Bees, birds, butterflies & flowers

Ann Swanson

Yesterday while I was eating breakfast I observed some hummingbirds visiting the flowers on my Rose of Sharon bush. They flitted from flower to flower probably gathering nectar. There are plenty of flowers in my yard to keep all of the critters happy. I gave up feeding birds when a bear destroyed the feeders. I knew I had to get rid of the feed that was attracting them.

Our family has always been interested in bees. Years ago, my husband took in his first swarm of bees. We had returned from a family wedding. When he went to get the cows, he found this swarm of bees. His mother and I put together outfits made from curtains so that they could work without getting stung. We used rubber bands on the sleeves and on the cuffs of their pants. They, my husband and his father headed out to capture the swarm.

They used an old wooden box as the hive. Although that worked it was not ideal. There was nothing for the bees to build on.

The next day we went to Central Tractor because they carried beehives in their store. My husband put together a hive right in the store. The clerk had no idea about building a beehive so he let my husband go. When the hive was complete, we paid for the components. This one had frames inside with wax sheets for the bees to build on.

What started out as a lark ended up to be an enterprise that yielded quarts of honey down the road. I was still living in the trailer when I extracted honey. We set the hive on the picnic table. I went out for a frame and brought it in to melt the wax to get at the honey. It was a very sticky process. At one point I looked out the window and saw our daughter sitting on top of the table watching the bees who were gathered around the hive. I hurried out to get her before she got stung.

Later on, we bought an extractor. That made things a lot easier. We could spin out our honey without having to melt the wax to collect it.

Our son grew very interested in the bees. He read all of the material that he could find on bees and beehives. He took over the operation using an electric knife to open the chambers the bees built. He bought the knife from a man that I worked with. He also bought additional hives and a smoker. Bees are comparatively calm when smoke is used.

When he returned from college he kept working with the bees. He was still working with the bees when he got married. One year he asked his in-laws for a swarm of bees. They were completely at a loss so he helped them find the information and make the purchase. He was able to sell honey at his store until the government passed a law against selling the raw honey without having an approved kitchen. That law is obviously nonsense since nothing spoils honey. Even if it solidifies it can be warmed up and used.

Teaching the next generation about nature was something that I enjoyed. Years ago, when the grandchildren were small we often explored nature. We took walks at the Audubon to see what we could see. We went into the building for the hands-on approach. One of the boys and I made an observation book. After each visit he would add what he saw that day. Many times, we extended the experience by making something or by using clay. We made rubbings and did stamping. It was always fun.

My grandson got to observe bees while his dad worked with them. That was a skill that was passed on from his father and grandfather. Children can learn a lot by simply observing.

When I looked up about bees I found a lot of information. The source I read said that bees especially like bee balm, milkweed, catmint, and sedum. It also noted that bees and butterflies visit flowers with sweet aromas. Hummingbirds on the other hand tend to visit flowers without a scent. The color alone attracts them. I guess that is why the hummingbirds were tapping the Rose of Sharon.

How does all of this work? Each plant has a male part and a female part. A plant can pollinate itself, but it produces better flowers if it is cross pollinated – pollinated by another plant. Bees, butterflies, bugs, and birds can accomplish the pollination process.

Pollen is produced in the anther. The anther is the male part of the plant. There is a filament – a stalk that supports the anthers. There is also a stigma which is the base for pollen. This is often sticky so that it collects the pollen. Pollen looks like powder but is actually thousands of microscopic vessels.

The next time you eat an apple, a pear, a peach, or a tomato you most likely have the bees to thank for the pollination process. A bee may actually help shake pollen into the style, the female part of the plant.

More than 80% of flowering plants rely on birds and birds to pollinate them. We definitely cannot do without bees. It is getting harder and harder to keep a hive of bees. The environment is not bee friendly. There are many diseases that affect the hive. If the bees do not survive, how can we?

That is certainly something to think about!

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.