Friday, January 17, 2020

Where Do Bees Go In Winter?

Where Do Bees Go in the Winter?

By: Lisa Mason, Arapahoe County Extension

I have been asked a few times what happens to the bees in the winter. Bees and other insects have special adaptations, so their species survives from year to year. Here is a look at bee adaptations and life cycles in the winter time.

Honey Bees
Worker bees foraged all summer and into fall bringing in food reserves to last them the winter. When temperatures start to drop, honey bees huddle together to make a cluster and shiver their wings. Shivering provides warmth for the hive. Their main goal is to keep the queen warm so the colony can survive. The core temperature in the hive can be as high as approximately 91 degrees Fahrenheit. A healthy hive with adequate food storage is more likely to survive, which reinforces the importance of best beekeeping practices by the beekeeper all year. Read how to prep a hive for winter here.

A honey bee, Apis mellifera. Photo: Lisa Mason

Solitary Bees
Solitary bees live a one-year life cycle. During the life cycle, a female bee builds a nest underground or in a cavity. She will collect pollen and nectar to bring back to the nest. All the collected pollen and nectar is made into a ball called “bee bread” which will be all the food needed for one growing bee. The female lays an egg on the bee bread and seals up the nest. After the egg hatches, the larva will go through full metamorphosis from a larva, to a pupa, and on to an adult before emerging from the nest the following season. The lives ended for the female and male solitary bees we saw flying around this summer, but their brood is warm for the winter underground or in a cavity, and will emerge next summer.
The solitary bee lifecycle. Graphic: Lisa Mason

A native bee emerging from her underground nest. Photo: MaLisa Spring

Bumble Bees
Bumble bees live underground or in large cavities and have a one-year life cycle, like a solitary bee. During the summer, new queens and male bees hatched. They left their colonies to mate. As temperatures dropped, the male bees and worker bees from the current season’s colony died. The new, mated queens found a place to rest and hibernate over the winter, usually underground. When spring arrives, she will emerge, begin to forage, build a new nest, and lay eggs. The eggs will mostly be female worker bees at the beginning of the season. The queen will continue to lay eggs throughout the season. In late summer, new queens and male bumble bees will hatch and leave the colony and the cycle repeats itself. Queen bumble bees are capable of living alone, unlike honey bee queens.

A bumble bee, Bombus sp. Photo: Lisa Mason

For more information on bee lifecycles, you can read the Native Bee Watch Citizen Science Field Guide.

For more information on what happens to other insects in the winter, you can refer to this CO-Horts Blog post written by Jessica Wong.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Low-Cost Seedling Trees and Shrubs Available

Low-Cost Seedling Trees and Shrubs Available

Low-cost seedling trees and shrubs from the Colorado State Forest Service are now available for order, as part of the 2020 Trees for Conservation seedling tree program. The seedlings can be purchased locally from cooperating agencies across Colorado. Early orders are encouraged while a larger species selection is available.

The focus of the tree seedling program is to help landowners to meet conservation goals, restore forests impacted by wildfire and other disturbance, reduce soil loss, and enhance wildlife habitat. The program also allows landowners to plant vegetation in areas impacted by tree insects and diseases.
Forester Mike Till hopes the program will inspire landowners to take personal pride in the care of their properties through planting trees or shrubs. Planting seedlings can help increase the resilience of the forest to natural disasters by re-establishing lost vegetation, reducing soil erosion, improving air quality, and improving regional species diversity.

When considering which species to plant, landowners should consider elevation, aspect and soil type. Visit the Colorado State Forest Service website to find your local seedling sale and to obtain local assistance on tree species selection and ordering.

Friday, December 20, 2019

2019 Was A Mega Mast Year

A tree with a high amount of pine cones (Cherie Luke) 

Living in the mountains means we are surrounded by forest with it’s many trees -
mostly evergreens. As I hike and tend to my own yard I have noticed that there
are more pine cones on the trees and on the ground than I ever remember seeing
before. What I learned was that the summer of 2019 is considered a Mega Mast

A Mega Mast Year is a year in which trees and other plants produce
exceptionally high amounts of seed. ‘Mast’ are the fruits, seeds, and nuts of
trees and shrubs, which are eaten by wildlife.

According to a Google search, after trying .edu search on the subject, “The
summer of 2019 has been a Mega Mast Year, when trees across large areas of
forest synchronously flower en masse. The prolific fruits and seeds that follow
have triggered a good breeding season for many birds and other wildlife.”

The amazing thing about a Mega Mast year I just learned according to an article
by Ethan Trapper, a Chittenden County, VT forester, is “The key strategy is
coordination - it works if everyone does it at once. How tree species coordinate
mast years is still somewhat of a mystery, but this ‘synchrony’ is probably aided
by some combination of chemical signals passed through the air or through
underground root/fungal connections and weather cues.”

To read more about this fascinating event you can visit:

By Cherie Luke, Jefferson County Master Gardener

Friday, December 13, 2019

My Top Tips for Mountain Gardening

After nearly 20 years of gardening in the mountains, I am moving from zone 4 to zone 6.  While there is part of me that is excited about the expanded possibilities for my new garden (cactus, tomatoes, and vines, here we come!), I am also cognizant of some of the pleasures of gardening in the mountains, such as the bountiful season-long color, the zing and flash of the many hummingbirds, and the more plentiful rains (combined with cooler temps) that make it possible to use very little water to garden.

As my parting mountain garden blog post, I want to leave you with my top tips for gardening in the mountains:

  1.   Growing degree days are key. 

Each plant has a different temperature set point at which to germinate, grow, and set flowers or fruit.  Some plants, such as cool season plants, don’t need to accumulate as much heat to do their thing.  Warm season or late blooming plants need to accumulate a lot more heat – and mountain gardens can’t always provide enough heat.  This means that the USDA zone for a plant doesn’t tell the whole story. A plant may be hardy to zone 3, but if it needs a lot of heat in the summer, it won’t bloom satisfactorily.  

Native plums are a good example – they are hard to zone 3, but they will not flower and fruit unless they get enough heat. Because I adore them, I decided to try them at my house at 8,700’ on the south side, and while they are alive and leaf out every summer, they have never bloomed due to the lack of heat. I plan on digging them up and bringing them with me to my new garden, so they can achieve their full potential. Similarly, don’t buy late-summer or fall blooming plants, because they need more heat to bloom.  I’m looking at you, Echinacea and Russian Sage!  At my house, they
                  were just beginning to bloom when summer was over and snow was starting to fly.

2.       Maximize microclimates (or manufacture them).

Microclimates are hugely important in the mountains.  There can be up to one zone difference between sides of the house, or sides of the mountains.  This is why I like to say “my 8,700 ft. is not the same as your 8,700 ft.”  On a south-facing exposure, you may be able to grow an entirely different suite of plants than someone with a north or north-east exposure.  Similarly, the south facing side of your house is the place to put your more tender plants, and the north side should be for bone-hardy shade tolerant plants.  Another tip is to create your own microclimate by building a bed that slopes to the south, and adding large rocks (head size or bigger) to maximize heat.

3.       Keep expectations in check: take “altitude discounts”

  • Plants at elevation usually do not grow as high or tall as they do at lower elevations. So, if a shrub says it usually gets to be 8 feet tall, figure on 5-6 feet. 

  • Similarly, gardens are much slower to establish and fully fill in at higher elevations. It's not you, it’s the growing season. 

4.       It’s better to exclude critters than continuously try to fight them.

Make sure you figure out which critter is truly damaging your garden, because this will help you know how to deal with them:

Hardware cloth
If you are putting in a new bed, consider either digging out the area and installing hardware cloth (a ¼” wire mesh) at the bottom (and then replace the soil), or putting in a raised bed and tacking hardware cloth to the bottom. 

Pocket gophers are one of the most problematic critters out there, since they are prolific, live underground, and eat a plant’s roots.  Voles are also problematic, but they are frequently blamed for the damage caused by pocket gophers. Voles usually just eat the tops of herbaceous plants or girdle woody plants rather than eating roots. Voles can be excluded by loosely wrapping hardware cloth around the lower trunk of trees and shrubs. 

Rabbits can be excluded with a 2 ft. high fence, and deer with a 7.5-8 ft. fence.   
Moose are just a problem, and can get through most fences. It’s also hard to chase them away!

5.     Be Darwinian

  •  Another one of my favorite sayings is, “if you’re not killing plants, you’re not trying hard enough.”  I recommend experimenting with plants to see if they will work at your house – and even not to give up if they die over the first winter. If you really want a plant, try it again in a different microclimate.  However, if it doesn’t work again, maybe it’s time to give up on it and move on. 

  • Don’t be afraid to get rid of unsatisfactory performers. If a plant doesn’t bloom after a few years, is prone to disease, or the critters love it, let it go. There are many other plants out there. 

6.       Ask yourself if warm season vegetables are really worth the time and effort.

 Yes, you *can* grow tomatoes, but is the flavor and yield worth the months of tending seedlings, watering them, and protecting them from early frost, hail, and critters?  I grew tomatoes for many years,  and had the bragging rights of getting ripe tomatoes in the mountains, but decided in the end that it wasn’t worth it.  Your mileage, of course, may vary, especially in a warmer microclimate. 

Warm season vegetables that may prove more rewarding include some early summer squash, bush beans, and early cucumbers.  Corn and pumpkins are even harder than tomatoes, and I don’t recommend even experimenting (although I know that will cause some of you to go right out to prove me wrong, and more power to you) 

You will struggle less and produce more if you stick with cool season vegetables (see this fact sheet for examples:

7.       Floating row covers are your vegetable garden’s best friend.

A floating row cover is a spun-polyester fabric that lets light and water through, but provides a little frost protection, keeps insects out (and critters!), filters the high-intensity high elevation sunlight, increases humidity, and provides some hail protection.  What’s not to love?  

Floating row covers
Most of the cool season crops such as kale and lettuce don’t need to be pollinated, so my practice is to keep the row covers on all season, and just take them off to weed, check on the plants, and harvest.  I lay the fabric directly on the plants, and don’t use any supports. I have found that almost any kind of support causes the row cover to rip in the wind.  

The covers will last for many seasons if they don’t rip, which is good, because they are not super cheap. Don’t buy the very light insect-only row covers – they will not stand up to the wind.  They should be a bit opaque and provide a little frost protection.  I seldom see them for sale in garden centers, so you may need to buy them online. 

By Irene Shonle, Horticulture Associate, CSU Extension