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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.


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

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

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.

Vacation Pollination: Saguaro

16 May

Seeing the saguaro bloom was the only thing I wanted for my birthday. And I got it.

Daylight pollination of the saguaro cactus

Daylight pollination of the saguaro cactus

A four day weekend in Tucson, AZ and a 6am hike in the Sonoran desert chalked up the moment I was waiting for… Though the stately saguaro cacti are usually pollinated at night by bats (the Lesser Long-nosed Bat, to be exact),  the blossoms remain open for a few hours each morning giving local honeybees a shot at the goodies.

[More saguaro photos on Flickr]

The Great Rosemary Bloom

6 Apr

I moved to Albuquerque for the rosemary. Unlike Chicago, here you can grow rosemary outdoors, harvesting its resiny leaves 12 months a year for your polenta and scones and garlicky lamb.

And if Winter was wet enough but not TOO wet, rosemary shrubs in Albuquerque will bloom each Spring like a cloud of violets drawing bees from miles around.

Honeybee and rosemary

Honeybee and rosemary

The Pollen Files: Three-Leaf Sumac

28 Mar

Spring is a fickle vixen in the high desert of Albuquerque. Three weeks ago, the girls were feisty and fixin’ to swarm. Last night, the water in their bird bath was frozen.

Never you mind, though, because the pollen rush continues.

Gathering nectar and pollen from three-leaf sumac

Gathering nectar and pollen from three-leaf sumac

Walking past a nondescript bush this afternoon, I noticed it vibrating with activity like a bowling alley on league night. It’s three-leaf sumac (Rhus trilobata), a desert shrub whose glory days come each fall when the leaves turn bright, bright red.

But my honey bees love it now. As it blooms in early spring from tiny pale catkins, they swarm it like the high school wallflower turned ravishing beauty at their 10 year reunion. Rhus trilobata is in its prime.

The Pollen Files: Gopher Spurge

19 Mar

Otherwise oblivious to my surroundings, keeping bees has forced this big city girl to slow the hell down and smell the pollen.

Hardly a captivating show, gopher spurge is one of the earliest bloomers in Albuquerque but my girls found it immediately. Not only does gopher spurge give up a juicy load of nectar but it produces pollen too, with a coral, almost red color.

Honeybee collecting pollen from gopher spurge

Honeybee collecting pollen and nectar from gopher spurge

The last bee bears the coral-red pollen from gopher spurge

The last bee bears the coral-red pollen from gopher spurge