Tag Archive | bees

What’s really happening to all of the Honeybees?

by Kevin Jarek, UWEX Crops, Soils, & Horticultural Agent and OCMGA Advisor

Note: this article appeared in the summer 2007 edition of our newsletter. Honeybees continue to be in the news as evidenced by links at the end of this article.

Well, unless you live under a rock, it would have been nearly impossible to avoid hearing some of the numerous theories (and I use this word strongly) as to why we are seeing a sharp decline in the honeybee population across the United States.

GettyImages-518638797-5730da445f9b58c34cad340cHowever, in the event that you are one of those individuals who have not found themselves in the right place at the right time when these stories have aired on T.V., appeared in the newspaper, or showed up on your favorite website or magazine, the long and short of it is quite simple. We have lost an alarming number of honeybees over the past year and it has fueled a great deal of speculation, much of which has ended up in print with little merit to follow. Those involved in the industry have been very vocal about a condition that has become known as Colony Collapse Disorder. If I ever had one piece of advice for every person who has already made their mind up that agriculture is to blame, or the cell phone industry is responsible, or that the 4 horsemen are about to pay a visit and that this is the foreshadowing of something larger than any of us are able to comprehend I would simply say slow down.

Since I do not consider myself an expert in this area of horticulture (or many others for that matter), I did some investigating and found some quite interesting info that any sleuth would be proud of. First, we have been seeing a decline in the honeybee population for the last 25 years, not just this year, so those who are saying this is an unusual trend, strike one. While no one in the industry is happy about it, the bottom line is that this trend exists and has existed for quite some time. Next, as some of you may remember a few years back, the Varroa mite hammered the honeybee population to the point of 80% loss in some parts of the country. While the mite would eventually be brought under control by a naturally occurring pathogen combined with help from the use of miticide inside the hives, this threat was never completely eliminated. From there, you don’t have to be a meteorologist to tell me what we have been on the brink of every summer since 2004, D-R- _- _G-H-T (do you need to buy a vowel?) These dry conditions have meant that the queens have quit producing the next generation of workers early each year, as conditions have been unbearably hot and dry across much of the U.S. At the same time that fewer young have been available to replace older bees, the older bees have had a much higher than average mortality between seasons, so the population drain has been exponentially higher.

Dadant, is a nationally recognized business that has been around for 140 years and has been supply- ing beekeepers with supplies from New York to California, and from Florida to Wisconsin (they have a branch store in Watertown) and I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with the senior editor of their professional publication and he basically said that what we have experienced is the perfect storm with many of the items I have previously mentioned. Phil Pellitteri [sidebar: Phil Pellitteri is an entomologist, a Distinguished Faculty Associate Emeritus and he recently retired as head of the UW-Madison Insect Diagnostic Lab] agreed with much of the information as well. What it comes down to is that we cannot change the weather; droughts are not a friend to the honeybee. The Varroa mites were in larger force the last few years and have been serving as a vector for the spread of disease from one bee to the next. Urbanization has reduced the amount of wild plants that bees benefit from – especially in our rural areas where land use has run amuck. In agriculture, in order to produce a cheap plentiful food supply, we have reduced the number of goldenrod, smartweeds, and other plants that bees prefer, but we control because they reduce crop yields.

A few large beekeepers lost larger than expected numbers and enlisted the help of the media to get the story out, but in the process those with their own agenda starting spinning stories about cell phones (which may be a factor, but all parties I talked to agreed it is not the reason why this has been happening). The miticides inside the hive to keep the mites out are like aspirin, 2 are great for a headache, but 20 will elicit a much less desirable response. Beekeepers have not done a good job of cleaning this product out from year to year and it has reached toxic levels in some hives. Last, but not least, it is the migratory bees that have experienced the biggest problems. The reason for this is that all parties agreed that these bees are being overworked and are being worked silly by being transplanted from an almond grove in California to citrus crops in Florida all in short periods of time with little time allowed for adjustment – do you suppose that could be a factor? There are several small growers who have been unaffected by all of the problems previously mentioned. For that reason, it would not be a complete stretch to think that like all of us with our e-mail, faxes, pagers, and cell phones that keep us “wired” these bees have been “wired” to the point that they have reached their limits. One must wonder, are we next?


Thousands of honey bees killed in Sioux City vandalism

Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Destruction May Have Doomed the World’s …

Study examines insecticide’s effects on honey bees

Drought Tolerant Plants for Wisconsin Summers

As I write this, we just had two major rain storms pass through the area — one of them bringing high winds and doing a lot of damage. However, having lived through Wisconsin summers, I know there is a high likelihood that we may see little or no rain through July and August. If that’s the case, you’ll want to have these plants in your garden because, being native Wisconsinites, they’re used to living through droughts!


Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) prefers well-drained sites in light to medium shade. Hummingbirds love this flower.

If native plants are chosen to match your conditions, they will thrive with minimal watering where others fail. To gain the full environmental benefit of lower water usage, it’s absolutely necessary to choose the plants that thrive in the conditions at your location. All native plants are “water-wise” to some extent, but to maximize their full potential, choose those naturally adapted to your specific conditions — soil, sunlight, and moisture.

Native plants create a naturally balanced ecosystem. When you plant natives in the landscape, birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators will soon follow. Because these plants and animals evolved together over thousands of years, they have developed interdependent relationships. Monarch butterfly caterpillars safely consume the toxic sap of the milkweeds. Karner blue butterfly larvae rely solely on leaves of wild lupine. Fritillary butterflies need violets for their larval food source. These are only a few of the necessary relationships between our native flora and fauna. The variety of species that even a small-scale native garden attracts is often amazing!


Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.) is tough and beautiful! As other plants die off during a drought, Rudbeckia retains its beautiful colors.


Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) grows 3 to 4 feet in sand, loam, or clay. Full to part-sun.










Some additional species to try in your garden:

  • 0_Baptisia_australis_(Y)

    Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) grows 3 to 5 feet in sand, loam, or clay. Full to part-sun.

    Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

  • Sky Blue Aster (Aster azureus)
  • Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
  • Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
  • Smooth Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis)
  • Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)
  • Prairie Blazingstar (Liatris pycnostachya)


Fragrant Night Bloomers

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Perfume that doesn’t attract insects would be a horticultural oxymoron: putting out the come-hither for pollinators is a flower’s sole purpose, and perfume is a large part of the mating dance. However, not everyone wants to sit in a garden when the bees and other pollinators are moving around, and you can have a fragrant garden that’s low on bees by using night-blooming plants.




Choices range from the small, inconspicuous, but mightily perfumed annual known as night-blooming stock (Matthiola bicornis) to the many cultivated varieties of Brugmansia, a tropical tree that can grow to 10 feet or more and has been showing up in nurseries under the name angels’ trumpets. All parts of the brugmansia are highly poisonous, but there’s no denying the plant’s appeal. It’s huge flowers blare tropical sweetness from dusk until almost sunup. White is the most common color and usually the most fragrant, but brugmansia also comes in yellow, orange, peach, and pink. Like Chinese hybiscus, mandevilla, and the many other tropicals sold by nurseries in temperate climates, brugmansias are not frost hardy and must be overwintered indoors.


Nicotiana Sylvestris


If you want to stick to annuals, there are plenty to choose from — nicotiana, for example. You’d never know it from the modern cultivars, which lost fragrance when they were bred to stay open during the day, but old-fashioned flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata) has a very strong night perfume, and so does its much taller, architecturally splendid cousin N. sylvestris.

Other candidates include moonflower vines, night-blooming jasmine, evening primrose, and oddball day lilies like ‘Pardon Me,’ which don’t get going until the sun goes down.

Not all Coneflowers are Purple!

The purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea), which is native to Wisconsin, is one of the most reliable and hardy perennial plants in any flower garden. Easily surviving our Wisconsin winters, it thrives, spreads, and forms a beautiful mass of flowers that attract birds, bees, and butterflies, and self-sows to keep the garden full. However, did you know that the simple purple coneflower is only one of many, many cultivars available to us in Wisconsin. Try some of these, or any of the newer cultivars introduced each Spring.

Rocky Top Hybrid

Rocky Top Hybrid

‘Rocky Top Hybrids’ have spidery petals and narrow leaves, marking this plant as a probably cross between a native wildflower and a standard garden coneflower. These flowers, on their thin, wiry 24-inch stems, tend to follow the sun during the day as sunflowers do, so all the blooms face the same direction.



‘Sunrise’ contains butter-yellow petals surrounding a cone that starts out green and turns gold as the flower matures. A light, sweet fragrance is a nice touch. Most are in shades of orange and yellow, and are 30-36 inches tall.

‘Sparkler’, at first glance, may look like a typical coneflower. But the leaves have splashes of cream and white that may turn more green in



the heat of summer. These plants are a little slower to take off than coneflowers with all-green leaves, but they’re definitely worth the wait. 28 to 36 inches tall.



‘Jade’ starts with white petals around the green center cone when the flowers open. As the flowers age, the center cone turns more orange and the petals droop a bit, showing their green-tinged undersides. 24 to 32 inches tall.

‘Razzmatazz’ has been particularly popular over the past couple of years due to it’s “fuzzy” appearance. Instead of a red-orange cone, the centers of these flowers are covered with tiny pink petals. Those fluffy heads are big and heavy, so plant ‘Razzmatazz’ in full sun — plenty of light will keep these 30-36 inch tall stems strong.





‘Doppelganger’ might be one of the most unusual coneflowers ever created. This coneflower, also sold as “Doubledecker”, has two tiers of petals. The first year or two, most or even all of the flowers mays be ordinary, single coneflowers, but one the plant is established, it’ll be covered with crazy 40-inch tall blooms.

Vintage Wine

Vintage Wine

‘Vintage Wine’ have blooms of a rich, bright pink, sometimes almost red. Besides the great color, the petals point out, instead of hanging down, and the foliage on this coneflower is some of the healthiest we’ve ever seen. 30 to 36 inches tall.


Honey Bees

bee-hive1Honey bees are not native to the Americas; they were introduced from Europe in the early 1600’s for honey production. Honey bees are thought to have originated in Asia and expanded to North Africa and Europe. There are two species that are considered to be suitable for apiculture. In recent year there has been concern over “colony collapse” and the risk of not having enough pollinators for our agricultural industry. A hedge against this possibility is to encourage proliferation of native bees. The DNR has published a very good article on what an individual can do http://dnr.wi.gov/wnrmag/2009/06/bees.htm#2 . This year the Outagamie County Master Gardeners will be installing various types of bee houses on the grounds of the Outagamie County Agricultural Extension.

Tom Wentzel

OCMGA chair of The Learning Garden