs too. Occasionally you will find a critter drowned in the pail. They attempted to get a drink and fell in. Perhaps they can be dug in for fertilizer?  For row crops, leave the cap on and poke holes in the sides. You will need to pick up the bottle to fil it. There are spiked caps with a hole in the top for liter bottles available. You fill the bottle, put the cap on and poke the spike into the soil beside your plant.

Mulching is a must in any weather, it not only keeps moisture from evaporating in the heat, it keeps the soil cooler and smothers weeds. Start by laying 4 to 6 sheets of damp newspaper or cardboard between the rows, then cover with hay, leaves or leaves and grass mixed. Green grass will heat and stink. Straw can be great, but it also can introduce weeds that you have never seen before and will never get rid of.

A few other tips:  tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and tomatillos are first cousins. Never plant one in the spot a cousin has been in in the last 3 years. And never plant the same plants in the same place each year. You are just asking for diseases. Have a garden map to avoid this problem.

If you want larger onions that keep well, plant plants. Onion sets are great for onions to use all summer, but they usually don’t keep as well as the ones from plants.

If you plan to freeze or can a crop. 

For tomatoes, plant determinate plants. They bear all at once then stop. Pull them up when they stop producing and plant something else there. Bush beans do pretty much the same thing. For a longer harvest, plant pole beans, indeterminate tomatoes, cabbages, and broccoli. If you cut either of these plants off, they will produce another, smaller head on the stem.  Another trick to get a longer growing season of vine crops, buy a plant, like squash or melon. Direct seed the same plant about a week later. The plant will produce first, then several weeks later, the seeded plant. 

Plant lettuce and other leafy vegetables in the shade of corn.  Plant beets on the other side of the greens. This will lengthen the time before the greens bolt. Always plant corn in blocks to ensure pollination. The wind does the job for them even if we have a shortage of bees and flies.

Some summer days are just icky, no wind, humid and hot. Even our plants don’t like that kind of weather. It leads to sick plants. Don’t crowd plants, give them breathing space. Air circulation is important for all plants. It prevents mold and mildew and keeps diseases and disease-carrying insects from hopping from one to another making all of the group sick.Get out the seed packets and start planning. Planting season will happen.