Winter flowers for a Pollen Hotel

As spring arrives lots of flowers start to appear and so does the food for bees. However in winter food can be scarce for bees. Here are a few things you can plant in your garden to provide food for bees in winter when they really need it.

Calendula grows really well from seed. They provide lots of flowers all year round that bees love.

Borage also grow well from seed. They are blue and have a single petal arrangement, which are easy for honey bees to forage from.

Nasturtiums thrive in winter if you don’t get frosts.

Herbs like Rosemary, Thyme, Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Sage, Oregano, Lavender and Mint provide an abundance of flowers all year round.

Forage peas, Lupins and Broad beans are manure crops that will provide food for bees in winter while preparing your garden for the next spring.

The New Zealand native Hebe comes in many colours and is an excellent winter food source for bees.

Koanga Seeds produce a beneficial seed blend called Herbal Ley full of plants that produce food for bees including Alfalfa, Phacelia, Buckwheat, White Lupin, Daikon, Radish, Rape seed, Red Clover, Subterranean Clover, White clover, Yarrow, Plantain and Chicory.

King Seeds have put together several beneficial seed blends of plants that produce food for bees. One called Beneficial Insect Blend includes Buckwheat, Dill, Bishops Flower, Parsnip, Fennel, Bergamot and White Alyssum. Another called Bring on the Bees is full of Anise Hyssop, Bergamot, Bee Balm, Borage, Echium Blue Bedder and Phacelia Lacy. A blend called Wildflower Pollinator includes Rudbeckia, Thyme, Red Clover, Phacelia, Echium, Salvia, Cornflower, and European Poppy.

For more ideas of what plants to grow to provide food for bees check out this website.

If you are going to grow your plants from seed check out our post on what seeds to use as not all seeds sold in New Zealand are safe for bees.


A few wonderful facts about bees

Did you know that the distinctive buzzing sound of the honeybee is formed from the honeybee’s wings fluttering at 11.400 times per second.

Bees can really only see four colours – yellow, blue, blue-green and ultraviolet but they can smell really well and love the scents that come from thyme, citrus and roses.

Each honey bee will only make 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its life time.

Honey bees dance to communicate to each other where good food sources are. This is called the waggle dance. It comprises of two main parts that scientists understand. The waggle dance always involves a figure 8 movement. But this figure 8 configuration changes depending on  1. The location of the sun to the honeybee at the time the honey bee first locates the food source  2. The distance or time needed to travel to get to this food source. Scientists also think the waggle may differ depending on the quality of the food source but as this is a qualitative not quantitive quality it much more difficult to prove.

Youtube video

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Making sure the flowers you grow don’t harm bees

Many common garden sprays, and pyrethrum before it has dried, can be harmful to bees. Some systemic pesticides and fungicides are even being directly linked to colony collapse.

All labels on gardening products do tell you if they are safe for bees or not and warn not to spray when bees are about. Some of these products are systemic pesticides and fungicides which means their active ingredient remains in the plant tissue well after the spray has been applied. Traces of these residual chemicals remain in the plant and the nectar and pollen it produces. When bees and other pollinators gather the nectar and pollen from these poisoned plants they are exposed. This exposure can result in paralysis and even death of the bee. The death of bees is collateral damage of these applications.

The systemic insecticide family called Neonicotinoid is designed to effect the central nervous system of insects causing paralysis before death. It is the most widely used insecticide in the world and has been directly linked to colony collapse disorder. Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and the State of Oregon in the USA have banned or restricted its use but here in New Zealand its use is prevalent and alarming since bee numbers are in serious decline.

Neonicotinoid in sprays and coated onto seeds are toxic to bees in very low concentrations. It doesn’t make sense to use chemicals which kill bees when there are so many effective chemical free alternatives to deal with the grubs, aphids and other insects.

A pollen hotel can be a great food source for a bee, but when a flower has residual systemic chemicals within it, it becomes a bee death trap.

Read this recent article for more in-depth discussion on Neonicotinoids.

We will be doing more posts on products that are detrimental to bees and alternatives that are bee friendly.

Also check out the post on What seeds are safe for bees?

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The difference between pollen and nectar

Nectar is a sweet solution of sugars produced by the plant which is what bees collect to make honey. Flowers make this nectar to ensure bees get close enough to their male anthers which are covered in pollen, the powder you see on the bees back and legs. The flower needs the bee to transport this pollen to its female companion in order for fertilization to take place so it can produce a fruit. It is this process that ensures we get the vegetables and fruits and grains we love to eat.

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Beehive update #1- 17th, May 2014

Julian McCurdy from Beezthingz checked the hives for the first time and reported back saying “from the photo you can see all the uncapped cells are full of new “wet” honey which means that the bees are finding food. All in all, so far so good.”

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Local raw honey may help hay fever

There are many reasons for wanting to eat honey made by bees in the area you live.

“The benefits of eating raw honey are largely due to the fact that raw honey contains proteins and enzymes that the body uses to rebuild cells. Additionally, in its raw form honey contains pollen, which is responsible for the anti-bacterial and immune boosting properties. However, once heat treated the pollen is destroyed and the immune boosting properties are significantly reduced.

Many people who suffer from hay fever have found this can be reduced or can cease altogether once they introduce local raw honey gradually into their diet. The idea is that bees become covered in pollen spores when they travel from one flower to the next. These spores are then transferred to their honey. It is thought that eating that honey, even just a spoonful a day, can build immunity through gradual exposure and work in the body like a natural vaccine.

Be aware in some cases honey itself can trigger severe allergic reactions, including anaphylactic shock. So do not attempt to use honey if you’ve ever experienced an adverse reaction in the past. Use it sparingly until you’ve confirmed that you can tolerate it.”

Kate from Food as Medicine 

Sprays that harm bees

Products that harm bees or other things…including us.

Yates-Confidor-Ready to use Insecticide (registered to Bayer distributed by Yates)label states-Harmful to terrestrial invertebrates. Toxic to Bees. Avoid contact with skin and inhalation of spray mist. Has a 3 day holding period when sprayed on food.

Kiwicare-Spectrum label states-Store away from foodstuffs, children. Avoid contact with skin and inhalation of spray. Wash hands and exposed skin after use. Do not use around food or animal feed producing plants. Harmful to aquatic life. Do not spray on flowers if they are likely to be visited by bees.

Yates-Natures Way-Pyrethrum Is a natural insect spray but is harmful to bees if they make contact with it when its wet.

Yates-Soil Insect Killer label states-This products may be harmful if swallowed, absorbed by the skin or inhaled. May impair human fertility and the nervous system of the unborn child if taken orally in repeated high doses. Harmful to mammals, birds, insects, earthworms, bees and aquatic life.

Yates-Natures Way-Insect and Mite Spray label states-May cause  irritation to skin and eyes. May be slightly harmful to the aquatic life.

Yates-Natures Way-Fungus Spray label states-The material maybe harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. May cause eye irritation and an allergic reaction following skin contact. May harm the digestive system or liver if taken orally at repeated high doses. very toxic to aquatic life and may harm mammals and birds.

Enviro Shield-Residual insecticide stays active for weeks-Deadly to insects Kind to the environment label states-Toxic to fish. Harmful if swallowed…inhaled. May cause skin and eye irritation. Do not spray near food.

Yates-Champ DP Copper Fungicide label states-This product is corrosive and may cause sever eye irritation and eye damage. May be harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed by the skin. Harmful to the lungs through prolonged or repeated exposure at high doses. May cause skin irritation or an allergic skin reaction. Very toxic to the aquatic environment. Toxic to fish. Harmful to mammals and birds.

Yates-Copper Oxychloride label states-Harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. May cause  severe eye irritation. May harm digestive  system or liver if taken orally at repeated doses. Very toxic to aquatic life, mammals and birds. Do not allow drift over aquatic environment, or onto other crops. May cause harm to soft plant tissue…may russet fruit.Keep children, pets, wildlife and birds away from treated areas until spray is dry.

Yates-Blitzhem Pellets-Kills slugs and snails label states-Do not apply to edible plants. On pasture withhold stock for seven days. Maybe harmful if swallowed. Mild eye irritant. May impair human fertility or cause damage to the unborn child, liver or digestive system if taken orally at repeated high doses. Maybe slightly harmful to the aquatic environment. Keep pets off treated areas. Accidental poisoning may be fatal.

Yates-Baysol Snail and  Slug Bait label states- May be harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through skin.May cause organ damage from repeated oral exposure. Toxic to aquatic life. Toxic to terrestrial vertebrates. Harmful to terrestrial invertebrates. May be harmful to soil environment.

The Glyphosate based products below don’t give you much information at all on their labels. This interview however explains how it works and what effect it has.

Monsanto-Roundup label states-Avoid contact with eyes and avoid breathing spray mist. When spraying wear suitable boots and cotton overalls. Wash exposed skin before meals and after work. Wash clothing after use. Avoid contaminating water supply with the chemical or empty container. Avoid contact with desirable plants and if accidentally sprayed hose off immediately to reduce injury.

Kiwicare-Weed Weapon Dead To The Roots Dead Quick label states-Do not use around fruit vines, avocados or sensitive plants. Avoid spray contact with foliage, new bark or near roots of desirable plants. Do not use around food or animal feed producing plants. Avoid contamination of waterways. Avoid contact with eyes and skin and inhalation of spray.

Yates-Zero Rapid 1-Hour Action Weedkiller label states-This substance may be harmful if swallowed or inhaled. May cause eye irritation or mild skin irritation…designed for biocidal action against plants. Avoid contamination of any water supply or fishponds…do not allow drift onto plants you do not want killed.

McGregors-Weedout-General Weed Control Data Sheet states-Toxic to aquatic organisms. Avoid contact with eyes and skin. Avoid inhaltion of spray mist. If swallowed may cause burning sensation in throat and chest, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea….substance may bioaccumulate

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A powerful blessing followed by a call for pollen hotels

The Parks central point was fully activated with a powerful and heart warming karakia given by Rereata Makiha and Otene Reweti from Auckland Council’s Te Waka Angamua team, in an early morning blessing ceremony on the 3rd of May 2014. As we gathered on the western side of the hives and looked towards the first light the vibrations of Otene’s karakia energized the bees so they began to spiral high up into the air space above the hives. The intention of this blessing was to honor the historical and contemporary kaitiaiki and guardianship the local iwi have in this city and to ask them to bring this knowledge of custodianship to us all so we might also become effective protectors and caretakers of these bees.

These bees require respect within the hexagonal space in Victoria park but they also need support within the greater Waitemata. Winter is a tough time for all bees in the city. This project hopes to amplify this issue and inspire people to transform this reality by very simply planting a pollen hotel be it large or small, and to post a photo of it on the map. This will help visualise the difference this collective action makes. Leave an email contact when  you add a pollen hotel and we will contact you and let you know when you can come and get some of the honey you helped nurture.

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Bee – collector and producer

The Bee as a collector sources two elements produced by the flower, Nectar and Pollen.

The Nectar, is sought out and gathered intentionally to bring back to the hive to make honey. Using tiny hooks on its feet the bee is able to attach itself to the flower so it can use its tongue to suck out the nectar within the flower. The bee uses a small part of this nectar as food for itself but the bulk of it is returned to the hive where it is spat out and stored as what we know as honey.

The Pollen is gathered incidentally due to the bodily structure and organization of the bee. As the tiny hairs on the body and legs of the bee brush against the stamen (the male reproductive organ of the flower) pollen is unwittingly captured and brought back to the hive where it is stored away or consumed.

The Bee as a producer processes these two collected elements and uses his own body to create an entirely new substance called wax. Using this new product produced by himself the bee is able to build elongated hexagonal cells in order to store an egg or food supplies for the future.

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Preparing ground to welcome our six bench beehives

The Western side of Victoria Park will become base camp for the six bench beehives that are the central focus of the public sculpture The Park. We are creating a Pasture Painting in the shape of a Hexagonal over which these six hives will be placed. We are lucky as the ground under this hexagonal form is topsoil that was recently placed here as part of the tunnel development. Our preparation for this Pasture Painting includes getting our chemical free weed control partners Biothermal to hot water spray the space inside the hexagonal. This process uses water at a consistent temperature of 98 degrees to instantly kill the plants cells in the same way that a intensive burn effects our skin. This has a sweet smell a bit like boiling spinach. The sun assists with the dehydration process that follows which transforms the green space into a brown space within hours. Microbiology within cm of the surface is effected but there is no residual chemicals left in the space at all and no flight bound creatures need worry about any chemical particles which will harm them. We will inoculate this space with microbiology as we scatter seeds using Nutri-Life Network-AMF with Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi and Trichoderma from Franko Solutions in Silverdale. We will also use BioHome Garden a microbiological liquid concentrate supplied by Bio Organic Solutions Ltd several times in the first couple of weeks to help support our seedlings.

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New Zealand native plants that produce food for bees

The ti kouka (cabbage tree), harakeke (flax), kanuka, manuka, hebe , karo, pohutukawa, rewarewa, kaihua (NZ jasmine), puawhananga (NZ Clematis), kumarahou, kohuhu and wharangi are all good food sources for bees. However most of these plants tend to produce an abundance of food for bees for only a small period of the year.  It is useful to think about other plants you can introduce into these environments that will produce nectar in these intervals so that bees can source nectar all year round.  Many bee-keepers resort to feeding their hives sugar to deal with these barren periods. It is of course better if bees can get their food supply in natural ways to remain as healthy as possible.

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Beezthingz – a family’s admiration for bees

Julian and Oliver McCurdy are second generation bee keepers. It was their father’s love of bees that culminated in the business the two brothers now run. Beezthingz uses the latest strategies to care for bees as is demonstrated by the innovative green roofs they have produced to go on their bench hives for The Park. But after decades of trial and error they insist natural chemical free practices support healthy, happy bees that produce the best quality honey. They now run the biggest hire hive business in Auckland servicing hundreds of hives as well as teaching through their workshops. They are proud to let us know they lost almost no hives this year which is incredible as bees in New Zealand and the world are in serious decline. Come and do one of their workshops where they will share their strategies’ on how to love and nurture bees with you.