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The Pollen Files: Deploying the Ground Troops

8 Jul

Apparently the air force isn’t enough to unload the Pagoda Tree (Sophora japonica) blooming in my backyard. It’s a vigorous, glorious explosion at a time when resources have gone dry in Albuquerque, so the girls have decided to call in the ground troops for timely assistance.

Japanese pagoda tree in luscious bloom

While their airborne sisters rush to extract pollen each morning from the delicate pea-like blooms, a few dozen honeybees scour the ground for fallen blossoms still containing a bit of pollen.

Scouring the ground for pollen-filled blossoms from the Pagoda Tree

It’s an unusual two-pronged approach. Never before have I seen seen bees gathering pollen from the ground so here’s yet another item on the growing list of the existential pleasures of beekeeping.


Bees in Winter: Scenes of Hibernation by Ella, Nina, and Sasha

28 Nov

What do bees do all winter anyway? According to my elementary school nieces, here’s what goes down inside a hive full of girl bees waiting all winter for a sip of spring nectar…

In Ella’s words:

If I we’re a bee I would sleep all winter and I would decorate my house with flowers also I would decorate it with snowmen pictures in the summer I will collect pollin from flowers!

Winter Bees by Ella, age 6

According to Nina:

If I we’re a bee I would paint my house with gold and black paint my bed would be lime green and my job would be to pollinate I would do anything to become a bee for just one hour all I would like to do is to soar I just hope they have cherrys to eat if not  I would eat honey bees are fassanating creatures.

Winter Bees by Nina, age 8

Sasha’s thoughts on bees:

Have you ever thought what it would be like to be a bee?  I have and I think it would be awesome to be a bee for even 1 second!  If I were a bee, in the winter, I would chatter with my friends all night as we snuggled up in our honeycomb, trying to stay warm.   My friends and I would drink warm honey all day long.  It would be HEAVEN for me!  I would have a smokey fire in my room to keep me warm all winter.  I would probably get loney, though.  I would miss my parents and my sister bees.  I would especially miss my baby brother bee, Luka!!!  After the cold winter, I would get up and smell the fresh Spring air. I’d spread my wings, leap into the air, and gather pollen for the queen to make honey.  PERFECT!!

Winter Bees by Sasha, age 8

The Pollen Files: Chamisa

10 Oct

Though lacking a certain pizzazz, a certain, ahem…. radioactivity found elsewhere in New Mexican chamisa, our backyard shrubs bloom gloriously each fall and right when our beehives need the protein for winter. As we speak, the lurid market is open for business.

Chamisa (Ericameria nauseosa) may smell like a wet armpit and cause allergies to flare, but it’s xeric and reliable and a tasty high-protein sunburst for both native and European bees.

Pollen baskets full from the chamisa market

The Pollen Files: Cornflower

27 Apr

Spring in the city is subject to the whimsy of urban gardeners which, in the case of one neighbor, means a yard full of brilliant blue cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus).

Like any of nature’s shamans, a beekeeper can’t help but pause for a peek. In this case, I was rewarded with the strange knowledge that a plant so dedicated to blue bears a ghostly white pollen and apparently one quite appealing to neighborhood honeybees.

Gathering white pollen

Grow Yer Own: Bee Friendly Plants from Seed

29 Jan

Tis the season — restless and cold-weary — to dream up the summer’s homegrown delights. This year, consider adding a few nectar-rich items to your smorgasbord for neighborhood bees.

Bee Balm (Monarda citriodora)

Bee Balm

Used by Native Americans to brew a tea; replaced black tea during the Boston Tea Party. Citrus-flavored leaves can be minced and added to fruit and used for jellies. Beautiful purplish bracts, 24-30″ tall, aromatic and colorful in fall. Excellent bee forage plant. Hardy perennial in zones 5-9.

Available at SeedSavers

Bee’s Friend (Phacelia tanacetifolia)

Bee's Friend

Can be used to strongly attract bees to your garden. “Bienen-freund” in German translates as “bee’s friend.” Subtle lavender-blue flowers with curved spikes that are absolutely covered by many different species of bees. Excellent results when used as an annual cover crop. Approximately 16,000 seeds per ounce. Annual, 12–24″ tall.

Available at SeedSavers

Borage (Borago officinalis)


Bushy, fuzzy-leafed plants produce edible 1 in. blue flowers that bees love. Tasty in tea and salads, the flowers also make pretty cake decorations.

Available at SeedsofChange

Cleome, Spider Plant (Cleome hasslerana)


Bees and hummingbirds love this flower! Multi- branched plant produces whorls of pale pink to purple flowers at the top of the stems. Flowers have long protruding stamens, giving a spidery appearance.

Available at SeedsofChange

What else?

What have you found attracts bees in the ‘hood?

The Pollen Files: Fernbush

14 Jul

Fernbush, Chamaebatiaria millefolium, is hardly a Prom queen knock-out. In fact, its tiny white flowers are barely noticeable.

But when the high heat of summer hits us full force in Albuquerque, it’s the low-water fernbush that nurtures us through. After the lavender bloom but before the aster and solidago flush with late summer goodies, it’s the delicate and sweet-eyed fernbush that quietly offers sustenance for our hungry pollinators.

My girls are all over it like teenagers desperate for a date, oblivious to me the camera-wielding parent oh-so-annoying in my insistence that Prom be fully documented for posterity.

Gathering pollen from the fernbush

Gathering pollen from the fernbush

Mmm... summertime munchies

Mmm... summertime munchies

The Summer Nectar Series

21 Jun

Just before the heat of summer in Albuquerque, lavender and blue borage flow like a speakeasy still.

Get a bee-friendly planting guide for your area

The summer gorge

The summer gorge

Where the wild bees grow

9 Jun

Just past the cluster of roadrunners and lizards, not far from the Rio Grande bisecting Albuquerque, there’s a wild hive of honeybees.

The girls work quietly in an old cottonwood along the bosque bike trail near Paseo del Norte.




Bird of Paradise: Bee-Friendly & Xeric

8 Jun

Its gifts are double, this strange flowering bush-tree. It’s called Yellow Bird of Paradise ( Caesalpinia gilliesii) and it grows shockingly well in Albuquerque without much supplemental water which is a boon for city-kept bees.

Currently, my girls are harvesting both nectar and pollen from Caesalpinia gilliesii like sincere clowns in a circus display. Some dangle and bob from long red stamens plucking what pollen they may. Others, more aggressive perhaps, dive straight in and deep where nectar lies at the bottom of petals the color of egg yolk.

Harvesting nectar from the yellow bird of paradise bush

Harvesting nectar from the yellow bird of paradise bush

The cactus bees are here!

19 May

At least in Albuquerque, the docile European honeybee hasn’t totally edged out our natives.  The prickly pear cactus in my yard has just started blooming which attracts bees from the genus Diadasia, also known as cactus bees.

One very blissed-out cactus bee

One very blissed-out cactus bee

These kids are spazzy — like my niece Nina after those twinkies Mimi insists on feeding her — they duck and dive and roll. With the kind of lust possible only after desert-induced deprivation, cactus bees fling themselves into a flower and cover their entire bodies with pollen. 

Utter abandoned bliss.

If chocolate suddenly disappeared from shelves in North America, you’d find me with the frenzy of a cactus bee, bathing in Scharffen Berger the minute I tracked down a source.