Sunday, May 8, 2016

Apiaries 1

Rogue River (Wimer), OR
[Also see: Apiaries Pt. 2] I have recently been employed by a local commercial beekeeping operation in Southern Oregon. Old Sol Bees has been breeding and selling pest and pathogen resistant queens and nucs (short for nucleus, or starter colonies), as well as providing pollination services for nearly twenty years in the outskirts of Rogue River, OR. I've learned more about beekeeping in the last two weeks than the three years I've had my own hive. It's funny, since I can talk all day about the life cycles, habitats, and forage preferences of various native solitary bee groups. Basically, I got a beehive years ago with merely a few beekeeping books under my sleeve and nobody to show me the ins-and-outs. It is truly a deed best learned through hands on experience and guidance from people who know what they're talking about. Books only went so far.

So being the camera junkie I am, I've decided to photograph some of the idyllic apiaries Old Sol is fortunate to operate in. These are located on private land in a variety of mutualistic agreements (a place to put the hives in exchange for, say, free honey or pollination, or just because the landowner loves bees). Please right-click on the photos to view the enlarged version, as the panoramas are rather large files. The panorama above is the apiary closest to home, a field that is home to both horses and some very curious yet friendly llamas. The field is flanked with big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), madrone (Arbutus menziesii), and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), all of which give the bees a great start at the beginning of the year. There are a few other apiaries in Rogue River that I will photograph and share in a future post.

Central Point, OR
The Central Point apiary is located on a 100+ year old organic [though not certified due to prohibitive costs] family farm that grows mainly pears, as well as a variety of annual crops. They also have a very large rose garden, though they are likely mostly doubled roses which offer little to bees. A variety or wild roses and other crop weeds are a likely source of nutrition for these bees throughout most of the year after the pears are done blooming. One weed in particular, catsear (Hypochaeris radicata) was blooming en masse during my last visit earlier this week. It is an excellent taprooted resource for a variety of bees, and even though it will probably be turned or disked into the soil it is no doubt a great source of nutrition.

Ashland, OR
Ashland is host to two apiaries, one of which I have yet to work. This apiary is situated on a hillside amidst wildflowers, native and otherwise, with a stunning view of the valley. The kind owner is simply a fan of honeybees, and wanted them nearby despite having a hive or two herself. As mentioned, there were a ton of wildflowers. A few natives are shown in detail below, but others include hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) and starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis), two very invasive yet bee-friendly weeds.

Achyrachaena mollis
At first I had assumed this was a species of Madia, bearing a few resemblances such as petal color and shape as well as the entire plant being covered by hairs (minus the resinous odor). I now know this is the monotypic species Achyrachaena mollis, often referred to as blowwives. This is an annual species native to California and SW Oregon that is better known for the showy seed heads which to casual passerby would resemble flowers. I will return to this apiary throughout the year, and will no doubt see/photograph the said plants in seed. And in case you were wondering, this photo shows the fully opened flower. I didn't see honeybees working them, though the weather was poor which would have limited their foraging activity that day.

Amsinckia menziesii var intermedia
Another wildflower in bloom is common fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii var intermedia), one of my favorite wildflowers. It is in the family Boraginaceae, a family that includes many bee-coveted plants such as the ubiquitous borage (Borago officinalis), comfrey (Symphytum sp.), Echium sp., and others. These were growing to roughly two feet in large drifts as shown here:

Amsinckia menziesii var intermedia
Due to the clouds and low light of the days I was there, there were few pollinators about and most of our honeybees remained in their hives. I'd be surprised, however, if during optimal conditions the honeybees ignored this resource.

Grants Pass (Merlin), OR
Our Grants Pass apiary, actually situated between Merlin and Grants Pass, is accessed through a dense forest which opens up to this very large field that I think is home to cattle for at least part of the year. Few was in bloom in the field, the most prominent wildflower being English plantain (Plantago lanceolata). The forest, no greater than twenty feet away, was host to a variety of wildflowers such as Dichelostemma capitatum, Silene hookeri, and poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum). The particular Silene is most likely a fly pollinated species, while the other two would be of use to honeybees if it weren't for the heavy shade which tends to deter honeybees despite the abundance of blooms.

Lower Table Rock, Central Point, OR
Table Rocks in Central Point are known for their vast floral diversity and endemic wildflower species, much of which is bee pollinated. The surrounding landscape, however, is wrought with nonnative agricultural weeds like vetch (Vicia sp.) and teasel (Dipsacus fullonum). The apiary is still a sight to behold, situated between both Upper and Lower Table Rocks.

Castilleja tenuis
One flower stood out to me, probably the only native angiosperm in a mile radius, hairy paintbrush (Castilleja tenuis). These are bee- or perhaps occasionally hummingbird-pollinated plants, though to be sure I saw no sign of pollinators on it (I was hard at work!) This is an annual species that is probably more known for having yellow flowers rather than white.

Castilleja tenuis 
Castilleja are semi-parasitic, meaning they tap into the root systems of nearby plants, either trees or grasses (I am unsure which, or maybe both), though they do photosynthesize unlike true parasites like broomrape (Orobanche) or ground cone (Boschniakia). I have read that they can be grown without a host, but require additional fertilization (which I cannot fully endorse since learning about the potential harm fertilizers can do to soil fauna).

Adventure!
Want to help bees and other pollinators? All the experts point to two things anyone can do to help: A) plant flowers and B) don't use broad spectrum pesticides. Planting flowers, or improving wildflower habitats by removing or controlling noxious weeds, gives bees [and other pollinators] the opportunity to remain fit through good nutrition. Avoiding pesticides, be they herbicides or insecticides, should be obvious. Of course there are times when, in my view, the use of such chemicals is warranted (infestations of either hard to control noxious weeds or particularly harmful invertebrates, for example). Proper use (by reading the labels) and good discretion should always be top priority. But by providing good nutrition to beneficial invertebrates, hopefully with locally native wildflowers, the need to use pesticides should drop dramatically. Good day to you! [Also see: Apiaries Pt. 2]

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